Booking a Cruise By Category Guarantee

cruise ships in Port Canaveral

Disney Fantasy and Norwegian Epic from a cove balcony on Carnival Magic

Most of the time when people book cruises they choose a specific cabin for their cruise. Choosing a cabin lets passengers find a cabin that meets their needs, whether it is a quiet location, close to an elevator, or in a specific area of the ship. When you choose your own cabin you have the type of cabin you picked in the exact location you wanted it.

double size cruise ship veranda

Double length balcony on the MSC Divina

There is another way to book cruises though. Sometimes bookings are offered by category guarantee rather than choosing a specific room. When you book by category guarantee you get at least the category you booked in, and sometimes a free upgrade to a higher category. Besides the likelihood of free upgrades, booking by category guarantee is cheaper than picking your own cabin in the category you booked. You will never get a lower category than you paid for, but higher is quite likely. Just remember a higher category to the cruise line may just mean closer to the center of the ship or on a higher deck. For instance if you chose the lowest possible inside cabin category and ended up in an inside room on deck 9 instead of deck 1 you may not consider that an upgrade because it is still an inside room, but the cruise line will have that deck 9 room listed in a higher category of inside rooms and for a higher price than the deck 1 cabin so to them it is an upgrade.

Stateroom with portholes

Veendam Porthole Cabin

Booking porthole or above can easily lead to an ocean view cabin. Most ships have very few porthole cabins so if they all get booked the line has to move you up to ocean view because they can’t move you down to inside.

cruise ship stateroom

Veendam Ocean-View Cabin

You are much more likely to get an upgrade when booking category guarantee than if you book a specific room, but you have no choice about where on the ship that room is located. You might get a great location or you might end up under the galley or somewhere equally noisy.

the cabin for people who are really into spas

Carnival Splendor Balcony Cabin

On most cruises we choose our cabin, but sometimes we have gone with category guarantee when it is offered. I took my very first cruise with my daughter on a ship named Ocean Breeze belonging to a one-ship line called Imperial Majesty, long since out of business. We had a category guarantee booking that assured we would at least get the very worst cabin the ship had to offer – and so we did. This cabin was shaped like a wide hallway with a twin bed at either end. It did have the biggest bathroom we’ve ever had on a cruise ship, but it was very plain and basic with a cement floor, small sink, toilet, a showerhead with a curtain to pull around it, and nothing else but empty space. The steward had to clear all his spare towels and other supplies out of the room. It was normally never booked so he used it as a storage closet. It was very noisy being located under the stage and freezing because it had no controls for the overhead air conditioner vent. The steward only lessened the blasting artic air by covering it up with cardboard and towels so he left us a pile of extra blankets. I didn’t book by category guarantee again for years after that, but so far we have had much better luck with our category guarantee cabins on other cruise lines. None of the ships we’ve sailed on since even have a room like that one. It didn’t scare me off from cruising though. We still had fun.

special cruise ship cabins

MSC Divina room 9145 bedroom area with mirror view into the living room area

On the MSC Divina we got a cruise for next to nothing (11 days for $149) at Sky Auction. It was initially an inside room, but when they offer an upgrade to a balcony for an additional $50 it is definitely a deal worth taking. The cabin they assigned us was a nearly unique style in that the ship had only 4 like it. While most cabins sit short end toward the outside of the ship, this one was set with the long side of the room along the outside of the ship. The balcony ran the whole length of the room so it was double the size of the average cruise ship balcony. The room itself was arranged nearly as 2 rooms. The entry came between the closet and bathroom as normal, then the rest of that side of the room had a couch and TV with an opening into a second area nearly a room into itself with the bed and another TV. Best balcony room we ever had, almost like having a mini-suite and we got in on a category guarantee.

Lanai cabin

Veendam Lanai cabin – From the outside you can’t see in through the Lanai sliding door in daylight

On a cruise out of Boston on Holland America Veendam my aunt and I booked porthole or above and ended up with an ocean view room on the lowest deck with cabins. This was a great room with a window straight to the sea. My other aunt and uncle booked ocean view or above and got an ocean view room on the promenade deck. To the cruise line this is a higher category because the deck is higher, but they would have preferred the lower deck where nobody walks past your window. Their room was also under the galley and very loud at night so they asked if they could be moved to a different room and ended up down the hall in a lanai cabin, which has a door out onto the promenade deck. It books for a significantly larger amount of money, so a big upgrade there. They could still hear people out swabbing the promenade deck at night, but were at least out from under the galley.

oosterdam inside cabin

Oosterdam inside cabin 7132

I booked category guarantee on Holland America again on the Oosterdam, this time with my husband. We booked at the lowest inside category or above and were placed in an inside cabin on deck 7 rather than deck 1. This cabin just happened to be directly across the hall from friends we were sailing on this cruise with who had chosen their own balcony cabin. Probably not coincidence that they put us in that specific room when they could have put us anywhere.

virtual balcony cabin

interior cabin with virtual balcony on Explorer of the Seas

We also booked category guarantee inside or above on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas and were assigned to a deck 2 ocean view cabin. This was a 23 day Pacific crossing so we were quite grateful for the view. Deck 2 is their lowest category of ocean view cabins. Ours was near the bow, third cabin from the end of a dead-end hallway with only 15 cabins in it so hardly anyone ever walked past our room. There were no inside rooms across the hall since they had a conference center there, but it didn’t have many activities and none at night so the room was usually quiet.

cruise ship cabin with bunks

ocean view cabin with drop-down bunks on Explorer of the Seas

Overall we’ve had good luck with category guarantee bookings. They can be a significant savings over choosing your own room even without an upgrade. If you do get an upgrade then it’s an even bigger bonus. You have to be OK with not knowing where your room will be nearly until the ship sails because you don’t often get the room assignment very far ahead of the departure date. They wait until the end to see which specific rooms didn’t sell.

Norwegian Pearl stateroom with balcony

balcony cabin on Norwegian Pearl

Once years ago we booked an inside cabin on Norwegian Pearl and ended up with a balcony room. We really got lucky that time. A jump in categories that big without paying something extra for the upgrade rarely ever happens.

watching the tender load from our deck 2 window on Explorer of the Seas

Not every booking will have the category guarantee option, but when they do it can help to make the cruise more affordable. With category guarantee bookings you are also more likely to get a call from the upgrade fairy to move to a higher category for a fee. They do this when your chosen category is getting full and they’d rather make a little more money to move someone up than move anyone up for free. You do of course have the option of saying no and just seeing where you end up. Sometimes they offer a deal too good to pass up and sometimes they don’t.

Holland America Veendam Vista Suite

Vista Suite on Holland America Veendam

My husband and I recently had a category guarantee through Vacations to Go on the Veendam on a Caribbean cruise for ocean view or above. We’d have been perfectly happy with a lower deck ocean view room, but of course would have no control over getting moved up to the promenade deck. We wouldn’t have liked the ocean view cabin being where people walk past your room, especially if we ended up under the galley like my aunt and uncle had on that very same ship. I have mixed feelings on whether I’d like a lanai cabin or not, assuming they ran out of ocean view cabins and gave us a free upgrade to lanai. While the direct promenade access and reserved deck chairs would be nice, there is still the issue of people walking past your room all day and noisy nighttime deck swabbers. Then the upgrade fairy called offering a vista suite where the added charge for the upgrade plus what we had already paid was about half the going rate for that room on Holland America’s website. Being generally budget cruisers we’d never stayed in a suite before. We may never get one offered at that big of a bargain again so we accepted even though it’s their lowest class of suites and pretty much just a slightly bigger than average balcony room with an oversized balcony. It did come with some of the same perks their bigger suites get, but not all. Because of the low price we did not get the double days suite bonus applied to their loyalty program even though that room would qualify for people who paid full price.

If  you like to save money and you’re adventurous and not particularly picky about your cabin, booking by category guarantee is a great way to go. If you won’t be happy unless your cabin is exactly what and where you want then it’s not the ideal way for you to book.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

Anchorage Alaska arena

Sullivan Arena in Anchorage

Early spring in Anchorage brings about the annual Great Alaska Sportsman Show in the Sullivan Arena and next door Ben Boeke ice arenas. Along with the indoor exhibits, RV’s and boats line up outside alongside the sidewalk next to the arenas. People come from all over Alaska to attend the show, but total yearly numbers tend to vary depending on the weather. If people can’t see their lawns because they are still buried in snow they have no yardwork to do so more go to the show.  Those who come Thursday or Friday can get a weekend pass and attend the show every day for less than the price of two daily tickets.

Brite Bite booth

our fishing tackle booth at The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

I’ve just been there twice with a number of years in between. The first time snow lingered about, but the roads had all been plowed and stayed clear. The second time it snowed a foot the day we got there so paying extra for studded tires on the rental car seemed like a good idea for anyone who wanted to live. It snowed a bit more the next day, but by the last day it had started to melt with daytime puddles turning to nighttime ice. Parking lots never got plowed so the studded tires came in handy there the whole time through. As did snow boots for getting out of the car.

The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

looking down on unfinished booths on the main floor of the Sullivan Arena on set-up day

Inside the show countless booths sell everything from fishing tackle or hunting gear to outdoor clothes, boots, and food products. There were also random things like bamboo sheets and travel sized clothes steamers that remove the wrinkles faster than ironing. The bamboo sheet guy sold out so those were pretty popular. Besides booths selling food to eat at the show, there were also booths with prepared food products to take home. Some were the sort you take on pack trips, others things like spices or jams to use at home. Lots of other things could be found there as well. People could book all manner of trips in Alaska. Glacier cruises, hunting or fishing trips, and river rafting were all among the choices to be found at various booths. Want a log home or picnic table? You could find people to build those there too. Other offerings included specialty hand lotions, kayaks and stand up paddle boards, and a variety of small boats. Tractors to buy or scheduling work done by tractors were among the options as well. One booth even gave massages right there at the show. Over in the Ben Boeke ice arena, about half of one arena was filled with all manner of big Alaskan toys. Mainly ATV’s of all shapes and sizes.

Anchorage, Alaska

Clarion Suites Downtown Hotel, Anchorage

There’s a lot more to the show than just things to buy. Each day a variety of different speakers had lectures on a myriad of different topics on the 4 stages in the seats above the main arena. Besides a variety of talks on fishing and hunting, they also had speakers on kayaking, boating safety & survival, stand-up paddling, satellite communications, log homes, and even a demonstration on how to make a bowl out of a tree burl. The show includes activities for adults as well as for children. They had an archery range, kid’s trout fishing pond, and a bird treatment and learning center with live birds. They also had an air rifle range and interactive laser shooting range. The fly-casting pond offered hands on clinics.

hotel pool

indoor pool and hot tub at the Clarion Hotel

Mornings tend to be pretty busy with lines of people waiting to get in as soon as the door opens. Evenings on the other hand are pretty slow. Most of the crowd seems to head home for dinner around 5 or 6 so anyone who stays later can wander freely, uninhibited by the crowds that make getting from one side of the arena to the other a challenge during the busiest parts of the day. Of course anyone not from close enough to Anchorage to drive there and back in a day needs somewhere to stay during the course of the show. Anchorage has quite a lot of hotels. The best price we found last year was at the Clarion Suites Downtown. You don’t usually expect an all-suite hotel to have the best rates around, but sometimes things work out.

hotel suite

room in the all-suites hotel

The room was huge with a living room area with a door that could close it off from the bedroom part. It didn’t have a full kitchen, but did have a refrigerator, sink, coffee pot, and microwave. Both the bedroom, which had two beds, and the living room had TV’s. The bathroom had a full sized bathtub with a shower. Perhaps the low price was because some things like the tile in the bathroom looked a bit worn and the elevator sounded a bit creaky, but for anyone not too snobby to overlook a few things it’s a great deal. Free breakfast is included, and came with lots of choices. They had eggs, bacon, sausage, muffins or danishes, make your own toast or English muffins, juice, tea, coffee, and make your own waffles. The hotel also had a small gym and indoor pool and hot tub. The pool and hot tub were great except when they were closed for maintenance, which happened a couple times while we were there.

The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

show booth with books and tackle

It’s spring again and nearly time for The Great Alaska Sportsman Show. My husband is always there sharing a booth with Alaska Angler. Their side has outdoor books, our side has fishing tackle under banners for Brite Bite and You can find most of our products at, but I made some special Brite Bite leaders for the show that aren’t available anywhere else. If you’re in Anchorage for the show you might find our booth. It’s number 40 by the northwest main entrance of the Sullivan Arena. You could even catch a seminar from John on one of the show’s stages. This year’s show runs from April 5-8.

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Swedish Massage on Explorer of the Seas

Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Explorer of the Seas in Maui

Normally massages at cruise ship spas cost well over $100. After booking a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas I found one on their website for $89. Once I went to book it I discovered that price was for boarding day only. Any other time during the cruise it cost more, with the highest price on sea days – when people would most want to schedule. Of course once they add on their auto-gratuity it’s always more then the advertised price.

cruise ship spa tour

spa people tell you what they do in each room on the spa tour

Boarding day finally came. I took the spa tour and noticed their lowest price at $119 not counting the auto-gratuity, so booking pre-cruise was definitely a savings. They mentioned adding a free 25 minutes for massages booked and taken that day and said I could switch to one of those if I wanted, but any with that offering were priced well above the Swedish one so I kept what I already had.

cruise ship spa room

couples massage room on the spa tour

After checking in I was sent to the relaxation room and barely had time to fill out their required form before being called back for the massage. Relaxation room is cruise ship speak for spa waiting room, though they do want people there to be quiet so others can relax.

spa waiting room

relaxation room – spa speak for waiting area

Xandreia the masseuse explained that Swedish is a gentle massage, not deep tissue, for which I was happy because I like a massage that feels good rather than one that seems like torture. She asked if there was anywhere in particular bothering me or if I had any allergies. I said I didn’t think an allergy to tobacco smoke would matter since there would not be any in the room and she said she was allergic to it too. The ship had just set sail for Australia where it will spend their summer (our winter) so I said she’ll like it there because when it sails out of Australia there is no indoor smoking allowed per Australian laws. This ship already had no indoor smoking, but I had to avoid a lot of areas on the outside decks because of all the smoking there.

massage room in cruise ship spa

spa room set up ready for a massage

She started each new body section with some sort of lotion or massage oil which was usually warm, though once hot – comfortably, not unpleasantly, and once cold. After working one area for a bit she’d cover that back up and move on to the next area, releasing tension from the muscles as she went.

spa treatment room

another view of the spa treatment room

Afterword she left the room for a time while I got dressed and came back with a cup of water for me, and a receipt to sign. An auto-gratuity never seems like a real tip so I added one on before signing. She did a good job.

I’ve heard people on other lines complain that after a massage the feeling of relaxation is ruined by an attempt to sell them products, but that did not happen to me at all.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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The 5-Person Deluxe Ocean View Cabin

Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic in Amber Cove

Down on deck 1, Carnival Magic has a short row of Deluxe Ocean View cabins near the stern on both sides of the ship that each hold 5 people in one room. Other than suites and a few odd shaped or accessible cabins, Ocean View cabins are often the biggest staterooms on a cruise ship. Many of them occupy the same space as a balcony cabin, except that the space taken up by a balcony becomes indoor space.

five people in a cruise ship cabin

cruise ship cabin sleeps 5

The Magic’s 5-person cabins have 2 bunk beds in line rather than across the room from each other. Also two regular twin beds plus a couch that makes into a bed. When the room is set up for five one side has all the bunks and the other one lone bed. That was my bed. The grandkids wanted the bunks so this was my first cruise in a cabin with bunks where I wasn’t the one in the bunk. I like bunks so I don’t mind sleeping there. Bunks are just as comfortable as the regular beds. It’s Carnival’s couch beds that are not so comfortable.

cruise ship bunks

towel curtain around the lower bunk

There’s a curtain between the bunks which can be pulled across for more privacy at night or when changing. This just divides the area between the 3 beds on the window end and the other bunk over the couch bed. For more privacy or to block out some light those on the lower bunks can make a curtain around their bed by tucking beach towels under the edge of the mattress of the bed above so they hang down around the lower bed. My daughter did that around the couch-bed, which is where she slept. Being the youngest of the adults she took the least comfortable bed to spare our old backs. Or maybe we picked first and she got stuck with it. I can’t remember which.

cruise ship bathroom

extra bathroom with sink and tub – and another clothes line

Carnival’s deluxe ocean view rooms have 2 bathrooms. One is a regular cruise ship bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower. The other has a sink and a short, but deep tub that also has a shower. It also has a clothesline, which is a big help because the one in the other bathroom would not hold swimming suits for 5 people. When you have 5 people in a room this extra bathroom is a great feature. Also helpful with 4 and maybe even 3, but all the deluxe ocean view rooms have the extra partial bathroom, even the ones designated for just two guests.

deck plans

deck plans for Carnival Magic deck 1

There are very few ocean view rooms on the Magic that aren’t deluxe. With just 2 people I’d prefer the extra floorspace and lower price that would come with a regular ocean view room, and since a view with a price lower than balcony rooms is probably the main reason most people book ocean view it seems like they should have more regular and less deluxe ocean view cabins on this and similar ships since the majority of cabins are occupied by just two people.

cruise ship cabin

5-person cabin looking lived in

When staying in a cruise ship cabin with 5 people in it, things will get messy. We made sure to pick up everything off the floor twice a day before leaving the room when it was near time for the steward to clean. Mostly toys and kid’s clothes. Every flat surface was always covered in stuff, but then again if there’s a flat surface anywhere at home it doesn’t take my husband long to pile stuff on it there either. The room had 4 closets, one with shelves and 3 with hanging space of which two were normal and one had the bar hanging so that clothes are in front or behind each other rather than in the normal line where you can see them all from the side. It also had several drawers and the nightstands open up into little cupboards. Because two of the people in the room were small kids with tiny little clothes we had room for everything, but 5 adults or people with bigger kids in one of these rooms might need to pack light so it’s a good thing Carnival ships all have self-serve launderettes. We did ask the steward for some extra hangers and that definitely helped.

Carnival nightlight

the kids were happy that Carnival’s platinum gift this cruise was a nightlight

We had some space under the beds to put suitcases, but part of the space under one of them was taken up by what would be the back of the couch if it wasn’t getting used for a bed. The kids’ little suitcases full of toys just stayed between beds. There were some pretty big drawers under the couch bed, but one of ours didn’t open and the other was occupied by spare bedding so those were unusable for us. This room had 2 outlets, which is double what ships often have. We plugged a nightlight for the kids into one of them and a power bar in the other.

travel clock

best travel clock ever

I have a digital clock with two USB ports so for the space of the one plug-in that the clock took we could charge two electronic devices and know the time. We had to set the clock so both Hannah in the bed over the couch and me in the lone one could see the clock at night because that’s the way we roll and nobody else cared. Other spaces on the power strip were used to charge other devices or camera batteries, whatever was needed at the time. Even with two people powerbars are often a necessity on most ships if you bring things like phones, computers, and cameras.

keeping paperwork organized

without these magnets we never would have found things like excursion tickets

I always bring magnets on cruises to keep paperwork organized on the wall since most ships have magnetic walls in the cabins. Even on older ships where the walls aren’t magnetic the doors usually are so occasionally I’ve had to hang things there. With so many people the magnets were invaluable in being able to find things like shore excursion tickets, the itinerary, and even the daily Fun Times since the countertop was often strewn with various people’s items as well as piled with the electronic devices of 5 people, cruise line beach towels, and the ice bucket and water bottles left in there by the crew. We had the steward remove the water bottles you have to pay for first thing, but since everyone red and above gets a free bottle of water we still had 5 since even the kids had sailed with Carnival before. (For those who don’t sail Carnival, red is the color of your ship’s card from your second sailing until you accumulate enough points for gold. After enough cruises the card becomes platinum and finally diamond with each level of the loyalty program getting more perks.)

power strip

power strips come in useful on a cruise – also adapters if you have things with foreign plugs

When cruising with 5 people in the same room you have to take each other’s habits into account. Some need more sleep than others, particularly when a couple of them are young children. It helps if you know how to open doors quietly, though no matter whether you hold the knob so nothing bangs or clicks it isn’t quiet if the door squeaks. On boarding day our bathroom door squeaked quite loudly, but maintenance came and oiled it soon after we asked the steward if they could. That helped a lot since somebody is bound to need a bathroom while others are sleeping with that many people.

hallway art

the Magic had nice art in the hallways between guest cabins

The room had enough space that we never really felt crowded, though it would have been nice if the tub room had more storage space so people wouldn’t have all their things in the only bathroom with a toilet and have to either move them to the other one for use or be in the one someone would invariably need. That’s a minor inconvenience though considering how much money we saved over having two separate cabins. There was a public bathroom a few decks up the nearest stairway which came in handy sometimes. Having an extra place to shower or bathe a kid definitely helped when everyone came back from waterslides or the beach to get ready for dinner around the same time.

too much stuff

there’s a desktop under there somewhere

5 people in a cabin makes a lot more work for the steward, but ours was always cheerful and helpful. He even kept a smile the day he had to change the sheets on two beds because the kids left brown streaks. Sheri insisted the ones on my bed were chocolate from sticky little fingers, but her bed got brown spots when Daniel sat on it naked just after using the bathroom. We left the steward a good tip.

towel animals

the window built up a collection of animals

We enjoyed our cruise in the 5-person room. There were 4 more people cruising with us staying in other rooms. At times we had all 9 in our room since it was the biggest. With the 3 lower beds as well as a stool everyone found somewhere to sit.

Other cabins on Carnival Magic

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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What’s At The Top Of Mount Roberts in Juneau?

on the Mt Roberts tram

Oosterdam from the tram

The iconic Mount Roberts Tram is one of the main attractions in Juneau. It’s quite visible from ships as they cruise into town. Holland America ships dock right below it. The lower tram station sits at the center of the main gathering area for tourists booking last minute excursions in the heart of town. Bright red trams traveling up and down the mountain dominate the view. Tickets are available at the tram station or on board the cruise ships where passengers can purchase their tickets in advance and go directly to the tram line, avoiding the line to buy tickets. Every time I’ve compared the ship’s price to the cost of buying the tickets direct they’ve always been the same price. Thousands of people take the tram up the mountain each summer. What do they find when they get to the top?

Mount Roberts TRam

One tram car goes up while the other goes down

The ride up or down provides excellent views and the trams have windows all around to take advantage of the sites. The bright red tram cars have their names painted boldly on the outside. One is called Eagle and the other Raven. These are the two major groups (called moieties) of the Tlingit tribe, who run the tram. In this matriarchal society, children are born into their mother’s clan. Marriages are made with people in the other group.

riding the Mount Roberts Tram

view of cruise ships and the other tram from a tram car

Cruise ships at the dock are quite visible on the ride up so long as the area is not shrouded in fog. The tram docks at the upper station in a windowed building with excellent views of the ships and town below in clear weather. A wide hallway leads into the main area of the upper floor of the 2-story building.

upper tram station view

looking down from the upper tram station

On that floor visitors find a gift shop, a restaurant, a door to the outside, and a stairway to the lower level. The lower floor has restrooms and a theater. The theater hosts shows by the Alaska String Band and a film about Tlingit history and culture.

outside Mount Roberts upper tram station

upper tram station at Mount Roberts, looking over to the visitor’s center

Venture outside of the main building and it’s just a short walk to the tiny wildlife center which houses one flightless eagle. Named Lady Baltimore, she’s a resident there for life since the injury that left her flightless means she can’t be released into the wild.

flightless eagle

Lady Baltimore, the flightless eagle at the tram station

Just past the eagle there’s a small visitor’s center building.

just how big is an eagle's nest

she’s standing in a full sized replica of an eagle’s nest, but no matter how hard she flaps her arms she can’t fly away

The outer deck area to the visitor’s center has a couple displays where visitors can stand in a replica of an eagle’s nest or spread out their arms to see how they compare to the wingspan of the birds pictured there.

measure your wingspan

still can’t fly

Inside there’s a small gift shop and theater.

trail at Mount Roberts tram

short loop trail near the tram station

Outside of the buildings there are entrances to trails. One trail makes a short loop with some nice views along the way. It rains a lot in Juneau so the trails are likely to be wet or muddy.

view from mountaintop trail

view from the trail

This is a good trail for people with some time to spend there, but not a lot. Also great for anyone not wishing to risk getting lost on a longer trail or taking too much time and missing their ship. It’s an easy trail for anyone without walking or balance issues.

trail at Mount Roberts tram

another bit of the short loop trail

One trail leads to 6th street in town for those who would rather hike 3 miles up or down the mountain than take a ride on the scenic tram. It continues on 6 more miles from the tram station to the top of the mountain. From the tram station this hike can take 4-6 hours and may pass through patches of snow. I’ve never gone that far, but another site recommended using a GPS to be sure of finding the right way back. It would also be a good idea to buy a map.

carved tree on the tram trail

carved tree on the short loop trail

Mount Roberts Tram makes a good short excursion to do before or after whatever else you’re doing in Juneau if you stay near the tram station. It could also be an all day outing for those who want to hike the long trail all the way to the mountaintop.

lower tram station

view of the lower tram station from an approaching tram

More Blogs About Juneau

Juneau, Mount Roberts Tram, Mount Roberts Tram on a stormy day, Glacier Gardens, River Raft Excursion, Mendenhall Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center, Ziplines

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Alaska, Holland America, Oosterdam, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, USA | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments


Naples, Italy

Naples view from the Vista

Pretty much everyone has heard of Pompeii, which was destroyed in an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Not so many know about the nearby town of Herculaneum.


street and buildings in Herculaneum

At our port stop in Naples on Carnival Vista we took a ship’s excursion to Herculaneum. We would have liked to see Pompeii too, but the ship had no excursions to both and we didn’t want to venture out on our own having never used European trains before this trip. Plus we don’t speak Italian and did not know if there would be any signs in English. It is possible to see both places if you go by train on your own, but first you have to make it to the train station and then catch the correct trains. You would also have to fit it all in during the time the ship is in port. After our train experience at the previous port of Messina it was a relief to just sit back on the bus and let someone else get us there.

ancient art

painted wall in Herculaneum

Our friend with a month of experience on European public transportation said it wouldn’t have been all that hard – so long as there were no strikes, unexpected train cancellations, or other work stoppages. Which are apparently common on European trains. The train that runs from Naples to Sorrento stops at both Pompeii and Herculaneum, but the Naples station is far enough from the cruise dock to need a bus or taxi to get there and I don’t know if either archaeological site is within walking distance of the train. We did not see any trains or train stations while we were at Herculaneum.

preserved ruins

decorated walls

Herculaneum was buried in boiling mud in the same volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed the more famous Pompeii. I’d always heard the buildings in Herculaneum were intact and even the ship’s blurb about the shore excursion said they had found wood and fabrics preserved there. From what I had heard we rather expected to see a town frozen in time looking much like it did before that fateful blast of the volcano.

well preserved ruins

brick doorway in Herculaneum

After waiting for our guide to buy tickets for the group (while wondering why that hadn’t been done in advance) we went through the entrance and got our first glimpse of Herculaneum over a railing.



It wasn’t what I expected as it is definitely ruins and not a town looking as it did when people lived there. In fact some buildings were damaged before the volcano, having not been repaired from an earthquake 16 years earlier. It’s down in a hole because the entire village was buried in mud 10 to 20 meters thick in the initial blast. Another eruption in 1631 buried it further.


these tub-like fixtures along the streets could have been horse troughs or where people got their water.

Though not entirely forgotten having been mentioned in writings of 1504, Herculaneum remained undiscovered until 1709 when an Austrian prince found a portion of the theater while digging a well. (Odds are it was not the prince himself doing the digging.) For nearly a decade marble and statues were stripped from the theater. Later excavations tunneled through portions of the city, but it wasn’t until the 1920’s that open air excavations began. Some of the town remains underground with buildings in the current city of Resina built on top of it. The theater remains buried and is not in the part of town that tourists see.

what was it for?

there were a lot of basins like this around the town

Although Herculaneum was a Roman town at the time it was buried, it was initially Greek and in between was ruled by first the Samnites and then the Campanians (neither of which most people have likely ever heard of.) While Pompeii was a bustling city, Herculaneum was mainly a high-class resort area full of residences for the wealthy. It was about a third of the size of Pompeii.


looking down on Herculaneum

The guide gathered our group at the railing overlooking partial buildings, cobblestone streets, and chambers of bones on a level lower than the street level of the houses. He droned on and on using up the limited time we had to spend there while we watched other people walking around through the ruins. As soon as he said we weren’t going down there I bailed from the group and went down on my own. John followed. We had terrible luck with the fairly useless guides we ended up with on ship’s excursions in Europe, though some other groups on the same excursions lucked out with good ones.

art in Herculaneum

some buildings have art built into their walls

There was no way I was going to spend the whole time looking at Herculaneum from above and never venturing inside while all the other tour groups and individual visitors wandered freely through the remains of the city. Shortly after we bailed others followed and eventually the rest of the people that stayed with the guide came down too so either he meant he wasn’t taking us down as far as the bones or else he figured after half the group bailed he should take the rest in while he still had anyone left.


two story building with wooden shutters

Some buildings still have a second story and there is wood preserved in parts of some structures. A few places have mosaic tile floors or paintings or carvings on the walls. All the furnishings, statues, tapestries, and other artifacts have been removed to a display at a museum in Naples so only the buildings remain other than a few very large clay pots, bread ovens, and something that looks like bathtubs.


remnants of a bakery

Some buildings are in better shape than others, but none are in livable condition. Besides the residences, buildings within the area where tourists walk through include a bakery, college, gymnasium, and public baths.


each grotto holds many skeletons

The grottos on the lower level seen from the railing above contain skeletons preserved in long-dried mud, presumably bones of people who did not make it out of town before the mudslide cascading down the mountain arrived burying everything in its path. Unlike Pompeii, some people from Herculaneum had time enough to escape to the sea, but they fared no better than those who didn’t make it out of town. A violent tsunami tossed the fleeing ships back to crash at the shore before they could reach the open sea. Remains of these boats and the people who occupied them have been found along the coast.

mosaic tile floor

fancy tile floor

Although Herculaneum wasn’t a walk through living history, it was still an interesting place to see. It would have been nice if they had left some of the furnishings, statues, and things where they were rather than removing all of them and leaving nothing but the buildings themselves. Even one furnished house would give a better insight into the lives of people lost so long ago.


ruins at Herculaneum

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018


Posted in Carnival, Europe, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Fold a Towel Swan Heart

How to Make a Towel Swan Heart

kissing towel swans

towel swan heart

To make a towel swan heart you need to make two towel swans and place them together so that their heads and necks form the shape of a heart. Click here for detailed instructions on how to fold individual towel swans with or without their wings spread.

Supplies Needed to make a Towel Swan Heart

4 bath towels or 2 bath towels and 2 hand towels


Towel Swan Folding Instructions

For more detailed instructions click here

The video shows two swans with wings spread and uses 4 bath towels. You can also make the swans without their wings spread, which takes 2 bath towels and 2 hand towels. If you don’t have enough bath towels, but still want wings you can use hand towels and just make smaller wings. Click the link above for more detailed instructions on making individual swans with or without wings.

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

roll as tightly as you can

To make the main body for each swan fold a bath towel in half across the short side. Tuck the center point under your chin, hang it on a hook, or have someone hold it as in the video. Roll both sides to the center as tightly as you can. Notice in the video how the steward runs his hands down the length of the towel as he rolls it to make the rolls tight.

towel swan heart

set the two swans chest to chest, at a point where their beaks reach the same height

Pose each swan chest to chest with their beaks at even height. Bend their necks back and place their heads with the beaks touching to form the heart shape. Finish off the bodies by tucking in the tail ends to a point and adding the wings or for swans without wings spread tuck a hand towel around the body as shown here. To make the wings fold a towel accordion style, set it over the swan and arrange the wings as desired.

towel swan heart

these swans have googly eyes, but felt or paper works too

Finish off the swan heart by adding eyes to each swan. Use googly eyes or make your own eyes from felt or paper, using double stick tape to hold them in place. (Felt or paper eyes will somewhat stay on their own without the tape.)

towel swan heart with wings spread

the wings on these swans are made with hand towels

For instructions on how to fold other towel animals see My Cruise Stories towel animal page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018


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Scenic World in Katoomba

cable car over a ravine

Skyway at Scenic World

Katoomba is a major touristy area for Australia’s Blue Mountains. The train stops in town and from there you can catch either a city bus or hop on hop off bus out to Echo Point and Scenic World. Both places have trails for hiking to different viewpoints. Some hikes are long and steep. From Echo Point you get a close-up view of the area’s most famous rock formation, called the three sisters. You can also see them from Scenic World.

Australia's 3 sisters

3 sisters rock formation from Scenic World

Australia’s Blue Mountains were named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. The region is called Australia’s most accessible wilderness. The area covers over 400,000 acres with over 100 species of eucalyptus trees and ancient Wollemi Pines.

fern trees

fern trees at Scenic World

Some areas, including Leura Cascades and Scenic World have prehistoric-looking fern trees. Terrain is steep and rugged with sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and canyons.

very steep railway

world’s steepest railway at Scenic World

Scenic World is a privately owned tourist attraction in a former coal mine. Scenic world has three rides including the world’s steepest railway. You can buy a one way ticket to any of the rides or an all day pass to ride all of them as many times as you would like. The railway goes to one end of a scenic walkway through a valley past the old coal mine, and the cableway (which used to be called the sceniscender) at the other.

The cableway is the largest and steepest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. You can take either the train or cablecar down and the other up, ride the same one down and up, or take the trail stairs instead and ride neither. The boardwalk between them has signs giving information about nearby plants or former mining activity. In some spots you can see into an old mine shaft or pose for photos with statues of the mining era. You can take the short route from one ride to the other or opt for the long way which has a mining village.

you can even see through the floor

Scenic World Skyway near the station

The skyway runs over a gorge. The raised center part of the floor turns from opaque to clear during the crossing. It’s a great spot for people who want the view, not so much for those who are afraid of heights. One person who should have gone to the other part of the car got dizzy and fell during one of our crossings, but recovered enough to leave the car shortly after it reached the other end. The far side of the gorge has trails. One goes to a waterfall. Others connect into the trail system that leads to Echo Point or around the canyon where people can walk back to Scenic World.

skyway at scenic world

inside the skyway

You can ride the skyway over from Scenic World and and either get in the queue to ride it right back, hike to the waterfall before going back, hike back, or hike on. Or just wander around looking at the views for a bit before going back.

scenic world cableway

cableway at Scenic World

There’s enough to see at Scenic World to spend a whole day there hiking around and riding the different rides. It also has a giftshop and café.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Australia, Day Trips, Port City Side Trips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Maui – Trilogy Discover Lanai Tour

cruise ship in Hawaii

Explorer of the Seas in Maui

On the way from Seattle to Sydney, Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas stopped in Hawaii at Lahaina on Maui. Prior to the cruise we set up an excursion on our own with Trilogy, a popular catamaran day trip company there. Trilogy did offer a couple of 2-hour excursions through the ship, but we took an all-day trip from their website, They have a variety of sailing or sail and snorkel excursions to choose from, departing from three different harbors.

Trilogy catamaran

Trilogy at the dock in Lahaina Harbor

The Trilogy departed from the other side of the same dock in Lahaina where the ship’s tenders came to shore, making it quite convenient for arriving by ship. When excursion time approached they put up a sign for Trilogy near the dock, which is where everyone checked in. They did not have a booth offering last-minute tours among the many lining the harbor near the dock. Upon boarding they offer a variety of things to drink. I was happy to see a jug of reef-safe sunscreen sitting on a counter available for anyone who needs it. It’s nice to see that people care about saving the reefs.

putting up Trilogy's sails

putting up the sails on the Trilogy catamaran

While cruise ship sail and snorkel catamaran excursions often “sail” with the engine running due to time constraints, the Trilogy catamaran actually sailed a good portion of the way from Maui to Lanai, which the locals spell Lana’i. Of course they also spell Hawaii as Hawai’i.

cruising in style on Trilogy

fresh hot cinnamon rolls

You won’t go hungry on this excursion. Not long after leaving port they served cinnamon rolls hot and fresh from the oven. We weren’t underway too long before they came back around with fresh fruit. Before arriving at the island we were served wraps in a variety of flavors as well.

sailing on the Trilogy

if you sit on the net you get wet

There’s lots of options for places to sit on the catamaran. It has some inside seating as well as seating outside across the back. It also has seating around the edges of the front with tables containing cupholders, handy for the drinks they provide. The boat is also equipped with a couple heads, shipspeak for bathrooms. There are nets across a couple sections of the bow, which are also seating (or lying down) options for those who don’t mind getting a bit – or a lot – wet along the way. The other bow seats get splashed sometimes as well, but we sat there anyway.

flowers in Hawaii

flowers by the beach on Lana’i

We came on a windy day when the waves were fairly high so people got a bit wetter than they would on a calm flat day. Of course the wind is a great help for the sails. Along the way they offered a snuba add-on to the excursion for an extra charge. Snuba instruction was provided along the way for interested parties. It’s a way for beginners to have a chance at diving. They also had a photographer for anyone interested in purchasing a photo package if they liked their photos. The photographer asked in advance who thought they might want photos so they could concentrate on taking pictures of just those people, who had no obligation to buy them.

Lanai island in Hawaii

beach on Lana’i

Arrival at the island came with the option of a quick van ride or short walk to the beach. Everyone was given a shell necklace, which marked us as having permission to be on that private beach. At the beach they provided snorkel gear as well as instructions. The snorkel instructions included some great hints like put the mask onto your face first, make sure it gets a good seal, and then pull the strap over the back of your head because if you put the strap on first and then pull the mask down it brings your hair with it which breaks the seal. Also it should be snug, but not too tight because if it is too tight the mask may become distorted and break the seal, which of course makes it leak. When you can pull it an inch or so away from your face it is just right.

beach at Lanai

our Trilogy group had an area at the beach with a tree and picnic tables

They also suggested anyone who had not put sunscreen on prior to that point not put it under where the mask goes and anyone who had wipe it off that area because sunscreen can come off under the mask and get into your eyes leaving them with a painful burning feeling. Of course after getting out of the water that area would need sunscreen and it’s always recommended to re-apply for the rest of your body after swimming anyway. They brought the jar of reef-safe sunscreen ashore for people to use there.

wild turkeys on Lana'i

wild turkeys on the roadside

Options for the island included spending the whole time at the beach, taking an island tour in the vans, or a short hike. We opted for the island tour. There wasn’t anything spectacular to see, but the tour guide/driver provided an interesting history of the island.

lonely road on Lanai

pine trees along the roadside next to now-empty fields that once held pineapple plantations

The current vegetation is non-native, the original having been eaten by cattle and goats that once roamed the island. Cattle ranches were replaced by pineapple plantations, which are all open land now. Current residents mainly make their living from tourism. Besides day trippers the island has several hotels. Other than people’s private homes the majority of the island is owned by Larry Ellison, billionaire founder of Oracle Corp.

fish in Hawaii

one of the many fish we saw snorkeling on Lanai

Long ago the cowboys planted pine trees which attract water out of the atmosphere and drip it onto the ground where it soaks in to fill the aquifer. They are up on the ridges of hills as well as lining the roads and in a park in Lana’i City, the island’s only town.

beach snorkeling

it was easy to find fish and coral when snorkeling off the beach in Lanai

Our driver said Trilogy is a great company to work for. Besides the catamarans and the building at the harbor where they serve lunch, Trilogy owns a store and gas station. Every year Trilogy provides free turkeys to all of the island’s residents at Thanksgiving. The island has wild turkeys roaming about and some little deer called axis deer that keep the white spots usually just found on fawns for their entire life. These deer are not native to the island, but are descendants of those brought there as gifts to King Kamehameha in the 1860’s.

Back at the beach we went in for some snorkeling. There was a pretty good surf that day, but once through the surf the water beyond it was fine for snorkeling. At first it was just sand, but once you get out a bit there are reefs and lots of fish. The beach is in a park with restricted access and was not very crowded on the day we were there. The Trilogy people are on shore where everyone leaves their things when they go into the water and nobody has ever had anything stolen there.

fish in Lanai

lots of different kinds of fish

Drinks and potato chips sat on a picnic table, available for anyone on the tour who wanted them. When asked about their no-rinse snorkel mask defogger they said it was Dawn dish soap mixed with lots of water. It worked better than the commercial de-fogging products you spray in and rinse out. They said Johnson’s baby shampoo with a lot of water also works well.

barbeque on Lanai


When our beach time was up we went back to the boat dock area to their building full of tables and a barbecue area. They made a great meal which they called lunch even though it was served around 3pm. It included salad and rolls, chicken, corn on the cob, and yakisoba noodles with veggies.

chicken barbeque

barbequed chicken is served

There is a ferry from Maui to Lanai which lands at the same docks as the Trilogy catamarans at both ends. Due to the fact that last tender to our ship was just 15 minutes after the Trilogy’s scheduled return time we took the ferry back for an earlier arrival on the advice of the people at Trilogy who said though they would return on time they could not guarantee getting to the dock before the last tender if the harbor master held them back due to other boat traffic given priority to enter first – like the ship’s tenders for instance.

Lanai ferry

ferry runs from Maui to Lanai

Though Trilogy’s departure was planned for 4pm and the ferry for 4:30, the ferry crosses in just 45 minutes while Trilogy sails around for a couple hours (with an open bar) as they work their way back. Due to the rough seas both left about 15 minutes late. The ferry got there late and it took awhile to unload because after all the people left they were still removing a bunch of trees and other landscape plants, presumably for someone on the island. The ferry arrived back in Maui about half an hour late while Trilogy arrived on time so we only got there 15 minutes earlier by taking the ferry.

Lanai harbor

Trilogy leaving Lanai

As it turned out we made the second to last tender from the ferry, and would have made the last tender from Trilogy, but when your next port is 7 days and an ocean away you don’t take chances on missing the ship. For ships with an earlier departure there is also a 2:00 ferry. To insure a place on the ferry you can either buy the tickets in advance on the Maui side, or just put your name on the list for that sailing at the booth in Lahaina and buy the ticket in Lanai. The Lanai booth was only manned shortly before the ferry’s arrival.

Trilogy sailboat in Hawaii

Trilogy returning to Maui at sunset

The Trilogy tour is a fun adventure for anyone visiting Maui, whether vacationing there or visiting by cruise ship. Besides the trip to Lanai they also offer several other sail and snorkel tours, sunset sailing or sunset sailing with dinner, and when in season whale watching tours.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Day Trips, Explorer of the Seas, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean, Shore Excursions, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Amber Cove & Ocean World

Amber Cove

Carnival Magic in Amber Cove

Carnival Magic backed slowly into the dock at Amber Cove near Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic under sunny skies, which were quite welcome on a day where the weather forecast included thundershowers. Although it rained some overnight, no thunder or showers made an appearance during our stay.

Amber cove cruise port

display at Amber Cove cruise port

Amber Cove is a fairly new purpose-built cruise ship port. Which means everything there was built specifically for the port. It’s not in a previously existing town. The port area has shops (of course) as well as a pool, waterslide, zip line, and a variety of displays. Each display has different information, some about flora and fauna of the local area. Others are about the amber that gives Amber Cove its name and larimar, the blue Caribbean stone found only in one mine in the world – in the Dominican Republic. While amber is normally the orangish amber color associated with the name, other colors are found in the Dominican Republic including rare and valuable blue amber found only there.

Amber cove

Amber Cove cruise ship port

Anyone who hasn’t booked an excursion through the ship can find things to do on their own whether they just want to hang around the port or venture off to see more. Excursion booths offer last minute tours and people can also opt for a taxi to the beach or a taxi tour. For a cheaper ride dodgy-looking unlicensed taxis sit out beyond the boundary of the port’s gates.

cruise port, Dominican Republic

shops at Amber Cove

Not having been to the Dominican Republic before, we booked an excursion through the ship because the grandkids wanted to see dolphins and we were unsure of the price, availability, or reliability of local transportation. Unfortunately when booking Ocean World through the ship if you want to go on the same bus everyone has to do the same excursion. If you got there on your own and some wanted to do the dolphin encounter, some the dolphin swim, and some just wanted park admission you could do so.

Ocean World

stingray at Ocean World

Admission through the park’s website cost the same as through the ship, but included lunch instead of transportation. The brochure made it sound like once you paid for a dolphin swim or encounter the admission included everything else in the park. Once we got there we found out waterslides cost and additional $10, which was a disappointment to the oldest grandson because there were not enough slides nor did we have enough time to justify the extra cost for everyone, where we would have used them briefly if you could just go slide down.

Ocean World

platforms for the dolphin encounter – we got the roofed one and appreciated the shade

The minimum age for the dolphin swim is 6 so we did the encounter instead since the youngest grandson was just 5. The price is also less for the encounter. Before going to the dolphin platform people have to remove things like jewelry and hair clips because anything a person loses may be eaten by a dolphin. There’s a roofed area with wooden railings near the platforms where people can put their things. Nothing goes in the pen with the people, not even cameras. They do have professional photographers and of course would like to sell people the photos and video they take.

dolphin encounter

dolphin encounter at Ocean World with all the grandkids and my daughter and sister

The park has birds, stingrays, sharks, and other fish as well as the dolphins. Shows include bird, sea lion, shark, and dolphin. Local time there was an hour later than ship’s time. Carnival cruises that start and end at the same port stay on ship’s time which is the same time as the port of origination. With all the shows and exhibits there was more at Ocean World than we could see or do during the amount of time we had to spend at the park before we had to catch the return bus to the ship. Though we were on a ship’s excursion, once the dolphin encounter finished we were free to explore the rest of the park on our own and responsible for getting ourselves to the meeting point for the bus on time.

dolphin kiss

Daniel gets a kiss

The kids loved the dolphin encounter. They divided the participants into 3 groups, 2 of which sat on the sides while the third went into the somewhat cold water of a small square area with a floating cement walkway surrounding it. Dolphins could freely swim under the walkway into that area or back out. Two came in when we first arrived. One stayed and the other was sent out to another group on a different platform. Our platform had a cover and some shady areas, but the other one was open to the elements.

dolphin encounter

Hannah just gave the dolphin a fish

There was an underwater platform along the edge of the floating one for the people in the water to stand on. The dolphin swam up and down the line of people, doing different things. The trainer told everyone in advance what parts of the dolphin were OK to touch and what was not. He let people pet him, hug him, and then kissed everyone. I’d have preferred to leave that part out in case any of the other people had germs he could spread, but none of us got sick from the dolphin’s kiss. At the end everyone fed him a small fish and he waved his fin goodbye. The dolphin could have swam under the platform and left at any time if he wanted to, but he preferred to stay and eat the fish he got for participating.

Ocean World sea lion

sea lion show

We also went to the sea lion show and the aviary. The kids enjoyed the walk-through building where love birds flock to anyone with a bit of the bird seed handed out there. The birds also loved sitting on top of heads or hats.

Ocean World snorkel

snorkel tank at Ocean World

One area had a large fish tank where people could snorkel. Anyone who was too young or who didn’t want to get wet could watch the fish or snorkelers through glass panels on some portions of each side of the tank. The snorkeling had a specific entrance and exit so everyone in the tank swims in the same direction.

bird encounters

Hannah with love birds in the aviary

The dolphins and other large sea mammals there all seemed happy. We even saw some dolphins playing with balls just for fun without any trainers around. Their habitat was pretty spacious and they got lots of fish to eat. Dolphins and sea lions are very smart. The US navy uses both. Some of the ones the navy trains live in the wild and come to work voluntarily – paid in fish. One of their jobs for the navy is to locate and recover old mines, which they can do safely because living mammals don’t set the mine off like a metal ship or submarine would.

Ocean World

dolphin show at Ocean World

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Caribbean, Carnival, Magic, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment