Disney World – Magic Kingdom

Disney World

Cinderella’s Castle nightly fireworks show

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

Minnie Mouse at Disney World

Minnie Mouse

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

Disney's Dumbo ride

Dumbo ride at Disney World

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

Dumbo ride playground

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

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

It's a Small World - old school Disney

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

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

Rapunzel

meeting Rapunzel

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

giant tree house

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

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

Buzz Lightyear ride

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

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

toy story ride

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

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

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom

Cinderella’s Castle from the back side

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Tea With the Brits

cruise ship afternoon tea

afternoon tea on P&O Arcadia

Afternoon tea is much bigger in the UK than it is in America. We expected more of a crowd at the tea on the Arcadia the first time we went, but then again we went on the afternoon of the first formal night so perhaps more people come on other days – or they just find their afternoon snack at the buffet.

waiter serves afternoon tea

waiter with bread baskets serving random people at tea time

The tea cart we’re used to on American ships was absent. Instead, the table had a tray of sweets at either end and waiters came by serving tea sandwiches, tea breads, and scones. I keep hearing how wonderful clotted cream is, traditionally served with jam on the tea scones. The cream here had kind of a buttery texture and the English chap next to me said it was not proper clotted cream at all. Perhaps that doesn’t keep well enough to serve it on a ship. Especially one on a long cruise with just a few port stops.

jam for scones

different jelly flavors to choose from

They did have cute little jelly jars with different flavors of jelly though and whatever the cream substance was tasted fine with those. There’s no cows on the ship of course so fresh cream is not available. Not that I know whether or not that is an essential ingredient for clotted cream since I’ve never actually had any.

tea time

crumpet, egg salad tea sandwich, and scones

After getting scones, I noticed the other basket with the tea breads had crumpets in it. It’s been years since I had a crumpet so I had to have one of those too. It came out of the basket still warm.

pick a tea

tea menu

The waiters came around with little pots of tea which they filled the cups from. They didn’t leave the pots, but came by often and kept the cups full. They just had one kind, but there is a tea menu you can select other flavors from. If you pick one of the flavored teas then they leave you a little teapot.

English tea cakes

I neglected to take photos of tea cakes so I had to find one online

The next time we went to the P&O Arcadia’s afternoon tea I discovered tea cakes. They look something like a cross between rolls and American style biscuits. They are a bread rather than a cake, but so light and fluffy and excellent with the questionable cream substance and jam. After one taste I was hooked. Unfortunately I’ve never seen them anywhere else. Then again I’ve never been to England.

Lido deck tea

tea sandwich and other afternoon tea snacks on the Lido

Arcadia also offers tea-time fare in their afternoon snacks in the Belevedere buffet on the Lido deck. Which explains why the dining room wasn’t as crowded as we thought it would be – more people had their tea at the buffet. Tea time there is available for a longer time period and you can take what you want without waiting to be served. They also have some other afternoon snacks so you can supplement the tea sandwiches, tea cakes, and sweets with small hot food items like mini quiche.

English crumpet

crumpet and tea

If you want crumpets you have to go to the dining room though because they didn’t have those on the lido.

cruise ship afternoon tea

tea sweets in the dining room

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Malta

European cruise

Vista in Valetta, Malta

The ship approached Valetta, Malta through a narrow channel between two old-fashioned stone lighthouses. Malta is full of historical stone buildings and beautiful old churches. Our ship docked next to a walled city with walls so tall they stood high above our balcony on deck 9 of Carnival Vista. Walls were an important means of keeping cities safe until advances in technology made them obsolete as a means of protection. Now old walled cities make great tourist attractions.

lighthouse at Malta

lighthouse coming into Malta

elevator to a walled city

elevator to the top of the wall

Malta is an independent island country officially called the Republic of Malta. It lies between Italy and Africa and is a member of the European Union. Past history includes occupation by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British, among others.

The ship docks right in Valetta. Just a short walk from the pier there’s a road going up a hill into the city. A bit farther on the other side of an arch there’s a much easier way to get to the top – by elevator. There’s only two buttons, 0 and 1, but the distance traveled between them is like going from the ground floor to the top of a skyscraper. At the top there are all sorts of shops, restaurants, and historic buildings.

Malta's wall

view from the balcony of the ship – wall by the cruise ship dock

You don’t even have to get up to the main part of town to find things to do. We saw horse carriages and a hop on hop off bus go by from the balcony before we even left the ship. Once we got off we found an inexpensive taxi tour with 3-5 hour options for seeing all the major sites of the island. They charge by the taxi, not the person so if you have 4 people to fill the cab with it’s an excellent deal. We went with friends we met on a previous cruise who were also sailing on this one.

Mosta dome church

inside the cathedral in Mosta

Our first stop was at a cathedral, the Parish Church of the Assumption, also called the Rotunda of Mosta or the Mosta Dome. Many European cathedrals require shoulders and knees covered. This one had a pile of wraps at the door so anyone inappropriately dressed could cover up to come inside. This church has quite a unique history. In WWII a German bomb landed in the church while more than 300 people were inside for mass.

WWII bomb

replica of the bomb that hit the church and didn’t explode

The bomb did not explode, considered a miracle by the thankful worshipers who would all have died if it had. The original bomb was defused and dumped into the sea, but they have a replica in a back room at the church.

Mdina, Malta

entrance to Mdina

Moving on with our tour, at the top of a steep hill we stopped at the ancient walled city of Mdina whose history traces back over 4000 years. It has been a home to nobility since medieval times and is still an active city, commercial center, and a market for the agricultural lands surrounding it. Mdina and the surrounding areas have significant historical sites including catacombs, churches and monasteries, and a grotto where the apostle St. Paul is said to have lived after a shipwreck.

horse carriage through Mdina

traveling through Mdina’s narrow streets in a horse carriage

Just outside the gate horse drawn carriages wait to take people through the narrow streets of town. Visitors can also walk in. Splitting the cost of a carriage 4 ways was less than 10 euros each so we opted to take the fun way through town in the carriage. The horses wear rubber shoes to lessen the impact of the pavement on their hooves since they spend so much time on hard ground. While driving down one of the narrow streets our driver pointed to a door and said that apartment was for sale for several million and that only rich people lived in that area.

Hagar Qim

one of the ancient temples at Hagar Qim

Our next stop was Hagar Qim, an archeological site with ancient temples built of megalithic stones about a thousand years older than Egypt’s pyramids. They protect the temples under canvas covers. Our cab driver said we had the option of either paying the 10 euro fee to go inside, or walking the public trail on the outside of the fence and looking at it from there so we took the free path. You don’t see as much that way, but we wanted to make sure we had time for the boat ride at the Blue Grotto – which turned out to be a mistake.

Blue Grotto

Blue Grotto

We really wanted to see the blue grotto and to take the boat ride inside, but the boats only run when there’s smooth sailing. The waves were too high in the grotto so no boats ran that day. We could only take pictures from a nearby cliff. We nearly took a cruise ship excursion just to go to the blue grotto so we would have been really disappointed had we booked that since we wouldn’t have gotten to take the boat ride on an excursion either. We got a nice view of it from the cliff, but had we known we would not be spending the time or money for the boat ride we would have gone inside at Hagar Qim.

Marsaxlokk

Marsaxlokk

Our last stop before returning to Valetta was the charming little fishing village of Marsaxlokk. It had a harbor full of cute little boats and all sorts of booths with things for sale to the tourists. It is popular for its fish restaurants and market.

Valetta

Valetta, Malta

Malta was as notable for the things we didn’t see as it was for the things we did. We did not see any beggars, buskers, graffiti, litter, street peddlers, stray animals, or homeless people anywhere where we went on Malta. Most places all around the world you don’t go far before seeing some or all of those things.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Tribord Easy Breathe Full-Face Snorkel Mask

full-face snorkel mask

Tribord Easy Breath snorkel mask

Anyone who reads my blog very often would know I’m an avid snorkeler. I snorkel any chance I get, which basically means when cruising to warm places. On snorkel excursions I’m always one of the last to come in. When shore snorkeling on my own if time is not a factor than the threat of sunburn is what eventually brings me back to shore. My husband though not so much. He always tended to stay in the water for about 5 minutes and then he’d be back on the boat or back to shore. Taking pictures of everyone else in the water used to be his excuse, but even when he didn’t bring a land only camera he never stayed out long. The real reason – he never liked traditional snorkel masks. He found them hard to breathe in and uncomfortable on his jaw.

snorkeling in Grand Turk

traditional mask and snorkel_

Then suddenly things changed. Looking online for a new snorkel mask one day I came across the Tribord easy breathe full-face snorkel mask. Now there are a number of other brands, but Tribord is the original. They did all the research and invented the technology. There weren’t as many choices when I found his, and all the reviews I read then said stick with the original. It works great. The knock-offs leak, fog up, have issues with the stopper in the dry snorkel, or generally just don’t work well. So for a Christmas gift I got him the original Tribord.

Tribord full-face snorkel mask

snorkeling in Bermuda, trying out the Tribord

When we finally took a cruise to a place where he could try it out he absolutely loved it. For the first time he stayed out in the water as long as I did. It worked great, fit great, and never fogged or leaked. He thinks everyone should use one, but for those of us who are fine with the regular sort that one seems a bit bulky.

snorkling with Tribord full-face mask

Tribord above the surface

With the Tribord your whole face stays dry and there’s nothing in your mouth. You can breath through either your mouth or nose just as you do on land. It is equipped with a dry snorkel which automatically cuts off the air flow if you go under water so it stays dry and there’s no choking on seawater since none comes down the tube. It’s also a big buoyant bubble on your face so it’s harder to actually get under the surface if you like to free dive. A bonus though for staying on the surface. Then again a regular dry snorkel is also more buoyant than the old open tube style snorkel and also harder to get under the surface with, though easier to dive with if you can get there since the whole point of a dry snorkel is keeping seawater out of the snorkel tube so there’s no need to blow it out when you come up.

snorkeling in a full face mask

Tribord below the surface

On the next cruise the grandkids came along. The two boys did just fine with regular snorkel equipment, but our granddaughter had issues keeping the tube in her mouth. She spent more time stopping and trying to adjust it than she did snorkeling so she’s a good candidate for a full-face mask. Tribord does come in more sizes than the other brands, including an extra-small size for kids. Unfortunately while the other sizes all have a size range with minimum and maximum measurements from bridge of nose to chin, the extra small just says if it measures less than 10 cm (3.9″) and doesn’t give the minimum. We would have got her one for her birthday or Christmas anyway, but they cost about twice the price of the bigger ones and even those aren’t cheap.

Tribord vs traditional mask

Tribord vs a traditional snorkel mask in Grand Turk

Current reviews on the internet mention several other brands which depending on who is doing the reviewing some may work as well as the Tribord or close to it, but they all warn of poor performance from cheap knock-offs. Some reviews say that some of the better knock-offs cost more than the original without being any better so why bother with them. There are also some brands out there now with slightly different technology, which again the reviews tend to not think are any better than the Triborg other than some having a go-pro mount. One reviewer said that was great and rated Seaview higher than Triborg because of it. Another said the camera mount was up too high and put the camera out of the water unless you dive under, which the person who liked the camera mount was doing. Both said Seaview would be more likely to fog under heavy breathing.

Tribord full face snorkel mask

Tribord – the original full-face snorkel mask

I can’t say one way or the other about other brands not having seen anything other than the Tribord anywhere other than online. I just know that having a good full-face mask that stays clear and dry opens up the world of snorkeling to anyone who has difficulty with traditional snorkel gear.

 

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Hits and Misses on Carnival Breeze

Saint Martin, Sint Maarten

Carnival Breeze docked in Phillipsburg, St Martin

This post is purely my opinion on the things I liked and didn’t like about Carnival Breeze. Some things that I hate most could be what someone else likes best – particularly when it comes to smoking areas since people who smoke like them, but being allergic to tobacco smoke I hate them. Everyone is different, which is why cruise ships have so many choices of things to do and places to go. I may not even notice something that is someone else’s favorite spot on board while some other people may never notice the places I like best. I’ve probably also missed a lot in this post since it was written quite some time after the cruise rather than while on board. Overall we liked the Breeze.

Hits on Carnival Breeze

The Breeze introduced some new things not seen before on any Carnival ship. My favorite of those was the Thrill Theater. This theater shows short films with moving seats and other effects that make the audience part of the action. The best one was the roller coaster movie because you get more of a motion effect having a track to follow. For about the price of two shows we got full-cruise passes and were able to see all the shows, with repeat visits to the ones we liked best. Unfortunately on a later trip on the Vista, which also had the Thrill Theater, they had no passes which made it too expensive to go much. Other people must have agreed because while it was nearly always full on the Breeze it stayed pretty empty when we were on the Vista. The Vista crew said they were going to do away with those passes on the Breeze as well, which will make the Thrill Theater far less popular.

new technology - use the sail & sign card to run the washing machines

random people using the launderette on Carnival Breeze

Something I always see as a plus on any cruise ship whether I actually use it on that particular cruise or not is a self-serve passenger laundry. Carnival ships always have them, which is great for anyone in need of an iron or who wants to wash their clothes.

fun on Carnival Breeze

orange drainpipe and yellow twister slides at the waterpark

Waterslides are always a hit, particularly when cruising to warm places. Breeze has two big ones, and a splash park for younger cruisers as well. I much preferred the twister slide, which judging by the longer line is the most popular one. Some people like the drainpipe slide better though.

Carnival Breeze atrium lights

looking down at the atrium lights

We also liked the décor on the Breeze, which generally had a Caribbean casual vibe. The atruim had kind of a floating lantern look. The ship had enough decor to give it a theme and keep it interesting without being overdone.

cruise ship decor, outside lanai

port side of the lanai on deck 5

The interactive TV’s in the staterooms were also a hit with us. Besides the usual things like the bow cam channel or watching TV, you could also use it to book shore excursions or see all of the menus for the week.

that's some tasty spaghetti

Spaghetti Carbonara at Cucina del Capitano on Carnival Breeze

Specialty restaurants like Cucina del Capitano, Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, and the Red Frog Pub had great food made to order. We did notice that the quality of the food was better our first time on the Breeze on the transatlantic than it was our second time on a Caribbean cruise a couple years later. We had the spaghetti carbonara at Cucina both times. On the transatlantic it was one of the best things we’d ever tasted in our lives, but on the Caribbean cruise it was less than memorable. The Red Frog Pub food that was so good on the Breeze transatlantic was also a bit disappointing several years later on the Vista.

porthole cabin

Porthole windows on the Breeze with two weeks of towel animals

Being budget cruisers always looking to get the best bang for our bucks, we really appreciate that Carnival books porthole cabins and window rooms with partial views as inside rather than as ocean view like most cruise lines do. You get a lot better price for a room designated as inside. We stayed in one of the ones at the bow once. Though no bigger than an ordinary inside room, when you stand up so you can see it the view is fantastic. (The lower half of the window is blocked by a railing outside.) For the price of an inside room it’s nearly a balcony since there are doors at both ends of the hallway across the bow that lead to an outside deck. Porthole cabins are as big as ocean view cabins, but book as inside at a lower price than the ones with obstructed view windows. They aren’t for everyone since you’ll feel and hear waves when sailing bow into them, but we liked it. We always enjoy the towel animals too, which Carnival stewards make each night.

adults only serenity deck

Serenity Deck on Carnival Breeze

Another thing we always liked about Carnival (up until the Vista that is) is that they treat all passengers the same. Whether you book an inside room or a suite, all the public areas are open to everyone. Well mostly. The Serenity deck is adults only and the kid’s program areas (Camp Carnival, Circle C, Club O2) are just for kids.

vegetarian cruise food

Vegetable Lasagna from the Breeze

A lot of people see the American Table menu as a miss, but I’m not putting it in that category. It introduced my favorite thing Carnival has in the dining room, the vegetable lasagna. Also having tablecloths only on elegant nights really makes those nights stand out as special while helping the environment by not washing all those tablecloths on all those ships every single day. They do need to add coasters though to keep the glasses from leaving water spots on the table. A lot of people say the food is not as good, but when cruising back-to-back on a ship with American Table and one without, the food was far better on the one with. Food quality does vary some from ship to ship within the same cruise line or even over time on the same ship regardless of whether the menu changed or not. This is true of all the lines we have sailed on and not just Carnival.

Misses on Carnival Breeze

The biggest miss on the Breeze – and indeed all of Carnival’s ships – is having the casino as the ship’s indoor smoking area. People go in there to smoke whether they are gambling or not. The casino is in the middle of a deck with other public areas on either end. There is no way to get from one end of that deck to the other without walking through the casino unless you go outside or to another deck. For a cruise line that claims to be family-friendly you would think there would be some way to get the kids from one end of the ship to the other on a public deck without walking through a smoke-filled room. The casino is also open on both ends so smoke drifts beyond the casino itself to invade other areas. Not to mention a lot of non-smokers avoid the casino because of the smoke so they are losing customers who otherwise would spend some money gambling. While they claim certain slot machines or areas to be non-smoking, the smoke doesn’t just up and stop when it gets to a supposedly non-smoking spot. Having a non-smoking area in a room full of smokers is akin to having a non-peeing area in a pool full of toddlers and alcoholics, both well supplied with drinks, and neither of which has left the pool for a bathroom break in hours.

cruise ship dining room

Breeze Dining Room Without Table Cloths – a lot of people gripe about this, but I’m fine with it

Really smoking is my only gripe with the Breeze. If it were up to me I’d have a fully-enclosed and well-ventilated smoking lounge located where nobody would need to walk through it to get anywhere. Ruby Princess had a totally enclosed cigar bar in a corner of their casino, which was perfect. Conveniently located for smokers, yet keeping the smoke away from everyone else.

For outdoor smoking a place at the stern would be ideal so the ship would leave the smoke behind as it sailed forward, again in an area nobody would ever need to walk through. They do have designated smoking and non smoking areas outside, but the smoking areas are located where you could easily end up there without meaning to. The public smoking area on deck 5 also means balconies above that area can get pretty smoky even though all passenger cabins and balconies are non-smoking areas. As with most ships, on the Breeze this is on the starboard side so after not being able to use our starboard side balcony on the transatlantic due to the smoke, if we book a balcony now we always make sure it is on the port side.

 

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Cruise Ship Decor on the Ruby Princess

the only ship in a town that holds 4

Ruby Princess in Skagway

In general the décor on the Ruby Princess is suitable for a ship of royal lineage – she is a princess after all. It’s mostly tastefully done in faux opulence without looking tacky.

Arabian or Egyptian themed lounge on Ruby Princess

this could be a palace – in the Explorer’s Lounge

Some of the scenes in murals or paintings could be of royalty or kingdoms from a variety of countries and centuries.

cruise ship art

sea turtle statue

One thing the Ruby Princess lacked that I had begun to think was a requirement of cruise ship décor after sailing quite a few ships on a variety of lines was ugly statues randomly placed about the ship. Other than a few themed statues that were part of the décor of a lounge, bar, or other room, the only statues I ever saw on board were near an elevator on the Lido deck, and they were not ugly. These statues were of sea turtles on coral, two things I quite enjoy seeing when I go snorkeling. Looking at them reminded me of fun times.

model ship

Salty Dog Gastropub had model ships

Different bars, lounges, and restaurants each had their own theme, some maritime and some not. Same with wall art in different hallways or areas.

cruise ship art

sea life wall art on outside Lido deck

The Lido deck featured sealife in some outside areas while other decks and inside hallways featured scenes of charming old towns or life scenes of bygone eras.

Ruby Princess Piazza

Piazza

The Piazza, a central area open to several decks with a fancy light at the top, featured some exquisite tile work, as did the hallway near the shops.

fancy floor

tile in the hallway near the shops

The Piazza was reminiscent of a town square with an open area for activities surrounded by different places to go like a 24-hour cafe and a wine bar.

24 hour cafe

seating area for the Piazza cafe

Some of the activities they had there during the cruise included a champagne fountain, horse or moose racing, and puppies. While the horses were wooden and they added antlers to call them moose, the puppies were real live huskies who came on board in Skagway. The champagne was real as well and guests were allowed to take a turn pouring it as well as drinking it. Sometimes they had music there too.

cruise ship cigar bar

Speakeasy Cigar Bar

The Ruby Princess had a room that would be a nice addition to any ship that allows indoor smoking – a fully enclosed cigar lounge. Not that I would ever set foot in there, being allergic to tobacco smoke, but I appreciate that people have a place to go smoke where they can be comfortable without spreading their smoke throughout the ship. It was located in the casino which gave smokers a handy place to go without filling the entire casino with their smoke. You could smell the tobacco stench from nearby areas outside the room, but it was nothing like the smoke floating freely through the air on ships that allow smoking in an open casino.

spa thermal suite

heated ceramic chairs in the spa

The spa had an Asian theme. Heated ceramic tile chairs may not look comfortable, but they totally are. Take the spa tour on boarding day on just about any ship and you can try them out for a few minutes for free.

space themed nightclub

Skywalker’s Nightclub is out of this world – or at least decorated that way.

Skywalker’s nightclub has an outer space theme.

cruise ship Piano Bar

pianos climb the walls at Crooners Bar

Pianos are the theme at Crooners Bar. Spaces and places on the Ruby Princess each have something unique about them.

Share restaurant

Share – one of Ruby Princess’ premium restaurants

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Disney World – Animal Kingdom

Disney World photos

posing at the entryway to Animal Kingdom

Unlike the rest of Disney World where the animals are all characters, animation, or wild visitors – like birds or squirrels dropping in, Animal Kingdom has actual live animals as a planned part of their exhibits. Of course it’s still very Disney with plenty of animals of the character or animated variety. Animal Kingdom has the regular sort of theme park rides, but it also has jungle adventures.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

animals on the animal trek

Animal Kingdom is divided up into several different lands. The Africa part had a jungle trek trail with views of a variety of animals like tigers, water buffalo, and all sorts of birds including a bunch in a walk-through aviary.

Disney World safari

Kilimanjaro Safari ride was in actual trucks

Africa also had the Kilimanjaro Safari on an open-sided jungle truck through animal habitats where visitors can see real live zebras, giraffes, elephants, and other animals. One of the elephants had a tiny baby, but it did not get close enough for a photo.

Disney World safari

elephant on the safari

The animals on the safari wandered freely through their habitat. Every now and then the truck passed through gates between habitats for different types of animals. Though the gates are open, they all had things to keep animals from passing through that felt like bumpy terrain to trucks driving over. One place had a bridge that appeared questionable, obviously part of the ride since the guides made a point of acting like it was scary to cross. Not that Disney World would ever let anything get into poor repair because of the liability, but if it somehow did happen they would not point it out.

alligators at Disney World

Florida has lots of alligators and some of them live in Animal Kingdom’s safari

Some of the animals roam freely through the areas where the trucks drive, but the more dangerous ones like alligators or hippos have walls around them.

Animal Kingdom

monkeying around at Disney World

The Asia area had live monkeys in a habitat in the middle of the main walkway area of the park. We saw them on the way to one of the park’s most popular rides – the Everest Expedition roller coaster. This ride has a minimum height requirement of 44 inches. Portions of the line go through indoor areas with displays about yeti, and the yeti does make an appearance during the ride.

roller coaster in a mountain

Disney’s Mt. Everest houses the Expedition Everest roller coaster

Try and get fast passes for the safari and the Everest roller coaster, and if you can’t get the fast passes do those two as early as possible before the lines build up because they tend to have the longest lines in the Animal Kingdom. Dinosaur was a distant third on the amount of wait time required during our visit there. Most of the rest of Animal Kingdom’s attractions did not have long lines during our visit. Of course during peak season everything probably has long lines and some things that may normally have long lines were closed for refurbishment.

Pandora at Disney World

new World of Avatar – Pandora at Animal Kingdom (internet photo)

While we were there construction was going on for the new Pandora – The World of Avatar exhibit. This section just opened a couple weeks ago, so most likely that is where the longest lines are now. The main attractions in Pandora are a special effects flight ride and a river journey.

Dinoland

TriceraTop Spin ride

Dinosaur is in the DinoLand section of the park which also includes a giant dinosaur statue and a roller coaster called Primeval Whirl which looked fun, but had a minimum height which was too tall for either of the grandkids at 48 inches so we didn’t go on it. The Triceratop Spin there is like Dumbo from the Magic Kingdom without the overly long line other than the ride cars are dinosaurs rather than elephants.

Disney World ride

on the Dinosaur ride

The ride just called Dinosaur puts visitors on an expedition through time in a failed attempt to capture a dinosaur before the meteor arrives. Minimum height is 40 inches for this ride. The darkness and dinosaurs may seem scary to some small children.

tree theater at Disney World

The Tree-ater – showpiece of Animal Kingdom housing the It’s Tough to Be a Bug show

Attractions at the Animal Kingdom include shows as well as rides. One called It’s Tough To Be A Bug is inside of the large artificial rainforest tree dominating that section of the park. First show we’ve ever seen in a tree-ater. Make sure all the kids sit in their own seats rather than on someone’s lap so they get all the special effects in this show.

animals at the Animal Kingdom

Hannah brushing sheep at the petting farm

There’s also the Wildlife Express train out to Rafiki’s Planet Watch, an area with a petting farm, live animal shows, and a view into a lab and veterinary office. There’s lots of conservation information along the walkway as well as some monkeys and other endangered animals on display. Animals in the petting farm area have ropes they can pass under if they want to go where people aren’t allowed.

rhino at Disney World

rhino on the safari

Being Disney there are plenty of places in the Animal Kingdom to shop, eat, or meet Disney characters.

fountain at Animal Kingdom

the kids loved this fountain

Throughout the park we found random things you pass by that kids can enjoy like drums they can play or a fountain where sticking a hand or finger in it changes where the water goes. Speaking of fountains, there are drinking fountains near every bathroom in all of the Disney World parks.

Disney World Animal Kingdom

giraffe on the Kilimanjaro Safari

Animal Kingdom was the least crowded of the 4 parks during our visit there. It’s possible that could have changed due to the new Avatar Land, but I would guess that Epcot and the Magic Kingdom probably remain more popular. The best way to know where to avoid the crowds is putting the Disney World app on your smart phone during a visit there. Besides letting you book fast passes and listing wait times for rides, the app can also do things like show park maps and give directions from where you are to where you want to go.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Tauranga Cruise Port

Cruising to Tauranga

cruise ship from the beach at Mount Maunganui

Arcadia in Tauranga

The cruise ship port at Tauranga in New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty sits about 4 miles outside of the city center. When we stopped there on the P&O Arcadia they had a free shuttle that would take passengers for the short ride to town. There was plenty to do within walking distance of the port for anyone who came with no prior plans or excursions booked.

Mount Maunganui

view of Mount Maunganui from the ship’s stern

The cruise pier sat near the small town area of Mount Maunganui, the mountain itself looming large in the view off the stern.

New Zealand ice cream

ice cream shop at the pier

The smaller town was once independent of Tauranga, but was absorbed by the city after completion of a bridge between the two and is now officially a part of Tauranga. Besides the small shops you can see from the port area, Mount Maunganui also has a large shopping mall. The area is a popular vacation spot.

sailboat rental

sailboats and other fun things for rent

A sand bar connects the mainland to the mountain – a lava dome created through an upwelling of lava several million years ago. There’s a great harbor beach running along the sandbar from near the ship to the mountain. People can swim there, rent kayaks, paddle boards, or sailboats, or walk the boardwalk to the mountain and hike to the top. Unseen from the port, the other side of the sandbar has an ocean beach popular with surfers. There’s a little ice cream shop at the end of the beach closest to the ship with a variety of unique flavors to choose from.

beachside boardwalk

beachside boardwalk to the mountain

Lots of passengers from our ship hiked up the mountain. From bottom to top of the mountain some said they made it in under half an hour, others said it took much longer. All agreed the view from the top was spectacular.

view of cruise ship from kayak

Arcadia from the kayak

We walked down the beach and rented a kayak after we got back from our excursion to the Hobbiton movie set. We paddled out fairly close to the ship and took some photos.

Tauranga Shore Excursions

Hobbiton, New Zealand

cruise ship passengers on the Hobbiton tour wait to see inside the open hobbit hole

Tauranga also had some interesting and unique shore excursions available for those passengers who wanted to book one. We took the one to Hobbiton, the movie set for the Shire in Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

thermal valley, New Zealand

Pohutu Geyser in Whakarewarewa thermal valley – internet photo

There are a number of geothermal features near Tauranga. Our ship offered a tour of Rotorua and the thermal valley and another geothermal tour to a place called Wao-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. Other excursions included Maori Heritage tours and Highlights of Tauranga.

seagulls on a piling

Mount Maunganui from a dock near the ship – and seagulls

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Carnival Vista Family Harbor Cabins

Vista Family Harbor

Family Harbor on the Vista

Carnival’s newest ship, the Vista, has two new stateroom categories not found on any of their previous ships. The Havana cabins are for passengers 12 and older and include exclusive daytime use of a pool and deck area. Family Harbor has some cabins that hold up to 5 people and comes with entry to the exclusive Family Harbor lounge, concierge service, and other perks beneficial to families with young children such as a night of free babysitting at Night Owls and free meals for kids at the premium restaurants.

nautical flag decor

nautical flag themed bedding

Family Harbor is found at the back of deck 2. Cabins and hallways in the Family Harbor area have a nautical decor exclusive to that area of the ship.

nautical flags

nautical flag letter chart

Pillows and bedding have nautical flag letter symbols. In addition to letters of the alphabet, nautical flags also have other meanings. Some, like diver down, signal what you are doing. Others like yes or no are used for communication with passing vessels. Some are signals for help.

inside cabin

inside cabin 2423 holds just 2 passengers, but some have drop-down bunks and hold up to 4

Like any area of the ship, the least expensive way to get into Family Harbor is with an inside cabin. Inside cabins hold two to four passengers, with the majority accommodating 3 or 4. All cabins in the Family Harbor area include the perks exclusive to that area, which means they cost more than similar cabins without extra perks.

Carnival Vista Deck Plans

Deck Plans Carnival Vista Deck 2 (click photo for larger image)

There are a couple fully accessible interior cabins that hold up to 3 passengers and some interior cabins have connecting doors to the cabin next to them. There are two sets of connecting cabins that hold 3 passengers each and two sets that hold 2 passengers each. Interior cabins don’t have a lot of space so passengers booking these for a family will likely appreciate the use of the Family Harbor Lounge.

ocean view cabin

deluxe oceanview cabin 2420 holds a maximum of 4 passengers

For more space and a view, Family Harbor has oceanview rooms that hold two to four passengers and deluxe oceanview cabins for three to five. Two beds are standard in each room. The extra beds come in the form of drop down bunks that fold out of the ceiling and a couch that converts into a bed.

5 passenger cabin

deluxe oceanview cabin 2418 holds 5 passengers

The majority of the oceanview cabins hold 3 people, though there are several – mostly accessible – cabins that hold just two and one that holds 4. The deluxe oceanview cabins mostly hold 4 or 5 people, but there are a couple just for 3. You can put less people in a cabin than the maximum that it holds, but not more.

cruise ship cabin with 2 bathrooms

deluxe ocean view cabins and Family Harbor suites have an extra partial bathroom with tub and sink

The deluxe oceanview cabins have an extra partial bathroom with a tub and sink, which comes in handy when you have four or five passengers staying in the same room.

cove balcony cabin

cove balcony cabin 2419 sleeps 4

There are just 4 balcony cabins in the Family Harbor area. These are all cove balconies, hold 4 passengers, and have a connecting door to a suite. The connecting suites hold 5 people each so a total of 9 could book into these pairs of cabins. The interior space of the cove balcony cabins is less than in the oceanview cabins because the balcony occupies part of the space allotted to that cabin. Cove balconies are wrapped in a metal shell with watertight doors into the cabin and an open windowlike view from the balcony to the sea, which is fairly near since these cabins are located on deck 2. Balconies on higher decks are more open with just a plexiglass barrier across the seaside edge.

suite cove balcony

look up from this suite cove balcony to see the lifeboats, down to see the water

Connecting doors stay locked between cabins if unrelated parties book the two that connect, but if families or other people traveling together have booked both cabins the doors are unlocked so they have inside access from one cabin to the next without going out into the hallway. Cabins without connecting doors are preferable if available when you are not sailing with the people next door because you can hear your neighbors more through the door than through a solid wall.

suite

people can order cabin decorations like these in suite 2417

Suites in the Family Harbor area have balconies half again as long as the cove balcony cabins, and the cabin itself is also that much wider making it more spacious. The suites also have the extra partial bathroom with a tub like the deluxe oceanview rooms. Each suite has a maximum passenger limit of 4 or 5 people.

exclusive area on a cruise ship

Family Harbor Lounge

Maximum passenger limits per cabin are the same with or without a portable crib because even though a crib means extra bed space could be available, the baby counts as a person for lifeboat space. Maximum passengers allowed on board is limited by the lifeboat capacity so not all rooms on the ship can be booked up to the maximum allowable capacity of people for that room at the same time and extra people over the stated limit for that room are not allowed. A ship could be booked full and still have a few empty cabins if the lifeboat capacity is reached before all the cabins are full.

private lounge

snacks area in the Family Harbor Lounge

The Family Harbor Lounge is only open to passengers booked into Family Harbor cabins. It is open 24 hours a day. The lounge has breakfast and snacks available daily.

family harbor

tables in the Family Harbor Lounge

It has concierge service, computers, video games, and family movies as well as a selection of board games to keep kids and families entertained.

family harbor lounge

sitting area in the Family Harbor Lounge

For more blogs about cabins on the Vista see Vista Cabins or Havana Cabins.

cruise ship decor

hallway decor in the Family Harbor area

For a complete list of blogs about cabins on other ships see My Cruise Stories Ships and Cabins page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Is Your Sunscreen Reef Safe? Deter Natural Mineral Sunscreen Is!

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Snorkeling at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Coral reefs worldwide are in decline. Along with the nutrients released by glaciers, which are currently receding at an alarming rate, corals are at the bottom of the food chain, the basis of all life on the planet. Which means their decline should be of concern to everyone – so of course should be the overall health of the planet, but unfortunately to many it’s not. Some of the worst offenders are governments of countries who could do the most to help if they cared to.

sunken ship

Shipwreck in Bermuda provides structure for coral and other sealife

At least some countries care about coral. On a recent visit to Bermuda our local guide on a snorkel excursion mentioned how they have a lot of protections for the coral there. It has declined only 11%. Which sounds bad unless you are aware that Caribbean corals are at around an 80% decline. There’s not a lot each individual can do to stop rising ocean temperatures, changes in the PH balance, water pollution, storms, overfishing, fertilizer runoff, and other things that harm coral, but there are a few things everyone can do. First of all don’t touch the coral you encounter. Also never litter. Besides fouling the land, things people carelessly toss aside often end up in the sea. Just as important, especially when in tropical areas, do everything you can to protect the coral. Unfortunately the mass-marketed sunscreens that most people use are oil and/or chemical based. Just one drop of chemicals widely used in sunscreen like oxybenzone in an area larger than several olympic sized swimming pools is enough to deform coral cells and kill their larvae. Other damaging chemicals include octocrylene, 4MBC, butylparaben and octinoxate. Chemicals used in the average sunscreen bleach the coral and oils smother it. Even some natural oils – those that work as insecticides – can kill coral. You don’t even need to go to the beach to do harm because the wrong sort of sunscreen can make its way to the ocean through the sewer systems when washed off.

diving in the Philippines

soft coral in the Philippines

Luckily there are some companies making biodegradable reef-safe mineral based sunscreens. The best thing about these is that their active ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are what dermatologists recommend most to prevent skin cancer because they actually create a physical barrier to block harmful rays. This protects skin far better than the chemical based sunscreens most people use. The ingredients are far more important than the SPF factor in providing cancer protection so while protecting the environment you also better protect yourself.

coral safe sunscreen

Deter reef safe sunscreen

One such company making not only reef safe sunscreen, but also other environmentally friendly products is Deter. Besides being mineral based and reef friendly, their non-greasy hypoallergenic fragrance free child-safe sunscreen also has skin care ingredients including carrot and green tea antioxidants, aloe vera and emollient rich natural oils from soybean, sunflower, almond, sesame, and cocoa butter that are not the sort that harm coral like lavender, tea tree, or jojoba oils can.

sunscreen

Deter and Alba Botanical out of the package

The Deter lotion is not as thick as the three I tried last year. It is closer to the consistency of ordinary sunscreens and rubs in just as quickly and easily as the Alba Botanica, which was the easiest to apply of the ones I tried previously. Once on it has a lighter feel on the skin than the other brands I’ve tried. You really don’t notice that it is there. It does not give a specific amount of time for water resistance before the need to reapply, just saying to repply after swimming where the others all gave a time. When asked about this, the company said that according to the FDA sunscreens are given only ratings of 40 or 80 minutes resistance which they earn through testing. This one has not been tested so the amount of time it actually lasts in the water is unknown, though I have noticed that mineral sunscreens tend to last longer than any of the others. The fact that the times given on the package are assigned through passing expensive government testing rather than the actual time a sunscreen lasts explains why the mineral sunscreens last longer in the water than regular ones with the same rating. Regardless of the rating, it’s always a good idea to reapply sunscreen after leaving the water.

Antigua coral

coral near Bird Island, Antigua

I was quite surprised when sunscreen from a company that makes environmentally friendly products arrived in a box of styrofoam packing peanuts. Hopefully the peanuts were recycled from something shipped to them and they were just trying to keep them out of the landfill. (It happens. I re-use the air pillows and bubble wrap my packages come in on things I ship out.)

You probably won’t find coral safe sunscreens in the average store, but they are available online. I haven’t had a chance to try Deter at a beach or for snorkeling yet, but the ease of spreading it on and the light skin feel make it great for everyday use to protect from sunburn and skin cancer. The price is significantly lower than mineral sunscreen from the dermatologist’s office and comparable to other reef-safe brands.

Deter Reef Safe Sunscreen

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