Stoddard, New Hampshire Airbnb

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

front of the bnb in Stoddard

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

kitchen in the Stoddard lake house

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

biggest bedroom

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

smaller bedroom

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

view from the back deck

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

lake view and backyard

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

one tree knows it’s fall

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

living room

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

view of the house from the lake

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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A Visit to Saint Martin

ships in St Martin

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

beach and shops

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

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

The big jets fly very low over Maho Beach

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

garden at the port

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

ships at the dock

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

at the port

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

street in Philipsburg

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

shopping booth on the street

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

water taxi dock in Phillipsburg

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

port stop in Philipsburg, St Maarten

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

 

on the watertaxi

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

a street in Philipsburg

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

hot dogs

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

tourist train

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

view of the cruise port from the ship

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2022
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Curacao Van Tour

Constellation in Curacao

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

cave rock formations

inside Hato Caves

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

stuff for sale at the cruise dock

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

Queen Juliana Bridge

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

view from the bridge

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

display in the Cholobolo factory

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

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

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

swing chair at Mambo Beach

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

flowers in Willemstad

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

street in Willemstad

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

love locks on giant hearts by the pontoon bridge

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

produce stands in Willemstad where the floating market used to be

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

view of the little shopping booths from the pontoon bridge

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

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

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

view of Queen Emma pontoon bridge while walking across it

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

Rif Fort

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

view from the ship

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

Gluten Free Blueberry Tarts

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

Blueberry Tarts

Gluten Free Blueberry Tarts

Tart Shells

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

Filling

Ingredients

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

Directions

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

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

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Dubai Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Dubai

DUBAI

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

Burj Khalifa

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

Mercato Mall decorated for Christmas

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

Abayas for sale

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

people in traditional clothing at Global Village

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

view from the Lirica at the Dubai cruise port

DUBAI CRUISE PORT

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

terminal building at the port in Dubai

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

inside the cruise terminal building in Dubai

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

information desk in the Dubai cruise terminal

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

shuttle to Mercato Mall

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

Aquaventure Waterpark at Atlantis Hotel in Dubai

THINGS TO DO IN DUBAI

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

sailing into Dubai

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Shanghai River Cruise

the Bund in Shanghai

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

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

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

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

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

daytime river view from Shanghai Tower through Shanghai’s smog

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

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

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

view of the river cruise boats from Shanghai Tower

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

one of the river cruise boats

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

lots of boats cruise the river at night

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

river cruise pier from the water side

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

purple pirate ship

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

dragon boat

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

the cruise went up to a bridge before turning around

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

river boats cruising by the Bund

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

Public Spaces on Symphony of the Seas

view of Central Park from the pool deck

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

the giant slides end in the white cage on the boardwalk

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

bar and arcade on the boardwalk

BOARDWALK

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

carousel horse statues at the entrance to the boardwalk

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

carousel on a cruise ship

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

rock climbing walls and slides

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

Central Park

CENTRAL PARK

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

tables in the park

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

little bar in the park

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

garden path

ROYAL PROMENADE

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

Royal Promenade

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

Royal Promenade

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

finally a photographer willing to try different poses

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

Rising Tide Bar on the Royal Promenade

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

track at the stern on the promenade deck

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

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Celebrity Constellation Veranda Cabin

Constellation in Costa Maya

Celebrity Constellation cabin 6033 has an extra-large balcony, one of just 8 staterooms on either side near the bow of deck 6 to have that feature. If you look at the deck plans on Celebrity’s website, it shows deck plan options for before and after April 25, 2033.

extra-large veranda with a view of the port in Miami

On the after plan it shows those 8 cabins each side as deluxe veranda cabins having larger balconies than the other staterooms in that row. The prior to 2033 deck plans show those rooms as regular veranda cabins and it doesn’t show that they have the extra-large balconies.

cabin 6033 with Miami view

The cabin itself has the usual bed that can be separated into two if desired, plus a drop down bunk in the ceiling and a small couch that opens up into a single bed. It’s not a large room so it could feel crowded with the full 4 people it holds, though I have stayed in a smaller cabin than this with 3 people and we were fine. For two it’s a nice size. It has a table and chair, a desk, a couple deck chairs with a table, a double door closet with hanging space and on our cruise it had significantly more hangers than usually provided on a cruise ship. The third closet houses the safe, 6 drawers and 2 shelves.

standard cruise ship bathroom

There’s also 2 drawers in each of the 2 nightstands and 2 shelves by the bathroom mirror as well as some space in a small cupboard in the bathroom and 2 small cupboards under the desk. A cabinet under the TV holds a small refrigerator. It was full of pay-to-use mini-bar items at the start, but we had the steward take them away so we could use the space for things we put in there instead. There was another cupboard above the TV.  The room had more than enough storage space for 2 people. Three might fit all their stuff in, but it could be a bit tight with 4 unless people packed light.

it helps to bring your own outlets and USB ports when the ship has 2 outlets and no USB ports

Each of the nightstands had a lamp, but not the sort that have USB ports in them, though those would have been useful since there were none in the room – and only 2 American style outlets. Good thing I brought a 3-outlet plug and a clock with 2 USB ports. That gave us enough space for whatever we needed to plug in or charge, where just the two outlets would not have been enough even for two people.

magnets are always useful on cruise ships

One wall had several full-length mirrors framed in wood, but the other walls were magnetic. Besides my little magnets for keeping paperwork sorted, this time I had some new ones – magnetic hooks. They came in handy for extra hanging space, though they did not hold anywhere near the 50 lbs they were supposed to. A hat or small camera was fine, but a coat or other heavier, but nowhere near 50-pound item had the hook sliding right down the wall.

the magnetic hook held stronger in the shower than on the cabin wall

The shower was also magnetic and my new hooks seemed to hold more weight with a clothesline full of wet clothes attached there than they did on the main cabin walls with dry things so perhaps the shower walls were more highly magnetic and they need the right surface to hold a greater amount of weight.

oversized balcony with sea view

As far as size of a balcony cabin goes, this one had one of the biggest balconies we’ve ever had at about 2.5 times normal size. The cabin itself was neither the biggest nor smallest. We’ve had some with room for a full-sized couch and some without room for a couch at all. This one had a small couch. It also had a railing across the back wall. Not sure if the intended use was for people to hold onto if they need help getting out of bed or something, but it made an extra place to hang things that weren’t quite dry.

the cabin had room for a small couch

The shower in the bathroom was bigger than what most of the newer ships have, and it had the one little built-in clothesline that I thought was standard on all cruise ships until I sailed on Symphony of the Seas, which didn’t have one. That’s the newest ship I’ve been on so I hope that is not a sign of things to come on newer ships. Even if people never wash any of their clothes in their cabin those pull-across-the-shower clotheslines are always handy for wet swimming suits, and who doesn’t have that on a cruise?

towel animal

The steward was nice, and attentive. Unlike some cruise lines, Celebrity still cleans twice daily. Near the end of the cruise we had a new towel animal each evening.

cabin 6033

Overall this was a nice cabin, and currently a good deal since it has that extra-large balcony while booking as a regular veranda cabin. That will not be the case after April of 2033 when it gets the deluxe veranda designation and higher price that goes with it.

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Camano Island State Parks

cabin at Camano Island State Park (internet photo)

Camano Island is a fairly large island in Washington State’s Island County, sitting between larger Whidbey Island and the mainland. It is close enough to the mainland that it is accessible by a bridge. It has a population of about 16,000 and a shopping center that substitutes for downtown on this city-free island. It is also home to two state parks. These two parks are close together and connected by a foot trail.

Camano Island State Park

Camano Island State Park covers 244 acres with 6700 feet of shoreline. All state parks in Washington require a Discover Pass to park there. It has a vending machine near the entrance where passes can be purchased, or they can be bought ahead online – or when renewing car license tabs for state residents. Anyone planning to stay in the park 3 days or longer might as well buy an annual pass since it costs nearly the same as 3 one-day passes at $35 for the annual pass or $11.50 for a day pass. Online purchases may include extra fees, but the machine at the park does not.

campsite in Camano Island State Park (internet photo)

Camano Island State Park has a campground, hiking trails, rocky beach, boat ramp, day use picnic area, amphitheater, fire circle, and ball field. The campground has 88 campsites, flush toilets, hot showers, barbecue grills, drinking water, picnic tables, and an RV dump. There are also 5 cabins and a hiker/biker camping area.

Cama Beach State Park

A one-mile trail leads to Camano Island’s other state park, Cama Beach State Park. This beachside park started out as a fishing resort. The former boathouse is now a center for wooden boats. Ancient deteriorating railings crusted with barnacles on the beach in front of the boathouse is all that remains of the resort’s former boat launch out of the building. Its cabins fared much better and are still in use as rentals for park visitors. They sit in rows next to the beach. A camp road passes through the cabin area, but cars are not allowed down there so people have to park in a lot higher up and bring their things down in one of the many carts provided for that purpose.

cabins at Cama Beach State Park

There are picnic tables between the cabins, and some barbecue grills in the area. Most cabins do not have private bathrooms, but there is a large restroom behind the rows of cabins that has flush toilets and showers. This 486-acre park has 15 miles of hiking trails, a café, beach access, and the center for wooden boats, which sometimes has classes or activities. People can reserve the park’s 33 cabins. Minimum stay is 2 nights. They tend to book up well in advance.

cabins at Cama Beach State Park

There are several shuttle stops within the park for a park-to-park shuttle that runs between Cama Beach and Camano Island state parks. In addition to the state parks, Camano Island also has county and local parks scattered around the island. 

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Sailing Boston Harbor

Boston’s central wharf

The Liberty tall ships have been sailing Boston Harbor since 1993. Liberty Clipper and Liberty Star are schooners modeled after ships of the 19th century. They run daily sailings seasonally, retreating to the Bahamas in the winter. They were still in port when we visited Boston in early October. The last afternoon trip had already set sail when we arrived at the Central Wharf ticket booth after walking the Freedom Trail so we bought tickets for a sunset sail. The voyage started out in daylight and ended in near darkness with the sun setting as we sailed around the harbor.

leaving Boston’s Central Wharf

Two tall-masted wooden sailing ships sat next to each other tied to the dock next to Boston’s aquarium. Whale-watching vessels came and went in the small passageway between them and the fast-ferry and other vessels tied up on the other side. We had a couple hours to kill between buying our tickets and when the cruise started so we spent some time at the aquarium since it was right there next to the dock.

city view after leaving the wharf

After boarding people found places to sit on just about any raised surface along the sailboat’s deck. It had a couple actual benches, and many other spots that were part of the ship so everyone found somewhere to sit. A few of them could have made a better choice though. They sat next to the boom of the front sail, which would not be a pleasant experience once the ship set sail where the boom moves back and forth across the ship. It would likely hit harder than a baseball bat whacking someone in the head. The captain and crew did ask those people to move before the ship actually left the dock. The even larger booms of the much bigger central and back sails also swing, but they were higher up, above head level at rest and even higher once the sails were hoisted.

getting ready to hoist the sails

The ship left the narrow harbor under power, but once out into more open water it was time to raise the sails. The 2-person crew got some voluntary assistance from some of  the passengers to help pull on the ropes and raise the sails while the captain drove the ship. Likely they could have done it more quickly and efficiently themselves, but it’s all about the experience for the guests. Once that was finished the captain let anyone who wanted take a turn at the wheel. Mostly people just stayed there long enough for a photo op.

John takes a turn at the wheel

We had good weather and smooth sailing with the sails fully raised. When someone asked what all the strings dangling from the sails were the captain explained they were  for containing the extra material when they needed to shorten the sails down in strong winds.

sails raised high

The crew served drinks as well as manning the sails and dock lines, but didn’t say much. The captain on the other hand was as much entertainer as he was captain.

city view

If we had come to town specifically for a sunset cruise we would have dressed warmer, but since we had come earlier in the day dressed for walking the Freedom Trail we were quite chilly as the sun sank lower in the sky and the temperature dropped. The wind didn’t help for comfort either, though it definitely was good for sailing being enough to fill the sails, but not so much as to cause rough waters.

a bit of color in the sunset

Although it was called a sunset cruise, and the sun did set while we were out there, there was not much view of the actual sunset. Boston is after all home to many tall buildings whose skyline blocked most of the sun’s setting. The city skyline itself made for a nice view in the ever darkening sky though. A bit of color from the sunset showed behind and between the buildings.

reflection of the sailboat in a building

One building in particular had quite a unique view. Before it began to get dark as the ship approached a very shiny building the captain mentioned knowing that people would like a photo of the ship in full sail. Of course you can’t get that from onboard so you would need either a friend on another ship or a giant mirror. I haven’t got a friend on another ship he said, but I do have a giant mirror. As we approached that big shiny building he said to watch for the ship’s reflection to appear. Another ship passed by between us and the building, but our taller ship appeared above it in the reflection. Later in the cruise we passed by it again on the way back. It was darker then and some of the rooms in the building had lights on which somewhat interfered with the reflection, but it we did get a bit of one even then.

ship turned into a floating bar

The view changed as the sun went down from more water and sky to mainly city lights. The lighted outline of a docked ship in the distance brought a question from someone as to what it was for. The captain said it used to take kids out for learning to sail, but that company went out of business due to covid and the ship got sold to people who now use it as a floating bar.

Nantucket lightship replica

We passed another ship that had tall masts with lights on top and no sails. It had Nantucket painted on the side in giant letters. The captain said it was a light ship – a ship once used like a light house guess where – obviously Nantucket. He went on to say that it was not the original lightship Nantucket, but a replica. The Olympic, a sister ship of the Titanic, plowed into the original and sank it in a thick fog while the lights, radio, and fog signals were on. Visibility was very poor at the time. The crew barely had time to don life jackets before the crash. Although the Olympic sent out life boats to search for them and 7 were pulled from the water, only 4 of the 11 crew survived. The original Nantucket still sits at the bottom of the sea where it sank that day in 1934.  So not a good track record for the White Star Line, whose response to the tragedy was to donate the replica now on display in Boston Harbor.

looking for color in the sky

It was a nice evening cruise. The captain was very entertaining and informative and the scenery beautiful and interesting.

sailing in the setting sun

In spite of feeling cold we had a good time on the sailing ship. When we were done we felt lucky that the aquarium subway stop by the wharf where the ship docked went to the blue line, which was the same line that went to the stop nearest our hotel so we could take it straight back without the need to change lines anywhere along the way.

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