Athens and Piraeus

Athens, Greece

View of Vista in Athens from the seaside walkway

Like many ports that list a famous city for the port when they really stop in a smaller less known place, when ships stop in Athens they actually dock in Piraeus. Our local taxi driver pronounced it Peer-ray. None of the other locals said the city’s name so we don’t know if it was just him or if they all say that. Nobody else we met pronounced it that way, but then again none of them were Greek. The European portion of our cruise on the Carnival Vista started there, but our adventures began before ever reaching the port. We flew into Paris with plans of staying a couple nights there and seeing the sights. When we got there Greece was threatening an air traffic controller strike that would close down the airport in Athens for four days. With our flight to Athens cancelled along with all other flights for the day we planned to leave, we got a last minute flight and left Paris the morning after we arrived without seeing anything other than the local area near our hotel. The strike got called off, but our original flight remained cancelled and getting another that day may have been impossible so we were glad that we left when we did to insure we made it to the ship in time for our cruise.

modern statue

running man statue in Athens

Arriving in Greece a day early we had no hotel booked for the night, but we had the taxi drop us off at Faros 1 in Piraeus. We had a room booked there for the next two nights and hoped we could add that night on. If not we figured we could find something in one of the other hotels nearby. They had one room available and other than the very noisy all-night bar across the street it’s a great hotel at quite an affordable price.

Piraeus train

Happy Train takes people around Piraeus

There are 3 different companies that have hop on, hop off bus tours you can take around Piraeus and into Athens. Along with that at least two of them have little tour trains that go around the port area with stops both near the cruise ship docks and in the more touristy area by the fancy yacht marina where the streets are lined with shops and restaurants. From our hotel it was just a short walk past a beautiful and very Greek church to the waterfront and the stop by the cruise ship docks, where there also were people offering private taxi tours to Athens. The hop on hop off bus tickets are good for two days plus if that bus company operates one of the little trains it includes that too. The taxi tour costs more for just for a few hours, but goes some places where buses can’t.

Acropolis looms high over Athens with the Parthenon visible for miles

Acropolis looms high over Athens with the Parthenon visible for miles

Athens has quite a variety of historic sites, the most famous being the acropolis which sits prominently on a hilltop overlooking the city. The acropolis has several ruins, most of which were under renovation when we were there. The most famous ruin, the Parthenon looms large over the other less well known temples. It’s amazing how ancient people were able to construct such monumental buildings that last for centuries while modern man with all our technology makes things that don’t last.

ruins at Athens

up close you can see that the columns are not all one piece

The enormous columns are made from smaller sections stacked on top of each other. Perhaps not the best idea since some have fallen, but something that was do-able for their time without any machinery to lift heavy full-sized columns intact.

gate gaurd at the presidential mansion

guard at the presidential palace

Changing of the guards is a well-known thing in London, but Athens has their own version of it. We happened to see their guards on a Sunday, which is when they wear their official white uniforms. They guard the monument of the unknown soldier and the presidential mansion and stand completely still except when performing official maneuvers.

Piraeus tourist shops

touristy shopping area near the marina

While the port area doesn’t have such spectacular ruins, it does have things to see and do including a maritime museum and a seaside walkway through the more touristy area of the town. A lot of people come to Piraeus to catch ferries out to Santorini and other islands.

Piraeus marina

marina in Piraeus

The marina is quite interesting in the contrast between boats so tiny they almost look like toys and megamillion dollar yachts. There’s also a row of run down fishing boats with the owners on board selling the day’s catch to passers by. There are a lot of shops and cafes in the port area too.

Piraeus beach

seaside walkway in Piraeus

The walkway along the waterfront goes way beyond the marina. People can take a pretty long waterfront walk from the marina nearly to the port area. Much of what looked like a former park was fenced off, perhaps getting excavated for ancient ruins or something. It had a big sign, but it was all in Greek. Once past the fenced off area there are still places on the shoreline where people can sit and enjoy the view or go down to the water to swim.

tourist walk

follow the little yellow guys to the marina

There were little yellow guys painted on the sidewalk on the main road by our hotel. At the corners they had arrows pointing anyone following the little guys on across to the other side of the street heading toward the marina. Zea Marina with all the yachts, not the cruise ship or ferry ports.

Piraeus city walk

map for the city walk – in English

Along the way there’s a museum with a sign outside saying it is a town walk going past a variety of sites to see, something like Boston’s Freedom Trail. The trail was well marked until it got to the marina area where a key corner had a turn in the path and no marker. From there it was pretty easy to pick the trail back up and follow it on through the sidewalk cafes and tourist booths and shops until all of a sudden it ended with a partially worn away arrow pointing to a left turn. Funny how it was well marked everywhere you go straight and not so much at turns. Beyond that faint arrow there were no more markers and a couple blocks up the streets and sidewalks were all dug up undergoing some sort of construction so any markers that once had been there were gone leaving no way to follow the route any farther by sidewalk markers unless they repaint the little yellow guys after finishing the construction.

church

church in Piraeus

People stayed all over the Athens area prior to the cruise. We met someone who found a bayview suite for cheap in the touristy marina area. Others stayed near the port as we did, and some stayed in Athens. Hotels in that area generally don’t have shuttles, free or otherwise so getting to the port on cruise day is up to each person. Most go by taxi. While the cruise dock was within walking distance of our hotel, it was pretty far to go with luggage. It was also raining that morning so we took a taxi. Some friends staying in Athens made use of the free second day the hop on hop off bus offered and used that as transportation to the port – which would not have worked for us since the cruise port was the closest stop to our hotel.

Parthenon

the Parthenon undergoing restoration

The cruise ship port in Piraeus has several terminals and quite a few docks. The little train that goes around Piraeus stops in the same place near one terminal where the hop on hop off buses stop. The marina is within walking distance, but it’s a long walk. Taking the train is quicker and an easier way to find it if that is what someone on a port stop there wanted to do, though most would likely go to Athens instead.

acropolis theater

theater at the acropolis

ruins of Athens, Greece

wall by the theater at the acropolis

Greece is a nice place to visit and quite affordable. We found food, hotels, and transportation cheaper there than anywhere else we went this trip. Even after adding in their 24% sales tax things still cost less there than elsewhere. Not everyone in Greece speaks English, but we were always able to find at least one person who did.

greek temple

one of the smaller temples at the acropolis

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Carnival, Europe, Port Cities, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cartagena, Colombia

Infinity in Colombia

Celebrity Infinity in Cartagena, Colombia

Find a window seat when sailing into or out of Cartagena, Columbia because the ship sails past some fantastic scenery including ancient forts. Celebrity Infinity visited Cartagena as the last port on a 17 day Panama Canal cruise. The ship docks in an industrial area of container ports. At first glance it looks as if there’s not much there, but following the path along the water’s edge toward the exit brings passengers into a jungle area where pink flamingos greet their arrival. Wooden walkways wind through the jungle, which holds all sorts of delightful things awaiting discovery. There is a shop and restaurant there, and a sign that says they have wifi, though it was not working on the day of our visit.

vulture in Colombia

vulture in Cartagena

Along the paths little monkeys run playfully through the trees and bigger howler monkeys sometimes emit quite a racket. Macaws and parrots perch in plain sight and a little animal resembling a tiny deer or antelope ran around licking the salt off people’s sweaty legs.

toucan in Colombia

toucan in the aviary at Cartagena

A walk-through aviary held a very colorful vulture as well as toucans and other birds. One cage held a small monkey who occasionally came out of its little monkey house to run around. Anyone who didn’t want to go anywhere at this port could stay quite entertained wandering through the jungle looking at the birds and animals.

ancient walls and modern skyscrapers

Looking from the old part of Cartagena to the new

Somewhere in the jungle maze signs point to the exit as well as the way back to the ship.  At the exit locals gather passengers without prior plans for van tours at $20 per person, and a taxi stand provides a way into town for those who want to explore on their own. Cartagena has an old part of town, a walled city from ancient times with a fort and lots of beautiful old buildings. It also has a new part of town filled with tall skyscrapers and modern buildings. A taxi ride into old town costs $20 for the cab regardless of the amount of passengers, and private taxi tours for two are available for $60 per person.

zoo at Cartagena cruise port

parrot in the aviary at the port in Cartagena

We went with the $20 van tour. They had about 3 people waiting and initially said they needed two more after us, but when they got the 2 more they said they still needed 3. When three more joined and they still weren’t ready to leave people got restless and ready to abandon their tour so they said they would go, but really just loaded everyone into a van and then disappeared for quite some time and came back with a couple that spoke only Spanish. Everyone else in the van spoke English other than the driver who spoke only Spanish and the bilingual tour guide.

Colombian fort

old fort in Cartagena

Finally the van left for old town. The tour guide now had to repeat everything she said in English again in Spanish for the last guests. Our first stop was in front of the old fort for a photo op of the outside. People can go inside the fort for $10, something those who took a cab to town on their own might choose to do.

traditional Colombian clothes?

for a buck you can take photos of ladies in fruit hats

As soon as we got out of the van we were mobbed by peddlers selling all manner of things including hats, jewelry, and t-shirts. They did not like to take no for an answer. Even after people got back in the van peddlers would walk around it banging on the windows trying to get people to buy something. Women dressed in bright colors with real fruit hats posed for pictures for $1. At some stops what initially appeared to be statues turned out to be live people, who also wanted a dollar from anyone who took their photo.

new use for old building

it’s a barracks…it’s a dungeon…it’s tourist shops

We stopped at a place that during the course of history had been used as everything from a barracks for soldiers to a dungeon for prisoners, but now housed little shops selling trinkets to tourists. Outside the shops people set up little stands to sell more things. A step above street peddlers, but selling the same sort of stuff. At least these could not follow us too far as they didn’t want to leave their wares unattended.

metal sculpture and fancy building

this city square had a row of metal sculptures

At one stop we got out of the van and took a 45-minute walk through the narrow streets of the old city. Many of the buildings had beautiful old Spanish style architecture. Our tour guide pointed out things like the building where the inquisitions took place in a dark time of their history. The Spanish lady had a habit of getting in front of everyone and did her best not to let anyone get around her for long enough to get even one picture without her in it so getting decent photos was a bit of a challenge. Her husband took several photos of human statues and refused to pay them even though our guide had made it clear at the start of the journey that payment was expected for photographing the buskers.

scraping by

peddlers with carts

Peddlers pushed food carts up and down the streets selling fruit, drinks, or even cooked food. One parked his cart in front of us at a corner and whatever he had cooking smelled very good, but we had warning from the ship to be careful what if anything we might eat in town to avoid getting sick. The ever-present peddlers selling their wares now included people with cigars, which from the smell walking through town it was apparent some people bought. Columbia must not have any anti-public smoking laws. The smoke from all those cigars permeated the air enough to make me feel ill before we finished our walk through town so in spite of the beauty of the area I would never want to spend much time there.

making money off the tourists

some people took rides in horse carts

Sweaty people happily returned to the air-conditioned van after the walk through town in the heat. The van was parked in a lot on a busy road where the exhaust fumes aggravated my pounding headache, chest constriction, and breathing issues brought on by cigar smoke and a tobacco allergy so I was quite happy when the van moved on to cleaner air at the next stop.

emerald museum

fake miner outside the fake mine

Columbia’s claim to fame is the quality of the emeralds mined there. Our last stop was at an emerald museum/jewelry store. The first room we entered in had several men at work crafting metal into settings for fine jewelry. All Columbian they said, for silver and gold are also mined there. The museum part had quite a few displays of raw emeralds and some jewelry from ancient times. It also had a walk-through model of a portion of an emerald mine.

raw emeralds

emeralds in the mine exhibit

The museum part was pretty interesting, after which of course we were sent into the store area. They did have some pretty things, but also pretty expensive. People looked around a bit and then made their way back to the van, all except the Spanish lady who stayed in the shop until nearly the time they had said the tour would return to port before the guide finally wrangled her out of there so we could leave. After all that time she did not even come out of the store carrying a bag, though one of the other ladies managed to purchase something and still get back to the van on time. Meanwhile street peddlers walked around the van banging on the windows trying to get people inside to buy stuff, but nobody did.

Cartagena city street

buildings in Cartagena

We made it back about half an hour after they had said we would, but still with enough time to wander through the jungle paths and look at the animals a bit before going back to the ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Port Cities, Ports of Call, South and Central America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Food on the Ruby Princess

cruise ship in Alaska

Ruby Princesss in Juneau

Like all the big cruise ships, Ruby Princess has food in abundance and a variety of places to get it, with the two main places in the dining rooms or buffet. Ruby Princess has 3 dining rooms. Bottticelli serves first and second seating at dinner, Michealangelo is open throughout the dinner hours for anytime dining, and Da Vinci serves breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, first dinner seating, and then is open for anytime dining during the later dinner hours.

princess dining room menu

one night’s menu from the dining room

The main buffet on the Lido deck is called Horizon Court and is open for all meals. It has identical stations on the port and starboard sides of the ship. Both are open during the busiest hours and just one during slower times. There is a third station at the stern called Cafe Caribe which is sometimes open during the same time as the others and sometimes at different times. When it is open at the same time it has different food. Cafe Caribe occasionally has specialty items like crab shack or chocolate buffet.

Ruby Princess premium restaurant

Salty Dog Gastropub, one of the premium restaurants

Passengers can also find food out by one of the pools with places that serve pizza, ice cream, and burgers. Premium restaurants include Salty Dog Gastropub, Crown Grill which serves steak and seafood, SHARE by Curtis Stone, and Vines wine and seafood bar. There’s also a 24 hour cafe where the food is free, but the drinks cost extra. Room service is available as well.

dinner on the Ruby Princess

surf and turf gluten free version

There’s something for everyone, including people on restricted diets. People with food issues such as gluten free order their next night’s dinner a day ahead so the food can be altered to suit their needs. For that reason it is best to choose a set dining time rather than anytime dining so that you have the same waiter each day. We had not thought of that since I normally cruise with my husband rather than my gluten free sisters and chose anytime dining so the headwaiter at Da Vinci made special arrangements for us with the same dining time and waiter every day.

cruise ship menu

menu from Curtis Stone’s SHARE, a premium restaurant on Ruby Princess

cruise ship restraunt menu

Menu from Crown Grill premium restaurant

We didn’t try any of the premium restaurants, but the food in the dining room was excellent. While my sisters got to choose their dinner courses, their dessert was whatever the waiter brought them each night. The Lido buffet always had a gluten free dessert option so they enjoyed having that as a late night snack since they got to try an extra thing each day and said the gluten free desserts up there were very good.

afternoon tea on Ruby Princess

waiter serving treats at afternoon tea

At afternoon tea they serve little sandwiches, cakes, cookies, and scones. We went there one day with my sisters thinking they would just pick the fillings out of the sandwiches, but the head waiter saw them and sent down to the kitchen for something gluten free. Even on the fly with no warning they had gluten free scones and macaroons.

chocolate experience

fancy chocolate

Ruby Princess had special chocolate desserts each night and sometimes chocolate treats at other events as part of their Chocolate Journeys program.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017

 

 

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Interview with John Heald – Rescue at Sea

Helicopter Rescue at Sea

rescue at sea

helicopter coming to the rescue on Carnival Vista

Cruise ships have two types of sea rescues that could happen during the course of a cruise. The least common and most unlikely is rescue of people from another vessel in distress. If a ship comes across a disabled or sinking vessel they may either alert someone who is responsible for rescues in that area such as the coast guard or rescue the people themselves depending on the situation. It’s quite rare for them to actually bring stranded people on board, but in a life or death situation it could happen.

Spanish rescue copter

rescue helicopter

The more common sort of rescue at sea seen aboard cruise ships is that of a passenger or crew member on the vessel in distress. Nobody plans for anything bad to happen to them during the course of their vacation or work day, but accidents can happen as can illnesses. Many older people enjoy cruising and some even live on the ships full time or nearly so. Ships do have medical facilities, and while a ship can sail without the captain as there are other people on board qualified to run the ship, it can’t sail without a doctor. The Carnival Vista had 2 doctors and 6 ER-trained nurses on the transatlantic cruise. Ships however do not have all the equipment found in a land-based hospital. Some medical issues are beyond the scope of what the ship is equipped for and they prefer not to have any reason to use the ship’s morgue.

Interview with Carnival spokesperson John Heald about helicopter rescues from cruise ships

Rescues can be made by boat or by helicopter depending on the situation, availability, and proximity to shore. On an ocean crossing they can get to a point where they are too far from any land. The Vista was close enough to Spain when the need arose for them to send out a helicopter to rescue a passenger in trouble.

helicopter rescue at sea

rescuer looks down from the helicopter

The captain announced that the helicopter was on the way, and passengers were told to leave the area of the top deck where it would land and asked to stay out of that area as well as off of the outside portion of the promenade deck.

looking up at helicopter from cruise ship balcony

the helicopter came in and out of view from the balcony

The helicopter came and went on the side of the ship where our room was so we had a pretty good view of it from our balcony. It seemed to take it quite some time to complete the rescue. It hovered over the ship going in and out of view as our room was on the side of the ship and the patient up on top. At some point they sent down a rescue person from the helicopter as well as the basket for the patient, and of course had to bring both back up before leaving for the hospital in Spain.

helicopter during a rescue

the helicopter drops a line

Names and medical details are not made public so we can only hope the person survived. Vacation insurance is always an option and in a situation like this definitely a good investment for the patient if they purchased it.

helicopter rescue

the helicopter leaves with the patient on board

More Interviews with John Heald

Gratuities

Left Behind in Port

Best Places on Carnival Breeze

Life on a Cruise Ship and Funships 2.0

Carnival Breeze Things to Do and Best Kept Secrets

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Carnival, Randoms, Shipboard Life, Vista, Atlantic Ocean & Islands | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Grand Cayman Turtle Farm

cruise ship at Grand Cayman

Breeze at Georgetown from the marine park where people snorkel with tarpon

Why does Grand Cayman need a turtle farm? Because without it the turtles there likely would have become extinct by now. People have harvested turtles for food from the Caymans since Columbus first came across the islands in 1503 and called them Las Tortugas due to the amount of turtles there. Seafarers of the 17th and 18th centuries followed suit and used Grand Cayman turtles as a means of fresh meat on their ships. Early settlers of the islands hunted turtles to sell to passing ships for income as well as for their own survival. By the 19th century the turtle population was depleted to the point that ships had to go elsewhere for turtle meat. Turtle remains the national dish of the Caymans to this day, though a good percentage of the population doesn’t eat it.

young turtles

Baby Turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm

Caymanians of the 20th century still consumed turtles, but by then they had become too scarce for commercial hunts. In 1968 the turtle farm was established, originally just as a means of producing turtle meat both as a source of income and to reduce poaching of the few remaining wild turtles. Somewhere along the way the farm also started releasing turtles to the wild.

The farm still sells some turtles as meat, which greatly reduces illegal hunting of turtles still left in the wild. Most turtle meat is consumed by locals, but there are some restaurants that serve it and a few tourists give it a try. The farm now breeds rare Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles as well as their original Green Sea Turtles, which are also an endangered species. Some of their released turtles have matured and come back to the island to breed helping the number of turtle nests in the wild to rise.

tropical bird

aviary at the turtle farm

What started as a private enterprise is now a government-run facility. After losing the majority of their turtles in 2001 when a hurricane washed them out to sea, the farm moved inland to an expanded facility with a bigger breeding lagoon, an artificial reef where visitors to the farm can snorkel with fish and turtles, and other tourist amenities including a restaurant.

more fish than turtles

the saltwater snorkel lagoon has lots of fish

Shore excursions from Carnival Breeze in Grand Cayman included a couple to the turtle farm, one with lunch included and one without. The one without cost the same as getting there on your own by public bus and less than taking a taxi. We chose to go on our own anyway so we could visit the exhibits at our own pace and avoid the crowd rather than getting herded through in a group on someone else’s timetable.

Cayman Turtle Farm

turtle in the breeding pond

Our ship came in to port at 8am, the same time the turtle farm’s website said they opened. The ship was on Miami time though, one hour earlier than island time. That actually worked out quite well for us. We caught the first tender off the boat and headed ashore with a map in hand showing a bus stop next to the public library. There are 3 tender piers in Georgetown. We were at the one in the middle. From there we took a right and walked about a block to Fort Street where we headed inland. The library is about a block from the water and the bus terminal sits right next to it. The bus cost $2.50 USD per ride. The yellow line bus goes to the turtle farm and one goes by about every 15 minutes. One sat at the terminal when we got there so we got right on. It had just one other passenger at the start, but this is mainly local transportation and various people get on and off all along the way. They let us out right in front of the turtle farm and said we could catch a return bus either under a tree there or at a bus stop just down the road.

Cayman Turtle Farm

Shark in the Predator Tank

We got there at 8:45 our time, so just before they opened. When they did we were the first visitors there. A few more people showed up between when the front desk opened and when the doors out into the exhibits did. The turtle farm has two price options. For $18 you get a green wrist band and can see the large turtles in the breeding pond, the hatchery, and a few other exhibits at the front. For $45 you get a blue wrist band with full access to the rest of the park including a pond where you can snorkel with turtles and fish, a waterslide and pool, aviary, and nature trail. There’s also a predator tank with sharks and a barracuda. You don’t swim with them though.

turtle

from the bridge you can see turtles and fish in the salt water swimming lagoon

The swimming areas opened an hour after the park so we had a bit of time to stroll around and look at things. A booth sold turtle food, and the big turtles in the breeding pond are quite happy if anyone buys some to throw to them. It looks just like dry dog food. The hatchery had cases of turtle eggs and a little room with a movie explaining all about the turtles they raise there and how some get released into the wild and others sold for meat which helps to prevent poaching of the wild ones.

A group of little tanks with little turtles serves as an area where visitors can hold the turtles if they are careful and follow the directions on signs posted there. A couple of the tanks have stairways where people can go in the water with the little turtles. All of the bigger turtles in bigger tanks have signs saying not to touch them, though throwing turtle food into the water for them is fine.

wild iguana

wild iguanas sunned themselves on rocks around the ponds

By arriving at the farm ahead of the crowd we got to see most everything without anyone else around us. We did run into a group at the little turtle handling ponds, but had the option to leave there at will and go off in a different direction. The turtle snorkeling pond stayed empty of people awhile after my watch said it should have opened, but apparently nobody else was ready to swim yet because the only thing the worker there said when I went to get in the water was that snorkel vests were required. I despise snorkel vests. Warm salt water is very buoyant and it is much easier to float than to dive under the surface. At least they didn’t charge a rental fee for it. Though a lot of places require the vests they don’t ever make people put air into them if they don’t want to.

turtle hangout

several turtles stayed near this reef just beyond the turtle and fish crowd

We had seen from the bridge between the turtle and predator ponds where most of the turtles and fish hung out, the opposite side of the pond from the beach near the area where the restrooms/showers and booth of snorkel equipment were located. There is a ladder into the water near the bridge, but it’s a lot more fun to swim there and snorkel along the way.

underwater video from snorkeling in the turtle lagoon

Some turtles and a few fish swam about through areas of the pond away from the bridge and a sunken ship around the middle of it made a nice resting place for several turtles. Another advantage of going there on our own – I had the whole bathroom to myself to shower off and get ready for the swim and the whole pond to myself for quite some time. As I swam back to the starting beach a few people went by the other way, the first of the cruise ship crowd that were entering the water as I left it.

swimming pool

freshwater pool and slide

From there we went to the freshwater pool, which had a waterslide, a waterfall, no turtles, and not many people. The slide was not as tall or as fast as the ones on the Carnival Breeze. Iguanas sunned themselves on the rock by the waterfall at that pool. Other iguanas and lizards large and small roamed the park freely and sunned themselves anywhere they liked. Little birds hung out at the edge of turtle ponds, stealing food from the little turtles and hoping some washed ashore from the bigger ones.

snorkling with turtles

turtle in the snorkel lagoon

We had paid the $20 deposit for locker use, but since John decided not to go in the water we never actually used the lock since he watched our stuff while I snorkeled. We did remember to return the lock before we left though and got $17 back because they keep $3 as a locker rental fee whether you actually use the lock or not.

We only waited about 5 minutes before the bus came by when we decided to leave. Another couple was already under the tree waiting. Before returning to Georgetown the bus went through Hell, so anyone wanting to go there could get off and have a look around before going back to the ship if they had time. They would just have to pay another $2.50 each for the bus fare on the next ride.

Marine Park

marine park stairway to the sea in Georgetown

We had time after reaching Georgetown to walk down to Paradise Restaurant and look at the tarpon. John still had his swimming trunks on since he had decided not to swim with the turtles. He’s not nearly so fond of snorkeling as I am, but he can’t resist snorkeling with tarpon.

Tarpon Video

I’d already changed and figured he’d be done quicker than I could put my swimsuit back on (which he was) so I just stayed on shore while he went in to swim with the giant fish. Farther from shore they have coral reefs and more colorful fish, but it’s the tarpon he always wants to see. From the restaurant there is a stairway into the sea, which is a marine park. It’s free to snorkel there. Anyone who doesn’t have their own gear can rent it from the restaurant. They also have lockers available.

Grand Cayman Turtle Farm

turtle in the snorkel lagoon at the turtle farm

More Adventures in Grand Cayman: Kittiwake Wreck and Reef Snorkel, Island Tour, Snorkeling with Tarpon, Grand Cayman.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Breeze, Caribbean, Carnival, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

How to Make a Towel Grinch

How to Fold a Towel Grinch

towel Grinchy Claus

towel Grinch

Supplies Needed to Make a Towel Grinch

Green Bath Towel               Green Hand Towel            Red Hand Towel

Construction Paper             Green Pompom                 Small Santa Hat

Cotton

How to Fold a Towel Grinch Body

towel animal folding instructions

tightly roll both ends of bath towel to the center

For the towel grinch body start with one green bath towel. Lay towel out flat and tightly roll both sides to the center from the short end.

towel animal body step two

fold the rolled towel in half rolled side out and pull the inside tips out of the end of each roll

Fold rolled towel in half rolled sides out. Pull the tips out of the end of each roll.

take the tips of both ends of one roll in one hand and both ends of the other roll in the other hand and pull

take tips of both ends of one roll in one hand and both ends of the other roll in the other hand and pull

Take the tips from both ends of one roll in one hand and both ends of the other roll in the other hand.

Grinch towel origami

towel Grinch body

Pull both sides at the same time until the towel pulls out into the arms and legs of a towel body.

making a towel Grinch

place towel Grinch body in seated position and drape with red hand towel

Place towel body in seated position. Drape red hand towel over back of body and fold around the arms to make sleeves. Tuck any excess red towel under the body and legs.

How to Make a Towel Grinch Head

starting a towel Grinch head

roll both sides together – you can keep both hands on the towel if you’re not taking photos

Hang center of one edge of long side of green hand towel on a hook or peg or tuck it under your chin. Adjust towel so both ends hang evenly. Tightly roll both sides to the center. Roll both sides together, keeping rolls as tight as possible from top to bottom.

how to make a towel Grinch

set towel rolled side down, fold loose ends over top and roll from wide end

When finished, set towel down on a flat surface rolled side down. Fold the loose ends over the top of the towel and roll starting from the wide end of the towel. Tuck the pointy end in between the rolls. A towel rolled tightly enough will hold together on its own once the end is tucked.

towel Grinch head

tuck the pointy end in between the rolls

Make Grinch eyes from red, yellow, and black construction paper. Use double stick tape to attach eyes and pompom nose onto Grinch head. Set head onto Grinch body. Adjust red towel around head.

Finishing the Towel Grinchy Claus

Set small Santa hat on Grinch’s head. If you were unable to find a small enough hat fold a bigger one inside of itself to shrink it to size and use safety pins to hold it at the size you want. Put strips of cotton around the ends of the red towel sleeves and neckline to make a Santa coat. Pose Grinch as desired.

towel Grinch

finished towel Grinch

More Christmas Towel Animals:

Towel Reindeer                         Towel Santa

For other towel animals see My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016

 

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Tahiti Island Tour

Exploring Tahiti From a Cruise Ship On Your Own

P&O Arcadia arrived in Papeete, Tahiti of the windward islands in French Polynesia on a rainy February day. We hadn’t made any specific plans for this port stop. We knew we could find a few things to see within walking distance of the ship if nothing else came up including an old cathedral, a municipal market, a pearl museum, or the ferry to Moorea Island. Exiting the ship we were handed a map highlighting a nearby pearl market so anyone looking for Tahitian pearls would not have far to go.

Arcadia in Tahiti

P&O Arcadia in Papeete, Tahiti

Tahiti is the largest of the 118 islands that make up French Polynesia. While before this trip I would look at the word Papeete and think it rhymed with Tahiti, all the ship’s announcements pronounced it as paw-pay-eh-tee. Whether that is how the locals and French say it or a British pronunciation I have no clue. Papeete is the capital of Tahiti. The two islands of Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti connect by a narrow isthmus to make the whole of Tahiti, an island created by volcanoes. Most of the towns and houses sit in an often narrow strip of lowlands ringing the jungle-covered mountainous interior. The larger cities sit in areas with a broader expanse of lowlands and sprawl up into the highlands as well.

port at Papeete

View of Papeete, Tahiti from the ship

We were not sure if Tahiti would have the random local excursions you can get as you get off the ship like the Caribbean ports have, but sure enough there were a line of taxis and several people rounding up passengers for island tours. One outfit wanted $50 each for an open truck. We had heard of the local LeTruck busses. This was the same sort of bus on a flatbed truck type vehicle, but it was for cruise ship passengers only and not public transportation. It did have a cover over the top, but the next guy down the line had an enclosed and air conditioned bus and was offering tours for $40, both a better deal and a better option for a day with heavy showers on and off. We bargained him down to $35 each. Still more than these tours cost on most Caribbean islands, but things are expensive in Tahiti and the tour went around the entire big island and lasted over 4 hours.

Tahiti map

map of Tahiti

French is the official language of Tahiti and some of the natives speak Tahitian as well. We had a guide who spoke perfect English, having lived in the USA for 10 years. Besides telling us about the things we saw along the way she also talked about different plants used for native medicines and the different fruits growing there.  She said at one time everything including their homes had been made from coconut palms, but none of those houses are still around. She also said people get a longer jail sentence for selling drugs than for murder, although neither was all that long at 4 years for murder and 5 for selling marijuana. She spoke wistfully of living off the land as she grew up and sadly added that her grandchildren prefer McDonalds over native foods and store-bought skin care products over the homemade ones that she said work much better.

tropical flowers in Tahiti

flowers from Tahiti’s botanical garden

While rain beat down on the roof of the bus our guide said that the rainy season was over. It’s not supposed to rain that time of year, but the climate has changed. Something we’ve heard over and over on many tours all over the world in the last few years. Whatever the current weather is doing is not supposed to happen at that season or time of the year.

the only lighthouse on Tahiti

Lighthouse at Point Venus

First we stopped at Point Venus, so named because Captain Cook went there to study the movements of the planet Venus in hopes of gaining better knowledge of the earth’s distance from the sun. Point Venus was where all the early European ships landed including Louis de Bougainville who claimed Tahiti for France and Captain Bligh with the HMS Bounty of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. The mutiny happened not long after leaving Tahiti. Point Venus has the only lighthouse on Tahiti, built out of coral in 1867.

surfers in Tahiti

surfers at Point Venus unbothered by on and off rain and a jellyfish warning sign

Then we made a quick stop at a local grocery store where people could pick up drinks and snacks. Local currency is the French Pacific Frank, but most places are happy to accept American dollars or credit cards.

rooster running free

rooster in Tahiti

The island has a lot of chickens running around and we saw a couple random dogs as well. Anytime we walked through a forested area John said he was under attack from biting bugs, but I had a bounce dryer sheet in my pocket. Not one bug bothered me all day and normally I’m the one with the most bites. Dryer sheets really do make great bug repellent. Bonus – no chemical bug spray and you can still use it in the dryer. I’m not sure if one kind works any better than another, but I had a Bounce Free unscented.

blowhole in Tahiti

tunnel past the blowholes and turnout to the tour stop

Next we stopped at the Ara Ahoaho blow holes, something we had wanted to see. I saw a photo on the internet before we came that showed the blow hole spewing seawater across a road, but apparently that was an old picture. Now a tunnel bypasses that road and the blow holes have their own tourist stop with a pathway where the road was and a lookout to another blow hole next to the sea.

old road at Arahoho blowholes

where the road used to be

There’s a bit of the old road remaining beyond a fence. The hole makes a bit of noise before it sprays. Now and then it sprayed a decent amount, but most of its efforts during our brief stop were rather pathetic.

blowhole in Tahiti

the blowhole was more mist than water while we were there

Stormy seas or perhaps a higher tide would make a far more impressive show, although there was enough wave action that day to have surfers out on every beach we saw. After viewing the blowholes with dry skies a downpour came just in time to soak everyone before getting back on the bus.

botanical garden in Tahiti

waterfall at the botanical garden

Luckily it stopped raining by the time we got to our next stop at a Botanical Garden. It is home to the Gaugin museum, but the museum is closed for renovations and has been for about 3 years. Our guide said they ran out of money to finish and reopen. The garden is still open and has a pretty sizeable waterfall and lots of pretty flowers. An eel swam about near a bridge by the waterfall.

dark and misty water cave

biggest of the water caves

Next we visited the water caves. These are high-ceilinged grottos in the side of a mountain with water at the bottom. Water also dripped from the top, but it was a rainy day so that may not always be the case. The largest one had its own mist emanating from the dark depths of its water-filled floor. Actually I have no idea whether it is deep or not, but definitely dark.

ancient Tahitian temple

this back of a pyramid was the only part of the temple still standing any higher than the platform

Our last stop brought us to the site of an ancient Polynesian temple made from lava stones. It is mostly platforms now, many of the stones having been carted off  to build a cotton plantation nearby. It’s still an impressive site though. The stone platforms cover quite a large area. One had a short wall from what may once have been a room and another had one pyramid-like wall still standing.

ancient temple ruins in Tahiti

small statue and platform in front of the pyramid

Carved statues sat at the entrance, and another much smaller one on a pole by the last platform with the pyramid wall. Our guide mentioned the islander’s original religion having a god of war to whom they made human sacrifices, a god of peace to whom they gave animals and produce, and a goddess of fertility. Probably why there were three platforms. Missionaries of the 1800’s came to convert the islanders to Christianity and now churches from a variety of denominations dot the island.

The guide warned us to mind our valuables should we decide to stroll through town because unemployment is about 10% and thieves will sometimes go by on bicycles and grab purses and things right off of people.

Things To Do When Visiting Tahiti as a Cruise Port

Shore Excursions

The excursions offered through our ship were: Tahiti Sightseeing tour by bus, Tahiti Sightseeing tour by helicopter, Dolphin Watch, and Mountain Safari by Jeep.

On Your Own

Things within walking distance of the cruise ship dock: Black Pearl Museum, Ferry to Moorea, Bougainville Park, Place Tarahoi government buildings, Cathedrale de L’Immaculee Conception (Tahiti’s oldest Catholic church), Marché Municipale (public market), City Hall, Shops, Restaurants.

Venturing farther:

Taxi or bus tour, Visit the tourist information booth at the port for current options, Travel the Island by local bus. Privately Arranged tours pre-booked on the internet.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
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Cruise Ship Cabins on Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista in Malta

Vista in Malta

Carnival Vista has all the usual cabin categories – inside, oceanview, balcony, suites, and spa cabins. It also has two brand new categories not available on any of Carnival’s previous ships – Family Harbor and Havana.

inside cabin with bunks

Low budget cruising – inside cabin that sleeps 4

The most affordable cabins are the regular inside cabins. Inside cabins are also the least expensive way to upgrade yourself to special locations on the ship. You can find inside cabins in the spa, Havana, and Family Harbor areas so they are the cheapest option to book there and take advantage of the unique perks each of those locations have to offer.

cheap cruise ship cabin

this porthole cabin is called upper lower because it has one real bed and one couch bed

There are even some cabins that book as inside but have a view – the porthole cabins and the obstructed view cabins at the bow. There aren’t many of those though so you have to book early to get one. Inside cabins with just one regular bed are called upper lower whether the second bed is a bunk or a couch bed and are the lowest priced cabins on the ship even though some have portholes.

oceanview spa cabin

spa oceanview cabin

Oceanview cabins provide more space and a view without breaking the bank. These cabins are found on exterior areas of the ship in places where balconies can’t go, mainly on lower decks. Some of the ocean view cabins are among the largest cabins on the ship other than suites. Vista doesn’t have very many regular ocean view cabins though. Most are deluxe ocean view which have an extra bathroom with tub and sink and of course cost more.

5 person cruise ship cabin

Family Harbor oceanview cabin sleeps 5

Ocean view cabins are also available in the Family Harbor and Spa areas. Some ocean view cabins in the Family Harbor area hold 5 people.

spa balcony cabin

spa balcony cabin is the same as a regular one except the colors and the perks

Balcony cabins give the occupants their own little bit of private outdoor space. Vista has some cove balconies on deck 2 as well as the regular balconies higher up.

cove balcony

cove balcony from Family Harbor suite is 1 1/2 times the size of a regular cove balcony

Cove balconies have a close to the water view from a metal surround with watertight doors that lock down in stormy weather and can be found both as ordinary rooms and in the Family Harbor area. Regular balconies on higher decks have a view through the plexiglass fully across the verenda. Balcony staterooms are also available in the Havana and Spa areas.

Vista grand suite

Grand Suites are the biggest accommodations on the ship

The most luxurious accommodations are found in the suites. The ocean suites start the suite category, and for ever increasing prices passengers can move up to Family Harbor, Cloud 9 Spa, Havana, or the extra spacious grand suite. Besides bigger rooms most suites have larger balconies, whirlpool tubs, and come with extra perks like VIP boarding.

spa suite

spa suite

Spa cabins and suites are decorated in soothing colors and come with spa products for use on board, special spa bathrobes and slippers, unlimited use of the thermal suite, priority spa reservations, free fitness classes, and exclusive spa discounts.

family harbor stateroom

Family Harbor inside cabin

Family Harbor cabins are decorated in a nautical theme. They come with access to the exclusive Family Harbor lounge which is open 24 hours. The lounge has board games, video games, concierge service, breakfast and snacks. Kids from Family Harbor rooms eat free in the specialty restaurants and get one night of free Night Owls babysitting at Camp Ocean.

inside Havana Cabana cabin

Havana Cabana Suite

Havana cabins have their own Cuban style decor specific to those cabins and are all located at the back of the ship on decks 5, 6, and 7 near the Havana Bar and the Havana pool. Havana cabins have exclusive use of the Havana pool at the back of deck 5 during daytime hours.

Havana Cabana

Havana Cabana

Havana Cabana rooms have a large lanai on the promenade deck and private access to an exclusive area of the promenade deck from their cabanas. Havana Cabana suites feature rainshowers instead of the whirlpool tubs found in other suites. All guests in Havana cabins must be at least 12 years old.

Havana Cabanas

Havana Cabanas have a walkway on the promenade deck gated off for just those cabins

Some staterooms throughout the ship have connecting doors so families or other guests traveling together can book more than one room and have access to both rooms from within. Wheelchair accessible rooms are also found in a variety of categories although it may be necessary to call or book through an agent to get one because they aren’t always offered online.

cruise ship passenger laundry

launderette on the Vista

Like all Carnival ships, the Vista has self-serve passenger laundries.

Vista inside cabin

inside cabin 6328 is more square than the average cabin and accessed from a third hallway

To view staterooms on other ships, see the Ships and Cabins page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
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Celebrity’s Lobster Murano Recipe

Celebrity Infinity in Columbia

Infinity in Cartagena

While the name SS United States sounds like this specialty restaurant on the Celebrity Infinity would serve American food, it actually had upscale French cuisine. Maybe this confusion led to their decision to replace this restaurant with an Italian place because a couple weeks after our cruise the ship went into drydock and that was one of the things that changed.

cruise ship specialty restaurant

entrance to the SS United States restaurant on the Infinity

For bargain hunters on the Infinity, specialty restaurants have a discount on port days. They also had a package where you can book a meal at each of their 3 specialty restaurants without regard to port or sea days and save money over what each cost individually.

fancy cruise ship restaurant

places set at a table for 2

SS United States had white tablecloths on tables set with silver plates. Décor included backlit blue and white artwork of sea creatures along one wall and large portholes with wooden slates that resemble open blinds on the wall opposite. Tables for two lined the windows with larger tables in the interior. Likely the décor changed along with the name and type of food served.

menu at cruise ship premium restaurant

menu at SS United States

The menu had options for a five course wine and food pairing with a set menu of two options each course paired with a glass of wine. That option had an additional charge over the regular cover charge for the restaurant (to cover the cost of the wine I suppose). The other side of the menu offered ala carte with more food choices for the starters and main and a separate dessert menu. You could order whatever food you want from that side without adding any extra charges over the basic fee.  The ala cart menu included the food choices from the other side as well as additional options. Wine still cost extra.

fancy cruise ship salad

Spinach Salad

I ordered spinach salad and lobster tails. My husband chose cappuccino mushroom soup, scallop Wellington, and he had the lobster tails as well.  Since he had ordered one more starter than me they brought a small taste of green apple sorbet for me so I’d have something while he ate that course.  Green apple sorbet tasted a lot better than that sounds. It was actually quite good and had the texture of homemade sorbet.

dinner made to order

cooking lobster tableside

This specialty restaurant prepared some menu items tableside. It was also the only place onboard allowed to have an open flame, both in the candles on the tables and in cooking on the portable burners they bring tableside and flambé dishes like the lobster. Our waiter brought out the cooking cart with each ingredient in a separate little dish. He showed us the sauce ingredients and said if there was anything among them that we didn’t want he could leave that item off.

only the alcohol is on fire

lobster flambé

He sautéed the lobster tails in butter and olive oil, adding things like bacon and garlic to the pan.  At one point he poured brandy over it and perhaps dropped a bit on the burner as well since he got the flame to jump from there into the pan.  Amazing how the flame burns over the alcohol making the food in the pan appear as if it is on fire, yet the food itself has no burned look or taste at all.

fancy lobster dinner

lobster dinner plated and ready to eat

After the flame burned out he added the creamy Dijon sauce and other ingredients from his little bowls and then served the garnished lobster on plates under a silver dome alongside fancy vegetables over mashed potatoes.

Grand Marnier Soufflé

the waiter adds sauce to the soufflé

The dessert menu included a couple soufflés.  I tried the dark chocolate, my husband the Grand Marnier.  The chocolate one had a mocha sauce listed on the menu, but since I don’t like coffee or anything coffee flavored I asked if I could have the vanilla sauce from the other soufflé instead.  The waiter said that was fine, but he thought it was better with vanilla ice cream so while he put the requested sauce on the dessert, he also brought out a dish of ice cream as an option.  Since it was there I tried a bit of it with the dessert and he was right that the two worked very well together.

The food, service, and dining experience in the SS United States were all wonderful, so I can only hope the new Italian place they replaced it with is just as special.

Lobster Murano recipe from SS United States

Amounts of the ingredients of this recipe are to taste and nothing has to be specific.  Somewhere around 2 tablespoons of each of the veggies and bacon works well with 4 lobster tails.

Ingredients

4 lobster tails, shelled and deveined

Olive oil

Butter

Bacon, cut into small pieces

Shiitake mushrooms

Shallots

Garlic

About 1 cup heavy cream

Dijon mustard to taste

Parmesan cheese

Chopped tomatoes concasse (no seeds or skin)

Chopped chives

brandy

Directions

Heat pan, grease with butter and coat with olive oil.  Add 4 lobster tails.  Add bacon, mushrooms, shallot and garlic to pan.  Stir veggies frequently and flip lobster tails partway through cooking.  Pour a bit of brandy over the lobster and flambé.  When fire is out add the cream sauce, which is the heavy cream with dijon added per your taste.  The cream sauce should reduce and thicken some while cooking and stirring for a few minutes.  Add the chopped tomato insides and parmesan cheese and stir.  Plate lobster and scoop sauce over top.  Garnish with chopped chives and serve.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016
Posted in Celebrity, Cruise Food, Infinity, recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau

boardwalk from Princess dock to town

boardwalk by Ruby Princess in Juneau

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

glacier viewing center

Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center

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

Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center

trail from the visitor’s center to the waterfall

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

trail view of Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

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

Nugget Falls

Nugget Falls near Mendenhall Glacier

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

sink faucet has wash and dry settings

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

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

river near Mendenhall Glacier

river by the trail

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

bergy bit at glacier

a small ice berg floats by Mendenhall Glacier

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

Other Juneau Blogs:

Mount Roberts Tram

Mount Roberts Tram on a stormy day

Glacier Gardens

River Raft Excursion

Mendenhall Glacier

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