Crete Hop On Hop Off Bus Tour

view of MSC Lirica in Heraklion from the HOHO bus

Hop On Hop Off Bus Heraklion, Greece

HOHO bus

At the cruise port in Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece, hop on hop off (or hoho) busses wait for cruise passengers near to the cruise terminal. The terminal is not where the ship docks, but the port shuttle brings passengers there from the ship because it docks in a container port and people are not allowed to walk through the port area.

sometimes the bus passes by interesting things

If you just take the hoho bus around as a tour and never get off the round trip takes about an hour. The posted signs at the stops had it coming once hourly, but during our visit they were not going by those signs and just came by every half hour or so at no specific time. When you buy the ticket you get ear phones, which you can plug into a jack by your seat and get narration in your language of choice, and they had a pretty good list of languages to choose from.

if you’re easily amused store names can be entertaining

The narration will sometimes talk about what is coming up at the next stop, sometimes tell tales of the mythology of the local area, and sometimes mention things the bus is going to drive past. When it has nothing to say it just plays music. If there’s no sound at all either the volume (which you can adjust) isn’t turned up high enough, or you got a jack that doesn’t work, which happened to us with one of the jacks for our seat on one bus. Even if you never got off the bus you would get a tour of the area and learn something about it if you listened to the narration.

random corner on the bus route

It just cost 22 euros apiece when we were there so we bought the tickets. Any of the stops where nobody wanted on or off the driver just kind of mentioned what stop it was in passing, but never actually stopped, like the first one between the port and the Venetian castle.

cat on the pathway through the marina

The Venetian castle is near where the marked path for those who choose to walk into town ends at the marina, and is the second scheduled stop for the hoho bus, though the first place where ours actually stopped.

dinosaur museum

Next it stops at a couple of museums. Some people got off at the one with the dinosaur outside. The next few stations the driver just mentioned in passing, though the recorded narration had quite a lot to say about the Jesus Gate, which is one of the gates in the Venetian walls.

Jesus gate in the Venetian wall

The Jesus Gate was more than just a gate in ancient times as the aqueduct that once supplied water to the city ran through it. A new arched gate was added in the 1970’s for cars to pass through. The original gate is a few meters west. It was restored in 2014 and now houses a permanent exhibition about the famous Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis. The rooms inside the gate were originally used for weapons storage and accommodations for gate guards as well as lodgings for important officials. It got the name Jesus Gate because a small church once sat in that spot.

Venetian wall

The narration also gave some history on the Venetion wall, saying that it was so sturdily built that it kept the Ottomans at bay for over 20 years before they finally broke through and conquered the city, at which time most of the people who had been living there moved to other islands.

ruins of the Minoan palace at Knossos

The bus actually pulled into a parking lot and stopped at Knossos, the major archeological attraction of that area. The ruins there have several layers built atop one another with the oldest layer being an ancient city. Newer ruins were built atop the original city in an older and then newer Minoan palace, rumored to be the location of the labyrinth of the minotaur. All of it is ruins now, with some restorations done in the late 1800’s in the fashion of what people of that era thought things would have looked like before they were ruins. Some preservation has been done since to other areas as well, though more in the form of adding protective roofing, not rebuilding. You do have to buy an entrance ticket to see Knossos. There are lots of little gift shops across the street.

bakery in Heraklion

The next place of interest after Knosses is the city center, also a popular stop for people wanting to get off the bus. The bus route map shows a walking route through the city that goes by a fountain, but we just wandered aimlessly through the streets between shops.

street corner in the Heraklion city center

We got chicken skewers for lunch at a little open sided stand. It was a permanent store, but you get things at the edge of it from outside and only the people who work there can go inside. Dessert was chocolates from a little bakery, ice cream, and chocolate shop.

HOHO bus route map

If you get back on the bus from the city center it had one more stop between there and the port, but the map showed nothing of interest there so it was likely just a place for people to start their journey if they were staying in a hotel nearby.

marina

It’s a nice walk from the port to the city center. The marked path goes along the seashore and passes along the edge of a marina.

old anchor by the marina

We did not get back on the bus after wandering around the town for a while. Instead we walked back stopping at the Venetian castle and then walking the seawall out to the lighthouse before returning to the port. We had lucked out with dry weather for most of the day, but it started to rain while we were somewhere between the marina and the cruise terminal so we were a bit wet by the time we got to the ship.

Venetian castle on the seawall

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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Sasebo, Japan Cruise Port

Sasebo, Japan

a dance group practices on the walkway along the edge of the bay

Sasebo, Japan

Sasebo is a city on Japan’s Kyushu Island. It’s most noted for Huis Ten Bosch, an amusement park modeled after a Dutch town with canals, replica buildings, windmills and flower gardens. The park also has rides including a giant ferris wheel. Giant ferris wheels are quite a popular thing around Japan. We found them in several of the ports we visited. Other popular tourist activities include visiting Kujukushima Aquarium to see its dolphins, coral reefs and jellyfish or day cruises off the coast among the forested Kujukushima Islands of Saikai National Park. Saikai Bridge to the south is a popular spot to view cherry blossoms when in season. There is also a maritime museum and a zoo and botanical park.  Sasebo is the only Japanese city which uses the symbol of a Christian church as part of its flag. The day we were there happened to be the day of an annual dance festival with performances by a variety of groups on various stages around town.

Sasebo dance festival

dance groups came from all over Japan for the festival. Some had flags in their performances.

Sasebo City suffered serious damage from bombing in WWII with about 48% of the city destroyed. The island has hosted a navy base since 1883, originated by the Japanese navy. American activity began there with the landing of Marines and takeover of some base facilities in 1945 at the end of the second world war. It was the main launching point for US and UN forces during the Korean war as well as serving as a base for supplies for both the Korean War and Desert Storm.

Buddhist temple

pathway at a Buddhist temple near the cruise dock

In addition to the navy base, the island’s economy depends on shipbuilding and heavy industry as well as pearl and oyster farms and an active fishing fleet. Pottery has been manufactured in the area for over 400 years. Sasebo is 2 hours by train from Fukuoka and an hour and a half from Nagasaki.

Sasebo wildlife

hitchhiker on the promenade deck while the Westerdam was docked in Sasebo

The climate is mild and wet with hot humid summers and cool winters. There is rainfall year round with the highest monthly averages in June and July. Winters can bring freezing temperatures and light snowfall.

cruise port in Sasebo, Japan

Sasebo cruise port

Sasebo Cruise Port

Sasebo cruise port is located in within walking distance of both bus and train stations. The city’s main tourist attractions are about a 30 minute drive from the port. The port area is well marked with signs pointing out the direction to bus and train stations as well as the dock. There is a train station within sight of the port. It’s about a 20 minute train ride to the Dutch themed Huis Ten Bosch amusement park.

Miuramachi church in Sasebo, Japan

Miuramachi Church

From the ship you can see Miuramachi Church (Church of the Sacred Heart), a nearby catholic church and the symbol of Sasebo. It’s a pretty easy walk there from the ship. This gothic style church stands high above the road passing by in front of it. A stairway zig-zags up a stone wall to reach the church from the sidewalk below. Miraculously the church survived the bombings of world war 2. It’s a short walk from the ship to the church and a pretty steep stairway up to the church from street level.

Sasebo, Japan

stage view from the church

From the walkway in front of the church we had a view of one of the dance festival’s performance stages across the street.

dance group with kids

dance group that includes kid performers

On the way back to the ship we stopped by there and watched a couple groups with kid performers in their midst. They didn’t have as fancy of outfits as some of the other groups, but they were fun to watch and the kids all did a good job in their performances.

outside of Miuramachi Church

display outside the church

The church has some displays and a small garden outside. If you walk through the churchyard and out the back side you come to another street running parallel to the waterfront, except this one is small, narrow, and the church is only about one story above ground level there.

Bhuddist temple in Sasebo, Japan

one of the buildings at the Buddhist temple

Walk about 100 yards down this street in the direction opposite the cruise pier and there’s a small alley-type road going up a hill to the right. A short walk up this road brings you to a Buddhist temple which has several buildings and outside displays.

Sasebo, Japan

dance festival performance area by the shopping mall

A walk around the wharf area provides great views of the ship and leads to Sasebo Gobangai shopping mall. There’s an area along the waterfront next to the mall on the opposite side of the wharf from the ship used as an outdoor stage during Sasebo’s annual dance festival, which as I mentioned earlier was happening on the day our Holland America Westerdam cruise stopped there. Quite a few different dance groups performed on that stage as well the outdoor stage we saw across the street from the church. There were 4 stages around the town, of which we just saw the two within easy walking distance of the ship. The one at the mall one was so close you could see it from the ship, although you’d need binoculars to really watch the performance. Between the ship and the nearest stage various groups practiced their routines so walking along the wharf meant seeing several performances at once. Free shuttles from the port brought people into the downtown area where they could find more festival performances on the other stages.

Sasebo, Japan

dance group practicing near the mall

The cruise terminal has free wifi, a bit of shopping, information and maps, and a money exchange where you can change dollars for yen or yen for dollars. They were also offering Chinese money on the day we ported there as our ship’s next port stop was in China.

Sasebo mall

shopping mall on the wharf in Sasebo, Japan

There’s lots of shopping near the port with the map they hand out indicating a couple shopping arcades and a market within a 10 or 15 minute walk in addition to the mall at the wharf and a shopping area next to the train station.

Sasebo, Japan

some of the dance groups performed with parasols – these were rehearsing near the mall

Sasebo is famous for its hamburgers. Sasebo burgers can be found in hamburger restaurants around town including in the mall on the wharf. There’s no exact specification for Sasebo burgers other than local ingredients.

catholic church in Sasebo, Japan

Miuramachi Church, the symbol of Sasebo

Excursions offered from our ship included a bus tour to and around Nagasaki, a visit to a sake brewery, a trip to a shrine and a garden, a tour of Hirado Island, or a boat cruise in a bay of 99 islands. We found plenty to see just walking around near the port. Of course being festival day definitely helped in the entertainment department.

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Baby Shark Towel Animals

baby shark doo doo doo doo doo doo

Supplies Needed to Fold a Towel Shark

1 white hand towel

1 colored bath towel

1 colored hand towel or washcloth (optional)

decorations (eyes, teeth, other embellishments)

just a towel shark

Baby Shark Towel Folding Instructions

In the crazily popular original baby shark video on youtube, baby shark is yellow so baby shark’s main body uses a yellow towel. If you just want a shark rather than a character from the video, use whatever color towels you like. Gray is perfect for any random ordinary shark or white for a great white.

to make the underside of the shark fold a hand towel in half then roll down from the folded edge as well as in from both sides

For the underside of baby shark, fold the white hand towel in half across the short side. Roll the folded end over once, then roll in from the corners so that both sides roll as well as the folded end. Keep rolling until the towel is the right width for your shark’s underbody, then set that towel aside.

fold bath towel in half across the short side, then fold back the top end about halfway

For baby shark’s main body fold a yellow bath towel in half across the short side. Fold over the unfolded end of the top side about halfway up the towel.

with the towel turned over so the folded up edge is on the underside, roll all layers except the folded back end from the top and sides

Turn the towel over so the part you just folded is on the bottom and the unfolded end is on the top, Roll over the folded end and roll in from both sides just like with the underbody, except leave out the part that was folded over halfway up on the bottom for as long as you can. Eventually it will end up rolling with the towel as you finish rolling, but try to get as little as possible of that bit into the roll.

flip the towel over and set it on top of the white towel

Turn the colored towel over and set it over the white one, which has the rolled edges facing upward. Let the colored towel hang over the end of the white part at the tip because sharks have an underbite whether they are cartoon sharks or real ones.

pull the ends of the extra fold out of the roll and make it into top and side fins

Adjust both towels as needed, rolling either one more or unrolling a bit if necessary to make them fit for top and bottom of the shark as desired. Then pull out any bits of the half of the layer that was folded over before rolling on the colored towel that got rolled in at the end. Gather enough of that part of the towel at the center and top over the rolled bit to make the shark’s top fin and form the fin as desired. You can simply pull both sides together in a triangular form, or fold in the center of that fold as you shape it, or fold that part of the towel over once more before forming the fin. Once you have the center fin made shape the excess that hangs over on each side into the shark’s side fins. There’s no right or wrong way to make any of these fins. Notice in the photos that the top and side fins do not look the same on all of the sharks.

to make baby shark’s tail find both ends at the back of the body towel, and separate them,

Separate the back ends of the main body towel into two sides. Roll each side separately into a tail fin.

roll each side into a tail fin and then cross the longer one over the shorter as you place it on top

Odds are the two sides of the tailfin won’t come out in even lengths. Set the longer of the two on the top of the shorter one because shark tails go up and down, not side to side and the top part of their tailfin is often bigger than the bottom bit.

to make a washcloth tail fold washcloth in half diagonally, fold the point to the center of the long fold, and then fold over again. Fold the whole thing in half and then insert it into the back of the main body and either tuck the body towel ends around the tail or wrap the ends through the middle of the tail and tuck each one into the other side of the body

Alternatively you can make baby shark’s tail from a washcloth. For a washcloth tail, fold the washcloth in half diagonally, then fold the tip to the folded edge, and fold over once more. To turn it into a tail, fold the whole thing in half along the short side. Use the loose bits of towel at the back of the shark body to wrap around the middle of the tail from each side of the shark, which will both bring it all together and help hold the top part of the tail up. Tighten up the rolls as needed and re-shape the body as desired. Do final adjustments on the fins and tail.

baby shark made with same towel tail (not washcloth tail), decorated with googly eyes and felt teeth

Decorate as desired. Use googly eyes if you have them or make eyes from paper or felt if you don’t. Teeth made of white felt or paper can be added if desired. Double stick tape is great for adding embellishments to towel animals.

Adult Towel Shark Folding Instructions

Start the adult sharks the same way as baby shark with the white underside made from a hand towel and main body from a bath towel. For mommy shark use pink, daddy shark blue, grandma shark peach, and grandpa shark green.

if it’s easier for you to just roll the entire towel without the extra fold at the back and then pull out the whole bit for the top and side fins after rolling that works too.

For any of the sharks including baby if you find it easier to just make the initial fold in the bath towel and then roll the whole thing without folding part of it over to leave out of the roll you can. You just need to pull all of the part for making fins out of the roll afterword rather than part of it, but it turns out the same in the end.

hand towel tail folded the same way as the washcloth tail

To make the adult sharks bigger than baby shark, use a hand towel to make the tail. First fold the towel over about 3/4 of the way along the short side so it becomes a square. Then fold the towel diagonally. You can fold this towel tail the rest of the way the same as the washcloth option was done for baby shark if you want.

fold the hand towel over across the short side so that it becomes a square. Fold the square in half diagonally turning it into a triangle. With a finger holding down the center of the long side of the triangl, roll each end nearly to the middle.

For a sturdier tail that will stand up better put a finger at the center of the long fold of the triangle and then roll one side from that center point.

once both rolls are formed fold over the leftover bit at the middle before folding the tail in half at the center

Then roll the other side from the same point. Wrap the remaining tip from the triangle over the center of the tail at the point where you started the rolls. Place the tail with the longer side up at the back of the shark and tuck the tail into the back of the body or wrap the end of each side of the main body towel around the center of the tail to help hold the top tail fin up better.

tuck the tail into the shark body and tuck any excess body towel underneath like on mommy shark or wrap the ends of the body towel around the middle of the tail as done with daddy shark.

You can make a longer body by just tucking the tail into the open end of the body towel and tucking any excess underneath like the gray shark or make the tail fin more prominent by wrapping the excess over the center of the tail as shown on daddy shark.

mommy shark

Decorate shark as desired. For mommy shark I made black felt eyelashes around googly eyes and felt lips.

daddy shark

Daddy shark has white felt teeth. Grandpa shark has white cotton eyebrows and mustache. I did not have the right color towel for Grandma shark so I didn’t make her, but if making grandma, she needs a pair of glasses.

grandpa shark

Neither grandma nor grandpa ever show any teeth in the original video, but the other three do at least sometimes with daddy showing teeth most and mommy just at the very end.

towel sharks

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Seattle Waterfront

Seattle Skyline

Seattle skyline view from Argosy cruise

Cruise ships in Seattle dock either at pier 66 or pier 91. Most start and or end cruises there, but sometimes Seattle is just a port stop. Pier 91 is nearest the cruise parking for cruises beginning and ending there, but there are shuttles from the parking areas to both docks. From Pier 91 passengers would need transportation to get into town. Pier 66 is right in the heart of Seattle’s waterfront area. It’s walking distance to the ferries and lots of attractions like Pike Place Market, the Seattle Great Wheel, aquarium, and the Underground Tour at Pioneer Square. It’s also walking distance to numerous hotels for those who stay before or after their cruise or who come in by plane or on a road trip.

Seattle Aquarium

seals at the Seattle Aquarium

People planning to stay for a few days might want to get the Seattle Pass, which provides entry to 5 attractions for about the price of going to two of them individually. It’s available online or at some of the venues like the Aquarium or Space Needle. Besides those two you get an Argosy harbor cruise, choice of the Science Center or Chihuly glass garden, and choice of the Pop Culture Museum or Woodland Park Zoo. The Science Center, Chihuly garden, and pop museum are all at the Seattle Center along with the Space Needle. The zoo is a ways away in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood rather than on the waterfront or at the Seattle Center like the rest of the attractions on the pass.

Seattle Science Center

looking down on the Science Center from the Space Needle

When my daughter came to visit from Australia accompanied by her two kids as well as a couple friends and their kids we took a nearly car-free road trip (mostly by bus). With a total of 10 people we used cars as little as possible since it took 2 to hold everyone. After stops in Vancouver and Leavenworth we stayed a few days in Seattle at a hotel within walking distance of the waterfront so we had a chance to make good use of the Seattle pass. We walked to the waterfront every day, and could have walked to the Seattle Center as well, but it was the dead of winter and the weather wasn’t all that cooperative so we went with uber, a really handy free waterfront shuttle which has since ceased operating, or the monorail instead of taking the longer walk.

pier 57 in Seattle

Seattle’s Pier 57 Miner’s Landing and Great Wheel

A newer landmark of the Seattle waterfront, and one of the first things you see when approaching by sea, the Great Wheel is located at pier 57. This pier is also known as Miner’s Landing because that is where the first ship carrying gold from Alaska that led to the Alaska gold rush landed in 1897. Inside the building there is an old-fashioned carousel, an arcade, a gift shop, a restaurant, a food court, and a soaring motion ride called Wings Over Washington.

carousel at pier 57 Seattle

Sheri and kids on the carousel

Sheri’s friends and their kids wanted to try out the great wheel. John went with them, but having ridden it previously I chose to go inside the building and escape the pouring rain while they waited outside for their ride. Sheri and her kids joined me so we all went on the carousel while we waited for the others. The gift shop was open so we looked around there a bit, but the food court and soaring ride had already closed for the day.

Seattle Aquarium

one of many fish tanks at the Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium is right on the waterfront, near Pike Place Market. There are stairways for pedestrians between the waterfront level and the higher ground where the market sits on the other side of the street.

tearing down the viaduct

A double decker viaduct with parking underneath used to run along the waterfront between the market and aquarium, but it was old and probably not earthquake safe so the city officials went with the most expensive and least efficient solution by opting to tear the viaduct down and spend years in construction of a tunnel with less traffic capacity when there already wasn’t enough.  

Seattle Aquarium touch tank

touch tank at Seattle Aquarium

When first entering the aquarium just past a room with a whole wall as a tank there’s a room full of touch tanks with starfish and anemones and things, and an octopus tank. When it’s octopus feeding time they make a lengthy show out of it. Beyond that room a corridor and a door lead to a variety of fish including local and tropical species or sea mammals like otters and seals. Mostly people wander about looking at things at their leisure, but sometimes they have feeding times out there too.

octopus feeding time

octopus feeding time at Seattle Aquarium

They had a sea otter feeding while we were there, but in addition to the length of their talk you have to go early to get a good seat so it takes a long time. The kids got bored during the pre-feeding talk at the octopus feeding and we left before they actually got around to feeding them anything. Only some of the kids wanted to wait for the otter feeding so the rest of us took the other kids around to see other things. The ones who stayed said the otter feeding was worth seeing. The other fish tanks that we had time to see before the aquarium closed for the night and they didn’t were interesting as well.

Pike Place Market

flying fish at Pike Place Market

The walk from our hotel to the waterfront took us through Pike Place Market along the way. Being one of the area’s main attractions we stopped in one day to look around. Of course since we had visitors from not only out of the area, but out of the country with us we had to stop by the fish-throwing shop. Besides throwing a fish they also had a fake one on a string in the counter display that they would make move if someone got too close so that person would think it was alive. It scared poor little Daniel even after we showed him it wasn’t real.

pike place pig

kids on the Pike Place Market pig

Pike Place Market is one of the waterfront’s earliest attractions. It has lots of shops and market stalls selling all sorts of things. There’s a lot of arts and crafts type things, local honey and produce, flowers, t-shirts, and more. There’s more than one fish monger, but just the one throws fish. The market also has a spice shop, an area where you can get ready-to-eat food including freshly made donuts, and some shops selling antiques or other merchandise. Kids like to sit on the giant piggy bank statue for photos.

Seattle gum wall

Seattle gum wall in 2015 before the cleaning and in 2018

Post Alley at the end of Pike Street in a covered alley next to the market is the home of Seattle’s most disgusting tourist attraction – the Seattle Gum Wall. It once had 20 years accumulation of gum with gum upon gum coating the walls and oozing off windowsills, but after a cleaning in 2015 it has a much smaller accumulation now – though every day people add more to it.

giant gumball machine

kids at the giant gumball machine at Miner’s Landing

The kids all got some gum from a giant gumball machine at Miner’s Landing one day so they could add it to the gum wall on the way back to the hotel. It may not be an official tourist site, but it does show up on google maps.

one more piece of gum

one more piece of gum for the wall

The original Starbucks sits in a row of shops just outside the far end of the market from the gum wall. The tiny Starbucks is in a row of shops in an old building on a narrow cobblestone street across from Pike Place Market. There’s often quite a crowd in the small shop which sells some unique blends available only there. A plaque denoting its status as the original location sits on the end of the counter facing the door. If you look up over the door from inside the shop you see a giant coffee bean covered pig whom the counter person said was named Pork & Beans. She also said pigs are a symbol of farmer’s markets, which explains the pig statue at Pike Place.

original starbucks

coffee bean pig climbing out of a coffee sack above the door at Starbucks

The waterfront has lots of other interesting places like Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, which sells mostly useless trinkets, but has displays in the back of odd things like a two headed calf, mummified people, and shrunken heads. The shop has changed locations from where it originally was and the current store has more merchandise and less curiosities than the old one, but it’s still worth a quick visit.

curiosity shop in Seattle

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Argosy cruises has daily sailings with a narrated harbor tour along the waterfront and sometimes special sailings to other places like the Ballard Locks. The harbor tour is the one included in the Seattle Pass. On our cruise we saw seals and sea lions, several species of birds, and had porpoises swimming in our wake. Near Christmas they have the boats all decorated up for the holiday.

Argosy cruise

boarding the Argosy Cruise ship for a harbor tour

You can walk up to the booth and get tickets for the next available sailing without prior reservations, but that is on a first come first served basis so in the busy season walk-ups might want to get their tickets early. The ticket in the Seattle Pass is not a reservation for a specific time so you still need to go to the booth to reserve your spot on the boat.

cruising on Argosy

onboard the Argosy Cruise

The downtown monorail station is at Westlake Mall, which is not right at the waterfront, but not terribly far to walk. The monorail runs between downtown and the Seattle Center where it stops next to the Space Needle. Uber is also available and there are taxis and city busses too so it’s pretty easy to get around without a car. There’s light rail too for going to places farther away like the airport.

Seattle waterfront

Pier 57

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020

 

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Mount Pilatus Cogwheel Train

Mount Pilatus

Mount Pilatus looms large in the views over Lucerne, Switzerland. For centuries it was forbidden to climb it. Medieval legends had dragons inhabiting the mountain’s rocky crevices. From the right viewpoint the mountain appears to be shaped like a sleeping dragon. People of the middle ages also believed the lake below the mountain harbored the restless soul of Pontius Pilate who committed suicide after allowing the crucifixion of Jesus. They said his ghost came out of the lake once a year on Good Friday to wash his hands with the blood of Christ.

boat at the dock in Lucerne

Trips to the mountaintop are now a major tourist attraction with access by either cogwheel train or aerial cableway and gondolas. Tickets can be purchased in various locations for all or part of a trip up the mountain. The tourist info booth right at the train station in Lucerne sold a variety of options with their golden round trip including a boat ride and bus as well as the mountain transport.

view from the window in the boat on Lake Lucerne

We just happened to stop in there 15 minutes before the only boat of the morning was scheduled to leave so we went with a package that included the boat, train, and to get back down the gondolas. Our journey started at slip 5 at the docks next to the train station. From there the boat made a trip just shy of an hour to Alpnachstad and the lower train station.

view on the boat ride

People can also get there by bus. Bus fare was not included in our ticket, but the guest house where we stayed gave us a voucher for free bus service during our stay in Lucerne so we could have saved the boat fare and gone to the cogwheel train by bus, but we wanted to take the boat ride, which was quite scenic. We did use the bus at the end of the day to get back to town after taking the gondolas down the mountain.

table by the window and a radiator

Mountains were always in view during our transit through Lake Lucerne. Parts of the shoreline were dotted with old Swiss chalet style buildings, while some areas had a more modern (and crowded) look. At one point we could even see the cableway descending the mountain. Also a helicopter buzzing around the mountainside carrying trees down from up high and dropping them off about midway down.

view from the boat dock at Alpnachstad

The ride was quiet and peaceful. We found a table next to the window which also had a
heating panel next to it so it was a cozy spot with a great view. A lot of the tables on the ship were in restaurants, but not wanting to order anything the one we found was just in a hallway.

cogwheel train station at the bottom of the mountain

The boat docked across the highway from Alpnachstad, but there was an underground crossing so nobody had to dodge cars to get there. The railway is billed as the world’s steepest cogwheel railroad with grades up to 48%. Each car moves up the track individually, though several left the station in a row staying fairly close to one another on the way up.

when the car going down gets to the bottom it will move over to the stairway so people can get on

Mostly it’s just one track, but there was a place partway up where a second track allowed cars going opposite ways to pass by one another. The stations at the top and bottom also have two sets of tracks except at the very end where empty space allows the last bit of track to move over and bring the car from the up track to the down track or vice versa. When we got there several cars sat at the bottom waiting to load.

the bit of track at the very bottom slides over from the outside track to the inner row to move the train cars from the down side to the up side of the tracks at the station

A few more came down the hill and parked next to the ones already there in the space where there were 2 tracks rather than just one. We got into the back compartment of the car at the bottom. The top one left, the next one moved up a bit, and ours moved up behind it.

leaving the station and heading up the hill

The bit of track our car had just vacated slid sideways across the cement ground and aligned itself with the end of the track where the cars that had just come down waited. The front one of them drove down onto that bit of track and it slid back over to the boarding stairs just below our car. It filled immediately with a large tour group. The one ahead of ours had a tour group from a Viking river cruise excursion, but ours was about half empty with just other random people who went there on their own like us so we got a whole compartment to ourselves.

the train car has a steering wheel at each end – this one is empty because it is for going down and we were going up

The back window overlooked a steering area, which is where the driver sits on the way down when that end becomes the front. Our driver sat at the other end, which is the front on the way up.

looking back down the track we just went up and a view of the lake

The grade ranged from not that steep to the max of 48% over different areas of our ascent, the least we noticed being 18% for a short stretch that seemed flat compared to the rest. The train went quite a bit faster through that bit. Periodically signs next to the track gave a grade range for the next section which would say something like 18% to 30% or 40% to 47%, with most of it over 30%.

looking back to a tunnel we passed through

The train passed through a number of tunnels on the way up. Some areas were wide
open, others had rocks, trees, or railroad structures right next to the track. There was a window on either end of the compartment that those inside could crank open for photos (or perhaps for air in the summer), but a sign on the window said not to lean outside.

train tracks in the snow near the beginning of the snow line

Probably because if people weren’t paying attention and hanging any body part out in an open area they could suddenly find said body part smacking into solid rock or other objects. The bottom of the mountain was clear of snow, but eventually the train reached a high enough elevation where everything outside was covered in it, even some of the in-between portions of the track where the train doesn’t actually touch. Most of the track ran in a straight line going directly up the hill, but here and there it turned or snaked around a bit.

looking up to a bridge we were about to cross

Some portions were elevated a bit and here and there it passed over a small bridge.
After we had gone up quite a distance the train stopped next to other trains on a parallel track. These descending trains were waiting for all the ascending trains to get out of the way so they could finish their journey down the mountain. One was a regular red passenger train like ours.

yellow train at the passing zone

One was mostly open and looked to be some sort of service train intended for hauling supplies. The third was painted yellow, the only one we ever saw that color. Once the three of them left our group of 3 resumed travel up the mountain and didn’t stop again until they reached the top.

snowy mountain

The snow got deeper as we progressed up the mountain.

icicles on a rock

Sometimes we passed so close to craggy rock formations that you could reach out and touch them if you wanted to risk losing an arm trying to do so. Others were more distant and some even had icicles.

at the top there’s a stairway where the train stops

The train stopped at the top in a room that was nothing but a stairway for getting out of the train. The stairs led up to a doorway and from there you could get to the rest of the things on the mountaintop.

buildings at the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain there’s a gift shop, several places to eat, free restrooms, trails to several viewpoints, and the entrance to the aerial cableway. There’s also 2 hotels. The highest summit is Tomlishorn (2,128 m).

cogwheel trains at the passing spot

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Heraklion Cruise Port, Crete

CRETE, GREECE

MSC Lirica in Heraklion, Greece

Crete is Greece’s largest island. Terrain and elevations range from sandy beaches to mountains. Mt. Ida is the tallest of the White Mountain range, and the legendary birthplace of Zeus in Ideon Cave. The island’s capital, Heraklion is famous for the thousands of years old Minoan Palace of Knossos just outside the city. The city also has a 16th century fort guarding the port, and a museum with a large collection of Minoan art. Winters on Crete are generally mild with snow staying mainly in the mountains. Currency in Greece is the Euro, which is fairly close in value to the US dollar.

city view from the marina

Crete’s history extends back to the stone age with tools found there dating back at least 130,000 years. The Minoan civilization dates back to the bronze age when they built palaces and other buildings on Crete. They are considered the first European civilization. They had a powerful navy and ships sailing around the Mediteranean with merchants trading as far away as Egypt. Their civilization was destroyed by a powerful eruption of Thera (now Santorini), which was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in recorded history. The Minoan ruins are now one of Crete’s major tourist attractions. Following the volcanic destruction, Crete’s inhabitants developed ancient Greek influenced city-states followed by becoming part of a succession of empires from Roman to Byzantine, to Ottoman and were under the rule of the Venetian Republic in between the Byzantines and Ottomans. Following that Crete was autonomous before becoming a part of Greece.

HERAKLION CRUISE PORT

MSC Lirica docked by shipping containers in Heraklion

Ships dock in the port of Heraklion (Iraklion) in a container port so passengers are not allowed to walk through the port after disembarking the ship. Those with cruise ship tours board their tour bus by the ship. The rest take a 5-minute free shuttle to the cruise terminal. People have to pass through the terminal before going anywhere else. Free city maps are available at the tourist office there. It has a duty free shop on the port side where people can purchase things after the security screening on their way back. There’s also a small shop on the other side of security near the exit door. Inside the building there are places to sit and use the free wifi provided there. The terminal building has restrooms and storage lockers. It’s about a 15 minute walk from the cruise terminal to old town. There are tourist attractions within a 20 minute walk from the port. Street signs are in Greek.

follow the yellow line from the port to the city

Once out of the terminal passengers can walk a short distance to a hop-on hop-off bus stand where tickets are available at a small booth and busses await. Just past the hop-on hop-off busses there’s a stop for the city bus which people can catch if they have a specific destination in mind. There’s also a walkway marked with a yellow line leading anyone who wants to travel by foot to the city center.

local area map at the port

The footpath follows along the waterfront past a marina. It ends at a city map with a you are here dot. From there you can tour the Koules Fortress – originally a Venetian sea fort -just a short distance away for a minimal entry fee, or walk into the city or on the seawall.

cats at the marina

Besides boats the marina also had cats. We saw a mother and some half grown kittens sleeping near some fishing boats. There were other cats around the marina as well as in town. Greece has lots of stray animals. Some places have dogs as well as cats.

arch in the Venetian wall

Along the way you can see part of the old Venetian walls across the street, and a couple of its tunnel-like gates. These walls were built during the time Crete was under the control of the Venetian Republic. Beyond the marked walkway on the roadway next to the sea we saw some small ruins.

parking is often scarce in Greek cities so small vehicles are popular

The town has a maze of streets and pathways winding their way through shops and eateries. There’s lots of little bakeries, coffee shops, and restaurants. Anyone looking to eat local has many opportuities to find something tasty.

stores in the city center

The city center area has stores of all sorts where people can shop for pretty much anything if they look for the right store. It’s not just souvenir shops for tourists, they have pretty much everything anyone could want and things the locals need as well.

park in Heraklion

There’s also a little park. Somewhere in town there’s a fountain that shows on all the tourist maps, but we didn’t pass by it.

colorful shop

We walked past one colorful little shop that just begged to have its picture taken.

THINGS TO DO IN HERKLION/CRETE

the Venetian sea fort is within walking distance of the port

Koules Fortress, an old Venetian sea fort is within walking distance of the port and can be toured for a small fee. The fortress sits at the land end of a seawall. It’s free to walk past the fort and out to the lighthouse at the far end of the seawall.

Heraklion’s main tourist attraction is the ruins at Knossos

You can get to the the area’s main attraction – the ruins of the Minoan Palace of Knossos by public bus, hop on hop off bus, or taxi. It’s about 20 minutes by bus from the port. Taxis and the hop on hop off bus pick up at the cruise terminal. The public bus stop is not far. Hop on hop off busses run about every 45 minutes. There’s 9 stops and the whole route would take about 45 minutes if you never got off the bus. Knossos is the second to last stop when starting from the port.

old building by the waterfront

Herkalion has beaches, museums, a mix of old and new architecture, Phaestos Minoan Palace, Cretaquarium (aquarium), a market, local cuisine, and boat trips. There are also caves and other villages in the region. If you walk around a bit you might come across old buildings or random ruins that aren’t listed on the tourist maps.

random ruins alongside modern buildings

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Posted in Europe, Lirica, MSC, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Westerdam Thermal Suite

Holland America Westerdam

Westerdam in Hakodate, Japan

Many of the large cruise ships have a thermal suite in their spa. Amenities vary from one line to another and even among ships of the same line. Some ships have spa cabins that come with use of the thermal suites as well as thermal packages for passengers to purchase separately while others just sell the thermal package. Sales are limited to whatever number the maximum is for that particular ship to prevent overcrowding. Normally the thermal suite package is for use of the facilities for the entire cruise, but some ships do sell one day passes or provide a free one day pass to people who are high in their loyalty program or staying in the more expensive suites. Whether or not the thermal suite is worth the extra cost depends on the facilities a particular ship has to offer.

Westerdam spa

loungers in the spa pool room

On the Holland America Westerdam the thermal package limit was 40 people total for the cruise. They did also have one day passes available both for sale and for 5 star passengers which is those who have reached 500 points in their loyalty system.

Westerdam spa pool

spa pool on the Westerdam

The Westerdam and her sister ships Oosterdam, Noordam, Zuiderdam, and P&O’s Arcadia all have excellent thermal facilities. There’s a fairly large mineral hydropool with jets and an ergonomically shaped sitting rack made from metal bars which sounds uncomofortable, but is actually quite nice. It also has a round bit with more extreme jets and a couple spouts so there are lots of choices of places for people to relax or find comfort for their pains.

Westerdam spa pool

spa pool has built-in stairway, fountains, and rack to sit on

Loungers set around the pool give guests a place to sit and relax and somewhere to put their things before they get into the pool. There’s a shower for before and after pool use and a button to push on the way into the pool to start the jets. Pool entrance and exit are easily done on a built-in stairway.

cruise ship spa chairs

heated ceramic chairs in the Westerdam’s thermal suite

The star attraction in the thermal suite’s other room is the heated ceramic chairs, designed by a chiropractor to set the body in a comfortable position. Even though the surface of the chair is tile rather than something soft and cushiony, they are extremely comfortable. So much so that people sometimes fall asleep in them. The chairs face floor to ceiling windows offering a view of the ocean or passing scenery for anyone relaxing there. Unfortunately one of them did not work so other than sitting on a cold bench there were just 5 available during our cruise. Sometimes we went to the spa when nobody else was there (which is how everyone prefers it), but other times it could get a bit crowded and have more people wanting ceramic benches then the room had benches available. Luckily most of the time we went when there were enough available for all the people there. There were times when people came in wanting one when they were all full, in which case we would leave if we had been the first ones in the room of the people there, and sometimes other people would do the same, unless of course everyone on the benches had all just come in themselves.

steam room on the Westerdam

steam room by the ceramic chairs

This room also has 4 tall round showers – which would only be used while wearing a bathing suit, a couple steam rooms and a sauna. One of the steam rooms is scented and the other not. People rarely used the showers so the space would have been better utilized by getting rid of one set of showers and using that space for another ceramic bench or two.

spa view

port view from the thermal suite in Japan

There are dressing rooms shared by the spa and gym which have showers where people can take a proper shower if they prefer to take one there rather than in their room, though  glass doors make those showers not entirely private. Thermal suite participants turn in their room cards in at the spa desk in trade for an access card to the thermal areas and if they want it a key to a locker in the dressing room, which contains a robe for use while they are there as well as providing a place to put their things. Spa patrons also get locker keys.

relaxing in the thermal suite

scenic view from the heated ceramic chairs

Ships normally have a spa tour on day one, which is a good way to see if the thermal suite on that particular ship is worth the extra cost. Thermal packages aren’t normally offered online to book pre-cruise, but can sometimes be done in advance with a phone call, at a bit better price than booking it onboard. I pre-booked this one, but they refunded the pre-booking onboard and billed the two cruises separately because they gave a discount on the second of our two cruises that made the total a bit less than what I’d paid ahead of time. It was nice of them to arrange it for the lower price.

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Enclave at the Spa on Royal Princess

entrance to the spa

On most cruise ships the spa and gym go hand in hand being located next to each other and sharing a locker room. There’s generally a beauty salon in the vicinity as well. Royal Princess breaks with that tradition having the spa near the bow on deck 5 and the gym at the stern on deck 17. Naturally being that distant each has its own locker rooms. The salon is located on deck 5 near the spa.

treatment room on the spa tour

The spa offers all sorts of services. There’s a variety of massages, facials, acupuncture, and teeth whitening among their offerings. Spa services don’t come cheap. On ships that have a good one we consider the thermal suite to be the best value for the money since the others have limited time, but the thermal suite is available for the entire cruise.

treatment room at the spa

On Royal Princess the thermal suite is called the Enclave. All of the amenities are contained within a single room. It’s fully within the interior of the ship. There’s no windows or view so passengers can seek an inner peace rather than watching peaceful scenery go by.

waterbed in the enclave with the towel station in the background

At the entrance there’s a water station with plain or fruit infused water in jugs. Cups stacked nearby invite people to take a drink with them to enjoy while they relax in the enclave. Towels are available at the end of the hall to pick up on the way in. Robes come from the lockers in the locker room, so people who want one already have those and spa shoes before going in.

pool in the enclave

The hydrotherapy pool dominates the center of the room. It has a stairway into the pool on one end. Different buttons around the pool activate various water features, with most people’s favorite the rack at the far end where they can sit and relax in the jets. It would have been nicer if they had placed the rack a few inches lower so there would be more water over anyone sitting there. Each side of the pool has a sort of ring with jets, big enough for one person, also a popular feature. The giant rainshowers hovering over the lower stairs were not well-liked. People rarely ever turned them on, but if anyone did most people ducked around it avoiding the cold rain as much as possible on their way into or out of the pool. They had some temperature issues with the pool during our cruise. It was closed a couple days for being too cold, and most of the time when it was open it was a bit chillier than what most people like. Only one day it was really nice and toasty warm.

heated ceramic chairs

Opposite the pool there’s a set of 4 showers, with each one doing a different thing. These also tended to be cold so we stuck with the one that would generally get warm. The enclave also had a dry sauna and two steam rooms, one scented and the other not. These rooms were toasty – too hot to stay in for very long. A row of heated ceramic chairs sat along one edge of the room between the sauna and one of the steam rooms. The end of the enclave opposite those had more heated ceramic chairs in a semi-separate area raised above the rest of the room and behind a divider. The heated ceramic chairs hit the Goldilocks zone. After other features being too hot or too cold, they were just right.

heated waterbeds in the Enclave and entrance to a heated ceramic chair area

In front of that divider sat two sort of waterbed tables, something I’ve not seen before on any other  ship. The waterbeds were my older sister’s favorite thing in the room, where my younger sister and I tended to prefer the heated ceramic chairs.

relaxing in the enclave

The good thing about buying the thermal suite is that you can use it every day of the cruise if you want to, and as many times during the day as you wish. The bad thing is that spending all that time in the thermal suite means missing out on other things the ship has to offer. Open times vary from one ship to another, but the thermal suites are always open from sometime in the morning usually between 7am and 9am until sometime in the evening, generally about 8-10pm.

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Fort Worden

view from a little sandwich shop of a very small cruise ship docked in Port Townsend

Located at Point Wilson near the town of Port Townsend on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Fort Worden was originally built as part of the triangle of fire protecting the entrance to Puget Sound. Nearby Fort Casey on Whidbey Island and Fort Flagler on the north end of Marrowstone Island complete the triangle. Built from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s, these forts were intended to protect the area from invasion by sea, though they were never needed for that purpose. Much of the original armament from Fort Worden was sent to Europe during the first world war. All three forts have long since been decommissioned and all are historic state parks now. Some of Fort Worden’s buildings are currently used as a school. Very small cruise ships from lines like Un-Cruise Adventures or American Cruise Lines sometimes make port stops in Port Townsend.

lighthouse at Point Wilson

Fort Worden State Park has a lighthouse, 2 campgrounds, hiking and biking trails, over 2 miles of beach, a boat dock, and launching ramps. Some areas of the park require a Discover Pass, which is required in Washington for access to state parks, DNR lands, and fish and wildlife areas. Day passes are available at the park as well as the standard year-long pass. Besides the campgrounds people can stay in some of the park’s buildings. Most of the officer’s houses are available, as are cottages and dormitories.

lighthouse at Point Wilson

The lighthouse on Point Wilson was built in 1879, before the neighboring fort. Point Wilson is at the western entrance to Puget Sound. The buildings surrounding the lighthouse currently have an abandoned deteriorating sort of look. The lighthouse itself is still in use for its original purpose of aiding marine traffic, but the light is fully automated and monitored from the coast guard station in Port Angeles. It’s sad that these buildings appear to have just been left to rot rather than being included in the rental pool. Being beachfront with awesome views if they were fixed up they’d likely be the most popular vacation homes in the park.

Alexander’s Castle and a bit of a battery in the background

Alexander’s Castle was the first building in the fort area, built in 1883 by Reverend John B. Alexander. The unique little brick building still stands and is currently available as a vacation home rented to park visitors.

map showing the locations of the 3 forts that made up the triangle of fire

The fort was built from 1898 to 1920 and designated as a national historic landmark in 1976. It was an active army base from 1902 to 1953. In 1957 it was purchased by the state of Washington for use as a juvenile detention facility. Ownership was transferred to the parks department in 1971 and Fort Worden State Park opened in 1973.

Fort Worden Science Museum – there’s an aquarium across the street at the end of a dock out in the water and the admission fee covers both. You can also buy a discount ticket for the park’s 3 museums.

During World War 1 the fort was used for training soldiers before sending them overseas to fight in Europe. As the role of aircraft and balloons became more important and the need for coastal artillery less, a balloon hanger was built at the fort in 1920.

homes in officer’s row are mostly vacation rentals, but one is a museum

During World War 2 the fort was headquarters for the harbor defense command and monitored all ship traffic entering or leaving Puget Sound using new sonar and sensing devices. Most of the gun batteries were modified to hold anti-aircraft guns as their original purpose for coastal artillery aimed at ships was long since outdated. After the war the guns were dismantled and the base remained as an administrative facility until its closure in 1953.

dining room in the officer’s house museum

Fort Worden has several museums. One is in a former officer’s house. It is furnished with period pieces of the sort that would have been used there, but the actual furniture and things belonging to the people living there came and left when they did. There is also an artillery museum as well as the sealife science center and aquarium. Other entertainment at the park includes kayak and rowboat rentals. There are several places to buy food and even a gift shop. The former fort also has facilities for conferences and weddings.

scene from An Officer and a Gentleman

Much of the 1982 movie An Officer and a Gentleman starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger was filmed at Fort Worden. Scenes were filmed in various places around the fort including some of the buildings, at battery Kinzie, and in the blimp hanger, which has since been turned into a performing arts center. Many of the off-base sites were filmed in Port Townsend. Both Paula and Lynette’s houses and the factory where they worked were actually in Port Townsend rather than across the sound as portrayed in the film. The Tides Inn from the movie is a real motel and is still in business.

bedroom in the officer’s house museum

I visited the park one day with my sister Linda. We spent a bit of time at the lighthouse, which now sits behind a fence and were sad to see how the buildings there appear to have been left to deteriorate in the effects of coastal weather. Even if they don’t want to fix them up for the rental pool, a lighthouse museum would be interesting and could include the keeper’s house as well, giving the park a good reason to preserve those historic buildings.

living room in the officer’s house museum

We also took a tour through the officer’s house museum, which is in the former quarters of the commanding officer at the end of officer’s row. The rest of the houses there are rentals for park visitors, suitable for large groups as they hold anywhere from 6-28 people depending on the house.

map of Fort Worden State Park

This fort turned park has enough of a variety of places to stay and things to see and do to make it a fun and interesting place for just about anyone.

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Hits and Misses on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas

cruise ship in Honolulu

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas

Hits and Misses on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas

Cruise ships vary greatly from one to another, and so of course do cruise ship passengers. Most people find some things they like and some they don’t on pretty much any ship. One person’s favorite thing might be the very thing someone else hates most so hits and misses on any given ship are definitely a matter of personal opinion. After cruising across the Pacific Ocean on Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas, these are the things that stood out most to me as what I did and did not like about the ship.

HITS

wayfinder on deck

digitally find anything on board

Wayfinder electronic display – near each elevator and stairway area a video screen provided all sorts of information with a touch. It had the daily activity schedule, the day’s menus, and deck plans of the ship. If you wanted to know how to get anywhere on board from where you currently were it could tell you that too, and even map out a route on the deck plans for you to follow. It’s hard to say if something this useful that requires touching by numerous people will survive on a ship post Covid-19 though. If they could make it voice-activated instead of a touch screen it would work, or of that’s not possible maybe accompany it with a hand sanitizer stand.

6am open time at the Gym – instead of opening at 8am like a lot of other lines, the gym on the Explorer opened at 6, which is great for people who want time to workout and shower before breakfast and still make it to morning events. It was necessary to be there right at opening time or before to get one of the more popular machines like treadmill or elliptical for an early morning workout though.

inside a cruise ship

overlooking the promenade café end of the Royal Promenade

Royal Promenade – Rather than just a central atrium area open several decks high like on many ships, Explorer had an area called the Royal Promenade open several decks high running from the front stairway to the back stairway. This area was set up to look like a city street with shops along the sides and at one end a 24-hour café. Inside cabins with windows into the promenade gave the look of apartment buildings rising from the street. This feature is found on Royal Caribbean ships, but not usually on other lines.

door sign magnet

a cruise line smart enough to use a magnet for their clean/don’t disturb door sign

Magnetic door sign – I’ve often wondered why cruise ships don’t have magnetic please clean my room/please do not disturb signs since the doors are always magnetic and the paper ones that hang on a doorknob tend to fall off or turn the wrong way. This ship had a magnet hanging on the inside of the door, which passengers could set on the outside of their door with either the clean or don’t disturb side out, which was quite handy as well as nice to know at least one cruise line thinks like I do about that sort of thing.

cruise ship dining room

dining room

Dining Room Carts – Waiters in the dining room have carts to wheel food to the tables instead of having to carry heavy trays piled with plates. I’ve often looked at the waitstaff on other lines crooked over under the weight of their heavy trays wondering if the ship’s staff includes a chiropractor for the dining room crew since they always look like they need one. Besides less likelihood of losing a mountain of plates in rough seas, it was much nicer to see the staff move about the dining room upright pushing a cart rather than bent over under a heavily laden tray. Plus they can move more items at one time with the cart making it more efficient than carrying a tray so that’s a bonus too.

cruise ship casino

casino on Explorer of the Seas

$2 mimosas – Each morning the casino had $2 mimosas for a couple hours. I’m not a drinker, but a lot of other passengers appreciated it even if there was a 2 drink limit per person. For me personally the biggest hit about the casino was that it was non-smoking.

solarium hot tub

one of two hot tubs in the solarium

Solarium – The ship had a solarium area separated from the main pool deck with sliding glass doors. The outer portions of the room were under cover with an opening over the pool so it had both sunny and shady chairs (with the shady ones being the most popular). This area was both non-smoking and adults only. It also had 2 hot tubs under cover. This was our go-to area if we wanted to sit out on the deck for the shady and smoke free loungers. The fact that this area had nicer deck chairs than the main deck made it even more attractive, though if the situation were reversed I’d pick a smoke-free area over one with better deck chairs any day.

cruise ship ice arena

ice show in the skating rink

Ice Arena – Explorer has an actual ice skating arena. Royal Caribbean has them on a lot of their ships. Sometimes it is open for passengers to skate. They provide skates and helmets. They also had an ice show, which was one of  the best shows of the entire cruise.

flow show

flow rider crew performing in the flow show

Flow rider – The ship had a flow rider with open times daily for both stand-up surfing and boogie boarding. Most of the crew working there were quite helpful teaching passengers how to use it. The Flow Show they had at the end of the cruise was quite fun to watch.

rock climbing wall

almost there – climbing the ship’s rock climbing wall

Rock Climbing Wall – the more things a ship has for people to do the better, and none of these activities cost extra, not the wall, flow rider, or ice arena.

No Indoor Smoking – The less smoking areas a ship has the more pleasant it is so it’s always nice to be able to walk around inside a ship without walking through smoke.

engine camera monitors

monitors showing what the engine cameras see on the behind the scenes tour

Cameras Allowed  – on the behind the scenes tour. We have been on a ship where they were not, so we appreciated being allowed to take photos behind the scenes on this ship.

Blackjack Tournament – Pays to 3 places. Unless you’re the winner it’s nice if the winner doesn’t take all because that way more people win.

lamingtons

lamingtons from the Royal Promenade café on Explorer of the Seas

Lamingtons  – Some afternoons the café on the promenade had lamingtons, which became so popular they ran out quickly once a significant amount of the passengers besides the Australians or people who had previously been to Australia discovered what they were. They may have been special for this cruise since it ended in Australia rather than a standard thing Royal Caribbean serves, which would be too bad because they were delicious.

MISSES

Too Many Smoking Areas – Although inside the ship was smoke free, there were so many smoking areas outside that a significant portion of the outside of the ship was too smoky to set foot in. There were smoking areas on the starboard side of 3 outdoor decks including the promenade deck and pool deck. Also at the center of the pool area on a platform at the front so smoke travels over the whole pool area. The Walking/Jogging track circled around the pool deck and right next to the platform smoking area so neither the track nor the promenade were suitable for anyone who likes to breathe while they exercise. No wonder the treadmills filled up so quickly – all that smoke is not exactly conducive to good health.

cruise ship pools

main pool deck with smoking on the balcony at the front of the picture and starboard side both levels

Expensive Internet –  There were no surf only internet packages available in the discounted packages prior to the cruise, and onboard the surf only cost about the same as buying the full surf and stream package ahead of time – which is supposed to be faster internet even if you don’t need the stream part, though on a ship out to sea no internet is ever actually all that fast.

doing laundry on a cruise ship

laundry hanging to dry in the cabin bathroom

No Self-Serve Guest Laundry – On a ship doing long cruises and ocean crossings some washers and dryers would be greatly appreciated by a whole lot of passengers. You can of course send laundry out for the crew to wash, but on this ship it was by the item, not the bag. Sometimes it’s almost cheaper to buy new clothes than to have the crew do your laundry, and even when they had a “special” it was $35 for a small bag and only for specific items – the ones that are easiest to handwash. We just handwashed.

reserved seats

although the reserved seats were nicer chairs than others on the pool deck, they were next to the smoking platform and had no cover and were empty most of the time

Reserved Seating – A section of seats in the theater as well as a bunch of the loungers on the pool deck were roped off with signs saying they were for people with gold colored cards only. No idea if that is suite people or high status loyalty card people. The theater ones they did open up at the start of the show so if you got there a bit late you could get a better seat than if you got there early because the special people never seemed to fill many seats.

Bathrobes – are not standard in the rooms for everyone, but something to be earned by loyalty level (though the steward did bring one when requested on day 1 before I knew it was supposed to be a loyalty perk.)

doing laundry on a cruise ship

even the dark clothes got handwashed in hot water unless I dumped in some ice from the ice bucket

Water Temperature –  in a lot of the cabins the water temperature ranged from hot to scalding instead of cold to hot. As in turn the shower to the coldest possible setting to avoid burns, and you brush your teeth in hot water because other than pouring it out of the ice bucket there is no cold. Hopefully this was due to some sort of plumbing issue that has since been fixed rather than being a permanent problem with this ship, but I have no way of knowing if it was or not.

Chair Hogs – The crew are supposed to pick up unattended towels and things from deck chairs after half an hour so other people can use the chairs, but things would sit there for hours with no people in the chairs and nobody ever did anything about it even when other passengers complained. The same people hogged the best seats in the solarium all day every day and rarely ever actually sat in them. (You could tell it was the same people because they always had the same fancy towel clips holding their towels on the chairs.) Other people sometimes set these inconsiderate people’s things aside and used the chairs anyway when there weren’t any others available and could be there for a few hours without the selfish people ever showing up. Still the crew never removed their stuff, which of course just encourages others to join in that bad behavior making the problem even worse. This is an ongoing problem on many cruises where signs say chair saving is not allowed yet passengers do it anyway and the crew does nothing about it which rewards rule breakers at the expense of everyone else.

protect coral while protecting yourself

bring your own coral safe sunscreen because cruise ships never have any

No Reef-Safe Sunscreen – With the amount of people cruise ships normally take to tropical places on a daily basis you would think the least they could do is have some reef safe sunscreen in their gift shop and try to make passengers aware of the need to use it, but they never do. Even the port lecturer on this ship failed to mention how ordinary sunscreens kill coral though at least one of the ports we went to had signs saying no sunscreen allowed on anyone going into the water.

fancy floor

fancy floor in the casino entrance

Smoke Smell – the stench of stale smoke still hung about the casino even though it had been a couple years since smoking was allowed in there.

Overall we quite enjoyed our cruise on Explorer of the Seas and would be happy to sail with Royal Caribbean again in the future.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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