Category Archives: Cruising

Cruising the Caribbean

Well, a cruise of the Caribbean is a hell of a thing to contemplate. There are tons of companies going to any number of destinations. Some of these are countries, some are independent nations, some are foreign territories of other countries and some are private islands owned and operated by one or other of the cruise companies.

The sheer range of itineraries available is staggering.

Let’s start with what is meant by the Caribbean and what areas are included. The Caribbean is a catchall phrase that includes the more than 700 islands, islets, reefs, and cays within the Caribbean Sea. But it also includes some mainland countries that border the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean add to this the nearby coastal areas on the mainland (including the Gulf of Mexico, North American mainland, eastern parts of Central America, and the northern sections of South America).

In total there are 31 individual countries or territories that make up the Caribbean (excluding the mainland nations that border it). So far, we have had the opportunity to visit 17 of the 31 countries or territories, with plans already in place to get to Haiti.

Getting About

To start with, there is no real ferry system in operation to allow you to bounce from island to island and airfares between islands can be quite expensive. So if you want to see a fair bit of the area, a cruise ship is your only real option (unless you have an amazing budget).

Cruise ship itineraries go to most of the islands (although due to some suspect security situations, crime and variable political stabilities some of the islands get missed). Add to this that some of the islands do not have deep enough seas/ports to allow access for the big cruise ships. That said, the majority do and accept the passengers and you just need to hunt the websites for the itinerary and line that suits you.

The Beaches

Almost all of the Caribbean islands offer excellent beaches, some are close (within walking distance) to towns and cities while others involve a (relatively cheap) taxi ride. Some of them have been flogged by tourists and are basically just sand and water (still pretty nice) while with a (very little) bit of effort, you can find snorkelling and wildlife amongst the many shallow reefs.

Many of the beaches will be private. This will mean a resort fee to access that area of the beach. This will typically buy you a lounger and that’s about it. Umbrellas and cabanas will be there, but they will (typically) be extra. Drinks (watery cocktails) and food (junky burgers and chips) will be available at highly inflated prices. When I say the beach will be private, I mean privately owned. You will still share it with 2-500 of your favourite strangers.

But it is not all bad, the beaches are nice, the scenery stunning and the views and sunsets will be amazing. And if you are ok with a weak cocktail in the sun then a good time will be had.

The food

The Caribbean is an exotic holiday destination known for its beaches, nature and the friendliness of (most) of its people. It is not by any means a food lover’s destination, and is unlikely to be so anytime soon. Traditional Caribbean food emerged several hundred years ago and has influences from African, Indian, Asian, Cajun, and European cultures.

Jerk chicken is the staple. It’s is basically just chicken doused in spices and hot chillies, slow-cooked over pimento wood branches. But as you would expect, everyone has their own ‘unique’ recipe for the exact spice blend that goes into the mix.

It is nice enough, but good luck avoiding it if you felt like anything else.

If you get really lucky, you may find a pork chop (with the same sort of Jerk spice mix) but at least it’s something different. Unsurprisingly the burger patties come with BBQ Jerk sauce but every now and then if you are lucky, you may find one with a mango salsa.

Ackee and saltfish (salted cod) is Jamaica’s national dish and is eaten morning, noon, and night. Ackee is a fruit with a savory, almost nutty flavor.

The ubiquitous side is rice and beans although is referred to widely as ‘rice ‘n’ pigeon peas’.

It is made by simmering the rice and beans in a coconut broth seasoned with spice, garlic, onion, and sweet capsicum.

It is also ok. But it is on every plate.

Plantain (a really starchy banana) is the next thing that will be tough to avoid. It is prepared in a variety of ways and can be quite tasty.

Sweet and savoury options abound and it will almost always be one of your sides (along with the rice).

Being island nations, obviously seafood plays a fair role in Caribbean cooking. The first one that you will likely run across is the conch fritters. These are basically just deep fried critters from the conch shell. The next is peppered shrimp which is the spicy go to snack option for the masses. After this the usual mix of stews, soups and curries arrive.

It is not that any of this food in the Caribbean is bad, it is just the same everywhere, on every menu, with little else on offer. Every meal you order will be some variation on the things above. After a period of time, you will be craving something (anything) else.

Cruise Companies

There are currently 37 (of the 51 ocean going) cruise companies that operate in and around the Caribbean. They all offer similar types of cruises (and ports) but the price can vary greatly between them however, usually the higher the price the more inclusions there are (eg. drinks, better wines, wifi etc).

The normal type companies include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, NCL and MSC. Some catering to the premium services include Holland America, Celebrity and Princess. From here you get into the Ultra-Premium (Oceania, Azamara), Luxury (Cunard), Ultra-Luxury (Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Silversea. And then there are the specialty type cruises (Disney, Windstar, Star Clippers and Virgin).

Some companies specifically target their cruises at families and children.

While others (like Viking and Virgin) do not accept people under 18 on board.

Cruise durations

The duration of your cruise (along with the company) is quite indicative of the type of cruise that you can expect. Cruises typically range from 2-15 nights taking in as many ports as is manageable within the allocated time frame. Cruises between 2 and 5 days tend to be booze cruises or full of little children with short attention spans. These usually never take in more than 2 ports.

Seven to 10 days is by far the most common cruise taken as it fits nicely with the usual US 2 week vacation period and allows for travel days for those outside a port town. This will typically take in 4-7 ports and will provide a nice mix of sailing days and port activities. The crowds tend to be a bit older than the party boat crowd and the ports tend to be a bit more interesting too.

Cruises over 10 days tend to cut out many of the kids and the younger adults that need to return to work (bearing in mind that US generally does not get the 4 weeks that we Aussies are used to). This means it is (generally) an older, more established cruise ship clientele.

The really long ones (trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific etc.) tend to be for the seasoned cruisers, typically retired and under no time pressures to return to something.

Eastern vs Western Caribbean

Northern vs Southern Caribbean

Because the Bahamas (along with the Turks & Caicos) are close to Florida they are particularly desirable northern route locations for the short (booze cruise style) cruises originating in Florida.

Some cruise lines have created a southern route, moving Aruba, Barbados, Bonaire, Curacao, Grenada, and Trinidad & Tobago into this category as most of the route lies outside of the usual hurricane belt.

Cruise Ships

Modern cruse ships have been (and continue) getting bigger and bigger with every iteration.

The image on the left is a comparison of the Titanic (front) as compared with a modern day cruise ship.

I will focus on Royal Caribbean here as it has just launched the World’s largest ship (the Icon of the Seas).

The oldest in the fleet is the Grandeur of the Seas it is a 279 meter long, 32 meter wide ship that was built to house around 2000 passengers and an additional 750 crew.

It has two floors of dining rooms, three specialty restaurants, a theatre delivering Broadway-style shows, a gym, a spa, sports court, multiple bars, a sprawling casino, rock climbing wall two pools and more hot-tubs.

And with all of this, is by far the runt of the fleet offering the least amount of options and activities of the entire company. We have sailed on it three times and it is lovely.

The largest is more than 4 times the size and holds nearly 10,000 people at 365 meters in length.

In 2009 when the Oasis of the Seas was introduced as the biggest ship in the world it had a capacity (at double occupancy) of 5,400 guests. The newest offering (the Icon of the Seas) was launched in January this year and is quite frankly ridiculous. The ship will feature 20 decks, 18 of which are for guest use. These decks have been split into “neighborhoods,” that include a Central Park packed with live plants.

Other features include:

  • the world’s largest water park at sea (six slides including an open free-fall slide, a 46-foot drop slide, family raft slides and a pair of mat-racing slides.
  • a three-deck cluster of pools,
  • a waterfall,
  • seven pools – including a swim-up bar, suspended infinity pool and the “largest pool at sea.”

Cruise ships have gone beyond the usual buffet, main dining room and pool bar dining options. The new ship offers more than 40 options including 15 bars and more than 20 dining options.

Lets be honest here, this is not for me in fact it seems (having not been on it) terrible.

It is too big, has too much going on and will permanently be filled with screaming kids and their entitled parents.

Typically it is more the parents that I have an issue with rather than the kids, that just wanna have some fun.

But that is the joy of cruising, the RC fleet offers me another 27 ships that will be less confrontational than its latest offerings.

Our Cruises

We have now done 14 cruises in multiple destinations (Australia, Asia, Alaska and Iceland). These 14 cruises have put us to a loyalty level (kinda like frequent fliers) that gives us enough perks (free coffee and drinks etc) to make it beneficial to stay with the same company. Not that we dislike any of the others or particularly recommend this one but our perk level has bred loyalty.

Within the Caribbean, we have done a few different itineraries throughout the region that have seen us going to many of the ports (some of them on multiple occasions). Most of the ports left positive (or at least neutral) impressions, with only really Colon in Panama and Falmouth in Jamaica leaving negative impressions.

Aruba and Curacao are on the top of the list of frequency of our visits (more due to the itineraries that a conscious choice).

They are both Dutch colonies and are lovely. The streets are clean and the building and housing is typically European and is brightly painted. The beaches are clean and swimming and snorkelling abounds.

Barbados, Bahamas, Jamaica and St Maarten are next on the list of our multiple visitations and these four could not be more different if they tried. Barbados is alive and thriving during the week with turtle sightings straight off the beach. But it is tumbleweeds in town on the weekends (Sunday especially).

Jamaica was one of my least favourite of everywhere we have visited so far. It gave a feeling that you were not safe, even in the touristy bits it saw me having cannabis, cocaine and sex offered within 10 minutes of landing. Beyond the offers, there was a very uneasy feeling that purveyed. The first three blocks from port was neat and calm, but if you kept walking there was an overwhelming sense that you were about to be mugged.

We came here the next time and skipped town and headed to a resort fee-paying beach, it felt better but was a full on party beach. We paid for the transport and a beach chair and settled in for some sun, food and drinks. The enclosed resort option is beautiful and feels much safer, so if you are happy holidaying in a compound then it can be lovely.

Bahamas is an absolute tourism machine that had built its entire economy around its pirating history and the modern cruise port. The main centre is Nassau where there are a few natural attractions (old fort and some historical aspects) but the place has developed to exploit and profit from the cruise ships.

Coco Cay is part of the Bahamas tourist machine but this part of it is owned (or at least leased) by the cruise company.

It is a destination of its own, upon arrival you immediately enter into a world of waterparks, theme parks, shopping and beach walks where the tourist is king.

Everything on the island has been put there to amuse, entertain or fleece the clientele from a cruise ship..

St Maarten is the dual island with a Dutch and French side. It is well placed to cater to the cruise ship crowds, but maybe a little more subtly than is the case in the Bahamas. We have been here twice now (one at each side of the island) and enjoyed both of them immensely.

The rest of the places we have been to have (so far) only been single stop-ins but they have all left an impression. So here is our summary of our visitations to date.

Bonaire (Kralendijk), was the pick of the stunning water so far. Great snorkelling coupled with a cute little town centre with all of the tourist appeal.

Cayman Islands (George Town) is a tax haven and tourist mecca for the European style tourists. Resorts aplenty, nice water and with a bit of effort some nice snorkelling and diving (once you get away from the resorts). The clarity of the water and the various shades of blue deliver exactly what I imagine when I get to a tropical island. And this place delivers that at almost every glance. 

Costa Rica (Puerto Limon) I did love but it was mainly because I got to see and play with sloths (and with more time would have played with turtles). The wildlife is the main attraction and we really enjoyed it.

But the town centre was pretty sketchy and all the razor wire did ring a few alarm bells in our heads.

Dominican Republic (Puerto Planta) was amazing. The initial bit was tourist heaven (or hell if you prefer) with all of the water parks, pool and bars as soon as you land. If you never went any further, you could have several great days just in the manufactured bit.

But if you keep walking, you get into an authentic town centre and with a little more you land on the historic fort. There is a thriving local street art scene and the people are amazingly friendly. Based on our dip of the toe into the water I have already decided that the Dominican Republic needs at least a fortnight (if not more) to explore and enjoy.

Grenada (St Georges), was nice but our arrival saw us in a town with super steep hills. The result was a nice waterfront promenade and burning calves for anything else.

Martinique (Fort De France) was nice without being amazing and nothing about it made me want to rush back.

The town centre was ok as was the fort. It was good to come and spend a day exploring but that was about it.

Puerto Rico (San Juan), was amazing and much like the Dominican Republic this place needs more time devoted to exploring. The Island has almost 300 miles of coastline and nearly the same number of beaches. A predominately walled city there is a huge level of fortification (especially to the sea) with all of the gates and things that you would expect from such a town.

Two huge 16th century Spanish forts and stunning views make it an incredible place to visit. The smiles and happiness that you are greeted with here is something to behold. I am very happy to come back here again and explore more of the island.

We popped into St Kitts & Nevis (Basseterre), and loved it. It was clean and easy to navigate with a really great feel to it.

The Beers

I really need to finish on the usual subject (for me anyway) the beers. Beer was introduced to the Caribbean by the British in 1880, and now each of the islands tend to brew their own with a few mass produced ones that service the region.

The first one you will likely find is the iconic Red Stripe from Jamaica. This will be closely followed by Carib which originated in Trinidad and Tobago and has since started brewing in St Kitts and Nevis and Grenada. Presidente (from the Dominican Republic) is sold widely through the region and Kalik (in multiple options) dominates the Bahamas.

For the most part, the beers are all pretty good. They are typically light lagers that lend themselves to sipping on a beach in the sun.

Trans-Atlantic Cruise

Our transatlantic cruise started in Italy at the main cruise ship port, Civitavecchia, which is about 60 km northwest of Rome. For us, it was a short train ride (costing under 5 euros each) in a comfortable air-conditioned train from central Rome. I mention this because we found out that others on the ship organised vehicle transportation and paid hundreds of euros for the pleasure of doing so.

Civitavecchia has two main parts, the local part that is fun, reasonably priced and entirely pleasurable and then there is the tourist part, that is grossly overpriced and designed merely to bilk the tourist dollar. The best example of this was our dinner. We ate at a local taverna and had amazingly good seafood pasta (despite one looking like baked beans), washed down with local beer and ended up with a bill of 38 euros. The next day I had a coffee in the tourist zone and we had some (small) pastries (Jill had a cannoli while I had a Sfogliatella) and the bill for a single coffee and some pastries was 19 euros.

The town of Civitavecchia dates back to the 2nd century and still retains some of its original features (like the Roman dock). The port also includes the 16th-century Michelangelo Fort. The town itself is kinda nice with some odd little quirks. The only real issue of the town is the taxis. They are absolutely obscene in the prices that they charge a bunch of oldies getting on an off the cruise ships.

The town is small and, once on the ship, our conversations with other passengers revealed that they had paid around 30 euros for a 1-2 kilometre ride to the port. Similarly, they caught big bills from the train station to the hotel. Being grotty backpackers, we avoided these as we walked the 1.3 kilometers to our accommodation and the 400 meters to the bus station the next morning.

Having reached and navigated our way through the departure point we boarded our ship and were met with a VIP luncheon (we paid a little extra for the key). The key gives you full internet access while on board as well as some VIP accesses to shows etc for about the same price as the internet access alone.

Our itinerary involved a bunch of sea days as we traversed the Atlantic Ocean so that the ship could operate out of Miami for the next sailing season.

Cartagena, Spain

Our first port of call was in the town of Cartagena in Spain. We liked the idea of this as a bit later on we would be hitting the port of Cartagena in Colombia and the symmetry of going to both amused me. The one in Spain was founded around 200 BC and has been continually inhabited ever since, mostly serving as a major trading port. Today it has about 220,000 people living here.

The port was pretty and was about a 1.5 km leisurely stroll along tree lined and very nicely paved streets to get to the heart of town. Here you are met with the usual tourist hustle and bustle, but on a very relaxed and manageable level. There was a HOHO bus available for those not up to the walk but it was flat and easy and the HOHO line was a bit long, so we chose to walk.

Once in town, cool streets and shops follow, along with the usual eclectic mix of funky restaurants and cafes. Then you can add on the religious bling of the churches with their glittering displays and you have had a pretty nice day out in a typical southern European town.

We followed the main path until the end and looped around the whole town coming back to the main tourist attraction as a last (once the initial surge of humanity had powered through it). And this was of course the Roman Theatre and Archaeological Museum, set right in the heart of town. The main drag came much later and was designed to skirt around it, while never being far away.

In fact, if you just did the main drag it is possible to miss the thing entirely. My favourite part of the the place was when we stopped at a nice, local, out-of-the-way cafe for a coffee and some churros. We got two really good coffees and 7 churros with change from a fiver (the ones in the tourist strip were about triple that price). It was so good that afterwards we got another 7 churros, but this time with the hot chocolate dipping sauce.

The Canary Islands, Spain

The next two stops would be in the Canary Islands. These are a Spanish owned archipelago of 7 main islands off the northwestern coast of Africa.

The seven main islands are (from largest to smallest in the area) Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro. The area also includes many smaller islands and islets and several major rocks. In ancient times, they were known as “the Fortunate Isles”.


Our first port of call in the Canaries was Lanzarote (by the way…not a canary in sight…in case you were wondering). Lanzarote is known for its year-round warm weather, beaches and volcanic landscape. The place is pretty stark with black volcanic rock and cactus gardens dominating everything that you see.

Once again we were delivered a bit over a kilometer from the heart of town and did the hike to see what was on offer. As usual, when the crowds went left, we went right. This took us on a lovely seaside walk, past the marina, a lighthouse, some ruins and along until you get to the Castilo de San Jose which is an historic fortress that has since been converted to an art museum.

From here were a bunch of stark landscapes and volcano-looking things, so we turned and headed back towards the tourist throngs. The diversion ramped up our activity and step count, but after a few days on the ship, this was well needed. The town itself was again lovely and well laid out for the cruise ship tourist clientele.

It was flat, well paved, with wide pedestrian streets and limited intersections where the tourist and the local traffic would come to loggerheads. We liked the place but if we were to come again we would be more likely to hire a car and go further afield to explore some of the stark volcanic landscapes, beaches and sights.

Gran Canaria 

This was our last stop before what would be another 7 days of nothing but sailing, as we crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Gran Canaria is located about 150 km off the northwest coast of Africa and about 1,350 km from Europe. It has a population of around 850,000 and is predominantly known for its beaches.

The place was conquered by the Spanish in the late 1400’s and has its origins in volcanic activity (mostly made of fissure vents). It is almost round with a diameter of around 50 km and rains so infrequently that it is considered a desert climate.

This was our least favourite of our stops on the boat. The town itself is OK without being amazing with clean neat streets and a few touristy type spots. But for the most part the place is used as one of those all inclusive holiday destinations that Europe seems so keen on. As you wander around to the other side of town you come across the beach of Playa de las Canteras that is filled with poorly attired, visiting European tourists.

The biggest issue that we came across was under employment. There was huge volumes of people (typically of African origin in their early 20’s) just milling about in large (ish) groups with little or nothing to do other than hanging out on street corners in packs. This is the first time since Naples in Italy that we had felt concern for our safety.

I must say that we were not approached or harassed in any way but the groups prompted me to move the wallet from the back pocket to the front pocket, with my hand over the top. Our years of travel have us highly attuned to our surroundings and things that don’t “feel” right and sadly, this is what we got from our time on Gran Canaria.

The ship

Having finished off our ports, all that was left was the seven days of cruising that we had ahead of us. Our ship was the Royal Caribbean Ship, Explorer of the seas.

The Explorer of the Seas was built in 2000 and refurbished in 2014 and can carry 4,200 passengers and almost 1,200 staff across its 15 decks. The ship is one of the smaller to mid-sized in the fleet but includes entertainment like an ice skating rink, rock climbing wall, mini golf course and the Flowrider (a surfing simulator).

Up until now, we had been paying extra for balcony-type rooms or suites that offer better viewing and are closer to the available amenities (and obviously cost more). Our room for this trip was down the bottom of the ship in an outside room on level 3. In fact, our next few cruises will see us in the dodgy cheap rooms, so stay tuned to see if they are any good.

Well if this is the dodgy room down the bottom, I will take it any day of the week. It was lovely. A huge porthole behind the bed meant that you woke up to the ocean every morning. It was so nice that we never even tried to close the curtains.

We wandered the ship, ate and drank at the bars and restaurants, listened to some of the entertainment and generally just had a lovely trans-Atlantic journey. The thing that did throw us was the constant time changes. It seemed like every day or two we had to wind the clock forward as we gained another hour as we progressed towards Miami. The staff loved it, as they got an extra hour of sleep each time (this works backwards when coming the other way). But for those of us with a sleep pattern, I woke up an hour earlier every day.

The cruise itself was great, but it is one of the older cruises that you can do with the average age well into the 70’s and almost half of all those on board at the higher levels of the rewards program.

The ship was probably the biggest letdown. There was lots to see and do but there was no real hidey holes where you could avoid the crowds. This meant that you were hiding in your room or stuck in busy communal areas. Other ships we have been on had little quiet zones dotted around the place where you could sit quietly and read, or do a crossword, but sadly, this was missing on this ship.

Alaska Cruise

7 July – 14 July 2023 – Radiance of the Seas

Seward, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Icy Straight, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, Vancouver.

This is the Claudia birthday cruise.

Somewhere around 15 years ago, Claudia mentioned to a large group of people that for her 50th birthday she wanted to do an Alaskan Cruise.

Having been given so much time and notice to plan and save, there really were no excuses for missing out on this one.

Having met up with Brad and Nora in Anchorage a few days earlier, both Jill and I were handed our cruise pack. Claudia had been busy. Our pack included a range of Aussie staples (most importantly for me the vegemite). But it also had Caramelo bears, milo, sparkly swizzle sticks, coffee bags, lanyards and a specially branded shirt…you know…the essentials.

The group included ten people this time around. Mostly Australians but a couple of Canadian ringers who were quickly indoctrinated.

Claudia and Jeremy, her sister and brother-in-law, Chrissy and Wayne, Brad and Nora, a couple they had met on another (trans-Atlantic) cruise, Juliette and James and of course us.

An eclectic group got together and all got on famously. We enjoyed each other’s company, shared experiences, stories and good times. A better birthday option I could not imagine.

For those that remember, our last cruise was described as the worst one that we had ever done, as everything was just a little bit off. This one reset the balance again and was excellent. All of those things that were off, were on point this time around. And I could even get my beloved MacCallan whiskey in certain bars.

The cruise departed from Seward, Alaska, a small pretty little town with not too much to do. Some of us visited while others just arrived and got on the boat.

The scenery of Seward was lovely and it made for a fantastic departure point.

Unsurprisingly, the pools on our icy adventure remained almost empty the whole time.

Hubbard Glacier was our next viewing spot, although we had to watch from the decks. This is amazing but sadly the cameras on our telephones could not really do this place justice.

Juneau was the next little town (30,000) that we stopped at (along with 3 other cruise ships). Like most places in Alaska, the scenery was stunning. Virtually everywhere you look there are high mountains, snow covered peaks and dense forests. The locals tell us that Juneau rains around 300 days a year. But we had some of the most amazing weather that you could hope for.

The only real detraction for Juneau was the cable car that took you up the cliff. The cable car itself was fantastic, but once up the mountain, Jill decided it was time to go hiking. So we trudged through the Alaskan bush, up and down hills, for hours. As it happens, we did get some pretty amazing photographs from right up top.

The next day was a two port day taking in both Skagway and Haines.

Skagway is the home of the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad that was built during the Klondike Gold Rush. It is a pretty little town that ran on gold, sex and alcohol.

Based on what we saw while here the gold has been replaced with tourism and the sex (for money) is historical, but the alcohol is alive and well. There were almost more pubs than other buildings. And the names of the pubs and hotels remained true to the historical past. We had a beer in the Happy Endings Saloon, where they offer cornholing and are conveniently located next door to the Morning Wood Hotel.

Haines is even smaller again but is blessed with stunning scenery. Once again, not too much to do, but wandering around surrounded by icy mountains is still a pretty good way to spend a day. We did manage to find a quiet bar to sample a local beverage.

Icy Strait Point is a 100% tourist stop designed and built to service cruise ships, with nothing else to it. It is owned and operated by the local Alaska Native tribe with all profits directly supporting the nearby community of Hoonah (Alaska’s largest Native Tlingit village).

While it was built solely for the tourist trade, it is still pretty good. There is a an old cannery that can be visited and a couple of cable cars that will take you up the mountain.

Ketchikan was our last port of call before landing and disembarking in Vancouver. It is the southernmost entrance to Alaska’s Inside Passage and is best known as “The Salmon Capital of the World.” A fact that Jimmy, Clauds, Jill and I can all attest to as we stood on the bridge and watched salmon swimming upstream directly beneath us.

The catch cry of Ketchikan is “the place where both men and salmon have been coming upstream to spawn”. The crystal clear waters and salmon swimming upstream meant that, right in the heart of town, sat a bald eagle, just waiting for its opportunity to swoop and scoop one of the huge fish. This made for some pretty good photos.


Claudia’s birthday cruise was a smashing success, with everyone getting on famously and the Alaskan scenery (and weather) turning it on like no other place could. The scenery was stunning, virtually everywhere you look there are high mountains, snow covered peaks, deep oceans and dense forests.

And of course there were the people. Great people, good friends and a wonderful time had by all.

Most importantly for me…

We finally got to see some orcas in the wild.

There was a pod of about 5 of them that appeared to be hunting.

They were moving way too fast for any of us to capture on film, but they were amazing to watch and we all got a fairly decent view of them.

Iceland Cruise

6 June to 17 June 2023Jewel of the Seas

Amsterdam– Reykjavík– Isafjordur – Seydisfjordur – Belfast – Liverpool – Cobh/Cork – Amsterdam

This has been a really tough one for me to summarise. Life during and after Covid has been very tough for the cruise ship industry. The experience today is very unlike the cruises that we had done before the pandemic. And in many respects, the changes are not for the better.

Jill and I both agreed that this was the worst cruise that we had ever been on. It wasn’t terrible, but it was nowhere near the standard of the other cruises that we had done. So we tried to break down what it was that made it so.

Was it the ship?


While the ship was older and smaller it was more charming and intimate than the bigger ships and had more style and character to it.

It was a bit of a visual throwback to the halcyon days of cruising. Certain elements were tired, but a small revamp will fix that once the revenues return.

Was it the staff?


The staff were super friendly (as usual) and more than willing to assist at every turn.

Was it the ports?


The ports were fantastic and could not be faulted.

Was it the food?

A bit.

The food was a bit down on its usual standard and the choices were lacking at times, but there was still something on every menu for everyone.

So what was it then?

The entertainers were obviously the B team, with the real headliners and acts on the newer ships. There was a massive focus on karaoke on this cruise which was very uncomfortable and disturbing for the rest of the guests. A bunch of people (guests) with American Idol aspirations but no talent warping away (at volume) with nowhere for us mere mortals to hide or escape them.

The pianist in the main bar was a thumper, who could not sing, didn’t know the words and fluffed his way through most of the songs. Another of the entertainers played so loud that there was nowhere to escape.

We had one night at one of the specialty restaurants (Izumi) where we paid an extra $US40 a head to eat there and the experience was terrible. While the food was OK, it was not worth the additional expenditure. The service was slow and poor, the ambiance was loud and akin to a cafeteria and at the end of the meal we found that there was an enforced 18% gratuity tacked on top of the bill.

The theme nights were terrible (in a food sense) with only a single option (in the main dining room) that represented that theme. The rest of the menu items were an eclectic spray across the board. On a European cruise, there was no focus on European things or foods. Although there was a fish and chip night when we were in England.

Instead there were Indian and Mexican nights. In fact, Indian was a constant staple for every single meal (despite the fact that there would have been less that 20 Indian guests on the whole boat – admittedly the chef was Indian). But the desserts were excellent, every day and for every meal. Those options were perfect.

On a similar theme, many of the announcements were delivered in both English and Spanish (less than 20 Spanish speakers on the boat). The German and Dutch tourists (it did leave from Amsterdam) were constantly asking what was going on. This may be fine for the Caribbean cruises but in Europe it didn’t work here.

It is clear that in a post Covid world significant cost cutting measures have been put in to strip away some of the outgoings while the industry rebuilds. But this has happened to the detriment of the cruise experience and threatens to derail the industry if this is not realised and adjusted, before it is too late.

The cost-cutting started with the dropping off of the higher-end spirits. As an example, I used to be able to order a Macallan single malt whiskey on the drinks package but it was pulled, so I switched down to the Glenlivet, which has also been pulled leaving only a Glenfiddich. As the cruise progressed, Jill started on the Kim Crawford’s Sauvignon Blanc which was also being phased out to lesser wines.

On arrival our names were wrong on the door of our room and we were told by our room attendants that the room cleaning would be reduced from twice to once daily. In reality nobody really needs their room serviced twice daily. He mentioned that before they looked after 17 rooms each, but that this number had gone up to almost 30.

At our status level (when we got on) we should have received a range of perks (robes, welcome basket, free water etc), none of which were present and when we raised it they were still not supplied. During the cruise we hit the next level of the loyalty program (so next time there are supposed to be even more perks). Nothing major was wrong, things were just a little bit off across the board.

We still enjoyed our cruise and it was certainly the best and most cost effective way to see Iceland (given that it is so expensive). The stops in Ireland and the UK were all nice and the experience was OK.

We are quite pragmatic as travellers and understand that some cost cutting had to occur. But by the same token, minimum standards and levels of service still need to be delivered for it to be a fun holiday and for people to want to come back and go on another cruise. If the cruise lines continue to strip back the inclusions on these ships, the market will respond unfavourably.