Well, yes, there were a lot of hoops to jump through for this post-covid sail. The rules are new–all adults must be vaccinated, and you must present a negative covid test 48 hours prior to boarding. This could be a deterrent to a lot of people because the ship was only 1/3 full. What a delight!
This is my first time on the Royal Caribbean ship Ovation of the Seas. In some ways I felt like I’d never sailed before; with the covid protocols and the experiencing of a newer and extremely large ship I was a little overwhelmed the first couple of days.
Here is my good and not so good list of this Alaska trip and the Ovation ship:
The layout of the ship is very easy to get around for a ship this size.
Food was very good. On lobster night waiters circled around the dining room with platters of lobster tails asking guests if they want more. The servers handed them out like candy. Dining rooms were divided into “E” for everyone, or “V” for vaccinated. It didn’t matter to us, but most people like the idea of dining with only vaccinated people. We purposely ate in the “E” dining rooms because they were so empty. The only unvaccinated were the kids and there were very few.
We purchased a specialty dining package. For $109 pp we could dine in 3 of the specialty restaurants. We chose Jamie Oliver’s Italian (my favorite), Izumi Sushi, and Chops Steakhouse. These restaurants are normally $35-$45 per person. Excellent Food!
Shows and music venues were top-notch. The main attraction shows were also segregated. “E” on the upper level of the auditorium, and “V” on the lower level. The vaccinated level didn’t have to wear a mask during the show.
Not so good
Embarkation felt confusing. Royal Caribbean really encouraged downloading their app. This was supposed to make all things easier. The only thing was we had trouble getting our phones to work at the pier, since we were only getting 1 bar on our phones. Next time I will make printed copies of documents.
We had a balcony cabin, which was fine, but there were no bathrobes in the closet, or drinking water. In my memory most ships we’ve been on have had these. Not having a robe for the pool or even just a pitcher of potable water to drink irked me.
We only went into maybe two of the shops on the royal esplanade decks. They have many high-end purse and jewelry stores that were usually empty. We couldn’t find a shop that sold simple things like candy, chips, gum, Ibuprofen, and those types of items.
I was disappointed with the ship activities. They were mostly trivia games, relationship game shows, bingo, and casino specials. I’ve been on ships before that had cooking demonstrations, computer classes, and destination lectures. Again, maybe things were trimmed down because of covid.
We enjoyed the ports. Something to remember if you are a first timer to Alaska is that fall season can be rainy, cold, and dreary. I cancelled some of my outdoor port excursion because of that.
The morning we pulled into Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier, I opened the curtains in our stateroom to a beautiful day and icebergs floating by.
I love these types of quiet relaxing cruises–lots of reading, eating, and napping. I was surprised at how much motion the ship had, mostly the first day out of Seattle in open ocean, and the last day before arriving in back in Seattle. We were taking our Dramamine.
We only had to wear a mask in hallways, shops, and walking around in the buffet area. Lounge areas had seats blocked off for social distancing.
We were really spoiled with the ship being so empty and loved every minute of it.
Our trip to Florida was our first vacation since the Covid pandemic and exactly a year from our last vacation. Florida has never been a destination on our bucket list, but with international travel still difficult to do, we decided to make the best of a February getaway. Travel in any shape or form sounds good at this point.
Two Floridas? The first -My husband’s idea of a good time and my idea are not always the same. We travel together but our activities are split and we do our own thing. The other tale is that we divided our stay, 3-nights in St Augustine and 3-nights in Disney World. Disney was solely my idea and it took a bit of coercing to get my mate onboard with that one.
St Augustine- Florida Part 1
Since this portion of the trip fell on a Fri, Sat, Sun, I knew this would be a busy and crowded time. Since I wanted to see St Augustine and my husband was going to golf and enjoy the Golf World Hall of Fame which is about 20 miles away, I booked us a hotel off of I-95 in between the two. This worked out perfectly for the things we wanted to do. Below is my good and not so good list of my experiences.
St. Augustine is a beautiful town. I really liked the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre de Dios. It’s a pretty waterfront park…and it was the only free parking I could find.
Dan golfed at 2 nice courses at Golf World Village, Slammer & Squire and King & Bear.
I took a backroads drive to Jacksonville, and in the town Green Cove Springs I found a couple of neat old cemeteries.
Not so good
St Augustine parking is next to impossible and the city was extremely crowded…(albeit this was a Saturday). Driving through on a Monday was much better.
Disney World- Florida Part 2
Leaving St Augustine we drove the A1A coastal highway, a little slow-moving but very scenic. We bypassed Daytona and got back on I-95 for a bit and then continued on to Cape Canaveral and Cocoa Beach. The drive and sightseeing took most of the day and we arrived at Coronado Springs Resort inside Disney World around dinnertime.
Not so Good
Coronado Springs resort is nice… and very gigantic.
Dan had 2 golf days inside Disney- the Palm, and Magnolia.
I went to Animal Kingdom one day- a nice, fun park, not too crowded. The best ride was Avatar: Flight of Passage.
The next day I went to Epcot. This was my eating day: so many countries with so many foods to try. This park was very empty, 20 mins was my longest wait for a ride.
Because of Covid only 2 full-service restaurants were open, not good for a resort of this size and the wait time for a table was ridiculous.
We ate dinner one night at Polynesian Resort. Food was good but pricey, that was expected. Shuttle buses were about every 1/2 hour or else too full to get on. We used Uber when eating at the other resort.
Here is what I learned about Disney World… you cannot be in a hurry for anything. Everything takes a long time, restaurant waits, shuttle buses, lines for rides, and walking around the hotel/resort area, everything is far because it’s so big. Of course the travel agent in me spent a little bit of time shuttling over to other resorts to see what they look like.
Disney resorts are so nice, they are a vacation destination on their own–you don’t need a theme park everyday. I expected the Floridian resort to be nice, but I was blown away by how nice. Talk about the “wow!” factor.
Would I do Disney again? Yes! (my husband said absolutely not). What would I do different? Maybe I’d bring a car as to not rely on shuttle buses, bring an older school-age grandchild with me, and spend more time enjoying the resort amenities.
I recently overheard a lady in my local bookstore describing a monastery in southern Arizona that she had visited. I googled St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery in Florence, AZ. This oasis in the desert is about 72 miles southeast of Phoenix.
This sanctuary is a true garden of Eden- flowering bushes, fountains, fruit and olive orchards, with scattered small chapels.
First thing, when you stop at the gift shop entrance a nice lady provides a map and lets you know that you are free to roam the gardens and chapels at no charge (a donation is good). Photos are OK, just don’t take any of the monks. And most important you must be dressed appropriately. Since is was 90 degrees that day we visited we were wearing short sleeves and shorts. Baskets of long sleeve shirts and long pants and skirts were provided to put on over your existing clothes. Women need to wear a headscarf.
The day that we were there, we saw no other visitors walking the grounds. We did however see a few monks. The gift shop was more busy, probably because they sell fresh baked breads, fruit preserves, olive oils, and baked goods like baklava. Of course, we did buy an armload.
I’ve always considered myself somewhat outdoorsy, and the idea of 7 days on the Colorado river— rafting, hiking, and camping– made me a little nervous. I like camping and hiking, but rafting–not really. I will tell you things I loved, and the things I found challenging.
What I loved—
Living literally outdoors for a week, no tent, sleeping under the wide open full-moon sky. No showers, no bathrooms, matted sticky sandy hair, it all felt so primitive. I loved the idea of knowing we were so far from civilization. Your world truly revolves around the sun (up at 5 am in bed at 8 pm) and weather.
Camp food is always good. We had steak, salmon, fried potatoes, brownies and cake baked in a cast iron Dutch oven. Eggs and pancakes for breakfast, and lunch was a table buffet of sandwich fixings, chips, candy and cookies.
Getting to know your raft-mates, people that instantly became family. You become fairly intimate with strangers when you live so closely together for a week. We all worked together on the “duffel line” loading and unloading the raft each morning and evening. Evenings were nice sitting in our camp chairs with drinks discussing the day and being entertained by ravens circling and stealing camp snacks. After the trip our raft-mates exchanged and shared photos on Facebook.
We did not raft 6 solid hours a day, we had lots of hiking and swimming adventures throughout the day. We hiked to hidden waterfalls and natural pools to swim. One day we hiked up to the confluence of the Little Colorado River, a tributary where the water is an unusual beautiful color of turquoise caused by alkaline and high mineral content, a refreshing place to swim. One stop was a short hike to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. We walked to the canteen in 100+ degrees to get cold drinks and sit on a picnic table under a shade tree. This was special since I have no desire to ride mules or hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (the only other ways to reach this “resort”). I figured this was the only chance I’ll ever have to see this hot infamous oasis.
What I found challenging—
Hot, Hot, Hot! 100+ degrees in the canyon. Hot sand and rocks and next to no shade when we stopped for lunch and late afternoon camping. In the evening the hot wind would blow sand, I was covering my head with a sheet but sand was in the sleeping bag, my duffel bag, and caked to my wet sandals.
Some of the hikes were strenuous. I’m not in the best of shape for climbing hot steep rocks and walking along ledges looking down below at the pools in Havasu Canyon. We were all wearing slippery water shoes and sandals, while the guides were jumping from rock to rock, and climbing in flip flops, yikes!
And of course– the main event of the week rafting! I did it and after the first 2 days I was feeling more comfortable with it. In the beginning being hit with that shocking cold water was really uncomfortable. But with the heat and the hot-to the-touch rubber raft, it became refreshing. The front of the raft is nicknamed the “the bathtub,” which is where you really get soaked. In the few times that I did sit up there going through rapids– you get hit (and hard) by a wall of ice cold water–I would gasp, and it took my breath away, and then I’d immediately get hit again with hardly anytime to catch a breath in between. Our raft went through a few rapids rated “9“ and “10”. Hitting rapids would be a cross between riding a roller coaster and a bucking bronco. I was scared to death, but all I could think of was to hang on for dear life.
What did I take away from this trip?
It’s amazing the scary things you push yourself to do. Now, in my older years I’ve become a little wimpy to this kind of adventure. I hiked trails I would have never done on my own, nor would I have ever volunteered to sit in the “bathtub” of a raft… thank goodness for peer pressure.
What a beautiful time to visit Yellowstone– mid-September, about 2 weeks before closing for the primary tourist season. The weather was really good, with temps in the mid 70’s. On the last 2 days it rained and was just starting to get cold, especially at night.
I had no idea that there was so much to see inside the park, and 4 days was perfect. Besides the famous Old Faithful geyser there are waterfalls, canyons, hiking trails, hot springs, wildlife, and a large lake. My favorite area was Norris geyser basin with walking trails on boardwalks.
Although we had booked this trip last-minute, we were able to get rooms inside the park lodges, but we had to move around to different hotels 3 times: Canyon Lodge for 2-nights, Old Faithful Inn 1-night, and 1-night in the Old Faithful Lodge cabins.
Here are some things to know about visiting Yellowstone–
The park is very user-friendly. There are hundreds of miles to explore. As long as there are no orange cones up blocking the road you are free to roam. There are plenty of picnic areas and pull-offs to stop at and take pictures.
This park is very accessible. I was surprised at how many people I saw with wheelchairs and walkers. The park provides ramps, accessible rooms, and special parking.
The food was not very good. You have to eat in the park restaurants, or buy food in the little convenience store. The buffets were priced fair and the nicer sit-down restaurants were a little pricey for the quality. If I were to do it again, I’d bring more food in.
It gets really dark at night. You need a flashlight, and there are not many streetlights. This is great for star-gazing.
No televisions, no wifi, and no radio. Welcome to off-the-grid!
My spa experiences while traveling are a fairly recent phenomenon. I have to say it all started the week that I overindulged–too many in 1 week, I just couldn’t take anymore. We were staying at La Quinta Resort just outside of Palm Springs. The fantastic hotel package that included unlimited daily golf (for you know who), and a daily spa treatment for me. What a way to sample the menu of treatments, some of which I’d never heard of before. The La Quinta Spa is a wonderful place and I made my reservations for the week, with a line-up of things like sacred hot stone, reflexology, an orange blossom wet scrub, and a facial. By the 4th day I was feeling like it was a little too much and I even tried to cancel the last one, but there was a penalty so I forged on to one more massage. Somehow, after (mostly enjoying) a week of excess, I felt I had evolved into a spa expert. And that is how I became more adventurous in the world of Spas.
In China, I had a half day to wander around by myself since my spouse wanted to take a long walk to Tiananmen Square and back. I was not interested since we were going to be there the next day on a tour anyway. I was walking around the neighborhood of our hotel and saw a massage place (I hate to say parlor). I walked in and asked if anyone spoke English–no, but the receptionist handed me a menu written in English and I chose a basic simple massage for 90 yuan — about $15. It was a really hot day and the building was not air-conditioned. I was led to a room that was hot, humid and smelled of cigarette smoke. The girl had me put on silk pajamas for my massage, and she did a great job. It was a nice experience, no English spoken the whole time and the girls were very friendly.
Cusco, Peru: this was probably the creepiest experience. This place was upstairs over a tattoo parlor. I was a little over-anxious about being able to see my belongings while I had my head in the table. This was because the walls were curtains, so I ended up moving my stuff underneath the table so I could watch it.
Since I’m not crazy about spending top dollar for hotel spa treatments, I’ve learned you can usually go down the road for a lot less. This is what I did in Scottsdale, AZ. Again we were on a golf trip staying at a nice resort. I’m sure they had a nice spa, but before we left home I had googled the neighborhood and found a nice place with a specials coupon and made a reservation.
Sometimes, I indulge while on a cruise. Ships will usually have special prices on port days. The last time I had a spa treatment on a cruise was in St Croix. My masseuse was a lovely lady who told me all about her granddaughter, who called her “grand-nanny”. Grand-nanny was only 37 years old! I’ve read that when cruising and you want to know the inside scoop at the ports, ask the crew. I asked her about what to do in St Croix and she told me where to find a public free beach within walking distance of the ship where the locals and crew go. I followed her instructions and it was a quite suitable beach.
In a couple months we are going to Italy and we will have several free days in Siena. Isn’t this the land of Roman baths? Guess what I’ll be looking for?
I have just returned from another fabulous trip to NYC, and I always learn a few new things. We stayed again at the Empire Hotel on 63rd & 9th, on the upper west side, across the street from the Lincoln Center, and in fact we had 2 large windows facing it. I really like this area and think of it as my “neighborhood” We were a couple blocks from Columbus Circle subway and a Whole Foods. Walk up Columbus Ave and there are lots of small restaurants and outdoor cafe’s. The same with walking south on 9th street, small hardware stores, fruit and vegetable stands, and more small ethnic restaurants.
I have decide that this is the NY I like, I really don’t care for the Time Square area, it’s fun to walk through and look at the neon lights, but it is nothing more than gift shops, and chain retail/restaurants. Monday, Aug 5, there was a roped off area in the square, someone inside yelled out “Happy National Underwear Day!” I later read that at 5:00pm that night 2000+ people gather together in their underwear trying to break a record. Wow, I’m sorry I missed that.
I can’t think of any negatives on this trip. I had my line-up of things to do and eat before we came and all went well. Here is a list of my top 10 for this trip. #1 Great Hotel Room and location. #2 Restaurant Week, a great way to sample some of the best restaurants with 3-course meals for $38. #3 Saw an Off-Off Broadway show in a small theater in Tribeca, The Kings Whore. A modern spin on Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn #4 Food Truck tour in the Financial District by Turnstile Tours. A great guide (Brian), and 6 different samples. All were good, but my favorite was the Grenada Jerk Chicken by Victoria. #5 I saw 3 celebrities– I saw Hoda & Kathy Lee filming the Today Show, and on the NBC tour I saw Mayim Bialik from the Big Bang Theory walking down the hall into a make-up room. #6 Best food to enter my mouth, Ramen at Totto Ramen on 52nd st & 9th, Lunch at Chili Thai on 9th & 49th, appetizer Black Cod Miso on Limestone Lettuce at Nobu Next Door, and the Confit of Duck Leg at Apiary at 3rd Ave in East Village. #7 The weather made the trip! high 70’s all week. I was expecting a lot worst for NY in Aug. #8 Three visits to the Wafels and Dinges food truck. It didn’t help that it was a block a way from our hotel. #9 My first visit to the Metropolitan Museum and Cloisters Museum. Wow! I need another visit, I barely scratched the surface of the Met. #10 A nice mellow evening of Mostly Mozart and the Lincoln Center.