Mahogany Bay BOSS Underwater Scooters

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

Carnival Splendor behind the Magic Flying Beach Chair

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

rusting hulk

the bigger of the two wrecks at Mahogany Bay

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

it's not that far

The walking path is the fastest way to the beach.

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

swing chair

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

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

shopping area

fake boots for photo posing at the cruise port

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

Roatan homes

houses at Flowers Bay

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

scooters on board

tour boat at the dock

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

underwater photo

sea floor snorkel photo

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

how to ride a scooter

demonstration on how to ride a scooter

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

each scooter is tethered to a buoy

buoys show where the scooters are

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

scooters on the boat

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

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

riding scooters under water

people on scooters

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

rider on an underwater scooter

diver with a scooter

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

ready for some fun

diver waiting for scooter riders

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

riding scooters underwater

people riding BOSS scooters

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

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

One Towel Teddy Bear

I’ve got a lot of hits on my towel bear blog recently, and I think what people are actually looking for is this towel teddy bear, so to give people what they want, here it is. This is not my creation and the video is in Spanish because it came from what I am guessing is the creator of the one towel teddy bear.

one towel teddy bear

towel teddy bear

Supplies Needed To Make Towel Teddy Bear

1 hand towel

rubber bands


any other desired decorations like eyes, nose, tongue

How To Fold A Towel Teddy Bear

Towel Teddy Bear Video – It’s not English, but the movements are easy to follow even if you don’t know the words

Towel Teddy Bear Folding Instructions

how to fold a towel bear

fold over one third of the towel from a short end

Lay towel out flat. Fold over 1/3 of the towel from a short end.

how to fold a towel teddy bear

roll one side, then the other to the center

making a towel teddy bear

both sides rolled to the center

Roll each side to the center on the long sides.

step by step towel teddy bear folding instructions

towel flipped over so the rolls are on the underside

Turn towel over so the rolled end is underneath.

towel teddy bear folding instructions

twist the towel so the end with the original fold has the rolls facing upward

Twist the end with the folded edge halfway around so the rolls on that end are on top. These are the legs.

step by step towel teddy bear folding

fold over the end of the towel that had the rolls still facing down so that they are facing up on top of the other rolls that were already turned up when the towel was twisted

Fold over the other end across the short side and put the rolled ends on either side of the other rolls. These are the arms so you do not want them all the way down to the end of the legs.

teddy bear towel

push the arms off to the sides and unroll any part of the towel that remains rolled so no rolls are left on top the leg portion of the towel

Push the arms off to the sides of the bear. Unroll top edge above the arm part so there are no rolls left over top of the leg rolls, just smooth towel between the arms.

making a towel bear

gather in the sides of the towel above the arms and put a rubber band on it to make the head

Gather in the neck area and place a large rubber band around it.

teddy bear towel

small rubber bands around he upper edges make ears and a ribbon finishes the teddy bear

Use small rubber bands to turn the side rolls on the head part into ears.

teddy bear towel

finished per the video

In the video she puts an additional large rubber band around the neck before tying on the ribbon, but I’m not sure what the purpose of that was as it does not seem necessary. I ran the ribbon over the front of the neck and wrapped it around rather than just setting it across the back and tying it over the front for better rubber band coverage and did not use the extra rubber band on the neck.

bear made from hand towel

one towel teddy bear

It’s done per the video once you tie the ribbon on, but I added googly eyes and a black felt nose. A little double-stick tape holds the face on. I like it better with a face, but it’s optional.

For lots more towel animals please visit My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page


Posted in Towel Animals | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quebec City

Quebec cruise port

Veendam in Quebec City

Holland America Veendam cruised down the St. Lawrence river to Quebec City, where the ship spent a night before disembarkation. It was nice to have a port stop with no concerns over hurrying back to the ship before it left port. People could come and go as they pleased, going out for the morning, afternoon, evening, nightlife, or all day if they wished. People wanting to venture beyond the city could take excursions to see things outside the immediate area like a waterfall and large cathedral. The Veendam docked in the old town area so passengers didn’t even have to leave the ship for a great view of historical buildings and one of the town’s most famous landmarks – Le Chateau Frontenac.

hotel with many additions

View from the ship – Le Chateau Frontenac dominating the hilltop

From the ship passengers could walk right to the lower section of the old town, with buildings and narrow cobblestone streets reminiscent of old European towns. Le Chateau Frontenac dominates the landscape, perched at the edge of the upper area of old town. The hotel did not start out so gigantic, but rather got that way in several additions over time.

old church

Notre Dame des Victoires

We walked through the lower town for awhile, finding an old church at the edge of a public square. People could go inside the church, where they had signs posted about the church’s history and how the townspeople had twice prayed to be saved from invading forces which were turned back both times whether by defense or by weather. The church got the name Notre Dame des Victoires because of this.

pretty much a box on a steep track

Funiculaire travels between upper and lower old town Quebec City

Down the road a ways we found a gift shop housing the entrance to the funiculaire, which brings people up the hillside to the upper level of town. At the top you exit through another giftshop onto Dufferin terrace which was built over the ruins of the original fort that eventually grew into governor’s homes.

really big hotel

Le Chateau Frontenac from Dufferin Terrace

Le Chateue Frontenac rises imposingly above the terrace. The nearest door enters into a Starbucks. Around the other side of the building the front doors enter into the impressive lobby of the immense hotel. Seeking to avoid wind and rain we went in to explore the hotel. Most people headed down the hallway pointing to bars and restaurants, but we headed down a stairway instead hoping to find an uncrowded restroom, which we did.

still a post office

Old Post Office Building which is next to the Chateau

Beyond that we found another hallway. Along the sides of that hallway a number of glass cases held museum like exhibits of artifacts and historical information on the various renditions of a fort and subsequent governor’s house that once stood on the edge of the city wall. Each fort got larger than the last.

tourist shops

Shops in the upper part of old town

The second governor’s house built on the foundations of the first burned down one cold winter when all the firehoses were frozen and unable to fight a chimney fire. The earlier governors came from France, the later ones from England after France lost Quebec to England in a war. By the time we finished going through the museum area the wind had died down and the rain stopped.

in the cellar

Under Dufferin Terrace

After the fire the remains of the home were razed and the terrace built. In 2005 during restoration work on the terrace the old remains were found and excavation began, lasting until 2007. They found much of the cellar intact. Walking around on Dufferin Terrace in front of the hotel we noticed a couple glass bubble areas where you could look down into the cellar. At one spot we saw a stairway going down to the cellar with a parks department person guarding it.

not as old as it looks

Colonial style chocolate bar

In one of the bubbles we could see someone walking around down below. On the other end of the terrace we saw a parks dept building of sorts so we went in and found that we could get tickets to go down below for less than $4 each. They also had historic style chocolate bars for sale for $1 so we tried those too. Harder, crunchier, and not as sweet as modern chocolate bars, but good.

it had a deep pit

storage area of the old cellar

We had to walk back to where we’d seen the parks dept person at the stairway to find the entrance to the cellar as the one next to the ticket building was locked and marked as the exit. Signs and interactive video kiosks explained each area of the cellar and each case of artifacts. It’s worth the minimal cost to see this exhibit. I’ve definitely learned more history and geography through traveling than I ever did in school.

blends right in with the buildings

Even the street musicians have a colonial look

Pretty much anywhere you walk around the old town area, whether upper or lower, you can find charming historic buildings. Like the lower level, many buildings in the upper town house shops and restaurants geared to the tourist crowd.

interesting store

Geomania store is right across the square from the old church

On our way back to the ship we stopped to take a look around the Geomania gemstones shop in the lower town across the square from the old church. This unique jewelry store has a whole room dedicated to Canadian gemstones. Each display has a different stone. A sign on top the case gives the name of the stone and tells a bit about where in Canada they find it.

best jewelry store ever

display of different types of gemstones in Geomania

This store is worth a visit just to look around and see how many different stones you probably never heard of that are found in various places around Canada. They make most of their jewelry right there in the shop. While not expensive compared to a lot of jewelry, most of the items in the cases cost more than I cared to spend that day. They did have some single stone on chain necklaces for a lot less on some small shelves on the wall. I found a labradorite there and since I rather liked that stone I got one of those – with a 10% discount for having a cruise ship card from the Veendam.

painted building

Quebec has a lot of interesting old buildings – even one with a mural of buildings painted on one side

There’s plenty to see in Quebec City within walking distance of the ship, and when spending a night there as ours did there’s also plenty of time for people venture out farther.

lower town

street that leads to the funiculaire

In early colonial times the lower area was mainly for poor people like merchants, sailors and artisans while upper town was for those considered higher quality citizens like government, clergy, and the rich and elite.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Canada, Holland America, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Gluten Free Cruising

Ruby Princess

view from the Promenade deck

Although we’ve always enjoyed the company of the friends we’ve met at the table on set time dining, when cruising with my husband we usually opt for the anytime, your time, freedom, or whatever a particular cruise line calls their dining program where you can show up anytime within the given hours for dinner. On the Ruby Princess my sisters and I opted for the Anytime Dining program there too. One of the dining rooms served anytime dining through the whole dinner period and another served early seating first and then opened for anytime later while the third dining room did just set time dining with an early and a late seating. Not having the same table or waiters never matters when cruising with my husband, but neither of us has any special dietary needs.

Ruby Princess chicken dinner

this gluten free chicken dinner is on the everyday side of the regular dining room menu

On the first night on the Ruby Princess my sisters and I went to the dining room that opened first for anytime dining, but not right at opening time. When we got there we found out that the wait there was longer than the time until the other dining room upstairs opened for anytime dining so we went there instead, planning to go back to the other one at an earlier time the next day. Since both my sisters are gluten free they asked the waiter what was safe for them to eat. They had a gluten free chicken dinner on the every day side of the menu that is always available, so they both ordered that for the first night.

surf and turf

my sisters ate well with meals like surf & turf

The head waiter came by later with menus for them to choose something for the next night that would then be made gluten free. He said to come back there, but we said we really wanted to eat earlier so had planned on going to the other dining room. He said to come to his dining room 25 minutes after the early seating started and he would take care of us. He meant the time exactly too because when we came a bit earlier just to check in with him he seemed a bit flabbergasted, probably thinking we expected him to seat us right then. We left for a few minutes and came back at the proper time, making sure to always show up at exactly the specified time from then on.

cruise food

crab dinner

Although the ship offered options for the anytime dining, for people on special diets that order their dinner the day ahead the wait crew need to keep track of who orders what and when and where to serve it to them. Because of that, set time dining is a better option for anyone on gluten free or other special needs diets since you have an assigned table there.


one day both sisters tries the escargot

The head waiter took good care of them. He brought the menus around each night and took their orders, then sat us somewhere within the same waiter’s section each night. The timing on when he wanted us to come was because he had to wait until the time passed for the people on set time to arrive if they were coming and then he’d put us at a table where they didn’t show. We had the same table all but one night, so its assigned occupants must have chosen to eat either at the buffet, the 24-hour cafe, or at one of the premium restaurants most nights. It worked out well for us. The start time was good for us and we always got right in at a time when there was never a line since early seating had already started and anytime at that restaurant was still a long way off.

cruise food

lobster was on the menu one night

On the last night we told the head waiter we planned to go to the afternoon tea and skip dinner as the ship stopped in Victoria that night and dinner would run too late. He didn’t seem to want us to go to tea rather than dinner and produced a menu too good to pass up on. He said they were starting dinner early that day since a lot of people would want to get off the ship. He gave us an earlier start time, which was about 15 minutes before the dining room was scheduled to open. Since they had made all dining rooms anytime dining for that night when we got there quite a line had already formed. We worked our way up near the front of the line. Amazingly enough we went quite a ways through the line before anybody already standing there said anything. One of my sisters said we had an appointment and kind of quickly explained on the run about gluten free diets. We got near the front of the line, but had not quite gotten to the check in point yet when the whole line suddenly started pouring in through the door. They must have let in another special needs party and gotten mobbed by an impatient crowd they weren’t ready for following them in because as we got to the door the host told us to run to our usual table before someone else snagged it. We made it to the table and were rewarded with steak dinners for my sisters, turkey for me, and baked Alaska for everyone for dessert because they had made a special gluten free one. We quite enjoyed the food on the Ruby Princess, it was very good.

steak dinner

on the last night they had steak

One day we did go to the tea, but did not make any special arrangements in advance for my sisters. They had just planned to pick whatever they could eat off of what was served and not trouble anyone for special food. The head waiter spotted them there and panicked about them having a reaction if they did that. He said that would never do and had something special brought up from the galley for them. Some people with gluten issues like celiacs are sensitive enough that they will have a reaction if their food touched anything with gluten in it, but while gluten will make my sisters ill, they are not celiacs.

cruise ship dessert

floating islands with vanilla sauce and caramel drizzle

We had breakfast at the buffet most days and they had no trouble finding food they could eat. The one day we had breakfast in the dining room they discovered gluten free pancakes on the standard menu, which one sister ordered and liked quite well.

My older sister discovered a gluten free dessert at the buffet’s late night selection one day early on in the cruise, which she quite enjoyed. After that though we were far from needing anything else to eat, we went up to the late night buffet for 2nd dessert so they could try another new gluten free option since it changed to something different each day.

cruise food - Baked Alaska

Baked Alaska

It’s not possible for any cruise ship to come up with an alternative menu that would serve the needs of everyone with special diets since what a given person can or can’t eat varies so much from one to another. Instead they have the passengers with special needs diets view the next day’s menu each night at dinner and the chef alters the selected meal to fit within that person’s diet. They did this with all the dinner courses, but my sisters never knew what they would get for dessert. They always got something. It was never the same as what the late night buffet had, but was always a version of one of the dining room desserts on the menu that evening. Princess has great food and even people on special diets can eat well onboard. They do ask about that in the registration process so they know before you arrive that you will have special needs.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016


Posted in Cruise Food, Princess, Ruby Princess, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

How to Fold Towel Ducks

how to fold a towel duck family

towel ducks

How to Make Towel Ducks

Supplies Needed for Making Towel Ducks

Bath Towel – for large duck

Hand Towel – for small duck

Washcloth – for duckling


Towel Duck Folding Instructions

If you want to make a large duck, use a bath towel. If you want to make a small duck use a hand towel. All steps are the same for both sizes.

towel duck step 1

fold corners of long side into a triangle

Lay towel out flat. Fold over top corners along the long side of the towel making a triangular tip.

towel duck step 2

roll both sides to the middle from the folded edges

Roll both sides in as tightly as you can from the pointed tip along the folded sides.

towel duck folding

roll both sides to the center as tightly as you can

Tuck the loose ends in between the rolls on the wide end.

towel duck step 3

tuck the loose ends between the folds

Set towel with rolls down and shape wide end to look like the back end of a duck.

towel duck folding step 4

shape the wide end to look like the tail end of a duck

If you have rolled your towel nice and tight like a cruise ship stateroom steward, fold the narrow end back over the top of the duck body into a S shape for the neck and head and pose as desired.

Of course not everyone is able to roll their towels tightly like the stewards do. I broke my arm at the elbow joint a couple years ago and have a bit of nerve damage down into the fingers. Things could have been a lot worse since it healed better than expected and nobody else notices the arm is not quite normal. There are however some things I can no longer do and rolling towels tightly is one of them. Thus the necessity for other ways of making animals, which are also useful for anyone who is not an expert towel folder.

cheater tips for poor towel folders

if the duck head and neck don’t stay put flatten them with a book

If you are unable to roll the towel tight enough for the neck and head to stay posed, fold them back into an S shape and put a heavy book on top. Leave book for several hours to overnight and the head and neck will stay up when you remove the book.

making a towel duck

the neck needs to curve back a bit to hold up the head

Once the head and neck are posed, place eyes on the head. Use google eyes if you have some, if not make eyes from felt or paper. If the eyes do not stay on their own use double stick tape to keep them in place.

Towel Duckling Folding Instructions

washcloth animal folding

fold edge over to turn a square into a rectangle

Lay washcloth out flat. Fold bottom edge of washcloth up 2 or 3 inches to make a rectangle instead of a square.

folding a washcloth into a duckling

fold corners down into a triangle same as with duck towels

Fold down the top corners and continue following the same instructions used for the larger ducks.

making towel ducks

towel ducks

For more towel animal folding instructions visit My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

how to fold a towel duck

towel duck

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Towel Animals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Chile – Viña del Mar

Vina del Mar, Chile

Tour Bus at beach parking lot in Vina del Mar

­When cruising out of Valparaiso as we did on the P&O Arcadia, if you fly into Chile you land at Santiago. From there you need to find transportation for the 70 mile trip out to the coast. Cabs are pretty pricey for that distance as are the private cars for hire that are another option. The public bus is cheap, but stations may not be convenient to where you need to go so a cab ride to and from bus stations may still be a necessity. We stayed a couple nights at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in a nice area of Santiago before venturing to Valparaiso and found an additional option for the journey. Hotels in Santiago can set their guests up on day tours with tour operators in the area, which has more than one company providing tours. Options include city tours, winery tours, a visit to the Andes Mountains, or a day trip to Valparaiso, which would likely also include a tour of nearby Viña del Mar.


flower in Vina del Mar

Most people finish the tour with a return trip to Santiago, but if you want to stay in Valparasio they can put your luggage in the luggage area under the bus and drop you near your hotel at the end of the tour. Some other people on our tour (who were also on our cruise) had a hotel near the square where the bus made its final stop. The tour guide walked them to their hotel while the rest of the people had free time to wander the area. Ours was not as close to a tour stop, but the road they took when they were ready to head out of town went right by it so they made a brief stop to let us out by our hotel. That worked out quite well for us. We saved money on transportation since the tour was cheaper than a cab, and got the tour as a bonus over just a ride there.

historic buildings

old church in Vina del Mar

On the way to the coast our guide gave us all sorts of information about Chile, the most interesting of which was that it has the most earthquakes and volcanoes of anywhere in the world. The Pacific ring of fire passes through a lot of countries on both ends of the ocean and while all the world’s tectonic plates shift some, this is the most active area. It creates volcanoes as well as causing earthquakes which is why a considerable amount of the earth’s volcanic and earthquake activity take place in Pacific coastal countries. He also said Chile has lots of tourists from Brazil and Japan so in addition to their native Spanish, people who speak Portuguese (as they do in Brazil), Japanese, or English are in demand in Chile’s tourist industry.

tree flowers

flower on a tree near the casino

The bus passed through a tunnel into a valley and then later through another tunnel into the next valley. Another feature of a lot of Pacific coastal areas like Chile is having a coastal mountain range and a taller inland range so we had to pass through (or under) the coastal range before reaching the sea. Each valley is in a lower altitude as you get closer to the sea, and each has its own weather patterns. Casa Blanca Valley is the coldest and a place with numerous wineries producing white wines. After leaving sunny Santiago we went through fog in that valley.

park in Vina del Mar

Park and Historic Building

At the coast we first went to Viña del Mar. There we walked through a park and then stopped to take photos at the former home of a famous writer we’d never heard of called Pablo Neruda, probably now long dead. A train runs between Viña del Mar and Valparaiso so people staying at either city have easy access to the other. The train has a stop near the port building where you go to check in before boarding a cruise ship. The two towns are close enough you really can’t tell where the borderline of one ends and the other begins, but it is a long walk from the tourist areas of one to the other. There is a seaside pathway so those who want to walk can. It would be quite a scenic journey.

beach in Vina del Mar

You would never know from this picture that some waves were huge that day

The bus stopped at a beach. Nobody was allowed in the water due to excessively high waves that day, but at that stop we could walk on the beach and take photos. Though some waves towered above the height of anyone standing near the water, in photos it just looked like people at the beach and not impressive at all.

wheels and pedals

fun for rent

In the main part of town they had everything near the water closed off including an entire park between the sidewalk and the beach. Nobody could even get close enough to see the water there. Rental riding toys along the sidewalk next to the park probably would stay in the park when it is open. The park had trails where kids could ride them instead of having to maneuver bikes and pedal cars through sidewalk crowds as they had to that day. Some kids painted pictures on little stands along the sidewalk, something we saw again at a park in Valparaiso so it may be a popular pastime there.

easels for rent?

kids painting

The tour guide gave us a couple lunch options, an expensive seafood restaurant in an old castle or a nearly as expensive buffet at a casino. We got out near the castle, the farthest stop from where the bus would park in the casino lot. We skipped the restaurant and went for a photo safari instead. That area had a sea view sidewalk and lots of rocks for the waves to splash impressively over.

castles on both sides of the street

Waves splashing over the rocks. The castle at the right edge of the photo was the lunch stop.

Of course none of the biggest waves ever came when we had cameras out no matter how long we stood there waiting for them. The really big ones came either before we got close enough or after we gave up waiting. The castle with the restaurant was across the street from another castle by the sea called Castillo Wulff, which had a sign on a locked gate saying it was closed for renovations so no tours available.

old German style castle

Castillo Wulff

We did get some shots of water splashing over rocks and running through a sea arch in the castle before walking to the bus meeting point at the casino. It was a nice walk back to the bus down the seaside walkway. One building resembled a boat. The path turned inland alongside an inlet of some sort and over a bridge. Near the casino we saw a horse and buggy ride staging area where some of the waiting horses munched happily away at hay or whatever was inside the feed bags they wore on their heads.

putting on the feed bags

horses taking a break

We saw some other people from our tour group walking down the sidewalk who had also bypassed the expensive lunches. Rather than skipping lunch entirely as we did, they had gone across the street where they could find a cheap lunch at fast food places. On the sidewalk near the casino we also ran across some beggars and a couple ladies trying to hand out sprigs of rosemary.

giant tree

tree near the flower clock

We were forewarned about rosemary ladies before a previous cruise from Spain and had come across them in Malaga so we knew better than to let them within reach of us. Rosemary ladies are known to either pick your pockets if you let them close enough or demand money if you take the rosemary they offer. At least that’s what they do in Spain so we didn’t take any chances and kept our distance from them in Chile as well.

it actually tells time

Reloj de Flores

We had a quick photo stop at a street corner near a garden with flowers planted into a giant working clock called Reloj de Flores before heading off to Valparaiso for the rest of the tour.

Things to do in Viña del Mar

Beaches are one of Viña del Mar’s biggest attractions with tourists and surfers flocking there each summer. Also popular is the Quinta Vergara Amphitheater for summer concerts and an international song festival. The casino is also an attraction, not only for the games, but for the building itself as one of the oldest casinos in South America having been built in the 1930’s. The city also has parks, museums, historic buildings, and sand dunes. One of their museums has one of Easter Island’s moai statues out front, something I wish I had known while we were there because I would have liked to see that.

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

The Ever-Growing Van Tour in Puerto Vallarta


Infinity in Puerto Vallarta

Sailing into Puerto Vallarta, we had an excellent view from the Constellation Lounge on Celebrity Infinity. From a distance we could see Carnival Miracle already docked there. The other side of the little inlet across from the other ship looked just big enough to hold a cruise ship. The ship headed bow to the dock and when it looked just feet away began to spin the back end around so it would end up docked facing outward rather than having to back out when time came to leave.

church figurines

one of the alcoves in Our Lady of Guadalupe church

As the ship turned we could see a little channel with a bunch of small boats docked on one side. In between a few ships moored to buoys the bow of a newly sunken boat poked out of the water. What we could see of this boat looked pristine white so it could not have been partially submerged for long. Meanwhile the Infinity’s bow narrowly cleared a couple boats that looked like they probably belonged to the navy at a dock next to the cruise pier. The ship completed its turn and slipped into position at the dock seemingly with the ease of a child turning a toy ship around, a testament to our captain who had completed a similar spin at the beginning of our voyage in the crowded waters at San Francisco where numerous small boats seemed determined to cross the pathway of the ship as it attempted to move.

almost private tables

terrace at a jungle restaurant

We got off the ship without any definite plans, but passed on the offers of tours of the area for $25 each. We had not yet gotten out of the parking lot before we were offered a 1-hour tour for $10.

view sidewalk

Malecon beachside walkway through the touristy area of town

Unlike the $10 private boat tour in Cabo, this one headed back toward the ship first to pick up more people the driver said he had waiting. As soon as they got in it suddenly became a 3-hour tour for $20. For $10 he said he could let us off in old town where we could catch a cab back to the ship for $3 each, but we decided to stay on and do the full tour.

one of many

sculpture on the Malecon

The driver/guide was quite interesting. He talked about how though Puerto Vallarta does have an ever-increasing population of American and Canadian retirees, it is still mainly the familias, by which he meant families of Mexicans who have lived in the area for generations. He said Puerto Vallarta is safe for tourists because the families want their town to stay safe and will report anything bad to the authorities immediately, not giving the drug cartels any chance to gain a foothold in the area. Tourism provides jobs and a good income for a lot of locals and many of them have very nice homes. In the surrounding area people still fish and farm as they have for generations. The homes in the little fishing village we drove through did not look nearly as nice as the ones in Puerto Vallarta.

Our Lady of Guadelupe

Church with a crown

We arrived in old town, and he let everyone out to see the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This cathedral uniquely has a crown on top, for to be a queen one needs a crown. The cathedral, he said, marks the line that divides the touristy area from the old-town area where locals shop, eat, and hang out. For genuine Mexican food and mariachi bands our guide recommended visiting the local’s area.

very ornate

Inside Our Lady of Guadalupe cathedral

Though the cathedral has a sign saying you can’t go inside wearing shorts, our guide said the locals really don’t mind so long as people are quiet and men take off their hats as a sign of respect. We went just far enough inside the door to take some photos of the inside and took some of the outside while walking the block down to the Malecon to meet our van. The Malecon is a beachside walkway for tourists. Besides the ocean views it has different sculptures at each block and plenty of nearby shops.

great sea view

view from El Set restaurant

Back in the van we drove out of town and stopped for a nice view of the sea from the balcony of a restaurant where people could use the facilities or buy a refreshing drink. Pretty much everywhere we stopped had something people could buy. Whether these places belong to friends or family of the driver, or perhaps sponsor van tours to bring in customers I don’t know, but would guess there must be some sort of connection there.

things to see in Puerto Vallarta

Islands or rocks?

The next stop had a view of a couple either very large rocks or very small islands just offshore, each with a sea cave running completely through it. The guide said it was a good snorkeling place, but no snorkel boats or people were there at that time. There was however a little open air market under a large canvas roof right by where we parked where people had t-shirts and jewelry and things for sale.

places to stay in Puerto Vallarta

resort on the beach

One roadside stop had just a bit of sidewalk next to the parking area with a view of the sea. It overlooked a beachside hotel, but for once had nothing for sale there. The Sierra Madre  Mountains ring Banderas Bay like a horseshoe, protecting Puerta Vallarta and the surrounding areas from hurricanes. These mountains gather the moisture from the summer rains that keeps the tropical forests green year round. The rainy season lasts through September, but it was sunny during our visit. The rains come mainly at night our guide said, and sure enough as the ship set out to sea that evening we had rain and lightning.

looks abandoned

playground at the jungle restaurant

Next the guide said he would take us into the rainforest. We left the cobblestone paving in some places for gravel roads. Bright orange flowers lined much of the roadside. We parked in a gravel lot next to banana and avocado trees.

jungle play area

rope swing in the jungle

A forest path brought us to an old playground and then a river with a massive rope swing and a number of sandbags which the guide said people use to make a pool in the river on Sundays. A stone stairway led up to quite a nice open air restaurant in the jungle with little roofed areas with a few tables each on different terraces leading up to the main restaurant area.

tequila factory

guy at the tequila place explains how they make it

Next stop we learned how Tequila is made. The blue agave plants they use take 7 years for the root resembling a large pineapple to mature. They first cook the agave roots and then distill the liquid they obtain three times. They had a clear tequila that came straight from the distillery and amber-colored tequila aged in barrels for different amounts of time. The longer the aging period the smoother drinking tequila they obtain. A few people tried the offered samples and the guy who worked there had some along with them saying how much he loved his job as he got to taste the samples with every tour.

free shots

tequila tasting area

The last stop was near a flea market and other shops in the old town area. By this time our 3-hour tour had grown to about 5 hours, but the price stayed at $20 each. The rest of the people in the van wanted to stay and look around the shops or have a drink. We were not interested in shopping for souvenirs or trinkets or drinking. The first formal night was coming soon and my husband had forgotten to pack a dress shirt and wanted to make sure he’d have time to buy one so we took a cab to the shops across the street from the ship.

popular eatery

front entrance to the jungle restaurant

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Mexico, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Back to Belize for More Cave Tubing

cruise ship at anchor

Splendor in Belize

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

cave wall

Inside the Cave

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

Belize City

Shops at the Tender Port in Belize

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

cave tubing

rock formation inside the cave

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

light and greenerey

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

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

park building

Building at the Park

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

river tubing

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

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

crossing the creek

river crossing to get to the trail to the caves

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

this tree has some nuts

Cohune Palm

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

almost ready to go

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

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

cave waterfall

waterfall in the cave

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

river float

floating the river after the cave

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

free lunch

tiki hut

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

cave tubing

guides pulling the tubes through the cave

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

cave tubing is fun

cave tubers in the cave

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Caribbean, Carnival, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, Splendor | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Food on Holland America Veendam

Holland America Veendam

Veendam in Sydney, Nova Scotia

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

cruise ship food

chocolate cake – dining room dessert

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

cruise food

Even the sugar-free desserts are fancy

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

afternoon tea

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

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

cruise food

Quail from a special chef’s night

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

pork chop dinner

Pork Chop at the Pinnacle Grill

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

fancy food

cake and gelato at Canaletto

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

seafood special

shrimp and halibut at Pinnacle Grill

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Cruise Food, Holland America, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Carnival Breeze Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse

Carnival cruise ship

Carnival Breeze

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

upscale dining

Steakhouse Menu

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

not my thing

the raw lobster and caviar thing

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

fancy cruise food

spinach and bacon salad with surprise mushroom center

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

fancy lobster

lobster dinner in the steakhouse

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

try several desserts

Chocolate Sampler

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

a giant tiny piece


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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016


Posted in Breeze, Carnival, Cruise Food | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments