What’s At The Top Of Mount Roberts in Juneau?

on the Mt Roberts tram

Oosterdam from the tram

The iconic Mount Roberts Tram is one of the main attractions in Juneau. It’s quite visible from ships as they cruise into town. Holland America ships dock right below it. The lower tram station sits at the center of the main gathering area for tourists booking last minute excursions in the heart of town. Bright red trams traveling up and down the mountain dominate the view. Tickets are available at the tram station or on board the cruise ships where passengers can purchase their tickets in advance and go directly to the tram line, avoiding the line to buy tickets. Every time I’ve compared the ship’s price to the cost of buying the tickets direct they’ve always been the same price. Thousands of people take the tram up the mountain each summer. What do they find when they get to the top?

Mount Roberts TRam

One tram car goes up while the other goes down

The ride up or down provides excellent views and the trams have windows all around to take advantage of the sites. The bright red tram cars have their names painted boldly on the outside. One is called Eagle and the other Raven. These are the two major groups (called moieties) of the Tlingit tribe, who run the tram. In this matriarchal society, children are born into their mother’s clan. Marriages are made with people in the other group.

riding the Mount Roberts Tram

view of cruise ships and the other tram from a tram car

Cruise ships at the dock are quite visible on the ride up so long as the area is not shrouded in fog. The tram docks at the upper station in a windowed building with excellent views of the ships and town below in clear weather. A wide hallway leads into the main area of the upper floor of the 2-story building.

upper tram station view

looking down from the upper tram station

On that floor visitors find a gift shop, a restaurant, a door to the outside, and a stairway to the lower level. The lower floor has restrooms and a theater. The theater hosts shows by the Alaska String Band and a film about Tlingit history and culture.

outside Mount Roberts upper tram station

upper tram station at Mount Roberts, looking over to the visitor’s center

Venture outside of the main building and it’s just a short walk to the tiny wildlife center which houses one flightless eagle. Named Lady Baltimore, she’s a resident there for life since the injury that left her flightless means she can’t be released into the wild.

flightless eagle

Lady Baltimore, the flightless eagle at the tram station

Just past the eagle there’s a small visitor’s center building.

just how big is an eagle's nest

she’s standing in a full sized replica of an eagle’s nest, but no matter how hard she flaps her arms she can’t fly away

The outer deck area to the visitor’s center has a couple displays where visitors can stand in a replica of an eagle’s nest or spread out their arms to see how they compare to the wingspan of the birds pictured there.

measure your wingspan

still can’t fly

Inside there’s a small gift shop and theater.

trail at Mount Roberts tram

short loop trail near the tram station

Outside of the buildings there are entrances to trails. One trail makes a short loop with some nice views along the way. It rains a lot in Juneau so the trails are likely to be wet or muddy.

view from mountaintop trail

view from the trail

This is a good trail for people with some time to spend there, but not a lot. Also great for anyone not wishing to risk getting lost on a longer trail or taking too much time and missing their ship. It’s an easy trail for anyone without walking or balance issues.

trail at Mount Roberts tram

another bit of the short loop trail

One trail leads to 6th street in town for those who would rather hike 3 miles up or down the mountain than take a ride on the scenic tram. It continues on 6 more miles from the tram station to the top of the mountain. From the tram station this hike can take 4-6 hours and may pass through patches of snow. I’ve never gone that far, but another site recommended using a GPS to be sure of finding the right way back. It would also be a good idea to buy a map.

carved tree on the tram trail

carved tree on the short loop trail

Mount Roberts Tram makes a good short excursion to do before or after whatever else you’re doing in Juneau if you stay near the tram station. It could also be an all day outing for those who want to hike the long trail all the way to the mountaintop.

lower tram station

view of the lower tram station from an approaching tram

More Blogs About Juneau

Juneau, Mount Roberts Tram, Mount Roberts Tram on a stormy day, Glacier Gardens, River Raft Excursion, Mendenhall Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center, Ziplines

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Alaska, Holland America, Oosterdam, Port Cities, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, USA | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments


Naples, Italy

Naples view from the Vista

Pretty much everyone has heard of Pompeii, which was destroyed in an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Not so many know about the nearby town of Herculaneum.


street and buildings in Herculaneum

At our port stop in Naples on Carnival Vista we took a ship’s excursion to Herculaneum. We would have liked to see Pompeii too, but the ship had no excursions to both and we didn’t want to venture out on our own having never used European trains before this trip. Plus we don’t speak Italian and did not know if there would be any signs in English. It is possible to see both places if you go by train on your own, but first you have to make it to the train station and then catch the correct trains. You would also have to fit it all in during the time the ship is in port. After our train experience at the previous port of Messina it was a relief to just sit back on the bus and let someone else get us there.

ancient art

painted wall in Herculaneum

Our friend with a month of experience on European public transportation said it wouldn’t have been all that hard – so long as there were no strikes, unexpected train cancellations, or other work stoppages. Which are apparently common on European trains. The train that runs from Naples to Sorrento stops at both Pompeii and Herculaneum, but the Naples station is far enough from the cruise dock to need a bus or taxi to get there and I don’t know if either archaeological site is within walking distance of the train. We did not see any trains or train stations while we were at Herculaneum.

preserved ruins

decorated walls

Herculaneum was buried in boiling mud in the same volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius that destroyed the more famous Pompeii. I’d always heard the buildings in Herculaneum were intact and even the ship’s blurb about the shore excursion said they had found wood and fabrics preserved there. From what I had heard we rather expected to see a town frozen in time looking much like it did before that fateful blast of the volcano.

well preserved ruins

brick doorway in Herculaneum

After waiting for our guide to buy tickets for the group (while wondering why that hadn’t been done in advance) we went through the entrance and got our first glimpse of Herculaneum over a railing.



It wasn’t what I expected as it is definitely ruins and not a town looking as it did when people lived there. In fact some buildings were damaged before the volcano, having not been repaired from an earthquake 16 years earlier. It’s down in a hole because the entire village was buried in mud 10 to 20 meters thick in the initial blast. Another eruption in 1631 buried it further.


these tub-like fixtures along the streets could have been horse troughs or where people got their water.

Though not entirely forgotten having been mentioned in writings of 1504, Herculaneum remained undiscovered until 1709 when an Austrian prince found a portion of the theater while digging a well. (Odds are it was not the prince himself doing the digging.) For nearly a decade marble and statues were stripped from the theater. Later excavations tunneled through portions of the city, but it wasn’t until the 1920’s that open air excavations began. Some of the town remains underground with buildings in the current city of Resina built on top of it. The theater remains buried and is not in the part of town that tourists see.

what was it for?

there were a lot of basins like this around the town

Although Herculaneum was a Roman town at the time it was buried, it was initially Greek and in between was ruled by first the Samnites and then the Campanians (neither of which most people have likely ever heard of.) While Pompeii was a bustling city, Herculaneum was mainly a high-class resort area full of residences for the wealthy. It was about a third of the size of Pompeii.


looking down on Herculaneum

The guide gathered our group at the railing overlooking partial buildings, cobblestone streets, and chambers of bones on a level lower than the street level of the houses. He droned on and on using up the limited time we had to spend there while we watched other people walking around through the ruins. As soon as he said we weren’t going down there I bailed from the group and went down on my own. John followed. We had terrible luck with the fairly useless guides we ended up with on ship’s excursions in Europe, though some other groups on the same excursions lucked out with good ones.

art in Herculaneum

some buildings have art built into their walls

There was no way I was going to spend the whole time looking at Herculaneum from above and never venturing inside while all the other tour groups and individual visitors wandered freely through the remains of the city. Shortly after we bailed others followed and eventually the rest of the people that stayed with the guide came down too so either he meant he wasn’t taking us down as far as the bones or else he figured after half the group bailed he should take the rest in while he still had anyone left.


two story building with wooden shutters

Some buildings still have a second story and there is wood preserved in parts of some structures. A few places have mosaic tile floors or paintings or carvings on the walls. All the furnishings, statues, tapestries, and other artifacts have been removed to a display at a museum in Naples so only the buildings remain other than a few very large clay pots, bread ovens, and something that looks like bathtubs.


remnants of a bakery

Some buildings are in better shape than others, but none are in livable condition. Besides the residences, buildings within the area where tourists walk through include a bakery, college, gymnasium, and public baths.


each grotto holds many skeletons

The grottos on the lower level seen from the railing above contain skeletons preserved in long-dried mud, presumably bones of people who did not make it out of town before the mudslide cascading down the mountain arrived burying everything in its path. Unlike Pompeii, some people from Herculaneum had time enough to escape to the sea, but they fared no better than those who didn’t make it out of town. A violent tsunami tossed the fleeing ships back to crash at the shore before they could reach the open sea. Remains of these boats and the people who occupied them have been found along the coast.

mosaic tile floor

fancy tile floor

Although Herculaneum wasn’t a walk through living history, it was still an interesting place to see. It would have been nice if they had left some of the furnishings, statues, and things where they were rather than removing all of them and leaving nothing but the buildings themselves. Even one furnished house would give a better insight into the lives of people lost so long ago.


ruins at Herculaneum

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018


Posted in Carnival, Europe, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to Fold a Towel Swan Heart

How to Make a Towel Swan Heart

kissing towel swans

towel swan heart

To make a towel swan heart you need to make two towel swans and place them together so that their heads and necks form the shape of a heart. Click here for detailed instructions on how to fold individual towel swans with or without their wings spread.

Supplies Needed to make a Towel Swan Heart

4 bath towels or 2 bath towels and 2 hand towels


Towel Swan Folding Instructions

For more detailed instructions click here

The video shows two swans with wings spread and uses 4 bath towels. You can also make the swans without their wings spread, which takes 2 bath towels and 2 hand towels. If you don’t have enough bath towels, but still want wings you can use hand towels and just make smaller wings. Click the link above for more detailed instructions on making individual swans with or without wings.

the key to a good towel animal is to have tight rolls

roll as tightly as you can

To make the main body for each swan fold a bath towel in half across the short side. Tuck the center point under your chin, hang it on a hook, or have someone hold it as in the video. Roll both sides to the center as tightly as you can. Notice in the video how the steward runs his hands down the length of the towel as he rolls it to make the rolls tight.

towel swan heart

set the two swans chest to chest, at a point where their beaks reach the same height

Pose each swan chest to chest with their beaks at even height. Bend their necks back and place their heads with the beaks touching to form the heart shape. Finish off the bodies by tucking in the tail ends to a point and adding the wings or for swans without wings spread tuck a hand towel around the body as shown here. To make the wings fold a towel accordion style, set it over the swan and arrange the wings as desired.

towel swan heart

these swans have googly eyes, but felt or paper works too

Finish off the swan heart by adding eyes to each swan. Use googly eyes or make your own eyes from felt or paper, using double stick tape to hold them in place. (Felt or paper eyes will somewhat stay on their own without the tape.)

towel swan heart with wings spread

the wings on these swans are made with hand towels

For instructions on how to fold other towel animals see My Cruise Stories towel animal page.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018


Posted in Towel Animals | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scenic World in Katoomba

cable car over a ravine

Skyway at Scenic World

Katoomba is a major touristy area for Australia’s Blue Mountains. The train stops in town and from there you can catch either a city bus or hop on hop off bus out to Echo Point and Scenic World. Both places have trails for hiking to different viewpoints. Some hikes are long and steep. From Echo Point you get a close-up view of the area’s most famous rock formation, called the three sisters. You can also see them from Scenic World.

Australia's 3 sisters

3 sisters rock formation from Scenic World

Australia’s Blue Mountains were named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. The region is called Australia’s most accessible wilderness. The area covers over 400,000 acres with over 100 species of eucalyptus trees and ancient Wollemi Pines.

fern trees

fern trees at Scenic World

Some areas, including Leura Cascades and Scenic World have prehistoric-looking fern trees. Terrain is steep and rugged with sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and canyons.

very steep railway

world’s steepest railway at Scenic World

Scenic World is a privately owned tourist attraction in a former coal mine. Scenic world has three rides including the world’s steepest railway. You can buy a one way ticket to any of the rides or an all day pass to ride all of them as many times as you would like. The railway goes to one end of a scenic walkway through a valley past the old coal mine, and the cableway (which used to be called the sceniscender) at the other.

The cableway is the largest and steepest aerial cable car in the Southern Hemisphere. You can take either the train or cablecar down and the other up, ride the same one down and up, or take the trail stairs instead and ride neither. The boardwalk between them has signs giving information about nearby plants or former mining activity. In some spots you can see into an old mine shaft or pose for photos with statues of the mining era. You can take the short route from one ride to the other or opt for the long way which has a mining village.

you can even see through the floor

Scenic World Skyway near the station

The skyway runs over a gorge. The raised center part of the floor turns from opaque to clear during the crossing. It’s a great spot for people who want the view, not so much for those who are afraid of heights. One person who should have gone to the other part of the car got dizzy and fell during one of our crossings, but recovered enough to leave the car shortly after it reached the other end. The far side of the gorge has trails. One goes to a waterfall. Others connect into the trail system that leads to Echo Point or around the canyon where people can walk back to Scenic World.

skyway at scenic world

inside the skyway

You can ride the skyway over from Scenic World and and either get in the queue to ride it right back, hike to the waterfall before going back, hike back, or hike on. Or just wander around looking at the views for a bit before going back.

scenic world cableway

cableway at Scenic World

There’s enough to see at Scenic World to spend a whole day there hiking around and riding the different rides. It also has a giftshop and café.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Australia, Day Trips, Port City Side Trips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Maui – Trilogy Discover Lanai Tour

cruise ship in Hawaii

Explorer of the Seas in Maui

On the way from Seattle to Sydney, Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas stopped in Hawaii at Lahaina on Maui. Prior to the cruise we set up an excursion on our own with Trilogy, a popular catamaran day trip company there. Trilogy did offer a couple of 2-hour excursions through the ship, but we took an all-day trip from their website, sailtrilogy.com. They have a variety of sailing or sail and snorkel excursions to choose from, departing from three different harbors.

Trilogy catamaran

Trilogy at the dock in Lahaina Harbor

The Trilogy departed from the other side of the same dock in Lahaina where the ship’s tenders came to shore, making it quite convenient for arriving by ship. When excursion time approached they put up a sign for Trilogy near the dock, which is where everyone checked in. They did not have a booth offering last-minute tours among the many lining the harbor near the dock. Upon boarding they offer a variety of things to drink. I was happy to see a jug of reef-safe sunscreen sitting on a counter available for anyone who needs it. It’s nice to see that people care about saving the reefs.

putting up Trilogy's sails

putting up the sails on the Trilogy catamaran

While cruise ship sail and snorkel catamaran excursions often “sail” with the engine running due to time constraints, the Trilogy catamaran actually sailed a good portion of the way from Maui to Lanai, which the locals spell Lana’i. Of course they also spell Hawaii as Hawai’i.

cruising in style on Trilogy

fresh hot cinnamon rolls

You won’t go hungry on this excursion. Not long after leaving port they served cinnamon rolls hot and fresh from the oven. We weren’t underway too long before they came back around with fresh fruit. Before arriving at the island we were served wraps in a variety of flavors as well.

sailing on the Trilogy

if you sit on the net you get wet

There’s lots of options for places to sit on the catamaran. It has some inside seating as well as seating outside across the back. It also has seating around the edges of the front with tables containing cupholders, handy for the drinks they provide. The boat is also equipped with a couple heads, shipspeak for bathrooms. There are nets across a couple sections of the bow, which are also seating (or lying down) options for those who don’t mind getting a bit – or a lot – wet along the way. The other bow seats get splashed sometimes as well, but we sat there anyway.

flowers in Hawaii

flowers by the beach on Lana’i

We came on a windy day when the waves were fairly high so people got a bit wetter than they would on a calm flat day. Of course the wind is a great help for the sails. Along the way they offered a snuba add-on to the excursion for an extra charge. Snuba instruction was provided along the way for interested parties. It’s a way for beginners to have a chance at diving. They also had a photographer for anyone interested in purchasing a photo package if they liked their photos. The photographer asked in advance who thought they might want photos so they could concentrate on taking pictures of just those people, who had no obligation to buy them.

Lanai island in Hawaii

beach on Lana’i

Arrival at the island came with the option of a quick van ride or short walk to the beach. Everyone was given a shell necklace, which marked us as having permission to be on that private beach. At the beach they provided snorkel gear as well as instructions. The snorkel instructions included some great hints like put the mask onto your face first, make sure it gets a good seal, and then pull the strap over the back of your head because if you put the strap on first and then pull the mask down it brings your hair with it which breaks the seal. Also it should be snug, but not too tight because if it is too tight the mask may become distorted and break the seal, which of course makes it leak. When you can pull it an inch or so away from your face it is just right.

beach at Lanai

our Trilogy group had an area at the beach with a tree and picnic tables

They also suggested anyone who had not put sunscreen on prior to that point not put it under where the mask goes and anyone who had wipe it off that area because sunscreen can come off under the mask and get into your eyes leaving them with a painful burning feeling. Of course after getting out of the water that area would need sunscreen and it’s always recommended to re-apply for the rest of your body after swimming anyway. They brought the jar of reef-safe sunscreen ashore for people to use there.

wild turkeys on Lana'i

wild turkeys on the roadside

Options for the island included spending the whole time at the beach, taking an island tour in the vans, or a short hike. We opted for the island tour. There wasn’t anything spectacular to see, but the tour guide/driver provided an interesting history of the island.

lonely road on Lanai

pine trees along the roadside next to now-empty fields that once held pineapple plantations

The current vegetation is non-native, the original having been eaten by cattle and goats that once roamed the island. Cattle ranches were replaced by pineapple plantations, which are all open land now. Current residents mainly make their living from tourism. Besides day trippers the island has several hotels. Other than people’s private homes the majority of the island is owned by Larry Ellison, billionaire founder of Oracle Corp.

fish in Hawaii

one of the many fish we saw snorkeling on Lanai

Long ago the cowboys planted pine trees which attract water out of the atmosphere and drip it onto the ground where it soaks in to fill the aquifer. They are up on the ridges of hills as well as lining the roads and in a park in Lana’i City, the island’s only town.

beach snorkeling

it was easy to find fish and coral when snorkeling off the beach in Lanai

Our driver said Trilogy is a great company to work for. Besides the catamarans and the building at the harbor where they serve lunch, Trilogy owns a store and gas station. Every year Trilogy provides free turkeys to all of the island’s residents at Thanksgiving. The island has wild turkeys roaming about and some little deer called axis deer that keep the white spots usually just found on fawns for their entire life. These deer are not native to the island, but are descendants of those brought there as gifts to King Kamehameha in the 1860’s.

Back at the beach we went in for some snorkeling. There was a pretty good surf that day, but once through the surf the water beyond it was fine for snorkeling. At first it was just sand, but once you get out a bit there are reefs and lots of fish. The beach is in a park with restricted access and was not very crowded on the day we were there. The Trilogy people are on shore where everyone leaves their things when they go into the water and nobody has ever had anything stolen there.

fish in Lanai

lots of different kinds of fish

Drinks and potato chips sat on a picnic table, available for anyone on the tour who wanted them. When asked about their no-rinse snorkel mask defogger they said it was Dawn dish soap mixed with lots of water. It worked better than the commercial de-fogging products you spray in and rinse out. They said Johnson’s baby shampoo with a lot of water also works well.

barbeque on Lanai


When our beach time was up we went back to the boat dock area to their building full of tables and a barbecue area. They made a great meal which they called lunch even though it was served around 3pm. It included salad and rolls, chicken, corn on the cob, and yakisoba noodles with veggies.

chicken barbeque

barbequed chicken is served

There is a ferry from Maui to Lanai which lands at the same docks as the Trilogy catamarans at both ends. Due to the fact that last tender to our ship was just 15 minutes after the Trilogy’s scheduled return time we took the ferry back for an earlier arrival on the advice of the people at Trilogy who said though they would return on time they could not guarantee getting to the dock before the last tender if the harbor master held them back due to other boat traffic given priority to enter first – like the ship’s tenders for instance.

Lanai ferry

ferry runs from Maui to Lanai

Though Trilogy’s departure was planned for 4pm and the ferry for 4:30, the ferry crosses in just 45 minutes while Trilogy sails around for a couple hours (with an open bar) as they work their way back. Due to the rough seas both left about 15 minutes late. The ferry got there late and it took awhile to unload because after all the people left they were still removing a bunch of trees and other landscape plants, presumably for someone on the island. The ferry arrived back in Maui about half an hour late while Trilogy arrived on time so we only got there 15 minutes earlier by taking the ferry.

Lanai harbor

Trilogy leaving Lanai

As it turned out we made the second to last tender from the ferry, and would have made the last tender from Trilogy, but when your next port is 7 days and an ocean away you don’t take chances on missing the ship. For ships with an earlier departure there is also a 2:00 ferry. To insure a place on the ferry you can either buy the tickets in advance on the Maui side, or just put your name on the list for that sailing at the booth in Lahaina and buy the ticket in Lanai. The Lanai booth was only manned shortly before the ferry’s arrival.

Trilogy sailboat in Hawaii

Trilogy returning to Maui at sunset

The Trilogy tour is a fun adventure for anyone visiting Maui, whether vacationing there or visiting by cruise ship. Besides the trip to Lanai they also offer several other sail and snorkel tours, sunset sailing or sunset sailing with dinner, and when in season whale watching tours.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Day Trips, Explorer of the Seas, Pacific Ocean & Islands, Ports of Call, Royal Caribbean, Shore Excursions, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Amber Cove & Ocean World

Amber Cove

Carnival Magic in Amber Cove

Carnival Magic backed slowly into the dock at Amber Cove near Puerta Plata in the Dominican Republic under sunny skies, which were quite welcome on a day where the weather forecast included thundershowers. Although it rained some overnight, no thunder or showers made an appearance during our stay.

Amber cove cruise port

display at Amber Cove cruise port

Amber Cove is a fairly new purpose-built cruise ship port. Which means everything there was built specifically for the port. It’s not in a previously existing town. The port area has shops (of course) as well as a pool, waterslide, zip line, and a variety of displays. Each display has different information, some about flora and fauna of the local area. Others are about the amber that gives Amber Cove its name and larimar, the blue Caribbean stone found only in one mine in the world – in the Dominican Republic. While amber is normally the orangish amber color associated with the name, other colors are found in the Dominican Republic including rare and valuable blue amber found only there.

Amber cove

Amber Cove cruise ship port

Anyone who hasn’t booked an excursion through the ship can find things to do on their own whether they just want to hang around the port or venture off to see more. Excursion booths offer last minute tours and people can also opt for a taxi to the beach or a taxi tour. For a cheaper ride dodgy-looking unlicensed taxis sit out beyond the boundary of the port’s gates.

cruise port, Dominican Republic

shops at Amber Cove

Not having been to the Dominican Republic before, we booked an excursion through the ship because the grandkids wanted to see dolphins and we were unsure of the price, availability, or reliability of local transportation. Unfortunately when booking Ocean World through the ship if you want to go on the same bus everyone has to do the same excursion. If you got there on your own and some wanted to do the dolphin encounter, some the dolphin swim, and some just wanted park admission you could do so.

Ocean World

stingray at Ocean World

Admission through the park’s website cost the same as through the ship, but included lunch instead of transportation. The brochure made it sound like once you paid for a dolphin swim or encounter the admission included everything else in the park. Once we got there we found out waterslides cost and additional $10, which was a disappointment to the oldest grandson because there were not enough slides nor did we have enough time to justify the extra cost for everyone, where we would have used them briefly if you could just go slide down.

Ocean World

platforms for the dolphin encounter – we got the roofed one and appreciated the shade

The minimum age for the dolphin swim is 6 so we did the encounter instead since the youngest grandson was just 5. The price is also less for the encounter. Before going to the dolphin platform people have to remove things like jewelry and hair clips because anything a person loses may be eaten by a dolphin. There’s a roofed area with wooden railings near the platforms where people can put their things. Nothing goes in the pen with the people, not even cameras. They do have professional photographers and of course would like to sell people the photos and video they take.

dolphin encounter

dolphin encounter at Ocean World with all the grandkids and my daughter and sister

The park has birds, stingrays, sharks, and other fish as well as the dolphins. Shows include bird, sea lion, shark, and dolphin. Local time there was an hour later than ship’s time. Carnival cruises that start and end at the same port stay on ship’s time which is the same time as the port of origination. With all the shows and exhibits there was more at Ocean World than we could see or do during the amount of time we had to spend at the park before we had to catch the return bus to the ship. Though we were on a ship’s excursion, once the dolphin encounter finished we were free to explore the rest of the park on our own and responsible for getting ourselves to the meeting point for the bus on time.

dolphin kiss

Daniel gets a kiss

The kids loved the dolphin encounter. They divided the participants into 3 groups, 2 of which sat on the sides while the third went into the somewhat cold water of a small square area with a floating cement walkway surrounding it. Dolphins could freely swim under the walkway into that area or back out. Two came in when we first arrived. One stayed and the other was sent out to another group on a different platform. Our platform had a cover and some shady areas, but the other one was open to the elements.

dolphin encounter

Hannah just gave the dolphin a fish

There was an underwater platform along the edge of the floating one for the people in the water to stand on. The dolphin swam up and down the line of people, doing different things. The trainer told everyone in advance what parts of the dolphin were OK to touch and what was not. He let people pet him, hug him, and then kissed everyone. I’d have preferred to leave that part out in case any of the other people had germs he could spread, but none of us got sick from the dolphin’s kiss. At the end everyone fed him a small fish and he waved his fin goodbye. The dolphin could have swam under the platform and left at any time if he wanted to, but he preferred to stay and eat the fish he got for participating.

Ocean World sea lion

sea lion show

We also went to the sea lion show and the aviary. The kids enjoyed the walk-through building where love birds flock to anyone with a bit of the bird seed handed out there. The birds also loved sitting on top of heads or hats.

Ocean World snorkel

snorkel tank at Ocean World

One area had a large fish tank where people could snorkel. Anyone who was too young or who didn’t want to get wet could watch the fish or snorkelers through glass panels on some portions of each side of the tank. The snorkeling had a specific entrance and exit so everyone in the tank swims in the same direction.

bird encounters

Hannah with love birds in the aviary

The dolphins and other large sea mammals there all seemed happy. We even saw some dolphins playing with balls just for fun without any trainers around. Their habitat was pretty spacious and they got lots of fish to eat. Dolphins and sea lions are very smart. The US navy uses both. Some of the ones the navy trains live in the wild and come to work voluntarily – paid in fish. One of their jobs for the navy is to locate and recover old mines, which they can do safely because living mammals don’t set the mine off like a metal ship or submarine would.

Ocean World

dolphin show at Ocean World

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
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Ziplining In Juneau

ships in Juneau

View of ships in Juneau from across the channel

Juneau has two zip line options, Alaska Zipline Adventures and Alaska Canopy Adventures. If you come by cruise ship the ship’s excursions may include an option to book through them. You can also book on your own online in advance of your cruise. The Holland America Oosterdam offered an excursion called Alaska’s Ultimate Canopy & Zipline Expedition. This tour went to the Treadmill Mine site, which is out on Douglas Island. Transportation includes a speedboat ride to the island and a drive up a mountain in a 4×4 all terrain vehicle. 10 dual ziplines add up to nearly a mile of cable over the ruins of the old Treadmill gold mine with views of Juneau from the treetops. This course has 2 suspension bridges and rappelling down at the end. Participants wear the sturdy gloves provided and hand brake themselves at the end of each zip.

ziplining in Juneau

everyone is clipped to a tree on the platforms between ziplines

Our ship just offered the one zipline course through Alaska Canopy Adventures. We booked the other one at Alaska Zipline Adventures online prior to the cruise because one of our traveling companions on that cruise does not like small boats. At the time we went the one we chose cost $20 less than the other place – which cost the same whether booking through the ship or not.

Juneau zipline

The first guide leaving the first platform. Each platform had a tree sign with a different name.

Alaska Zipline Adventures picks up booked tour participants in town near the Mount Roberts tram at a pre-arranged time so transportation out to the site was not a problem even though this was not a ship’s tour. After a scenic van ride to the Eaglecrest Ski Area we all got out of the van and went into the ski lodge. Our driver, Julia, was also one of our zipline guides. We picked up our other guide, Adam, at the lodge where we stopped prior to the tour. They had bins there for any belongings people couldn’t or didn’t want to take along with them through the zipline course. Some items are not allowed and others just get in the way.

getting ready to zip

before each zip the guide clips the person to the line

Raincoats were provided to anyone who wanted them. Although we lucked out with sunny weather, they suggested wearing the raincoats anyway to prevent getting any tree sap on our own clothes. Everyone did so, which makes people easy to spot for photos as that bright orange coat flies through the green trees. Anyone not hugging a tree probably wouldn’t have gotten sap on their clothes, but better safe than sorry and a lot of other colors blend into the scenery so the raincoats made better pictures.

creek view

some of the zipline platforms had great views

A short ride in a different van brought us to a trail leading to their suit-up stop where everyone was provided with all the necessary gear. The pulley cable bits that hook onto the ziplines each had an animal name. Mine was Bear which sounds quite sturdy and strong, unlike some of the others like Beaver. They offered a bunny slope zip for anyone who hadn’t tried ziplining before and wanted to try a small one first, but had no takers from our group for that so we all went on to the main course. The guides clipped everyone’s harness  to a cable on the tree with instructions never to touch that clip. Before any guests could go the first guide left for the next landing platform where he would catch the incoming zipliners. At each stop the guide who catches people at the far end always went first while the other stayed to clip everyone onto the line at their turn.


the guide on the landing platform waits to catch the incoming person

Some ziplines we have done had the harness clipped to a continuous line that you follow around the tree and the order people go never changes. This one clipped in fixed places on the tree and the order in which people went changed on each platform, other than the guides who always went first and last.

zipline guide

once all the people had gone the second guide zipped to the next platform

One by one each participant zipped over, followed by the other guide. They had a braking system on the line so no protective gloves or hand braking was required. They send a little bobber thing out a little ways down the cable on a rope so when the person comes in it slows them down to a near stop making it easier for the guide waiting on the platform to catch them.

zipline braking system

the braking system near the landing platform slows down the incoming zipliner so there’s no need to brake yourself with a hand on the line

On each zip participants have the option to hold the handlebars on their harness or go hands free. We could take off forward or backward from the platforms and could take photos or video on the way across. They preferred heads to stay above feet, but when people opted to lean back or turn upside down they just had to make sure and be upright with their knees up by the time they got to the platform.

hands free ziplining

hands free ziplining allows for creative positions

Some of the platforms towered over a scenic creek. Each one had a name. Trees in the area are either spruce or hemlock and one platform on a 500+ year old hemlock was called Grandpa Hemlock. The guide said a nearby tree was named Grandma Hemlock. The course included one suspension bridge and a stairway down at the end. At one platform cups of blueberry tea awaited each person as they came in for a landing.

suspension bridge

suspension bridge in the zipline course

The last zip ends on a low platform with a short stairway to the ground. After the last zipline the guides announced our next activity was axe throwing – at orange and white targets. They wore blue helmets and no raincoats while the rest of us stood there in orange raincoats and white helmets. But they had actual orange and white targets, not the people. In pairs of two each person got 3 chances to sink an axe into the target. Some people did quite well, others (like me) not so much. You didn’t have to be any good at it to have fun though.

axe throwing

guides demonstrating the axe throwing

The guides (Julia and Adam) took photos throughout the course and at the axe throwing. Back at the lodge they offered granola bars as a snack while playing a slideshow of all the photos they had taken. Of course they offered them for sale as well, along with merchandise in the gift shop there. Even a zip line ends at the gift ship, reminiscent of all the rides at theme parks.

video of zipline and axe throwing

Our parting gift was a green water bottle with their logo on it. Back on the ship we had dinner with a couple who had taken the ship’s zip line excursion to the other place. They had a great time too, and showed us the medal they got as their parting gift.

Alaska Zipline Adventures

ziplining in Juneau

Whichever course you choose, ziplining in Juneau is a great way to have a good time whether visiting Juneau for the day as a cruise ship passenger or spending a longer time there on a land vacation.

More Blogs About Juneau

JuneauMount Roberts Tram, Mount Roberts Tram on a stormy day, Glacier Gardens, River Raft Excursion, Mendenhall Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Alaska, Holland America, Oosterdam, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Interview with John Heald – Carnival’s American Table

American Table on Carnival

Vista Dining Room set up for dinner

Ever since Carnival launched their new American Table menus people have complained about everything from the food to the lack of table cloths. A lot of those complaints come from people who have never actually given it a try. We had the opportunity to compare the old and new menus once when sailing back to back on one ship with the old menu and one with American Table. Click here to see how they compare.

cruise ship dinner

The American Table includes side dish options like the veggies with this ham dinner which originally came with Brussel sprouts. You can order them in addition to the meal, instead of a component of a meal,  or just make up your own meal from side dish selections.

The biggest change with American Table isn’t the menu itself, but the removal of tablecloths from the dining room except on formal nights. Cruisers are accustomed to dining on white table cloths regardless of the ship and complain constantly about this, but from an environmental standpoint it saves a whole lot of loads of laundry that would have otherwise needed washing daily. The naked tables look something like an upscale bistro. The only real problem with the lack of tablecloths is condensation under the glasses, a problem which could easily be solved by the addition of coasters, though as of my last time on Carnival that had not been done. Not having tablecloths on casual nights makes elegant nights stand out as something special with different table décor as well as the tablecloths.

cruise ship fish dinner

fish dinner on Carnival’s American Table menu

We had the opportunity on the Vista to meet with Carnival’s Brand Ambassador and spokesperson John Heald and get his thoughts about American Table.

Cruise lines across the board have to do what they can to keep their costs down or raise fares. Complaining about the food seems to be standard now on all lines. Even when sailing with any line for the first time we hear repeat cruisers there say the food isn’t what it used to be. We have noticed that the food will vary considerably from ship to ship even within the same line, or at a later sailing on the same ship. Not just the dining room either, even the premium places that you pay extra for can have a dish that is far better on one cruise than another. I’ve had excellent and not so good food on different ships of the same line on more than one line. Quality of the food must reflect the chef and galley staff since even the exact same dish can be excellent or less than memorable from one cruise to another.

cruise ship pasta

penne pasta

Overall we find some days with menus where lots of things sound good and some days where nothing really does on every line. The vegetable lasagna is a stand-out dish from Carnival’s American Table that is consistently good every time we’ve had it. Actually most of the pastas are usually pretty good.

sea food on the sea

seafood dishes are popular with cruise ship passengers

More Interviews with John Heald

Quick Fire Questions

Rescue At Sea


Left Behind in Port

Best Places on Carnival Breeze

Life on a Cruise Ship and Funships 2.0

Carnival Breeze Things to Do and Best Kept Secrets

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Australia’s Blue Mountains

Circular Quay

P&O Arcadia in Sydney

Some cruises start in Sydney, some end there, and some are round trips out of Sydney. When cruising to or from Sydney it’s nice to spend a bit of extra time there to see the area. Sydney has great public transportation. From ships that dock at the Overseas Cruise Terminal in Circular Quay it’s about a 200 yard walk to the train station. From there you can take a train to Central Station, from which you can find trains going all over. One of the options is to take a train up to the Blue Mountains. Central Station also has a line going to the airport. If your ship docks in at the White Bay Cruise Terminal neither tourist attractions nor public transportation are as convenient, but there are taxis and ferries.

Blue Mountain tree

Prehistoric looking fern tree

If Sydney is just a port stop there might still be time for a trip up to the Blue Mountains, especially if the ship overnights there or offers day trips as an excursion. To get there by train take the Blue Mountain Line from Central Station. Leura or Katoomba are popular towns to visit. The view of the Three Sisters rock formation from Echo Point and the walking trails there are a major tourist attraction, as is Jenolan Caves, which takes longer to get to since it is on the far side of the Blue Mountains. The train stations aren’t always near the attractions, but the towns have busses.

strange picnic shelter

picnic shelter at Leura Cascades

Leura has shops, restaurants, galleries, gardens, and even a Toy and Railway museum. Katoomba’s major attraction is Scenic World featuring Blue Mountain views and several different rides up or down a mountain or across a canyon.


Leura toy & railroad museum

Jenolan Caves is farther west on the far side of the Blue Mountains from Sydney. It has tours through 10 of the stalactite and stalagmite filled scenic caves there. They also have some options for adventure caving through undeveloped caves.

Jenolan Caves, Australia

Jenolan Caves

Other lesser-known attractions in the Blue Mountains may require a car to get there. Euroka Clearing is home to wild grey kangaroos, which are smaller than the big reds of the outback, but bigger than wallabies. Colorful birds like rainbow lorakeets and cockatoos also call the park home. There’s a campground there.

ancient handprints

Red Hands Cave

Red Hands Cave is a small cave alongside a trail in Blue Mountains National Park that can be accessed from Euroka Campground or Glenbrook. These small indentations in the rock have ancient aboriginal handprints, which are fenced off for their protection, but visitors can look in and see the red handprints that give these small caves their name.

Australian skink

skink on the trail to Red Hands Cave

The Blue Mountains have lots of little off the beaten track places and bushwalking trails that locals or any visitors lucky enough to stumble across them or who have a local guide might find. Bushwalking is what Aussies call hiking through the forest.

Blue Mountains trees

big bristlecone on a tree

A lot of the forests of the Blue Mountains are made up of Eucalyptus, also called gum trees by the locals. This favorite food of the koalas is not the only tree around though. Luera and Katoomba have pockets of prehistoric looking fern trees, and near the Three Sisters lookout we saw some strange looking bristlecone trees as well. Some with huge cones and others with small ones.

emu in the wild

wild emu

Although some of Australia’s wildlife is deadly, we have never seen any of their many species of poisonous snakes in the wild. We have had spider encounters within civilization, but whether any we saw out in the bush were of the poison sort I can’t say since they did not bite anyone. My daughter once had one of Australia’s deadly Sydney Funnel Web spiders living just outside her front door, but that one didn’t bother anyone. A poisonous whitetail spider bit me in her house once though. They like to hide in bedding and I woke up with the bite on one elbow just before we left for home. The bite grew and ulcerated until I read somewhere online to treat it with ice because nothing else would work and then it finally got better.

outdoor cafe

birds invited themselves to the leftovers at this outdoor cafe in the middle of nowhere

We went out into the bush a couple times with her shirtail relatives Phil and Marlene. They’re great tour guides who know the area well having lived there for many years. They knew where to find wild emus, great scenery, and all sorts of little places only locals know about.

scenic view

Hassans Walls Reserve

They took us to a great viewpoint at Hassans Walls Reserve and a bush cafe in the middle of nowhere somewhere near Lithgow.

3 sisters

the Three Sisters in Australia’s Blue Mountains

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2018
Posted in Arcadia, Australia, P&O, Port Cities, Port City Side Trips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

How to Make a Towel Snowman

how to fold a towel snowman

towel snowman

The towel snowman is easy in that you don’t have to make any precise folds or tight rolls. The challenging part is getting the “snowballs” to stack – and stay put. It’s OK if the snowballs aren’t perfectly round. In fact if the top and bottom are a bit flat it will help with stacking.

Supplies Needed for Making a Towel Snowman

2-3 Bath Towels

1-2 Hand Towels

Decorative Christmas Snow (sheet of cotton)


Directions for Making a Towel Snowman

making a towel snowball

roll a towel into a ball

To make the bottom snowball start by rolling one hand or bath towel into a ball. There’s no right or wrong way to do that. For me it worked out best to start with one corner and scrunch, roll, and ball the towel up from there. After the first towel is in a ball, wrap a bath towel around it, again scrunching, rolling, and folding the towel as needed to make it somewhat round. The inner towel can be any color, but it helps if the outer one is white. The snowman pictured started with a hand towel, which did not really make the bottom ball any bigger than the middle one made from just one towel so I’d recommend using 2 bath towels for the base.

making a towel into a snowball

wrap fake cotton Christmas snow around the towel

After you finish rolling your snowball wrap a piece of the decorative cotton used as fake snow at Christmastime around it and cut to size.

towel snowball

finished towel snowball

For the middle snowball use just one bath towel, again scrunching and rolling it into a ball, then covering it with fake cotton snow.

Roll one hand towel into a ball and cover with fake cotton snow for the head.

fake snowball on fake snow

use some of the fake cotton snow for the snowman to stand on

Stack the “snowballs” just like stacking real ones – except these don’t squish into each other or stay on as easily as actual snow. Do whatever works to get them to stay stacked, whether that means careful placement or patting the top and/or bottom of some of the snowballs into a flatter shape. If desired spread out a piece of the fake cotton snow to put the snowman on so it looks like he’s out in the snow.

towel snowman

snowballs stacked and ready to decorate

Once the snowballs are stacked in place you can decorate as desired. My snowman’s eyes are googly eyes, which are taped onto black felt so they stand out more against the white of the snowman. Eyes could also be made from things like felt, paper, or pop-poms. For the nose I rolled a triangle of orange felt to resemble a carrot. Double stick tape holds the eyes and nose onto the snowman. His mouth is tiny red pom-poms, which stick to the cotton on their own without tape. The buttons are larger blue pom-poms.

snowman made from towels

towel snowman

This snowman’s hat is re-purposed from a hat bought at the dollar store for a towel leprechaun, decorated with red trim previously used for making a towel reindeer.

towel snowman

towel snowman

Sometimes people use sticks to make arms for real snowman. Pipe cleaners (aka fuzzy sticks or chenille stems) can be made into stick shapes and tucked into the sides of the middle snowball for the towel snowman’s arms.

For more towel creations visit My Cruise Stories Towel Animal Page.

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