Cruise Ship Décor on P&O Arcadia

fancy cruise ship lights

lights in Arcadia’s dining room

P&O Arcadia is unique among P&O’s fleet. At the start of building, the ship was intended for Holland America. Somewhere along they way it got changed to Cunard before finally ending up going to P&O by the time it left the shipyard. It has features representative of all 3 cruise lines.

cruise ship decor

wooden sculpture in the Crow’s Nest Lounge.

Each bar, lounge, restaurant, or other area of the ship has its own unique décor.

cruise ship art

stairway art

Some décor features help passengers to find their way around the ship such as different color carpet and different styles of artwork on each of the ship’s 3 stairways. Arcadia is P&O’s 4th largest ship and one of their adults only vessels.

cruise ship art

hallway art by passenger cabins

Each deck is named after a different country. The hallways by passenger cabins don’t have a lot of decoration, but every now and then there’s a painting from the country that deck is named after. At least most of the paintings are from the deck’s country. Canada deck does have one labeled Alaska. Maybe Brits don’t realize Alaska is part of the USA any more than Australians do. My daughter lives in Australia and said most of the people she’s met have no idea. Then again a lot of Americans don’t know Tasmania belongs to Australia.

ugly cruise ship statues

What is the thing with cruise ships and ugly statues? (These are a lot better than what some ships have on display, but that isn’t saying much.)

Most of the ship is tastefully decorated, but it does have a complement of what seems to be the required ugly statues. I don’t suppose it is an official requirement, but nearly every cruise ship has some. At least I think they are ugly. I suppose someone must like them or they wouldn’t be there.

P&O timeline and ship info

history lesson in wall art

One unique and interesting thing this ship had that I’ve not seen on any other was a large mural with the history of P&O and information about each of their ships.

cruise ship theater

inside the theater

Inside the theater.

giant egg

giant egg in a little alcove by the lower floor theater entrance

The lowest floor of the theater had some semi-secret hallway entrances graced by giant eggs that many passengers probably never found.

long hallway

intermezzo area

The Intermezzo Bar sat alongside a long hallway leading to the Spinnaker Bar, which had a completely different theme.

ship bell

bell by the Spinnaker Bar

The ship themed Spinnaker Bar had model ships and a bell.

cruise ship bar

East Bar

The Asian themed East Bar is tucked away on the top deck near the Sindhu Indian restaurant.

cruise ship decor

Sindhu Indian restaurant

Sindhu is one of Arcadia’s premium restaurants.

thermal suite

heated ceramic chairs in the spa

These awesome heated ceramic chairs are part of the spa’s thermal suite. If you’ve never sat in one take the spa tour on boarding day if you ever sail on a ship that has them and give one a try. It’s amazing how comfortable a hard tile chair can be.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017


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Carnival Vista Havana Cabins

Carnival Vista

Carnival Vista in Rhodes, Greece

Carnival‘s newest cruise ship, the Vista, introduces two new categories of staterooms – Family Harbor and Havana Cabins. These are the first cabins on Carnival’s ships to have an area of the ship reserved exclusively for passengers booked in those cabins. One of the things we always liked about Carnival was that all public spaces were for all passengers, but the people in the cabins associated with the private spaces probably enjoy them.

Vista Havana Bar

Havana Bar entry area – the main bar is on the other side of the band stand

The Havana Cabins are mainly grouped around the Havana Bar located at the back of deck 5. There are also a few at the stern of the next two decks up.

Carnival Vista deck 5

Vista deck plans deck 5. The Havana area is at the stern. (click image for larger photo)

The bar is open to all passengers on the ship, but the pool area with two hot tubs and lots of deck chairs is only for the Havana cabin occupants all day long. Passengers must be at least 12 years old to stay in a Havana cabin.

Havana pool

Havana pool at night

Other passengers can go beyond the sliding doors into the pool area at the back of the bar after 7pm.

Havana Cabin

Havana Cabana cabin 5232

Havana Cabins are decorated in the Cuban theme of the Havana area. Deck 5 has inside and Havana Cabana cabins as well as Havana Cabana suites. Most of these cabins have a maximum occupancy of 2 guests, but there are a few that take 3 or 4.

Havana cabana outside space

Havana Cabanas

The Havana Cabana cabins and suites each have an outdoor space – the cabana. Since deck 5 is the promenade deck these cabanas extend quite a bit farther than the balconies of the rooms above. That extended area can be seen both by people in other cabanas in the row and people on balconies or public decks above.

Havana Cabanas

Cabanas and private promenade deck area

Each cabana has a little gate out onto the promenade deck. While the promenade deck is a public space forward of the Havana area, it has a locked gate at the start of the cabin area that only the Havana passengers can go through. Their private stretch of the promenade deck also leads to the Havana pool area giving those with the cabana rooms outside access where they can get to the pool without walking through the bar.

inside Havana cabin

Havana inside cabin 5214

Decks 6 and 7 each have a few Havana premium balcony and aft extended balcony cabins at the back of the ship, and deck 7 has a couple interior cabins designated Havana as well. These cabins have a stairway decorated in the Havana theme that takes them down to the Havana bar and pool without having to go forward to any of the ship’s main stairways. All of these rooms hold just 2 guests. There are no cabins specifically designated as accessible in the Havana area.

Havana experience

Havana rooms have special logo bathrobes

The Havana Bar has a live band playing Cuban music in the evenings. They also serve Cuban bites food – which you have to pay for – as well as drinks.

promenade deck

Havana Bar outside space

Like most public areas on deck 5, the Havana Bar has some outside seating on the promenade deck. All passengers on the ship can use this area.

Cuban decor

hallway in the Havana cabin area

Click here to see more staterooms on the Vista.

Havana pool

Havana Pool

To view staterooms on other ships see the Ships and Cabins page.

inside Havana Cabana cabin

Havana Cabana Suite 5234

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Celebrity’s Bistro On Five

Celebrity's Bistro on Five menu

menu for Bistro On Five

Celebrity Infinity has several premium restaurants on various decks. It’s pretty easy to figure out which deck the Bistro is on since five is part of its name.

bistro soup on Celebrity Infinity

french onion soup at Bistro on Five

The Bistro on Five is open from 11am – midnight for lunch, dinner, or a late night bite.  It serves crepes as a specialty, both savory and sweet.  It has a fixed menu with the same items served daily, but there are also daily specials with something different each day of the week. Besides their signature crepes, the daily menu includes burgers, sandwiches, soups, milkshakes, and desserts.  At just $10, the bistro is the most economic of Celebrity Infinity’s premium restaurants.  The dress code doesn’t change on formal nights, so the smart casual look is always appropriate.

crepe making station

you can watch them make your crepe

It’s a great place to go after a long day in port, if you don’t want to dress up on formal night, or anytime you want something a bit different from the main dining room or buffet for lunch or dinner.

Bistro on Five chicken crepe

chicken crepe

While most of the made-to-order food comes from behind a closed door into the kitchen, the bistro does have a crepe-making station in the guest area where diners can view the skilled crepe chef at work. They serve both main dish savory crepes and sweet crepes for dessert.

dessert crepe from Celebrity's bistro

dessert crepe

The tasty chicken crepe had lots of filling and stood quite a bit taller than the dessert crepes. All the food we tried there was good.

UPDATE: Unfortunately this excellent Bistro has been replaced by sushi.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Skagway Train Ride

cruise ship in Alaska

Ruby Princess in Skagway

Ruby Princess docked at the Railway Dock on the opposite end of the harbor from where the Norwegian Sun was at the Ore Dock on my last visit to Skagway. In between those two docks sits the Broadway Dock. The Railway Dock holds two ships so 4 cruise ships can dock in Skagway at the same time. We were the only ship in town that day on the first cruise of the season in early May. All the docks are just a short walk from town. There’s a park and public boat launch between the ship and town from the Railway Dock.

If your ship leaves from Seattle a visit to the free Gold Rush Museum in Pioneer Square before you board makes a great start for an Alaska cruise. Skagway bound ships left from Seattle during the gold rush era. People stocked up their supplies there. The museum has a lot of  the history and some artifacts from that era and it all ties in with things in Skagway. When I went there they had a wheel of odds you could spin that showed what a very small percentage of people actually got rich from the Alaska gold rush, and of those an even smaller amount managed to hold on to their money. More people made money selling things to the miners than from mining and not many of the few who did strike it rich spent wisely and stayed rich to the end of their days. All the good claims went to locals before the first ship of gold hit Seattle so most of the gold rushers from other places were doomed before they started.

White Pass & Yukon Railway

the tail end of the train crossing over a bridge

The most popular excursion in Skagway is the White Pass Train, which would have saved the miners a lot of grief and many horses their lives had it been built before the gold rush started rather than because of it. They had to get to Canada to get to the gold, but weren’t allowed to cross the border without 2000 pounds of goods, which they had to take up the mountain to reach the border.

old steam engine

steam engines like this one one pulled the trains

Miners started out either from Skagway over White Pass or nearby Dyea over Chilkoot Pass. The two towns competed for gold rushers. Many crossed each pass until an avalanche killed 63 people near the summit of Chilkoot Pass. That and the completion of the railway in Skagway eventually left Dyea abandoned. The townsite now lies within the boundaries of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, but little remains of the town beyond some foundations, a few ruins, and 3 cemeteries, one of which holds mainly victims of the avalanche who all died the same day.

The gold rush ended shortly after the completion of the railway, but it was used to haul freight and passengers until1982 when the railway shut down. It reopened as a tourist attraction in 1989 and remains the most popular shore excursion in Skagway.

train ride in Skagway

inside the White Pass & Yukon Railway – with conductor

People can take a train one way and a bus the other and go farther up into Canada and actually get off the train, but the most popular excursion goes up the mountain just across the border and then back down. The train picks passengers who booked through the cruise line up right at their ships regardless of which dock they are on. One car on the train had a wheelchair lift making this excursion accessible to all. If there is more than one ship in town they each have separate trains. The railway also has a station in town where other tourists board a train that leaves from there. Cruise ship passengers can disembark either at the depot in town or back at their ship. Passenger cars are either restored originals or replicas, but the engines are diesel powered rather than the original steam engines.

derailed steam engine

old rusty engine lying on its side at the train yard

The train ride starts on level ground through the edge of town and past the train yard before heading up the mountain. When we took this journey about 7 years ago my grandson (who was 6 at the time) thought an old rusting derailed steam engine lying next to the tracks shortly out of town was the most interesting part of the whole trip. We saw an old rusting steam engine lying on its side at the train yard this time and did not find the one lying by the tracks. We speculated that it could be the same one and after all the time it spent lying next to the tracks after derailing someone finally removed it. It could have been considered an environmental hazard, or perhaps the nearby river has changed course and someone worried it might end up in the water. Or maybe they decided to rescue and restore it. Could be we just looked away at the wrong moment and missed the derailed train and the one in the yard came from somewhere else too.

The first sight on the train tour is the old graveyard where the town’s notorious character Soapy Smith and Frank H. Reid who both died in the same duel after shooting each other are buried. Someone looking for a good hike could walk to the cemetery on the trail adjacent to the tracks.

old train trestle near Skagway

The current track bypasses this old bridge. Once an engineering marvel, now a deteriorating wreck.

Other sites along the way include remnants of a toll road which predated the train and the black cross on a boulder that killed two railroad workers and their pack mules after a dynamite blast went awry during track building. The enormous chunk of rock unexpectedly flew through the air, landing on them and crushing them instantly. The bodies are still there, under a rock so big it would just blend in as part of the natural landscape were it not for the black cross on top.

tunnel through the mountain on the way to White Pass

the train enters a tunnel

The train passes through a couple tunnels and over several bridges, but not the old wooden trestle bridge which was once an engineering marvel. That immense bridge now sits deteriorating alongside the current track which bypasses the original, replaced by a tunnel and a much smaller bridge in a far narrower crossing nearby.

White Pass

there was still snow at the top of the mountain

At one area they explain why White Pass was often called the dead horse trail as it was once lined with the overworked and underfed horses who often fell 500 feet to their death there. These horses were worked to death by would-be miners who used them to pack the required supplies up the mountain, then sold them to the next guy when they got done. Over 3000 horses and mules died there. The bones of many still remain where they fell in Dead Horse Gulch.

Near the top of the mountain a portion of the actual trail used by gold rushers parallels the tracks for a stretch, marked by a lone small sign.

White Pass Canadian border

there’s nothing much at the Canadian border besides these flags

At the top the train stops and waits for any other ascending trains to arrive so all can descend the single track without running into any trains moving in the opposite direction. The engineer unhitches the engines and moves them to the opposite end of the train on a parallel track and the passengers flip the seat backs to the opposite side of the seats so the back becomes the front and they can face forward on the way down. Passengers are also asked to switch sides so those on the mountain side can see the valley views on the way back down.  (The left side of the train on the way up which becomes the right side on the way down has the best view in both directions.) The train cars that started out at the front end up at the back on the way back down.

Skagway, Alaska

Skagway shops near the cruise docks

In Town

Skagway is not a big town, but it has shops and restaurants, a playground or two, and  a few museums. A lot of work was going on to restore some old buildings and a park so it looks like more may come for the future.

For those who didn’t book anything on the ship and would like to do something besides wander about town There’s also a trail and several shops offering a variety of tours. I did not see any of the signs about town offering last minute tours we had seen there before, but we were also the first ship of the season.

Skagway Street Car Tour

Street Car Tour

Other Skagway Excursions

If you don’t want to ride the train, or have already done it, other things to do in Skagway include a city tour, trips up the mountain by road with different activities depending on which one you pick, salmon bake, gold panning, suspension bridge, sled dogs, native culture and bald eagles, jeep adventure, bicycling, hiking, kayak, helicopter, fishing and glassblowing.

Skagway train heads toward White Pass

White Pass & Yukon Railway in Skagway

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Interview with John Heald – Quick Fire Questions


Carnival Vista in Bermuda

While on the Vista transatlantic cruise we had the opportunity to interview Carnival spokesperson John Heald, who was also on that cruise. John has been with Carnival for many years, initially as a bar tender and for quite some time as a cruise director before becoming the face of Carnival he is now.

yak photo

yak photo courtesy of DK findout!

On John Heald’s facebook page he often mentions yaks, so we asked him if he had ever met a yak. Watch the video for the answer.

John often has quick fire questions on his facebook page where he asks readers their opinons of things. We turned the tables on him for this interview and asked questions suggested by people we talked to on the ship.

Some of the questions involve Carnival’s loyalty program, and things given to passengers. All the major cruise lines have loyalty programs because once you cruise with any particular line they would you to come back. These do work because some people will only sail with one line so they can build their status up.

We sail for the experience and destination and usually look for the best deals we can find on whatever line we can find them on rather than for any perks we might get for sailing with a particular line. It is nice to get things like free laundry service though once you get to a high enough level on lines that offer that as a perk.

In the video John hints that changes may be in the works for Carnival’s loyalty program. He didn’t say what or when, but since it is due to the number of people at the higher levels overwhelming the program it is likely to mean cuts to the benefits. It boggles my mind that people are always clamoring for Carnival Corp to combine benefits on all their lines when adding so many new people at every level would mean the points required to receive anything good would be tremendously high. Most don’t look beyond thinking that they would get exactly what they do now on every single line without considering how adding that many new people at every level all at once would affect the program since Carnival Corp owns so many cruise lines. One of those watch what you wish for things.

we liked the bear - the hats not so much

croc hats and a towel bear

A gift is a gift. It doesn’t cost the person receiving it anything and if they don’t like it they can always return it or just not take it with them when they disembark. Unfortunately in our it’s-all-about-me society of entitled people some are bound to loudly complain and expect something else. When the gift was a croc hat that nobody liked, we didn’t want them either, but rather than making an issue of it we just asked our steward to return them. Mainly because we didn’t want to waste space in either the room our our suitcases on something we’d never use.

cruise ship trophy


We don’t cruise for the gifts and did not expect anything else in return for them, but the next time we came back to the cabin the hats were gone and we had ships on a stick in their place. (I had to borrow someone else’s hat for the video since ours were long gone by then.)

Carnival platinum gift

platinum gift – night light

On our last cruise the gift was a night light, which came in quite handy since we were cruising with kids. Loyalty programs are important to the cruise line because they are important to some of the passengers and if they can inspire loyalty among some guests they can insure themselves of returning cruisers, which makes up a good portion of their revenue.

John Heald of Carnival

Carnival Spokesperson, John Heald

More Interviews with John Heald

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

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Cucina del Capitano

what do cove balconies look like from the outside

Carnival Breeze outside view of oceanview and cove balcony rooms

Sometimes on a cruise it’s nice to go somewhere different than the main dining room or the buffet for dinner occasionally. Passengers looking for something special can find what they seek at the ship’s premium restaurants. All the major cruise ships have premium restaurants of some sort. Carnival Breeze has several including their Italian restaurant, Cucina del Capitano.  Many cruise ship captains come from Italy which is why Italian food could come from the captain’s kitchen.

outside of menu

Fancy menu from Cucina del Capitano

As premium restaurants go, this one is not too pricey at just $15 per adult or $5 per child for dinner (and a free pasta bar at lunch.)

cruise ship decor

A little bit of Italy inside Cucina del Capitano

A stairway near the dessert bar at the back of the Lido buffet leads up to Cucina, where the décor changes from the Caribbean casual look found in most of the ship to old world Italy. It can also be accessed directly on deck 11 from the rear elevator.

cruise ship menu

Menu at Cucina del Capitano

The menu offers starters, mains and if that isn’t enough additional sides as well as dessert. Portions are larger than those found in the dining room with the appetizers about big enough for a meal.

meal starter

slices of toasted bread double as serving dishes

Bread served with roasted garlic and tomatoes starts the meal, followed by tasty starters.


if you like squid you can order calamari

cruise ship premium restaurant

this soup and the bread could have made a meal, but it’s just a starter

This menu is just for dinner. At lunchtime they have a completely different menu for the free pasta bar. It’s a great choice for lunch. The food is good and it’s not usually very crowded so you can avoid the lines at other lunchtime venues.

cruise food

spaghetti carbonara

One of the main dishes is spaghetti carbonara, a recipe revived from Carnival’s very first ship, the Mardi Gras.  This spaghetti with a rich sauce and topped with bacon tastes better than the spaghetti carbonara they serve in the dining room.


dessert menu

Dessert offerings include tiramisu, cannoli, and a warm apple tart.

fancy dessert


The tiramisu is different from that found in other restaurants on the ship and comes topped with chocolate in a big bowl.

cruise ship dessert

apple tart

The crust of the apple tart is cake-like rather than a pie crust pastry. Prepare to leave well stuffed even without finishing all of any of the tasty courses.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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Carnival Magic

Carnival cruise ship

Magic in Saint Thomas

Carnival Magic is aptly named, at least it seems so to me as this ship wormed its way into my favorites. Maybe it’s the happy vibe the brightly colored fun decor gives off, or perhaps the group of 9 we sailed with made the cruise extra fun. Whatever the reason the Magic cast her spell on us and we really liked the ship. Cruises are usually the main point of our vacations and time spent before or after in port areas is the side trip, but this cruise was different as the focus was in the reverse.

towel takeover

towels take over the Lido

The Magic currently cruises out of Port Canaveral, the closest port to Orlando, which is of course home to Disney World and other major theme parks. Our daughter and her family came to visit from Australia, the main purpose of their visit to participate in the Run Disney marathons at Disney World – so of course we were invited along to watch the kids while she and her husband ran. He went back to Australia shortly after the last run, but her and the kids stuck around long enough to take a cruise. Meanwhile one of my sisters, my American grandson, his mother, and his other grandmother joined us on the cruise.

bright and cheerful hallway art

hallway art in passenger cabin areas

Port Canaveral is a fair distance from the airport in Orlando at just over 45 miles. The best mode of transportation between the two depends on group size as well as whether or not people are going straight from airport to ship and back. For one or maybe even two people going directly between airport and ship the cruise ship shuttle may be the cheapest as well as the easiest means of transport. Shuttles charge by the person so they get a bit pricey if you have too many in your group. Taxis charge by time or distance and Ubers by distance and vehicle type. Uber usually costs less than taxis, but while taxi rates remain constant, Uber rates go up when demand is high so it never hurts to compare.

Carnival waterworks

water slides and splash park

For larger groups or people with plans to spend time in the Orlando or Cocoa Beach areas pre or post cruise, a rental car may be the way to go. Even when just going straight from the airport to the cruise ship a rental car may be the cheapest option. Rental cars can be returned to the appropriate company fairly close to the port. The rental car companies provide free shuttles to and from the port, though when disembarking there may be more people wanting on than the shuttle has room for.

color changing lights

Lights in Magic’s atrium change colors every few minutes

When the rental car shuttle is too full for everyone and their luggage, some groups send just one person ahead to get the paperwork done. The rest can either follow on a later shuttle or move to an area where private cars can go and wait for the person with the car to come and get them. It’s also a good idea to drop the luggage and most of your party at the port for embarkation and just have one or two people return the car and take the shuttle back. Space on that end may be limited as well since a lot of other people are embarking at the same time and there are often multiple ships in port.

stairway art

stairway art included this painting of marbles on one stairway

Magic is of Carnival’s dream class, the second of that series with the Dream the first and the Breeze the third. It’s similar to the Breeze in size and amenities, but has completely different decor. The kids thought the lights in the atrium that constantly changed colors were awesome, and little Daniel loved a painting of marbles on one of the stairways. Some of the stairway art had beachy scenes, and a lot of the paintings had birds. Corridors between guest rooms had brightly colored artwork, of which my favorite was the toucan which appeared every so often. Even the casino had sparkly decor. While I don’t normally set foot in Carnival’s casinos due to smoking allowed there, this one at least seemed to keep the smoke from spreading too far beyond its boundaries.

casino on the Magic

Hat Trick Casino – where money magically disappears

Things around the ship had magical sounding names like Hat Trick Casino or Lower Magical Way. Some of the ship’s artwork also had magical type scenes. Best of all the dining room had a real live magician who performed tricks tableside for individual tables. The kids liked him so much the first night he came back to our table every night with different tricks. He also put on a show for Hannah’s age group at Camp Ocean, which she made sure to go to, and a very good one for everyone at the comedy theater later in the cruise. We gave him a tip the last night, which he really appreciated.

adults only

the Serenity Deck has hammocks

Magic has a dive in theater for outdoor movies. The adults only Serenity deck has hammocks of the big comfortable cushioned sort. The ship also has two big waterslides, a splash park with small waterslide, and a ropes course. The big waterslides and ropes course do have minimum height requirements, which is 42 inches for the slides and 48 for the ropes course.  That info is well buried in the FAQ’s (frequently asked questions) on Carnival’s website where my daughter never found it so little granddaughter Hannah was very disappointed when she couldn’t go on the ropes course she had looked forward to for months.

life jackets for young cruisers

life jackets on the Lido

Magic had something I haven’t seen on a cruise ship before – an array of life jackets near the Lido pool available for youngsters who would like to use one when they swim there.

food & beer served here

Red Frog Pub

Magic is a 2.0 ship, which means it has amenities like Guy’s Burgers, Blue Iguana Cantina, Guy’s Pig & Anchor BBQ (open for sea day lunch only), Red Frog Pub, Alchemy Bar, Red Frog Rum Bar, and Blue Iguana Tequila Bar.

fun and games on the top deck

Sports Square

There’s plenty to do on board. Sports Square has mini golf and other games under the ropes course. Daytime entertainment from the crew includes games like scavenger hunts, trivia, Carnival tower (which looks like giant Jenga), and bean bag toss. Besides the nightly movies there’s also shows in the main theater and often comedy in the smaller theater. Kids can go to the kids club for their age group, which is Camp Ocean for 2 – 11 year olds, Circle C for 12 – 14, and Club O2 for teens age 15 – 17. We made sure to attend Hasbro the Game Show and the Dr. Seuss breakfast, which are both fun for the whole family.

tasty and delicious veggie lasagna

Carnival’s vegetable lasagna

Magic is 1004 feet long with a guest capacity of 3690. It entered service in 2011 and is registered in Panama. Magic has 14 passenger decks and 17 decks total. Food on the Magic is from Carnival’s American Table menu, of which our absolute favorite meal is the vegetable lasagna. Guests with restricted diets, like my gluten and dairy free sister, order their meal for the next day ahead of time so it can be altered to their needs. On the first night our waiter told her to order from the daily menu that doesn’t change, saying those items were already gluten free. Passengers on the your time dining pre-order by their cabin number so the dining room staff can still find them the next day if they were to sit in a different section. They do have a gluten free version of their signature dessert, the chocolate melting cake.

cruise ship life ring

life ring

For more about ships and cabins see My Cruise Stories Ships and Cabins page.
Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
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You Can’t Control The Weather and Neither Can The Captain

P&O Arcadia

Arcadia in the mist in New Zealand

Cruising Disappointments – Missing a Port Due to Weather

Up to this point, I’ve been lucky. In all the cruises we have done we had never missed a port or changed course due to weather. We once missed a port because the ship left a day late due to back-up generator issues. We overheard another passenger say “Why do we have to miss a port? Why can’t we skip a sea day, we have three of those!” (Um yeah perhaps because the captain can’t beam the ship to the port and cruise ships don’t travel at warp speed.) On a European cruise the port stop in Turkey was dropped from the itinerary a couple months before the ship set sail due to unrest there. While we would have liked to see that port, it was nice to have a second sea day on a 10-day cruise that otherwise had just one.

horse swim at private stable

Swimming with horses at Montego Bay, Jamaica

Another time long before a Caribbean cruise we got a notice that our ship was docking at Montego Bay rather than Falmouth, a different Jamaican port than originally scheduled. It was months before the cruise. We hadn’t made plans for that port yet and ended up with one of the best excursions we’ve ever done by arranging our own private excursion at a stable with a horse swim for real at Half Moon Bay Equestrian Center.

horses pretending to swim

Not swimming with horses at Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Not to be confused with Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas where the horses definitely do not swim for real. At Half Moon Cay it’s a cruise ship excursion and you’ll get your legs wet, but the horse’s feet never leave the ground. At Half Moon Bay they go out about 20 feet deep and you slide off their backs and hold onto the tail while they pull you around in the water. Their feet are definitely off the ground there.

cruise ship at anchor

Spotts Bay, Grand Cayman

We nearly missed Grand Cayman once, but the captain chose to anchor on the other side of the island at Spotts Bay instead of at Georgetown where they normally go. Taking shuttles into town was far better than missing the port entirely, which would have been the other option. The weather cleared up later and we had a fun day there.

On one of our earlier cruises when the Mexican Riviera was still a popular destination we tailed a hurricane down the coast of Mexico. The ship had some rocky times and one of the poker dealers threw up on the poker table, clearing the area of players in record speed. We were between a hurricane and a tropical storm another time in the Caribbean, but remained in relative calm unaffected other than weather at a couple ports not as nice as normal.

bora bora snorkeling

What we missed in Bora Bora – internet photo obviously since we didn’t go there

Our 21-day Pacific Crossing on the P&O Arcadia had just 5 ports scheduled. The one I looked forward to most was Bora Bora, which is surrounded by a lagoon where snorkeling is supposed to be like swimming in an aquarium. I had a snorkel safari excursion booked, which was to include three stops. One in an area where rays live, another with reef sharks, and the third with coral and tropical fish.

Bora Bora’s lagoon turned out to be the undoing of our stop there. There is just a narrow opening through the coral reef surrounding the island where ships can enter into the lagoon. The captain said the ship was nearly as big as the opening. We came on a windy day with high waves and the captain felt it unsafe to try and maneuver the ship through the shallow, narrow channel where either wind or wave could easily push it into the reef. While running aground would definitely be worse than missing a port it is still a major disappointment that we missed the one port out of all the stops on this cruise that I wanted to see most.

Bora Bora

narrow passage into Bora Bora – internet photo

That is a part of cruising though and if you cruise you have to roll with the punches. Cruise lines and cruise ship captains have no control over the weather. Sooner or later things are bound to happen. If you read the fine print when you book there is no guarantee that you will go to the ports as scheduled because the captain’s number one job is to keep the ship afloat and the passengers safe. If that means altering course or skipping a port then that is what they will do. No matter how much you want to see a particular port, missing that stop is far better than leaving a sinking ship by lifeboat. Odds are if the weather is stormy enough that the ship can’t make port it probably wouldn’t be a fun day there anyway. The seas may be to rough for water activities and wind or rain might make land adventures miserable.

Not long after the announcement about missing the port another announcement came saying that all excursions would be automatically refunded to the onboard account if booked on the ship and to credit cards if booked online prior to the cruise with no need to go to the reception or shore excursions desk. A cluster of panicked people lining up in the lobby demanding refunds may have spurred that announcement as it is common practice on any cruise that these things would automatically be refunded, as would any port fees or taxes paid for the missed port.

Bora Bora

island in the mist – all we saw of Bora Bora

Breakfast in the dining room suddenly became popular with quite a crowd there on a day where normally very few would have shown up. Later came an announcement from the entertainment manager (known as a cruise director on most ships). He listed a number of new activities added to the day’s schedule. Port days normally have a much lighter list of things to do than sea days so when facing a port day suddenly turned sea day it is up to the entertainment staff to provide alternate activities.

The spa, which is usually pretty slow on a port day, suddenly found itself quite busy with people trying to change appointments to that day or make new ones and more people in the thermal suite at one time than we had seen all cruise. I guess that’s to be expected though since all the passengers on board suddenly found themselves having to find something different to do for the day than what they had planned. We had the thermal package for the cruise, but a lot of people must have got the one-day pass just for that day to give themselves a treat onboard.

Sailing away from Bora Bora the captain made one further announcement to expect high seas and gray skies for the next 24 hours. The wind blew hard enough that whenever a wave rolled over into a white cap it would blow the white right off the top of the wave in a shower of sea spray. Water drops rolled off the ship and danced around like bubbles on the wind rather than just falling straight down like drops of water normally do. We could definitely feel some movement in the ship rocking, but by this time the people had been at sea long enough to walk normally down the hallways and not stagger like drunks the way they do if faced with stormy seas shortly after boarding. Barf bags still showed up in the elevator bays for anyone who needed them though.

About Bora Bora

island of Bora Bora

Bora Bora surrounded by lagoon and motus – internet photo

Bora Bora sits about 150 miles northwest of Tahiti and is the best known of the Leeward Islands in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. The volcanic island sits in a lagoon ringed by coral reefs and small islets called motus, one of which was used as an American base during World War 2. The war never came to the island, but evidence of the military occupation remains.

The main island is around 6 miles long and 2 miles wide with a circumference of 20 miles. Though the Dutch were the first Europeans to discover Bora Bora, the French eventually annexed the island. Bora Bora is believed to be the inspiration for Roger’s and Hammerstein’s South Pacific based on the James Michener novel Tales of the South Pacific.

Bora Bora in the mist

leaving Bora Bora behind

Things To Do in Bora Bora

Cruise ship tenders land at Bora Bora’s largest village called Vaitape. Visitors will find a few shops and a visitor’s center there. A bus runs to Matira Beach 4 miles from the village. Shore snorkeling is possible there, but better snorkeling is found out on the reef. Bicycle rentals are available near the tender landing.

According to the pamphlet provided by P&O, the island does not have much in the way of public transportation so they recommended booking in advance for passengers wanting to do excursions through outside companies. When doing so just make sure you pay only if you actually do the excursion. I’ve pre-booked excursions through outside sources in Belize and Jamaica and both were paid at the time of the excursion rather than in advance so had the ship missed those ports no payment ever would have been taken. Before paying in advance for anything check out their refund policies. I have heard of people blaming the cruise line for outside excursions they missed and didn’t get refunded for. The cruise line isn’t responsible for things you book through outside sources so that is a buyer beware situation. The ship’s brochure listed parasailing, jet ski rental, scuba diving, and deep sea fishing as things that could be booked in advance through outside sources. That is one advantage of booking excursions through the ship – if it misses the port you get that automatic refund.

Excursions through the ship if it had been able to make the scheduled port stop would have included island tours by 4×4, truck or helicopter, water adventures, the snorkel safari, glass bottom boat, aqua trek with surface supplied air, a lagoon cruise and picnic, or aqua bike (underwater scooter).

copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Arcadia, P&O, Pacific Ocean & Islands | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Athens and Piraeus

Athens, Greece

View of Vista in Athens from the seaside walkway

Like many ports that list a famous city for the port when they really stop in a smaller less known place, when ships stop in Athens they actually dock in Piraeus. Our local taxi driver pronounced it Peer-ray. None of the other locals said the city’s name so we don’t know if it was just him or if they all say that. Nobody else we met pronounced it that way, but then again none of them were Greek. The European portion of our cruise on the Carnival Vista started there, but our adventures began before ever reaching the port. We flew into Paris with plans of staying a couple nights there and seeing the sights. When we got there Greece was threatening an air traffic controller strike that would close down the airport in Athens for four days. With our flight to Athens cancelled along with all other flights for the day we planned to leave, we got a last minute flight and left Paris the morning after we arrived without seeing anything other than the local area near our hotel. The strike got called off, but our original flight remained cancelled and getting another that day may have been impossible so we were glad that we left when we did to insure we made it to the ship in time for our cruise.

modern statue

running man statue in Athens

Arriving in Greece a day early we had no hotel booked for the night, but we had the taxi drop us off at Faros 1 in Piraeus. We had a room booked there for the next two nights and hoped we could add that night on. If not we figured we could find something in one of the other hotels nearby. They had one room available and other than the very noisy all-night bar across the street it’s a great hotel at quite an affordable price.

Piraeus train

Happy Train takes people around Piraeus

There are 3 different companies that have hop on, hop off bus tours you can take around Piraeus and into Athens. Along with that at least two of them have little tour trains that go around the port area with stops both near the cruise ship docks and in the more touristy area by the fancy yacht marina where the streets are lined with shops and restaurants. From our hotel it was just a short walk past a beautiful and very Greek church to the waterfront and the stop by the cruise ship docks, where there also were people offering private taxi tours to Athens. The hop on hop off bus tickets are good for two days plus if that bus company operates one of the little trains it includes that too. The taxi tour costs more for just for a few hours, but goes some places where buses can’t.

Acropolis looms high over Athens with the Parthenon visible for miles

Acropolis looms high over Athens with the Parthenon visible for miles

Athens has quite a variety of historic sites, the most famous being the acropolis which sits prominently on a hilltop overlooking the city. The acropolis has several ruins, most of which were under renovation when we were there. The most famous ruin, the Parthenon looms large over the other less well known temples. It’s amazing how ancient people were able to construct such monumental buildings that last for centuries while modern man with all our technology makes things that don’t last.

ruins at Athens

up close you can see that the columns are not all one piece

The enormous columns are made from smaller sections stacked on top of each other. Perhaps not the best idea since some have fallen, but something that was do-able for their time without any machinery to lift heavy full-sized columns intact.

gate gaurd at the presidential mansion

guard at the presidential palace

Changing of the guards is a well-known thing in London, but Athens has their own version of it. We happened to see their guards on a Sunday, which is when they wear their official white uniforms. They guard the monument of the unknown soldier and the presidential mansion and stand completely still except when performing official maneuvers.

Piraeus tourist shops

touristy shopping area near the marina

While the port area doesn’t have such spectacular ruins, it does have things to see and do including a maritime museum and a seaside walkway through the more touristy area of the town. A lot of people come to Piraeus to catch ferries out to Santorini and other islands.

Piraeus marina

marina in Piraeus

The marina is quite interesting in the contrast between boats so tiny they almost look like toys and megamillion dollar yachts. There’s also a row of run down fishing boats with the owners on board selling the day’s catch to passers by. There are a lot of shops and cafes in the port area too.

Piraeus beach

seaside walkway in Piraeus

The walkway along the waterfront goes way beyond the marina. People can take a pretty long waterfront walk from the marina nearly to the port area. Much of what looked like a former park was fenced off, perhaps getting excavated for ancient ruins or something. It had a big sign, but it was all in Greek. Once past the fenced off area there are still places on the shoreline where people can sit and enjoy the view or go down to the water to swim.

tourist walk

follow the little yellow guys to the marina

There were little yellow guys painted on the sidewalk on the main road by our hotel. At the corners they had arrows pointing anyone following the little guys on across to the other side of the street heading toward the marina. Zea Marina with all the yachts, not the cruise ship or ferry ports.

Piraeus city walk

map for the city walk – in English

Along the way there’s a museum with a sign outside saying it is a town walk going past a variety of sites to see, something like Boston’s Freedom Trail. The trail was well marked until it got to the marina area where a key corner had a turn in the path and no marker. From there it was pretty easy to pick the trail back up and follow it on through the sidewalk cafes and tourist booths and shops until all of a sudden it ended with a partially worn away arrow pointing to a left turn. Funny how it was well marked everywhere you go straight and not so much at turns. Beyond that faint arrow there were no more markers and a couple blocks up the streets and sidewalks were all dug up undergoing some sort of construction so any markers that once had been there were gone leaving no way to follow the route any farther by sidewalk markers unless they repaint the little yellow guys after finishing the construction.


church in Piraeus

People stayed all over the Athens area prior to the cruise. We met someone who found a bayview suite for cheap in the touristy marina area. Others stayed near the port as we did, and some stayed in Athens. Hotels in that area generally don’t have shuttles, free or otherwise so getting to the port on cruise day is up to each person. Most go by taxi. While the cruise dock was within walking distance of our hotel, it was pretty far to go with luggage. It was also raining that morning so we took a taxi. Some friends staying in Athens made use of the free second day the hop on hop off bus offered and used that as transportation to the port – which would not have worked for us since the cruise port was the closest stop to our hotel.


the Parthenon undergoing restoration

The cruise ship port in Piraeus has several terminals and quite a few docks. The little train that goes around Piraeus stops in the same place near one terminal where the hop on hop off buses stop. The marina is within walking distance, but it’s a long walk. Taking the train is quicker and an easier way to find it if that is what someone on a port stop there wanted to do, though most would likely go to Athens instead.

acropolis theater

theater at the acropolis

ruins of Athens, Greece

wall by the theater at the acropolis

Greece is a nice place to visit and quite affordable. We found food, hotels, and transportation cheaper there than anywhere else we went this trip. Even after adding in their 24% sales tax things still cost less there than elsewhere. Not everyone in Greece speaks English, but we were always able to find at least one person who did.

greek temple

one of the smaller temples at the acropolis

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Carnival, Europe, Port Cities, Vista | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cartagena, Colombia

Infinity in Colombia

Celebrity Infinity in Cartagena, Colombia

Find a window seat when sailing into or out of Cartagena, Columbia because the ship sails past some fantastic scenery including ancient forts. Celebrity Infinity visited Cartagena as the last port on a 17 day Panama Canal cruise. The ship docks in an industrial area of container ports. At first glance it looks as if there’s not much there, but following the path along the water’s edge toward the exit brings passengers into a jungle area where pink flamingos greet their arrival. Wooden walkways wind through the jungle, which holds all sorts of delightful things awaiting discovery. There is a shop and restaurant there, and a sign that says they have wifi, though it was not working on the day of our visit.

vulture in Colombia

vulture in Cartagena

Along the paths little monkeys run playfully through the trees and bigger howler monkeys sometimes emit quite a racket. Macaws and parrots perch in plain sight and a little animal resembling a tiny deer or antelope ran around licking the salt off people’s sweaty legs.

toucan in Colombia

toucan in the aviary at Cartagena

A walk-through aviary held a very colorful vulture as well as toucans and other birds. One cage held a small monkey who occasionally came out of its little monkey house to run around. Anyone who didn’t want to go anywhere at this port could stay quite entertained wandering through the jungle looking at the birds and animals.

ancient walls and modern skyscrapers

Looking from the old part of Cartagena to the new

Somewhere in the jungle maze signs point to the exit as well as the way back to the ship.  At the exit locals gather passengers without prior plans for van tours at $20 per person, and a taxi stand provides a way into town for those who want to explore on their own. Cartagena has an old part of town, a walled city from ancient times with a fort and lots of beautiful old buildings. It also has a new part of town filled with tall skyscrapers and modern buildings. A taxi ride into old town costs $20 for the cab regardless of the amount of passengers, and private taxi tours for two are available for $60 per person.

zoo at Cartagena cruise port

parrot in the aviary at the port in Cartagena

We went with the $20 van tour. They had about 3 people waiting and initially said they needed two more after us, but when they got the 2 more they said they still needed 3. When three more joined and they still weren’t ready to leave people got restless and ready to abandon their tour so they said they would go, but really just loaded everyone into a van and then disappeared for quite some time and came back with a couple that spoke only Spanish. Everyone else in the van spoke English other than the driver who spoke only Spanish and the bilingual tour guide.

Colombian fort

old fort in Cartagena

Finally the van left for old town. The tour guide now had to repeat everything she said in English again in Spanish for the last guests. Our first stop was in front of the old fort for a photo op of the outside. People can go inside the fort for $10, something those who took a cab to town on their own might choose to do.

traditional Colombian clothes?

for a buck you can take photos of ladies in fruit hats

As soon as we got out of the van we were mobbed by peddlers selling all manner of things including hats, jewelry, and t-shirts. They did not like to take no for an answer. Even after people got back in the van peddlers would walk around it banging on the windows trying to get people to buy something. Women dressed in bright colors with real fruit hats posed for pictures for $1. At some stops what initially appeared to be statues turned out to be live people, who also wanted a dollar from anyone who took their photo.

new use for old building

it’s a barracks…it’s a dungeon…it’s tourist shops

We stopped at a place that during the course of history had been used as everything from a barracks for soldiers to a dungeon for prisoners, but now housed little shops selling trinkets to tourists. Outside the shops people set up little stands to sell more things. A step above street peddlers, but selling the same sort of stuff. At least these could not follow us too far as they didn’t want to leave their wares unattended.

metal sculpture and fancy building

this city square had a row of metal sculptures

At one stop we got out of the van and took a 45-minute walk through the narrow streets of the old city. Many of the buildings had beautiful old Spanish style architecture. Our tour guide pointed out things like the building where the inquisitions took place in a dark time of their history. The Spanish lady had a habit of getting in front of everyone and did her best not to let anyone get around her for long enough to get even one picture without her in it so getting decent photos was a bit of a challenge. Her husband took several photos of human statues and refused to pay them even though our guide had made it clear at the start of the journey that payment was expected for photographing the buskers.

scraping by

peddlers with carts

Peddlers pushed food carts up and down the streets selling fruit, drinks, or even cooked food. One parked his cart in front of us at a corner and whatever he had cooking smelled very good, but we had warning from the ship to be careful what if anything we might eat in town to avoid getting sick. The ever-present peddlers selling their wares now included people with cigars, which from the smell walking through town it was apparent some people bought. Columbia must not have any anti-public smoking laws. The smoke from all those cigars permeated the air enough to make me feel ill before we finished our walk through town so in spite of the beauty of the area I would never want to spend much time there.

making money off the tourists

some people took rides in horse carts

Sweaty people happily returned to the air-conditioned van after the walk through town in the heat. The van was parked in a lot on a busy road where the exhaust fumes aggravated my pounding headache, chest constriction, and breathing issues brought on by cigar smoke and a tobacco allergy so I was quite happy when the van moved on to cleaner air at the next stop.

emerald museum

fake miner outside the fake mine

Columbia’s claim to fame is the quality of the emeralds mined there. Our last stop was at an emerald museum/jewelry store. The first room we entered in had several men at work crafting metal into settings for fine jewelry. All Columbian they said, for silver and gold are also mined there. The museum part had quite a few displays of raw emeralds and some jewelry from ancient times. It also had a walk-through model of a portion of an emerald mine.

raw emeralds

emeralds in the mine exhibit

The museum part was pretty interesting, after which of course we were sent into the store area. They did have some pretty things, but also pretty expensive. People looked around a bit and then made their way back to the van, all except the Spanish lady who stayed in the shop until nearly the time they had said the tour would return to port before the guide finally wrangled her out of there so we could leave. After all that time she did not even come out of the store carrying a bag, though one of the other ladies managed to purchase something and still get back to the van on time. Meanwhile street peddlers walked around the van banging on the windows trying to get people inside to buy stuff, but nobody did.

Cartagena city street

buildings in Cartagena

We made it back about half an hour after they had said we would, but still with enough time to wander through the jungle paths and look at the animals a bit before going back to the ship.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2017
Posted in Celebrity, Infinity, Port Cities, Ports of Call, South and Central America | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment