The Seven Hells of Beppu

Westerdam in Beppu

Westerdam in Beppu, Japan

Beppu, Japan, known as the city that steams, is home to numerous hot springs and other geothermal features. Steam rises from thermal pools, steam vents, and sometimes even storm drains. There are steam baths called Onsens (thermal spas) all throughout the city. Some of the thermal pools are far too hot to touch. These are known as the hells of Beppu or Jigoku in Japanese. Most of them sit very near each other high on a hill above the dock. The other 2 sit lower on the hill and down the coast a bit, roughly 3k away from the larger grouping.

Beppu 7 hells tour

pathway to Umi Jigoku

Holland America Westerdam docked in Beppu with more than the average amount of port time, giving us a chance to see more than one thing. We started off with a visit to Takasakiyama Monkey Park. Afterword we took a taxi from there with a drop-off point at the highest of the hells on the hill – the farthest one from the port. We figured we’d start at the top and work our way downhill to the ship and see all the hells along the way.

Beppu, Japan 7 hells tour

flower at Umi Jigoku

Both the monkey park and the hot springs have a fee to get in. The hot springs can be toured individually, or you can get a booklet of tickets to see 7 for the same price it would cost to see just 5 if you paid for them one by one at each place. We decided to get the 7-hotspring pass.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Umi Jigoku

We started at Umi Jigoku. Although there are trails all around, none of them lead directly to the steaming blue pool, known as the sea hell because it has the aqua color of some tropical seas. You have to walk through the gift shop to get to the main pool. Most of the Jigokus or hells have something to see besides the main pool, giving someone who went to just the one something more to do than just look at one pool and leave.

footbaths are popular at the hells of Beppu

footbath at Umi Jigoku

Umi had several smaller hot pools, some of them red. It had a foot-soaking area in a much less hot pool with clear water. Most of the hells on the tour had small shrines or pagodas of some sort and this one was no exception. It also has gardens, a greenhouse, and a clear water pond with lotus flowers.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Oniishibouzu Jigoku

Oniishi Bouzu Jigoku is pretty much in the same complex as Umi, though it has a separate entrance and ticket to get in to the pool. This one is a series of bubbling mud pools. The name means shaven head hell because it spouts giant round mud bubbles that are said to resemble the shaved head of a monk. We were told the mud pools had a strong sulfur smell, but it really wasn’t bad at all, at least not on the day we were there. Like some of the other hells, it also had a foot-soaking area in a not so hot it burns you pool.

cooking pot hell of Beppu

Kamodo Jigoku

Kamodo Jigoku is another steamy blue pool. This one is known as the cooking pot hell. It has the hot spring kitchen, a food shack selling an assortment of foods cooked in nature’s steam.

food stand selling food steamed in a hot spring

food steamed in the hot spring for sale in the Kamodo kitchen

They had foot-soaking pools near their tables and some vents where people who want to can inhale steam or steam their skin. The steam vents and soaking pools are free, but if you want to try hot spring cooked food you have to pay for it. This hell also had some steaming red lesser pools and a bubbly mud pond.

street food in Beppu Japan steamed by hot spring

Beppu naturally steamed street food – and one of Japan’s ever-present vending machines

On the road between hells where we had to cross a street we passed by a couple food stalls that also had hot-spring steamed foods including eggs, corn, and sweet potatoes. Prices were slightly better than those at the hot spring.

one of the 7 hells of Beppu

Oniyama Jigoku looked quite turbulent

Oniyama Jigoku had a very steamy pool and lots of small pens with crocodiles of various sizes.  The water in this pool was full of waves and quite rough in appearance compared to the others. A sign said their high pressure steam had the strength to pull one and a half train cars and its temperature made ideal conditions for crocodile breeding.

crocodile on 7 hells tour in Beppu, Japan

crocodile at Oniyama Jigoku

It did not say whether or not they eat any of those crocodiles or what they do with all the crocodiles they breed if they don’t. There’s a building with a stuffed (as in taxidermy, not toy) crocodile named Ichiro that was the first crocodile bred there and the biggest and longest lived of any they’ve had.

7 hells of Beppu

greetings near the entry at Kamodo Jigoku

There is a bit of signage between some of the hells, but you can find your way from one to another by just looking for the next giant steam plume. Some of them have their own hellish signs near the entry, but you’ve already found your way in by the time you see those.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Shiraike Jigoku

Shiraike Jigoku is known as the white pool or white pond hell, though it looked more pale blue than white the day we saw it. They have a little aquarium that consists of a few tanks with different fish each in a small building near the pool. While they add a little something extra to see on a hot spring tour, if it is an aquarium you’re interested in Umitamago Aquarium out by Takasakiyama Monkey Park is the place to go.

spider in the steam of a hotspring

spider at Chinoike Jigoku

It’s about 3k from there to the lower hells. A bus stop conveniently located nearby provides transportation for anyone who would rather not walk, but we went onward on foot. The bus station also had maps and people who could help direct anyone who wants to walk to the right road. Sidewalks aren’t necessarily their thing, with sometimes not much more than the grates over a drainage ditch providing somewhere to walk out of the road. One corner didn’t even have that, but did have a bit of a shoulder where brush had been mowed down to walk on when we crossed the road to get to it. Some parts of the walk had actual sidewalks, or at least a wide enough paved area that wasn’t part of the road to work as one. In one spot we found a viewpoint overlooking the steaming town.

Beppu, Japan

view of the steaming city of Beppu from the walk between upper and lower hells

Most people opt for the bus and several busses did pass by us along the way . We came across one couple from the ship walking up the hill. They had started with the hell at the bottom and were working their way up. While the more direct road to the upper 5 hells comes up from the dock area, this one winds over and down to the point where it probably comes out a mile or two from the ship by the time you get back to the waterfront. We walked to the ship from there, but the map does show a nearby train station in the opposite direction from the ship, and the next one just a short walk away from the pier.

7 hells of Beppu tour

Chinoike Jigoku

After going through a tunnel it’s not too much farther to Chinoike Jigoku, the red pool or blood pond hell. Direct translation is bloody hell pond. Iron oxide and other minerals give it the red color. It’s the oldest of the hells and ancient Buddhists believed the pool resembled a nightmarish underworld. Past uses of the pond are as garish as the name. This pool was previously used to torture people and boil them to death. Quite a difference from its current use. Besides being a tourist attraction, soothing skin products are now made from the mud of the pool.


fish live in a stream near the red pool of Chinoike

This one also has a foot bath, and a pathway up above one side of the pool for photos from a different angle. There’s a creek with fish and it has a large souvenir shop too.

Beppu 7 hells tour

Tatsumaki Jigoku

The last one we saw, Tatsumaki Jigoka would just be a small unimpressive pool except for the fact that it’s a geyser. It blows with regular frequency, somebody said about every 20 minutes. Mostly there people just gather on the benches or on what looks like a large stone stairway, but may really be intended for use as bleachers to wait for the geyser to erupt. At the top of that stairway there is a trail through a forested garden, but I didn’t have time to hike around or investigate it.

7 hells of Beppu tour

the viewing area around Tatsumaki Jigoku is bigger than the geyser itself

The geyser took awhile to get going, but once it did it kept it up for quite awhile. It erupts into a little cave made of stone, which the sign next to it says was built to keep it from going too high. Which made me wonder what someone was thinking when they built something to make their attraction less impressive. Apparently they wanted to put a building closer to the geyser than otherwise would have been safe. There’s a little sweet shop you walk through to get to the geyser, and the people there know when it is due for the next eruption.

hot spring pool

small red hot spring pool at Umi Jigoku

Waking back to the ship, it’s a ways yet from the last hell to the railroad tracks that parallel the road running closest to the sea, and once you get there it’s still about 2 miles back to the ship. Our whole walk starting from the first hell down including walking around each of the hells was somewhere along the lines of 8k. I’d estimate walking the full loop rather than starting from the top would add another 5K when taking the more direct route from the port to the hells at the top of the hill.

Omiyama Jigoku

statue at Omiyama Jigoku

These hot springs are one of the main attractions of Beppu and though they are all done up in touristy fashion rather than left in their natural state it’s still interesting to see them. It’s not necessary to walk there, taxis are available at the port and busses can get you there too. From JR Beppu Station take bus 5 ,7, or 9 and get off at Kannawa bus terminal for the hells at the top of the hill. Bus 16/16A goes from Kannawa to Shibaseki for the two lower hells and bus 26/26A returns from Shibaseki back to Kannawa.

red hot spring pool

Chinoike Jigoku

There is an 8th hell called Yama Jigoku which is not included on the 7-hells ticket, but is located in the same general area as the group of 5 of the hells that are included. This hell has orange and green waters with great plumes of steam, and a zoo with animals like monkeys, mini horses, peacocks, flamingos, and hippos. We just did the 7-hells tour and did not look for that one. Beppu was my favorite of the Japanese ports we visited because there was so much to do and we got a lot of exercise doing the 7 hells tour.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019


Posted in Holland America, Japan, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hiking the Dungeness Spit

lighthouse on the Dungeness Spit

On the north coast of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Dungeness Park near Sequim is divided into two sections. (Sequim is pronounced Squim – rhymes with swim.)The recreation area is a county park and has hiking trails and a campground where dogs are welcome and some trails are even open to horses. The wildlife refuge is federal and no dogs are allowed there.

view of the spit from the bluff trail

The recreation area comprises of woods and meadows. One of the trails follows along an eroding bluff. It’s about 4 kilometers to walk the perimeter of the park. The wildlife refuge mainly consists of one of the world’s longest sandspits. This sandspit grows about 10-13 feet in length each year from the sand that erodes off the bluffs and debris washed down the nearby Dungeness River. The New Dungeness Lighthouse was built in 1857 at the end of the spit. Now it sits half a mile from the spit’s current end.

view of the lighthouse on the Dungeness Spit from Royal Princess (photo taken while sailing by)

Cruise ships heading out of Seattle, or those heading into Seattle without stopping in Victoria pass by close enough to see the lighthouse on the spit. Those heading out from Seattle are near shore on the Washington side of the Straight of Juan de Fuca at that point because they duck in at Port Angeles (which is the next town past Sequim) for the pilot boat to pick up the pilot. When there is more than one ship leaving Seattle on the same day they all leave about the same time and travel relatively close together in a line so the same boat can pick up the pilots from all of them. You can’t visit Dungeness from a cruise ship, but taking a side trip to the peninsula before or after a cruise from Seattle or Vancouver BC is always an option.

fencepost hanging in midair after the edge of the trail dropped

It’s free to use the trails in the recreation area, but there is a fee to camp there. Trails through the woods stay pretty much the same from year to year, but the bluff trail is an ever-changing example of nature taking its course. The park gets a bit smaller while the spit grows longer each time sand drops off the bluff. Periodically the bluff trail moves inland and sooner or later where the trail used to be is nothing but air.

kiosk at the trailhead to the spit

The parking lot for spit access sits at the far end of the road into the park, which is called Voice of America Road. There’s a kiosk there with information about the area’s wildlife and history as well as about the spit. You can pass through the kiosk on your way around the perimeter trail for free, but entry to the trail in the wildlife refuge leading to the spit costs $3 per family group, which can include up to 4 adults, with no additional cost for children. Dogs are not allowed beyond the sign that says you have to pay to go any farther.

Sheri and the Aussie kids on the trail to the spit

A wooded trail from the trailhead down to the beach gives two options, the main trail and the primitive trail. The main trail is paved and has interpretive signs along the way with information about the area and its wildlife. The primitive trail is a narrower dirt trail through the woods, which rejoins the main trail near a lookout point above the beach. There are two lookouts, one with telescopes and the other with giant binoculars.

one of the lookouts on the trail to the spit

Some areas of the spit are open to the public year-round, some seasonally, and some never. People are allowed to hike the beach side out to the lighthouse year round, though there are times in the winter when tides combined with weather say otherwise. The estuary side by the calm sheltered waters between the spit and mainland is mostly off limits to people giving the wildlife a safe place to live. The section of the estuary side closest to the trail leading to the beach is open to people during the summer.

spit in summer with low tide – on our winter visit the water was at the row of little pilings

On low tides there is lots of beach to walk on, but when the tide is very high the open beach vanishes and hikers have to pick their way through the driftwood. Tides never cover the entire spit, but storms bring the waves up high enough to leave everything above the tideline covered in driftwood consisting mainly of very large logs and entire trees.

Aussies on a log – Monica, Chloe, Daniel, Lucy, & Hannah

We set out one sunny winter’s day with nine people, the youngest of which was 5. All of us made it out to the lighthouse and back, the only group to reach the lighthouse that day. In summer and during local school breaks more people will get there most days. The 5 kids in our group were all from Australia, off school for their summer break. Along with their mothers (which includes my daughter) they were some of the farthest away people ever to make the trek out to the lighthouse and sign the guest book there.

mile marker – 3 miles down, 2 to go on the way to the lighthouse

Round trip to the lighthouse on the beach is 10 miles with each direction right at 5 miles. Along the way there are mile markers, little brown signs with the number of miles traveled from where the wooded trail meets the beach to that point. The trail through the woods from the parking lot to the beach is about half a mile so the total round trip is around 11 miles. Along the beach it usually feels as if you are traveling in a straight line, but actually the beach bends around quite a large curve.

when you see this sign you have arrived – you may not see the lighthouse from the beach here

The lighthouse is sometimes in view and sometimes not on the way there. At first sight it is a distant speck, growing larger the closer you come. When you finally get there a sign points the way off the beach with the trail into the lighthouse area marked as serenity and the way back to the trailhead marked as reality. That’s about as far down the beach as people are allowed to go. The beach from beyond the lighthouse out to the end of the spit is off limits to the public.

marker where the inland trail joins the beach

There’s actually another marker to an inland trail to the lighthouse that you pass by first while walking along the beach, but it has no words so unless you know what it is and where to look it’s likely to get missed. My sister Linda and I took that trail on the way back when we hiked out to the lighthouse in the summer. It was probably originally the trail to the dock because it ends about even with the pilings that are all that remain of the old dock in the bay on the inland side of the spit. At that point you go back to the main beach.

lighthouse and keeper’s house taken from the farthest point people are allowed to go out the spit on a little trail that goes a short distance beyond the lighthouse and has some historic signs. Most of the spit beyond the lighthouse is wildlife reserve and off limits to people.

At the lighthouse several buildings sit within a fenced grassy area. There’s some picnic tables out on the lawn between buildings. One is near the entrance to a public restroom – the only one available beyond the trailhead as there are no facilities of any kind out on the open beach of the spit. The lighthouse keeper’s house is now open for people to book a week’s stay there. These people become lighthouse keepers for the week and while they are there one of their duties is to be tour guides for the folks who make the hike out the spit and want to see the lighthouse.

one room in the lighthouse museum

There is a small museum at the bottom where people can wander about and look at things, but you have to be accompanied by a lighthouse keeper to climb the steep winding stairs up its tower. The small landing at the top provides a 360-degree view. We saw seals swimming near the shore through the window when I went there in the winter. Going again in the summer with my sister we noticed a flat structure full of weeds, which the keeper said was a helipad in case anyone needed to be evacuated in an emergency. It’s nice to bring a few extra dollars to put into the donation jar at the museum. The fee for going out to the spit goes to the wildlife reserve, but money collected at the lighthouse helps with expenses there like upkeep of the buildings.

inside the lighthouse tower with a view of the Strait of Juan de Fuca

The lighthouse tower stands at 63 feet high. It was 91 feet high when originally built in 1857, but was lowered to the current height in 1927 due to severe structural cracks that could have caused the top of the tower to fall. In 1993 it was added to the national register of historic places. It was one of the last lighthouses in the USA to have a full time keeper, with the last live-in keeper leaving in 1994.


That same year the United States Lighthouse Society started a New Dungeness chapter. Members of the New Dungeness Lighthouse Station Association have manned it ever since. Bookings to be a lighthouse keeper for a week are open to the public with a minimum age of 6 for families with children. You have to become a member of the lighthouse association to be a keeper. It’s quite popular so reservations usually need to be made well in advance unless you happen to luck into a cancellation. It seems a bit odd to have the word new in the name of a lighthouse that is over 150 years old, but a lot of places in the USA are called new something regardless of how long that place has been there because they were originally named after somewhere else. Captain Vancouver, an early explorer to the area, called the spit New Dungeness in 1792 because it reminded him of Dungeness in England. Both the wildlife refuge and recreation area are just called Dungeness now though, with new only being in the official name of the lighthouse. Dungeness crabs live in the area, but it’s not named for them. Vancouver Island, which is in Canada on the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is named after Captain Vancouver. On a clear day you can see Vancouver Island from Dungeness.

sign at the trailhead

There is a small boat landing on the beach on the estuary side so there are some visitors who come by sea on a small boat or kayak rather than by land, though they do have to arrange in advance to come in by boat. Lighthouse keepers are given transport in a 4×4 vehicle at low tide, which is good for them since they have to bring their own food with them as well as clothes and things since there are no stores on the spit. There is an artesian well next to the lighthouse which supplies both the keeper’s house and lighthouse building with water. In the early days before the well water had to be collected when it rained. Lighthouse keeping was hard work, especially on foggy days when keepers had to shovel coal to run a steam powered foghorn. The first light ran on lard oil. Electricity came by underwater cable across the bay in the 1930’s, but the light was not automated until 1976.

Aussies hiking to the lighthouse

The spit has no shade or shelter so a clear winter’s day is good for a hike out there since there are no worries about it getting too hot. Tides are generally lower in the summer though, so hikers usually have more beach to walk on then. In summertime cloudy days are a good choice for a spit hike. Time of day when the lowest tide occurs varies greatly so consulting a tide chart and planning ahead for a trek during low tide means more beach to walk on and less likelihood of having to scramble over logs.

Piper by the eroding bluff – this bit in the recreation area was once a viewpoint with parking spaces and the trail passing through along the edge. Most of the trail has dropped off the edge now so both trail and parking have moved farther inland. The photo was taken when it first started to fall. Where the dog is sitting in the photo is just air now and that fence is gone. (By the way Piper is not wearing a muzzle. It’s called a gentle leader and functions similar to a horse’s halter.)

While dogs are not allowed on the spit, coyotes are wildlife and go where they want so there are no restrictions against them. We did not see any actual coyotes, but we did see their tracks in the sand on the winter hike. Several different sizes so more than one had recently passed through leaving dog-like prints with definite claw marks at the ends of the toes. We also saw lots of ducks and seagulls, some diving birds, and some little shorebirds running in and out at the water’s edge to see what each wave brought them to eat. Stu the lighthouse guide said they sometimes see sea otters, but we did not see any during our hike. We didn’t see otters on the summer hike either, but there was a seal and lots of seagulls and other birds. We also heard a baby seal on the estuary side, probably alone on the beach while mom was off foraging for food, but it was not where it could be seen from the areas people are allowed to go.

Linda walking by the tire tracks on the beach

On the winter hike we had a bit of beach on the way there, but had to scramble over logs on the way back as the tide had covered what little beach there was below the driftwood by then. Summer tides are generally lower and even parts of the kelp beds were high and dry on the way out so we had lots of beach to walk on.


Vehicles are not normally allowed there (except for lighthouse keeper transport), but we followed tire tracks for quite some distance before a little vehicle that looked something like a cross between a quad and a pick-up went by with the park ranger and several people in hard hats that looked like they were a work party on the way back to the park. The tide was on the way in and by the time we went back most of the tire tracks were underwater, though there was still a lot more beach than there had been in the winter at the lowest point of the tide on our hike then.

young seagull begging for food – you can tell he’s young by the color of his feathers

On the winter’s hike our group of 9 were the only ones to make it out to the lighthouse that day, though we did see a few other people hanging out on the beach on our way back. The summer hike was quite different with several other groups at the lighthouse while we were there as well as seeing people along the way in both directions. On both trips we packed a picnic lunch to eat at the tables by the lighthouse, and visited the museum and went up into the lighthouse. On the winter trip a young seagull begged for our lunch, but perhaps by summer he had learned to find his own food since the lighthouse keepers didn’t want anyone to feed him.

view from the lighthouse of helipad and trail to the boat landing area

On the summer trip we also walked the extra little trails near the lighthouse. One goes down past the helipad to the boat landing. The other goes out as far as people are allowed to go on the spit, which is just a short distance beyond the lighthouse. Both trails have informative historical signs. On the summer trip we found the inland trail and took that one on the way out. It passed by the old pilings from a dock that was there when the keeper’s access was by boat, back in the days when it was a true lighthouse keeper who lived and worked there. The lighthouse is still in operation. The coast guard maintains the light, but the lighthouse association maintains everything else.

deer at the bottom of the trail just before it gets to the beach

On the trip out with my sister, my Garmin watch lied and said we made it to the lighthouse in under 2 hours when it really took 2 1/2. We were sightseeing, stopping for photos, and not caring about the time. Not wanting my PB (personal best) for that trek to be a lie, I jogged out there alone one October day with favorable tides and weather intending to be faster than the false time and made the trip in less than one hour, and just over an hour for the way back. Where the trail down from the trailhead meets the beach I saw 3 deer walking down the trail and 3 more on the beach on my way back that day. Most people hiking out to the lighthouse for fun would expect to take at least 2 hours each way for the full trip including the woods, but runners have made it there in slightly less than half an hour (beach time only, not counting the woods trail. The beach part of my jog took a hair under 45 minutes.)

view of the lighthouse from the inland trail

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Day Trips, USA, Washington | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cruising Gluten Free

table ready for guests in a dining room on Royal Princess

Cruise ships have come a long way from the time people had to arrange for every gluten free item they might eat on a voyage in advance of the cruise. Now gluten free selections are often available to anyone at the buffet as well as in the dining room. Of course there are a lot of other dietary concerns besides gluten so it is still a good idea to make the cruise line aware of your needs before setting sail. Many have a section in the online registration where those needs can be indicated, but if your dietary restrictions are severe it’s a good idea to call and make sure your needs can be met before booking.

meat and potatoes works as long as the sauce is gluten free

The first cruise I took with my sisters we booked anytime dining, but ended up going to the same waiter at the same time each night due to both of them needing to pre-order the night before so their dishes could be made gluten free. We learned on that one that anytime dining doesn’t really work for special diets. On our recent cruise on the Royal Princess we booked early dining from the start so we’d always have the same table and wait staff each night. I have some food issues now too with gluten and dairy limitations so this time it was all of us, though my problems are minor enough so far that when I’m not with the sisters I just choose my food carefully from the regular menu without preordering.

lobster on formal night

Royal Princess has several dining rooms. The one we were in had a little alcove with just a few tables in it that was walled off enough from the rest of the dining room to be a separate room, which is where our assigned table was. Only one other table in that room ever had anyone there so we had pretty quiet dinners. One side of the room was an exterior wall full of windows so even though our table wasn’t right next to the window we still had a nice view.

winner, winner, chicken dinner

There’s usually something gluten free available on the standard menu at least on the first night. After that the waitstaff brings the next night’s menus to the table so your choices can be altered as necessary to fit your diet. This works fine for people with sensitivities to particular foods. If your restrictions are severe such as celiac disease or life-threatening peanut allergies, you would definitely want to make arrangements in advance of the cruise and meet with the maître d’ before dinner time on boarding day.

one night the appetizer menu had pina colada soup – which was half a pina colada served with a spoon

Some dietary concerns such as kosher meals may be pre-packaged and brought on board ready made since it is not just the food itself, but the circumstances of preparation that are of concern there. Cruise ship galleys do have separate areas to prepare different sorts of foods to avoid cross-contamination, but are not set up according to religious guidelines. If you ever take a galley tour you see a section of giant soup pots, a bakery, an area for vegetable prep, a place for meats, another separate area for fish, and of course a dessert section. There are also things like giant dishwashers and lots of dishes.

seafood skewer

On the Royal Princess we generally had breakfast and lunch at the buffet, and dinner in the dining room. We could always find things on the buffet without gluten or dairy. There wasn’t a section specifically marked as gluten free, but when I asked at breakfast one day the person working that counter pointed out a different one where they had gluten free muffins available if you asked the counter person for them, and also would make gluten free toast or pancakes on request. None of it was sitting out ready to go and there was no signage so you had to know who to ask. We had breakfast in the dining room one day and they also had gluten free toast or pancakes for the asking, but not on the menu.

special off-menu gluten and dairy free dessert

Dinners we could always find something among the selections offered for appetizer and main that either was gluten and dairy free or could be made so with a bit of alteration – which was the point of ordering the previous day, in case something needed to be changed. Desserts weren’t always so readily available, but when there was nothing suitable on the menu they always made up something special for us that wasn’t on the menu.

sometimes the regular desserts had a gluten free choice

Royal Princess also had a little café on the promenade deck that always had at least one gluten free dessert among their daily selections. Specialty coffee and tea cost extra at the café, but the food was free.

turkey dinner

Overall cruises can cater to special diets, you just have to do your part in making them aware of your needs for the dining room or hunting down suitable items elsewhere. Gluten free is probably the easiest of special diets to manage while cruising since the cruise lines are making an effort to have those products readily available now, but they can adjust to other diets as well.

surf & turf

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Beppu Monkey Park

Westerdam in Beppu

Westerdam in Beppu

We started our port stop from Holland America Westerdam in Beppu, Japan with a visit to Takasakiyama Monkey Park. This park sits at the base of Mt. Takasaki, and is populated by wild macaque monkeys. A sign at the entrance says Welcome to Mt. Takasaki National Wildlife Park (Macaque Reserve) in several different languages including English. Monkeys live on the mountain and are fed at the park to keep them from venturing out into populated areas. Two different troops of monkeys living on the mountain use the feeding area. One comes down to the park in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

Beppu monkey park

monkey feeding area

The park opened in 1953 as a tourist attraction, though feeding the monkeys started in 1952 as a means of keeping them out of crops and populated areas. Opening the monkey park turned them from hunted pests pillaging nearby farms to a money-making tourist attraction. Mt. Takasaki is a natural habitat for these monkeys, who have lived there for centuries.

Beppu monkey park

small shrine type building at the monkey park

The main viewing area is at the Manjuji branch temple grounds. There are old temple buildings around the level area where the monkeys gather for feedings.

Beppu monkey park monorail

monorail at Beppu monkey park

At the entrance to the monkey park you have the option of buying an entrance ticket and walking up to where the monkeys hang out or for an additional fee adding on a monorail ride to the monkey area. The monorail track looks something like a single train track and the cars resemble in appearance a funicular with double cars more than the average monorail, though they do not function like a funicular.

mom and baby monkeys

mother monkey with a baby on her back

Unless someone in your party has mobility issues it is actually faster to walk up, but rides in any form are always fun. If you take the monorail up you can still walk down or even down and back up if you want to. However you get up the hill, once there monkeys are everywhere. We saw far more mothers with babies and half grown youngsters than mature males at the time we were there. Some mothers had a small baby riding on their back or under their belly and an older youngster scampering along beside them.

monkey playground

monkeys at play

Just like mothers taking their children to the neighborhood park, the monkey moms turned their babies loose to play on the playground there. The monkey park has a playground for little monkeys. They dart around and zip from one place to another, stopping to play on the swing for awhile, then the slide, and maybe even spending a bit of time on the monkey bars, which they navigate much faster than human children in spite of being a lot smaller.

monkey playground

monkey slide

They also had some sort of ropes and rings along a rock wall that resembled something out of a ninja warrior competition except that even the baby monkeys are better at it than people competing on the show. Of course the monkeys could scramble right up the rock wall without the ropes and rings, even the mothers with a baby riding on their back.

monkey park

monkey playground and feeding area

These monkeys are quite used to people and pay no attention when someone gets right up next to them to take a monkey-and-me selfie. People aren’t supposed to touch them, but they do get very close and the monkeys don’t seem to mind. They also made no effort to steal anything from anyone like you hear about monkeys doing in some other places. One little baby monkey sat briefly on my foot and looked up at me like it was hoping to find its mother. I thought for a moment it might run right up my leg, but instead it took off before I had a chance to get my camera out.

monkey feeding time

monkeys of all ages scramble for scattered wheat at feeding time

At feeding time the park worker scattered handfuls of wheat which the monkeys picked out of the dirt. They all seemed to know when that was about to happen as all of the ones hanging out in other areas headed right to the feeding grounds just before feeding time started. They are fed wheat frequently, about every half hour throughout the day. Twice daily they have a main feeding with sweet potatoes and other food.

monkey mom

bellyrider in the feeding area

Most of the little babies ride on their mother’s back, though sometimes a mother runs by with the baby hanging under her belly instead.

monkey grooming

grooming time

The monkeys constantly groomed each other or even themselves whenever they stopped anywhere. They run their fingers through their fur and sometimes pull something off the other monkey (or themselves) and put it in their mouth. It hardly seems like they would have a chance to get infested with anything considering the constant grooming, but since they do sometimes find something lice or fleas must somehow survive.

baby monkey

baby monkey climbing a chain marking an area where people can’t go

If you’re ever in Beppu, Japan hanging out with a band of tame wild monkeys is a fun thing to do. The monkey park is right across the street from Umitamago Aquarium so a combo visit to both places is an option and there are Marine Monkey tickets available at Beppu station, or you can pay separate entries at each attraction. The street between them is a very busy highway, but it has an overpass for people to walk across so there’s no need to cross the road. The aquarium has a taxi stand so it’s easy to find a ride back to the ship or elsewhere if there is something else you want to see. We had just gone to an aquarium in Osaka so we just walked over there to get the taxi since there is no taxi stand at the monkey park. We had it drop us off at the top one of the thermal pools called the 7 Hells (or Jigoku), and worked our way down the hill to see all the others on the way back to the ship.


monkeys in a little stream running by the playground at the monkey park


The park is a ways from the port. I could not find the actual distance. The only site that mentioned distance at all just said several kilometers. It may be somewhere near 10K, but that is just a guess. There is a seaside trail running along Beppu Bay next to route 10, but it could be a long walk. The port provided a free shuttle bus from the cruise dock to JR Beppu Station. From there people can catch a bus or taxi if they want transportation to the park. Though the tracks run right past the park, the nearest train station is not nearby so taking a train is not recommended. We took the shuttle to the train station and a taxi from there to the park. Taxis are available at the port, but we were told the station was closer so took the shuttle to reduce taxi distance and therefore taxi price because taxis in Japan are expensive. The bus is of course far cheaper than a taxi, but not as convenient and requires adhering to their schedule rather than your own. There are more frequent bus options if you walk to the bus station instead of taking the shuttle to the train station, though it is still on their schedule rather than your own.

BUS: Closest bus station (5 min walk from port) Kamenoi Bus Rokusyouen

You can take any bus from Beppu that’s heading to Oita. The numbers are A60, A61 and A71. You can get more details from the travel information counter at Beppu station. They usually have at least one English-speaking person on duty. It takes about 15 minutes to get there by bus from Beppu station. Get off at the Takasakiyama stop.

WALKING: take the trail adjacent to Route 10 heading toward Oita until you reach the blue and yellow bridge. Umitamago Aquarium is on the sea side of the bridge and Takasakiyama Monkey Park on the mountain side.

baby macaque

baby monkey at the playground

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019

More Blogs about Japan

BEPPUBeppu Cruise Port, 7 Hells of Beppu

OTHER PLACES IN JAPANHakodate Cruise Port, Exploring HakodateYokohama Cruise PortExploring Yokahama, Shimizu cruise portExploring ShimizuOsaka Cruise PortOsaka Aquarium and Great Wheel

Posted in Holland America, Japan, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Surviving 22 Days On A Cruise Ship With No Guest Laundries

cruise ship in Mare

Explorer of the Seas in Maré, New Caledonia

Some cruise lines have self-serve guest laundries on all their ships. Some have them on some of their ships. Others never have any laundry facilities for the passengers on any of their ships. On any major cruise ship you can send your clothes out for the crew to wash for you – for a price. Depending on the ship the price ranges from high to outrageous to astronomical. Some charge by the bag, others by the item. At some ports you could pick up a new t-shirt for less than it costs to send one out for the crew to wash onboard. Occasionally there may be a laundry special, but that just means the laundry service isn’t quite as ridiculously overpriced as usual, not that it is actually affordable. The one time Explorer of the Seas offered a laundry special during our cruise it was only for the easiest items to handwash, not bigger things like jeans that take longer to dry so their offer was not very useful.

cruise ship shower

Explorer’s tiny round shower had a clothesline so short that even a couple swimsuits are crowded

Suites often come with free laundry service, and on some cruise lines repeat cruisers who make it high enough in their loyalty program get their laundry done for free as well. Everybody else is on their own. On a cruise several weeks long it’s pretty hard to pack enough to have clean clothes for the duration without washing any. Some people buck up and pay the highly inflated laundry charges, others get creative in washing things on their own.

accessible cabins have bigger showers which means longer clotheslines

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas not only had no guest laundries, it also had the smallest shower we’ve ever had on a cruise ship. Shower size being important where laundry is concerned because the in-shower clothesline the ship provides is only as long as the distance from one end of the shower stall to the other. In Explorer’s tiny little round shower that was not very far at all.

cruise ship suite bathroom

suites like this one with both tub and shower have more hanging space, but aren’t likely to need it since suites usually get free laundry service

People with balcony cabins sometimes put things out on their balcony to dry, though on most ships that is not actually allowed. Partly because it could blow overboard, but also because it is a fire hazard. We were told by a crew member on one ship that one of the training videos they had to watch was about a cruise ship fire caused by someone throwing a cigarette butt off their balcony, which landed in laundry hanging on the balcony below starting the fire. Most cruise ships no longer allow smoking on cabin balconies, but passengers aren’t always good at following rules. We had an oceanview cabin on the Explorer so we had no balcony anyway, just a window.

doing laundry on a cruise ship

handwashing clothes in the cabin bathroom sink

Royal Caribbean charged by the item for their laundry service, which is more expensive than paying by the bag, and we never even spring for that. This meant handwashing our own clothes in the cabin sink. I did bring a small bottle of laundry soap that is intended for handwashing, so washing the clothes wasn’t really the issue. Drying them was. The amount of laundry that could be done at one time was limited by the amount of space available to hang it up to dry.


adding more clothesline to the tiny shower

The ship’s clothesline was barely big enough for a couple swimsuits. I brought along some extra clothesline and clothespins. With the tiny shower that meant tying the line to the framework at the top that the shower door slides through to open and close, and criss crossing it back and forth several times to get some hanging space. I had to wash clothes nearly every day to keep the laundry from piling up because even that didn’t make a huge amount of hanging area, plus there were always wet swimsuits needing drying space as well. Cruise ships do have pools and hot tubs after all, and this one also had a flow rider so we pretty much always had wet swimming suits.

drying laundry

the bar under the towel rack added hanging space for clothes that need more drying time, but were done dripping

Things don’t dry all that fast in a cruise ship shower. Even when you don’t have so many things hanging in such a small space, there’s just not a lot of air flow there. We did find that they dry faster if the bathroom door is kept open rather than shut. The stewards tend to shut it whenever they clean the room though so you have to come back and open the bathroom door after the room gets cleaned if you want stuff to get dry. This bathroom had a spare towel rack above the toilet, which had a hanging bar under it. That came in quite handy as clothes that were done dripping so they could move out of the shower, but not yet dry, could move to hangers on that bar. Things dried a bit faster on the bar than in the shower, but when they needed to move on from there to make room for other things before they got completely dry I used the lower bars in the closet. The closet on this ship had a regular height permanent bar to hang clothes from, but it also had a couple fold-down bars lower down which made a place to hang the not-quite-dry things where they wouldn’t touch any of the dry clothes hanging from the bar above.

cruise ship closet

the lower fold-down bars in the closet made space for final drying

We had a set time dining on this ship, so we ate with the same people every night. Our tablemates didn’t want to pay the sky-high prices for the ship’s laundry service either. Each had their own creative ways to get their laundry done. One couple actually made a do-it-yourself washing machine by bringing collapsible buckets and a plunger. Another brought a coiled bungee-style travel laundry line that had suction cups to stick it to the sides of the shower with no tying to anything needed. It also held clothes between the coils with no clothespins required. Easier to use than my tied line, but it only goes across once so my way got more total line space. There’s no right or wrong way. As long as the clothes get clean and dry people just do whatever works for them. Well actually I did once see a cabin with a laundry line strung across the room in the main area of the cabin so if the clothes were wet enough to drip on the carpet when they went on the line that would be a wrong way since all the dripping water could ruin the carpet or make it get moldy.

doing laundry on a cruise ship

when you need more space to hang a few more clothes you find more places to tie the clothesline

While it’s a whole lot easier when there’s laundry facilities for the long cruises, at least it’s nice to have ways around paying the fees to send your laundry out to the crew when there aren’t any. Some clothes dry faster than others so packing mostly fast drying things would help a lot. The worst thing we had was my husband’s socks, which took several days to dry. The best was my running clothes, which dried considerably faster than anything else.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Royal Caribbean, Shipboard Life | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Beppu, Japan Cruise Port

Holland America Westerdam

Westerdam in Beppu

Beppu, Japan is a city of steam, best known for its multitude of natural hot springs and thermal pools. Some are used as day spas or resorts. Some are even used to steam food. Its 8 major geothermal hot spots are called the 8 hells of Beppu, or jigoku in Japanese. These pools are just for looking at as they are far too hot to touch. Each one is different and one of them is a geyser. 6 are in the Kannawa district, the other two about 3k away in an outlying area called Shibasek. One has a crocodile farm. They can be toured individually, or there are 7 hells ticket books available that cover 7 of them for about the price of paying for 5 of them one by one. All are set up as tourist attractions without a lot of nature around them. One of the hells in the upper area is not included in the 7 hells tour. That one is called Yama Jigoku and has a small zoo.

hot springs steaming in Beppu

Beppu – a city of steam (internet photo)

Views of the city include plumes of steam among the buildings on the city’s hillside. The biggest plumes come from the hells, but there are plenty of other steaming pools as well as numerous vents. In some places even the drain ditches running alongside the street steam. The natural hotspring spa baths are called Onsens, and are Beppu’s main attraction. Some are pools and others have sand baths.

Japanese Aquarium

Umitamago Aquarium near Beppu, Japan

Hot springs aren’t the only tourist attraction in Beppu. It has a wildlife park full of native monkeys, an aquarium, museums, and a ropeway up Mount Tsuruimi. There are also shops and a park in town, and hiking trails in the mountains surrounding the city.

map of Beppu

unfortunately this map of Beppu does not give distances, but it’s about a 3K walk between the 2 spots marked as hells and 8k from the farthest hell to the cruise dock by way of the lower hells

Japan does not take foreign currency, and credit cards may or may not work or be accepted so it’s a good idea to have some yen. Your bank can get foreign money for you if you ask in advance since they aren’t likely to have any on hand. Otherwise the ship did offer money exchange for passengers, and there are money exchange machines and booths around town and even at the dock in most ports. You may not always get the going rate for the exchange, but the one port where we exchanged at the dock in Japan gave a better rate than our bank or the ship. One US dollar is worth over 100 yen.

Beppu cruise port

welcome sign at Beppu cruise port

The cruise port has free wifi and tourist information with maps and people to answer questions or give advice. The port provides a free shuttle to JR Beppu train station. From there people can catch trains or take a bus or taxi to their destination.

hot spring pool

Umi Jigoku, one of the hells of Beppu

The hells are within walking distance of the cruise dock for people who don’t mind a long walk. They are also accessible by bus or taxi. Onsen steam and sand or mud baths dot the town. There’s a sand one right next to the dock and other onsens within walking distance. We talked to someone on the ship who went to one of the Onsens. She said they have private baths as well as a communal pool and it is customary for bathers to go into the water naked no matter which one they choose.

macaque monkeys

wild monkeys at Takasakiyama Monkey Park

The aquarium and monkey park are not near the port. There is a seaside trail if anyone wanted to take a very long walk, but they are more easily reached by taking the shuttle to the train station and a bus or taxi from there, or walking to the nearest bus station to the dock where busses run more frequently than from the train station. The bus at the train station only comes once per hour so if time is an issue from there a taxi is the best bet. The train tracks run right by the aquarium and monkey park, which are across the street from each other and connected by a foot bridge over the highway. Unfortunately there is no train station near them. You could also take a taxi directly from the port.

bridge near Beppu, Japan

footbridge between Beppu’s aquarium and monkey park

The ropeway is a cable car up a mountain. It is not near the port. It’s up a big hill and getting there would require transportation for anyone not into very long uphill walks. Or like the typical cruise ship passenger, anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time. There are trails up the mountain for those who would rather hike than ride the tram.

Beppu ropeway

ropeway at Mount Tsurumi (internet photo)

Excursions from Holland America Westerdam included Usa Jinga Shrine and 2 of the boiling hells, a scenic tour through Yabakei Gorge, a tour to 3 of the boiling hells, and a tour to stone Buddha statues and castle ruins.

The closest bus station to the port is Kamenoi Bus Rokusyouen, reportedly a 5 minute walk. The closest train station to the port is JR Beppu University Station, also said to be a 5 minute walk. I did not test either of those.

Beppu, Japan

Beppu, Japan from the cruise port

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Holland America, Japan, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Fold a Towel Spider

towel spider

Supplies Needed to Make a Towel Spider

3 Bath Towels


Rolled Cotton

How to Make Towel Spider Legs

towel origami

roll both ends of bath towel to center

Legs for the towel spider are made from two standard towel bodies. Start with one bath towel. Roll both ends to the center from the short side.

fold rolled towel in half and pull the tips out from the center of each roll

Fold the rolled towel in half with the rolls to the outside. Pull the tips out of the end of each roll.

towel art

take the tips of one roll in one hand, and the other roll in the other hand

Take both tips of one roll in one hand and both tips of the other roll in the other hand

how to fold cruise ship towel animals

pull all 4 tips at once until the rolls pull out into the 4 legs of an animal body

Pull the ends out of the rolls so it turns into a body with four legs.

two towel animal bodies, 1 with rolls up and the other with rolls down

Repeat with a second towel to make two bodies. Set one body with the rolls facing up and the other with the rolls facing down.

tuck one body into the other

Tuck the body with the down facing rolls between the upward facing rolls of the other body perpendicular to each other so it becomes one eight-legged body.

How to Make Towel Spider Head & Body

fold towel into thirds across the short side. Fold both sides of one end diagonally to the middle.

Fold the remaining bath towel into thirds across the short side. On one end of the towel fold each side diagonally to the middle making two little triangles for the spider’s rear end.

fold down the center of the other end

Fold down the center of the opposite end and hold in place with a finger.

fold both sides of the end just past the middle

Fold each side of that end across the bit you are holding down so they reach just over the middle to make the spider’s head.

set the head and body on the legs with folds on the underside

Turn towel over so folded ends are on the bottom and place it over the legs. Adjust position as needed and shape head and body as desired.

towel spider

Finishing the Towel Spider

Position the spiders legs as desired. Add eyes, which can be googly eyes or eyes made of paper or felt. Other decorations such as fangs are optional. Pull bits of rolled cotton into strands and position around the spider like a web.

finished towel spider

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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San Diego Trolley Tour

Royal Princess in San Diego

Before our cruise on the Royal Princess we had a ship’s excursion booked in San Diego, California. It was supposed to be a ghosts and gravestones tour in San Diego’s old town area on a hop-on hop-off trolley. We never got to take this tour because it got cancelled before the cruise started. We made no other plans for this port so we just got off the ship to see what was there. The first thing we saw was hop-on hop-off trolleys. The first ones we walked past were on the pier, waiting for ship’s passengers who had booked the regular city trolley tour, but we didn’t go far before seeing more parked along the side of the road.

Old Town Trolley at Seaport Village

The hop-on hop-off trolleys have a booth about a block from where passengers disembark the cruise ships. Their official name is Old Town Trolley Tours, although some of their tours go well beyond the old town area. Tickets at the booth were nearly $20 less than purchasing them onboard our ship and about $7 less than buying them through Princess online before the cruise, although people who bought through the cruise line did have those trolleys waiting just for them right at the dock. Once they get off they’d be in line with the rest of the crowd waiting for the next trolley though.

inside the trolley

The trolley city tour has 10 stops. Normally the route runs through Old Town, but due to the streets being blocked off for festivities happening there on the day of our visit they ran a separate shuttle from Embarcadero where the cruise ships dock to Old Town and bypassed it on the main route. When running the full route boarding from Embarcadero, the Old Town historic area would be the last stop. The trolleys going to old town that day were easily distinguishable from the regular red ones since they were black and all painted up for the ghostly tour we had intended to take that day. The old town area is where the city’s original settlements were, and it is now a state historic park. We ended up just buying tickets for the regular trolley tour at the nearby booth. By the time we got back to Embarcadero we did not have time to take the other trolley to old town before the ship left so we never did see that area.

old sailing ship on the embarcadero

Embarcadero is a stop for the trolley tour whether there are cruise ships in town that day or not. Besides the cruise ship piers, it is the access point for a visitor’s center and Lane Field Park, which was the original home of the San Diego Padres baseball team. The park kept a few baseball themed things. Also accessed from this stop is the Santa Fe Railway Depot, ferries, several museums in old ships including an aircraft carrier museum, and some military memorials.

a walkway in Seaport Village

The first stop for anyone boarding by the cruise docks is Seaport Village. It’s worth getting off the trolley there to have a look around. This 14-acre village is a replica of a seaside village of 100 years ago built by Disney in 1980. It has unique shops, eateries, entertainment including a historic carousel, a marina, and it is the access point for the Seal tours – amphibious vehicles that look quite a lot like those called ducks in other places. Being the home of a navy seal base, San Diego calls their amphibious vehicles seals. From this stop people can walk to the Kansas City Barbecue made famous in the Great Balls of Fire scene in the 1986 movie Top Gun. We wandered around the area a bit, looked in a few shops, and watched people ride scooters along the seaside walkway. We had to wait 1 trolley to get back on because the first one to come by was full and nobody got off. The next one came shortly after and had room for everyone waiting at that stop.

flower in San Diego

After that the trolley went to Mariott Marquis and Marina. The driver said nobody ever gets out there. Nobody got on either. People who can afford to stay at the Mariott probably prefer other forms of transportation. It had a lovely garden, but we were on the wrong side to take any photos of it. That would be the closest stop to the children’s park and museum, and the convention center. The driver said nobody ever got off at the next stop at Horton Plaza Park either. Besides Horton Plaza Park, which has a fountain that had the first ever light and water show in 1910, this stop accesses the historic Grant/Horton House Hotel, Balboa Theater, and Palace Pawn Brokers, a shop in a building that was once a gambling hall owned by Wyatt Earp of shootout at the OK Corral fame.

inside the Hotel del Coronado

Next it stopped in the historic Gaslamp Quarter where the current streetlights were once working gaslamps that had to be lit each evening and snuffed each morning by a caretaker on stilts. That job is no longer required since the lights have been converted to electricity. This stop has historic buildings, museums, restaurants, theaters, and dive bars. A couple people wanted on there, but we had no room left. The way the trolley route meanders through town puts this stop fairly close to the Mariott one.

sisters heading into the Hotel del Coronado – it’s free to wander in and look around the lobby

The next stop was Petco Park where a ballgame slowed the traffic to a crawl so our driver told jokes to pass the time as we slowly crept by.

Hotel del Coronado sprawls across a lot of beachfront property

After driving across a bridge tall enough for the navy ships to pass under, the trolley stopped at Orange Avenue on Coronado Island. Half the island is a navy base and the other half has hotels and residential areas as well as a huge beach. Hotel del Coronado is an enormous sprawling hotel complex on the beach. Our driver insisted Coronado Island is a peninsula rather than an island. Considering the only land connection is a sandbar called the Silver Strand connecting it to Imperial Beach, that actually makes it a tombolo – which is defined as a narrow bar of sand or beach material attaching an island to the mainland. Or at least the attachment is a tombolo, which leaves Coronado as an island since the definition specifies attaching an island.

sisters on the beach

My niece used to live on Coronado Island so we got off at that stop for some nostalgia and a chance for her mom (my sister Barbara) to send her some pictures of her old stomping ground. My husband and I actually visited her there years ago just before boarding one of the earliest cruises we ever took, which left out of San Diego. She took us out to dinner at a place that looked exactly like the Irish pub by the bus stop so I’m guessing that it was the very same place. One of the 10 museums that have free entry for anyone on the trolley tour is at that stop. We just went to the beach and took a brief look inside the hotel. We didn’t visit any museums so I can’t say whether or not any of them are worth going to. There is free access to the beach at the Hotel del Coronado, and it’s quite a nice beach. Barbara took her shoes and socks off and waded out into the water for a bit.

people waiting to board the trolley

There were so many people waiting to get on at that stop that the trolley people had someone there passing out numbers. You could only get on the next trolley if your number was called. We could not get on the one that was at the stop when we first got there, but did get on the next one to arrive.

giant pipe organ in Balboa Park

The next stop is Balboa Park. We got off there too. The park is home to the world’s largest outdoor pipe organ, which has a 1 hour concert each Sunday. We just happened to get there on the right day and at the right time to watch a bit of the concert. I had not seen a pipe organ since I was a kid and we used to sometimes go to a long since gone restaurant called Pizza & Pipes, and attend a church that had a small one. By the time we left the park they had closed a big door over the pipes so it just looked like a stage and you would never even know the giant pipe organ was there if you just happened to be passing by and were unfamiliar with the area.

Balboa Park has lots of free things to see or do, and some with admission fees like the Japanese Garden or the famous San Diego Zoo. There are international houses representing a variety of countries and a botanical building that looks like a giant cage full of plants among the many things at the park. We looked over the edge into what you could see of the Japanese garden without actually paying to go into it and wandered around the botanical building for a bit. It’s an interesting building with quite a variety of plants. You would not stay dry in there if it rained.

botanical building at Balboa Park

The park also has a space museum, science center, automotive museum and museum of man as well as other museums and attractions. It has some trails too. A free tram takes people from one area to another throughout part of the park, but we just walked. The park alone has more things to do than time to do them all in one day, especially when your time is limited by when the ship leaves port. We spent quite a lot of time there and only saw a tiny fraction of the park’s attractions. As with the other stops we got off at that day, we had to wait one trolley to get on.

Balboa Park tram

The last trolley stop before returning to Embarcadero that day was in San Diego’s Little Italy area, which is not that far from the port. The firehouse museum is located at this stop and is one of the ones with free admission for trolley riders. If it had been doing the full tour it would have gone to Old Town before going back to Embarcadero. It looks close enough on the map to walk back to Embarcadero from Little Italy if someone were running late and didn’t have time to make the trip to Old Town first.

marina at Seaport Village

For someone with just a day to see San Diego (like cruise ship passsengers) the trolley is an easy way to get around town and to a variety of tourist attractions. The trolleys also have tours to Old Town & San Diego Market, La Jolla & Mission Beaches, and at night the San Diego City Lights tour. And of course the Ghosts and Gravestones tour that we did not get to go on.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Port Cities, Ports of Call, Princess, Royal Princess, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Osaka Aquarium and Giant Ferris Wheel

Osaka ferris wheel view

view of the Westerdam from the great wheel

Cruising into the Tempozan Passenger Terminal in Osaka means you don’t even have to leave the pier to find things to do. Directly across from the cruise ship terminal sits Tempozan Marketplace Mall. This large plaza contains the expected shops and restaurants – plus a giant ferris wheel at one end and what their sign said was the largest aquarium in the world at the other. The ferris wheel is 100 meters in diameter. There’s also a Legoland at the plaza and you can take harbor tours from there. They even have a shuttle boat to Universal City Port for those interested in going to the Universal Studios theme park on the other side of the canal.

great wheel, Osaka Japan

giant ferris wheel in Osaka

Our ship, the Holland America Westerdam, docked around 8am, but the wheel and aquarium didn’t open until 9:30 and Legoland opened even later. Still better than some of the Japanese ports where nothing opened before 10am. It’s easy to get there from the ship. You just walk past the terminal building and out onto the road and then the wheel is right there at one end of the plaza. The wheel takes about 15 minutes to complete one revolution, which is all you get on these giant wheels. A ride on them is for the view.

ferris wheel in Osaka, Japan

clear car on the Osaka great wheel

Unlike any other giant ferris wheels we’ve ridden, this one did not charge extra for the clear car, which has clear seats and floor as well as windows all around the top area above the seats, where the regular cars do not have see-through seats, floors, or tops. It’s a bit longer wait for the clear car, but the line wasn’t too long yet when we got there so we gave it a go. The floor wasn’t completely clear, but the seats and the bit between the seat and floor were so it did have more viewing area than ordinary cars, though not enough to be worth paying extra for it if there had been a premium charge.

giant wheel in Osaka

Osaka Ferris Wheel

Several of the ports we went to in Japan had giant wheels so we made it a point to ride on them all. Not every port had one though. While it ran continuously most of the time, they did stop the wheel occasionally for elderly or disabled people to get on and off rather than having them get in and out of the car on the move like everyone else.

great wheel in Osaka, Japan

view from the top of the wheel

Views from giant ferris wheels are pretty awesome and this one was no exception. From up so high you can see far across the city, as well as having the opportunity to notice things nearby you might want to go see and otherwise never would have known were there, like a park we could see from this one. Of course when they are in the vicinity of the ship you also get great views of your ship from there. This one was so close we couldn’t get the entire ship in one shot with the cameras we had.

Osaka Aquarium

Osaka Aquarium – at the opposite end of Tempozan Plaza from the giant ferris wheel

The aquarium – called Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan – had a sign at the cruise terminal saying it is the largest in the world. It’s quite a nice aquarium with tanks of fish from all around the world. It also had some sea otters, seals, dolphins, penguins, and a capybara and a few other land creatures.

capabara at Osaka Aquarium in Japan


The capybara had a dry pen rather than a water-filled tank since it is a very large rodent, not a creature of the sea. The other land creatures did too. The otters also had some land area as well as water.

fish tunnel at Osaka aquarium

tunnel of fish

You enter the aquarium area through a tunnel of fish on an upper level of the building and then wind your way down with different views into deeper and deeper areas of the same tanks as you go down. Signs on the wall as you enter a new area tell you where the things in that tank are from. Working your way down through the aquarium you pass signs for the same exhibit on different levels as you get deeper.

crab in Osaka Aquarium

giant crab in the Japan Deep tank

The Monteray Bay display for instance has seals and a dock at the top level where you watch them surface or if one happens to be on the dock you might even see it out of water. Later on you see the seals underwater and can look up to see the underside of the dock. The Japan Deep tank had lots of skeletal looking giant crabs. A couple of them had a fight while we were there.

otter at Osaka Aquarium


The otters had a habitat in a room of their own with a viewing area over a rail so people could see them without looking through glass. There was quite a crowd in that room so we had to wait awhile to get to the rail. Once you finally get to see them the otters are very cute.

crab in Osaka Aquarium

little crab between exhibits at the Osaka Aquarium

On the way out of the otter exhibit we saw a little crab crawling down a wall behind a railing, but not really within the exhibit. Perhaps it had escaped becoming otter food.

pacific ocean exhibit in Osaka

pacific ocean tank

The biggest tank was called Pacific Ocean and was at the center of the hallway with the pathway winding around it. Most of the other tanks were on the other side so you pass them again at each level. The Pacific Ocean tank held all sorts of large rays and sharks and a gigantic whale shark.

penguin at Osaka Aquarium

penguin behind glass

Penguins had an exhibit within the main aquarium area where they were behind glass, but later at the end there was a small penguin exhibit behind a railing where they could be photographed without going through glass.

fancy jellyfish


Below the lowest level of the main tanks there’s a room full of all sorts of tanks of assorted sizes with different types of jellyfish followed by an arctic display.

arctic seal at Osaka Aquarium

arctic seal

The first arctic thing was an icy room with arctic seals.

arctic displays

cold arctic room


anemones in the arctic room

Beyond the seals there’s a very cold room with fake ice hanging from the ceiling and small tanks of various arctic creatures.

penguin at Osaka Aquarium

penguin without glass

The room at the end of the displays has an open penguin habitat for photos not through glass, touch tanks with rays and sharks, and a few small aquariums. Of course as with pretty much all attractions everywhere, the exit runs by a gift shop. Well actually most run through the gift shop without the optional bypass.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Holland America, Japan, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Maré Natural Aquarium

Maré, New Caledonia

Explorer of the Seas in Maré

When stopping in Maré, New Caledonia, most cruise ship passengers opt to buy tickets for the shuttle to Yejele Beach. Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas promoted that shuttle quite heavily, encouraging everyone to buy tickets ahead of time so they could avoid a line at the port. The beach is on National Geographic’s list of top 5 beaches and the people we talked to who went there said it was a lovely beach and big enough not to feel as crowded as you would think when a ship unleashes over 3000 passengers after telling them there are no excursions and nowhere else to go.


flower by the roadside

We opted to skip the beach and walk to the natural aquarium which according to my pre-cruise research was somewhere between 2 and 3 kilometers down the same road that the busses take to the more distant beach. We came to shore on an early tender and though we saw busses loading we did not actually see any leave to know which way to go. We turned to the right. After passing by a market full of stalls where locals have things for sale and a bar we came to a roundabout and a seaside monument where someone had set up scooters for rent. We asked them which way to the natural aquarium and luckily one understood enough English to point to the road following the coast going in the same direction we had already headed, which was to the right when getting to the road from the dock area. New Caledonia is a French overseas territory so the people there speak French.

water access on Maré

crumbling stairway to the sea

We saw nobody else walking on our way out of town, though every now and then one of the shuttle busses passed by. We went through a bit of a town which had some homes and a police station. We took note of the crumbling stairway into the sea across from an old abandoned stone house just past the police station as a possible place to snorkel on our way back.

Maré, New Caledonia

shoreline view on the way to the natural aquarium

While there is coral all along the shoreline and pretty much anywhere looks like a great place to snorkel, Maré is a raised coral atoll and most of the shoreline along that road dropped sharply off to the sea with no way to get down to all those fantastic little coral-filled bays.

island dog

dog on Maré

An injured dog, probably a stray, came running up to us on 3 legs barking. He seemed quite friendly and had a happy expression despite holding up a leg and wounded or infected ears. We had nothing to feed him, but he followed us for awhile anyway until a local out for a walk came by going the other direction and the dog opted to follow him instead.

old stone house

abandoned house across the street from the crumbling stairway

Farther down the road two more dogs ran from a house to the roadside barking. These looked well cared for and stayed in the yard to that house so they probably lived there. They just barked, but never acted aggressively at all. We saw a different dog by the shore on the way back.

native hut on Maré

native hut

Along the way there were a lot of little burn spots on the sea side of the road where all the people living across the street from each spot appeared to burn their garbage. The other side of the road had one place with quite a large burned area, full of partially burned trees. Hard to say if it was intentional or a burn pile that got out of control. The sea side had lots of coconut trees, some papayas, and many tropical flowers in a mixture of other plants. The land side of the road had mostly homes. Some quite nice, some with a more slapped together look, and one traditional style hut.

Maré road sign

road sign

Where a road came to a T with the one we were on a sign proclaimed the direction we were going as the way to the Aquarium Naturel. It had a lot of other info on it too as to what was in each direction on that road, but nothing for the one connecting there. Continuing on we came to a corner with a guardrail covered in graffiti and followed that around the bend, continuing our journey toward the natural aquarium. We saw lots of beautiful coves with no way down the steep rock edges of the island to get into them for snorkeling. Many places had picturesque views of our ship. Eventually we found a place that looked like we could probably climb down to the water, but it was far enough from anyone or anything that if we tried that and couldn’t get back out we’d be on our own. It would be quite a long swim from there back to the crumbling stairway if that happened and nowhere in between had looked even remotely accessible so we decided it would be best to go to the spot with the stairway. That one spot was the first and only place we saw beyond the town area where getting in and out of the water even looked possible.

graveside woodcarving

grieving man carving by the grave

Somewhere along the way we came to a place that looked like a cemetery. It had a log fence, open in the middle. A bit beyond the fence a tall totem pole guarded the grave area behind a cement wall. Rather than an entire cemetery, the walled in area held just one crypt. A smaller wood carving near the totem pole depicted a very unhappy looking man holding a woman who was probably dead so we figured it must be the grave of a woman.  The plaque by the totem pole gave the name Jean Marie with a 2009 date. There was other stuff written there, but it was all in French. Nearby a new cement platform could have been another crypt under construction or possibly just the foundation for a house.

road sign

don’t turn just yet even though the sign points that way

We passed 2K and then 3K on my Garmin watch without seeing any sign of the natural aquarium. At about 3.2 K we came upon a white sign shaped like an arrow pointing to the sea. It said Aquarium Naturel on it, but the area there just had a couple picnic tables. The sign did say RM 2 which must have been the distance from there to the actual entry as another 0.2K down the road from there we came to a paved loop off to the right. This loop led to a trail into the woods. Down that trail we found the Natural Aquarium. It’s a big pool in the trees, surrounded by tall coral rock just the same as the seaside.

natural aquarium entrance

trail into the natural aquarium

We walked up to the edge and looked down into the water. Obviously used to people coming to feed them, fish gathered expectantly below. As cruise ship passengers not allowed to bring food ashore we had nothing more to give them than we had for the poor dog, which was nothing. Throwing a bit of crumbled leaves in the water got the fish all excited, mobbing it until they discovered it wasn’t actually food and swam off in disappointment.

natural aquarium

natural salt water aquarium in the woods

The aquarium is just for looking at and not for swimming in. Besides having no way into it short of jumping, which would leave no way out, swimming there is not allowed. It is worth seeing though for anyone who doesn’t mind the 7K round trip walk (or who comes via the local’s van tour offered at the port or by rented bike or scooter.) Walking there and back is quite a nice hike. The area is very scenic.

natural aquarium fish

fish in the natural aquarium

Since we came to shore early in the morning on the first tender it wasn’t too hot during our walk, which was nice because most of the way had no shade. On the way back we saw a few other passengers on their way there, probably spaced far enough apart that that each pair would get to see the natural aquarium by themselves unless someone came by a faster method while they were there. They all asked us how far it was, which ranged from nearly there for the first people we came across to a long way yet for the last ones.

snorkeling on Maré

snorkeling near the crumbling stairway

We walked faster on the way back, not stopping to take photos or investigating any possible points of entry to the sea. When we got back to the town area and the stairway it was no longer deserted as it had been on the way out. There were a few people sitting on the stairs and a local doctor came down, donned his snorkel gear, and took off out into the water while we were getting situated.

snorkeling on Maré

the sea on Maré is crystal clear

The stairs seemed embedded with quite a lot of glass so we wore the aquasox we had with us, though at that location it would have been better if we had brought fins because the best snorkeling from that spot was farther offshore and it did have a bit of a current.


refueling a helicopter

Not far from the stairway we saw military people refueling a helicopter from big metal barrels. Just a bit down the road from there near a white house with a red roof a little trail through the grass led to a place where some people had discovered rocks they could climb down all the way to the sea. On one side water crashed over the rocks in a torrent and stirred up what otherwise would have been a peaceful bay, but on the side where they could get to the sea they had a pretty sheltered little cove in which to snorkel and swim. It wouldn’t be big enough for very many people, but there were just a few of them so they had a good time.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments