Auckland, New Zealand

cruise ship in New Zealand

Arcadia in Auckland, New Zealand

Cruising to Auckland

The mostly rural country of New Zealand has a big bustling city in Auckland. P&O Arcadia made a port stop there on one leg of a world cruise, docking at Queens Wharf where some passengers disembarked, others embarked, and the rest just enjoyed a day in port.

Devonport

Devonport is just a ferry ride away from Auckland

We hadn’t made any plans in Auckland, knowing we would find something to do when we got off the ship. People from the hop on hop off bus tour handed out maps to passengers on their way to the port exit. Of course they hoped people would take their tour, but when asked they gave out information on other local things like the nearby ferries which go to a number of different places.

Auckland ferry

Auckland ferry dock

While on our way to the ferry dock we passed a stand with some brochures. Mostly for the hop on hop off bus, but mixed in there we found one for Kelly Tarlton’s Sea Life Aquarium. The brochure had a picture of a shark bus, which it said was a free shuttle that would take people there. We decided to go after we got back from Devenport, a short ferry ride away. The ferry cost $12 per person, New Zealand Dollars.

big old tree

massive tree in Devonport

Crossing the water to Devonport we sat in the outside seats at the back of the ferry and got some photos of the ship. Devonport is a charming little town with a beachfront walkway and lots of older buildings with shops and restaurants. Across the street from the beach we found a park with some giant trees. One had roots growing down from some of its branches that were bigger than the trunks of some ordinary trees, but nowhere near the massive size of the tree’s main trunk. The other had giant roots protruding from the ground like tall thin snakes. The sounds of fun and laughter came from mothers and small children at the playground there.

ferry from Devonport to Auckland

ferry dock in Devonport

We bypassed the port building on the way out, but walked through on the way back to the ferry. It had quite a few shops and a segway rental booth. Once we returned to Auckland and disembarked the ferry we walked up to the main road (Quay) and happened to be near the corner with Queens Street thinking we should try and figure out where the shark bus stopped when it suddenly appeared across the street.

free shuttle to Auckland Aquarium

shark bus free aquarium shuttle

Luckily the light turned green for pedestrians and we made it across while other people were still boarding. From the ship if you dock at Queen’s Wharf, take a right when you get to the road (which is Quay) and cross at Queen’s Street. The shuttle stops hourly across from the ferry building, just a short distance from the corner at Queen’s Street. If you have New Zealand cash you can also get to the Aquarium and back by public bus, which stops at the corner on Queen Street. The Aquarium cost $39 NZD per adult. The shuttle left the Aquarium for the return trip at 20 minutes past the hour every hour, but I’m not sure what time the pick-up was. It’s about a 10 – 15 minute drive. It holds 21 people and was not full either direction when we took it, but the driver did say if more people than that wanted on the best bet for anyone beyond the 21 would be the public bus.

octopus

octopus at the aquarium

The shuttle stopped by the entrance, which looked more like a bus stop than an entrance. He did say that they could exchange US dollars for NZ dollars inside if we needed bus fare for the return trip. Good to know if we had not found space on the shuttle.

penguins

penguins had water and ice in their habitat at the aquarium

The first exhibit was about early Antarctic explores, which led into the penguin habitat. First we had view windows into their swimming area, full of lively black and white penguins. Beyond that many penguins hung around the icy shore. They had large King Penguins decked out with orangy gold highlights to their black and white tuxedos. Most of those stood regally or slept with their heads tucked down. The smaller, less colorful Gentoo penguins slipped in and out of the water and wandered quickly about the ice.

keeping dry underwater

conveyor through the sharks and other big fish

The other highlight of this aquarium besides the penguins came in the form of a conveyor belt through clear tunnels which had all manner of sea life swimming on either side and sometimes over the top. It was the first aquarium to use curved acrylics in their tank construction. One area held sharks, another large fish and even larger stingrays. We even saw a turtle swim overhead in one of the tanks. Some held lobsters big or small. You can ride the conveyor belt around as many times as you like, or step off of it onto the solid path, which you can also walk on if you prefer. The shark tank had lots of divers in among the sharks when we went by.

shark tank

divers in the shark tank

There are tanks of different types of jellyfish, sea horses, and some sea dragons which resemble a sea horse without the curled tail. A small coral tank had brightly colored fish including ones that looked like Dory and Nemo. You can get underwater photos of all sorts of sea creatures without getting wet – although they do offer a shark cage snorkel or cage free shark dive for an extra charge (dive training and equipment provided.) They recommend booking that online in advance.

seaside window

window to the sea in the Aquarium cafe

The aquarium also had a café, which had windows out to the bay of which the lower edge sat below the waterline. At the end (of course) it exits through a gift shop.

lobster - not for dinner

lobster at the aquarium

The aquarium opened in 1985 after 10 months of construction and used abandoned sewage tanks buried along the waterfront that hadn’t been used since the 1960’s as a base for their tanks, to which they added the acrylic panels for viewing.

Americas cup sailboat

Americas Cup shore excursion

Things to Do in Auckland

Excursions offered by our ship included Auckland City Sights, America’s Cup Experience (sailing), Auckland Nature and Countryside, Devonport and North Shore Panorama, New World Wine and Scenery, and Leisurely Auckland.

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland skyline from the ship on approach to the dock

Exploring Auckland On Your Own From A Cruise Ship

Besides the ferries, aquarium, and hop on hop off bus mentioned earlier, there are lots of other things people can do on their own in Auckland. There are plenty of shops and restaurants near the ship. The Sky City Tower is within walking distance. Ride up to the top for a view or a meal, and for the really adventurous, bungee jumping. You can also find an art gallery and a museum relatively close to the ship. If you haven’t had enough of being on a ship, harbor tours are another option and come in quite a variety of choices.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Arcadia, New Zealand, P&O, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What’s New on the Vista?

cruise ship at the dock

Vista in Messina – the sign in the right hand corner is the best part of this photo

Carnival’s newest ship, the Vista has some features never before seen on the sea. Vista is the first of a new class of ships for Carnival, the Vista class. The Vista is full of things new to Carnival as well as things new to cruising. Of course it has plenty of the things people enjoy on Carnival’s other ships as well.

video pole

Vista atrium

Vista looks different from Carnival’s other ships the moment passengers first set foot inside on boarding day. While their other ships have an atrium open many decks high, the atrium on the Vista goes up just 3 decks highlighted by a center pole that flares out at the top. This pole could look like anything. Its video display changes from under the sea scenes to fancy designs. Some scenes are stationary, others have moving features like jellyfish swimming up the pole. There’s a similar pole as the centerpiece of the casino.

Red Frog Pub on Carnival Vista

Red Frog Pub & Brewery

Vista has several firsts at sea. The Red Frog Pub has a microbrewery. They brew new beer flavors not available on other ships to serve on board. Vista also has an IMAX theater, again the first at sea. The IMAX is the main reason Vista’s atrium is not open to the top of the ship – they needed that otherwise open space as a place to put the theater. Seats in the Imax are on a steep slope so every seat is a good seat with a great view of the screen even if someone sits in the one in front of you. The theater area also has the Thrill Theater same as the Breeze, which incorporates motion and special effects with short features onscreen. There is a charge for both theaters and they did not have the full cruise pass for the Thrill Theater that Breeze used to have.

best view on the ship

SkyRide on the Vista

Another Vista first circles around a good portion of the open deck on top the ship in the form of a peddle it yourself SkyRide. The ride’s cars hang from two parallel tracks. The one that starts out on the inside ends up on the outside because they cross at the stern of the ship. There is no charge for the SkyRide, but sometimes there’s a pretty long line. I tried it once at around opening time before the line built up. The view is good and it was fun, but tiring for anyone not accustomed to riding a bike.

digital cruise ship photos

Pixels digital photo display

Vista has an all new display in their photo department. Instead of developing the photos they take of passengers and placing them out on racks in hopes people buy them, everything is digital. The photo area has digital screens which show random photos in an ever-changing display until someone comes along and taps the screen to see their own. It’s becoming ever more a digital world, and these photos are sold digitally. No more mountains of unpurchased photos to dispose of at the end of the cruise.

cruise ship waterslides

Waterslides and splash park. The orange one is the new tube slide.

All Carnival’s ships have waterslides, but Vista has a new one called the Kaleid-O-Slide for its light and color effects. The stripes aren’t what makes this slide stand out as different though, it’s the inner tubes. Yup, this one is a tube slide. I liked it better than their regular slides, but my husband preferred the twister, which is the same as the twister slides on some of their other ships.

best free ice cream on board

free homemade ice cream with sauce and sprinkles at lunchtime in the Lido buffet

Also new outside on the upper decks is the addition of a salad bar on the adults only Serenity deck. Open for lunch on sea days, they serve free giant premium salads with lots of choices of things to put in them not found elsewhere on the ship. Other new food options include homemade ice cream served on the Lido deck at lunchtime and an ice cream sundae bar at the Cherry On Top candy store. The Lido ice cream is free, but at Cherry On Top it costs extra.

5 person cruise ship cabin

Family Harbor 5-person cabin

In addition to the new public areas, Vista has two new categories of rooms. The Family Harbor area has kid-friendly nautical decor and a private lounge accessible only to people staying in those rooms. Breakfast is served there, and it has other amenities like computers and board games. While some of their other ships have 5-person rooms in their normal deluxe oceanview category, on the Vista you have to pay extra to be in the Family Harbor area to get a five-person room.

Havana Cabin

Havana Cabana cabin

Their other new cabin category is the Cuban-themed Havana area. Besides their own decor, Havana cabins come with private daytime access to a pool and hot tub area at the stern of the ship. The Havana Bar is open to all passengers. In the evening the pool area opens up as well. Havana Cabana cabins have outside space on the Promenade deck. While passengers not staying in Havana cabins are not allowed on the part of the promenade deck that passes by those cabins, they can see a good portion of the cabana areas from balconies and public decks above.

deck 5 private pools

looking down on the Havana pool and hot tubs – and some of the cabanas

One of the things we always liked about Carnival was that all public spaces were for all passengers whether you had the cheapest inside cabin or the most expensive suite, where a lot of other lines have exclusive areas for certain passengers. With the family harbor and Havana cabins, Vista started something new for Carnival joining the ranks of ships that have public spaces not open to everyone.

sushi restaurant

outdoor seating area for Bonsai Sushi

Much of the rest of the covered part of the outside area of the promenade deck that isn’t taken up by the Havana area has outdoor seating to whatever is on the inside of the promenade deck next to that space. All of the deck 5 bars and restaurants have outdoor seating – even the library bar. There are also some areas with deck lounger chairs and a smoking section at the forward of the Starboard side. The area by the Red Frog Pub gets the most use since they hold the bean bag toss competitions there.

Carnival Vista theater

Liquid Lounge – the blue bit on the right side is the balcony barrier

Not all of Vista’s new features are popular with passengers. The Liquid Lounge main theater which doubles as a nightclub debuted on the Sunshine, and is no more popular on the Vista than it was there – and for good reason. Unlike the IMAX, where there isn’t a bad seat in the house, when going to a show at the Liquid Lounge it’s tough to find a good seat anywhere if you’re not in the front row of the main floor. Even the front row of the balcony doesn’t have a clear view since you are looking through a blue barrier there. There’s a few rows near the back of one side of the balcony that raise high enough above the row ahead to see over the top of people, but lights from the ceiling hang down within view there. Most everywhere else in the theater you pretty much just see the backs of other people’s heads. The lower floor has no slope to it since it doubles as a nightclub, and the movable chairs are often too close to the row ahead as well as packed in tight. There’s a better view of the stage standing in the aisle at the entryway of the lower level than there is from the majority of the seats.

Vista dining room

dining room on the Vista

The main dining room on the Vista had nice décor and a large bar at the entrance. Unlike Carnival’s other ships, the dining room had no pedestals for the waiters to perform their dinnertime dances on.

cruise ship hallway

decor on the Vista is minimal in the hallways

There’s always things that are better or worse on any given ship than what’s found on other ships. Some ships are definitely nicer than others, but variety is one of the things that makes cruising fun. It’s always nice to have new things to explore on a ship.

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How to Fold Towel Swans

How to Make a Towel Swan

towel swans

towel swans with and without wings spread

Needed to Make Towel Swans

Towel swan

2 bath towels or 1 bath towel and 1 hand towel

Eyes

Towel Swan Folding Instructions

TOWEL SWAN FOLDING VIDEO

Fold one bath towel in half across the center the short way.

towel origami

towel folded in half with first fold for next step on one side

the art of towel folding

fold over one end, then fold back and forth making same size fold each time until entire towel resembles the pleats of an accordion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make accordion style folds from end to end starting from one of the sides adjacent to the first fold.

making a towel swan

fold in half at the center

starting a towel swan

hang or tuck center of one long side

Fold in half and set aside.

the key to a good towel animal is to have tight rolls

roll as tightly as you can

Tuck the second bath towel under your chin at the center of one edge of the long side or hang it on peg. Make sure the peak is at the very center.

Tightly roll both edges from the center of one long side simultaneously. Go up and down the rolls and keep tightening them as you roll so it is as tight as possible from end to end.

making a towel swan

form the head and neck from the narrow end

Set the towel down on the wide end. Bend the narrow part into an S shape.

towel swan

shape the back end into a tail

Tuck one towel end under the other at the back end of the wide part and shape so it looks like a swan tail. You could add eyes at this point and have a complete swan made from just one towel if you wanted to. Or keep following the steps for a swan with wings spread.

winged towel swan

tuck the center fold of the wings into the lower curve of the S

Set the previously folded wing towel on top of the body and tuck in between neck and body.

towel swan

finished towel swan

Spread out the wings and pose as desired. Lean the neck on the wings and pose head. Finish swan by adding eyes.

Swan Without Spread Wings

towel swan

towel swan without wings

To make a swan without its wings spread start with a bath towel. Tuck the center of one long edge under your chin or hang from a peg and follow the same directions above for making the swan body.

towel origami

lay the hand towel over the body

Set the towel down on the wide end with the neck high. The back part of the towel is the middle of the swan’s body on this one rather than the tail.

making a swan tail

form the back end of the hand towel into the tail

Tuck one short end of the hand towel around the front of the body and lay the rest of it out over the body. Tuck the edges around the sides. Fold over one corner of the back end and the fold the other side under so it comes to a point. Shape into a swan tail and position as desired. There’s no specific right or wrong way to fold the tail, just fold the corners under and make it look like one.

folding a towel swan

shape and pose as desired, then add eyes

Shape the neck and head as desired and add eyes. Eyes can be made from felt or paper or use googly eyes. Double stick tape comes in very useful for keeping eyes on towel animals.

towel swans

finished towel swans

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Hits and Misses on Celebrity Infinity

Mexico

Infinity in Cabo San Lucas

Every cruise ship has some really awesome features, and some things it would be better off without – or maybe just something it lacks. Of course one what one person thinks is the worst thing on the ship another might think is the absolute best. It’s a matter of opinion. Finding any one thing every single passenger agrees on would be a very rare thing indeed. So of course no matter what I say here not everyone will agree, but these are the things that stood out to me as the most memorable in both good and bad things about Celebrity Infinity. The Infinity went into dry dock two weeks after our cruise and got some major changes so some things that were there then no long are and some that are there now we never experienced.

HITS ON CELEBRITY INFINITY

lots of space

Inside Stateroom 3042

This was our first cruise with Celebrity, and we found a lot to like on the Infinity. Starting with the cabin. We had an inside room, and were quite happy with how spacious it was. On some other lines the inside rooms are tiny, but this one was as big as some ocean view or balcony rooms we’ve had on other ships.

enjoying a smoke-free casino

non-smoking casino with some free tournaments

We also loved their no smoking indoors rule. It was wonderful to be able to wander freely about the interior of the ship without ever running into second hand smoke. It was also fun to be able to go to the casino and play the games. I’m allergic to tobacco smoke so I have to avoid any areas with smoking allowed and we’ve been on a lot of ships that allow smoking in their casino. Celebrity also had free tournaments for both blackjack and poker that were quite fun to participate in.

one of Infinity's best features

Thalassotherapy Pool is open to all adults. It has racks where you can lay in the bubble jets and water fountains to stand under.

My favorite place on the whole ship was the thalassotherapy pool. It was similar to pools you find in thermal suites that you have to pay extra to use on some ships, only on the Infinity it was free. This pool was inside an adults only solarium area which contained the pool, hot tubs, and a small cafe that served healthy options for breakfast and lunch. A few items at the cafe cost extra, but most were free. They also had citrus water available all day. The pool had a main area big enough to swim in (which I only did when nobody else was in it.) It had racks on both sides where people could sit in the water jets. And each corner had a sort of water spout fountain thing to stand under. Great pool and sheltered from the sun, which most cruise ship pools are not. So no worry about getting sunburned – or skin cancer.

Panama Canal crossing

canal watching from the Infinity’s Constellation Lounge

The Infinity also had a great observation lounge, called the Constellation Lounge. We especially appreciated the great view from its floor to ceiling windows on the day we sailed through the Panama Canal. We got there early to stake out front row seats and enjoyed the view all day.

French onion soup

French onion soup in Infinity’s bistro

The Infinity had great food. The food in the dining room was excellent, and they had a variety of premium restaurants as well. Qsine was a very unique and fun place to eat, so I’m glad it is still there after the remodel. We enjoyed SS United States, which confusingly with that name served French cuisine. I’m not a fan of snails or anything, but we had some great lobster there, cooked tableside. I also liked Bistro on 5, which specialized in crepes. The coffee shop charged for coffee, tea, or gelato, but the secret there that even people we met on the ship who had sailed Celebrity before didn’t know is that the morning pastries or desserts they have later in the day are free. And delicious. If you don’t care for the dessert choices at dinner just go to the coffee shop and find a fancy delicacy there – we did that a couple times.

cruise ship events

Infinity had their own Top Chef cooking contest

Entertainment on the Infinity was great as well. Their production shows were above average for cruise ship shows, and they brought in outside entertainers quite a few nights. They also had aerialists that performed during their production shows. People liked them so much one day they had an afternoon show of their own.

Celebrity Infinity rooftop terrace

Infinity’s new rooftop terrace  – photo from Celebrity’s website

One of the top decks was just open space when we were on the Infinity, but now they have turned that area into a rooftop terrace with movies, cocktails, and snacks so it sounds like that area would be a hit too.

MISSES ON CELEBRITY INFINITY

No matter how good a ship is there is always something that could be improved. The biggest miss on the Infinity (in my opinion anyway) was the lack of any sort of guest laundry facilities. Sure you can send your laundry out for the crew to wash it for you, but that costs a fortune and still leaves nowhere to iron anything. It’s one thing if you’re only out for a week, but on ships doing longer cruises like this one having a self-serve guest laundry definitely would have been a bonus. It would have saved us from hand washing in the bathroom sink and hanging stuff all over the bathroom to dry. Because even on a long cruise we have better things to do with our money than pay exorbitant prices to have the crew wash tiny bags of laundry. Honestly even when we went on a 4-day cruise (on another line) the launderette on that ship stayed busy, and not just for the ironing boards so I’m not the only one who appreciates self-serve guest laundry facilities on a cruise ship.

cruise ship

Lido deck on Infinity

Another miss was placement of some of their smoking areas. Instead of at the back where the ship would move out of the smoke as it goes forward, they had one just outside of that wonderful solarium with the indoor pool. The solarium had automatic sliding doors which kept the smoke out as long as they were closed. Occasionally people would stand in the spot that kept the door open long enough to let smoke in, but the really bad time was when the door got stuck open one day and they still let people smoke there. So much smoke got in the solarium that day it might as well have been a smoking area, which made it completely unusable for me.

wi fi was hard to come by this cruise

Internet at the cruise port in Guatemala

Internet was a miss during our Infinity cruise. It was so slow it couldn’t even load a page so we got our money back and only had wifi at port stops. Hopefully they upgraded it for faster service when the ship went into drydock. If not it would still be a miss and not worth paying for.

cruise ship specialty restaurant

What were they thinking replacing these excellent crepes with sushi?

In the drydock they replaced the bistro with the wonderful crepes with a sushi place and the SS United States with a Tuscan Grill. That seems like a miss to me since sushi, Italian food, and steakhouses are commonplace on cruise ships, but the places they had before were something special and different. Plus the crepes were great and I don’t like sushi.

tender port

Infinity in Monterey

Overall we really liked the Infinity and look forward to sailing with Celebrity again sometime in the future.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017

 

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Disney World – Magic Kingdom

Disney World

Cinderella’s Castle nightly fireworks show

Usually visits to areas in the vicinity of ports are side trips to our cruises, but our cruise on the Carnival Magic was a side trip from Disney World in Orlando. Our daughter and her husband are runners and decided to run a marathon in Disney World. Who knew Disney world had such a thing? Not me, at least not until they invited us along (presumably to watch the grandkids while they ran.)

Minnie Mouse at Disney World

Minnie Mouse

Since they live in Australia where the seasons are opposite those of the northern hemisphere, the kids were on summer break when they came to America for the winter. After visiting us over Christmas and catching up with relatives and old friends we all set off for Orlando where we had a chance to see Disney World with the kids. After the races my daughter’s husband went back to Australia and some other relatives joined us for the cruise including my American grandson so this cruise included all the grandkids.

Disney's Dumbo ride

Dumbo ride at Disney World

Crowds really aren’t my thing and I absolutely hate lines, both of which are expected at Disney World. The good thing about going places in the off season is normally finding them far less crowded. In the dead of winter just after Christmas Vacation ended we hadn’t expected the sheer amount of people flooding the parks at Disney World – but the races brought in an extra 70,000 people. Because of the amount of people who came for the races things were far more crowded than we expected (especially at the Magic Kingdom), but luckily Disney does have help to manage your time better while negotiating your way through the crowds.

Dumbo ride playground

kids spend part of their wait time in the Dumbo ride line at this indoor playground

If you purchase tickets in advance you can set up fast passes for a few chosen attractions before you even get to the park so you have a better chance of getting a time on the more popular things than you would if you waited until you got there. Some rides fill up more than a day in advance though so even with the fast pass planning ahead helps. There’s also an app where your phone will tell you when and where your fast passes are. The app has maps of the park and lets you know the wait times at all the different attractions so you know where to find the shortest line when you haven’t got a fast pass. It can also direct you from where you are to where you want to go. It would be nice to have a fast pass for everything, but they have limits on how many each person can get. You can get more after using the ones you have, but when the park is crowded there aren’t likely any same day passes available for popular attractions. What a great feeling it is to get in the fast pass line and walk past all the people waiting in the long line in the regular lane on your chosen attractions. Of course they will do the same to you on rides where you don’t have the pass.

It's a Small World - old school Disney

It’s A Small World is a classic Disney ride that has been at Disney World since the park first opened

Magic Kingdom is iconic Disney with Cinderella’s castle dominating the view from the park entrance and the familiar and traditional Disney rides throughout the park. Magic Kingdom is where you find It’s A Small World, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Dumbo the Elephant, and other famous rides. There are also newer rides like those featuring the Little Mermaid or Toy Story. Other attractions include stage shows and character visiting pavilions. It’s a Small World may be an old ride, but after all these years its message is just as relevant – we all live on the same little planet. It’s a shame we don’t take better care of it.

Rapunzel

meeting Rapunzel

If it weren’t for the 3 fast passes our tickets allowed us to book in advance per day we may not have seen much at all, especially at the Magic Kingdom. Even booking fast passes several days in advance we were unable to get them for some of the most popular rides, plus we had to watch the height limits and not book anything the kids couldn’t do. In between our scheduled fast pass times we picked rides or other attractions according to the least wait time shown on the Disney app.

giant tree house

the Swiss Family Robinson tree house is a walk-through rather than a ride

The app’s wait times aren’t always accurate though. It said 10 minutes at the Swiss Family Robinson tree house and we walked right in with no wait at all. Then again a 25 minute wait posted on the Dumbo ride was actually 45. Perhaps after we went through they posted a more accurate time since we were given a card at our entry that said to hand it in when we made it to the ride for more accurate estimates. The best thing about the Dumbo ride was the playground in the middle of the line. After about 20 minutes in line we got to an indoor playground where patrons are given a buzzer. Adults have places to sit while children play until the buzzer goes off. At that time your group leaves the playground and gets into the other side of the line with a short wait for the ride. Sure beats standing in line for all that time. There are similar rides to Dumbo with shorter waits – like Aladdin’s Flying Carpets in Magic Kingdom’s Adventureland or the TriceraTop Spin at the Animal Kingdom.

Buzz Lightyear ride

Ride lines are often indoors. It can take a long time to get through the line so some have things to see, like Buzz Lightyear in the line for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

The Buzz Lightyear toy story ride was a favorite with the grandkids at the Magic Kingdom. On that interactive ride you get to shoot lasar beams at targets. Magic Kingdom was the most crowded of any of the parks during the time we spent at Disney World.

toy story ride

John and Daniel on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin ride

When visiting Disney World people can stay at one of the many Disney resorts. These are the most convenient places to stay while visiting the parks because each resort provides transportation to the parks. Mostly it’s by bus, but some resorts have monorail or boat transportation to some parks.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Cinderella’s Castle from the back side

There are also hotels and vacation rentals outside the park. A lot of the hotels provide free shuttles, often through outside companies. Shuttle transport from outside locations is just at specific times and not throughout the day as it is at Disney’s own resorts. Besides prices lower than Disney’s, the advantage of staying outside the park is proximity to other food sources and some have shuttles to Universal as well as Disney. Uber or taxis are also a means of traveling through the area for visitors without cars. At the beginning of our visit we stayed at a hotel outside the park and often took the shuttle in and uber back because the shuttle return times were not convenient. Our hotel was close enough to Disney that we could see the nightly fireworks. Later we moved to a vacation rental condo which had the advantage of a full kitchen and everyone within the same unit, but the disadvantage of a farther distance to the park and no shuttle.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Tea With the Brits

cruise ship afternoon tea

afternoon tea on P&O Arcadia

Afternoon tea is much bigger in the UK than it is in America. We expected more of a crowd at the tea on the Arcadia the first time we went, but then again we went on the afternoon of the first formal night so perhaps more people come on other days – or they just find their afternoon snack at the buffet.

waiter serves afternoon tea

waiter with bread baskets serving random people at tea time

The tea cart we’re used to on American ships was absent. Instead, the table had a tray of sweets at either end and waiters came by serving tea sandwiches, tea breads, and scones. I keep hearing how wonderful clotted cream is, traditionally served with jam on the tea scones. The cream here had kind of a buttery texture and the English chap next to me said it was not proper clotted cream at all. Perhaps that doesn’t keep well enough to serve it on a ship. Especially one on a long cruise with just a few port stops.

jam for scones

different jelly flavors to choose from

They did have cute little jelly jars with different flavors of jelly though and whatever the cream substance was tasted fine with those. There’s no cows on the ship of course so fresh cream is not available. Not that I know whether or not that is an essential ingredient for clotted cream since I’ve never actually had any.

tea time

crumpet, egg salad tea sandwich, and scones

After getting scones, I noticed the other basket with the tea breads had crumpets in it. It’s been years since I had a crumpet so I had to have one of those too. It came out of the basket still warm.

pick a tea

tea menu

The waiters came around with little pots of tea which they filled the cups from. They didn’t leave the pots, but came by often and kept the cups full. They just had one kind, but there is a tea menu you can select other flavors from. If you pick one of the flavored teas then they leave you a little teapot.

English tea cakes

I neglected to take photos of tea cakes so I had to find one online

The next time we went to the P&O Arcadia’s afternoon tea I discovered tea cakes. They look something like a cross between rolls and American style biscuits. They are a bread rather than a cake, but so light and fluffy and excellent with the questionable cream substance and jam. After one taste I was hooked. Unfortunately I’ve never seen them anywhere else. Then again I’ve never been to England.

Lido deck tea

tea sandwich and other afternoon tea snacks on the Lido

Arcadia also offers tea-time fare in their afternoon snacks in the Belevedere buffet on the Lido deck. Which explains why the dining room wasn’t as crowded as we thought it would be – more people had their tea at the buffet. Tea time there is available for a longer time period and you can take what you want without waiting to be served. They also have some other afternoon snacks so you can supplement the tea sandwiches, tea cakes, and sweets with small hot food items like mini quiche.

English crumpet

crumpet and tea

If you want crumpets you have to go to the dining room though because they didn’t have those on the lido.

cruise ship afternoon tea

tea sweets in the dining room

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Malta

European cruise

Vista in Valetta, Malta

The ship approached Valetta, Malta through a narrow channel between two old-fashioned stone lighthouses. Malta is full of historical stone buildings and beautiful old churches. Our ship docked next to a walled city with walls so tall they stood high above our balcony on deck 9 of Carnival Vista. Walls were an important means of keeping cities safe until advances in technology made them obsolete as a means of protection. Now old walled cities make great tourist attractions.

lighthouse at Malta

lighthouse coming into Malta

elevator to a walled city

elevator to the top of the wall

Malta is an independent island country officially called the Republic of Malta. It lies between Italy and Africa and is a member of the European Union. Past history includes occupation by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British, among others.

The ship docks right in Valetta. Just a short walk from the pier there’s a road going up a hill into the city. A bit farther on the other side of an arch there’s a much easier way to get to the top – by elevator. There’s only two buttons, 0 and 1, but the distance traveled between them is like going from the ground floor to the top of a skyscraper. At the top there are all sorts of shops, restaurants, and historic buildings.

Malta's wall

view from the balcony of the ship – wall by the cruise ship dock

You don’t even have to get up to the main part of town to find things to do. We saw horse carriages and a hop on hop off bus go by from the balcony before we even left the ship. Once we got off we found an inexpensive taxi tour with 3-5 hour options for seeing all the major sites of the island. They charge by the taxi, not the person so if you have 4 people to fill the cab with it’s an excellent deal. We went with friends we met on a previous cruise who were also sailing on this one.

Mosta dome church

inside the cathedral in Mosta

Our first stop was at a cathedral, the Parish Church of the Assumption, also called the Rotunda of Mosta or the Mosta Dome. Many European cathedrals require shoulders and knees covered. This one had a pile of wraps at the door so anyone inappropriately dressed could cover up to come inside. This church has quite a unique history. In WWII a German bomb landed in the church while more than 300 people were inside for mass.

WWII bomb

replica of the bomb that hit the church and didn’t explode

The bomb did not explode, considered a miracle by the thankful worshipers who would all have died if it had. The original bomb was defused and dumped into the sea, but they have a replica in a back room at the church.

Mdina, Malta

entrance to Mdina

Moving on with our tour, at the top of a steep hill we stopped at the ancient walled city of Mdina whose history traces back over 4000 years. It has been a home to nobility since medieval times and is still an active city, commercial center, and a market for the agricultural lands surrounding it. Mdina and the surrounding areas have significant historical sites including catacombs, churches and monasteries, and a grotto where the apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after a shipwreck.

horse carriage through Mdina

traveling through Mdina’s narrow streets in a horse carriage

Just outside the gate horse drawn carriages wait to take people through the narrow streets of town. Visitors can also walk in. Splitting the cost of a carriage 4 ways was less than 10 euros each so we opted to take the fun way through town in the carriage. The horses wear rubber shoes to lessen the impact of the pavement on their hooves since they spend so much time on hard ground. While driving down one of the narrow streets our driver pointed to a door and said that apartment was for sale for several million and that only rich people lived in that area.

Hagar Qim

one of the ancient temples at Hagar Qim

Our next stop was Hagar Qim, an archeological site with ancient temples built of megalithic stones about a thousand years older than Egypt’s pyramids. They protect the temples under canvas covers. Our cab driver said we had the option of either paying the 10 euro fee to go inside, or walking the public trail on the outside of the fence and looking at it from there so we took the free path. You don’t see as much that way, but we wanted to make sure we had time for the boat ride at the Blue Grotto – which turned out to be a mistake.

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

We really wanted to see the blue grotto and to take the boat ride inside, but the boats only run when there’s smooth sailing. The waves were too high in the grotto so no boats ran that day. We could only take pictures from a nearby cliff. We nearly took a cruise ship excursion just to go to the blue grotto so we would have been really disappointed had we booked that since we wouldn’t have gotten to take the boat ride on an excursion either. We got a nice view of it from the cliff, but had we known we would not be spending the time or money for the boat ride we would have gone inside at Hagar Qim.

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk

Our last stop before returning to Valetta was the charming little fishing village of Marsaxlokk. It had a harbor full of cute little boats and all sorts of booths with things for sale to the tourists. It is popular for its fish restaurants and market.

Valetta

Valetta, Malta

Malta was as notable for the things we didn’t see as it was for the things we did. We did not see any beggars, buskers, graffiti, litter, street peddlers, stray animals, or homeless people anywhere where we went on Malta. Most places all around the world you don’t go far before seeing some or all of those things.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Tribord Easy Breathe Full-Face Snorkel Mask

full-face snorkel mask

Tribord Easy Breath snorkel mask

Anyone who reads my blog very often would know I’m an avid snorkeler. I snorkel any chance I get, which basically means when cruising to warm places. On snorkel excursions I’m always one of the last to come in. When shore snorkeling on my own if time is not a factor than the threat of sunburn is what eventually brings me back to shore. My husband though not so much. He always tended to stay in the water for about 5 minutes and then he’d be back on the boat or back to shore. Taking pictures of everyone else in the water used to be his excuse, but even when he didn’t bring a land only camera he never stayed out long. The real reason – he never liked traditional snorkel masks. He found them hard to breathe in and uncomfortable on his jaw.

snorkeling in Grand Turk

traditional mask and snorkel_

Then suddenly things changed. Looking online for a new snorkel mask one day I came across the Tribord easy breathe full-face snorkel mask. Now there are a number of other brands, but Tribord is the original. They did all the research and invented the technology. There weren’t as many choices when I found his, and all the reviews I read then said stick with the original. It works great. The knock-offs leak, fog up, have issues with the stopper in the dry snorkel, or generally just don’t work well. So for a Christmas gift I got him the original Tribord.

Tribord full-face snorkel mask

snorkeling in Bermuda, trying out the Tribord

When we finally took a cruise to a place where he could try it out he absolutely loved it. For the first time he stayed out in the water as long as I did. It worked great, fit great, and never fogged or leaked. He thinks everyone should use one, but for those of us who are fine with the regular sort that one seems a bit bulky.

snorkling with Tribord full-face mask

Tribord above the surface

With the Tribord your whole face stays dry and there’s nothing in your mouth. You can breath through either your mouth or nose just as you do on land. It is equipped with a dry snorkel which automatically cuts off the air flow if you go under water so it stays dry and there’s no choking on seawater since none comes down the tube. It’s also a big buoyant bubble on your face so it’s harder to actually get under the surface if you like to free dive. A bonus though for staying on the surface. Then again a regular dry snorkel is also more buoyant than the old open tube style snorkel and also harder to get under the surface with, though easier to dive with if you can get there since the whole point of a dry snorkel is keeping seawater out of the snorkel tube so there’s no need to blow it out when you come up.

snorkeling in a full face mask

Tribord below the surface

On the next cruise the grandkids came along. The two boys did just fine with regular snorkel equipment, but our granddaughter had issues keeping the tube in her mouth. She spent more time stopping and trying to adjust it than she did snorkeling so she’s a good candidate for a full-face mask. Tribord does come in more sizes than the other brands, including an extra-small size for kids. Unfortunately while the other sizes all have a size range with minimum and maximum measurements from bridge of nose to chin, the extra small just says if it measures less than 10 cm (3.9″) and doesn’t give the minimum. We would have got her one for her birthday or Christmas anyway, but they cost about twice the price of the bigger ones and even those aren’t cheap.

Tribord vs traditional mask

Tribord vs a traditional snorkel mask in Grand Turk

Current reviews on the internet mention several other brands which depending on who is doing the reviewing some may work as well as the Tribord or close to it, but they all warn of poor performance from cheap knock-offs. Some reviews say that some of the better knock-offs cost more than the original without being any better so why bother with them. There are also some brands out there now with slightly different technology, which again the reviews tend to not think are any better than the Triborg other than some having a go-pro mount. One reviewer said that was great and rated Seaview higher than Triborg because of it. Another said the camera mount was up too high and put the camera out of the water unless you dive under, which the person who liked the camera mount was doing. Both said Seaview would be more likely to fog under heavy breathing.

Tribord full face snorkel mask

Tribord – the original full-face snorkel mask

I can’t say one way or the other about other brands not having seen anything other than the Tribord anywhere other than online. I just know that having a good full-face mask that stays clear and dry opens up the world of snorkeling to anyone who has difficulty with traditional snorkel gear.

 

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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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