Oceanview Balcony Cabin on Symphony of the Seas

ocean view balcony cabins line the outer edges of Symphony of the Seas

Although we have booked inside or ocean view cabins to save some money in the past, it’s usually preferable to have a cabin with a balcony. When sailing in the Covid world my sisters and I didn’t even consider a room without one. So far since cruising started back up on sailings that didn’t get cancelled people have boarded and disembarked as scheduled for most cruises. Even when a few passengers test positive during a cruise the sailings have gone on, but the future can be uncertain. If we happened to be on a ship that got quarantined and had to spend a lot of time in our cabin that little bit of outdoor space a balcony provides is the difference between the option to get some fresh air or being stuck completely inside. Hopefully cruise ship quarantines are a thing of the past as they just caused many more people to get sick back when covid first started, but you never know – especially as Covid restrictions ease and numbers of passengers on the ships increases. At the time of our sailing passengers had to provide negative tests to board, but those may have been taken before they took a flight on an airplane, stayed in a hotel, and had meals in restaurants. Then there’s the under 2 passengers who slipped through the cracks unmasked, unvaccinated, and untested that could bring anything onboard even on cruises where vaccines were required for everyone of age and tests for everyone over 2.

standard balcony on Symphony of the Seas

All that aside, it’s nice to have the balcony regardless. It gives you a bit of private outdoor space if you want to sit outside in peace, or if you just want to know what the temperature is like before getting dressed to go ashore. And the view is great too. Since there’s not a clothesline in the shower on Symphony of the Seas, it also made a bit of space to hang wet swimsuits over the chairs at least until they stopped dripping when returning from snorkeling while the ship was still in port. This was the first ship we’ve ever been on that did not have a clothesline in the shower, which even if you never do any laundry is always useful for the swimsuits. The shower did not have good places to tie a line across it either so the sort of clothesline with suction cups would have been the best for that ship.

luggage everywhere when we first got there

The room was more spacious than a standard balcony cabin on some ships, having a bed area near the balcony and a couch and desk area between there and the door. As is standard on cruise ships, the beds could be set together as one or separated into two. All the photos were taken when we first got there before the steward switched it from one bed to two so they all show it as one. The couch turned into the third bed rather than having a bunk that pulls down from the ceiling. It had two closets, one with all hanging space and the other with shelves and a small hanging space. There were also drawers in the desk. Storage space was sufficient for two people, but with three we could have used a bit more. It would have been nice if there had been a second set of shelves on the other side of the bathroom mirror rather than just on one side. If the couch had built in drawers that would have really helped for more storage without taking up extra space in the room.

A wall mounted TV sat opposite the two beds. It was surrounded by a wooden framework, which was where our swimsuits tended to end up when they were not wet enough to be dripping or anything, but still too damp to put them away.

ocean view balcony cabin

Other than the lack of storage the room was quite nice. It had outlets and USB charging ports by the desk and by one of the beds. We brought a few extras for the desk with an extender with 3 plug spaces so you get 3 for one, and a clock with 2 USB ports plugged into that so for the space of one wall plug we could plug in 3 things, and for the space of one of those 3 we had a clock plus 2 additional USB ports. Stuff like that comes in useful on cruises, especially on older ships where outlets are often scarce and USB ports may be non-existent. Even though this was a newer ship the extras were still useful since the USB ports in the bed area were in the space where you put a nightstand if the beds are together as one rather than separated into two as we had them so they weren’t convenient to use, and with 3 people there’s lots of stuff to plug in.

cabin bathroom

The bathroom had some counter space around the sink, and a shower, no tub. Only the suites have tubs on this ship. Which means the bathroom takes up a bit less of the cabin space so that’s fine. The only things we really would have changed given the option would have been to add a clothesline in the shower and 3 more shelves on the other side of the mirror.

As is usual in anything but the oldest cruise ships, the walls and doors were magnetic, which is useful if you bring magnets to keep your paperwork organized. Also if you happen to have magnetic hooks to stick to the wall and add a few more places to put things. I did not have any on that cruise, but have bought them since as they would have been very useful there.

This ship had a magnet rather than a paper sign for the door to let the steward know if you were out and about and the room was empty for cleaning or if you were in and not wanting to be bothered. I can’t remember exactly what it said, but something on the lines of sleeping off the fun and out enjoying the ship rather than do not disturb or please make-up room. Magnets are much better for this as they don’t fall off the door or get turned around accidently. I always wondered why they had paper signs for years instead of magnets until finally sailing on a ship that had them, which I think was the other time we sailed with Royal Caribbean.

balcony cabin

Overall we liked the room. Everything was in good condition and with 3 of us in the room we definitely appreciated that it was more spacious than balcony cabins on some other ships.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
Posted in Royal Caribbean, Shipboard Life, Symphony of the Seas | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Décor on Celebrity Constellation

Grand Foyer

Celebrity Constellation has some classy décor. The Grand Foyer is the central area of the ship open several decks above the stairway with balconies around it. The popular martini bar sits alongside it, and live music often plays on one of the balconies across from the stairs.

floor décor

Fancy things could sometimes be found in hallways too, joining different flooring together.

video art

Down by the shops there was a wall of video art.

glass sculpture

One alcove had a brightly colored glass sculpture. I’m not sure if it was actually supposed to represent anything or not, but it reminded me of either snakes or kelp.

there were several sculptures similar to this one

The ship also has a lot of strange artwork. Odd art objects almost seem to be a requirement for cruise ships, but this one had more than its share. Even the photos in the hallways leading to staterooms were mostly out-of-focus pictures of objects people wouldn’t normally take photos of like telephone poles and street corners.

we were told this pool-deck statue cost a fortune

When sailing on pretty much any cruise ship I often wonder who chooses the art and what they were thinking when they did. This ship was certainly no exception, with reminders around just about every corner.

alphabet man

Outside of the buffet there was a man made out of letters of the alphabet.


The solarium had a questionable statue too.

the top of the staircase had the tallest weeds

The stairways had some of the strangest art of all on the landings between sets of stairs. On the front stairway each case displayed some weeds. Mostly dandelions in different stages of blooming and plantains, but the top case had some taller weeds with just the plantains and no dandelions.

blob art

The middle stairway had what looked like glazed blobs of clay. Mostly they were just shapeless blobs, but one had some legs sticking out of it.

stairway bird and worm

The back stairway had mostly things that looked like they were made either by or for small children, other than the bottom two levels which had jars of marbles.

flower and upside down turtle-worm

Worms seemed to be a theme for several levels.


The strangest of the worm things was these earworms.

art for sale

There’s always art for sale on cruise ships. Some of it is nice, but a lot of it is things that I can’t imagine ever wanting to hang in my house.


Paintings hanging around the ship aren’t necessarily to my taste either, though some are by famous artists so I guess some people like them.

buffet display

There was some art that I liked though. There were some clever paper sculptures like this tea set in a glass case at the buffet.

paper tree picture

I liked the giant paper tree picture outside of the fancy suite restaurant too.

top deck sailboats

I also liked the metal boat sculptures found in a few places around the ship.

lower deck wall art

A lower-level hallway had a giant wall boat.

boat on a ship

Other places had boats too, though even some of those were a bit odd.

Whether it’s nice, interesting, or just plain weird it’s fun to look at the art on cruise ships.

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Zhujiajao, China’s Canal City

Zhujiajao canal boat

In the port talks on the Holland America Westerdam, the speaker mentioned Suzhou and Zhuiajiao as canal cities near Shanghai with old style Chinese architecture that are places worth going to see. We stayed in Shanghai a few days after disembarking and decided to pay a visit to Zhujiajao. It’s probably farther than we’d go on our own at a port stop when there’s limited time to get somewhere and back without getting left behind when the ship leaves port, but for pre or post cruise or if the ship overnights in Shanghai there’s plenty of time. Especially if you’re staying in Shanghai where you’re more likely to already be in town rather than having to add the time to take a shuttle from the cruise terminal into town to the travel time.

one of the temples in the Jangnan ancient city

From our hotel near the Bund we took the subway (line 2 which was green on the subway maps) from Nanjing Street to its second to last stop at Hongalao Railway Station where we changed to line 17 (brown) and rode that line to its second to last stop at Zhujiajao. From the West Nanjing Road stop it’s about an hour and 20 minutes total for both lines. The final stop for line 17 is a place called Oriental Land. The name sounds like a theme park for a place not in an Asian country, but it’s a 21 square mile park in China where people go for everything from rock climbing to aquatic activities, a global village showcasing the architecture of different countries, military exhibits, and more.

shop in the ancient village

Zhujiajao was not what I expected from the port talk on the ship or what some other former passengers we ran into at Yu Garden said. Rather than an actual functioning ancient little town out in the middle of nowhere where people live life in a quiet village along the canals, you exit the train (which is above ground rather than under at that end of the line) into a modern station next to a highway. One of the station exits is for two highways and the other a highway and a road. Not a highway seemed more likely to be the right choice, and that is the exit nearly everyone went to.

Taking a pedicab between the subway and ancient town insures you won’t get lost – and gives a local a chance to earn a little money. This one is at the ancient town.

Following the crowd we turned left when reaching the road next to the station. It ran next to a lake or river with flowers, an old bridge, and some people fishing. About a block from the station the crowd took a right turn, with most walking past the peddycabs offering tours for 150 yuan. We’d have kept going too, but one old guy said he’d take us to the ancient village for 20 yuan. He went straight down the road we’d started out on rather than following the crowd off to the right. After passing a school where some kids were doing some sort of dragon dance with a Chinese dragon of the sort seen in parades he turned to the right on a small narrow street. After a bit that street narrowed into an alleyway and he stopped and pointed to the ticket booth about 20 feet away.

shops along one of the wider streets in the Jangnan ancient town

The Jangnan Ancient Town there is a tourist attraction within a larger city, not an actual town where people live. The old buildings are mostly shops and restaurants now. It’s more of a theme park than a town since you have to pay to get in. It has more than one entrance so the crowd that went down the other street probably came in on the other side.

the boatman stands up going under a bridge, but warns passengers not to because a tall person could hit their head on some of the shorter bridges

Ticket options were for one with just the entry fee, or one that included a boat ride as well as entry to some other attractions. If you get the ticket that includes a boat ride there is only one boat dock that you can take that ride from, and it’s not a obvious one. If you want a boat ride and just buy the entry ticket you can purchase a boat ride separately at a number of much easier to find boat docks scattered throughout the ancient village. The wooden boats are poled down the canal by a boatman similar to the gondolas of Venice, but the style of the boat itself is not the same. These have a roofed area so when sitting in the front of the boat you can’t see the boatman’s head because it is above the roof and you are not.

inside the gates of a temple complex on the extra entries ticket it had a courtyard with things on display surrounded in buildings

there was a pretty elaborate display inside one of the temple buildings

If you plan to spend the day there the ticket with all the extras is good. Besides the boat ride it comes with entry to a couple temples, several art or crafts galleries and exhibitions, a Chinese pharmacy, post office, and a garden. Of course if you want to see all those things you have to find them first. They are scattered about throughout the village. The boat ride costs less with the combined ticket, but is also shorter than one purchased at one of the boat docks.

making intricate handmade giant lollipops

Most of the ancient buildings lining the sometimes quite narrow streets of the ancient village are shops. Some sell jewelry, many of which have not only pearl necklaces, but also tanks of oysters where people can try to find their own pearl. Other shops sell artwork, souvenirs, and the usual sort of trinkets found in the markets of Shanghai. A large number of the market stalls sell food. Roasted nuts and seeds are a popular thing as is meat, seafood, and sweets. There were people making handmade fancy lollipops in animal or zodiac designs there that we did not see in any of the markets we went to in other places.

restaurants with canal-view dining terraces

Besides the street type food in the markets, restaurants are an option and there are plenty to choose from. Dining near a window or on a terrace overlooking the canal is a popular thing to do. While the village has interesting old architecture, it’s not as fancy as what you can see right in Shanghai at Yu Garden (which was once a temple rather than a village) so it’s a long way to go if you are just looking for old buildings and markets. If it’s the boats, canals, and old bridges you want to see then it’s an excellent place to go.

tall covered bridge

There are a lot of bridges throughout the ancient town. Which makes sense since there are also a lot of canals. There are long bridges, short bridges, and even tall covered bridges. Some bridges are made of stone, but not all of them.

there were boat docks all around the ancient village for the rides you buy separately

We saw quite a lot of the town while hunting for the one boat dock with the pre-paid ride. We walked right by it several times without even realizing that was the dock because unless there is a boat sitting there you would never know it’s where they load them.

invisible boat dock

It’s not manned when there’s not a boat there, and just consists of a small structure on the side of the canal, not an actual dock like the ones where you buy the ride separately so it’s not very obvious that is the place to go. Once you find it the ride is fun.

long stone bridge

We didn’t use all the extra entry options on our ticket, but did go into a temple as well as the boat ride. We had lunch at one of the restaurants in the ancient town. The waitress didn’t speak English and we don’t speak any of the Chinese languages so it was pretty much point to a picture and hope for the best. She could answer standard questions that were probably more a memorized thing than an actual understanding, but had no idea what we were trying to ask when we wanted to know what the dumplings were made of – as in type of flour, not what was inside them.

family on a boat ride

Small children in China don’t wear diapers, and when they need to go the parents seem to pretty much just let them go anywhere. We saw one dad hold a little girl over the canal and throw toilet paper into the water when she was done. Then at the restaurant a mother at the next table over grabbed a garbage can for her little boy to pee in right in the middle of where people were eating even though the building next door was a bathroom. So you definitely see some things there you would never see in most countries. This was the only place we saw any of that during our stay in China, but we really didn’t see any small children in the touristy area of Shanghai where we were staying.

passing by another boat in the canal

On the subway on the way back to Shanghai when the train pulled into an empty station out in the boonies near Zhuiajiao a Chinese guy sitting across from us threw his water bottle out the door onto the empty platform when the train doors opened. You would think there would be litter everywhere with behavior like that, but these people think nothing of littering because they have people whose job it is to clean up after them like the little old man with a tiny push cart that we saw picking up garbage on the side of the road in Dalian.

canals of Zhujiajao

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Posted in China, Day Trips, Holland America, Port Cities, Port City Side Trips, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Stoddard, New Hampshire Airbnb

The morning after a very eventful day where we walked the Freedom Trail, went to an aquarium, and enjoyed a sunset sail before spending a night at a hotel in Boston, we headed toward a house on Highland Lake. We had a couple days stay there at an Airbnb in Stoddard, New Hampshire on the way to our final destination in Vermont. Stoddard is a small town in Cheshire County, with a population of just over 1300 people. Stoddard had 4 glass factories in the 1800’s, and Stoddard glass is still prized by collectors to this day. The first residents settled there in 1768 and by 1790 it was a town of just over 700 people.

front of the bnb in Stoddard

The bnb we stayed in is a 2 bedroom house that sleeps 6 on the shores of Highland Lake. Each bedroom has a double or queen bed and a single bed. In addition to the two bedrooms, the cottage also has a full kitchen, living room, bathroom, and space for a dining table.

kitchen in the Stoddard lake house

It has full sized kitchen appliances including a dishwasher and was well equipped with dishes. There were also lots of supplies including condiments, coffee & tea, spices, and some food items. It had plenty of cleaning supplies including shampoo and such for personal use. The stairway door to the basement was marked private, but check-out instructions said to take the garbage and recycling to the cans down there so apparently they didn’t expect guests to stay out of there completely, probably just not to bother the things they have stored there.

biggest bedroom

It was not specified whether the washer, dryer, and ping-pong table are intended for guest use, but there were a stack of paddles and balls near the ping-pong table, as well as soap and dryer sheets above the washer so one would assume that they are. Until they find the note on the washer saying not to use it because it leaks. Perhaps that was just a temporary thing that they have fixed by now. Or they just say that because they don’t want anyone using it. They probably need it for doing laundry between guests because they’d have to take everything by boat to wash it at their house, which sits across the lake on an island. The basement also contained a pile of sleds presumably for winter guests, some blow-up water toys, a stack of wood next to a wood stove, and kindling and newspapers presumably either for the wood stove, the outdoor fire pit, or both.

smaller bedroom

Entry upon arrival is through a door code, which was not supplied until check-in day. We were given the address in advance, but not directions and found our way by google maps. There was a dead spot along the way so we rather wished we’d gone to mapquest or a similar site and printed out directions before we came. Luckily cell service came back shortly before the turn to the dirt road leading to the cottage, which was just in time because we’d gone far enough by then to consider turning around thinking we might have missed it. The entrance could have been marked better as the house number on a tiny sign on a tree pointing to a narrow gravel driveway between 2 houses of which one had a higher number and the other lower was the only indication of where to turn in. The number is on the house itself, which is not visible from the road.

view from the back deck

A back deck with table and barbecue has excellent views of the lake, as does the kitchen and the smaller bedroom. The backyard slopes toward the water. On ground level the backyard has a firepit, picnic table, and a small dock with kayaks and a paddle boat. Life vests can be found in an enclosed bin which presumably keeps them out of the rain. Instructions in the guest book recommend not swimming at the property, but rather paddling across to a swim platform by the owner’s house across the lake, which is not too far away as the island their house sits on is directly across from the bnb. I’m sure that recommendation is for summer guests as it would have been far too cold for anyone who isn’t into polar plunges to swim during our October stay. Many of the homes on the shore of that lake had boat docks and or swimming access so it is probably fairly warm water in the summer. Near the main shore and shores of little islands dotting the lake in the area where the bnb sits have shallow water that probably warms fairly quickly in the summer – and freezes in the winter according to the guest book in the house which says the lake is popular for winter snowmobiling.

lake view and backyard

The cabin had great lake views and everything needed for a comfortable stay, but also looked like it would need some major maintenance at some point if it is to remain standing long into the future as the stairway and deck were not level, and neither was the cracked concrete floor in the basement.

one tree knows it’s fall

Fall leaves are a funny thing, some years turning as early as August and other years as late as November. At least that’s how they are where we live. I’m guessing the northeast is at least somewhat the same as October ought to be prime fall color time yet some trees were just starting to turn while others remained fully green and only the minority displayed full fall foliage. There were some evergreens too, pine trees with needles that were quite soft and thin compared to the ones on the other side of the country where we’re from.

living room

The cottage had a huge flatscreen TV in a giant cabinet that was also full of books, games, and puzzles offering lots to do should inclement weather arise. It had internet with pretty speedy wifi, but no cell service so phones only worked through the wifi.

view of the house from the lake

This home was the sort of place people could either use as a base to go do other things from or find plenty to do right there. The nearest grocery stores were over half an hour away so unless guests were planning on going out and about right after dropping off their stuff grocery shopping before going to the cabin is the best plan.

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A Visit to Saint Martin

ships in St Martin

Our original itinerary on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas had a port stop scheduled in Antigua instead of St Martin, but these days cruises that don’t get cancelled often have itinerary changes long before they actually set sail. Cancelled or not, we haven’t had a cruise booked that we didn’t get itinerary change notices for since Covid started.

beach and shops

The island of Saint Martin belongs to two different countries. The Dutch side where the cruise ships dock is Sint Maarten, and the French side Saint Martin, which is also how Americans generally spell it regardless of which part they are actually visiting. The story goes that a Dutchman and a Frenchman set out from the same point walking in opposite directions with the boundry line drawn across the island from the point they started to the place they met. Which would mean the Frenchman either moved faster or had easier terrain to cross because the French got a larger piece of the island.

people go to Maho Beach to get pictures of these large jets overhead

The big jets fly very low over Maho Beach

The Dutch got the side that eventually ended up with a cruise dock and airport though. Maho Beach next to Princess Juliana Airport is a popular spot for tourists to get up-close photos of the underside of airplanes. Cruise ships dock in the Dutch capital Philipsburg. There’s lots of shops right at the port. A water taxi takes people from the port to town, where there are more shops and restaurants and quite a nice beach. Bars too, and a casino. There’s also a taxi stand at the port for people who want to go elsewhere on the island.

garden at the port

On our last visit to Saint Martin we were the 4th of 4 ships at the dock. This time we were the third of 3. Docked alongside Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas and across from Carnival Magic. We’d been traveling along near the Magic for quite some time, probably since leaving Miami as there were two Carnival ships in port that day. I’ve been on the Magic before out of Port Canaveral, but not on Rhapsody.

ships at the dock

Rhapsody looked large at the dock until the Magic pulled in, but once Symphony got there it towered over the Magic as well. Rhapsody had gotten there long before the other two. It was not yet in use and had docked there when all the ships stopped sailing due to Covid and had to find somewhere to go. Which explained its derelict appearance and desperate need of a paint job where the ship’s name was slowly vanishing off the stern. When in use any little scratch gets painted over at the very next port stop and they’d never let part of the name peel away.

at the port

Saint Martin has changed since we were last there, which was not only pre-Covid, but also some years before that. Although the buildings at the port seemed to be in decent condition, it kind of had the air of a place that hadn’t been used much recently, and some places were not yet open.

street in Philipsburg

In town parts of Phillipsburg looked a bit run down during our visit. It had some severe damage in 2017’s hurricane Irma and not everything had been repaired yet. Not to mention the loss in tourist dollars due to Covid. With ships not sailing for so long a lot of places went out of business. They do depend on tourism as a main source of income for the island. Parts of the town looked rather sad and neglected, but with ships sailing again now perhaps they will be able to get things fixed up and new tenants for the empty stores.

shopping booth on the street

Not all the shops are in buildings. Some are outdoor booths. With all the vacancies, it’s not for lack of building space, so maybe they just can’t afford the rent.

water taxi dock in Phillipsburg

We came to town on a sunny day, which is normally a nice thing on a Caribbean cruise, but for me on this particular trip not so much. I took a trip to Vermont a couple weeks prior to the cruise, went hiking up a mountain, and came back with a tick of the black-legged sort (deer tick) that can carry Lyme’s Disease. Taking doxycycline for about 3 weeks to prevent that is pretty standard treatment (so we were told), but doxycycline makes people extremely sensitive to the sun, so not the best thing for a Caribbean cruise. I got a full-body UV swimming suit so I could still go snorkeling this trip, but that was the plan for other ports rather than this one.

port stop in Philipsburg, St Maarten

Besides a good slathering of sunscreen (of the mineral type which besides being more effective is also reef safe), I wore a long skirt and the sort of sweater with a loose weave so it’s not too hot for a lot more skin coverage than the weather would have called for. I thought the skirt would shade my feet so I wore sandles, but even though I stayed in the shade whenever there was any available and didn’t stay out very long my feet did get a touch of sunburn.


on the watertaxi

We had no plans for this port so after wandering the port area for a bit we took the water taxi to town. The fleet of yellow boats I remember from the past no longer existed. There was a large catamaran that looked to be sponsored by Diamonds International, and a smaller black boat that far more closely resembled the old yellow fleet. That was all for that day at least.

a street in Philipsburg

We wandered about town for awhile and the sisters did some shopping. A lot of the places that didn’t survive the shutdown while cruise ships were absent had for rent signs in their windows. Most buildings seemed intact, but some definitely appeared worse for the wear. A sign at the water taxi dock said build back better so apparently there are plans in the works to spruce up the town now that the tourists are back.

hot dogs

Here and there people who looked like they might be police or some sort of security had working dogs out in the sun. Then we saw one with several dogs taking a break in the shade.

tourist train

A little tourist train slunk by on the cobblestone road – only for passengers who had booked the ride onboard. Other excursions the ship offered included snorkeling and airplane spotting at Maho Beach. We didn’t go to the taxi stand to see what sort of places they take people to now and if it is anywhere besides Maho Beach. On a previous visit we’d tried unsuccessfully to take a taxi out to a zipline course in the French area, but none of the drivers wanted to go there that time. In town we had a couple offers for island tours from locals, but my sisters weren’t interested so we didn’t take them up on it.

view of the cruise port from the ship

After leaving St Maarten the Magic once again sailed nearby as our ship moved along toward the next port. We saw them there, but not at the same dock. We did not expect to see them at the last port since our last scheduled stop was Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. Carnival has their own island there.

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Posted in Caribbean, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean, Symphony of the Seas | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Curacao Van Tour

Constellation in Curacao

Curacao is the C of the ABC islands, with Aruba as A and Bonaire as B. We visited all three on our cruise on Celebrity Constellation, starting with Curacao. All three islands once belonged to the Netherlands. Curacao and Aruba are independent now, though they are considered as autonomous countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands while Bonaire is still considered a part of the Netherlands.

cave rock formations

inside Hato Caves

One of the biggest tourist attractions on Curacao is Hato Caves, which we saw on our previous visit there. Ships dock in Willemstad, the capital city of the island. Willemstad has many historic and colorful buildings made from coral. It’s a short walk from the cruise ship dock into town, though there is a trolley for people who would rather not walk. A nearby historic fort has been turned into a shopping area with many small shops.

stuff for sale at the cruise dock

We had no prior plans for Curacao so we just got off the ship to see what was there. Just off the dock there were some tents set up with things for sale. Right past that a few vans waited to take people out for taxi tours. Prior to Covid that sort of tour usually sat there until they filled the van, but this time they charged according to how many people you had in your group and just went with those rather than waiting for more to come. There was a group of 4 already talking to them looking for a better price, so we joined in with them and got the 6-person price of $30 each. Not bad since the pre-covid full van price was often $20 each for those sorts of tours.

Queen Juliana Bridge

First we went up to the big tall car bridge that towers over the river through Willemstad. It’s called Koningin Julianabrug (Queen Juliana Bridge) and crosses over Sint Anna Bay. Just before crossing the bridge our driver stopped and let everyone out for a photo op.

view from the bridge

On one side of the bridge we could see a view of the city with the ship in the background. On the other a large oil refinery, which was not in use at the time as they were unable to get any crude oil from Venezuela to refine there and had to import already refined fuel instead.

display in the Cholobolo factory

Our next stop was the Chobolobo factory where the blue Curacao liqueur is made. It is made mainly from orange peels. Long ago inhabitants tried to grow oranges there, but they were no good for eating because of poor soil and growing conditions, so they use them to make the liqueur instead.

display of different flavors and colors of Curacao liqueur in a gift shop at the Cholobolo factory

The original Curacao comes in a variety of colors and clear as well as blue, and they had several flavored ones also. Flavors they had out for tasting were the original blue, tamarind, and chocolate, of which I liked the tamarind best. John preferred the original at the time, but we bought a bottle of the tamarind and he later decided that flavor was awesome.

swing chair at Mambo Beach

Then we went to Mambo Beach, apparently the most popular beach on the island. It reminded me of a cruise ship port. There were lots and lots of shops to pass through before getting to any actual beach. It was a nice beach with lots of beach chairs, and also lots of people so not so good for quiet and seclusion. It had a breakwater protecting the swimming area from any rough waves. Driving out from the beach it looked like there was a trail along the beach to less populated areas of it.

flowers in Willemstad

Our drive took us through both poor and wealthy neighborhoods. While the buildings varied in size and upkeep, rich or poor none of them had much in the way of yards.

street in Willemstad

After stopping in the main part of town we were given the option to wander about for 20 minutes and then have a ride back to the ship, or just get out there and walk back when we felt like it. John and I opted to stay in town for awhile and walk back on our own, while the other 4 wanted the ride back.

love locks on giant hearts by the pontoon bridge

We walked around through the shops a bit and he bought a pink flamingo Christmas tree ornament. We didn’t get a ship model ornament this cruise since the Constellation’s gift shop didn’t have any, but we ended up with the flamingo ornament instead. There were 3 giant hearts next to the foot bridge where people could hang love locks, probably to keep people from hanging thousands of locks on the bridge and weighing it down.

produce stands in Willemstad where the floating market used to be

The little boats full of produce that made up the floating market from Venezuela were not there like they had been on our last visit. Our van driver said they don’t come there anymore. She did not say if that is due to covid or political turmoil in Venezuela. There were some stalls along the smaller river near to where it joins into the main one where the little boats used to be, but the stalls were all on land with no boats floating behind them on the river like the little boats at that market did before. Most stalls had either crafts or produce so people still managed to find produce somewhere.

view of the little shopping booths from the pontoon bridge

There were also stalls full of things for tourists to buy next to the main river near the bridge, but those had been there on our previous visit as well so were not there in place of the floating market. These mainly had souvenir stuff like clothes and knick-knacks.

the bridge sails open on its many pontoons to let a boat pass through

The pontoons under the foot bridge look like little boats. When a boat came that wanted to go to the other side, the bridge sort of sailed open on its little pontoon boats just wide enough to let the boat through and then back.

view of Queen Emma pontoon bridge while walking across it

In the daytime the bridge has white hoops over it, but at night those hoops light up in ever changing colors. The pontoon bridge is called Queen Emma Bridge. For the people on land, bridges are the one thing that are closed when open and open when closed.

Rif Fort

On the way back to the cruise ship dock people pass through the Renaissance Mall & Rif Fort. The one-time fort turned shopping mall still had quite a few Christmas decorations up in various places. Items in the shops were significantly more expensive than things at our prior port in Mexico. Odds are these were mainly imported while the ones in Mexico are mostly made there. Importing things has gotten quite expensive, driving up prices everywhere.

view from the ship

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
Posted in Caribbean, Celebrity, Constellation, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Gluten Free Blueberry Tarts

These gluten free blueberry tarts are tasty enough to serve to people who aren’t gluten free. They’re not super sweet though so if you prefer sweeter desserts you might want to add extra sugar.

Blueberry Tarts

Gluten Free Blueberry Tarts

Tart Shells


1 egg
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups almond flour
¾ cup millet flour


In small mixing bowl whisk egg until thoroughly blended and light in color. Whisk in vanilla and melted coconut oil, whisking constantly so oil does not cook egg. Whisk in brown sugar. Stir in dry ingredients. Line a cupcake pan with cupcake papers. Press dough onto bottom and sides of each paper. The dough will rise as it cooks so press your dough to about half the thickness you want the tart shell to be. If you omit the baking powder you can leave the dough a bit thicker. If the dough starts sticking to your fingers more than to the cupcake papers either wash your hands or dip your fingers into sugar or flour. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 7-9 minutes. Make filling while the shells bake. Makes 12 tart shells in a standard size cupcake pan. If the tart shells have puffy spots after baking press them down while they are fresh and hot right out of the oven.



2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
½ tablespoon butter (for dairy free use non-dairy butter substitute)
2 1/4 cups blueberries (I used frozen ones)


Whisk cornstarch into water and lemon juice until thoroughly blended, Whisk in brown sugar. Add butter and blueberries. Cook on medium to medium high until it boils and thickens, stirring often. Spoon filling into baked tart shells. Serve warm or cold. Refrigerate leftovers in sealed container.

For a 4th of July red, white, and blueberry treat top with whipped cream or meringue and add either a cherry or strawberry just before serving.

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Dubai Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Dubai


Dubai is the largest and most populous city in the UAE (United Arab Emirates). UAE is one of the world’s richer countries. Their economy relies largely on trade, tourism, aviation, financial services, and real estate, with oil contributing a small percentage. It’s the home of the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa standing 2717 feet tall with an observation deck at 555 meters high.

Burj Khalifa

Dubai sits on the Persian Gulf at an elevation not much above sea level, surrounded by sandy desert. It has a hot desert climate with annual rainfall of just over 4 inches. Dubai is in a monarchy and the crime rate is very low. Things that are commonplace in western countries like PDA (public displays of affection) are basically not allowed in this Islamic country. Currency is the UAE Dirham. 1 USD is equal to over 3 ½ UAE Dirham. Dubai’s workers mainly come from foreign countries, and make up the majority of the population. Natives to the country living in Dubai tend to be independently wealthy.

Mercato Mall decorated for Christmas

It’s funny how in some places in the USA people won’t put up Christmas decorations for fear of offending non-Christians, yet in Dubai, which is a Muslim country, in December the touristy places are all decorated up for Christmas. Women wearing abayas and hijabs or niquibs shopped happily among the Christmas decorations at all the malls and souks without looking the least bit offended.

Abayas for sale

Abayas are the traditional dress or robe-like usually black outerwear worn by women of the region. Hijabs are their headscarves, and niqabs the face-covering veil some of them wear leaving only the eyes exposed. Often in the groups of women we saw who were together some had the just the hijab while others wore the niqab as well, even among wives of the same man. We went to Global Village one day. There were lots of little food shacks there, which kind of brings up the question of how the ladies wearing the niqab get anything to eat when they are out and about. Women in the gulf region do not generally wear burkas, which cover everything including a mesh screen over the eyes.

people in traditional clothing at Global Village

The men’s traditional clothing is a usually white robe called a dishdasha, kandura, thawb or thobe and a headress called a keffiyeh or shemagh. It is a traditional square cotton scarf, often held in place with a double row of black cord called agal, also spelled iqal, egal or igal. We took a van tour at one of our port stops and the driver had a white robe on so I asked him why the men wear white and the women wear black, but he just said tradition. In a hot desert country wearing black would make people even hotter since black absorbs heat, but it must be pretty hard to keep all that white clean so I’m not sure which would be better. Personally I wear black a lot more often than white, but I also live in a place that hardly ever gets hot.

view from the Lirica at the Dubai cruise port


Dubai’s cruise terminal is located at Port Rashid, about 15k from the airport. It has a coffee bar and deli, business center with free wifi, currency exchange, ATM, and a concierge who can set up day tours. Free shuttles leave on the hour to Mercato Mall. Taxis are available. There is a surcharge on all taxis leaving the cruise terminal or airport which will add an extra $5+ to the fare (about $15 to the airport or $10 to town). You can avoid paying that fee by taking the free mall shuttle to town and catching a taxi there. Our ship, the MSC Lirica, overnighted there. We found it cheaper to take an Uber than to use the taxis. The brownish beige taxis cost less than the black ones, but with Uber we got the black car for even less.

terminal building at the port in Dubai

Online info said there is a 24 hour help desk with free maps and advice, a post office, shops and mini mart, outlets for aerial and coach tour operators, help desks for shopping malls that offer free shuttles (Mercato Mall, AL Guhrir City, Dubai Outler Mall, and Burjaman which is the closest one to a metro station).

inside the cruise terminal building in Dubai

Most of that was not open during our visit. The only mall help desk was for Mercato mall, which was also the only one with a shuttle running. The information desk was open, but not very helpful. Walking from the terminal is not allowed and the terminal is not close to town. The HOHO busses were there, but quite pricey because Dubai is huge and the hop on hop off bus has 3 long routes with connecting points to cover it all.

information desk in the Dubai cruise terminal

MSC Lirica docked at terminal 2 at the cruise port in Dubai. It’s a large port with 3 terminals. A ship from Azamara and a German ship docked nearby. Across the harbor we could see the Queen Elizabeth 2 which is a permanent fixture at that port, now used as a hotel.

shuttle to Mercato Mall

As you disembark the ship you are given a port entry card, much like the ports in Oman. As in the ports there, nobody ever asked to see it. Security screens your bags as you leave the port building.

Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis Hotel in Dubai


Dubai’s most well-known attraction is the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa) & Dubai fountain, which is next to the Burj Khalifa. Fountain shows last 5 minutes and run every half hour from 6-11pm. There’s lots more to do in Dubai including indoor skiing, ice skating rink, malls, gold and spice souks, water sports, museums, golf, desert safaris, dhow cruises, beaches, old town area (Bastakiya quarter),Global Village, Burj al Arab hotel, boat ride on Dubai Creek, Jumeirah Mosque (must cover up to enter, clothing provided), Wild Wadi Waterpark, Dubai Miracle Garden, Palm Jumeirah palm shaped manmade island, Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis Hotel, Dubai Marina, x-line world’s longest urban zipline, Al Fahidi historical neighborhood, Dubai Canal, indoor theme park, other theme parks, city walk, and Dubai Frame with panoramic city views and a clear glass bridge between buildings.

sailing into Dubai

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022


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Shanghai River Cruise

the Bund in Shanghai

After disembarking Holland America Westerdam in Shanghai, we stayed in a hotel near the Bund for a few days to have some time to see the city. The word bund means an embankment or an embanked quay. That definition fits this raised walkway along the western bank of Shanghai’s Huangpu River next to the part of Zhongshan Road running through the former Shanghai International Settlement.

Historic western style buildings and waterfalls light up the Bund at night

On the Bund side of the river there are western-style historical buildings along the street below the raised bund area, which light up in white lights at night. Little waterfalls cascaded down the edge of the Bund into the river, lit with lights in ever-changing colors. This could not be seen from the Bund above, but can be seen from the river boats or from the other side of the river.

the Pudong area comes to life in the evening with buildings turning into lightshows

Across the river the more modern Pudong district has lots of skyscrapers, including Shanghai’s tallest buildings and the Oriental Pearl Tower, whose unique design is a landmark of the area. Buildings on that side of the river light up in all sorts of colors and patterns, some of which change frequently throughout the evening including the lights on the Oriental Pearl Tower.

daytime river view from Shanghai Tower through Shanghai’s smog

We went up the Shanghai Tower, which is the tallest building in China and the second tallest finished building in the world. It will soon be third when the Merdeka 118 in Malaysia is completed. That one is taller than the Shanghai Tower, but not as tall as Dubai’s Burj Kalifa. Besides all the various sorts of boats passing by in the river below, a row of them lined the dock on the other side of the river. In the daytime the river mainly belongs to working boats hauling cargo.

looking down on Pudong from the Shanghai Tower, and across the river to the Bund

We went up the tower late enough in the afternoon to stick around  long enough to wait for night views. From there you can see a lot of the city, including Pudong and the Bund at the same time. Of course you also get a great view of the river.

view of the river cruise boats from Shanghai Tower

Once it got dark that fleet of boats at the dock lit up like Christmas trees and  began to sail. Watching these boats from the tower, we thought it would be fun to take a ride on one. Tours begin at Shiliupu Pier just south of the Bund area, or the Pearl of the Orient Cruise Ship Terminal in Pudong.

one of the river cruise boats

In the evening after dark the river comes alive with these brightly lit boats taking people out for nightime river cruises. Mostly they’re just sightseeing cruises to look at the light shows on the buildings at the Bund and in Pudong, but dinner cruises are an option too.  We took the standard evening cruise, which lasted about 50 minutes. The ships sail through the Bund and Pudong before turning around to go back the other way and returning to the dock.

lots of boats cruise the river at night

Tickets are available right along the bund in ticket shops along the road next to the bund in buildings under the bund’s raised walkway. You can buy tickets there for a specific sailing or book ahead of time online. We bought ours same day for a sailing that evening.

river cruise pier from the water side

When the time came we had to find the right place along the bund for entrance to the pier, which was not in the same place as the shop where we bought the tickets. Our hotel was near the Bund so we just walked there, but there are cruises available online that include transportation from some of Shanghai’s hotels. There was quite a line of people for our sailing, but we got there early enough to be fairly close to the front of the line. Where we bought the ticket you didn’t get to choose which boat you went on, it was just whatever one happened to be boarding for that sailing. Most of the ones that left from that dock looked somewhat similar, at least the ones that were there at the time.

purple pirate ship

We saw one both from the tower and on the river that looked like a big purple pirate ship, but never saw what dock that one came and went from. Different boats had different colors of lights. Other boats would come down the river from somewhere else passing by those just cruising the local area. Some of those had some quite fancy decorations.

dragon boat

While we were out on the water a slightly larger than average boat went by decorated with dragons.

the cruise went up to a bridge before turning around

Our cruise went along the river with great views of both the Bund and Pudong sides. It went a bit farther up the river where there were some other lighted buildings we didn’t really see from the main Bund area before it turned around near a bridge and headed back toward the dock. People could sit inside the boat and look out the windows or go up on deck outside. It was a warm enough evening that most people went outside on the deck where views and photos are better than through windows in the boat, though sometimes it did get a bit crowded where finding clear unblocked space to take a photo could be a challenge.

river boats cruising by the Bund

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Posted in China, Holland America, Port Cities, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Public Spaces on Symphony of the Seas

view of Central Park from the pool deck

Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas is a huge cruise ship. Until the recent launch of its slightly larger sister ship Wonder of the Seas it was the biggest one in the world. When you have such an enormous ship carrying thousands of passengers you need places for them to go and things for them to do – and enough different spaces that everyone isn’t in the same place at the same time. The ship has 7 different areas that they call neighborhoods. These are boardwalk, pool and sports zone, central park, royal promenade, entertainment place, youth zone, and vitality spa and fitness. Other than some adults only spaces and the youth zone – which is just for kids of specific ages in their particular areas, the rest of the neighborhoods are public spaces for all passengers.

the giant slides end in the white cage on the boardwalk

The pool and sports zone has pools, hot tubs, waterslides, flowriders, and a kids splash park. The adults-only solarium is also included in the pool zone. Entertainment place is on deck 4 with the ice area, theater, and a comedy club and jazz club. The gym has a variety of fitness equipment available for passengers to use, and if you want to pay their prices there’s lots of treatments available at the spa. The youth zone has laser tag as well as their kid’s club spaces and an arcade. The other three – Central Park, Royal Promenade, and the Boardwalk are the main focus of this blog.

bar and arcade on the boardwalk


The Boardwalk area is an open space at the back of the ship on deck 6. It is open to the sky and to the stern, other than the AquaTheater, which sits at the back end of the boardwalk blocking most of the view out the back. The show at the AquaTheater is quite impressive and definitely worth seeing. At the other end people enter the boardwalk area as they exit the interior of the ship through big glass doors.

carousel horse statues at the entrance to the boardwalk

Walking into the boardwalk you pass by a row of carousel horse statues in different stages of development with the first depicting a partly carved wooden horse and the last one completely finished and painted. Beyond that is an actual carousel, which is free to ride during the hours that it is open. Some of the carousel animals are exotics, but most are horses.

carousel on a cruise ship

In between the boardwalk has some open space in the middle, with shops and eateries around the edges. Rising up above on both sides you see the balconies of what would otherwise be interior rooms reaching up to deck 14. Near the back, just in front of the AquaTheater sits the exit to the 10-deck Ultimate Abyss slides. These are not waterslides. You slide down them on a mat which you get at the top and leave at the bottom. Eateries on the boardwalk include a hot dog stand and a burger joint. The Dog House is free, but there is a cover charge at Johnny Rockets, except at breakfast.

rock climbing walls and slides

Stretching all along one side, Playmakers has a bar at the far end and an arcade by the carousel. That is not the only arcade on the ship, there’s a bigger one up on deck fifteen near the teen hangout. On the other side between the burgers and hotdogs there’s a candy shop and a little shop that mostly had clothes. A rock-climbing wall extends up the back on both sides with access on deck 7. You can zipline over the boardwalk from deck 16 to deck 15.

Central Park


Central Park is another outdoor area on the interior of the ship located (not surprisingly) at the center of the ship. Though all of the sides of the park are enclosed, the top is open to the sky. This area too has balconies of cabins that would otherwise be interior. Central Park is quieter at night than the boardwalk, something people might want to consider when booking one of those cabins. It is on deck 8, with balcony cabins above from decks 10-14 and central park view rooms with bowed windows on deck 9.

tables in the park

The center of the park has pathways winding through gardens. The plants in the gardens are actual living plants. Sometimes at port stops birds or butterflies came into the garden area, but they were never there while at sea. Whether they left on their own or it was somebody’s job to get them out so as not to transport non-native species to other ports I have no clue.

little bar in the park

Around the edges bars and eateries occupy the space below the cabins that rise above the garden area. Three of the ship’s premium (pay extra) restaurants sit around the edges of the park, along with a free cafe, a wine bar, and a very tiny bar. Besides the gardens and paths in the central area, there’s also an enclosed glass area with a door that sometimes goes nowhere and sometimes leads to the Rising Tide Bar when it is at its top point. The Rising Tide travels upward from the Royal Promenade and back down, spending some time on each level when it is open.

garden path


The Royal Promenade takes up the central area of deck 5. Besides the Rising Tide Bar that mostly sits there, but sometimes goes up to Central Park, it has several other bars, some eateries, and most of the ship’s shops. Guest services is also in that area. While most of the bars on the ship have human bartenders, the Bionic Bar in the Royal Promenade has a pair of robots making the drinks. Both the pizza place and cafe on this level are complimentary – as in you don’t have to pay extra for the food there. The bars of course cost extra.

Royal Promenade

There’s quite a variety of shops to choose from. All the usual cruise ship shops selling clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, a variety of logo products, bottles of alcohol, perfume, candy, and a bunch of other stuff. There’s a small section of sundries for people who forgot things like toothpaste or other little necessities.

Royal Promenade

The Royal Promenade area is fully indoors, though the center is open for a few decks up. Deck 6 has some public areas around the edges above the promenade with a bar, the photo shop, and shore excursion desk just a stairway away. A few cabins on Deck 7 have windows with views overlooking the promenade.

finally a photographer willing to try different poses

For those who buy photo packages, or who just like to get their photos taken so they can see what they look like even if they don’t buy them, there were always several different photo stations set up around the Royal Promenade in the evenings. Each had different backdrops, some a picture on a screen and others a natural feature of the ship. Most of the photographers wouldn’t deviate from 4 standard poses (looking forward. group hug, hands on hips, facing toward or away from each other), but on the last night we found one that would.

Rising Tide Bar on the Royal Promenade

The photo shop on deck 6 has lots of screens where people can access their photos and choose the ones they want, which could be purchased digitally or as prints on our cruise. Their preferred method of delivering digital photos is through email, but I recommend asking for a flash drive because the quality of the photos is better. I don’t know if this happens often, but the email they sent me had less than half of our total photos so if we had not gotten the flash drive which had them all we’d have been missing quite a lot.

track at the stern on the promenade deck

It may not be part of the Royal Promenade, but this ship does have an outside promenade deck running around the entire ship on deck 5. It’s not just any ordinary promenade deck either, this one is set up like a running/walking track and surfaced as such. It’s behind the lifeboats on the sides and runs through a sheltered tunnel at the bow, so other than the open stern views are just what you see between lifeboats, but the track is pretty awesome. It also has an activity area on each side of the ship, one with a ping-pong table and the other with shuffleboard. There’s a few chairs at the stern where you can sit and watch the wake, and windows for a backside view into the AquaTheater. There’s definitely more variety of places to go on Symphony of the Seas than what you find on the average cruise ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
Posted in Royal Caribbean, Shipboard Life, Symphony of the Seas | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments