Grand Turk Power Snorkel

ships in port

Breeze and Sunshine in Grand Turk

Getting off the Carnival Breeze for our morning power snorkel excursion turned into quite a fiasco. Although the excursion started just half an hour after docking time they left people to make their own way off the ship through the crowd of people clamoring to get to the shore. At prior ports this trip early excursions met in a lounge and had a stairway reserved for them so they could get past the masses and out of the ship on time, but for some unknown reason they didn’t do that this port. Strike one. Should have made sure the people with excursions scheduled could get off the ship.

beach at Grand Turk

View of Grand Turk from the ship

The Sunshine shared the same port schedule as the Breeze and was supposed to arrive at Grand Turk half an hour later. At the show the night before the cruise director told everyone they should get off before it got there and take up all the beach chairs before anyone from the Sunshine could get them. He also said the gangway would close for about 10 minutes when the Sunshine docked. So the stairways became a seething mass of people vying for the exit to the gangway as soon as passengers got the all clear to get off. Strike two. He should have advised people without any reason to get off early to wait until the door opened for good so people who needed to get off before the other ship got there could do so.

Grand Turk cruise port

Cruise port from the ship with the Margaritaville pool and the Flow Rider and shops

The Sunshine showed up 15 minutes early. Rather than making them wait until the scheduled docking time so the Breeze could clear out the waiting throng they closed the gangway after just a few people managed to get off the ship. Strike three. The other ship should have waited and not docked before they were supposed to.

Grand Turk cruise port

You can rent snorkel gear at the cruise port beach

Meanwhile time ticked away and more crowds piled up. That many bodies packed together unmoving with limited space soon generates body heat in ever more stale air full of the scents of people, sunscreen and perfume. Ten minutes got closer to thirty and the time for our excursion to start came and went while we stood packed in like sardines. Well most stood, some on the stairways sat down. I had just one person in front of me before the stairs, but she let me sit on the top stair when I started to get dizzy from too many scents and lack of fresh air. Passing out runs in my family and ignoring the sit down or fall down feeling never has good results for any of us.

sea life likes structure

fish and coral seen on our excursion

Finally the line moved again. Only 4 people from our excursion made it out of the ship and to the meeting area on time so they had a long wait outside in the hot sun. Some people worried the excursion time might get cut really short for starting so late, but we returned late to make up some of the time. I had assumed we would board a boat to take us to the excursion, but we were led to a bus instead. I had never left the cruise ship port area in Grand Turk by land before. The cruise port area and what you see from the ship always looks beautiful so I felt quite sad to see the amount of litter around the island. It gathered along the streets and every vacant lot looked like a garbage dump. On the plus side we saw some flamingos and a few of the island’s feral donkeys.

Grand Turk Beach resort

Beach Resort with Power Snorkel

The bus stopped in front of a beach resort in a rare garbage-free area. In the back they had a boat loaded with the torpedo shaped power units. Each one had handles on each side with buttons to make it go and a propeller in the back. Although the propeller was contained within a housing they warned us to tie up any loose strings, mainly those from the snorkel vests we were required to wear. Luckily putting air in snorkel vests is optional, but there’s always that residual bit from a previous user. Plus the vest itself even without air makes getting under the water that much more difficult if you want to do a free dive while snorkeling. Warm salt water is pretty buoyant. Even without any flotation devices it is a lot harder to dive under the water while snorkeling than it is to stay on top.

power snorkel excursion

Power scooters on a boat. They just handed them out from there. We never got in the boat.

This excursion starts from the beach. They had everyone wear fins as well as masks, though I’m not really sure why they wanted us to wear fins as the power units meant we did not have to swim. It’s really hard to get to the water on a sandy beach without getting the fins full of sand. One person didn’t put theirs on and nobody stopped him from getting in the water so if I were ever to do this excursion again I’d leave the fins off.

hand held water scooter

Power unit on the dock at the snorkel shack for the demo

Once everyone got set up with snorkel gear they demonstrated how to use the handheld scooters. Then everyone followed the guide out into deeper water. On the way out I saw a puffer fish, the first one I’ve ever seen while snorkeling. Unfortunately I hadn’t yet tried taking a photo while operating the power unit. I didn’t get a photo of that puffer fish and did not see any others.

guide goes down deep

The guide used his scooter to dive down to the bottom. Easier for him since guides weren’t required to wear a snorkel vest.

You can definitely go a much greater distance with the power scooter thing than by swimming. It’s pretty easy to operate. As long as the lever is in the on position it goes when you push the buttons on both or either handle and stops when you let go of them. They said to hold it away from you down under the water. Guides travel along with the group and will help anyone with problems or questions.

diving with a scooter

The guide down at the sea floor

It’s fun to zip along looking at the sea floor as you go. With the power scooters we could travel a pretty good distance, farther and faster than if we had to swim. The water got deeper and darker as we made our way to the drop off, which from under the water just looks like blue. You can see the edge of the reef going down into the depths and beyond that it is just blue as far as you can see. Water at the shore looks light blue and from there you can see where the water turns dark from the depth at the drop off.

fun way to snorkel

John on his power snorkel

Most anyone who enjoys snorkeling would enjoy this excursion. The handheld scooters don’t go as fast as boats or jet skis, but they go faster than a person can swim on their own.

power snorkeling

I don’t usually take selfies, but what the heck

We saw lots of yellow snappers, some sergeant majors, blue tangs, and lots of other fish. The reef had quite a few different types of coral, which got bigger as the water got deeper. Speaking of coral, the oil in most sunscreens harms coral as it washes off of tourists. In order to protect the coral while enjoying a chance to see it, use a biodegradable sunscreen. You won’t likely find one with the major brands, but they are available online. I also found some at a store that mainly sells herbal supplements and remedies.

coral and stuff

looking down to the bottom of the sea

The good thing about eco-friendly sunscreen is that while protecting the environment you also better protect yourself. Not only do these sunscreens stay on better than oil-based products, but the ones I got have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. These are the exact same ingredients recommended by dermatologists to prevent skin cancer. And at a bargain price compared to the tiny tube I got at my dermatologist’s office after having a basal cell carcinoma removed from my ear. Other than the difficulty getting off the ship this excursion went well and we had a great time.

For more about Grand Turk, see these blogs:

Grand Turk Semi-Sub Shore ExcursionGrand Turk Cruise PortGrand Turk Cruise Port and General Info

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Breeze, Caribbean, Carnival, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sailing Past Easter Island

Land Ahoy

Approaching Easter Island

One of the most isolated places in the world, Easter Island sits alone in the Pacific Ocean. It takes about 5 days on a cruise ship or over 5 hours on a plane to get to Easter Island from the mainland of Chile, who has ownership of the island. Just imagine how long it took ancient settlers, assumed to have come from Polynesia which is nearly as far, to get there by canoe.

Known as the Rapa Nui, early inhabitants found a forested island with plenty of birds and sea life for food. These isolated people prospered and at some point began to carve moai, the giant headed statues the island is famous for today.

sunrise over the Pacific

As we approached the island, the sun rose behind us.

Over centuries the population grew and the resources shrank. People chopped down trees to provide for their needs like making canoes and other things they needed to survive. They also chopped many trees down to move the moai from the crater of an extinct volcano where they carved the stones to their perches along the island’s shores. As resources got scarcer the island’s inhabitants became more violent. Wars broke out. Moai got toppled and people resorted to cannibalism. Some moai have been returned to the standing position and some have been removed from the island.

Easter Island

Petroglyphs on Easter Island (photo found online at crystalinks)

Without trees to protect it the island’s rich volcanic soil eroded. Without wood the remaining people couldn’t make boats to escape. By 1722 when the first Europeans came the island had become mostly barren and sparsely populated. A birdman cult arose and became the predominant religion of the island, carving hundreds of petroglyphs. In 1862 slave traders took all the healthy people from the island. Missionaries came soon after, converting the defeated population that was left and destroying important links to the island’s history making it impossible for future generations to know the significance of the moai or the story behind them.

Easter Island

Moai statues peppering a hillside

Some of the statues stand in groups on platforms and others are scattered about. Contrary to popular belief, they are not all just heads. Some look like just a head poking out of the ground, but they have a body buried beneath the surface.

P&O Arcadia sailed past Easter Island on a relatively clear day. The sky had plenty of clouds, but the island was totally visible. I’ve heard sometimes it is shrouded in mist and passing ships can’t see it at all. The ship sailed by with the island to the starboard side and our room was on the port side so we could not sit comfortably on our own balcony to see it. Instead we had to jostle for space on the starboard side along with all the passengers from inside rooms as well as any others from the port side. We went out early enough to find a nice space along a railing. For some reason people who come out later tend to stand behind others rather than searching for open space somewhere else.

statues on Easter Island

A row of Moai on a platform

That’s OK if they stand back a bit, but once again I became invisible. This normally happens when I’m in line at the sort of buffet where someone behind a counter has to serve you. When I make it to the front they serve the person behind me, then the one behind them. They keep going down the line like I’m not even there. Occasionally even at a sit-down restaurant the waiter has taken orders from everyone else and then walked away or neglected to fill the water glass at my place though they filled everyone else’s.

Most of the people in the second row stood back a bit from the front, but had there not been a railing there the lady behind me would have pushed me right off the ship. I couldn’t get my camera out without elbowing her, which always gave me the uncomfortable feeling that I could easily drop it over the side before getting it secure. She didn’t seem to notice that or any time I bumped her trying to use the binoculars the ship so kindly provided to each cabin either. Apparently she could not feel me any more than she could see me.

sea view of Moai

backsides of Moai

As the ship approached Easter Island we could see one edge of the island dropping off at a cliff. Around the corner the land sloped down much closer to the water. There we saw some of the moai. These face inland so passing by on a ship we could only see the back. Luckily John has a camera with a good telephoto lens to zoom in on that sort of thing. The ship stayed about a mile offshore so even with binoculars it would be hard to tell what they were if you didn’t already know.

there are trees on Easter Island

Easter Island has trees

We were surprised to see trees growing on the island. Though the majority of it still looked like grasslands (and we even saw a herd of horses) it did indeed have trees here and there, sometimes long rows of them. I had always heard that the island had been completely stripped of its forests and none had ever grown back. Apparently someone has gotten some sort of trees to grow there, though it is possible none are native to the island. A few looked like palm trees, but just ordinary ones, not the giant sort it is said the island once had.

the sea carved this head

Easter Island’s original head?

We could see a few farms and some roads with the occasional car or van. One hilltop had 3 white crosses. At the end of that side the island rose higher to a large volcanic crater. I don’t know if it was the one where they carved the moai or if that was one of the other volcanic craters on the island. It has three. A couple small rocky islets jutted from the sea, and between them and the land a stood a rock that looked much like a naturally occurring giant head. Several passengers around us mentioned wondering if that was what gave islanders the idea to carve the moai. A few fishing boats puttered around between the rocks.

moai faces

A row of moai from the inland side. Not my photo, found online at Smithsonian Magazine.

Our ship turned and sailed by another side of the island. The lower area there appeared more populated. Behind the silhouette of a sailboat’s mast we could see a platform with 4 moai, but for the camera they’d have been shooting directly into the sun so it wasn’t until the ship got farther down that side that anyone could take photos. Near the far end of that side the ship turned away and headed onward across the pacific.

Easter Island

Easter Island has some variety in its terrain

Unfortunately we didn’t stop or have a chance to go ashore. Easter Island has long been on my bucket list so I’m glad I at least got to see it from a ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016



Posted in Arcadia, P&O, Pacific Ocean & Islands | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Train, Boat, and Bus Excursion in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Celebrity cruise ship

Infinity in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Our 17-day Panama Canal cruise on Celebrity Infinity made a port stop at Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Costa Rica lies in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama. The rather long cruise ship dock at Puntarenas crosses a long beach with dark volcanic sand extending in both directions as far as you can see. Waves crash in high breakers just offshore with a wicked surf that looks like there must be a drop-off there. Internet is available in the building at the end of the pier and also across the street in a little internet café. The café charged $3 per hour. I’m not sure what the other building charges, but the signal had a passcode so not it’s not free.

not a wild animal

cow from the boat ride

Locals in many small booths next to the pier sold all sorts of crafts, clothing, and jewelry, most of it locally made. Wood carving seemed big in the area as many people had wooden bowls and figurines for sale. One booth even had wooden plaques with the Celebrity Infinity painted on them, obviously made specially for the day’s cruise ship passengers.

street peddler

cart selling coconuts

The street running along the beach had shops and restaurants, though passengers were forewarned to be careful of what they might eat or drink on shore as people have been known to get sick if they aren’t careful.

bus ride to fun

bus parked at the boat place

We booked a train, boat, and bus shore excursion on the ship for a chance to see more of the area. We started out leaving port on the bus. A guide kept up a narrative most of the way with all sorts of interesting information. The bus traveled down a road along the shore on its way from Puntarenas to Caldera. Old overgrown railroad tracks paralleled the road. A row of homes and other buildings sat across the tracks next to the beach. The homes and businesses have bars over the windows and around their patios. Every now and then a break between buildings revealed a park, but more often the open space held crumbling remains of a former building.

tropical flower

flower at the boat place

The guide said transitional forests surround Puntarenas as the climate shifts from the drier north to the wetter south. In the rainy season everything is green, but during the dry season the greenery of the mangroves near the sea provides food, shelter, and hiding places for the area’s creatures. Even fish hide in the roots of these trees which have adapted to growing in salt water and filter the salt out through their leaves. The forests are home to many birds including scarlet macaws and animals including 3
species of monkeys (spider, white face and howler). Crocodiles inhabit some of the rivers.

river bird

river bird with stilts for legs

The effects of global warming have reached Puntarenas with rain that used to fall softly now falling harder, though drought is also a concern as the usually rainy hills had the least rain of any year out of the previous 114 years in their rainy season of September and October in 2015. Mountains and volcanoes bring about a number of microclimates as the clouds dump their rain on the way up leaving much less moisture for the other side.

Costa Rica crocodile

crocodile seen on the boat ride

As the bus crossed over a bridge on the Tarcoles River on the way to the boat ride we could see quite a few crocs on the shore. People used to feed the crocs and they had crocodile man shows where a man would feed them live chickens, but feeding them is no longer allowed.

jungle boat

river boat ride

The bus arrived at our first destination on the river and parked next to a tree. Everyone got off and headed down to one of the many boats along the shore. Our busload of people boarded our assigned craft. We meandered down the river with several other boats. One boat held the other half of our excursion group who came on another bus.

river boat ride

inside the river boat

The other boats were separate tours. When one boat spotted a crocodile more boats came in to see it as well. The crocs appeared quite used to this and would hang around for awhile not frightened away at all. One couple on the other boat seemed to have incredible luck. They had won their tickets for the excursion and a crocodile popped up right next to their seats on the boat.


egret by the river

From the boat we also saw lots of egrets, some herons, swallows, and cows. The cows of course are not wild. Sadly we also saw lots of garbage both in the plants at the side of the river and floating around in the river itself. One bend in the river had two small islands of garbage, one of which had several birds sitting on it. An open air building near the river had a snack of fresh fruit waiting for us when we got off the boats. They also had a gift shop there.

fresh fruit

snacks after the boat ride

After the boat ride we boarded the bus for our trip to the train and learned more about Costa Rica along the way. Spanish is the official language, but most Costa Ricans speak English as well. The mostly catholic population of about 4 ½ million is 95% literate and everyone in this socialist country has health care. Unemployment is about 10-11%. The people tend to be friendly to tourists, as tourism is a large part of their economy.

end of the line

train engine

About 30 years ago Costa Rica passed legislation giving women equality and now they require a percentage of their politicians to be women. About 25% of the country’s land is national parks to preserve the area’s flora and fauna. The main exports of the country are bananas, coffee and pineapples, though it used to be microchips before the factory closed down and the work went to Asia. Call centers employ many people, mainly college students. Though their only oil refinery has not worked in 10 years the government still keeps people employed there according to our tour guide who had no idea what the workers actually do.

best seats on the train

view out the back of the train

The bus stopped to let everyone out near an old-fashioned train with a wooden interior. The train ride ran 17 km through an area where real Costa Ricans live, not where tourists stay. Along the tracks we pretty much saw homes from all walks of life. One had green meadows full of horses. The guide said the guy who lived there was so rich he claimed he owned the nearby town rather than being from it.

costa rica train ride

train ride in progress

We passed through woods with monkeys in the trees, past pastureland with houses here and there, and through several towns. Some of the houses looked quite nice. A few even had pools. Others appeared a bit more rundown and often had animal pens bordering the house. Some looked like squatter shacks, pieced together with whatever materials the occupant could find to build them with. Outhouses, often without doors, accompanied the houses through one of the poorer looking stretches where the occupants apparently did not have indoor plumbing.

train bridge

view out the back while train crosses bridge

The guide warned people not to hang out the windows as some areas had trees, rock walls, or tunnels coming nearly up to the train where anyone hanging out too far could lose body parts. One town had what looked like a cattle loader so close it nearly touched the train in the middle of an otherwise open stretch that could easily have caught someone off guard and probably taken off any hands or heads that hit it going past so it is a good thing nobody had them hanging out.

old fashioned train car

inside the train

This excursion was a good way to see parts of Costa Rica that we would never have seen staying strictly in the tourist areas.

train in costa rica

last car on the train

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, South and Central America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Splendor Behind the Fun Tour

cruise ship

Carnival Splendor

On the last sea day, Carnival offered a Behind The Fun tour on the Splendor. This tour (which you can book like a shore excursion) takes a few lucky guests into areas normally reserved for crew only. We started our tour by meeting in the Alexandria Library. Unfortunately they did not allow photos on this tour. A security guard ran a scanner wand over everyone to insure nobody smuggled a camera in. Luckily the other ships we have gone behind the scenes on didn’t ban cameras and they all have similar features so I filled in here with photos from other ships.

on the bridge of the Splendor

Behind the Fun tour visits the bridge

First our gracious hostess from Hungary led us to the bridge where we met the captain and had complimentary photos taken. While there we learned why bridges on these ships are always blue. It’s not because the builders have no imagination when it comes to bridge décor, but rather because blue absorbs the most light. The bridge crew has better vision with a blue bridge. Looking out the front windows, all the front decks are also blue, keeping with the better vision in blue theme. The decks in front of the bridge also have no lighting at night because the bridge crew needs to see where the ship is going. Which makes those decks a good place for stargazing.

cruise ships have tiny, mosty unused steering wheels

The usual tiny wheel on a big ship. Photo from a different ship, but they all look about the same

This ship has the same tiny steering wheel in the center, and window in the floor in the outer wing on each side, used for docking that we have seen on other cruise ships. The cruise ship docks have markings for each ship that they line up under that window when they dock.

crew area

Behind the Fun on the bow of the Splendor

Next we went down into a crew area and out on the crew deck at the bow where they took another complimentary photo in the wind. The photographer left after that photo so there are none from the rest of the tour. The crew deck had two hot tubs, one of which had water in it blowing up into splashes like a wave crashing through rocks on shore and sometimes splashing far enough to reach us though we were some distance away. The crew also has use of the small deck just above the open bow. These outside decks are the only place they are allowed to smoke on board.

window in the floor of the bridge on Carnival Breeze

docking window in bridge floor on Carnival Breeze

We went back inside and visited the backstage area. We started out in a dressing room where the head dancer explained how they sometimes have under a minute for costume changes. They have everything set out and ready to go, and may start out wearing several layers of clothes so they can just peel the top one off. If one of them doesn’t make it to the stage on time the others have to go on without them.

towel animal puppets

towel animal puppets on stage during towel animal theater on the Legend

Then we moved onto the stage itself behind the curtain where a member of the
entertainment crew was setting up for towel animal theater, a cute show that Carnival has right after the towel animal folding demonstration. There we learned from a technician that the stage shows last an average of 10 years. A show may last over 12 years if it is really popular and no more than 8 if it is not well attended. They can make minor improvements to a show, but everything is carefully planned down to where each dancer stands to avoid being under the scenery when the next one descends from above. (The scenery does have a safety that will stop it if someone is in the way.) The same cast doesn’t stay on a ship for 10 years. The next cast comes in to train with the old cast for a week before the previous cast leaves. It costs several million to make each show. It is easier for Carnival to move the boats around sometimes to have new shows from a particular port than it is to change the shows more often.

hospital room on a cruise ship

Hospital beds in one room of the medical center on Carnival Splendor (not from the tour)

Next we descended into the bowels of the ship – sort of. The ship has decks lower than where passengers are allowed to go even on the tour. The lowest deck passengers see during the normal course of a cruise is 0, and then only in the area with the gangway to the outside at ports and the medical center. Our guide mentioned decks A, B, and C, which is typical for the big cruise ships to have 3 crew decks below deck 0.

We saw some crew areas. Narrow hallways led to crew rooms, the doors spaced closer than in passenger cabin hallways. Our guide said these cabins have 2 bunks each, with some space to walk next to the beds, a desk and sink, and a bathroom shared with the next cabin. The crew on the Splendor have 2 people per room and 4 per bathroom in rooms somewhat smaller than the inside passenger cabins.

crew area of cruise ship

Crew Lounge from the Liberty

The crew has other places to go besides their quarters when off duty. They had a self-serve crew mess and a staff dining room with service from crew in training to become dining room waitstaff. Crew are people who work for the cruiseline and staff work on the ship, but are employed by outside providers. The officers have separate dining rooms from the staff and crew, but they all get the same food. They have a different menu from passengers. The passenger menu has a 7 or 8 day rotation, while the crew menu has a rotation of about 27 days so they don’t repeat the same things as often. They also try to take into account the ethnicity of much of the crew and rotate meals from their homelands through the menu.

The crew has a laundry room where they can wash their own things. Unlike the passenger launderettes which cost money, the crew can wash their clothes for free. They have free environmentally friendly laundry soap available and are not allowed to bring in chemical detergents.

Other crew areas included a gym and a crew bar complete with portholes, pool table, and video games. Their dining areas also had porthole views.

how the crew gets around

I-95 central hallway through crew area on Norwegian Pearl runs the entire length of the ship

Every ship seems to have a long central hallway for the crew called I-95. They can use that to easily get from one end of the ship to the other. Crew members went about their daily tasks or just walked by on their way to somewhere.

We walked past the entrance to the medical area, and found out the ship has 2 doctors and 4 nurses on board. It can leave port without the captain as there are about 5 other people who have captain’s licenses and can drive the ship. It can not leave port without a doctor.

cruise ship laundry

Laundry on the Pearl

Down below the waterline we saw a laundry just for washing clothes, which either passengers or crew can send their clothes to for a fee. Some positions such as cooks can send their uniforms to be washed for free (cooks because their clothes get greasy and that is a fire hazard.) On the other side of a big waterlock door sat the main laundry where all the sheets and towels get washed for passengers and crew. The ship has 7 compartments that can be locked off with the waterlock doors, of which 2 next to each other can not be left open at the same time so if water ever got into the ship it would be contained. They also have fire doors there and on some of the higher levels.

A lot of laundry passes through the laundry area each day. After washing the sheets two crew members neatly slide them one at a time into one end of a machine wet and they come out the other end dry and folded where another crew member stacks them in bundles of 10.

cruise ship food storage area

one of many food storage coolers on Carnival Liberty

While below decks we saw several food storage areas where each item type has its own refrigerator or freezer such as a refrigerator just for beverages and a separate freezer for meat from poultry or fish.

soup vats

giant soup vats on Carnival Breeze

Next we saw the engine room control area where monitors keep tabs on all of the ship’s engines and generators and things, then areas where things are readied for recycling and stored for removal from the ship. After that we moved up to the galley. Bubbling soup vats and ovens full of baking bread gave the galley the sort of kitchen smells bound to make most people hungry. The tour ended at the steakhouse up on deck 10. Dinner crew from the dining rooms can sometimes be spotted in the Lido during earlier meals, but the steakhouse crew stays there exclusively making premium food into artistic presentations for guests looking for a fantastic dining experience.

At the end of the tour they had drinks waiting and while people enjoyed those they handed out surveys and logo gifts. Upon return to our cabin we found a plate of goodies awaiting us topped with a Behind the Fun card.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Carnival, Shipboard Life, Splendor | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Ketchikan Duck Tour

cruise ship at the dock

Ruby Princess in Ketchikan

Ketchikan Duck Tour

The duck tour in Ketchikan has nothing to do with quacking birds.  It’s an amphibious vehicle. Some places use former military vehicles for duck rides. The ducks in Ketchikan are custom made for the tours because the military variety are not suitable for all possible weather conditions of their waters. The top portion of the vehicles is clear, with portholes all along the passenger area which people can open or close as they wish according to weather conditions and whether or not they want open space for photos not taken through the window.

Duck amphibious vehicle

Ketchikan Duck in the water

Passengers can book the duck tour through the ship, as we did on the Ruby Princess. Tickets are also available at the visitor’s center or the nearby Quack Shack. The ducks pick up passengers who booked through the cruise line right out in front of their ship. The tour takes about 90 minutes. It starts with a short safety spiel along with the option to buy duck bill shaped quacking whistles.

inside duck amphibious vehicle

Inside the duck – with quack whistles overhead “in case of emergency”

The land portion of the tour includes a brief history of the areas the vehicle drives through as well as information about things like how much salmon is processed there, different sorts of fishing boats, and a bit about wildlife, the people and the land.

Ketchikan duck tour

Photo of the duck taken from Dolly’s house – while people on the duck took photos of Dolly’s house.. You can see how close the dock is with Ruby Princess in the background of the photo.

The duck made a brief stop at Creek Street with a chance to photo someone dressed up as Dolly Archer standing in front of her house. Apparently our guide didn’t know the funicular accessed from Creek Street was closed for repair since he talked about it as if people could go take a ride to the hotel/restaurant at the top of the tracks up the steep hill. It was out of order the last time I visited Ketchikan several years ago too, but looked as if it had been used between then and now so perhaps they have to fix it up at the start of tourist season each year. I did find funiculars that work in Quebec City and Valparaiso. Funiculars take people up steep hills on railroad style tracks.

duck ride goes into the water

duck driving down the boat launch

At a marina in an area the guide called Bar Harbor (NOT Bah Habah the way they pronounce it in Maine) the duck drove down a boat launching ramp and into the water. As the duck headed toward the Princess ship we saw a small tug towing a large floating house going past us in the opposite direction. Of course it was on the other side where it was hard for us to get a picture since all the people on that side of the duck had their cameras up. One of my sisters managed to lean over and get a photo through someone’s porthole.

big floating house

floating house going by

We passed by lots of float planes tied to docks, most of which do flight seeing tours once the tourist season gets fully underway. On the other side we passed an island which mostly looked like trees, but had an area with a glimpse of the runway at the airport of the infamous bridge to nowhere debacle. I can’t remember what the actual name of that island was, but the guide jokingly called it Nowhere, Alaska and said that even if the bridge-building idea hadn’t been killed by politics that logistics and cost would have killed it anyway.

view from Dolly's bedroom

view of Creek Street from upstairs inside Dolly’s house

Just as we almost got to where we’d be in position to get some really good ship photos very soon the duck turned around and headed back. When we got back to the launching ramp we found it occupied by a small truck attempting to retrieve a large boat from the water in a low tide that left the ramp steep and slippery with seaweed. Another duck boat joined ours in circling around waiting for ramp access while the unfortunate boater tried several times before finally succeeding to get his boat loaded. His truck struggled slowly up the ramp before he finally drove away leaving it clear for the ducks to exit.

untold stories

Stories of many former occupants of Creek Street are posted on the houses where they lived and worked

The driver approached the ramp at an odd angle because someone had left a very small boat tied to the end of the dock hanging out over the ramp. The ramp is just wide enough for the duck so driving straight up would have meant hitting the little boat – which the owner could easily have tied on the far side of the dock which was wide open and totally out of the way. Unlike the too small truck with the too big boat the duck had no trouble driving up the launching ramp. At the top our duck pulled over into a parking lot and the guide jumped out to hose the salt water and seaweed off the wheels. The driver took over entertaining the tourists. The other duck came up the ramp and went straight on out to the street. Soon the guide got back in and they returned everyone to the ship where we had plenty of time to explore the town.

Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan photo taken from the Ruby Princes


Things to do in Ketchikan

Creek Street

Creek Street, Ketchikan

Creek Street – the green house is Dolly’s

Creek street, so named for the creek where other places have a street, is a row of former brothels which are mostly shops for tourists now. Some have signs about the women who formerly lived and worked in those houses. One of them, Dolly’s house, is a museum preserving her furniture and belongings as the house was when she lived there. She was the last working gal on the street, retiring after age 70.

Dolly's House, Ketchikan

She’s not really Dolly and her job in this house is nothing like what Dolly’s was

The sign said it cost $10 to walk through Dolly’s House, but they let us in for $7.50 each. There are TV’s in a couple of the rooms that continuously play information about Dolly and her life in a loop. The kitchen has the latest and greatest modern appliances – when they were new. They look quite old-fashioned now. Dolly had places to hide liquor during prohibition and some interesting decor.

dolly's decor

lamps in Dolly’s bedroom


Ketchikan has lots of souvenir shops. There’s one on the pier and many more across the street and on all the nearby streets to the pier. The jewelry stores all seem to mark the prices way up high and then tell you it’s a bargain at about a quarter of the price. Some shops sell local handmade things. Things made by natives are marked with a bear symbol tag. Some things made in Alaska do not merit the native made tag because they are made by other Alaskans not from the native tribes. Other things are made in China and some of the Chinese knock-offs of Alaskan products have a knock-off bear symbol similar to the native made tag so if the price seems low for an Alaskan made product look it over carefully because it may say made in China.

Ketchikan, Alaska

Leaving Ketchikan – view of the town as the ship pulls away from the dock


There’s a visitor’s center right next to the cruise ship dock with lots of tours available for people who didn’t book anything on the ship. We also saw a few people with signs for tours and since we were the first ship of the season there may be more people offering a wider variety of things as more ships come to town.

More Blogs About Ketchikan

Dolly’s House

Trolley Tour

Rainforest Hike

Walking Tour

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016



Posted in Alaska, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Princess, Ruby Princess, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

San Juan, Paseo de la Princesa, and Diving Pelicans

cruise ships at the dock

Breeze in San Juan, Puerto Rico docked next to Sunshine

San Juan Puerto Rico is a great port stop for cruise ship passengers who don’t want to spend much if any money. Of course excursions are available as are taxis and van tours at the port for those who want them. You can also rent bikes to ride around town or beyond. Two old forts sit within walking distance of the cruise ship docks in old San Juan. There’s also a free shuttle that takes people around old town. Shops sit just across the street from the pier. You don’t have to walk far to come across some of San Juan’s blue brick roads and the colorful buildings of old town.

cobblestone road of blue bricks

Blue Brick road in San Juan

The blue bricks came to San Juan as ballast from Spanish ships of the 1800’s, which used furnace slag for their ballast on the journey to Puerto Rico. Colonists made good use of this ready-made paving material that the ships left behind, paving their streets with the blue bricks. Unfortunately less and less streets have these unique cobblestones as more of them keep getting paved over.

blue brick road

Blue Brick Road near the cruise port

The biggest attractions in town are the forts, Castillo San Cristobol and Castillo San Felipe del Morro, commonly known as El Morro. Both historic forts belong to the US park system and one fee allows visits to both. Anyone not wishing to walk to or between the forts can catch the free shuttle around old town, which stops at both forts.

blue brick road

Typical narrow blue brick road with colorful buildings

Having visited the forts on prior trips to San Juan, and with the Breeze having a short and early day in port, we opted to just take a walk down the Paseo de la Princessa, a walkway near the cruise ship docks. The portion from the red San Juan Gate toward El Morro is called Paseo del Morro. When the construction going on at the time of our visit completes tourists can walk the seaside pathway all the way to the entrance of El Morro rather than having to turn around at a dead end as we did.

fountain in San Juan

Raices Fountain

Take a left at the end of the cruise ship pier and stay as close to the water as you can and you will come to the Paseo de la Princesa leading to the Raices Fountain and the waterfront part of the pathway, which was once a maintenance road for the city wall.

Decorations or something more sinister?

Spikes alongside the path

Tall metal spikes sit between the pathway and the wall in one place. If you look up to the top of the wall there you can see the governor’s mansion, called La Fortaleza.

huge tree

giant rainforest tree on the pathway

The trail passes a large rainforest tree and soon comes to the red gate, once the main gate from the sea into the city when the entire city sat behind the protective wall.

historical gate

Red Gate or San Juan Gate leads from the walkway into Old San Juan

Along they way feral cats sleep hidden in bushes or among the rocks. Some come out in plain sight. San Juan’s cat colony has lived there for centuries, and is now cared for by Save A Gato, who has a feeding station alongside the trail a short distance past the red gate.

feral cat

One of San Juan’s feral cats

Save a Gato runs a trap neuter release program as well as finding homes for some of the cats and providing the feeding stations for the others.

historical wall

Garitas once held lookouts keeping a watchful eye for pirates or other enemies

Looking up at the top of the walls every so often a garita still stands guard, though other than tourists they now sit empty, the need for watchful eyes above the city long gone.

pleasant when it's not too hot out

waterfront paseo or walkway

A flock of hungry pelicans made numerous attacks on fish just below the water’s surface as we walked by. The large birds flew around, sometimes hovering and sometimes landing gracefully on the water.

diving pelicans video (very short video)

Other times one would dive straight down from high above, shooting into the water like an arrow and coming up already swallowing the fish it just caught.

wall repair

scaffolding for wall restoration

Though the wall and forts have survived for centuries, it appears they need some help to remain intact as part of the wall had scaffolding and workers on top doing maintenance. The pathway was closed not far past the red gate with other workers and road machinery.

end of the road

The path ends here for now

You would think when our ship, the Carnival Breeze, arrived at 7:00am, the third of three as the Dream and Sunshine were already there, that any business near the docks would be open waiting to help all those cruise ship passengers streaming off the ships anxious to empty their wallets. Especially since both the Breeze and Sunshine departed about 2:00pm and the Dream was ending one cruise and starting another. Though plenty of vans awaited passengers wanting taxis or island tours, many local shops didn’t open until 10:00am. Disappointed passengers who had gone out early to shop were already returning when we went ashore.

segway for rent

we would have rented these if they’d been there on our way out instead of our way back

We had thought about doing a segway tour if we found any, having seen them on the Paseo de la Princesa before and thinking it looked like fun. We left the ship around 7:30, late enough for the crowd at the gangway to clear, but early enough to get out before the heat of the day – and it was already warm. On the way back we saw a shop near the ship putting segways out getting ready to open at 10:00am, just in time for peak sunburning hours.

San Juan

City above the wall

Had the shop been open on our way out we would have rented them, but by then we were ready to go back to the ship and have a chance to use the waterslides while nobody was on them and wash clothes while most passengers were still in port. A good plan with good timing because we could slide with no waiting and I had no trouble finding empty machines, but by the time I went to get our clothes out of the dryer the washers were all full with more people lined up waiting to pounce as soon as one finished so any later would have been too late.


 in between dives pelicans rested on top the garitas

More Blogs about San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

The Cats of Old San Juan

Bicycling in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Staying in Puerto Rico

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Breeze, Caribbean, Carnival, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Valparaiso, Chile

cruise ship at container port

Arcadia in Valparaiso from hotel window

We came into Valparaiso by bus on a day trip from Santiago. Most people on our tour went back to Santiago with the bus at the end of the day. A few others besides us stayed in Valparaiso, checking into hotels for a couple nights before boarding P&O Arcadia for a cruise across the Pacific Ocean. After flying into Santiago the bus tour made a great way to cross the 70 miles to the cruise port at Valparaiso. Cheaper than taking a cab plus we got to take the tour. The bus went around nearby Vina del Mar before finishing out the tour in Valparaiso.

famous house

Pablo Neruda’s House

The first stop in Valparaiso was at Pablo Neruda’s house, just a quick photo stop with no time to go in. He was a famous poet in Chile, though we had not heard of him.

not the best place for a horseback ride

Lone Horseman of Valparaiso

Out the bus window just after we got back from Pablo Neruda’s house we saw a lone horseman riding up the narrow street. A rather odd thing to see in a mostly paved over city of close together houses with nowhere that looked suitable for riding a horse, let alone anywhere for it to live. The horse looks like it could use a good meal and the services of a farrier (horseshoer). Then again the rider looks like he could use a good meal too.

fancy tile stairs

stairway and funicular near the town square

Much of Valparaiso is built on steep hillsides. The city once had an extensive system of funiculars to assist in bringing people up the hills. It’s hard to say how many there ever were because it varies depending on the source. I’ve seen it listed everywhere from 26 – 33. Many of them sit forlorn and abandoned, rusting into history. At least 8 are still in use. The bus stopped to show us an abandoned one set back a bit from the roadway, tucked between some houses. We did not ride any of them on the tour. One of the other bus passengers said she took one down instead of walking with the rest of the group after the bus let everyone out up on a hill. She traded the best part of the tour for that ride.

painted buildings

Valparaiso street art

The walk down was quite interesting. We walked through a well-preserved clean area of older buildings, many with colorful street art (which discourages malicious graffiti as people don’t usually paint over a mural.) Valparaiso welcomes the artists who paint the murals and even has tours people can take around town to see the street art.

streets of Valparaiso

the houses are colorful even without murals

The steep hills and colorful buildings make great views looking up or down. Many have cobblestone streets, though some roads are not in the best of repair.

hills of Valparaiso

curb way above street level

The ground drops so steeply in some areas that the sidewalk gets higher and higher from street level until you come to a stairway at the end or sometimes even middle of the block. A network of stairways runs through the hills so pedestrians have another option besides roads in some places.

street dogs of Valparaiso

this street dog followed along with the tour after finding him here

Valparaiso has its share of street dogs, which seems common in Chile as Santiago had some too. We saw water someone had left out for them and later when we tried to feed a couple of them some leftover French fries they had no interest at all so they must be pretty well fed. My dog would have snarfed up the fries in an instant no matter how much she already had to eat.

Valparaiso, Chile

Navy building at the town square

The guided tour ended at the town square in a level area near the sea. The bus parked near a beautiful old building belonging to the navy. A band played loudly in a stand set up in the square. The tour guide gave everyone some time to wander around a bit on their own. He walked the others to their hotel near the town square and told us he’d drop us off on the way out of town as ours was a bit farther from the square.

view from hotel window

Regent’s ship in clear view, and the train to Vina del Mar

We stayed at Hotel Diego de Almagro on the road next to the sea. From our window we had a great view of the sea and of a cruise ship in port. We had a couple nights to stay in Valparaiso before our ship came in, but it was nice to know we would see it when it arrived. If that one hadn’t been there we never would have known it was anything but a container port since the next day a container ship sat at the pier where the cruise ship had been. Our ship ended up farther back on the dock kind of behind a dry dock anchored out in the bay.

how the containers move about the port

giant forklift moving container

Directly across from our room we could see a train station, and behind that container storage where giant forklifts would sometimes come and either put containers on trucks or just move them around.

streets of Valparaiso

wild tangle of wires

Apparently the tour guide knew which areas to walk through where we would find only clean streets and buildings. In spite of seeing a number of street dogs on that tour we never saw so much as one dog turd on the road or sidewalk. Our guide had said you could find free walking tours at the town square hosted mainly by college students who knew a lot about the area’s history, but we didn’t look for those or for the boat tour around the harbor he mentioned either. Once we boarded the ship we saw the boat tours going around the harbor. They came fairly close to the cruise ship and some nearby navy boats.

portable dry dock

ship having work done in the dry dock anchored in the harbor

Walking around on our own we went through some of the more dodgy areas where you wonder if the urine smell is from street dogs or street people. We had only seen one cat walking with the tour group, but saw more in the non-touristy areas. Probably some pets and some strays. Some of the dogs are pets too, but many are street dogs. We saw very few puppies, just one batch by an abandoned building safely off the road. They have to learn young how to be streetwise and watch for cars or they won’t live to grow old. The dogs are very smart about watching for traffic and knowing when they can safely cross even the busiest streets.

easy way up a steep hill

working funicular

We walked along the road by the sea one day and found a working funicular near the container port. We took a ride up to the top. Like just about all tourist attractions everywhere it exited through a gift shop. Outside we found a few shops and a maritime museum up there. We saw another funicular nearby, but it looked non-functional. We found a couple other working ones later. One near the main square of the touristy area and another visible from the other end of the harbor near an old pier that was open for people to walk around on.

riding the funicular up the hil

view from the funicular

Locally Valparaiso’s funiculars are known as as ascensors. Funiculars operate on a pulley and cable system with the descending car providing counterweight for the ascending car. Valparaiso’s funiculars were built from around 1883 to 1915. The earliest ran on hydraulics. A bit later they used steam engines and in 1906 they built the first with an electric motor.

old and broken

abandoned funicular

A walkway went past the maritime museum and had great views of the other nearby funicular as well as the town and the sea. It led to an area that looked like it was intended for people to set up booths there to sell things, but it was empty that day. Beyond that we began coming into a bit more dodgy areas as we worked our way back down to sea level on a rather roundabout walk. From one street we could see a building across the way that looked as if it could crumble at any time, yet it had cars parked on top of it – which is street level for the other side of that building.

slums of Valparaiso

cars parked on unsound looking building

Shells of buildings and broken walls dot the city in between viable buildings, remnants of earthquakes past. We saw quite a few on the walk back down from the funicular. We could have ridden it back down as you can go either way, but we saw more of the town by taking a different route. Lots of stairways run between buildings in places where the roads don’t go so there are many ways to get back to the lower part of town.

earthquake ruin

looking through the shell of a ruin

We walked down one road too narrow for cars. Near the lower part of the hill the sidewalk ended abruptly at a place where the road had dropped in an earthquake  leaving just enough road for a bicycle, possibly a motorcycle to pass by. One wall of a partially collapsed building stood on the side where the road dropped away, and buildings still in use on the other. Chile has the most earthquakes of anywhere on the planet so they must just get used to living with the damaged buildings and going on with their lives.

small tourist area

shops and museum at the top of the funicular

A train runs between Valparaiso and Vina del Mar and a path along the water looked as if you could take it all the way there as well. We walked along the sea in the opposite direction from where we found the funicular to what looked to us like a former cruise ship or container ship pier, now open to the public to walk around on. It seemed like a popular place.

Valparaiso street art

a very colorful stairway takes a shortcut between buildings past a dog bed

We thought the building in front of that pier was an old abandoned cruise terminal, but it turned out to be the current terminal in use. Although the ship docked at the container pier on the other end of the harbor, passengers entered and exited through the terminal building and buses transported people between the terminal and the ship. Inside the building seats in a waiting area sat next to the check-in counters and the rest of the space was filled with vendors. Wine was a popular item as people could bring as much as they wanted aboard the ship from that port.

they didn't clean up the dog poop here

stairway in a sort of dodgy-looking area

Crew milled around behind the counters while passengers piled up in the waiting area until they finally began to process people at boarding time. If you ever cruise out of Valparaiso, arriving early really doesn’t accomplish anything as they did not open the counters early and later arrivals crowded around the roped-off line area, getting in when it opened ahead of the earlier arrivals waiting in the seats. The check in crew inside the terminal was made up of people from the ship rather than people who worked for the port.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Arcadia, P&O, Port Cities, South and Central America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cruise Ship Loyalty Programs

there's lots of cheap Caribbean cruises available

cruise ships in Saint Thomas

Once you have sailed with a particular cruise line, that cruise line would very much like for you to sail with them again. Repeat cruisers make up a good portion of the billions of dollars per year cruise ship business and whoever you sail with would prefer you come back to them rather than sailing with someone else next time around.

The big ships keep passengers coming back to them by giving good deals to people who book their next cruise while onboard. After all while you are on that ship the future cruise staff is only going to show you deals aboard that line so you won’t be comparing with what anyone else has to offer. They usually have some sweet deals with low prices on particular cruises they need to fill as well as general deals for any cruise booked. These deals often include things like onboard credit for either the current or future cruise that you only get if you book during your cruise. Terms vary from one cruise line to another. Some will let you transfer the booking you made on board to a different time, ship, or destination while with others you can’t change what you booked.

Another thing cruise lines have to keep people coming back to them is loyalty programs. The more you sail with any one cruise line the higher status you gain in their loyalty program and the better perks you get. Most lines automatically enroll you at your first sailing, but some will let you sign up in advance while others don’t let you in until you have reached the minimum level of points required to achieve their lowest level.

Perks themselves vary greatly from one line to another. Some people stay with only one line because of the perks. Personally I just consider any perks I might get as a bonus and cruise with whatever line works out best for any given cruise. Some ships offer more things for younger children like waterslides and splash parks while others have things like enrichment programs and cooking classes for adults so who sails with you can also make a difference on which ship or cruise line you choose.

Perks at the highest levels tend to include things like free laundry service, priority boarding, and priority tender. Not every line offers the same things though. For instance you never get free laundry service on P&O, but then the washers and dryers in their self-serve laundries are free where some ships don’t have passenger laundries at all and most that do charge to use them.

Different lines also score the points in different ways with the most simple (and in my opinion the most fair) being one point per person regardless of age or room category for each night you spend on the ship. Some let you buy your way to higher status by giving extra points for things like booking suites or dollars spent onboard giving people with more money an advantage over those without. Others either exclude children or give kids a parent’s status they didn’t earn for themselves, neither of which seems fair to me.

Loyalty Programs of Major American Cruiselines

Carnival Legend at Circular Quay

Carnival Legend in Sydney, Australia

Carnival calls their loyalty program the VIFP Club – for Very Important Fun Person. You earn one point for each night sailed on a Carnival ship. Their levels go by colors. Your ship’s card, which is called a sail and sign card on their ships, reflects the color of your current level. If at any point during the cruise you will achieve a higher level you are given the higher card at the start of the cruise. First time cruisers have a blue card and can receive members only offers and newsletter if they sign up prior to cruising. Benefits at higher levels include what the level before got plus something additional. From the second sailing to 24 points is red and gets a complimentary 1-litre bottle of water per sailing. 25-74 points is gold and they get to add a free drink and a gold pin to their benefits each cruise. At platinum, which is 75-199 points the real benefits begin. Platinum members get priority check-in and debarkation, priority tender, a free beverage, a party, chocolate delight delivered to the stateroom, a ship pin, a limited amount of free laundry service, a variety of other priority services, and buy one get one free slot or blackjack tournament. Diamond is the highest level at 200 points and their main advantages over platinum are unlimited free laundry service and a special event. There are also several one-time things awarded at entry to diamond level.

Celebrity Infinity cruise ship

Celebrity Infinity in Costa Rica

Celebrity has the Captain’s Club. Club points are earned according to stateroom category and length of cruise on Celebrity or Azmara with a max of 18 points per night. Solo cruisers get double points if they paid full fare. Besides the perks you get when sailing with Celebrity, their Captains Club has partnerships outside the cruise line where members can get discounts for products and services offered by Celebrity’s partners. Celebrity’s categories are called tiers and start with the Preview Tier which people who have not yet sailed with Celebrity can join. At that level you get a newsletter, access to the member’s service center and Captain’s Club promotions, and partner benefits. At each successive level you add more benefits. After the first sailing you move up to Classic membership. New benefits include a free scoop of gelato each cruise, one category upgrades on future bookings, access to reunion and President’s cruise events, 10% discount on internet and photos, and access to the onboard loyalty host. At 150 points you move up to the select tier where the discounts go up to 25% for internet and 15% for the photo package. You also get complimentary pressing of 2 items and one free bag of laundry on cruises of 12 days or more, priority embarkation, complimentary wine seminar, cocktail party, and platinum level enrollment in Royal Caribbean’s Crown and Anchor society. At 300 points you become an elite member with breakfast in the Captains Club Lounge, 90 free internet minutes, one free bag laundry on every sailing, 20% discount on photos, one free port day access to Persian Garden (spa thermal suite), priority tender, elegant tea invitation, and Diamond level membership at Royal Caribbean. It takes 750 points to move up to Elite Plus where the free internet minutes expand to 200. At that level you get complimentary espresso, latte, coffee or tea, 10% discount on wine or beverage packages and 15% discount on any specialty restaurant, two complimentary bags of laundry and free dry cleaning of one item. It takes 3000 points to reach Zenith, their highest level where you get access to Michael’s Club Lounge, 1600 internet minutes, complimentary laundry, free beverage package, 25% off specialty dining, priority theater seating, upgraded bath amenities, complimentary luggage to airport service, and a complimentary 7-night Caribbean or Bermuda cruise in a veranda stateroom. At 6000 points and every 3000 points thereafter you get a free 7-night Caribbean or Bermuda cruise in an Aqua Class stateroom.

Disney Fantasy

Disney Fantasy in Saint Martin

Disney – Yes the mouse has a cruise line. They call their loyalty program the Castaway Club. They don’t list the specifics of it on their website, just that the benefits include advance booking of shore excursions, child care, fine dining and spa, a welcome back stateroom gift, exclusive Disney cruise news and newsletter, Complimentary lanyard and key to the world card, dedicated Castaway Club toll free number, and more unnamed benefits that “add more enchantment the more you sail.”

Holland America Veendam

Holland America Veendam in Sydney, Nova Scotia (Canada)

Holland America‘s loyalty program is called the Mariner Society. You get one cruise day credit daily on your cruise, double if you booked a suite. You also get a bonus credit for each $300 spent onboard. Mariner levels are done by stars starting with one star on your second cruise. One star Mariners get embarkation lunch in the dining room, Mariner Champagne Brunch, a special gift, free subscription to Mariner magazine, special offers, and discounts for 3rd or 4th guests on select sailings. 30 cruise day credits moves you up to 2 stars where you add a complimentary photo of the ship, discounts on Holland America line clothing, and an annual cruise planner to your benefits. 3 star level is reached with 75 cruise day credits and new benefits include a Mariner welcome reception, 25% discount on restaurant surcharges, specialty coffees, wine packages and mini bar purchases, a lapel pin, and advance information on new itineraries. 200 cruise day credits brings you to 4 stars where you add the major benefits. The discount on specialty restaurants etc goes up to 50%. You get priority check-in, tender, and disembarkation and free laundry service. The discount on logo clothing bought onboard goes up to 15% instead of the previous 10%. You get a complimentary wine tasting, spa discounts, and a free 1-year subscription to either Travel & Leisure or Food & Wine magazine. It takes 500 cruise day credits to reach 5 stars, their top level. New benefits include 50% discount on 100 internet minutes, 2 complimentary dinners at Pinnacle Grill, free cooking class, and a complimentary 1-day pass to the spa thermal suite.

cuise ship docked in Jamaica

Norwegian Pearl in Jamaica

Norwegian‘s Latitudes Rewards Program requires participants to be 18 or older so children under 18 don’t rack up any points no matter how often they sail. Guests 18 and up get one point for each night sailed plus one bonus point for each of the following: Booking a suite, booking 9 months or more in advance, or booking a latitudes insider offer. They have 4 tiers with Bronze for 1-19 points, silver 20-47 points, gold 48-75 and platinum 76 and up. Special gifts are given at 250, 500, 700, and 1000 points. Benefits for all levels include Lattitudes online magazine, insider offers, priority check-in, onboard discounts, members cocktail party, and ship pin. Silver and up also get discounts on photos and spa, nightly chocolates, and an onboard gathering with ship’s officers. At gold you get priority tender, priority disembarkation, 25% laundry service for one bag, and a welcome gift. Platinum gets one bag of laundry for free and chocolate strawberries, concierge, behind the scenes tour, a bottle of sparkling wine, and a complimentary bistro dinner. Sailings must be 5 days or longer for benefits besides the ship pin and discounts to apply.

cruise ship at the dock

Ruby Princess in Ketchikan, Alaska

Princess gives points in their Captain’s Circle for number of cruises or cruise days so you can move up with either long or frequent cruises. They also count time spent on P&O. Levels start with gold upon completion of your first cruise. Benefits include special offers and member discounts, member only onboard events, magazine, newsletter, and recognition pin. At your 4th cruise or 31 cruise days you move up to Ruby and add an automatic upgrade when purchasing Princess’ vacation insurance, Captain’s Circle shoreside help desk phone number, and 10% discount on cruise DVD from your voyage. At your 6th cruise or 51 cruise days you become platinum and add a complimentary cruise atlas, preferred check-in, platinum disembarkation lounge, and some complimentary internet minutes to your benefits. Their top tier is elite which adds priority tender, priority disembarkation, free laundry service, shoe shining, elite stateroom package which includes one complimentary mini bar set-up and upgraded bathroom amenities, and a preferred  discount package with complimentary wine tasting event. Eligibility is on the next cruise after completion of a tier.

Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Harmony of the Seas (internet photo)

Royal Caribbean calls their loyalty program the Crown & Anchor Society. You get one point for each night you cruise with them and double if you book a suite. They will match your tier status at Celebrity or Azamara. Children get the same status as their parents after completing their first cruise except for the very highest tier. Member benefits include discounts on certain cruises and with Royal Caribbean’s partners on shore. They have 6 tiers starting with gold. Gold benefits start at 3 points. Onboard benefits include priority check in, private departure lounge with continental breakfast, and exclusive trivia. Platinum starts at 30 points with the added benefits of an exclusive top tier event, robes to use onboard, and a lapel pin. At 55 points you move up to Emerald and gain a welcome gift. 80 points is diamond and new benefits include priority departure, behind the scenes tour of the entertainment area, various gifts, amenities, and events and a milestone recognition. 175 points is diamond plus where you get a behind the scenes tour, concierge lounge and priority theater and show seating. 700 points brings you to the Pinnacle Club, their top tier which brings free cruise certificates from 700 and every 350 points thereafter.  Some benefits like upgraded bathroom amenities and a meal with an officer started at 340 points.

cruise ship New Zealand

P&O Arcadia in Auckland, New Zealand

P&O – P&O is British rather than American, but I included them anyway. Their loyalty program is called the Peninsular Club. It has 6 tiers. Each night spent onboard a P&O ship earns you 10 points. Once you have spent 15 nights onboard you automatically become a member with access to the members only hotline, magazine, and member discounts on select cruises. Onboard benefits start on your next cruise. Each tier gets what the one before got plus more. Pacific Tier 150-500 points. 5% discount on onboard spending and access to the loyalty manager. Atlantic Tier 501-1000 points. Discount increases to 7.5% and upon entry to each new tier from this one on you get a glass of champagne and a lapel pin. Mediterranean Tier 1001-2000 points onboard spending discount increases to 8.5%  and you get slippers in your cabin, and a cocktail party on cruises of 8 days or more. Caribbean Tier 2001+ points. You get 10% off their travel insurance, priority booking and an annual gift. Onboard spending credit increases to 10%. You get priority embarkation with a private embarkation lounge onboard and you get half a bottle of champagne per cabin and an officer hosted lunch on cruises 8 nights and over. Baltic Tier 2501 + 80-200 nights onboard in the previous 3 years. You get priority on preferred airline seats on Caribbean fly-cruises, senior officers at the luncheon, and 50% discount on laundry service. Ligurian Tier 2501 + 201 or more nights onboard in the previous 3 years. Hospitality lounge to await embarkation, early embarkation, and complimentary formal attire pressing service. Sailings on P&O Australia do not count for P&O UK.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, P&O, Princess, Randoms, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala Cruise Ship Port

cruise ship in Guatemala

Infinity at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala

Guatemala is a Spanish-speaking Central American country with volcanoes, rain forests, and ancient Mayan sites. Their currency is the Guatemalan quetzal, but shops at the cruise port are quite happy to accept American dollars. Shopkeepers at the port speak at least enough English to make a transaction. They are also willing to bargain so you can usually buy things for less than the marked price.

Guatemala volcanoes

Volcanoes on the horizon

Taking a ship’s excursion or staying in the immediate port area is often recommended when visiting Guatemala as it is not currently one of the safest places on the planet. The ship offered several excursions, most to the capitol city of Antigua involving a 90-minute bus ride each way and a fair amount of dollars. Two volcanoes stood prominently on the horizon in the morning that Celebrity Infinity came into port, only to become obscured behind a fog of clouds as the day progressed.

Guatemala cruise port

the cruise port looks like an oasis of green in an industrial area

The cruise dock in Puerto Quetzal sits near an industrial area where container ships unload. From the deck of the ship we could see the parklike cruise port area sitting next to what appeared to be an active coal mine, with mountains of something black enough to be coal at a facility on the other side.

jade museum

shades of jade

Not having booked an excursion, we opted to look around the port area in hopes of finding free internet and then enjoy some time on the uncrowded ship. The short walk down the dock from the ship leads to a small round building with a volcano shaped palapa top. Inside a marimba band played next to the tourist info booth which had a sign pronouncing that people could have their passports stamped free. Across the room another booth had a couple tour companies offering 5-hour van tours for about $45.

wi fi was hard to come by this cruise


Just one open-air bar under a canvas roof offered wi-fi connections in the port area. Not free, but not too expensive at $5 per hour. Nobody else was there when we came and the internet was fast enough to open emails and things without taking too long. As more people came and logged on it got progressively slower so definitely better to go there when it’s not crowded.

making products to sell

girl weaving

Walking through the little jungle area of shopping booths we saw many palm trees with the bottom of the trunk painted white – which a local at a port in Mexico once told us was to keep the ants away. People had a good time posing with some Styrofoam statues next to the path. Booths everywhere sold local crafts, jade jewelry, t-shirts and other things tourists might buy. Several stalls had a woman or girl weaving more items to sell.

Mayan jade

jade Mayan artifacts

At about the center of the park-like pavilion a sign for a jade museum sat in front of a little round building. People can go in there and look at their exhibits for free. The museum had a number of jade items from the old Mayan civilization on display along with interesting facts like Mayans knew how to drill teeth centuries before Europeans, evidenced by skeletons with jade baubles adorning their teeth.

things and stuff

things for sale

The little museum also had a video playing about a modern day search for the jade mines of the ancients. Eventually they found boulders in a farmer’s field containing jade that matched ancient artifacts so closely they could have come from the same boulder. Jade, it said, forms in areas of great pressure and in Guatemala is found along just one river where two of the earth’s tectonic plates meet. The museum also had a shop where the jade jewelry cost considerably more than in the little booths all around it.

what to do in port


Near the water’s edge a row of hammocks tied to coconut trees beckoned passers-by to stop for a comfortable rest and a view of the ship. At the far end of the complex you can find taxis, but in addition to going out on your own not being recommended, they are also expensive. The 5-hour tour costs less than a private taxi.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Ports of Call, South and Central America | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mahogany Bay BOSS Underwater Scooters

it's not really magic and it doesn't fly

Carnival Splendor behind the Magic Flying Beach Chair

Carnival Splendor backed past the hulks of two rusted old ships into Mahogany Bay on Isla Roatan, Honduras on a beautiful sunny day. These two rusted old ships protruding from the water once delivered groceries to the island, but exploded and burned 35 years ago and have sat in the bay deteriorating ever since.

rusting hulk

the bigger of the two wrecks at Mahogany Bay

On our first visit to Mahogany Bay we stayed at the cruise port, which has lots of shops and a beautiful beach. We tried the Magic Flying Beach Chair. Even before it got stuck in the rain people with canes and wheelchairs got to the beach faster on the walking path. You can get some good ship photos from it though.

it's not that far

The walking path is the fastest way to the beach.

This time we tried something different and unique by booking a shore excursion on the B.O.S.S underwater scooters. BOSS stands for Breathing Observation Submersible Scooter. These scooters operated about 8 feet under the surface, with a buoy attached to keep them at the right depth and so those above the water know where to find them.

swing chair

if you take a detour on the path from the cruise port to the beach you can find this sea view swing

Just getting to the bus for our excursion brought us to parts of the port we hadn’t seen on our last visit. Beyond the canned cruise ship shopping area with all the usual cruise port shops we saw a zip line and a building marked independent tours. There’s a taxi stand and along the road out from the port a number of locals with signs for random tours wait for people looking for something to do.

shopping area

fake boots for photo posing at the cruise port

The bus to Flowers Bay where scooters awaited took us through town where houses range from looking like they were hand built from scraps to picture perfect without a paint chip out of place. Most homes sat up on pilings or had open cement basements whether they were built over water or on uneven ground or not.

Roatan homes

houses at Flowers Bay

At Flowers Bay we left the bus and walked down a small wooden dock to an open sided covered boat with one tiny toilet below decks. On board they told everyone how the scooters worked and passed out snorkel gear. Half the group rode scooters first while the other half could either snorkel or stay on the boat, then the two groups switched.

scooters on board

tour boat at the dock

We joined the snorkel first group in the water, and once our turn came for the scooters I felt very happy to have had a chance to see the area first. While snorkeling around the bay we could see plenty of coral as well as fish and other sea life. It all looked rather large if somewhat distant at the bottom of a fairly deep bay as far as snorkel sites go – probably somewhere around 20-30 feet deep.

underwater photo

sea floor snorkel photo

At times we got close enough to get photos of the other group riding the scooters, a sight not normally seen while snorkeling. Then the time came to go back to the boat and get ready for our turn on the scooters.

how to ride a scooter

demonstration on how to ride a scooter

The scooters stayed out in the bay while the riders ditched them and swam the short distance back to the boat. Someone from the crew stayed with them. I normally have my snorkel mask on before putting my face into salt water, but snorkel masks and even swim goggles have no place on an underwater scooter as they would just impair vision.

each scooter is tethered to a buoy

buoys show where the scooters are

We could swim the few feet to the scooters with our heads out of the water, but to get on the scooter you have to go under the water, get your head below the fish bowl-like helmet area and then rise up inside it where it is full of air rather than water.  Not wanting to get salt water into my eyes, I closed them before diving under the surface and just felt my way into the scooter, which is not hard to do as it is pretty easy to feel the lower edge of the helmet area. Once inside you just breathe normally and can see through the glass.

scooters on the boat

when not in use the scooters sit on the back of the boat

If I had not snorkeled first I would have thought we were at the bottom of a rather shallow bay. Through the curved fish bowl helmet the sea floor seemed just inches below the scooter. Rather than flat, it appeared as if the bottom rose up all around and we’d likely run into a wall of rock at any moment. Having seen the area first when snorkeling I knew that was an optical illusion. The bottom was quite a ways down and had nothing anywhere that we could hit.

riding scooters under water

people on scooters

The coral and sea life that looked so big and distant through the snorkel mask looked tiny and close through the scooter. Fish looked like the little ones that you see in the average home aquarium, and the coral and seaweed no bigger than decorative aquarium plants. The divers that stayed with the scooters looked about the size of Barbie dolls. While it always appeared as if our feet could scrape the ground, the minuscule-looking divers swam under the scooters with ease.

rider on an underwater scooter

diver with a scooter

Several divers stayed with the group, one to follow and a couple to herd people, watch over them, and make sure nobody had problems. One took photos. You can take underwater cameras on the scooter. One even has a mount for a GoPro. If using a wrist strap, the camera has to go on the left hand as the right hand mans the go button. I wasn’t sure how I’d take photos and drive the scooter at the same time so I left mine on the boat. It would have been nice to get a photo from inside the helmet to show how everything looked from there, but since I didn’t take the camera with me I couldn’t get that shot. A GoPro on a head strap would be ideal to show what you see in there, but I don’t have one of those.

ready for some fun

diver waiting for scooter riders

The scooters move pretty slowly and the handlebars move up and down from one side or the other to turn the vehicle. Mine felt as if it always wanted to turn right and I had to keep cranking it over to the left to go straight. Whether the scooter actually had an issue or not I couldn’t say because though I thought I held them equally, the right side does require the go button held down continuously to keep it moving which might unintentionally put more pressure on that side. Even without the go button what feels equal to me is probably also much stronger on the right since my left arm has no strength due to having once broken it inside the elbow joint.

riding scooters underwater

people riding BOSS scooters

Following along behind other scooters was pretty easy, but when the itsy bitsy looking diver in the lead turned the group starting at me I suddenly found myself at the front of the pack. It was a bit harder to figure out through his hand signals which way he actually wanted me to go. It’s always interesting to try something different and the scooters were fun to ride. If you do this excursion try and get in the group that snorkels first so you know what the area really looks like before you ride the scooter.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Caribbean, Carnival, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, Splendor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments