Shows on Symphony of the Seas

ice show

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

drone lights at the ice show

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

WATER SHOW

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

HIRO water show

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

dancers, drummer, and legs in the pool

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

diver in the air

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

diving from the top

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

ICE SHOW

soldiers in London skate with the show’s hero

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

a colorful scene

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

skaters doing lifts

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

ice aerialist

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

oh no, there’s a hole in the ice

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

skaters at the ice show

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

THEATER SHOW

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

going into space on a cruise ship

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

Wright brothers’ airplane

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

Martians

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

some of the aerialists in FLIGHT

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

barnstormer

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022

 

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Kayaking in Costa Maya

Sunrise over Celebrity Constellation in Costa Maya

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

little private resort on Bacalar Lagoon where kayak excursion went

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

signs at the entry to Costa Maya Cruise Port

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

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

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

the other couple on our excursion

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

the local guide in her kayak

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

little bar/restaurant at Cora’s Place

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

cactus hanging from a tree at the water’s edge

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

green and blue shades in Bacalar Lagoon

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

solar powered boat

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

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

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

water swing at Cora’s Place

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

giant chair at Cora’s Place

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

flamingos at the cruise port in Costa Maya

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

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

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

Constellation looks bigger, but really Edge is

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

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

a dhow sails past the Lirica in Khasab

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

dhow tour in the Musandam Fjords

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

streetlights on the road to Khasab

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

canal through Khasab

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

old dhow boats at the fort museum

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

little mosque

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

LuLu Hypermarket

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

stray puppy

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

fancy gate

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

bigger mosque

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

looks like a pyramid

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

view across the river

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

Khasab Fort

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

buildings in Khasab

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Shanghai Tall Towers

view from the Bund looking across the river to the tall towers in the Pudong district

The Tall Towers of Shanghai

Shanghai is full of tall buildings, but even there some tower above the rest. The Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, and the Shanghai World Financial Center that looks like a bottle opener tower over much of the Pudong district where the city’s tallest buildings are located. Taller even than those, the Shanghai Tower rises above them all. It’s the tallest building in China and the second tallest building in the world. It has the world’s fastest elevator and an observation deck 120 stories up. The other 3 very tall towers also have observation decks. All of them are open to the public for a price, which is pretty close to the same for each tower. Currently the world’s tallest building is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, though there are buildings under construction that will move both it and the Shanghai Tower farther down the list of the world’s tallest buildings once they are completed.

view of the Jin Mao Tower from the Shanghai Tower

Jin Mao Tower | 420.5 m | 1,380 ft | 88 floors

This building contains offices and a hotel as well as exhibition and banquet halls and entertainment facilities. It’s the only one of the the Pudong area’s skyscrapers that has any sort of traditional architectural appearance. The observation deck is located on the 88th floor and offers a 60-meter-long glass skywalk without rails for a clear view of the scenery on the Huangpu River. Although how clear the view is in Shanghai on any given day depends on smog levels as well as weather. It’s probably a lot clearer now with the city on Covid lockdown, but nobody can enjoy the view when everything is closed.

Oriental Pearl Tower at night

Oriental Pearl Tower 468 m (1,535 feet)

This tower is a radio and TV antenna tower rather than a regular building with normal floors. It has 11 spheres and is supported by 3 giant columns. It has 15 observation levels ranging from the lowest at 295 feet (89 meters) to the highest at 351 meters (1151 feet). There’s a revolving restaurant at the 267 m (876 foot) level. What gives this tower its overall height is the antenna, which extends another 118 m (387 ft) above the rest of the building. In the evenings this tower lights up in ever changing colors. It’s definitely the most distinctive of Shanghai’s tall towers.

the Shanghai World Financial Center tower looks like a giant bottle opener

Shanghai World Financial Center 492 m (1,614 ft) 101 floors

From the outside this building somewhat resembles a giant bottle opener. In addition to the sight-seeing floors near the top, this building also houses a hotel, offices and meeting facilities, and a shopping mall and restaurants. There are sightseeing areas on the 94th and 97th floors and a glass skywalk on the 100th floor. You can also get a view from the lobby and bar of the Park Hyatt Hotel on the 87th floor. The hotel elevators are not in the same location as the observatory elevators.

Shanghai Tower

Shanghai Tower | 632 m | 2,073 ft | 128 floors

This building shares the world record for the highest observation deck within a building with the Ping An Financial Center in Shenzen. It has the one of the fastest elevators in the world, which races at a speed of 20.5 meters per second, reaching the observation deck on the 118th floor in a mere 55 seconds. So fast it will make your ears pop like during take-off on an airplane.

at the base of the Shanghai Tower

The exterior of this buildings twists toward the sky in spiral fashion. In addition to the observation deck, the building houses 5-star hotels, high end retail shops, offices and financial services, a recreation zone, conference and banquet facilities, and indoor gardens.

the viewing area has full length windows circling the outside in a donut-like hallway, and other things like this artificial tree at the inside

We chose to visit the Shanghai Tower because if you’re going to go up a tall tower might as well go up the tallest one available. We went up in the afternoon on a weekday and it wasn’t very busy, though judging from all the line dividers they had both at the ticket window and inside the building it must get pretty crowded sometimes. From the ticket window you go down a nearby escalator to get to the entrance for the observation deck. Once in the building you pass several exhibits before reaching the elevator.

view of Shanghai and Jen Mao Towers from a park on the other side of the river

One exhibit shows the world’s tallest buildings from over 100 years ago when the tallest one would be dwarfed by ordinary apartments of today up to the Burj Khalifa at 828 m (2,717 ft) and 163 floors. It also showed each building that was tallest at the time it was built in between. Some are highlighted in individual cases, but all are posted along the backwall.

tall towers of the future

Another display has information about building the Shanghai Tower. There’s also one that shows proposed tall towers for the near future including several that will be taller than the Shanghai Tower and one to be even taller than Dubai’s Burj Khalfa.

smoggy view from the Shanghai Tower

The view from the tower is quite impressive, though it would be far more so in daylight if not marred by smog which gives a clear view only of the buildings pretty much directly below it while everything else is in a brownish haze that gets thicker and more occlusive the farther away you look.

you can see farther at night when the view has lights and darkness masks the smog

We decided we might as well stay up there and wait for the sun to set to get the nighttime view as well. The closer it got to sunset the more people came into the tower, most flocking to the windows on the west side, probably in hopes of a sunset view. Though the sky got darker there were no brilliant colors of sunset, probably due to the fact that the sun had never actually been visible that day through the smog. Once it got too dark to see smog the distance we could see actually got farther since everything is lit up at night.

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

The nightly light show of buildings on the Bund and around Pudong is brilliant from up in the tower. We waited for the Pearl tower to turn its lights on so we could have that in our photos before going down. Many of the other buildings light up before it gets quite all the way dark, but the Pearl Tower is not so quick to turn theirs on. The bottle opener looking one was even later to turn on its shiny blue lights. The boats that do river cruises in the evenings put on their own light shows as they float by.

little tram cars run on rails surrounded in light shows through Shanghai’s sightseeing tunnel

We were going to take the subway back to the other side of the river, but seemed to have left the tower at the same time as thousands of people got off work because there were throngs of people headed for the subway station at the same time. When we got there both the line to get tickets and the line to go down to the platform were so long we decided to take the sightseeing tunnel instead even though we had already rode on it once. I was glad we did because the first time we were behind other people in the car, whereas that night when we got to the front of the line we asked to wait for the next car so we could stand at the front window. From the front of the car I saw how much we had missed in the light show the first time through. Standing behind people the first time we just saw the sides of the tunnel and missed things directly in front like where a screen rose up or a curtain opened to reveal more beyond.

the buildings up close are pretty clear, but the farther away you get the more they fade until disappearing entirely into the smog

Walking around China or riding on the subways I felt like a tall person with big feet even though I’m just under 5’4” and most of my shoes are size 4. They may not bind their feet anymore, but a lot of them wear very tiny shoes.

Jin Mao Tower and World Financial Center

Tourist attractions throughout the world exit through the gift shop, and the tower had one at the top as well as one at the bottom. You can walk from the tower through a tunnel leading to a subway station. The tunnel has an opening with a view up to the tall towers before winding through an upscale underground mall on the way to the subway. A lot of the subway stations in Shanghai have underground shops or malls around them.

looking up at Shanghai’s tall towers from the open area in the underground

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Coconut Lime Cookies

Coconut Lime Cookies

These cookies are so tasty nobody will ever know they are gluten and dairy free.

Ingredients

Juice of 2 limes (about 1/3 cup)

Zest of 2 limes

1 1/2 cups almond flour

1 1/2 cups shredded or flaked coconut

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/3 cup brown or coconut sugar

3 Tablespoons melted coconut oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg

Directions

Stir all ingredients together until well blended. Drop by spoonfuls onto parchment paper lined pan. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10-14 minutes. If flatter cookies are desired you can flatten them before baking.

coconut lime cookies flattened before baking

copyright My Cruise Stories 2022

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Bionic Bar on Symphony of the Seas

Bionic Bar on Symphony of the Seas

One of the many bars on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas is called the Bionic Bar. It’s called that because the bartender is a pair of robots. Or at least robotic arms anyway. I really wanted to try the Bionic Bar because the robots looked something like a miniature version of a robot I used to run when I worked in a sheet metal shop. That one was much larger than a person and coordinated with a press brake to form bends into metal parts. The bright orange robot was built by a German company called Kuka that makes industrial robots who perform all sorts of tasks in different types of factories and can work in tandem with other machines. Unlike the bartending robots whose bases are stationary on the counter, the Kuka robot moved through its work area on a track in the floor.

bartending robots

Though the robots in the Bionic Bar resemble the industrial ones in that they are a robotic arm and are programmed to perform tasks, they are made specifically for the purpose of bartending by an Italian company called Makr Shakr who builds the entire bartending system (with German technology). Each robot has its own name, and the robots on different ships have different names. On Symphony of the Seas they are called Rock’Em and Sock’Em. On other ships they have names like Mix and Mingle or Shaken and Stirred.

the robot bartenders work under a canopy of upside down bottles

The Bionic Bar is located on the Royal Promenade. When not at work mixing drinks the robots sit still on the counter. Upside down bottles of alcohol and mixer hang above them. They have quite an assortment on non-refrigerated things to choose from. When the robots finish mixing a drink they rather sloppily pour it into a plastic cup on the counter, then visit a cleaning station behind them before returning to their non-working pose.

filling up

The robots can make quite a variety of mixed drinks, but they do not have a blender nor do they make any frozen drinks. You can get those elsewhere on the ship from human bartenders. The cost is the same as for drinks at other onboard bars, including the automatically added gratuity. Perhaps they share that with their human helper who was standing off to the side to assist newbies with the ordering process. She probably had to clean up after them as well since they often spill some when they pour the finished drink into the cup, and of course somebody has to keep their supplies stocked.

robots at work

To order you use a tablet in a stand on one corner of the bar. You can choose from a set menu or make up your own customized drink. It offered some standard drinks and some robot bar signature drinks on the set menus. Once you have chosen your drinks you pay with your Seapass (keycard) just like you would for anything else purchased onboard.

If there are other people ahead of you at the bar a screen will display a queue that says what drinks it is currently making and how long until your drink will be made. There wasn’t anyone else there when we got our drinks so it started making them as soon as it scanned my card. I was going to order 3, one for each sister, but after putting 2 in my cart it would not let me add a third so apparently more than 2 has to be a separate order since it can only make 2 at a time. The sisters could have ordered drinks on their own accounts of course, but offering to buy them drinks was the way I talked them into coming to the Bionic Bar with me as they did not have the same interest in the robots that I did. It can make 2 drinks per minute so even if there are a few people ahead of you the wait isn’t too long and watching it make other people’s drinks is pretty good entertainment while you wait. Since there wasn’t anyone else there it jumped right into making the two drinks before I even had the camera ready so we skipped the third drink and just shared.

drink data displayed on a mirror

The movements the robots make were programmed to simulate movements of a human dancer so they would look more graceful as they worked. Every move of the industrial robot I used to run had to be carefully programmed and though it was not mimicking anything human I really didn’t notice the movements of the bartending robots as being much different.

the robots look like they have eyes

The robot bartenders did have a more humanistic appearance in that their working appendage had a couple discs that made it look as if they had eyes.

pouring a finished drink

The robots gather the ingredients and then mix them according to whatever drink they are making. They can mix, muddle, stir, shake, or strain depending on what each individual drink calls for.

drinks are ready

Once the drink is finished there’s a place to tap your SeaPass card at the end of a track in the bar, after which the drink slides forward on a track in the counter. I suppose tapping the card is to insure each drink goes to the person who ordered it.

waiting for a drink

We picked drinks from the robot signature menu and they were quite tasty. The bright blue one was called Avatar.

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Cruise Ship Cabins on Celebrity Constellation

Celebrity Constellation

Cabin choices on Celebrity Constellation include the usual selection of inside cabins, ocean view cabins, balcony cabins, and suites. Among those major categories there are some variations, especially in the suites. Each category has some accessible cabins, which tend to be the largest ones in any given type. Fully accessible cabins also have lowered vanity, raised toilet, roll-in shower, grab bars, and if they are balcony cabins, an accessible balcony. When booking sometimes there is a category guarantee option, which costs less than choosing a specific cabin and also has the possibility of getting an upgrade if the category you chose books full. The downside of that is since you aren’t choosing your own cabin it may not end up in your preferred location.

inside cabin

Inside cabins are the least expensive so they are always popular with budget conscious cruisers. People who like to sleep in the daytime without being bothered by outside light prefer these cabins too since there is no outside light other than a bit of hallway lighting from the crack under the door. The inside cabin we had on the Infinity felt bigger than the balcony cabin we had on Constellation, possibly because the mirrored backwall made it seem larger than it actually was. These cabins are generally 170 square feet, but if you look over the deck plans some are larger. Especially accessible ones which are up to 347 square feet.

oceanview cabin

Ocean View cabins have a standard size of 170 square feet, though some are larger. They sleep from 2-5 people. Most are located on lower decks with round porthole type windows. There are a few on upper decks, at the front of decks 6, 8, & 9. Some of these are the deluxe ocean view cabins with larger rooms.

family veranda cabin

Veranda cabins come in a variety of options. Family veranda staterooms are the biggest at 382-461 square feet and sleep up to 5 people. These cabins have extra-large balconies. The regular veranda sleep 2-4 people.

deluxe balcony cabin with oversized balcony

There are a few deluxe veranda cabins toward the bow of deck 6 that have oversized balconies. There are some deluxe and sunset veranda staterooms at the back of decks 7, 8, & 9 that also have extra large balconies. Standard balcony cabin size is 170 – 208 square feet.

concierge class

Concierge class accommodations come with access to concierges who can help guests with their vacation plans whether that is booking things onboard like spa treatments or specialty restaurants, or excursions for the port stops. Rooms are 251 square feet and have verandas. There’s a special embarkation day lunch just for people booking these rooms.

AquaClass

AquaClass guests have their own private dining room, Blu, which serves healthy style meals. AquaClass accommodations come with access to the Persian Garden thermal suite and a spa concierge in case they want to set up any spa appointments.

aquaclass sky suite

Aquaclass cabins are 271 square feet and all have verandas. These rooms include premium bath products, massaging showerheads, and complimentary fitness classes. Aquaclass sky suites receive both aquaclass and suite amenities.

Celebrity suite

The top tier of rooms is the suite class, called The Retreat, although that name is for the amenities that are included with suites rather than an actual place on the ship. Suite guests have their own restaurant called Luminae, serving upscale food. They also have a private lounge called Michael’s Club, and a private sundeck.

royal suite

There’s a retreat host and concierges as well as stateroom stewards to tend to their every need. The rooms include premium bath products and other amenities. Sky suites are 311 square feet (accessible 423), with a large veranda. Celebrity suites are 587 square feet with separate bedroom and a dining table for 4. The royal suites are bigger yet and have fancy doors.

penthouse suite

The largest suites of all are the penthouse suites at 1432 square feet with a back deck wraparound balcony of 1098 square feet.

door to a penthouse suite

The whole back of deck 6 is taken up by just two penthouse suites. The floors in the hallways by these suites look like marble rather than the usual carpet, though the doors are not as fancy as the ones on the nearby royal suites. Guests in these suites have private butlers. Amenities include complimentary premium beverage packages, unlimited premium dining, complimentary mini-bar stocked daily, and many other things. Furnishings include a baby grand piano.

royal suite door

On our cruise the front section of cabins on deck 7 was closed off with authorized personnel only sign on the door barring entry from the elevator and stairway landing, something new that wasn’t needed in the past but is now – the covid isolation ward! Luckily there were very few covid cases on our cruise so most of those cabins sat empty. Most of the cases onboard are asymptomatic crew who only know they have it because of routine testing rather than people who are feeling sick, though they do ask that anyone who does have symptoms get tested right away so they can be isolated too.

covid isolation ward – do not enter

Whatever cabin guests choose, they are all clean, comfortable, and attended to daily by a stateroom steward who cleans the cabin and replaces used towels twice daily.

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Boston Aquarium

New England Aquarium in Boston

After we finished touring the Constitution at the end of our walk down the Freedom Trail in Boston we decided to look for the tall ship sailing harbor tour we’d seen when looking online for things to do in Boston. Google said it was at the central wharf and google maps said it was only a mile away so we decided to just walk there rather than look for a subway station. My Garmin watch pegged the distance we traveled at over 2k so the mile was a bit of an underestimate since 1.6k = 1 mile.

aquarium theater and amphibious duck vehicle

When we got there we found a little row of booths for various tours, one being the sailboats we were looking for and another for the amphibious duck tours. We saw a number of the duck vehicles come and go, each painted a different color. A horse-drawn carriage pulled up to the area and some people got in for a ride.

harbor walk

We got there around 3pm, and the last daytime ship had sailed at 2:30. The next one would be the sunset tour leaving at 5:30pm. This one cost less than the earlier tours, but also left us with a chunk of time to fill while we waited. The aquarium happened to be next door and the guy who sold us the sailboat tickets said it was a good one so we went there. On the other side of it we found a sign saying harbor walk, which followed a dock around the aquarium and back to the other side where the boats sailed from. It had views of the harbor on one side, and part of the other side had views of the aquarium’s seals. The actual name of the aquarium is New England Aquarium, but it is located right on a wharf in a touristy area of Boston. People were required to wear masks inside to protect from covid during the time we visited.

stingrays in the touch tank

Inside the aquarium the bottom floor has a touch tank with small rays and some tiny sharks, seals, and penguins. The penguins are all around the central large aquarium, which has a walkway spiraling up to see the fish living at different depths of the ocean.

penguins

A sign listed 3 different types of penguins, and there were some dividers between the different colonies. It also said the penguins wear color tags to identify them, with mated pairs wearing the same color tag as each other. There’s also a marine mammal center on the first level.

fish

As you walk up the path around the center tank there are different levels where you can leave that path and see smaller aquarium displays around the edges of the building. They had fish from a variety of different places. Many from different tropical regions, but also some from areas like the coast of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula.

sea anemones and starfish

Other sea creatures lived in some of the tanks too. Things like coral, seaweed, sea anemones, starfish, lobsters, or sea urchins.

the leafy sea dragon resembles a plant

One tank had leafy sea dragons which resemble seahorses with leafy appendages. Another had very tiny seahorses. There were even some hermit crabs. We did not see any jellyfish or octopus, but the aquarium’s website lists jellyfish as something that they have.

whale skeleton

There was an octopus statue on a railing, but no live ones. No live whales either, but a giant whale skeleton hung down from the ceiling over the penguin habitat. You can book whale watching tours in combination with aquarium tickets.

small turtle

The large central tank had at least a couple giant turtles in it. We saw one swimming in some of the lower levels, and when we got to where you look down into the tank from the top there were two. It is a 40-foot wide 4-story 200,000 gallon tank full of Caribbean reef creatures. One of the turtles is a green sea turtle named Myrtle who has lived there since 1970, but I don’t know if she was one of the turtles we saw. There were also some smaller turtles.

reef exhibit

The aquarium also had a theater, but the movies cost extra and we really didn’t have time to watch any so we didn’t go there. It’s a giant screen theater with a selection of aquatic films lasting just over 20 minutes each.

fish

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Camano Island

map of Camano Island

One of Washington State’s largest islands at nearly 40 square miles, Camano Island sits north of Seattle in the Possession Sound area of Puget Sound between Whidbey Island and the mainland. A bridge connects Camano Island, which is in Island County to Stanwood on the mainland in Snohomish County. For anyone not local to the area, Puget is pronounced Pew-jet (NOT Pug-et). It derives its name from early explorer Peter Puget. Camano Island is named after far less known Spanish explorer Jacinto Caamaño who explored the west coast from Mexico to Alaska.

Camano Island Inn (internet photo)

Early inhabitants included people from various groups of the Coast Salish tribes. Currently the island is home to 2 state parks and 13 local parks. Both state parks have campgrounds and the island also has Airbnb and other vacation homes as well as 2 inns. Camano Island Inn started life as a boarding house in the late 1800’s. The current inn has 9 guest rooms and a separate beach house. Sea Mist Waterfront Inn is a former family home turned into a 5 guest room BnB. Most of the beaches on the island are on private property, but both state parks are on the beach and there is access at a couple other parks and some other beach areas. Some of the vacation homes come with private beach access.

the beach at Cama Beach State Park

Camano Island is a great place to go for a quiet retreat. Besides beaches it has acres of wooded trails at 2 state and 3 county parks. There are also other things to do on the island besides hiking on the trails, hanging out on the beaches, or enjoying nature and the views. There’s a zipline called Canopy Tours Northwest, a marketplace, a sculpture park, several wineries, a brewery, boat tours, and a couple restaurants. The island also has farms and farmer’s markets.

ancient photo of Tabu in a parade – he’s the smaller of the 2 horses at the front of the photo

The whole island is unincorporated and semi rural, though not nearly as full of wild open land as it was way back when I bought my first horse there when I was just a kid. He was a feisty unbroke dark bay gelding named Tabu. An inexperienced kid training an unbroken horse was not the best idea, but we both eventually learned and he became one of the best riding horses I ever had. He was so tuned in to me I just had to think what I wanted him to do and he’d do it. He would also rear up on his hind legs on cue. Not the best thing to teach a horse, but what can I say, I was a kid.

Cabin on Camano Island

I hadn’t been there in ages, but when looking for a quiet social distance getaway, Camano Island seemed perfect. After all the most isolated places are generally islands, forests, or lonely beaches and Camano Island has all three. It’s also an island you can get to without a boat or plane, which is a bonus when avoiding public transportation.

pond lily at Cranberry Lake in Cama Beach State Park

Like most places over the years Camano Island has seen development. While it’s still a quiet place without a city, what was once mainly wild untamed land has largely given way to large, sometimes manicured yards surrounding permanent or vacation homes instead of acres of undeveloped land. At least in the area of the island where we stayed, but odds are the rest of the island has seen development over the years too. It’s not exactly isolated with a population of over 13,000 – 17,000 (depending on the season) within the island’s nearly 40 square miles of land. It’s still open enough that we didn’t see much traffic or a whole lot of other people during our stay. Even hiking at one of the state parks we only came across a few people.

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Cabins on Symphony of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas

Most cruise ships have interior, oceanview, and balcony staterooms as well as suites. There’s often some variety in amount of people a room accommodates, and a bit of variance in shape or size due to the location of some of the rooms. Suites often come in small, medium, and large varieties. Symphony of the Seas goes well beyond the usual choices, especially when it comes to suites and interior cabins – some of which aren’t closed in by 4 walls the way interior cabins are expected to be. Like on most cruise ships, there are accessible cabins, which are generally larger than the square footage given for standard cabins of that designation.

grand suite

Suites

Suites on Symphony of the Seas come in three Royal Suite Classes – Sea, Sky, and Star. Sea is the lowest suite class with the least amenities, and is the classification for the Junior Suites, their smallest suites. Sky class is the standard suite classification used for the majority of the types of available suites. Star class is for the highest level premium suites like the Ultimate Family Suite and AquaTheater Suites. Some suites have one or more separate bedrooms. All suite level rooms have bathrooms with bathtubs. Some suites have more than one bathroom.

Exclusive suite class services

Sea –dinner at Coastal Kitchen (exclusive suite only restaurant), bathrobes, luxury pillow top mattress, luxury bathroom amenities

Sky – concierge service, all day access to Coastal Kitchen, specialty bottled water on arrival, complimentary internet, priority boarding & departure

Star – exclusive access to Royal Genie (concierge service), all day access to coastal kitchen, complimentary specialty restaurants, complimentary beverage package, complimentary gratuities, complimentary internet, priority boarding & departure

Types of Suites

royal loft suite

Royal Loft Suite – The largest suite on the ship. Two level suite with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, dining and living room areas, and private jacuzzi on the balcony. 1524 sq ft, with a 843 sq ft balcony, sleeps 6.

4 bedroom villa

Villa Suite – 1142 sq ft, balcony 476 sq ft, 4 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, up to 14 guests. Veranda with private jacuzzi. Sleeps the most people of any cabin on the ship.

ultimate family suite

Ultimate Family Suite – top level two story suite with slide, jacuzzi, air hockey, ping pong, cinema & video game room, 1134 sq ft, balcony 212 sq ft, up to 8 guests. Most colorful suite and most family fun.

Star Loft Suite – Two deck high stateroom with master bedroom and 2 bathrooms, living and dining areas. 722 sq ft, balcony 410, sleeps 4

AquaTheater suite

AquaTheater Suites are available with one or two bedrooms. These are star class with the 2 bedroom suites ranging from 673 – 823 sq ft, with balconies of 610 – 772 sq ft. They sleep up to 8 guests. Besides the 2 bedrooms, they have 2 bathrooms, living room & dining areas, and the wraparound balcony has views of both the ocean and the AquaTheater.

The one-bedroom AquaTheater suites have 1 bathroom, are 604 – 606 sq ft with balconies from 589-631 square feet and sleep up to 4 guests.

owner’s suite

Owner’s Suite – 556 sq ft, balcony 243 sq ft with living room and bedroom areas, 1 bathroom with tub and 2 sinks.

grand suite

Grand Suite comes in 1 or 2 bedroom options.  2 bedroom – 580 sq ft, balcony 238 sq ft up to 8 guests, 2 bathrooms, marble entry, living room area. 1 bedroom – 371 sq feet balcony 105 sq ft, double sink in bathroom, up to 4 guests

crown loft suite

Crown Loft Suite – 2 level urban contemporary style loft suite 545 sq ft, balcony 114 sq ft up to 4 guests, living and dining areas and bathroom on main level, master suite with bathroom with tub on upper level.

junior suite

Junior Suite – glorified balcony room, 284 square feet with 80 sq foot balcony sleeps up to 5.

balcony cabin

Staterooms

Staterooms come as balcony, ocean view, or interior. These cabins all have one bathroom with a shower. Rooms with balconies in the central park and boardwalk areas are on the interior side of the ship, but their balconies are open air because those portions of the ship are open to the outside, Accessible cabins are larger than the square footage listed.

Balcony Staterooms

ocean view balcony

Ocean view balcony cabins come standard or with large balcony. Rooms are  182 sq ft, large balcony is 80 sq ft and standard balcony is 50-52 sq ft. These rooms are located on the outsides of the ship with balconies overlooking the sea. Up to 4 guests.

central park balconies

Central Park View – the balcony overlooks the central park area of the ship, which is open to the sky. 182 sq ft, balcony 52 sq ft

boardwalk balconies

Boardwalk View – although on the interior of the ship, the boardwalk area is open to the sky and at the stern of the ship beyond the AquaTheater. Cabins in this area may be noisy, especially during AquaTheater performances. 182 sq ft, balcony 52 sq ft

Ocean View Staterooms

ocean view

Ocean view staterooms are located on the exterior of the ship and have windows with views of the sea.

Ultra spacious ocean view 271 sq ft up to 6 guests

Ocean View 179 sq ft, up to 4 guests

promenade view interior

Interior Staterooms

There are numerous interior cabin choices on Symphony of the Seas, some with views.

Spacious interior – 260 sq ft, up to 6 guests, bunkroom area, one bathroom. No window, but it is an extra-large cabin.

Central park view interior – 199 sq ft, up to 4 guests, window with view of central park

windows with a view of the Royal Promenade

Promenade View Interior – 194 sq ft, up to 4 guests, bowed windows overlooking the promenade.

interior cabin with virtual balcony

Interior with virtual balcony – 172 sq ft, max 2 guests, no actual window, but real time views of the ocean and destinations on a nearly floor to ceiling high definition screen could make it feel as if there is one.

interior cabin

Interior – 149 sq ft, up to 4 guests, good for cruisers on a budget or day sleepers who want a room without any natural light.

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