Exploring Zurich

Zurich old town city view from riverside path

After our late arrival in Zurich due to our plane landing late at Heathrow resulting in a missed connection, we had just had one morning to explore Zurich before catching a train to Lucerne. Since we were staying in the old town area we just went out and walked around. First we went to the train station to store our luggage. The station was just across the street from the apartment where we’d spent the night and check-out time was in the morning and our train not until afternoon.

Zurich main train station

Zurich’s main station is a monstrous multi-level place with shops all over and numerous train platforms. It was much too early to see what platform our train would be on, but I did notice the trains to Lucerne were all on low-numbered platforms in the 6-8 range, which conveniently happened to be quite near the luggage storage locker area, just one level up. Restrooms are also near the luggage storage area, but you have to pay to go in so we never used them. The larger train stations all seemed to have pay restrooms, while the smaller restrooms at small stations were more likely to be free.

one of many luggage locker bays at the Zurich train station

My little carry-on size suitcase and backpack fit easily into one of their lower level large size lockers, but my husband had to work at getting his bigger bag in there, though it did work out in the end. You put stuff in a locker with a green light, then shut the door and it flashes red, at which time you pay on a nearby pad. You get a receipt and the light turns to solid red, locking your things in until you come back. Save the receipt because you need to  insert the end with a barcode into the slot they have on the pay pad for scanning it, which makes the door pop open. Very useful when checking out of your lodgings hours before leaving town when you don’t want to drag luggage around all day.

Zurich light rail

Zurich has a lot of public transportation. There were lots of light rail trains all over, as well as busses, taxis, and uber. We just walked along the river out one direction and back and then out the other way and back. There were trails all along the river and some parks. Lots of people were out for a run or pushing strollers or walking dogs. In the summer there are boat rides, but not in November when we were there.

Christmas bobbles on light fixtures by the river

We saw people putting Christmas balls on light fixtures and some sort of carnival in the midst of being set-up. Where the river widened out into more lake size there was a pretty big marina. It started out with little boats on the end we got to first where the river hadn’t gotten as wide yet, then spread out to bigger boats as the river widened. There were a few ducks and a lot of swans.

cobblestone streets in old town Zurich

The old town area has lots of interesting buildings. There are bell towers that all rang at 11am the day we were there. Old churches and cathedrals send spires skyward, and some buildings look like castles. The road is wide along the river, but if you go up a block into the old town there are narrow cobblestone streets and even narrower alleyways snaking their way between the buildings. Sometimes they open up into a sort of plaza or town square.

meal in a box

We stopped at a little shop for lunch that served something called a doner box, where they piled your meal into a box. Something we’ve never seen before, but we wanted to try something local and it was more affordable than most places around there. Meat choices were chicken or lamb, which was layered with French fries, a sauce of your choice, and a bit of lettuce, tomato, and onion if you wanted it. It was actually quite tasty, and made me wonder if the Canadian favorite poutine which I have never tried may not be as disgusting as it sounds. For anyone who has never heard of poutine, it consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy in its most basic form, and may have other things like meat added. Food in Switzerland was very expensive. We could get two meals in Austria for about the same price as one meal in Switzerland so while we were there we mostly just ordered one thing and shared it. Luckily the portions were usually fairly generous.

short train

We got back to the train station early enough to wander around a bit, though probably only saw a fraction of it as it seemed to go on forever in multiple directions. When the reader board said our train was coming on platform 6 we retrieved our luggage and went out to wait for it. A little short train arrived soon after. Nobody came out to say anything or take tickets, or even open doors, which did not open on their own. People just had to walk up to a carriage and open the door themselves to get inside. Our ticket said we could sit anywhere that was not reserved or first class and not seeing anything that looked like either we just picked some seats and sat down.

apparently sleeping is not allowed in the park in Zurich

Most of the trains we took had luggage racks above the seats that would hold our backpacks and small suitcases like mine, but only a couple of the longer distance trains had luggage racks big enough for John’s large suitcase. He has said since he would pack lighter if we were to travel around by train like that again. Even though we were visiting cold places pre-cruise and warm ones during the cruise I packed light and did laundry by hand along the way because I did not want to drag a big bag around on the trains.

marina in Zurich

After stopping at a couple little stations the train slowed down when there was a much longer one ahead of it on the track. It caught up and hooked into that train so we became the tail end of a long train instead of a little short train. The ride from Zurich to Lucerne was 50 minutes with a number of brief stops, but no need to get off or change trains. Lucerne was the end of the line for our small section of the train and everyone had to get off, but walking past the larger section, which had upper and lower levels in each car where ours had only one, we could see people sitting in there so they either didn’t have to get off or had gotten on very quickly. Perhaps the longer bit of the train ditched our small one there and the rest of it continued on to someplace else.

riverside trail in Zurich

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Jenolan Caves

Jenolan Cave

Jenolan Caves

Deep into Australia’s Blue Mountains lies the extensive and impressive Jenolan Caves. These spectacular caves are well worth a tour. Visitors to Sydney without their own cars can get to the caves by taking a train to the mountain town of Katoomba and a bus tour to the caves from there. Katoomba itself is a touristy town with the Three Sisters rock formation as the best known sight there. Nearby Scenic World makes a great place to visit with the world’s steepest railway and a couple scenic rides.

Katoomba Hotel

one of the sitting rooms at the Metropole Hotel in Katoomba

Katoomba has hotels for those wishing to overnight in the area. The historic Metropole, Katoomba’s oldest hotel, sits just across the street from the train station. Besides reasonably priced spacious lodgings this quirky hotel has little sitting room areas, a library, and a game room. Some meals are available for an extra charge. Katoomba has other hotels and resorts and lodging is also available in a hotel and other accommodations at the caves. There’s also the option of a day trip on a bus tour straight from Sydney.

hotel at Jenolan Caves

Caves House Hotel at Jenolan Caves

The Caves House Hotel has a restaurant and café. At lunchtime they also have some outdoor food stands. The caves are in a large nature reserve and some areas around the cave have picnic facilities for people who bring their own food. There are outdoor tables by the food stands. There are also some bushwalking trails for anyone who likes to hike or needs something to do while waiting for their cave tour besides looking through a couple small gift shops.

bird in Australia

a little bird waited for crumbs left behind by diners at the outdoor tables

Cave tours can be booked online or by phone in advance, or on the spot at the ticket office near the caves. I’d recommend booking ahead to insure space is available on the tour of your choice, or on a busy day in any tour at all. We went on an off-day without prior reservations and found just one cave with any tour openings at the time we were there. We would have had to wait at least several hours for openings on any other tour.

stairway in a cave

there’s a lot of stairways in Lucas Cave

Cave tours vary from the easiest caves with no age limit to some that require a bit more effort to get through with minimum ages of 6 or 10. For more adventurous sorts they do have adventure tours that require some actual caving through small openings and things. These have higher minimum age limits as well as higher prices. The show cave tours are all on pathways, some with many stairways going up and down throughout the cave.

Jenolan Caves

drive through cave and tour meeting spot

We toured Lucas Cave. The tour started at a set time by meeting the tour guide at the foot of a stairway on one side of the drive-through cave we passed through while entering into the caves area. Parking was on the other side of the hotel and other buildings where there is another road leading to the caves. They put the road on a one-way loop shortly after we arrived, which meant leaving by the other road for a longer drive back to our hotel in Katoomba.

cave rocks

rock formation in Lucas Cave

The group on this tour was pretty large, probably the only reason it still had tickets available since it is a beautiful cave. Throughout the tour the guide stopped in various wide open spaces to talk about history of the cave and formations in that area. Between the wider openings pathways that were sometimes quite narrow snaked up, down, and around the cave, often up or down stairs. Lucas Cave has over 900 total stairs.

cave ladder

one small portion of a very tall spindly ladder

People sometimes have weddings in one chamber of the cave. Some places have old ladders, once used for traversing through the cave, but now used only to change light bulbs. Without the cave’s lighting system visitors would find themselves in complete darkness.

underground river

the water is a long way down from the bridge-path on the cave tour

From the walkway in one place we could see far below to the river that had once dug its way through rock, hollowing it out into the system of caves. Later rainwater seeping through formed the stalactites and stalagmites. If you’re not sure which is which just remember that stalactites hold tightly to the ceiling.

inside a cave

stalactites and stalagmites

As water drips through the stone the minerals within form into icicle-like pinnacles hanging from the ceiling. Drips off these stalactites land on the ground below piling up into stalagmites. Eventually as both continue to grow they join together and form a column.

broken column

broken column

One of Lucas Cave’s most famous features is the broken column, split by water flowing through the cave and now appearing offset as if by shifts in the planet’s surface.

cave snow

cave rock sparkling like snow

Some areas of the cave sparkle with the frosty appearance of newfallen snow, a look they obtain from the moisture of rain. Other areas have a thinner wet layer. All it needs is a bit of rain to sparkle for a year or so, but if it stays dry too long it loses the shine and looks more like a place where sealife once lived long ago. In fact actual sealife did live there long ago, but as the waters receded all they left behind were some fossils.

cave rock

everything throughout the cave is similar yet different

Cave exploration decades ago was quite different than today’s tours. In one place that now has stairs they showed a smoothly worn area where people once slid down to the next level. Probably more fun than walking down stairs, but no longer allowed. In another place they called a flat-topped rock Picnic Rock and said people used to have picnics on it. They also had a tendency to break off small stalactites thinking they would take them home as souvenirs, but often dropping them somewhere else in the cave. Even with the current rules, pathways, and boundaries in place vandalism isn’t completely prevented. One chamber had graffiti spray painted nowhere near the path. It’s so sad that some people have no respect for our planet or the wonders it provides.

cave in colored lights

very unnatural cave lighting

In a couple places colored lights shone on some of the cave formations when the guide turned them on, but they look best in their natural color. The colored part near the end of the tour was above some sort of small animal skeleton lying on the rock.

cave view

the pathway in and out of the cave has a narrow ledge with a great view

Tours range from 1-2 hours in the show caves. Most tours pass through just one cave, but a couple of them include two. The way into and out of Lucas cave passed along a narrow ledge with a great view. One person tried to take a photo, but dropped the phone she was holding over the fence. The guide said she’d have to wait until the tour was over and talk to someone at the office because it wasn’t his job to climb the fence to try and get it back. Because it’s not worth risking his life over a cell phone, and of course visitors to the cave are not allowed on the other side of the fence so she could not try and get it herself even if she wanted to.

cave rock formations

although it flows too slowly to see motion shows in the formations

The road down to the caves is a bit narrow which is why traffic is limited to one direction during the peak of the day. It’s well worth the trip even if you just tour one of the many available caves.

Lucas Cave

rock formations in Lucas Cave

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Australia, Explorer of the Seas, Port City Side Trips, Royal Caribbean | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Touring San Francisco

sailing in and out of San Francisco means crossing under the Golden Gate Bridge

After the Royal Princess docked in San Francisco, my sisters and I went out to the pier to meet with our cousin and her friend who live in the area. We hadn’t seen our cousin for quite some time so it was nice to have a chance to visit with her. They took us around to see the sights for the day. Our cousin’s friend is quite knowledgeable about the area and its history.

one of San Francisco’s historic streetcars

First we took a streetcar down to the ferry pier, which used to be a major means of transportation, but now is more of a mall with lots of shops and a greatly reduced ferry schedule, though it does still have ferries. Streetcars run along the waterfront and though they are a historic means of travel, they are not the same thing as San Francisco’s famous cable cars. The city has a collection of vintage streetcars from around the world. The fare is pretty cheap and it was fun to get a chance to ride on a piece of history. Streetcars run on rails and are powered by an onboard electric motor and have trolley poles attached to the roof to obtain power from an overhead wire.

shop in the ferry terminal building

There are some interesting shops at the ferry pier, and it had public restrooms which we were told can be hard to find in San Francisco.

ferry terminal building and little booths across the street

From there we walked a short distance past some little tent booths with things for sale on to a bus stop were we waited for the Big Bus tour, which is similar to the Hop on Hop Off bus, but the busses are bigger. City busses also use that bus stop.

sightseeing on the big bus tour

While we waited a middle-eastern looking man came over to the bus stop and started yelling at us that blondes are stupid in some sort of lame attempt to start a fight or in his mind put a group of women in their place or something. We weren’t sure if he was high on some sort of drugs or just an extremely obnoxious person. We didn’t rise to his bait, though it was tempting to say something like stupid is as stupid does and we’re not the ones insulting strangers. I’ve been to a few countries in the middle east, and none of the people we saw there acted that way.

big bus double decker bus

We moved a bit, but he came back and started yelling the same thing again, insistant on harassing us until my cousin took out her phone and threatened to call the police. Then he left. In all my travels around the world I’ve never ran into anyone like that before. Other than pickpockets and thieves most of the people we’ve come across are generally either friendly and helpful or just ignore everyone they’re not with. Occasionally we’ve come across someone loud, rude, or pushy, but never before been intentionally harassed.

riding a tour bus across the Golden Gate Bridge

The bus came and in spite of it being cold and windy, which it often is in San Francisco, we went upstairs and sat in the open top section. We stayed on the bus for quite awhile seeing the sights around town and going over the Golden Gate Bride. So we went both under and over the bridge in the same day.

gateway into Chinatown

We got off the bus in China Town by the China Gate. The driver said San Franciso has 3 China Towns. Wikipedia says there are 4. This one had shops selling jade, giant statues, fancy carvings, intricate tables, and huge geodes just the other side of the gate. All manner of shops selling everything from cheesy souveniers to food, jewelry, and clothing followed. Down the road pagoda style towers on top a couple buildings and strings of Chinese lanterns gave the area a real Chinatown look. The very Chinese looking lamp posts added to the effect.

inside a beautiful, but definitely not Chinese church in Chinatown

We wandered through an old church in China town, which had a very beautiful interior and lots of gorgeous stained glass windows as old churches tend to do.

building with a pagoda on top across the street from the old church in Chinatown

We had lunch at a small Chinese restaurant with good food. My sister wanted to see Lombard Street and I wanted to ride a cable car. The bus driver had mentioned taking one from Union Square to the top of Lombard, which seemed like a good idea since we could cover both those things that way. My cousin called for a Lyft ride, but her app was out of date and she couldn’t specify the size of car. The one that showed up was too small for everyone so I called an Uber instead.

Union Square

It dropped us off in Union Square. There were repairs or issues of some sort with the cable cars in that location that day and they were only running farther up the track. A free shuttle bus picked people up at the cable car stop and went to the first station where we could catch the cable car.

historic cable car in San Francisco

San Francisco’s historic cable cars are the last manually operated cable cars in the world and are a national historic landmark listed on the national register of historic places. The cable car was smaller than the streetcar we rode earlier. There is no engine or motor on the cable cars themselves. They are powered by electric motors that pull cables running through a trench beneath the street in a slot between the rails. These were originally steam-powered. The cables move at a constant 9.5 miles per hour. The cable car conductor (called a gripman) uses a lever when they need to manually make the cable car’s gripper grasp or release the cable. They need to grasp the cable to make the car go and release it in order to be able to stop. Foot pedals control the brakes.

Lombard Street

We rode the cable car up and down some hills until it reached the top of Lombard Street where we got out. Lombard Street is famous for the winding section of switchbacks on a steep hill. On the way the conductor explained that the reason for the crooked street was that back when it was built the brakes in the model T cars people drove at that time couldn’t handle a straight road that steep.

stairway for pedestrians on Lombard Street

The road snaked back and forth down the hill so the old cars back in model T days would be able to stop. It’s a narrow road and down is the only direction cars are currently allowed to take. There is a sidewalk with a series of stairways for foot traffic. There’s also a sign proclaiming it to be the world’s crookedest street.

Fay Park

From there we walked down to Fisherman’s Wharf. On the way down we came across a little garden that looked like it belonged to a house, but had a gate to the sidewalk with a sign that called it Fay Park and stated hours that it was open to the public. One of my sisters had wanted to go to some sort of park or garden so we took the opportunity to go to this one. Though quite small it had some pathways and benches and lovely flowers. It looked like someone put quite a lot of time and care into creating and tending it. It was originally private property that was professionally landscaped. It was renovated by the city after it was given to them.

Fisherman’s Wharf sign

Once we got to Fisherman’s Wharf we did a bit of shopping before stopping for a snack of real San Francisco sourdough bread at Boudin Bakery, the home of the original loaf and holder of the mother sourdough starter. The fermentation process breaks down some of the gluten so some people with mild gluten sensitivities can tolerate sourdough bread even if they can’t eat regular wheat bread. Celiacs and those with gluten allergies or strong sensitivities still have issues with it though, especially since most commercial sourdough breads are higher in gluten than the old-fashioned variety.

Fisherman’s Wharf

We had intended to go to the part of the wharf where the sea lions hang out, but ran out of time to do that before our dinner reservation. While it would have been fun to see them, we have all seen sea lions before.

view out the back of the cable car

Another uber ride took us to a restaurant called Firefly, who’s nearly all gluten free menu gave us lots of choices of what to eat for dinner. We rarely eat on shore since we can have good food on the ship without the added cost, but since we were hanging with a cousin we rarely see we did it this time. Her daughter whom two of us hadn’t seen since she was a child also lives in the area and joined us for dinner so it was nice to have a chance to visit with her too. It’s amazing how fast a day goes by. Luckily we had no all-aboard time as the ship overnighted in San Francisco, but it got pretty late by the time we finished dinner so they all went home and we caught an Uber back to the ship.

Lombard Street

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

Where’s the Ship?

Boarding in Venice Trieste

Venice Grand Canal


Venice is Italy’s city of canals, built on a series of islands in a lagoon. The original lagoon dwellers were fishermen living on the then marshy islands. Others retreated there to avoid various armies after the fall of Rome. The lagoon protected them the way walls protected other cities of the era because people not local to the area did not know where to find the safe navigation channels to avoid running their ships aground if the invaders happened to  have any ships – which they generally didn’t, leaving the islands unreachable.

canal in Venice

This isolation from the political upheavals of the mainland eventually allowed the Venetians to thrive rather than just survive. Venetians were early explorers, traders, and sailors. San Giocomo, the first church, was built on the islet of Rialto in 421, and is considered as the traditional founding of the city. Architecture of the city is based on pilings driven into the ground supporting the stone slab foundations of the buildings. Between these pilings sinking and water levels rising over the centuries the original ground floors of some buildings are flooded and unusable. High tides and storms flood places like the famous San Marcos square frequently enough that they put portable raised sidewalks out so people have somewhere dry to walk. Raincoat-like boots that pull on over people’s shoes are a popular item sold by vendors around the area.

Venice is a city of canals, bridges, and narrow alleys

Cruise ships visiting Venice currently dock at Stazione Marittima at the western end of the city near Tronchetto, where many tour busses arrive. There’s a parking garage there where visitors who come to the city by car leave their vehicles, as there are no roads through the islands that make up the main part of the city. There is a movement to dock ships elsewhere or change their entry route to the port, but the alternate route requires dredging and the alternative ports need infrastructure before either of those things happen. Meanwhile the amount of ships visiting Venice has declined and the largest of cruise ships don’t go there.

Bridge of Sighs – where prisoners crossed between Doge’s Palace and the prison for trial or execution

Things to do in Venice

In this city with canals for roads, gondola rides are the quintessential experience. Architecture is the main attraction with places like St. Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. Piazza San Marco is the main square, and the Rialto Bridge and Bridge of sighs (named for the sighs of the condemned said to have been heard from the bridge as they crossed between old and new prisons or to execution) are also attractions. There are museums, and local cuisine featuring seafood from the lagoon is an attraction in itself. Seafood, pasta, and pizza restaurants are mainly what is found around Venice. Even the little place near where we stayed ran by Chinese people served pasta and pizza rather than Asian food.

Vaporetto public transport boat

Since there are no roads transportation is on foot or by water. Public boats called vaporettos function like a water bus transporting people across Venice. It’s not a big area, and walkable if you can find your way through the labyrinth of narrow alleyways and bridges. Here and there signs direct people to the major attractions and Google maps is quite useful if you don’t want to feel like a rat in a never ending maze.

Doge’s Palace

City passes are available for 24, 48, or 72 hours with entrance to museums and churches, Doge’s palace and the option to add on public transport. Besides the vaporettos, transportation is available by water taxi and from Alilaguna, which has both public transport boats and cruises to specific places.

Morano Island glass factory

Other highlights are a visit to Morano island to watch glass blowing or going to the beach on the island of Lido (so that’s where the Lido deck name comes from, which is the name of the pool deck on many cruise ships). More points of interest include visiting the mostly abandoned island of Torcello with ancient buildings and walking paths through a nature preserve or see the Jewish ghetto where all of the Jewish people of Venice lived during the time when they weren’t allowed elsewhere in the city.

a lot of the open squares in Venice have an old well

Boarding the MSC Lirica

We spent 3 nights at an Airbnb in Venice before the start of our cruise, which was supposed to begin there. On the night before boarding we got a call from our travel agent at Vacations To Go saying that our port of embarkation had been suddenly changed from Venice to Trieste, 98 miles away. Luckily we did not have to get there on our own, but rather were to go to the port in Venice as planned where MSC would have busses to take everyone to the new port from 10am to 3pm.

the entrance to our bnb in Venice was through this wooden door in a narrow alley

From our bnb in a residential area of the Santa Croce district, it was a short walk to the San Stae vaparetto station where we could catch a boat to the end of the line stop, one beyond the train station where we had first arrived. There were busses at that stop, but not the ones from the ship, which were at the port. To get to the cruise port you have to walk a bit to a building that says people mover. There you pay for a ticket to ride an elevated shuttle train out to the first stop, which is for the cruise port. The second stop is Tronchetto.

boats in Venice are long and narrow to fit through the many canals

The people mover doesn’t go straight to the port. You have to walk a bit from there. The gate guard looks at your ticket and says which terminal to go to. If the ship actually ports there it would be at the dock and you could probably see it, but there were no ships at the dock the day we were there. Since ours got transferred elsewhere we walked down to the end of the terminal we were directed to. They had an open entrance into the building and people to take the luggage at the farthest possible door. Then we went on through the terminal until we came to a place upstairs where they checked tickets and passports and assigned bus numbers according to the order people came in.

Rialto Bridge

We left our bnb at 8:30am figuring to get there early to try and get on the first bus. We arrived around 9ish and ended up on bus #3 so they obviously started far earlier than 10:00. We waited awhile until our bus was called, which was when enough people had arrived to fill it. The driver said it would take an hour and a half to get there, but it actually took a bit over 2. The scenery most of the way was road construction and a highway wall. When we finally got to the shore there would have been some nice views had it not been quite foggy and raining too hard to see much.

gondola in Venice

At the port we ended up in a long slow moving line because the people from the first 2 busses had been waiting in a room there and were just turned loose to head for the ship when our bus got there. The line at the scanners and passport check would move a little, then stop, move a bit again, and stop some more so it took quite awhile to get through even though we weren’t terribly far back in the line. Finally we got through and had a bit of a walk down the outside of this terminal until reaching the end where we had a short distance to go out from under the sheltered side of the building before reaching the stairway up to the ship. Luckily it had stopped raining by then because for awhile on the bus ride over it was such a downpour we’d have been soaked in just that short distance and our luggage didn’t get to our room for hours so we would have had nothing dry to change into. It did finally arrive long after all the rooms around ours got theirs, so at least it made it on the ship. First loaded in the truck, last off. It was probably well buried under the luggage of everyone who got to the port after us. If you have things you think you might need before your luggage gets delivered it’s a good idea to keep them in your carry-on, but it hadn’t started raining yet when we checked our bags.


looking down from the ship to stuff getting loaded onboard in the port

We didn’t see anything of Trieste other than what we could see from the ship, but this is what MSC’s daily planner had to say about it:

view of Trieste from the deck of MSC Lirica

Trieste is in the heart of the gulf of the Friulian coast, rising to the boarder with Slovenia. Its ancient origins date back to human presence in prehistorical times. It is currently one of the greater harbors on the Adriatic. The city has many historical buildings, and the Castle of Miramare which is the symbol of Trieste. The castle was built in 1850 as a residence for Austrian Prince Maximillian of Augsburg. It is surrounded by a park and currently has a butterfly garden.


Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
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Hakata Cruise Port in Fukuoka, Japan

Hakarta Port, Japan

view of the Port of Hakarta from the Westerdam

Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka sits on the northern shore of Kyushu island in Japan, with the sea to the north and mountains surrounding the other 3 sides of the city. Fukuoka has a major industrial area and is one of Japan’s ten most populous cities.

The area’s climate is humid subtropical with hot wet summers and fairly mild winters that rarely see snow or temperatures below freezing. Annual rainfall reaches about 63 inches with the wettest period from June to September. Typhoon season runs through August and September. Spring is generally warm and sunny and fall (beyond September) mild and dry. Japanese money is the yen, and it is over 100 yen to one US dollar.

Because of its proximity, Hakata was historically important for contacts with the mainland. Some unwanted – like Mongol invasions. In 1268 Kublai Khan of the Mongol Empire started sending envoys to Japan who continuously refused to accept Mongol rule. The mongol ruler’s invading force of 1274 was thwarted by severe storms and their own incompetence. Mongolian emissaries sent in 1279 as an envoy were not only refused, but beheaded, spurring another attack in 1281. Outnumbered by more than 3 times, the Japanese defenders were no match for the invading Mongols. The Mongol army made it 9 miles on land before severe weather again thwarted their efforts. This typhoon was later referred to as the Kamikaze (divine wind) and is the origin of the name of the World War II suicide attackers.

Hakarta Ferry Terminal

the ferry terminal is at a nearby wharf, visible from the cruise ship

The historic port remains busy in modern times. Besides the thriving container ship port, they have quite a lot of visits from cruise ships heading for Busan, South Korea which at 200 kilometers away is closer than Tokyo, or Shanghai, China 900 kilometers distant.

There’s a bit of everything in Fukuoka for tourists from beaches to modern shopping malls to ancient temples, a wooden Buddha, and even the ruins of a castle. None of it is right at the port.

Westerdam in Fukuoka

Port of Hakata

Hakata Cruise Port

Hakata and Fukuoka once were separate cities, but have joined into one city now. Though the city as a whole is called Fukuoka, the port district is still referred to as Hakata.

Ships visiting Fukuoka dock at either Fukuoka Chuo Wharf or Fukuoka Hakozki Wharf. Chuo has 2 berths for cruise ships and is where the majority of them dock. Hakozki has one berth where cruise ships can dock. It is the biggest wharf and mainly used for cargo ships. Freight from there can easily be moved by rail, air, or highway as all are nearby.

Bayside Place Fukuoka, Japan

Bayside Place (internet photo)

Passengers are not near town at either wharf. Chuo is 4 kilometers from the downtown area or railway station at Tenjin or Hakata Station which is a major transportation hub. Hakozki is even farther at 5 k away. The closest attraction to Chuo Wharf is Bayside Place, 2.1 kilometers away where the ferries dock. Besides ferries, Hakata Tower, a museum, a shrine, food, lots of shops, and an aquarium it has things to do like harbor cruises and a nightly laser show.

The Holland America Westerdam docked at Chuo Wharf. Other than a grocery type store there isn’t much but industrial buildings near the ship. We looked out onto a container port from the ship. The port provided free shuttle service to City Hall, which is in a downtown area with lots of shopping and just a few blocks from Tenjin subway station. People wishing to take the bullet train to Nagasaki or elsewhere were advised by the shore planning staff to take a taxi to Hakata station.

welcome to Fukuoka

welcome crew in the port building

The port had free wifi and a visitor’s information desk with maps and people to answer questions and give advice on how to get places. It also had a long above ground tunnel sort of thing to walk through before getting to the port building, which did provide a wind break for an otherwise windy walk between the ship and the building.

Ohori Park in Fukuoka, Japan

Ohori Park

Things to do in Fukuoka

If you take the shuttle to City Hall, the Tenjin area nearby has lots of shopping as well as food, a shrine, and a park. Fukuoka is famous for its ramen and has lots of places to eat it. With the subway station just a few blocks away people can also explore other areas on their own. Fukuoka has over 3000 shrines and plenty of museums. Ohori park is just a couple subway stops away and has gardens and a lake. The park is next to the castle ruins.

Japan subway

subway in Fukuoka

If you’re into robots you can interact with them in Robosquare at the city science museum near Ropponmatsu station, about 8k from Chuo wharf. You can get there by bus from Tenjin station. The museum is just a few blocks from Momochi Seaside Park, a kilometer long manmade beach near Fukuoka Tower.

Canal City is a popular large shopping mall complete with a canal and fountain shows.


Fukuoka near the shuttle drop-off

Shore Excursions in Fukuoka

One of the shore excursions offered from our ship included a bullet train ride to Kokura Castle, and viewing of a tea ceremony plus a view of Yahata Imperial Steel Works and tech industry gallery. Another visited 2 shrines and Fukuoka Tower. One had a gondola boat ride, museum, and lunch. Others included sightseeing the town’s highlights by bus or a visit to a shrine.

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Skechers Boot Review

skechers boots

Being partial to Skechers, as they tend to fit me more comfortably than most brands, I was happy to find some boots made by Skechers when looking for something for a European vacation by train and cruise ship that would be warm enough to wear through the colder regions as we traveled through Switzerland and Austria, comfortable enough to walk around in all day, and stylish enough to wear as formal night shoes on the cruise ship as I was packing light and didn’t want to bring any more shoes than necessary. I actually wore them to dinner every night on the cruise ship, not just the formal ones. And around the ship other times as well since they were so comfortable.

wearing skechers boots in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

These ankle-high faux fur lined slip on boots called Skechers On-The-Go Joy filled the bill. I wore them the entire 10 days of our land trip from Zurich to Lucerne in Switzerland, through Liechtenstein, Austria, and Venice. My feet stayed warm and they were always comfortable to walk in, and for all the train rides from one place to another as well. They are also great airplane shoes because they are soft and comfortable as well as easy on and off, which comes in handy if you have to remove your shoes for security screening.

label from skechers boot box

We had some rainy days and though I stayed out of puddles as much as possible, sometimes you have to step in a bit of water. For the most part I never went deeper than the sole of the boot was tall and they kept my feet dry, though puddles deeper than the sole could pose a challenge for them as they are not rain boots.

skechers boots in the snow

They are also fine for walking through snow so long as you are just walking on the surface. Obviously they are not tall enough for deep snow, and not suitable for playing in the snow, but when we went up a mountain in Lucerne, Switzerland and walked around in the snow on a cold windy day my boots stayed dry inside.

top of Innsbruck in a blizzard in skechers boots

Only once on the entire trip did my feet get a bit wet in those boots. That was near the end of a snowy, rainy day up a mountain called Nordkette in Innsbruck, Austria. The top of the mountain was pretty much in a blizzard and I made it to the top of Innsbruck sign and back with dry feet. Which was a very long 20-30 feet from the door. It doesn’t sound far, but with the wind driving minute bits of ice and snow into the eyes of anyone who dared go outside any distance seemed far. The next level, which was down one of the two gondolas it took to get to the top, was sunny with lots of snow on the ground and we walked around there for awhile. The snow was deep, but we did not sink down below the tops of the boots so they kept my feet dry just fine there too. The next level at the bottom of the other gondola was rainy with slush everywhere. We stopped to check out a small Christmas market before taking the funicular down to the Alpenzoo at the next level, where we had a very long walk in the rain. Somewhere between the slush, rain, and deep puddles some water seeped through the boots, and though my feet weren’t cold, the boots did get wet inside by the end of the day. Of course that was after pushing them well beyond the limits of what they are intended for.

sole of the skechers boots

There were places in that zoo where my husband had issues with his shoes sliding on the slick ground, but the soles of these boots had no problems at all.

skechers on-the-go joy boots

After having put these boots to the test and then some they nearly always made it through with flying colors. I put a lot of miles on them walking around everywhere and they were still in perfect condition for the cruise – where they came in handy as easy on, easy off footwear for walking around on the ship anytime and not just for formal nights. The ship sailed to warmer areas so they were not the footwear of choice for port stops, but that was due to the boots being for colder weather than what we had at those ports, not because of any issues with the boots themselves. Inside cruise ships it’s generally always cold regardless of the temperature outside so for wandering around inside the ship boots always work.

crossing a covered bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland

My feet stayed comfortable in these boots wearing them all day every day and putting a lot of miles on them for many days in a row, which is saying a lot since wearing the same shoes for too long sometimes does sometimes lead to sore feet so I usually try to vary my shoes from day to day. Now that I’m back home they’re still my footwear of choice, and will continue to be until the weather gets too warm for boots.

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Flying to Zurich

riverside scenery in Zurich

Before our 20-day MSC Lirica cruise from Venice to Dubai, we decided to spend a bit of time exploring parts of Europe where we’ve never been. We left 10 days ahead of the cruise, but the flight didn’t arrive until the day after leaving so we had 9 nights to spend there. Googling the best price for the flight put us on British Airways flying through Heathrow in London, an airline and airport we had no experience with. We started with a night in Zurich, Switzerland, then took the train to Lucerne, Switzerland; Vaduz, Liechtenstein; Innsbruck, Austria, and Venice, Italy.

British Airways plane

Flying into London’s Heathrow Airport we had just an hour scheduled between flights and our plane came in 20 minutes late. We were at the back so more time ticked away waiting to get off. It came in at the B gates, with the next flight leaving from the A gates of the same terminal. Getting from one set of gates to the other involved a train ride, a lot of walking, and a trip through security. Why they make people go through security to get from one gate to another is beyond me. Obviously everyone already passed security before getting on the first plane. At some airports they give people with tight connections some sort of assistance in getting to the next plane, whether that comes in the form of a speed pass, an escort, or a bypass of lines. This airline and airport provided nothing but delays.

Heathrow Airport, London

There were long lines at security. They had no priority or speed lines for those with immediate flights so we were stuck behind all the people whose planes must have been several hours distant as it took them about 5 minutes each to put their belongings in the bin for screening, dawdling slowly as if they hadn’t a care in the world and had all day to wait for their next plane. When we asked if we could go ahead of people who had more time before their plane the screener just said everyone there had a plane to catch. He totally ignored the fact that it makes a huge difference if that plane is due to depart in 20 minutes like ours was at that point, or several hours distant as some people’s were.

swan in the river in Zurich

We finally got through the screening, with less than 10 minutes to get to our flight, which was of course at the farthest possible gate from security. We ran all the way to the gate and could see the plane still sitting there, but were told the doors had been shut and nobody else could get on. British Airways is not very helpful. Besides doing nothing to help speed the way for people with a long distance to go and not much time between planes, once you miss it they really don’t care. All the people at the gate would say was to go to the help counter, which was of course quite a long distance from the gate. There they said the next flight was 5 hours away. They gave us each a voucher worth 10 pounds towards the price of a meal, but did not put the gate number on our tickets and would not say what gate the plane would be at, just somewhere in the A gates and to wait until it was posted. The A gate complex was something like an expansive shopping mall spreading out over a large area with lots of shops, some eateries, and here and there a gate thrown in.

building in Zurich

There was one spot with lots of seats in front of a giant readerboard where they posted the gates – eventually. They didn’t post the one for our plane until it had already started boarding so in spite of being there 5 hours ahead of the plane it was still a mad scramble to get to the gate on time as it was of course nowhere near that readerboard. At least we were already within the A-gate complex so we didn’t have to pass through security or once again we would have missed the plane. We talked to someone who missed their plane while sitting at the airport waiting in an airport lounge because their gate wasn’t posted in time to get from the lounge to the gate before the plane left. It really makes no sense for an airport to keep where planes will be a secret for so long that passengers have no time to get there from wherever they are once the information is finally revealed. Heathrow is not an airport I’d pass through again given any other option. Nor is British Airways an airline I would choose again if anything else reasonably priced was available. Besides their lack of helpfulness and refusal to post gate information in a timely manner, all of our 4 flights this trip were at least 20-40 minutes late at landing.

building in Zurich

We had just one night in Zurich and had intended to get there in time to spend the afternoon sightseeing as well as the next morning before catching an afternoon train. With the delay in flights it was long past dark by the time we arrived. We stayed in an apartment found on Booking.com called Main Station Studios. It was conveniently located across the street from the train station, which was its best feature. It did also have a comfortable bed. The nightly price there was better than anything else available in that area of Zurich during our stay. That apartment also books through Airbnb. Even with the address printed out on the booking info, our taxi driver had a heck of a time finding it.

this is what they called a kitchen in the Zurich apartment

The apartment was in a building where some units are nightly rentals like the one we had, but others are where people actually live. The cost of living must be pretty high in Zurich for anyone to live in a place like that. Calling it an apartment was a stretch. It had less than some hotel rooms both in space and amenities. The total square footage was actually smaller than the average hotel room. The kitchen consisted of a small counter on one side of the entry hallway, which had a hot plate, a mini-fridge, a tiny sink, and a cupboard.

other than a small table between the wall and bed on the side not shown, this is it

There was no closet, just a rolling rack with a hanging bar and a shelf. The bathroom was spacious, but the main room had barely enough space for a bed and a small table with a couple little chairs. There was no other furniture other than a TV, and no room for any. The room had a window with a Juliette balcony. It was fine as a place to stay for a vacation, but I can’t imagine living there. Replacing the bed with a sofa bed or Murphy bed would make a little living space, but it still wouldn’t be much. At least with the hot plate we had somewhere to heat water for tea, and it did have a coffee maker, something none of the other places we stayed in Europe had. Most had nowhere to heat water at all. There was one towel each provided, but no wash cloths. Apparently Europeans don’t use wash cloths as they are rarely ever available there. Bedding consisted of 2 separate pods that were a combination of sheets and a comforter all together in a sleeping-bag like bundle, which is what we found at all the hotels that trip.

river in Zurich

The city of Zurich sits at the north end of Lake Zurich in northern Switzerland. The picturesque lanes of the central Altstadt (German for Old Town), on either side of the Limmat River reflect its history. The area has been continuously inhabited since the Roman empire, and there is archeological evidence of human habitation as early as the 5th century BC. Zurich is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, but most of the population also speak English, which is very helpful for English speaking tourists. Everyone we came across in Switzerland spoke English very well. They learn it in school starting at the elementary level. Most Europeans speak multiple languages, as do crew on the cruise ships from a variety of countries. The USA is definitely lacking compared to much of the rest of the world when it comes to language education.


Zurich’s Altstadt consists of Medieval houses, narrow lanes and buildings from the Renaissance period. The double towers of the Grossmünster (Great Minster) are Zurich’s major landmark. According to legend, Charlemagne built the towers at the location where the graves of the city saints Felix and Regula were discovered. Further sights worth seeing include the Peterskirche (Peter’s Church), which has Europe’s largest clock face, and the Fraumünster (Minster of Our Lady), which is known for its stained glass windows by Giacometti and Chagall.

Fraumunster church

Things available to do in Zurich depend on the time of year. Summertime activities include a Riverboat ride or lake cruise (ends October) and a funicular to Stoos-Fronalpstock. A stroll through Old Town works any time of year, and of course snow sports are seasonal to wintertime. Other options which may or may not be open depending on the time of year include Mount Titlis cable car, Rapperswil fairy tale town on Lake Zurich, Rhine falls, Flumserberg mountain, Einsiedeln Abby, Lindenhof fort/park, Mykugelhopf Zurich sweet tour (chocolate samplings), and museums.

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Capilano Suspension Bridge at Christmas

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge lit up at Christmastime

Capilano Suspension Bridge spans the Capilano River at Capilano Bridge Park in Vancouver BC, Canada. A free shuttle picks visitors up from 4 locations in Downtown Vancouver. In the wintertime the park is strung with lights for their Canyon Lights display.

Capilano Bridge Park

Daniel in a tree at Capilano Bridge Park

Besides the main bridge over a river and across a canyon, the park has some trails, a gift shop, food, and some smaller bridges suspended between trees.

Capilano Bridge Park

lights near the entrance at Capilano Bridge Park

There’s some trails on the entry side of the canyon, and more across the bridge. The main bridge is 140 meters long and suspended 70 meters above the river. In typical suspension bridge fashion, it does move some as people cross it.

sleigh at Capilano Bridge Park

photo op sleigh

A sleigh on the side of the pathway invited visitors to take photos. It may involve a bit of a wait as lots of people go there in the dark to see the Christmas lights.

Capilano Bridge Park

trees in different areas were strung with lights of different colors

Capilano Bridge Park

red tree lights

Capilano Bridge Park

bell light high in the trees

One area had a series of small bridges suspended between trees.

Capilano Bridge Park

bridge between trees

kid's weather station

weather station in the trees

A little weather station with activities for kids perched on a tree between bridges.

Capilano Bridge Park

bridge between trees

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MSC Lirica

Lirica in Limassol on the island country of Cypress

Lirica was MSC’s first new-build cruise ship and the last of the Lirica class to undergo a renovation adding a splash park, new child and teen areas, new lounge, enhanced buffet and extended restaurant.

MSC Lirica in Piraeus, Greece

The four Lirica class ships were built between 2003 and 2005 at the STX yards in Saint-Nazaire, France at 251 meters long, weighing 60,000 tons and carrying 2,069 travelers. After the renaissance programme where the ships were cut in half and had a pre-fab 79-foot section inserted they grew to 275 meters long, weighing 65,000 tons and carrying 2,680 travelers, with 194 additional passenger cabins plus 59 new crew cabins, among the other upgrades and enhancements.

MSC Lirica approaching Khasab, Oman

The MSC Lirica was built in 2003 for USD 270 million, and it cost just a bit more than that at 273 million to lengthen the 4 Lirica class ships. Lirica’s lengthening in 2015 completed the 4-ship renovations. Walking through the hallway in the passenger cabin area, there’s a slight rise where the new portion was inserted. You walk up a slight ramp in the hallway floor entering that section, and back down again at the end. However the public areas have a smooth transition with no noticeable differences between the new and old sections. MSC stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company. They have container ships as well as cruise ships.

Lirica in Trieste, Italy

The ship’s theater is small, but nice. There is no separate balcony section. All seats are accessible from deck 6. Most of the theater’s seats offer a good view of the show, though there are a few undesireable seats in the back, especially those behind the person manning the lights, who blocks the view. Also the second row has no rise over the first row making the view from those seats easily obscured by anyone sitting in the first row. From the third row up each row is above the one ahead of it except at the very back.

back deck

MSC’s Website said shows were by reservation only on this ship, and there were screens outside the theater for reserving seats, but they were disabled for our cruise because for all the shows there we could actually just walk in like on any other ship. Getting to the theater early was always a good plan as the best seats always filled at least 15 minutes before the start of the show, with the ones everyone likes best at the ends of the aisles where escape is easy filling 30-45 minutes before the start of the show, and often all or most seats were full by the time the show started.

production show in the theater

Shows during our cruise were generally of high quality with talented performers. They had a large cast who performed a variety of production shows during our 20-day cruise, with just a few guest performances to give them a night off here and there. The cast included gymnasts, acrobats, an aerialist, and a juggler as well as singers and dancers. There were 2 performances of the same show each night. Besides generally being good shows, they were hugely popular because with no movies or secondary theater on this ship there’s not a lot of other alternatives.

the Beverly Hills lounge with bandstand and dance floor

Other evening entertainment on the ship came in the form of several music venues and frequent deck parties. A couple of the music venues have dance floors. One had a band playing music more likely to appeal to younger cruisers, while the other had a piano, a singer, and music more geared toward older folks. There’s also a piano bar with no dancing for people who just want to relax and listen to the music. For late night entertainment there’s a disco in a different lounge. The shops and casino were also open.

the pool deck on most cruise ships is called the Lido deck, but on the Lirica it is Vivaldi or just deck 11

There’s not a huge variety of daytime activities either. For self-entertainment the ship has a couple pools and a couple hot tubs, mini golf, ping-pong, foosball, shuffleboard, and for the little ones a splash park. Of course all those are outside and subject to weather. Anything requiring equipment like balls, clubs, paddles, etc was only available when the entertainment staff was on duty at the outdoor stage because all items had to be checked out with them, carried to the venue, and then returned rather than just being available at all times next to the place it would be used like on most ships. The outside portion of the promenade deck just runs along each side and not through the bow or stern so walking or jogging around the promenade deck isn’t an option.

the mini golf course looks a bit worn out, but it’s something to do

Because the newsletter goes out in multiple languages, and the events listed in each one take place in that language there’s not a whole lot of activities throughout the day as time has to be scheduled for each language so something like a 1 hour port talk will need that space for an hour for each and every language it is offered in. Other daytime activities include dance lessons, trivia, bingo (which of course costs money), exercise type activities,  and games. On port days it was mainly just dance lessons and a few exercise classes, but on sea days they had more things with deck games, trivia, and sometimes port talks. Overall there was not a lot to do on sea days, but our itinerary had a lot of ports.

side deck on deck 12

A lot of the people spend a good portion the day in a deck chair. And a lot more towels do. Some people put their towels in a deck chair first thing in the morning and the towels stay there all day long regardless of what the people are doing. Often there are a whole lot more towels in empty chairs than there are people actually using them. Some towels will sit in a chair for hours untouched in spite of the fact that there are signs saying if they are left longer than 30 minutes the crew will pick them up, something they never actually do on any ship even though all of them say they will. Not even if the towels sit there all day while the person who left them is off in port. Which of course rewards the rule-breakers with their reserved chair at the expense of those who follow the rules and aren’t likely to find one available. Same as any cruise line, but to a greater degree because there are more people doing it.

relaxing on the back balcony

We didn’t see anyone tossing the towels aside and using the chairs anyway as is sometimes done on some other lines when people get tired of the same people leaving towels on the prime chairs all day every day when they aren’t actually using them. Then again we didn’t hang out on the main deck, preferring a back balcony when we wanted to sit outside. Even there the chairs generally had towels on them, but there was always a stack of chairs available to set out a new one. The ship had public back balconies on several decks with stairways between them so we always found space to set up a deck chair somewhere.

watermelon carving in the dining room

MSC is behind the times as far as gluten free food goes, at least on the Lirica. There are no specific gluten free items in the buffet, and in the dining room what’s available for asking on the spot is just packaged breadstuffs that they thaw out. They did have gluten free croissants and muffins as well as breads, but if you asked for one thing like a muffin or croissant at breakfast you got a plate of 3 (a muffin, a croissant, and a roll) and they’re heated to thaw out so if you don’t eat them fairly soon they dry out and go to waste.

pistachio parfait

No gluten free pancakes or anything  else that would be made fresh on the ship are available anywhere, not even in the dining room. Anyone on a strict diet would need to make sure they gave advance notification and made meal arrangements with the dining room staff.

gelato stand

There’s not much for pay-extra restaurants, just a sushi place, a coffee bar that isn’t even open in the morning, a smoothie bar and a gelato place. The gelato place did have several sorbets so there was something dairy-free available there. The buffet is open for meals and late night snacks, and on the outskirts next to the pool area there is a grill on one side that has omelets at breakfast and burgers later (no gluten free buns), and on the other side waffles in the morning and pizza later. There’s always pasta at the buffet, and they had a pasta stand by the pizza with someone making it right there, but never offered any gluten free pastas in spite of the fact that chick pea and lentil pastas are readily available in grocery stores these days in the regular pasta section. At least in the USA they are. They did not have pizza with gluten free crust either. Tea and coffee are available 24 hours, as is room service, but room service comes with a price, nothing free.

table in the dining room

The dining room at breakfast and lunch has a little buffet set up, or you can order from the limited menu, or both. At dinner it is all from the menu and the service is far from speedy. They do not have pitchers of water to go around filling glasses with like on American lines. You have to get bottled water if you want any in the dining room. If you book through MSC USA you get the bottled water for free, but if you book through their European site you have to pay for it. The bottles they brought were big enough that we had plenty to share with our European table mates. Everyone can get tea or coffee free, and as usual on any ship beer, wine, or bar drinks cost extra. You are not allowed to bring any alcohol or bottled water with you at boarding time, but they rarely confiscate it if you bring it back with you from a port stop.

pork dinner in the dining room

Food portions in the dining room are smaller than on American lines, which is fine by us, less wasted food. Vegetables are kind of lacking in most of the dinners, but that is par for the course with cruise ships and there was always the option of ordering a side of vegetables, which we often did. The food was neither the best nor the worst in comparison to other ships we have sailed on.

desserts at the buffet

Their internet packages are outdated compared to American lines as you still have your internet limited to whatever amount of GB you paid for rather than having a package for the duration of the cruise. This could help keep the internet less congested as there would not be so many people on it at once assuming they log out when not using it, though not everyone did since it was by data usage rather than by minutes like cruise ship internet packages were originally. We had the premium package and did not use the full amount of data we had available, but did use more than half so a lesser package would have meant restricting our internet usage or running out before the cruise ended. Internet on ships is always slow, but there were times when it worked pretty well. There were also other times when it didn’t work at all or was so slow it may just as well have not been working.

women’s steam room

The thermal suite on this ship is cheap compared to thermal packages on other lines, but that’s because there’s not much there. Just a sauna and steam room, seperate ones for men and women because apparently European men like to go in naked, and a few of the women too in spite of the sign at the entrance to the women’s sauna and steam room that says appropriate swimwear must be worn. There’s also 2 relaxation areas with ocean view loungers, a larger forward facing one next to the gym and a smaller one by the men’s area with a view out the side. The smaller one has coffee. There’s no pool or heated ceramic chairs that are the prime places people want to go in most thermal suites.

couple’s massage tables

Massages at their spa are also a lower price than on a lot of other ships. It’s best to book spa treatments like massages pre-cruise because you get a 30% discount, and if you decide to book another onboard that discount carries over. Bring cash if you want to leave a tip because you can’t put it on your card when you have already paid for the massage before you have it.

towel swans in a massage room

The room is nice with relaxing peaceful music, unless the captain or cruise director decides to make an announcement, which breaks the mood and goes on forever as they repeat it in about 7 different languages. At the end when you’re nice and relaxed after enjoying your massage they try to upsell you with more treatments or get you to buy lotions, which quickly breaks the mood. You have the option for soft, medium, or hard pressure during the massage. The masseuse asked which was preferred. She also did my massage barefoot.


There were not many kids on our cruise, being a long one while school is in session, but they do have kid’s club areas, a teen hang-out, and a small arcade.


Working in the casino would be a boring job on the Lirica, at least during our cruise anyway. It’s pretty small with just a few table games and slot machines, no poker or craps. Generally there was nobody at any of the table games other than late at night and maybe 2 or 3 people at the slots. The shops were often empty of customers as well.

While we did smell a bit of cigarette smoke in various places around the ship now and then, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it might be on a European ship. There was a very stinky pub that allowed smoking at the foot of the closest stairway to our room, from which smoke would waft up the stairs any time someone was smoking in there. Keeping the door to the pub closed would have helped a lot in keeping the smoke contained, but they never shut it. That was the worst place on board as far as smoke goes.

the fanciest stairway on the Lirica

Décor on the Lirica is not memorable. It’s neither overly fancy nor overly plain and there’s nothing that really stands out. The open stairway down to the front desk is probably the most memorable feature, which isn’t saying much.

oceanview cabin

Passenger cabins are pretty standard on the Lirica compared to other ships.

Lirica in Heraklion on the island of Crete in Greece

This is the sort of ship you book for the price and itinerary, not for the ship itself as there isn’t nearly as much to do onboard as some ships have, but it does go to some interesting places at an affordable price. Which is exactly why we booked this cruise.

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San Francisco Cruise Ship Port

as the ship heads toward the Golden Gate bridge it looks like there is no way it will fit under

Sailing into San Francisco is quite scenic. It’s like having harbor tour without ever leaving the ship. Besides all the scenery onshore, the ship sails under the Golden Gate Bridge. Quite a few people gathered on the upper outside decks of the Royal Princess on the way into the port in spite of the early hour with a 6am passage under the bridge, and a damp misty morning. As the ship approached the bridge it appeared as if the things on top the ship would surely hit, but of course that was an optical illusion and the ship passed underneath the bridge without colliding.


On the way into its berth in the harbor the ship passes by Alcatraz Island offering passengers who got up early enough another photo op. The rest of the people can hope for clear weather on the way out and take their photos then. Alcatraz was shrouded in mist on the way in and in clear sunshine on the way out so the photos leaving town were definitely better than those on the way in on our trip.

view of the Maasdam from the top of Lombard Street

We docked about an hour late after waiting for the Maasdam to slip into their berth first and then for the port to get the gangways ready. Being so early odds are nothing much would be open anyway so unless people had somewhere to go that required travel time they probably didn’t miss much.

what do you know – the ship does fit under the bridge

San Francisco is a full-service cruise port. Ships sometimes embark or disembark cruises there. I boarded a ship there once when we took the Celebrity Infinity on a trip that went through the Panama canal. On our Royal Princess cruise it was only a port stop so we just walked through the terminal building to get outside. The port building had some information booths passengers could stop at on their way out if they had questions or needed information on things to see or do, but we already had plans and didn’t stop to see what they had.

pier 27 in San Francisco

Our ship docked at Pier 27, made obvious by the string of banners outside all saying pier 27 as well as the number being painted on a wall inside the port building. 27 is the main pier for cruise ships in San Francisco, but on days with more than one ship pier 35 is used as well, which is where the Holland America Maasdam docked the day we were there.

San Francisco’s Embarcadero is an area along the waterfront

San Francisco’s cruise docks are in an area called the Embarcadero. This 3-mile stretch of San Francisco’s eastern waterfront sits on reclaimed land with an engineered seawall and piers jutting out into the bay. People can walk along the waterfront, or take a ride on a streetcar. Fisherman’s Wharf at Pier 39 is the 3rd most visited tourist attraction in America. It has restaurants, attractions including a carousel, and a whole lot of sea lions.

ferry terminal building

Other things to see along the Embarcadero include an aquarium, museums, the ferry terminal building (which has a lot of shops), the popular Exploratorium science museum, historic ships, and Ghirardelli Square. There’s even an aquatic park pier and a Maritime National Historic Park.  All kinds of attractions are available along the Embarcadero including ferries out to Alcatraz, speedboat rides, sailing, and whale watching. Coit Tower overlooks the Embarcadero from a nearby hill.

view of Coit Tower from the port

Of course there is a lot to do in San Francisco beyond the waterfront as well, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz being the city’s best known tourist attractions. Other popular attractions include cable cars, Lombard Street, Golden Gate Park, Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Palace of Fine Arts, Chinatown, and quite a variety of museums.

one of San Francisco’s historic streetcars

You can catch a streetcar, city bus, or the hop on hop off bus fairly close to the ship. Uber and Lyft are also readily available for transportation around town.

almost to the dock

Ship’s excursions Princess offers in San Francisco include a number of tours to Alcatraz paired with a variety of other things, hop-on hop-off bus tour, city drive with Golden Gate Bridge, Sausalito and Fisherman’s Wharf, and several other Sausalito tours paired with other things, city highlights with Chinatown, postcard landmarks tour, heart of San Francisco with cable car ride, and Sonoma wine country tour.

seagulls flock around the ship in hopes of an easy meal from all the bait fish that get disturbed when the ship sails into port

Overall there’s a lot more to do in San Francisco than any one person could do within the time allowed by a cruise ship port stop – even when the ship overnights there.

after the ship sails under the bridge it still looks like it never could have fit

Sailing out of San Francisco the next afternoon brought a much more vivid brightness to the scenery with sunshine bathing Alcatraz and the bridge in light rather than being shrouded in mist as they were on the way in. It still looked like the ship would surely take out the bridge on it’s way through rather than passing under up until it the time it actually passed underneath the bridge. The captain said it cleared by 10 meters (about 30 feet), but you would never guess it had so much space while standing on the deck as the ship goes under the bridge. Once out the other side it again looked as if there is no way it ever could have fit.

a helicopter flew under the Golden Gate Bridge next to us when we sailed out of San Francisco

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2019
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