Hobbiton, New Zealand

Tauranga cruise port

Arcadia in Tauranga, New Zealand


Hobbiton movie set

sign at the trail leading into Hobbiton

When our cruise on the P&O Arcadia stopped in Tauranga, New Zealand, one of the shore excursions offered went to Hobbiton, the film set for the Shire where the Hobbits lived in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.

flower in New Zealand

flower in Hobbiton

The bus ride from the cruise dock took about an hour through beautiful countryside with rolling hills covered in grassy fields. Near to town most had cows or horses, but once out into the country we started seeing the many sheep New Zealand is famous for. The country has way more sheep than people. In spite of that, and the fact that the set was built on a sheep farm, they imported sheep for the movie because they wanted a more rugged looking variety than the sort that already lived there.

Hobbiton movie set

trail through Hobbiton

The spaces in between farms and small stands of wild bush held Jurassic looking trees. Some looked like the fern trees we had previously seen in Australia’s Blue Mountains. Others resembled pine trees, only bigger and shaped more like a deciduous tree. Nearer the lowlands there were also some that looked something like miniature palms. The bus driver mentioned one area that held acres of wild bush where people could hike and camp. He said New Zealand has none of the poisonous snakes or spiders found in Australia so their bush country is much safer to hike through.

what's inside the hobbit holes on the movie set

not much inside the open hobbit hole

After reaching Hobbiton the bus pulled into the parking lot, or car park as they are known in Australia and New Zealand. We arrived a bit early and the tour guide wasn’t ready so they let people browse through the gift shop for a bit. Once the guide came the bus moved on while the guide explained how the film people had scouted the land on the Alexander’s 1250 acre sheep and beef farm near Matamata. When they came back knocking on the door to ask about filming Lord of the Rings there the owner replied with “Lord of the What?”

Bag End on top the hill

stairway leading up to Bag End

The youngest son had read the books and told his dad. “Sign, it’s a gold mine.” He now runs the tourist operation while his older brother runs the farm. That knock on the door must have been like winning the lottery for the Alexander family living there.

Bilbo and Frodo's house

the tree on top of Bag End looks real

Great care was taken through all the details of Hobbiton. They have 39 hobbit holes, all with working electric lights. Bag End where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins lived sits at the top of a hill, the biggest of the hobbit holes there. The large oak tree on top of Bag end was cut down nearby and wired with artificial leaves for the filming of Lord of the Rings. Since The Hobbit story took place 60 years earlier they replaced it with a smaller, younger looking tree of steel and silicon construction.

Hobbiton movie set

mill and bridge across the lake from hobbit holes

The mill and bridge were originally made from scaffolding, plywood, and polystyrene, but in the 2-year reconstruction of Hobbiton for The Hobbit they used permanent materials and now keep the 12-acre set maintained. It took just 12 days to film the Hobbit trilogy.

Hobbiton vegetable garden

vegetable patch between hobbit holes

In between The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit the movie set sat empty and abandoned. It was only after filming The Hobbit trilogy that it became a tourist attraction.

hobbit house with garden

hobbit hole behind flowers

During the tour we walked through the set where hobbit holes dot the hillside. Each one is staged with different things out front. One had jars of honey, another painting supplies, and yet another had fish hanging to dry. All had little gardens with flowers and round doors and windows.

hobbit hole

cozy home for a hobbit

Some had clotheslines with their little laundry hanging out to dry. Between the hobbit holes some areas had vegetable gardens. One area had fruit trees which the guide said were actually apple trees, but for the movie they hung artificial plums on the trees for a 5-second scene. Mostly the pathways wound their way between the hobbit holes, but here and there a path crossed over a bridge.

Sam lives here

Sam’s home on Bagshot Row

Near the end of the hobbit holes we came to a group of 3 called Bagshot Row. The one with a yellow door belonged to Sam in the Lord of the Rings.

Green Dragon Inn on Hobbiton movie set

The Green Dragon Inn is a fully functional restaurant

After making our way through the hobbit’s living areas we crossed the big stone bridge past the mill. The mill had a working waterwheel. The Green Dragon Inn sat on the other side of the bridge and everyone on our tour was given a complementary beverage of their choice.

Green Dragon Inn at Hobbiton

bar inside the Green Dragon

Options included several beers or non-alcoholic ginger beer. Outside behind the inn under canvas pavilions cruise ship passengers were also each given a large scone and a dessert where options included coconut covered cake squares called lamingtons, a regional favorite we first discovered at the airport in Fiji on a previous vacation and later saw in Australia.

hobbit house

hobbit hole

Cruise ship passengers can book the tour on their ship. Visitors to Matamata or Rotorua can catch tour busses there. People can also drive to the farm on their own. Hobbiton is just one of 20 sites New Zealand has scattered around the country where different scenes from the movies were filmed.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Arcadia, New Zealand, P&O, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How to Fold a Towel Bear

towel origami

towel bear on Carnival Vista

Supplies Needed to Make a Towel Bear

1 Bath towel

1 Hand towel

Eyes – eyes can be paper, felt, googly eyes, or whatever you have that works

Use white towels to make a polar bear, black towels to make a black bear, or brown towels to make a grizzly bear.

How to Fold a Towel Bear Body

towel art

fold over long sides of towel, then fold over short ends

Lay the bath towel out flat. Fold both long sides over several inches. Fold over ends of both short sides.

towel animal folding

rolling both short ends to the center

Roll both short ends to center.

towel bear folding directions

after rolling both ends to the center fold at the middle with these rolls on the outside

Fold rolled towel in half with rolls to the outside.

making a towel bear

set the folded towel bear body with one roll on top of the other

Set folded towel with one roll on top the other. Set aside and make the bear’s head.

How to Make a Towel Bear Head

making a towel bear

fold the hand towel in half short way across the center

Lay the hand towel out flat. Fold in half short way across center.

making towel animals

fold down corners from center of folded end

From the center of the folded edge, fold corners to center making two triangles on a towel with a pointed end.

flip towel over so folds are underneath, then turn up straight end

Turn towel over so folds are on underside then fold over straight edge.

making a towel bear

fold the straight end over two more times

Roll folded straight edge 2 more times for a total of three folds on that end. At this point it should have the point sticking out beyond the rolls and the folds from the edges of the triangle folds that were turned to the underside sticking up at the back of the roll.

step by step towel animal folding

fold at the center with the rolled part on the outside

Fold in half at center with roll to the outside to form head.

Assembling the Towel Bear

towel bear

assembled towel bear

Place head into center of folded body. Close body over the neck and position as desired.

easy towel bear

finished towel polar bear

Add eyes and any other desired decorations to finish the bear.

More Towel Bears:

How to Fold Towel Bear

Original Towel Bear

how to fold a bear with one towel

one towel teddy bear

One Towel Teddy Bear

Original Towel Bear

For other towel animals visit My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.



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Rhodes, Greece

cruise ship in Greece

Carnival Vista in Rhodes, Greece

Carnival Vista docked a short walk from the old town walled city in Rhodes, Greece. Rhodes is a great port for just getting off the ship and doing things on your own. We didn’t get far on the walk to town before coming across a hop on hop off bus. This bus makes a loop around the touristy area of the island. It goes up to the acropolis and along a hilltop road with a panoramic view of the sea from both sides of the road. We could see the ship from up there. The bus goes down to a public beach where some people got off to spend the day. Then it went into the old town area. Old town has lots of gates in and out of the city’s wall and all sorts of old structures including a castle. You can also walk along the waterfront outside the city gates.

tourist bus

Hop On Hop Off bus in Rhodes, Greece

Greece is a great place for tourists because a lot of things there don’t cost much. The hop on hop off bus cost just 12 euros each. Its route wasn’t as long as in some places, but it did have a pretty good island tour with some good viewpoints along the way and stops at several places with things to see or do.

ruins in scaffolding

ruins of temple columns at Rhodes Acropolis – in scaffolding like many European ruins

Athens isn’t the only place in Greece with an acropolis, though it is the most famous one. An acropolis is a citadel built on elevated ground, which is where ancient Greeks liked to build their temples. We got off the bus to see the one in Rhodes. There’s not a lot left of the temple structure and what there is had scaffolding around it. Scaffolding around ancient things seemed pretty common around the areas of Europe we visited throughout this cruise.

Rhodes Olympic Stadium

looking down on the Olympic stadium

The acropolis in Rhodes doesn’t look like much from the bus, but if you get off there the area has enough to see to keep occupied until the next bus comes by. There’s a good portion of an ancient Olympic stadium down in a hollow besides the few columns from a temple up on the hilltop.

building near Rhodes acropolis

this building has restrooms and a pictorial display of various ancient sports

It’s nowhere near as impressive as the acropolis in Athens, but still worth getting off the bus for. In the building with the bathrooms there’s a little alcove with all sorts of pictures and information about early Greek sports. Besides running they also had things like wrestling, boxing, discus throwing, and swimming. One thing all these sports had in common in the drawings – the participants were all male – and naked.

semi sub

semi-sub in Rhodes, Greece

We got off the bus again a couple stops before old town in a little touristy area by the waterfront. There we found the Poseidon semi-sub, advertised on a sign for 10 euros each. Since we were first to sign up for the next ride they let us on for 5. Way less than semi sub excursions cost in the Caribbean. We walked around the area a bit before time for the semi sub ride.

semi sub

inside the semi-sub

With everyone up top the boat took a tour around the harbor and near to the cruise ship before having everyone go into the underwater windowed area below the deck. At first it went slowly along with fish and seagrass in view. A large school of small fish followed the semi-sub, accustomed to having a good feed when it stops for the diver show. A semi-sub is a boat with an underwater viewing chamber. It does not submerge like a true submarine.

diver show

diver from the semi sub

Unfortunately we sat on the right and most of the action happened on the left. The diver did get around to our side eventually, but before he got in the water all the fish stayed on the other side, which was also where they dropped food in. After swimming around the boat with the school of fish the diver found a lobster and brought that by the windows. Then he came by with a GoPro camera and took photos of the people inside –  available free on facebook several days later.

walled city gate

gate into the old-town walled city

Once the boat started moving some people went back up and some stayed down below watching underwater scenery for awhile until it got going too fast to see any fish.

old church ruins

ruins of the Church of the Virgin of the Burgh, a 14th century church inside the old walled city on Rhodes – with Vista photo bombing in an arch in the wall on the left side of the picture

From there it was a very short walk to the next stop at old town and not far after that back to the ship. There were things to see along the shore so we didn’t bother getting back on the bus. The wall has quite a few gates. You can get back to the ship along the shore outside of the gates or through town inside. There are windmills in the area where we got off, a lighthouse closer to the ship, and a castle up on a hill. We were three stops away from where we got on by the ship and it was not too long of a walk from there. Anyone without mobility issues could see a lot just by walking around old town without any transportation beyond their own two feet.

old church in Rhodes

church in old town Rhodes

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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The Oceanview Obstructed Room

Ruby Princess cruise ship

Ruby Princess in Seattle

Oceanview obstructed rooms come in several varieties depending on what ship you find them on. The most common sort reside behind the lifeboats on ships that have passenger cabins on the deck where lifeboats are stored. Some ships also have rooms in the obstructed view category where the railing of a public deck blocks a portion of the view from windows of rooms behind that public walkway. Ruby Princess has obstructed view rooms in both those categories with the majority behind lifeboats. A few ships also have passenger cabins on the promenade deck where some have their view blocked partially or completely by the ship’s structure around the outside walkway. Ruby Princess has none of those. It has no cabins on the main promenade deck area and the few cabins it has on the upper area of the promenade deck are not classified as obstructed view.

cruise ship cabin

oceanview obstructed cabin E520 with a view of port buildings in Seattle

We booked the obstructed view room on the Ruby Princess because it cost significantly less than an oceanview room with a full view. Because we had 3 people our options for cabins were limited to those that sleep more than 2, which eliminated the majority of cabins from the selection. Hoping for a better view I picked one between lifeboats rather than directly behind it, the only available one being E520 so that’s the one we chose. We did have enough space between the boats to get a pretty good view of the scenery. We also got a view of several crew guys working on some tanks outside our window for several days during the cruise.

obstructed view

one of those little tanks had people working on it for several days

Cruise ships have two sorts of lifeboats, the ones used as tenders to ferry passengers back and forth to the dock when the ship anchors at a port that doesn’t have it’s own larger tenders, and the sort that are lifeboats only. From underneath walking around on the promenade deck you can tell which ones are the tenders because they have double hulls like a catamaran with propellers on each side. The regular lifeboats have single hulls and one propeller in the center. We were behind the tenders, which are also taller than the regular lifeboats. It looked as though our neighbors directly behind the tenders would have no view at all unless they could see through the windows of the tender.

obstructed view windows from the outside

windows above the smaller lifeboats

On the Ruby Princess the promenade deck’s outside walkway goes most of the way around the ship directly under the lifeboats. At the bow however, it has stairways and you complete the journey on the upper promenade at the bow of the emerald deck. From there we could see that the windows of the rooms behind the shorter lifeboats were actually mostly above rather than behind the lifeboats so the rooms behind boats other than tenders would get at least a partial view.

how to fit more people into a cruise ship cabin

at night the steward put a bunk down

Our cabin had 2 lower beds, 2 wall-mounted drop down bunks, a desk with a chair, and a small table. The area directly across from the bathroom had an open closet area rather than separate closets with doors, which probably made more hanging space. We brought extra hangers because even with two people in the room there are never enough. Sometimes I ask the steward for extra hangers, but this time we needed way more than we would want to ask them to provide.


big open closet and small closet with door and shelves

There was also a small closet with a door next to the bathroom, which had lots of shelves and the cabin safe. It’s always a good idea to keep passports in the safe because if you were ever to get left behind in port that’s where they would look for them. Other storage included a cupboard with two shelves under the desk, two nightstands with two drawers each, and 3 shelves at one end of the desk. It just so happened that the little closet had 6 shelves so everything divided by 3 perfectly and my sisters and I each had several places to put our things.

magnets come in handy on cruise ships

magnetic walls make organizing paperwork easy

The cabin had magnetic walls, which makes keeping paperwork organized easy if you bring magnets. The cabin also had 3 outlets, though I also had a power bar as I expected just one since that is what most cruise ship cabins have. It had two by the desk and one near the TV. The cabin also had a little refrigerator behind a cupboard type door under the TV stand.

not the best, but a view

view between the lifeboats

We had enough of a view through our window that we could see Sumdum glacier as we passed by early on the morning of our glacier cruising day. Of course saying you saw Sumdum glacier is a lot funnier than writing it because people think you said some dumb glacier and wonder why you bothered to go to Alaska if you don’t care to see glaciers. We spent most of the glacier cruising time on the upper promenade deck. It was very cold and made us wish we’d brought long johns, but it had a great view and hardly any other people.

cabin with window at public walkway

Cabin L104, one of 4 oceanview obstructed rooms at the bow on the Lido deck

While a full view is nicer, the obstructed view cabin is a great compromise between paying less and seeing the outside from the cabin – as long as you choose carefully and get a room with at least a partial view.

cruise ship cabin

from the window end of our room you see the desk and TV – and the window in the mirror

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017


Posted in Alaska, Princess, Ruby Princess, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Chankanaab Park in Cozumel

Cozumel, Mexico

Carnival Breeze in Cozumel

Cozumel has no shortage of things to do when cruise ships come to port.  We’ve stopped there on quite a few cruises and always found something different to do.  This Mexican island has much more to offer that we haven’t yet done, not only in Cozumel itself, but at Chankanaab Park.  The park has more to do within its boarders then most people could fit in within one day.

near the park entrance

Chankanaab Park

On our last visit to Cozumel we took a lazy beach day at Sky Reef.  As the taxi passed Chankanaab on the way there the driver mentioned that it only cost $25 to get into the park so we decided to try it out on our next visit on the Carnival Breeze. The cab ride there cost just $12 for two people (a bit more because we always tip.) The basic entry fee cost just $21 rather than the $25 the taxi driver said. For more money we could have added on extra things, but there is a lot to do with just the basic entry fee.



Once inside the park you can walk around and look at things, go to the sea lion show, or wander through the botanical gardens and look at crocodiles, replicas of Mayan ruins and a replica Mayan village.

inland saltwater pond

Chankanaab lagoon

Several different areas throughout the park have a view of the large saltwater lagoon the Mayans called Chankaanab meaning small sea which gives the park its name.

performing sea lions

Sea Lion show

The sea lion show is included with the basic entry fee. Trained sea lions perform with each one doing different tricks.

The park has a big beach with lots of beach chairs under palaypas and a few hammocks hanging in trees. Stairways lead into the snorkeling area, which is free to use if you have your own gear.  If not they have rental gear available. A sign by the stairway said snorkel vests are required for children so for once I could snorkel freely without my arch-nemesis, the dreaded snorkel vest. (It is easier to float on the surface of salt water than it is to dive underneath it and even uninflated snorkel vests are annoying, but many places require them on everyone.)

Chankanaab Park

hammocks at the beach

The water at the bottom of the stairs is already pretty deep so the snorkel area isn’t really suitable for small children unless they can swim at least well enough to control where they go with the snorkel vest keeping them afloat. It’s also open to waves and currents if it’s not a calm day for the sea. There is a little inlet with a nice sandy beach near the dolphin area where kids can wade or swim in shallow water more protected from waves. There’s also a pool in the park. Lockers are available for rent near the inlet and by the dive shacks on the beach.

stairway at the beach

a little sergeant major fish swims at the stairway into the sea

Rock formations line the beach in the snorkel area, but a series of stairways provide access to the water. There’s not much to see right by the shore other than a few small fish, but out a bit from shore there are reefs and lots of fish. Some of the bigger fish will follow snorkelers around and a lot of them will swim close by. There’s a raft thing anchored  off the shore for people to climb up on if they want out of the water for awhile.

Chankanaab Park, Cozumel

here some fish swim to you instead of away

I saw a bright blue fish, a lighter blue fish chasing another fish around, several schools of fish bunched up like a bait ball, and lots of other fish swimming around. Most of the action took place near a tall reef, probably anchored on a large rock. Larger fish swam mainly above the reefs.

Chankanaab underwater

lots of fish hung around this reef at Chankanaab

The park had many other things people could do if they wanted to spend more money. A lot of things cost $60. They had a zip line, a sea trek in underwater helmets, clear bottomed kayaks, dolphin swim or encounter, and manatees. Food and souvenirs cost extra of course, but the restrooms and showers are free. There’s also a natural spa and a tequila museum and tasting area.

Mayan huts

Replica Mayan village

Like Cozumel itself, this park could keep you coming back to try different things. Sometimes really different things like the human sphere which somewhat resembles a giant hamster ball. It even has an underwater cave open to certified divers.

botanical garden

flowers in the garden

Other blogs from Cozumel:  Tulum Mayan Ruins, Palancar Snorkel, Atlantis Submarine, Cave Snorkel, Sky Reef Beach, Playa Mia Beach Park.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Breeze, Caribbean, Carnival, Mexico, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cruise Ship Cabins on Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic

Magic in Puerto Rico

Like all large cruise ships, Carnival Magic has an array of staterooms to choose from when booking a cruise on the ship. Major categories include inside, oceanview, or balcony cabins as well as suites. There’s also a number of subcategories within each of these divisions. Prices on identical cabins can range by where the cabin is located since some locations are given higher category designations than others. In general cabins on higher decks or closer to the middle of the ship cost more than the same cabin on a lower deck or closer to the bow or stern.

odd shaped cabin

Premium Balcony cabin in aft corner has wraparound balcony and unusual shape

While most cabins are of standard size and shape for their category designation, there’s always exceptions with odd shaped rooms sometimes found near corners or tucked into odd hallways.

odd shaped cabins

the extra-large curved accessible ocean view spa cabin sits in a front corner of the ship

More space is usually allotted to the accessible rooms of any category in order for people in wheelchairs to have space to navigate about the room.

budget cruise ship cabin

inside upper lower cabin – top bunk drops down from ceiling

For budget cruisers, inside cabins have the lowest price. Not all inside cabins are equal though for even there the accessible cabins are bigger and the ones designated as upper lower may be smaller as well as cheaper.

interior cabin sleeps 4

inside cabin sleeps 4

Some inside cabins hold just two people and others with drop-down bunks up to 4. Some cabins designated as inside have portholes or partially obstructed windows. This adds a bit to the cost, but they are still lower priced than cabins designated as oceanview. For those who would like spa services or the thermal suite, an interior spa cabin may cost more than other interior cabins, but it’s still the lowest priced option in the spa cabin area and comes with the same amenities that other spa cabins do.

ocean view cabin

standard ocean view cabins are rare on the Magic

Oceanview cabins are a great way to have a view without paying balcony prices. These are often larger cabins since the space otherwise occupied by a balcony is interior space in the cabin. Most oceanview cabins are on decks too low for balconies, but some are found tucked into spaces in other areas of the ship where balconies can’t go.

ocean view cabin

deluxe ocean view cabin sleeps 4

According to the pricing scale cruise lines consider lower decks less desirable, but they have their advantages. Lower deck rooms are closer to things like the gangway and the dining room. When in a crowd leaving places like the theater most other people go up while those on the lower decks go down thus avoiding the crowd on the stairway.

in-line bunks in 5-person cruise ship cabin

deluxe ocean view cabin for 5 has two bunks in a row

The Magic has just a few standard oceanview cabins and a lot of deluxe oceanview. Besides coming with a higher price, the deluxe oceanview cabins have an extra bathroom containing a tub/shower and a sink. Some of these cabins sleep up to 5 passengers.

veranda cabin

balcony cabin

Balcony cabins provide a bit of private outdoor space. Deck 2 has some cabins with cove balconies, which besides costing a bit less than balconies on higher decks, also have a view closer to the waterline.

cove balcony

the cove balcony has a metal surround

These balconies are surrounded in metal with a large window-like opening and have water-tight doors that may be sealed in stormy weather just as the portholes in the porthole rooms are.

premium balcony

just part of the premium wrap-around balcony

For extra money passengers can choose aft extended balconies, spa balconies or the premium vista wrap-around balconies in the aft corners.

suite on Carnival Magic

ocean suite

Suites come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and prices. Besides more space, suites also come with VIP check-in. People who are high enough in Carnival’s loyalty program get VIP check-in too, so this is an advantage only to newer cruisers booking suites since long-time Carnival cruisers would get the VIP check-in anyway. The basic suite price covers the ocean suite, which has a whirlpool tub, walk-in closet, and larger balcony than a regular balcony room as well as the room itself being bigger.

grand suite bathroom

bathroom in the grand suite has double sinks and whirlpool tub

Spa suites add the same advantages as other spa cabins, which includes discounts on spa services and use of the thermal suite as well as spa products in the room. Grand suites are the biggest and most expensive rooms on the ship with extra-large balconies and a dressing area sectioned off from the rest of the room.

grand suite

grand suites are the biggest staterooms on the ship

All cabins have a diagram of the ship on inside of the door which gives the location of the muster station for that room as well as primary and secondary routes for getting there. The muster station is where people would go in case of emergency. They also go there for the muster drill, which takes place shortly before the ship leaves the dock so people know where to go and how to get there should an emergency happen during their cruise.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Cruise Ship Décor on P&O Arcadia

fancy cruise ship lights

lights in Arcadia’s dining room

P&O Arcadia is unique among P&O’s fleet. At the start of building, the ship was intended for Holland America. Somewhere along they way it got changed to Cunard before finally ending up going to P&O by the time it left the shipyard. It has features representative of all 3 cruise lines.

cruise ship decor

wooden sculpture in the Crow’s Nest Lounge.

Each bar, lounge, restaurant, or other area of the ship has its own unique décor.

cruise ship art

stairway art

Some décor features help passengers to find their way around the ship such as different color carpet and different styles of artwork on each of the ship’s 3 stairways. Arcadia is P&O’s 4th largest ship and one of their adults only vessels.

cruise ship art

hallway art by passenger cabins

Each deck is named after a different country. The hallways by passenger cabins don’t have a lot of decoration, but every now and then there’s a painting from the country that deck is named after. At least most of the paintings are from the deck’s country. Canada deck does have one labeled Alaska. Maybe Brits don’t realize Alaska is part of the USA any more than Australians do. My daughter lives in Australia and said most of the people she’s met have no idea. Then again a lot of Americans don’t know Tasmania belongs to Australia.

ugly cruise ship statues

What is the thing with cruise ships and ugly statues? (These are a lot better than what some ships have on display, but that isn’t saying much.)

Most of the ship is tastefully decorated, but it does have a complement of what seems to be the required ugly statues. I don’t suppose it is an official requirement, but nearly every cruise ship has some. At least I think they are ugly. I suppose someone must like them or they wouldn’t be there.

P&O timeline and ship info

history lesson in wall art

One unique and interesting thing this ship had that I’ve not seen on any other was a large mural with the history of P&O and information about each of their ships.

cruise ship theater

inside the theater

Inside the theater.

giant egg

giant egg in a little alcove by the lower floor theater entrance

The lowest floor of the theater had some semi-secret hallway entrances graced by giant eggs that many passengers probably never found.

long hallway

intermezzo area

The Intermezzo Bar sat alongside a long hallway leading to the Spinnaker Bar, which had a completely different theme.

ship bell

bell by the Spinnaker Bar

The ship themed Spinnaker Bar had model ships and a bell.

cruise ship bar

East Bar

The Asian themed East Bar is tucked away on the top deck near the Sindhu Indian restaurant.

cruise ship decor

Sindhu Indian restaurant

Sindhu is one of Arcadia’s premium restaurants.

thermal suite

heated ceramic chairs in the spa

These awesome heated ceramic chairs are part of the spa’s thermal suite. If you’ve never sat in one take the spa tour on boarding day if you ever sail on a ship that has them and give one a try. It’s amazing how comfortable a hard tile chair can be.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017


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Carnival Vista Havana Cabins

Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista in Rhodes, Greece

Carnival‘s newest cruise ship, the Vista, introduces two new categories of staterooms – Family Harbor and Havana Cabins. These are the first cabins on Carnival’s ships to have an area of the ship reserved exclusively for passengers booked in those cabins. One of the things we always liked about Carnival was that all public spaces were for all passengers, but the people in the cabins associated with the private spaces probably enjoy them.

Vista Havana Bar

Havana Bar entry area – the main bar is on the other side of the band stand

The Havana Cabins are mainly grouped around the Havana Bar located at the back of deck 5. There are also a few at the stern of the next two decks up.

Carnival Vista deck 5

Vista deck plans deck 5. The Havana area is at the stern. (click image for larger photo)

The bar is open to all passengers on the ship, but the pool area with two hot tubs and lots of deck chairs is only for the Havana cabin occupants all day long. Passengers must be at least 12 years old to stay in a Havana cabin.

Havana pool

Havana pool at night

Other passengers can go beyond the sliding doors into the pool area at the back of the bar after 7pm.

Havana Cabin

Havana Cabana cabin 5232

Havana Cabins are decorated in the Cuban theme of the Havana area. Deck 5 has inside and Havana Cabana cabins as well as Havana Cabana suites. Most of these cabins have a maximum occupancy of 2 guests, but there are a few that take 3 or 4.

Havana cabana outside space

Havana Cabanas

The Havana Cabana cabins and suites each have an outdoor space – the cabana. Since deck 5 is the promenade deck these cabanas extend quite a bit farther than the balconies of the rooms above. That extended area can be seen both by people in other cabanas in the row and people on balconies or public decks above.

Havana Cabanas

Cabanas and private promenade deck area

Each cabana has a little gate out onto the promenade deck. While the promenade deck is a public space forward of the Havana area, it has a locked gate at the start of the cabin area that only the Havana passengers can go through. Their private stretch of the promenade deck also leads to the Havana pool area giving those with the cabana rooms outside access where they can get to the pool without walking through the bar.

inside Havana cabin

Havana inside cabin 5214

Decks 6 and 7 each have a few Havana premium balcony and aft extended balcony cabins at the back of the ship, and deck 7 has a couple interior cabins designated Havana as well. These cabins have a stairway decorated in the Havana theme that takes them down to the Havana bar and pool without having to go forward to any of the ship’s main stairways. All of these rooms hold just 2 guests. There are no cabins specifically designated as accessible in the Havana area.

Havana experience

Havana rooms have special logo bathrobes

The Havana Bar has a live band playing Cuban music in the evenings. They also serve Cuban bites food – which you have to pay for – as well as drinks.

promenade deck

Havana Bar outside space

Like most public areas on deck 5, the Havana Bar has some outside seating on the promenade deck. All passengers on the ship can use this area.

Cuban decor

hallway in the Havana cabin area

Click here to see more staterooms on the Vista.

Havana pool

Havana Pool

To view staterooms on other ships see the Ships and Cabins page.

inside Havana Cabana cabin

Havana Cabana Suite 5234

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Celebrity’s Bistro On Five

Celebrity's Bistro on Five menu

menu for Bistro On Five

Celebrity Infinity has several premium restaurants on various decks. It’s pretty easy to figure out which deck the Bistro is on since five is part of its name.

bistro soup on Celebrity Infinity

french onion soup at Bistro on Five

The Bistro on Five is open from 11am – midnight for lunch, dinner, or a late night bite.  It serves crepes as a specialty, both savory and sweet.  It has a fixed menu with the same items served daily, but there are also daily specials with something different each day of the week. Besides their signature crepes, the daily menu includes burgers, sandwiches, soups, milkshakes, and desserts.  At just $10, the bistro is the most economic of Celebrity Infinity’s premium restaurants.  The dress code doesn’t change on formal nights, so the smart casual look is always appropriate.

crepe making station

you can watch them make your crepe

It’s a great place to go after a long day in port, if you don’t want to dress up on formal night, or anytime you want something a bit different from the main dining room or buffet for lunch or dinner.

Bistro on Five chicken crepe

chicken crepe

While most of the made-to-order food comes from behind a closed door into the kitchen, the bistro does have a crepe-making station in the guest area where diners can view the skilled crepe chef at work. They serve both main dish savory crepes and sweet crepes for dessert.

dessert crepe from Celebrity's bistro

dessert crepe

The tasty chicken crepe had lots of filling and stood quite a bit taller than the dessert crepes. All the food we tried there was good.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Celebrity, Cruise Food, Infinity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Skagway Train Ride

cruise ship in Alaska

Ruby Princess in Skagway

Ruby Princess docked at the Railway Dock on the opposite end of the harbor from where the Norwegian Sun was at the Ore Dock on my last visit to Skagway. In between those two docks sits the Broadway Dock. The Railway Dock holds two ships so 4 cruise ships can dock in Skagway at the same time. We were the only ship in town that day on the first cruise of the season in early May. All the docks are just a short walk from town. There’s a park and public boat launch between the ship and town from the Railway Dock.

If your ship leaves from Seattle a visit to the free Gold Rush Museum in Pioneer Square before you board makes a great start for an Alaska cruise. Skagway bound ships left from Seattle during the gold rush era. People stocked up their supplies there. The museum has a lot of  the history and some artifacts from that era and it all ties in with things in Skagway. When I went there they had a wheel of odds you could spin that showed what a very small percentage of people actually got rich from the Alaska gold rush, and of those an even smaller amount managed to hold on to their money. More people made money selling things to the miners than from mining and not many of the few who did strike it rich spent wisely and stayed rich to the end of their days. All the good claims went to locals before the first ship of gold hit Seattle so most of the gold rushers from other places were doomed before they started.

White Pass & Yukon Railway

the tail end of the train crossing over a bridge

The most popular excursion in Skagway is the White Pass Train, which would have saved the miners a lot of grief and many horses their lives had it been built before the gold rush started rather than because of it. They had to get to Canada to get to the gold, but weren’t allowed to cross the border without 2000 pounds of goods, which they had to take up the mountain to reach the border.

old steam engine

steam engines like this one one pulled the trains

Miners started out either from Skagway over White Pass or nearby Dyea over Chilkoot Pass. The two towns competed for gold rushers. Many crossed each pass until an avalanche killed 63 people near the summit of Chilkoot Pass. That and the completion of the railway in Skagway eventually left Dyea abandoned. The townsite now lies within the boundaries of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, but little remains of the town beyond some foundations, a few ruins, and 3 cemeteries, one of which holds mainly victims of the avalanche who all died the same day.

The gold rush ended shortly after the completion of the railway, but it was used to haul freight and passengers until1982 when the railway shut down. It reopened as a tourist attraction in 1989 and remains the most popular shore excursion in Skagway.

train ride in Skagway

inside the White Pass & Yukon Railway – with conductor

People can take a train one way and a bus the other and go farther up into Canada and actually get off the train, but the most popular excursion goes up the mountain just across the border and then back down. The train picks passengers who booked through the cruise line up right at their ships regardless of which dock they are on. One car on the train had a wheelchair lift making this excursion accessible to all. If there is more than one ship in town they each have separate trains. The railway also has a station in town where other tourists board a train that leaves from there. Cruise ship passengers can disembark either at the depot in town or back at their ship. Passenger cars are either restored originals or replicas, but the engines are diesel powered rather than the original steam engines.

derailed steam engine

old rusty engine lying on its side at the train yard

The train ride starts on level ground through the edge of town and past the train yard before heading up the mountain. When we took this journey about 7 years ago my grandson (who was 6 at the time) thought an old rusting derailed steam engine lying next to the tracks shortly out of town was the most interesting part of the whole trip. We saw an old rusting steam engine lying on its side at the train yard this time and did not find the one lying by the tracks. We speculated that it could be the same one and after all the time it spent lying next to the tracks after derailing someone finally removed it. It could have been considered an environmental hazard, or perhaps the nearby river has changed course and someone worried it might end up in the water. Or maybe they decided to rescue and restore it. Could be we just looked away at the wrong moment and missed the derailed train and the one in the yard came from somewhere else too.

The first sight on the train tour is the old graveyard where the town’s notorious character Soapy Smith and Frank H. Reid who both died in the same duel after shooting each other are buried. Someone looking for a good hike could walk to the cemetery on the trail adjacent to the tracks.

old train trestle near Skagway

The current track bypasses this old bridge. Once an engineering marvel, now a deteriorating wreck.

Other sites along the way include remnants of a toll road which predated the train and the black cross on a boulder that killed two railroad workers and their pack mules after a dynamite blast went awry during track building. The enormous chunk of rock unexpectedly flew through the air, landing on them and crushing them instantly. The bodies are still there, under a rock so big it would just blend in as part of the natural landscape were it not for the black cross on top.

tunnel through the mountain on the way to White Pass

the train enters a tunnel

The train passes through a couple tunnels and over several bridges, but not the old wooden trestle bridge which was once an engineering marvel. That immense bridge now sits deteriorating alongside the current track which bypasses the original, replaced by a tunnel and a much smaller bridge in a far narrower crossing nearby.

White Pass

there was still snow at the top of the mountain

At one area they explain why White Pass was often called the dead horse trail as it was once lined with the overworked and underfed horses who often fell 500 feet to their death there. These horses were worked to death by would-be miners who used them to pack the required supplies up the mountain, then sold them to the next guy when they got done. Over 3000 horses and mules died there. The bones of many still remain where they fell in Dead Horse Gulch.

Near the top of the mountain a portion of the actual trail used by gold rushers parallels the tracks for a stretch, marked by a lone small sign.

White Pass Canadian border

there’s nothing much at the Canadian border besides these flags

At the top the train stops and waits for any other ascending trains to arrive so all can descend the single track without running into any trains moving in the opposite direction. The engineer unhitches the engines and moves them to the opposite end of the train on a parallel track and the passengers flip the seat backs to the opposite side of the seats so the back becomes the front and they can face forward on the way down. Passengers are also asked to switch sides so those on the mountain side can see the valley views on the way back down.  (The left side of the train on the way up which becomes the right side on the way down has the best view in both directions.) The train cars that started out at the front end up at the back on the way back down.

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway shops near the cruise docks

In Town

Skagway is not a big town, but it has shops and restaurants, a playground or two, and  a few museums. A lot of work was going on to restore some old buildings and a park so it looks like more may come for the future.

For those who didn’t book anything on the ship and would like to do something besides wander about town There’s also a trail and several shops offering a variety of tours. I did not see any of the signs about town offering last minute tours we had seen there before, but we were also the first ship of the season.

Skagway Street Car Tour

Street Car Tour

Other Skagway Excursions

If you don’t want to ride the train, or have already done it, other things to do in Skagway include a city tour, trips up the mountain by road with different activities depending on which one you pick, salmon bake, gold panning, suspension bridge, sled dogs, native culture and bald eagles, jeep adventure, bicycling, hiking, kayak, helicopter, fishing and glassblowing.

Skagway train heads toward White Pass

White Pass & Yukon Railway in Skagway

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Alaska, Ports of Call, Princess, Ruby Princess, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments