Dalian, China Cruise Ship Port

Dalian cruise port

Westerdam in Dalian


People might not expect to see colonial Russian architecture in China, but Dalian – a modern port city on the Liaodong Peninsula, at the southern tip of China’s Liaoning Province – was founded by the Russians in 1898. Russian style buildings (not surprisingly) can be found along Russian Street. Zhongshan Square also sports colonial buildings in Renaissance and other styles. It’s the second largest city in the province and the largest seaport in northern China.

Dalian, China

view from Xinghai Square

Xinghai Square is the largest city square in the world. The name means Sea of Stars.

Dalian, China

view from the open book monument of a former Russian castle, now the most expensive hotel in town

Dalian is a popular tourist destination, more so for travelers within China than with visitors from overseas. The city proper is less industrial than neighboring cities, keeping most manufacturing to the industrial zone. It has parks, gardens, beaches and some hotels and coffee houses marketed to non-Chinese tourists. Locals mainly speak Mandarin and are not likely to know English, though there are enough who do that English-speaking tour guides are available for cruise ship excursions.

street cleaner in China

a bus passes a street cleaner

Public transportation is available in the form of busses, trains and taxis. Taxi drivers may not speak English so have your destination in writing. Watch out for illegal taxis which tend to overcharge. The best taxis have blue or white lights on top. Make sure the driver uses the meter to avoid overcharges. Avoid taxis with yellow lights on top as they are the lowest ranked.

map of Dalian, China

Dalian city map

Things to do or see in Dalian include a zoo, aquariums, museums, scenic and historical sites, mountains, and parks. Spring and fall are the best times to visit as summers are warm and wet and may experience monsoons. Winters are windy and cold. Dalian has many parklike squares, often with historical connections.

city view from Dalian cruise port

view of Dalian from the Westerdam

Dalian Cruise Port

Dalian is the biggest cruise ship port in China. It’s within walking distance of town if you don’t mind a bit of a hike. The port provided our ship with a free shuttle to the Friendship Store. Taxis are readily available and can take passengers on tour to places of interest. A guide book or map with both English and Chinese characters for each location is quite helpful for communicating with taxi drivers on what you would like to see. Currency is the yuan. One US dollar is currently worth nearly 7 yuan. Money exchange is available at banks and ATMs, or you can exchange money on the ship, but it is easiest to get money from your bank before leaving home. Your bank isn’t likely to have Chinese money on hand so ask at least a week in advance of the departure date for your trip. Most of the ports we visited had money exchange at the terminal, but occasionally they weren’t open so it’s best to come prepared.

lighthouse in the port of Dalian

lighthouse at the end of the cruise ship dock

Restrooms in the port have squat toilets rather than the western style sit on toilets most cruise ship passengers are accustomed to. There also is no toilet paper in the stalls and the holder at the restroom entrance was empty when we were there so be sure to bring your own tissue as you may not find it available in other public restrooms either. The squat toilets are recessed into the floor and you squat over them, similar to going out in the woods if you’ve ever gone hiking, camping, or trail riding far from public facilities. Mainly you just have to make sure your shoes and clothing are out of the way and aim for the bowl. From the looks of the floor surrounding it not everyone was successful in that endeavor. Perhaps they have not previously found a need to squat in the woods. This style toilet is likely to be found in public areas in China.


windmill in Dalian

While there is a lot to see in Dalian, the best things are not in walking distance of the port.

shore excursion in Dalian, China

cruise ship excursion enjoying the view near Beida Bridge

Our ship had just 4 excursions offered in Dalian. Favorites: visited a family’s home, a nursery school, an aquarium, People’s Square, and had lunch. Highlights: also visited a nursery school and People’s Square as well as Beida Bridge and Labour Park. Tram Tour: started with a walk through Russian Street and then took a tram tour through eastern Dalian with lunch and a stop at Sea & Star Square. Panoramic Dalian: had scenic drives through town and along the seashore, with a couple viewpoint photo stops, a walk through Xinghai Square, and a walk across Beida bridge.

Dalian, China

view near Beida Bridge

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in China, Holland America, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Covid-19 – It’s Not Over When It’s Done

While our world is stalked by a killer virus, some countries did a good job keeping their numbers down and others didn’t. A worldwide crises like a pandemic definitely shows what a difference how the leadership of a country responds makes in the volume of cases that country experiences and the amount of time it takes to recover.

masks – and a neck gaiter which can be pulled up over the face which comes in very handy for trail hikes since you can just have it around your neck and then pull it up over your face if you see anyone

Meanwhile, the citizens of the world are more than just statistics. They’re all individual people, all with their lives disrupted to various extents, the worst of course being those who became deathly ill or whose close family or friends died.

With the range of severity varying from no symptoms at all to life-ending, there’s no standard experience to being a victim of the virus, but for those who do experience even mild symptoms the after effects can linger long beyond the time they are actually sick with the virus.

With the advent of the antibody test it’s now possible to for some people to find out whether or not they had Covid early on – even if it was way back when it was thought to be confined to the Wuhan area of China and just referred to as Coronavirus. A negative result doesn’t mean you never had it though. Besides the possibility of false negatives, according to an article I read there are apparently more than one type of antibody and at least in the USA anyway they are mainly testing for the one that disappears fastest.

Things that were thought to be colds, flu, or pneumonia at the time have since been discovered to have actually been Covid-19. We live in a county with less than 100 recorded cases and no deaths. Back in February my husband was sick in bed for a couple weeks with an unknown respiratory illness of which he never sought medical care at the time, though I would check sometimes when he was asleep to make sure he was still breathing. None of the many now known symptoms of Covid – or Corona as it was called at the time – had been published yet other than basic things like a dry cough and respiratory issues. He had the loss of taste and smell, congestion, fever, and vivid dreams as well as the cough, but at the time he hadn’t mentioned most of those symptoms as they hadn’t been associated with any disease at the time and we thought he just had the flu or an extremely severe  cold.

Meanwhile I tried to stay healthy and took the cold-preventative Zicam to try and ward off whatever was plaguing him. I ended up with what I thought was a lingering cold anyway. I was never sick in bed, but did start with a fever and massive headache followed by an on-fire feeling sore throat, cough, vivid dreams, something weird with my toes which at the time I attributed to my shoes rubbing when I run, and a profusely runny nose. I’ve got allergies and always have a kleen-x handy, but needed a pocketful of them during that time. That was likely my saving grace as to not having worse symptoms since that was likely bringing the virus out and there have been articles saying one of the things helping reduce the severity in some Asian countries besides wearing masks is the fact that a high percentage of the people there frequently perform sinus rinsing with neti pots or similar apparatus. Rest assured that all of those tissues made it into the garbage can when I got home. I’m not one of those disgustingly rude people who throws used kleen-x alongside the road or trails littering the countryside and possibly infecting others. Just as bad are the people who bag their dog poop and then just leave it there. There’s no kleen-x fairy and no dog poop fairy either that will come along and clean up the mess, people need to take care of their own garbage themselves. That goes for the rest of the litter people throw around too. If you can carry it/have it in your car full, there’s no reason you can’t hang onto it once it’s empty until you come to appropriate receptacles for garbage or recycling.

John’s most likely Covid encounters were either because he had spent several weekends working over at his parent’s house in preparation for his mother returning from a nursing home so the virus could have come from that nursing home, or from working in a store’s booth at a boat show during that time, or from a poker tournament. People he knew from both the boat show and poker tournament later tested positive for Covid-19, and an unknown respiratory illness had spread through the nursing home. The poker game was in our county, while the boat show and his parent’s house (and mother’s nursing home) are all in a counties with a much higher incidence of Covid-19.

Who me?

This was long before masks and social distancing, way back when it was still just called Coronavirus and before anyone really knew it had already spread beyond China. I still took my dog out for a daily walk or run every day, but my dog is a heeler and they are known for being overreactive. Piper is especially unpredictable in her reaction toward other dogs. We’ve been social distancing as long as I’ve had her. Long before social distancing was a thing so I most likely did not spread it to anyone. We go early enough in the morning that we often don’t see anyone anyway. Other than our daily trip out to the trails and dropping pre-labeled packages off at the post office I’m somewhat of a hermit. Even at the grocery store I’ve always preferred to avoid aisles with anyone else on them whenever possible. Besides them being in the way, if the other person is a heavy smoker, has smoked recently, or wears patchouli or too much perfume I can’t breath anywhere near them. Breathing on the laundry soap aisle is an issue for me sometimes even if nobody else is there because of all the smells wafting off of the scented products.  (I only buy unscented ones.)

I’m not sure how long the actual virus lasted, but the “cold” went on for a couple months before most of the symptoms gradually retreated. Five months later though I’m still fighting a bit of a sore throat with one slightly inflamed tonsil and the other with a white spot like you get with strep throat.

John got over the initial illness in a couple weeks, but was feeling poorly for a couple months after. He had two major sinus infections that piggy-backed onto the Covid requiring several rounds of antibiotics. At times it was so severe he couldn’t even stand up without becoming so dizzy it made him nauseous. At one point he couldn’t even keep water down for 3 days. He’s had all sorts of problems with his ears and salivary glands as well as his sinuses ever since. Neither a cat scan nor an MRI could pinpoint the issue, but he did test positive for Covid-19 antibodies 4 months later so now we know he definitely had the virus. He was asked to return in 3 months to see if they are still there as currently nobody knows how long the antibodies will last. In spite of all the issues he’s had by official standards John’s case would also be considered mild since he was not hospitalized. The doctor did say they are finding that in mild cases like mine you may not get antibody protection for very much time at all. Possibly only about 3 months. There are articles saying that they are finding cases now where people were either re-infected several months later or the virus resurfaced. Then again there are other articles saying that even after the antibodies disappear the virus should be recognized by the immune system of someone who previously had it and their body should respond to make more antibodies quickly. So basically they still don’t really know what sort of protection people who already had Covid-19 have or how long they have it.

It’s really a shame that there are so many people out there who don’t take this deadly virus seriously.  They’ll be sorry if they get it because even with a mild case the aftereffects linger long after the virus is gone. We had it in February and the aftereffects are still with us. Even people who don’t have any symptoms themselves could be the ticking time bomb that kills someone they love. I saw an article just the other day about a 31-year old woman who was in the hospital after attending a Covid party. Unbelievably people actually attend parties in attempts to catch this dread disease. Her last words before she died of Covid-19 were “I thought it was a hoax.” People aren’t dying all over the world from a hoax, it’s real, and so are the lasting effects. There are a lot of articles out there about all sorts of scary things adding to the ever-expanding list of horrible things that can happen after a bout with Covid. Brain issues, heart problems, lasting lung damage, strokes and clotting problems, kidney damage, cognitive issues and even possibly male infertility problems are among the possible long term or permanent effects. Some symptoms people have during Covid like shortness of breath and tiredness often last weeks or months.

these days everyone needs a good collection of masks

It’s not that hard to put on a mask, and not that much different than wearing a seatbelt in the car. Back when wearing seatbelts first became a law in my state I was among those who hated it. I grumbled about it every time I got into the car until the day that seatbelt saved my life – about a month after that law came into effect. Ever after I was grateful for that law. It’s been so long now that most people here wouldn’t think of getting into a car without fastening that seatbelt, and masks in today’s world are just as lifesaving even if it will never be obvious as to who or when.

Some people spout drivel about their right not to wear a mask, but they wouldn’t be allowed into a store carrying a ticking time bomb, nor would they expect to be. Not wearing a mask during a pandemic could be just as deadly. There are those few who can’t wear them due to medical reasons, but then again people who already have medical issues are the last people who should be out exposing themselves to possible sources of infection and would be much better off using pick-up or delivery services to obtain the things they need.

Never has the phrase United we stand, divided we fall been so true as it is now because it will take a united effort of mass participation of everyone doing the right things to conquer this virus. Even the countries who have things under control face the risk of a resurgence if they aren’t ever-vigilant about every traveler arriving in their midst and keeping a watch on any other risk factors. If everyone wore their masks and took all the other recommended precautions like frequent hand washing/sanitizing, social distancing, and avoiding crowds or gatherings we’d have a chance of conquering the virus, but as long as some people continue to care only about themselves and not do those things this plague will continue until some sort of herd immunity is achieved or vaccine developed. In this case it not only takes a village, not even an entire country. It takes the world.

My Cruise Stories 2020
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Mount Pilatus Cable Car and Gondolas

cable car arriving at the top of Mount Pilatus

While staying in Lucerne, Switzerland for a couple days as we worked our way from Zurich to Venice by train prior to a cruise that was supposed to depart from Venice, we took a day trip up Mt. Pilatus, which is fairly close to Lucerne. We started our journey with a boat ride leaving from the docks near the Lucerne train station, and a trip up the mountain on the world’s steepest cogwheel train.

trail on the side of the mountain

At the top of the mountain there’s a gift shop, several places to eat, free restrooms, trails to several viewpoints, the entrance to the aerial cableway, and 2 hotels. The first thing we noticed was a trail on the mountain’s edge. Most of that trail was through tunnels, but it did have window-like openings through the rock and some larger open space viewing areas, from which there were some great views both looking down the mountain and up to the structures at the top.

cable car on Mount Pilatus

From some of the viewpoints you could see the cable cars when they came or went from the top of the mountain. This cableway is called the dragon ride. Ancient myths associated Mt. Pilatus with dragons.

snowy church in the middle of nowhere

We could also see a little white church partway down the mountain in the snow with no obvious way for anyone to get to it.

bar in the middle of the main public room in the big building on top of Mt Pilatus

After hiking down that frozen trail we came back quite cold so we looked around the building a bit, had a hot drink and small snack at the serve yourself café upstairs.

icy stairway to a viewpoint on Mt. Pilatus

Having warmed up we went back outside and hiked up an icy stairway to a viewpoint high above the buildings. Bitter wind up there blew the snow around driving icy pieces into any exposed skin – mainly faces since pretty much every other bit of anyone was covered. This was pre-covid so nobody was wearing masks, but they could have come in useful up there as a bit of a wind break for the face.

viewpoint on the top of Mount Pilatus

Besides 360° views of the surrounding area it had a snow-covered bench next to a sign pointing out the distance to a variety of places. Nobody stayed up there long. We came back down thoroughly frozen – again. If we had planned a winter vacation rather than being on our way to a cruise we definitely would have brought warmer clothes.

it was too windy and cold to go to the higher peak on the other side of the buildings

There was another trail leading to the highest peak, which would have been fun to take on a warmer day. It was a longer trail with quite a bit farther to go than the short one to the high viewpoint so we skipped that one since it was so cold and windy.

inside the dragon ride cable car

When we had first got off the train a long line of people waiting to go down the cableway filled quite a large area of the building. After coming back in from the viewpoint we noticed there was nobody waiting and decided it would be a good time to go down the aerial cableway dragon ride. There were just 5 people in our car, though it could have held many more.

view through the front window of the descending cable car

It was really nice having so much open space in the cable car as people could move about freely for better views or photos. These large cars descend to the gondola station and from there people take the much smaller panoramic gondolas the rest of the way down.

station where you switch from the cable car to the gondola

The gondolas started in a snowy area. You can look out the back and see the view looking back up the mountain as well as looking out the front at the view going down.

looking back up the mountain from the gondola

Partway down the mountain the gondolas passed through another station, which was also surrounded in snow. People can get out there or just stay in as it passes through.

gondolas passing over the snowline on Mt. Pilatus

Somewhere between there and the city it passed over the snowline and just like that the world was green again.

view from the gondola of a house with a giant pile of wood

Homes up there all had quite a hefty supply of wood. One had a roof pretty much covered in solar panels. Another had sheep and goats.

it would not be fun to ride in this utility gondola

We passed by a lot of gondolas going up the other cable on our way down. Most of them looked just like the one we were in, some occupied and some not. Then one odd one went by, some sort of utility gondola used for bringing supplies up the mountain.

the gondolas passed over this place that looked like a resort

Tour busses waited at the gondola station for their groups, and there was a bus stop nearby, but not for the bus back to Lucerne. Signs pointed down the hill for bus 1, which is the one that goes back to the train station. It’s a bit of a walk into the city, but eventually you get to the sign for the bus 1 bus stop. Other busses stop there too, but the ever-changing sign says which is there when one stops as well as which ones are coming and how long until they arrive.

lower gondola station

The bus did make other stops along the way, but there was a screen in the bus that said what stop it was at, as well as which ones are coming up next and the train station is huge and pretty easy to recognize when you get there. It’s one of those multi-level stations with all sorts of entrances, shopping areas, food, and multiple platforms. It also has a bus area, but for long distance busses, not the one we were on which just stopped on the road.

gondolas at Mount Pilatus

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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Crete Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

view of MSC Lirica in Heraklion from the HOHO bus

Hop On Hop Off Bus Heraklion, Greece

HOHO bus

At the cruise port in Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece, hop on hop off (or hoho) busses wait for cruise passengers near to the cruise terminal. The terminal is not where the ship docks, but the port shuttle brings passengers there from the ship because it docks in a container port and people are not allowed to walk through the port area.

sometimes the bus passes by interesting things

If you just take the hoho bus around as a tour and never get off the round trip takes about an hour. The posted signs at the stops had it coming once hourly, but during our visit they were not going by those signs and just came by every half hour or so at no specific time. When you buy the ticket you get ear phones, which you can plug into a jack by your seat and get narration in your language of choice, and they had a pretty good list of languages to choose from.

if you’re easily amused store names can be entertaining

The narration will sometimes talk about what is coming up at the next stop, sometimes tell tales of the mythology of the local area, and sometimes mention things the bus is going to drive past. When it has nothing to say it just plays music. If there’s no sound at all either the volume (which you can adjust) isn’t turned up high enough, or you got a jack that doesn’t work, which happened to us with one of the jacks for our seat on one bus. Even if you never got off the bus you would get a tour of the area and learn something about it if you listened to the narration.

random corner on the bus route

It just cost 22 euros apiece when we were there so we bought the tickets. Any of the stops where nobody wanted on or off the driver just kind of mentioned what stop it was in passing, but never actually stopped, like the first one between the port and the Venetian castle.

cat on the pathway through the marina

The Venetian castle is near where the marked path for those who choose to walk into town ends at the marina, and is the second scheduled stop for the hoho bus, though the first place where ours actually stopped.

dinosaur museum

Next it stops at a couple of museums. Some people got off at the one with the dinosaur outside. The next few stations the driver just mentioned in passing, though the recorded narration had quite a lot to say about the Jesus Gate, which is one of the gates in the Venetian walls.

Jesus gate in the Venetian wall

The Jesus Gate was more than just a gate in ancient times as the aqueduct that once supplied water to the city ran through it. A new arched gate was added in the 1970’s for cars to pass through. The original gate is a few meters west. It was restored in 2014 and now houses a permanent exhibition about the famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis. The rooms inside the gate were originally used for weapons storage and accommodations for gate guards as well as lodgings for important officials. It got the name Jesus Gate because a small church once sat in that spot.

Venetian wall

The narration also gave some history on the Venetion wall, saying that it was so sturdily built that it kept the Ottomans at bay for over 20 years before they finally broke through and conquered the city, at which time most of the people who had been living there moved to other islands.

ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos

The bus actually pulled into a parking lot and stopped at Knossos, the major archeological attraction of that area. The ruins there have several layers built atop one another with the oldest layer being an ancient city. Newer ruins were built atop the original city in an older and then newer Minoan palace, rumored to be the location of the labyrinth of the minotaur. All of it is ruins now, with some restorations done in the late 1800’s in the fashion of what people of that era thought things would have looked like before they were ruins. Some preservation has been done since to other areas as well, though more in the form of adding protective roofing, not rebuilding. You do have to buy an entrance ticket to see Knossos. There are lots of little gift shops across the street.

bakery in Heraklion

The next place of interest after Knosses is the city center, also a popular stop for people wanting to get off the bus. The bus route map shows a walking route through the city that goes by a fountain, but we just wandered aimlessly through the streets between shops.

street corner in the Heraklion city center

We got chicken skewers for lunch at a little open sided stand. It was a permanent store, but you get things at the edge of it from outside and only the people who work there can go inside. Dessert was chocolates from a little bakery, ice cream, and chocolate shop.

HOHO bus route map

If you get back on the bus from the city center it had one more stop between there and the port, but the map showed nothing of interest there so it was likely just a place for people to start their journey if they were staying in a hotel nearby.


It’s a nice walk from the port to the city center. The marked path goes along the seashore and passes along the edge of a marina.

old anchor by the marina

We did not get back on the bus after wandering around the town for a while. Instead we walked back stopping at the Venetian castle and then walking the seawall out to the lighthouse before returning to the port. We had lucked out with dry weather for most of the day, but it started to rain while we were somewhere between the marina and the cruise terminal so we were a bit wet by the time we got to the ship.

Venetian castle on the seawall

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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Sasebo, Japan Cruise Port

Sasebo, Japan

a dance group practices on the walkway along the edge of the bay

Sasebo, Japan

Sasebo is a city on Japan’s Kyushu Island. It’s most noted for Huis Ten Bosch, an amusement park modeled after a Dutch town with canals, replica buildings, windmills and flower gardens. The park also has rides including a giant ferris wheel. Giant ferris wheels are quite a popular thing around Japan. We found them in several of the ports we visited. Other popular tourist activities include visiting Kujukushima Aquarium to see its dolphins, coral reefs and jellyfish or day cruises off the coast among the forested Kujukushima Islands of Saikai National Park. Saikai Bridge to the south is a popular spot to view cherry blossoms when in season. There is also a maritime museum and a zoo and botanical park.  Sasebo is the only Japanese city which uses the symbol of a Christian church as part of its flag. The day we were there happened to be the day of an annual dance festival with performances by a variety of groups on various stages around town.

Sasebo dance festival

dance groups came from all over Japan for the festival. Some had flags in their performances.

Sasebo City suffered serious damage from bombing in WWII with about 48% of the city destroyed. The island has hosted a navy base since 1883, originated by the Japanese navy. American activity began there with the landing of Marines and takeover of some base facilities in 1945 at the end of the second world war. It was the main launching point for US and UN forces during the Korean war as well as serving as a base for supplies for both the Korean War and Desert Storm.

Buddhist temple

pathway at a Buddhist temple near the cruise dock

In addition to the navy base, the island’s economy depends on shipbuilding and heavy industry as well as pearl and oyster farms and an active fishing fleet. Pottery has been manufactured in the area for over 400 years. Sasebo is 2 hours by train from Fukuoka and an hour and a half from Nagasaki.

Sasebo wildlife

hitchhiker on the promenade deck while the Westerdam was docked in Sasebo

The climate is mild and wet with hot humid summers and cool winters. There is rainfall year round with the highest monthly averages in June and July. Winters can bring freezing temperatures and light snowfall.

cruise port in Sasebo, Japan

Sasebo cruise port

Sasebo Cruise Port

Sasebo cruise port is located in within walking distance of both bus and train stations. The city’s main tourist attractions are about a 30 minute drive from the port. The port area is well marked with signs pointing out the direction to bus and train stations as well as the dock. There is a train station within sight of the port. It’s about a 20 minute train ride to the Dutch themed Huis Ten Bosch amusement park.

Miuramachi church in Sasebo, Japan

Miuramachi Church

From the ship you can see Miuramachi Church (Church of the Sacred Heart), a nearby catholic church and the symbol of Sasebo. It’s a pretty easy walk there from the ship. This gothic style church stands high above the road passing by in front of it. A stairway zig-zags up a stone wall to reach the church from the sidewalk below. Miraculously the church survived the bombings of world war 2. It’s a short walk from the ship to the church and a pretty steep stairway up to the church from street level.

Sasebo, Japan

stage view from the church

From the walkway in front of the church we had a view of one of the dance festival’s performance stages across the street.

dance group with kids

dance group that includes kid performers

On the way back to the ship we stopped by there and watched a couple groups with kid performers in their midst. They didn’t have as fancy of outfits as some of the other groups, but they were fun to watch and the kids all did a good job in their performances.

outside of Miuramachi Church

display outside the church

The church has some displays and a small garden outside. If you walk through the churchyard and out the back side you come to another street running parallel to the waterfront, except this one is small, narrow, and the church is only about one story above ground level there.

Bhuddist temple in Sasebo, Japan

one of the buildings at the Buddhist temple

Walk about 100 yards down this street in the direction opposite the cruise pier and there’s a small alley-type road going up a hill to the right. A short walk up this road brings you to a Buddhist temple which has several buildings and outside displays.

Sasebo, Japan

dance festival performance area by the shopping mall

A walk around the wharf area provides great views of the ship and leads to Sasebo Gobangai shopping mall. There’s an area along the waterfront next to the mall on the opposite side of the wharf from the ship used as an outdoor stage during Sasebo’s annual dance festival, which as I mentioned earlier was happening on the day our Holland America Westerdam cruise stopped there. Quite a few different dance groups performed on that stage as well the outdoor stage we saw across the street from the church. There were 4 stages around the town, of which we just saw the two within easy walking distance of the ship. The one at the mall one was so close you could see it from the ship, although you’d need binoculars to really watch the performance. Between the ship and the nearest stage various groups practiced their routines so walking along the wharf meant seeing several performances at once. Free shuttles from the port brought people into the downtown area where they could find more festival performances on the other stages.

Sasebo, Japan

dance group practicing near the mall

The cruise terminal has free wifi, a bit of shopping, information and maps, and a money exchange where you can change dollars for yen or yen for dollars. They were also offering Chinese money on the day we ported there as our ship’s next port stop was in China.

Sasebo mall

shopping mall on the wharf in Sasebo, Japan

There’s lots of shopping near the port with the map they hand out indicating a couple shopping arcades and a market within a 10 or 15 minute walk in addition to the mall at the wharf and a shopping area next to the train station.

Sasebo, Japan

some of the dance groups performed with parasols – these were rehearsing near the mall

Sasebo is famous for its hamburgers. Sasebo burgers can be found in hamburger restaurants around town including in the mall on the wharf. There’s no exact specification for Sasebo burgers other than local ingredients.

catholic church in Sasebo, Japan

Miuramachi Church, the symbol of Sasebo

Excursions offered from our ship included a bus tour to and around Nagasaki, a visit to a sake brewery, a trip to a shrine and a garden, a tour of Hirado Island, or a boat cruise in a bay of 99 islands. We found plenty to see just walking around near the port. Of course being festival day definitely helped in the entertainment department.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Holland America, Japan, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Baby Shark Towel Animals

baby shark doo doo doo doo doo doo

Supplies Needed to Fold a Towel Shark

1 white hand towel

1 colored bath towel

1 colored hand towel or washcloth (optional)

decorations (eyes, teeth, other embellishments)

just a towel shark

Baby Shark Towel Folding Instructions

In the crazily popular original baby shark video on youtube, baby shark is yellow so baby shark’s main body uses a yellow towel. If you just want a shark rather than a character from the video, use whatever color towels you like. Gray is perfect for any random ordinary shark or white for a great white.

to make the underside of the shark fold a hand towel in half then roll down from the folded edge as well as in from both sides

For the underside of baby shark, fold the white hand towel in half across the short side. Roll the folded end over once, then roll in from the corners so that both sides roll as well as the folded end. Keep rolling until the towel is the right width for your shark’s underbody, then set that towel aside.

fold bath towel in half across the short side, then fold back the top end about halfway

For baby shark’s main body fold a yellow bath towel in half across the short side. Fold over the unfolded end of the top side about halfway up the towel.

with the towel turned over so the folded up edge is on the underside, roll all layers except the folded back end from the top and sides

Turn the towel over so the part you just folded is on the bottom and the unfolded end is on the top, Roll over the folded end and roll in from both sides just like with the underbody, except leave out the part that was folded over halfway up on the bottom for as long as you can. Eventually it will end up rolling with the towel as you finish rolling, but try to get as little as possible of that bit into the roll.

flip the towel over and set it on top of the white towel

Turn the colored towel over and set it over the white one, which has the rolled edges facing upward. Let the colored towel hang over the end of the white part at the tip because sharks have an underbite whether they are cartoon sharks or real ones.

pull the ends of the extra fold out of the roll and make it into top and side fins

Adjust both towels as needed, rolling either one more or unrolling a bit if necessary to make them fit for top and bottom of the shark as desired. Then pull out any bits of the half of the layer that was folded over before rolling on the colored towel that got rolled in at the end. Gather enough of that part of the towel at the center and top over the rolled bit to make the shark’s top fin and form the fin as desired. You can simply pull both sides together in a triangular form, or fold in the center of that fold as you shape it, or fold that part of the towel over once more before forming the fin. Once you have the center fin made shape the excess that hangs over on each side into the shark’s side fins. There’s no right or wrong way to make any of these fins. Notice in the photos that the top and side fins do not look the same on all of the sharks.

to make baby shark’s tail find both ends at the back of the body towel, and separate them,

Separate the back ends of the main body towel into two sides. Roll each side separately into a tail fin.

roll each side into a tail fin and then cross the longer one over the shorter as you place it on top

Odds are the two sides of the tailfin won’t come out in even lengths. Set the longer of the two on the top of the shorter one because shark tails go up and down, not side to side and the top part of their tailfin is often bigger than the bottom bit.

to make a washcloth tail fold washcloth in half diagonally, fold the point to the center of the long fold, and then fold over again. Fold the whole thing in half and then insert it into the back of the main body and either tuck the body towel ends around the tail or wrap the ends through the middle of the tail and tuck each one into the other side of the body

Alternatively you can make baby shark’s tail from a washcloth. For a washcloth tail, fold the washcloth in half diagonally, then fold the tip to the folded edge, and fold over once more. To turn it into a tail, fold the whole thing in half along the short side. Use the loose bits of towel at the back of the shark body to wrap around the middle of the tail from each side of the shark, which will both bring it all together and help hold the top part of the tail up. Tighten up the rolls as needed and re-shape the body as desired. Do final adjustments on the fins and tail.

baby shark made with same towel tail (not washcloth tail), decorated with googly eyes and felt teeth

Decorate as desired. Use googly eyes if you have them or make eyes from paper or felt if you don’t. Teeth made of white felt or paper can be added if desired. Double stick tape is great for adding embellishments to towel animals.

Adult Towel Shark Folding Instructions

Start the adult sharks the same way as baby shark with the white underside made from a hand towel and main body from a bath towel. For mommy shark use pink, daddy shark blue, grandma shark peach, and grandpa shark green.

if it’s easier for you to just roll the entire towel without the extra fold at the back and then pull out the whole bit for the top and side fins after rolling that works too.

For any of the sharks including baby if you find it easier to just make the initial fold in the bath towel and then roll the whole thing without folding part of it over to leave out of the roll you can. You just need to pull all of the part for making fins out of the roll afterword rather than part of it, but it turns out the same in the end.

hand towel tail folded the same way as the washcloth tail

To make the adult sharks bigger than baby shark, use a hand towel to make the tail. First fold the towel over about 3/4 of the way along the short side so it becomes a square. Then fold the towel diagonally. You can fold this towel tail the rest of the way the same as the washcloth option was done for baby shark if you want.

fold the hand towel over across the short side so that it becomes a square. Fold the square in half diagonally turning it into a triangle. With a finger holding down the center of the long side of the triangl, roll each end nearly to the middle.

For a sturdier tail that will stand up better put a finger at the center of the long fold of the triangle and then roll one side from that center point.

once both rolls are formed fold over the leftover bit at the middle before folding the tail in half at the center

Then roll the other side from the same point. Wrap the remaining tip from the triangle over the center of the tail at the point where you started the rolls. Place the tail with the longer side up at the back of the shark and tuck the tail into the back of the body or wrap the end of each side of the main body towel around the center of the tail to help hold the top tail fin up better.

tuck the tail into the shark body and tuck any excess body towel underneath like on mommy shark or wrap the ends of the body towel around the middle of the tail as done with daddy shark.

You can make a longer body by just tucking the tail into the open end of the body towel and tucking any excess underneath like the gray shark or make the tail fin more prominent by wrapping the excess over the center of the tail as shown on daddy shark.

mommy shark

Decorate shark as desired. For mommy shark I made black felt eyelashes around googly eyes and felt lips.

daddy shark

Daddy shark has white felt teeth. Grandpa shark has white cotton eyebrows and mustache. I did not have the right color towel for Grandma shark so I didn’t make her, but if making grandma, she needs a pair of glasses.

grandpa shark

Neither grandma nor grandpa ever show any teeth in the original video, but the other three do at least sometimes with daddy showing teeth most and mommy just at the very end.

towel sharks

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Seattle Waterfront

Seattle Skyline

Seattle skyline view from Argosy cruise

Cruise ships in Seattle dock either at pier 66 or pier 91. Most start and or end cruises there, but sometimes Seattle is just a port stop. Pier 91 is nearest the cruise parking for cruises beginning and ending there, but there are shuttles from the parking areas to both docks. From Pier 91 passengers would need transportation to get into town. Pier 66 is right in the heart of Seattle’s waterfront area. It’s walking distance to the ferries and lots of attractions like Pike Place Market, the Seattle Great Wheel, aquarium, and the Underground Tour at Pioneer Square. It’s also walking distance to numerous hotels for those who stay before or after their cruise or who come in by plane or on a road trip.

Seattle Aquarium

seals at the Seattle Aquarium

People planning to stay for a few days might want to get the Seattle Pass, which provides entry to 5 attractions for about the price of going to two of them individually. It’s available online or at some of the venues like the Aquarium or Space Needle. Besides those two you get an Argosy harbor cruise, choice of the Science Center or Chihuly glass garden, and choice of the Pop Culture Museum or Woodland Park Zoo. The Science Center, Chihuly garden, and pop museum are all at the Seattle Center along with the Space Needle. The zoo is a ways away in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood rather than on the waterfront or at the Seattle Center like the rest of the attractions on the pass.

Seattle Science Center

looking down on the Science Center from the Space Needle

When my daughter came to visit from Australia accompanied by her two kids as well as a couple friends and their kids we took a nearly car-free road trip (mostly by bus). With a total of 10 people we used cars as little as possible since it took 2 to hold everyone. After stops in Vancouver and Leavenworth we stayed a few days in Seattle at a hotel within walking distance of the waterfront so we had a chance to make good use of the Seattle pass. We walked to the waterfront every day, and could have walked to the Seattle Center as well, but it was the dead of winter and the weather wasn’t all that cooperative so we went with uber, a really handy free waterfront shuttle which has since ceased operating, or the monorail instead of taking the longer walk.

pier 57 in Seattle

Seattle’s Pier 57 Miner’s Landing and Great Wheel

A newer landmark of the Seattle waterfront, and one of the first things you see when approaching by sea, the Great Wheel is located at pier 57. This pier is also known as Miner’s Landing because that is where the first ship carrying gold from Alaska that led to the Alaska gold rush landed in 1897. Inside the building there is an old-fashioned carousel, an arcade, a gift shop, a restaurant, a food court, and a soaring motion ride called Wings Over Washington.

carousel at pier 57 Seattle

Sheri and kids on the carousel

Sheri’s friends and their kids wanted to try out the great wheel. John went with them, but having ridden it previously I chose to go inside the building and escape the pouring rain while they waited outside for their ride. Sheri and her kids joined me so we all went on the carousel while we waited for the others. The gift shop was open so we looked around there a bit, but the food court and soaring ride had already closed for the day.

Seattle Aquarium

one of many fish tanks at the Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium is right on the waterfront, near Pike Place Market. There are stairways for pedestrians between the waterfront level and the higher ground where the market sits on the other side of the street.

tearing down the viaduct

A double decker viaduct with parking underneath used to run along the waterfront between the market and aquarium, but it was old and probably not earthquake safe so the city officials went with the most expensive and least efficient solution by opting to tear the viaduct down and spend years in construction of a tunnel with less traffic capacity when there already wasn’t enough.  

Seattle Aquarium touch tank

touch tank at Seattle Aquarium

When first entering the aquarium just past a room with a whole wall as a tank there’s a room full of touch tanks with starfish and anemones and things, and an octopus tank. When it’s octopus feeding time they make a lengthy show out of it. Beyond that room a corridor and a door lead to a variety of fish including local and tropical species or sea mammals like otters and seals. Mostly people wander about looking at things at their leisure, but sometimes they have feeding times out there too.

octopus feeding time

octopus feeding time at Seattle Aquarium

They had a sea otter feeding while we were there, but in addition to the length of their talk you have to go early to get a good seat so it takes a long time. The kids got bored during the pre-feeding talk at the octopus feeding and we left before they actually got around to feeding them anything. Only some of the kids wanted to wait for the otter feeding so the rest of us took the other kids around to see other things. The ones who stayed said the otter feeding was worth seeing. The other fish tanks that we had time to see before the aquarium closed for the night and they didn’t were interesting as well.

Pike Place Market

flying fish at Pike Place Market

The walk from our hotel to the waterfront took us through Pike Place Market along the way. Being one of the area’s main attractions we stopped in one day to look around. Of course since we had visitors from not only out of the area, but out of the country with us we had to stop by the fish-throwing shop. Besides throwing a fish they also had a fake one on a string in the counter display that they would make move if someone got too close so that person would think it was alive. It scared poor little Daniel even after we showed him it wasn’t real.

pike place pig

kids on the Pike Place Market pig

Pike Place Market is one of the waterfront’s earliest attractions. It has lots of shops and market stalls selling all sorts of things. There’s a lot of arts and crafts type things, local honey and produce, flowers, t-shirts, and more. There’s more than one fish monger, but just the one throws fish. The market also has a spice shop, an area where you can get ready-to-eat food including freshly made donuts, and some shops selling antiques or other merchandise. Kids like to sit on the giant piggy bank statue for photos.

Seattle gum wall

Seattle gum wall in 2015 before the cleaning and in 2018

Post Alley at the end of Pike Street in a covered alley next to the market is the home of Seattle’s most disgusting tourist attraction – the Seattle Gum Wall. It once had 20 years accumulation of gum with gum upon gum coating the walls and oozing off windowsills, but after a cleaning in 2015 it has a much smaller accumulation now – though every day people add more to it.

giant gumball machine

kids at the giant gumball machine at Miner’s Landing

The kids all got some gum from a giant gumball machine at Miner’s Landing one day so they could add it to the gum wall on the way back to the hotel. It may not be an official tourist site, but it does show up on google maps.

one more piece of gum

one more piece of gum for the wall

The original Starbucks sits in a row of shops just outside the far end of the market from the gum wall. The tiny Starbucks is in a row of shops in an old building on a narrow cobblestone street across from Pike Place Market. There’s often quite a crowd in the small shop which sells some unique blends available only there. A plaque denoting its status as the original location sits on the end of the counter facing the door. If you look up over the door from inside the shop you see a giant coffee bean covered pig whom the counter person said was named Pork & Beans. She also said pigs are a symbol of farmer’s markets, which explains the pig statue at Pike Place.

original starbucks

coffee bean pig climbing out of a coffee sack above the door at Starbucks

The waterfront has lots of other interesting places like Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, which sells mostly useless trinkets, but has displays in the back of odd things like a two headed calf, mummified people, and shrunken heads. The shop has changed locations from where it originally was and the current store has more merchandise and less curiosities than the old one, but it’s still worth a quick visit.

curiosity shop in Seattle

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Argosy cruises has daily sailings with a narrated harbor tour along the waterfront and sometimes special sailings to other places like the Ballard Locks. The harbor tour is the one included in the Seattle Pass. On our cruise we saw seals and sea lions, several species of birds, and had porpoises swimming in our wake. Near Christmas they have the boats all decorated up for the holiday.

Argosy cruise

boarding the Argosy Cruise ship for a harbor tour

You can walk up to the booth and get tickets for the next available sailing without prior reservations, but that is on a first come first served basis so in the busy season walk-ups might want to get their tickets early. The ticket in the Seattle Pass is not a reservation for a specific time so you still need to go to the booth to reserve your spot on the boat.

cruising on Argosy

onboard the Argosy Cruise

The downtown monorail station is at Westlake Mall, which is not right at the waterfront, but not terribly far to walk. The monorail runs between downtown and the Seattle Center where it stops next to the Space Needle. Uber is also available and there are taxis and city busses too so it’s pretty easy to get around without a car. There’s light rail too for going to places farther away like the airport.

Seattle waterfront

Pier 57

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020


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Mount Pilatus Cogwheel Train

Mount Pilatus

Mount Pilatus looms large in the views over Lucerne, Switzerland. For centuries it was forbidden to climb it. Medieval legends had dragons inhabiting the mountain’s rocky crevices. From the right viewpoint the mountain appears to be shaped like a sleeping dragon. People of the middle ages also believed the lake below the mountain harbored the restless soul of Pontius Pilate who committed suicide after allowing the crucifixion of Jesus. They said his ghost came out of the lake once a year on Good Friday to wash his hands with the blood of Christ.

boat at the dock in Lucerne

Trips to the mountaintop are now a major tourist attraction with access by either cogwheel train or aerial cableway and gondolas. Tickets can be purchased in various locations for all or part of a trip up the mountain. The tourist info booth right at the train station in Lucerne sold a variety of options with their golden round trip including a boat ride and bus as well as the mountain transport.

view from the window in the boat on Lake Lucerne

We just happened to stop in there 15 minutes before the only boat of the morning was scheduled to leave so we went with a package that included the boat, train, and to get back down the gondolas. Our journey started at slip 5 at the docks next to the train station. From there the boat made a trip just shy of an hour to Alpnachstad and the lower train station.

view on the boat ride

People can also get there by bus. Bus fare was not included in our ticket, but the guest house where we stayed gave us a voucher for free bus service during our stay in Lucerne so we could have saved the boat fare and gone to the cogwheel train by bus, but we wanted to take the boat ride, which was quite scenic. We did use the bus at the end of the day to get back to town after taking the gondolas down the mountain.

table by the window and a radiator

Mountains were always in view during our transit through Lake Lucerne. Parts of the shoreline were dotted with old Swiss chalet style buildings, while some areas had a more modern (and crowded) look. At one point we could even see the cableway descending the mountain. Also a helicopter buzzing around the mountainside carrying trees down from up high and dropping them off about midway down.

view from the boat dock at Alpnachstad

The ride was quiet and peaceful. We found a table next to the window which also had a
heating panel next to it so it was a cozy spot with a great view. A lot of the tables on the ship were in restaurants, but not wanting to order anything the one we found was just in a hallway.

cogwheel train station at the bottom of the mountain

The boat docked across the highway from Alpnachstad, but there was an underground crossing so nobody had to dodge cars to get there. The railway is billed as the world’s steepest cogwheel railroad with grades up to 48%. Each car moves up the track individually, though several left the station in a row staying fairly close to one another on the way up.

when the car going down gets to the bottom it will move over to the stairway so people can get on

Mostly it’s just one track, but there was a place partway up where a second track allowed cars going opposite ways to pass by one another. The stations at the top and bottom also have two sets of tracks except at the very end where empty space allows the last bit of track to move over and bring the car from the up track to the down track or vice versa. When we got there several cars sat at the bottom waiting to load.

the bit of track at the very bottom slides over from the outside track to the inner row to move the train cars from the down side to the up side of the tracks at the station

A few more came down the hill and parked next to the ones already there in the space where there were 2 tracks rather than just one. We got into the back compartment of the car at the bottom. The top one left, the next one moved up a bit, and ours moved up behind it.

leaving the station and heading up the hill

The bit of track our car had just vacated slid sideways across the cement ground and aligned itself with the end of the track where the cars that had just come down waited. The front one of them drove down onto that bit of track and it slid back over to the boarding stairs just below our car. It filled immediately with a large tour group. The one ahead of ours had a tour group from a Viking river cruise excursion, but ours was about half empty with just other random people who went there on their own like us so we got a whole compartment to ourselves.

the train car has a steering wheel at each end – this one is empty because it is for going down and we were going up

The back window overlooked a steering area, which is where the driver sits on the way down when that end becomes the front. Our driver sat at the other end, which is the front on the way up.

looking back down the track we just went up and a view of the lake

The grade ranged from not that steep to the max of 48% over different areas of our ascent, the least we noticed being 18% for a short stretch that seemed flat compared to the rest. The train went quite a bit faster through that bit. Periodically signs next to the track gave a grade range for the next section which would say something like 18% to 30% or 40% to 47%, with most of it over 30%.

looking back to a tunnel we passed through

The train passed through a number of tunnels on the way up. Some areas were wide
open, others had rocks, trees, or railroad structures right next to the track. There was a window on either end of the compartment that those inside could crank open for photos (or perhaps for air in the summer), but a sign on the window said not to lean outside.

train tracks in the snow near the beginning of the snow line

Probably because if people weren’t paying attention and hanging any body part out in an open area they could suddenly find said body part smacking into solid rock or other objects. The bottom of the mountain was clear of snow, but eventually the train reached a high enough elevation where everything outside was covered in it, even some of the in-between portions of the track where the train doesn’t actually touch. Most of the track ran in a straight line going directly up the hill, but here and there it turned or snaked around a bit.

looking up to a bridge we were about to cross

Some portions were elevated a bit and here and there it passed over a small bridge.
After we had gone up quite a distance the train stopped next to other trains on a parallel track. These descending trains were waiting for all the ascending trains to get out of the way so they could finish their journey down the mountain. One was a regular red passenger train like ours.

yellow train at the passing zone

One was mostly open and looked to be some sort of service train intended for hauling supplies. The third was painted yellow, the only one we ever saw that color. Once the three of them left our group of 3 resumed travel up the mountain and didn’t stop again until they reached the top.

snowy mountain

The snow got deeper as we progressed up the mountain.

icicles on a rock

Sometimes we passed so close to craggy rock formations that you could reach out and touch them if you wanted to risk losing an arm trying to do so. Others were more distant and some even had icicles.

at the top there’s a stairway where the train stops

The train stopped at the top in a room that was nothing but a stairway for getting out of the train. The stairs led up to a doorway and from there you could get to the rest of the things on the mountaintop.

buildings at the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain there’s a gift shop, several places to eat, free restrooms, trails to several viewpoints, and the entrance to the aerial cableway. There’s also 2 hotels. The highest summit is Tomlishorn (2,128 m).

cogwheel trains at the passing spot

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Heraklion Cruise Port, Crete


MSC Lirica in Heraklion, Greece

Crete is Greece’s largest island. Terrain and elevations range from sandy beaches to mountains. Mt. Ida is the tallest of the White Mountain range, and the legendary birthplace of Zeus in Ideon Cave. The island’s capital, Heraklion is famous for the thousands of years old Minoan Palace of Knossos just outside the city. The city also has a 16th century fort guarding the port, and a museum with a large collection of Minoan art. Winters on Crete are generally mild with snow staying mainly in the mountains. Currency in Greece is the Euro, which is fairly close in value to the US dollar.

city view from the marina

Crete’s history extends back to the stone age with tools found there dating back at least 130,000 years. The Minoan civilization dates back to the bronze age when they built palaces and other buildings on Crete. They are considered the first European civilization. They had a powerful navy and ships sailing around the Mediteranean with merchants trading as far away as Egypt. Their civilization was destroyed by a powerful eruption of Thera (now Santorini), which was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The Minoan ruins are now one of Crete’s major tourist attractions. Following the volcanic destruction, Crete’s inhabitants developed ancient Greek influenced city-states followed by becoming part of a succession of empires from Roman to Byzantine, to Ottoman and were under the rule of the Venetian Republic in between the Byzantines and Ottomans. Following that Crete was autonomous before becoming a part of Greece.


MSC Lirica docked by shipping containers in Heraklion

Ships dock in the port of Heraklion (Iraklion) in a container port so passengers are not allowed to walk through the port after disembarking the ship. Those with cruise ship tours board their tour bus by the ship. The rest take a 5-minute free shuttle to the cruise terminal. People have to pass through the terminal before going anywhere else. Free city maps are available at the tourist office there. It has a duty free shop on the port side where people can purchase things after the security screening on their way back. There’s also a small shop on the other side of security near the exit door. Inside the building there are places to sit and use the free wifi provided there. The terminal building has restrooms and storage lockers. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the cruise terminal to old town. There are tourist attractions within a 20 minute walk from the port. Street signs are in Greek.

follow the yellow line from the port to the city

Once out of the terminal passengers can walk a short distance to a hop-on hop-off bus stand where tickets are available at a small booth and busses await. Just past the hop-on hop-off busses there’s a stop for the city bus which people can catch if they have a specific destination in mind. There’s also a walkway marked with a yellow line leading anyone who wants to travel by foot to the city center.

local area map at the port

The footpath follows along the waterfront past a marina. It ends at a city map with a you are here dot. From there you can tour the Koules Fortress – originally a Venetian sea fort -just a short distance away for a minimal entry fee, or walk into the city or on the seawall.

cats at the marina

Besides boats the marina also had cats. We saw a mother and some half grown kittens sleeping near some fishing boats. There were other cats around the marina as well as in town. Greece has lots of stray animals. Some places have dogs as well as cats.

arch in the Venetian wall

Along the way you can see part of the old Venetian walls across the street, and a couple of its tunnel-like gates. These walls were built during the time Crete was under the control of the Venetian Republic. Beyond the marked walkway on the roadway next to the sea we saw some small ruins.

parking is often scarce in Greek cities so small vehicles are popular

The town has a maze of streets and pathways winding their way through shops and eateries. There’s lots of little bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants. Anyone looking to eat local has many opportuities to find something tasty.

stores in the city center

The city center area has stores of all sorts where people can shop for pretty much anything if they look for the right store. It’s not just souvenir shops for tourists, they have pretty much everything anyone could want and things the locals need as well.

park in Heraklion

There’s also a little park. Somewhere in town there’s a fountain that shows on all the tourist maps, but we didn’t pass by it.

colorful shop

We walked past one colorful little shop that just begged to have its picture taken.


the Venetian sea fort is within walking distance of the port

Koules Fortress, an old Venetian sea fort is within walking distance of the port and can be toured for a small fee. The fortress sits at the land end of a seawall. It’s free to walk past the fort and out to the lighthouse at the far end of the seawall.

Heraklion’s main tourist attraction is the ruins at Knossos

You can get to the the area’s main attraction – the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Knossos by public bus, hop on hop off bus, or taxi. It’s about 20 minutes by bus from the port. Taxis and the hop on hop off bus pick up at the cruise terminal. The public bus stop is not far. Hop on hop off busses run about every 45 minutes. There’s 9 stops and the whole route would take about 45 minutes if you never got off the bus. Knossos is the second to last stop when starting from the port.

old building by the waterfront

Herkalion has beaches, museums, a mix of old and new architecture, Phaestos Minoan Palace, Cretaquarium (aquarium), a market, local cuisine, and boat trips. There are also caves and other villages in the region. If you walk around a bit you might come across old buildings or random ruins that aren’t listed on the tourist maps.

random ruins alongside modern buildings

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Westerdam Thermal Suite

Holland America Westerdam

Westerdam in Hakodate, Japan

Many of the large cruise ships have a thermal suite in their spa. Amenities vary from one line to another and even among ships of the same line. Some ships have spa cabins that come with use of the thermal suites as well as thermal packages for passengers to purchase separately while others just sell the thermal package. Sales are limited to whatever number the maximum is for that particular ship to prevent overcrowding. Normally the thermal suite package is for use of the facilities for the entire cruise, but some ships do sell one day passes or provide a free one day pass to people who are high in their loyalty program or staying in the more expensive suites. Whether or not the thermal suite is worth the extra cost depends on the facilities a particular ship has to offer.

Westerdam spa

loungers in the spa pool room

On the Holland America Westerdam the thermal package limit was 40 people total for the cruise. They did also have one day passes available both for sale and for 5 star passengers which is those who have reached 500 points in their loyalty system.

Westerdam spa pool

spa pool on the Westerdam

The Westerdam and her sister ships Oosterdam, Noordam, Zuiderdam, and P&O’s Arcadia all have excellent thermal facilities. There’s a fairly large mineral hydropool with jets and an ergonomically shaped sitting rack made from metal bars which sounds uncomofortable, but is actually quite nice. It also has a round bit with more extreme jets and a couple spouts so there are lots of choices of places for people to relax or find comfort for their pains.

Westerdam spa pool

spa pool has built-in stairway, fountains, and rack to sit on

Loungers set around the pool give guests a place to sit and relax and somewhere to put their things before they get into the pool. There’s a shower for before and after pool use and a button to push on the way into the pool to start the jets. Pool entrance and exit are easily done on a built-in stairway.

cruise ship spa chairs

heated ceramic chairs in the Westerdam’s thermal suite

The star attraction in the thermal suite’s other room is the heated ceramic chairs, designed by a chiropractor to set the body in a comfortable position. Even though the surface of the chair is tile rather than something soft and cushiony, they are extremely comfortable. So much so that people sometimes fall asleep in them. The chairs face floor to ceiling windows offering a view of the ocean or passing scenery for anyone relaxing there. Unfortunately one of them did not work so other than sitting on a cold bench there were just 5 available during our cruise. Sometimes we went to the spa when nobody else was there (which is how everyone prefers it), but other times it could get a bit crowded and have more people wanting ceramic benches then the room had benches available. Luckily most of the time we went when there were enough available for all the people there. There were times when people came in wanting one when they were all full, in which case we would leave if we had been the first ones in the room of the people there, and sometimes other people would do the same, unless of course everyone on the benches had all just come in themselves.

steam room on the Westerdam

steam room by the ceramic chairs

This room also has 4 tall round showers – which would only be used while wearing a bathing suit, a couple steam rooms and a sauna. One of the steam rooms is scented and the other not. People rarely used the showers so the space would have been better utilized by getting rid of one set of showers and using that space for another ceramic bench or two.

spa view

port view from the thermal suite in Japan

There are dressing rooms shared by the spa and gym which have showers where people can take a proper shower if they prefer to take one there rather than in their room, though  glass doors make those showers not entirely private. Thermal suite participants turn in their room cards in at the spa desk in trade for an access card to the thermal areas and if they want it a key to a locker in the dressing room, which contains a robe for use while they are there as well as providing a place to put their things. Spa patrons also get locker keys.

relaxing in the thermal suite

scenic view from the heated ceramic chairs

Ships normally have a spa tour on day one, which is a good way to see if the thermal suite on that particular ship is worth the extra cost. Thermal packages aren’t normally offered online to book pre-cruise, but can sometimes be done in advance with a phone call, at a bit better price than booking it onboard. I pre-booked this one, but they refunded the pre-booking onboard and billed the two cruises separately because they gave a discount on the second of our two cruises that made the total a bit less than what I’d paid ahead of time. It was nice of them to arrange it for the lower price.

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