Cruising Tips, Travel Tips
I must compliment the cruise lines – On disembarkation day, they disembark anywhere from 600 to 5000 guests (usually by 9:30 a.m no less!), take on food and supplies for the next cruise, board another group of passengers with the same number of guests and are ready to sail by 4 p.m.! WOW! Talk about organization!
About halfway through your cruise, the cruise line will want to reconfirm your immediate post-cruise travel plans. You may have forgotten that during the pre-boarding process, you had entered how you were going to get home, but this is a way for them to set up the best disembarkation times for all of the disembarking passengers. From the information provided, they divide the passengers into small groups according to their travel plans and cabin level (suites have higher priority than inside cabins). This simplifies how all passengers disembark the ship.
Typically, on the morning of the last day or two of your cruise, you will return to your cabin and see what no cruiser wants to find – the colored luggage tags and disembarkation instructions. This is an indication that your cruise will soon be coming to an end … sigh.
If you have a late afternoon or evening flight, you might consider booking an excursion with the cruise line that will take you (and your luggage) on a tour of your disembarkation city that ends at the airport. These are usually very well done AND much better than spending all day in the airport!
NOTE: You should never book a return flight after a cruise before noon on disembarkation day. In many cities, the airport and the pier are at opposite ends of town, so you need to factor in traffic, going through security at the airport (especially when abroad) and any unforeseen delays, so noon is a pretty good benchmark to use.
In general, those with early flights disembark earlier than those with later departures – those that have driven to the port have the option of either doing the Express disembarkation (more on that later) or disembarking last, along with the rest of the passengers.
On the last night of the cruise, pack the items that go into your suitcase (making sure you keep out something to wear in the morning as well as the toiletries and medications you will need the next morning) and put your luggage into the hallway (usually by midnight). You will have attached the assigned colored tags, as well as ensure your personal identification tag is still there. That night the crew will come by and gather all of the luggage and take it down to the hold. From there it will be sorted by the colored tags and put into luggage bins, also sorted by color, and stored.
Your carry-on items (that you do NOT set out) would include anything fragile that you didn’t want to pack (or couldn’t fit in the luggage), your toiletries, jammies and anything else you wanted to take home.
If you are driving home, you might want to do the Express disembarkation, which means you will walk off with all of your belongings in one trip (both luggage and carry on). Express disembarkation passengers will be the first to disembark the ship. They might start as early as 7 a.m., depending on when the ship docks and has been cleared by the authorities.
The other option for locals would be to do the regular disembarkation. This would apply if you wanted to have one last leisurely breakfast onboard to make your cruise last as long as possible (but you will still have to be off by 9 or so).
Once the ship has been cleared, the color coded luggage bins are transferred from the ship to the holding area of the terminal. There, the luggage will be scanned for items such as weapons or other illegal items and the drug dogs wander through. Then, the luggage is set out in nice neat rows waiting for you to come and claim your luggage. Again, they REALLY have this down!
After Express disembarkation people have disembarked, then regular disembarkation will begin. When it’s finally your turn, they will scan your cruise card one last time and hear that final ‘ding’ before proceeding down the gangway. NOTE: As you exit the ship, you will need to have your cruise card and passports handy.
Once you have reached the terminal, you will go through customs. Currently, the limit is $400 per person of personal items. This would exclude any duty-free items you might have purchased onboard or at any of the ports of call. Although you should be truthful, you also don’t want to raise any red flags that might cause you to have to pay additional taxes, so just use your best judgement. You should enter some amount, so any small amount would be fine. Hint: If you purchase any jewelry, just wear it off like you boarded with it.
The custom agents are usually pretty pleasant, especially if you are pleasant with them. Keep in mind, they are stuck in a pretty mundane job and you will have just come back from a fabulous cruise. It is their job to keep our borders safe, so you can’t joke around with them too much. I’m happy to say I’ve never known of anyone to be detained at customs!
From there, you will actually claim your luggage. It may look like a sea of luggage when you first enter, but it usually isn’t as bad as it might look. Luckily the groupings are usually relatively small, so you don’t have to sort through too many to actually find yours. (This is truly where having decorative luggage, a colorful luggage protector or a pom pom can be helpful in finding your luggage quickly and easily.)
The last thing you do is hand them the customs form as you exit. If you are driving, HOPEFULLY you 1) remembered not to pack your car keys 2) you remember where you parked your car!
I hope you have found this helpful. So many times the information is all about the fun part and NOBODY wants to talk about disembarkation!
Jenny & Tony at Glacier Bay
First of all, I wanted to say how wonderful Smitty is, both as a person as well as a travel agent. She was so helpful and knowledgeable. We cannot thank her enough for all the time she took to answer all of our questions before we left for our first Alaska cruise on the Westerdam (Holland America).
We were adamant about having a veranda (balcony) for this Alaska cruise, as that was one of the things we had heard was a must. We booked one and highly recommend it! The views from your cabin are priceless and it’s great to be able to get away from everyone else.
Our cruise left Sept. 17, 2016, from Seattle. We were the second to last cruise of the season for this destination. The cabin Smitty booked us in was on the 8th deck, towards the back of the ship. We loved the location due to the fact that it was just one floor away down the Lido deck (food court) and bars. We had purchased the drink package, so being close to a bar was very convenient.
Jenny & Tony on Glacier
Our first stop was in Juneau. Prior to our cruise, we had booked a helicopter/Glacier tour through Coastal Helicopters, to ensure we got a spot. We had heard this was a highly desirable tour. It was much cheaper than doing it through the cruise line, so always keep that in mind.
From what we heard from several locals, the weather in Juneau that day was the most beautiful in quite some time. It was sunny and not a cloud in the sky. We completed the tour and LOVED it! I was a little nervous about the helicopter, but after experiencing it, I enjoyed it better than flying in an airplane.
While in Juneau, we had also overheard several people talking about the northern lights and that night there was a good chance we would be able to see them! So we set our alarm and got up at midnight to go to the top of the ship to see if we could see them.
After hanging out in the front of the ship for 30 minutes without seeing any activity and as cold as it was, we decided to go back to our cabin and relax on the veranda. We ordered room service (hot cocoa and cookies). Right when Tony picked up the phone to order it, I looked back and saw the northern lights happening right from our balcony! It was so amazing. We were so thankful we were able to see them right from the ship, and right from our balcony none the less!
Glacier Bay followed Juneau. We LOVED Glacier Bay! That was one of the other best parts about having a veranda. Hearing the ice break off (calving) was an incredible experience. It sounds just like thunder! … and it was gorgeous!
Unfortunately, our second port (Sitka) was canceled due to a terrible storm. It would have been really rough and unenjoyable, so the captain decided to skip Sitka and add more time to our last two stops. So we cruised the Canadian Straights instead.
Ketchikan was our next stop. It was a cute and quaint little town. We had arrived five hours earlier than expected, so most of the town was still closed up, since they were not expecting us till later. Luckily, lots of little shops and tours were open for business anyway.
We got off the ship to see what tours were available. We decided to try the Bear tour (even though they couldn’t guarantee we would see a bear). They told us it was about 95% likely we would see one though, so we decided to try it out. Thankfully, we got to see two bears! One came down to the river to catch salmon and eat and one was up the hill tending to her two new cubs. We also got to see lots of eagles! Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and entertaining, which added to the experience.
Our last stop was Victoria, Canada. Originally we were only going to be there from 6 pm – midnight, but with the change of schedule, we docked at 8:30 am and were there until midnight. We loved having the extra time here. The town is beautiful and we could actually see ourselves living there, we liked it so much.
We decided to see the Butchart Gardens. It was lightly sprinkling that morning, but nothing we couldn’t handle. After the gardens, we walked around town for a bit and found a whale watching tour that guaranteed orca sightings (one of the things I had wanted to see while in Alaska). That was amazing as well! We also got to see humpback whales and seals as well as orcas. It was a 3 1/2 hour afternoon tour.
We had cruised on Holland America back in 2004. Our experience had been a little better back in 2004, but it was still good. The food quality could have been a little better on the Lido deck, but the dining room food was delicious! Room service food was also not what we remembered either – definitely not what we remembered. So we didn’t order room service after that. The crew was very friendly though and it was a very clean ship. We would cruise with Holland America again.
Thank you for reading! For who ever takes the time to read, I hope this was informative. 🙂
Jenny & Tony Burrows
Jenny & Tony on Herbert Glacier
Cruising Tips, Travel and Cruising Tips, Travel Tips
In Sitka, we were tendered in rather than being docked (NOTE: since the original post, they have since built a cruise dock in Sitka). Personally, I love being tendered in (as you can get some GREAT shots of the ship if you get a window seat), but it is also more limiting. It’s just not as easy to pop on and off the ship as you can when the it is docked right in the middle of town (which they are in most Alaska ports). Although technically you can go back and forth as many times throughout the day as necessary, most just take one round trip – just be sure you are back onboard before that last tender!
We headed up the ramp to the Visitors Center to try to find where the Russian Dancers performance was, and low and behold it was right there at the Visitors Center!
New Archangel Dancers, Sitka, Alaska
As we entered the building, there was also a quilt show happening in one of the adjacent rooms (I’m also a quilter, so this was a nice surprise!).
Sitka Quilt Show
The performance was very home spun, as it was actually just a troop of six ladies – apparently there were no men that had the same vision, so three of the six ladies took on the job of what the men would normally do, and the six of them performed traditional Russian dances.
Russian Dancers, with women performing the men’s roll
The costumes were as close as they could make but appeared quite authentic – they were actually quite good and in hearing about them, they travel down to the lower 48 for performances, so they are actually quite happy that there are no men in the group after all! lol
Costumes for the Russian Dancers
As we left the building to continue to check out the town, I was a little hungry, so we found this cute little collection of shops where I got a buckwheat banana and chocolate crepe – it was yummy!
Banana Buckwheat Crepe at the North Sister Shop
Sitka is a cute little mountain town with a lot of Russian influence so worth a walking tour, so you can get the background. There are quite a few churches, and you will find leather, fur and yarn shops scattered throughout the town (as well as the requisite tee shirt shops). It is also quite a fishing town.
Fishermen fixing their nets
Tlinget boat, Sitka Alaska
Sitka isn’t included on a lot of the cruise itineraries, but if you are lucky enough to select an itinerary that includes Sitka, you will not be disappointed.
Regatta in Sitka Harbor (behind breakwater)
Sunset as we sailed from Sitka
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Welcome to Astoria
After breakfast, we set off to see the town of Astoria, where we saw one of the locals drive by in what appeared to be a 1932 Ford Sedan. We saw him numerous times throughout the day, apparently taxiing folks to and from the ship.
We continued on and saw this cute 1912 trolley, also known as “Old 300,” so we asked the gentlemen inside about it – for just $1, they would take us to the end of the line, down the entire Riverwalk. We paid our $1 and within a few minutes the trolley was full of other passengers.
“Old 300” – 1912 Trolley in Astoria
The ride was delightful and probably the best money spent on the whole trip!
Sign on Trolley
The two retired volunteers giving the commentary were just charming (wanna-be stand up comedians, actually), but they were also quite knowledgeable about not only the Port of Astoria, but the history of the area, Astoria bridge (4.3 miles in length) and pretty much anything else they were asked.
Guests on the Astoria Trolley
The end of the line was a delightful 4 mile ride, where the instructions were: “Those on the water side, stand up.” Once we were standing, we were told to grab the exposed handle of the seat back and move it to the other side – we would then be facing the other direction for the return. Then the non-water side did the same thing. SO quaint!
Turning the Trolley at the end of the line
We rode back as far as downtown and proceeded to check out the town. It was a cute little downtown with lots of coffee houses and quaint old buildings.
Courthouse and Victorian House
It appeared that the downtown was vibrant, with plantings of flowers and very few ‘for rent’ signs.
The Astoria Column is also in Astoria, although we didn’t visit, but had a mini-reunion with one of our high school buddies. The Column is a 125-foot monolith atop Coxcomb Hill patterned after Trajan’s Column in Rome. Apparently the view from the top is well worth the 164-step, spiral stair trek, but I’ll never know…
Regatta in Astoria
When we got back to the ship we enjoyed watching folks return and even watched as some crew members brought on what appeared to be ice chests. We later heard the announcement that the chef had been to the fish market and ‘caught’ some fresh salmon, which would be served at the Terrace Grill for dinner. Count me in!
Sautéd salmon, with a variety of sauces
As soon as we sailed, we attended the lecture on “Alaska’s Glaciers & Ice: Origin, structure, movement, fate and effects of tide water glaciers” by Dr. John Palmisano – WOW – he packed a LOT of information about glaciers into 45 minutes!
Just as he was finishing, the captain announced that the helicopter was arriving to take the pilot off of the ship (due to the extremely choppy waters outside of the Port of Astoria, apparently it was safer for him to disembark via helicopter rather than the usual pilot boat).
The helicopter came in and began to hover, lowered the hook, the pilot was hooked on, they gave the signal and he was hoisted up and was safely inside the helicopter in about 30 seconds. It was just amazing to watch everyone do their jobs so efficiently and safely! (and yes the area had been roped off so no guest was anywhere near the activity).
Helicopter lowering hook to lift pilot from ship
After dinner, we retired early and got a good night’s sleep.
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This review was submitted by my brother, Jerry Smith (with a few editor’s notes for clarification)
Overall: This cruise was, for me, both impressive and surprising. It exceeded my expectations in many areas, especially the food. It was hard to find something to complain about.
Oceania Regatta in Astoria
Oceania Cruises: My sister, Soozie (Smitty to you, but as her brother, I can’t call her that), told me that Oceania (along with its competitor, Azamara) is considered “upper premium.” That means it is more expensive, of course, but also the ships are smaller, the food is better, the staff is more attentive and the clientele is more “seasoned.” In a word, the clientele itself is “upper” and “premium” fits for the cost, but also the “upgrades” that come with it in terms of quality of service, and especially, food.
Pancetta-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Kalamata Olive Sauce and Vegetable Julienne
Chocolate cake with ice cream
Oceania’s motto is “Your World, Your Way,” which is their way of saying that whatever you want is what you’ll get.
Ship: The ship, the Regatta, which Soozie points out is NOT a boat (boats can be loaded onto ships, not vice versa), was clean, and had a capacity of around 600, I believe, (editor’s note: actual capacity is 684) so it is much smaller than a traditional cruise ship. Cabins were small, as was the bathroom (a bit claustrophobic), but sufficient. (editor’s note: We were in a balcony cabin)
Balcony Cabin 6063
We hardly used the TV, and did not visit the pool, sauna or hot tub.
Guest enjoying Hot Tub
The coffee-maker in the Terrace Grill and Horizons Lounge was quite good, capable of a wide variety of coffees, including espresso/cappuccino and teas. Editor’s Note: You could also get coffee drinks made to order at Barista’s Lounge, just outside the Grand Dining Room.
There were also the following “extras:”
• “Tea Time” from 4-5 each day in the Horizons Lounge at the front of the ship, with nice large picture windows looking forward to the water, which featured desserts on multi-level carts as well as servers with silver trays of finger sandwiches, both circulated throughout the room.
Tea Time in the Horizons Lounge while in Sitka
• “Happy Hour” with BOGO (buy one, get one) drinks from 5-6.
• There was also nightly entertainment, some of which was quite good (pianist Katie Clarke), and others not as appealing (“Noodles” Levenstein, an apparent comedian) as well as the Regatta Singers, two ladies and two men, that also performed throughout the cruise.
• There were also daily activities, including a ping-pong tournament (at sea days), putting competitions, and Team Trivia.
Conversation area, mid-ship
The middle of the ship had a number of lounges and a small casino, where you could stop and have a drink, and chat with fellow cruisers. These were generally full during the evenings, and there was a piano player in one lounge.
There was also a string quartet, “Bellissimo” that played much of the time in the Grand Hall, and at Happy Hour, which was always pleasant to have around. (Editor’s Note: They also did a full performance on the last evening, prior to dinner).
Bellissimo, string quartet performing at the Grand Hall
Food: I am pretty observant when it comes to food, I would say “picky”, but that sounds like I’m particular (e.g., won’t eat certain things), which is not the case. I do pay attention to how the food is prepared and presented, and I can find fault with lots of things (see my comments on the “Rhine River Cruise, From a Man’s Point of View” review).
Having said that, I have to say that the food on Oceania was delightful. Consistently not only good, but extremely good. Every meal seemed like dining at a 4- or 5-star restaurant.
Crispy Kadaif-wrapped tiger prawns with Mango chile Salsa
Herb-crusted rack of lamb with vegetable ratatouille and gratin dauphinois
For example, after a few days I noticed that the Grand Dining Room’s breakfast menu included a daily special Smoothie, as well as an egg special, in addition to a wide variety of items like muesli, oatmeal, pancakes, bagels, yogurt parfait, etc., you could get every day.
Disembarkation Day’s Breakfast Special
Once, I broke my long-standing refusal to eat Eggs Benedict (due to excessive fat!), when I noticed that it had pesto Hollandaise sauce. It was delicious (probably just as fatty too).
Huevos Rancheros in the dining room
Dining on the ship took the following forms:
• The “Terrace Café” is an upscale buffet at the rear of the ship, with a nice patio outside, as well as plenty of seating inside.
Terrace Grill Outside Dining with Golden Gate Bridge in background
Terrace Grill, inside dining
At any meal, there were 3 or 4 entrees to choose from, as well as vegetables and starches to accompany them. Same with desserts, plenty to choose from, all of them quite good.
Terrace Grill Lemon Cake and White Chocolate Cheesecake with Raspberry Filling
They had a daily theme for the food (Greek, Italian, etc.) (Editor’s Note: Food in the buffet was plated, then ‘served’ by gloved crew, not “self-serve” with serving utensils and sneeze guards)
• The “Grand Dining Room” lives up to its own description. Nicely color-coordinated tablecloths, silver, and lots of stemware, it looked fabulous.
Grand Dining Room
Place setting with Versace charger in Grand Dining Room
And the food there was consistently exceptional. Copies of the lunch and dinner menus were provided the night before, which helped in deciding where to eat.
Baby scallops in Shell with Lemon, Capers and Seaweed
Black Angus Beef Wellington with Truffled Potatoes and Vegetable Bouquitiere
• “Waves Grill” provided very good casual food near the pool, such as burgers and hot dogs, but the menu includes upscale choices like seared tuna burger and salmon burger. There is also a full ice cream bar, where you can also get smoothies made during regular hours.
Enjoying a Smoothie at Waves Grill
• Specialty Restaurants: “Polo Grill” and “Toscana” were also available with a reservation (editor’s note: 2 nights for suite guests and one night for regular cabins) at no additional charge. As good as the food was, I preferred the Grand Dining Room.
Table at Toscana
Bread baskets at Toscana
Olive Oil Cart at Toscana
Caprese Appetizer at Toscana
Staff: The staff were extremely attentive and friendly (“Your World, Your Way”), and willing to help, and went the extra mile.
Crew’s Farewell (crew of 370 for 684 guests)
Overall: This was my first time on an “upper premium” cruise ship, and I was very impressed. Just about everything was at least a little better than on the mainstream cruise ships (Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, which recently acquired Oceania and Regent). Some things, like the food, were substantially better on Oceania.
It’s no wonder that many people we met on this cruise were repeat cruisers on Oceania.
Cruising Tips, Testimonials
Overall: The cruise was very enjoyable and exceeded my expectations in many areas (mostly the history associated with the quaint German cities we visited, especially Nuremberg).
Document Center – Nuremberg
Nazi Rally Grounds Photo
The boat was nice, the wi-fi worked well and the walking tours were quite good; some of the tour guides were exceptional.
There was also entertainment in the evening. A pianist played before dinner and then a variety of local entertainment was brought onboard each night after dinner, some better than others.
Max, the token child onboard, participating in the glass blowing demonstration
The food was a bit disappointing, but this is in part due to AMA’s claims of being a member of La Chaine des Rotisseurs, which may have some cache, but it didn’t seem to translate into the food on board, which was good and nicely presented, but unspectacular to the taste.
Surf N’ Turf
The boat (Amacerto) was clean, and had four decks, with a capacity of 164, I believe. Cabins were small, as was the bathroom, but sufficient.
Bathroom on lowest deck
We never did use the TV, the pool or sauna (it was cool in November, although some did use the pool). The wi-fi was handy, but reception was a bit weak on the lower deck. Many people chose to bring iPads or tablets into the lounge, which was on the second deck. The coffee-maker in the lounge was quite good, capable of a wide variety of coffees, including espresso/cappuccino and teas.
River Cruise Format:
The river cruise promises to be more intimate (fewer passengers) and engaging (stopping at, or near, destination cities) than ocean cruises, and they deliver on that. The walking tours (aided by AudioVox portable receivers with an ear piece that lets you listen to the tour guide, regardless of how far ahead they were) ranged from moderately interesting to fascinating. They call it a “Floating Hotel,” and that seems to fit.
Miltenberg street and castle
Food: The food was fine, which is both good and bad. I found breakfast to be quite good – they had eggs each day with bacon and sausages, and a guy making omelettes, as well as plenty of fruit, cereals (including muesli), home-made breads and pastries, yogurt and fruit juices, not to mention champagne.
Lunch and dinner were a combination of menu or buffet, or both. The food was good, but unremarkable IMHO, and it was a bit disappointing that while the wines were generally regionally sensitive (and also good, but unremarkable, which is understandable), but the food was not regionally sensitive.
Lunch Salad Bar
We were in Germany for six days and only got German food (bratwurst, etc.) as a pre-lunch snack one day as we were leaving Germany. It would have been nice to have had one regionally sensitive option at lunch and/or dinner. A couple of dishes were well-executed, but I would have preferred more food that was rather simple and prepared well, to items more exotic that may or may not have achieved the desired outcome. I would have enjoyed, for example, a simple pork tenderloin with some garlic mashed potatoes, or even potatoes done German style.
We ate at the “Chef’s Table” one night and it was also good, but seemed to reach too far.
Chef’s Table Menu
The staff were quite good, willing to help and went the extra mile in most situations.
Presentation of Chefs prior to Farewell Dinner
Crew loading supplies while in port
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Check-in at Pier 2 Honolulu
In 2014, we returned to the Pride of America (POA) for another spin around the islands. We had sailed on her in 2007, about the same time of year, so the weather conditions were similar. In the boarding area, we were once again greeted with an orchid flower lei for me and a shell lei for my husband. They had Hawaiian music playing and water available.
Skyline Dining Room
Since we were returning cruisers, we were ushered into the ‘short line,’ had our photos taken for our key card and were walking across the gangway in just a few minutes. Since our cabin was not yet available we went to the Skyline Dining Room for lunch rather than the buffet (for a change). We were ushered to Table 1, a great little table for two in the corner at the window. This room is done with a New York theme, with contemporary chairs, mirrors, and etched glass mimicking the skyline of New York. Very simple and elegant.
Announcements were made when cabins were ready, floor by floor. There didn’t seem to be any logic or reason to the order, as the first deck to be announced was Deck 4, then Deck 9, then we were on 11 – I would have thought it would have been the deck with the suites, but apparently not.
We were in cabin 11536, so went up and checked it out. We had never been in a cabin that high, nor that far forward before, so we knew it was going to be a different cruise experience for us. The interior of the cabin was the same as last time, but with new carpeting. I had forgotten how beautiful the cabintry are on the POA!
I also was relieved that the beautiful murals of various spots and landmarks around the country at the head of the stairs were still there. Apparently the refit was to add 4 studio cabins and more suite cabins and move some areas around to do so, but the rest of the ship was the same, which was good – it still is really a beautiful ship!
Mt. Rushmore Mural
The one thing I really questioned about our cabin was the large overhang from Deck 12 that extended out about 10 feet farther than our balcony and obstructed the view upwards – it didn’t seem to be that much of a deal, but as the day progressed, it truly was.
Deck 12 overhang from Cabin 11536
At 4 p.m. we heard a VERY loud noise and realized that it was the Blue Angels doing their performance at Pearl Harbor. It was SUCH a delight to watch the Angels doing their amazing precision flying, but again, having that overhang REALLY made it hard to watch them as that protrusion obscured our view! Drat!
About the time they were finishing up, it was time for the Muster Drill, or as they call it Assembly Drill. I have never participated in a more organized, detailed, quick muster drill in my life! We were done in 15 minutes! They had even lowered one of the life boats down so folks could look inside. Very impressive!
Inside of a Lifeboat
Since we were there as a part of a group, there was a cocktail party at the Lanai on Deck 11, aft. It was nice to be out there when the sun set and we sailed away promptly at 7 p.m. We had hit it off with another couple, so all four of us went to dinner at the Liberty Dining Room.
Liberty Dining Room
This is an elegant room, done in rich navy and maroons with large paintings of presidents and other patriotic items as decor. I had the caesar salad and mahi mahi, which was served with couscous and mango salsa – it was very tasty!
On our way back to the cabin, there was a pianist, “Michael Masci,” playing at “Pinks,” the Champagne lounge on Deck 6, midship. He was exactly the type of pianist I enjoy – talented, with enough personality to be interesting, without being corny. He was delightful!
Aloha Cafe Lanai
Maui – Day 1
We went for breakfast at the Aloha Cafe – TIP: We have learned to go ALL the way to the back where we can enjoy our breakfast outside (I’m actually always surprised that there is usually plenty of room out there, which for us, are the best seats in the house, ESPECIALLY in Hawaii!).
After breakfast we went down to catch the shuttle to the Queen Kaahumanu Shopping Center. On the way back we struck up a nice conversation with one of the many Australian passengers – apparently there were about 300 Aussies on this sailing. There were also a lot of Japanese as well as a handful of other folks speaking languages I didn’t recognize. There was probably an event at the theatre that told how many from the various countries, but we must have missed that. I love that on a cruise you get to intermingle with folks from MANY countries!
Once back on board we went up to the Aloha Cafe for lunch, where we again sat outside and enjoyed the warm, but humid, windy and cloudy day (Hawaii was going through a heat wave, so it was unusually warm). We went back to the cabin and relaxed, but then went and enjoyed the sauna and steam bath before our scheduled massages (excellent by the way). After that we stumbled back to the cabin, ordered room service and called it a night!
Maui – Day 2
Since we had done this cruise before, we had already done the Sunrise at Mt. Haleakala excursion, which I would HIGLY recommend! It is truly a bucket list item that should be done at least once, but having someone else drive is even better. If you do go, make SURE you take plenty of warm jackets as it is VERY, VERY cold at 10,000 feet!
Sunrise on Mt. Haleakala
Truck full of sand
After breakfast on the lanai, we went back to the cabin for a leisurely morning and watched truckload after truckload of sand being loaded onto a barge. Before we sailed, the barge had been filled and was being towed off. A good day’s work!
After the session with my group, we went down for dinner at the Skyline Dining room. We both had the mahi mahi special – it was FABULOUS! The service wasn’t so hot, but the food was GREAT!
Coconut Mahi Mahi with Mashed Plantains – YUM!
Tonight’s entertainment was the “Not So Newlywed Game” which is one of my personal favorites on cruise ships. Usually there is one couple that is more animated than others, but all four of these couples had a particularly entertaining answer at one point or the other, so it was especially good. Norwegian even stepped up a bit more than just congratulating the couples with a bottle of champagne – the winning couple got a gift certificate for a set of bamboo sheets at one of the bedding stores on Kauai! Good for Norwegian!
Hilo – Day 3
We were up early and had breakfast so we could do the Volcanos National Park excursion. John was our tour guide/driver and was FABULOUS! Not only was he good at his job, he had just returned after having taken 3 weeks off to move his 75 acre ranch, including family and animals, out of the way of the advancing lava flow (again this was 2014). He was amazingly calm after having spent 3 weeks moving, but as he put it, you accept that when you live on Pele’s island.
John, Our Driver/Tour Guide at Volcanos National Park
Big Island Chocolate Factory
The first stop was the Big Island Chocolate Factory, where we were able to watch workers make the chocolate. They also gave out plenty of samples and of course, there were lots of sales! We drove by a beautiful Japanese garden, the largest outside of Japan, and then up to the park.
Our first stop at the park was the Kilauea Iki Trailhead, where we were able to look down into the Kilauea Iki Crater, formed in 1959. From there we went to the Thurston Lava Tube, where we got out and were able to walk through the lava tube – what an amazing experience THAT was!
Thurston Lava Tube
We then went on to the Kilauea Caldera, which is where the Halemaumau Crater was formed in 1974 when it erupted. This was also the site of the Jagger Museum, named after the first volcanoist who started collecting data and studying volcanos. It was a very good excursion but warranted a good nap back at the cabin!
Dinner was back at the Skyline Dinner with more friends from our group.
Kona – Day 4
Loading tender to go ashore
At Kona, ships are unable to dock, so we anchored off the coast and tendered in. After breakfast we got our tender tickets and were shortly on our way to Kona. Generally speaking, Kona is a completely different climate than the rest of the islands and is usually VERY hot and humid. Today was no exception.
Pride of America, with a tender, at Kona
We caught the shuttle to Hilo Hatties and loaded up on Hawaiian shirts and macadamia nuts and returned to the pier. Lunch was at Paradise Cafe, upstairs overlooking the harbor (and ship). Dale had hot chicken wings and I had pulled pork with a mango salsa. It was quite good.
Tonight we splurged and paid the surcharge for the steakhouse, Cagney’s. Dale had the St. Louis ribs and I had the filet – both were excellent! For dessert, Dale had the raspberry creme brulee and I had the Oreo cheesecake. So much for that diet!
Filet with scalloped potatoes at Cagney’s
From there we hopped into one of the hot tubs to warm up a little and then got dressed and went down to the Hollywood Theatre for a Tribute to Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons by the group,” Oh What A Night,” four guys that were VERY good, both vocally and with their performance.
Kauai – Day 5
Today was our excursion to Wiamea Canyon, so we met our group at the Hollywood Theatre and walked down to the busses – all four of them! A young Hawaiian lady was our tour guide/driver, but sadly, she was not as good as John. Our first stop was the Spouting Horn out at Poipu Beach. This is a natural formation of lava that spouts water when the waves rush in. It also hosts some local vendors with hand crafted items and rest rooms.
We then headed out to another store, which had a variety of refreshments and of course, another opportunity for shopping, before heading up to the canyon. The drive from the store to the canyon is a winding road with lots of ess curves that takes about 20 minutes before you actually arrive at lookout point. I had forgotten how beautiful the canyon is. So many striated layers of earth, some waterfalls and of course, helicopters and planes doing tours of the canyon.
We got back to the ship and had a couple of hours before it would be time to meet to go to the luau.
Hula at Kiohana Plantation
We had the 4:30 meeting time for the Luau Kalamaku – apparently there was a 4, 4:15, 4:45 and 5 p.m. meeting time as well! We found out later that there were about 750 from the ship in attendance!!! WOW!
We had been to luaus before so figured it would be about the same – boy were we wrong! This was WAY better than your usual luau! This was a performance that included lights, costuming, make up, props and for lack of another explanation, would call it an opera, done in true Hawaiian style. They followed a story line depicting a father and his daughter that had fallen in love. The story followed the father and boyfriend as they went to find the new land and then returned, the couple married and then ended with the birth of the new generation. It was VERY well done – in EVERY way. HIGLY RECOMMENDED!!
Kauai – Day 6
My husband left early for his helicopter ride of Kauai – this was his third and most favorite thing to do on Kauai. NOTE: You can book this through the cruise line, but you can usually save some money by booking direct.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
Since I was involved with my group the entire morning, I met my husband for lunch at the Cadillac Cafe, which is the 50s diner on Deck 6 midship – they had the usual diner menu, so he had a hot dog and I had a cheeseburger and fries, then we split a hot fudge brownie – it was all very tasty, although the service was a little odd.
As Platinum members of Norwegian Cruise Lines, we had been invited to a special event held out on the bow of the ship at 2 p.m. as we sailed from Kauai, so headed out with hats and sun glasses. Boy was it hot out there and the reflective light from the white of the ship seemed to make it worse. As you might expect, they were serving champagne and mimosas, so it was a very nice event. After the welcome speeches and actual sailing, it got a tad breezy, although that was welcomed as it did cool us down a little bit, but we lasted about 1/2 hour before it got just too hot.
Bow of the ship special event
We went back to the cabin and started packing so that we could enjoy sailing by the Napali Coastline, which would happen at about 5 p.m. Since we had already unzipped the expandable part of the main suitcase in order to come, we had to do some real re-organizing, but we got it all into the suitcases and went back out to the balcony to enjoy the beautiful scenery!
Sadly, the wonderful narration of the coastline was only available through the public address system on open passenger decks, not through the Navigation channel, bridge channel or even through the loud speakers in the hall, so we missed out on that, but we were NOT going to move from our balcony to one of the crowded open passenger decks just to listen to the narration.
After the ship turned around and headed back to Honolulu, we went upstairs to the Skyline Dining Room for our final dinner. We noticed ‘Table 1’ was in the process of being cleared, we asked if we could sit there, knowing it would be a quiet table and were soon ushered to our table. The waiter had a bit of an attitude but we ordered and got through dinner and went upstairs to the Mardi Gras lounge for “The Perfect Couple” Game – since we had never seen this, we really didn’t know what to expect. It was not as good as the Not So Newlywed Game, but entertaining.
From there we went down a deck to the Hollywood Theatre for the ‘final show’ – the Variety Show. The magician (whom we had missed before) was back, as well as the Oh What A Night guys for some more Frankie Vallie tunes and then the crew did their thank you’s by bringing up on stage as many crew from the various areas of the ship to wave and say good-bye. This is always an emotional event.
Oahu – Day 7
We pulled into Honolulu Harbor and had our final breakfast. We met for the last time in the Hollywood Theatre and joined the rest of our group at 9 a.m. and disembarked for the last time and boarded the bus. Since our flight wasn’t until 11 p.m., we had the whole day to kill, so we did the disembarkation tour, that would take us 140 miles around the island of Oahu, with a stop for lunch and various places along the way. Leo was our bus driver/tour guide and he was delightful and had 35, 40 and even 80 point questions throughout the day (of course no one was keeping score and the points were random, but it added a sense of fun to the day). It was well worth the money for the tour AND was very informative.
Napali Coastline of Kauai
Due to a recent experience with some clients and their challenge to get into a country that required a visa, I thought I would take this time to explain the difference between a visa and a passport. I have a feeling they thought that their passport was the visa – it is not.
“Generally speaking,” traveling to most European countries does not require a visa, but if you are planning to travel to an Asian, African or South America country, you should check to see if the specific country you will be traveling to requires a separate visa. Some do, some do not, and the list changes from time to time, so it’s important to check. You don’t want a surprise when you try to board the plane!
Here is the Wikipedia definition of both a passport and a visa:
|A passport is a government-issued identification which allows the passenger to travel freely outside the home country (subject to regulations of other countries) and, with limited exceptions, is an essential requirement for international travel.For many country pairs, a passport alone is insufficient and must contain a visa issued by the destination country. Neither passport nor visas guarantee entry into a foreign country – this is always ultimately subject to the discretion of the immigration officer at the border.
|A visa allows the person issued it to travel to a foreign country and there request entry into the alien country that issued it. Depending on that foreign country’s legal system, the visa may also be the legal basis for staying in and/or exiting from that country.In most cases, visas are affixed or rubber-stamped within a passport but, in some cases, they may be issued on separate sheets of paper.
Sample Chinese Visa
Tom and Gabby aboard the Star Princess in San Francisco
Gabby and Janet in Alaska
Our cruise to Alaska was the trip of a lifetime! I wanted to thank you for all your help getting us ready for our first cruise. Your tips made all the difference in the world and I think I followed everyone of them. It made us feel like seasoned cruisers! I never would have known what to bring and how to pack for this if it wasn’t for you.
Your leads on who to use for excursions were great. We loved Ketchican Cab Company. Dave was great and took us to all the out of the way areas. We saw eagles, bears and beautiful scenery, and we got to each location way before the packed buses. It was the best way to see Ketchican.
Black Bear – Ketchikan
Gabby and Janet at Potlatch Totem Park, Ketchikan
I wanted to share with you one of the excursions we used in Juneau. We used Adventures in Alaska and they were fantastic. They have a smaller boat that fits around 8 – 10 people and is very comfortable. Our captain was very knowledgeable about the area and knew exactly where to find the whales. They had refreshments on the boat and really tried to take us around and show us what we wanted to see. They were really great to work with and I highly recommend them! And if you check out their Tripadvisor page, we are not the only ones that feel that way.
Mendenhall Glacier 2014
Tom, Gabby and Janet at Mendenhall Glacier 2014
Thank you again for all the time you spent chatting with me and answering all our questions. You will be the first one I call when we are ready for our next cruise!
Cruising Tips, Packing Tips, Travel and Cruising Tips, Travel Tips
As you near your departure for your cruise, you’ll need to pack for your trip. These are the suggested items to have in your carry-on luggage (NOT to pack into your checked luggage). I’ve included items for both arriving the same day you board as well as if you will be arriving a day early. You may not need all of these items, but this is a suggested list (and memory jogger).
Plan to wear a shirt with a pocket on your travel day – you can put your boarding pass and passport or ID in the pocket, which is VERY convenient as you make connections throughout the day (although in today’s world, many use the QR code on their phone.
Carry on your person:
• Personal identification (driver’s license/passport)
• Travel itinerary – your FULL itinerary (including flight numbers and times) from the time you leave your home to the time you walk in your door again (I have found this EXTREMELY helpful, especially if your travel plans change and you need to contact the hotel at your destination) all on one sheet (your travel agent should provide you with this)
• Travel documents such as:
• Tickets/Boarding passes
• Reservation and confirmation numbers for your air, car and lodging
• Travel vouchers or coupons, especially if they have been prepaid
• Relevant membership cards (hotel, air, rental, etc.)
• Money (cash and currency at your destination)
• Credit card(s) NOTE: If you are traveling with your spouse, both of you should have cards from different accounts, just in case something should happen and you are unable to use one card, you will still have another card for the rest of your trip.
• ATM cards (make sure you know your 4-digit PIN number)
• Valuable jewelry inside passport holder inside your clothing (NOTE: you really should try to avoid taking any real valuable jewelry when you travel, but if you do, this is for you)
• Luggage tags for the ship that you will put on your suitcase AFTER you’ve arrived at your embarkation city
• Camera (with accessories, extra batteries, memory cards, lenses, etc)
• Travel entertainment (book, crossword puzzle book, handwork, etc.)
• Change of clothes (in case your luggage is lost or detained)
• Toothbrush and toothpaste
• Hand sanitizer
• Medications (including birth control)
• Sleepwear (again in case your luggage is lost or detained)
• Make sure you have packed any sharp scissors, liquids over 3 ounces, knives or other item that might be confiscated at the airport in your checked luggage. NOTE: When you pack to return home, remember to REPACK these items into your luggage again for the return trip!!
• Small ziploc bag to put any liquids in to get through airport security
• Inflatable neck pillow, ear plugs and eye mask (If it’s an overnight flight)
FOR THE SHIP (for that down time before your luggage arrives):
• Sunscreen – even if you’re going to a cool place, the reflection off the water out on the ocean can still be brutal, so have it handy
• Swimsuit – if you plan to visit the pool
• Sun visor/hat (with chin strap) – Again, even if you are going on a winter trip, you may still want/need a visor to help with the glare from the reflection of the water – the strap is for the wind so it doesn’t get airborn!