Obstructed View Cabins on Holland America Oosterdam

ocean view cabin

The Oosterdam’s obstructed view cabins behind the lifeboats have nearly a full outside wall of window

When choosing your cruise ship cabin, some ships offer rooms with obstructed views. These come at a lower price than standard ocean view cabins, but what (if anything) can you see? The answer to that varies greatly. Obstructed view cabins are often located behind lifeboats, which is where you find them on Holland America’s Oosterdam. Some ships have no obstructed view cabins at all. Others have them in places like behind a bulkhead or along the promenade deck with a wall blocking all or part of the sea view.

obstructed view room

Cabin 4118 is designated as fully obstructed and has a tender boat blocking the window

If you just want some natural light in the room a fully obstructed window works, but if you actually want to see something choose your room carefully. Some cabins are designated fully obstructed while others are designated partially obstructed and (of course) have a bit higher price tag for the partial views.

obstructed view cabin

Cabin 4120 is the last one in the row of obstructed view cabins. It’s designated as fully obstructed, but has a better sea view than some partial view cabins – and a view of a neighboring cabin’s balcony

Some rooms marked as fully obstructed really are, but others actually have a better view than some of the ones with the partial obstruction designation. You might even see a bit through the windows of a tender from a fully obstructed cabin.

obstructed view cabin

Cabin 4112 is located between tenders and designated as partial view

On the Oosterdam the outer wall of the obstructed view cabins is almost all window, meaning that if there is anywhere at all that is not blocked by a lifeboat or the structures surrounding them you can see out from that spot. This is a great benefit since some ships just have a small window in the middle of a solid wall providing far less chance of getting any sort of a view.

view under a lifeboat to the deck below

looking down under the lifeboat to the promenade deck from cabin 4086

With the Oosterdam’s floor to ceiling window you can at least look under the lifeboat down to the promenade deck even if the rest of your view is blocked.

Oosterdam deck plan for deck 4

When choosing an obstructed view cabin use the ship’s deck plans as your guide. Most cruise lines have them available on their website. On the Oosterdam for example, using the deck plan as your guide you can see which rooms are located fully behind lifeboats or tenders and which are at least partially in between them.

window behind a lifeboat

Cabin 4086 is designated as fully obstructed, but you can see over the top of the lifeboat

They also draw the tenders differently than the ones that are just lifeboats, which is good to know because the tenders are taller. On most ships you can see something over the top of the shorter lifeboats, but not the tenders. With rooms completely behind a tender the best you can hope for is a peek-a-boo view through the tender’s windows – if it happens to have windows placed where you can see through them and out to the other side.

obstructed view cruise ship cabin

Cabin 4110 is between tenders. Though designated fully obstructed, it has a partial view.

ocean view obstructed cruise ship cabins

Cabin 4102 is also between tenders, but is designated as having a partial view.

If your window is between boats you get something of a view. How much or little depends on both how much of each boat is in front of your window and how much structure there is between the boats. There is always some because something has to hold them in place.

almost obstructed view

fully obstructed room 4114 is behind the bow of a tender with just a hint of open space

If you look at the deck plans to the Oosterdam you might notice it has a few rooms marked as fully obstructed that are not completely behind lifeboats. These will be the best bargains since you are paying for fully obstructed yet will be able to at least see something.

views vary widely on obstructed view cabins

cabin 4090 between a lifeboat and glass elevator has a pretty good view for a fully obstructed cabin

Besides the end of the row of lifeboats being a good place to look for better views from obstructed view cabins, anywhere with a break in the structure will have more view as well. The Oosterdam has glass elevators going up the outside of the ship near the center.

lifeboat and sea view

Cabin 4092 is on the other side of the elevator from 4090 and listed as having a partial view

This adds some space between the lifeboats and tenders and makes for a pretty good view if you don’t mind being next to a glass elevator. The two by the glass elevators next to the lifeboats are designated as fully obstructed while the ones on the side by the tenders are listed as partially obstructed though the better view is actually on the lifeboat side.

when your obstructed view is fully obstructed

from cabin 4118 you get a great view of the inside of a tender

Of course some of the cabins listed as fully obstructed actually are, which is why it is important to choose carefully when booking an obstructed view cabin.

lifeboat view

partial view cabin 4088 sits between lifeboats offering view both above and between the boats

When looking to save money on your cabin while at least getting some natural light and maybe even a bit of a view the obstructed view cabins are a great way to go. The real views are better than those shown here since they don’t have all the room reflections the camera picked up in these photos. Ocean view cabins are generally bigger than inside cabins so even if you don’t get much of a view you at least have a bit more space.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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Spaces and Places on Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista

Vista in Naples, Italy

Some places are standard on all major cruise ships. Besides passenger cabins they all have bars, a variety of places to eat, pools, hot tubs, outdoor decks, shops, a gym, a casino, and a spa. Most cruise lines have more similarities between their own ships than you find from one cruise line to the next, but even within a cruise line some things vary from ship to ship.

cruise ship waterslide

Vista’s kaleid-o-slide tube slide

The Vista, which was Carnival’s newest ship until the recent launch of Vista’s sister ship Horizon, has some things that were a first for Carnival, and some things never seen on any previous cruise ship. New to Carnival is a tube slide at the waterworks alongside the popular twister slide. Their digital photo display is also new. Instead of placing out racks of photos for sale that all end up in the garbage if not sold, Vista displays theirs digitally. Passengers can find their own with a touch on the wall.

new photo technology

Vista’s Pixels Photo Gallery displays photos digitally

New to the sea is Vista’s IMAX theater. Showing both IMAX and feature films, this 3-deck high movie theater doesn’t have a bad seat in the house. The two-theater complex also includes the thrill theater, a motion theater with moving seats and other affects on film shorts first seen on their previous ship the Breeze. Both theaters have a surcharge.

fun on a cruise ship

skyride on the Vista

Another first at sea is their skyride. The ride cars hang from twin tracks high above the outside decks. They move under pedal power similar to riding a bike. There is no extra charge for this ride, but it sometimes has a line so it’s best to go at unpopular times.

Carnival Vista

Havana pool and hot tubs

Often ships have exclusive areas where only certain people are allowed to go, usually those who have paid the big bucks for the fanciest suites. Not so with Carnival, whose main consumer base is average people. Before the Vista they kept that in mind with all public spaces available for all the passengers. They have always had some areas for just adults or just kids, but none designated only for those in certain cabins. That ended with the Vista which has two areas only for people in specific cabins. One is a lounge for the family harbor cabins, which has food, games, computers, movies, and concierge service. The other is a pool area open only to those staying in the Havana cabins during daytime hours. Staying in these areas of course costs more than similar cabins elsewhere on the ship.

outdoor seating areas on a ship

promenade deck spaces for Cherry On Top, Library Bar, Red Frog Pub, and Bonsai Sushi

The promenade deck is full of little seating areas, each themed to whatever is adjacent to them inside. Everything from the candy shop to the library bar has its own outside space. It also has some lounging areas. There’s a smoking area too so you have to be careful where you walk if you don’t want to walk through it. What the promenade deck lacks is space for people to walk around the entire ship because the Havana pool area takes up the whole stern, and access for the Havana Cabana cabins blocks off sections on both sides near the back.

first brewery at sea

brewery in the Red Frog Pub

The highest usage of promenade deck space goes to the Red Frog Pub, which holds bean bag toss games in their outside area. The Red Frog Pub also has its own first at sea – a genuine fully-functional brewery that makes specialty beers to serve in the pub.

Vista's atrium pole

Vista atrium

Vista has a unique feature in the atrium with ever-changing video displays on a central pole. They’ve also combined the theater and nightclub into one room instead of separate places, the resulting space not ideal for either. Like Carnival’s other ships it has an additional smaller theater called the Punchliner for comedy shows and sometimes other activities. It’s a bit bigger than the punchliner on other ships. It’s a lot easier to see the stage from pretty much anywhere in the punchliner theater than it is from almost all of the seats in the main theater.

fun on the Vista

Sport Square with mini golf and ropes course

The very colorful area of fun on a top deck called Sports Square includes mini-golf, a ropes course, pool tables, multiplayer foosball, and other games. There’s also a jogging track on an upper outside deck, and some outdoor exercise equipment.

Vista dining room

Horizon’s Restaurant – one of two main dining rooms on the Vista

The highest outside deck of all is Serenity, an adults-only retreat. Although all Carnival’s ships have a Serenity area, this one introduced something new – a salad bar. It serves made-to-order salads at lunchtime on sea days, with quite a variety of options to choose from.

spa pool and heated ceramic chairs

thermal suite at the spa (everything at the spa costs extra)

Like any large cruise ship, passengers on the Vista have quite a choice of places to hang out whenever they leave their cabin. There’s always somewhere to go and something to do on a cruise ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018

 

 

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Lamingtons

lamingtons

lamingtons from the café on Explorer of the Seas

Australians have it right with this tasty treat. Cake bites dipped in chocolate and rolled in coconut? Awesome. I actually discovered lamingtons in Fiji, and found them again in New Zealand. So it’s not just Australians enjoying them. In both of those places the lammingtons we were served had chocolate cake. Crossing the Pacific from Seattle to Sydney on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, some days they served Lamingtons in the little café in the Royal Promenade. In my opinion this was the best dessert to be found anywhere on the ship. The first few days they had them they were easy to get. Only about a fourth of the passengers were Australian and most of the rest had not yet discovered the deliciousness of a lamington. The other people we sat with at dinner had never heard of them. It didn’t take long before more people tried them and the café ran out of lamingtons earlier and earlier on days they served them. One day I got a plateful as soon as the lunch stuff came out and brought them to dinner to share since nobody else had managed to find them yet. They all loved them once they got the chance to try them. Unlike the ones I’d tried in other countries, these lamingtons had white cake rather than chocolate. Later looking them up later online I found out that the white cake is the traditional one, though there are recipes out there for the ones with chocolate cake, and also ones with raspberry frosting instead of chocolate and some with jelly inside the cake.

The original recipe I found was a traditional Australian recipe, but for an 8×12 pan, which I don’t have so I had to adjust the quantities for a 13×9. After baking it and dipping it into the chocolate I discovered they came out better when cutting each cake square in half so the pieces were more the height of a brownie rather than the height of a piece of cake. Which turned into double the amount of lamingtons so unless you want a whole lot it’s better to go with an 8×8 pan instead, which is what this recipe is for.

The recipe calls for desiccated coconut, something that is readily available in Australia, but not so much in the USA. At least not where I live. Instead I got unsweetened organic flaked coconut and put it in the blender for a few seconds. I used a vitamix, which has a special blade intended for grinding dry ingredients, but since you just need to make the coconut into smaller pieces a regular blender or food processer should work too.

lamingtons

lamingtons

Lamington Recipe

Ingredients

Cake

5 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cups sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/3 cup milk

Frosting

2 cups powdered sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup milk

Topping

2-2 1/2 cups desiccated coconut (if you can’t find desiccated coconut get unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut and put it in the blender to chop it into smaller bits.)

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180C). Line 8×8 inch square pan with parchment paper with overhanging paper on all sides for easy removal.

Beat butter, sugar, and vanilla with a mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat until the batter is smooth. Put flour and baking powder into a flour sifter and sift half into batter. Mix in and add half the milk. Repeat with other half of flour and milk, mixing thoroughly after final addition.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until center springs back when touched or toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes. Take cake out of pan and let it cool overnight on a wire rack covered with a clean dish towel because it needs time to firm up before dipping or it will be too crumbly. Cut cake into 9 pieces and then cut each piece in half so it is brownie height rather than cake height.

Set heat-proof bowl or double boiler over pan of hot water. Blend all frosting ingredients. Leave frosting over hot water while dipping lamingtons so the chocolate stays warm and thin enough for dipping. Just the water needs to be hot, the pan does not need to be on a burner or being heated while dipping the lamingtons. Two forks work pretty well for dipping. Hold the lamington between them, do not stab the fork through it. Then use the forks to roll it around in the chocolate and gently pick it up when done. Let excess chocolate drip off before transferring lamington into the coconut.

Put a small amount of the coconut in a small bowl. It’s best not to use all of it at once so it doesn’t all get full of chocolate. Roll each lamington in coconut as soon as you take it out of the chocolate dip, then set it on a plate to dry. Repeat the process with each lamington.

Once the lamingtons are dry they can be stored in a Tupperware type container. If you stack them on top of each other put a sheet of waxed paper between the layers so they don’t stick to each other.

lamingtons

lots of lamingtons

If you make too many and want to save some for later they do freeze well.

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Penrith, Australia

Circular Quay

Arcadia at Circular Quay in Sydney

When embarking or disembarking a cruise in Sydney, if you have a few days to stay it’s nice to see some of the surrounding area. We took advantage of disembarking the P&O Arcadia there to visit with our daughter who lives in Australia. About an hour west of Sydney by train lies the much maligned town of Penrith. When we took the Legend cruise out of Sydney one of the Australian comics included Penrith jokes in his routine. Sort of like the Arkansas of New South Wales, if not all of Australia. If you actually go to Penrith you will find there are fun things to do there, though some of the people actually are bogans (an Australian term meaning people others look down on). Park restrooms are locked at night to keep drug abusers and people who like to trash things out. Some people in the area also seem to have a penchant for throwing trash everywhere. Then again litter is one of the constants you find nearly anywhere in the world. Other bogan behavior includes riding motorbikes and quads through parks clearly posted with no motor vehicles allowed signs, or even driving a car into the park. I’m not sure about the Aussies, but the people who trash and deface things, litter, or think the rules don’t apply to them are the ones I’d consider bogans, and that behavior certainly isn’t limited to Penrith or even to Australia.

food on the water

Bennett’s on the River – restaurant on a boat

Good points about the Penrith area besides Australia’s train system include numerous parks with lots of greenspace and trails. The Great River walk stretches along the Nepean River with access from both the Penrith and Emu Plains sides and parking at Tench Reserve, Weir Reserve or Regatta Park. Along the river there are trails, playgrounds, and a boat launch. A paddle wheeler called Nepean Belle does short river cruises from the dock by the Tench Reserve parking area. They serve meals on the boat during the river cruise and it can also be reserved for weddings or other events. There used to be a permanently moored boat there used as a restaurant called Bennetts on the River, but it closed and the boat was gone last time we went there.

cables wake park

playground with jumping pillow at Cables wake park

We at there once when it was still there. They served good food in large portions. People at the nearby launch ramp provided lunchtime entertainment. We saw quite a few of them struggling to get their boats or jet skis in or out of the water, and a couple who seemed to have it down pat. One drove too far and the trailer wheels dropped off the ramp so people had to lift the trailer as they pulled forward to get it out. Another forgot to take the tiedowns off the back and may have pulled their entire rig into the water when they drove the boat off if one of our party hadn’t ran out and warned them so they sheepishly pulled out of the water to remove them.

wakeboarding

Cables wake park

Penrith has a park called Cables where you don’t need a boat to go waterskiing or wakeboarding. The lake there has a mechanism that drags people around the water boat-free. There’s jumps they can use if they want. Some do all sorts of fancy tricks, others struggle to stay on their feet. Some fall. They swim to shore to try again while the empty cable skims across the water until it gets to the home line at the starting point. Those activities cost money, but you can come in for free and watch or let small kids use the playground which includes a giant jumping pillow. Penrith also has lots of shops and restaurants and a multi-story mall. One of the strip malls near Penrith has a Lindt factory outlet store with more flavors of the Lindor truffles than I ever knew existed.

Australian park

bushwalking in a park

Though Penrith is one of the larger towns found between Sydney and the Blue Mountains, it’s fairly typical of the region in having parks and open space. Some parks in the nearby areas even have enough wooded trails for a bushwalk. Penrith is nearly the last stop for city trains headed up toward the Blue Mountains, but it is also a stop for the Blue Mountain Line, which is a faster train out from Sydney since it stops at less towns along the way.

kangaroos

wild grey kangaroos at the uni

Western Sydney University has a campus with lots of open space which is home to wild grey kangaroos. It’s a great place to go to see kangaroos in the wild.

A lot of Australians are into running, and there are several locations in or near Penrith that have 5K parkruns each weekend, including one along the Nepean River.

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The Suite Life

Cruising In A Suite

cruise ship in Cuba

Veendam in Havana

I’ve cruised with Holland America a number of times, but somehow in spite of starting out from quite a variety of ports, and seeing many of their other ships in port here and there, I always end up on one of the same ships I’ve been on before. This was the case with a recent Caribbean cruise on the Veendam out of Fort Lauderdale, on which I previously sailed for a New England cruise out of Boston.

towel animal

towel animal and chocolates

Cruise ship cabins come in a variety of sizes and amenities to suit any budget, as do cruise ships themselves. Holland America doesn’t have mega giant ships like some lines, but even for them Veendam is one of their smaller ships, though not the smallest. While we haven’t ever gone with the super high-priced luxury cruise lines, we have sailed with a number of standard lines. We’ve also gone with different room choices among inside, ocean view, and balcony staterooms. Being mostly budget cruisers, we’d never stepped up a level and ventured into the territory of suites.

cruise ship cabin

artwork in the room consisted of maps in a foreign language

Wanting to see Cuba while travel there is still an option for Americans, we booked a one week Caribbean cruise that included a port stop in Havana on the Veendam through our most used source of cheap cruises, vacationstogo.com. Our initial booking was category guarantee, ocean view or above. For the most part we’ve gotten pretty good rooms going through category guarantee rather than choosing a specific room. As well as a better price there’s always the possibility of getting assigned a room above the category booked at no extra charge. There’s also a higher likelihood of receiving a call from the upgrade fairy. Which isn’t usually a free upgrade, but an upgrade at a lower cost than the offered room would be if booked directly.

Veendam Vista Suite

Vista Suite on the Veendam

While I would have stuck with what we originally booked and taken our chances on whatever room we got assigned had I answered the phone when the upgrade fairy called, John took the bait when they offered an upgrade to a suite. As I mentioned before we’ve never stayed in a suite so he thought it would be fun to give it a go, and it was. Even though there was a charge for the upgrade we figured we might never see a suite offered at that price again since it was considerably lower than the advertised price and actually less than it often costs for a week’s cruise in a balcony cabin.

big balcony on a cruise ship

Vista Suite balcony on the Veendam is more than double the size of a standard cruise ship balcony

It was of course at the bottom level of the types of suites available on the Veendam. On a lot of ships they’re called mini suites, but on the Veendam they are Vista Suites. They’re nothing like the Pinnacle Suite, which is somewhat like an apartment and bigger than our house. Not even the Neptune Suite, which is significantly larger than regular cruise ship cabins. Mini, or in this case, Vista, suites are more like a larger than average balcony cabin. They do come with some of the perks of larger suites though. Not the priority check in or free laundry, but this one did come with concierge service, though we never used it. Besides being a bit larger of a room, the balcony is more than double the standard size and included a lounger as well as two chairs and a small table. Apparently some of the people who stay in larger suites snub the vista suites though. I overheard one passenger talking to a vista suite steward in the hallway by those rooms. He recognized the steward from a previous cruise and was telling him he deserved a promotion up to the suite floor one deck above. Not even acknowledging that the steward already worked on a suite deck.

cruise ship bathtub

jetted tub in the Vista Suite

The bathroom includes not just a bathtub (which is standard on Holland America in anything other than inside cabins), but a jetted tub. It’s also a shower so they could have designed it a bit better by putting the rather large washcloth rack at the end of the tub away from the shower rather than at the middle where it sticks out in the way of anyone standing there. It’s very nice to have a jetted tub though. I could get used to that even if it didn’t feel very spacious and I’m a small person. The one problem with having a tub/shower combo is that they put the dispenser for shampoo, conditioner, and body wash up high where it is convenient for showering, but you have to stand up to get any when taking a bath – unless you have your own products which you can then set on the small shelf in one corner of the tub at a much more convenient height.

vista suite on the Veendam

Veendam Vista Suite

The room had a small refrigerator, also standard on Holland America. Of course it comes full of mini-bar items they want you to buy, but you can have those removed or just work around them if there are other things you want to put in there instead. This room came with the most storage space we’ve ever had in a cruise ship cabin. Which makes sense because it was bigger than the average cruise ship cabin. It has 4 little closets. 2 with a hanging bar and full space to hang things with just top and bottom shelves, and 2 that have more shelves and less hanging space. One also contains the safe.

cruise ship cabin

pillow collection on the bed

Nightstands on either side of the bed have 2 drawers each, as well as drawers at the foot end of the bed – which itself seemed bigger than usual. The bed was piled with a variety of pillows of varying sizes and softness so people can pick whichever one is most comfortable for them to sleep on at night and have the whole pile to lean on if they sit on the bed during the day. The desk area also had 3 sets of 3 drawers each. The room had enough storage space available that we didn’t even use it all. There were also a couple shelves above the TV. One had a few glasses on it, but the other was just open and available for storage.

keep cruise documents handy with magnets

magnets keep paperwork organized on a cruise ship

It also had a full sized couch, a little table with a chair, and a stool under the desk. The hallway to the bathroom and closet area had a curtain to close it off from the main part of the room if desired. Veendam is an old enough ship that the walls are not magnetic. Even on older ships the bathroom and cabin doors are magnetic so there’s still somewhere to hang paperwork if you bring magnets. Hanging stuff keeps it organized and out of the way. I print out the itinerary before we go and hang that up along with any excursion tickets we might have and anything else deemed important, like the daily newsletter with its schedule of available activities for the day.

cruise ship balcony view

view from the balcony while sailing out of Havana

For suite guests the steward came by the first day with slippers and a Holland America beach bag. He filled the ice bucket twice a day and left chocolates and a towel animal each night, which they also do for cabins that are not suites. The biggest advantage of this room for us was the oversized balcony, which was a great place to sit and read or watch the ocean go by.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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Booking a Cruise By Category Guarantee

cruise ships in Port Canaveral

Disney Fantasy and Norwegian Epic from a cove balcony on Carnival Magic

Most of the time when people book cruises they choose a specific cabin for their cruise. Choosing a cabin lets passengers find a cabin that meets their needs, whether it is a quiet location, close to an elevator, or in a specific area of the ship. When you choose your own cabin you have the type of cabin you picked in the exact location you wanted it.

double size cruise ship veranda

Double length balcony on the MSC Divina

There is another way to book cruises though. Sometimes bookings are offered by category guarantee rather than choosing a specific room. When you book by category guarantee you get at least the category you booked in, and sometimes a free upgrade to a higher category. Besides the likelihood of free upgrades, booking by category guarantee is cheaper than picking your own cabin in the category you booked. You will never get a lower category than you paid for, but higher is quite likely. Just remember a higher category to the cruise line may just mean closer to the center of the ship or on a higher deck. For instance if you chose the lowest possible inside cabin category and ended up in an inside room on deck 9 instead of deck 1 you may not consider that an upgrade because it is still an inside room, but the cruise line will have that deck 9 room listed in a higher category of inside rooms and for a higher price than the deck 1 cabin so to them it is an upgrade.

Stateroom with portholes

Veendam Porthole Cabin

Booking porthole or above can easily lead to an ocean view cabin. Most ships have very few porthole cabins so if they all get booked the line has to move you up to ocean view because they can’t move you down to inside.

cruise ship stateroom

Veendam Ocean-View Cabin

You are much more likely to get an upgrade when booking category guarantee than if you book a specific room, but you have no choice about where on the ship that room is located. You might get a great location or you might end up under the galley or somewhere equally noisy.

the cabin for people who are really into spas

Carnival Splendor Balcony Cabin

On most cruises we choose our cabin, but sometimes we have gone with category guarantee when it is offered. I took my very first cruise with my daughter on a ship named Ocean Breeze belonging to a one-ship line called Imperial Majesty, long since out of business. We had a category guarantee booking that assured we would at least get the very worst cabin the ship had to offer – and so we did. This cabin was shaped like a wide hallway with a twin bed at either end. It did have the biggest bathroom we’ve ever had on a cruise ship, but it was very plain and basic with a cement floor, small sink, toilet, a showerhead with a curtain to pull around it, and nothing else but empty space. The steward had to clear all his spare towels and other supplies out of the room. It was normally never booked so he used it as a storage closet. It was very noisy being located under the stage and freezing because it had no controls for the overhead air conditioner vent. The steward only lessened the blasting artic air by covering it up with cardboard and towels so he left us a pile of extra blankets. I didn’t book by category guarantee again for years after that, but so far we have had much better luck with our category guarantee cabins on other cruise lines. None of the ships we’ve sailed on since even have a room like that one. It didn’t scare me off from cruising though. We still had fun.

special cruise ship cabins

MSC Divina room 9145 bedroom area with mirror view into the living room area

On the MSC Divina we got a cruise for next to nothing (11 days for $149) at Sky Auction. It was initially an inside room, but when they offer an upgrade to a balcony for an additional $50 it is definitely a deal worth taking. The cabin they assigned us was a nearly unique style in that the ship had only 4 like it. While most cabins sit short end toward the outside of the ship, this one was set with the long side of the room along the outside of the ship. The balcony ran the whole length of the room so it was double the size of the average cruise ship balcony. The room itself was arranged nearly as 2 rooms. The entry came between the closet and bathroom as normal, then the rest of that side of the room had a couch and TV with an opening into a second area nearly a room into itself with the bed and another TV. Best balcony room we ever had, almost like having a mini-suite and we got in on a category guarantee.

Lanai cabin

Veendam Lanai cabin – From the outside you can’t see in through the Lanai sliding door in daylight

On a cruise out of Boston on Holland America Veendam my aunt and I booked porthole or above and ended up with an ocean view room on the lowest deck with cabins. This was a great room with a window straight to the sea. My other aunt and uncle booked ocean view or above and got an ocean view room on the promenade deck. To the cruise line this is a higher category because the deck is higher, but they would have preferred the lower deck where nobody walks past your window. Their room was also under the galley and very loud at night so they asked if they could be moved to a different room and ended up down the hall in a lanai cabin, which has a door out onto the promenade deck. It books for a significantly larger amount of money, so a big upgrade there. They could still hear people out swabbing the promenade deck at night, but were at least out from under the galley.

oosterdam inside cabin

Oosterdam inside cabin 7132

I booked category guarantee on Holland America again on the Oosterdam, this time with my husband. We booked at the lowest inside category or above and were placed in an inside cabin on deck 7 rather than deck 1. This cabin just happened to be directly across the hall from friends we were sailing on this cruise with who had chosen their own balcony cabin. Probably not coincidence that they put us in that specific room when they could have put us anywhere.

virtual balcony cabin

interior cabin with virtual balcony on Explorer of the Seas

We also booked category guarantee inside or above on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas and were assigned to a deck 2 ocean view cabin. This was a 23 day Pacific crossing so we were quite grateful for the view. Deck 2 is their lowest category of ocean view cabins. Ours was near the bow, third cabin from the end of a dead-end hallway with only 15 cabins in it so hardly anyone ever walked past our room. There were no inside rooms across the hall since they had a conference center there, but it didn’t have many activities and none at night so the room was usually quiet.

cruise ship cabin with bunks

ocean view cabin with drop-down bunks on Explorer of the Seas

Overall we’ve had good luck with category guarantee bookings. They can be a significant savings over choosing your own room even without an upgrade. If you do get an upgrade then it’s an even bigger bonus. You have to be OK with not knowing where your room will be nearly until the ship sails because you don’t often get the room assignment very far ahead of the departure date. They wait until the end to see which specific rooms didn’t sell.

Norwegian Pearl stateroom with balcony

balcony cabin on Norwegian Pearl

Once years ago we booked an inside cabin on Norwegian Pearl and ended up with a balcony room. We really got lucky that time. A jump in categories that big without paying something extra for the upgrade rarely ever happens.

watching the tender load from our deck 2 window on Explorer of the Seas

Not every booking will have the category guarantee option, but when they do it can help to make the cruise more affordable. With category guarantee bookings you are also more likely to get a call from the upgrade fairy to move to a higher category for a fee. They do this when your chosen category is getting full and they’d rather make a little more money to move someone up than move anyone up for free. You do of course have the option of saying no and just seeing where you end up. Sometimes they offer a deal too good to pass up and sometimes they don’t.

Holland America Veendam Vista Suite

Vista Suite on Holland America Veendam

My husband and I recently had a category guarantee through Vacations to Go on the Veendam on a Caribbean cruise for ocean view or above. We’d have been perfectly happy with a lower deck ocean view room, but of course would have no control over getting moved up to the promenade deck. We wouldn’t have liked the ocean view cabin being where people walk past your room, especially if we ended up under the galley like my aunt and uncle had on that very same ship. I have mixed feelings on whether I’d like a lanai cabin or not, assuming they ran out of ocean view cabins and gave us a free upgrade to lanai. While the direct promenade access and reserved deck chairs would be nice, there is still the issue of people walking past your room all day and noisy nighttime deck swabbers. Then the upgrade fairy called offering a vista suite where the added charge for the upgrade plus what we had already paid was about half the going rate for that room on Holland America’s website. Being generally budget cruisers we’d never stayed in a suite before. We may never get one offered at that big of a bargain again so we accepted even though it’s their lowest class of suites and pretty much just a slightly bigger than average balcony room with an oversized balcony. It did come with some of the same perks their bigger suites get, but not all. Because of the low price we did not get the double days suite bonus applied to their loyalty program even though that room would qualify for people who paid full price.

If  you like to save money and you’re adventurous and not particularly picky about your cabin, booking by category guarantee is a great way to go. If you won’t be happy unless your cabin is exactly what and where you want then it’s not the ideal way for you to book.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

Anchorage Alaska arena

Sullivan Arena in Anchorage

Early spring in Anchorage brings about the annual Great Alaska Sportsman Show in the Sullivan Arena and next door Ben Boeke ice arenas. Along with the indoor exhibits, RV’s and boats line up outside alongside the sidewalk next to the arenas. People come from all over Alaska to attend the show, but total yearly numbers tend to vary depending on the weather. If people can’t see their lawns because they are still buried in snow they have no yardwork to do so more go to the show.  Those who come Thursday or Friday can get a weekend pass and attend the show every day for less than the price of two daily tickets.

Brite Bite booth

our fishing tackle booth at The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

I’ve just been there twice with a number of years in between. The first time snow lingered about, but the roads had all been plowed and stayed clear. The second time it snowed a foot the day we got there so paying extra for studded tires on the rental car seemed like a good idea for anyone who wanted to live. It snowed a bit more the next day, but by the last day it had started to melt with daytime puddles turning to nighttime ice. Parking lots never got plowed so the studded tires came in handy there the whole time through. As did snow boots for getting out of the car.

The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

looking down on unfinished booths on the main floor of the Sullivan Arena on set-up day

Inside the show countless booths sell everything from fishing tackle or hunting gear to outdoor clothes, boots, and food products. There were also random things like bamboo sheets and travel sized clothes steamers that remove the wrinkles faster than ironing. The bamboo sheet guy sold out so those were pretty popular. Besides booths selling food to eat at the show, there were also booths with prepared food products to take home. Some were the sort you take on pack trips, others things like spices or jams to use at home. Lots of other things could be found there as well. People could book all manner of trips in Alaska. Glacier cruises, hunting or fishing trips, and river rafting were all among the choices to be found at various booths. Want a log home or picnic table? You could find people to build those there too. Other offerings included specialty hand lotions, kayaks and stand up paddle boards, and a variety of small boats. Tractors to buy or scheduling work done by tractors were among the options as well. One booth even gave massages right there at the show. Over in the Ben Boeke ice arena, about half of one arena was filled with all manner of big Alaskan toys. Mainly ATV’s of all shapes and sizes.

Anchorage, Alaska

Clarion Suites Downtown Hotel, Anchorage

There’s a lot more to the show than just things to buy. Each day a variety of different speakers had lectures on a myriad of different topics on the 4 stages in the seats above the main arena. Besides a variety of talks on fishing and hunting, they also had speakers on kayaking, boating safety & survival, stand-up paddling, satellite communications, log homes, and even a demonstration on how to make a bowl out of a tree burl. The show includes activities for adults as well as for children. They had an archery range, kid’s trout fishing pond, and a bird treatment and learning center with live birds. They also had an air rifle range and interactive laser shooting range. The fly-casting pond offered hands on clinics.

hotel pool

indoor pool and hot tub at the Clarion Hotel

Mornings tend to be pretty busy with lines of people waiting to get in as soon as the door opens. Evenings on the other hand are pretty slow. Most of the crowd seems to head home for dinner around 5 or 6 so anyone who stays later can wander freely, uninhibited by the crowds that make getting from one side of the arena to the other a challenge during the busiest parts of the day. Of course anyone not from close enough to Anchorage to drive there and back in a day needs somewhere to stay during the course of the show. Anchorage has quite a lot of hotels. The best price we found last year was at the Clarion Suites Downtown. You don’t usually expect an all-suite hotel to have the best rates around, but sometimes things work out.

hotel suite

room in the all-suites hotel

The room was huge with a living room area with a door that could close it off from the bedroom part. It didn’t have a full kitchen, but did have a refrigerator, sink, coffee pot, and microwave. Both the bedroom, which had two beds, and the living room had TV’s. The bathroom had a full sized bathtub with a shower. Perhaps the low price was because some things like the tile in the bathroom looked a bit worn and the elevator sounded a bit creaky, but for anyone not too snobby to overlook a few things it’s a great deal. Free breakfast is included, and came with lots of choices. They had eggs, bacon, sausage, muffins or danishes, make your own toast or English muffins, juice, tea, coffee, and make your own waffles. The hotel also had a small gym and indoor pool and hot tub. The pool and hot tub were great except when they were closed for maintenance, which happened a couple times while we were there.

The Great Alaska Sportsman Show

show booth with books and tackle

It’s spring again and nearly time for The Great Alaska Sportsman Show. My husband is always there sharing a booth with Alaska Angler. Their side has outdoor books, our side has fishing tackle under banners for Brite Bite and Halibut.net. You can find most of our products at SquidLures.com, but I made some special Brite Bite leaders for the show that aren’t available anywhere else. If you’re in Anchorage for the show you might find our booth. It’s number 40 by the northwest main entrance of the Sullivan Arena. You could even catch a seminar from John on one of the show’s stages. This year’s show runs from April 5-8.

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Swedish Massage on Explorer of the Seas

Royal Caribbean cruise ship

Explorer of the Seas in Maui

Normally massages at cruise ship spas cost well over $100. After booking a cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas I found one on their website for $89. Once I went to book it I discovered that price was for boarding day only. Any other time during the cruise it cost more, with the highest price on sea days – when people would most want to schedule. Of course once they add on their auto-gratuity it’s always more then the advertised price.

cruise ship spa tour

spa people tell you what they do in each room on the spa tour

Boarding day finally came. I took the spa tour and noticed their lowest price at $119 not counting the auto-gratuity, so booking pre-cruise was definitely a savings. They mentioned adding a free 25 minutes for massages booked and taken that day and said I could switch to one of those if I wanted, but any with that offering were priced well above the Swedish one so I kept what I already had.

cruise ship spa room

couples massage room on the spa tour

After checking in I was sent to the relaxation room and barely had time to fill out their required form before being called back for the massage. Relaxation room is cruise ship speak for spa waiting room, though they do want people there to be quiet so others can relax.

spa waiting room

relaxation room – spa speak for waiting area

Xandreia the masseuse explained that Swedish is a gentle massage, not deep tissue, for which I was happy because I like a massage that feels good rather than one that seems like torture. She asked if there was anywhere in particular bothering me or if I had any allergies. I said I didn’t think an allergy to tobacco smoke would matter since there would not be any in the room and she said she was allergic to it too. The ship had just set sail for Australia where it will spend their summer (our winter) so I said she’ll like it there because when it sails out of Australia there is no indoor smoking allowed per Australian laws. This ship already had no indoor smoking, but I had to avoid a lot of areas on the outside decks because of all the smoking there.

massage room in cruise ship spa

spa room set up ready for a massage

She started each new body section with some sort of lotion or massage oil which was usually warm, though once hot – comfortably, not unpleasantly, and once cold. After working one area for a bit she’d cover that back up and move on to the next area, releasing tension from the muscles as she went.

spa treatment room

another view of the spa treatment room

Afterword she left the room for a time while I got dressed and came back with a cup of water for me, and a receipt to sign. An auto-gratuity never seems like a real tip so I added one on before signing. She did a good job.

I’ve heard people on other lines complain that after a massage the feeling of relaxation is ruined by an attempt to sell them products, but that did not happen to me at all.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Royal Caribbean, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

The 5-Person Deluxe Ocean View Cabin

Carnival Magic

Carnival Magic in Amber Cove

Down on deck 1, Carnival Magic has a short row of Deluxe Ocean View cabins near the stern on both sides of the ship that each hold 5 people in one room. Other than suites and a few odd shaped or accessible cabins, Ocean View cabins are often the biggest staterooms on a cruise ship. Many of them occupy the same space as a balcony cabin, except that the space taken up by a balcony becomes indoor space.

five people in a cruise ship cabin

cruise ship cabin sleeps 5

The Magic’s 5-person cabins have 2 bunk beds in line rather than across the room from each other. Also two regular twin beds plus a couch that makes into a bed. When the room is set up for five one side has all the bunks and the other one lone bed. That was my bed. The grandkids wanted the bunks so this was my first cruise in a cabin with bunks where I wasn’t the one in the bunk. I like bunks so I don’t mind sleeping there. Bunks are just as comfortable as the regular beds. It’s Carnival’s couch beds that are not so comfortable.

cruise ship bunks

towel curtain around the lower bunk

There’s a curtain between the bunks which can be pulled across for more privacy at night or when changing. This just divides the area between the 3 beds on the window end and the other bunk over the couch bed. For more privacy or to block out some light those on the lower bunks can make a curtain around their bed by tucking beach towels under the edge of the mattress of the bed above so they hang down around the lower bed. My daughter did that around the couch-bed, which is where she slept. Being the youngest of the adults she took the least comfortable bed to spare our old backs. Or maybe we picked first and she got stuck with it. I can’t remember which.

cruise ship bathroom

extra bathroom with sink and tub – and another clothes line

Carnival’s deluxe ocean view rooms have 2 bathrooms. One is a regular cruise ship bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower. The other has a sink and a short, but deep tub that also has a shower. It also has a clothesline, which is a big help because the one in the other bathroom would not hold swimming suits for 5 people. When you have 5 people in a room this extra bathroom is a great feature. Also helpful with 4 and maybe even 3, but all the deluxe ocean view rooms have the extra partial bathroom, even the ones designated for just two guests.

deck plans

deck plans for Carnival Magic deck 1

There are very few ocean view rooms on the Magic that aren’t deluxe. With just 2 people I’d prefer the extra floorspace and lower price that would come with a regular ocean view room, and since a view with a price lower than balcony rooms is probably the main reason most people book ocean view it seems like they should have more regular and less deluxe ocean view cabins on this and similar ships since the majority of cabins are occupied by just two people.

cruise ship cabin

5-person cabin looking lived in

When staying in a cruise ship cabin with 5 people in it, things will get messy. We made sure to pick up everything off the floor twice a day before leaving the room when it was near time for the steward to clean. Mostly toys and kid’s clothes. Every flat surface was always covered in stuff, but then again if there’s a flat surface anywhere at home it doesn’t take my husband long to pile stuff on it there either. The room had 4 closets, one with shelves and 3 with hanging space of which two were normal and one had the bar hanging so that clothes are in front or behind each other rather than in the normal line where you can see them all from the side. It also had several drawers and the nightstands open up into little cupboards. Because two of the people in the room were small kids with tiny little clothes we had room for everything, but 5 adults or people with bigger kids in one of these rooms might need to pack light so it’s a good thing Carnival ships all have self-serve launderettes. We did ask the steward for some extra hangers and that definitely helped.

Carnival nightlight

the kids were happy that Carnival’s platinum gift this cruise was a nightlight

We had some space under the beds to put suitcases, but part of the space under one of them was taken up by what would be the back of the couch if it wasn’t getting used for a bed. The kids’ little suitcases full of toys just stayed between beds. There were some pretty big drawers under the couch bed, but one of ours didn’t open and the other was occupied by spare bedding so those were unusable for us. This room had 2 outlets, which is double what ships often have. We plugged a nightlight for the kids into one of them and a power bar in the other.

travel clock

best travel clock ever

I have a digital clock with two USB ports so for the space of the one plug-in that the clock took we could charge two electronic devices and know the time. We had to set the clock so both Hannah in the bed over the couch and me in the lone one could see the clock at night because that’s the way we roll and nobody else cared. Other spaces on the power strip were used to charge other devices or camera batteries, whatever was needed at the time. Even with two people powerbars are often a necessity on most ships if you bring things like phones, computers, and cameras.

keeping paperwork organized

without these magnets we never would have found things like excursion tickets

I always bring magnets on cruises to keep paperwork organized on the wall since most ships have magnetic walls in the cabins. Even on older ships where the walls aren’t magnetic the doors usually are so occasionally I’ve had to hang things there. With so many people the magnets were invaluable in being able to find things like shore excursion tickets, the itinerary, and even the daily Fun Times since the countertop was often strewn with various people’s items as well as piled with the electronic devices of 5 people, cruise line beach towels, and the ice bucket and water bottles left in there by the crew. We had the steward remove the water bottles you have to pay for first thing, but since everyone red and above gets a free bottle of water we still had 5 since even the kids had sailed with Carnival before. (For those who don’t sail Carnival, red is the color of your ship’s card from your second sailing until you accumulate enough points for gold. After enough cruises the card becomes platinum and finally diamond with each level of the loyalty program getting more perks.)

power strip

power strips come in useful on a cruise – also adapters if you have things with foreign plugs

When cruising with 5 people in the same room you have to take each other’s habits into account. Some need more sleep than others, particularly when a couple of them are young children. It helps if you know how to open doors quietly, though no matter whether you hold the knob so nothing bangs or clicks it isn’t quiet if the door squeaks. On boarding day our bathroom door squeaked quite loudly, but maintenance came and oiled it soon after we asked the steward if they could. That helped a lot since somebody is bound to need a bathroom while others are sleeping with that many people.

hallway art

the Magic had nice art in the hallways between guest cabins

The room had enough space that we never really felt crowded, though it would have been nice if the tub room had more storage space so people wouldn’t have all their things in the only bathroom with a toilet and have to either move them to the other one for use or be in the one someone would invariably need. That’s a minor inconvenience though considering how much money we saved over having two separate cabins. There was a public bathroom a few decks up the nearest stairway which came in handy sometimes. Having an extra place to shower or bathe a kid definitely helped when everyone came back from waterslides or the beach to get ready for dinner around the same time.

too much stuff

there’s a desktop under there somewhere

5 people in a cabin makes a lot more work for the steward, but ours was always cheerful and helpful. He even kept a smile the day he had to change the sheets on two beds because the kids left brown streaks. Sheri insisted the ones on my bed were chocolate from sticky little fingers, but her bed got brown spots when Daniel sat on it naked just after using the bathroom. We left the steward a good tip.

towel animals

the window built up a collection of animals

We enjoyed our cruise in the 5-person room. There were 4 more people cruising with us staying in other rooms. At times we had all 9 in our room since it was the biggest. With the 3 lower beds as well as a stool everyone found somewhere to sit.

Other cabins on Carnival Magic

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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What’s At The Top Of Mount Roberts in Juneau?

on the Mt Roberts tram

Oosterdam from the tram

The iconic Mount Roberts Tram is one of the main attractions in Juneau. It’s quite visible from ships as they cruise into town. Holland America ships dock right below it. The lower tram station sits at the center of the main gathering area for tourists booking last minute excursions in the heart of town. Bright red trams traveling up and down the mountain dominate the view. Tickets are available at the tram station or on board the cruise ships where passengers can purchase their tickets in advance and go directly to the tram line, avoiding the line to buy tickets. Every time I’ve compared the ship’s price to the cost of buying the tickets direct they’ve always been the same price. Thousands of people take the tram up the mountain each summer. What do they find when they get to the top?

Mount Roberts TRam

One tram car goes up while the other goes down

The ride up or down provides excellent views and the trams have windows all around to take advantage of the sites. The bright red tram cars have their names painted boldly on the outside. One is called Eagle and the other Raven. These are the two major groups (called moieties) of the Tlingit tribe, who run the tram. In this matriarchal society, children are born into their mother’s clan. Marriages are made with people in the other group.

riding the Mount Roberts Tram

view of cruise ships and the other tram from a tram car

Cruise ships at the dock are quite visible on the ride up so long as the area is not shrouded in fog. The tram docks at the upper station in a windowed building with excellent views of the ships and town below in clear weather. A wide hallway leads into the main area of the upper floor of the 2-story building.

upper tram station view

looking down from the upper tram station

On that floor visitors find a gift shop, a restaurant, a door to the outside, and a stairway to the lower level. The lower floor has restrooms and a theater. The theater hosts shows by the Alaska String Band and a film about Tlingit history and culture.

outside Mount Roberts upper tram station

upper tram station at Mount Roberts, looking over to the visitor’s center

Venture outside of the main building and it’s just a short walk to the tiny wildlife center which houses one flightless eagle. Named Lady Baltimore, she’s a resident there for life since the injury that left her flightless means she can’t be released into the wild.

flightless eagle

Lady Baltimore, the flightless eagle at the tram station

Just past the eagle there’s a small visitor’s center building.

just how big is an eagle's nest

she’s standing in a full sized replica of an eagle’s nest, but no matter how hard she flaps her arms she can’t fly away

The outer deck area to the visitor’s center has a couple displays where visitors can stand in a replica of an eagle’s nest or spread out their arms to see how they compare to the wingspan of the birds pictured there.

measure your wingspan

still can’t fly

Inside there’s a small gift shop and theater.

trail at Mount Roberts tram

short loop trail near the tram station

Outside of the buildings there are entrances to trails. One trail makes a short loop with some nice views along the way. It rains a lot in Juneau so the trails are likely to be wet or muddy.

view from mountaintop trail

view from the trail

This is a good trail for people with some time to spend there, but not a lot. Also great for anyone not wishing to risk getting lost on a longer trail or taking too much time and missing their ship. It’s an easy trail for anyone without walking or balance issues.

trail at Mount Roberts tram

another bit of the short loop trail

One trail leads to 6th street in town for those who would rather hike 3 miles up or down the mountain than take a ride on the scenic tram. It continues on 6 more miles from the tram station to the top of the mountain. From the tram station this hike can take 4-6 hours and may pass through patches of snow. I’ve never gone that far, but another site recommended using a GPS to be sure of finding the right way back. It would also be a good idea to buy a map.

carved tree on the tram trail

carved tree on the short loop trail

Mount Roberts Tram makes a good short excursion to do before or after whatever else you’re doing in Juneau if you stay near the tram station. It could also be an all day outing for those who want to hike the long trail all the way to the mountaintop.

lower tram station

view of the lower tram station from an approaching tram

More Blogs About Juneau

Juneau, Mount Roberts Tram, Mount Roberts Tram on a stormy day, Glacier Gardens, River Raft Excursion, Mendenhall Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center, Ziplines

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Alaska, Holland America, Oosterdam, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, USA | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments