Hits and Misses on Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista in Malta

Vista in Malta

When Carnival’s ship called Vista first launched, it was not just a new ship, but the first ship of a whole new class – the Vista class of course. Vista is full of firsts. Some firsts for Carnival, some firsts at sea. Some invoke a wow, others more of a what were they thinking. Hits and misses in this blog are totally my opinion. Other people are free to feel differently.

Hits on Carnival Vista

cruise ship waterslides

Waterslides and splash park. The orange one is the new tube slide.

Carnival Vista had its share of things to like, starting with the tube slide up on top of the ship. Carnival’s other ships all have waterslides, but this is the first one for Carnival where you slide down on tubes.

cruise ship salad

Fresh Creations salad from the Serenity Deck

Carnival’s ships all have an adults only Serenity deck. While Serenity decks on other ships come equipped with a bar serving alcoholic beverages, Vista was the first with a salad bar. This salad bar is nothing like what you find at the serve yourself Lido buffet. It has giant salad bowls and all sorts of good things to choose from for the guy behind the counter to put in them. I say guy and not person because every time I went there it was always one or two guys working there. The bad thing about this salad bar is that it is only open at lunchtime on sea days.

fun on a cruise ship

skyride on the Vista

One of Vista’s firsts at sea is found in the outside area at the top of the ship above sports square in the form of a peddle it yourself skyride. Although I have a bum knee that prevents me from riding a bike, I had to give the skyride a try, knowing it could be difficult for me. The view from up there is excellent and even though it wasn’t a personal favorite (mostly due to the knee) I could see why other people enjoy it. I was a bit bummed they didn’t allow cameras, but the crew people working there said people had dropped them sometimes so they had to quit allowing them on the ride. The mini golf in sports square is always a hit too.

best free ice cream on board

free homemade ice cream at lunchtime in the Lido buffet

Lunchtime in the Lido buffet brought about another first for Carnival – homemade ice cream, made while you wait. Waiting was the bad thing because the ice cream was such a hit they often ran out. There were sometimes more people in line than the amount of ice cream churned out could serve and it would be awhile before the next batch finished. For anyone lucky enough to get a bowl there was also a tray of sauces and toppings to dress it up with. They served 2 flavors each day which varied from day to day. Timing it right by getting there early or at less popular times made acquiring a bowl of ice cream easier. This ice cream is far superior to what comes out of their always available swirls machines.

Carnival Vist IMAX

Theater entrance for Imax and Thrill Theater

Inside the ship had new things as well. Their IMAX theater is the first at sea and there’s not a bad seat in the house. They had several IMAX movies and a couple full length features. These did cost extra and there wasn’t any special deals for going to more than one movie.

new photo technology

Vista’s Pixels Photo Gallery displays photos digitally

Instead of putting out actual photos that get thrown away at the end of the cruise if nobody buys them, Vista had a digital photo display. They also sold the photos digitally. They did not have a printed photo option for anyone who might want that though.

Red Frog Pub on Carnival Vista

Red Frog Pub & Brewery

Vista’s Red Frog Pub has another first at sea – an actual brewery, brewing up special beers to serve onboard.

inside Havana cabin

Havana inside cabin 5214

People might think Vista’s lack of closet space in the cabins is a miss, but the reason is because some of what would be closet space is taken up by individual heating and cooling units for each cabin. With individual control for your own room instead of a central system it’s a lot easier to keep it at just the temperature you want.

cruise ship passenger laundry

launderette on the Vista

Like all Carnival’s ships, the Vista has self-serve passenger laundries, which is always a hit with me.

Vista Atrium

Vista Atrium

Because of the IMAX needing the space, Vista’s atrium was just 3 stories high. While this is nowhere near as impressive as the many decks high atriums of past ships, it did have a central pole with ever-changing designs. So depending on a person’s point of view the atrium could be either a hit or a miss.

Misses on Carnival Vista

Probably the biggest miss on the Vista is the main show theater, called the Liquid Lounge. In one of those what were they thinking moves, somebody had the not-so-brilliant idea of making the theater double as a night club. Which makes for a theater with barely a good seat anywhere in the house other than the very front row. We talked to somebody who went there when it was in night club mode who said it didn’t function very well as a nightclub either. Going to a show there did not mean seeing the show, mostly just hearing it while looking at the back of somebody else’s head. Even balcony seats were hard to see from. The front row had a blue plexiglass barrier obscuring the view. The rest of the rows looked at the backs of heads except in one small section where the seats actually were set high enough to see above the person in front of you – as long as you didn’t go too high in that section because the upper seats had a view of all the lighting equipment hanging from the ceiling.

Carnival Vista theater

Liquid Lounge – the blue bit on the right side is the plexiglass barrier. Photo taken standing at the edge of the balcony with the camera beyond the plexiglass. The seats did not have this nice of a view.

Vista had the Thrill Theater like the Breeze has, which shows short films with moving seats and other effects. This ought to be in the hits category rather than the misses, but it was missing the all-cruise pass they had for the Thrill Theater on the Breeze that made it affordable to go as many times as you want and see all the different shows. On Vista they only had the per show price, which made it too expensive for most people to see more than one or two. This definitely showed in the audience. While the Thrill Theater on the Breeze was nearly always full, the one on Vista didn’t get much use. Sadly the crew person selling tickets said they were planning to discontinue the all-cruise pass on the Breeze as well. Kind of renders those theaters pointless if they make it too expensive for people to enjoy them.

Vista casino

looking down on the casino through the plexiglass on the deck above

Like Carnival’s other ships (except the ones sailing in Australia), the casino on the Vista doubles as a smoking lounge. It is not fully enclosed so smoke escapes to other areas of the ship, and it sits in the middle of a public deck with no way around it other than going to another deck to avoid walking through the smoke. The casino has a video pole like the one in the atrium, which extends to the deck above. They at least had the sense to put plexiglass over the opening to keep the casino’s smoke off that deck.

cruise ship hallway

decor on the Vista is minimal

Some ships have wild décor, some way over the top décor, and some more subtle décor. Other than the video poles the Vista pretty much had no décor, especially through the main hallways in public areas of the ship. It also had somewhat of an awkward layout with access to important places like the front desk and shore excursion desk limited to only one of the ship’s three stairways/sets of elevators on a deck that did not go through to the other two stairways and elevator bays.

Vista dining room

Horizon’s Restaurant – one of two main dining rooms on the Vista

Another thing that seemed to me like a bad idea was making anyone below platinum in Carnival loyalty status with your time dining check in for dinner at a café halfway across the ship from the dining room. I’ve never seen that on any of their other ships. If I were a new cruiser and had to go through that every night to get to the dining room I might just eat at the Lido buffet and not bother. Which a lot of them may have done because the your time dining room was the emptiest we’ve ever seen with more unoccupied tables than occupied ones every night throughout our cruise. They also had no pedestals in the dining room so it seemed pretty pointless for the waiters to perform their dance routines when nobody other than whoever was right next to them could see anything. Kind of a theme with that ship, shows nobody can see.

Carnival Vista

Havana pool and hot tubs takes up the stern of the promenade deck

One thing we always liked about Carnival was that unlike some other lines that have exclusive areas available only to certain guests, Carnival’s public spaces were always available to anyone whether they booked the cheapest inside cabin or most expensive suite. Not on the Vista though. It has exclusive areas for people in both the Havana and Family Harbor cabins. The Family Harbor lounge is just in an inside area of a lower deck, but the Havana area includes a good portion of the outside area of the promenade deck. For the benefit of the few, the many who enjoy walking or jogging around the promenade deck get cut off halfway around. Our balcony looked down on the Havana cabanas and we rarely ever saw anyone out there or in their private section of the promenade deck next to the cabanas.

Carnival Vista

Vista in Bermuda

We used to sail Carnival more than any other line because they often have the best price and they have fun stuff like waterslides. On most ships the hits outweigh the misses, but on this one the misses were pretty overpowering. All else being equal, we would pick a Dream, Spirit, or Conquest class ship over Vista class if we sailed Carnival again. We mostly sail other lines now though because many of the other lines either keep the smoking outside in limited areas or keep it contained in a fully enclosed space.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Carnival, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Shimizu, Japan Cruise Ship Port

Shimizu, Japan

Westerdam in Shimizu – photo taken from the giant wheel

The port of Shimizu is located between Tokyo and Osaka. With Mount Fuji looming large in the background, views from the port are spectacular on clear days. Fuji is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site. A nearby pine tree grove called Miho-no-Matsubara is a World Heritage constituent property. People go there for views of the mountain as well as to see the trees.

Mt Fuji

Mount Fuji

The main reason ships come to Shimizu is for the views of Mount Fuji, which is visible from the ship on clear days. On foggy days it may not be visible at all. We were there on a sort of in-between day when it was clear enough to see the mountain, but not clear enough for it to shine in all its spectacular glory.

red shrine in Shimizu

the red shrine had a series of arches leading up to its main building

There are several temples and shrines within a few miles of the port, one accessible by a ropeway tram. The area has a number of museums as well as some parks, a ferris wheel, small mall, a ferry, and a zoo.

Japanese shrine

shrine or temple near the port that is not on the map

We found a yellow temple and red shrine that were on the map we got at the port’s info booth as well as showing up on google maps, and a brown temple complex or shrine with multiple small buildings that was bigger than either of the others and not on either the paper or electronic map.

Shimizu, Japan

view of Shimizu from the ship

Shimizu is Japan’s number one tuna fishing port and fresh seafood is a favorite with tourists and locals alike. Besides tuna and other seafood local restaurants may serve sakura shrimp, a small crunchy variety found only in the area. Most local shops, restaurants, and attractions within walking distance of the cruise pier did not open before 10am during our visit.

Shimizu map

map hanging on the fence at the port

The ship docks right in town, but there is a free shuttle to a train station for those who want to venture farther from the port or go to other towns. There are also some local shrines near the train station.

Shimizu cruise terminal

cruise terminal in Shimizu with outside booths

There were a number of little canvas booths at the port selling things, and an information booth where people venturing out on their own could get maps, directions, and information on nearby sights. The paper maps from the information booth are somewhat useful, as they did show temples, shrines, and other things of interest within easy walking distance of the port. They are not always perfectly clear though. The one we were given showed very few landmarks or road names to assist in finding the sites. The nearby shrines are much easier to find using google maps or a mapping app such as maps.me. There were cell phone sim cards available for rent at the port. We happened across a temple that was not shown on either the paper map or google maps before finding any that were.

trail in Shimizu

a bit of the trail seen from the wheel

A paved walking and bike trail runs near the shoreline quite close to the dock. It leads to the pine grove for anyone who would like to take an 8k walk to that site, which would make it 16K round trip (10 miles). The trail is easily accessible from the ship and easy to find as you just walk to the ferris wheel which you can see from the ship and pick up the trail there. By the wheel the trail is a boardwalk along the sea, but further down it is inland a bit and paved. It’s a nice place for a walk even if you just want to go for a short distance and not all the way to the pine grove.

daycare kids in Japan

daycare kids in Shimizu

We saw several groups of small children out walking with their day care groups, with a few of the smallest ones riding in wagons. One little girl who couldn’t have been more than a year and a half old looked up from the wagon as we walked by and said hi in English, obviously pleased when we waved and said hi back. Kids in daycare groups often wore matching hats making them easier for caregivers to keep track of.

Shimizu wheel

Ferris wheel in Shimizu

The seaside ferris wheel at this port sits next to a shopping plaza with lots of restaurants and food shops. Small rides for very small children surround the ferris wheel, and tickets for the wheel are available at the top of the stairs leading to the entrance of the ride.

Shimizu, Japan

city view from the wheel

Excursions offered from Holland America Westerdam included various bigger and more distant shrines than the ones near the port, an art museum and the pine grove, and a castle park. Most of the excursions included a stop at a viewpoint for Mount Fuji – with a weather permitting warning as it could be obscured if the day is cloudy.

farewell performance from Shimizu

performance on the dock

As the ship was preparing to leave kids from a local high school put on a Japanese drum performance on the dock, which drew crowds from both passengers on the ship and onlookers shoreside.

Mount Fuji

view of Mount Fuji from the ship

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

Boarding the Royal Princess

Royal Princess in LA

Princess did a couple things prior to our cruise that made me think if there are other lines offering the itinerary I want I’d sail with somebody else next time. We booked this cruise over a year in advance and it showed a boarding time of 1pm all along. Suddenly a couple weeks before the cruise, when pretty much everyone will have already made their travel arrangements, they sent out an email saying they have staggered boarding times by deck.

Royal Princess Piazza is a hub of activity during the cruise

Normally higher decks are given priority in everything with any cruise line because the higher you go generally the more the rooms cost. Of course the one time we’re near the top, this one starts at the bottom and goes up, so according to their staggered boarding schedule we’re last on the boat at 2:30, giving us only a half hour window between our assigned boarding time and the 3:00 all-aboard time. Which of course means no time to do much of anything but get on the boat and go to the muster drill. Not to mention the possibility of ending up hanging around the port for hours on end before getting let in because we had already booked flights that would get us into LAX early enough to get to the port before 1pm even if the flight had a bit of a delay and the traffic from there to the port in San Pedro was horrible – which traffic in Los Angeles is definitely known for.

Lido deck movie screen

Of course anyone flying in the night before would also want to board as early as they could since check-out time in hotels is generally 11am so we were not likely the only people upset by this sudden announcement of assigned staggered boarding times on a ship where boarding was already scheduled to start later than usual.

Carnival Legend at Circular Quay

Carnival Legend at Circular Quay in Sydney, Australia

When we sailed on Carnival Legend out of Sydney Australia they had staggered boarding times, but instead of springing an unwanted time on people just before the cruise they had the times listed as part of the online registration process that people complete before sailing. So there at least people got their choice of boarding times, especially if they registered early before all the good ones were gone. Even those who registered late and had to wait for a later time to get on knew that in advance. A much better solution and one that leads to a lot more happy passengers rather than angering or upsetting people unnecessarily just before their cruise. Some ports are short on waiting space and staggered boarding times are implemented in an attempt to reduce overcrowding. In Sydney they did not let people into the port building before their scheduled boarding time.

Royal Princess at the dock in LA

Not that trying to keep people away from the port is likely to work when the first available time listing of 1pm is already quite late. Many people not local to the area are likely to already be there long before that since most have nowhere else to go. So rather than keeping people away until later in the day, odds are the result of those assigned times is a whole bunch of unhappy people on a day they should be excited about starting a long anticipated vacation.

check in line at the cruise terminal and waiting area until boarding time

This Princess cruise had just a 2 hour scheduled boarding window. They were apparently hoping the majority of passengers use their ocean medallion app to sign in online ahead of time and bypass the lines at the pier. Which sounds good until you see the part about scanning your passport with your phone and sending it to them, thusly putting that info online for identity thieves to find. Something we were not comfortable doing so we just waited to check in at the pier the old fashioned way. The ocean medallion is something Princess is implementing on some of their ships. You have a medallion instead of a keycard. It performs all the functions of a keycard and a lot more. Besides unlocking your cabin door and payment of any onboard purchases, it can also interact with screens near the elevators to do things like find your way around the ship, search for your shipmates (which is both useful and creepy), or play games on those same screens. It’s also waterproof, which would definitely be a bonus on an itinerary with beaches or snorkeling.

3 sisters on formal night on the Royal Princess

The other thing that also happened about 2 weeks before sailing was finding a refund notice from PayPal for a shore excursion I had booked for the 3 of us as a Christmas gift to my sisters. No word from Princess about that at all. The excursion’s absence from our online account indicated that it had indeed been canceled, but it certainly would have been nice if Princess had sent at the very least an auto-generated email with an explanation of the cancellation. I called to ask about it and the person there said that sort of thing happens frequently with them as they list all excursions the port has to offer whether they are actually available on that particular sailing or not. Which if true does not seem like a good business practice to me because making people unhappy just before they get on the ship is not a good way to get repeat business. If it’s not actually true then there’s at least one customer service representative who needs some training in how not to make the company look stupid. She did say you could tell which excursions were real because they would list a start time for the event, but since ours did give a start time that is apparently no guarantee the excursion will actually happen. By that time I felt that Princess was going to have to seriously redeem themselves on the voyage to avoid becoming my last choice of lines for any future cruises. They did eventually send my sisters notice of the tour cancellation, but never did send me anything so I wondered if the notification was only sent to them because when I called I mentioned they should routinely notify people if they cancel a booked excursion when the representative said they generally did not.

Golden Princes and Royal Princess docked in LA

I flew to California with one of my sisters. The other sister came from a different state on a slightly earlier flight so she was waiting for us in baggage claim when we got there. Our plane landed on time and we got an Uber within minutes of ordering one after we picked up our luggage. We didn’t hit any traffic snarls at all between the airport and the cruise dock. After all that stressing us out pre-cruise and hoping at the very least we could check in our luggage and find something to do until boarding time, we got to the port around 10:30am. There were already porters outside collecting luggage. We got that taken care of right away and then were able to go straight into the port building. They had separate lines for ocean ready or not. The line was quite short for the not. We checked in easily and were given a card with boarding group number 5. They went by first come first served. Nobody said a word about the dreaded assigned staggered boarding time. We didn’t wait for long before they started calling elite, premium, and platinum groups, which they went through fairly quickly before getting to plain old number 1, followed in quick succession by 2,3,4, and then 5. We were on the ship by 11:30, well before the original 1 pm boarding time and long before the 2;30 time we were scheduled for at the last minute so they stressed us out for the last two weeks pre-cruise and made us question ever booking with Princess again for nothing.

view of LA from the ship

I don’t know how quickly the ocean ready crowd got on, but the hype was that they’d pass straight through once boarding began. I’m sure it sped up the process considerably for the rest of us just by not having all those people in the same check-in line.

city view from the walkway between the terminal and the ship

Once our number was called we went to the ship. To get there we left the port building and walked down a long covered outside walkway to get to the gangway. Mostly the view from the walkway was buildings on one side and the ship on the other, but here and there we had a peek-a-boo view of the city.

boarding the ship

There was a bit of a line to scan in as people boarded, and they took our ship ID photos there since they had not taken them at check in. They had about 5 stations to process people so the line went quite quickly, especially since anyone ocean ready had already sent their photo for ship ID and didn’t have to stop for one there.

cruise ship commemorative cruise photo

The email about the staggered boarding times did warn that the room wouldn’t be ready before the assigned time, but the steward let us drop off our backpacks which was really the only thing we needed the room for at that time anyway.

my sisters having a sample massage at the spa tour

Having gotten on the ship so early we had plenty of time to go to the lunch buffet, take the spa tour (and sign up for the thermal suite), and explore the ship a bit before the muster drill. A much better way to spend the day than the dreaded sitting around the waiting area, or worse yet hanging around outside waiting for our assigned time to even get let in the door as is the case sometimes with staggered boarding. Perhaps that is chalked up to the ocean medallions and all the ocean ready people registering pre-cruise making the boarding process quick and easy. Of course if that is the case Princess should know that and not send out unnecessary upsetting emails to people booked on ocean medallion ships.

Golden Princess sailing out of LA

We were docked next to the Golden Princess, who left port just ahead of us. Cruise ship captains like their horn battles so as it sailed by the Golden Princess gave a toot. To which Royal Princess responded by playing the theme to The Love Boat on its horn. The Golden Princess could only toot lamely in response. Guess we won that one.

view from our cabin balcony in the LA cruise port

We had a great cruise and Princess did redeem themselves both onboard and with the smooth and easy boarding process that was so much quicker than their pre-cruise email indicated it would be. It would have been nice to have spent those last two pre-cruise weeks with joyful anticipation of an upcoming cruise instead of worrying over not being able to get on the ship until practically time to set sail though.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Port Cities, Princess, Royal Princess, USA | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

North Pacific Crossing

Amtrak in Canada

train in the rain at the station in Vancouver, BC

We started our journey on the Amtrak Cascades train from Washington State into Vancouver B.C. on a rainy day. The train was full of people traveling to various cruise ships, some for that day and some for the next. One of the next day people said they had traveled that way often and the train was known for being notoriously late so it’s not a good idea to cut it short between arrival time and your boarding time. It got to the station on time, but sat about an hour in the station before letting anyone disembark. They unload luggage first so we hoped it went under cover out of the rain, but no such luck. By the time we finally got off the train the bags were soaked, at least on the outside. Luckily the clothes inside stayed dry and mine is not one of those hard-sided plastic ones. You can get to the cruise ship dock by taxi or if your ship leaves from Canada Place as ours did the sky train is an option as well. They let people off the train one car at a time and ours was nowhere near first. By the time we got to the taxi line it was long with only 2 taxis in sight so we crossed the street and walked a short way through a small park to the building at the end of the park where the sky train station is. It’s easy to find since you can see it from the Amtrack station. Just look to the left when you walk out the door and you can see the tracks leading into the building even if trees happen to obscure the view of the building from where you stand. That station is called Main Street/Science World Station. If you are taking the train back toward Seattle or Portland and have time to kill Science World is worth seeing. From there you go to Waterfront Station, which is 4 stops away at the end of that line. Waterfront station has several exits. Pick the one that says Howe Street and when you leave the station you can see Canada Place. After a walk of maybe 50-100 yards or so you see the ramp into the parking garage. Cross the car lanes and on the far side there’s a sidewalk ramp for people to walk down. That is the way into the terminal. You pretty much have to know that to find your way into where you board the ships.

glacier watching in comfort

all the view and none of the cold – glacier watching from the spa thermal suite

Our first day at sea couldn’t have been more different than boarding day. We sailed through the scenic inside passage on calm water under sunny skies. Holland America Westerdam has a great thermal suite so we even though it’s a bit pricey we splurged to be able to relax in its jetted hydrotherapy pool and sit on the awesome heated ceramic benches throughout our cruise. The ceramic benches had a nice view of the scenery passing by in the inside passage. Our beautiful weather with sunny skies and smooth seas continued through day 3 which we spent in Glacier Bay. Cruising through Glacier Bay is kind of like taking an excursion without ever leaving the ship.

cruise ship view

view from the Crow’s Nest Lounge

On the way up to Juneau passing by Admiralty Island we went up to the Crow’s Nest lounge which has big observation viewing windows. We weren’t there more than a few minutes before John spotted humpback whales in the distance, which soon became humpback whales nearby. There weren’t too many people there that early in the morning, but the ones who were flocked to the windows, a chance to see whales they never would have known were there without his announcement.

pouring broth into soup

soups in the Westerdam’s dining room were all served initially as just bits of stuff in an otherwise empty bowl, then the waiter came back and poured broth over it

On short cruises we prefer the freestyle dining where you can eat at any time during the hours where the dining room is open and choose nightly whether you want to sit with other people or not. On longer cruises we usually like early dining where you have the same table and eat with the same people each night. It’s nice to have someone to share your day with and hear about theirs and the opportunity to make new friends. Longer cruises usually have more sea days so there’s more time to linger over the dinner table. On this cruise we were assigned free dining, but waitlisted for early and transferred to early on day 2. Our tablemates all disembarked in Yokohama, but we got new ones for the Asia cruise.

Westerdam dining room

our assigned dining room table had a view out the Westerdam’s stern windows

Tables for 6 are the ideal size for us because there are enough people to keep a conversation going without having so many you can’t hear the people across the table. We were seated with a couple from Germany where the wife was originally from Japan and a couple from Canada who were originally from somewhere in Europe. Unfortunately for me the Canadian couple and the Japanese woman were all so soft spoken I could hardly hear anything they said. I have some hearing issues and individual voices over background noise is the thing that I have the most difficulty hearing. So I mainly talked to John or Martin the German man and just smiled and waited for someone else to answer when any of the others said anything. Martin was an interesting guy. He’d lived in various places around the world and spoke 12 languages. At port stops he tended to look for a mountain to climb, which he managed to do in spite of his age and the fact that walking on level ground looked like it might be a bit difficult for him. Looks can be deceiving.

Westerdam in Juneau, Alaska

Westerdam at the Juneau cruise ship port

Day 4 we crossed the Gulf of Alaska heading from Juneau to Kodiak. The sky and water were both gray, and the waves were big enough to cause enough movement in the ship to make a few people stagger, but not big enough to disrupt anything other then they had a tendency to close the outside decks in rough waves or windy weather. We always enjoy relaxing on sea days, one of the reasons we bought the thermal suite package at the spa. The internet was a disappointment though. It started out extremely slow and got slower as we got farther from civilization. As time went on instead of lowering the upgrade price to reflect less days of coverage they actually raised it, although people who had paid the extra for what was supposed to be fast enough internet for streaming didn’t always have any better luck opening email than I did so the upgrade wouldn’t have been worth the extra cost regardless.

Kodiak, Alaska

looking from the boat harbor toward Kodiak’s Fishermen’s Terminal where the cruise ship docked

Day 5 our streak of good weather continued with sunshine for our port stop in Kodiak. So far it rained only on boarding day and a sea day. Day 6 started out with the disappointment of planning to go for an early morning run and finding the promenade deck closed – something they normally only did in high winds and stormy seas of which that morning had neither. It did open later in the day. The day started out pretty gray, but the sky and sea got bluer as the day went on and we saw humpback whales after a well-timed announcement from the bridge about whales off the starboard bow that came while I happened to be on the heated ceramic bench at the spa. The windows in that room are floor to ceiling and it’s located on the starboard side near the bow. The sea was too far down to get any photos of the whales without a big fancy camera with a good telephoto lens, which I do not have.

Westerdam oceanview cabin window

sightseeing through the cabin window

Day 7 our good weather continued through the morning as we sailed through the Bering Sea with blue sky and only small waves in the sea. The night before, just a minute or two after John mentioned we had not seen Captain Mark Rowden so far this cruise we ran into him in the hallway and he said the ship was heading through a pass between some of the Aleutian Islands into the Bearing Sea for two reasons – due to the great circle route such as airplanes fly it’s actually 90 miles shorter than sailing a straight line to Japan so they save on fuel, and he was also avoiding the worst of a storm brewing south of where we were heading. Later in the day the storm started to catch up to us. The sky got grayer and the waves swelled and white caps broke out. Around lunchtime the bridge warned of high winds to come and said to stay off balconies and outside decks when they did. By late afternoon the waves grew large enough to feel some ship movement. Enough to make some people stagger a bit walking down the hallways, but not enough to toss the ship around or rock it to the point where they set out barf bags by the elevators. Winds were 30 knots with gusts up to 50. It was interesting how much bigger the waves looked through the window of our deck 1 cabin than from up high in the ship, or how it always feels like the ship is going faster when you see the water up close. Movement wise though you feel the rocking less lower down, especially middle to the back and our cabin was near the stern. These waves came diagonally to the back with a tendency to lift the ship from behind even though it has pretty good stabilizers. We could see that a bit during dinner since our table had a view out the stern windows. Around dinner time the barf bags came out – but only on the elevators next to the dining room. Coincidence or statement about the food? (Just kidding, it was gala night and the food was good. Probably actually in that location as a matter of convenience since that is where everyone would be.)

cruise ship in Glacier Bay

promenade deck on the Westerdam with a view of Johns Hopkins Glacier in Glacier Bay

Day 7 was on a Monday, but day 8 a Wednesday because of crossing the international date line. We set our clocks back an hour each night several times in a row before then. That night it officially went ahead 23 hours, which is basically the same as setting it back 1 again other than the skipped day. The sky grew grey again and the sea stormy with white caps and winds of about 40 knots. Some waves were high enough to splash higher than our window even though we were near the stern and it’s bow cabins that usually get that. The ship is pretty stable and the winds eventually died down enough that the outside promenade deck was open to anyone who doesn’t mind walking or jogging around in some wind. Through it all the ship did not rock too badly so the stabilizers did their job well. Ship movement is often most noticeable in the pools which all turn into wave pools that sometimes splash over the sides with ship movement even when you can’t really feel it. The girl at the spa desk said one of the passengers complained about the waves in the hydrotherapy pool and asked if she had some controls to shut them off. I guess that passenger doesn’t understand the motion of the ocean. Personally I see waves in the pool as bonus – extra water movement beyond what you get from the jets.

port talk

port talk about exploring on your own

After a few disappointing port talks ages ago on previous cruises that were just about trying to get people to buy ship’s shore excursions I’ve mainly avoided them on any cruise line. After missing the first few on this cruise I found out that in addition to talks about their excursions, Holland America also has EXC (Explorations Central) port talks from their independent port exploration guides that are actually useful information about places to see in port and how to get there on your own. After that I made more effort to make it to the port talks for most of our stops in Asia. The test kitchen demonstrations are also fun to watch and there were a couple good guest speakers on this cruise who gave interesting lectures. There is a limit to how many presentations I want to sit through in a day so I didn’t go to everything that I might have enjoyed. Especially never any two lectures in a row in the main theater because the seats there were quite uncomfortable and one lecture or show was more than enough time spent sitting in them.

test kitchen cooking demonstration

America’a Test Kitchen on Holland America Westerdam

After a few more mostly non-eventful days at sea where the weather improved we reached Japan on day 12 of our cruise. One of the lecturers said on a previous crossing he took across the Bearing Sea the ship pitched and rolled through violent waves the whole time so we definitely got lucky with nothing too rough for our ship’s stabilizers to handle.

pork ossobucco

this was one of my favorite meals on the Westerdam

During the course of the 14 days of the North Pacific Crossing portion of our cruise they had 3 gala nights, which is when people have to dress up in fancier clothes than they normally wear to dinner. These were previously called formal nights, and on some ships still are. Holland America changed the name because rather than tuxedos and ball gowns like people used to wear, it’s mostly suits and nice dresses, skirts or pantsuits now. Ships have the fancier nights because people are more likely to have portraits taken and buy photos when they are all dressed up and of course they want to sell photos. While we’d prefer not to have to dress up at all (or the need to pack clothes for it) we do understand that the more money they can make from add-ons like selling photos the less they have to charge for the cruise fare so the formal nights do have their purpose, though more than 2 on any  one cruise does seem a bit excessive. On this cruise they served lobster on the 3rd gala night on day 10. I tried a lot of different foods this cruise, primarily ordering out of my comfort zone which was often in the past pasta or vegetarian dishes. These tend to have wheat and often dairy which I had to mostly avoid due to starting to have stomach issues with them, which probably means I’m on the way to becoming gluten and dairy free like my sisters.

Westerdam hallway

public hallway on the Westerdam

Since the time went back an hour nearly every day of the crossing people started getting up earlier and earlier. The first morning when I went out to the promenade deck for a run it was just me at the start and then one more runner and a couple walkers by the end. As time went on more and more people were up early trying to get out to the promenade, which once we left Alaska was usually closed overnight and through the early morning. Since nobody could get outside the ever-increasing number of early risers started prowling the halls. On the rough or windy days it made sense to have the outside promenade deck closed, but even on the calmer days crossing the Bering Sea they didn’t open it until later, leaving a lot of people wandering about inside in the wee hours of the morning.

red brick warehouse shops in Hakodate, Japan

red brick warehouse shops in Hakodate, Japan

Arrival in Japan meant going through customs, which we did through customs officials brought onboard the ship the morning we arrived. Several days ahead we were given forms to choose our preferred departure time with 3 different choices given. Customs lots were assigned giving those with ship’s tours priority, followed by outside tours, then people who were just going off on their own by the order of the time frame chosen. We weren’t in any rush since the ship stayed in port until late evening and picked the middle slot rather than the early one, which was probably a mistake since they ran about an hour behind. Our streak of good weather in ports continued in Hakodate.

shrimp coctail

shrimp cocktail is a popular appetizer every day and sometimes they jazz it up with added flavors

The last sea day of the 14-day North Pacific Crossing part of our cruise brought about good weather and the promenade deck was actually open early in the morning. When I had just a few laps left to go to complete a 10k run the deck crew came out to swab the deck pouring soapy water all over starting at the bow. Passengers had to go back and forth on the ever-shrinking non-soapy area instead of making full laps.

dining room decor

the dining room was specially decorated for the invitation-only luncheon

We received an invitation to a special luncheon only for those passengers staying on the ship for the next 14-day voyage in Asia. They served Indonesian food just for the 700 passengers continuing on to the next cruise. Indonesian food is not normally served to passengers, though the galley staff probably have plenty of experience making it for the crew since a quite a lot of them come from Indonesia.


Yokohama, Japan

The last day of the North Pacific Crossing brought us to Yokohama where some passengers disembarked, new ones joined the ship, and the rest of us just went out for a port stop. The second half of our cruise was a Japan and China cruise with one stop in South Korea. Weather for Yokohama was fairly warm with a high of 66 degrees farenheight and mostly cloudy skies with just a very brief and very light bit of drizzle. While Yokohama is close enough to Tokyo for people to go there by train during a port stop, it does have quite a lot of things to do within walking distance of the ship so there’s no need to go far to find something to do.

Westerdam in Juneau

Westerdam promenade view in Juneau

Overall the North Pacific Crossing portion of our cruise was quite pleasant. We had mostly cooperative weather, lots of relaxing sea days, and interesting ports with Captain Mark Rowden and cruise director Andy Knox. Total mileage from Vancouver B.C. to Yokohama Japan was 4,940 miles at an average speed of 15.8 knots with port stops in Juneau, Kodiak, and Hakodate, and a day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay. Officers and crew on the ship totaled 801 of 43 different nationalities. During this voyage the ship desalinated 2,574 gallons of water. Of course it also can fill up the fresh water at some ports as well. These stats were provided by a cruise log found in our cabin’s sea mail box at the end of the cruise.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019

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Posted in Alaska, Canada, Holland America, Japan, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Shipboard Life, Westerdam | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lifou Cruise Ship Port

Lifou cruise port

Explorer of the Seas in Lifou

Lifou Cruise Ship Port

Cruise ships visiting Lifou anchor offshore and tender passengers to the island. Lifou is the biggest of New Caledonia‘s Loyalty Islands. Our tenders from Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas landed at a barge on the end of a long dock. Once you get to shore there’s a beach near the dock. There are no sidewalks or footpaths in Lifou, but the small roads are not busy and if you walk on the side what little traffic there is goes around you and any dogs that wander into the road. Most vehicles at the port are there for shore excursions from the ship, though a few offered on-the-spot van tours during our visit.

Lifou, New Caledonia

it’s a long walk down the tender pier at Lifou

Going to the left when reaching shore leads to all the things the port has to do. Other than a few viewpoints for taking ship photos there’s not much to the right anywhere near the port. You can walk on the road going out that direction, but make sure to stay at the edge of the road in case any traffic goes by. We saw people walking down the middle of the road totally oblivious to a car trying to get by and the driver did not look happy.

coconut crab

juvenile coconut crab

Besides a beach there is a hillside full of things to do just above where the tenders come in. Most of the little shacks offer things like massages and hair braiding, but there are also places to get food or drinks and to shop for crafts (local or made in China). One booth made their money with a coconut crab on a leash for tourists’ photos. Coconut crabs are large omnivorous native crabs that can climb coconut trees. They eat many other things besides coconuts. Though the one at the booth looked large in comparison to the average crab it was not full-grown. The leg span of a mature adult can reach 3 feet. This one  probably wasn’t even half that.

massage booth at Lifou cruise port

Some of the little booths have rentals of things for people to do. You can rent kayaks, bicycles, or snorkel gear. We heard an announcement saying glass bottom boat tours were available there too. There is some coral at that beach, mainly at the far end. Someone from our ship said they snorkeled a bit at that beach, but left the water quickly when they saw a sea snake.

Jinek Bay

fish and coral at Jinek Bay

For better snorkeling take the hike to nearby Jinek Bay Marine Park. We spent a lot of time snorkeling there and saw lots of fish and coral. We did not see any sea snakes. If you don’t have your own snorkel gear rent it before hiking over there. They did not have any snorkel gear for rent at Jinek Bay when we were there.

native hut on Lifou

native style hut by the road on the way to the cave – this one is for tourists to look in

From the port area about halfway up the hill there’s kind of a road/trail off to the side of the road that goes up the hill. That path leads to some native style huts, a little dive shop, and other areas of the beach. For anyone planning to spend their day in the cruise port area it may be a good idea to bring your own toilet paper. The bathroom there did not have any during our port stop. It’s also a good idea to bring beach shoes. The sand can get rough if any recent storms have brought up broken bits of coral.

lifou map

map of the area near the cruise port on Lifou

About halfway up the road leading from the beach to the top of the hill on the opposite side of the road from the trail a bike rental place had a handy map of the area. It’s there to let bike renters know what they could go to see, but is also quite handy if you want to find  things in the area within walking distance of the port. At the top of the hill a sign points one way for a cave and the other direction for Jinek Bay. It says both are 5 minutes away, but that would take a very brisk walk. Most people will take longer to get to either one, probably closer to 10 or 20 minutes depending on their walking speed. The sign does not mention the church at the top of the island that you can see from the ship, but if you take the road toward Jinek Bay and bypass the turnoff for the bay you’ll get there.

real native hut on Lifou where someone actually lives

Island currency is in pacific franks. They see enough tourists from Australia that people at or near the port are accustomed to taking Australian dollars. They were quite happy to take American dollars as well, but charged on par with Australian dollars and no accounting for the exchange rate so everything cost a bit more for Americans.

butterfly on Lifou

Lifou had lots of butterflies

We saw no bugs on the island other than lots of butterflies and a few ants. Bugspray kills coral larvae so wearing it to any beach with coral is quite harmful. Oils and chemicals in ordinary sunscreens also harm coral so be sure to bring reef safe sunscreen when cruising to tropical places. The good news is mineral sunscreens also better protect people from skin cancer so while helping the coral you also help yourself. Just be sure to use one that either says biodegradable or reef safe because the inert ingredients can be harmful even in a mineral sunscreen if choosing the wrong one.

flowers growing by the roadside

As for bugspray I never bring any on cruises. I’ve taken a lot of cruises to a variety of places and never seen a mosquito at or near a beach. I’ve actually only seen mosquitos once ever on a cruise and that was in a jungle in Mexico. If you’re worried about them, a dryer sheet in your pocket while you’re on dry land helps keep them at bay without posing a danger to the coral. There are lots of mosquitos in the woods near my house. I hike there all summer with a dryer sheet in my pocket and almost never get bitten. Without the dryer sheet I’m the one who gets all the bites even when nobody else gets any. I had a dryer sheet in that Mexican jungle and got no bites at all while other people without dryer sheets did get bit. Bonus – you can still use it in the dryer after you are done hiking around with it.

this sign lies – it’s longer than a 5-minute walk to either place


The walk out to the cave is pretty scenic with lots of flowers on the roadsides. Some of the flowers were full of black and white butterflies. When they stopped long enough to fold their wings we saw orange on them as well. Along the way we saw some traditional huts, one of which was set up for tourists to take photos – and it had a donation jar. The others were actually people’s homes.

church by the cave on Lifou

church near the cave

If you walk out to see the cave you know you are nearly there when you come to an obvious church on the left and another building not so obviously a church on the right. Just past the church on the left there’s a field with an archway sign for the cave at the far end. Far enough back in the field that you aren’t that likely to notice it from the road. When we were there the open-sided building at the corner of the field was full of people who had a sign by the road about the cave. When we first walked out there in the morning it said $5 for a guide to the cave and we decided not to go in.

cave trail sign Lifou, New Caledonia

the cave trail sign is not near the road

After my husband went back to the ship I decided I wanted to see the cave after all. I like caves a lot more than he does. When I went back later their sign said it was $10 for adults and $5 for children. I don’t know if these guys are officially taking money for anything associated with the cave or are just locals who have found an easy way to make some cash, but they let me go by for $5 with no guide.

trail to Lifou cave

a steep narrow path through some rocks started the descent to the cave

Nobody I came across in the cave actually had a guide and the people I asked about it had paid the full price. There were no posted signs anywhere saying that it actually cost anything to go to the cave, but the guys with the sign did not let anyone pass without paying. You could probably get to the pathway to the cave from the other side of the church rather than walking directly past them, but they would still see you. I figured it’s not that much money and they probably need it worse than I do even if they are just locals with a scam and not officially associated with the cave. Of course it is possible they actually are legitimate. Plus if they weren’t there most people would walk on by down the road and never even know they had missed the cave since the pathway to the cave was at the far end of that field with a sign nobody would be likely to notice, but the signs those guys had made it obvious that was the right place.

trail to the cave on Lifou

the rope along the cave trail may have been stable in the past, but does not look trustworthy now

The cave is not far from the road. Their sign said 2 minutes walk, which is far more accurate than the sign that said 5 minutes to everywhere from the cruise port. At first it’s a level trail, but once you get near the cave it becomes quite steep in some places. It’s not accessible for anyone with any balance or mobility issues or walking problems. Of all the sites you can walk to from the port in Lifou this one is the most difficult to get to. Some places on the trail require climbing over rocks and there is a hill laced with tree roots. Parts of the trail traverse narrow ledges. Most of the trail has a rope along the edge, but not all the posts the rope attaches to are stable so holding onto it for balance would be a bad idea.

trail to cave on Lifou

pass over rocks, roots, and narrow ledges on the way to the cave

At the bottom of the tree root hill the trail splits. One way (left) goes to an overlook of the pool at the bottom and the other which at first looks like a dead end leads to the entrance to the area with the pool, which is the cave. The way down to the cave entrance is very narrow so if someone is coming out wait in a wider spot for them to pass by before continuing down.

cave on Lifou

small cave with a pool near Lifou cruise port

The cave is a large opening in the rock, mostly inside except the window at the overlook. There is a light on one wall so it’s not too dark. People jump off the walls into the pool. Mostly from the large flat area that is closest to the water, but some from a higher ledge on the far side. Once in the pool they have to climb up several feet of rock wall to get out. As caves go this one is not too impressive. It’s not actually a cave at all, but rather a landlocked cenote which is basically a sinkhole in limestone so the pool goes down quite deep. It’s most noted for nautilus shells divers found deep in the pool that were later determined to be from ancient sea creatures trapped there when the cave lost its connection to the sea rather than something someone threw into the pool.

last bit of the pathway up to Notre Dame de Lourdes church

Notre Dame de Lourdes Church

Where the road to Jinek Bay branches, the left fork leads to the church and the right to the bay. We saw more of the mainly black and white butterflies and some yellow ones on the way to the church. Also a lot of them up by the church. There was a dog sleeping on one of the overlook platforms at this church, and we saw a couple on the porch of the church by the cave as well. I guess the dogs of Lifou like to go to church.

trail to the hilltop church on Lifou

pathway to the church at the top of the hill on Lifou with a view of tenders and the dock

The pathway up to the church varies from a cement type ramp to uneven coral stairs. Some portions of it could be difficult for people who are not steady on their feet.

hilltop church

Notre Dame de Lourdes church on Lifou

Notre Dame de Lourdes Church is smaller than you would think when looking at it from the ship. I guess the hill is not as tall as it looks from a distance. It’s a tiny church with a big view.

inside old mission church

inside Notre Dame de Lourdes church

The little church was built by missionaries who came to the island in the 1850’s. It fills the majority of the space at the top of the hill, but there is room to walk around it and a couple platforms to stand on and enjoy the views. Besides the cruise ship, tender pier, and open water, Jinek Bay is visible from the hilltop.

good to see people protecting their coral

Jinek Bay Marine Reserve

On the way into the bay there’s a sign that says not to put on sunscreen before going into the water. This is to protect the coral. Oils and chemicals in ordinary sunscreens suffocate and bleach corals leading to their demise and this is a protected area for the coral. Where the road bends to the right when you’ve nearly reached the bay there’s a building off to the left. It’s a free bathroom with toilet paper. This may not sound too impressive, but for Lifou at the time of our visit it was a great find.

coral reef

fish and coral

Of all the places we’ve snorkeled, only the Great Barrier Reef was better than Jinek Bay. This bay is full of a variety of corals, bigger and brighter than those found in the Caribbean. There are some of the yellow and purple colors found in corals of the Great Barrier Reef, and plenty of brownish or beige ones closer to the colors most often seen in the Caribbean. Standing on corals is not allowed, but there are some broken ones where people have disobeyed that rule. Centuries to grow and seconds to break. Sadly there is quite a large patch of dead coral near the shore, most likely due to careless visitors.

clown fish

clown fish and sea anemone

There are numbered bouys about the bay. We found the most colorful coral near number 4 on our visit. Number 2 had a patch with sea anemones and neon bright clown fish. Out near 6 and 7 the deeper water made for taller reefs and number 8 had some big brown and white corals shaped like giant flowers that I have not seen anywhere else.


Jinek Bay had lots of big brown flower-like corals

It costs $15 to snorkel in the bay and there was no snorkel gear for rent there on our visit so you have to bring it with you. They did have some noodles and other floatation devices for those who wanted them, but having one was not required. The water was pretty calm the day we went and I used just the mask and snorkel, no fins. Most other people did wear fins. I never use snorkel vests or other floatation devices if it’s not required because it’s actually harder to dive under the surface than it is to float on top, but for anyone who is not confident in their swimming skills it is good that they have some available.

pathway down to the water at Jinek Bay

You pay a lot more than $15 for shore excursions that rarely go to places where the snorkeling is this good so we considered it money well spent. There is no beach at this bay. Entry into the water is via a stairway that goes down from both ends of a platform. All the cruise ship people used the stairs, but some local boys were jumping into the water from the platform and the shore.

boy jumping off a cliff

boy jumping into the sea

People just leave their things on shore while they go into the water and nobody bothered them. I did not have anything of value in my bag other than the required ship’s card and my ID and a small amount of cash. Getting back on board the ship could be difficult without the ship’s card so it was probably the most valuable thing I had. They did not ask for ID at this port. Mostly American and Canadian ports are the ones that will ask, but now and then some other random port does. I always figure it would be sure to be the one where I didn’t have mine if I ever didn’t bring it.

even among fish you find posers

There are little waterproof plastic cases that can be used for small items like cards or cash in places that it isn’t safe to leave your things on shore. I have one on a string that hangs around the neck, but did not use it at this place. Most of the people there were other passengers from our ship and there’s not much crime on Lifou.

staghorn coral

staghorn coral

Corals here included brain, staghorn, hard, plate, and many others. This is an excellent port stop for snorklers. Snorkeling is my favorite thing to do on cruises. The $15 is good for all day and I actually did come back to Jinek Bay again for a second snorkel session after my husband went back to the ship. Caves aren’t the only thing I’m more into than he is.



Excursions offered from our ship for this port were all lower priced than the average cruise ship excursion at $49 to $55, but still about double the total cost of going to both the snorkel bay and the cave on your own. Going to the church on the hill was free. The ship had a tour to the Cliffs of Jokin, one to a Vanilla House, one to a beach on the far side of the island, a Melanesian encounter, and an excursion to a forest and secret grotto. Because of the excellent snorkeling at Jinek Bay, Lifou is one of my all-time favorite port stops.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
Posted in Explorer of the Seas, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Exploring Yokohama

Yokohama, Japan

view of the ship and port area from the ferris wheel

In a port stop at Yokohama, Japan’s Osanbashi Pier passengers don’t have far to go to find tourist attractions. In fact the pier itself is an attraction with trails and green space on top of the port buildings. From our ship, the Holland America Westerdam, we saw locals running by having their morning exercise on top of the pier.

sailing ship museum in Yokohama

looking down on the sailing ship museum from the ferris wheel at Cosmoworld

The waterfront trails run beyond the pier to Yamashita Park, which is near to the Yokohama Marine Tower and Chinatown. The area is dotted with various little museums, including one in an old ship at the park and another in an old sailing ship near an amusement park in the Minato Mirai Shinko district area out the opposite direction from the pier.

Yokohama at night

night view from the ship

The walking trail along the waterfront extends in either direction from the end of the pier. From the ship you can see a large ferris wheel and heading toward it takes you into the Minato Mirai Shinko district past the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse and World Porters shops. Though only the ferris wheel is visible from the ship, once you get there the amusement park called Cosmoworld has many more rides and attractions. There are roller coasters and both indoor and outdoor arcades near the ferris wheel, and other rides and a children’s ride area across a bridge near the sailing ship museum. Just across the street from the ferris wheel sits the Cup Noodles museum. For anybody who swears the name of this product is Cup O’Noodles – the name I remember it by – it was called Cup O’Noodles in the USA until 1993.

blue elephant in Yokohama, Japan

Funny little blue elephants dot the sidewalk by a seaside park. The yellow stripe with raised bumps and strips is for the blind to feel with their canes so they can find their way.

On the way to the Cup Noodle Museum and Cosmoworld we walked through a waterfront park area across the water from the ship. It had funny little elephant statues along the walkway and great views of the ship and the pier. Locals gathered there at lunchtime as well as passing through for their daily exercise running or walking their dogs. Like vehicles, dogs in Japan tended to be small. Our blue heeler is a medium sized dog at home, but would have seemed huge there.

how to cross a busy street in Yokohama

raised circular pedestrian bridge for crossing a busy street

Farther along the way to the Ferris Wheel and Cup Noodles Museum we came to a busy road. They made crossing it easy with a circular walkway above the road where people could enter or leave at any corner. The raised walkway offered some great views of the surrounding area and a semi-distant bridge.

display at the cup noodle museum

the tiny shack where Momofuku Ando lived and invented instant ramen

Like many things in Japan, Cosmoworld didn’t open until 10am so we went to the Cup Noodles Museum first since it opened earlier. Inside there are a variety of displays about instant ramen and cup noodles, all invented by one down-on-his-luck Japanese man named Momofuku Ando. Well down on his luck before his inventions anyway. His fortune turned around after that.

cup noodles museum

display of year-by-year ever expanding product lines

He first invented the instant sort of chicken ramen with its fried noodles and soup packet that most people are familiar with in 1958 when he was in his forties. Japanese people ate ramen noodles long before that, but they were not the instant type.

making ramen at the Cup Noodle Museum

kids making ramen at the Cup Noodle Museum

Later came cup noodles in 1971 when he was in his sixties. The biggest dilemma with these was how to get the cluster of noodles into the cup nice and straight with a bit of air space underneath. After trial and error they finally discovered putting the cup down onto the noodles worked better than trying to put the chunk of noodles into the cup. His final invention was Space Ram, which he invented in his nineties. This space-friendly version of ramen noodles was actually used and eaten by astronauts in space.

cup noodle museum

at the Cup Noodle Factory people design their own cup and pick their own flavors to design their own personal Cup Noodles

Besides displays on ramen and cup noodles the museum also has (for an extra charge) a make-it-yourself chicken ramen factory where kids make their own ramen noodles from scratch and a cupnoodles factory where people start with a cup they can design to their liking and then fill with noodles and their choice of soup and toppings. That cup can then be sealed to take home.

giant ferris wheel in Yokohama

at the top of the ferris wheel

Prices at Cosmoworld amusement park are per ride. The giant ferris wheel moves continuously at a slow enough rate that people can get in and out of the gondolas without stopping the wheel. You just get once around, but it goes up quite high and the views are fantastic. From up there you can see all the other rides which include a flume ride surrounded by water and a diving coaster roller coaster that disappears into a hole in the ground surrounded by a fountain that sprays up as the coaster enters giving the appearance of it splashing into the water.

diving roller coaster

diving coaster at Cosmoworld

To ride either the ferris wheel or diving coaster you start by walking up a stairway – blue for the wheel and pink like the track for the coaster. At the coaster you leave any loose items like phones, cameras, purses, or backpacks in a locker before the ride starts and pick them up when it ends. It looks like a lot of pink track snaking through the amusement park, but the coaster travels pretty fast so it doesn’t take it long to get all the way around. When the coaster dives into the hole it travels a short distance underground surrounded by neon lights before resurfacing back above ground. At night the wheel lights up like a laser light show.

fake food

one of many fake food displays in a market stall that sold only fake food

Red Brick Warehouse shops seem to be a common thing in Japan as we saw them in some other ports as well. This one had a lot of shops featuring fake food. While the fake food makes sense as display menus for restaurants like we saw in Hakodate, the things here appeared to be for personal use. They even had fake toast light switch plate covers with or without jelly. At least plastic jelly only looks sticky.

odd Japanese snacks

can’t say that I’d want to eat anything called Death Mix

Besides the usual assortment of snacks unidentifiable to anyone who doesn’t read Japanese, we also saw some edibles that looked downright frightening. Even worse than the usual sort of gelatinous blobs of unknown substances in plastic wrap that are probably some sort of seafood, but possibly sweets. Although with these new treats it was more the name we shied away from than the actual appearance of the product.

pedestrian bridge in Yokohama

on the pedestrian bridge

There is more to see or do in Yokohama within walking distance of the ship than there is time to see it all during the average cruise ship port stop, but for those who want to venture farther a shuttle is available to a nearby train station which can also be reached from a walking path. There are parks, gardens, a museum, and a zoo near the train station, and people can catch a train to Tokyo from there.

Yokohama, Japan

view of amusement park rides from the ferris wheel

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

How to Fold a Towel Skunk

towel skunk

Some people might think making a towel skunk stinks, but I had a request for instructions on how to make one, so I had to figure out how. Here it is, a brand new My Cruise Stories original towel animal. Possibly the only towel skunk folding directions in existence since the person requesting it could not find them anywhere.

Supplies Needed

2 black washcloths             1 white washcloth               1 rubber band

black bath towel                 eyes (googly, felt, or paper)


fold each corner down from the center of the folded end of the washcloth

Use 1 black washcloth to make the skunk’s head. Start by folding the washcloth in half on a straight line so it comes out as a rectangle.

with both sides folded over it looks like a triangle

From the center of the folded edge, fold both ends over into triangles so that the center of the original fold is at the peak of the larger triangle formed by folding the ends over.

fold over the long edge

Fold long edge over on top of the side with triangle folds.

fold in half with previous folds to outside, secure with a rubber band, and shape ears and nose

Fold the whole thing in half with the long fold to the outside. Carefully pull the tips of the corners of the triangles out from under folded edge to make small ears. Shape nose as desired and secure long bits with rubber band under head.


towel origami

roll both ends of bath towel to center

The skunk uses the standard towel animal body. Start by laying the bath towel out flat. From the short ends, tightly roll both sides to the center.

fold with rolls to the outside and pull tips out of the center of the end of each roll

Fold in half with the rolls to the outside. Pull the tip out of the center of each roll.

towel art

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

Grab the pulled corners of both ends of one roll in one hand, and the pulled corners of both ends of the other roll in the other hand.

how to fold cruise ship towel animals

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

Pull them tight and stretch into animal body with four legs. If you can’t pull all 4 legs all the way out at once pull them as far as you can, then set the body down and do one pair at a time. Set the body down with the longer part of the towel running lengthwise across the legs on top. (The side shown in the picture above.)

Tail and stripe

fold black washcloth into a triangle, roll white washcloth and set in triangle’s peak

Fold the second black washcloth in half diagonally so it forms a triangle. Start with one corner of the white washcloth and roll it until you reach the opposite corner so the whole thing is one long roll. Place white washcloth with the tip of one end sitting just inside the peak of the triangle in the black washcloth.

fold the sides of the triangle over the roll.

Fold the black triangle over on both sides along the edges of the white roll.

put the stripe between the folds of black towel on the back of the body with the tail hanging out between the back legs

Set the long part of the white stripe that is not within the black washcloth between the rolls on the towel body, with the tail part hanging out beyond the back legs and adjust the tail part so the black doesn’t cover the white.


Put the head between the legs at the other end of body. Tuck the end of the stripe into the  back of the head and arrange the stripe, tail, head, and body as desired.

finished towel skunk

Add eyes. Googly eyes work nicely with a bit of double-stick tape to hold them on. Eyes made from things like felt, paper or bits of cloth work fine too. If you really wanted to get creative you could add a little white felt stripe to the face so the skunk has a stripe there too like a real one.

For instructions on how to fold lots of different towel animals, see My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

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Los Angeles Cruise Ship Ports

people on the way to board and stuff waiting to get loaded on the Royal Princess

Like many cruise ports associated with large well-known cities, the cruise port in Los Angeles is located somewhere with a different name. Usually these ports are a completely different city, but in this case San Pedro has not been an independent city for over 100 years and is actually an area of Los Angeles. Most cruise ships sailing out of Los Angeles leave from San Pedro’s World Cruise Center, except for Carnival whose ships normally sail from nearby Long Beach which is a separate city.

Golden Princess at San Pedro World Cruise Center, taken from Royal Princess

Both of these ports are south of LAX, with San Pedro about 20 miles from the airport and Long Beach about 30. Our cruise on the Royal Princess left from the World Cruise Center in San Pedro. Given LA’s notorious reputation for long lines of unmoving traffic on overcrowded freeways, we booked flights that came in well ahead of the time it should actually take to get from the airport to the cruise dock before boarding time. Better early than late and we wanted to make it to the ship on time regardless of whether we had any airplane delays or faced severe traffic.

people checked in and waiting for boarding to start at the cruise terminal in San Pedro

You can get from the airport to the cruise dock by cruise line shuttle, taxi, Uber, or Lyft. Cruise line shuttles charge by the person so they often end up costing more than other transportation since the rest charge by time or distance – although a taxi meter running in unmoving traffic could surpass the shuttle’s set fee if someone got quite unlucky. The advantage of the cruise line shuttle is that if they are providing the transportation the ship has to wait for you if it is late, but you would still have to get to the airport in time to catch your shuttle. When getting to the port on your own the ship will not wait for you if you don’t get there before the all aboard time. Which is why it is a good idea to fly in well ahead of boarding time to account for any possible delays.

almost onboard

We went with Uber, which for 3 of us was considerably cheaper than taking the shuttle, and also less than taking a taxi. It just took a few minutes for pick-up, and we got lucky and didn’t encounter any slow traffic so we arrived at the port well ahead of our scheduled boarding time.

aerial view of the World Cruise Center in San Pedro (internet photo)

The World Cruise Center in San Pedro has 2 cruise ship berths, 2 terminal buildings, parking for people who drive to the terminal (at $18 per day) with shuttle service from the parking lot to the cruise terminal, and electricity by solar power. It’s the biggest cruise port on the west coast. There’s an old battleship (the Iowa) at the pier which is now a museum so if you have some time to kill before boarding there’s something to do right there. For those staying in San Pedro other things to do include a brewery tour, aquarium, shops, restaurants, and parks where you can see a lighthouse or the Korean Bell of Friendship, a gift from Korea in 1976. The day we boarded there was a Cirque du Soleil tent set up in the parking lot at the cruise terminal, but that is not a permanent feature.

aerial view of Long Beach Cruise Terminal (internet photo)

Carnival owns and operates the Long Beach Cruise Terminal. It is located next to the Queen Mary, a former cruise ship that is now used as a hotel, restaurant, bar, and entertainment venue. There are also ship tours available. Parking at the Long Beach port costs $20 per day. Hotels in the area offer park & sail packages for people who arrive by car and want to take advantage of the opportunity to stay for a night and leave their car at the hotel to save money on parking. For those who are staying in Long Beach before or after their cruise, there are things to do there in addition to visiting the Queen Mary. The city has an aquarium and plenty of shops, restaurants, and theaters. Whale watching cruises are available in the harbor.

big bumper for a big ship

Boarding the Royal Princess in San Pedro was a quick and easy process. The spacious terminal could have accommodated a lot more people than were there waiting before boarding time. The check-in process was quick and efficient, and once the boarding process started it didn’t take long to get through all the priority passengers and on down to everyone else.

watching a sailboat go by

The Golden Princess was also in port that day. It left just before we did. Apparently the way the ships were docked we had to wait for them to leave in order to use their space to turn around before heading out. We had a good view from our cabin’s balcony of the Golden Princess passing by our ship on its way out. We also saw a big sailboat and a harbor cruise go by. On the other side of the waterway our view was of a container port, but we could see the city from the top deck of the ship.

Golden Princess leaving LA

As the Golden Princess passed by our ship they tooted their horn, as cruise ships often do when leaving port. Of course when there is a second ship they often toot too, and sometimes get into a horn battle. Royal Princes responded to Golden Princess’ toot by playing the theme to The Love Boat on the horn, so Royal Princess won that horn battle hands down. A song beats a toot any day.

city view from the Royal Princess

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Intrepid Aircraft Carrier Museum

Intrepid Museum

Vista through the Growler Sub at the Intrepid Museum

Our back-to-back European and transatlantic cruises on Carnival Vista came to a close after sailing past the statue of Liberty and into New York harbor in the middle of the night.

statue of liberty

sailing past the Statue of Liberty in the middle of the night

We were happy to have a balcony room so we didn’t have to go far to see the statue as the ship passed. It’s all lit up at night, but with just a pocket camera I didn’t get very good pictures.

Vista from the Intrepid

Vista behind the flight deck of the Intrepid

Vista docked on the west side of Manhattan just blocks from all the theaters and right next to the former aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a museum. While the ship stayed there a couple nights, the only passengers allowed to stay on it were those going back to back on the next cruise. We disembarked and stayed at a hotel in Queens for a couple nights, riding the subway into town like real New Yorkers.

concorde at the Intrepid Museum

concorde on the Intrepid

New York has lots to see and do. We quite enjoyed our stay there. One day we practically went back to the Vista since it was still there when we visited the unusual museum in a former aircraft carrier, the World War 2 and Vietnam era Intrepid. It’s definitely worth seeing. The base fare includes the ship and a submarine called Growler. Other exhibits like the space shuttle pavilion and the concorde cost extra. New York has other museums, but this is the only one we went to in our short stay there.

Growler submarine

bunking with torpedoes on the Growler submarine

The submarine Growler was near the entrance and didn’t have much of a line so we went there first. Space on that submarine was so tight that some sailors had to bunk with the torpedoes. Strange bunkmates indeed, but at least they didn’t snore or complain about anything.

sonar room on a submarine

sonar room on the Growler

The captain fared better than most, having a room to himself, but even his quarters were cramped. Of course this submarine is old enough to be a museum and not very big. Larger modern day subs probably have nicer accommodations for the crew.

aircraft carrier mess hall

mess hall display on the Intrepid

Compared to the submarine quarters on the aircraft carrier are spacious. Even the bunks themselves are bigger, though there was a room with 36 of them in about the space of one cruise ship cabin. Officers and enlisted men had separate mess halls and dining areas on the ship.

aircraft carrier bridge

bridge on the Intrepid

old fashioned phone

bridge communications 1940’s style

You know the ship is old when you see rotary phones on the bridge. If the phones went out, communication with the rest of the ship was done through tubes that the captain could yell into.

aircraft carrier museum

planes on the flight deck, and the Vista photobombing

The flight deck has quite a display of aircraft from different times and places. You can find more on the hangar deck. It also has several movie screens on the hangar deck that drop down at showtime to tell the story of the day two kamikazes hit the ship during World War 2. Lights and smoke effects enhance the part of the story where the ship catches fire. It survived that hit and continued service through the war and beyond.

airplane hanger in aircraft carrier

airplane with folding wings in the hanger

The hanger deck also has an exploration area where people can go inside model cockpits from planes, helicopters, and even a submarine. There’s also a few rides there.

space capsule on an aircraft carrier

retrieval of an apollo era space capsule

Besides the flight and hanger decks you get to go into the tower and see the bridge and navigation. From a window there you can see the ship retrieving a model of an old space capsule after splashdown.

Intrepid bunk room

bunk room on the Intrepid

The other deck on display is the third level down which has living quarter and mess hall displays as well as food for sale in a former mess hall.

space shuttle

space shuttle Enterprise

The space shuttle pavilion houses the very first shuttle, named the Enterprise. It was a prototype and test model that never actually went into space. Underneath the Enterprise space shuttle sits a movie prop shuttlecraft from the original Star Trek show’s Enterprise.

Star Trek shuttle craft

shuttlecraft from the Enterprise on the original Star Trek show

The space shuttle pavilion also has several displays with different information about space shuttles and the shuttle program.

space capsule

looking inside a Russian soyuz space capsule

Before space shuttles the Russians had the Soyuz Space Capsule which they still use to this day. Since America no longer uses the shuttles they now have to pay Russia to bring people to and from the space station.

aircraft carrier museum


Overall the Intrepid Museum had quite a lot to see and visiting it made for quite an interesting day. This ship served the nation well in its time, but technology moves on and if the military doesn’t keep up the world leaves it behind so they get new ships and old ones like this that were once the pinnacle of technology become a piece of history.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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Cozumel Cruise Ship Ports

Cozumel cruise ship dock

Veendam at Puerta Maya dock in Cozumel

There are 3 cruise ship docks in Cozumel. Carnival has its own dock called Puerta Maya. Ships from any of Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines can go to the 4 berths there. The nearby International Pier, which is the oldest pier on the island, holds 2 ships and Punta Langosta Pier in downtown San Miguel is also available for other lines so ships not from the Carnival family do have places to go. If there are more ships in town than available dock space they can anchor offshore and tender to Punta Langosta. We’ve never seen it that crowded, but apparently it does happen. Carnival Corp owns a lot of other lines besides Carnival Cruises so their dock will sometimes have ships from other lines, like our ship when we came there on the Holland America Veendam. All the other berths were empty that day, but even though our ship had Puerta Maya to ourselves it docked at the farthest spot from shore.

shops in Puerta Maya

Most of our visits to Cozumel have been at the Puerta Maya dock, though we did dock at the International Pier once when sailing with MSC. We have not been to Punta Langosta, though I have seen Norwegian ships docked there from a distance when sailing into a different pier.

Puerta Maya

more shops in Puerta Maya

At Puerta Maya dock passengers have to walk through the longest duty-free shop ever to get to the entrance to the port area. Sometimes we have been able to bypass part of the shop and walk outside, but other times that area has been marked for crew only.

duty free shop Puerta Maya

long narrow duty free shop on the pier

Once you finally get to the end of the shop you have to pass by fruit-sniffing dogs so don’t bother trying to smuggle any fruit to shore from the ship. Normally when we pass through there the dogs actively sniff everyone, but on our last visit two dogs snoozed lazily while their handlers hand-checked all the bags. It took them a whole lot longer to look in bags than it takes for dogs to sniff them so it pretty well stuffed up the line of people trying to get to shore. We also saw fruit-sniffing dogs the time we were at the International Pier. The ones there were actually hard at work with their noses busily sniffing everything anyone brought to shore though so people pretty much just walked by while they sniffed without them really slowing anyone down unless they had a suspicious smelling bag.

cruise ship port in Cozumel

Three Amigos bar at Puerta Maya cruise ship port

After the bag check in Puerta Maya you come to an open space with signs designating meeting places for ship’s excursions straight ahead, and bars to either side. Either Straight ahead beyond the shore excursion signs or off to the right past Fat Tuesdays leads to a lot more shops, bars, and food, or you can go to the Three Amigos bar on the left – the one with giant chairs out front.

Puerta Maya cruise port

sign at the entryway to Puerta Maya cruise port

Upon making your way to the far end of the port there’s a taxi stand with a sign saying how much the ride is to Chankanaab Park or a variety of beach bars. A lot people who don’t do ship’s excursions will take a taxi either to Chankannab or one of the many little beach bars scattered along the coast. The price varies slightly depending on how far away each bar is, but it is by distance rather than by person so if you have a few people to split the bill with it hardly costs anything. Just beyond the taxi stand you can leave the pier to walk toward town.

Cozumel, Mexico

in Cozumel near Atlantis Submarine

The International Pier also exits passengers through a shopping area as they leave their ships. The pier entrance may not be downtown like Punta Langosta, but it certainly feels like you are right in the heart of a town there with shops and hotels all around. Carnival’s pier isn’t much farther out so it’s just a short walk from there to all the things along the road near the International Pier.

ferry in Cozumel

ferry to Playa del Carmen

The main ferry dock in town for those wishing to go to Playa del Carmen on their own is near Punta Langosta, but there is always a ferry to Playa del Carmen right next to the cruise ship dock for people with excursions on the mainland. When we came on Holland America Veendam one ferry picked up all of the people with mainland excursions right off the ship before disembarkation started rather than at the nearby dock. A lot of the mainland attractions have a bus ride after the ferry and excursions there run for around 7 or 8 hours so if there is something on the mainland that you really want to see it’s easiest just to book it through the ship – plus if your excursion gets back late the ship will wait when it is their excursion, but not if you go on your own. And the return ferry drops you off right by your cruise pier for their excursions.

rocky coastline

most of the coastline near the cruise port is rocky

To explore Cozumel on your own from either Puerta Maya or the International Pier, going to the left as you exit either of these piers leads into town where there are options for things to do. Although the actual downtown area is about a half hour’s walk or a short taxi ride away, there is quite a bit right there within easy walking distance of the two piers. Scooters and jeeps are readily available for rent and little “information” booths offer rides to beach bars as well as snorkel or island tours. It’s a pretty short walk to Atlantis Subs so anyone who didn’t book through the ship, but decides they’d like to go can find it there. Next to the Atlantis place there’s a little beach with stairways into the sea where people can go to dive or snorkel. It’s free if you have your own gear, and there’s a dive shop on the far side of the beach that can rent gear or even provide snorkel tours or diving lessons. They did recommend taking a float along if snorkeling from there so the boats can see you as that area does get some boat traffic if you get very far from the beach.

beach bar in Cozumel

beach bar near the cruise docks

Most of Cozumel’s beach bars are out the other direction and too far to walk, but easily accessible by taxi. There are a few beach bars along the stretch of town near the piers as well. Most of the beach bars in Cozumel have a cover fee to get in. One fenced off stretch of beach belongs to a hotel across the street, and they will give cruise ship passengers a cheap day-pass that includes a buffet lunch if those passengers want to take the time to see the hotel and its rooms and listen to their spiel about staying there should you ever come to visit the island without the cruise ship. Kind of like going to a timeshare presentation just to get the prize offered for attending.

Puerta Maya cruise ship port

meeting area for ship’s excursions in Puerta Maya

Ship’s Excursions

Cruise ships offer quite a variety of excursions in Cozumel. Some of these excursions stay on the island while others take a ferry to the mainland, landing at Playa del Carmen. The Veendam had mainland tours to several different Mayan ruins as well as one to the Amazing Secret River, which is swimming and walking through an underground cave, and one to Xcaret park. Tours on Cozumel included island tours or San Gervasio archeological site, wine and or chocolate tours, a teqilla tour, atlantis submarine, America’s cup sailboat racing, ATV, zip line, fishing, snorkeling, kayaks, snuba, and diving. Other lines offer some of the same excursions and some different things.

Cozumel, Mexico

shoreline near the cruise docks

More Blogs about Cozumel

Cozumel, Mexico

Atlantis Submarine

Cave Snorkeling

Chankanaab Park

Palancar Reef Snorkel

Playa Mia Beach Bar

Sky Reef Beach Bar

Tulum Mayan Ruins

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019


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