Back to Belize for More Cave Tubing

cruise ship at anchor

Splendor in Belize

In the past I have always heard that if you don’t book something in Belize, then there is nothing there to do. On our first visit there were just a few stores at the port. People who had done more exploring beyond the port said they didn’t find much. We had only gone just outside the port to meet our bus for a cave tubing adventure. Several years later we came back to Belize and found that has changed over time.

cave wall

Inside the Cave

We had a snorkel excursion booked, but when we went the meeting place Carnival Splendor listed on our ticket we found out it got canceled. Some other people we met on the ship had arranged an adventure with cave-tubing.com, the same outfit my research last time led me to. John missed out last time, opting for a fishing excursion he didn’t enjoy and I liked the cave tubing so much I was happy to go again so we went looking for our friends in hopes they hadn’t left the ship yet. We caught up with them just before they got off the ship so they let us join in with them.

Belize City

Shops at the Tender Port in Belize

As the tender docked, I didn’t recognize anything on the shore at all. It looked like a completely different port. Where once just a string of small local souvenir stores stood, they have now added many of the usual cruise port shops. There’s also food available and at least one bar right in the tender port area. As we walked up the dock we saw something else we hadn’t seen on the last visit – people with signs for random tours at the pier, including one for snorkeling. We did not stop to see how much they cost.

cave tubing

rock formation inside the cave

We followed our friends through the pier and out the terminal where she had arranged to meet with the cave-tubing.com people. They were waiting just outside the exit from the terminal. There were also a few locals selling things like handmade costume jewelry and wood carvings. The bus showed up shortly. On the way to the park we went first through the rich area of town with fancy homes for people like doctors, lawyers, and “street pharmacists,” and on through the poorer area where many locals live. Our guide mentioned the bridges donated by Canada and China.

light and greenerey

at one place in the cave there is a hole to the outside

The guide said the 2-lane road through the countryside that took us the 30-some miles to the park is the only highway that goes through a graveyard. It had tombs nearly to the edge of the road on both sides. On the way there they handed out little taster cups and gave anyone who wanted it a taste of their locally made cashew wine.

park building

Building at the Park

Just before we reached the park the bus stopped to let off anyone who wanted to ride ATV’s through the jungle, which included the friends we came with, though we did not go to the ATV’s with them. After they got off the bus continued on to the Caves Branch Archaeological Reserve. They got the zipliners out first and on to the ziplines. Everyone else was given a chance to change clothes, use the restroom, or briefly look through the new shops that stood where once there were just a few small booths with locals selling things, though there were still some locals with their wares set up under a roofed area near the restrooms, which looked the same as before. We did the zip line on our first visit there, but this time went with the cave tubing only.

river tubing

We floated the river back to the rope while some people from other vendors had to get out of the river just outside of the cave

Hardhats were still available but not required, though we did see people from a different vender wearing some. Unlike last time when life jackets were optional, this time they said we all had to wear them. They also handed out head lamps, a light on straps to wear on your head so as to see things in the totally dark cave. On my last visit there we carried yellow tubes with us as we set out on the path to the cave, but this time blue tubes with backrests awaited us at the river near the mouth of the cave.

crossing the creek

river crossing to get to the trail to the caves

Everyone comes and goes on the same bus whether they do one, two, or all three of the tours they offer (cave tubing, zip line, and ATV.) Our first time there the guides mentioned having their ways of keeping everyone busy whether they did one option or more. It turns out they have long and short paths to the cave entrance. Last time we took the short path, which has 3 river crossings. This time we took the long path as we had just one activity to do. The long path had just one river crossing at the start of the hike where a rope across the river gives people something to hold onto as they cross if they want to. The rope also has other uses.  It marks the end of the river float and the stairway to get out at the end of the tour and serves as something of marker after a rain – the caves close when the water rises higher than the rope.

this tree has some nuts

Cohune Palm

The long path passed through a dry cave. It also had signs on some of the native fauna, such as mahogany and a cohune palm. The nuts of the cohune palm gave rise to the phrase big cohunas. Along the way the guides pointed out various trees that had medicinal uses for the bark or leaves.

almost ready to go

getting people loaded on tubes to get ready to go into the cave

When we reached the river’s edge a large pile of tubes awaited us. We came with a group of 30 people our friend had organized, plus a few others on the bus not with our friend’s bunch. They gave people a chance to swim if they wanted while they got the tubes organized. Instead of tucking feet under the person on the tube ahead’s arms to hold a string of tubes together as we had last time, now they have the tubes lashed together with ropes. The people not with our large group set off first and the rest of us went through the cave together in strings of 8 tubes each. Our string had one guide the whole time and a second who helped her part of the way. While we all got set up on tubes the people who had done the ATV ride and also wanted to cave tube arrived from the short trail to join the group.

cave waterfall

waterfall in the cave

On the way through the cave we saw a variety of formations and an area with bats on the ceiling. They took us into a chamber with a waterfall, which we did not see last time when we were on more of an express tour before ziplining. We went past the place where the outside comes in – light and greenery through a hole in the top of the cave, something the guide called a sinkhole and said was a sacred place to the Maya.

river float

floating the river after the cave

The river flowed through the cave and back out into the sunshine. We floated on down the river to the starting/ending point, which makes it a nice long ride, unlike if we had to get out right after the cave like the ship’s tours do. Along the way throughout the downriver journey both in and out of the cave we sometimes heard the call of “butts up,” which means a rock or shallow spot that you need to raise your rear out of the water to avoid hitting.

free lunch

tiki hut

Once everyone got out of the water we went back to the bus. It went a short distance back to the tiki hut where the ATV riders got out on the way to the cave. This time everyone got out for a chicken tamale lunch. They also had restrooms there, good for anyone who didn’t have time to use the ones at the park.

cave tubing

guides pulling the tubes through the cave

Cave tubing is lots of fun whether you have done it before or not. John was glad to get a chance to go since he had heard me talking about how much fun I’d had doing it for several years now. He enjoyed it too. It’s still one of my all-time favorite shore excursions and well worth doing again. Once again cave-tubing.com returned us to the pier in plenty of time to get back to the ship and enough to spare for anyone who wanted to shop a bit. It’s easy to book with them. Just go to their website and make arrangements if your ship has a port of call in Belize. They’ll meet you at the pier and there’s no worries about the money if for some reason your ship misses that port because you don’t pay until the bus ride back. Bring cash, with enough extra to tip the hard-working crew and to buy drinks, t-shirts, wine, or whatever at the lunch stop. They happily accept US dollars.

cave tubing is fun

cave tubers in the cave

Using cave-tubing.com rather than booking through the ship saves you money, gives you a longer ride, and supports local Belzians who have years of experience in the cave. This company has been in business over 15 years and the owner and all employees are local to the area. They have an award of 5 star excellence from Trip Advisor based on reviews from people who have taken the tour. They understand cruise ship schedules and return you to the ship on time. The ship’s tour is done through a Jamaican company.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
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Food on Holland America Veendam

Holland America Veendam

Veendam in Sydney, Nova Scotia

Food on a cruise ship is always plentiful and almost always available. Like most cruise ships, the Holland America Veendam has a number of food choices each meal. For breakfast passengers can fill out the handy card in the room, hang it on the door, and have room service served at the chosen time. (At least that’s how it’s supposed to work. We tried that once on the Veendam and the food never came, but the filled-out card returned to haunt us every day even after throwing it in the garbage can.) I’m not sure why we got the card back in the evening rather than breakfast that morning, but the system probably worked for other people as it has for me in the past on other ships.

cruise ship food

chocolate cake – dining room dessert

Other breakfast options include the dining room or the Lido buffet. Dining room breakfasts are good, but can take awhile and this cruise had port stops every day but one so we chose the quicker Lido buffet for our daily breakfast. It has lots of choices including omlettes made while you wait (pick this option only when the line is short if you are in a hurry or don’t like long waits.) They had a variety of hot and cold food selections and my favorite, the almost never crowded station serving eggs Benedict which they made fresh right there.

cruise food

Even the sugar-free desserts are fancy

Lunchtime also had options from a sit-down meal in the dining room to a variety of options on the Lido. I pretty much stuck with the Lido salad bar for lunches this cruise. They also had deli sandwiches, hot lunches, a burger stand and taco bar. For later eaters the burger stand and taco bar stayed open past the closing of the regular buffet, and the pizza stand opened for the afternoon at 2pm. They also had excellent daily dessert choices and ice cream cones or sundaes.

afternoon tea

biscuit with jam and cream, fruit tart, and egg salad sandwich at afternoon tea

Holland America has great afternoon teas, some days with themes varying from cupcakes to High Tea and other days traditional English tea treats. Tea is served with hot water in individual little silver pots and a selection of teas to choose from. People can ask for coffee if they wish.

cruise food

Quail from a special chef’s night

The Veendam dining room serves such delicious food it’s hard to tear yourself away at dinnertime to try anything else, but if you take a night off to go to the upscale Pinnacle Grill when they have their regular menu the food there is so superb it’s worth whatever you missed in the dining room to try it. Other dinner options include pizza or the Lido buffet and each night a section of the Lido transforms into Canaletto, an Italian restaurant. Pinnacle Grill and Caneletto have surcharges, but everything else is included in the price of the cruise.

pork chop dinner

Pork Chop at the Pinnacle Grill

Everything in Pinnacle Grill is upscale from the décor to the dishes to the food and service. They even have a little tool to clean the crumbs off the tablecloth between each course. People each picked a main dish which came just to them, and a side which came in a serving dish with enough for the whole table so everyone got to try a variety of things. Desserts were individual.

fancy food

cake and gelato at Canaletto

Canaletto also served most items in the family style manner so diners could try more things. Dessert options included several flavors of gelato, and swapping out the vanilla gelato that came with the chocolate cake for pistachio meant a chance to try both the chocolate cake and the pistachio gelato rather than choosing between the two. (Both tasted very good.)

seafood special

shrimp and halibut at Pinnacle Grill

Food on the Veendam was the best I have ever had on a cruise ship. Perhaps it was the chef or the galley crew on the ship at the time I sailed or perhaps that ship always excels. I don’t know the answer to that, just that during my time on the ship we had extremely excellent meals.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
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Carnival Breeze Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse

Carnival cruise ship

Carnival Breeze

Most cruise ships have premium restaurants where passengers can have special food different from what is served in the dining room or buffet if they are willing to pay the fee. These fees can range from next to nothing to quite a lot depending on the ship and the restaurant. Carnival Breeze has 4. At the Red Frog Pub the Pub Grub is cooked fresh right there and costs just $3.33 per food item or $2.22 for their very delicious icky sticky coconut cake. Their food includes things like grouper (fish) fingers, pulled pork or beef sliders, and coconut shrimp among other things. The Breeze also has Cucina del Capitano, an Italian restaurant with a free pasta bar at lunch and fancier Italian food for $15 per person at dinner and a sushi place where sushi can be purchased in varying quantities. The premium upscale restaurant on the Breeze is their steakhouse, Fahrenheit 555.

upscale dining

Steakhouse Menu

Passengers can choose one of the steakhouse meats on the dinner menu in the dining room for $20, or they can book a table at Fahrenheit 555 and have the whole steakhouse experience for $35.

not my thing

the raw lobster and caviar thing

The waiter comes by with a display of the meats offered for dinner and talks a bit about how each is cooked. The meal includes 4 courses, an appetizer, salad, main, and dessert. Before the appetizer you order comes they bring an extra unexpected little morsel out for people to try. They gave John tomato soup and me some sort of raw lobster and caviar thing so we traded because I don’t eat anything raw that didn’t come from a plant. The soup tasted quite good and he liked the seafood thing.

fancy cruise food

spinach and bacon salad with surprise mushroom center

For appetizers I had lobster bisque and he had French onion soup. The lobster bisque was the sort where the bowl starts out with bits of things and no liquid and the waiter pours the soup around it. The onion soup came in a fancy bowl on a stand and was different from what the main dining room serves. For salad we both had the baby spinach, which has mushrooms hidden in the center of the spinach pile and a bit of bacon on top.

fancy lobster

lobster dinner in the steakhouse

We chose lobster tails for our main course. They come halved and stacked on top of their garlic mashed potatoes. Menu options include a selection of lots of side dishes people can add to their meal. We ordered some not realizing the lobster came with potatoes and ended up with way too much food.

try several desserts

Chocolate Sampler

For dessert he got the chocolate sampler, 4 little pots of different fancy little chocolate desserts. I had the cheesecake, which was delicious, but far too big to eat the whole thing even though the waiter called my gigantic slice a small piece.

a giant tiny piece

cheesecake

The food at the steakhouse tasted quite good and they also provide an enjoyable dining experience.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016

 

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Very Easy Ice Cream Cake

easy ice cream cake

ice cream cake decorated for the 4th of July with m&m flag

Just how easy is this ice cream cake? So easy you can make it with one hand. I know because I did just that once – made one while I had a broken arm. This scrumptious dessert can be tailored to fit any diet. For a rich decadent dessert use premium ice cream. Adjust the recipe to special diets with sugar free or low fat products. Use dairy free ice cream or gluten free cookies if needed. There’s only 3 ingredients, so pick products that meet your needs. Two standard size ice cream containers fill a 10-inch diameter springform pan so if your pan is bigger or smaller you will need to adjust the amount of ice cream. The final product only tastes as good as the ingredients used, so pick ice cream and cookies that you like.

Ice Cream Cake

Ingredients

Two 1.5 – 2 quart size cartons of ice cream, each carton a different flavor. Use types that are consistent throughout the carton, not the sort with sauce running through it or more than one kind of ice cream in the same container.

Crushed Cookies – enough to make a thin layer covering ice cream

1 jar hot fudge sauce

Directions

Set one carton of ice cream on the counter to thaw.  Let it sit until soft enough to spread without letting it melt.  This`will take about 15 – 30 minutes depending on room temperature and hardness of ice cream.

While waiting for the ice cream to thaw you can do the next two steps.

Line bottom of 10-inch diameter springform pan with parchment paper.

Crush cookies into small crumbles bigger than crumbs. The easiest way is to spread out a piece of wax paper to pile the cookies on and then roll them into crumbles with a rolling pin.

When the ice cream softens around the edges of the carton stir it so the consistency stays even throughout.

When thawed ice cream reaches an easily spreadable consistency spread it evenly over the parchment paper lining the bottom of the springform pan.

Top with enough crushed cookies to cover ice cream surface. Gently press the cookie layer into the ice cream layer, just enough that they stick well in the ice cream, but not enough to distort the flatness of the top of the ice cream layer.

Freeze until solid – an hour or two.

Thaw second carton of ice cream just as with the first one and spread over cookie layer when ready.

Freeze several hours or overnight.

Heat hot fudge sauce just enough to make it spreadable. You don’t want it hot like it would be for eating a hot fudge sundae because you don’t want the ice cream to melt. Spread quickly and carefully over ice cream. Try not to let any ice cream melt into the sauce.

Freeze – a little or a lot depending on decoration choice. It at least needs to immediately get into the freezer long enough to chill the hot fudge so it doesn’t melt the ice cream underneath.

Decorate if desired. With the right decorations this makes a great holiday treat or birthday cake. Other decorating options include topping with finely chopped nuts or coconut.

If you want to decorate with candies, nuts, or anything that needs to stick in the hot fudge just let it freeze 10 or 15 minutes between putting the sauce on and adding the decorations. If you want to decorate with frosting let it freeze completely before decorating.

Freeze after decorating.

Remove springform sides from pan, cut cake and serve. Run a hot knife around the edge of the pan before taking the side off for easier removal.

easy ice cream cake

ice cream cake made with chocolate truffle ice cream, chocolate chip ice cream, oreo cookies, and hot fudge sauce. Topped with m&m’s.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
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Cruise Ship Cabins on Ruby Princess

cruise ship veranda

balcony to R749, aft facing premium balcony cabin

Like all the major cruise ships, Ruby Princess has an array of staterooms to choose from ranging from the smallest, least expensive inside cabins to the biggest fanciest suites and everything in between. There’s something for everyone whether it means cruising in luxury or cruising for the lowest possible price.

welcome to the suite

entrance to penthouse suite R411

Besides the extra space suites come with perks including priority boarding, a special line at guest services, and nicer amenities in the room.

cruise ship suite balcony

Suites have better balcony furniture and bigger balconies. room R402

While some ships have all sorts of oddly-shaped rooms of varying sizes near corners, most rooms on the Ruby Princess are standard size for their category, with the accessible rooms running at the large end of the size range.

covered balcony

balcony to cabin R747 is bigger than normal with lots of sheltered space

If you scout the deck plans thoroughly you can find a few larger than average oceanview rooms near the bow on the plaza deck and a small row of oceanview obstructed rooms at the bow of the Lido deck that vary quite a bit in size. Some decks have larger verandas than others. A couple rooms near the stern of the Rivera deck have particularly large balconies.

larger than normal interior cabin

Rotated interior cabin R507 has open space on the other side of the shelves from where the picture was taken – and Captain Stubing from the Love Boat TV show on the TV in the mirror

There are also a few larger than average interior rooms that are rotated the opposite direction of most cabins, mainly on the Rivera deck.

accessible bathroom

ADA cabin bathroom has large roll-in shower

Standard rooms have showers and most suites have tubs. Hand soap and hand lotion are provided and the showers have dispensers with bodywash and a combo shampoo/conditioner. Accessible rooms of all types have larger than average bathrooms with roll-in showers that have handrails and fold-down seats. Standard room amenities include a refrigerator, television with satellite TV, hair dryer, safe, phone, and daily cleaning and turn-down service with a chocolate for each person in the room every night. Rather than the usual single outlet found on a lot of ships, our cabin had 3.

ADA interior cabin

ADA cabin A312 is more spacious than the average interior cabin allowing room to maneuver wheelchairs or scooters

Interior cabins provide all the basics a passenger needs. A place to sleep, somewhere to keep your things, and of course a bathroom.

ocean view obstructed cabin

ocean view obstructed room E520 has peek-a-boo view between life boats

If you want some natural light, a bit bigger room, and yet would like to keep the cost down try an oceanview room. The lowest in the price range are in the obstructed view category.

ocean view cabin

ocean view cabin P230 has a full window view

The staterooms with a full view still cost considerably less than balcony cabins. Ocean view rooms are often found on decks too low for balconies which means great close-up views of the water. Rooming on the lower decks also makes a good way to avoid crowds since you are often going down when the majority of other passengers are going up and are usually close to the exit deck in ports.

stateroom with balcony

balcony cabin R306

Balcony cabins provide a bit of private outdoor space. If your cruise takes you somewhere scenic it’s nice to have a place to go where you can see the scenery without jostling for space among the crowd in public areas. The sliding door also provides a larger view area than the windows in the oceanview rooms.

cruise ship mini suite

mini suite D302

Mini-suites with their larger rooms and bigger balconies are a step up from balcony cabins without paying the price of a full suit.

premium cruise ship suite

premium suite room L106

Those who really want to cruise in luxury will find it in the suites. Ruby Princess has quite a variety of different suites.

accessible cruise ship suite

ADA penthouse suite room R415

Although all the suites are larger than other cabins, there are still some ADA suites with the extra-wide doors and ADA bathrooms with the roll-in shower rather than the tub that comes standard in other suites.

cruise ship suite

Family Suite D106 is quite a large room on its own

adding more space to a cruise ship cabin

connecting door between family suite D106 and extra bedroom D102

Ruby Princess has a couple family suites which have a full suite with sitting and sleeping areas plus a connecting door into an extra bedroom with beds, bunks, and another bathroom.

bunks in cruise ship cabins make more passengers an option

ocean view obstructed cabin E520 with one bunk in use and one not

Try not to book a room that holds more people than you actually have in your group because the bunks are of the old style that fold down from the wall rather than the newer sort that fold down out of the ceiling so they stick out into the room somewhat even when folded up.

launderette

self-serve laundry on Ruby Princess

Decks with cabins all have launderettes, which cost $3 each for the washer and dryer. You can iron your clothes for free. Carpets running down the halls between passenger cabins have red boarders on the port side where all the even numbered cabins are and blue boarders on the starboard side with odd numbered cabins so knowing which way to turn from the elevator or stairs is quite easy.

accessible cruise ship cabins

ADA suite on right has significantly wider door then standard suite on left

ADA (Americans with disabilities) cabins are available in all the basic categories – inside, oceanview, balcony, and suite. These cabins are usually the largest among each room type and feature wider doors and specially equipped bathrooms.

cruise ship suite

Cabin R402, the Princess Cays Penthouse Suite

Within the basic categories, some split into more divisions – ocean view obstructed and ocean view, balcony and premium balcony, and numerous suite categories including mini suite, vista suite, penthouse suite, premium suite, family suite and owner’s suite. There are also sub categories within each category division where the price varies a bit due to the location of that particular room on the ship. In general on all ships and cruise lines, rooms on higher decks usually cost more, as do rooms toward the center of each deck. So usually the best price within each type of room is found near the bow or stern on the lowest deck where that type of room is available. Except of course the rooms actually on the stern, which are often premium balcony rooms with extra large balconies and a view of the ship’s wake.

Accommodations on other ships: Arcadia, Breeze, Breeze odd rooms, Divina, Ecstasy, Infinity, Legend, Liberty, Pearl, Splendor, Veendam, Westerdam, Wilderness Adventurer

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
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Cozumel Beaches On Your Own – Sky Reef

cruise ship in Cozumel

Ecstasy from Sky Reef in Cozumel

Cozumel is always one of my favorite ports. The beautiful aqua blue water in some areas stays so clear you can see the bottom even when fairly deep. The second largest coral reef in the world, the Meso American Reef, starts there and runs all the way to Honduras. Some of the area’s most popular activities include snorkeling and scuba diving. Lounging on beaches is also a popular pastime. From Cozumel you can take a ferry to Playa del Carmen on the mainland. On all our previous visits to Cozumel we did shore excursions from the ship. Each one different, but excellent. Two of them took us to the mainland. One visiting the Mayan ruins in Tulum and the other cave snorkeling. The others stayed on the island. We went snorkeling on Palancar Reef with a beach stop at Playa Mia. Another time we rode the Atlantis Submarine, a real submarine that submerges over 100 feet below the surface. Grand Cayman is the only other place I know of that has one, though many ports including Cozumel have semi-subs.

beach bar

Sky Reef from under the beach umbrellas

On our port stop at Cozumel on Carnival Ecstasy we decided to take it easy and just go to a beach for shore snorkeling and relaxing. Cozumel has quite a few little places along the shore where people can hang out for a beach day. Most offer either ala carte or all-inclusive services with food and drinks. The one I’d heard mentioned most is Mr. Sanchos, but our cab driver said the snorkeling is better at Sky Reef. We went there instead and met some other people who said they had asked to go to the Money Bar and their driver told them this was a better place too so some of the cabbies are probably in cahoots with the place, or getting paid to bring people there. It worked out well for us because the snorkeling was pretty good for shore snorkeling and this place was probably a lot more quiet and peaceful and less crowded than the better known places. It’s a great place to go if you want a relaxing beach day with some snorkeling and you don’t want to spend too much money. Some places charge just to go there. Sky Reef did not and the cab fare was a few bucks less than to anywhere else.

beach bar

Sea view and a worker cleaning out seaweed from the after effects of a hurricane

Several rows of beach chairs with little tables and big umbrellas lined the beach in front of a double palapa topped building housing a bar and restaurant. A dock with stairs into the water led out to the beach, but if you go there be careful on the underwater stairs as they can get slippery. On the day of our visit floating seaweed covered the first few yards of water closest to shore, remnants of a recent hurricane. Workers from the place stayed busy clearing it out of the water while we were there, probably a thankless task for awhile as more likely floats in daily until everything clears up from the storm. Under and beyond the seaweed the water was clear. Cozumel normally has water so clear you can often see the bottom while out in a boat. Little fish swam in large schools near shore. Farther out the fish got bigger and the amount of fish smaller. Rocks and holes on the sea floor made structure where coral and fish concentrated.

under the sea

fish at Sky Reef

I’ve used my trusty lumix underwater camera for years. This time I tried out my new Olympus camera underwater for the first time. I tried it on a few different settings throughout the trip and saw quite a difference in the photos depending on which setting I used. The ones that look better while taking the photo aren’t necessarily the ones that look clearest in the finished product. I didn’t go through any of the photos until I got home though so what I took through this set of cruises is what I get and I’ll have to experiment more with it next trip.

under the sea in Cozumel

fan coral at Sky Reef

I could snorkel all day if limiting UV exposure wasn’t a necessity, but it is so I just stayed out for awhile and then made use of a shady beach chair and ordered a virgin mango daiquiri. The cab ride over was $13 for two people. If you have your own gear the snorkeling is free, but when spending a beach day in a place with no cover charge a person should buy something. They had snorkel gear for rent and massages available for a whole lot less than what the ship’s spa charges.

underwater photo

fish at Sky Reef

It was a nice place to spend the day. When we were ready to go they called a cab for us and while we waited we looked around the restaurant area a bit. Several people sat at tables eating Mexican food and at one end of the room two large parrots sat on a perch waiting for someone to pay for a picture with them. Along one side of the room a table displayed jewelry for sale. The cab ride back also cost $13, so overall a pretty cheap day on shore.

cuttlefish

Cuttlefish at Sky Reef

I found out recently that the oil in most sunscreens can kill coral. For this trip I tried mineral based coral safe sunscreen. You probably won’t find any among the major brands in the average store. If a sunscreen doesn’t say biodegradeable then it is not coral safe. You can google it and find places that sell them online. If you have a local store that sells things like herbal remedies or organic products they might have it too. These mineral based sunscreens actually protect you better from future skin cancer than the oil-based chemical sunscreens people normally use so you can do both your skin and the sea life a favor by finding a coral safe product before swimming in tropical oceans.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
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Santiago, Chile

Santiago, Chile

City and Mountain view from Doubletree Inn, Santiago

Our trans-Pacific cruise on P&O Arcadia started from Valparaiso, Chile, which meant flying into Santiago, about 70 miles away. Port stops never last long, but when starting or ending a cruise you sometimes have the opportunity for a longer stay. We spent a couple nights in Santiago before moving on to Valparaiso.

Santiago church

old church in Santiago

When leaving the airport at Santiago, Chile, you keep seeing people with signs for different taxi services while exiting the baggage area. There are also kiosks where you can go to get a taxi. We saw more and more of both before reaching the door to the outside and began to wonder if you could just go to the curb and find taxis waiting like other airports or if we went out the door would there not be any. So rather than waiting to find out we just went with one of the guys with a sign. He took us up an elevator to another level where there was a taxi waiting – just the one though, not a whole line of them like you find at most airports where you just walk out the door and there they are.

exchange rate

$100 US dollars and its equivalent in Chilean pesos

In Chilean pesos everything sounds expensive. Dinner could take your life savings. You could buy a car for the price of a cab ride. Once that gets transferred to US dollars it sounds a lot better. It’s about 10,000 pesos to 15 US dollars.

Chilean condor

condor

Some things seem universal no matter where you travel or even if you just stay home. Looking out the window as the cab sped down the freeway we could see a river running parallel to the road. The river banks were strewn with garbage and cement walls covered in graffiti. I guess this points out a major problem with humans since pretty much everywhere has places like that. Here and there along the riverbank groups of shanties pieced together out of whatever people could find looked like some pretty big squatter communities. Yup, homelessness is a problem everywhere too. There was a big difference here though – whatever vacant land sat next to these shacks had several horses munching on whatever weeds grew there. First time I’ve ever seen squatters with horses and each group had a few.

bike rental

bikes for rent in Santiago

When the cab exited the freeway we left all that behind, finding our hotel in an apparently nicer area of town. We had a great view of the Andes Mountains in the distance towering above all the tall buildings nearby.

tall mall

shops upon shops, literally

We took a walk and found a multi-story mall. These always fascinate me because malls where I live sprawl over many acres one story high other than a few of the bigger stores that have a second floor over just their own store. These multi-level malls fit in a lot of stores without taking up anywhere near that amount of land. Outside the mall bikes for rent sat along one side of the building and just around the corner a large rack offered rentals of bike parking space. Judging by its nearly full status a lot of Chileans in Santiago must ride bikes.

Andes Mountains

roadside view in the Andes

On our second day in Santiago we took a tour up to the Andes Mountains, which the hotel people arranged for us. February is summer in the southern hemisphere so other than distant peaks they didn’t have any snow. The lower hills held mansions and other large homes clinging to the hillside in one of Santiago’s wealthier neighborhoods. As our elevation got higher the homes got more sparse until they disappeared entirely. The road had way more curves and switchbacks the higher we went. Trees got smaller and eventually gave way to treeless areas of grass and scrubbrush dotted with cactus. A bit surprising to see desert-sized giant cactus in an area of heavy winter snow. I’ve seen ground-level cactus in snowy areas before, but none so big.

goat wrangling in Chile

goats cross the road near a snow depth measuring pole

Just as I was thinking the land kind of resembled ranchlands, we saw some horses and a mule on the roadside. Here and there along the way we drove over piles of road apples so there must have been more horses around than the ones we saw. (For anyone who doesn’t know this, road apples means horse poop.) Not long after some goats ran across the road. More followed, with so many more behind them the driver had to stop the van to let them cross. Eventually a herding dog bounded by with the last of the goats, followed not all that closely by a lone cowboy on a horse. Vaquero I suppose since we are in a Spanish speaking country. I’m not sure if cowboy/vaquero is the actually the right term for a goat wrangler, but I don’t know a better one.

what to do in Santiago

van tour in the Andes Mountains

The other two couples in the van were tourists from Brazil. Our Chilean guide said that is where the greatest number of tourists to Chile come from. He gave all the tour information in Portuguese for them and English for us and then conversed with the driver in Spanish. He spoke all three languages fluently.

Andes Mountain ski resort

Valle Nevado Ski Resort

Near the top of the mountain we stopped at a ski resort, which was deserted other than a few busloads of summer tourists up to see the mountains on a day trip and a few workers here and there. Condors flew around and sat on the roof of one hotel. We were a bit surprised there weren’t crews painting, paving, and doing repairs to get everything ready for the next winter season.

condor in the Andes Mountains

Condor at the ski resort

One hotel had a restaurant and gift shop open and there were some trails and lookouts for great views. All the ski lifts sat vacant. I guess they haven’t discovered using them for mountain bikers in the summer yet. We would have liked to ride the gondola style one up to the top of the peak where its tracks or cables or whatever you want to call them led, but none of the unmoving lifts appeared to be open.

lizard that lives in the cold

lizard at the ski resort

More surprising than large cactus growing on a mountain that gets several meters of snow in the winter, while hiking up a hill on what was probably more of a maintenance trail than where tourists are supposed to go, I saw a couple of little lizards. The first one scurried off to fast for a photo, but the second stopped to pose for awhile. Apparently they have grottos under rocks where they live and they survive through the winter under all that snow.

Farellones in the Andes Mountains

view of ski lifts and tubing area from window of Farellones restaurant

On the way back down we stopped at Farellones and had lunch in a little mountain restaurant with huge portions of food. This cute little town had ski lifts all over and an area for tubing. The guide said it had a zip line as well, which is only open on weekends in the summer.

Andes Mountains

Farellones, Chile

The town has enough permanent residents to have a small school, but is mostly made up of vacation cabins belonging to people from Santiago. Our guide said locals mainly ski there rather than at the big resorts up higher because it costs a lot less. The town seemed fairly deserted, but the guide said one hotel stays open year round.

stone ruin

probably should have built the whole house from stone

We came into town on a shortcut up a gravel road and passed many stone buildings including an old church. The area where we stopped by the restaurant did not have any stone buildings other than a small stone ruin standing alone in charred rubble. It was probably the fireplace of a building otherwise burned down to nothing. A couple hotels and some homes clinging to a steep hillside made for a great view from the road.

lots of street dogs in Santiago

street dogs barking at a cab

That night we took an evening stroll down the avenue near our hotel. Santiago has a lot of stray dogs. A couple of them hanging around a street corner suddenly ran out in the road blocking a cab and barking at it. The cab sat there quite awhile revving his engine and moving inches at a time trying to get the dogs to leave so he could go. Finally he got his chance and made a break for it, dogs running alongside his car barking loudly. We wondered what it was about that particular car that made them behave like that. They had ignored all the cars that passed by before him, including identical cabs. On the way back the dogs were still there. They half-heartedly chased a couple other cars, but nothing like they had done with the cab. We couldn’t figure out why they risked their lives like that unless perhaps people sometimes throw food to the sidewalk to get them to move, though nobody that we saw did. Later somebody said a lot of street dogs like to bark at tires.

Andes Mountain View

Andes Mountains with road winding to the top

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Arcadia, Day Trips, P&O, Port City Side Trips, South and Central America | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Packing For a Cruise

packing for a cruise

save a little weight by using a two-wheeled bag

As far as travel goes, about the only thing worse than packing for a trip is unpacking when you get home. Both are necessary though because it’s pretty hard to travel without bringing anything. What to bring varies from person to person, but some things everyone needs. Four-wheeled luggage is popular and easy to handle, but when there are weight limits the ones with two wheels are nicer because they weigh a bit less meaning you can put a bit more inside.

make your own necklace holder

Junk mail and a plastic bag make great necklace holders. Cut slits on both ends to hold the chain and it won’t get tangled.

The most important things everyone must have to get on the ship are your boarding pass and any required ID. Since most people set up their onboard account with a credit card they also need that card. Passports are important too. Even if the passport is not required for the destination in the case of an emergency you can’t fly home from a foreign country without it. You can’t fly to the next port without it either if you happen to get left behind in a foreign country. Nobody plans to get left behind in port, but it happens.

don't let anyone steal your ID

you can find RFID blocking sleeves online and they don’t cost much

It’s a very good idea to keep your cards in RFID blocking sleeves so nobody can scan them and steal your information. You can find the sleeves online for very little money, and they have some for passports too. If you are traveling somewhere where pickpockets are common try not to let anyone touch you while you are out and about in port and keep your things in a secure place where they aren’t easily taken.

American dollars are accepted in most places in Caribbean, Mexican, and Canadian ports, but when traveling to places like Europe, Asia, Australia, or New Zealand you may need some local currency. Credit cards work for most things purchased in port, but it’s nice to have some cash for tips, shopping in places like small local craft booths, or if you go somewhere you don’t want to take the credit card.

pack clothes with more than one use

tank top goes from daytime to dinner with a sweater and a skirt instead of shorts

Clothes to bring depend partly on the cruise destination and partly on the cruiseline you sail with. For any destination it’s a good idea to bring rain gear – the one thing you pack hoping never to use. For colder climates packing a lighter jacket and things you can wear in layers is more versatile and takes up less space than bringing a bulky jacket. It also saves luggage space if you can travel in your most bulky shoes and coat. Packing clothes you can mix and match in more than one outfit also helps save space in the suitcase since you can bring less if you can use some for more than one thing. Some clothing items easily transform from casual to dressy with a change of accessories, shoes, or what you wear with it. Ships have swimming pools and hot tubs so even on itineraries that don’t include beaches it’s nice to have a swimsuit. Some ships also have waterslides and/or saunas.

easy pack sunhat

a sunhat that folds down flat or rolls up small then pops back into shape is great for cruising

Clothing needed includes things to wear on the ship as well as things to wear in port. Inside the ship is often cold even when sailing to warm places so it’s a good idea to have a lightweight sweatshirt. Most ships have at least one formal night per cruise, though how formal of clothing you need can vary from one line to another. In most cases a suit for men and a dress or skirt and nice top for women are nice enough, but check the dress code for your ship to be sure. If there is more than one formal night different shirts or accessories can change the look without having to pack an entire second outfit. If you do bring separate outfits and they both go with the same shoes you can save the space a second pair would take. Also check the dress code for your ship to know what clothes and shoes to bring for casual night dinners. Some ships have theme nights in the dining room sometimes too. It helps for suitcase space if at least some of your dinner wardrobe can be worn for other things as well as the dining room.

packing shoes

save weight and space with small streamlined shoes

Besides shoes for the dining room, other shoes needed include a comfortable pair you can walk around all day in whether on board or in port and summer shoes like sandals or flip flops for wearing to the pools, hot tubs, or beach. In hot climates a couple pairs of summer shoes are good since that is what you’ll probably wear most of the time on board or off and they don’t take up a lot of space. Wearing your bulkiest pair of shoes on the plane helps save both weight and space in your bag.

No worries about liquid or powder soap spills with laundry pods

laundry soap pods make washing easy – just throw one in with the dirty clothes and go

Knowing in advance whether your ship has laundry facilities can help in deciding how many clothes to pack, especially for long cruises. Some ships have self-serve passenger laundries, some don’t. You can send laundry out for the crew to wash, but that often comes at a hefty price. If you do your own wash laundry soap pods come in really handy and don’t take up much space. Newer ships often use your ship card to pay for the washer and dryer, but some older ones still take quarters. You can get them at the ship’s casino, but you can beat the crowd if you bring your own, especially since the casino is closed in port and the front desk may not have any.

mosquito repellent and fabric softner in one

dryer sheets repel mosquitoes and soften clothes

Dryer sheets come in handy whether you wash clothes or not because you can put one in your pocket for mosquito repellent when going on shore and then use it for doing laundry later. A few clothespins help too. Even if you don’t handwash anything in your cabin it is easier to hang wet swimsuits up on the little laundry line in the shower with clothespins than it is to string the line through them.

clothespins come in useful

a few clothespins come in handy with the clothesline in the cabin shower

Of course you will always want to mostly pack clothes appropriate for the weather where you are going, but even in could climates a pair of shorts might come in handy if you decide to go to the gym. In warm climates long pants might be needed inside the ship where it tends to be cold, and because shorts may not be allowed in the dining room at dinner.

put liquids in plastic

pack your liquids in a plastic bag in case one leaks

Ships normally provide very basic bathroom supplies – soap and shampoo. There’s usually conditioner and body wash too and sometimes hand lotion. Quality varies though so it never hurts to have travel size supplies of your own. You’ll also need things like toothpaste, razors, mouthwash, dental floss, etc – whatever you normally use. Bathrobes are normally available either standard in the room or for the asking. I’ve always gotten extra hangers when I’ve asked the steward for them, but the amount varies so if space allows that’s a handy thing to bring.

magnetic walls in cruise ship cabin

cruise ship cabins often have magnetic walls so a few magnets keep paperwork organized

Hair dryers are normally provided in the cabins. Many ships have just one outlet per cabin so bringing a power strip helps tremendously. Magnets also come in useful since the cabin walls are magnetic in most ships and even the few without magnetic walls often have magnetic doors. With magnets you can hang things like excursion tickets, your itinerary, and the daily newsletters on the wall where they are always easy to find.

I usually bring snorkel gear, which takes up quite a bit of space. Bring what is most important to you, but if it is bulky and you are flying where luggage is limited then there are trade-offs for the space. I’ll often just bring one pair of little black ballet flats that go with everything for dinner and then the space where several pairs of bigger shoes would otherwise go is open for the snorkel gear.

protect coral while protecting yourself

bring coral safe sunscreen when swimming in tropical waters

Sunscreen is a must for any destination, but if it is a tropical destination make sure to bring some coral reef safe sunscreen for the ports. Most popular sunscreens are chemical based and harm coral reefs so look for something labeled either biodegradable or reef safe, which you will more likely find online or in a store that sells things like herbal remedies and organic products than in the average grocery or big box store. The good thing is that the mineral based sunscreens do a better job protecting people from skin cancer so by protecting the reef you also better protect yourself. Sunglasses are a necessity for any cruise, and hats whether a sunhat for warm places or winter hat for cold places come in useful as well.

nobody can steal your stuff if you take it swimming with you

keep cash, ID, and credit cards safe at the beach in a waterproof case

If you plan to swim in public places on shore it helps to have a small waterproof case on a string that you can put your ship card, ID, and money or credit card in so you can take them in the water with you. Underwater cameras are nice for that as well both for the fact that you can take them in the water with you rather than leaving them unguarded on shore, and for taking underwater pictures. Lots of people use phones and tablets for their photos, but you would not want to leave them lying around a public beach while you are in the water.

pack your own outlets

there’s often just one outlet in cruise ship cabins so bring your own

It’s nice to bring a backpack as a carry-on. You can bring all your electronics with you that way, plus anything you might want during your first few hours onboard because the luggage isn’t always delivered right away. On some ships the rooms may not be ready when you first board so it really helps to have anything you will need immediately with you. And of course if you fly in and your luggage happened to get lost it couldn’t hurt to have a change of underwear in your carry-on.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016

 

Posted in Randoms, Shipboard Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Celebrity’s Qsine – Where Fun Meets Food

cruise ship premium restaurant

Qsine on Celebrity Infinity

For a totally intriguing dining experience when sailing with Celebrity try dinner at their unique specialty restaurant, Qsine. It is a premium restaurant with a surcharge, but you can save money by booking on a port day when the price is lower. Qsine makes dinner fun with everything from the whimsical décor to wondering how the next dish will be served. Part of the eclectic room on the Infinity has light fixtures made of lamps hanging upside down from the ceiling. The other end has a large chandelier with plenty of supports to keep it from swinging with any movement the ship might experience.

cruise ship premium dining experience

At Qsine the fun starts with the menu

Once seated, Qsine’s guests receive a menu resembling an ipad. Food orders come family style for the table rather than individually for each person, but each person’s rectangular plate and tiny silverware gets replaced for each dish. The waiter brings a dish of tasty rolls to munch on while waiting for the first dish.

table at Qsine

Place Setting at Qsine

The menu has 20 choices, some of which come in a small taster size with just one item in a unique container. Other selections have a variety of items served in interesting ways and the one choice could make a whole meal by itself. You can order as many as you like, though it would take either a really big appetite or a lot of wasted food in order to try everything in one meal. Each menu choice comes served in its own special way, none of which involves food just sitting on an ordinary plate.

not your average spring roll

Spring Rolls

Spring rolls come springs, one of the many whimsical serving dishes at Qsine.

interesting food

Disco Shrimp served over disco lights

The disco shrimp comes served in a clear ball with flashing blue light, which shines brightly in the restaurant’s low lighting, which seems about as bright as candlelight though it has no candles.

cruise ship cusine

Persian Kebob served on a sword

The Persian kebob has chicken and veggies skewered on a sword.

food selections

Taj Majal AKA “Barbie House”

Taj Mahal Mediteranian selection comes in a wooden container with a separate little compartment for each item. Our waiter referred to that one as the “Barbie house” because of its resemblance to the tiny rooms of a dollhouse. The lamb chops in this one were one of the best things we tried.

no butter needed

Popcorn Shrimp

Another favorite was the potato croquettes, a ball of breaded and deep fried mashed potatoes available either with the popcorn fish-n-chips (which comes in a popcorn box) or the crunchy munchies where different sorts of potatoes each occupy a paper cone on a stand. This comes with French fries, sweet potato fries and homemade vegetable chips as well as the potato croquettes.

creative menus

Dessert Menu

Sushi comes as lollipops. The waiters also come around with marshmallow lollipops which they pass around to whomever wants one. After eating all that they come around with the dessert menu, which looks a lot like a Rubik’s cube and unfolding it into a variety of positions reveals new dessert options at each fold. Selections include things like cupcakes that you decorate yourself, a chef’s surprise which was warm pineapple upside down cake the night we ate there, and the best ever chocolate tombstone which consists of chocolate mousse sitting on a crispy rice bar and topped with chocolate ganache.

yum

Chocolate Tombstone

It’s hard to pick a favorite from all the tasty items served in unique and entertaining ways, but if I had to pick just one the fantastic chocolate tombstone would probably rise to the top of the list.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Celebrity, Cruise Food, Infinity | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Would You Want Bad News On A Cruise?

cruise ship at the dock

Ruby Princess in Ketchikan

In these days of cell phones and computers, people are rarely out of touch with those at home even when off traveling. After spending money for a cruise and having put in all the time for booking the cruise, planning activities, scheduling excursions, and anticipating all the good times, if something happened at home while you were away would you want to know? Would the bad news ruin your vacation?

dog

Isabelle 2002 – 2016

Recently I took a cruise to Alaska with my sisters, leaving my husband at home with Isabelle, our dog. Isabelle was 14 years old and had some health issues, but she seemed fine when I left. A couple days after I had gone she took a sudden turn for the worse. She’d been on medication for a tumor inside her spine for several months and on a day where she took her usual walk with nothing seeming wrong in the morning, she came home from the dog park practically unable to move in the afternoon. She left this world the next day.

While my husband dealt with the tragedy on his own at home, I obliviously happily enjoyed my cruise. Different people he talked to had differing opinions on whether or not he should let me know. On most cruises we sign up for some sort of internet package, but on this particular one my computer stuffed up before completing the sign-up process. I figured if I couldn’t even get signed up without issues then buying internet time would be a waste of money if I watched the swirly thing go around while my dollars ticked away. Whether the ship’s internet was not up to par or the problem was in my computer itself I can’t say.

Meanwhile since this was a mostly domestic cruise I figured on having my phone in port, but at every port while my sister’s phone worked fine, mine said no service. I thought it was the provider until I got home and discovered the phone (which had been on the fritz for awhile) had finally given up. So the only way he could have reached me would have been to text my sister, which he knew because she sent him a text letting him know I had neither phone nor computer going.

puppies on a cruise ship

They had husky puppies on the ship in Skagway. We never got close enough to pet them through the crowd and unaware, I said I’d cuddle my own dog when I got home.

After much pondering he decided not to tell me. In this instance I think he made the right choice. Had I known instead of making happy memories on a long-anticipated cruise with my sisters, I would have been sad and not enjoyed it. Knowing would not have changed anything with the dog and there was nothing I could do about it.

In different circumstances where there was a choice to be made and the decision couldn’t wait until the trip was over then of course people would need to know. Since that was not the case here, I think not ruining the trip with devastating news was the best way. Knowing would not bring Isabelle back to life and postponing the news until I returned allowed the cruise to go as planned. If I had known and been sad my sisters would not have had as much fun either so by not knowing we all got to enjoy our cruise.

Meanwhile at home John was sad and lonely and eased his grief by looking online for dogs at animal shelters. How things have changed since we got Isabelle 12 years ago. All the shelters were full of dogs then and she was lucky to have spent 9 months in one of the few no-kill shelters around at the time for anywhere else a dog nobody wanted would have a very short life span in a shelter.

This time the local shelters had just a handful of dogs each. Many of the dogs listed as being at local shelters were actually in a far-off state with an expensive adoption fee that included flying them in from wherever sight unseen. He was entranced by a video of a dog named Piper at a shelter within the general area, but not all that close. We have a thing for the dogs nobody else wants as this one had been there 8 months. While Isabelle had no backstory having been found as a stray, Piper they said had come from Iowa. Whether that meant she had been brought by someone who moved from there, or was flown in from a kill shelter we don’t know. Either way they said she had been surrendered by a young girl with a small apartment who kept her in a crate – something bound not to go over well with an active 3-year-old dog.

new dog

We found a dog named Piper at the doggy jail (animal shelter) wearing an orange collar – which is pretty funny if you’ve ever seen Orange Is the New Black

We were told she had been adopted and returned by someone who decided she wouldn’t get on with their cat, but it seems there may be more to the story. A shelter with only 4 dogs in residence not being able to place one in 8 months seems a bit odd. The fact that the people there told Piper not to blow it this time, put on the papers she could be returned for the full adoption fee back, and called multiple times the first week or two wanting to know if we were keeping her pretty much pointed to multiple returns they were afraid to mention.

Piper herself was quite clingy for the first week or so before settling down and feeling at home. If the shelter had been nearby she may have been returned before we even got home though. We stopped at a pet store to get her a doggy manicure on the way home and she got out of the lead the shelter sent her home in and was all over a dog bigger than herself. It looked like an attack, but the dog had slobber only and no bites. (It about broke my heart when the people called that dog Izzy as they checked her over.) After getting to know Piper better and seeing how she reacts to things we think it was really just her herding instinct (she’s a blue heeler cattle dog) and a desire to play without having any idea how to relate to other dogs.

can of air

this can of air stops misbehaving dogs right in their tracks

She’s fitting in fine now, and learning how to get along with other dogs. Helped greatly by the can of air I learned about in her first doggy class. She’s very good about a lot of the things dogs learn in those classes, but being around other dogs in a controlled environment was my main reason for signing her up. The can of air makes a noise like a hissing snake that stops her in her tracks. One spray near her and she’ll go from jumping insanely at something to slinking past it trying not to get noticed. Initially she barked loudly when going crazy over whatever excited her, but after a couple times of hearing the air spray she is more likely to quietly give a half-hearted and easily stopped jump rather than losing focus on anything else and getting totally out of control.

Yup, Piper’s a keeper. Dogs that nobody else wants work fine for us. She even has a middle name – we heard the lady at the shelter call her Piper Louise while we were there. Funny thing is I picked Isabelle and she always liked John better. He picked Piper and so far she seems to like me best.

ship in Ketchikan

Would you want to know bad news if you were on a cruise?

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Randoms, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments