Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau

boardwalk from Princess dock to town

boardwalk by Ruby Princess in Juneau

Ruby Princess arrived in Juneau at lunchtime after an early morning glacier watching cruise through Endicott Arm as a substitute for nearby Tracy Arm, the entry to which had been blocked by ice bergs. Lunchtime is not the best time for a cruise ship to arrive in port. The ship was a madhouse of passengers eager to disembark. The line to the gangway snaked all the way from one end of the ship to the other and back again before the ropes even secured the ship to the dock, long before the door opened to let anyone out.

glacier viewing center

Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center

My sisters and I decided that rather than stand in that very long line for ages getting more frustrated by the minute we would go up to the Lido buffet and take a lunch break, after which the line to the exit would not be nearly so long. So instead of standing around griping about lines for the next half hour or so we relaxed with a good lunch and then walked right off the ship just behind the tail end of that formerly long line without having to wait. We probably got off fairly close to the same time we would have anyway, but with our time much better spent.

Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center

trail from the visitor’s center to the waterfall

Princess has their own dock in Juneau now, new since last I was there. It’s just a short way down a boardwalk from where the Holland America ships dock near the Mount Roberts tram station at the center of the touristy area of town. Instead of the expected people with signs for last minute tours we had seen on our last visit, there were booths next to the tram building. Several different companies have busses out to Mendenhall glacier among other excursions they offer. You have to buy a round trip ticket at the booth because they aren’t allowed to sell them out by the glacier which means you have to return with the same bus company you go there with. The city bus costs less, but its closest stop is over a mile away from the visitor’s center so saving money over what the busses directly to the glacier cost involves a long walk.

trail view of Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

From either the ship or the booths, the activity that gets people closest to the face of the glacier is a canoe excursion on Mendenhall Lake. On our cruise it would have been about $30 cheaper to book the canoe last minute on the dock, but not everyone wanted to spend that much money so we just went with the bus to the glacier visitor’s center. From there you can hike a trail out to Nugget Falls and to a closer view of the glacier – which gets slightly farther away each year as the glacier recedes. The glacier views both from the visitor’s center and the trail are still good for now though.

Nugget Falls

Nugget Falls near Mendenhall Glacier

The visitor’s center restroom down at the trailhead has something I’ve never seen before – a sink with a faucet that both washes and dries. We hiked out to the falls, which is the closest to the glacier you can get without taking the canoe excursion or some sort of helicopter excursion that puts you on top the glacier. I’ve always wanted to do the one that takes you dogsledding for real out on a snowy glacier, but since it takes a helicopter to get there that excursion is just way too expensive for me. The ships do offer a wheeled dogsled on trails for a price I’d pay for a real dog sled on snow, but more than I’d pay for what it is.

sink faucet has wash and dry settings

you can dry your hands when you finish washing without ever leaving the sink

On the way back we took a side trip down another trail which went past a large hole in a rock with a sign that said the waterfall had dug that hole back in the days when it came straight out of the face of the glacier on that spot. Farther back in history than that Mendenhall Lake did not exist. The entire area that is now lake was once underneath the glacier. Back then people drove right up to it. Probably not the safest thing to do should they be standing next to it when a piece broke off. Pieces do break off and dot the lake with little ice bergs. I suppose the canoes have to watch out for that.

river near Mendenhall Glacier

river by the trail

We were there on a warm day, but it still got cold out by the glacier. The visitor’s center has several displays, a gift shop, and a 15 minute movie. They also had a TV which showed the recession of the glacier over the last 10 or so years. I don’t remember the exact number. The visitor’s center also has several glacier viewpoints in and near the center as well as the viewpoints on the trail. The trail out to the waterfall is the most used trail there, but it does have other trails available for anyone who wishes to hike them. The trail out to the falls is mostly level and wide enough people on scooters had no trouble getting out to the falls. We saw several scooters there.

bergy bit at glacier

a small ice berg floats by Mendenhall Glacier

You can take excursions from the ship that stop at the glacier visitor’s center, but besides costing more you don’t get as much time to spend there because they will go somewhere else as well. We stopped by on a previous visit after a tour of the lovely Glacier Gardens and had to choose between a brief trek to the falls or going inside the center.

Other Juneau Blogs:

Mount Roberts Tram

Mount Roberts Tram on a stormy day

Glacier Gardens

River Raft Excursion

Mendenhall Glacier

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Alaska, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Princess, Ruby Princess | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Swimming With Horses For Real

cruise ship in port

Breeze in Montego Bay Jamaica

While looking online for something to do when Carnival Breeze stopped in Montego Bay, Jamaica, I came across a horse ride and swim at Half Moon Equestrian Center. This is the stable at Jamaica’s biggest and oldest resort. Half Moon Resort is a beautiful place residing behind massive iron gates. Several months prior to my cruise I contacted them by email, wanting to make sure these horses would truly swim. I tried a cruise line horse swimming excursion once at Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas and the horses just trotted through the water instead of the promised swim. While the name sounds similar, the ride is not. Trina the stable manager assured me these horses go out in water 20 or more feet deep where they do indeed swim for real. I reserved a ride for the date our ship came to Jamaica, reconfirming before we set sail. We had to get to the stable on our own and they would return us to the ship from there.

very nice stable

Half Moon Equestrian Center at Half Moon Resort – Montego Bay, Jamaica

The stable sits just 11 miles from the cruise port so we expected to take a taxi for around $20 or so. We felt quite shocked at the port’s taxi line when they said the taxi cost $70. That was considerably more than we had ever imagined. Because Carnival stayed on Miami time, which is an hour ahead of Jamaica time, we had a bit of time to spare before our scheduled ride time so we waited around a bit in hopes someone else wanted to go to that area in a shared taxi, but no-one came by who did. One taxi driver said to go over to a nearby bus as they may be able to take us for less. The bus said they were going right by there and could take us for $20 each so we got on. If we had not had much time to spare before we were due at the stable for the ride we would have had to take the taxi, but since we still had over an hour to get there for our 10:00am ride the bus worked.

horseback riding in Jamaica

John on Romeo in the arena. The thing in his hand is a video camera on a pole, not a whip.

The bus went a short distance, then stopped while the guide tried to talk the majority of people who had got on for a $7 ride to town into taking a $30 island tour instead. As it sat there while the lady talked about stopping here, there, and everywhere we worried we might not make it to the stable on time. Finally the bus moved. It stopped at a beach where people can pay to stay for the day and quite a few got off. Then it moved on to a nicer beach where several others left. After that things moved quickly and the people who stayed on for the tour got to go behind the iron gate and see Half Moon Resort, something the guide said she had seen only a couple times before after living in the area all her life. At the hotel they told the bus driver where to drop us off for the stable. We walked down a short path from the road to the stable, arriving with about half an hour to spare.

horseback riding in Jamaica

Riding to the beach with the guide.

The stable held many thoroughbred horses, mostly former racehorses or jumpers. Thoroughbreds tend to look lean. I had one once and no matter how much that horse ate (which was considerably more than any of my other horses) his ribs still showed, even living in a pasture full of grass. When riding rental horses in the USA they always wear western saddles. These were saddled with English saddles when the time came for our ride. I rode English for years when I had my own horses and English saddles are more suited to Thoroughbreds than western so we were fine with that. Jamaica once belonged to England. They drive on the left side of the road too.

trained dolphin

Dolphin Jumping

They had a mounting block with stairs for these tall horses, so it’s easy to get on even for people who have never ridden before. Once mounted we rode around an arena for a bit to get familiar with the horses. They had one guide to each rider. I had a horse named Wesley and John had one called Romeo. After a bit we set off across a field, down a path, and on a road to the beach. We stopped by their dolphin swimming area to watch the dolphin trainers work with the dolphins a bit. They swam on their backs waving fins, went head down and waved their tails, then jumped out of the water.

After watching dolphins for a bit we rode to the swimming area where we were joined by a few other riders and their guides. While the riders stripped down to swimming suits the guides unsaddled the horses – and stripped down to their swimming suits as well. They offered to carry our cameras and take photos while we were out in the water so we could just have fun and still have photos when we got done. While normally I never let my camera out of my hand I decided to let the guide take it. I much regretted that when I ended up with mostly just photos of me, most of which didn’t even show the horse. He did get a few good snippets of video though. I suppose he’s used people wanting photos of themselves since selfies seem to be the thing with a lot of people these days.

riding horses on the beach in Jamaica

Riding on the Beach

Another mounting block made getting on the horses easy even without saddles. Then they said to hold one hand on the reins and the other on the mane until the horse started to swim, at which time they wanted both hands on the mane, one above and one below the reins and then when they said to, let go of the reins. I could ride bareback without falling off, but they are accustomed to people who don’t ride and want to keep them safe so I just followed their instructions and held onto the mane to keep the guides happy. They clipped a lead rope to each horse, no explanation needed once the horses started to swim.

horses going for a swim

Heading out into the water

The horses walked out into the water going deeper and deeper. The guides warned people to pick up their feet, the reason becoming obvious when the lead horse picked up its tail and pooped. Once it all floated by putting legs in the water was fine if keeping a watch on the tails of any horses in front of you. When we got deep enough that the their hooves no longer reached the ground the guides asked us to lay flat over their backs, hold the mane, and let go the reins. That way we floated along rather then the horses having to carry our weight while they swam. Next they had us slide off their backs and grab the tail, the reason why each horse needed a leadline as the guides now had to control both their horse and their rider’s while swimming beside them. Most horses can swim a short distance with a rider on their back, but not for as long as we spent swimming with these so by having the rider float behind holding the tail the horses only had to keep themselves afloat.

swimming on horseback

Wesley Swimming

The horses kept their heads out of the water and the hindquarters would sometimes surface, though mostly stayed under along with their backs and rest of the body. From back at the tail it was pretty easy to see that Wesley liked to swim with one side of his hindquarters higher than the other so if his rear broke the surface at all it was usually just on one side.

In this short horse swimming video there are bits where you can see how their legs and feet move under the water while they swim

After swimming around in the deep water for awhile and doing donuts a bit we headed back to the shore. Horses expend a lot of energy swimming and can’t keep it up forever. As they started approaching shallower water we slipped back up to their backs again, which is pretty easy to do from the tail when you are in the water behind a swimming horse wearing a float around your waist. Once their feet reached solid ground we were all in position to sit up on their backs again while they walked to the shore.

horses on the beach

Horse Corral on the Beach

We had brought towels and underwear, but since those things were back at the stable we just put our clothes back on over the wet swimming suits. The horses had some time to rest in the corral on the beach before getting saddled back up to ride back to the stable. The others that joined us for the swim were staying at the hotel and all remained on the beach while we rode back to the stable. One of the guides said he had worked for Chukka before and that their horse “swim” in Jamaica went deep enough for the front hooves to leave the ground, but not the back ones so I’m glad we did not book a ride through the ship.

horses on the beach

Leaving the Water

While we waited for the van to come and take us back to the ship one of the people at the stable showed us a table of handmade things they had for sale. The artist sat next to the table weaving a basket. She did nice work with wooden figurines as well as a variety of woven items. It wouldn’t be Jamaica without someone trying to sell you something, but unlike vendors at the tourist attractions these people were not aggressive about it. On the way back in the van we saw all sorts of street vendors taking the name literally and standing in the middle of the street trying to sell things to passing cars. Seems like quite a dangerous way to make a living.

riding horses on the beach

View from the horse’s back

Although getting there was a bit of a hassle, truly swimming horses in the ocean for awhile was an amazing experience and well worth the trouble. We much appreciated the ride back from the stable. The driver even stopped at a viewpoint along the way where we could take a few photos of the ship. If ever you find yourself heading for Montego Bay, I’d highly recommend this ride. Just make sure to make arrangements in advance at

A port is what you make of it. A lot of people don’t like Jamaica, but we’ve always had fun there and this was one of the best excursions we’ve ever done. If I ever go back to Montego Bay I’ll do it again. Jamaica has 3 cruise ship ports. In addition to this one at Montego Bay, ships also stop at Ocho Rios and Falmouth.

Other Jamaica Blogs:

Jamaican Bobsled Roller Coaster at Mystic Mountain (Ocho Rios)

Dunn’s River Falls (Ocho Rios)

Jamaican River Tube (Falmouth)

Zip Line at Good Hope Estate (Falmouth)

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Breeze, Caribbean, Carnival, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Interview with John Heald – Gratuities

Carnival Vista

Vista in New York from the deck of the Intrepid, underneath the Concorde

Cruising in America normally means gratuities will be added to your onboard account, unless you pre-paid them. This money goes to the hard-working crew who spend 10 hours daily for months in a row often with no days off making other people’s vacations special. For many years most passengers have just considered this as part of the cost of the cruise and rarely ever removed them – as they should because the crew depends upon earning that money. Lately though a trend of removing tips has emerged. Whether these people are greedy, selfish, or just don’t understand the process, it’s disturbing because every tip removed is that much less earned by a crew who has to work harder every day for those diminishing wages. Odds are the people who remove tips would be the first to raise a ruckus if someone had the power to remove part of their wages and did so. The daily gratuity goes to far more people than just the stateroom stewards and dining room waiters.

John Heald

Carnival spokesperson John Heald

On a recent cruise on the Vista we had a chance to interview Carnival spokesperson John Heald on his thoughts about gratuities. John’s assistant Jacinta (who was bar crew herself not so long ago) gave a very passionate plea for why people should never remove their tips. Unfortunately it was after we turned the camera off and she didn’t want to say it again on film. She said if people remove their tips to punish a less than stellar steward or waiter it’s not that person they hurt so much as it is the chef who cooked their food, the laundry crew who washed their towels, the lido and dining room staff, and many others around the ship who have families counting on them for support.

Some people say they remove the tips so they can pay in cash, but that’s just an excuse to be cheap because most of them give back far less than they took away, plus it just goes to one or two people that way and everyone else gets left out. It’s always nice to tip a good waiter or steward extra. Cash tips are always appreciated, but should be given in addition to and not instead of the cruise line’s gratuities. Think about how you would feel if someone took away a portion of your paycheck. Never remove the gratuities. We always leave something extra. Most of the time they absolutely deserve it, but even on the rare occasion when the service wasn’t up to par we leave something extra anyway. You never know when someone might be new and struggling or if a waiter or steward’s workload just increased and they haven’t yet adjusted, or what else is going on in their life.

The following is from a post John Heald put on his facebook page a couple weeks after we did the interview. He was on the Vista cruise following the one we had taken at the time.

Good morning everyone from our last day of this Carnival Journey cruise. These last few days the weather has been superb but today as New York approaches it has become suddenly grey, overcast, wet and rather chilly.

It has been a great Journey cruise and even after the loss of Amber Cove because of bad weather and serious flooding in the port the guests have had I think a superb time. Loads and loads of great comments have been given to me and my colleagues about the crew, the fun, the extra activities and events that make up a Journey cruise and of course the Carnival Vista herself. Yep, the ship is a winner and I have a feeling that when she homeports in Miami she will head straight to the top of the Carnival fleet rating charts.

I realise that things change over the years, not just in this cruise industry we all love but in the world we live in. However, there are changes that puzzle me and one is a minefield I may be a total blithering chubby grey haired hemorrhoid ridden idiot for walking through. If I go back 5 – 10 years ago the amount of guests who removed their gratuities was miniscule.

That has changed. It has changed at Carnival and it has changed on other cruise lines as well. I know this because I was discussing this very subject with a dining room employee who had 5 years in the same position at another cruise line that has a wall you can climb up……………..”its the same there,” he said.

Now a large dollop of people who remove their gratuities do pay those that have served them in cash for which we are very grateful. However, some do not and when asked if they have received bad service the answer is most always” no, not at all.”

Tipping is a personal thing, the service from our crew is still outstanding with our ratings based on your comments and reviews showing that they exceed your expectations. They are fun, they are dedicated and they make a great cruise and absolutely brilliant one. So what then has changed, have we as a society become harsher, less giving, less willing to reward others?

I don’t know the answer but I do know that I thank every single one of you who does give our crew a gratuity and on behalf of their families who they work so hard to support, the crew thank you too.

The guests have had the best of times and these Journey cruises continue to be ones that I hope we continue.

Cheers, have a brilliant day and I wish you could have been here.

Unfortunately quite a few of the comments on that bit mention that it is because of changing attitudes and feelings of entitlement in today’s society. It that’s the case things are likely to just get worse.

If you have the privilege of taking a cruise remember the crew are people too. They work very hard to insure you have a good time. They deserve every cent of the gratuities, and if you can leave a little extra so much the better.

More Interviews with John Heald

Left Behind on a Cruise

Best Places on Carnival Breeze

Life on a Cruise Ship and Carnival Funships 2.0

Carnival Breeze Things to Do and Best Kept Secrets

Posted in Carnival, Shipboard Life, Vista | 2 Comments

Cruising Across the Pacific Ocean

crossing the Pacific

P&O Arcadia somewhere in the Pacific Ocean

Our 21-day transpacific cruise on the P&O Arcadia began in Valparaiso, Chile. As one leg of a world cruise the boarding process differs a bit from ordinary cruises where the whole ship changes over to a new cruise. Only some passengers stay on for the entire voyage on a world cruise, which in this case took nearly 4 months crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans twice. Other passengers come and go at various points along the way. Some like us take just one leg of the cruise and others take more.

The cruise terminal in Valparaiso looks so like much abandoned building from the outside that we thought it was one. It is not near the dock, which is in a container port. You check in at the terminal near the public pier and then get bused to the ship. People already on board took the same buses from the ship to the terminal whether they were disembarking or just off on shore excursions or exploring on their own for the day. Valparaiso is famous for its street art murals on many buildings and the old funiculars on its steep hillsides.

Valparaiso, Chile

view of Valparaiso from one of its funiculars

Most cruises allow people to check in before boarding time and then wait in the terminal until time to board. On this one they did not open the check-in line until just before the boarding time and the people working there were from the ship rather than port employees. They also had no VIP boarding which ships normally have for passengers who have high standings in their loyalty programs or who have booked suites. Things work differently on a world cruise.

Our first night on the ship brought waves high enough to rock the boat all night. Far from not sleeping, it’s like being a baby getting rocked to sleep in a cradle. In the morning there were containers of barf bags by the elevators and some people took them so either they just wanted to be prepared or some felt queasy. The sea calmed down later in the day and we had good weather throughout most of the cruise.

cruise ship dining room

Meridian Restaurant (aka the dining room)

This was our first time sailing with a British cruise line. Arcadia is quite a nice ship and is designated for adults only. We normally opt for dining where you have a time range in which you can show up, which is called by a different name on different lines. Things like your time or anytime dining. On this ship there was an extra charge for that. We booked on a discount site not long before the ship sailed and the freedom dining as it is called on P&O was probably already full as it was not even offered as an option. On cruises with lots of ports we prefer the flexibility of the freedom dining, but on long ocean crossings it’s nice to eat with the same people every night and make new onboard friends. Sometimes they become facebook friends and stay in contact after the cruise.

cruise ship dinner menu

menu from one night’s dinner – it changes daily

We had a table for 6 with an Australian and a British couple. Sometimes we didn’t recognize things on the menu, but the food was usually good and the English couple was always happy to explain unfamiliar foods like bubble and squeak or syllabub. We were about 2/3 of the way through the cruise before we realized our waiter didn’t like chocolate as he never recommended anything chocolate to a table full of chocoholics when asked for an opinion on the best dessert of the evening. On this ship after the regular dessert they always brought out a little plate with a bite-sized goodie for everyone with the after-dinner tea.

cruise ship cabin

P&O Arcadia balcony cabin

We had a balcony cabin on deck 5 this cruise. I’ve gotten so used to being a bottom dweller I sometimes would head down to the lower decks out of habit when I should have gone up. A deck near the middle is great for cruises with a lot of sea days because it’s never very many decks up or down to get anywhere. We enjoyed having a balcony again too.

cruise ship spa

hydrotherapy pool which is part of the thermal package from the spa

Even though it was expensive we signed up for thermal package. It’s a real back saver on such a long voyage and we used it every day. They don’t have any spa cabins so only people who bought the thermal package could use the hydro pool, heated ceramic chairs, or aromatherapy steam room. They were never crowded except the one day when we skipped a port due to weather. People must have treated themselves to a one day pass that day since they missed their excursions. When the sea got a bit rough the water level in the pool always got lowered, but they filled it up again when it calmed. The pool is definitely nicer with more water in it.

stairway art

One of the ship’s officers calls this picture creepy cat lady and avoids this stairway because of it

Each of the ship’s three stairways has a different color carpet and a different sort of artwork to help people know where they are within the ship.

The ship always had group of temporary entertainers on board to keep passengers busy throughout the long crossing. They had guest lecturers daily with topics as diverse as computer security, birds, mystery writers and antiques during the time we spent on board. They had two speakers at a time and changed them in Tahiti along with some other temporary entertainers.

Passengers can also participate in art, Spanish, or bridge lessons from other guest entertainers who stayed for the entire cruise. Each day brought a number of games conducted by the ship’s own entertainment staff. Music, dancing, and dance lessons figure into the daily offerings as well as nightly theater shows from outside entertainers like comedians or musicians or the ship’s own cast with song and dance productions.

internet photo

moai on Easter Island (photo from The Genius of Ancient Man)

The fifth of our 9 sea days in a row after leaving Chile brought us past Easter Island. Some of the moai the island is famous for were just visible from the ship. We sailed past one side of the island, then turned and sailed by another side before turning away and continuing on towards Tahiti.

We enjoyed the view from the ship throughout the voyage. It mostly consisted of a lot of blue, blue water often topped by mini whitecaps. Out in the distance we could see the curve of the earth making it easy to understand how ancient people who thought the earth was flat would think they could fall off the edge if they got too close. The ship’s passage churned the water right next to and behind it to white or lighter blue. Now and then flying fish jumped out of the way, gliding above the water’s surface like little birds until they felt safe enough to disappear back into the water’s depths. White fluffy clouds often broke up the blue of the sky, a lighter shade than the sapphire blue water.

cruise ship in the ocean

whitewater churned up by the ship’s passage

Sunshine graced most of our days, though we did have a few gray and rainy ones. The air temperature became noticeably warmer as we approached the island jewels of French Polynesia, but the weather that stayed so nice throughout much of our time at sea was not so cooperative for some of our ports.

Unfortunately we missed our port stop at Bora Bora due to stormy weather. I had really looked forward to snorkeling there, but better a missed port than the ship hitting a reef. We had 70mph winds that night with pretty high seas. The barf bags appeared by the elevators again. Some people did stay to their cabins, but plenty of people were out and about and feeling fine. Growing up I was always the one to get carsick, seasick, or sick on rides, but so far I have never been seasick on a cruise ship.

On board we discovered a new game called deck quoits. New to us anyway, not to the British that made up the majority of the ship’s passengers. It’s similar to the bean bag toss AKA cornhole played on some American ships. Instead of tossing bean bags at a little stand with holes in it, rope donuts get tossed toward a target painted on the deck with very specific rules about scoring. People could play on their own most of the time, but twice daily they held a very popular competition.

cruise ship games

deck quoits

The first few times I never made it out of the first bracket (in other words never won a game) but then one day I made it all the way to the finals. They randomly assign partners so you are paired with someone different each game. Besides being a way to meet new people, it also keeps the ones who are dead serious about the game and really good at it from always pairing up with each other. My partner hadn’t made it to the finals yet this cruise and I hadn’t even made it out of the first bracket yet, but we managed to hold our own against a pair who had each won several times, only losing the final by a few points. I was just happy that I managed to score some points in each game.

I got 5 points in one go once, but at that point we only needed 2 for the win so it would have been better if I could have thrown like that when we really needed it like my partner did a couple times. In deck quoits the ladies get to throw from a line closer to the target than the men and teams are normally one man and one woman, but if more of one sex showed up than the other a team or two ended up both the same.

On our last day I had a team with another woman. Once again we made it to the finals – only this time my team won! I guess I’m an all or nothing gal because when I made it past the first bracket I made it to the finals. I even scored the winning points to end the game, winning my first and only gold sticker of the cruise. On the last day before disembarking they have a prize room set up for half an hour where passengers can exchange their stickers for prizes. The more stickers you win the better prizes you can choose. The British lady we had dinner with also went to the deck quoits regularly and up until this point none of us had won, but before this final we knew somebody from our table finally would as she was on the opposing team. I thought it would be her because she was a better player than me, but I got lucky and had both a good round and a good partner.

sunrise over the Pacific Ocean

sunrise through one of the openings near the bow of the Promenade deck

The ship also held shuffleboard competitions at the same time as deck quoits and throughout the day they had the usual trivia, bingo, and the other sorts of games always found on ships. Some days they also had blackjack or roulette tournaments in the casino. These had cash prizes so of course we didn’t win.

Each afternoon they had wii bowling. Most days each person got 2 rounds, but if there were a lot of people each person got only one. My first time I got the lowest score of anyone, but the next time I got 2nd place. I never won, but after that first day I got respectable scores each time. The Australian couple we ate dinner with started coming to that too and each of them won it once.

cruise food

Sunday roast by the pool on the Lido deck

Food is always a big thing on cruise ships. In addition to the usual lunchtime fare sometimes they had barbecues on the Lido deck and on Sundays they had a big setup out by the pool for Sunday roast. On Valentines Day they had a chocolate buffet on the Lido.

The gym held a variety of exercise classes each day, some with a charge and others free. I tried a couple of the free ones and they really give you a good workout in half an hour even if you can’t do all the things they ask.

funniest cruise ship newsletter ever

Horisn’t – spoof of the daily newsletter Horizon

We skipped one day during the cruise because of crossing the international dateline. Cruise ships always have a daily newsletter with all the events and activities of the day. On P&O they call it Horizon. For the day we skipped they sent a spoof newsletter called Horisn’t. It listed all sorts of events for that day only that would never really happen since that day never happened.  It was hilarious. Here’s a few samples:

Spa special of the day – Guaranteed Weight Loss

Brand new treatment! Guaranteed weight loss in our Piranha fish tank. Cost: An arm and a leg.

Tonight’s Themed Dinner- Airplane Food

Tonight’s dress code – your favorite superhero

Special of the day in the shops – Anything Goes! Today only your shop manager will happily helicopter in anything you want at no extra charge. You can collect your order on the next blue moon.

Activities for the day

SHARK BAITING – volunteers needed

WATER SKIING – hang on tight for the ride of your life

CAPTAIN’S JACKPOT BINGO – a full house in 10 numbers or less and you win the Captain to take home as a souvenir!

The spoof newsletter had classes like art forgery for beginners and kleptomaniac’s towel folding where you come with someone else’s towel. The afternoon fun included mobility scooter races and a food fight. In-cabin TV had recommended programs from various crew or passengers including Four Welders and a Funnel from the chief engineer, Faulty Showers from Kev the plumber, Bleaches from the cleaners, The Booze Brothers from the bar staff, Free Willy from Traveling Alone, The Man with the Iron Task from husbands doing the laundry, and from the medics Saving Ryan’s Privates. There was also a notice saying the entire crew got the day off.

visiting New Zealand

New Zealand

After crossing the Pacific the ship made 3 stops in New Zealand before continuing on to Australia where our leg of the cruise ended. As Americans we were the rarity on this cruise since there were very few on the ship. Being a British ship, the majority of passengers came from the UK. Quite a few Aussies got on in Chile, as they only had to fly one way across the ocean. Some Chileans got on there for the same reason. In Auckland we picked up quite a few people from New Zealand and of course the ship had a smattering of passengers from other countries as well. The crew came mostly from India. Some came from other places, but very few from the USA or Canada.

Pacific sunrise

Sunrise over the ship’s wake

We were 2 of a total of just 6 Americans on board. At one point we overheard someone say they thought of Americans as loud people with cameras. Just a day or two later as we stood in line at the poolside grill with cameras hanging around our necks one of the few other Americans made quite a scene yelling at the girl working there for not making him a rare burger even though doing so would be a health code violation she could get fired for.

Another time at the evening show the British comedian made a comment that the Americans in the audience wouldn’t get some of his jokes. We didn’t. I guess they  had us pegged pretty well.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Arcadia, P&O, Pacific Ocean & Islands | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

Vista in Bermuda

Carnival’s newest ship, the Vista, set sail on her maiden voyage in Europe on May 1, 2016 and crossed the Atlantic at the end of October after spending the summer doing European cruises. The Vista has some new features not seen before on any of Carnival’s ships, and in some cases on any ship at all. Its IMAX theater, brewery, and skyride are all the first at sea.

Red Frog Pub on Carnival Vista

Red Frog Pub & Brewery

Carnival’s Red Frog Pub is a popular hangout on all their ships that have it. They all serve Carnival’s Thirsty Frog beer, but the Vista is the only one that brews it on board. They served several varieties which on our cruise included coffee stout, pale ale, IPA and a pumpkin beer as well as the standard thirsty frog red. They also served low-priced Pub Grub made to order and for a small fee passengers could take brewery tours at scheduled times.

Carnival Vista Skyride

Skyride on the Vista

The skyride is a pedal it yourself gondola on a track above the top of the ship. It’s free to ride, but can build up quite a line during busy times so it’s best to go either when returning early on a port day, about the time it first opens for the day, or at unpopular times when most people are elsewhere.

Carnival Vist IMAX

Theater entrance for Imax and Thrill Theater

Vista has both the best and worst theaters I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. The IMAX has comfortable seats set on a 3-deck slope and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. There’s enough of a rise from one row to the next that every seat has a great view even from behind one occupied by someone tall. It shows both regular and IMAX movies, but there is a fee to watch them.

Carnival Vista theater

Liquid Lounge – the blue bit on the right side is the balcony window

In contrast their main showroom, the Liquid Lounge, hardly has a good seat anywhere. It doubles as a nightclub so nearly all the seats on the main floor are movable and there is no slope to the floor. When set out for shows the seats are cramped together and very few offer a full view of the stage. The balcony isn’t much better since the first row looks through blue windows and the majority of the rest have their view blocked by the seats in front of them. It’s also very small for the size of the ship.

red frog on tap

get your own beer on the Lido from the beer dispenser

Some other new features of the Vista include a tube slide, more games in Sports Square including a clubhouse with bowling and soccer pool, beer dispensers and homemade ice cream on the Lido, digital pictures, and the atrium and casino with central poles that flare out at the top showing digital displays that change from day to day. The atrium is just 3 decks high due to needing space for the IMAX. The ship has some awkward spaces like guest services and the shore excursions desk on deck 3 which have access from just one of the ship’s 3 main stairways/elevator bays rather than all three.

digital cruise ship photos

Pixels digital photo display

Instead of printing out all the photos taken by the ship’s photographers, they are displayed digitally so there are no unpurchased photos to throw away at the end of the cruise. Passengers can view their photos either on their own smart phone if they downloaded the free HUB app, or by tapping the video display at Pixels (the photo area.)

Vista Family Harbor cabin

Family Harbor cabins have special kid-friendly decor

Cabins on the Vista each have individual heat and cooling not tied into a central system so it’s easier to keep the room at each person’s preferred temperature. The closets lost the top shelf to make space for this and some of the smaller rooms lost an entire closet, so storage got bit tight in the trade-off of comfort for storage space. The life jackets are in a container under the bed, but there’s still room for a suitcase under there, though if the room has an unused bunk the ladder which is also under the bed may mean a bit of rearranging to fit everything in. There are also less drawers and shelves than on some of the older ships so try not to bring more than you need.

Vista Atrium

Vista Atrium

Cabins have flat screen TV’s with quite large screens compared to most ships. When it comes to convenient and useful features of the cabin TV, the Vista did seem to have taken a step backwards from Carnival’s last ship the Breeze though. On the Breeze you can see the menus for the whole voyage on the cabin TV as well as purchasing shore excursions there while the Vista does neither. On the plus side the cabins have two outlets instead of one plus two USB ports so there’s a few more options for plugging things in even if you forgot to bring a power bar.

cruise ship art

stairway art from the aft staircase

The Vista has two new classes of cabins, Family Harbor and Havana. Hallways and cabins in these areas each have their own unique décor. The rest of the cabin hallways as well as the Lido buffet all have the same Caribbean casual look as the Breeze. Other areas of the ship have more of a minimalist modern appearance. Stairway art is a sort of mosaic style making up a large picture. Each stairway has its own theme with seascapes on the aft stairs, cityscapes on the central stairs, and landscapes on the forward stairs, which helps in finding your way around the ship.

cruise ship waterslides

Waterslides and splash park. The orange one is the new tube slide.

Vista has lots of the favorites people enjoy on other Carnival ships. It has the thrill theater like the Breeze with motion ride seats. They did not have the all-cruise thrill theater pass though so if trying just one ride the one called Just The Rides has the best action coordinated with the seat movement, especially the roller coaster part. The ship also has dive in movies, waterslides and splash park, and all the favorite bars and eateries like the Piano Bar, Alchemy Bar, Guy’s, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse and Blue Iguana.

Cherry On Top

outside seating for Cherry On Top on the promenade deck

The Promenade deck has outdoor seating for everything from Cherry on Top (which serves ice cream as well as selling candy) to the steakhouse. As well as the outdoor seating, Red Frog Pub has bean bag toss games in the walkway by their outdoor space.  The BBQ (Pig & Anchor) is also outside on Promenade deck. Even the library bar has outside space. There are also some lounge areas not associated with inside spaces and the bow has stairways up to the open bow areas on the two decks above.

Havana Cabana

Havana Cabana as seen from balcony above.

There are a couple downsides of the promenade deck’s outdoor space. You can smell the smoking area near the front of the starboard side from a long way off as the smoke travels back with the motion of the ship. The whole back is blocked off for the Havana rooms so nobody can walk or jog all the way around the Promenade deck, which is a very popular thing to do on ships where it is accessible to everyone all the way around. Each of the Havana Cabanas has a gate onto the Promenade deck, which is gated off just for them in the section along those cabins.

cruise ship salad

Fresh Creations salad from the Serenity Deck

Free food on the Vista includes two main dining rooms, the Lido buffet, Lido deli, Blue Iguana Cantina, Guy’s Burgers, The Taste Bar, 24-hour pizza and ice cream, and at lunchtime a pasta bar at Cucina del Capitano and Mongolian Wok at Ji Ji Asian Kitchen. For sea day lunches there’s also Fresh Creations salads on the Serenity Deck and BBQ on the promenade deck.

cruise ship barbeque

Guy’s Pig & Anchor Barbecue

The outdoor deck 5 barbeque is called Guy’s Pig & Anchor instead of Fat Jimmy’s C-Side. The menu is about the same, but on our cruise the lines were a lot shorter. Lines in general were shorter on the Vista. They had two gangways when docked in ports and they kept the photo people off the actual gangway which helped the lines to get off the ship move much faster. Disembarkation at the end of the cruise took longer than usual, but that was the ship’s first time in the USA so it should speed up once the ship gets settled on a regular routine.

cruise ship sushi

Bonsai Sushi

There’s a lot of options for pay-extra eateries from the very inexpensive Pub Grub at the Red Frog Pub to their premium restaurant, Fahrenheit 555 Steakhouse. Other options include Bonsai Sushi, Cuban Bites at the Havana Bar, Cucina del Capitano, Ji Ji Asian Kitchen, Cherry On Top Ice Cream, and the Seafood Shack on the Lido. Of course all the bars cost extra as well, including JavaBlue Cafe which serves specialty coffee and tea as well as milkshakes. Room service has both free and pay extra options.

Carnival Vista

Vista in Naples

Carnival Vista is 1062 feet in length and can carry up to 3936 passengers and 1450 crew. It will homeport in Miami.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Carnival, Vista | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cruising Through the Panama Canal

Panama Canal, Pacific end

Bridge of the Americas dominates the view on approach to the Panama Canal

Celebrity Infinity fit through the Panama Canal, but only just, being pretty much a Panamax ship, or as big as a ship can be and still fit through the canal’s original locks. In June of 2016 the canal expansion finally completed and and the new locks opened allowing ships 1 1/2 times larger to pass through the new third lane. These bigger ships called New Panamax that are too large for the original locks, but not too big for the new ones will have their size limited by the height of bridges and depth of the water as well as the size of the new locks. Panamax for the original locks was 965 feet long, 106 wide, draft less than 37 feet and height above the water line at 190 feet. Dredging of channels and raising of a bridge added a bit to these numbers, but some of the bigger ships will have to watch the tides. New Panamax is 1200 feet long, 161 feet wide, and draft of 50 feet.

cruising under a bridge

sailing under the Bridge of the Americas

On our first visit to the Panama Canal the ship docked on the Caribbean side and we took an excursion with a partial transit, but we still wanted to take a cruise through the entire canal. Happily we found a good deal for a Panama Canal cruise on the Celebrity Infinity at Vacations to Go, which we booked about a year in advance.

Panama Canal

they were still working on the new locks when we went through

Cruise lines have to plan their Panama Canal cruises well in advance too. They have to book passage a year before actually traveling through the canal. It cost the cruise line $135 per person on board plus fees for each line hooking to the trains that guide the ships through each lock, so all totaled it cost over $370,000 to bring the Infinity through. The charge for the new larger lane is $145 per person. Tugboats rather than land-based locomotive engines guide the ships through the new locks.

tug boat

Panama Canal Tug

The new locks are 40% wider and 60% longer than the original locks. These new locks  feature rolling gates rather than hinged and water reutilization basins that allow for recovery of 60% of the water used to raise and lower ships in each chamber so they can use it again for the next ship rather than all of it going out to sea. The original locks are quite a marvel considering they were completed in 1914 by the USA after an earlier attempt by France failed in 1880. While the USA barely broke even in their 85 years of administering the canal, Panama clears over a billion dollars a year from the canal after expenses.

Panama Canal

Centennial Bridge from Pedro Miguel Locks

Currently two large bridges cross the canal, the Bridge of the Americas built by the USA on the Pacific side and the Centennial Bridge built by France at the continental divide. At Miraflores and Gatun Locks cars can also cross on bridges that open and close with the gates of the locks, a slow process allowing only a single lane of cars to cross when the gates are closed while the ships wait for the water level to raise or lower them. A new bridge under construction by France in a similar manner as the Centennial Bridge has several years to go before the Caribbean side will have a big bridge.

Panama Canal crossing

canal watching from the Infinity’s Constellation Lounge

Crossing the canal’s 50 miles by ship takes about 10 hours to complete the full transit. Our ship entered from the Pacific side. The ship’s daily program gave the crossing time as 6am – 6pm. Before canal day passengers scouted the ship for their idea of the best place to view the canal during the crossing. We scoped out a few places outside, but decided that we would not really want to stay outside all day getting sunburned. We opted to go to the Constellation Lounge instead. Floor to ceiling windows across the front and one side of the room offered sweeping views with indoor comfort and cushioned chairs. The canal employee who came onboard to do narration from the ship’s bridge during the crossing came to that lounge for a Q&A session while the ship went through Gatun Lake.

smallest locks

Pedro Miguel Locks

Knowing we would not be the only ones with this idea, we went there at 4:20 am choosing the chairs by the window at the center of the ship. A crew person vacuuming was the only sign of life as we entered, but about 10 minutes later other people began to show up and look sadly at us in the very middle and then stake out their chairs as close to center as they could get. At first we had a table with a set of 4 chairs, but after the crewman finished cleaning he began turning the chairs closest to the window around, skipping ours. As more people arrived everyone decided to push the chairs as close to the windows as possible knowing that otherwise once we got to the canal late arrivals would just run up to the window and stand there blocking the view.

new Panama Canal

The higher new channel bypasses Pedro Miguel Locks

The ship’s crew also opened up the helipad at the bow as a place for people to canal watch. It filled as the ship passed through locks and emptied between them. Nobody wanted to spend the entire day standing out there. Other people found viewing spots on deck chairs about the ship, some sheltered and some not. The ship also has lots of seating areas near windows for other canal viewing options.

Panama Canal

where the new and old channels join past Pedro Miguel

Someone from each group in our lounge always stayed with their chairs while others might wander off to fetch food or find a restroom. Not everyone on the ship wanted to view the entire canal crossing, but for those who did that lounge was the best place. So if you plan a Panama Canal cruise and want the best seats in the house, be prepared to find your seats very early or someone else will get there first. Not everyone stayed in the lounge all day so some lucky late-comers got front row seats when others left. People on the outer rail of the heli-pad probably had the best views, but they also stood in wind and weather, which is why nobody stayed there long.

Panama Canal

Panama Canal scenery with new channel at Gatun end

Approaching the canal we saw many boats at anchor waiting to pass through. Each ship gets a number for their place in the order of passage. Ours at #21 for the morning’s group through Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks must have been assigned long before we got there since we passed by most of the waiting ships and went right in without much waiting. From the entrance to the canal you can see the tall buildings of Panama City and the Centennial Bridge. Not far into the canal we reached Miraflores Locks. This lock has 2 chambers with 2 lanes each. We could see two cargo ships in the locks and one ahead of us on its way there. As the ships in the locks rose up and they went on their way while the one just ahead entered one lane and we entered the other.

how ships get through the Panama Canal

rowboat attaches the lines from the locomotives to the ship

When a ship approaches the locks two men climb down the concrete structure into a tiny rowboat. One of these boatmen sits and rows while the other stands ready to hook up cables that connect the arriving ship to locomotives that run the length of the locks on each side. They perform this function the same way they have for over 100 years since the locks first opened. With Panamax sized ships like the cargo ships ahead of us and the cruise ship, just one ship fits into a chamber of the locks at a time. The ship has just a couple feet each side and not much more front or back once the gates shut. The paint job on the Infinity looked a bit worse for wear with a few scuffed up spots showing where it scraped along the sides of the locks somewhere during transit.

locks at Panama Canal

different water levels in different lock chambers

The locks fill by gravity with water flowing into the chambers through a culvert system. The locks, lakes, and river of the canal are all fresh water and the seas at either end salt water so any fresh water fish that wash into the salt water at the last lock on either end make easy prey for seabirds and crocodiles.

how Panama Canal works

dam and spillway at Mira Flores Locks

Each chamber raises the ship just under 30 feet. When the ship reaches the full height of the first chamber at Miraflores the gates open and it moves into the next chamber. At the full height of that one the ship moves on to Miraflores Lake. The new locks have 3 chambers and an access channel at the higher level taking ships all the way to the Culebra Cut beyond Pedro Miguel locks. The original system brings the ship up two levels. After crossing Miraflores Lake, Pedro Miguel Locks has just one chamber for the final lift to the highest level of the crossing. Just past Pedro Miguel Locks the ship passes under the Centennial Bridge, visible from the locks.

Panama Canal

line of sight navigational aids on the hillside help guide ships through the canal

Culebra cut is a manmade channel through rock and limestone mountains for 12.7 kilometers. The material excavated during construction could fill the space of 63 Egyptian pyramids. This channel connecting Miraflores Lake to the Chagres River is what allows ships to pass through this shortcut to the Caribbean and avoid circumnavigating the entire South American continent. The cut has navigational aids along the edges, line of sight symbols and sometimes lights showing the ship captains and pilots where to find safe passage through the narrow channel.

how the Panama Canal works

Train Bridge at the Chagres River

Near Gamboa the ship passes a railroad bridge where the Chagres River empties into the canal, bringing the water that allows the canal to exist and function. The river’s original path through Gatun Lake is marked with a series of red and green channel markers to let ships know where to stay for water deep enough for safe passage. Islands dot the lake.

Panama Canal Dredges

Dredges at work. They do maintenance to keep the canal passable, but also are making it deeper for bigger ships

When the water level is low enough forests of stumps poke through, the tops of trees flooded out by the creation of Gatun Lake. As the ship approached Gatun Locks it passed a fleet of anchored ships. They came through Gatun Locks that morning and waited to continue when traffic switched from northbound to southbound through the narrow part of the canal.

transiting the Panama Canal

ship coming the other way at Gatun Lake

Gatun Locks has 3 chambers in each of its two lanes so the ship makes the entire trip back down to sea level at one set of locks. They kept one empty chamber between each ship so while one side had ships in the first and third chambers the other had a ship in the second chamber. We didn’t wait long before loading into the first chamber while another ship moved from the second to the third, though the total time passing through all three chambers took about an hour.

back to sea level

ship leaving Gatun Locks

Once a ship leaves Gatun Locks it just has to travel to the breakwater at the entrance to the Caribbean Sea to complete its transit through the Canal. Just like the other end, many anchored ships await their turn to pass through.

long slow crossing

Car crossing a lock bridge. The green bit at the corner of the photo is astroturf on the Infinity.

The Infinity stopped for a port day at Colon, Panama on a stormy day. If you just came in to Panama without doing a canal transit on your cruise, the excursion that takes you halfway through the canal on a little ferry is a great way to get to see some of the locks and a good portion of the canal. The ship offers lots of excursions from Colon. You can watch ships go through locks at the canal or take a train across the Isthmus of Panama, which parallels the canal for a portion of the journey. Other options include visiting an Indian village, kayaking or a boat ride, an aerial tram in the rainforest or a city tour. Locals at the port offer taxi tours.

cruise ship dock

Cruise Port at Colon, Panama

Since we had just transited the canal we counted that as our excursion for Panama and just went into the shops at the port. Several cafes offer free internet if you buy something. We opted to sit at a cafe and catch up online rather than trying to explore the port in pouring rain.

Panama Canal

Gatun Locks

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Shipboard Life, South and Central America | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

How to Make a Towel Scorpion

Scorpions may not appear on many people’s list of favorite creatures, but they do make a rather interesting towel animal.

towel art

Towel Scorpion

How to Fold A Towel Scorpion

Supplies Needed to Make a Towel Scorpion

Bath Towel                                                Eyes (googly eyes or bits of felt or paper)

Hand Towel                                              8 Pipe Cleaners (AKA chenille stems or fuzzy sticks)

2 Washcloths

How to make Scorpion Legs

art projects

Leg for Towel Scorpion

Fold each of the 8 pipe cleaners so they somewhat resemble a mountain with a small bit folded over on one end for the foot and a large bit at the other to go under the body.

How to Fold a Towel Scorpion Head

towel sculpture

Fold over 1/3 of the hand towel

Lay hand towel out flat.  Fold over 1/3 of the towel from one short end.  Fold the other short end over the first fold.

towel origami

after folding the towel in thirds, fold each end over in a triangle

Fold down both sides in triangular fashion so the towel forms a large triangle.

how to fold towel animals

after folding the two corners into triangles it forms one big triangle

How to Make Washcloth Scorpion Claws

how to make washcloth scorpion claws

roll two washcloths for claws

Lay one washcloth flat.  Roll entire washcloth from one corner to the opposite corner.  Repeat with other washcloth.  Fold into V shape at center of roll.

How to Fold a Towel Scorpion Body

how to fold cruise ship towel animals

Make sure the corners are even before rolling towel.

Hang the bath towel on a hook from the center of one edge of the long side, or tuck it under your chin to hold it tight.

how to make towel animals

Tightly roll the far side of the towel on both ends.

Tightly roll both sides to the middle, making sure the pointed end stays especially tight while you roll.

free towel animal instructions

The rolls should be tighter than this. It’s hard to keep them tight while doing photos.

If your towel is not tightly rolled enough, unroll a bit and re-roll tighter, working your hands up and down the towel rolling each portion tighter as you go.

step by step towel animal folding

Set towel down with rolled side underneath

Turn the towel rolled side down.

Assembling the Towel Scorpion

making towel animals

set the head at the end of the rolled part and tuck the ends under the body

Place the head bit on top of the body with the triangle point to the front of the scorpion.  Tuck the ends under the sides of the body. Adjust the arm bits as needed and position as desired.  Place the legs under the body on both sides. Fold up back end of body and curl the tail over the body as desired.  Tuck one claw into the end of each arm.  Add eyes.

how to fold a towel scorpion

Finished Towel Scorpion

For instructions on how to fold many other towel animals please visit My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Towel Animals | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Cruising through Endicott Arm

Ruby Princess in Endicott Arm

cruising through Endicott Arm

How many cruises to Tracy Arm do you have to book before actually cruising through Tracy Arm? I don’t know the answer to that, but for me so far it is 0 for 2. Years ago I took a cruise to Alaska on the Norwegian Sun with my son and grandson and when the time came to go to Tracy Arm it went through nearby Endicott Arm instead. When I booked the Alaska cruise on the Ruby Princess with my sisters I thought this time I would get to see Tracy Arm.

Looking through the Alaska Cruise Companion guidebook we bought onboard, we got a good laugh seeing Sumdum Glacier pictured as the first we would pass. Of course it’s much funnier spoken than written. “We went to Alaska and saw Sumdum Glacier,” would of course be interpreted as “We went to Alaska and saw some dumb glacier.” To which people may wonder with that attitude why bother to go to Alaska at all.

view from behind the lifeboats

view from the oceanview obstructed room

Our trek through the fjord began quite early in the morning. Looking through our peek-a-boo view between the lifeboats through the window of our oceanview obstructed room, we saw a glacier high upon a hillside, met with all the hilarity of seeing Sumdum Glacier. What can I say, we’re easily amused. We did not yet know we hadn’t gone to Tracy Arm, but Sumdum Glacier sits high on a hilltop visible from both fjords, though from the look of the map Tracy Arm probably gets a better view.

Endicott Arm

scenery in Endicott Arm

Soon the announcement came saying we had entered Endicott Arm due to a blockage of the entrance of Tracy Arm by a number of ice bergs. Narrow as Endicott Arm appears from a large cruise ship, it’s considerably wider than Tracy Arm so often navigable when Tracy Arm is not. We bundled up, though not warm enough as none of us had brought long johns. We went to the open area at the bow on the upper promenade deck. Glacier watching is cold business and the front of the ship offers no protection from wind, but the sights are worth the chill. We picked a great spot at the center of the bow where we could see both sides of the fjord, having first pick of where to stand since we got there before anyone else. Not many people braved the chill of the upper promenade so we had great views and no crowd for the whole trip through the fjord.

cruising Endicott Arm

leaving Dawes Glacier under the rising sun

As the ship passed Ford’s Terror their naturalist explained how it got the name when an early explorer rowed into the narrow channel on a slack tide and got stuck in a panic for 8 hours when the tide came in bringing heavy currents with it. Not knowing he could row to shore and wait out the tide for a more favorable current, he spent the whole time terrified, wearing himself out trying to paddle through the rough seas to get out of the small inlet.

Dawes Glacier at sunrise

Sunrise over Dawes Glacier

The ship reached Dawes Glacier at the end of the fjord as the sun rose over the nearby peaks which makes for a lovely scene that is as hard to look at as it is to take photos of. We took a ton of photos in the hope that at least one would turn out as a decent glacier shot and not just blinding sun washing out the photo. We got a few usable shots, but nothing really clear.

bergy bits or growlers

bergy bits – very small icebergs

After sitting awhile by the glacier the ship made a slow 180 degree turn, quite a feat since it had not much space on either end. As it pulled away we made our way to the stern, which was much more crowded, but far less cold since we now had the ship for a windbreak as well as the sun.

Sumdum Glacier

We went to Alaska and saw Sumdum Glacier

Later we sat awhile on the lower promenade deck watching the scenery go by until we got back to Sumdum glacier. We did not see any wildlife through the fjord other than sea lions on a bergy bit that quickly scrambled out of site before the ship got close enough for us to see what it was. People on a higher deck got photos of them hiding behind the ice.

Dawes Glacer at sunrise

Dawes Glacier

Dawes glacier looks like somebody drove up it with very dirty tires leaving parallel tracks running through the center. A lot of glaciers have dirty lines like this, which are called medial moraines. Two glaciers coming together form these lines with the dirt and debris that once was the lateral moraine of things collected along the edge of each glacier meeting in the center. Glaciers also have a terminal moraine which forms at the farthest point the glacier ever reached. All the rocks and debris left there can make quite a high ridge in tidewater glaciers. Icebergs often get grounded there, while the face of the glacier could be miles away and getting farther all the time as it recedes. The bar at the entrance to Tracy Arm where ice bergs congregated preventing us from going there is the terminal moraine for Sawyer glacier, which dug that channel.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Alaska, Princess, Ruby Princess, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grand Turk Power Snorkel

ships in port

Breeze and Sunshine in Grand Turk

Getting off the Carnival Breeze for our morning power snorkel excursion turned into quite a fiasco. Although the excursion started just half an hour after docking time they left people to make their own way off the ship through the crowd of people clamoring to get to the shore. At prior ports this trip early excursions met in a lounge and had a stairway reserved for them so they could get past the masses and out of the ship on time, but for some unknown reason they didn’t do that this port. Strike one. Should have made sure the people with excursions scheduled could get off the ship.

beach at Grand Turk

View of Grand Turk from the ship

The Sunshine shared the same port schedule as the Breeze and was supposed to arrive at Grand Turk half an hour later. At the show the night before the cruise director told everyone they should get off before it got there and take up all the beach chairs before anyone from the Sunshine could get them. He also said the gangway would close for about 10 minutes when the Sunshine docked. So the stairways became a seething mass of people vying for the exit to the gangway as soon as passengers got the all clear to get off. Strike two. He should have advised people without any reason to get off early to wait until the door opened for good so people who needed to get off before the other ship got there could do so.

Grand Turk cruise port

Cruise port from the ship with the Margaritaville pool and the Flow Rider and shops

The Sunshine showed up 15 minutes early. Rather than making them wait until the scheduled docking time so the Breeze could clear out the waiting throng they closed the gangway after just a few people managed to get off the ship. Strike three. The other ship should have waited and not docked before they were supposed to.

Grand Turk cruise port

You can rent snorkel gear at the cruise port beach

Meanwhile time ticked away and more crowds piled up. That many bodies packed together unmoving with limited space soon generates body heat in ever more stale air full of the scents of people, sunscreen and perfume. Ten minutes got closer to thirty and the time for our excursion to start came and went while we stood packed in like sardines. Well most stood, some on the stairways sat down. I had just one person in front of me before the stairs, but she let me sit on the top stair when I started to get dizzy from too many scents and lack of fresh air. Passing out runs in my family and ignoring the sit down or fall down feeling never has good results for any of us.

sea life likes structure

fish and coral seen on our excursion

Finally the line moved again. Only 4 people from our excursion made it out of the ship and to the meeting area on time so they had a long wait outside in the hot sun. Some people worried the excursion time might get cut really short for starting so late, but we returned late to make up some of the time. I had assumed we would board a boat to take us to the excursion, but we were led to a bus instead. I had never left the cruise ship port area in Grand Turk by land before. The cruise port area and what you see from the ship always looks beautiful so I felt quite sad to see the amount of litter around the island. It gathered along the streets and every vacant lot looked like a garbage dump. On the plus side we saw some flamingos and a few of the island’s feral donkeys.

Grand Turk Beach resort

Beach Resort with Power Snorkel

The bus stopped in front of a beach resort in a rare garbage-free area. In the back they had a boat loaded with the torpedo shaped power units. Each one had handles on each side with buttons to make it go and a propeller in the back. Although the propeller was contained within a housing they warned us to tie up any loose strings, mainly those from the snorkel vests we were required to wear. Luckily putting air in snorkel vests is optional, but there’s always that residual bit from a previous user. Plus the vest itself even without air makes getting under the water that much more difficult if you want to do a free dive while snorkeling. Warm salt water is pretty buoyant. Even without any flotation devices it is a lot harder to dive under the water while snorkeling than it is to stay on top.

power snorkel excursion

Power scooters on a boat. They just handed them out from there. We never got in the boat.

This excursion starts from the beach. They had everyone wear fins as well as masks, though I’m not really sure why they wanted us to wear fins as the power units meant we did not have to swim. It’s really hard to get to the water on a sandy beach without getting the fins full of sand. One person didn’t put theirs on and nobody stopped him from getting in the water so if I were ever to do this excursion again I’d leave the fins off.

hand held water scooter

Power unit on the dock at the snorkel shack for the demo

Once everyone got set up with snorkel gear they demonstrated how to use the handheld scooters. Then everyone followed the guide out into deeper water. On the way out I saw a puffer fish, the first one I’ve ever seen while snorkeling. Unfortunately I hadn’t yet tried taking a photo while operating the power unit. I didn’t get a photo of that puffer fish and did not see any others.

guide goes down deep

The guide used his scooter to dive down to the bottom. Easier for him since guides weren’t required to wear a snorkel vest.

You can definitely go a much greater distance with the power scooter thing than by swimming. It’s pretty easy to operate. As long as the lever is in the on position it goes when you push the buttons on both or either handle and stops when you let go of them. They said to hold it away from you down under the water. Guides travel along with the group and will help anyone with problems or questions.

diving with a scooter

The guide down at the sea floor

It’s fun to zip along looking at the sea floor as you go. With the power scooters we could travel a pretty good distance, farther and faster than if we had to swim. The water got deeper and darker as we made our way to the drop off, which from under the water just looks like blue. You can see the edge of the reef going down into the depths and beyond that it is just blue as far as you can see. Water at the shore looks light blue and from there you can see where the water turns dark from the depth at the drop off.

fun way to snorkel

John on his power snorkel

Most anyone who enjoys snorkeling would enjoy this excursion. The handheld scooters don’t go as fast as boats or jet skis, but they go faster than a person can swim on their own.

power snorkeling

I don’t usually take selfies, but what the heck

We saw lots of yellow snappers, some sergeant majors, blue tangs, and lots of other fish. The reef had quite a few different types of coral, which got bigger as the water got deeper. Speaking of coral, the oil in most sunscreens harms coral as it washes off of tourists. In order to protect the coral while enjoying a chance to see it, use a biodegradable sunscreen. You won’t likely find one with the major brands, but they are available online. I also found some at a store that mainly sells herbal supplements and remedies.

coral and stuff

looking down to the bottom of the sea

The good thing about eco-friendly sunscreen is that while protecting the environment you also better protect yourself. Not only do these sunscreens stay on better than oil-based products, but the ones I got have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. These are the exact same ingredients recommended by dermatologists to prevent skin cancer. And at a bargain price compared to the tiny tube I got at my dermatologist’s office after having a basal cell carcinoma removed from my ear. Other than the difficulty getting off the ship this excursion went well and we had a great time.

For more about Grand Turk, see these blogs:

Grand Turk Semi-Sub Shore ExcursionGrand Turk Cruise PortGrand Turk Cruise Port and General Info

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

Sailing Past Easter Island

Land Ahoy

Approaching Easter Island

One of the most isolated places in the world, Easter Island sits alone in the Pacific Ocean. It takes about 5 days on a cruise ship or over 5 hours on a plane to get to Easter Island from the mainland of Chile, who has ownership of the island. Just imagine how long it took ancient settlers, assumed to have come from Polynesia which is nearly as far, to get there by canoe.

Known as the Rapa Nui, early inhabitants found a forested island with plenty of birds and sea life for food. These isolated people prospered and at some point began to carve moai, the giant headed statues the island is famous for today.

sunrise over the Pacific

As we approached the island, the sun rose behind us.

Over centuries the population grew and the resources shrank. People chopped down trees to provide for their needs like making canoes and other things they needed to survive. They also chopped many trees down to move the moai from the crater of an extinct volcano where they carved the stones to their perches along the island’s shores. As resources got scarcer the island’s inhabitants became more violent. Wars broke out. Moai got toppled and people resorted to cannibalism. Some moai have been returned to the standing position and some have been removed from the island.

Easter Island

Petroglyphs on Easter Island (photo found online at crystalinks)

Without trees to protect it the island’s rich volcanic soil eroded. Without wood the remaining people couldn’t make boats to escape. By 1722 when the first Europeans came the island had become mostly barren and sparsely populated. A birdman cult arose and became the predominant religion of the island, carving hundreds of petroglyphs. In 1862 slave traders took all the healthy people from the island. Missionaries came soon after, converting the defeated population that was left and destroying important links to the island’s history making it impossible for future generations to know the significance of the moai or the story behind them.

Easter Island

Moai statues peppering a hillside

Some of the statues stand in groups on platforms and others are scattered about. Contrary to popular belief, they are not all just heads. Some look like just a head poking out of the ground, but they have a body buried beneath the surface.

P&O Arcadia sailed past Easter Island on a relatively clear day. The sky had plenty of clouds, but the island was totally visible. I’ve heard sometimes it is shrouded in mist and passing ships can’t see it at all. The ship sailed by with the island to the starboard side and our room was on the port side so we could not sit comfortably on our own balcony to see it. Instead we had to jostle for space on the starboard side along with all the passengers from inside rooms as well as any others from the port side. We went out early enough to find a nice space along a railing. For some reason people who come out later tend to stand behind others rather than searching for open space somewhere else.

statues on Easter Island

A row of Moai on a platform

That’s OK if they stand back a bit, but once again I became invisible. This normally happens when I’m in line at the sort of buffet where someone behind a counter has to serve you. When I make it to the front they serve the person behind me, then the one behind them. They keep going down the line like I’m not even there. Occasionally even at a sit-down restaurant the waiter has taken orders from everyone else and then walked away or neglected to fill the water glass at my place though they filled everyone else’s.

Most of the people in the second row stood back a bit from the front, but had there not been a railing there the lady behind me would have pushed me right off the ship. I couldn’t get my camera out without elbowing her, which always gave me the uncomfortable feeling that I could easily drop it over the side before getting it secure. She didn’t seem to notice that or any time I bumped her trying to use the binoculars the ship so kindly provided to each cabin either. Apparently she could not feel me any more than she could see me.

sea view of Moai

backsides of Moai

As the ship approached Easter Island we could see one edge of the island dropping off at a cliff. Around the corner the land sloped down much closer to the water. There we saw some of the moai. These face inland so passing by on a ship we could only see the back. Luckily John has a camera with a good telephoto lens to zoom in on that sort of thing. The ship stayed about a mile offshore so even with binoculars it would be hard to tell what they were if you didn’t already know.

there are trees on Easter Island

Easter Island has trees

We were surprised to see trees growing on the island. Though the majority of it still looked like grasslands (and we even saw a herd of horses) it did indeed have trees here and there, sometimes long rows of them. I had always heard that the island had been completely stripped of its forests and none had ever grown back. Apparently someone has gotten some sort of trees to grow there, though it is possible none are native to the island. A few looked like palm trees, but just ordinary ones, not the giant sort it is said the island once had.

the sea carved this head

Easter Island’s original head?

We could see a few farms and some roads with the occasional car or van. One hilltop had 3 white crosses. At the end of that side the island rose higher to a large volcanic crater. I don’t know if it was the one where they carved the moai or if that was one of the other volcanic craters on the island. It has three. A couple small rocky islets jutted from the sea, and between them and the land a stood a rock that looked much like a naturally occurring giant head. Several passengers around us mentioned wondering if that was what gave islanders the idea to carve the moai. A few fishing boats puttered around between the rocks.

moai faces

A row of moai from the inland side. Not my photo, found online at Smithsonian Magazine.

Our ship turned and sailed by another side of the island. The lower area there appeared more populated. Behind the silhouette of a sailboat’s mast we could see a platform with 4 moai, but for the camera they’d have been shooting directly into the sun so it wasn’t until the ship got farther down that side that anyone could take photos. Near the far end of that side the ship turned away and headed onward across the pacific.

Easter Island

Easter Island has some variety in its terrain

Unfortunately we didn’t stop or have a chance to go ashore. Easter Island has long been on my bucket list so I’m glad I at least got to see it from a ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016



Posted in Arcadia, P&O, Pacific Ocean & Islands | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments