Day 2 in NYC: I Need More Power! And better feet.

Pre-dawn photos

Our second day in New York City started early for me (Like, when is that a surprise?) with a two-hour photo walk. But that walk got interrupted before it even began…twice. First, as I was leaving the ship, I looked at my phone (that I use to track my travels, navigate by GPS, call Kathleen if I need to, etc.) and found that it had not charged overnight even though it had been plugged in. Damn! So I walked back upstairs and plugged in. I knew I could get it up to around 40% in under 30 minutes, and that would be enough. Half an hour later, I was on my way.

This time, I got off the ship and through security before I thought, “You should check your camera batteries as well.” (I always have two on me. One in the camera and one in a pouch on my camera strap.) The one in the camera was at about 25%, but the one on my strap was…dead. So, back through security, back on the ship, up 4 floors to grab my third battery, which thankfully was fully charged. Finally, I was on my way. Whew! That was frustrating.

My original intention had been to re-walk the High Line, but since I had done that the day before and also five years ago, I decided to go out and shoot some light—Times Square. On the way, I thought how ridiculous it is that I would NEVER walk in the dark for that distance in Seattle. I would never have felt safe. But here I was in the Big Apple, and I felt totally secure. Working people were everywhere, a friendly cop on most corners and strangely enough, walking three miles around Manhattan, I did not see a single person high on fentanyl, asking for money or doing anything but getting on with their day. What a difference a few years makes. Seattle wishes it was as safe as NYC.

At any rate, I had a fun walk around the Times Square/Broadway area and these are the photos I brought back (and of course they have captions). Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Midday trek

Back to the ship, and after a quick breakfast, and five of us were off in an Uber to explore NYC. Jocelyn was still getting over her cold, and Kathleen felt like it was coming on, so they elected to stay on board. We were first headed to Zabars on the Upper West Side. If you have never heard of Zabars, just imagine the most well-stocked grocery store you have ever been to, where you can get ANYTHING, and it is all crammed into two 7-11s…with an entire kitchen shop on top of it. That’s Zabars. Here are three quick shots to show you what I mean.

All the sections of the store were as well-stocked, with as many choices as the cheese section. Add an upstairs cooking supply store, and for people like me who love to cook, it was magic. We stuck around there, but I knew I wasn’t going to buy anything because I didn’t want to have to lug it around the rest of the day. I am ashamed to say that every product I saw in the kitchen supply shot that I really wanted, I took a photo of with my phone and will be ordering those from Amazon when we get back home. I love to support small businesses but Zabars looked like they will survive (they have for a very long time).

I got done looking long before the rest of the gang, so I went outside to find a mailbox to drop some postcards I had written. Yes, I still write postcards. And then I planted myself in front of the store and did some street photography until everyone else had made their purchases. Here’s a quick gallery of photos from that session of waiting about 15 minutes. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

I forgot to mention that this midday foray into Manhattan had totally broken one of my absolute travel laws—never go anywhere unplanned. For me, the worst thing to be when traveling is just wandering around and going, “What do you want to do now?” Just typing those words bothers me. I know. I should just be spontaneous. But more arguments and ruined vacation days have come from those seven words than I want to remember. But there we were outside of Zabars, asking ourselves where we wanted to go. So we checked the map and found out we were just north of the entrance to Central Park, and since no one in our group except me had ever walked through the park, we decided to head that way.

Once we were in the park, the next question was where to go. I had never been to the Belvedere Castle, so we headed off to find that. Hopefully, it would make a good photo-op. It did. After exploring the castle and the views from the castle, we spoke with a park guide who suggested a great walk down the rest of the park to Columbus Circle. I was all up for this, but that’s because I am the walker in the group. The rest of the group decided that what they wanted most in NYC was a pastrami sandwich at a deli. So they headed off to find one on Lexington Avenue, and I headed south into the park on the route the guide had suggested to shoot more photos. Here’s what I got in the park. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.

After I took the second Belvedere Castle shot, the battery in my camera died, and I had to switch to my partially charged backup. Talk about worried. I knew I had a long way to go to get back to a charger. So I walked through the rest of the park, making sure my camera was only turned on to take a composed shot that I liked. For me, this was sheer torture. I like taking pics of everything (that’s why my batteries keep running out) and then sorting them out later. I probably discard 80% of the photos I take. But on this walk, I only took the ones I absolutely HAD TO HAVE. And this situation put me on another search. I was in Manhattan. There must be a camera store nearby where I could buy a new Nikon battery. Hopefully, they will have one fully charged and ready to go. So I popped out Google Maps on my phone and Googled nearby Nikon stores. I about fell on my face when I saw I was only 1.9 miles from the midtown home of B&H Photo.

For those of you who are not nutso, serious photographers like me, B&H is our Mecca. They are the ultimate camera store. They are only in NYC, but half the serious photographers in the USA buy from them. I had considered going there earlier, but I would have been the only one interested, and it would have been way too tempting for me. They literally have everything! Of course, as it turns out, they don’t have everything. They don’t sell fully charged Nikon batteries. Damn! (But that was OK. I got to spend about an hour browsing B&H and didn’t spend a cent.) Did I mention that B&H was at 34th and 9th? Because now I was way past Pier 88—so off I went to get back to the ship and to rest my feet. My total miles walked on this day in the Square, The Park and B&H was 14.2. To say my feet and legs were mad at me is a huge understatement.

The walk back was uneventful. I didn’t have any more photo opportunities because, by now, my camera battery was totally dead.

Sailing away from Manhattan

My plan (since I had shot our sail-in to NYC) was just to take a few photos as the ship was sailing back down the Hudson to the sea. But when I went up on deck and found that there was almost perfect light focused on the city, I had to stay and take more than a few photos. It was a good thing I had completely charged one of my camera batteries as soon as I had gotten back to the ship. Because, in that 45-minute trip from Pier 88 to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, I shot almost 300 photos. Everywhere I looked, there was perfect light on something else. I hope you agree. And don’t worry. I culled them down to a few of the best. And these you really shouldn’t look at on a tiny phone screen. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping.

Other than an evening meal at Ember (another of Vista’s specialty restaurants–That I will review soon along with the other three and all the food), that was about it for this day. It’s a good thing because my feet could not take standing anymore. I was thrilled that yesterday was a sea day, and I didn’t have any place to go except an onboard culinary class—more about that tomorrow. Today, we are in Charleston, South Carolina, and I look forward to a short walk to pick up a rental car, a covered surrey ride around downtown, some of the world’s best Carolina BBQ at Rodney Scott’s and a tour of the Magnolia Plantation. With a 90% chance of rain…this should be fun.

“I get out of the taxi, and it’s probably the only city which in reality looks better than on the postcards, New York.”   — Milos Forman


Whew! NYC wore me out…but it was GREAT!

So much to tell you. I hope I get this done before I have to go upstairs to do laundry (If I’m not the first person there on a sea day, I will never get it done.)

So, to go back what is now three days, there will be no report on Martha’s Vineyard. After a fairly bumpy ride on Saturday night, the Captain made the decision that the seas were too rough and the swells too high to use the tenders safely, so we skipped the Vineyard and floated around out at sea for most of a day. But that worked out as early Monday morning, we sailed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge into New York Harbor. We got incredibly lucky with the weather for both of our days in NYC. From the sail-in until the sail-away, we had either sunny or partly cloudy skies. Temps in the 50s and 60s, so I was loving it.

Day 1—we sail in

My day started at 4:45 a.m. when I headed up to the Horizons lounge at the front of the ship to watch the city get closer. Then, around 5:45, we sailed under the aforementioned VN Bridge, past Lady Liberty and all the way up the Hudson to Pier 88. We arrived at around 8:00 a.m., and the captain made what I thought was a miracle turn into our berth… I came back in from shooting photos to warm up. Even though the temps weren’t that bad, the wind on the deck made it feel a whole lot colder. But I got some great pics, and here they are. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Day 1–The Whitney and a High Line walk back

After a quick breakfast, the entire group (minus one who was still not fully recovered) set out to the Whitney Museum of American Art. We had pre-purchased tickets to see their collection. We had planned this because we were on the East Side of Manhattan, and the gigantic Columbus Day parade was on the West Side. We would head that way tomorrow. The main reason I wanted to go to The Whitney was that they have the largest collection of paintings by my favorite American artist, Edward Hopper. Sadly, not a lot of them are displayed (BOOH!). But we still enjoyed our two-hour visit. Then we walked across the street to see The Little Island up close and personal.

The Little Island. Taken from the outdoor viewing area of The Whitney Museum

The Little Island is one of the newest parts of the waterfront. It is entirely man-made and very reminiscent of the Gaudi architecture in Barcelona. The entire island sits on what looks like flowers coming out of the water, but once on the island, you would never know it. We walked all over the island. There’s an amphitheater, food stands and some incredible views up and down the Hudson. You will see them in a few minutes when I get to the midday slide show.

After our visit to the Little Island, we grabbed a quick bite of pizza in front of the Whitney, and Kathleen, Mike and Cathy took an Uber back to the ship while Steve and Jamie did a little shopping, and I set off to walk back to the ship via the High Line. If you are not familiar with the High Line, it is an elevated platform that runs from just outside the doors of the Whitney up Manhattan’s west side to just about where Vista was berthed. It used to be an old elevated railway but is now a beautiful pedestrian walkway.

I had previously walked the High Line on our last trip to NYC in 2018, but that was before sunrise when it was empty. This time was midday, and it was jam-packed with people out for a holiday (Columbus Day—which is still celebrated in NYC) stroll. As I walked north towards the ship, I shot a bunch of pics…and here they are. You know the drill. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Our evening—sorry, no pics

After I got back and gave my legs a rest, we all met up at 4:15 to go to dinner at Kellari Taverna. Kathleen and I had eaten there on our honeymoon in 1999. We loved it then, but not so much now. Their menu had gone from traditional Greek to pretty much seafood, and we had all come with dreams of a great Greek feast. The only truly Greek dish on their menu was mousaka, but it was a vegan dish (are you kidding me???). They did have a tasty octopus that I liked and a nice Greek salad. At least their baklava was excellent.

Almost forgot to explain why we were going to dinner so early—we had tickets to a Broadway show! Come on, you can’t come to NYC without seeing a Broadway show. When we booked the cruise, one of the highlights was this overnight stay in New York. But one big problem—most Broadway shows are dark on Monday nights, and we were there…on Monday night. But thankfully, a few still run, and we were lucky enough to snag tickets to Six. If you have not heard of Six, it is the story of the six wives of Henry the Eighth. I know, sounds boring, right? But what a high-powered, amazing musical that turned out to be all about feminine empowerment. Each of the wives sang in the style of two of our current pop stars—for instance, Catherine of Aragon sang in the style of Beyonce and Shakira. And she and the rest of the Six could sing. Grab the cast album from your favorite streaming site and have a listen—an uplifting and energizing show. It is on a national tour currently, so if you get a chance, go see it. You won’t be sorry—we weren’t. By the time we were done with Six, we were exhausted, and it was back to the ship and bed. I needed to be up for Day 2’s predawn photo walk. More about that in my next post.

“I would give the greatest sunset in the world for one sight of New York’s skyline.”    —Ayn Rand


Please Stay Tuned…NYC got in the way

Taken very early today as we sailed by.

Good morning, all! Just a quick note: your favorite travel blogger will return in a few days. I usually write in the mornings before dawn, but today, I took this photo (and a lot of others) as we sailed into NYC. We will be here until late tomorrow night, so I will be using tomorrow morning for a long walk on the Highline before the sun comes up. Thankfully, we have a sea day after we leave here so that I can catch up. Until then…stand by.

Portland Surprised Me

It’s 5:00 a.m. on Sunday, and it has been a very long and bumpy night. We have been skirting the edge of Hurricane Phillipe since we left Portland yesterday afternoon, rocking and rolling like Elvis in his prime. We are still moving a lot, but not as much as last night. Walking down to Martinis, where I write in the mornings, I didn’t see any damage, but they do have fans out to dry carpets…which is interesting. The only thing we personally had happen in the night was the tongs falling off our ice bucket. It made a lot of noise, but that was about it. Happily, our stop today (Martha’s Vineyard) is supposed to be sunny and in the 60s. We shall see.

The Portland Observatory

Yesterday was the exact opposite weather-wise, as you can see from the photo above. So when we awakened in Portland, Maine, I looked out and thought that since our excursion had been canceled, maybe I would just stay in. It wasn’t really raining at that point, just a lot of wet fog. But after breakfast, I decided that as long as it wasn’t raining, I should go out and walk, if not for photos, at least for exercise. So I did. Kathleen decided to stay on board. Jocelyn had checked in that she was going to spend the day in her stateroom, and the other four were already off on a walk around the old port. So I was on my own. That’s OK, as I tend to walk much faster than anyone else because they like to stop and browse windows, but I like to search for photo subjects. When I had finished the day, I was truly surprised at what I had found, from some street photography pics to a few churches (I could not get inside to see the stained glass) to a wonderful tower—the Portland Observatory.  There, they let me pay them $8 to climb 104 steps and take pictures from the top. There were docents on every level doing a great job of telling the history of the Observatory and greater Portland. I took the photo at the start of this post from the top of the Observatory.

So here are my best pics of the day. If you had told me I would be getting this many that I liked on this walk, I would have said you were nuts. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

BTW: We had been here in Portland almost five years ago to the day on Celebrity Summit (before they went to the dark side), and it has been sunny, humid and ninety degrees, so to be honest, I prefer this weather.

The moment they pulled the pilot off the ship.

After we sailed (around 3:00 p.m.), I got the balance of the shots of the lighthouses and the pilot boat. I love shooting pilot boats. If you don’t cruise, in every port, the local officials send out pilots who are totally knowledgeable about their respective ports, and they take over from the ship’s captain while sailing into and out of a port. The most dangerous part of their work is that they have to come out on a tiny pilot boat and literally jump from the moving boat both on and later off the ship. It is a fantastic thing to watch. The pilot boat maneuvering to get close to the boat, the two pilot boat crewmen reaching out to grab the pilot, and his getting pulled on board and off the ship was a thrill to watch, but even though pilots are VERY well paid, that’s not the occupation for me 😃.

See you tomorrow after Martha’s Vineyard…and yes, an hour later, we are still rocking and rolling but less like Elvis and more like The Beatles—a little softer.

I felt like I’d been misplaced in the cosmos and I belonged in Maine.  —Terry Goodkind


We made it into Bar Harbor and got to see it all!

The headline says it all for our group. When we did a New England cruise in 2018, we could not get into Bar Harbor due to sea conditions. The winds and the waves were really blowing. And when our buddy Mike went earlier than that, it was in the middle of the last government shutdown, so he was not able to get into Acadia National Park. But this time…calm seas and a fully-funded federal government (at least for now). Starting next year, Bar Harbor is limiting the number of cruise ship passengers that will be allowed to disembark all vessels to 1,000 per day. Many cruise lines have taken Bar Harbor off their itineraries. Can you imagine being on a LARGE ship (like Caribbean Princess with more than 3,000 passengers who was in port with us yesterday) and being told you couldn’t get off the ship until someone from the first 1,000 came back on board? So, yes, we were thrilled to be able to visit Bar Harbor.

Our day started with an immigration line. We had been informed the day before that Customs and Immigration agents would board the ship at 8:30 am when we arrived in Bar Harbor (Our first US port) and that everyone on board would need to come up to the Horizons Lounge on deck 14 forward and meet with them face-to-face. We had to bring our keycards and our passports. We had a tour of Acadia National Park with Oli’s Trolley booked at 10:30, and rather than be late or miss it entirely, Mike called and rebooked us for the 12:30 tour. From past experience, we knew this could be a long slog. The letter about the inspection stated that we would be called in deck by deck but that Oceania shore excursions would go first. We imagined long lines in the hallways when they announced a deck could go, followed by long lines at the elevators.

Happily, that is not what happened. First, we got into Bar Harbor early and they were ready to start the inspection at 8:00, so we gained half an hour then. Then we went to eat breakfast at Baristas, which is also on deck 14. They started with the lower decks first, so Jocelyn, being on deck eight, was the first one of our group to be called. My brother walked her over to the line and texted us back that there was no one there (Decks 7 and 8 were just about over) and that the young crew member supervising the line said that we could come right through.

So we jumped up from breakfast and walked over, expecting at least a small line. And there was a small line for some of the people on board—the US citizens. In fact, there was NO line for us. We were in and out of the entire thing in less than five minutes. It was amazingly organized and totally efficient. The Immigration office had sent a number of people, and they just looked at our passport, looked at us, we got a green dot on our keycard, and we were good to go. I should add that there was about a 15-20 minute wait if you were a non-US citizen.

Now we were done and ready to go, and we realized that we could have easily made that 10:30 tour. But that was OK. Mike, Cathy, Steve and Jamie headed into the village on the first tender, and Kathleen, Jocelyn and I waited about an hour and then took the tender in.

One major rant about some of our fellow passengers—when a cruise line tells you that there is a MANDATORY immigration interview that you MUST DO before you can get off the ship in any port on the rest of the cruise—BELIEVE THEM! Do the interview. As usually happens, right around 10:30, when everyone else had gone through the interview process, the cruise director started making announcements asking those who had not come up (about 30) to please come immediately so that the Immigration officers could get off the ship. They not only had to make this announcement three times, they had to call out individuals who had not shown up. I heard people talking later that they thought because they weren’t going to get off in Bar Harbor, they didn’t have to do the interview. But this interview cleared them not only for Bar Harbor but for Portland, Martha’s Vineyard, NYC, Charleston and finally, Miami. People, please—get with the program.

We met the early tenderers (is that a word 😁) for lunch at a really great place right at the end of the pier—West Street Cafe. I need to say a word here about this place. The food was great, the service superb, it was clean as a whistle, and we had a great time at a big round spot on the end of the bar, just about a perfect port lunch. We all highly recommend it. Mike and Cathy had the clam chowder and blueberry pie and said it was a great New England culinary experience.

I should also mention the tender ride into the harbor. Being the first of three ships to anchor and be ready to start tendering meant we got the prime landing spot right at the base of the village. It also meant Vista got the prime anchoring spot. The other two ships that were anchored were much further out, and while our tender trip was under 10 minutes, theirs was at least 20 or more. And because the Immigration inspection was faster than most thought it would be, it was easy just to walk down and get on a tender.

Once done with lunch, it was on to Oli’s Trolley (using that word in a singular fashion makes you think there is just one trolley—don’t worry, there’s more) for our tour of Acadia National Park. We had chosen the 2.5-hour tour. They also did an early morning tour that lasts 4 hours, but it is basically the same tour with longer stops. Ours had 15-minute stops, theirs 30. To be honest, 15 minutes sounds like a long time, but it isn’t. I just about had to really run at every stop to get the pictures I wanted. The stop where I also used the restroom was a mad dash.

Our guide was a very nice man named Fred, who got us on board and off right on time. The roads were PACKED, but he kept us moving, and we did the entire tour and returned only 10 minutes late. I would detail the tour for you, but my photos will do a better job. I think I did OK with them, considering two things. First, we had fog yesterday, and it was a bit cold. That meant that instead of using the open-air trolley, they used one that had windows. By the time we got there and the fact that almost everyone had a jacket or coat (that they quickly shed on the hot trolley), they could have used the open-air variety. Which, for me as a photographer, would have made for a lot more photo opportunities. Shooting through glass is not fun. Your biggest enemy is reflections from the glass. Or if the glass is dirty at all, the camera focuses on the glass window and not on the subject that is far beyond it.

The windows on this trolley did open a little bit (just enough for me to stick my lens out), but I couldn’t get low enough to see what I was shooting through my viewfinder. So when we stopped for just a minute or two so our guide could point something out, I got very few shots. But I am happy with what I did get. My best fall foliage photo was shot while the bus was going around 35 miles an hour, and I just pointed at the scene I was seeing and clicked the shutter a bunch of times, hoping that one of the shots would turn out to be a good one. I call that photography by pure luck.

You will have to judge for yourself. Here are the photos I got yesterday. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

That was just about the end of our day. After the Trolley ride, everyone except Mike and I went back to the ship. Mike went to take a photo of the ship, and I went to roam the streets of the village. I got a few shots, as you saw above. Our day finished up with an amazing meal in Toscana, Vista’s Italian specialty restaurant. More about that in an entire food post coming later.

One last note: while I was coming back on the tender, I got a call from our tour company in Portland, our next stop. We were supposed to do a small boat tour around the islands off Portland. They informed me that because Hurricane Phillipe was headed to Portland, they were canceling all tours. That made me both sad and apprehensive until I got back to the ship and looked at the National Weather Service website, and then I was just perplexed. Here’s the map from this morning.

As you can see, the hurricane (now a tropical storm) is not scheduled to be near Portland until 8:00 a.m. on Sunday. We are currently in Portland Harbor, and we have had no bad weather as of yet. Oh well, they gave us a full refund, but now we have to find something to do in Portland today. I guess I better get on that—more tomorrow.

There’s a quality of life in Maine which is this singular and unique. I think. It’s absolutely a world onto itself.  —Jamie Wyeth

Kind of Sad Shelburne

Update to yesterday’s Cape Breton post

First, I need to update yesterday’s post and give you the right contact info for our incredible guide, Dan the Man. After looking at Dan’s business card and talking to Mike, it appears that Mike booked the tour with Blackwell Tours, but Dan just contracts with them. He has his own company, Sydney Adventure Tours. His name is Dan McKinnon. Do Dan a big favor and book him on his own website (that’s the link in red). That way, he and his family get the total amount you pay for the tour as well as any tip you give him. And, of course, I know you all tip your guides very well 😁. Also, if you book him there, you are guaranteed to get Dan. If you book with Blackwell or through a company like Viator you can get any guide they contract with. You want Dan.

Shelburne—the little village that couldn’t

Yesterday, we were in the tiny village of Shelburne, Nova Scotia…for about 20 minutes. In fact, I think the time we stopped there was less than the time we took to tender in from the ship. Okay, I am exaggerating. But not by much. But even in his daily talk, our cruise director said that Shelburne “is a cute little village you can see in under an hour.” He was right.

We arrived off Shelburne around 11:00 a.m., and the ship had the first tenders running into the port within minutes. Most people, like us, had lunch on the ship and let those who wanted to rush in get off before we went down to get on the tender. We headed down around 12:30. Kathleen decided to stay on board (I should have stayed too.)

Once we got to the port, we did a kind of cool thing that might be the best thing that happened yesterday. Mike had found a FREE app called PocketSites. You download it to your phone, and then it gives you free walking tours of thousands of ports around the world. Now, this isn’t going to work for big ports like Barcelona or Athens, but it might have a neighborhood walk you could take in some of those places. BTW: If you don’t want to use the app on your phone, you can also do it online. Their website explains how it works for the town and for you, the user. Besides the app is free, there are no ads. They make their money from towns that want to post tours of their attractions.

We had all downloaded the app, and when we arrived, we just started walking the route. At each historical site, we could see a photo (to make sure we were at the right place), and there was a description of what we were seeing. Some of the sights had some in-depth stuff as well. As I was reading one aloud to some of our party, a local woman walked by and asked me to repeat what I said about a particular place and then told me, “Really? I had no idea that was what it was used for.” So, the app really knows its stuff.

The entire tour of Shelburne has 24 stops. When we got off the tender, we were right in front of number 11, so we started there. The entire tour took us under an hour. Mainly because there really was not that much to see. There are a lot of historical buildings painted with really interesting colors that date back to the 1700s. There are two pioneer museums, but both charged admission so we decided to skip them. The buildings that housed them were pretty small, so we weren’t sure of the value. Others I spoke to after we got back on board had done the museum and told me we were right to skip it.

The locals did try really hard to make everyone feel welcome. A few dressed in period costumes and led tours. I kind of felt sorry for my fellow cruises who purchased walking tours here in Shelburne from Vista. They, too (like the folks who paid to get in the museum), probably did not get their money’s worth. I felt bad for the village because if cruise ships coming there were supposed to boost the city economically, it wasn’t working. There were very few shops and restaurants, and most were empty. Especially since the ship had arrived so late and people had eaten lunch before they left the ship. Usually, when I get back on a tender, there would be all kinds of people holding bags of stuff they had purchased in port. Yesterday, I saw one person with a small bag who told me she bought two small bars of homemade scented soap. Most people who got off walked the waterfront, took some photos and went back on the next tender.

And speaking of photos, I had hoped to get some super photos in Shelburne based on pictures I had seen. Sadly, many of those photos I had seen were taken from a boat in the middle of their small harbor. I didn’t have a boat, so those wouldn’t work. Not to mention the fact that the skies were the blankest shade of white. Nothing flattens out a day of photography like flat, white skies. Here are the few I feel comfortable showing you. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and feel free to look at these on your phone. They are that sad.

Pizza Night on Vista

Last night (after our Shelburne adventure), we decided to have a pizza party. In the evening, Vista’s Wave’s Grille (where you can get burgers, paninis and hot dogs during the day) turns into a pizzeria. So we decided to grab our usual table in the back of the buffet and have a pizza night. It was awesome. We started with salads from the buffet. Then we headed to the pizzeria to order. They make eight different pizzas and will customize those for you. So we ordered seven of them, plus a BBQ beef flatbread (that was amazing), some Chianti, and a beer for Mike, and we had a great meal. I have never tried so many different kinds of pizza and I have never been so stuffed. But everyone agreed it was a superb way to do dinner. Just something to think about doing on Vista.

Unless you are a pizza, the answer is yes, I can live without you. —Bill Murray


Internet Frustration & Fun in Cape Breton

Internet Frustration

First up, this morning is the reason I missed posting yesterday and the most frustrating thing for the two of us on this cruise—being online. No, it’s not the speed of the WiFi/Internet connection. Oceania’s internet speeds are some of the best we have had during our time cruising. Our problem is with their stupid rule of only allowing one device at a time (per stateroom) to be online at the same time. And not only is it only one person, it’s only one device at a time.

The upfront advertisement says “free internet included,” but this is the reality. And since Kathleen and I both LOVE being online, this is pretty much a huge pain for us. Especially since due to the software I use to write a blog post (, I have to be online to write one. And that takes some time for me to kick her off, especially on sea days when there is not a lot to do. We could purchase an additional log-in. but the cost is more than $25 per day, and you have to purchase it for the entire cruise. Their policy is that you can’t just buy it on a daily basis. They also offer some packages that are by the minute, but that’s so last decade. I, for one, do not want to be sitting here typing and looking at a clock. That’s one of the best things about retirement—not having anything but self-imposed deadlines. We don’t need their WiFi when we are in ports, as our T-Mobile plan has free cell data around the world, so we just use our phones as mobile hotspots on port days.

I should add that Oceania is changing its internet policy. All cruises that sail after October 1 of this year (we sailed on September 29) will get internet connectivity for two included devices. But since we started our cruise before October 1, we don’t get that on this trip. But again, that’s only for two devices. What year are we in? Everyone wants to be connected all the time, right? It is a total pain that when I want to get on, I have to log off whatever device I last used to access the web.

This is another win for Viking in my Viking Ocean vs. Oceania competition to become our cruise line of choice. There, we had total internet for every device we had. I could use the phone in my pocket all day long to text others in our group about when we were meeting up, I could take my iPad to the gym to watch while I ride a stationary bike, and at the same time, Kathleen could be checking in with the kids, doing her daily puzzles/games and so on. Instead, I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning (of course, I am usually up at that hour anyway 😜) to write this blog so that when she wakes up at 7:30, she can log me off to go online.

I almost forgot another thing that drives us crazy about the internet on this ship. They throttle everything unless you upgrade to their most expensive package. That means no YouTube or any other site that shows videos. If you try to go to a site that might have videos, the system scans it and then says, “(your browser name here) can’t open the page because it can’t get a secure connection,” which is crap. I get secure connections to these sites all the time.

Complaining over—On to Cape Breton

Yesterday morning, we arrived (early) in the quaint town of Sydney, Nova Scotia. We had been here on our previous New England cruise five years ago, but we had horrible colds and had elected not to get off the ship. This time, we felt great, and our buddy Mike (the god of shore excursions) had arranged an awesome tour by Blackwoods Tours called The Highland Village Baddeck Bell Museum Tour. That is both a mouthful to say and not descriptive enough for the wonderful day we had.

ADDED LATER: After looking at Dan’s business card and talking to Mike, it appears that Mike booked the tour with Blackwell Tours, but Dan just contracts with them. He has his own company, Sydney Adventure Tours. His name is Dan McKinnon. Do Dan a big favor and book him there. That way, he and his family get the full amount you pay for the tour as well as any tip you give him. And of course, I know you all tip your guides very well 😁.

I first need to mention that Sydney is the first of four tender ports for Vista. For non-cruisers in the audience, when you “tender,” that means there is no place at the dock for your ship, so you get on a “tender” (which is usually one of the ship’s lifeboats), and they take you to a small dock. There were three ships in tiny Sydney yesterday, and we were the smallest. So the two big ships (one Princess and one Royal Caribbean) got to dock, and we got to tender. That said, Vista’s tenders are wonderful. We believe they are electric-powered, which means there is no diesel smell that always permeated other tender rides. The ride was smooth and quiet, and the boat was very comfortable and extremely clean. Lots of help getting on and off was very much appreciated by everyone in our party. The great condition of the tenders is due to the fact that they are so new. With Vista only being launched last May, her tenders have (as someone on the boat mentioned) that new car smell.

When it’s a tender port, there is an announcement made that we have been cleared to start tendering, and in the case of this cruise, we were to go to the theater and pick up tender tickets, which would then allow us to get off the ship. Usually, this means that those taking the ship’s excursions were allowed off on the first tender (a lifeboat carries about 60 people when being used as a tender—double that when being used as a lifeboat), and then everyone else in the order of your tender ticket. We were fortunate that the ship was cleared to start tendering early. The original schedule called for us to arrive at 9:00, but we were on our tender by 8:40, well before the ship’s tours were going to be going.

All in all, the tendering at this port was an outstanding experience. Well done, Oceania. (Is it just me, or are you totally sick of the word tender now? I mean I don’t even want to know if there are chicken tenders for lunch 😁.)

When we arrived on the dock, we were IMMEDIATELY met by our tour guide, Dan (the Man). We jumped in his van (which adequately fit seven people, although since our seven people are pretty good size, we were a little tight), and we headed out to explore Cape Breton. As we left Sydney, Dan started telling us about his island. It was clear from the start that our guide was both a native who loved his home and an entertaining guy to listen to. We have been on so many tours over our years of travel where the guides spout facts in a way that just says, “This is just my job, and I get paid by the word.”

It is so great to find a guide who not only loves what they do but truly loves the place they are taking you to tour. Dan could not wait to tell us everything he knew about Cape Breton but also to tell us about the music, the history, the geography, the geology, and so much more. Looking back on yesterday, I don’t feel like we took a paid tour but more like a good friend showed us the place he loves. That’s what makes a great tour guide. We have had guides like this in our 20+ years of touring, but they are few and far between. Out of hundreds of tours, I can count them on one hand—Marcello in Naples, Sylvie in Monaco, Luigi in Cinque Terre, and Tong in Bangkok. That’s our tour guide hall of fame. Well, you can now add Dan to that list.

While telling us about the history of his island, we drove to our first stop, St. Ann’s Lookoff. This is a great place to take a photo of the start of Cape Breton’s Cabot Trail. It truly is a great place to take a quick shot and stretch your legs. With three avid photographers on board, we all appreciated the few minutes it took to get out, and of course, Dan had some great stories about what we were seeing, like how the little house in the foreground was owned by Canada’s tallest man. And, of course, Dan had an entire story to go with that fact.

Then, it was on to the Alexander Graham Bell Museum, where the first telephone was invented. (I bet you thought that was in the U.S., right? I know I did.) I usually am not that much of a historical museum guy, but this one was good. There were lots of great displays, and I learned a lot of things I did not know about Bell. We also did some drive-by touring of Baddeck, a cute little village on a beautiful lake. And I forgot to mention (but you will see in my photos) we had the most beautiful and sunny day. The weather was just about perfect.

Then, it was on to the highlight of the tour, Cape Breton’s Highland Village. Back in the 17th century, a large contingent of Scottish people immigrated to Cape Breton. This village highlights their journey and life here on the island. You start with an old croft house made of stones that we had seen on our tours in Scotland, and you finish with what their houses looked like in the early 1900s. Along the way, there are structures that reflect the years in between, jumping 20-30 years each time. Throughout the village, there are people dressed in costumes that are appropriate to the era of the building they are in. Check my photos and captions for a better idea of what I mean. Suffice it to say that it was very interesting and a genuinely excellent way to learn the history of the Scottish people on Cape Breton.

After that, Dan took us to one of his favorite beaches to see the sand and the gypsum (it’s too long a story for this post as to why those matter—but they do), and we headed back to Sydney to meet the ship. On the way back, Dan not only continued to tell us about the island but played some tunes from local musicians singing about the island and its history. While I fully realize that sounds relatively dull, Dan loved it so much and told us the background of the songs and the singers in such a way that his enthusiasm was contagious.

Here are the photos I took on this beautiful day (with captions, of course). Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

This just about concludes our day on Cape Breton. All in all, we spent a great day in Dan the Man’s van!

Oops, I didn’t mention that Cape Breton is in Nova Scotia, which is part of what is referred to in Canada as “The Maritimes.” Those are the provinces that sit up in Canada’s northeastern corner and border the Atlantic sea (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island—my best Canadian friend Bob will let me know if I missed any down in the comments.)

Canada is like an old cow. The West feeds it. Ontario and Quebec milk it. And you can well imagine what it’s doing in the Maritimes.
—Tommy Douglas


Quebec City…in the Daylight

I tossed in that “in the daylight” line because the last time we were in Québec City, we were here overnight, and I was lucky enough to be able to get some incredible shots. This time, I got a chance to actually take the same photo at midday that I took five years ago at 5:00 a.m. It will give me a great photo to show to people when they think I am crazy for getting up so early just to take photos. In fact, while I am mentioning it, here are the two pics, side by side. Five years ago at 5:00 a.m. and yesterday, at around noon. Click on the photos to read my captions.

We had a pretty good day in Québec City. Kathleen and Jocelyn had gotten totally worn out from our three days in Montreal, so I set out with Cathy, Mike, Steve and Jamie to explore the city. As I mentioned above, we were here just about exactly five years ago. It was a lot warmer yesterday than it was five years ago. Our ship was docked just a few hundred yards up the pier from where we had been that time. But both were just a short walk from downtown. We walked through the lower town to the funicular that, for $5CAN, would take you to the upper town. It’s a good thing we were early because when I walked by the lower station later in the day, there was a line the proverbial mile long.

Once up at the top, we found something that amazed me—the Québec Marathon. What were the chances that the two times I would come to Québec City in my lifetime, I would be there for the marathon? Of course, that meant that we would have to see the city and work our way around the city, avoiding the race. We were able to get across the track with the help of race officials, but we still seemed to run into the racers wherever we turned.

We walked around, as Cathy was looking for a kind of embroidery museum that she had seen on her previous land-based visit. It was part of the works of the Ursuline nuns who pretty much-founded education here in Québec City. When she had been here before, she said it had been a cute little shop attached to the convent. Now, they have a complete museum, but it was more about the order’s history than the embroidery. The others decided to take a look and I decided to shoot a couple of photos of the church next door. Mike and Steve were out in almost no time, but Cathy and Jamie really enjoyed it.

I decided at that point to head off on my own to take some more photos and then head back to the ship to have a late lunch with Kathleen and Jocelyn. We ended up trying the Waves Grille. I would tell you all about the lunch and the Grille, but I am saving those thoughts for a big post on the food. That is really what Oceania is all about, and I want to hit it all at once. So here’s my meager number of photos from Québec. The light was just too harsh for me to really get into taking photos. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

On openness

When I do a live report on a cruise, I also put most of the text and one of the photos on a thread on Cruise Critic (for the non-cruisers, find out about Cruise Critic here). Fellow cruisers will ask me questions on the board, and I got one this morning. I thought I would post the question here as well. The person asking was comparing Viking Ocean to Vista and wanted to know if this was an “open ship.”

Here’s their exact question:

“Does the new Vista have the same openness as a Viking ship? Can one see the sky and water when in common spaces? Or is there drapery hanging from the ceiling, or are there walls of windows?  I am a Viking Cruiser because of the ship design, first and foremost.”

Here’s what I told them:

If it’s sky and water you want, stick with Viking. Thanks for making me think about this. It’s not something I usually would even contemplate, but you really made me realize how little there is below deck 12. When I got up in Québec, I wanted to see the city. I had to climb to Deck 14 and go into the Horizons Lounge to be able to see the Hotel Frontenac. On Viking, I could have done that from at least three lower decks.

I would say, on the whole, this ship is more closed up. I know exactly what you mean. I found the Viking ship we sailed on to be VERY open. Like most cruise ships, some lower decks are public (in the case of Vista, that is, five and six) and some upper decks that are public (12 through 16—there is no 13). You can only see the water from the upper decks or your own verandah. I am typing this sitting on deck six. You can’t see a thing anywhere on this deck except in the dining room, and there, we have been put in a windowless corner every night because of the size of our party. Most of the rest of the dining room is covered with sheer curtains you can see through. Some people sitting by the windows have opened those up.

This also reminds me that on sea days, I exercise by walking on the ship. On Viking, there is a wrap-around promenade deck that I walk on. Here, the only place to do that is a very nice walking/jogging track around the back portion of deck 15. The Viking promenade is 1/4 mile, and the Vista track is 1/10th of a mile. So you see a lot of the same things again and again.

Quebec City is the most European of any city in North America; they speak French all the time. There is a part of the town called Old Quebec, which is really like being in France. The architecture is just gorgeous, food, shopping. I’d say Quebec City is the most beautiful city in North America I’ve seen.  —Sebastian Bach


Day 3: Montreal For the Photo Followers

Yes, there are two posts today. If you are a cruising fan and missed the earlier one on our stateroom, it is below this one.

Here they are for my readers who follow me for my photography and have been asking about what happened on my third day in Montreal. I’m so sorry I forgot to put them out there. I got into the cruise stuff and forgot to add them.

On our third morning, I awoke onboard Vista. One of my favorite things about overnights on cruises is that you can get on or off at any time of the day or night. So I was up at my usual 5:15 and walking out of the port at 5:30. Here’s what I shot on that walk. Don’t forget; if you click the first shot, you can then scroll through with your arrow keys or by swiping…and PLEASE…don’t look at my photography on a phone. Please…

Back on board for breakfast

Once back on board, we met the group (sans later sleepers Jamie and Steve) for breakfast in the buffet—which was outstanding. I will do a whole post on the food toward the end of the cruise. Then we took a walk down the waterfront with most of the gang to see Old Towne. I took about 25 photos, and I am not happy with a single one of them. The light was directly overhead and incredibly harsh. Not even going to bother to show them to you. Just know, they were bad. And nothing I could do made them in any way special, and I can usually fix them somehow.

Afternoon boat tour

We wanted an activity that didn’t involve a lot of walking, so we decided to do a harbor cruise on a smallish boat. We used Bateau Mouche. Don’t use them. It was NOT a good value. $21CAN for a 45-minute ride, of which half was the same sights as the first. We got to see the river and learned some fun facts, but we all voted that we wished we had gone with another company or skipped it altogether.

I got some photos, but the best ones were of the Six Flags amusement park that sits on a man-made island in the middle of the St. Lawrence. Those were fun. And a couple of other river-cruise-type shots. Here they are—you know the drill.

That about covered our time in Montreal. It was a great city. Lots to do, and if you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it. We had a great time, ate great food, saw many cool sights, and so much more. Tomorrow, a little more about the ship and our visit to Québec City. We did sail right on time and had a very peaceful voyage down the St. Lawrence River to Québec City.

Montreal is a great town. There’s equal parts blue-collar town.
—Jay Baruchel

Vista Day 1–Embarkation and Our Stateroom

When last I wrote, we had just boarded Vista and been through a beautiful embarkation. When we left the hotel in three separate Ubers, we truly believed we would not be boarding until at least 1:30 or 2:00. But about halfway through our Uber ride (Kathleen, Jocelyn and I), my brother texted that they were letting anyone on and should they go through. We said to hang on; we would be right there. The cruise port was only a 10-minute drive from the hotel. But by the time we got there, the others had gone through and were waiting to board the ship.

We got in line (which was a little longer by then) and were also on board within ten minutes. The port of Montreal is the EXACT opposite of the port of Vancouver, where on our last cruise in May, embarkation had taken three hours and forty-five minutes (you can read about that fiasco here).

When we reached the inside of the ship, we were met by an officer who asked for our key cards (which came to us in a really cool little leatherette folder) so he could see where our muster stations were. We had already watched the video at home when we did our check-in and again a few days later when they sent another reminder (I think we got about five e-mail reminders to watch the video). The officer directed us to our muster station (we were in the main dining room), and we headed there immediately, got our key cards scanned and as far as Oceania was concerned, we were through with them until we sailed the next afternoon. We headed up to the buffet for lunch, where the rest of the gang was holding a table for seven for us, and we started to sample the amazing food that Oceania calls “the best at sea.” Just a note here. I could start going on and on about the food here, but I am going to do a complete post on the culinary glory that is Vista cuisine (at least so far).

Our stateroom–Concierge Verandah 9118

When we boarded, we were told that our suites would be ready by 2:00 p.m. and the rest of the staterooms soon after. But about halfway through lunch (close to 1:00), there was an announcement that suites (not us) were ready. We were in a Concierge verandah, and they announced that those would be available by 2:00 and the rest of the staterooms by 3:00. Lo and behold, at around 1:30, there was an announcement that our staterooms were ready. It was then I realized what had happened with our embarkation time, and what was now true about stateroom readiness was that Oceania was one smart cruise line. They were practicing one of the greatest marketing tools known to business: underpromise and over-deliver. Tell us things will be bad; we grumble a little and then be a hero by getting them done a lot better. It’s impressive to me and something I love to have happen. Should they not have been able to deliver early, they were fine. I had already grumbled.

But getting back to our stateroom, we are in Concierge Verandah 9118, which is aft of amidships on deck nine. We had read that the staterooms were pretty large, and our last stateroom on HAL’s Koningsdam was only 185 square feet, so we thought these would be much bigger at 250 square feet, but honestly, they don’t feel any bigger. Sadly, we have been spoiled by our last three major cruises. In July of 2021, our first cruise back after the pandemic shut down was on Celebrity’s Flora in the Galapagos. Those staterooms are HUGE—almost suite size (330 square feet). Then we were lucky enough to snag a Neptune Suite on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam, and they are even bigger (380 square feet). And last year, we did 21 nights on Viking Ocean in a Penthouse Veranda, and it was smaller than the Neptune but much larger than we are now (338 square feet).

I am only really concerned about the comparison to Viking Ocean because we are VERY loyal cruisers (as evidenced by our 20+ Celebrity cruises), and we are looking for our next cruise line to give our loyalty to, and the stateroom we are in now is just about the same daily price as the much larger one we had on Viking Sky. Not only was it larger and had about 3x the storage space (the worst part of our current stateroom) and about the same size bathroom. The shower is bigger, but not by enough that I noticed it. But where we have a tiny couch and the usual oval miniature coffee table today in 9118, on Viking, we had a full-size couch and coffee table plus plenty of room between the bed and a full-size dresser/desk. Let’s look at some room photos instead of continuing with the comparison. And I apologize for the fact that I took the pics after we had unpacked. I usually get them right away, but because Jocelyn was in a regular verandah stateroom, she came down to ours while Kathleen unpacked, and I walked around the ship taking photos.

BTW: No admonition on looking at these on a cell phone. Feel free. Not my best photography. And if you click the first one, they play as a slideshow. If you can’t read the captions, do the slideshow and if they are still cutoff, click the i in the circle.

A great feature of the stateroom that I almost forgot is the huge (for this size room) television. There are a lot of choices on this Smart-TV. Free movies, TV shows, A great bridge cam, two maps—one interactive, a music library, ship info and of course you can check your ship account as well.

One other thing that is kind of a pain. If you cruise, you know where your big suitcases go when you are done unpacking them—under your bed. You can’t slide large suitcases under these beds. They are too low. We were kind of worried about that until Mike told us that you could ask your stateroom attendant to put them under there for you. They have a special tool that lifts the beds. Sorry, but that’s poor planning on Oceania’s end. I mean, buy a bed that’s a little higher (like every other cruise line).

All in all, we feel like this Concierge Verandah stateroom is a poor value when compared to a similar-priced Penthouse Verandah stateroom on Viking Ocean. Score one for Viking. But that might be the only one. Stay tuned.

I have been black and blue in some spot, somewhere, almost all my life from too intimate contacts with my own furniture.
—Frank Lloyd Wright