Explorer of the Seas

Explorer of the Seas cruise ship

Explorer Of The Seas in Honolulu

Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas launched in 2000 and had dry-dock upgrades in 2015. The ship carries registry from the Bahamas. Though not one of Royal Caribbean’s biggest ships, at 1020 feet in length, 161 feet in width, and with a capacity of over 4000 passengers and 1000 crew it is still a very large cruise ship. For the first couple years after launching it was the biggest passenger ship in the world, but that destination was soon taken over by new cruise ships of ever increasing size. It’s currently number 26, with 10 of the bigger ones belonging to Royal Caribbean including the top 3 as well as 7 of the top 10.

flowrider on a cruise ship

Flowrider on Explorer Of the Seas

There’s lots to do onboard. Besides the usual cruise ship pastimes of shows, movies, and games, this ship has a rock climbing wall, ice skating rink, flowrider, and mini golf. In addition to a pool deck with two pools and several hot tubs, it also has a solarium with 2 covered hot tubs as well as an outdoor pool. They showed nightly outdoor movies on the pool deck as well as a couple daily movies on the cabin TV and sometimes a matinee in the main theater. Of course the ship has a casino too.

cruise ship rock climbing wall

rock climbing wall on Explorer Of The Seas

The rock climbing wall had open times scheduled daily and the flowrider had daily times for stand-up surfing and times for boogie boarding.

cruise ship ice arena

ice show in the skating rink

Throughout the cruise the ice arena had several open sessions for passengers as well as an ice show. The main theater had a different show each night. In addition to several production shows with the onboard cast they had a variety of guest performers ranging from singers or musicians to comedians to magicians and even a juggler.

Jaffa Cake

Jaffa Cake – one of the dining room’s tastiest desserts

Explorer of the Seas has many food options. Besides the Sapphire Dining Room and Windjammer Marketplace buffet it has a 24-hour café, several premium restaurants, and quite a few bars. The specialty restaurants on this ship are Giovanni’s Table (Italian), Chops Grille (steakhouse), Izumi (Asian Cuisine), and Johnny Rockets (burgers).

cruise ship dining room

Sapphire Dining Room – Explorer’s main dining room is 3 decks high

Royal Caribbean Dress Code – from their website

When you’re onboard, the right look will vary by venue. But here are a few types of suggested attire you’ll see, grouped by item.
Casual: You’re on vacation – relax! Jeans, polos, sundresses and blouses are all the right amount of laid back. Please keep swimwear to the Pool Deck. Shorts are welcomed for breakfast and lunch.

Formal: Make it a night out in your best black-tie look – suits and ties, tuxedos, cocktail dresses or evening gowns. There can be 1-3 formal nights during a sailing and is at the ship’s discretion.

Please note that bare feet are not allowed at any time in any venue and tank tops are not permitted in the Main Dining Room or Specialty Dining venues for dinner.

Royal Caribbean Casual Nights by Venue – not all venues are available on all ships.

Royal Caribbean dress code table

Royal Caribbean Casual Nights by Venue

Dress codes on our cruise on the Explorer were worded in their daily newsletter (called the Cruise Compass) as tonight’s dinner dress suggestion, followed by formal or casual so dressing up for formal nights was not actually required. Most people did wear nicer clothes than on casual nights, but nothing too fancy.

cruise ship atrium

one of Explorer’s two atriums

This was our first cruise on Royal Caribbean and the ship had quite a different design than any we’ve been on previously. Rather than just one atrium area it had two. Both stairway and elevator sections had a set of glass elevators and an open area nearly to the top of the ship. Each deck had a few seats with views into the atrium/centrum areas. Some had little balconies near the elevators. In between the two atriums on decks 4 and 5 it had their Centrum central area with a variety of public places like shops, bars, and eateries.

inside a cruise ship

overlooking the Royal Promenade from the front end of the ship

Other than the front desk and shore excursions desk, most of that central area on deck 5 held the Royal Promenade. This part looked something like a city street complete with shops on that level and apartments rising above on both sides. What looks like apartment buildings is actually windows to interior cabins with a view of the promenade.

Johnny Rockets

Johnny Rockets burger place up on an outside deck

Besides shops and a pub, deck 5 had a 24 hour café with free food and basic drinks and an extra cost for specialty coffee or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. At lunchtime there was always some sort of food served in the street area near the café, which varied daily from things like tacos or pulled pork (or chicken) sandwiches.  Deck 4 had a pub, the casino, and Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant.

24 hour cafe

café on the Royal Promenade

Cabin numbering also differed on this ship from other ships we have sailed on. The others all had odd numbered cabins on the starboard side and even numbered cabins on the port side. Explorer has outside cabins with even numbers and inside cabins with odd numbers regardless of location on the ship.

ship model

the ship’s artwork included models of different Royal Caribbean ships

Carpets could help a bit finding your way around the ship in that they have a tendency to change to a different color in the hallways of the guest cabin areas when coming to a place where you can turn and either find an exit or go across the width of the ship at least for a bit rather than just going down the length.

cruise ship art

only one of tile art series the tides on the back stairs that actually resembles beach and ocean

The ship has 2 main stairways with a different style of art on each. Artwork on the front stairway is either of or by famous people. Just because they are famous for whatever reason doesn’t mean their art is any good, but it is displayed there anyway. Artwork on the back stairway is more of an abstract thing. Much of it is representations of tides or nature – of which you have to read the plaque to know that because it isn’t obvious in most of the art. Not having sailed with Royal Caribbean before, I found the models of their various ships in glass cases placed around the ship to be one of their most interesting types of art.

wayfinder on deck

find anything on board

Carpet colors and art styles weren’t needed on this ship as a means of finding your way around. Near each stairway and elevator area on each deck it had electronic touch-screen wayfinders. Besides your current location these handy digital devices could also tell you at a touch everything from the menu at different eateries to what was happening where and when. If you found somewhere you’d like to be it could also give you directions on how to get there from wherever you were at the time.

cruise ship pools

main pool deck

There is no indoor smoking which is nice. Outdoors not so much. One side of the main pool area had smoking allowed as well as a smoking area on a platform in front of a bar at the center of the deck above, which made the pool deck area pretty smoky. The solarium was non-smoking, but since the door on one side opened directly into the smoking area of the pool deck really only one side of it was useable for anyone not wanting to breathe cigarette smoke.

adults only cruise ship pool

solarium pool is open to outside, but hot tubs and the most popular deck chairs are covered

Luckily the gym opened at 6am rather than the 8am opening time of a lot of ships. Most ships have somewhere to walk or run outside, but on the Explorer one side of the open area of deck 4 had smoking allowed and the track ran just above the smoky pool deck area as well as right past the bar with the smoking platform. This left no good outside places for people to walk or run while breathing clean air. Probably why the treadmills were always full just a few minutes after the gym opened.

cruise ship artwork

sculpture on the top deck

This ship has no guest laundries and sending laundry out for the crew was quite expensive so people were pretty creative with handwashing clothes in their rooms on our 22 day cruise. It did have magnetic walls in the cabin, which always helps to keep paperwork organized if you bring magnets. Magnets are also useful for people who like to decorate their cabin door.

inside a cruise ship

Grand Staircase and Royal Promenade

We quite enjoyed Royal Caribbean and would be happy to sail with them again. One of their megaships with Central Park on the inside and waterslides snaking all the way down the back has been on my bucket list for awhile.

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Gluten Free Crepes

gluten free crepe

gluten free crepe with blueberry filling and whipped cream

Gluten Free Crepes


2 eggs

1 1/4 cup milk (any kind, cow, plant based, whatever)

2 Tablespoons liquid vegetable oil – whatever type you prefer

1/3 cup each of 3 different kinds of gluten free flour or 1 cup gluten free flour mix. (I used sorghum, tapioca, and white rice.)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)

pinch of cardamom (optional – a pinch of cinnamon or salt is also an option)


Mix all ingredients together in medium size mixing bowl. Cook on well greased preheated non-stick griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. Flip once when dough is firm and no longer runny. Makes about 7 medium size crepes. Fill as desired, roll and serve.

Crepe pictured is filled with blueberry filling.

Blueberry Filling

This filling was made with frozen blueberries. For each cup of frozen blueberries add 1/2 tablespoon corn starch and 1 tablespoon fruit juice – apple, cranberry, grape, whatever. Put all ingredients in saucepan. Stir until cornstarch is mostly dissolved in the fruit juice. Cook over medium low heat, stirring often until berries are warm and juice forms a jell. It takes about 1/4 to 3/4 cups of blueberries per crepe depending on crepe size and desired filling thickness. If you like things sweeter than natural fruit you can add a bit of honey or sugar to the filling before cooking or spread a thin layer of jelly on the crepe before filling.

Other Filling Suggestions

You can use other fruit or berries in place of the blueberries, or fill in other ways like spreading Nutella and jelly on the crepe before rolling, or just roll it up and eat with syrup. For a savory crepe fill with meat and vegetables and top with sour cream, gravy, or a savory sauce.


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Coconut Shrimp

There’s a lot of recipes out there for coconut shrimp. This one happens to not only be both baked and gluten free, but also so tasty that people might not even bother to dip all their shrimp in sauce. I used small shrimp because that’s the only ones I could find that came with the tails off, but any size will work and they can be cooked with the tails on. Bigger shrimp take less coatings because there are less of them so less total space to cover. If you don’t have rice flour and gluten’s not an issue you can sub wheat flour. If you run out of any of the ingredients before you run out of shrimp just add more. The smaller the shrimp you use the more likely that is to happen since there are more of them. The flour coating is to get the egg to stick and the egg gives the coconut something to stick to.

coconut shrimp recipe

Coconut Shrimp

Coconut Shrimp


1/2 pound fresh or thawed shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 large egg

3/4 cup shredded coconut

1/3 cup white rice flour

seasonings to taste – I used paprika and black pepper. Other options are things like onion or garlic powder, Mrs. Dash, or whatever you like on shrimp. I don’t usually salt things, but most people will probably want to add some.


Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. Generously spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

Mix flour and seasonings in a small bowl. Beat eggs in a second small bowl. Put coconut in a third bowl.

Dip shrimp first into the flour, then the egg, and finally roll it in the coconut, pressing if necessary to make it stick.

Place shrimp in single layer on prepared cookie sheet. Bake 5 minutes, then flip shrimp over. Bake until golden brown and cooked through, about another 5 – 7 minutes depending on the size of the shrimp and your individual oven.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauce. They go great with sweet & sour sauce.

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Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley at Universal

Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor in Diagon Alley always had a long line

Harry Potter fans can enjoy a visit to a simulated world from the books and movies at Orlando’s Universal Studios. Perched on the edges of both Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure, visitors to both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade find rides, shows, food, and shopping awaiting all who venture there. The two are connected by the Hogwarts Express, which for some reason they call the Hogwarts Railway. You can ride it from one to the other so long as you have a park to park pass.

Hogwarts Railway, Universal studios

Hogwart’s Express at the King’s Cross station

Universal is divided into 3 areas – City Walk, Islands of Adventure, and Universal Studios. Although visitors can easily walk from one to another they call it 3 separate parks and charge accordingly. You can walk through the City Walk area without buying a special ticket to go there, and can spend your money in its restaurants and shops, but to pass into either of the other parks you have to buy a ticket. To do both you need a park to park pass. Since Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios and Hogsmead in Islands of Adventure you need the park to park ticket in order to see all of the Harry Potter stuff. This is of course far more expensive than just getting a ticket to one park or the other.

Quibbler Magazine

even the Quibbler magazine is for sale in Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter

We went on a day where lines rarely exceeded 15 minutes and were able to see everything in one day with time enough to spare to go on a few rides in other areas of the park even though it closed earlier that day than it does during peak times. During the busier seasons when lines exceed an hour it would take a lot longer to see it all. If you don’t mind splitting your group you can shorten the wait by going in the single rider line if there is a long wait on some rides. Single riders fill in space where other groups have less people than seats in a given row and that line moves more quickly. It also bypasses the scenery you would otherwise view on the way to the main ride so you don’t quite get the full experience of the ride, but if lines are long it’s a great way to save some time. If you get the free Universal app you can check your phone to see what the wait times are for rides, when the shows are, see maps of where to find things, get directions from your current location to a particular ride or attraction, and more.

joke shop

Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley

Arriving at Universal the parking garage empties into the City Walk area. Be sure to make note of the section and row in which you parked if you ever hope to find your car again. After walking through the City Walk to the park gates you can enter through either of the other parks. We chose to enter through Universal Studios. Diagon Alley is at the far end of the park. You can’t see any of its buildings from the street outside and there’s no sign marking the entrance “to keep the muggles out.”

Knight Bus

the Knight Bus sits on the muggle side near the entrance to Diagon Alley

You know you’re there when you come to King’s Cross Station. Just past the train station there’s an old fashioned red British phonebox and beyond that a bit the Knight Bus is parked across the street.

Diagon Alley

this entrance to Diagon Alley sits hidden behind a brick wall

There’s a nondescript brick wall with openings just after the phone booth and if you go through there you find the brick wall with a hole in it leading into Diagon Alley. The Leaky Cauldron is beyond that entrance rather than something you walk through to get to it.

Universal Studio's butterbeer

butterbeer with lunch at The Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade

Pumpkin juice and butterbeer are available on carts around the area as well as at the various restaurants there.  It would be nice if they had sample size containers you could buy and try both, but they just came full-sized so I only tried the butterbeer. It tastes like gingerbeer with something sweet and foamy added on top.

jelly beans

Bertie Bott’s every flavor beans really only have 20 flavors – some good, some bad

Sweet shops sell Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans, Chocolate Frogs, and other sweets from the books. Not everyone agrees which are the good and bad flavors of the jelly beans. My 5-year-old grandson thought booger was a good flavor and cinnamon a bad one. Of course this is the same child who on a cruise ship said he liked the raw oysters because they tasted like snot.

biting book display

Monster Book of Monsters biting book in a cage at one of the shops

Wands are for sale in several of the stores including of course Ollivanders. A lot of people buy the interactive wand. Anyone with one of those can stand on the marked spots in front of the windows of decorative shops and cast the spell engraved there. If they use the proper wand movement shown then something happens with the things in the window. Quiddich balls dance or books open. If you’re in Knockturn Alley you might give a little bird boils or giant feet. We didn’t buy the wand ourselves, but saw other people using them. For those who didn’t get the movements right there was usually a park employee nearby to help. Most of the time people could walk right up to the window to try their spell, but occasionally we saw someone waiting for another person to finish. In peak times I would imagine people would probably have to wait for all of them.

Escape from Gringotts ride

Gringotts Bank has the Escape from Gringotts ride

Gringotts has a dragon perched on top and a ride inside. This is one of the rides with a tendency to build up a long line on busy days so if you go in peak season try to arrive early and do the busiest rides first before the lines get too long. Unlike Disney, which has compartments on rides for people to put their things, Universal has locker bays near rides where you would lose loose stuff. Lockers are free to use for the duration of the ride and have a fee for longer term use. Escape from Gringotts is part roller coaster and part visual effects. I tried the single rider line first to scope out the ride and got right on with no wait. It went through corridors with nothing to see along the way. I didn’t think the ride would be too rough for my sister, who was watching her neck and back, so we went back through the regular line together. That line has a lot of scenery throughout the building before you get to the actual ride.

entertainment at Diagon Alley

Celestina Warbeck in concert

Diagon Alley has a small stage next to a snack shack called the Hopping Pot. At various times throughout the day you can see either Mrs. Weasley’s favorite singer Celestina Warback sing or a group of actors perform a story from the Tales of Beedle the Bard. The shops sell all sorts of things from stuffed magical creatures at the Magical Managerie to wizard robes at Madam Maulkin’s. Surprisingly we saw more people wearing Ravenclaw and Slytherin robes than Gryffindor. Quite a variety of muggle style t-shirts with Hogwarts or other wizard world themes are available everywhere. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes has unique merchandise as does Borgin & Burke’s. A few of the shop windows have scenes that speak or move even if you don’t have the interactive wand.

entertainment at Universal

Tales of Beedle the Bard – onstage: The Fountain of Fair Fortune

You have to exit Diagon Alley to get to King’s Cross Station because of course that is in the muggle world. If you have the park to park pass you can ride the Hogwarts Express. It’s a fair distance from the station entrance until you get to the train. If that was all full of people waiting in line on a crowded day it would take quite some time to get through, but we pretty much just walked straight to the end. If you look carefully around you along the way to the train there is one place where you can see people in the line ahead walking through a brick wall. When you get to that spot you don’t see the holographic wall while you actually walk through it.

chocolate frogs

chocolate frogs for sale at Honeydukes

Inside the Hogwarts Express you get a bit of a show while it travels between parks. Both through the compartment window and in shadows on the opposite wall. If you watch carefully you can even see the shadows of chocolate frogs hopping on that wall after Harry gets one off the witch’s trolley. There’s a completely different show going in the opposite direction so try to ride the train both ways during your visit if you can.

Hogsmeade village

Hogsmeade perpetually in winter

Hogsmeade village has snow-topped roofs and a road leading to Hogwarts castle perched high on a rock at the far end. Inside Hogwarts is Harry’s Forbidden Adventure and of course a gift shop because all rides in theme parks everywhere exit through gift shops. This ride also has lockers because you can’t bring anything that won’t fit into your pocket. It will build up long lines on busy days. Each 4-seat row dangles from the ceiling and has movement often mimicking the flying broomstick on a video screen that the action follows. One of the park employees said this ride is the one most likely to make people sick because they become disoriented as it switches from video to live animation scenes. I have a tendency toward motion sickness and I got through this ride fine, though I would not want to do it twice in a row.

Hogwarts at Universal

Hogwarts castle

Flight of the Hippogriff is a basic roller coaster and the ride doesn’t last long. It can sometimes have a long wait when the park is busy. If we had waited in a long line for it we would have been pretty disappointed on the amount of ride time vs wait time, but since we went during an off-peak time the waits weren’t bad anywhere. A lot of the Harry Potter rides don’t allow express passes, but the hippogriff one does.

dragon shaped roller coasters

entrance to the Dragon Challenge roller coasters

Dragon Challenge is a much bigger and wilder roller coaster, but even it doesn’t last as long as you would think when you see the track. You can’t bring anything on the dragon challenge, not even a cell phone in your pocket and they do have a station with a scanner somewhere in the line area where they check. Even though we were walking at a normal pace rather than shuffling through a slow-moving line it took far longer to get from the ride entrance to where you get on the actual ride than the amount of time the ride lasted. Once you get to the top there are separate lines for each dragon as well as for those who want the front seats or all other rows. You get to the ride a lot quicker in the all other rows line. Blue and Orange dragons each have their own separate track, but they don’t leave the station together or run side by side so even though they call it a challenge  it’s not really a race.

Universal's Islands of Adventure entertainment

Beauxbatons girls dancing with ribbons at the Triwizard show

In Hogsmead you can eat at the Three Broomsticks or shop for Harry Potter merchandise in the stores. There’s also a stage not far from the castle where the Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally perform. The Durmstrang boys do gymnastic tricks and the Beaubaxtons girls dance with ribbons in rhythmic gymnastic style.

frog choir show

even the frogs sing in this frog choir

The frog choir consists of a Hogwarts student from each house. The Hufflepuff and Gryffindor students each held a pillow with a giant animated frog. In the books everyone just wore black robes, but at Universal the robes have colored linings – red for Gryffindor, blue for Ravenclaw, green for Slytherin and yellow for Hufflepuff.

Honeydukes sweet shop

Honeydukes sells all sorts of sweet treats

Both Diagon Alley and Hogsmead have a wand chooses a wizard show. The line was long when we were in Diagon Alley, but in Hogsmead we happened by when there wasn’t much of a line and only had to wait a few minutes for the show in progress to end before going inside. They picked one kid from the crowd who got to try a few wands, the first few of which went a bit haywire, but the final one of course did what it should.

Harry Potter at Universal

Dervish and Banges in Hogsmeade

Overall it’s a fun way to spend the day and a great way for fans to immerse themselves in Harry Potter’s world. I’m really glad we went during an off-peak time though because I’m not a fan of lines. It seemed pretty fitting visiting a magical world a couple days before boarding a ship called Magic.

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Cruise Ship Cabins on Holland America Oosterdam


Oosterdam in Seattle and part of the Pinnacle Suite balcony

Like all cruise ships, Holland America Oosterdam has a variety of accommodations for passengers to choose from. Cabins range from the lowest priced inside cabins for budget conscious travelers to the spacious Pinnacle Suite for guests who want to cruise in style and luxury.

Oosterdam pinnacle suite balcony

private hot tub on the pinnacle suite balcony

The Pinnacle Suite has a huge balcony with private hot tub, a bedroom separate from the living area, a jetted tub, stand alone shower, and bidet in the bathroom. It even has a butler’s pantry with separate crew door for servicing in-suite dining at the suite’s dining room table. While most rooms just have a number on the door, the pinnacle suites added a personalized name sign. These spacious suites are bigger than some people’s homes. Artwork includes statues as well as pictures.

Oosterdam Pinnacle Suite

Pinnacle Suite room 7045

All cabins on Holland America include luxurious Sealy® Premium Euro-Top mattresses, fine linens and towels, deluxe bathrobes, premium massage showerheads and Elemis Aromapure spa bath products. Complimentary fresh fruit is available on request. Ice buckets in the cabins are filled daily.

pinnacle suite bathroom

bathroom in the Pinnacle Suite

Bookings in Pinnacle or Neptune suites come with use of the exclusive Neptune Lounge which features a seating area with TV, snacks, wifi, library, work tables, and a concierge. It’s located in the interior of deck 7 near most of the suites and is accessible from both port and starboard hallways. There were always people in there whenever we walked by (which was pretty much any time we went to the front of the ship because our cabin was located at the back of deck 7.)

Oosterdam Neptune Suite

Neptune Suite room 7066

Pinnacle and Neptune suite amenities include in-suite coffee and espresso machine, Bose® Bluetooth-enabled Soundlink, complimentary mimosas with in-suite breakfast,  premium duvet, soft cotton bathrobes and slippers, binoculars for use during voyage, an expanded line of Elemis bath amenities, complimentary laundry service, priority boarding and tender, and more.

Oosterdam Neptune Suite balcony

Neptune Suite balcony

Though Neptune Suites are about half the size of Pinnacle Suites, they about double the size of regular verandah or ocean view staterooms. They have oversized balconies with plenty of outdoor furniture.

wraparound stern balcony

wraparound balcony gives both back and side views

The back corners of each stateroom deck have Neptune suites with wraparound balconies that extend the length of the room on both the side and back of the ship.

Oosterdam neptune suite bathroom

Neptune Suite bathroom

While the bathrooms in a Neptune Suite aren’t nearly as fancy as the Pinnacle Suite, they do have jetted tubs and double sinks, showers, and more space than other staterooms.

Oosterdam Signature Suite

Signature Suite 8073

The Oosterdam also has Signature Suites whose list of amenities includes premium duvet, soft, cotton bathrobes and slippers, binoculars for use during voyage, a variety of firm, medium and soft pillows, no-host mini-bar for easy entertaining, oversized bath towels, one-touch telephone concierge service, fresh flowers, and complimentary DVD library. They have the same bathroom as the Neptune Suite and a similar, but smaller stateroom configuration. Signature suites have more amenities than other room classes, but not the  major perks of the higher level suites.

verandah cabin

verandah cabin 6091

Passengers who want a bit of outdoor space to call their own without springing for the cost of a suite can book a verandah cabin, which comes with a private balcony. Verandah cabins at the stern or on bends tend to have larger than average balconies.

accessible verandah cabin

verandah room 8031 is on a bend of the ship and has an extra large angled balcony and accessible shower

Not all rooms in any one category are created equally. Rooms on bends or corners of the ship sometimes come in odd shapes. These may be bigger than average so accessible cabins are sometimes located there since accessible rooms are usually the largest in their category.

accessible shower

room 4132 roll-in accessible shower with fold-down seat

Fully accessible rooms have space to maneuver a wheelchair and roll-in showers. They also have wider doors than ordinary staterooms.

hoyer lift

hoyer lift in accessible cabin

Passengers who need them can pre-arrange a hoyer for their room, which will be waiting in the cabin for them upon arrival. It is used to lift a person who needs assistance getting in and out of their wheelchair. Cruise ships also provide portable cribs where they are needed.

Oosterdam balcony

slightly larger than average balcony to accessible cabin 4132

Balconies to verandah staterooms aren’t nearly as big as the ones suites have, but it’s still a bit of private outside space.

ocean view cabin

ocean view cabin room 1079

Passengers who want to save money, but still have a view can book an ocean view cabin. These are often found on decks too low for balconies, or in other locations where balconies can’t go. They are sometimes larger than balcony cabins because the space otherwise taken by a balcony becomes part of the inside of the cabin.

drop down bunk

this bunk in the ceiling of room 1079 can drop down into a bed

The majority of passengers book 2 people to a cabin, which is what they are all set up for. It’s not required to have 2 people though. Some sail alone, and others with more people. Some cabins on the Oosterdam hold up to 4 passengers. Rooms on the Oosterdam that hold 3 have a couch that folds down into a bed. If it holds 4 it also has a bunk that drops down from the ceiling.


handy to have nearby

When booking a cabin with extra people sometimes location is everything. Just outside cabin 1079 there’s a public bathroom, which could come in handy if booking the full 4 people that cabin holds. (Men’s is on the opposite side of the ship).

obstructed view cabin

obstructed view cabin 4112

If money is tight or you just want natural light try an ocean view obstructed cabin. These cost less than cabins with a full view, but are more spacious than interior cabins. Views vary depending on the obstruction. On the Oosterdam the obstructed view cabins sit behind the lifeboats. They have a full window wall which leaves more possible viewing space than a small window would as anywhere there isn’t an obstruction is open for viewing. Cabins directly behind lifeboats have most of their view blocked, though you can see a bit through the windows of the lifeboat itself. Cabins between lifeboats have partial views. With the full length window you can look down on the promenade deck below in most of the obstructed view rooms.

oosterdam inside cabin

inside cabin 7132

Inside cabins provide all the necessities at the lowest price. There’s no outside view, but the bow cam channel on the cabin’s TV can be used for an electronic window. Besides budget travelers, daytime nappers who want a dark space to sleep at any hour also favor interior cabins. Holland America’s website did not include refrigerators or USB ports in their list of inside cabin amenities, but we stayed in one and it had both.

Oosterdam inside cabin

large inside cabin 1067

Not all inside cabins are alike. Down on deck 1 the large square-shaped interior cabins have space to include a couch, where the rectangle shaped ones found throughout most of the ship just had a chair.

cruise ship cabin

connecting door in room 1067

Some cabins on cruise ships have connecting doors to the next door cabin. If people book both cabins together the door between is unlocked so they can pass freely between the two cabins. With unrelated parties the door remains locked. Walls in the Oosterdam’s cabins are magnetic which comes in handy for keeping paperwork organized if you bring magnets.

Oosterdam Deck Plans

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Halloween on a Cruise Ship

Halloween cruise

Halloween decorations in the Atrium started with a witch – more came later

Cruising over a holiday doesn’t mean missing out on celebrations. Holidays give the ships a reason to vary from their everyday events, add extra activities, and do something different and special. Halloween came during the Vista’s transatlantic crossing so that trip included special holiday things.

Halloween on a cruise ship

some passengers go all out decorating their cabin doors

Some passengers like to decorate their cabin doors. Some will decorate every cruise whether to make their cabin easier to find, to identify them as part of a group, or just because they like to. On holiday cruises more people decorate doors than on other cruises. Mostly with decorations for the holiday, in this case for Halloween. Doors sprouted witches, ghosts, pumpkins, and other Halloween favorites all around the ship. One of the best had a giant spider in a web woven from decorative Halloween webbing.

cruise ship on Halloween

there were blow-up decorations all around the ship

Unfortunately in the immediate area of our cabin several people had their door decorations stolen, so our particular hallway was a bit bare, but decorated doors reigned elsewhere. One person we knew on a different deck did say someone took the magnets off her decorations so she had to tape them to the door instead. It’s really a shame some people haven’t got enough respect for other passengers to leave their things alone.

holiday on a cruise

blow-up decoration in a public hallway

For the most part the passengers decorated early. As Halloween approached the crew began to place Halloween decorations around the ship. Giant blow-up Halloween things of all varieties gathered in atrium, hallways of public decks, and other public areas.

dressing up for Halloween

costumed passengers entering the dining room

On Halloween the ship had a variety of activities. Lots of passengers dressed in costumes. Some all day, others just for specific activities. There was a Halloween party and trick or treating for the kids on board. Lots of people came to dinner in costume.

pumpkin soup

pumpkin soup – perfect for Halloween dinner

The dinner menu didn’t change much from the regular offerings, though they did have pumpkin soup included in the appetizers. That might be for the best since Halloween dishes could tend toward gross and disgusting things people might rather not eat.

cruise ship Halloween desserts

Halloween desserts

The regular dessert menu was gone for the evening and special Halloween desserts served instead with the plates all decorated for the holiday.

Halloween fun on a cruise ship

pumpkin carving

The day’s Halloween fun activities included  pumpkin carving on the Lido and Halloween trivia. Evening brought several Halloween themed movies on the outdoor screen as well as a Halloween dance party, costume parade, and costume contest.

Halloween decorations

witch in the atrium

Overall there’s more going on for Halloween in a day at sea than on land for most people.

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Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Arcadia in the Bay of Islands

Arcadia from Waitangi

Usually cruise ships tie up to a dock on port stops, but sometimes they anchor offshore. When the ship anchors it is called a tender port because people move from ship to shore in smaller boats called tenders. Each ship carries several life boats different from the rest that they can drop to use as tenders. Tender boats are taller than the standard life boats and have double catamaran style hulls and two propellers. Ordinary life boats have a single V-style hull and one propeller.

tenders ready to launch

ready to lower the tenders into the water

Some frequently visited ports send out their own larger island tenders, but at ports like Bay of Islands in New Zealand the ship uses their own. On most of the ships we’ve sailed on the tender just pulls up alongside the ship, but the P&O Arcadia had little docks that folded down from the side of the ship to tie the tenders to. Quite clever actually.

Arcadia's tender dock

Arcadia’s tender dock

The tenders let passengers off at a yacht club between the town of Paihia and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. A scenic walk along the shoreline led to the treaty grounds, which had an admission charge to go inside.

Waitangi treaty grounds

canoe shed at Waitangi Treaty Grounds

From outside the fence you could see a shed with large canoes and a café. The entrance was in a building that looked like a museum. The treaty grounds is the place where the Maori signed a peace treaty with Great Britain in 1840.

Paihai and Russell

A free shuttle took passengers from the yacht club to nearby Paihai. This historic town has plenty of shops and restaurants for tourists. It also has lots of different places offering tours of all sorts. People can go fishing, parasailing, dolphin watching, take a helicopter or bus tour, take a day cruise, visit caves, or at times go snorkeling or diving. Bus tours around the area start at $20, but some of the other things can get pricey – especially the helicopter.

Russell from the ferry

coming into Russell on the ferry

A ferry runs to Russell for $12 round trip for adults. Russell was once called Kororareka, an early whaling settlement. It is one of the oldest towns in New Zealand and has the oldest hotel. It was once a wild place full of sailors, whalers, and escaped convicts from Australia.

Russell, New Zealand

museum in Russell

Russell also has shops, restaurants, and places to book tours of all sorts. It has a couple museums too. We took a short bus tour. The driver said the permanent population there is quite small with most of the homes being holiday houses for people who just spend a few months there each year. We passed a hotel in the distance where the rich and famous stay in rooms costing up to $19,000 per night.

sundial near Russell, New Zealand

mosaic sundial on Flagstaff Hill

We got out on Flagstaff  Hill, which would have had great views had it not been a cloudy, misty day with rain off and on. One path led to an oversized mosaic sundial. The other path led to a flagpole that had a history of Maori’s knocking it down and English putting it back up.

Things to do in the Bay of Islands

Maori canoe

Maori Experience shore excursion

Bay of Islands is a maritime park with 144 islands and lots of beaches, bays, and sea life. Shore excursions from our ship included Waitangi and Countryside, Cape Brett Cruise, Rural Drive and Waipoua Forest and The Maori Experience. We saw some passengers on the Maori Experience heading off from the yacht club in a couple of double canoes. An older Maori guide on one of the canoes wore a loincloth and nothing else but tattoos. The rest of the guides wore just a bit more clothing.

Cruising to Bay of Islands –  Things to Do On Your Own

little ferry in New Zealand

ferry from Paihia to Russell

People who come to Bay of Islands without prior plans will have no problem finding something to do. They can stay at Waitangi and visit the treaty grounds or make their way to either Paihai or Russel and choose from the plethora of tours offered at either town or just explore on their own.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Arcadia, New Zealand, P&O, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Real Lemon Cookies

real lemon cookies

lemon cookies

Lemon Cookies



zesting a lemon

use a grater with small holes to zest the lemon

juice and zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt


line cookie sheet with parchment paper and turn oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C)

grate outermost bright yellow layer of peel off one lemon using grater with small holes to make lemon zest, set aside

squeeze juice out of lemon, set aside

beat room temperature butter several seconds, add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Add flour, baking soda, salt, and all of the lemon zest. Beat until fully combined.

Form dough into balls and place on pan leaving space between for cookies to spread

Bake for 14 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Frost when cookies are cool. For more of a glazed look use thinner frosting and frost while cookies are hot.


Lemon Frosting



squeeze juice out of the lemon after zesting it

One Lemon

2 Cups Powdered Sugar


zest the lemon and squeeze out the juice

beat powdered sugar, lemon zest, and 2 tablespoons lemon juice in medium mixing bowl until smooth. If frosting is too thick add more juice, too thin add more powdered sugar and mix to desired consistency. If you want a glaze make thinner frosting and frost the cookies while they are hot. If you want a thicker frosting layer on each cookie wait to frost them until they cool.

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Disney – Hollywood Studios

Disney World ride

Twighlight Zone Tower of Terror towers over Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park (internet photo)

Hollywood Studios seemed less crowded than some of the other theme parks at Disney World. Or maybe it just felt that way because we got there right at opening time before the crowd had time to build up. Initially we wondered why our hotel had a 7:30am shuttle when none of the parks opened before 9:00. It didn’t take long to figure it out though. The first day we took the 9am shuttle straight to Epcot. By the time it made the rounds to other hotels and we got through the ticket, security, and gate lines it was after 10 by the time we got into the park.  The shuttle made the rounds of several hotels so it was after 8 before it even got to the park. The drop off for the early one was called Magic Kingdom, but was really an in-between place with monorails to Epcot or Magic Kingdom and a ferry to Magic Kingdom. The first time we went there everyone just went straight through and on to the monorails or ferries, but the second day they had a barricade and the people guarding it said they were only letting guests staying in Disney resorts or who had a breakfast booked through. They would actually let people going to Epcot through as well, but we had to tell them that is where we were going and ask to be let through so a lot of people needlessly waited. From Epcot there are busses to Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom so it’s a roundabout way to get there by shuttle from out-of-park hotels. After all that we got to Hollywood Studios right about the time it opened. A lot of rides had 5 or 10 minute wait times then, but most got longer within a couple hours so it pays off to arrive early.

Chip & Dale

the kids found Chip & Dale at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

This park had a lot of characters randomly in outside areas where visitors could get photos without waiting in a line to see them in a building. That didn’t stop lines from building up outside, though they were much shorter than the lines at the official character spots. Hollywood Studios had some character spots as well which had lines considerably shorter than what we saw at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. They also had some random outside shows like a cowboy with some ropes and some scheduled shows outside too.

Olaf at Disney World

Olaf had his very own character spot

The kids got to see Chip and Dale while wandering the park, Olaf in a building with no line, and Princess Sofia (from a Disney Junior show called Sofia the First) in an official spot on the outskirts of a building. They also met Mickey and Minnie Mouse, who had their own character spots.

squirrel with a sandwich

squirrels like peanut butter sandwiches

We also saw a real live squirrel, which the kids enjoyed more than the chipmunk characters. One of them gave it a bit of peanut butter sandwich. It posed for awhile nibbling on its prize and then carried the sandwich up a tree and hung upside down eating it hovering just above where anyone could reach. The sandwich-eating squirrel drew quite a crowd, entertaining way more people than just our own grandkids.

star wars at Disney

Star Wars has quite a presence at Disney World’s Hollywood Studios

There was quite a bit of Star Wars themed stuff. We started the day on a great Star Wars simulator ride called Star Tours where C-3PO piloted the shuttle. It’s a motion ride with most of the action on a video screen, but there was an actual C3PO pilot in the simulated shuttle. We also saw youngsters participating in some sort of Jedi training, and we happened by both live action and movie Star Wars shows out on the grounds. On another day when we passed some construction near the highway and wondered what it was all about the uber driver said Disney was building Star Wars Land near their Hollywood park. I looked it up online and it is scheduled to open in 2019 as part of Hollywood Studios which may get renamed at that time. Once that opens it will probably get a lot more crowded there. Toy Story Land is also coming to Hollywood Studios.

Sophia the First

Hannah is a fan of the Sofia the First cartoon show and enjoyed meeting her

Hollywood Studios didn’t leave out the younger set. Rides or shows there included muppets, Toy Story, Frozen, and Disney Junior.

Disney's Hollywood studio

Mickey as the sorcerer’s apprentice

Considering that the park is called Hollywood Studios, all the rides and attractions have something to do with movies, TV shows, or characters from movies or TV shows. Of course Mickey Mouse has a presence there since he has been part of Disney from the beginning and is still a major character. We went to a Frozen show where it snowed inside, and then the Disney Junior show snowed inside too, which was quite a thrill for Australian kids who rarely ever see snow.

street performer at Disney's Hollywood studios

the kids got to participate in a random street show with a cowboy

One thing that really surprised us all through Disney World was the amount of people pushing giant kids around in strollers. Not that they were the children of giants, just kids that seemed awfully big for strollers. My grandkids are 5 and 7 and we saw quite a few kids bigger than them riding through the parks in strollers. Those kids would get no exercise sitting either in strollers or on rides or at shows all day and then when they get back to their hotel at night they are probably bouncing off the walls. Meanwhile the parents must be exhausted from pushing double strollers full of big heavy kids around the park all day. Not that it’s any of my business, but it just seems like kids that big would be better off with some exercise. The stroller parking lots wouldn’t be so full either if people just used strollers for babies and toddlers.

More Blogs About Disney World

Magic Kingdom


Animal Kingdom

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Holland America Oosterdam

Holland America Oosterdam

Oosterdam in Juneau

Holland America’s Oosterdam is the second of 4 directionally named Vista class ships, representing East. Her sister ships are Westerdam, Noordam, and Zuiderdam for west, north, and south. Built by Fincantieri of Italy, Oosterdam was christened by Princess Margriet of the Netherlands in Rotterdam in July of 2003. Oosterdam is 950 feet long and 105.8 feet wide with 11 passenger decks and a passenger capacity of 1964. The ship has two separate engine rooms that operate independently of each other.

theater on the Oosterdam

Mainstage Theater has nightly production shows or guest entertainers plus movies and other daytime entertainment

Holland America’s Vista class is nothing like Carnival’s Vista, but P&O’s Arcadia has the same hull design and many of the same features. All of Holland America’s ships have the suffix “dam,” which besides having the same meaning in Dutch as in English (a barrier against water), it was also early tradition for Dutch passenger ships to end with dam while cargo ships ended with diik or dyk. Holland America’s ships are often referred to as the dam ships even by Holland America themselves.

spa pool on Holland America Oosterdam

Oosterdam’s Spa Mineral Pool

This class of ship has the best thermal suite/spa pool I’ve seen. Their mineral pool is quite large and besides the rack where people can relax in the pool’s jets it has a well-jetted circular area. John said the circular part reminded him of sitting in a cannibal’s pot, but the temperature is warm, not boiling and there’s nobody waiting to eat anyone. The spa’s heated ceramic benches face floor to ceiling windows and the thermal suite also includes aroma therapy steam rooms, a sauna, and fancy showers. The thermal suite package costs extra, but on ships with a nice spa like this one it’s worth it. Though advance bookings are not available on the website, you can call to book in advance and save money over the onboard price.

Oosterdam stairway art

stairway art on the Oosterdam

We took one of our very first cruises on the Oosterdam many years ago sailing from San Diego to the Mexican Rivera. The main thing I remember about the décor back then was cow print fabric in the disco. Currently the ship has neither disco nor cow print. The current décor appears as somewhat of a subdued opulence with lots of old-time style artwork. Paintings around the ship often feature old sailing ships. Some have previous renditions of Holland America’s current ships – that is an old style ship with the same name as ships in Holland America’s current fleet. Statues mainly look like those found in Europe in former centuries. The centerpiece in the atrium is a giant fancy globe.

showpiece decoration in the Oosterdam

centerpiece of the Oosterdam’s atrium

Oosterdam just finished the summer Alaska season cruising out of Seattle and will spend the winter cruising Mexico, Hawaii, and the Panama Canal before moving on to Europe in the spring. Ships out of Seattle always leave in a bunch and on this trip we saw the reason why. While sailing into the Straight of Juan de Fuca, which connects Puget Sound to the Pacific Ocean, we had a seat near a window at the back of the dining room. As the Oosterdam neared Port Angeles it veered towards the shore. A pilot boat came to meet the ship and the pilot disembarked. As the Oosterdam moved away the pilot boat stayed in the area and when Norwegian Pearl reached the same spot the pilot boat retrieved their pilot. Emerald Princess was not far behind so they retrieved 3 pilots with just one boat.

cruise ship decor

fancy mosaic tile in one of the public hallways

Oosterdam had updates done recently during a 2016 drydock. Upgrades to the ship include USB ports in the cabins. Besides the 2 USB ports, our cabin also had 2 outlets, quite an improvement over the standard only one place to plug anything in found on many ships.

promenade deck

sunrise on the smoke free promenade deck

Smoking policies onboard are also updated with the interior of the ship and outside promenade deck now all non-smoking. It’s really nice to be able to go anywhere inside the ship and walk or jog around the promenade deck without running into any smoke. The ship’s smoking area is cleverly located outside in a sheltered area on the Lido deck on one side the stern where the ship sails forward out of the smoke. Nobody needs to walk through that area to get anywhere else so it’s easy to avoid.

America's Test Kitchen on Holland America

salmon demonstration at America’s Test Kitchen

Holland America has partnered with America’s Test Kitchen. They have daily cooking  demonstrations with different types of food each day. On our cruise they started with salmon, ended with chocolate, and had a variety of other dishes in between.

cruise ship pool

pool under the sliding dome – which stayed shut in Alaska for an indoor pool

Other entertainment options include shows, movies, live music, computer classes, and BBC Earth natural history activities. They have children’s programs for kids from 3 to 17. There are 2 pools, each with hot tubs nearby. One of them has a sliding dome so it can be an indoor pool in cold climates or rainy weather and an outdoor pool when it’s warm and sunny.


Ocean Bar window seating

There’s lots of seating space near windows along the public hallways. Most of it is technically in bars, but they aren’t always open and people often use the areas to sit and read, play cards, or just enjoy the scenery.

Oosterdam dining room

main dining room on the Oosterdam

The ship has several dining options. Besides the main dining room and buffet there’s a poolside grill and two premium restaurants, the Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto.

Holland America Dining Room Dress Code

Most evenings smart casual attire is appropriate. Shorts, pool/beachwear, distressed jeans and men’s tank tops are not permitted in fine dining restaurants. Jeans without holes, tears or embroidery are welcome on casual evenings in all restaurants. Shorts are not permitted in the dining room at dinner.

Gala Nights evoke the grand traditions of cruising as guests dress to impress for special events on board, including our five-course gourmet dinner in the Dining Room. For gentlemen, collared shirts and slacks are required in all fine dining restaurants. Jacket and tie is the preferred attire in all fine dining restaurants on Gala Nights, though it is not required.

For ladies on gala night attire dressy attire is appropriate. Dresses, skirts, and slacks are all acceptable.

Jeans are not allowed in the dining room on gala nights, but guests not wishing to dress up can eat at the buffet.

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