cruising, Uncategorized

Marella Explorer – Land of the Midnight Sun Cruise – June 2019

Day 1 – Embarkation

In my opinion, Newcastle port is not very well organised. The embarkation process was very disjointed and puts a bit of a dampener on the start of your holiday. We (I was travelling with three other ladies on this cruise and cabin sharing with one of them to cut the cost down), arrived at the terminal at around 11.30 having walked from the North Shields Premier Inn which is located at the entrance to the port (so is a good place to stay as the walk is all downhill). We were then sent to the red building to drop off our cases. Because I hadn’t paid £48 to prebook my cabin, I had no idea of my cabin number, so it was then that I learnt I would be in cabin 4078. We queued for around 45 minutes where they attached a label with our cabin number on and took it off to be put on the ship. The next time we would see them was outside the cabin. We then went back outside to wait for a courtesy bus to take us back to check in at the terminal.

Once back at the terminal, we then had to queue again to collect a document and our cruise cards, then wait for our allocated letter to be called to check in and go through security. Because Gill (my cabin buddy was running late, I asked if I could check in without her and was told by one of the ladies that I couldn’t and would have to wait for Gill to arrive. So I sat down with Lesley and Sue (my other two buddies) and waited for our letter (L) to be called. Gill still hadn’t arrive when our letter was called so they went a head and boarded while I waited. After another hour or more of waiting (and I was getting hungry), I asked another lady if I could leave Gill’s card with them for her to collect and they said ‘yes, just leave the envelope’. Why they couldn’t have done this an hour and a half ago, I don’t know, so I carried on to the next queue!!

I queued to get my photo added to my card then again to go through security, then to get on the bus to go to the ship, then finally (having driven the long way around) we were dropped off at the ship and able to board. All in all, the above process could be improved as it seemed very disjointed and unorganised. I am not sure if this is all down to the port itself or TUI, I’ll let you decide!!

Marella Explorer waiting for us to board

I boarded mid ship, deck 5 near the reception area, so to find my cabin, I just went down one level and easily found it as my cabin was midship. I had an inside cabin and (as stated above) was sharing with Gill to save money as Solo travellers tend to be penalised with a ‘solo supplement’. By cabin sharing, I can travel as a solo, meet up with people for dinner but still also do my own thing.

Cabin number 4078 – inside – Deck 4.

The Cabin has a lot of room and wardrobe/drawer space. Bathroom is quite big too. After unpacking and settling in, I met up with Lesley, Gill and Sue for dinner and was joined by two other solos, Jim and Julie. Over the period of the holiday, I did find that there was a lot of engine/air con noise in this cabin – not sure what, but it was quite loud. I was told (by a member of housekeeping) that floor 4 is the worse for this noise!

As always, first night dinners are never brilliant due to my diet, so had to make do with what could be made for me. I had a lettuce wrapped veggie roll with a peanut sauce to start, followed a a vegetable tart (but with no tart) and a lovely apple pie with sorbet for dessert (this was the best bit of the meal).

After dinner, we made our way to the front of the ship to watch the ‘variety’ show which was just a taster of what was going to be shown throughout the cruise. I went to a few of the shows and as always, some were good, some not so – It’s a personal choice, so I have avoided commented on the shows throughout this blog and mainly kept the blog to the tours and ports of call.

The evening was then spent in one of the many bars onboard called the Indigo. There is also a nightclub and casino there.

Day 2 – Sea Day

After having lunch, I spent most of my day in the ships spa, just chilling and relaxing. They had an offer on of £99 for the whole cruise and it consists of using the spa area (no treatments) which reminded me a bit of walking into the spa at Centerparks in Longleat. Beautiful, spaced out and isn’t that busy at all.

Day 3 – Bergen

Bergen is the Gateway to the Fjords of Norway. As a UNESCO World Heritage City and a European City of Culture, the Bergen region has the ideal combination of nature, culture and exciting urban life all year around.

I had a tour booked which was the Monstraumen Cruise. Deep fjords, steep mountains, mighty waterfalls and powerful currents – all year round!
On the way from Bergen you will have a good view of the famous Bryggen, the old city of Bergen along with the rest of Bergen`s harbour basin.

The cruise continues under Nordhordalandsbrua up the 27-kilometer long Osterfjorden in Hordaland province. Innermost in that deep fjord is Modalen, the second smallest municipality in Norway with about 380 residents. Underway, the fjord narrows between the steep mountains as you head through the strong currents of the shallow and narrow Mostraumen strait. You’ll also see waterfalls that can give your face a really refreshing shower at times of peak water flow! We sail our bow right up to a waterfall before turning back in Modalen and retracing our route through the magnificent landscape.

There was a slight problem with this tour for some people (limited mobility and the disabled) as it turned out there was a 10-15 minute walk to get to the dock where we got the small cruiser. Even at the cruise ship, some people left because of this as they were unable to walk. I (and several others in the group), spoke to the excursion rep, Kelly, and we all found her rather rude and abrupt as she was unable to understand that it hadn’t been specified that there was a 10 minute walk to the cruiser on the description. Had this been said, some people probably wouldn’t have booked. However, on the return trip, it was announced that, for those that needed it, there was a bus waiting at the port. I think Marella could have handled it a bit better, but at least they found a solution for the return trip. As well as our cruise ship, there was three others in port, including Fred Olsen’s Boudicca.

Fred Olsen’s Boudicca

Day 4 – Olden

Olden is a small pleasant village at the end of the Nordfjord. A ten minutes walk from the quay will bring you to the centre of Olden, with shops, outlet stores, cafés, ATM and a post-office.

Olden in absolutely stunning. I had a great trip (again organised by Marella). It was called Majestic Kjenndalen. This time, we had a coach ride from the port (after a short tender ride as P&O’s Britannia was also in port today), to a small cruiser to cruise lake Lovatn.

We cruised to our first stop which was a restaurant on the lakeside called Kjenndalstova where we were given hot drinks and waffles. Surprisingly, they were able to do some gluten free/lactose free vegetarian waffles, so for once I managed to eat!! I was very grateful for this as its so unusual on these trips to get anything but this restaurant was very obliging.

We boarded the coach and then headed to see the glacier. The road was very narrow and in places we were high up with very little protecting us from the edge of the road (which went into the lake we had just cruised on. On reaching the glacier, there was a short walk of about 10-15 minutes to the viewing point. Walking about there was some lovely waterfalls either side of us. The Glacier looked fantastic.

Panoramic image from the glacier viewing area.

On the way back, we stopped at the location where there was a memorial for a land slide that had killed a lot of people. You can read about it from Wiki here. It was a very pretty and well looked after place. For somewhere of such devastation, beauty certainly shone through.

A little further down the road we stopped again and had the opportunity to take some photos at the grass roofed holiday homes. When the grass on the roof gets too long, they bring their goats to cut it.

During the trip, I bumped into Jim and we decided to meet up back at the port to do the cable car. While I was waiting, I saw Lesley and Sue and told them about the cable car so they decided to join us. It was quite expensive (£75). We got on the blue bus that took us to the Sky Bar from right where the tender dropped us off. It was a five minute bus ride and we were at the bottom of the rock face we were going to ascend. It looked high up!!

Within 5 minutes, we were at the top and ‘wow’, the views were spectacular. Up the top, there was a shop, cafe and restaurant. There was a horse shoe to commemorate the opening of the sky bar which was in Moi 2017 (May?). They are still working on some of the landscape up there and it looked like there were footpaths to go exploring which I didn’t do, but, if I ever come back, I think I would go up there for the whole day and have a good look around. I was worried about paying £75, but it was definitely worth it.

Panoramic photo showing the lake to the glacier on the left, Marella Explorer anchored in the middle and the way out to the right

We then headed back to get the tender back to the ship. I have put a 5 minute video of the trip back down on my Facebook page.

So today, I got to see a glacier and felt like I was on top of the world – fantastic day. The Marella tour was good and would recommend this one. There is also another organised tour to the Briksdal Glacier which Sue and Lesley went on and they said it was a good trip, so maybe another one to consider. Their tour had a 45 minute walk to the glacier or you could book an alternative tour which included a troll car ride up so you didn’t need to walk as far but could also experience the glacier. This is probably the one I would book if I returned.

Day 4 – Molde

Molde (24.000 inhabitants) is a busy industry and trading centre, in addition to being the episcopate and the administrative centre for the county of Møre og Romsdal. The “Town of Roses” also has various educational facilities as well as offering many cultural activities, including an international literature festival and the famous annual Molde International Jazz Festival.

I had nothing booked for this port as it was visiting the troll wall which I had previously done from Andalsnes. On listening to some of the passengers on board, one of the trips was not that good which was one that included the great Atlantic Road. Sue, Lesley, Julie and Jim had booked one called the Valley of the Trolls and they said it was fantastic.

At night now, it is very light and these photos were taken well into the early hours of the morning!

Day 5 – Sea Day

At 7am this morning, we passed the Artic Circle. Again, I spent most of the day relaxing in the thermal spa. Lots of people have reporting spotting dolphins and whales today. I haven’t seen any, but I never do! I missed seeing them on the cruise I did earlier this year.

Day 6 – Honningsvag

Today was a trip to visit the North Cape (another Marella organised excursion). The trip up was fabulous. Lovely views of the mountains and reindeer. We stopped at a Sami Camp for a while and had the opportunity to take photos of the traditional Sami with reindeer and their teepee.

The coach then carried on to the North Cape. Our tour was really lucky and we got to get fantastic views and photos and just as we were leaving, the cloud came down and you couldn’t see very well. This remained for the people who were on the afternoon tours. Take a look at my photos and the one around the monument of the seven circles (find more info on this) was one of the last ones I took and you can see how cloudy/foggy it was.

When we (Jim was with me on this tour) returned to the tender port, there is an Ice bar right where we get on and off the tender, so we visited it. It was cold in there, but felt warmer than it did on the North Cape! We had to pay to go in, and were given a drink in a shot glass made of ice. Fortunately, they were non alcoholic drinks and we got to try two. We were then told that when we leave, we throw the glass (made of ice) into the water and make a wish.

As well as the ice bar and some shops, there was a tourist information center with a shop and outside was some trolls and a statue of Bamse, a famous St Bernard dog.

Day 7 – Alta

I had visited Alta in 2018 on my northern lights cruise so opted to do an excursion with Marella called ‘Alta River Boat Cruise’ (it was also £5 for a shuttle to town and it was Sunday and everything was shut). From the description, I was sure what to expect. We had a lovely coach ride to the location (it was at the place where they build the Ice Hotel in the winter). When we got there, we were split into two groups and one had waffles and tea whilst the other group had the ‘river cruise’ trip. When you think about river cruise you think about a small cruiser. Our cruise boat was this;

Not totally what I was expecting, but was a fun and exhilarating trip.

Where we were for this excursion, I could see the slate mine I visited in 2018 up in the mountain. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to have any waffles as they had no gluten free ones this time. It was a great excursion and our guide was really informative.

Day 8 – Tromso

I had a bit of a lazy day in Tromso. Marella charge to take you into town and having visited Tromso previously, I decided to have a spa day. I had really sore head, neck and shoulders so treated myself to an acupuncture appointment which was very through and helped ease my pain. I then had my nails done as mine were chipped. I took a few photos from the ship and instead of being shrouded in white, it was green, so totally different to when I came here in March 2018.

A lovely photo of the Marella Explorer in Alta

Day 9 – Bodo

It is a small town and the cruise ships are only just starting to discover it’s beauty and the residents of Bodo are starting to invest in building hotels and improving the roads etc.

At this port, I opted for another excursion with Marella called Scenic Sights and the Arctic Rail. I was expecting the tour to have booked seats on the rail for all the group to be together, but unfortunately this wasn’t the case and we had members of the general public in the coach we were told to get on. Unfortunately, I chose the wrong side and my views were not brilliant.

After an hour on the train, we got off and headed to Rognan where the Blood Road Museum and some old traditional buildings were. Again, we were split into two groups. One group looked at the museum while the other group went to eat. There was nothing I could eat, so I decided to go outside and take some photos (I took lots!).

We then went on to look around the Blood Road Museum. It is all in Norwegian, but the tour guide gave us lots of information.

The coach driver took us on a scenic coach ride, where we stopped at a cafe and were given a sweet tortilla with some brown cheese (Brunost) that tastes like caramel and is actually brown in colour and very sweet. I didn’t get to try it but had a meringue and bottle of water. Those that I did ask found it very sweet, but different.

We continued in the coach to a location near Bodo where the water forms a mini whirlpool (called Saltraumen whirlpool). Here is a link to the Wiki page about it. It was very interesting to watch although the tide was quite low so not as strong as it could have been.

Panoramic photo of the viewing area

We then carried on back to the ship. We were the last group back and they were waiting for us so they could leave.

Day 11 – Sea Day

I made the most of the spa and had a further acupuncture treatment. I did find that the choice of entertainment on sea days on Marella wasn’t much and preferred to just chill either in the spa or on deck.

Day 12 – Flam (pronounced Flom)

This was a tender port (the only one we were supposed to have had on this trip). Flam is a very pretty place. I had booked a tour called Naeroy Fjord and Stalheim, It was a fjord cruise with coffee and cakes at the Stalheim hotel and then a ride down a very winding road and back to Flam. I took many photos, but I will put a few up here and the rest on my facebook page.

Naeroy Fjord – Spectacular. The boat went right up to a waterfall so a crew member could get some of the water for us to try.

The Stalheim hotel was a red building on top of a hill and had fantastic views. There was also and old world war bunker there. We had a short stop here (coffee and danish too) before heading down the winding road with 11 hairpin bends – again, we had fabulous views and saw a couple of waterfalls.

After this, we had a short trip back to the port.

I had booked a rail ticket to do the Flam Railway independently (it cost £55 for a return on the train) but ended up cancelling it as the train got back at 16.55 and the last tender was at 17.00 and I didn’t want to risk missing it (and not sure if they would have waited!). If you do want to do it, there is a separate queue for independent travelers and you can book when you get there or online. When you get off the ship (or tender), it is a 2-3 minute walk to the ticket office and station so very easy to do independently.

Cruising out of Flam was fabulous and we had some live singing from Pippa Langhorne. Having the scenery of the mountains loom over the ship was absolutely amazing. We had some rain, but that didn’t stop us still enjoying it.

Panoramic of the ship leaving Flam

Day 13 – Sea Day

Another sea day and on our way back to Newcastle. I had a lovely day chilling in the spa and then having my final acupuncture treatment. It has definitely helped with my neck pain (which I knew it would). Tonight was the last night on board and at midnight the ship was pretty quiet.

Day 14 – Disembarkation

I was off the ship by 8.30am and on my way to the train station for a 5 hour train journey back to Bristol.

As always on a cruise, the staff was outstanding. I loved the casino, managed by the lovely Uros, and can’t fault any of the staff on board. They really tried to help with my dietary requirements and most of the time did well. I managed to request that I had the same table every night (or at least the same waiter) and it worked really well.

I hope you found this blog informative and not too long! As always, I will post all my photos on my Facebook page. If you are looking for a cruise or holiday, don’t hesitate to contact me and I would be more than happy to look/book for you.


Sydney Part 1

After visiting Newcastle, we travelled slowly overnight to our scheduled stop in Sydney. We were due to be there in the early hours on the 20th February staying overnight until 11pm on 21st. The first day, we were due to be anchored in the harbour and would get to Sydney by tender. The tender would take us to the Man of War steps right by the Sydney Opera House. The Man of War steps is also right near the Botanical Gardens, so a good opportunity to take a stroll though them too, if its what you like doing.

I was going to take the train to Katoomba, but the weather was very low cloud and intermittent showers, so I opted to do a hop on hop off bus. I decided I would get off and change to the Bondi Beach tour.

The photos below are of the ‘living’ building which I loved when I came to Sydney in 2017.

I got off at the stop for the Australian National Maritime Museum. This was included as part of my city ticket and also included entrance on to the HMAS Vampire (ship) and HMAS Onslow (submarine). I found the submarine to be very small considering the amount of crew it would have to hold and the beds were tiny!

After completing (there is still a small section of the tour I haven’t done so will find a time to do the whole tour) as much as I could and getting back to Circular Quay, I decided to go back to the ship, have dinner. After Dinner, I got the tender back to shore, and by then it was dark.

As I was waiting the Arcadia was scheduled to dock at the Overseas Passenger Terminal which is located in Circular Quay.

I had planned to do some more touring on the second day (21st Feb), but due to Cyclone Oma, Brisbane Port had been shut, so I spent the morning trying to sort our my onward journey. In the end, I got off the ship and went on a small cruise around the harbour. The weather was, again, raining and very grey.

So overnight in the early hours of the 22nd February, a letter was slipped under the door from reception informing us (all the people who were due to get off in Brisbane) that due to Cyclone Oma, we would not be getting to Brisbane until the 26th. As my second cruise was delayed, I thought that it would be handy to stay on the ship until Brisbane. Unfortunately, it was not possible to stay on the ship till Brisbane as it transpired that it was very possible that they wouldn’t be stopping there at all. Because of this a flight was booked and P&O had booked us all into various hotels. Of course, this delay also meant that I had three days in Brisbane. What I did in Brisbane will be shared on the next blog!


Noumea, New Caledonia

As we were preparing to leave Lautoka, the captain made an announcement regarding a cyclone weather system (named Oma) was heading to Port Vila, so we were now not going there. I was disappointed in this as it was the port we were going to on my Birthday (February 15th) and I had planned and booked a helicopter ride. The new plan was that we would arrive in Noumea at around 3pm on the 15th and stay overnight and that the crew were trying to get us an additional port in Newcastle, New South Wales for the 19th February. Port Vila was the second port we were going to miss because of the cyclone, and as much as it was a disappointment, its good to see that P&O consider the safety of the passengers over trying to get to a port where a cyclone is forming. Lots of passengers were not happy, though and still continue to moan.

We had a lovely sail in to Noumea and arrived as predicted at about 3pm. We were in a container port, so the only way out was by courtesy bus.

I decided that I needed to get off and thought I would get the bus to the terminal port so that I can access some free WiFi. That was not happening! There was so many passengers with the same idea, that I had no chance of connecting to the internet. I then went across to the supermarket to buy some chocolates for the staff on the ship. I discovered the next time I had internet that I has spent a lot of money and also heard a lot of people feeling like they had been conned with the amount they were charged. I returned to the ship and had dinner in the restaurant and was surprised with a birthday cake from my husband and the waiters sang happy birthday to me.. It was a really nice birthday.

There was a shuttle bus running to Lemon Bay in the evening, so I decided to go along and take a look. Lots of people on the returning coach said that it was very expensive. I wonder if the shop owners up the prices when they know there is a cruise ship in port!

After a brief outing, I returned to the ship and went to bed in preparation for my morning tour.

When I woke up, I was greeted with rain and wind (I am guessing that this was down to Cyclone Oma – it was also very humid so my camera lens kept steaming up so some photos are a bit hazy). For my tour, I chose highlights of Noumea and the Aquarium. The highlight tour included driving around through the old town. The guide was very informative and said the old town was his favourite area of Noumea.

We then drove to the aquarium where we had an hour to look around. The animals looked a bit happier than in the one in San Francisco.

We then headed through town and back to the ship (you can see how windy it is from some of the trees in the photos).

I found Noumea OK. Probably not the best visit due to the weather, but I also found it very expensive and hard to convert from French francs to GBP. I don’t think it is a place that I would go out of my way to visit on its own but it would be nice to return for a day trip on another cruise one day. Next stop is now Newcastle, NSW on 19th february due to the itinerary change because of Oma!


Lautoka, Fiji

We arrived in Lautoka on 13th February. We were due into Pago Pago on 11th (this was a change to our original port of Apia which was changed at the end of December), but due to Cyclone Oma, it was going to be missed. We had been at sea for 7 days since leaving Hawaii on the 5th, having lost a day due to crossing the international dateline (we didn’t have the 11th in the end). We had about 48 hours of really bad seas (force 9/10) and large sea swells of around 6m. We finally docked in Lautoka and it was a lovely sunny day.

Originally, I was going to do an island escape tour to Tivua Island, but due to developing Bronchitis (again!!), I was now on an antibiotic that made your more sensitive to UV, so changed it to ‘Fijian Homestead and History’ tour which was more coach based. It was four hours long.

We left the port and headed out and stopped for a photo opportunity near the ‘sleeping giant’ mountain. Called so because, if you look closely, you can see the outline of a face and its looks like it is sleeping!

We passed several sugar cane fields, which all had railway tracks along the front to take the sugar cane to the refinery, which was near where we docked. It was really nice to see a side of Fiji that you don’t normally see.

After about 20 minutes, we arrived at South Sea Orchid Garden. We were shown a beautiful home which was steeped in history and had a lot of furniture that went back four generations and were either made or brought to the island from family members. We also met the guides grandparents.

We were then shown to a tea room where we were given tea, cake and sandwiches (nothing for me as they didn’t cater for me so I just had water – they offered me juice, but I was fine with the water) and we were then invited to take a look around the gardens at the beautiful lily pond and orchids. We spent about an hour here.

We then headed to Nadi and had an opportunity to shop for some souvenirs, but I found the shop rather crowded as several other coaches turned up at the same time.

carved sculpture outside shops

After Nadi, we then headed to a traditional Fiji Village called ‘Sabeto’.

It was quite strange in the village. The homes seem very basic, yet all the villagers had mobile phones. It was quite weird that mobile phones would be put above the basics in every day life!

In the village, we went to the village hall and had a cava welcome by the heads of the village. I will post a couple of videos on my facebook page of the performances from the villagers.

After the village we headed back to the ship.

I enjoyed seeing a different side to Fiji that you would normally see. The next stop was due to be Port Vila on 15th February which was also my Birthday. Due to Cyclone Oma, it was cancelled and we headed to Noumea instead and would arrive at 3pm 15/2/2019 for an overnight stay.


Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Well, this port was a bit of a surprise. Due to Cyclone Oma, and use missing two South Pacific ports, the captain announced that on the 19th February we would visit an additional port in Newcastle. The tours team on the ship managed to get together some tours so I opted to do the Dolphin Watch and Port Stevens tour.

On a couple of the Arcadia Facebook groups, there was a couple of grumbles from fellow Australians about going to Newcastle and how rubbish it was. I was then worried that it would be horrible, but was pleasantly surprised how nice it was. We were docked in a commercial coal port, so on fist sight all you could see was the coal sorting frames and containers. Once we were on the coach and heading to Port Stephens, the scenery started to change and it was a very pretty place. We stopped at Birubi Point. Apparently, a lot of the sand from the dunes are exported and a lot of it is exported to Hawaii.

After a brief 5-8min stop, we then headed to the harbour at Port Stephens to board the boat to see the dolphins. Whilst waiting, I noticed lots of people looking up at the tree I was under and they were taking photos. Turned out, there was a couple of cockatiels sat in the tree. Very strange site for us Brits!

When we were on the boat, we took a casual cruise out into the harbour to look for Dolphins. It wasn’t long before we spotted some dolphins. It was quite a big pod of them. They were fishing, though so were not interested in playing for us to see them properly. I will post some photos below. They’re not brilliant, but the boat we were on abide by rules to keep the dolphins safe by keeping 50m away.

We then cruised back to the pontoon stopping briefly to allow passengers to do some ‘boom netting’. Boom Netting is a net at the back of the boat that you can sit in while the boat moves along – a bit like a mobile spa bath!!

We then had an hour drive back to the ship.

I then dropped off some shopping at the ship and caught the shuttle bus into Newcastle town centre. It was pretty much like any town centre. I took a few photos in town and on the way back.

I was surprised how pretty Port Stephens was considering the comments from the fellow Aussie travellers. I would like to think that all ports have something nice to do in, you just have to keep an open mind!


San Francisco

We had two days in San Francisco but unfortunately I didn’t get off until late afternoon on the first day. I decided to take the hop on hop off bus on my own (I had purchased a Go City Card which was discounted for five attractions (I purchased it online before leaving for the trip)).

It was very fascinating travelling through San Francisco, we were driving through several districts and one that stuck a cord was the Tenderloin district. The tenderloin district is the poorest and has the highest number of homeless and driving through, you could really see this.

The bus also took us through the financial district and to Union Square.

The whole of the tour took around three hours and included going across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was very windy and after getting back on bus for the return trip, I opted to stay at the bottom of the bus. Because the sun not being out, the bridge doesn’t look as colourful as the photos you see. I did manage to get a really nice photo from the Walt Disney Museum (it will be below as it was on day 2)

The bus then returned to Pier 39 where I visited the Aquarium. I found the aquarium pretty sad as the enclosures seem quite small. Take a look at the photos and decide for yourself. Usually, the aquariums that I have been to have been quite big but this one wasn’t very big or nice (in my opinion).

I walked back to the ship to have a last dinner with my table mates as three of them were getting off tomorrow.

On day two, I decided to get up and be off the ship by 10am. I got an Uber to The Walt Disney Museum. I am a big fan of Walt Disney and the very first holiday abroad that I went on was to Florida – it was a competition that my mum and dad won. I even remember the day we got the letter! It was when I was leaving for my last year of junior school (year 6) trip to Swanage. This was in 1984 and most of my brothers had gone on cruises for their year trip, but because of the Falklands War, the ships had been called to duty, anyway, I digress!!

Going into the Walt Disney Family museum was like reading his biography in 3D. I walked around in awe of everything! There was a lot of information and original drawings. Here is a selection of the photos I took (and I took loads!) I will place lots more photos on my Facebook page on my return when I have better internet).

There was a walkway that had ceiling to floor glass and had the most fabulous view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

There was then a spiral walkway that reminded me a bit of Epcot centre and at the bottom was a layout of Disney World.

Walking on through, there was a lot of interactive activities to take part in too. Learning how to operate an animatronic parrot and it isn’t as easy as it looks!

After leaving the Disney museum, I got an Uber to the Union Square in the hope of finding Lombard Street on the trolley. Lombard Street is an east–west street in San Francisco, California that is famous for a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin turns. The trolley stopped near Lombard Street, but it looked too far to walk, so I got back on a different trolley and carried on the route which ended at Fisherman’s Wharf.

One of the museums I wanted to visit was near there so I decided to go visit. This was Ripleys Museum. Lots of strange things in the museum – see photos!

Just a short walk away was San Francisco’s Madam Tussauds. As I had been to the one in Sydney, I decided I should visit this one too. It was pretty much the same as the Sydney one, only a little bit more based on America. I was happy to see that there was no President Trump there!!

I was also going to do the dungeons, but opted not to. I have done the one in London, though.

After I left Madam Tussauds, I carried on walking along the waterfront towards pier 39. Pier 39 is famous for its sea lion colony!

I then took a walk through the shops on the pier, purchased some sweets and chocolates for the crew back on board, had a 10 minute walk outside the Hard Rock Cafe while trying to decide if I could walk back or get a bike taxi. I decided that I didn’t want to let a poor cyclist take my weight so opted to take a slow walk back! I made it back to the ship, but was extremely tired, but was happy with what I had seen in San Francisco.

San Francisco was lovely and is a place where I would like to visit again. So many places I didn’t get to see and do, so I will be back!


Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas is located on the Baja Peninsula and has gained a reputation for its stunning scenery, near perfect weather, underwater nature reserve and whale watching.

Cabo was the first tender port on the cruise and the first ever for me. In our horizon the night before was information about the tender and, if you wanted to get off in the morning, it was a ticketing process until announced otherwise. I had an excursion booked in the afternoon, so decided to take it easy in the morning and get off around 12pm which (I hoped) would be after the ticketing was finished and you could just proceed to the A deck where you would catch the tender.

In case anyone is reading and doesn’t know what the tender is, it is where you anchor off shore and have to catch a boat (usually one of the life boats with a capacity of around 100) to the shore.

I was waiting for around 10 minutes while the offloaded the passengers on the tender that had just arrived. To get on the tender, there is a requirement to be able to step (unassisted) 18″ (45cm) and to also go down around 8 steps to reach the tender platform. On the tender there was only a few passengers and mostly crew heading to the shore.

As we were cruising to the shore on the tender, we passed a fishing boat and as we went past, a sea lion jumped on the back. Apparently this is quite common in Cabo! Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get a photo.

After I got off the tender, I had a wander around the marina and popped into a shop to buy a t-shirt for my son, a fridge magnet (the collection is building!) and some local treats which I have been giving to my cabin steward and some other staff around the ship. I then went back to the docking area to register and wait to go on my excursion. As I was waiting, I saw a couple of friends waiting to catch the tender back, so asked them to take my shopping back with them to save me lugging it on my excursion and worrying about the chocolate melting. The obliged (thankfully) so I arranged to collect it from their cabin on my return.

So, the tour I had booked at Cabo was originally Snorkel and Sail Santa Maria, but changed it due to the eye infection (I probably would have been OK but didn’t want to risk it). I was now going on a Whale watching tour. Very excited to see some wildlife as I always seem to miss the sightings that others had seen from the ship!

Gopro wide lens photo of the people queuing to get on the tour

Our cruise was taking place on a three deck cruiser and had open deck areas. I opted to sit on the side deck as I could keep myself from the sun when necessary and move from one side of the deck to the other to take photos. Cruising out, I managed to get some lovely photos of Arcadia anchored off port.

We passed the seal and seal lion colony’s basking on rocks by the famous Cabo arch and headed out to find whales. The first sign of a whale is it spouting water which can be spotted from quite a distance, so when spotted the cruiser would head to the area.

I saw a lot of whales! I didn’t get many brilliant photos of them, but will post them below so you can see them. I also managed to get a video which is posted on my Facebook page and can be seen here.

As we started heading back, in the distance we saw a whale splashing around so headed over towards it and managed to see it bridge and a couple of tails of whales – So lovely to see!

Here is a selection of photos, mostly of the scenery.

We then headed back to the port to do the return trip on the tender. When at the ship, it was very rocky trying to get out of the tender which I think was due to the incoming tide.

As we were leaving the port, I was on the deck in front of the gym (brilliant place for photographing the sunset) to see and photograph the sunset. As the sun set, the half a dozen or so other passengers went back inside as it was getting a bit windy.

I stayed up for a further 20 minutes and got to see a couple more whales – that was lovely as it was just me up there!

Next stop on the cruise is San Francisco.


Huatulco, Mexico

After we left the Panama, we headed north in the Pacific Ocean to our first stop in Mexico, Huatulco.

Huatulco is the result of the Mexican Government looking for a resort equivalent to Cancun but on the Pacific coast. There is 22 miles of beaches and around nine bays, most of which can only be reached by boat.

Huatulco doesn’t actually have much of a history as it was only developed in 1982. It has a population of around 38,000 people.

We docked in a small town called Santa Cruz. I opted for a P&O excursion called ‘Land and Sea’.

A view of the walkway to shore from the prom deck on Arcadia

I left the ship and proceeded to the wait point (note that there is a very small gazebo and no sitting area). We were allocated a tour guide and headed off to our coach (it was a bit of a walk and the temperature was around 30 degrees – I did notice that on returning, there were some locals with bikes (the ones with the seating area at the back) to give you a lift back to the ship and were asking for ‘tips only’)).

Once on the coach, we headed to a small market and a place where you were able to taste some typical Mexican drinks (shots) and some (chocolate) with tortilla chips. Passengers were also given the opportunity to try cooked grasshoppers, which is a delicacy in Huatulco.

We spent about 20 minutes at this location, giving us an opportunity to shop (I purchased a fridge magnet to add to my collection). We then headed to a local family run shop where they make and weave their own products.

I purchased a few items from here as presents for some friends at home and in Australia. They had some beautiful tablecloths, but as I am flying back, I was limited on space. We returned to the coach and then headed to the second part of this tour, which was sea based.

Now, as you are all aware, we (the passengers on Arcadia) have been on a cruise ship for around two weeks, we’ve crossed the Atlantic, Caribbean and part of the Pacific sea, and to go on this rather small cruise boat, we were required to wear a life jacket! We were also requested to remain seated (we didn’t as there were photo opportunities from different parts of the boat). I found this a bit strange as we were all seasoned cruisers! Anyway, we proceeded on the boat, out past Arcadia and on a 2 hour cruise to look at around 5 of the nine bays, most of which can only be reached by boat.

It was a stunning trip and I’ll put a selection of the photos up.

There seemed to be quite a few abandoned half built properties that could be seen. The guide said that a lot of people started building and then ran out of money so just left them.

After a couple of hours, we headed back to the Arcadia. I had a wander around Huatulco (it is really small so didn’t take long!).

The above photo of Arcadia was taken from the beach in Playa Santa Cruz where a lot of passengers spent the day swimming, eating and relaxing. I am told that the food and drink is very cheap here and is a nice way to spend the day. They even have a babysitting area for your husband/partner!!

Huatulco is a small town and can also be explored easily independently. There are plenty of tours offered in the area and, as you can see from above, there is a beach, literally, on your doorstep. It is a lovely little town, and we had beautiful weather while there.

It clouded over as we left, so no beautiful sunset.

We have two days at sea before reaching our next port of Cabo San Lucas.


Transiting the Panama Canal

Firstly, you may be wondering what happened to the Aruba blog. Unfortunately, the day after Saint Lucia, I came down with Bronchitis and cellulitis of the eye. I went to the the doctor on the day we docked in Aruba, and was prescribed antibiotics. I am slowly getting better, but, apart from just walking off the ship, I didn’t do much in Aruba. I have a couple of photos taken from the ship as we were leaving as I felt so unwell. I was scheduled to do a water based activity but because of the eye problem, I had to cancel. Luckily the medical centre stamped the back and because of that I got a full refund.

We transited the Panama Canal on Sunday 20th January. We were given a schedule of the highlights in the horizon the night before, but as always it was subject to change. We were also given a small booklet with a brief history of the canal.

The length of the Panama is 80kms (50 miles) from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It takes on average 8-10 hours to complete the transit of the canal. Lake Gatun covers and area of 163.38 square miles and was formed by the construction of an earthern dam across the Chargres river which runs Northwoods towards the Caribbean sea.

The dam across the Chargres River

The Culebra cut is 13.7km long and extends from Gatun Lake to Predro Miguel locks.

The images above are the approach of the first and third of the Gatun locks. At the third lock we had the first of two medical emergency evacuations.

Each chamber is 110 feet wide by 1000ft long. Total volume of concrete to build the locks was 3,440.488 cubic meters.

We then spent a very lazy 4-5 hours cruising the Gatun Lake.

During the cruise of the Lake, there was several activities taking place onboard, one of which was an ice carving (a very strange thing to do in 30 degree heat!).

As we approached the Pedro Miquel locks, the captain announced another emergency evacuation off the ship. After that we proceeded through the lock then onto the final two locks that would bring us in to the Pacific ocean. There was a ship next to us which allowed me to photograph its progress through the lock.

The mules are very important and pull or guide the ships through a very narrow area. There is usually 4 to a ship – two at the front and two at the back. The first mule or locomotive cost $13,217 and were built by General Electric, an American company. Mitsubishi is the current manufacturer of Panama Canal locomotives which cost US$2.3m each!

As we were passing though the Miraflores lock, I could see in the distance a container ship using the newer canal.

After leaving the final lock, we then headed under the Bridge of Americas and past Panama City to continue up the coast to Huatulco.

The canal is an amazing piece of engineering. I think the photos will say more than I can. I have also posted a time lapse on my Facebook page which can be accessed here (there are two parts as we had an emergency evacuation right below my cabin and was requested not to photograph or video the medical disembarkation).

My next blog will be about Huatulco and Cabo San Lucas.


Saint Lucia – 16th January 2019

St Lucia is a beautiful and lush island. Its another island with Volcanic soil so, like Madeira, it grows a plethora of produce. Some, such as bananas, coconuts, cocoa, avocados, mangoes and other citrus fruits are grown for exporting. They also grow food for local consumption, such as coffee, christophene, breadfruit, plantain, carrots, cabbage, pumpkin and a variety of root products such as dasheene, yams and sweet potatoes.

For my tour, I chose an independent company called Cosol. They are local, drive small mini busses and, when doing the tour, you really feel like you are a local. Our tour guide was known as ‘Yellow Bird’ and is the brother of the founder of the company (known as Colsol) who unfortunately died last year.

I disembarked the ship at about 8.15am and proceeded to the meet up point for the tour. I was greeted by a very happy guide who was introduced to us (by then, several others from the ship were there too) as Yellow Bird. We were allocated to a mini bus and off we went.

We drove through the town of Castries and up into the hill where we stopped for our first photo opportunity. It is important to know that when you stop at any of these places, there are vendors waiting to sell you stuff. Luckily, they do take ‘no’ and don’t pester you too much. Much of the stuff they were selling was jewellery and other hand made produce (I didn’t really look at much of it). We were informed that there would be vendors at other stops, too.

After stopping for the beautiful view of Arcadia docked in Castries, we then carried on to Morne Road to a banana plantation. Very fascinating to see how bananas grow.

Yellow Bird showing us the inside of the banana plant. The bananas start growing downwards.

As the banana mature, they cover them with a blue bag to protect them from the insects. Whilst in Madeira on the tour, I was told that they cover them like this to make them all grow the same size. Whilst we were at the banana plantation, there was an opportunity to taste a freshly picked banana, some banana chips (served with banana ketchup and barbecue sauce – I didn’t have the sauce).

Above you see a couple of stages of the banana tree.

We then drove through a fishing villages. This one was called Canaries and Yellow Bird described it as a poor village. It certainly looked a picturesque place to live. We were driven to a vantage point where we could take some photos.

Picturesque Fishing Village Canaries

Back into the Mini bus, then on to a stop for Breakfast. The breakfast consisted of a large selection of local dishes. I didn’t have much but everyone else raved about it. There was also plenty of liquid refreshments including Spiced Rum, Piton Beer and soft drinks. I was assured that the rum was very nice!

We then headed on towards Soufriere. It is a town on the West Coast of Saint Lucia, in the eastern Caribbean Sea. The town and the surrounding district has a population of 7,935. It was colonized by the French and was the original capital of the island. We stopped for a photo of the Pitons, volcano and of Soufriere. Again, there were vendors trying to sell stuff. I spoke to one young lad who was looking to study engineering to help his family. I think he was looking for a donation to his college fund and made me a grasshopper out of banana leaves. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash on me and did apologise, but he gave me the grasshopper anyway and thanked me for talking to him.

We went down the hill into Soufriere to catch the water taxi to Sugar Beach to snorkel. Yellow Bird was telling us that he used to be able to drive tourist there, but a resort purchased land on the only land route and then stopped tours going to the beach, but the resort didn’t own the beach as there are no private beaches in Saint Lucia. To get around this, Cosol tours (and others) started using the water taxi to get there. The resort are now OK with this and do supply some chairs on a small part of the beach for non resort customers. Sugar Beach is located right between the Pitons.

We were given an hour here to snorkel or to sit and drink! I had a good snorkel and saw a lot of fish – possibly more than I saw in the Great Barrier Reef, but it was very sunny here and the water was clear. Something that was lacking in the GBR. Forgive my photos as this was the first time I had used my gopro, but am in love with the quality of photos it takes!

After our hour of snorkelling (which went very quick), we had another trip in the water taxi back to the mini bus in Soufriere. We then headed to the drive in volcano. Surprisingly (not), when we opened the door, there was a strong smell of sulphur. Some of the group went for a dip into the mineral bath. My back was hurting a bit so I opted to watch from the top and take some photos.

Steps down to the bathing area

After descending the steps, you arrive at the bathing area.

After a soak in the mineral bath, it was time to get out and get ‘mudded up’.

Over the other side of the bride was another pool and I took this photo.

I thought the lady laying on the stone with handprints on her butt was rather amusing!

While the others showered, I headed back to the mini bus. As they all got in the bus, there was a rather strong sulphuric smell following them!! Luckily, the next stop was the waterfall where they could have a rinse off in fresh water. This would be our last water stop.

The waterfall was a short drive away.

I managed to get a photo with no one in it and it was a lovely place

We then headed back to the restaurant where we ate breakfast and had lunch of bread and cheese, and some more refreshments. There was a couple of dogs there which I fed my food to (they got me some food but it had fish. I guess they don’t understand vegan in Saint Lucia, but I appreciated them trying).

There appeared to be a lot of stray dogs in Saint Lucia which I always find sad in any country. This dog was at the place we ate but I am not sure if he was a stray or was owned by the people who owned the restaurant.

As we headed back to the ship, once again driving the same route, we stopped to view Marigot Bay which is where Dr Doolittle was filmed. It looked like a very rich part of Saint Lucia.

We then continued back to the ship. On the way we stopped for one last photo of a naturally formed arch in the sea.

Gros Islet, Saint Lucia

We arrived back at the ship at 4.30pm, so we’d had a whole day tour with Cosol’s Yellow Bird. I’m not sure if I mentioned above that there is unlimited alcohol/refreshments available throughout the tour – you just have to ask! The tour cost $75US per person and is a fabulous price for what you get. I would highly recommend Cosol tours and if you are visiting Saint Lucia whether on a cruise or a holiday, please consider Cosol tours. There is a link to their Facebook Page at the top of this blog.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog on Saint Lucia. My next stop is Aruba (18th January). All the images have been taken by me and have not been edited in any way so is a true representation. I also apologise for any spelling errors – I will check once I have a faster internet.