Leavenworth at Christmastime

sleigh ride in Leavenworth

climbing into a sleigh the hard way – it had a step on the other side

Nestled in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains near Stevens Pass sits a Bavarian-themed town called Leavenworth. It’s a great tourist destination year-round, but near Christmas the town really comes alive with a festival of lights. Strung with Christmas lights Bavarian style hotels light up the town for the holiday. A small park is the hub of activity with lights, carolers, free sledding with sleds provided, and a Christmas market.
On the outskirts there is more fun to be found in the form of sleigh rides or dogsledding, with sleigh rides the far more affordable option of the two.

sleigh ride sign

Icicle Outfitters sleigh ride sign

If you’re there without a car, Icicle Outfitters will pick you up in town and bring you to their sleigh ride venue near a fish hatchery outside of town. There’s also room to park for those who come by car. In the summertime Icicle Outfitters has trail rides and pack trips.

sleigh waiting for riders

mule team with tarped sleigh

We pulled up to see a team of mules on one large sleigh, horses on another, and a smaller one-horse open sleigh. Actually they were all open sleighs, the ones with teams of 2 were just bigger. Since we came with a group of 10 we had a big sleigh just for our party. The price for the ride is quite reasonable. Most of our group came from Australia, so for them snow is a rarity.

sleigh ride in Leavenworth

riding in the 2-mule open sleigh

There’s often news about warming temperatures and diminishing ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, but global warming affects other places as well. The ski area at Stevens Pass opened very late due to lack of snow this year, and the day we went to Leavenworth it was actually raining – in December. They did have snow on the ground from previous snows, getting slushy from the rain, but still enough for a sleigh ride. Unfortunately rain on an open sleigh means you get wet.

group of travelers

8 Aussies and 2 Americans warming up after a sleigh ride

There was a tarp over the sleigh before we got in, but being the last ride of the day the blankets both on the seats and for over our laps were already wet. This would definitely be a better activity for a day without rain, but we were just there for one day and we can’t control the weather so we went for a sleigh ride anyway.

kids at Christmas

kids making Christmas ornaments for the tree in the tent building after the sleigh ride

It’s a pretty long ride mostly winding around through an open field, but a bit of it went on a trail between some trees. If the trees were too dense there wouldn’t be enough snow for a sleigh since they can only go where they have snow. We had the mule team pulling our sleigh. Mules have a horse mother, a donkey father, and much bigger ears than horses. At the start of our ride the driver sang some carols, and a few people sang along. During the course we saw a couple other sleighs out and about and once the mules even trotted a bit. Mostly they walked.

keeping warm on a rainy day in the snow

campfire between the tents

The starting and finishing area for the rides had two tent buildings with a campfire in between. One was for organizing and making payment at the start of the ride. The other we went into at the end of the ride. There everyone could warm up by the wood stove and have cookies with hot chocolate or cider. Some of the kids made ornaments to add to the tree at the far end of the tent.

kids love snow

Australian kids having their first snowball fight

Some of the Australian kids never had a chance to play in snow before so they braved the wet and cold for a snowball fight in the dark.

Bavarian building in Leavenworth

all the buildings in Leavenworth look Bavarian

While most people come to Leavenworth by car, anyone who doesn’t want to drive up a possibly snowy pass or over roads that may be icy to get there in winter can arrive by bus or train. The train station is not in town, but there is a shuttle that stops at some of the hotels to bring people to and from the station. It’s a very popular destination so it’s a good idea to book early.

Leavenworth Christmas lights

Christmas lights in Leavenworth

Leavenworth started out as an ordinary settlement with an economy depending on gold, furs, and logging. The town nearly died out when the railroad re-routed out of town until they had the idea to go Bavarian, throw in some festivals, and attract tourists to feed their lagging economy.

lights on a tree

Leavenworth Christmas Lights

Leavenworth has lots of shops selling all sorts of unique things that make great gifts. There’s even a couple stores dedicated to Christmas all year long. Another store sells all manner of hot sauces and other items like honey and mustard. Clothes, shoes, hats, and knick knacks are plentiful, as is food in both the ready to eat and take home varieties.

Merry Christmas!

Leavenworth sleigh ride

another sleigh we saw in passing

copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in USA, Washington | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Chacchoben Mayan Ruins

ruins map

map of the ruins on the trail

Due to unexplained technological difficulties, Holland America Veendam arrived in Costa Maya 2 hours late. Norwegian Pearl and Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas were already at the dock. The Pearl appeared significantly plainer than when we cruised on it some years back. It still has the hull art at the bow, but the stern art was gone and as far as I could see from the dock and from the deck of the Veendam, all the artwork around the promenade deck was gone as well. I wondered if they had redecorated the inside too and got rid of all the random beds that were scattered about the ship back then.

tree in the ruins

all the ruins at Chacchoban were once buried in the jungle, and trees still grow on some of them

In the port at Costa Maya there are all sorts of booths offering last minute tours. The tour booths might take your ship card for payment, but hardly anybody at the port takes cash. The shops, bars, and restaurants mostly all want credit or debit cards. There is quite a lot at the port. When you finally make it through to the far end and out of the fenced in port area you can walk right out, but there’s a gate guard checking people on the way back in. The security guard just outside the port said it takes an hour to walk to Mahahual, the closest town.


the backside the pyramid nearest the entrance looks shorter than the other 3 sides

Outside the port the road you first walk down goes by a mostly abandoned shopping center, heading toward what looks like an ancient pyramid from a distance. When you get there you can see it is actually a fountain. Cabs waited alongside the road, some drivers crossing the street looking for customers among the people walking up the other side. They said $2 a person to go to town, or $50 each for 2 people to go to the Mayan ruins about 45 minutes away. We kept on walking, wanting to at least make it as far as the pyramid.

small Mayan ruin

we found some small ruins with no other people around

Just beyond the pyramid fountain we saw a little stand set up offering tours to Chacchoben ruins with a sign advertising the cheapest price around. They were dismantling their stand when we got there. Since ours is a small ship and got to port late, plus we waited a bit to get off to give the line at the gangway time to clear, I suppose they didn’t expect many more people to go by looking for a tour. We asked about the price anyway and they said $55 each including the entry fee at the ruins, which the cabs we passed had not mentioned in their $50 price. She also said the walk to town was just 25 minutes, and that it’s a nice and safe walk. She did not say if the tour cost any less if they had enough people to fill a van.

roofed pyramid

this pyramid atop a plateau had a roof hanging off the back

Turning onto the street heading toward town we saw another row of cabs. I’d have liked the walk, but John’s knee was bothering him so he wanted to just pay the $2 and take the cab. Once we got in the driver said he could take us both to the ruins for $80 total if we wanted to go there instead of town. He also must have figured he was running out of opportunities, and probably would make more money at that rate then ferrying people back and forth from town for $2. People outside the port are perfectly happy to take cash. Places in Mexico frequented by tourists normally do accept American money. So many places within the port not doing so was rather odd.

jungle trail to Mayan ruins

one of the trails between ruins at Chacchoban

We decided to go ahead and take him up on the offer to take us to the ruins since his price was $20 less for the two of us than anyone else’s. If you go by cab they take you there and then wait for an hour to give you time to walk around the ruins and the same cab takes you back. You pay when you get back to the port, or town if you choose to get dropped off there, where you can catch a different cab back for the $2. At the lot they collect $4 for the cab to park and wait. Then at the entry you pay $4 each to get in and walk around on your own. Guides are available for an additional fee, which is more than the entry fee. The entry area has banos (bathrooms), some souvenir shops, and a place selling stuff to drink. Once you go out to the ruins it is all jungle and trails leading to several different areas with ruins. We saw some butterflies and ants, but no mosquitoes. It’s actually quite rare to see a mosquito on a cruise and we’ve never seen one anywhere in the Caribbean.

big pyramid

this big pyramid is the closest to the entrance

The first pyramid in is a pretty large and impressive one. From what you see from the ground up it looks like the biggest one there, but that’s deceptive because there are others on a plateau that is actually a pyramid itself so what looks like the bottom is really closer to halfway up.


small ruin at Chacchoban

the taller of the two small ruins

We took the trail out from the back side which eventually took us to some small ruins. The tours must not go there because we saw nobody else until we were nearly back again. The dirt trails have a washed over look about them that appears as if they are sometimes under water, or at least have water rushing over them. Or perhaps they have just been worn smooth by many, many feet.

Mayan ruin

the top of a small ruin looks like it might have once been rooms

There were 2 small pyramids or perhaps portions of former residences at the end of that trail. Small and unimpressive enough to explain why the tours didn’t venture there, but it was nice to be able to explore a couple ruins without any other people around.

Chacchoban ruins

at first glance these ruins don’t look impressive, but then you walk up them…


walking up the ruins, which are taller than they look at first glance and have a surprise at the top

The trail out the other side of the big pyramid leads to a crossroad where you can go straight and see different ruins or turn right and see the same pyramid from the back. We went straight. There were a couple tour groups with cameras in the air and backs to the ruins at the end of that trail. It turned out there were monkeys in the trees above. The ruin there didn’t look all that impressive until you walk up to the top of it and find the plateau. There are 2 more pyramids on the plateau.

roofed pyramid

you can walk along the edge of the roofed side of this pyramid – on a narrow ledge above more pyramid steps. The ground is a long way down on that side.

The smaller one has a little roof hanging off the back side. If you go over there you can walk around the back of it where the roof is. At that point you find yourself on a ledge that is one layer of the pyramid. These are all step pyramids, and what looked like the bottom of it from the other sides is nowhere near the bottom as you can see from the back where the stepped levels go quite long way down.


big pyramid on the plateau

A large pyramid towers up from the other side of the plateau. We overheard a guide to one of the groups there saying that the top of that one was where the Mayans performed human sacrifices. Large as that one looks from the plateau, if you walk to the edge of the ground nearest to it and look down you again see the steps leading up to where you are because you are already partway up a much larger than it appears pyramid.

pyramid steps

steps at the edge of the plateau

The trail at the bottom of those steps going to the right went back to the trail leading past the first pyramid and back to the entry, and to the left went to a trail that winds around past a group of smaller ruins and then to the trail that went by the backside of the first pyramid, leading to that original intersection and then back to the entry. The hour that the cab gives is enough time to walk around all the ruins without hurrying. We stop a lot for photos and made it all the way through in the time given, though we did not spend any time at the shops.

ruins in the jungle

more ruins in the woods alongside the trail

Our ship did not have an excursion to these ruins. Their ruin excursion took people somewhere 2 ½ hours from the port. Cruise ship passengers can book excursions to Chacchoben in advance. These tours provide transportation and their basic tour costs about the same as going there by taxi. They stay at the ruins longer, but you would be with a guide and a group rather than exploring on your own.

pyramid at Chacchoban

side view of the bigger pyramid on the plateau

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Caribbean, Holland America, Mexico, Ports of Call, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Suva, Fiji Island Tour

cruise ship in Fiji

Explorer of the Seas in Suva

Although Suva sits on the other side of the same Fijian island as Lautoka, Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas left port in the early evening to spend time out on the open sea between port stops so they could open the casino. The port also might have needed the berth for another ship since it was docked in a container port. Reaching Suva in the morning we found our spot on the dock occupied by a container ship apparently loading on island time, which is akin to when you feel like it. Once they finished the loading process and accompanying paperwork the ship finally left and we were able to dock. Fiji doesn’t see enough cruise ships to build terminals just for them so the ships dock in container ports. This was especially obvious upon walking through a warehouse between the gangway and the exit from the port. Not that the road didn’t go directly to the exit, they just had it blocked off and funneled everyone out through the warehouse. When we came back the barriers were gone and we were allowed to go directly to the ship without the warehouse detour.

nature park in Fiji

some of the trees at Colo-I-Suva park had crazy roots

Several local tour companies had booths next to the dock offering last minute sightseeing tours or transportation to beaches. Usually the sightseeing tours include a local village, but being Sunday the villagers all go to church rather than entertaining tourists with things like firewalking, Kava ceremonies, or possibly even lunch depending on the tour. One of the ship’s tours still included firewalking at a tourist village in spite of it being Sunday, but none of the impromptu tours that go to actual local villages did. We were able to negotiate a better price due to the missed stop.

eco lodge in Fiji

boats at the eco lodge

The main place I wanted to see was Colo-I-Suva Park so we found a tour that went there as the major attraction. They said there was a 15-person bus with 10 people on it about ready to depart, but as one of the people from the booth walked toward the bus with us and another couple he got a call saying the bus had already departed and we’d have to wait for the next bus. Nobody was happy about that. We’d all spent time sitting on busses waiting for them to fill after the promised departure time in Laukota the day before and didn’t want to be first on a bus waiting who knows how long for them to find more people. He said we’d go in his taxi instead and catch up to the bus. On the way up a big hill we passed an area full of shanties. The driver said someone had given that land to the poor years ago so they all built shacks there. Better than being homeless. We caught up to the bus at an eco-resort somewhere in the vicinity of the park.

trail in Fiji

the trails at Colo-I-Suva pass over all sorts of terrain

They had apparently taken a smaller bus than originally planned. This one looked like it wouldn’t hold more than 12 people. Seeing what a tight squeeze adding 4 more people would be one couple bailed on the tour and left in the taxi, which made plenty of room for everyone else. Whether they just returned to port or took a private tour in the taxi I can’t say.

small waterfall

we saw lots of small waterfalls while hiking through the park

Once at the park the guide offered everyone the option of hiking through the park or staying in the van and driving to a waterfall. Since hiking through the park was what I actually wanted to do in Suva we went for the hike. The park is way to far to walk to from the port and taxis charge by the hour so without knowing what if any options they have for things like local busses the tour was the best way to get there.

big rock trail

sometimes the trail passed over rocks

Hiking shoes with good traction would have been the best footwear for these sometimes muddy, often slippery, and usually uneven woodsy trails, but everyone wore either flip-flops or sandals. The trail wound through the woods with lots of steep stairways and questionable bridges. This hike is best for people who are in reasonably good shape that are not afraid of heights as there were some spots along narrow ledges. Most had handrails of some sort, but not all, and some of the handrails were less than stable. It would not be a good hike for anyone with walking disabilities or balance issues.

rustic changing room

changing room just off the trail near the upper pools

We saw quite a number of natural pools along the way, some with small waterfalls and some without. In the upper pool area we passed things like picnic tables, changing rooms, and even a couple outhouses set back into the woods down a side trail. A few people went by going in the opposite direction, but not many.

nature's swimming pool

swinging and dropping into a pool

Near the end of the hike down by the lower pools we came to a pretty big pool with a rope swing and people swimming. It had upper and lower pools and apparently the small waterfall between them was the one they brought people to see who came by van. They had already been down there and gone back up the trail to the parking area above. We watched some people climb up a rock and swing off on the rope. After swinging out over the water they let go of the rope and dropped in.


not a lot of water, but one of the longer drops of the waterfalls in the park

We left the park after hiking up the hill without finding any large or impressive waterfalls. Since we came there wanting to hike through the park we were happy with our time there, but had we come specifically to see a waterfall we’d have been less than impressed. If someone came in a swimsuit and wanted time to swim on this tour they’d need to stay with the van so they could go straight to the pool while others hiked. Changing clothes there might be an issue though as we didn’t see any dressing rooms in that area.

Fiji parliament buildings

parliament buildings in Suva, Fiji

The rest of the tour was mostly just driving past different sights or buildings with the guide saying what we were looking at while we drove past.


no idea what the little roofed area in the park is for

After we got back down the hill and more into town the bus stopped near the sea and the taxi came back by to pick up a couple from the van who had a ship tour they needed to get back for. The tour people had promised them they would get back on time for their excursion and the bus wasn’t going to make it. This was just a small family-run company who seemed pretty willing to alter things for various people.

forest park in Fiji

creek running through Colo-I-Suva park

Most of the vanload got out in town near one of the few shops that stayed open on Sundays, but we had no interest in shopping and opted to go back to the port at that time. Another couple wanted to be dropped at a museum and they were happy to comply. There was a free shuttle back to the ship from town, but the place where they dropped people off to shop would also have been an easy walk back to the port.

nature trail

hiking through the park

This tour was half the price of the ship’s cheapest excursion in Suva, which went to a farmer’s market and drove by a variety of different sights including some of the same things we saw like the parliament buildings. Besides tours the people in the little booths near the ship offered cheap massages.

Colo I Suva in Fiji

upper pools at Colo-I-Suva nature park

Other ship’s excursions in Suva included beach resorts, a spice farm and nature garden, a countryside drive with firewalking demonstration, a riverboat ride with waterfall pool swim, and an eco trek in a rainforest.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018

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Westerdam Ocean View Cabins

Westerdam in Japan

Holland America Westerdam in Beppu, Japan

Like any cabin category, ocean view cabins can vary from ship to ship and even among cabins on the same ship. Holland America Westerdam is no exception having lower level ocean view cabins on deck 1, obstructed ocean view cabins behind the lifeboats on deck 4, and even a couple forward facing ocean view cabins on deck 6. The biggest variation among ocean view cabins is in the view, particularly in the deck 4 cabins where some have a full view, some are totally obstructed by tenders in front of the window, and most fall somewhere in between with partial seaviews above life boats and/or between life boats or tenders. (Tenders are the taller life boats used to take people to shore at ports where the ship is at anchor and has to use its own boats to bring people back and forth from the dock.)

ocean view cabin

view of the ocean through the ocean view window

Besides the views, cabin categories for ocean view cabins, as with all cabins, vary according to deck location and location of the cabin on the deck. Just like with real estate, it’s location, location, location, with higher level decks and closer to the center of the ship being the prime real estate in cabin classifications when all else is equal. Of course with ocean view cabins the view is the prime concern which makes deck 1 cabins priced higher than the deck 4 cabins with obstructed views.

stateroom with drop bunk

bunk drops from ceiling in this inside cabin

Since the majority of cruisers travel 2 people per cabin, besides base cabin prices being for double occupancy and going up for solo or down for additional people, many cabins hold just 2 people. Not all of them though. Some cabins have a couch that unfolds out into a bed for an extra person, and some have bunks that drop from the ceiling (or wall in older ships) for additional cabin occupants.

cabin with connecting door

the door on the side wall next to the bulkhead connects to the room next door

For cruisers with more people than the maximum occupancy of one cabin, connecting cabins are an option. These cabins have a connecting door in the wall between two side-by-side cabins. While having a connecting door is an advantage when sailing with the people in the room next door, it is a disadvantage if you are not because you are more likely to hear the people in the room on the other side of the door than you are next door neighbors with a solid wall. Since there are more people who are not together booked in those cabins than those who are, the connecting door usually remains locked keeping the two rooms separate.

Westerdam ocean view cabin

ocean view cabin 1115

Location of the cabin within the ship can also affect the noise level. Cabins at the back often have some engine noise while those near the front may hear the bow of the ship slapping into waves when the sea is rough, especially if they are on lower decks. It’s a good idea to try and find a stateroom not near, under, or over public areas as well since places like the galley, bars, and theater can be noisy at night.

oceanview cabin with 2 beds

a bulkhead prevented one bed from moving to the wall

Most cruise ship cabins are rectangular in shape, but corner cabins and those near bends in the ship’s structure are sometimes oddly shaped. These cabins may be bigger or smaller than those around them. Accessible cabins tend to be the largest cabins within each category. Some ships have cabins with a structural post in the middle of the room somewhere. While we have not ever stayed in one of those, we did come across one with a bulkhead in the wall in cabin 1115 on the Westerdam. When the beds are pushed together as one bed the bulkhead is not that noticeable, but when splitting them apart into twin beds only one bed can go over to the wall leaving less space in the center to get to the window which makes the room seem smaller than if both beds went all the way to the wall.

towel monkey

ocean view cabin with towel monkey in the window

Our deck 1 cabin 1115 was located near the back of the ship, but the engine noise was actually drowned out by the air vent, which had a control to make the air it released warmer or colder, but no off switch. We would have liked to shut it off at night for a quieter room. We were in a dead-end hallway with just a few cabins beyond ours so there was very little traffic in the way of people passing by our door, which can get noisy for cabins located in high traffic areas.

cruise ship cabin

cabin artwork

People often look down on low-deck cabins as undesirable, perhaps stemming from the days of steerage on old-time ocean liners. Since they charge less for them than for comparable cabins on higher decks apparently the cruise lines feel that way as well. These cabins have their advantages though. The lower down you are the less ship movement you feel when the boat rocks. It’s close to the dining room, theater, and some public decks, close to the gangway, and when crowds are leaving an area all at once such as following the safety briefing or at the end of a show you can go down the stairs while the crowd goes up, thus avoiding the crowd. Or leave shows in the theater through the exit on deck 1 and avoid the stairs altogether.

doing laundry on a cruise ship

laundry hanging to dry in the tub

Holland America has tubs in all the rooms that are ocean view or above. Besides the option for taking a bath, having a tub rather than a shower means a longer clothesline as well as more space for stringing extra line, which comes in quite handy for drying hand-washed clothes when taking a long cruise on a ship with no guest laundries – like the Westerdam. Sending laundry out to the for the crew to wash is always an option, but one that costs more than I care to pay and you have to get very high up in Holland America’s loyalty program to get free laundry service.

The room has 3 closets, one with shelves, one with a high hanging bar, and one with a low hanging bar and shelves. Along with a drawer under each bed and in each nightstand this was plenty of storage space for us, though with the amount of luggage we saw some people bring it may not have been enough for them.

cruise ship cabin

cabin 1115

Besides the beds, furniture included a desk with a chair under it, a TV on it and a cupboard containing a hairdryer and extra glassware. The refrigerator under the desk started out full of mini-bar items which the steward emptied on request. If you don’t plan to buy any of them it’s nice to have that space if you have anything like cold drinks you want to put in there instead. The room also had a small couch and table.

cruise ship cabin with magnetic walls

magnetic walls are useful

As with most cruise ships, the Westerdam’s cabin walls are magnetic, which is quite handy for hanging paperwork to keep things organized if you bring along some magnets.

automatic under closet light

light under the closet

This room had a light under the closets that lights up when anyone walks by in the dark. At first we were not sure if this was a new safety feature or a malfunction of the emergency lighting system that kicks in to light the way to the exits out in the hallways when the power goes out. We had not seen this feature previously on any other ship or in other cabins on this ship on prior cruises. At first it seemed a bit annoying, but after we got used to it the light was actually quite useful as it turned itself off after a short time. Near the end of the cruise we received a survey saying this was a new safety feature they were testing in some cabins and they wanted feedback on what the passengers thought of it. It’s nice if you get up for anything while someone else is sleeping because it provides a bit of light without being as bright as turning on any of the overhead lights.

Westerdam now has USB ports

USB ports are becoming more common on cruise ships

While one outlet used to be standard in cruise ship cabins, more of them seem to be adding more options for plugging things in when ships are remodeled. This cabin had 2 outlets over the desk and a USB port next to each bed. We still always bring a power bar, and I have a quite useful travel clock which has 2 USB ports. Cruise ship cabins don’t normally have clocks unless you bring your own.

Westerdam ocean view cabin

ocean view cabin 1115

The bathroom in that particular cabin could use some updating as the tub seemed a bit on the worn-out side and the mirrors showed a bit of wear around the edges, but overall the room was quite nice. Holland America still has the nice extra touches like chocolates and towel animals left in the room each evening. We often choose ocean view cabins because they are usually larger than inside cabins and come with a view at a significantly lower price than balcony cabins.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018

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Grand Turk Cruise Ship Port

Grand Turk cruise port

ships in Grand Turk

Carnival Magic approached an unknown island a couple hours before our scheduled port time for Grand Turk. “Is that a cruise ship?” Sheri asked, pointing at the island over the deck railing. The object in question certainly looked like one, and as the ship inched closer it became obvious that not only was a cruise ship docked on the nearby island, but a Carnival cruise ship. The cruise director announced that disembarkation would not take place any earlier than noon as it was scheduled for. Meanwhile the ship slowed to the point of barely moving enough to keep from drifting with the current, or so it seemed. Apparently the ship was not going to dock before the scheduled time regardless of when it arrived and that’s the cruiseline’s own dock. I suppose they have their reasons for that, but whatever they are no reasons were shared with the passengers.

snorkeling Grand Turk

full face snorkel mask for people who don’t like the tube in their mouth

People didn’t listen and started lining up to get off the ship long before it even started heading for the dock. At least the Magic’s cruise director had sense enough to say that anyone who did not need to be off the ship right away for scheduled excursions should wait for the crowd to clear before trying to disembark. Much better than the cruise director we had on both the Breeze and the Vista (same person) who kept trying to encourage more people to mob the exits making it impossible for anyone with an excursion meeting on the dock to get there on time.

snorkel Grand Turk

you can snorkel free at Grand Turk if you have your own gear

We avoided the crowd by having lunch first and then leaving once the line cleared up.  Unless you have something booked that you have to get to right away that’s usually a better plan when the ship docks around lunchtime. Using the time you would otherwise spend standing in a nearly endless line either before or after the ship docked to do something more fun or more productive is always a better use of your time.

cruise line beach

watch out for non-cruise line umbrellas – you may get charged to sit there

Grand Turk is a great place to just get off the ship and go to the beach. There’s a beautiful sandy beach at the end of the dock with lots of beach chairs and umbrellas. You just have to make sure to stay on the chairs with the cruise line’s umbrellas (which were green when we were there.) If you sit under the other colors whoever owns them could charge you for the privilege of sitting there. You can rent snorkel gear right on the beach. At the border of the cruise line’s beach and someone else’s there are boats that tow people around on floaty toys like big blow-up bananas or rafts – for a fee of course. They also have cold drinks for sale. If you walk down the beach beyond the cruise line’s part there are little bars who also have beach chairs. These are often free because they want you to stay and buy drinks. There also are often little booths with crafts for sale where locals hope they can get tourists to part with their money.

Grand Turk cruise port

Carnival provides free beach chairs and umbrellas at their private beach on Grand Turk

We found a group of chairs under the cruise line’s green umbrellas for our home base. Mostly just a place to put our things while we went in the water, but we had a pretty big group and people came and went throughout the day. There’s enough sea life to make the beach at Grand Turk cruise port a great place for first-timers to give snorkeling a try, though not enough to impress avid snorklers. Seeing fish gave our 5-year-old grandson the incentive he needed to put his face in the water that he didn’t have in a pool where he failed the beginner swim class he took just before the cruise for refusing to put his face in the water. It didn’t take him long to learn how to use the equipment and start snorkeling all around. Our oldest grandson learned there the previous year and while tentative then, he had no qualms this time. He and I saw a giant ray, the biggest one I’ve ever seen, but unfortunately I have no photos of it because I didn’t have my camera with me at the time.


Daniel snorkeling

Meanwhile our granddaughter, who was the star of her more advanced swim lesson class, had issues keeping the snorkel in her mouth. She’d probably benefit from the easy breathe snorkel that got my husband to start staying in the water for more than 5 minutes, but unfortunately they want a fortune for the full-face mask in children’s sizes. There were some people renting those from locals on the beach, but for twice the price of the regular gear at the cruise line’s snorkel shack.

pool at Grand Turk cruise port

Margaritaville pool

Grand Turk has all the usual cruise port shops and plenty of other shops as well. Margaritaville has a big pool with swim-up bar. There’s also a flowrider near the beach for those who want some surfing action, but it’s not free. On the far side of the dock from the swimming area there’s a display from one of the 1960’s Apollo missions that splashed down there.

rocket replica

The cruise center has a commemorative display for 1962’s splashdown there

You can of course book excursions through the cruise ship or outside sources. For last minute do it yourself tours head to the taxi stand.

More Blogs About Grand Turk

Semi Sub

Power Snorkel

About Grand Turk

Grand Turk Beach

Posted in Caribbean, Carnival, Magic, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Décor on Holland America Oosterdam

sunrise over the Pacific Ocean

sometimes nature provides all the décor a cruise ship needs

It’s sometimes hard to put a name to the décor on a cruise ship. For a short description on Holland America Oosterdam, subdued opulence with an old time charm comes to mind.

cruise ship art

wall mural

Hallway paintings frequently depict Dutch old world scenes, often with sailing ships.

cruise ship hallway


cruise ship hallway

hallway decor

The hallways themselves often have their own look.

old style cruise ship

one stairway shows different renditions of Holland America ships throughout the years

stairway art

one stairway has engraved plaques

Each of the stairways has its own style of artwork, which helps in getting around the ship if you recognize whether you are on the aft, mid, or forward stairway by the pictures on the walls between decks. It also helps in knowing when you’ve reached the right deck without looking for the deck number if you use that stairway often enough to know which picture is on the deck you want – like the one where your cabin is located.

elevator mat

floor mat in an elevator

Anyone who loses track of the day of the week need go no farther than the nearest elevator. All the elevators have day of the week mats which are changed daily.

gallery bar

Gallery Bar

cruise ship bar

Ocean Bar

Each space in the ship like bars or restaurants has décor that sets it apart from the others, yet blends with the general appearance of the ship.

wooden elephant

giant wooden elephant

Some places hold hidden surprises like the large wooden elephant hiding under the stairway in the sort of secret hallway leading to the lower level of the theater.

cruise ship decor

tile inlay in a hallway

Even the floor has a fancy tile inlay in one hallway.

ugly cruise ship statues

ugly headless statues

While a lot of the artwork is tasteful and nice, the ship does have some of the ugly statues that seem to be obligatory in cruise ship art since most ships have some pretty ugly statues around somewhere. The Oosterdam has headless statues in some places and some that are just heads elsewhere. A bit grisly actually those decapitated bodies and bodiless heads.

ship model

ship model in a case

Other than the ugly statues and odd bit here and there, overall the décor of the ship is nice.

cruise ship decor

A crystal globe is the centerpiece of the Oosterdam’s atrium. Sometimes the world turns within its golden frame and sometimes it just sits still.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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Product Review – Running Buddy Pouch

running buddy secure pouch

running buddy minis, 6+, and 7 inch sizes

While planning a cruise to Europe, one thing that often comes up in searches of what you’ll find there is pickpockets in the touristy areas. Some places are too crowded to avoid getting close to anyone and unsuspecting tourists have no idea their pocket got picked by simple ordinary pickpockets until they discover the missing item isn’t there. And of course anyone setting something like a cell phone down in easy reach of passersby on a sidewalk table will probably not have that phone for long.

While it’s a good idea to stay far enough away from other people so nobody can touch you to avoid getting your pockets picked or purses stolen, in some areas the crowds are just too thick to avoid everyone. Some of the thieves have far more creative ways to part tourists from their valuables than simply sneaking up and taking things. We have encountered the rosemary ladies both in Malaga, Spain and Viña del Mar, Chile. Obviously Chile is not in Europe, but the concept is the same.

magnetic pouch

slip pouch over your waistband and the magnets inside each flap hold it there securely

These ladies offer passersby a sprig of rosemary and if anyone should take it either they demand money or by getting close enough to them to take the rosemary you have gotten in range for them to pick your pocket. We saw them in places without crowds so refusing the rosemary and staying out of touching range was pretty easy for us, but in a crowded place where you can’t avoid getting near others just the distraction of the offer of the rosemary might be enough for one of them to slip a hand into your pocket while you’re busy saying no to someone else.

Other things thieves do include riding past on a bicycle and cutting straps to things like purses which they then grab and ride off with or throwing a baby at someone who instinctively catches it, keeping their hands busy, mind occupied and pockets unguarded. Often they work in pairs. One may spill soda on you while another seemingly unconnected to the first offers to help you clean up, only they clean you out of a lot more than spilled soda. And definitely don’t be stupid enough to fall for “we have a deal just for you” from street vendors who want to lead you away from the crowd to rob you.

mini running buddy

The mini has plenty of room for your ship card, credit card, and a few extras. Notice the credit card is in an RFID blocking sleeve. You can get RFID blocking sleeves for passports too.

So the question comes, when visiting crowded touristy areas of Europe, how do you keep your valuables safe? On a cruise ship port stop all passengers at the minimum will have their ship card and photo ID because they need those things to get back onboard. Likely most will have money or credit cards as well. When your pockets, backpacks, and purses aren’t safe places to put the things you really can’t afford to lose, what do you do? People traveling around Europe by bus or train are likely to have money belts hidden under their clothing, but those may not be practical for a port stop when you are carrying things you need to be able to get to. Nobody wants to have to strip down to their underwear to get their ship card out so they can get back on the boat.

6 inch running buddy magnetic carry pouch

the 6 inch pouch holds a small cellphone, passport, and comb

I pondered this question quite a lot. One day while online I came across the Running Buddy. While these were designed for runners to have a place to keep things while on the run in outfits that often don’t have pockets, a semi-concealed pouch that stays with you hands free through whatever sort of activity you have planned could certainly come in handy for the cruise ship passenger on shore excursion as well. When I got mine their website was just marketing them to runners, but now they are marketing to travelers as well. Whether it is to put valuables somewhere safer or just to have a place to put things while involved in activities such as zip lining where backpacks and purses aren’t options and anything in a pocket could easily fall out, or you just want a way to carry your things hands free, a magnetic pouch could just as easily be a cruiser’s buddy as a runner’s.

These little pouches slip over your waistband. Magnets on each side come together holding the pouch in place. To hide the pouch from possible thieves wear a shirt long enough to hang over the pouch and loose enough to conceal the little bulge. It’s a bit easier to conceal in colder weather by wearing a jacket. Besides being secured to your waistband by magnets, the pouch is something the thieves aren’t as likely to look for. It is harder to get into than a pocket and not on straps they can cut like a purse or backpack, but if they did find it they could pull the whole thing off so it is not entirely safe. While it can go anywhere on your waistband, in pickpocket prone areas wear it on the front where you are more aware of your proximity to strangers and they are less likely to find it. Or if you want it really secure you could hook it to your underwear, but then it wouldn’t be any easier for you to get things out of it than a regular waist wallet.

7 inch running buddy pouch

when actually using the pouch things stay down in the pockets with the flap closed over them

Running Buddy standard pouches come in a 6-inch size which is good for keys, money, passport, cards, and a small camera, glasses case, or phone. The 3 1/2 inch mini holds keys, cards, and has room for little things like chapstick. There’s also an XL 6 3/4 inch pouch and XXL which is 7 inches long for bigger phones. Of course these larger pouches can carry keys and cards as well. All but the mini have 2 pockets within the pouch to keep cards separate from the phone. Some also have a side zipper headphone port.

out for a walk

Piper on a trail

I tried the mini and 6 inch pouch out on dog walks. They come in handy when you don’t want to carry a purse, but also don’t want to leave your keys and driver’s license in the car when you drive to a park or trail – and you don’t want to worry about things falling out of your pocket, or your outfit has no pockets. I hardly notice the mini and it stays in place quite well. The 6-inch I’ve used if I want to bring my cell phone or camera (my camera is also a small one. I like small things for their portability.) The pouch needs to be placed where it can stay straight because while the pouch itself can bend around a body curve on its own, once you put a straight solid object like a phone or camera in it one corner will tend to come undone if it sits on a bend. I’ve also found it stays magneted to itself better when putting the pouch on first and making sure it is solidly fastened before adding the phone or camera then it does if put it on with the phone or camera already inside. I definitely prefer the mini, which is great if I don’t need it to hold much. I’m always aware of the larger one when wearing it, but if I was out in the pick-pocket prone areas of Europe I’d find that more comforting than annoying.

I brought a coat that hangs down just past the top of my legs to Europe intending to wear that over the Running Buddy pouch so it would be inaccessible to any lurking pickpockets, but the weather was unseasonably warm for fall when we were there and no coats were ever needed so I ended up borrowing a waist wallet worn under the pants for extra security instead the day we took an excursion into a crowded pick-pocket prone area.

decorated running buddy

it’s easy to sew an applique onto the running buddy if you want to personalize it or just be able to tell yours apart from someone else in the family who has the same color

Rather than pick-pocket prone areas it makes a better cruise buddy for active excursions where your things could fall out of a pocket or to use on board if you have no pockets, don’t like lanyards, and need somewhere to keep your ship card. Or the bigger one when wearing an outfit with no pockets and you want an easy place to keep your phone or a small camera handy. Even if you do have pockets cameras and phones can fall out of them, but not out of the Running Buddy so it can definitely come in handy onboard.

I gave my daughter, who is a runner, one for Christmas once and she loves it. Besides using it for its intended purpose to hold things while running, she also used it at Disney World to carry her GoPro camera. She used it in the runDisney marathon there as well. I wear a hydration belt when running so I can easily carry a water bottle and it has a pocket built into it. If I need more than just the one pocket I can add a Running Buddy onto the belt. It works just as well there as it does on a waistband. In fact they have actually added a belt to their product line for people who want to wear multiple pouches or who don’t want to put them on their waistband.

So while not necessarily the best choice for pick-pocket proofing, the Running Buddy is a great product for its intended purpose to hold things safely while running or doing any other activities where you either have no pockets or things might fall out of your pockets. They have greatly expanded their product line from just the few sizes of pouches they had a couple years ago when I got mine to having all sorts of things available now, including travel products like RFID lined pouches to prevent electronic pick-pocketing.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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Holland America Westerdam

Holland America Westerdam

Westerdam in Hakodate, Japan

Somehow when sailing with Holland America we always end up on one of the same 3 ships – either the Oosterdam, Westerdam, or Veendam, even though none of the cruises have been repeats of a previous cruise and the starting points have varied from San Diego, Fort Lauderdale, Seattle, Boston, and Vancouver. Oosterdam (which we have sailed on twice)and Westerdam are similar both being in the same class of ships (along with P&O’s Arcadia which we also cruised on once.) Veendam (which we have also been on twice) is an older, smaller ship, different from the other two. Veendam has passenger laundries, the other two do not. Our first cruise on the Westerdam was a one week round trip from Fort Lauderdale going to the Caribbean, the second a round trip from Seattle for a week to Alaska. The third one being 28 days from Vancouver, Canada to Shanghai, China. A self-serve passenger laundry would really have been nice for a long cruise like that one.

About the Ship

glass elevator on the Westerdam

if you forget what day it is on the Westerdam just go into an elevator

Holland America Westerdam is a Vista class ship directionally named for the west. Sister ships include the Oosterdam (east) Noordam (north) and Zuiderdam (south.) Westerdam is the third ship of this class launched in 2004. Coincidentally it is also the line’s third ship to bear the name Westerdam. The Westerdam is 936 feet long, just over 105 feet wide, and has 11 passenger decks. It holds just over 1900 passengers and about 800 crew. The fifth sister ship in this class sails for P&O under the name Arcadia.

Ship History

art museum on a cruise ship

paintings from famous historic artists in the Westerdam’s little museum

The current Westerdam began service in 2004 and was refurbished recently with an update to much of the décor in public areas. The second ship bearing the name Westerdam was purchased from another cruiseline in 1988 and lengthened by 130 feet before joining Holland America’s fleet as the Westerdam. It went on to become the Costa Europa in 2002 and currently sails with Thomson Cruises as MS Thomson Dream.

cruise ship art

stairway art on the Westerdam

Holland America’s first ship bearing the name Westerdam sailed from 1946 to 1965 carrying cargo as well as passengers. Like other Holland America ships, one of the stairways of the Westerdam has paintings of the current ship on some stairway landings, with older renditions of ships bearing that name on other landings of the same staircase on lower decks. Westerdam has a couple older still paintings of ships with similar names, the Westerdyk and Westernland. The suffix dyk means cargo ship while dam means passenger vessel. Holland America had cargo ships back then and eventually also owned the Westernland, though it originally sailed for another line.


cruise ships sell art

art display on the Westerdam

Décor on the ship still includes a collection of artwork depicting Dutch heritage in the new world with paintings of things like historic Dutch ships and flowers, traditional on Holland America’s ships. The lowest level of the atrium on deck 1 is now a small museum with a few paintings by famous artists on the walls surrounding the area and an ever-changing video display of artworks on one wall inside the atrium. Guest Services is still nearby, but the shore excursions desk has moved into the Crow’s Nest Lounge on deck 10. Space for passengers to put puzzles together is now on the deck 1 level of the atrium on the opposite side from Guest Services. For anyone into coloring there is a display of colored pencils at the center of the atrium, and color-book style outlines of paintings in wall racks near the puzzles for people to take if they want something to color.

old and new centerpieces to the Westerdam's atrium

Westerdam’s old and new atrium centerpeices

Though some ornate statues remain along with the paintings, much of the décor on the ship has been changed from its prior elegance to more of a modern minimalist style, far more plain than the previous décor. The theater is fairly plain now with very uncomfortable seating and the new furniture about the ship is of a plainer style than what I’ve seen on Holland America in the past. The atrium used to have a beautiful gold and crystal sailing ship as the centerpiece hanging from its 3-deck high ceiling. Now there is just some sort of swirly thing partway down which in my opinion is nowhere near as nice as the ship they had hanging there before. Like much of the ship’s décor it has gone from old-world elegance to plain and uninteresting. The swirly thing is easier to photograph than the boat was, but not much to look at when you are there, where the boat had lots of details that don’t really show up in the picture.


cruise ship dinner

dinner from the Westerdam’s dining room

The Westerdam has all of Holland America’s usual eateries with the Lido buffet and main dining room as the main eateries, and also complimentary Dive In burgers place and taco bar on the Lido’s central pool deck. For an extra fee it offers the upscale Pinnacle Grill and at dinnertime Canaletto for Italian food on the Lido. Gluten free buffet options are available at the pasta bar, which is the waffle and crepe station at breakfast time. They have gluten free items available at breakfast as well, and can also make gluten free pancakes. Dining room menus usually have some items marked as gluten or dairy free or vegetarian, but anyone needing to adhere to a strict diet would be best off to arrange with their waiter to order dinners the night before so menu selections can be altered to suit their needs. You can ask on the spot in the dining room for things like a gluten free bun on a burger at lunchtime or gluten free cookies for dessert at dinner without making prior arrangements, but some things can’t be altered without asking in advance.

cruise ship dining room

dining room

The dining room is normally open at breakfast, dinner, and afternoon tea, and on most sea days also for lunch. The Lido buffet serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a late night buffet daily. Hours vary often with earlier breakfast start times on port days and sometimes extended lunch or dinner hours on port days as well depending on the hours the ship spends in port. The pasta station and Dive In grill are open throughout the afternoon and the pasta station through the evening as well so there is food available even when it is not the dining room or main buffet hours. Room service is also available 24 hours a day.

Smoking Policy

Westerdam back deck

smoking shelter on the back deck

After being on the Oosterdam where smoking was only allowed on one section of the back deck we were quite impressed with Holland America’s updated policies, only to be very disappointed a few months later on the Veendam where people could still smoke inside the ship in the casino. According to information I looked up on their website before sailing on the Westerdam their smoking policy varies from ship to ship. That info said it is just the Oosterdam and Eurodam that are completely smoke-free inside, and other ships still allow active slot players to smoke in designated areas – but of course the smoke does not stay within those areas or even within the casino. In actuality the Westerdam’s rules turned out to be the same as for the Oosterdam – at least on this voyage – with no smoking anywhere except the smoking shelter on the back deck of the Lido, making it quite easy to avoid. I’m allergic to tobacco smoke so the easier it is to avoid it the more pleasant the cruise is for me.

Dress Code

According to Holland America’s dress code casual attire is appropriate most evenings. No pool or beachwear, distressed jeans or men’s tank tops in the dining room or fine dining restaurants. No shorts at dinnertime. Jeans without holes, tears, or embroidery are allowed on casual nights. Collard shirts are required for men on all nights. On Gala nights dressy attire is appropriate – dresses, skirts, and slacks are all acceptable. While jackets and ties are the preferred gala night attire for men they are not required. Jeans are not allowed in the dining room or fine dining restaurants on Gala nights, but they are always allowed in the buffet.

ship's shops

shops on the ship

In actual fact on casual nights people tended to come to dinner in whatever is comfortable for them, which is jeans for some and business casual to church type clothes for others. Some men wore shirts without collars and did not get turned away. They did send people in shorts at dinner away to change. Sometimes people skated in with beachy looking sandals or flip flops, but not always. I also saw people who tried to come to the dining room in sweats on gala night get sent away to either change clothes or eat at the Lido buffet.

Westerdam atrium

atrium on the Westerdam

On formal nights people dressed nicer for them than on casual nights, which as in other nights meant some dressed up more than others. The ones who usually come in jeans often wore business or church type clothes on gala nights, and the ones who tended to dress that way on casual evenings were more likely to come in suits and ties or evening dresses. Anything that sparkles is always popular among the women on gala nights.


bar on the Westerdam

Art Gallery Bar

The Westerdam has a variety of bars, music venues, and places to eat. Each evening brings music at the Ocean Bar and later in the “music walk” area at Billboard on Board and Lincoln Stage Center. The ship has nightly shows in the theater with an early show at 8pm and late show at 10pm most nights. Shows may be production numbers with the Westerdam’s singers and dancers, or guest performances by musicians or comedians. Our cruise even included a couple local shows by performers from the port area exhibiting their traditional dances, one in Japan and one in China when the ship was docked in ports there.

cruise ship view

view from the Crow’s Nest Lounge

Lectures are popular and available throughout the day. Some of the lectures are by guest speakers on a variety of topics, often related to the ship’s itinerary. Others are from the shore excursion staff, of which they have people who talk about excursions from the ship and different people who give insights on each of the ports for people who prefer to explore on their own. Daytime entertainment also incluces classes, test kitchen demonstrations, trivia games, or self-entertainment from puzzles or games around the ship or use of the ship’s hot tubs or pools.  Some people prefer to relax by the pool or watch the scenery go by with a bow view from the Crow’s Nest or side view from the Explorer’s Lounge or other areas with scenic windows. Sometimes there are afternoon movies in the theater, and there’s always a selection of movies and shows available for the in-cabin TV. There’s also an assortment of shops.

Things To Do

theater on the Westerdam

lecture on the main stage

Besides things to watch like lectures, shows, cooking demonstrations, or TV, there are also games like trivia or bingo (for a price) and classes where passengers can be active participants like exercise classes, computer classes, or dance lessons. Most are free, though some of the exercise classes like yoga, Pilates and indoor cycling have a fee. Sometimes there are times on the schedule for people to meet for games like bridge, poker, or basketball. Of course there is also a casino.

cruise ship spa pool

spa pool in the thermal suite

The ship has a spa with massages, acupuncture and other treatments, and a hair salon. Of course all of those things come with a price. The spa also has a thermal suite where passengers can get a full cruise package or a one day pass. The thermal suite has an indoor heated pool with a variety of features like a rack that sits over jets, a high-jet area in a circle, hot tub style jets along the walls, and a couple intense shower type sprayers. Also included in the thermal suite are a couple steam rooms, a sauna, and nearly everyone’s favorite heated ceramic chairs. Although it’s not cheap, we purchased the full cruise thermal package and that area was our favorite hang-out on the ship.

Crow's Nest Lounge on the Westerdam

Crow’s Nest Lounge

There are often times scheduled during the day where people can go to the Crow’s Nest Lounge and meet with the independent shore advisors over an interactive map for individual advice on where to go and what to do in upcoming ports. The Crow’s Nest also has a coffee bar, screens with navigation information, and a great view. For other things to do there’s always the atrium area’s museum, puzzles and coloring. There’s no longer a library on the ship, but people tend to bring their own books, and since most people read electronic books on their tablets or phones these days anyway finding a place to sit near a window and read is also a popular pastime.

promenade deck on the Westerdam

promenade deck with a view of Juneau, Alaska

The outside promenade deck goes all the way around the ship and is a popular place for people to walk or run every day except when outside decks are closed due to stormy seas or windy weather. It has 3 drinking fountains spaced out around the deck, which comes in handy for long walks or runs. One sea day they had an organized 5K walk for a cause on the outside promenade to raise money for cancer research.

cruise ship pool

the main pool area has a sliding dome so it can be indoor or outdoor

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Holland America, Shipboard Life, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bermuda Triangle Snorkel


Carnival Vista from the snorkel boat

After crossing the Atlantic Ocean from a cruise starting in Barcelona, Carnival Vista stopped in Bermuda overnight before continuing on to the final destination of the cruise in New York. Cruises from mainland USA to Bermuda tend to stay a bit longer.

Bermuda triangle is a lot bigger than Bermuda

Bermuda Triangle

For the first day at this port stop we booked a snorkel tour in the Bermuda Triangle. The Bermuda Triangle is not just a triangle around Bermuda as the name would indicate. Bermuda is actually just one tip of a giant triangle with sides that extend to Puerto Rico and Florida covering an area of the Atlantic Ocean far larger than the tiny bit of space taken up by Bermuda.

We took off for our snorkel trip in a glass-bottomed boat captained by a local 5th generation Bermudian who provided a wealth of information about Bermudian life and history on the way to the site of the two shipwrecks in the Bermuda Triangle where we would stop for snorkeling. One was the Civil War era Montana which sank in 1863 and other the World War 2 Constellation that hit the same reef in 1943. Not much of the wooden Constellation still survives other than some cargo. The metal side-wheel steamer fared somewhat better, though not intact with ship parts and the paddle wheel scattered about and grown over with coral.

Bermuda snorkel boat

snorkel boat captain and tour guide

Bermuda has a land mass of just under 21 square miles, but the reefs encircling the land mass cover a much larger area. Large ships have to wind their way carefully through a channel of deeper water between tall reefs when entering or leaving Bermuda. Bermuda has no high ground and is over 600 miles from any other land so they have to be self-sufficient in surviving hurricanes. The closest land is Cape Hatteras in North Carolina’s outer banks.

buildings in Bermuda

resort in Bermuda

Houses in Bermuda are very sturdy made from stone or cement and the roofs very heavy because their houses are the safest place they have to ride out a storm. 3 people died during one hurricane when one tried to cross a bridge and two cops went out to rescue him. The bridge went down taking all three people with it. They use their roofs to collect rainwater because Bermuda has no fresh water lakes or rivers and wells dug into its limestone ground would only find saltwater. Every home is built with a water tank.


shipwrecks make good structure for coral and other sealife

While coral reefs worldwide are dying off at alarming rates due to rising ocean temperatures and acidity, destructive fishing practices, pesticides, and other chemicals, and a number of other issues, Bermuda protects their reefs better than most. In some parts of the world overfishing strips the reef of fish that eat algae that suffocate corals when given a chance to grow, and fertilizer runoff feeds the algae helping it to grow faster than normal.

sunken ship in Bermuda

part of a sunken ship

Hurricanes are another threat to the world’s coral reefs. Pollution also harms coral, as does the chemicals and oils in the sunscreen washing off thousands of people swimming in the ocean wearing ordinary sunscreen instead of one that is coral safe. If your sunscreen doesn’t say biodegradable or reef safe on the package then it’s not.

fish in Bermuda

fish near the snorkel boat

You can find coral safe sunscreens online or at the sort of stores that sell herbal supplements and remedies. An amount of sunscreen equivalent to one drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool is all it takes to harm coral. Many tons of sunscreen wash off people each year. You don’t need to swim in the ocean for chemicals from your sunscreen to end up there either as they can pass through the sewer system. Mineral based sunscreens protect people better from skin cancer so while saving the coral you can also better protect yourself.

Bermuda Bridge

Bermuda is a series of islands connected by bridges

According to our guide on the snorkel trip, Bermuda has lost about 11% of their reefs over the last couple decades. Horrendous as that is, it is much better than some areas in the Caribbean that are up to an 80% loss. Bermuda’s coral is tougher than most as it has to withstand large temperature swings between winter and summer since Bermuda is not in the tropics. That’s not the only reason it has a better survival rate though. Bermuda has all sorts of protections in place for both the coral and the fish that clean algae from the reefs. Bermuda’s signature pink sand comes from dead shells of a tiny short-lived creature that lives on the underside of the reefs.


snorkel boat at the reef

When we got to the site of the wrecks the crew tied the boat to a bouy which both marks the location of one of the wrecks and serves as an anchor bouy so boats have somewhere to tie up to and don’t have to drop anchor and risk damaging anything. The sea was flat calm, which isn’t the norm for that spot as the guide said it usually has a current. Flotation devices were required, with the option of noodles or snorkel vests. Not wanting to wrestle a noodle or have to keep track of it, I went with the vest (with no air in it) as the slightly less annoying way of fulfilling that requirement. Warm salt water is very buoyant. It’s actually much easier to float on the surface than it is to dive under it even without the hindrance of floatation devices, but they have their requirements (probably for insurance purposes) and people have to follow them.

Bermuda fish

reef fish

One wreck was just off the bow of the boat, the other off to one side. Coral reefs surrounded the boat and fish swam nearby. The largest concentration of fish were at the ship’s stern due to the fact that they threw food out for them there. In other areas the fish stayed mostly down near the coral, which was far enough under the surface in that area that nobody would accidentally touch it because touching it is against their protective rules.

cargo from a shipwreck

shipwrecked cargo – undersea bags of concrete

These wrecks have been under the sea for quite some time. Where the wooden ship sank the bags of concrete it carried have spread out looking like a large shelf of undersea pillows. The iron ship is scattered across the sea bottom in pieces.

old shipwreck near Bermuda

part of the Montana covered in sealife

On the way back to the dock we took a detour in the shallows where turtles sometimes hang out. Some of the reefs there come nearly to the surface so it takes careful navigation between them to avoid hitting any. We didn’t see any turtles that day, but if we had our guide said they would all be young turtles that breed elsewhere. Bermuda once had a breeding population of turtles, but back in the 1600’s in an attempt at conservation they ended up killing them off. They passed laws protecting the small turtles not realizing they were visitors form elsewhere and not local babies who would grow up to breed. The local turtles left for 25 years after hatching and came back to breed when they were large turtles of the size people were allowed to hunt and eat. They tried getting eggs from Costa Rica to re-establish their own breeding population, but even though those carefully tagged turtles hatched in Bermuda they went to Costa Rica when time came to breed – and they were all male because sand temperature around the egg determines a turtle’s sex. Males develop in colder sand, females in warmer sand and Bermuda is not as warm as Costa Rica. With rising ocean temperatures there are places currently having the opposite problem hatching almost nothing but female green sea turtles, which does not bode well for the species once the older generation of males die off since they need both sexes to reproduce.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Atlantic Ocean & Islands, Carnival, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Costa Maya Cruise Ship Port

Costa Maya cruise port

Veendam in Costa Maya

Costa Maya is an engineered cruise ship port, meaning it is not a dock in a pre-existing town, but rather a port area built specifically for cruise ships and their passengers. It has quite an extensive shopping area with lots of stores, bars, and restaurants. A lot of them have signs saying they don’t take cash. You need to bring a credit or debit card if you want much choice in where to shop, eat, or drink there.

Costa Maya cruise port

there’s lots of little bars and restaurants at the port

The port has at least a couple sets of bathrooms, and numerous last-minute tour booths. Someone from one of those tried to interest us in a tour as we walked by and he said they charge it to the ship’s card. There were 3 ships at the dock all from different cruise lines so it must not matter who you sail with because he didn’t ask. We didn’t book anything so they may ask later, but he didn’t seem to care on the sales pitch. We were on the Holland America Veendam which was the third of the three ships to arrive and got the closest berth to shore. Not by a lot, but we were alongside the dock everyone has to walk down while the other two were on an offshoot dock at the end.

Costa Maya

Mayan Pole

You don’t get very far into the port before coming across a small courtyard with a tall pole. We got there just as a performance started in which people dressed in traditional Mayan costumes hang upside down from ropes that spin their way down the pole while people on it play various instruments. They all righted themselves and landed on their feet as the ropes neared the ground.

Costa Maya pool

part of the pool at Costa Maya cruise port

The port area has a swimming pool with swim-up bar. It also has dolphin swims and dolphin encounters available right at the port. The pools for those were quite small. Hopefully the dolphins live in larger quarters elsewhere.

bird at costa maya

bird in the aviary

Overhead walkways around the port area and bridges above the pool and dolphins are an aviary experience that they said cost $12 each when we asked about it. There are birds at the junctions where the walkways connect. If you look up you can see birds there from the ground.

costa maya

swing chairs

We found one second story restaurant with a view of the pool from tables that had swings for seats. We also saw signs for a chocolate factory tour, but didn’t go in so I can’t say if it was any good. Near the port exit people handed out little free samples of the factory’s chocolate, which is pretty expensive to buy.

spray paint artist

talent with spray paint

One booth had a guy making quite nice artwork from spray paint. He has pictures for sale, and makes them while people watch. His pictures cost just $25 each and look nicer than a lot of more expensive art. He also had a tip jar as he is quite entertaining to watch and that gives him a way to make a bit from the people who don’t buy his paintings. He allows people to photo and video him while he works.

costa maya walkway

walkway at Costa Maya cruise port

Besides taking tours, last minute or otherwise, you can leave the port area on your own. There are taxis just outside the port that will take people to town for $2 or to Mayan ruins for $100 for two people. The security guard just outside the port said town is about an hour’s walk, but someone at a tour booth just past the pyramid fountain said it is about a 25 minute walk, and that it is safe and a nice walk. Outside the port area people will take cash, and are quite happy with American dollars. In fact the taxi drivers quoted their prices in America dollars.

pyramid fountain in Costa Maya

pyramid fountain about a block or two outside the cruise port

Just outside the port area there are lots of buildings that look to have once been a pretty good sized shopping center, but now most are empty. Probably that shopping center shut down when the cruise port shopping area was built since it likely took away a good portion of their business. Perhaps over time the empty shops will fill up with things aimed more towards locals or land dwelling tourists and open again. There was a hotel along that road as well. A fountain in a pyramid that probably wasn’t as old as it looked sat in center of the road a short distance from the gate into the port area. It was probably a centerpiece when the shopping area there was in use.

Mahahual, Mexico

sign near the lighthouse in Mahahual

The nearby town is called Mahahual. It has about 3000 residents whom our taxi driver said mostly live in another area a bit away from the tourist section. Which explains why the tourist bit of town near the beach looks much too small to hold that many people.

walkway between Mahahual and lighthouse

Malecon (seaside walkway) in Mahahual

In town there are several hotels that look solidly built, and shops of all sorts. Some of the shops appear to be cobbled together with whatever materials people could find while others look more like actual buildings. There’s a nice beach running along the edge of town, with a walkway to a lighthouse. There are also plenty of cabs available to take people back to the port, also for $2.

cruise port sign

there are lots of signposts with many signs around the cruise port at Costa Maya

The tourist bit of the town is small with just a road that loops around making 2 streets for cars, one going each way, plus the seaside walkway for people which our cabdriver referred to as the third road. He might have called it something else if he spoke more English or if we spoke more than a few words of Spanish. He did pretty well with English considering he said what he knew he had learned from various tourists riding in his cab.

dolphin encounter

dolphin at Costa Maya

Ship’s Excursions in Costa Maya

Excursions offered by our ship at this port included Kohunlich Mayan Ruins, which are 2 ½ hours away and not the same ruins the local taxis take people to. It also had a Jaguar, bus, bike, cenote, paddle and beach BBQ excursion that had people riding through the jungle on a tandem bike, swimming in a cenote, riding on a Jaguar truck, and a stop on a white sand beach with options for paddle boarding, boogie boarding or inner tubing. Other excursions included beach breaks, bike and kayak, segway, ATV, dolphin swim or encounter (which is right at the port), diving, and snorkeling.

cruise ship dock at Costa Maya

view of Costa Maya cruise port from the dock

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Caribbean, Holland America, Mexico, Ports of Call, Veendam | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment