Jay Peak Resort

Jay Peak behind the resort on a clear day

Jay Peak Resort sits on the side of a mountain with Jay Peak looming above – sometimes. The peak with an elevation of 3,862 feet can go from fully visible to shrouded in fog in a matter of minutes. Jay Peak sits about 5 miles from the Canadian border in Vermont’s Green Mountains.

main part of the hotel

The main hotel complex has a hotel at each end. Jay Peak Hotel includes an indoor waterpark and conference center. A corridor leads to shops, restaurants, and a tram that goes up to the top of the mountain, with another smaller hotel on the other side of the tram station. You can get from one end to the other without ever going outside, handy for a ski lodge in winter. There are ski lifts near the tram base as well as in other locations around the property. A skating arena sits next to Jay Peak Hotel, and a golf course across the road below it, complete with clubhouse and restaurant. There’s also facilities for weddings.

bridge on a Nordic trail

The trail system includes Nordic ski trails as well as hiking and biking trails, though the hiking and biking trails are not well marked.

the trails just have little numbers, while the ski runs have signs

The ski runs work well as trails when there’s no snow so if you just want to hike around on the mountain and don’t really care where you go it’s easy to find your way back down whether you find the official hiking trails or not since there’s almost always a ski run somewhere nearby. Although mainly a ski resort, it is open year-round. Hours and days of operation of some facilities may be limited during the off season though.

condos by the mountain trails

Many condos and vacation homes cluster between this hotel complex and another hotel on the other side of it all. A movie theater sits next to that hotel. Neither that hotel nor the theater were open while we were there.

attached hotel on the other side of the tram

We went to Jay Peak Resort in October. Our room in the main hotel was booked well in advance in the cheapest style of room that they had, which turned out to be one king bed in a larger-than-average hotel room. It had a nightstand on either side, a closet, and a sort of combo desk/dresser that had a chair on one end with open space underneath and a TV over drawers on the other. There was an ironing board with iron and a hairdryer. It had a Keurig with coffee pods only and no tea available for the asking. No refrigerator or microwave. The bathroom was pretty spacious and the room itself had quite a lot of extra floorspace near the entry.

trail on the mountain

During our stay the hotel seemed mostly deserted. We saw very few other people around the place. I often wandered the halls throughout the entire resort without ever seeing another person. Once I saw a couple people walking a dog when I had hiked on trails far up the mountain, but they were not from the resort. Possibly from one of the vacation homes closer to that area of the trails. One afternoon 3 vans topped with bikes showed up at the resort with a group that spend one night there and left the next morning.

fog on the peak

It’s quite a large hotel so it probably gets a lot more business during the winter ski season.  John talked to another person there who had booked last minute and got a really nice suite for less than we’d paid for the cheap room, which in itself would normally indicate lots of available space to fill due to supply and demand – prices go down when you need to fill the rooms, up when there aren’t many available.

we could see the skating rink from our window

The 2nd floor room they gave us happened to be right next to some sort of giant machinery sticking out of a roof from the green part of the building over a conference center that was only 1 story high. Probably something to do with the heating/cooling system. It ran day and night making all kinds of racket. Like a furnace or air conditioner running constantly. Outside you could hear it from the distance of at least a couple city blocks away. From inside it sounded a lot like the furnace in the room being constantly on, though it rarely actually was. While this may not bother most people, I’m a light sleeper and always turn off any sort of heating or cooling system at night because I can’t sleep with it running.

place for outdoor weddings

After a sleepless night (for me, John slept fine) we asked if we could change rooms the next morning. At that time they said all rooms were either occupied or dirty and they would know later at 4pm. After not having cleaned our room that day we figured it was because they didn’t want to clean it before and after moving, but then when we went down to ask after 4 they said sorry all the rooms are full. Seriously, if the rooms were all full one would expect to see other people around the hallways sometimes and for things around the hotel to be open, though none of the shops or any of the restaurants within the main hotel complex ever were. They had guest laundries available on several floors. I did a load of laundry and besides not seeing anyone on the way to or from the guest laundry – which wasn’t even on our floor – I had to turn on the lights when I got there and nobody else came in the whole time. They never did let us change rooms and I never got much sleep during our stay there. They never did clean the room during our stay either. Whether that was due to not wanting to enter occupied rooms because of covid, not having enough staff to clean them other than between guests, or just their usual policy we will never know.

at the top of the peak

Clean towels were available at the front desk for the asking. There were also maps of the resort’s trails there for the taking, though the maps for hikers and bikers didn’t show the ski runs and most of the signs you come across up on the peak are for ski runs rather than trails so that would have been useful information for knowing where you were on the mountain. Getting back to the resort was easy enough following a ski run down, but more trail signs and ski run info on the map would have made finding or staying on hiking trails rather than ski runs a lot more possible.

tram to the top of the mountain

The skating rink, indoor water park, tram, shops, and restaurants had very limited off-season hours on certain days, mainly just the weekend and the movie theater none at all, though the theater being closed could have been a covid thing since a lot of things were still closed due to covid during the time we were there. Nothing much was open during our stay so we never had the opportunity to see much of what the resort had to offer. The little general store opened on the same day as the tram, which was good since that was where the tickets were sold. None of the other shops or any of the restaurants at the main hotel opened while we were there, nor the water park or skating rink which only had weekend hours. The golf course was open and we did see a few people using it.

golf course

The golf course restaurant next to the wedding tent was open sometimes while we were there, but of all the restaurants at the resort it was the only one that was. The tram to the top of the mountain opened on our last full day there after having been closed for the rest of our stay. That turned out to be the nicest day weatherwise so taking it up to the top of the mountain that day worked out well for us. While the first couple days had been cloudy, that day had bright sunshine so the views from the top were excellent.

view of the resort from up on the mountain

This would be a great place to stay when everything is open since there would be a variety of fun things to do. We enjoyed it anyway, though if you happen to go to Vermont and spend much time outside in nature be sure to check for ticks as soon as you go inside because they do have the sort that spreads Lyme disease there and if you get one you want to remove it before it has been there long enough to have any possibility of making you sick.

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Cedar Camp #6

Cedar Camp No 6

When choosing Lake Crescent as a destination in Olympic National Park because it is one of the few places with accommodations in the park, it was a bit of a disappointment when I went to book about a month and a half before our planned visit only to find everything already full. It’s a big lake and there’s a main lodge in one area of the lake and a log cabin resort in another, but neither had anything available for the two nights I wanted to stay. Nearby Lake Sutherland wasn’t much better with the only Airbnb’s available for the days I wanted costing over $300 per night for a whole lot more house than 2 people would need. Luckily there are other Airbnb’s in the area. There was also a camp full of fancy tents with beds in them for a pretty good price, but those sites came with outdoor kitchens which would be fine in nice weather, but not knowing in advance what the weather would be we wanted fully indoor lodgings. A good choice since it did rain some while we were there.

inside the cabin at Cedar Camp 6

On Airbnb I found a cozy little cabin near to the tiny town of Joyce, which is fairly close to the park. This little cabin, called Cedar Camp Number 6, was a nice size for 2 people. It has one main room with a kitchen area, table, a couple places to sit, and a bunk bed in one corner. The bunk has a queen lower and single upper. There was also another bed underneath which was either a trundle or a separate bed that could be pulled out and put elsewhere. I don’t know which because we didn’t pull it out to see. With my mother and I the two main bunks were sufficient. Besides the main room there was also a decent size bathroom with a pretty big shower. It did lack a wall hook for hanging clothing while in the shower though.


The kitchen had a full-sized refrigerator, small stove, microwave, and a sink. The table had room for 2, but could have been pulled out from the wall and the other leaf raised to make room for more with a larger group. There was no dishwasher, internet, or TV. The theme of the decor was logging, which ties into the name. Whether there was actually a logging camp at that location or not I have no idea, but there was definitely logging in the area. The nearby Spruce Railroad Trail was once a logging railway. Decor included several old logging photos.

cabin porch

A comfortable rocking chair sat next to the kitchen table, and an oversized chair by the bed. We did not use the cabin’s small wood stove. It also had a baseboard heater, though the control for it was inconveniently located behind the top bunk. They did have signs to help people locate it, as it would be unlikely anyone would find it otherwise.

cribbage stump

A large stump sat between the doorway and a porch with some furniture where people could sit outside if they wanted. The stump had a cribbage board carved into it. Cribbage is one of those games like backgammon that I used to play years ago, but no longer remember how. Not that I couldn’t look it up online if I really wanted to know. There were also some other games on a shelf in the cabin. A short distance from the cabin there was a firepit and some outdoor furniture.

blackberry salad at the Blackberry Cafe

The cabin is in a rural residential area, a second dwelling in the owner’s yard. It’s just a short drive to Joyce, which is a very small town, but it does have a few stores and a restaurant called Blackberry Cafe. We had lunch there on the way home the day we checked out. The menu is mainly burgers, but there were a few other things. I got the blackberry salad, which was probably about 3 times larger than the salad I had at Crescent Lake Lodge for lunch the day we arrived for just a few bucks more. It came with a nice blackberry vinaigrette.

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Symphony vs Wonder

stern of Wonder of the Seas

Wonder of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas have a lot in common both being Oasis class ships in Royal Caribbean’s fleet as well as currently the biggest and second biggest cruise ships in the world. They have some differences as well, some in the ship design itself and others in onboard experience. Of course part of the difference in my onboard experience stems from sailing on Symphony during the time when Covid kept passenger occupancy at a far lower level than the ship’s capacity, and a year later on Wonder after the restrictions had lifted. The lack of crowds wasn’t the only reason I preferred Symphany though.

stern of Symphony of the Seas

The layout of the two ships is quite similar with each having a variety of areas Royal refers to as neighborhoods. Symphany has 7 neighborhoods – boardwalk, pool and sports zone, central park, royal promenade, entertainment place, youth zone, and vitality spa and fitness. Wonder adds one more with the suite class neighborhood, for suite guests only. Other than the youth zone which has places just for kids, the rest are open to everyone.

Central Park on Wonder

When booking on Symphony there wasn’t much difference in price between an ocean view balcony and an interior one in the boardwalk or central park. When booking Wonder the price difference was huge. We had balconies on both ships, with ocean view on Symphony and central park on Wonder. We weren’t sure how much we would like that interior balcony overlooking a garden rather than the sea, but we actually loved it. You don’t get the ocean view, but even when it rained nothing beyond the railing ever got wet. It was fully shaded more often than an ocean facing balcony. Either they improved their sound proofing between building Symphony and Wonder or they put more effort into sound proofing interior balcony cabins because our room on Symphony was near the back and we could hear the aqua show inside the cabin, but with the door shut on Wonder we couldn’t hear the band on the pool deck not far above us or anything else from the outside at all. I do still like ocean view balconies, just was surprised at how much we liked the other one as well.

the photo does not do this delicious gluten and dairy free Grand Marnier Souffle justice

The food was no comparison. We were quite surprised to find next to nothing specifically gluten free available at the buffet on Wonder when all the Royal ships we’d sailed on previously had a whole gluten free section in their buffets. Gluten free muffins were available for the asking at the bread station in Wonder’s buffet at breakfast, but besides having a whole gluten free section in their buffet, Symphony would make gluten free pancakes when asked for them at breakfast. With the gluten free section there was also no worry about whether things that are gluten free themselves had anything with gluten added into them. In the dining room Symphony made all sorts of fancy gluten and dairy free desserts for us, including a Grand Marnier souffle, whereas on Wonder they said pretty much any gluten free dessert was impossible to make. Both ships would make alterations to the main dishes to accommodate special diets that included breading or sauces rather than just leaving things off as we have experienced elsewhere. I don’t know if the changes are a new thing with Royal or if it was just who was in charge of the food on Wonder at the time of our sailing, but am hoping it was just the one chef and not a new cost-cutting thing across the fleet. The 24-hour cafe on the promenade always had several gluten-free treats to choose from on Symphony, but the one on Wonder never had any.

El Loco Fresh on Symphony’s pool deck

The buffet seemed smaller on Wonder, though they look similar in size when comparing the deck plans of one ship to the other. They’re not in the same location or even on the same deck. The layout of the two ships is not identical. The buffet is not the only thing that is not in the same place on both ships. We enjoyed the free solarium bistro on Wonder, where on Symphony it was never open any time we wanted to try it. It’s possible they just didn’t open it that cruise because of the reduced amount of passengers onboard, or maybe the hours were just so short we always missed it. On Symphony our go-to lunch spot was El Loco Fresh, their free Mexican eatery, but the line there on Wonder was ridiculously long so we only ate there once when we had lunch late enough for the line to have dissipated. The deck plans for the two ships are similar, but besides not everything being in the same location each ship has some features that the other doesn’t have.

piano stairs on Symphony of the Seas

Symphony had piano stairs that made music when walked on near the buffet, which we enjoyed quite a lot. If nobody else was on the stairs you could make the song go faster or slower by your speed on the stairway. I really missed them on Wonder which had none. Both ships had the same waterslides, zip line, and 10-deck dry slides. Symphony had two flowriders while Wonder had a kid’s play area in place of the second one. There was only ever one flowrider open while we were on Symphony, but there were a lot of things not open all that much due to their being less than a third of the passengers the ship can hold so they might use both when the ship is full. On Wonder if the flowrider line got too long they put a divider down the middle so they could get through the line twice as quickly which meant a shorter wait, but only use of half the space when your turn finally came.

slide entrance at the top of the Ultimate Abyss on Wonder

Both ships had 10-deck dry slides called the Ultimate Abyss at the back with the slides ending on the boardwalk near the aquatheater. The slides were the same on both ships. The aquatheaters were similar except Symphony’s had something that looked like sails around the outside of it while Wonder had a more solid looking structure surrounding its outer edge. Both ships had aqua shows and ice shows, but they were not the same exact show.

waterslides on Wonder of the Seas

Although both ships had the same three waterslides, Symphony had something there that Wonder did not. Symphony had cubbies under the slides near the entrance where people could put their things without hogging up chairs they aren’t actually using just to have somewhere to put their stuff. That is something I’ve always thought every ship should have at every water venue since towels often occupy more chairs than people do. It was quite disappointing to see that Wonder, which is a newer ship, was missing that feature. Good ideas and useful features like that should definitely be included on future ships rather than dropped. The only ship where I had previously seen towel cubbies was near a pool on MSC Divina. Not that people wouldn’t use towels to save chairs they aren’t currently using anyway, but at least people who only wanted to use the slide, pool, or whatever would have somewhere to put their things without taking up even more chairs they’re not sitting in.

drone lights at the ice show on Symphony

The ice show on Symphony started with a fleet of drone lights, but Wonder’s did not. Both had lots of skating and an ice-skating aerialist. The water shows both included diving from various levels interspersed with other elements of the show and a pool that was sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, and sometimes not even a pool. On Wonder we discovered that you could get a better view of the aqua show from the rock wall platforms than from its actual theater seating. There’s not room for many people there, but you can get there before the show starts because there are entrances from either a stairway up from the running track or a doorway at the end of the cabin hallway on deck 7.

best cruise ship track ever

Both ships have the best running track I’ve ever seen on a ship. The outside promenade deck is set up as a track with a walking lane and a running lane, markers for distance covered if you start at the marked start and charts that say how many laps equals what distance. Along the way there’s encouraging and entertaining signs. There are water fountains beside the track, but like every drinking fountain everywhere since covid they were turned off while we were there.

Wonder’s Golden Room tiny non-smoking casino

Wonder had a tiny casino called the Golden Room that was non-smoking, which Symphony didn’t have. It also had sliding glass doors on the main casino, but since they opened when anyone walked by inside or outside the casino rather than just if somebody wanted to actually go in or out they probably let out nearly as much smoke as the lack of doors on Symphony, at least during busy times like dinner when the elevator bays between the casino and dining room entrance were always crowded.

zip line

Overall either ship has lots to do and provides a fun vacation. Although Wonder is actually slightly larger, Symphony felt roomier in some areas. That could have been due either to the variations in the layout or the fact that there were a whole lot less people onboard. We were somewhat disappointed with the food on Wonder. We had great expectations for it after having a chef that went over the top to please the guests on Symphony so in the end I liked Symphony better. Other than the starting port our itinerary was the same for both ships.

gangway to board Wonder of the Seas

The boarding process was not good on either ship. On Symphony we were sent to a line in the port building that nobody was ever allowed out of by the person controlling who got to go up to the next available desk so the only way out of it was to make a run for a nearby desk that opened up when that person wasn’t looking. Meanwhile every other line cleared and refilled several times before any one group ever made it out of our line. Had they not had that person there people would have all just gone to the desk in front of their line when the people ahead of them had finished. On the Wonder the ship boarded late due to coast guard inspections and once the lines outside the port building finally started moving new arrivals were let through straight off the bus after the line for the first boarding time had cleared while everyone who had been standing outside in the other lines waiting for ages long past their scheduled boarding times had to stand there even longer watching people who just got there go right in.

Royal Caribbean’s map of CocoCay

We missed the port stop at CocoCay on Symphony due to bad weather, but did make it there on Wonder. The weather wasn’t the best for a beach day on a private island that time either though.

solarium on Symphony of the Seas

Both ships had an adults-only solarium, which is generally our favorite hang-out and a feature we really enjoy. It’s a free area that is better than the spa areas that you have to pay for on some ships. The solarium has hot tubs and deck chairs in a glassed-in enclosure with no smoking allowed. The sea views are nice and there’s protection from the sun and wind found on open decks. On Symphony and Wonder the solarium had its own bar and towel station as well as the bistro. I would definitely enjoy another cruise on either of these ships.

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Meraviglia in Nassau

Nassau is the largest city in the Bahamas and also the capital. There are over 700 islands in the Bahamas, but only about 30 are inhabited by people. The majority of those live in Nassau, which is located on New Providence Island. It is not the biggest island, actually coming in at only 12th in size. Summers are generally warm and wet with temperatures in the 80’s to 90’s Fahrenheit. Winters are dryer with temperatures in the 70’s to 80’s. The city was originally founded by British colonialists and some colorful historic buildings still remain from that era. Nearby Paradise Island is connected by bridges and is the home of the famous Atlantis resort. Currency is the Bahamian dollar, which is equal to the US dollar. US dollars are readily accepted there.

building in Nassau

Nassau is the busiest cruise port in the Bahamas. A lot of cruise lines have their own private islands in the Bahamas so itineraries going to those islands may include a stop at Nassau as well. Up to 7 ships can dock in Nassau at the same time. The docks empty into a street full of local shops, bars, and restaurants. The port is undergoing construction to add a new terminal building and retail space. Once that is finished it will probably turn into just another canned cruise port with all the same stores that all the other cruise ports have, likely putting some of those little local shops, bars, and restaurants out of business. People are always advised to bring their ID as well as their cruise card with them when leaving the ship, and Nassau was one of the few ports we’ve visited that actually ask to see that ID before they let you back into the port area to return to the ship.

straw market

As with any cruise port people can book excursions through the ship or other sources. There’s also things to do within walking distance of the dock, or taxis for those who don’t want to walk. Many local businesses sit just outside the port including the straw market, which has many booths where locals sell quite a variety of handmade products.

view of Atlantis from the ship

The Atlantis hotel is about a half hour walk away according to google maps. Day passes are available to buy online for anyone who wants to enjoy the resort’s water park and other attractions during their visit.

pirate bench at Graycliff

Graycliff hotel is just uphill of the port, about a 15-minute walk from the ship. It has a small chocolate factory that has chocolate making tours and a winery across the street that also has tours. These can be pre-booked through outside sources before the cruise.

old church in Nassau

About a 10 minute walk along the coast from the port leads to Margaritaville Beach Resort, and another 10 minutes past that to Junkanoo Beach, a popular beach for cruise ship passengers since it is the closest public beach to walk to.

Queen’s Staircase

There are other things within walking distance of the port as well. There are several historical forts. Fort Fincastle and the Queen’s Staircase next to it are about a 15-minute walk from the port. There’s a small charge to go inside the fort. It’s not very big, but offers a great view of the cruise dock. A row of booths where locals sell souvenirs line the lane next to the fort and an ice cream truck with the music playing and everything drove by while we were there, something I haven’t seen since I was a kid. The fort and staircase are both historical. Fort Montagu is a bit farther at about a 45 minute walk from the port.

Ardastra Garden & Wildlife

Ardastra Gardens & Wildlife Conservation Center is about a half hour’s walk from the port. It’s a small zoo with a lot of flamingos and some other birds and animals. There’s not a separate botanical garden, just plants between the animal exhibits, of which some have identifying signs. At $20 at the time of our visit the price to get in was kind of high compared to the number of things they had to see so we just thought of it as a donation to their animal rescue. There is another garden called Nassau Botanical Gardens nearby. It is a former quarry for Fort Charlotte and sits just behind the fort.

sign to various attractions

Other things to do include a pirate museum that is about a 7-minute walk from the port, Parliament Square which is only 2 minutes away, Pompey Square at a 7-minute walk, an art gallery 13 minutes walk from the ship, and a distillery at a 15-minute walk, and Fort Charlotte at 29 minutes away. Walk times are per google maps and start from the port exit so it’s a bit longer from the actual ship.

Hill Street

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Food on Celebrity Constellation

tea at Café al Bacio

Dining room food on Celebrity Constellation was generally quite good – at least mine was – and the waiters very attentive. It was really nice that the menu for the whole cruise is in the app so you can see if there are any nights where nothing thrills you if you want to pick a night to go to a specialty restaurant or just have dinner at the buffet.

pork chop with surprise breading

They do like to unnecessarily bread some of the meats though, and the fact that it is breaded may not be mentioned on the menu. For some reason while my dinners were usually top notch, they seemed to have a problem with overcooking John’s main, particularly seafood. Other than lobster or maybe shrimp I don’t generally order seafood so we thought seafood was the problem until one formal night when we both ordered Duck à l’Orange and broiled lobster.

the good duck

My duck was great. The color was a nice golden brown and it was cooked just right. His was very dark, shrunken, and leathery like jerky. So it wasn’t a seafood issue, it was just his food. The maître d’ was appalled that meal made it out into the dining room. The waiters were always apologetic and offered to get him something else, but with the other courses and mine usually big enough to share he never wanted to wait for another meal. The lobster was good that night so he had that and some of my tasty duck.

buffet desserts on an Italian themed night

We ate dinner at the buffet a few times. One advantage there is you can see what the food looks like before asking for anything.

Le Petite Chef making bouillabaisse

Our best meal of the cruise was at one of the ship’s premium restaurants, Qsine. The last  time we were on Celebrity, Qsine had an extensive menu of creative foods. They’ve completely changed the concept there now. You get a 4 course meal with one main menu and one alternative menu, of which you can pick each course from either. The food is quite good, but what makes the restaurant special now is that it is part meal, part entertainment. At each course a tiny cartoon chef makes the main menu item right on your plate. This includes things like catching fish and lobster wrangling. After the show the waitstaff serves each person the item they actually ordered for that course. It’s still called Qsine, but it’s also called Le Petite Chef.


We did not try any of the other specialty restaurants onboard, but the ship also offers a Tuscan Grill serving upscale Italian food and Sushi on Five with sushi and other Japanese favorites. Other food venues included small cafes at the spa and solarium, pastries, desserts, and gelato at the coffee bar, and a poolside grill. People staying in suites or Aquaclass cabins had their own separate dining rooms, but since we were not in those accommodations we never went there. Some items at the spa, solarium, and coffee bar were complimentary, others cost extra. The pool grill was complimentary, same as the dining room and buffet.

chocolate lava cake in the dining room

Room service was also an option, which we used a couple mornings with early port stops. They had a small complimentary breakfast menu which people could leave on the door the night before. There was also a room service menu for paid items. One of those early port mornings I ordered cereal through the complimentary room service. The order arrived on time with everything we had asked for, and two bundles of silverware wrapped in napkins – one for each of us. When unwrapped, each napkin contained a knife and a fork. There was no spoon included with the silverware, nor anywhere else on the tray. We called to ask for one and a guy showed up with 2 more wrapped bundles of knives and forks –  still no spoon. On the third try they finally brought two spoons. (We gave him a tip because it wasn’t his fault). That made one spoon to use and one to stash for the next early port morning, although the next time they actually brought a spoon for the cereal so it wasn’t needed.

gluten free desserts at the buffet

Ever been on a cruise ship where tables at the buffet are scarce and you can hardly get one to save your life? Not on this cruise. With just 700 passengers onboard there were open tables everywhere, no problem. It’s normally breakfast and lunch that are an issue, dinner at the buffet is mostly an uncrowded affair since the majority go to the dining room. Dinner at the buffet on this ship was a ghost town. Have any table you want. There was nobody else in sight from our table. The food was good with lots of different options. Other people did straggle through so they had some other business, but no lines or crowds and what few there were sat in different sections.

desserts at the buffet

Besides a variety of salads, sides, and main dishes, there was a whole dessert station for gluten free desserts and another bigger one with regular desserts. Plus the ice cream and cookie station was open and there’s always one dairy free sorbet there and some really delicious gluten free macaroons. (Macaroons are normally gluten free regardless of whether it is the coconut version like these or the French sandwich cookie style made from almond flour which is actually spelled macaron.) The buffet did not make gluten free pancakes at the waffle station like some ships do, but they did have gluten free bread available at one station for toast. Gluten free pancakes were available in the dining room at breakfast.

ice cream and cookies at the buffet

The delicious macaroons found in the buffet were also available at other places on the ship, and the coffee bar had some gluten free muffins. It also had a bunch of other pastries. The food there is free, but the specialty coffee, tea, or hot chocolate costs extra. It is mostly included with a beverage package, but some types of alcohol cost extra if you want to add a shot and don’t have a premium package. The gelato costs extra, but if you have previously sailed with Celebrity you get a scoop for free. We never buy the beverage package because the amount you have to drink to get your money’s worth is more per day than we’d likely drink for the entire cruise, but on this particular cruise a basic beverage package had been included in the fare – which usually means a ridiculously expensive fare, but this one was on sale for cheap. When I asked for a bit of amaretto in a hot chocolate at the coffee bar, the barista said that wasn’t included in the basic drink package so it would cost $1, but if I wanted to upgrade my package for $10 per day I wouldn’t have to pay that dollar. Somehow paying $10 per day for the rest of the cruise to save $1 on something I might have once or twice during the entire cruise made no sense whatsoever so I just paid the dollar.

pastries and desserts at the coffee bar

If you order tea at the coffee bar to go it comes in a paper cup, but if you order it for there it comes with a fancy tea pot and a biscuit in the English sense where it’s really a cookie.

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Wonder of the Seas Cabins

Boardwalk on Wonder of the Seas

Like all cruise ships, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas has a variety of staterooms and suites to choose from. Being the largest cruise ship in the world it has more types of cabins available than most.

interior cabin

Usually there’s not a whole lot of variety among inside cabins, but on this and Royal’s other Oasis class ships there is. These ships do have the traditional interior cabins with four walls around and no view to the outside, but they also have so much more.

interior cabin with virtual balcony

There are inside cabins with virtual balconies – where the view is digital rather than actual. This 80-inch high definition screen provides real time views of the outside, and can be turned off if desired.

promenade view cabin

Wonder of the Seas also has inside cabins with actual view windows. While these cabins do not face the sea, they have windows into either the royal promenade, central park, or boardwalk areas of the ship. The royal promenade is a fully enclosed area that looks something like a city street surrounded by shops and eateries. The promenade area extends for quite a length through the ship and up several stories with skylights into Central Park.

window and balcony cabins above Central Park

Central Park is in the center of the ship, but open to the sky. Cabins run along both sides with other ship structure at either end. Real live plants live in gardens and on part of the wall. The ground level has shops and eateries around the edges. Cabins rise above, the lowest level of which has windows. Similar to Central Park, the boardwalk area at the back of the ship is also interior, yet open to the sky. It is also open at the back other than screening around the aqua stage. This area too has shops and eateries at the ground level with cabins going up the sides.

balcony cabins and aquatheater suites at the back of the boardwalk

Windows aren’t the only thing found in interior cabins though. Both the boardwalk and central park areas have balcony cabins running up both sides above the shops and the lowest level of cabins that just have windows. These cabins have sliding doors opening out onto balconies just the same as the ones found on ocean facing sides of the ship, except that these balconies have views of central park or the boardwalk area.

ocean view cabin with porthole

Wonder of the Seas also has ocean view cabins with windows or portholes facing the sea like most other cruise ships.

ultra-spacious ocean view cabin

Some of these come in a larger-than-average size.

forward facing oceanview cabin

Most ocean view cabins are on the sides of the ship, but Wonder has some forward-facing ocean view cabins on several decks. A few of them are ultra-spacious, but most are the regular size.

ocean view balcony

Besides the interior cabins with balconies, Wonder does of course have ocean view balcony cabins as well. These are generally the same sort of cabin other than these cabins are located on the exterior of the ship where the balconies have views of the ocean.

Junior Suite

Suites come in many varieties ranging from junior suites up to two-level loft suites with more space than some people’s homes. There’s even an extremely kid-friendly ultimate family suite with a slide from the upper to lower level. At the back of the ship there are suites with decks that wrap around so they have views of the aquatheater as well as views of the sea.

sundeck for suite guests only

Wonder has less suites than other Oasis class ships as they cut the number of suites to make space for a special suite neighborhood with a private bar and sundeck areas for suite guests only. Apparently people in huge suites that often have giant private balconies need extra deck space that people in tiny cabins with small or no balconies don’t because areas reserved only for the people who already have the most space seems to be a thing on a lot of ships these days. Perhaps to help justify the exorbitant amount those suites often cost?

Royal Loft Suite

There are of course connecting rooms and accessible cabins available among different stateroom categories on the ship as well. Connecting cabins have a door between two cabins which can be unlocked if people staying on either side are together or left locked if they are not. You are more likely to hear your neighbors if the cabin has a connecting door so it is best to avoid those cabins unless you are traveling with the people next door and actually want to use that connection. Accessible cabins are generally the largest within their category, and will have features like wider doors, bigger showers, and some features lowered so they can be reached from a wheelchair.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Royal Caribbean, Wonder of the Seas | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Full Body UV Swimsuit Review

snorkel excursion from Celebrity Constellation in Aruba

Taking a Caribbean cruise when you’re only allowed very limited sun exposure requires some planning if you want to spend much time anywhere other than the inside portion of the ship. While I do normally avoid excessive sun exposure anyway, having been bitten by the nasty sort of tick on a trip to Vermont shortly before a cruise and having to take doxycycline for several weeks to prevent Lyme disease, I ended up being on doxycycline at the time of a Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas. I had booked this cruise months before the tick bite after years of wanting to sail on a ship of that class. One side effect of doxycycline is extreme sun sensitivity, thus the need for more sun avoidance than usual, which is not good for a Caribbean cruise.

snorkel selfie in UV suit and much-hated snorkel vest sometimes required on cruise ship excursions

We had a snorkel excursion planned for our trip, which I did not want to cancel. Instead I ordered a full-body UV swimsuit, which would provide better UV protection than sunscreen does. The benefits with this sort of outfit for anyone are not needing to use sunscreen everywhere it covers and being able to stay out in the water longer as you are better protected than with sunscreen. Of course on snorkel excursions water time is limited to whatever the excursion has scheduled, but there have been times when we’ve been snorkeling from the beach on our own that I’d have stayed out longer if it weren’t for sunburn concerns. Obviously only coral safe sunscreen should be used in tropical waters regardless of what a person wears, even with the UV suit where sunscreen is only needed on your face and other limited exposed skin. A UV suit is also great for the flowrider when sailing on one of Royal’s ships that has one. Besides offering more body protection from the board or potential wipeouts on the flowrider than a smaller swimsuit, it’s also helpful when waiting in line in the blazing sun and for sun protection on the flowrider itself which is out in the open on the top deck. And there’s no worries about your sun protection wearing off or washing off after time spent in the water either.

5-piece UV swimsuit

I ordered a 5-piece suit from a company called Light in the Box, whose expedited shipping proclaimed to take 9 days max, which just gave me a few days leeway. As it turned out they meant they would ship it in 9 days max, not that it would arrive in that amount of time. It also came direct from China rather than from New York as the website had implied. With just a few days left until leaving for my trip when I found this out, I had zero chance of this suit arriving on time. That’s not something any local stores would carry even in the summer, and this was a fall cruise so I had to find one somewhere at the last minute that would arrive in time.

3-piece UV swimsuit

I found another site called Modlily (which now goes by Calypsa) that had full body suits. I ordered online with the help of their chat person to be sure I only ordered things they had in stock that could ship overnight. This company is located in the USA and expedited shipping actually means you will get the product right away. This was a 3-piece suit that consisted of long pants with an attached skirt, a full-length top with ¾ sleeves, and a swim bra, which could be worn alone as a top. The shirt had scoop neck or high neck options and considering as little sun exposure as possible was the goal I ordered the high neck, but without the tick thing I’d actually have preferred the scoop neck both in looks and fit. This suit was more expensive than the other, but the product is of better quality. Most importantly it came when they said it would so I had it when I needed it the most.

adding an additional top

The 5-piece suit arrived before my next cruise a couple months later on Celebrity Constellation so I tried it out then. The doxycycline was long in the past by then, but the UV swimsuit was still a nice addition to the vacation wardrobe. It came with bikini bottoms, long pants, a separate swim skirt that could go over either, a top similar to the swim bra that came with the other suit, and a jacket. What it did not have was a long top without the jacket so I ordered a tank-top style top from Calypsa so I’d have that option if I didn’t need the jacket and didn’t want an exposed middle. Having all the different pieces is nice and really useful because you have options for more of a regular swimsuit when you don’t need full coverage, but the option for full coverage when you do. Or for layering when you want all the options.

UV suit in action

Both suits ran a bit tighter than expected when ordering according to what the size charts on their websites said would fit so when ordering the extra top to go with the 5-piece suit after the fact I went with a size bigger than what the chart said to buy. It was far easier to get on and off than the other pieces, though a bit looser than ideal so something in between the two sizes would have been perfect. If ordering again I’d go with the bit larger size in either brand.

snorkel excursion from Symphony of the Seas in Saint Thomas

For anyone who spends much time in the water whether it’s snorkeling, swimming, surfing, or any other watersport a full-body UV suit is a good investment as you can spend more time on the water without sunburning and use a whole lot less sunscreen. Another bonus is you can just wear your suit on excursions that take a boat to somewhere without the need for a coverup or other clothing over the top of your suit. It’s not the brand of swimsuit that matters, just that wearing one is beneficial both to yourself for better sunburn protection as well as money saved on sunscreen, and for the environment with a reduction in the use of sunscreen.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023


Posted in Caribbean, Celebrity, Constellation, Product Reviews, Royal Caribbean, Symphony of the Seas | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MSC Meraviglia

Meraviglia in Cozumel

At over 1036 feet in length and 141 in width, with 15 passenger decks and a passenger capacity of 4500 in 2,250 cabins, MSC Meraviglia entered service in June of 2017 as the 6th largest cruise ship in the world behind Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class ships and AIDAnova. With bigger and bigger ships coming out all the time it has currently fallen to number 14 with Wonder of the Seas joining Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class as the current biggest. Following all of Royal’s Oasis class ships there are now 2 other MSC ships, 2 AIDA, 2 from Costa, one P&O, and one Carnival larger than MSC Meraviglia that are now sailing the seas. Of course that place won’t last long as various lines bring out bigger and bigger ships. Royal has ships that once launched as the biggest in the world and don’t even make the top 30 anymore. Meraviglia means a thing of beauty or something remarkable, marvelous, or wonderful. Google translate’s one word translation is wonder, which seems pretty coincidental for us since we boarded the Meraviglia directly after disembarking Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas.

dome show with the dome as looking out from the inside of a submarine before it submerges

One of Meraviglia’s most impressive features is the dome over the promenade area, AKA the galleria. The lower level has shops and eateries. A second story runs along the edges with a pub and premium (pay extra) restaurants on either side. A curved dome roof runs the length the promenade, but it’s not any ordinary roof. It’s a video screen with visuals that change often. It can display anything from fancy ceilings to puffy white clouds in a blue sky – clouds that resemble continents. Sometimes there are dome shows which vary from randomly changing color patterns to sequential shows like the one depicting a submarine dive to an Atlantis full of mermaids. It even displayed the lighthouse show while the live lighthouse show happened outside when the ship was docked at MSC’s private island, Ocean Cay. The lighthouse show is an ever-changing colorful display of lights on the island’s lighthouse.

main pool deck where the big screen TV often had a crowd watching soccer games

Meraviglia has all the things people have come to expect in a large cruise ship with pools, hot tubs, waterslides, a ropes course, a gym, and a spa. There is an indoor pool and hot tub area as well as the ones on the outside deck. It has a walking/running track, but it is the crappy sort that is pretty much just painted onto the upper deck exposed to the elements and often crowded with people who just need to get from one place to another rather than using it as a track. In addition to the main theater for typical cruise ship production singing and dancing shows, they have another theater called the Carousel Theater with a round revolving stage and lots of aerial acts.

Swarovski crystal stairway

Another feature is the Swarovski crystal stairway to the main lobby by guest services.

indoor sports court

There was an extensive area of pay-extra entertainment near the kids clubs. Far more than the usual cruise ship arcade, it had an interactive movie theater, a bowling alley, and some rides. There was also quite a large indoor sports court in that area.

lighthouse on Ocean Cay

Some areas of the ship are exclusive for guests of their “ship within a ship” called the MSC Yacht Club where an inside cabin costs nearly as much as a huge fancy suite that is not in the Yacht Club area and the prices go up from there. Yacht Club guests have their own bar (with unlimited free drinks), sundeck, pool, and exclusive restaurant. They also have 24-hour butler service and priority boarding and check-out, free wi-fi, and some exclusive shore excursions. If the ship sails to MSC’s private island in the Bahamas, Ocean Cay, they also have a private beach on the island just for Yacht Club guests. One of the ship’s elevators was also usually exclusively for their use.

wall art in the buffet

We booked an 11-day cruise as all one segment, but it was technically a back-to-back with a 7-day cruise followed by a 4-day cruise. The first 7 days was over Thanksgiving and the ship was packed full. Apparently it is a thing for extended families to book a bunch of cabins and all cruise together for Thanksgiving. About a quarter of the passengers onboard were kids. Maybe the parents figure since there’s already a couple days off that week they only have to take them out of school for a few days for the cruise. Some of them are probably home schooled or do online school, but with that many a lot must attend regular schools. The second segment of our cruise had just about 1000 passengers, nowhere near the over 4000 from the first week so it was more peaceful as nothing was crowded then.

picture of Machu Picchu on the Machu Picchu deck

Although some of the pictures around the ship aren’t necessarily what people would choose to decorate their homes, there wasn’t near the amount of weird, odd, strange, or ugly art found on most cruise ships. A few questionable statues here and there, but nowhere near the crazy decor some ships have. Most of the decor was tasteful. One unique feature in the artwork of this ship was decks named after various places in the world and photos of those places near the elevators, with each deck displaying photos of the place it is named after.

elevator panel with all of the deck names and numbers

While ships from American cruise lines tend to not have a deck 13, this one did have deck 13, but was missing deck 17. MSC is an Italian cruise line and apparently in Italy 17 is considered an unlucky number because one anagram of the Roman numeral XVII is VIXI, which in Latin translates as “I have lived” with the implication of “My life is over” or “I’m dead.” Also the biblical flood began on the 17th day of the month, and in Greek mythology Odysseus floated on a raft for seventeen days. On the other hand in tarot cards 17 is lucky – the card of the stars symbolizing wishes will come true.

star dancers and others in a stage show

There were free shows in the main theater most nights, which had 3 times to choose from that had to be reserved in advance on our first cruise when the ship was booked full, but only 2 showtimes nightly and you could just walk in without reservations on the last 4 days when there was less than a quarter of the number of people onboard. Some of their production shows were good, but one was pretty boring. We were most entertained by a couple of the cast whom we referred to as happy guy and awkward girl. Neither of them were the star dancers. Happy guy always had a huge smile, engaged with the audience, and looked like he had a lot of fun performing and loved being onstage, whereas awkward girl always had her eyes facing up and never once looked at the audience. Her dancing was probably technically correct, but she looked stiff and uncomfortable while doing it. In one of the shows the two were paired up together, though their dancing styles couldn’t have been more opposite.

aerialists in the Carousel Theater

There were also several performances each of their special shows in the carousel theater. These required reservations even when the ship wasn’t crowded and the small fee covered both the show and a drink. The fee was not much more than the price of a drink, so not a major expense. There were 2 different shows at that theater, of which the rock show was better than the Houdini show. The same cast performed in both shows, but were a different group than the ones from the main theater.

shrimp appetizers

The food was usually good, but their idea of making things gluten or lactose free was generally to limit the options you could choose from to things that already didn’t have any noodles or breading and then take away any sauces, gravies, or side dishes containing gluten or dairy. They did not make much if anything specifically gluten-free in house so the only gluten-free bread items came from a freezer and had to be thawed for use.

Meriviglia lobby

Their app could definitely use some improvement. Hopefully they have worked on it since our cruise because it was lacking some useful features other ships have, not as easy to navigate as others, and some of the features it was supposed to have didn’t work. At the start of the cruise I was logged into the app on my phone with my info and password. John’s info and password had never been used on that phone, yet it showed his profile instead of mine. His phone where he was logged in with his own info and password also showed his profile. It didn’t seem to acknowledge my existence at all. I got that fixed the next morning from one of their internet guys (who are found in the photo section because there isn’t a specific area for internet). A bit later that morning when we tried to charge something to the room card we discovered that fixing the app to show my profile on my phone deleted my credit card from our account. It had been registered to the account online before the cruise and had worked for both of us up to that time, and neither after. Fixing that issue required help from the screener guy who decides who gets to see customer service or not. The kiosk that is supposed to fix that sort of thing wouldn’t solve the problem even when he tried to do it for me until he input a bunch of info into his tablet. It was good when the screener guy could help because he got through about ten people in the amount of time it took customer service to help one even when they had several desks open. (I was in line about 25 minutes before the screener got to me and only 1 person from the line moved up to the customer service desk in all that time even though there were 3 desks open.) Their customer service definitely needed improvement – like faster people or more desks open during busy times since the main movement in that line came from the screener either helping people himself or sending them elsewhere.

dome show after the submarine gets to Atlantis

That’s not the only line that didn’t move fast, which really isn’t that surprising because speedy or efficient lines just really aren’t MSC’s thing. The app was not working for booking some things and they had just one person at the seafood restaurant doing all the bookings for all specialty restaurants and the premium shows. That line mainly only moved when people got tired of waiting and left. If the app had been working I wouldn’t have needed to be in that line at all. We had pre-booked a couple specialty shows at the carousel theater before the cruise and signed up for showtimes with somebody in a little booth on the promenade on boarding day, but that booking did not show up in the app so I had gone to see if we actually had showtimes reserved or not. It turned out the times were booked, it was just one more thing on the app that wasn’t working. The app did not show those particular shows for anyone, though it would show the free ones which you actually could book through the app. Later we tried to book a shore excursion for the lighthouse climb at Ocean Cay through the app and that didn’t work either. I had to go to the shore excursion desk to book it. That excursion is cheap and well worth doing so best to book it online pre-cruise if heading to Ocean Cay.

chocolate dragon

More unique and interesting things the Meraviglia has are a place at the buffet where they make their own fresh mozzarella cheese and a chocolate shop on the promenade that makes its own chocolates. The chocolates are pretty expensive, but look tasty. There’s also a coffee bar there. You would think a chocolate shop would specialize in fancy flavors of hot chocolate, but the selection is mainly coffee, though you can get hot chocolate there. The display cases around the chocolate shop have some pretty fancy chocolate sculptures they made there.


We thought it was a bit weird that people had to sign a waiver to use the waterslides. We’ve not seen that previously on any ship. Waivers are sometimes required on shore excursions, especially if you’re doing something like snorkeling or zip-lining, but the only things we’d previously seen them onboard for were things like rock climbing walls, flow riders, or an ice-skating arena, none of which Meraviglia has. Two of the three waterslides were fun ones used with your choice of single or double tubes. The third one is the bowl sort that I personally avoid. The reason for the waivers was apparent when getting to the top of the slides and finding no crew member up there to monitor when people go down making sure nobody slides while somebody else is still on it.  You just go when you want to.

dome portraying a stained-glass ceiling

Overall we enjoyed our cruise on the Meraviglia. It’s a nice ship with a lot of things to do and a variety of places to go onboard.

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Dubai Mall

walkway by the fountain outside of Dubai Mall

Dubai Malls

Dubai has many malls, one of which is called Dubai Mall. It’s gigantic, but not the biggest mall in the world. The tallest building in the world, called the Burj Khalifa, is located at that mall. Dubai’s other most famous mall is the Mall of Emirates, which is the one with the indoor skiing and snow park. There are also numerous other malls, one of which is the Italian themed Mercato Mall where free shuttles will bring you from the cruise ship port.

one of many hallways of shops at Dubai Mall

We took the shuttle to Mercato Mall on our first day in Dubai which saved both time and money from getting a taxi at the port. Time because there were far more people wanting taxis than there were taxis available, and money because besides the shuttle being free, once you are in town rather than at the port you can take a taxi between locations for a lot less. Our ship, the MSC Lirica, overnighted in Dubai before disembarkation so we had an extra day to spend there without needing a hotel. My pre-cruise online research indicated there were other mall shuttles from the port, but when we were there only the one to Mercato Mall was running. We spent the first day seeing some of the sights around Dubai, then went to Global Village, which didn’t open until late afternoon.

inside Dubai Mall

Dubai Mall

On our second morning there we bypassed the whole taxi and shuttle process and called an Uber. While other passengers vied for the available taxis or waited for the next shuttle, our Uber came fairly quickly and we could go wherever we wanted for less money than in a taxi. That day we wanted to go to the Dubai Mall. We had all our luggage as it was disembarkation day. We also had a very late flight after midnight. Not wanting to drag luggage around all day, our first stop was luggage storage at the Dubai Mall. They have places that will store your things for the day for a per bag fee. They even said they could deliver it to the airport if we wanted (for an extra fee of course), but we chose to pick it up there and take it to the airport ourselves. We used a luggage storage area near the parking garage, and later discovered that they also have luggage storage where you buy the tickets to go up to the top of the Burj Khalifa. They have other luggage storage locations as well.

cafe at Dubai Mall

Once we got our luggage squared away we went to get tickets for the Burj Khalifa. The basic ticket takes you to levels 124 & 125, and the sky level tickets bring you up to the 148th floor. You can get a bit higher in a lounge that offers afternoon tea, sunset dinner, or evening cocktails. We got the sky level tickets for later in the afternoon, which give you access to the 124th and 125th stories on your way back down from the 148th floor, and VIP access to bypass the line of people who only got the tickets to the lower levels on the way up. Though we had a specific time booked, our tickets gave us the option of arriving anywhere from an hour before to an hour after the scheduled time. The mall had plenty to do to keep us busy until our time to go up the Burj Khalifa.

live fish swimming in a tank that serves as the window into the aquarium store

Dubai Mall is not just a shopping mall. It’s a destination in itself, complete with a hotel in the mall as well as one in the Burj Khalifa. Trying to find your way around there can give one the feeling of being a rat in a maze. Even their mall locator app seemed confused as it led us around in circles for over an hour finding something that took us 5 minutes to get back to where we started from on our own.

at a sweet shop in the mall we found chocolate camels made from camel milk chocolate

Dubai Mall has over 13 million square feet of shopping, dining, and entertainment space. Just wandering around the mall looking at things could keep a person amused for hours. If you’re into shopping there are of course a seemingly endless supply of stores selling just about everything. Also multiple food courts and other eateries scattered about the mall. Food in Dubai is expensive though, as is pretty much everything else.

giant video wall

For people who are leaving a cruise ship as we were, or those checking out of a hotel with a flight much later in the day than disembarkation or check-out time, the mall is a great place to hang out for the day since it has luggage storage service so you don’t have to drag your bags around all day.

aquarium under the video wall

Other than food and shopping, there’s plenty to do at the mall. It has an aquarium and underwater zoo. Some of the aquarium’s tanks can be seen from outside of the aquarium itself so there are some fish to look at without paying the fee to go in. Like everything in Dubai, it’s kind of pricey to go in and we had already splurged for the premium sky level tickets to the Burj Khalifa so other than getting some food, we didn’t do anything else that cost extra.

bridge over the manmade lake at Dubai Mall

The mall also has cinemas, an ice-skating rink, an indoor theme park, a haunted house, and a virtual reality park. There’s even a real dinosaur skeleton. Outside the mall there’s a manmade lake with a boardwalk around it. The manmade lake has quite an impressive fountain. It doesn’t run continuously, but has both daytime and nighttime fountain shows, and they’re all free.

fountain show by Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa

We saw the daytime shows from a couple different vantage points, with hardly anyone else around. The evening shows are far more crowded. We watched one from up in the Burj Kalifa, one from just outside the mall door since we got there just as it started, and one from a little bridge that seemed to be there just for that purpose. Most of the shows had Arabic music, but the liveliest one of the evening shows had the fountain going to the tune of Baby Shark – with the words in English. In the evening little boats sailed around the lake so people could see the fountain show up close from a boat ride – for a price of course.

giant Christmas ornaments hanging from the ceiling

People in Dubai are from all over with 80% foreign and 20% local, but they all seem to speak English. At least those that work where they have contact with tourists. We were there in December and like other touristy places in Dubai, the mall was all decorated up for Christmas even though Dubai is in an Islamic country.

one store had polar bear themed decor

The mall itself had decorations as did individual stores, and the locals still shopped there. None of them seemed the least bit offended by Christmas decorations anywhere we went in Dubai.

coffee from a little cafe at the airport

Leaving from the mall is easy enough by taxi or uber, assuming you can find your way out. We called an uber for a ride to the airport after picking up our luggage from the storage area and it didn’t take long for the car to arrive.

man-made lake by Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2023
Posted in Lirica, Middle East, MSC, Port Cities | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Things To Do on Symphony of the Seas

Symphony of the Seas in Saint Martin next to Rhapsody of the Seas

Cruise ships all have a variety of things to do onboard, some significantly more than others. Symphony of the Seas and others of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class have way more to do than most. There are of course the usual cruise ship amenities with plenty of food, bars, pools, hot tubs, and things to entertain yourself with like cornhole, shuffleboard, and other games, but on these ships there is so much more.


Besides the usual pools and hot tubs, water sports include three waterslides, two flowriders, and a kid’s splash area with little kid-sized waterslide – not to mention an Aquatheater  at the stern where they put on quite the show.

mini golf course on Symphony of the Seas

No matter what a person is into doing on a ship they can probably find it on Symphony of the Seas. They have all the usual trivia, exercise classes, bingo, and that sort of thing. There’s a basketball court, ping pong tables, mini golf, arcades, and kid’s clubs.

Ultimate Abyss 10-deck slides and rock-climbing walls

There’s also less common things like rock climbing walls, ice skating rink, 10-deck dry slides, and the flowriders. These were not all open all day during our sailing, just when they had crew manning them, and the skating rink didn’t have any public sessions where passengers could skate like the last Royal ship I was on did. The crew seemed to move from one venue to another, closing one thing to open the next.  Since the ship had significantly less than half the number of passengers it can hold there were probably less crew available to man those sorts of things than there would be when the ship sails full. Things were rarely ever crowded though so that was nice.

looking up at the Ultimate Abyss slides

The gym had lots of elliptical trainers and treadmills, something that some ships never seem to have enough of. There were always some available anytime we went into the gym. That may not be the case if the ship was full though. The gym was not fully enclosed and sometimes had the unwanted scent of cigarette smoke wafting in from the casino – definitely not something anyone wants to breathe in while they are trying to workout. Adding doors to both gym and casino would help, but probably not likely to happen.

running track on the promenade deck

This ship had the best outside promenade deck ever. Besides going all the way around, it was actually set up like a track. It had a starting point and then markers along the way to tell you how far you had gone if you started at the marked start. It also had signs saying how many laps equaled various distances. There were some funny and some encouraging signs along the way with individual signs on the sides and various things painted in a series up above. On the one cruise where I left my running shoes at home figuring I wouldn’t need to run since the ship had plenty of active things to do, the promenade was so nice for running I really wished I’d brought them.

Barbara all decked out in zipline gear

Symphony of the Seas even has a zip line. It’s just one short zip reminiscent of the easy sort of training one they sometimes have for people to give it a try at the beginning of a zip line course, but it is on a ship with limited space for such things. After I gave it a go one of the crew people working there asked what I thought of it. I said that my sisters would probably be more impressed as they’d never done one before, but I found the fact that they had one on a ship at all pretty awesome. He said they were trying to work up a way to make a better one. Sure enough, the sisters were both quite impressed since neither has ever done an actual zipline course. Barbara even had the foresight to ask if she could have another go rather than taking her equipment off as expected and since it wasn’t crowded they let her. Just as she was getting ready for that second go a photographer showed up so she even got a photo, something I did not take of anyone since we couldn’t take cameras or anything with us on the zipline so I didn’t have anything to take photos with at the time.


As previously mentioned, like most cruise ships Symphony of the Seas has a casino.

piano stairs

There’s even make-it-yourself music in the form of piano stairs. If there is more than one person on the stairway the song plays at normal speed, but if you are the only one you can make it speed up or slow down by the speed in which you go up and down the stairs. The stairs aren’t actually piano keys, but they have sensors so they know to make music when anyone is there. Besides things to do on your own there’s also entertainment to watch with a variety of shows and music in various places around the ship. There’s not just theater shows, though the ship does have them. There’s also ice-skating shows, and a water show in the Aquatheater at the back of the ship. The Aquatheater also has movie screens.

all dressed up for formal night

For people who buy a photo package or just like having their picture taken to see if any turn out well, there were always several places to have photos taken in the evenings. This was most popular on formal nights where lines could get long at the most popular stations, but there were more stations than on other nights so shorter lines were often available elsewhere. On this ship the photos are all digitally displayed in kiosks where you look up your own to see how they turned out, so no bunches of photos printed out that just end up in the garbage if people don’t buy them.

random passengers looking at the crazy art for sale

Looking at the artwork around the ship can also be entertaining. A lot of cruise ship art makes a person wonder who chooses it, what they were thinking when they did, and why anyone would want to display a lot of the pieces. Even the artwork for sale can be fun to look at. Some of it is nice, but a lot is often odd paintings. Many of the same ones are available on multiple ships. Art auctions can be entertaining with a good auctioneer or incredibly boring with a bad one.


Lying around in deck chairs is always popular on cruise ships, and Symphony has plenty of those. At least there were plenty on our cruise with the ship at around a third of its passenger capacity. There are chairs in both shady and sunny areas on outside decks, and even a few at the water’s edge in the beach pool. There’s also lots of loungers in the more indoor location of the adults-only solarium, which has glass all around and above. The solarium also has hot tubs, its own towel station, a bar, and a bistro.

a row of carved carousel horse statues with each more finished than the last leads up to the completed one by the carousel

You can stroll through a garden in Central Park or ride on a carousel on the Boardwalk. Of course there are shops – in more than one location rather than just the usual row of them most ships have. There’s also more than the usual amount of bars and a bigger variety of food places than smaller ships have too. If anyone gets bored on this ship it’s their own fault because there are so many different things to do you just have to go do them.

Central Park, pools, and waterslides

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