Cruise report: Port of Red Bay, Labrador

Red Bay, Canada marked my first visit to Labrador, the mainland portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s the most northeasterly part of North America, according to Wikipedia.

Our transatlantic cruise itinerary called for embarking in Boston, then calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston for disembarkation.HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

We were in Red Bay on 7-August-2022.

Green hill descends through a veil of fog to grey ocean waterOn a voyage marked by exceptionally good weather, Red Bay gave us a misty, overcast day. From the ship, I was impressed by how beautiful it was. I love to be wrapped in the mystery of fog, especially beside the sea.

We had no excursions booked for this port, so I enjoyed a leisurely morning on board before making my way to the lower deck from which tenders depart. I wanted to minimize my time in crowds, and this was an excellent choice in that regard.

Click here to download PDF of HAL Daily Program front and back covers for this port.

First impressions

Red Bay was the first tender port on our itinerary. I’d taken a few cruises before, but never before had I availed myself of the tenders on a HAL vessel, plus my last cruise was several years prior to the pandemic.

How to board a cruise ship tender

Fortunately, the ship’s announcements make it easy to figure out where to go and what to do in every port, whether docked or using small tender boats to whisk passengers ashore.

The only possible mistake is not having your stateroom television tuned to the appropriate channel to make public announcements audible in private rooms. Those waiting in public areas will hear all broadcasts by the ship’s officers, but only vital ones are piped into cabins.

I made my way to the lower deck from which tenders depart, and found just a few people waiting the next trip. Another newbie mistake is failing to note when the last tender will return to the ship, or not synchronizing your personal timepiece to the correct local time. We had until 15:30 in Red Bay.

If you’ve never tendered from a cruise ship before, you should understand that you will be scanned on and off the ship in the interior hallway, just as you would be when docked. Ship’s security mans two podiums at all times when guests traverse the passage, checking identification for everyone.

Even anchored offshore, no one can wander onto a cruise ship!

There is a fairly steep staircase down to water level where several crew members are on duty to lend a hand; no corners are cut on safety here! Just be aware, if you are very anxious, that you are exposed to the elements on the ship side when boarding a tender, and it can be colder/wetter near the water line.

Passengers board the tender boatFor those using wheelchairs, staff will escort you through a different part of the ship—via elevator, perhaps in a service passageway—and bring you out at the water line through a different hatch. I didn’t take part in that process to offer more details, but I saw other passengers with these escorts.

Those with mobility impairments are seated right near the tender doors, eliminating the need to manage the small boat’s two interior steps. This can be the most exposed area, however, to wind and sea spray.

It seems likely you should allow additional time going ashore if extra assistance is required because it is clearly a very manual process involving multiple crew members.

View of buoy through tender window showing white capped wavesSea conditions were smooth in the morning, but worsened by my return trip, and a good sized wave managed to splash through the open side doors of the tender I took back to the ship. A few people sitting right next to the door got wet. That’s the only time I saw a wave enter a tender during this trip, but passengers on the level benches at the door would be in the position most likely to experience this issue.

In Red Bay, I went ashore alone. Our family opted to self-isolate for the first few days of our journey, reducing any readily avoidable risk of catching COVID as much as possible before we made it to Greenland, a must see port of call for my husband. To this day, we avoid all densely populated indoor environments.

Perhaps in response to their mother’s love of travel, my kids can be a bit blasé about visiting new places. They also adore sea days on a cruise ship. Both teens stayed on board with my husband while I went to Red Bay.

Canada and Labrador flags flying against overcast skyRed Bay port dock

For a tiny cruise port, Red Bay offered a very level, easy to traverse dock on its end. I hadn’t yet gotten into the habit of swapping my ship’s key card for my iPhone on my neck lanyard, so I didn’t get any pictures of the walkway as I used it.

View through tender window of dock in Red Bay with crew member waiting to assistI did catch this snapshot of the Red Bay dock from my seat inside the tender, through the window.

The decking was smooth with no obstructions ready to catch unsteady feet. As in every port, the ship’s crew set out a small portable step, but someone was constantly available to offer a hand for those who needed it.

A portable ramp is offered on just some of the tenders, and it is extended as needed for wheelchair users. You may have to wait for the correct boat’s arrival if you require the ramp.

Truck parked off gravel side street with paved rural highway and buildings clustered across a bayLike many coastal areas, there was a slope up and away from the ocean, but Red Bay didn’t feel exceptionally hilly.

There were no sidewalks, and occasional vehicles seemed to express frustration via slightly aggressive driving with having so many distracted pedestrians wandering along a highway. Compared to most major cities, typical drivers here were quite considerate to pedestrians, however.

Cell phone safety for fumble fingers on the dock

My arthritis gives me fumble fingers, so I only hand-carry my phone in precarious circumstances if I’ve got it tethered to my body. Every tender port presented multiple situations where I feared dropping it into the sea. These were also frequently times where I wanted to capture memories of what conditions were like or where I’d been.

I use BlackRapid Tether Tabs—adhered to my hard case, not the iPhone itself—to create an anchor point for a lanyard or other strap. Buy Tether Tabs direct where a 3 pack costs $16.95 or from Amazon for $14.90 a pair.

After this first tender port, I got into the habit of physically tethering my phone before setting out from the ship’s lobby. To feel safe and comfortable, I need to keep both hands on both side railings while moving between the ship and its tender.

I learned about keeping three points of contact at all times from a TV show about firemen, but the idea is sound and endorsed by OSHA.

Walking around scenic Red Bay

With no excursion, I simply walked around the small, rural town, soaking in the atmosphere and taking pictures. I found it to be a scenic place, though I kept hoping the sun would properly break through. It teased, but never really shone for us that day.

Red Bay United Church with foggy sky overheadI do love the look of almost-sun in a nebulous sky, however, and got plenty of photos I really like.

This was one of the ports where the huge number of cruise ship passengers relative to locals was really noticeable. Red Bay’s population in the very low hundreds is trivial compared to Nieuw Statendam’s 2666 passenger capacity.

One of my favorite photos from the entire trip is of a simple pair of red Adirondack chairs at the end of a weathered dock looking out over the foggy ocean. Somehow, this sums up what I like best about the sea.Pair of Adirondack chairs at the end of a jetty facing foggy sea

Obviously, that isn’t sunscreen and swimwear!

Weather & climate in Red Bay, Labrador

For August 7th, typical weather conditions in Red Bay are a high of 65ºF with a low of 58ºF. Sunrise was at 05:49; sunset at 20:54.

Aside from overcast skies, I didn’t need any special gear to handle the summer weather at this port. I wore my jacket because it looked like rain, but the abundant clouds never opened up. Unless you plan a long hike, I think it is safe to dress as you would for most other northern coastal areas.

I.e., the weather can always turn quickly near the sea, but Red Bay’s summer climate is not extreme.

Standard walking shoes will be adequate for moving around the town, though side roads were often gravel as opposed to asphalt.

I’ve read reports of the insects being terrible here, but I did not need my head net in Red Bay.

Shore Excursions by Holland America Line

I wish I could offer more information about tourism in Red Bay, but my family’s higher than average degree of COVID caution meant I had to skip any indoor exploration or shared vehicle in this port.

We did not book or take any HAL excursions here. The only offerings were a $70 walking tour or two different bus tours priced at $260 for 6.5 hrs or $150 for 4.5 hrs. All of these sold out in advance during 2022, the summer of “revenge travel.”

In general, I find walking tours sold by any cruise line overpriced. Usually, I can visit the same places on my own and learn just as much. I was particularly concerned about going into what I assumed would be a small visitor center in a large crowd, but I did find myself wishing for a local to ask about some of what I saw on my own in Red Bay.

Red Bay mysterious log pilesFor example, I still don’t know what the huge, teepee shaped piles of logs were that I could see in the distance.

Two men assemble yellow sticks into teepee formation with sailboats visible on ocean behind themThose structures do remind me vaguely of a friend’s art installation elsewhere on the Atlantic coast, though.

The town offered a free, one page pamphlet; click here for to download the PDF. I appreciate when a locality provides a printed map like this one for visiting tourists.

The Red Bay National Historic Site Interpretation Centre was stuffed with other passengers, so I didn’t take the risk of infection to view the chalupa* recovered from the sea bed or their other exhibits. Here’s the official Canadian government site for the national park.

Green road sign indicating Interpretation CentreWe bought an annual Canadian national parks pass, the Discovery Pass, which would have covered entry fees into this site. Our family of four broke even on the CAD145 pass after visiting just four Parks Canada sites; the cheapskate in me wishes we’d used it at all of the many possible sites at the ports we visited.

Note: Parks Canada is the organization equivalent to the U.S. National Parks Service.

Tickets for the boat to nearby Saddle Island were sold out, and I wasn’t yet ready to take the risk that it would be a small or enclosed vessel anyway. Some said the walking tour there was the highlight of this stop.

Enterprising ad for Whaler's Quest tourism business in Red Bay, Labrador - 1I went inside the gift shop/restaurant near the visitor’s center just long enough to buy a Labrador flag sticker to add to my hard sided luggage. The lady working at the counter was friendly and kind, but it was obvious that capacity was strained in this venue. I found it uncomfortably crowded indoors.

The smell of food cooking in that tiny restaurant bursting with Holland America passengers is what finally nudged me back to the ship before the last tender. I was hungry, but there was no other obvious place to buy food in town.

My visit to Red Bay with a couple of thousand other tourists was pleasant… but frustrating. It left me quite eager to return on a day when the town hosts more a more typical level of visitors. I’m thinking car camping, travel by RV, or taking a sailor friend up on joining him for a bare boat charter might be the way to go.

I’m certain Red Bay still has a lot to offer that I have yet to see.

Other links to information about Red Bay

* No, not a Taco Bell special, but a fishing boat. The Basque spelling is txalupa, and here’s the Wikipedia link for general information on these historic vessels.


This post includes a review of a company in which I have a financial interest. I own enough shares of stock in Holland America Line’s parent company, CCL, to earn their Shareholder Benefit when I travel with any of their subsidiaries. This post is not intended to offer financial or investment advice; it represents my personal experience as a paying cruise passenger.

My cruise was booked through a travel agent at a standard, published rate.

I will never post an opinion behind which I’m unwilling to stand, but I promise to always be transparent about whether I will realize monetary gain from a reader taking my advice on a product or service.

Cruise report: Port of Qaqortoq, Greenland

Qaqortoq, Greenland was our first stop on this massive island. Greenland is a country that’s part of the Kingdom of Denmark, so theoretically and sometimes culturally European, yet also geologically located on the North American plate. It can feel vaguely similar to Iceland or Canada’s northern maritime towns, but this place really has an ambiance all its own.

Whether North America, Europe, or none of the above, I was really excited about visiting Greenland. As a destination, Qaqortoq did not disappoint!

Clouds and sun over harborside buildings visible from Nieuw Statendam

If you want to try to pronounce the name correctly, tuck your tongue against the roof of your mouth as far back as possible down your throat to make a clicking sound on every Q and keep the vowels very short. My best attempt at transliteration: Kuh-Kohr-toCK.

Our transatlantic cruise itinerary called for embarking in Boston, then calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston for disembarkation.HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

We were in Qaqortog on 9-August-2022.

I’ll speak to the specifics of being in port momentarily, but I’ll begin with a confession: I fell in love with icebergs off the coast of Greenland! This was my first time floating by these majestic chunks of sea ice, and I ran outside in my pajamas to capture my first poor photo of one.

iceberg looking like a giant white turtle floating along off my cruise stateroom balcony with hills in the distance behindI’ve got the polar cruising bug now, and I have already booked trips through this same region for each of the next two summers.

First impressions & tender to shore

This was my second time boarding a small tender boat to go ashore from the Holland America vessel, Nieuw Statendam.

Our first port at anchor was the small Canadian town of Red Bay, Labrador, in Canada, but I had no firm plans for that day, so I waited until the major crush of passengers had gone ashore before making the trip myself.

Our family opted to self-isolate for the first few days of our journey, reducing any readily avoidable risk of catching COVID as much as possible before we made it to Greenland, a must see port of call for my husband. To this day, we avoid all densely populated indoor environments.

With morning excursions planned in Qaqortoq—but not ship’s excursions early enough to warrant queue-skipping tender passes—waiting out the crowds wasn’t an option. DH and my eldest got tender tickets from the lounge where they were being offered, and my status as a Neptune Suite guest meant I could join them in the line up for the next available tender at my convenience.

Everyone aboard seemed eager to get ashore in Greenland, so those early tenders were full. HAL doesn’t cram them to maximum occupancy, but several people were seated on each available bench. I shudder to imagine being packed into one of these in its capacity as a lifeboat in an emergency with ≅20% more bodies inside!

My ride back to the ship at the end of the day offered significantly more personal space. You can compare conditions for yourself from my two tender photos.

Holland America cruise ship visible behind buildings along the edge of harbor

Nieuw Statendam anchored not far from the tender pier, making a relatively quick trip from ship to shore. Continue reading

Cruise report: HAL Nieuw Statendam transatlantic with teens

The kids and I sailed with Holland America Line once before, when they were fairly young. Embarking on HAL’s Nieuw Statendam in August 2022 was my husband’s first cruise with this company. We spent 24 days together on this grand vessel, visiting four countries in addition to the United States, and briefly crossing into the Arctic Circle.Certificate signed by Captain Barhorst showing crossing Friday, 8/12/2022 at 20:25

The experience was good enough for us to purchase Future Cruise Credits (FCC)—a minor commitment to future travel with the same company—while still on board.

Link to explanation of FCC’s at The Points Guy site

Our transatlantic (TATL) cruise itinerary called for boarding the ship in Boston, calling in several Canadian ports, followed by stops in Greenland, Iceland, Greenland again, Canada again, France in the form of the island of St. Pierre, Canada third time, then Bar Harbor, Maine, and finally back to Boston.

The round trip itinerary—no flights required from our New England home—absolutely sold us on this particular itinerary. HAL transatlantic cruise itinerary round trip Boston

If we hadn’t had a credit to use from a scheduled 2020 trip cancelled due to the pandemic, it’s unlikely we would have gone anywhere during the rampant snarling of summer travel in 2022. If we’d had an international flight planned, I can guarantee we would have called off any trip as reports of hours’ long lines snaking outside of airports proliferated in the lead up to our departure.

While our cruise wasn’t perfect, the hassles were fairly minimal and we found the experience well worth the bumps in those road that we did encounter.Holland America line vessel, rear view

I plan to publish a series of posts covering ports we visited, but, today, I’ll begin with an overview of embarking on transatlantic travel on HAL as a family with teens. I hope this perspective is helpful to other potential family cruisers since Holland America has a reputation for catering to an elderly crowd.

My kids enjoyed the trip, but there were very few people their age on the ship. We socialized with each other and with adults with whom I’d become acquainted on Cruise Critic prior to the voyage.

In addition to a lack of youth-oriented trip reports, I also couldn’t find much information for travelers with special needs regarding Polar-adjacent travel in the North Atlantic. I live with a chronic condition that sometimes affects my mobility and energy levels. Here’s hoping I can offer relevant tips for future adventurers with similar limitations in this and future posts.

First impressions

As it happens, one of the first SNAFU’s of our trip occurred at its very beginning: embarkation from Boston’s Flynn (formerly Black Falcon) Cruise Port was a mess. More frequent cruisers than I commented later that they’d never endured such a poorly executed boarding elsewhere or in Boston.

Here’s the official Massport site for the cruise terminal.

It’s easy to mock social media and blame it for many of society’s ills, but the utility of crowdsourced information cannot be denied. If I weren’t an active member of Cruise Critic—and a participant in a Roll Call for our August voyage—my embarkation experience could have been even worse. Tips from passengers who arrived at the port earlier than we did saved us at least a couple of hours of unnecessary waiting on site since we could elect to leave our home later to drive to the terminal.

To begin with, HAL sent notification a day ahead of boarding offering a completely revised boarding plan with new times for each passenger, all of which superseded the information given on one’s boarding pass. By not updating boarding passes—offered in digital format for cruise passengers just like most of us use on flights!—Holland America missed an opportunity to reduce confusion instead of sowing it.

Screenshot of HAL's recommended cruise app, NavigatorHAL reaped what it sowed. Thousands of people waited outside for hours beyond the embarkation time on their documents.

Nowhere in their last minute, change-of-plans missive did HAL inform embarking passengers that their digital documents would fail to update to reflect the new instructions. It’s bad to have a communication system that can’t update digital docs in real time; it’s worse not to confess to this fact up front to help reduce confusion!

At least two ambulances were required to whisk away people who weren’t up to the physical demands of standing in line for so long. We were incredibly fortunate that a recent heat wave ended before this marathon queue, but even 80°F became uncomfortable to many, and, while much of the line was shaded by adjacent buildings, there was no other shelter. Almost no seating was available, either.

Purple aluminum HurryCane walking stick freestanding on a wood floorBecause my own mobility limitations wax and wane, I always register a request with common carriers at the time of booking for wheelchair assistance. I’m often well enough to decline the requested service upon arrival at a terminal, but it is harder to get help on demand when it is needed if I haven’t initiated the process in advance. At Boston’s cruise port, it was lucky I was having a pretty good day.

When we arrived at the port, I checked in with an employee and noted we’d requested wheelchair assistance. According to that agent, “So did 1/3 of the people here waiting to board!”

Massport was short by at least dozens of personnel to offer wheelchair assistance. I believe that the lack of “timely assistance” was in violation of U.S. law. It reflected poorly on the port and on the city of Boston.

While the kind Massport employee I’d encountered couldn’t do much for me or anyone else, this lady did find folding chairs for a few of us who were concerned about walking the length of the line that disappeared out of sight across at least two long city blocks. Later arrivals sat on the curb.

My husband and kids trekked to the back of the line, and I waited in tolerable conditions if not comfort with the “special assistance” crowd. It was from that vantage point near the entrance that I saw one woman collapse and get taken away by ambulance.

By the time I boarded, I had yet to see a single passenger escorted onto the ship via wheelchair pushed by port employees. That period of time extended for well over an hour. The fortunate disabled passengers were those traveling with their own mobility aids and friends or family members capable of providing assistance.

After about an hour waiting alone, my family made it to the front of the line where I was sitting. Since no wheelchair assistance passengers were being taken aboard the ship as far as I could see, I rejoined them. My kids took my carry on bag, and I walked myself carefully through the disorganized thicket inside the terminal building with an occasional hand from one of my able-bodied relatives.Embarkation crowdThe gangway with which we boarded Nieuw Statendam was set at a particularly steep angle, too. A fellow passenger said they’d heard that the usual “jet bridge” style boarding ramp for Boston was broken and awaiting repairs, but I have no confirmation for that rumor. I was glad I’d brought my cane to help negotiate boarding, though, fortunately, I didn’t need it much once we were at sea.

Again, according to people who have cruised Boston more than I have, there is a port building here with some features of a modern travel terminal. We were not in that space! Instead, the Nieuw Statendam passengers were being processed in an open, warehouse-like space that might’ve felt familiar to our forebears’ experience at Ellis Island.

The flooring was uneven asphalt, there was no climate control, and there was no reasonable signage to help anyone self-select the correct lines. With various levels of “self check in” one might have performed prior to arriving at the port, there were at least three different types of confirmations that might be required to complete check in on site.

Through dumb luck, we were in the correct line for those who had performed the maximum online steps ahead of time, and we spent only ten to 20 minutes finishing up the check in process before preceding to the gangway that led onto the ship. The new facial recognition software did speed up check in, and, interestingly, could identify ³⁄4 of us with our N95 masks still in place.

One member of the family had to remove a protective mask to be correctly ID’d by the computer.

Some of the confusing requirements befuddling our embarkation day may be laid at the feet of COVID-19. There are national directives demanding certain steps or paperwork, it’s true. Failing to post signage to correctly direct thousands of boarding passengers into the correct lines based upon the status of government and health requirements, however, was entirely the fault of the Flynn Cruise Terminal and its staff.

The communication from HAL that changed boarding times at the last minute stated that a mandatory Coast Guard drill was the cause of the adjustment. That is probably true, but the Coast Guard didn’t prevent HAL from updating information on our virtual boarding passes or within the cruise line’s own app which they tout as an innovation in cruising convenience.

Neither was the Coast Guard responsible for inadequate staffing on the part of Massport, the government agency that runs land-side port operations.

Once we made it on board, the giddy relief of dropping our bags in our beautiful staterooms quickly eased the frustrations of the long morning day. Running the gauntlet of Boston’s cruise terminal was sufficiently exhausting that all of us—even the teens!—spent some part of our first afternoon aboard napping instead of exploring or reveling.

We were told in advance that we would board at 11:40; the port actually seemed to begin embarkation proceedings closer to 14:00 from our vantage amongst the crowds. My first photos from our cabin were taken at 15:45. We were scheduled to sail at 16:00. Nieuw Statendam actually cast off from its Boston mooring at 19:31.

port employees releasing ropes holding Nieuw Statendam to dockI think I’m being generous when I say we experienced a delay of at least three hours. For those who view lunch on the ship as the start of their vacation, our embarkation must have been particularly painful. It was certainly debilitating to those of us with health issues, and proved tiring even to young travelers.

Aside from mentioning that disembarkation three weeks later was similarly hideous—with poor communication again being the element for which HAL itself should be held fully accountable—I won’t go into detail for the latter fiasco. Suffice to say that I will still sail in or out of Boston because “not flying” remains on my list of “good to have” vacation characteristics, but I will always travel through this port carrying as little as possible to preserve my energy, and I will assume zero mobility assistance will be offered regardless of what’s legally mandated or promised.

I cannot, in good conscience, recommend embarking on a cruise out of Boston’s port for anyone with severe mobility restrictions at this time unless that person can afford to travel with sufficient personal assistance to cover all boarding needs. I hope the situation will improve if staffing levels recover, but I wouldn’t bet a friend or loved one’s comfort on it personally.

Also, on the subject of advance communication, I think it is worth pointing out that Holland America Line mandated the wearing of masks indoors, when not eating or drinking, for all passengers as well as crew for the duration of our sailing. This was not announced in advance of embarkation, though it could have been. The captain announced the policy on board the ship, and reminders were broadcast by him and other officers once or twice a day over the public address system.Disposable surgical mask

Most destinations, and all excursions, appeared to have dropped all COVID prevention rules or requirements, though the majority of our fellow travelers opted to wear masks on the one tour bus we joined.

Our group enjoyed a much greater degree of relaxation and feelings of safety due to the enhanced precautions, but some cruisers felt deceived and complained bitterly about the unexpected need to mask. At least one Cruise Critic member in my Roll Call group bragged about “always carrying a drink” in order to intentionally and spitefully subvert the protocols as much as possible.

Most Nieuw Statendam passengers appeared to make a sincere effort to adhere to the mask rules, in our personal experience on the ship. We elected to exceed HAL’s requirements, and we all avoided catching COVID-19, testing negative on our own home tests multiple times during and after the journey. There were reports of viral spread on the ship, however, and visibility of guests in isolation increased over time.

We believe that it was possible for cruise passengers to make personal choices to increase the odds of avoiding getting sick, but that the mask mandate made it many times easier for cautious travelers to do than it would have been otherwise. For example, I would have felt far less comfortable without the face covering requirement when I squeezed onto any of the crowded ship’s tenders required to visit the smaller ports on which we called.

Our family felt fortunate that HAL mandated masks; other passengers felt cheated out of the freedom they thought they’d been promised on the same voyage. Continue reading

When life gives you foghorns, count your blessings?

There are realities in every life utterly beyond anyone’s control. Consider the foghorn.

Under certain weather conditions, a ship has an obligation to blast its foghorn at regular intervals. It does so to keep the seas safe for other vessels.

When one sits on a deck in the vicinity of said sonic safety device, the resulting report can be… distracting… to say the least.

It startles me enough to make me jump the first several times at least that I hear a foghorn during any given hour. It is sufficiently loud that my instinct is to clap my hands over my ears like a toddler would. I tend to let out a nervous giggle with every sonorous report. Conversation must stop.

While on vacation, at sea, in the North Atlantic Ocean, we’ve encountered more than our fair share of fantastic conditions, but there have been plenty of overcast hours. As it happens, our favorite place to spend the non-wind-whipped ones has been a Retreat Cabana we reserved for our voyage. These amenities are situated on deck 12 of 14 of our temporary home-away-from-home.

From the sound of it, these otherwise luxurious rentals sit directly under the ship’s foghorn. Without a doubt, the source is nearer deck 12, forward, than our staterooms on deck 4, aft.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the frequency of the foghorn blasts was dictated by a ship’s speed or other specific conditions, but I know almost nothing about maritime rules. What I can say is that the foghorn sounds at an interval just long enough that one forgets it is coming, right up until it trumpets its way back into your ears and central nervous system.

My husband, it’s fair to say, is not a fan of the foghorn. He spends more time outdoors than I do, and he frequents the Cabana more often than I do. Thus far, he’s tried noise concealing headphones and foam earplugs to dull the noise and continue on with his work, but the distraction continues.

I’m absolutely sympathetic to the necessity and value of the foghorn, and all the other safety innovations that make a modern cruise safer than the maiden voyage of the Titanic. I hope this post comes across as something absolutely distinct from a compliant! That said, my heart kept stopping and my ears kept ringing on our foggy Cabana mornings, and I wasn’t sure that was optimal, either.

On about the third day that the foghorn menaced my peace of mind, I had an epiphany. It’s stentorian reverberations, after all, meant we continued on our way, all systems go, all of the important stuff quite right with our isolated little floating world.

I decided, with every foghorn blast, to adjust my reaction into counting my blessings.

Loud noises shut my eyes and often prompt me to clasp my hands at my heart. Why not follow that lead and take a moment in gratitude for the gift of safety, the ability to hear a warning offered with beneficent intentions, and the joy of my functional if reactive body?

I can’t say that the foghorn is my favorite aspect of traveling by sea, even so, but our relationship has improved.

I love the waves. I find the atmosphere and pace of cruising conducive to contemplation. I marvel every day aboard a ship at the luxury of having the time and funds to see the world this way.

And, now?

I hear the blast of a foghorn, and I’m reminded to count my blessings. They’re as myriad as the waves in the sea.

And, if occasionally obscured by the mist, my other faculties remain to offer clarity.

What’s a clarion blast if not a call to action?

What better action to take than finding the good in an inconvenience?

I still prefer a clear blue sky, but I’ll hearken to the value of the foghorn.

Travel laundry solutions, from bar to bottle

Every traveler should be prepared to do at least a little laundry before s/he reaches the end of the road.

Whether you’re a parent traveling with kids, a business traveler with a financial motive to look sharp, or an autoimmune sufferer like me whose arthritis causes you to unexpectedly fling things you’re attempting to hold in your weakened hands, a few minutes of immediate care can save a garment from destruction or at least degradation.

I have a few go to solutions for washing clothing away from my laundry room. It’s rare for me to leave home for even a single night without packing something I could use to attack a stain or wash out a pair of favorite socks to re-wear because they are the only ones that don’t seem unbearable in the moment.

Re-usable containers make every product travel sized

First, for anyone who keeps a cabinet full of reusable containers for lunches and leftovers, I respectfully submit that you can make your own travel size out of any preferred product. I think this is easily forgotten in our era of single serve options and packaging excess. Years ago, I bought single use packets of Woolite for travel because it simply never occurred to me to do anything different.

Obviously, one ought not put toxic chemicals into the same container used for food or drink. Either keep a dedicated set of bottles for cleaning supplies only, or, ideally, use non-toxic products to wash your clothes.

Those of us who deal with extreme sensitivities to fragrance or irritating contact dermatitis learn quickly that it can be uncomfortable or even dangerous to rely on products available in laundromats, at vacation rentals, or in friends’ homes.xyz toiletry kit Nalgene Pelican 1020 - 6

Nalgene bottles are dishwasher safe and can transport virtually any liquid used in the home. They’re pretty common in labs, too. I like to buy mine at REI because I’m a co-op member, but that sporting good store’s selection has narrowed of late probably due to pandemic supply chain issues.

The Container Store is another fine option for buying travel size bottles, especially if you live near one of these expensive but high service shops. I love that TCS has always offered curbside pickup service. For individual Nalgene bottles, their prices are competitive, but your eyes will water the first time you shop for closet organization accessories here.

Ranging from 1/2 oz up to 32 oz, Nalgene bottles run between $1.39 and $3.99 at The Container Store, the same as or similar to prices in sporting goods stores. I very much prefer the wide mouth version—shown below in its smallest size full of my SensiClean detergent—because they are easier to clean, but the narrow neck bottles are a usually few cents cheaper.

10¢ per bottle for the bigger opening is well worth it to me to make scrubbing out stubborn residue easier, but I also like to vary bottle styles to make it more obvious which is which when I’m packing a dozen products for my entire family. The multi-colored lids in Nalgene travel kits also make quick identification easier; Amazon seems to sell a kit of just colorful lids, though I don’t own that precise set.4 mL bottle as small as a pinkie, 8 mL is thumb sized around, and 1 oz Nalgene bottle with detergent, all held in one open hand

Here’s a perfect example of the more usual pricing level at The Container Store: a 2 oz travel size bottle of The Laundress Signature Detergent retails for $7.99.

Aside from my objection to even the fairly light floral scent of this particular product, why would anyone choose to pay more for a flimsy disposable bottle than a sturdy one made by Nalgene? If you like The Laundress detergent, refill your own Nalgene from a full size container at home! You’ll carry exactly as much cleaning fluid as you’ll need, spend less, and have a lower probability of awful luggage spills due to a crushed bottle or a flip-top malfunction.2 oz Signature Detergent trial size laundry soap in Ziploc in a woman's handWhy do I have a travel size bottle of The Laundress Signature Detergent, then, if I don’t care for it and it is so expensive? I received a mini set of their products as a gift-with-purchase, probably of closet organizers…

While a basic plastic sandwich bag—Ziploc or store brand—can be used to carry small quantities of detergent, I would advise anyone going that route to double bag it for obvious reasons. Disposable baggies aren’t really sturdy enough for this use, and detergent is gritty and abrasive. A disposable bag’s thin, flexible nature does make it superior to a reusable silicone* bag as an extra layer of security on top of a Nalgene bottle, though, in my opinion, when adding a bottle to a larger kit.

I also pack dish soap in a 1/2 oz. Nalgene Leakproof Dropper Bottle when I travel because, at a minimum, I always pack my own spork, coffee to-go cup, and a reusable water bottle. I like to keep them clean, and I often drop things. My mom told me once that using hand soap on dishes can make you sick, which I’m guessing is an urban legend or refers to antibacterial products that are no longer common, but I just plain prefer to wash stuff I’m about to stick in my mouth with my own brand of unscented dish washing liquid.

Dish soap can also work on stains; try it on greasy spills, ideally rubbed in with an old toothbrush. The amount of rinsing required can be frustrating while still wearing a soiled garment, however.

FYI: I sometimes apply a piece of tape to keep the Leakproof Dropper truly leak proof. I trust this style of lid less than I do a standard screw-top. I always carry Dropper top bottles inside a waterproof outer bag.

It is often possible to get a fair price on small Nalgene containers from Amazon, but costs vary from awesome to offensive; the good deals are almost always sets of a dozen or more and found in the Lab & Scientific Products category. The internet superstore has been my best source for my favorite travel toiletry choice: tiny 4 mL (1/8 ounce) and 8 mL (1/4 oz) bottles for short trips, carrying a few pills at a time, and for beauty products applied by the smidgen or drop.Cardboard box holding an assortment of small bottles from 1/8 oz to 4 oz in size

My collection of small travel containers includes brands other than Nalgene, but I don’t have perfect faith in all of them to resist leaks or breakage with reasonable care in handling.

How much laundry soap should you pack in your own container?

How much laundry soap should you pack for travel? That depends so much on the length of the trip, whether you will have access to machines, or whether you only intend to sink wash the occasional bit of lingerie.

As of July 2022, my two favorite laundry detergents to use at home are SensiClean liquid and Charlie’s Soap powder but only with the added Booster or a scoop of Borax in our hard water. Country Save detergent is another good brand for our sensitive skinned household, but it is less readily available locally.Small bottle filled with laundry detergent

For an upcoming multi-week trip, I’ll carry a small 1 oz bottle of SensiClean liquid detergent for occasional hand washing of delicate items.

My all-time-favorite cruise purchase is an unlimited wash-dry-and-fold package, but there are expensive delicates I won’t send to an industrial laundry unless I’m too sick to take care of them myself. For those, and in case my child’s eczema flares due to the ship’s laundry regimen, I’ll have a manual option to detox the layers he wears next to his sensitive skin.

If I were heading to a vacation rental with its own laundry machines, I would pack a roughly 1 cup/250 mL size plastic storage container of Charlie’s Soap for a stay of up to one month. A full load takes less than 1 Tbsp or ≅15 g of this highly concentrated detergent.

An added benefit is that, by storing concentrated, High Efficiency HE detergents in smaller containers after buying them in bulk, my family wastes less of them at home, too. The mere appearance of an industrial size jug seems to prompt people to take larger portions of everything.

For home use, I store a combination of Charlie’s Soap and Charlie’s Laundry Booster pre-mixed in a Lock & Lock HPL807 container that holds 1/2 a quart or 2 cups of powdered detergent. This will last two weeks for a family washing one load of laundry per day.

Fels-Naphtha laundry bar

If you don’t already have laundry detergent at home and you want to purchase one easy-to-travel-with product, consider a Fels-Naptha Laundry Bar & Stain Remover stick. It’s like bar soap, but for your clothes.

Though it’s often tucked away on the top or bottom shelf, I routinely find Fels-Naptha at local grocery and general merchandise stores in the laundry aisle. Amazon sells it, but mostly at a grossly inflated price or in large quantities since it is such a low cost item. At Walmart, it is listed for $1.20 as of July 2022 which is about what I’ve paid at a neighborhood shop.

The Fels-Naptha bar dates back to the 1890’s, though modern versions no longer contain toxic naphtha, a flammable carcinogen that was especially popular in cleaning products during the Great Depression.

Essentially a giant bar of soap/detergent in a paper wrapper, Fels-Naphtha can be carried on a trip by plane without the special handling required for liquids.Purex Fels-Naptha laundry bar in pristine new package

One of my kids has always claimed that Fels-Naptha looks delicious. It would be best to keep it—and all other cleaning products—well away from children too young or too silly to heed safety warnings.

Scanned directly from the package, below are the directions for use and ingredients printed on the wrapper for my perhaps ten year old bar of Fels-Naptha. One bar will last a very long time when used as a stain/spot pre-treatment!

Directions for Fels-Naptha

Stain Pre-treater:
  1. Wet stain, then rub with bar
  2. Wait 1 minute and wash as normal
Laundry Booster:
  1. Grate 1/16th into washer with detergent
  2. Wash as normal
Ingredients for (Modern) Fels-Naptha:

SOAP (SODIUM ALLOWATE* SODIUM COCOATE® (OR) SODIUM PALMATE KERNELATE: AND SODIUM PALMATE). WATER, TALC, DIPENTENE, COCONUT ACID*. PALM ACID*, TALLOW ACID* PEG- METHYL ETHER, GLYCERIN, SODIUM CHLORIDE, PENTASODIUM PENTETATE AND/OR TEIRASODIUM  TIDRONATE, TITANIUM DIOXIDE, TRICLOCARBAN, FRAGRANCE, ACID ORANGE 24. ACID YELLOW 73 *CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THESE INGREDIENTS

Like most detergents, you should avoid getting Fels-Naptha directly in your eyes or otherwise prolonging skin contact.

The Fels-Naptha bar was one of the first laundry products I taught my kids to use by themselves. Because you just wet the fabric with the stain then rub the wet spot with the bar, my kids were expected to rub some onto any grass stains on their knees when they came home from school. By the upper elementary grades, they did this unsupervised.

Because of endemic Lyme disease in our area and our primary school’s emphasis on time spent outdoors, my kids did a tick check and changed clothes immediately after getting home from grade school. There were a lot of grass stained knees during those years.Fels-Naptha wrapper and detergent in a Ziploc baggie with laundry stains scrawled on in

My Fels-Naptha bar has one end of the wrapper torn off and lives in a tattered Ziploc sandwich bag under the bathroom sink. Though I’m exquisitely sensitive to fragrance and one of my kids has severe eczema, I’ve never observed an adverse reaction triggered by Fels-Naptha as a spot treatment, not even when the eczema-prone kid spot-treats his own clothes.

I did teach my kids to hold the bar through the plastic baggie, though, and to wash their hands after handling it or any other cleaning products.Fels Naptha bar with a chunk cut off on a red cutting board with serrated knife in picture, scattered crumbs around the stub

For an upcoming trip, I finally tried something I’ve been meaning to do for a while: I cut off about an inch of Fels-Naptha from my big bar with a kitchen knife so I could pack the smaller sliver. It wasn’t the tidiest operation ever, but my arthritic hands managed the job, and now I have a perfect stain stick to pack for travel.

I saved the Fels-Naptha shards created by hacking away with a serrated knife. As indicated in the directions above, grated Fels-Naptha works as a laundry booster/additive. I dropped those bits of detergent in my front loader and used a bit less soap than normal in my next load of towels.

I can’t say for certain whether Fels-Naptha works better or worse than my mother’s old standby of Spray & Wash or the Shout Stain Removing Gel I use myself when pre-treating laundry right before putting it in the washer. The truth is, I wasn’t going to chase my kids every day after school looking for dirty spots, and the Fels-Naptha was the only product I felt comfortable letting them use on their own.

It was less that I feared a Spray & Wash injury, and more because I could imagine a mess if that liquid spilled, or if over-spray damaged a delicate item sitting nearby. My Shout Gel doesn’t have bleach in it, but it does warn about the potential to discolor khakis or brights, so passing it to the wee punks seemed like a bad idea.Baggie wrapped around Fels Naptha stump in wrapper in

Most families could make use of a Fels-Naptha bar for stains, and I find it much longer lasting and less likely to make a mess than other spot cleaning solutions. The Tide Pen form factor is great, but I’ve found those dry out or get lost before I use them up, and they cost more per pen than an entire bar of Fels-Naptha.

With the bar carved down to a small piece, I’ve got a travel sized stain stick that won’t leak, won’t irritate my family’s skin, and fits in the palm of my hand.

Reisetube detergent may be familiar to European shoppers

On a laundry forum once—and, yes, now we all know I’m the kind of slob who has the gall to visit laundry forums!—I read about a product one lady picked up every time she want to Europe: detergent in a Reisetube.Screen Shot German word Reisetube

The next time I passed through Germany, I bought some for myself. The brand I found was Burti Waschmittel Reisetube. This particular product is vegan.

My reisetube was inexpensive in a supermarket, but it isn’t obviously available in the USA so far as I can tell; Amazon.de has it. On Amazon.com, I found a similar product, Rei in der Tube which is also a German import. At $9 for only 30 mL, however, it strikes me as too expensive, and disposable tubes are inherently hard to refill, thus generating a lot of garbage if used often

It must be said that, aside from the environmental impact, this may be a perfect form factor for travel detergent. Gel seems more soluble in hard water than powder. Unlike liquid in a jug or bottle, gel also seems less likely to leak or drip out of its tube in transit.

My Burti Waschmittel Reisetube has a very slight scent, but it doesn’t bother me after my garments dry. I have not used this on my eczema prone child’s clothing enough to have an opinion as to whether it irritates his skin. I’ve found that most German detergents I try work very well, but have more fragrance added than I’m happy with.

What most people call perfume, I describe as “stink.”

As with a Fels-Naptha bar, a reisetube might be the best single purchase for a traveler who doesn’t stock a home laundry room with products to refill personal containers.

Final verdict on best travel laundry form factor for most

The best option for most travelers is packing one’s own usual preferred detergent in reusable containers. Unless you live in an area with exceptionally hard or soft water, actually necessitating a change when visiting places with different conditions, you’ve likely gone through the trial and error to find the best cleaning products for your own use.

You know what you like; you’ll probably prefer the same product on vacation or away from home on business.

People with a cupboard full of Tupperware or other lidded containers may well already have exactly the right size on hand to fill with detergent for longer trips. Those who travel often should probably invest in a few small Nalgene bottles or tubs to dedicate to liquid or powder detergent.

Another important piece of advice: an unlabeled container leads to waste, in my experience. No matter how convinced I am that I’ll recall what’s inside each bottle, I end up forgetting, sometimes discarding a product because I’m no longer certain what it is or how old it is. Even Scotch tape works; for best results, label everything immediately after filling!

Travelers who don’t do their own laundry at home would do best to purchase either a Fels-Naptha bar or a reisetube to carry on trips, depending upon whether s/he often encounters liquid restrictions at TSA checkpoints. The former is slightly better for spot treatment; the latter is easier to use in a hotel room sink for hand washing delicates.

*I like Stasher brand bags, especially the Stand Up- Mini and -Mid for travel, but they’re too thick to individually wrap separate bottles as I prefer for certain particularly messy liquids. I do wash and re-use disposable Ziploc bags for travel, however, and I would absolutely use a Stand Up Mini to store detergent by my washing machine at home for long term use.

SensiClean is also sold under the name SportWash. The maker is Atsko. I have purchased these products direct as well as from Amazon and sporting goods stores.

SportWash is available in more sizes than SensiClean, but both are “residue free” detergents. That benefits people with sensitive skin, but also hunters who have learned that common household products leave them with a distinctly unnatural chemical odor that chases their prey away.

I label mine with my beloved Brother P-touch PT-1400, but tape and a Sharpie work almost as well if you aren’t being graded on neatness. Standard TZ Tape labels compatible with P-touch printers last through at least a few dishwashing cycles in my experience; Extra Strength Adhesive Tape TZ Tapes persevere even longer. 

If buying a label maker for the first time, I suggest selecting a model that can use tapes at least 1 inch wide. I picked up a different Brother model at Costco as a gift for my mother years ago, and both of us experienced a lot of annoyance that hers could only use the narrower 1/2 inch TZ Tapes.Brother PT-1400 label maker with Extra Strength adhesive TZ-tape package