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  1. I wanted to share my experiences with a set of reviews on my back to back on Mariner recently Getting There I used GoPort's full service hotel and transfer package out of Orlando Airport. After booking a stay at the Holiday Inn at the airport, I contact them to change my pickup date to the end of the second cruise. This went very smoothly. When I arrived in Orlando, I followed GoPort's instructions and contacted the hotel for a shuttle pickup expecting a long delay. I was pleasantly surprised to see the hotel shuttle show up for me about seven minutes after the call. I was at the hotel in another five minutes. The hotel was fine. It has a nice pool area with good food options including a regular Cuban food truck nearby. The trip to the port could have been smoother. We were given an hour window for our motor coach to arrive and it did right at the end of the window after waiting outside for its arrival. We picked up other cruisers and were at our ship within fifty minutes. Rating 8/10 Boarding went extremely smoothly as I had completed my check in process earlier. I was on board within ten minutes. Rating 10/10 Our first stop was in Cozumel where I pre-booked a photo tour with a local photographer, Tati Biermas and German/Dutch ex-pat who has been living on the island the last 18 years. She offers several types of photography services from wedding, real estate and photo tours and coaching. I enjoy various types of photography and wanted to get out of the manual slow down mode. Her advice helped me feel more comfortable with how and when to choose aperture and shutter priority rather than fully manual. I also refined some composition techniques through her coaching. Tati is pictured in the right most photo below. All images can be found on the IG @highseasnomad. All images below are snipped from that IG page. A requirement of the full island tour is to rent a car. I did so through ISIS Car Rental in downtown San Miguel. I received a manual transmission Nissan Tiida which is similar to a Sentra. It had cold AC, and that was important. The full experience was quick, efficient and inexpensive despite the check engine light being on. It was fun driving on Mexican roads. Our first stop was the food market where locals buy produce to seafood to clothing. The Hacienda Punta Sur and the Eco Park We made a 12' long friend which I had fun editing later Rating 10/10...highly recommend Some images around the ship... Costa Maya I have become quite attached to the staff of Jaime's Blue Reef and the amenities in Mahahual, so this is my go to choice when I am there now. I have been twice with many more to come. My only wish is for early arrivers that they offer breakfast on their menu. Their tamarind margarita is quite frankly amazing with the tanjin rim salt. Rating 10/10....they really take good care of you On the second leg of the back 2 back, we stopped in Cozumel. After debating whether I wanted to go third party, I opted for a Royal Caribbean SCUBA excursion which was handled by Sand Dollar which is located next door to the Mexican Coast Guard building. The benefit was the pickup at the pier. the drawback was that there were too many people on the little dive boat. There were two divemasters. Mine was Reuben, and he was really good and very safety conscious. Our first dive was a gentle drift dive on the reef a little north of Mr Sanchos. We saw a large sea turtle, an eagle ray, a nurse shark and several very large lobsters along with teeming life on the reef. We went through a really cool coral swimthrough mid-way. There were also at least a half dozen dive operators with boats nearby. A lot of people were on the reef that day. The second dive started just north of the Mexican Coast Guard building, and ours was the only boat, which was nice. It was a drift dive as well, and there was a VERY rapid current. At first it was disconcerting, and we just went with it while we kept Reuben the dive master in our view the whole time. It may have been a five knot current, as we ended up surfacing about a mile north of where we put in. You just have to go with it and not fight it. We saw a large barracuda and a lot of life on the reef. I learned more about how to relax and handle myself on such a dive as it is easy to get exhausted. When we surfaced, the current diminished as we ascended and the boat met us with the dive master's marker. While things were ok with this dive operator, I will not use them again. I think booking scuba with Royal is hit or miss, and of the three I have booked with them, I only really liked one of them. I expect that I will go third party exclusively when I cruise. Rating 5/10 The shows were really good, especially the Ice Under the Big Top skating show. I decided to practice some sports photography with my lens which was limited to good light environments. Still, I took some images that I really liked and am excited to share the raw files with some of the skaters who noticed the pics from Instagram. Rating 10/10 See @highseasnomad on IG for better resolution of these images.
  2. Cyber Monday is tomorrow and there are some very nice camera deals to be had. I’ve spent this weekend finding a camera for my daughter as her whole-family Christmas gift, and all the major retailers who aren’t named Amazon are having some nice sales. bhphotovideo.com bestbuy.com adorama.com I’ve been seeing some nice discounts on new-model cameras bundled with kit lense(s), case, and/or memory card all weekend. If seeing all of @twangster‘s photos has left you wanting some new camera kit for yourself, be sure to check out these sales if you haven’t already!
  3. OK, this is more of a post for @twangster and anyone else who's a bit of a hard-core photography hobbyist, especially those who want to work only with their phones so they're not carrying around a load of equipment everywhere. Feel free to skip this post if you'd like, I won't be offended. I finally got two of the Moment lenses I've been lusting after – the 2x 60mm equivalent telephoto lens, and the new 0.63x 18mm equivalent wide-angle lens – along with the required iPhone case, a wrist strap, travel case, and lens cleaning pen. Will see about grabbing the 170º ultra-fisheye, but first I still need to grab a filter adapter and CPL, maybe also an ND filter. I took a couple of quick photos from my computer desk and my front door, since I still can't move around much, but they show the effect each lens has pretty clearly. Sorry for the big uploads, but I wanted to preserve as much detail as I could. I applied the Photos app's auto-enhancement tool to each, since manual editing is something I'm still learning, I don't own a copy of Photoshop or Lightroom (although I have Pixelmator), and I do find the automatic edits in Photos to be pretty good to my eye most of the time. I took all three from the exact same position, sitting in my office chair or standing just outside my front door; all I did between shots was add / change the lens attachment. First, the indoor shots: Control picture taken from my computer desk with no lens attached. According to the Photos app, this was taken with ISO 80, f/2.2. Picture taken from my computer desk with the 0.63x 18mm equivalent wide angle lens, also ISO 80 and f/2.2. This wide angle lens seems pretty nice at first pic, at least from what I can see. I'm not noticing any significant distortion or vignetting in the corners, and the sign on my daughter's bedroom door is still plenty readable. You can also see how sharp my eyeglasses in the lower right corner still look, again without any noticeable distortion to the shape of the frame or lenses as you get to the corner. I do notice there's a fair bit of noise in the shadowy space between the computer room door and desk, but I can't say without taking more photos if that's an artifact from the lens or just the limitations of iPhone 6s camera's sensor and image processor. Considering this is the first time I've ever used a wide angle, I'm not going to judge the lens beyond what I can see here; would be interested to hear feedback from the others here who are a lot better versed in lenses and photography on how they'd rate this particular lens. Picture taken from my computer desk with the 2x 60mm equivalent telephoto lens, again ISO 80 and f/2.2. I like how this lens magnifies the image and keeps things like the sign on my daughter's bedroom door perfectly legible, never mind how clearly it shows the ragged edge of where I mucked up the paint job around the door trim. But I do notice some smudging or artifacting in the upper right corner, where I'd expect to see clean wood grain, and similar issue with the picture frame in the upper left corner. One thing I realize I didn't do before taking these photos was take the lens cleaning pen I made a point of buying and use it on the phone's lens before taking these shots. But even after doing that and taking another set of indoor test pics, I still saw the blurring and smudging; definitely something of an issue with this lens, unlike the wide angle. Is that common with telephoto lenses, or at least the ones designed for phones? I thought I had read that this Moment lens in particular was less subject to the barrel distortion problem. Now the outdoor pics, taken on a rather gray and dreary day: Control picture with no lenses attached; ISO 25, f/2.2; this wound up being an auto-HDR shot, which I didn't pick up on until after I was back inside, so the image is noticeably different than the other two even after applying auto-enhancements. Taken with the wide angle lens, again ISO 25 and f/2.2, but no HDR. Still no noticeable distortion in the corners that I can see. This shows a little more clearly how much wider the picture becomes using this lens. Not at all clear why this image came out so much darker than the original, even allowing for the application of HDR by the phone on the control image. The portion of the image taken up by the sky is about the same as in the control image, so I wouldn't expect the phone to be lowering the exposure that much. Possibly because of the coating on the lens, which is described as "low flare, broadband anti-reflection? Something I'll have to keep in mind when using this lens outdoors. Taken with the telephoto lens, still ISO 25 and f/2.2 before applying the auto-enhance, and this is also not an HDR image. Here even more than the indoor image, I can see the barrel distortion in the corners. Not horrendous and something I could crop out in post, but I'd have preferred to have an image as clean at the corners as I find with the wide angle lens. This pretty much wraps up the full set of equipment I plan to take with me, apart from the aforementioned filter adapter and CPL; Moment recently announced their own adapter that's designed to work with both of these lenses, but it's not scheduled to ship until "Spring 2018" and may not be available until after I have to fly down to FLL. I'm going to wait until the start of March, and if there's no clearer picture on the shipping time, I'll have to settle for either no CPL while taking my outdoor shots, or else I'll fall back to a smaller adapter and CPL from Moondog Labs that I found but is only compatible with the tele lens; it doesn't work at all with the wide lens as it's too big, but if I get the super fish lens I could use it with that as long as I'm willing to accept some vignetting around the edges and then crop it out in post. But I think it would be smarter long-term to just skip any adapter and filters until the correct one that works with all the lenses is actually available. The full set of what I plan to bring with me can be seen in the below photo. It all fits on my computer keyboard shelf, and the total weight is only a couple pounds (most of that from the gimbal). From left to right, we have: Rigiet 3-axis gimbal (for getting smooth video while walking around port areas or the ship) ShoulderPod hand grip and tripod mount Ultra-Pod mini tripod (may leave this one at home, given I also now have the GorillaPod, but it may be handy on a place like the helicopter deck, if I want to take night shot; just would likely need to brace it with my hands if there's any wind) Moment iPhone 6s Plus Case Moment 2x tele lens (below the case, on the left) Moment wide lens (below the case, on the right) Moment travel case (with lens cleaning pen clipped inside) Camalapse mount for taking time-lapse video that incorporates a slow pan (I'm thinking of using this while capturing a sunset / sunrise or two, maybe find another situation where it could work nicely) GorillaPod magnetic mount mini tripod (hoping I can use this on the helicopter deck at night, as I really want to try and get some star shots; will fall back on the Ultra-Pod if the phone plus ShoulderPod combo is too heavy for the magnets) 44 days until embarkation!!! I cannot wait!
  4. Take a look at this Kickstarter campaign for the Rigiet (ree-jee-et) camera stabilizer – This is NOT your typical Kickstarter campaign. The device already exists and the campaign is purely to get the initial set of orders made with the manufacturer. There are real devices in the hands of tech reviewers (I found out about it via Apple World Today). So this is not your typical Kickstarter with major risk of never seeing a product. The campaign ends May 30, and there are limited "super early bird" slots to get one at a really steep discount (regular backers still get a discount, just not as big). Im definitely getting one, especially since my card isn't charged until the funding completion date is reached next month and I'll be on a new billing cycle. This device, plus a Joby Gorillapod (magnetic variety), means it should actually be possible to take long-exposure star photos while at sea! Even if that doesn't pan out, it'll make for way better video while on the move than I can take today with my gimp and fairly stiff walking.
  5. Hello All! I am travelling on the Oasis of the Seas on 04/02/2017 and was curious about the photo packages, so I have some questions. - How much are the photo packages and what types do they offer? (I tried searching the website linked in another thread but it says my cruise isn't available yet) - Are they worth it? - Are the photos easily taken when getting off the ship at a port? Are they taken during dinners, or several times throughout the trip? - What is the quality of the images? Is it like a theme park picture or are they slightly better? Thank you in advance for your help!
  6. So I'm taking my first cruise ever, on Freedom of the Seas (8-night Eastern Caribbean sailing in March/April of 2018). I have some general questions I haven't found answers for after listening to the podcast and searching the blog and these message boards. Apologies if these have actually been asked a million times already. First question is about the main dining room. I'm looking at the deck plans for FOTS, and I see that there are three areas labeled "Dining Room" -- Leonardo Dining Room on Deck 3, Isaac Dining Room on Deck 4, and Galileo Dining Room on Deck 5. Are all three of these combined actually the "Main Dining Room"? Or are they distinct in terms of appearance, menu, any background music, etc.? Related to this: I have the Early Dining assignment (5:30 PM) and my family's cabins (connecting balcony rooms) are on Deck 8. Will we be assigned to just one of these dining rooms for the entire week? Any way to predict which one based on our cabin deck? Do we have to eat in that assigned room for all meals where we choose a dining room option, or can we go to, say, the Galileo room for breakfast even if we're assigned the Leonardo room for dinner? Does it even make a difference if we do? Next question is about stargazing and taking photos of the night sky. I've read here that at least some of Royal Caribbean's ships have at least one planned stargazing event on the helipad. Are passengers allowed on the helipad at night when there is no planned event? Just want to know if I have to make sure to find that announcement in the Cruise Compass and tell my family that I'll be doing that no matter what else they might want; I live too close to bright cities to ever get a good view of the night sky, and being able to actually see the Milky Way and maybe take some long-exposure photos to capture it is something of a bucket list item of mine. Related to that, are passengers allowed to bring a tripod onto the helipad in that situation? Long-exposure shots don't work when holding the camera, so at a minimum I'd want to bring a very small (I'm talking 6") folding mini-tripod I own that I could set up, or something like a Gorillapod that I could wrap around a railing or post. Next question is about the Adventure Ocean program. Both my kids will be with me, and they'll be 14 and 17 at the time. Are they able to just go to the teen lounges without actually signing up for Adventure Ocean, or do they need to be signed up so it shows on their sea pass card that they're allowed in? Besides those teen clubs, does the ship staff typically do anything special for teens during the day on sea days? Or is the expectation that kids that age will just roam the ship on their own and do their own thing with or without their parents? Last question is about what people's experiences have been with the staff when it came to special events. My TA has noted on our reservations that it will not only be our first ever cruise, but our 20th wedding anniversary and our daughter's graduation from high school. When we went to Disney the first time, we got big buttons to wear and the staff went out of their way to be extra helpful and make the stay even more enjoyable than it already was. I've heard / read multiple comparisons of Royal Caribbean to Disney in terms of their effort to "wow" their passengers, so I'm curious if anyone here has traveled under similar circumstances and gotten similar "TLC". That's it for now, at least. Thanks in advance for whatever help you can give! - Joe -
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