Italy – Messina and Taormina

Messina, Italy

Vista in Messina, Italy

Carnival Vista stopped in Messina, Italy on a Sunday. From the ship Messina looks like a pretty big city with lots of interesting old architecture within walking distance. Being Sunday though they made announcements that not much of anything in Messina would be open, but in a neighboring city called Taormina most everything opens on Sundays.

real italian pizza

one of many pizza places in Taormina

We had no plans other than to get off the ship and walk around, but decided with some friends to take the train to Taormina. Messina Centrale train station is a relatively short walk from the cruise ship port. Take a left and follow either the coastline or the tracks from the tramline to get to the train station. The cashier said there was just one train out shortly after 9am, but that several came back between 2pm and 3:30 so we went ahead and bought the tickets.

Taormina, Italy

abandoned building across the street from the train station in Taormina

The train ride to Taormina went smoothly enough until we got off at the station by the sea. Taormina sits high on a nearby hill. There was an abandoned building across the street and a few other buildings within sight, but not much else there. Being Sunday the visitor’s information booth at the station was closed. Several taxis sat outside the train station and would bring people to town for 15 euros. Meanwhile a long line of people waited to board a bus parked next to the station for a round trip cost to town of 3 euros each. That bus filled, but said another would be along in 10 minutes. The 10 minutes came and went and no bus came by for another 15, but we did get on that one and make it up to town.

view in Taormina

view from Taormina

The bus stopped in some sort of bus yard where we got off and asked about times for the return bus. They handed us a schedule, but not knowing the area or language it really wasn’t clear if we could get a bus straight back to the train station or if it would loop around other places first. All the busses that came by while we waited near the train station were heading in the direction of town regardless of where they were going and whether they stopped, which made it appear they were all on some sort of loop where none ever went the other way.We had several hours so we went off to explore the town. On the way up we walked past a skyride tram down to the beach and took a ride just because it was there.

sky ride

Taormina cable car at the beach station

The skyride passed over a soccer field and went down to the bottom of the hill to a nice beach. Signs advertised diving and snorkeling. Little shops and restaurants lined the shoreline just above the white sand and blue water making up the beautiful beach. Waves crashed over rocks dotting the small cove and people swam in the water and played in the sand. After taking a look around we took the tram back up. Too bad we didn’t have more time, swimwear, and snorkel gear.

Taormina, Italy

trouble at the arch in Taormina

A crowd in front of an arch watched some sort of commotion possibly caused by people fighting after a bit of a fender bender car accident or something. On the narrow winding roads it’s more of a surprise that any two cars can pass by each other without having an accident than it is that any would collide. The crowd broke up and we headed off down a stairway and found a place to stop for some genuine Italian pizza. It’s pretty easy to find a gelato shop in Italy so we stopped in one for dessert. The gelato met our friend Tracy’s genuine Italian gelato test by checking the color of the pistachio (not the bright green of artificial dye) and the texture test (not machine smooth.)

Italy

old church in Taormina

On the way back up we went through the arch and found the main part of the town. The arch opened into some sort of small square. People came in and out of an old church taking photos. Narrow roads felt almost like the bottom of canyons between the tall buildings lining each street full of shops. Unfortunately shops aren’t all these streets were full of. Europe is behind the times on anti-public smoking laws as they don’t seem to have any. People smoke everywhere and it hung heavily between those buildings so I was glad nobody wanted to stay there very long.

tall buildings in Taormina

no fresh air between the tall buildings

We worked our way back to where we got off the bus and they said there wouldn’t be one for the next half hour. We still weren’t sure how long the bus would take to get back to the train station so we took a taxi in hopes of catching the first train back that was to come shortly after 2. Once we got to the train station there were no trains listed before 3:20 either on the readerboard by the track or in the ticket machine. Other people that came looking for the same train said the train website had listed a 2:20 train as well as the 3:20 on a Sunday schedule when they looked it up, but not all the other trains the cashier said would come when we bought the tickets.

Taormina beach

beach at the bottom of the cable car

The bus schedule outside the station listed a bus to Messina as coming Mon-Sat, but a passing bus driver said it was coming that day as well. Of course it didn’t. We began to wonder if they make a game of misinforming tourists. Some people panicked and took the expensive taxi back to Messina instead of waiting for the train when the bus didn’t come.

Taormina train station

we spent a long time waiting for the train at this station in Taormina

The 3:20 train did come. It was the last of the trains we thought would be available that would get us back before the ship left, and closer than we normally cut the time. There’s a bit of a walk back to the ship. This was the closest we’ve come to becoming pier runners – people who run down the dock trying make it to the ship before they pull in the gangway and it leaves. We managed to make it back without having to run. Everyone from the train got back to the ship in time, but without much if any to spare. It just goes to show our friend who had traveled around Europe for a couple months before boarding the ship wasn’t kidding when she said Italian trains and busses are subject to last minute cancellations, strikes, or other problems meaning you can never count on them.

Messina lighthouse

lighthouse in Messina

Mount Etna is another popular destination from Messina, but not a good one for do-it-yourself excursions for cruise ship passengers. The time involved in getting there by train and bus and reliance on their unreliable schedules would make missing the ship fairly likely. Our ship had excursions to Mt. Etna for less than the price of taking a taxi there.

Messina, Italy

Messina from the ship

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Naval Undersea Museum

museum

Naval Undersea Museum

The Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, WA on the Kitsap Peninsula has quite a lot to see. You can’t beat the admission price – it’s free! The hours are a bit short, open just 10am to 4pm daily May to September and closed on Tuesday the rest of the year. Large exhibits sit outside the building around the parking lot. Even the museum building itself has an exhibit attached – the end bell from Sealab, an underwater habitat used for research on saturation diving in the 1960’s.

submarine sail from the USS Sturgeon

Other outside exhibits include the sail of submarine USS Sturgeon and Mystic which was one of two rescue vessels for submarine crews. Mystic or her sister ship Avalon could be transported by plane, truck, or ship for a rescue anywhere in the world. A crew of 3 could rescue 24 submariners at a time. Though they were on duty for about 30 years, neither was ever needed to perform an actual rescue.

Trieste II

Trieste II bathyscaphe – mostly it’s a tank of lighter-than-water gas for buoyancy and ballast for sinking. The 2-man crew sits in the little ball hanging from the tank.

Triest II towers over Deep Quest on one side of the parking lot. Deep Quest launched in 1967 and remained in service until 1980. During that time it performed research for commercial activities as well as for the US Navy. It was equipped for and performed salvage operations as well as seafloor surveys and mapping, photography, and other deap sea research. Deep Quest holds the depth record for US built submersibles from a dive of 8,310 feet in 1968.

submarine

Deep Quest

The original Triest set a record as the first manned vessel to reach the deepest part of the ocean in a part of the Marianas Trench called Challenger Deep. Triest II which sits outside the museum was operated by the Navy from 1964 to 1980. Her contributions included salvage operations on the submarine Thresher, whose loss in 1964 caused the navy to initiate submarine safety and rescue programs.

navy missiles

missiles

Inside the museum there are different sections each with a different theme for their displays. From the lobby you can enter into different exhibits. A man working there suggested starting with undersea history, which depicts man’s initiative and inventions through the ages for better and better ways of getting under the sea, deeper, and for longer periods of time from early diving methods to early submarines.

That chamber led into the temporary gallery, which told all about the loss of the submarine Thresher at a time when there was no ability to rescue a submarine crew, and how that loss led to the development of submarine safety, rescue programs and equipment. One other sub was lost before refurbishment to the new standards, but no others have been lost since the new regulations went into effect.

navy undersea museum

submarine control room

One area has exhibits about the ocean itself and the things that live within it. Other areas have things like torpedoes or diving equipment from helmets to ROV’s. The submarine room even has the interior of a control room from a submarine.

Mystic

Mystic deep see rescue vehicle

Keyport is about 11 miles from Bremerton, which is just a ferry ride away from Seattle.

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Hits and Misses on Ruby Princess

the only ship in a town that holds 4

Ruby Princess in Skagway

What’s not to like about a cruise ship? On some ships not much, but there’s usually something. Of course the likes and dislikes of any particular ship vary from one person to another. I found a lot to like and not much to dislike on the Ruby Princess.

HITS

Food was definitely a hit on the Ruby Princess. We didn’t try any of their specialty restaurants, but we did enjoy the dining room and buffet. Cruising with my two gluten free sisters can make dining a challenge, but the dining room crew did a great job of serving them tasty and gluten free meals. They were quite happy to discover a different gluten free dessert each night at the late night buffet and ended up having a second dessert every night since finding those on the buffet was a rare treat for them. It was the first cruise for one sister, but the other has cruised a couple other lines and said Princess did the best job of catering to special diets of the three lines she’s cruised on. For passengers not on special diets they had chocolate journeys, with a different fancy chocolate dessert offered nightly in the dining room.

cruise food - Baked Alaska

There were both regular and gluten free versions of the Baked Alaska

While we didn’t actually use the self-serve guest laundry since we were just on a one-week cruise, I always count it as a plus when a ship has one, and have used them often on longer cruises. I even  used one once on a 4-day cruise because we had just gotten off a longer cruise on a ship without one.

launderette

self-serve laundry on Ruby Princess

Although I’m allergic to tobacco smoke and would never set foot inside it, I thought the cigar lounge was a great idea and something every cruise ship should have. Sitting unobtrusively in one corner of the casino, this fully-enclosed lounge gave people a place where they could smoke comfortably without spreading smoke throughout any of the rest of the ship. The smoke odor was present when walking past it, but not the smoke itself. It’s win-win for everyone – a nice place for smokers to go and no smoke for anyone else to have to breathe or walk through.

puppies on a cruise ship

puppies in the piazza

Entertainment was good and plentiful on the Ruby Princess. Besides shows, music, and movies, they also had different things going on in their central piazza area. Whether it was horse (or moose) racing done with wooden horses and dice, a country band made up of volunteer (sort of) passengers with jars and things, a champagne tower, or in Skagway real live husky puppies, there was often something interesting happening there.

Ruby Princess cruise ship

bow of the Ruby Princess

The ship had a different outdoor promenade than I’ve seen before with the  bow area up one level from the rest and covered over the top with an open viewing area around the edges. This area came in very handy on glacier cruising day. Though a fairly cold place to stand, we had an excellent view and no crowd.

color coded carpets make it easier to find your stateroom

carpets in hallways by passenger cabins had different colors for each side of the ship

Navigating around a ship can sometimes be difficult, especially for first time cruisers. The Ruby Princess went a step beyond having different artwork or carpets on the different staircases. It actually had different coloring in the carpet boarders on the port and starboard sides in the hallways through the cabin areas. For anyone who noticed (or was told about it) this made it obvious at a glance if you somehow ended up on the wrong side.

MISSES

That great upper level of the promenade at the bow was closed in the early mornings, which meant walking or jogging the full distance around the outside of the ship for morning exercise was a no-go. Whether because ship’s gyms don’t open all that early, or because the promenade deck is just nicer and far more scenic, there’s always quite a few people out there first thing in the morning on ships with a promenade deck circling completely around.

ways cruise ships make more money

passengers have to pay extra to use the sanctuary area

Had we been cruising to a warmer place rather than Alaska where we weren’t spending much time sitting on an outside deck, we would have been a bit disappointed that the nicest lounging area (called the Sanctuary) cost extra. That extra cost meant we never would have used that area no matter how nice the weather or how comfortable the deck chairs. On this cruise even anybody who bought the full-cruise sanctuary package still had to pay a separate fee to sit out there on glacier cruising day.

This was my first cruise with Princess, but I really liked them so it won’t be my last.

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Weather or Not

Port of Galveston

Ships at Galveston in better times – photo from Port of Galveston

Weather can make or break any cruise, but in extreme instances like hurricanes it can extend or cancel them. Ships cruise year round and people book during hurricane season on a regular basis. Most are unaffected since most of the time there is not a hurricane happening. But sometimes there is. Usually it just means a missed port, change of itinerary, or a stretch of rough sea. Occasionally though the results are far more drastic.

hurricane harvey

Hurrican Harvey – NASA photo

While prices for the exact same cruise vary depending on how long until sailing and how full the ship is regardless of time of year and itinerary, generally cruises in hurricane prone areas are cheaper during hurricane season, and cruises to anywhere cost more whenever kids are out of school. As anyone on or booked to go on a cruise out of Galveston this past week knows now, when you book during hurricane season there are risks that go along with that booking.

flooding in Houston

people working together to rescue others in the Houston flooding – internet photo

The ship’s captain and the cruiselines will do everything in their power to keep passengers on the ship – or those scheduled to board – safe. Usually it just means keeping the ship out of the path of the storm, but if that means extending the cruise until the ship can safely return to port, or canceling the cruise entirely for those not yet on board then that is what they will do.

high seas

stormy seas in Hurricane Harvey – internet photo

While the media reports these ships unable to return to port as people stranded on cruise ships, those passengers are receiving an extended cruise at no extra cost. Hurricane victims on land huddle in crowded shelters, but people on the ship have all the amenities a floating resort has to offer available to them. Nice meals, entertainment, their own cabin with real beds, and the cruise ship staff going out of their way to keep everyone happy. Something people on land passing the storm in makeshift shelters where the main concern is just to keep them alive and dry can only wish they had. Odds are most people evacuated from their homes would be more than happy to trade places with those “stranded” cruise ship passengers.

Carnival Vista

better here than there

Whether in the best of situations or the worst, a cruise is always what you make of it. Some will relax and enjoy the extra time on board while others fret and worry about jobs or places they were supposed to be, or if they are from a stricken area their home and family, friends, or pets there. Luckily in modern times communication is often instantaneous so likely they can find out whether or not they were spared from the worst of Harvey’s wrath. Knowing is better than wondering unless of course the news is very bad.

major flooding

Galveston – I think  (photo found on google search for Hurricane Harvey photos of Galveston)

Those who did not get on when the ship didn’t make it back to port are not going to be happy – but then again if they tried to board at a port where conditions are so bad it remains closed for days or set sail into a hurricane they wouldn’t be happy about that either. While cruise lines will refund a cancelled cruise and likely offer other compensation besides, airline tickets and hotel reservations may not be as easily reimbursed unless of course those flights were cancelled and hotels closed due to the storm as well. This is where trip insurance comes into play for those who purchased it. Besides taking care of any medical problems that may arise during your journey, trip insurance also covers money lost in vacations not taken if there is a valid reason for not going. When deciding not to buy insurance, that is a risk you are taking. For frequent travelers the amount spent on insurance for numerous trips could total more than a loss from one disaster so they may choose to skip the insurance and take the loss. More likely though people don’t want to spend the money for the insurance, then become very upset over any unreimbursed losses they incur.

dog rescue

people rescuing dogs from Hurricane Harvey’s floods – internet photo

Meanwhile of course people living in the path of the storm face losses far more devastating than anything relating to a vacation. Amongst all the bad news, it’s very heartwarming to see ordinary people out rescuing others that got stranded by rising floodwaters, especially when there are some people out rescuing dogs and other animals.

hurricane damaged trees

brown palm trees at Great Stirrup Cay just after Hurricane Sandy

So far I’ve been quite lucky in that while most of my cruises have been taken during hurricane season, none have actually come in the middle of one. We have had a bit of rough seas or bad weather tailing one, and seen devastated ports where one recently passed, but never got caught up in the midst of one. Once we were on a ship while one was out there, but passing far enough away not to need to alter course.

flooded highway

a highway in Texas – internet photo

My son who lives near Houston lucked out too. His house stayed dry throughout all Harvey’s flooding, though some of his neighbors weren’t so fortunate. Hurricanes have come more often and with more severity in recent years than in the past. There’s another one called Irma brewing out in the Atlantic Ocean already. This problem is not likely to go away any time soon. Severe weather of all kinds is a side effect of global warming. People can call it climate change, deny it altogether, or point to a severe snowstorm as proof global warming doesn’t exist all they want, but that doesn’t change the fact that the average temperature of the planet is on the rise. One constant we’ve heard frequently in many places where we’ve traveled around the world over the past few years is that the weather is not normal for that place at that time of year.

With hurricanes Jose and Katia on the tail of Irma while multiple wildfires burned across the western USA and places in Europe sweltered under intense heat, various media sources mentioned both hurricane and fire seasons having increased by 78 days since the 1970’s. Surprising more attention wasn’t brought to this over the decades as these crept up, or how much farther it will go before making headline news.

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Disney World – Epcot

symbol of Epcot

Epcot’s big ball – inside is the Spaceship Earth ride (Disney photo)

Epcot was our favorite of the four Disney World Parks (which also include the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios.) Sheri scored a great deal when she got our tickets, getting 4-day tickets with an extra 3 days free so we had 7 days total to go to the parks. Besides the fact that most of the runDisney races ended at Epcot, we just really enjoyed that park and returned there the most times.

near the entrance at Epcot

visiting Epcot with the family

Magic Kingdom is of course the most famous, and the one people are most likely to think of when picturing Disney World in their minds. Magic Kingdom was also the most crowded of the four. Between height requirements for the kids and inability to get fast passes even several days in advance for the most popular rides we didn’t see a lot on the one day that we went there.

Imagination ride

the Imagination Ride with Figment is inside this building (internet photo)

People who aren’t with small children can get through some lines faster by taking the single rider line option, which puts individual people into the leftover seats after loading up families from the regular line. If you are with anyone else in the single rider line you may not get on the ride at the same time and aren’t at all likely to sit together, but it can save time if people just want to meet up at the end. It’s not an option if you are with children too young to leave on their own before, after, or during the ride.

Norway at Disney World's Epcot

Norway in the World Showcase area has the Frozen Ever After ride and a place to meet Elsa and Anna

Epcot center has two main sections. Most of the rides are at Future World, which is divided into east and west sides to make things easier to find. The World Showcase area has representations of 11 different nations. Some mainly just have restaurants, but some have rides and other displays. You can get a map at the entrance, and the Disney app is a great help with features like directing you from where you are to where you want to go, and showing wait times for all the rides and other attractions. We often chose where to go next by whatever the app said had the shortest wait time. You can also use the app to reserve fast pass times for the rides you want to go on. There is a limit of 3 booked, but if anything is available after you use one you can book another.

Disney Rides

the Spaceship Earth ride keeps people entertained making a cartoon future on the way back down

The big ball symbolic of Epcot sits at the entrance between Future World East and West. It houses Spaceship Earth, a slow and scenic ride which had a very long line the first day we went so we were glad of a fast pass there. My 5 and 7 year old grandkids loved that ride, especially the part at the end where you make your own future on your private computer screen and then see a little video of how your future turned out depending on your answers to their questions.

squirrels lived all over the area near Disney

Squirrel at Epcot

The kids were just as entertained by the squirrels we saw throughout the park as they were by anything else there. They like nature and they’re from Australia and hadn’t seen squirrels before.

Imagination ride with Figment

at the beginning of the kid’s favorite Imagination Ride

The kids very favorite ride in all of Disney World, called Journey Into Imagination with Figment, was at Epcot. Our first day there was the only time we ever saw a line at that ride, and also the only time we had a fast pass for it. We rode it several more times on other days when there was no line. The kids really liked the ride with Figment – as in Figment of Imagination. The ride featured a little purple dragon and a lot of imagination.

Imagination ride

Figment makes a big stink – and the ride did too

The kids particularly liked the bit where Figment put on a skunk suit and emitted quite a stink. Their mom missed our first day, staying back at the hotel suffering from food poisoning. The kids did not tell her about the stinky bit before her first time on the ride, gleefully smirking to themselves waiting for the giant stink to happen.

Disney's Nemo

near the entrance to the Nemo ride

Our last fass pass the first day was on the Nemo ride. We found a few things with short wait times including meeting Elsa and Anna in the Norway area, a fiesta ride in the Mexico area, and the Disney & Pixar Short Film Festival theater which had 3-D shows and seat effects to enhance the action on the screen.

Anna from Frozen

In the Norway area of the World Showcase we met Anna (and Elsa too)

On later visits to Epcot when we had more advance time to get them, we got fast passes for some of the more popular rides like Soarin and the Test Track, both favorites that we managed to get on again another day when we got there early enough to get on before they built up a line. Soarin was one of Disney World’s best. It’s mostly visual, but the seats do rise so your feet dangle in the air and it feels like you are flying over the scenery on the screen in a pretty good imitation of a hang glider.

this car is on autopilot

Test Track ride

The test track is one of the most fun rides there. You design a car in a computer screen and then during the ride it gives comparisons as to how your design performed in relation to the other people in your car. The self-driven car goes through some indoor tests where it scores how your design would react to various things and then goes outside where it speeds down the track at about 70mph. At one point it even drives on the wall. It may close for a time if the weather is bad or if the ride had other problems. We were in line for it with the kids while waiting for Sheri and Aaron to reach Epcot on marathon day when the ride shut down for awhile. Having just enough time to get through, and not knowing how long it would stay closed we had to leave the line to make sure we didn’t miss them running by.

soarin ride

on Soarin your feet dangle over fast-moving scenery (internet photo)

A lot of the rides at Disney World are the slow and scenic sort, but they do have some faster rides. The wilder rides have minimum height limits so make sure the kids are tall enough before going on those. The ones with consistently long wait times during our visit were Soarin, Frozen Ever After, and the Test Track so those are the ones to either try and get fast passes for or get to first before the lines build up if you get to the park early. One stormy day we got there before the official opening time they were letting people in early. We got through Spaceship Earth before the park officially opened and got to Frozen Ever After and Soarin before they had any lines. We did more rides on that one day than on several other days combined because the wind, rain, and lightning that cancelled the half-marathon scheduled for that day also kept the crowds away.

Disney character meet

meeting Joy and Sadness from Inside Out

The wait times posted at the rides and on the Disney App are very helpful in deciding where to go and which things to do. Most of the character meets (ie photo ops) have posted times, but Joy and Sadness from Inside Out did not. Lines at Disney are often deceptive because either you can’t see the whole thing or it just doesn’t move as expected. The one for Joy and Sadness looked relatively short, but took 42 minutes to get through, the only long line of our rainy day. At least it was an indoor line, which quite a lot of them are.

Epcot's mission space

Mission Space Ride (internet photo)

Little Hanna loved the Mission Space ride – a simulator of a mission into space. It had easy and queasy options, though they called the queasy one intense. The ride simulated zero G among other things. It had motion sickness warnings, but it is hard to tell by those warnings since a lot of the rides have motion sickness warnings and most of them don’t actually need them. The difference on this one was the barf bags strategically placed at every station once you enter the actual ride. I wished we’d picked the easy option upon seeing those since I do sometimes have motion sickness issues. I managed not to get sick, but was extremely glad when it ended because the ride did leave me pretty nauseous. Luckily there’s a waiting area with a playground at the end where Daniel and Sheri went since he’s too small for the ride so I had somewhere to sit and recover. Another day John and Sheri went on Mission Space with Hannah while I happily volunteered to wait at the playground with Daniel. Hannah was disappointed with the easy option they’d chosen, but John and Sheri both said it was plenty intense for them – and they don’t have motion sickness issues. Hannah enjoyed Mission Space, but none of the rest of us would recommend it.

Epcot Center

Epcot ball and monorail (internet photo)

If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Disney World, it’s a good idea to wait to go until after your smallest kid is at least 40 inches tall or the amount of rides you can go on is really limited. 44 inches gets you on most rides, and 48 was the biggest minimum height we saw anywhere at Disney World.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Auckland, New Zealand

cruise ship in New Zealand

Arcadia in Auckland, New Zealand

Cruising to Auckland

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

Devonport

Devonport is just a ferry ride away from Auckland

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

Auckland ferry

Auckland ferry dock

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

big old tree

massive tree in Devonport

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

ferry from Devonport to Auckland

ferry dock in Devonport

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

free shuttle to Auckland Aquarium

shark bus free aquarium shuttle

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

octopus

octopus at the aquarium

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

penguins

penguins had water and ice in their habitat at the aquarium

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

keeping dry underwater

conveyor through the sharks and other big fish

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

shark tank

divers in the shark tank

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

seaside window

window to the sea in the Aquarium cafe

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

lobster - not for dinner

lobster at the aquarium

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

Americas cup sailboat

Americas Cup shore excursion

Things to Do in Auckland

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

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland skyline from the ship on approach to the dock

Exploring Auckland On Your Own From A Cruise Ship

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

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

What’s New on the Vista?

cruise ship at the dock

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

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

video pole

Vista atrium

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

Red Frog Pub on Carnival Vista

Red Frog Pub & Brewery

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

best view on the ship

SkyRide on the Vista

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

digital cruise ship photos

Pixels digital photo display

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

cruise ship waterslides

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

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

best free ice cream on board

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

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

5 person cruise ship cabin

Family Harbor 5-person cabin

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

Havana Cabin

Havana Cabana cabin

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

deck 5 private pools

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

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

sushi restaurant

outdoor seating area for Bonsai Sushi

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

Carnival Vista theater

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

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

Vista dining room

dining room on the Vista

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

cruise ship hallway

decor on the Vista is minimal in the hallways

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

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How to Fold Towel Swans

How to Make a Towel Swan

towel swans

towel swans with and without wings spread

Needed to Make Towel Swans

Towel swan

2 bath towels or 1 bath towel and 1 hand towel

Eyes

Towel Swan Folding Instructions

TOWEL SWAN FOLDING VIDEO

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

towel origami

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

the art of towel folding

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

making a towel swan

fold in half at the center

starting a towel swan

hang or tuck center of one long side

Fold in half and set aside.

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

roll as tightly as you can

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

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

making a towel swan

form the head and neck from the narrow end

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

towel swan

shape the back end into a tail

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

winged towel swan

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

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

towel swan

finished towel swan

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

Swan Without Spread Wings

towel swan

towel swan without wings

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

towel origami

lay the hand towel over the body

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

making a swan tail

form the back end of the hand towel into the tail

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

folding a towel swan

shape and pose as desired, then add eyes

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

towel swans

finished towel swans

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Hits and Misses on Celebrity Infinity

Mexico

Infinity in Cabo San Lucas

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

HITS ON CELEBRITY INFINITY

lots of space

Inside Stateroom 3042

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

enjoying a smoke-free casino

non-smoking casino with some free tournaments

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

one of Infinity's best features

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

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

Panama Canal crossing

canal watching from the Infinity’s Constellation Lounge

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

French onion soup

French onion soup in Infinity’s bistro

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

cruise ship events

Infinity had their own Top Chef cooking contest

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

Celebrity Infinity rooftop terrace

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

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

MISSES ON CELEBRITY INFINITY

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

cruise ship

Lido deck on Infinity

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

wi fi was hard to come by this cruise

Internet at the cruise port in Guatemala

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

cruise ship specialty restaurant

What were they thinking replacing these excellent crepes with sushi?

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

tender port

Infinity in Monterey

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017

 

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Disney World – Magic Kingdom

Disney World

Cinderella’s Castle nightly fireworks show

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

Minnie Mouse at Disney World

Minnie Mouse

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

Disney's Dumbo ride

Dumbo ride at Disney World

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

Dumbo ride playground

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

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

It's a Small World - old school Disney

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

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

Rapunzel

meeting Rapunzel

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

giant tree house

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

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

Buzz Lightyear ride

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

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

toy story ride

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

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

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Cinderella’s Castle from the back side

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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