On the outskirts of old town Innsbruck, Austria, there’s an entrance to a funicular that takes people up a mountain overlooking the city. It’s not actually a secret entrance, but it rather seems that way since it looks a lot like it’s just a bus shelter unless you see the tiny sign that says Nordkette and take the stairway or elevator to go below ground. There you find a ticket desk as well as a stop for the funicular.

Nordkette funicular coming down to the Alpenzoo stop

A funicular is a cable-operated transit system, generally a railway for steep inclines where two cars run simultaneously with one going up while the other goes down, and the two counterbalance each other. These cars are permanently attached to the cable and the entire system stops or moves so both cars are either stopped or in motion at the same time. This differs from ground based cable cars in that cable cars like the ones in San Francisco are independent of one another and stop and go by attaching or detaching from a cable which constantly remains in motion.

the Nordekette funicular has one blue car and one yellow car

The funicular at Nordkette is unusual in that it doesn’t go directly up, but runs under a river first before ascending the hill. There is another stop on the other side of the river, which is above ground. That stop is just a small platform, but it does give people on that side of the river the opportunity to go up the mountain without having to cross to the other side of the river first. Most funiculars have just two stops, one at the top and one at the bottom, but this one has 4.


You can get different tickets for different prices that cover all or just part of the things at
Nordkette. As far as tourist attractions go they weren’t too pricey so we went with the full
package that included all the way to the top of the mountain plus the zoo. Getting to the top takes two separate aerial cableways beyond the funicular’s highest station. It was raining at the lower elevations and snowing higher up the day we went there. We didn’t want to be soaking wet everywhere not covered by our raingear when we got to the top where it’s really cold so we did the zoo on the way back down. The funicular makes a stop for the zoo partway up (or down) the mountain.

walk-through aviary

The zoo is not right at the Aplenzoo stop. You have to take stairs or an elevator down to a little road and then walk kind of around a corner and up a hill. There were a couple of small signs pointing out the way. The road split into one going down and around a corner and one continuing up toward a bus stop – which happened to have a bus sitting in it when we got there. There was no sign saying which way to go so we went up toward the bus.

walk by this church while going from the funicular to the zoo

There was a sign there that pointed out the way to a trail going past a lovely church and that trail led to the zoo. Alpenzoo is the highest altitude zoo in Europe and has animals native to the Alps. You don’t have to take the funicular to get there since a road goes up that high, but it’s a lot more fun to get there by funicular than by bus or car.

apparently this bear doesn’t know it is supposed to hibernate in the winter

You enter the zoo through a gift shop. If you haven’t already got a ticket you can get one there. They also give you a map of the zoo, which has pathways winding around through the different animal exhibits. Most of the pathways are paved. There are some directional signs so you don’t have to rely entirely on the map, which was helpful for us since our map disintegrated pretty quickly because it got wet every time we took it out to look at it. One of the pathways passes through an aviary. The zoo had a crazy bathroom with self-cleaning toilets. Part of the flushing process included the seat circling around through a water bath.


The zoo would be a lot better on a nice day. Besides slogging around through slush in the rain while we followed the pathways, a lot of the animals had sense enough to keep out of the weather and were hiding in their dens so there weren’t as many to see.

she looks like a cuddly kitty, but so not

We did see some stuff though, like playful otters who are going to get wet rain or shine, some young chamois (who look something like goats) eating hay under a shelter where they were out in plain site, a bear that wasn’t hibernating, and a wildcat that had some round windows into her den area. She looked like a giant housecat, but would periodically try and attack faces that stayed in the window too long. Through a lower window we saw 3 sleeping kittens. Bigger than regular kittens of course, but still little kittens. The mama might not have been so aggressive without them to protect.

moose in the rain

There were other things to see on a rainy day too, like the aquarium part consisting of indoor tanks, and some birds and other displays. While the wild things generally stayed out of the rain, the cows in the farm animal area stood right out in it. Then again 3 moose were lying on the ground out in the rain and they’re wild.

view from the Alpenzoo

Innsbruck is definitely a city worth visiting. There’s a lot more to see there than we had time for during our short stay.

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MSC Lirica Ocean View Cabin

MSC Lirica in Crete, Greece

For our 21-day cruise on MSC Lirica from Italy to Dubai, we booked an ocean view cabin. We like the ocean view category because unlike an interior cabin, you get a view of the outside, but at a better price than with a balcony cabin. This was of course before covid. If we take a cruise in the near future we would definitely go with a balcony so we’d have a little outdoor space in case of any sort of quarantine problems. Balconies are of course always a nice feature, especially on a warm weather cruise. On colder cruises we haven’t used them much. Since there are normally public areas to sit outdoors, when there is a big difference in price we have in the past usually opted for the lower priced cabin. This sometimes even meant settling for an inside cabin. Luckily on the Lirica we had a window. Instead of cabins with private balconies across the back of the ship, the Lirica had public balconies there so that was where we generally went when we wanted to sit outside – and the deck chairs you can lay on in public areas are more comfortable than the chairs you can only sit on that are generally found on standard cruise ship balconies anyway. While chairs on the main pool decks are often occupied by towels if not people, most ships have deck chairs in other lesser used areas, which is our preference anyway.

MSC Lirica deck 9 deck plan

Our cabin on the Lirica was 9077, which is found near the front of deck 9 – the Albinoni deck, just a bit back from the forward stairway/elevators. Deck 9 had all cabins, no public areas. It was also both above and below other decks with no public areas, which is our preference as cabins away from public areas generally tend to be quieter unless you have the great misfortune of ending up with noisy neighbors. We have had that happen occasionally, but not on this ship.

ocean view cabin 9077

Pricing on MSC is also partly determined by service level, as different cabins are assigned different levels of service. Their basic or Bella service goes to interior cabins in what they consider the least desirable locations and obstructed view cabins. Fantastica, which is their middle service level goes to the best interior cabins, ocean view cabins, and their least desirable balcony cabins and even suites. Their top level of service, called Aurea is reserved for the best balcony cabins and suites. The fantastica service, which we had, is the standard cruise ship service with stateroom cleanings in the mornings and evenings. Bella cabins get cleaned just once daily. Those guests are also at the lowest priority for dinner seating choice. Aurea guests have drink and spa packages, priority boarding, and access to a private sun deck. They also have the option of My Choice dining where they can eat at any time during the dining room open hours in their own special dining room rather than having a set time and table for every night of the cruise in the main dining room.

a small shower means not much laundry hanging space

Our cabin was pretty standard as far as cruise ship cabins go with both size and amenities, though the shower was probably the smallest one we’ve seen yet. Or at least it felt that way. The track for the shower curtain curved around above the raised bit at the bottom that keeps the water within the shower. Our shower curtain on the other hand was missing enough hooks that it just went straight across the middle of the shower, effectively cutting the space in half. Unlike American ships where washcloths are always included with the towels, Europeans don’t seem to use them much as the hotels rarely have them and on the ship we had to ask to get any. At least we only had to ask once and then were given washcloths along with our towels throughout the cruise.

moving the beds apart in this room just meant nightstands instead of beds were in the way of standing by the window

The beds were the standard twins that can be pushed together to make a queen. While balcony rooms put the beds against a side wall, in ocean view cabins they always put them under the window. Sometimes having them set separately gives window access where you can walk up to the window and look out, but on this one the nightstands just replaced the beds under the window.

making use of the wall bunk to hang a shirt while it finishes drying – and the window for socks

Closet and drawer space was pretty standard compared to most ships. Hanging space for laundry was a bit lacking though. A lot of our longer cruises have ended up on ships with no self-serve guest laundries and we have better things to spend our money on than their ridiculous prices for having laundry done so we often end up hand washing our laundry in the bathroom. Our cabin slept 3 and was of the old style where the bunk sticks out from the wall rather than folding up into the ceiling, so we did sometimes use that bunk as a place to hang laundry that was well beyond the dripping stage, but not quite dry enough to put away yet. The trick to getting laundry to dry faster in the bathroom is to keep the door open so it gets some air flow. You have to come back to the room and open the bathroom door after the steward cleans though because they always close it.

besides the beds, this cabin has a vanity and a cabinet with a mini fridge

Besides the bed and nightstands, furnishings in this cabin included a cabinet with a mini-fridge inside and a TV on top, and a vanity with a stool under it and a mirrored cabinet above it. There’s always a safe somewhere in the cabin, usually in the closet, but in this one it was in the cupboard over the vanity. It’s not likely that anyone would ever bother any of your stuff, but it’s always a good idea to keep passports in the safe because if you ever miss the ship that is where the crew would look for them – and since you would likely need the passport to get to the next port once the ship left without you it’s important that they can find them so they can leave them at the port for you.

magnetic walls are handy for keeping paperwork organized

The walls were magnetic, which is always useful for keeping paperwork organized and things like excursion tickets easy to find if you bring along some magnets.

view from the cabin window

This was neither the smallest nor the largest cabin we’ve had on a cruise ship. Although fairly average in size and amenities compared to other ships, it did have a bit of extra storage space in the cabinet behind the vanity mirrors.

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looking down on Moclips beach houses from the general store parking lot

In these days of Covid-19, for people who want to get away the middle of nowhere is the best place to go. Keeping with local travel, we found the middle of nowhere in Moclips. This unincorporated town on Washington State’s pacific coast at the western edge of the Olympic Peninsula fits the bill. We found an Airbnb house to rent for a weekend. Having an entire place to yourselves is ideal for travel during a pandemic as there are no common areas with strangers walking through like in a hotel. Although our rental was half of a duplex, we had no contact with the guests on the other side.

view of Moclips from the beach

Houses, cottages, and cabins also have kitchens eliminating the need to eat in restaurants, further making travel safer. Of course we all had masks in case of any need to visit a store or for any other possible encounters with other people that we weren’t with. We brought along my sister and my husband’s sister and brother-in-law as this house had enough room for everyone to sleep with two bedrooms on the main floor plus a loft. It was listed as pet friendly, but had way too many rules my dog would never follow. We left her with a friend she adores who has dogs she can play with so she got a weekend vacation too.

Seabrook, a planned community near Moclips

Moclips is located north of Ocean Shores and southwest of Forks, the most likely places anyone not from the area may have heard of. Traveling north from Ocean Shores you find the smaller town of Ocean City. Copalis Beach sits north of that, followed by Seabrook, Pacific Beach, and Moclips. Pacific Beach has a campground by the beach. Seabrook is a planned community with many rental homes on a hillside across the highway from the beach. Other than a few homes or places to stay there’s not much between towns but forest and long stretches of often deserted beach. Those long stretches of deserted beach were our whole point of going there. It’s a great place for long hikes with an ocean view. We’ve missed the sea during the pandemic and even though we can’t cruise we could at least see the ocean, both from the beach and from the windows of our weekend rental.

Moclips general store

Moclips has a small general store right alongside the highway. The town was much bigger in the early 1900’s, a favorite place of tourists. It had railroad service, a fancy hotel, and seaside spas at the time. It also had mills, canneries, and schools. Its glory days didn’t last long though. Storms of 1911- 1913 washed much of the town away, followed by fires destroying most of what was left near the beach. A hilltop welding fire in 1948 destroyed many homes and businesses there.

old postcard of the hotel falling in a storm

Old weathered pilings crossing a river where it empties onto the beach are all that remains of the former beach resort area. The pilings once held train tracks, but trains have long since vanished from the Olympic Peninsula north of Gray’s Harbor, which sits at the southern boundary of the peninsula. Freight trains still service Aberdeen at the inside tip of Gray’s Harbor, but no passenger trains go there. There were once 600-700 miles of track on the peninsula, some of which is now the Olympic Discovery Trail at the north end of the peninsula.

old pilings are all that remain from a once busy beach resort

Nearby Pacific Beach is a bit bigger town than Moclips. Pacific Beach had a naval and air force base during World War 2. The navy still has property on a bluff, now used for recreational purposes. There’s currently a gas station in Pacific Beach which good to know since there isn’t one in Moclips.

beach near Moclips

Besides beachside motels – near the beach, but not on it as the ones that washed away were – Moclips currently has a small resort and some vacation rental homes. Mostly it has beach. Miles and miles of long wide sandy ocean beach. In a warmer place it would probably be full of people, but the Washington coast is not generally warm and even in summer the water is cold.

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Another One Gone

Last spring I had a cruise with my sister booked on Celebrity Eclipse, which of course got cancelled due to Covid. My husband thought it was safe to book one for this November as vaccines should be available for everyone before then so he booked us a cruise on Holland America Noordam. It didn’t take long before we got a cancellation notice saying the ship’s itinerary had changed. Their website still shows the first half of that cruise as well as the following cruise unchanged, but the time period of the second half shows nothing for that ship at all so we figure that it is probably going into drydock during that time.

Noordam – internet photo

Even though the Noordam is a sister ship of the Westerdam and Oosterdam as well as P&O’s Arcadia, we were happy to finally book a cruise on Holland America that was not the Oosterdam, Westerdam, or Veendam. Not that there is anything wrong with any of them, they are all nice ships, but regardless of where in the world we’ve booked all of our cruises on Holland America have been on one of those three. We were looking forward to seeing a different dam ship this time – and he’d found an itinerary where all the ports it went to were places we’d never been.

Offerings for cancelled cruises now sure aren’t what they were last spring. The best they had to offer was same price for same cabin category plus a bit of onboard credit for two specific sailings they had selected. Other than that they had a short list of available cruises with somewhat similar itineraries that they offered the onboard credit for. That’s it, no 125% for any future booking or anything close to what cruise lines were offering last spring. Although since the price of one of the offered replacement cruises was up by nearly 50% a few weeks later the same price booking actually turned out better for anyone booking that specific cruise. Not so much for other choices.

Celebrity Eclipse (internet photo)

Then again Celebrity offered that or a refund and we chose the 125%, but they sent the refund anyway along with an offer for onboard credit for a cruise booked within their specified time period. It might be for the best though because now we have the option of going with any line in case we don’t find another bargain there someday when we book a replacement for that cruise. Celebrity has always been a higher priced line than some, and now that they have decided to go all-inclusive it means a paying an increased fare for people like us who don’t drink much to subsidize the drinks for people who drink a lot more. Because all-inclusive doesn’t mean the extra stuff is free. It just means you pay more for the cruise and those things are included in the fare you paid.

Including the gratuities in the fare is a good thing since that is something for everyone to pay anyway. If it’s included in the fare people who aren’t accustomed to cruising won’t be surprised by tips showing up on their onboard bill. Passengers also won’t be able to remove those tips from the poor hard working crew that depends on that money.

Including wifi is not such a good idea though because onboard internet is always notoriously slow and the more people that are online the worse it gets. People who wouldn’t pay separately for it will use it if it is included, and rightfully so since they are paying for it in the higher fare, but that means more people online and even slower service. Sometimes it’s so bad you can’t even open an email and that was when not everyone onboard had it.

bar on the Westerdam
Bar on the Westerdam

When drinks are purchased separately from the fare the heavy drinkers can buy packages and the rest of the people just buy one when they want it, which is fair to all because each person is paying for what they consume. If you average it out among all the passengers and include drinks in the cruise fare those who drink less end up paying for alcohol consumed by people who drink more. Sure you might have a few drinks you wouldn’t otherwise have paid for, but not likely enough to equal the difference in cruise price for a lot of people. It would be so much better if they charged less for the cruise and other than the gratuities if they want to include something extra allow people to choose if they want alcohol or internet or perhaps dinner at a specialty restaurant and a massage or shore excursion for those who didn’t want either. At least that’s not an issue on Holland America, although it would be nice if all lines included the gratuities in the price since in addition to being better for both passengers and crew it would also be easier to compare prices.

We asked our travel agent about taking the half of our original cruise that was still available on Holland America’s website and then catching a different ship at the disembarkation port, but she said that cruise lines are currently re-deploying ships to different regions with alarming enough frequency that she did not recommend trying to tie any two different ships together this year as part of the trip might likely get cancelled. Apparently none of the cruise lines are offering the sort of things they were for cancelled cruises last spring so people are pretty much out of luck if their ship gets moved somewhere else after they book it.

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Tianjin Cruise Port

Tianjin, China

smoggy view of Tianjin from the Westerdam


Tianjin is China’s 4th most populous city and one of 4 under direct control of the central government of the People’s Republic of China. The walled city was built in 1404 – back when walled cities were common and technology had not yet surpassed the protection walls offered. During the Qing Dynasty which ran from 1644-1911, European style mansions and other buildings were constructed. Many of those buildings remain in well-preserved condition. Ancient walled cities all over the world are tourist attractions now. Not just city walls either considering the biggest tourist attraction in China is its Great Wall.

Westerdam with Chinese flag

Chinese flag on the Westerdam

The city suffered heavy losses in a 1976 earthquake, but has had much construction and industrial development since then. High speed railway service connects Tianjin to Bejing. The climate is wettest in summer with a possibility of monsoons. Annual precipitation is low with an average of around 20 inches. Winters are cold, dry, and windy. An attempt to reduce the area’s heavy pollution resulted in the 2014 pollution laws that include restrictions on driving and closure of schools and manufacturing facilities on days of heaviest pollution.

Tianjin, China

Tianjin (internet photo)

Tianjin became a treaty port in 1860, which opened the port for trade with Great Britain and France and ultimately the rest of the world. It remains a major seaport and gateway to Bejing. The port lies in a shallow estuary made into a shipping port through dredging. It’s the largest man-made port in China and one of the largest in the world.

Tianjin cruise port

view of the port building in Tianjin from the Westerdam

Tianjin Port has the only free trade zone in northern China, established in 1991. It lies 30 km (19 mi) from Tianjin city proper, less than 1 km (0.62 mi) away from the wharf and only 38 km (24 mi) away from Tianjin Binhai International Airport.

Tianjin port is the starting point for cruise ship visitors going to Bejing.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China near Beijing


Beijing, the capital of China, has a history tracing back several thousand years, yet still manages to be a bustling modern city. It’s a very popular place for tourism and there are lots of ancient sites to see. Beijing is so large and heavily populated and polluted that human activity actually changed the climate resulting in slower wind speeds, higher temperatures, and lower humidity.

Summer Palace Beijing

Summer Palace in Beijing, China

Some of the top attractions include the great wall, forbidden city, Tiananmen Square, summer palace, national stadium, temple of heaven, Ming tombs, Yonghe temple, and Beijing zoo.

Great Wall of China

Great Wall near Beijing, China

Public transportation is available in the form of trains, planes, and busses. Traffic often jams the roads so planes or trains are preferable to busses or taxis.

Tianjin cruise port

view of the Amsterdam from the Westerdam, both docked in Tianjin

Tianjin Cruise Ship Port

Although it is called Tianjin, the port lies about 74K (46 miles) from the city, and 30K from Tanggu, the closest city to the port. Bejing is about 110 miles from the port. Tianjin has two cruise ports, the Tinjin Xingang Port Passenger Terminal for mainly domestic cruises and the Tianjin International Cruise Home Port for ships from other countries. The two ports sit about 16 miles away from each other. You can take the bullet train from Tianjin to Bejing, but you have to get to a station first to catch the train. There are closer train stations to the port in Tanggu and Yujiapu, but the train is faster and runs more frequently from Tianjin. There are about 70 miles between Tianjin and Beijing.

Tianjin cruise port

inside the port building in Tianjin

Most people go to Bejing rather than touring anything in Tianjin, but it does have some shopping and museums and a ferris wheel. You can book excursions from there to the great wall by train or private tour, but they aren’t cheap.

crew shops in Tianjin

little crew shops above the open space at Tianjin Cruise port

The port at Tianjin is not close to much of anything. The bus did go past some tall buildings and a trail through some trees, but they were not right at the port. The shuttle from our ship went to Aeon Mall in Tanggu, 40 minutes away. There’s not a lot there for a 40 minute ride, but you can catch a train.

shops in Tianjin cruise port

crew shop in the Tianjin port building

There’s a large terminal building at the port, but there was no wifi or information and maps or money exchange like all the Japanese ports our ship stopped in this cruise had. Print out your maps from the internet or get them from a travel agent before you go if you are planning to explore on your own and bring Chinese yuan with you so you don’t have to hunt down a bank or ATM. Our ship did have money exchange available at guest services, but lines were often quite lengthy as port days approached.

squat toilet

the port building in Tianjin offers a choice of sit or squat toilets so you don’t have to use squat toilets like the one pictured if you don’t want to

While most public restrooms in China just have squat toilets, the port building in Tianjin also had the normal western sort of toilets that you sit on so people could choose whichever style they feel most comfortable using.

ship model at Tianjin port

model of Costa cruise ship

The lower floor where you exit the building when leaving the ship had a couple giant cruise ship models, one of a Costa ship and the other Royal Caribbean. It also had an escalator across the room from the ship models that went up to a section of the second floor balcony overlooking the open space on the first floor. There were a few little stores up there. Mostly crew shop there, but passengers are welcome too. Across the open space from those stores there was a large duty free shop, which you have to walk around the balcony along the open space to get to, at least from where you come into that room where our ship was docked. It looked like the Amsterdam emptied more directly into that area. All the big inviting glass doors into the area with the duty free shop were locked, but there was a small wooden door with pass-through to that area, though it didn’t look as if very many people found it so the duty-free store didn’t get much business that day. Unlike all the tourist attractions that exit through the gift shop, at this port the shops are easily missed.

duty free shops

duty free shops in Tianjin cruise port

Unless you are comfortable traveling long distances by public transportation on your own in a foreign country, this is a good port to take a ship’s excursion. The ones our ship offered were pretty pricey, but even the cost of an expensive shore excursion is a lot less than the price of taking another whole trip to China to see the great wall or any of Bejing’s other tourist attractions. Also considerably less than the cost of getting to the next port on your own if you don’t make it back to the ship by all-aboard time.

Tianjin cruise port shop

duty free shop at Tianjin cruise port

Excursions from our ship to Bejing included several that went to the great wall. One just went to the wall, one included the Summer Palace and another included Ming Tomb. There were also two that did not go to the wall. One went to the Summer Palace and toured the hutongs of old Bejing by rickshaw and the other was a city tour with a visit to the Forbidden City. Because our ship overnighted in Tianjin, there was also an overnight tour which went to the Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City, Tian’anmen Square, Ming Tombs, and the Great Wall, and a 5-day overland tour that cost far more than the cruise itself and caught up to the ship 2 ports away in Shanghai.

port building, Tianjin

Tianjin International Cruise Port

Excursions from our ship to Tianjin included a transfer that just brought people there and back leaving them to explore on their own, a Best-of tour going to the Confucius Temple, a museum, and a mansion, and a tour to the Confucius Temple and culture street with replicas of Qing Dynasty architecture.

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Cruising the West Coast

Royal Princess docked at pier 66 in Seattle

Boarding the Royal Princess in Los Angeles, California was a much easier process than their pre-cruise emails made it sound. After having been told just a couple weeks before the cruise that we couldn’t get on the ship until 2:30pm when the official boarding time started at 1pm we were ready to never book a cruise with Princess again. Our flights were already booked, and with notoriously bad traffic in LA a possible issue we never would have cut the arrival time that close with an all-aboard time of 3pm. It turned out they worried us over nothing as we got right in the building when we arrived around 10:30am – earlier than expected as we didn’t get stuck in traffic. We got right through the check-in immediately with no line, and boarded shortly after. Not only prior to the 2:30 time they had told us we couldn’t board before, but before the official 1pm boarding time as well.

the piazza is a hub of activity on Princess ships

The buffet is always open at boarding time, or at least it was prior to Covid. Hard to say if buffets will still exist once cruising gets going again, but some sort of post boarding lunch should still be an option. Then of course exploring the ship is fun. There’s always a spa tour on boarding day, which is a good way to see if the thermal suite is worth booking, and on the Royal Princess it was. One of my sisters hurt her knee just before the cruise so a lot of walking around wasn’t in her best interests. I did most of my explorations of this ship alone in the early mornings while my sisters were sleeping.

Botanical Building at Balboa Park

We got lucky with the weather this cruise. Other than being misty with wet decks in the morning sailing into San Francisco, the weather was pretty dry. Foggy, cold, and windy at times, but not much rain so that’s good. Our first port stop was in San Diego. We’d had an excursion booked, but it got cancelled shortly before the cruise so we just go off the boat to see what was there and found a hop-on hop-off trolley right at the pier. There were also lots of people riding on little self-powered scooters. They were probably available for rent somewhere and would have been a fun way to tour the local area, but we went with the trolley tour.

beach on Coronado Island in San Diego

We spent the next day at sea having a bit of time to enjoy the ship. When sailing with my husband we try to avoid having our picture taken, but when sailing with the sisters we seek out photo ops because they like to buy the pictures. None of us are photogenic, but as Barbara put it we have bad pictures of good memories. The photo department’s choices of photos to put into the fancy pictures they made weren’t necessarily the ones we’d have chosen, though even with a big pile of photos it’s pretty difficult to find one where none of us look horrible. Especially me since I’m the least photogenic of the three.

pro photo with the original on the left and a different picture photoshopped in on the right

Photo ops weren’t the only thing we sought out this cruise that I usually avoid. Since one of my sisters hurt her knee just before the cruise and was not in any shape for much walking we were seeking elevators rather than avoiding them – at least anytime that particular sister was there. If I was alone or with the other sister we still took the stairs.

view of what little bit of promenade deck Royal Princess has from the seawalk

Royal Princess is lacking in good running space since their promenade deck is just four little sections, one at each corner. Just oversized balconies really rather than an actual promenade deck that people can walk around the ship on. The rest of what is there is crew only, and even it doesn’t extend all the way around the ship. They do have a jogging track on the top deck, but I don’t ever use those. Besides being exposed to sun, wind, and weather they generally always go past a smoking area. On the Royal Princess the smoking area was at the back one deck below so when the ship is in motion it’s more likely to go the other way making that issue better than most ships, but still out in the open without the shade, shelter, and wind protection you get on a promenade deck.

balcony area that is the excuse for a promenade deck

They did have the gym open 24 hours a day meaning treadmills were accessible in the early morning, so though I don’t really care for indoor running I did my runs there, sneaking out of the room early while my sisters slept. Showering at the gym after a run wasn’t too pleasant though as I’d be nearly done before the water finally got warm – unlike our cabin where the water warmed instantly. Returning from a run for a shower in a one-bathroom cabin right about the time the others woke up wasn’t really an option though.

off-menu special gluten and dairy free dessert

The buffet on the Princess had a lot of variety, but it lacked the cook-on-request stations for things like omelettes or waffles that some ships have. They did have a station that would make gluten-free pancakes or hand out gluten free muffins on request, but it was not labeled in any way so we had to ask around to find it. They did not have any gluten free English muffins or anything onboard, just gluten free toast. The meals were good though and dinners in the dining room we could pre-order the night before and have made gluten free. They often brought us something off the menu for dessert that was both gluten and dairy free since we all have problems with both.

sailing toward San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge on a misty morning

With one-week cruises it always seems like they are trying to boot you off the ship when you barely got on when you see the disembarkation papers in the cabin a few days after boarding. Of course they really just want to get everything organized, but that’s still how it feels. Royal Princess sailed into San Francisco in the early morning mist, but quite a few people were up on deck at 6am to watch it sail under the bridge. It totally looks like the ship is going to hit the bridge until it actually passes under it, then once through it doesn’t look like it ever could have made it, but it really clears by about 10 meters.

statue for sale in Chinatown in San Francisco

In San Francisco our cousin that we rarely see met us at the dock and showed us around town for the day. We went over the bridge on a bus tour so we got to go over and under the Golden Gate Bridge on the same day. We also rode a cable car, walked down Lombard Street, and went to Fisherman’s Wharf so we saw some of the town’s major attractions. Sailing out of town midday on the next day we had sunshine for passing under the bridge and views of Alcatraz.

part cooking demonstration, part comedy show

The captain said we’d have a bit of weather on the way up the coast. I’ve been on enough cruises that I didn’t really notice the movement of the ship unless someone mentioned it, but my sisters did. It takes a lot to really rock a cruise ship. Besides their giant size they are also equipped with stabilizers. This time it didn’t even have enough movement to make people stagger down the halls like drunks, and barf bags only appeared at the elevators by the dining room rather than next to all of the elevators on the ship.

the galley tour was short, but free

We had a nice sea day on the way up the coast. Linda and I went to a cooking demonstration followed by a galley tour. The cooking demonstration was done half serious, half comedy and was pretty entertaining. The galley tour was short, but free so we can’t complain. Reminiscent of any theme park ride or major tourist attraction, it exited through the gift shop. Which was actually the dining room with a bunch of sale merchandise set up on tables.

hoop, runway, and airplane marshal for paper airplane contest, and balloons overhead for a balloon drop later in the day.

Later we went to a paper airplane contest. Usually it’s just whoever throws it the farthest, but Royal Princess had little runway lights set up in the Piazza, a crew member dressed up like an airplane marshal with little paddles, and a giant hoop. People made their paper airplanes with paper provided there, then one by one tried to throw it through the hoop from the balcony above. Most of them fell short of the hoop. Finally one guy got his through and they gave him a medal. As each person approached for their turn they asked your name and your airplane’s name. I just said ever-hopeful for my airplane name for hoping it actually goes through the hoop. Which it did not. It sailed right over the hoop and landed in the middle of the little runway they’d made out of lights. None of the other planes had landed in the runway so far so they gave me a medal for a perfect landing. More people went, again mostly falling short of the hoop. One kid’s plane went so far it bypassed the runway altogether and would have kept going a bit more if it hadn’t crashed into a barrier at the end of the open space in the middle of the piazza so he got a medal for going the distance. Linda’s airplane flew beyond the hoop, but veered off to the side and didn’t land on the runway so she didn’t get a medal. I only saw just the 3 medals handed out, but we didn’t stay long enough to watch everyone throw so there could have been more later.

lobster on formal night

Both sea days had formal night dinners, which means dressing up, but usually better food. We had lamb on the first one and lobster on the second. We saw balloons hanging from a net in the piazza for a balloon drop, which we kind of wanted to go to, but they had it late enough at night that we forgot about it and didn’t go.

lighthouse on Dungeness Spit

Sailing down the Strait of Juan de Fuca we had sunshine and calm waters. We looked out the window of our balcony in time to see the pilot boat on its way back to Port Angeles after bringing the pilot to our ship, but not in time to watch him get on. We had good views of Ediz Hook and Dungeness Spit with its lighthouse, though the lighthouse looks tiny from the ship. It looks tiny from shore too. You have to hike out the spit to really see it.

view of Seattle from the ship

Our last port before the cruise ended in Vancouver was Seattle. You would think California would be warmer, but we actually had our hottest day there. The ship docked right in town at pier 66 rather than out in the boon toolies at pier 91 where the main cruise docks are. That made it convenient for walking to attractions since it was right in the touristy area of the waterfront. We walked to Pioneer Square and took the underground tour.

Canada Place

In Vancouver our ship docked for disembarkation in Canada Place, the main cruise dock there. It is also located in the heart of the touristy area and just steps away from a sky train station and waterfront walkway. Bus stops are also nearby and taxis available so it’s pretty easy to get around in Vancouver.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
Posted in Canada, Ports of Call, Princess, Royal Princess, Shipboard Life, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lopez Island

Odlin County Park dock on Lopez Island

At 29.81 square miles, Lopez is the third largest of Washington State’s San Juan Islands. Ferry service from Anacortes links Lopez to the mainland and paved roads make travel around the island easy. There’s also has a small airport and private airstrips. Lopez island has two marinas, a village with shops and eateries, and numerous parks. Lodging is available in campsites, one hotel, and vacation rental homes. There’s even an Airbnb in a treehouse – looks like a fun place to stay.

Treehouse Airbnb – internet photo

Biking is popular on Lopez since it is not so hilly as the other main islands with the maximum elevation at just 220 feet. Other island attractions besides forest, beaches, and peace and quiet include a winery and museum and other local places of interest. Activities include kayak rentals, whale watching or fishing excursions, scenic flights and island bus tours.

Lopez Island ferry dock (internet photo)

Lopez Island was named Chauncey Island by an early expedition, but changed to Lopez by the British in 1847. The island is named for Spanish naval officer Gonzalo Lopez de Haro, the first European to discover the San Juan Islands in a 1790-1791 expedition. Haro Strait is also named after him. Lopez Island sits south of Orcas Island and east of San Juan Island, the two islands larger than it. Both of those islands are also serviced by Washington State Ferries, as is smaller Shaw Island northwest of Lopez between Orcas and San Juan. Blakeley and Decatur Islands sit east of Lopez. Haro Strait runs between San Juan and Vancouver Islands, with the USA/Canada border running through Haro Strait.

Odlin County Park

State and county parks are included among the parks on Lopez with Spencer Spit State Park and Odlin County Park on opposite sides of the ferry dock. Odlin County Park sits about mile south the ferry landing on the island’s west side, while Spencer Spit is 4 miles southeast of the dock on the island’s east side. Both parks are accessible by car or boat and have campgrounds.

Spencer Spit State Park (internet photo)

Spencer Spit State Park is a 138 acre park with 2 sandspits and a marshy lagoon. Activities include hiking trails, fishing, crabbing, clamming, diving, swimming, kayak rentals, and wildlife watching. Most of those activities are seasonal. Odlin County Park has a boat launch and dock as well as camping and picnic areas and trails. This park also has wildlife.

picnic at Odlin County Park

We made a brief stop at Odlin County park one day for a picnic lunch. We came by boat and tied up at their dock located conveniently a short walk from the boat ramp and seaside picnic area. The highlight of our brief visit was four otters swimming around between the dock and shore. We also took a short hike on one of their trails. This was during a time when the whole pacific northwest was shrouded in smoke from distant wildfires so the sky looked very gray that day. We could see tents on the beach in the camping area, which was not near the picnic area where we were. We did not see any other people at the park until we were nearly ready to leave and saw one car with 2 people. Which is good while on a social distance vacation during the Covid pandemic where other people are the last thing you want to see.

Lopez Village Market (internet photo)

Lopez village has a chamber of commerce with island maps and suggestions of things to do as well as shops, eateries, groceries, a museum, community center, wine tasting, and post office. The village is near to Fisherman’s Bay which has moorage available for those who come by boat.

fallen tree next to the trail at Odlin County Park

This island is a great place for visitors who want to get away from the crowds, but still have limited amenities available.

map of Lopez Island

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Posted in USA, Washington | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Limassol, Cyprus Sea Walk and Old Town

MSC Lirica in Limassol, Cyprus

Cruise ships visiting Limassol, Cyprus dock at a terminal in an industrial area about 3K away from town. Shuttle service brings passengers into the city. On our stop there on the MSC Lirica it cost 9 euro per person to take the shuttle. It stopped in a small parking area next to a marina full of yachts in an area of nice homes of newer construction near the ancient buildings of old town. The parking area had access to a road into town as well as a pathway next to the water passing by docked boats. There were shops and cafés in that area.

sculpture on the beach next to the seawall

Sea Walk

From the shuttle stop at the marina it’s a short walk through some shops and along a road until reaching the seaside walkway. A bike trail runs along the entrance to the marina offering another way to get to the seaside walkway. Either it or walking down the road toward old town will get you there. The sea walk runs about 5K from just east of Limassol and has lights along the path for those who are out after dark.

dock on the seawall

The seaside walkway is dotted with docks and bridges, as well as walking paths and the bike trail. For most of the distance there is a park running alongside it, though a ways down the park is on the other side of the street before it disappears. At first the waves come crashing over rocks right next to the seawall, but farther down a small beach runs alongside it. There is beach access in some places.

seawall walk and parallel path

For part of the trail the seawall ran parallel to the pathway, and people could choose to walk on either.

playground in the park by the seaside walkway

The park has open space and greenery interspersed with playgrounds and a couple small cafés. There are even some small restrooms next to the path.

pools next to the walkway

Some areas of the pathway are flanked by shallow pools. We even saw a row of accessible fitness equipment alongside the path in one spot.

bikes for rent

A row of matching bikes sat in the park waiting to be rented.

cat on a park bench

Docks jut out into the sea here and there along the way. Cats sleep under bushes or on park benches, or walk along the pathways. Cyprus seemed to have as many stray cats as the Greek ports we visited on this cruise.

catching fish for a cat

On one dock we saw a guy fishing with a cat hanging around next to him. He caught a small fish and gave it to the cat, who ran off with it – taking it to the 4 kittens the man said she had. He told us he was fishing for the cat he had given the fish to so he apparently provided food for her on a regular basis.

kitty and litter, but not kitty litter

Although there were a number of garbage cans along the pathways the adjacent landscape was still dotted with litter. Some people are pigs whatever country they are from. Then again that’s an insult to pigs since they don’t leave a trail of litter wherever they go. From there the plastic hasn’t far to go to reach the sea where it’s a danger to marine life and not just an unsightly mess.

mosaic on the walkway

Most of the pathway was plain, but we did come across a mosaic inlay.

Old Town

row of French themed stores leading into old town

Old town is a short distance from the marina, mostly behind the row of buildings directly on the road that runs past it, though there are some entrances from there. One store had a sign saying you could go through it to get to the old town. Probably a good way to get people into the shops in hopes they buy something while passing through. Not far from that store a little alleyway of French themed shops led into the old town area, which is one of Limassol’s main tourist attractions.

cannon outside Limassol Castle

Limassol Castle is a museum in the old town area. Besides the castle turned museum old town has winding little streets lined with small shops and cafes. And some cats. Most of the cats we saw there were in the courtyard by the museum/castle, especially in a garden area with interesting-looking trees whose bark had a woven appearance. There was also a reproduction of a rather large old olive press.

Limassol Duck Store

Besides the usual sort of shops one finds in touristy areas there are some unique local stores. One shop stands out as truly unique – the Limassol Duck Store. This little store sells rubber ducks. And that’s all they sell.

Not just plain ducks though. They have  all sorts of ducks. Bride and groom ducks, ducks for different countries, professions, or sports along with fancy ducks and duck key chains or toothbrush holders. They even had ducks representing specific people. Among the ducks displayed in the store window we saw Donald Duck, and I don’t mean the Disney character.

church in old town

A domed church in old town that appeared rather mosque-like from the outside turned out to be a catholic church – the Church of St Catherine built in the 1870’s.

inside the domed church

There is a mosque in the old town area as well, but we did not go there.

street in old town

The old town covered quite a large area with winding streets filled with quite a variety of shops and cafes.

ancient buildings

Some of the buildings look very ancient, especially near the castle. Others look old, but not quite so ancient.

street in old town

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
Posted in Europe, Lirica, MSC, Port Cities, Ports of Call | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

How To Fold a Towel Whale

towel whale

Supplies Needed

2 bath towels

1 washcloth


How To Make a Towel Whale

fold towel over across the short side, leaving a bit of single layer at the end

Lay one bath towel out flat. Fold towel over across the short side, leaving about 6-8 inches of single layer hanging out beyond the end of the folded over edge of the towel.

roll in from corners of folded edge

Roll the edges of the towel starting with the corners of the folded edge and adding in the folded end and the sides.

roll the folded end and the sides

Keep rolling until most of the towel is rolled. Repeat with the second towel. Roll one towel a little more than the other so that the wider one fits over the top of the narrower one.

roll two towels with one a bit narrower than the other

Turn the wider towel over and set it on top of the narrower one. The mouth end sets up on top of the other towel while the rest of it covers over the edges of the lower towel.

put one towel on top and tuck the edges under

Tuck the edges of the top towel around the lower one so only the mouth looks like two separate pieces and shape the tail end into a narrow opening just big enough to insert the tail.

fold washcloth diagonally then over tip

Fold the washcloth diagonally so it makes a triangle. Fold the tip of the triangle back over the folded washcloth.

tuck up the center with the folded triangle underneath

Turn the washcloth over so the triangle folded over it is on the underside and bend it a little at the center to make it tail shaped.

insert the tail into the back of the whale

Insert tail into the opening at the tail end of the whale and tuck the towels around it. Shape tail and the rest of the whale as desired.

finished towel whale

Add eyes to finish the whale. Use big googly eyes or make your own eyes from felt or paper.

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Posted in Towel Animals | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A Virtual Christmas Vacation

Christmas in Pictures

When you can’t travel for real, travel vicariously on the internet. This was a real trip last year, now it’s a virtual one. One benefit of traveling near Christmas is seeing all the decorations – sometimes in unexpected places.

Heathrow Airport London, England

Christmas decorations at Heathrow Airport

Lucerne, Switzerland

at the top of Mount Pilatus

at a small gondola station halfway down Mount Pilatus

Vaduz, Liechtenstein

putting up decorations in Vaduz, Liechtenstein

Innsbruck, Austria

giant tree in Innsbruck, Austria

Santa pays a visit to Innsbruck

decorations at a Christmas market in Innsbruck

Christmas market in Innsbruck

On the MSC Lirica

stairway in the theater on MSC Lirica

gingerbread village under a stairway on the MSC Lirica

Limassol, Cyprus

Santa has a bike in Limassol, Cyprus

Santa has reindeer and his sleigh in Limassol too

Christmas market in Limassol

Dubai, UAE

Dubai may be in an Islamic country, but they’re not shy about putting up Christmas decorations. They aren’t offended by them either. There were at least as many locals as tourists in many of the decorated places, sometimes way more. Women in their hijabs and abayas walked under hanging Christmas wreaths and other decorations or past Christmas trees and displays without a care.

Mercato Mall

Atlantis Hotel

store window at Dubai Mall

in a store at Dubai Mall

giant Christmas ornaments at Dubai Mall

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2020
Posted in Lirica, MSC, Randoms | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments