Monday, October 05, 2015

Azamara’s Nights in Private Places

It’s hard to come up with a concrete definition of romance…its sort of a vague notion that’s different for everyone. Most people can tell you what they think is or is not romantic but one characterization certainly does not fit every couple. However, spending an evening with that special someone under a starry sky on a small cruise ship in the middle of the ocean is certainly a good place to start!

Azamara Club Cruises’ “Nights in Private Places” is possibly the most romantic experience a couple can have at sea! “How is that possible?”, you ask, on a cruise ship that is shared with a little under 700 fellow guests, not to mention the crew. Well let me tell you about it.

At the bow of the Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest there is a small, secluded spa deck, which is closed off from the rest of the ship. It includes the ship’s thalassotherapy pool and it is this area that is reserved for “Nights in Private Places.” The twinkling stars above and the many glowing candles scattered about (battery operated for safety), softly light the entire space. There is access to a locker room, shower and bathroom facilities just steps away. No worries about privacy. Azamara has made sure of that!

A butler will greet you at the start of the evening with soft frette bathrobes, slippers and chilled champagne with chocolate covered strawberries. Step into the jetted pool to relax while the butler reviews your options for dinner. He will then prepare a sumptuous buffet complete with fresh seafood and meats cooked on a sizzling hot stone grill. Will you drink red or white wine or your favorite cocktail? A lovely table is set for leisurely dining. After dinner, enjoy cordials and petit fours, continue to enjoy the pool, or ask the butler for turndown service on the large, canopy bed specially made for sleeping under the stars. In the morning the butler returns with a continental breakfast.

Now I don’t know about you, but to me, this is incredibly romantic! What an extraordinary surprise this would be for your partner! Azamara's “Nights in Private Places” is perfect for engagements, anniversaries, birthdays, or just because. The cost is $495 and this experience can be booked once you are onboard.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Cruising to Exotic Asia

There’s no denying it. The more people cruise, the more they search for new and exciting places to cruise to! That’s no surprise considering that cruising is not only a trouble-free, delightful way to explore the world, but it also offers the traveler the best value for their dollar! So what part of our big wide world is suddenly making everyone’s bucket list? It’s cruising to exotic Asia!

Alluring, exciting and unfamiliar, its no wonder cruises to Asia are growing in popularity with every cruise line. Not long ago only luxury cruise lines ventured to this part of the world.   However, taking a look at 2016 and beyond, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line, as well as the premium and luxury lines offer a broad selection of Asia itineraries. Wondering why?

The Culture: Many Asian cultures work very hard to maintain their ancient rituals and practices, even as modernity races through the regions. On a cruise to Asia there is a myriad of traditions, languages, lifestyles, fashions, beliefs and customs to immerse oneself in and explore. Colorful dress, opulent architecture, exotic music and art all make for a travel experience like no other.

The History: Boasting scores of World Heritage Sites, Asia isn’t short of impressive historic landmarks. This was the stomping ground of some of the oldest civilizations of the world and a lot of these ancient societies left remarkable structures and relics behind. Imagine seeing The Great Wall of China, the ancient ruins at Angkor built between the 9th and 13th centuries, or the Terracotta Army in Xian? And then there’s the modern history that so many people go to discover. In the twentieth century alone the region experienced the Vietnam War, the Tiananmen Square Massacre and the terror of the Khmer Rouge.

The Cities: Some of the worlds most modern and dynamic cities are located in Asia. Metropolises like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok are home to glittering modern skyscrapers starkly juxtaposed with colorful, traditional pagodas and temples. It’s this dichotomy that makes the cities here so intriguing! And I haven’t even hinted at the incredible shopping!

The Food: The thing I love best about cruising to new places is indulging in each port city’s authentic cuisine! Deliciously diverse, Asian cuisine is as varied as the countries on the continent. The clever use of cooking techniques and spices has transformed what were originally humble peasant food dishes into specialties that are now known the world over. Chinese dim sum, Japanese sushi, Vietnamese spring rolls, pad Thai and Malaysian laksa soup…I’m making myself hungry thinking about the possibilities!

Home to some of the world’s oldest cultures, pulsating cities, intriguing history, and delicious foods, Asia ticks all the right boxes for a fascinating, beguiling vacation. And although it may seem like a hugely ambitious adventure, more and more travelers are discovering just how easy and pleasurable it is to cruise to exotic Asia!

Monday, September 21, 2015

DreamWorks Aboard Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas

Looking to mingle with movie stars on your next cruise?  How about  Po from ""Kung Fu Panda"" Shrek, Fiona and Puss In Boots from ""Shrek"" and Alex the Lion, Gloria the Hippo, King Julien and the Penguins from ""Madagascar?""  You can find them all aboard the soon- to- sail Anthem of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas will feature the DreamWorks Experience already found on select ships within the fleet. From trivia, to scavenger hunts, to photo ops, to 3D movie screenings in the ship's Royal Theater and dining with the characters, it will be a boatload of fun!

Anthem of the Seas will home port at Cape Liberty, New Jersey starting in November 2015.  Late fall and winter itineraries include 7- and 8-night Bahamas cruises, as well as voyages to the Caribbean.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Top Reasons to Cruise to Bermuda in the Fall

In a few weeks I will be cruising to Bermuda, and I can't wait! The fall is a great time to visit this lovely island!
  • Bermuda benefits from a semi-tropical climate and only two seasons. In the fall, temperatures are still beautiful, averaging in the mid-to-low 70’s during the day and the mid-to-low 60’s at night. Water temperatures are also reasonably warm, typically staying in the 70s.
  • Hurricane season lasts officially from June to November, but fewer tropical storms pound Bermuda than the U.S. mainland. Bermuda is also less frequently hit than islands in the Caribbean. In fact, Bermuda has been lucky that except in rare occasions, severe hurricanes have mostly got diverted away from the island.
  • Cooler temperatures are better for enjoying delicious Bermuda fish chowder. Legend has it that fish chowder was invented on the beaches of St. George's, in cauldrons placed above bonfires. Today, just ask a local to recommend his favorite restaurant for a bowl of this national dish. Try this wonderful blend of seafood and spices with a loaf of warm, crusty bread!  Yum!
  • September and October is perfect golfing weather and Bermuda offers more golf courses per square mile than anywhere else in the world. The island boasts eight spectacular courses (sea views complimentary!) with something for everyone from novices to pros.
  • You can’t afford not to go! While cruise prices and crowds peak in July and August, thankfully, both wane significantly in the fall! So if you like far less crowded beaches and better opportunity to enjoy Bermudian hospitality, then Bermuda during the fall may just be the right time for you.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

The Importance of Choosing the Correct Cruise Line

If you’re a first time cruiser you may think that all cruise lines are alike.  In fact, nothing could be further from the truth!  Prospective cruisers need to find a cruise line that matches their personality.  That’s where an experienced cruise consultant (like those at Direct Line Cruises) can really help. If the cruiser / cruise line match is a good one, it will turn into a life-long relationship.  Pick the wrong cruise line and you may never cruise again!  

There are different “tiers” of cruise lines.  Luxury cruise lines can be quite expensive, but generally offer an all-inclusive experience, including alcoholic beverages and maybe even shore excursions. You can expect personalized service, upscale cabins and suites and stimulating enrichment programs.  The well- to- do clientele is often a bit older.  Although some of the luxury lines welcome families, I’d have to say that children would have more fun elsewhere.  Crystal Cruises, Silversea Cruises, Seabourn, Regent and Cunard come to mind.

There is a blurred line between some luxury and some premium cruise lines. Oceania and Azamara Club Cruises offer a country club, easy elegance.  They’re itinerary driven, offering longer and overnight stays in ports. For those looking for longer cruises, the many back-to-back cruise options let you decide how long you want to be away.  You can equate these cruise lines as well as the more purely defined premium cruise lines such as Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Cruises, and Princess Cruises with sumptuous cuisine and extraordinary service. They are all definitely family friendly and offer many of the activities of a mainstream line but without the same over-the-top bells and whistles.

Then there’s what the industry calls “mass market"" cruise lines, meaning those that appeal to the mainstream cruising population. I like to think of the ships from these cruise lines as floating family resorts!  The differences between these cruise lines should also be considered.  For example, while all are great for families, some of them include baby nurseries which can be a big plus for parents that are accompanied by those wee cruisers. At the other end of the child spectrum are those hard to entertain tweens and teens.  Water slides, rope courses and sports courts may be something to consider.  Here’s some additional generalities…

Disney's cruise rates may be slightly higher than other mainstream cruise lines, but you get what you pay for. These ships cater to multi-generational families!  Parents can still enjoy exceptional cuisine, soothing spa treatments, and great nightlife, while kids pal around with Mickey and friends.  Need I say more? Royal Caribbean offers so many “extreme” activities…surf simulators, bumper cars, sky diving simulator to name just a few. Boredom is never an option! Norwegian Cruise Line has excellent dining and entertainment choices. Steak houses, French, Italian, Brazilian, and Latino cuisine (all at an additional cost). Piano bars, comedy shows, Broadway caliber musicals…it’s like spending the evening in a New York City or Miami neighborhood with many options to choose from.  Count on Carnival Cruise Line for a real “fun ship” experience. The line caters to a younger crowd with numerous entertainment options and cruise fares suited for a smaller budget. But don’t think that the smaller price tag means Carnival skimps on the experience because that’s anything but true!

There are many wonderful cruise lines to choose from.  The key is to find the perfect cruise line experience for you! Select the right one and like me,  you’ll be hooked for life!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Cruising During Hurricane Season

Is Caribbean cruising during hurricane season a bad idea?  In all honesty, I don’t think so! The Atlantic Hurricane season is officially June 1st through November 30th, with peak storm activity from August through October. That’s an awful long span to disregard cruising due to a somewhat irrational fear!  Besides, the cruise lines do everything they possibly can to ensure that a hurricane has little to no impact on your vacation.

Cruise lines have the best, up-to-the-minute weather forecasts at their disposal 24/7. Sophisticated radar, modern satellite equipment…no worries!  They’re on top of their game and would never put passengers, their crew and even their ship in harm’s way.

When a hurricane directly threatens a ship's itinerary or a Caribbean port of call, the cruise line will simply change their itinerary to avoid a storm. These deviations may be focused on avoiding the path of the storm or avoiding the aftermath of the storm for example.  It is not uncommon for a ship to skip a particular port of call or extend its time at sea to avoid a storm passing through the area.

The ship’s captain may accelerate or delay a cruise ship's itinerary to work around the storm. And isn’t it comforting to know that ship's move faster than hurricanes. A typical hurricane will mosey along at a speed of about ten knots, but cruise ships can move at twice this pace.  That means that even the largest cruise ships are able to move quickly away from the path of any hurricane.

Worried about a bit of rockin’ and rollin’?  It’s definitely a possibility but keep in mind, you’re not cruising on the SS Minnow (remember...Gilligan’s Island)! Today's cruise ships all handle rough seas quite well thanks to stabilizers, those large, underwater “wings” on the sides of the ship. The newer the ship, the more advanced the stabilizers, which will keep the vessel steady in stormy weather.  Nevertheless, it’s always smart to have some bonine or sea bands with you.

Booking a Caribbean cruise during hurricane season may even work out to your advantage, but not for the reason you may think! Travel deals often abound during September through November. Reason being that kids are back to school so families put the brakes on family cruise vacations leaving the cruise lines with lots of empty cabins to fill.

So tell me, are you going to let a little weather get in the way of your Caribbean cruise?

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Celebrity Chef Curtis Stone Brings a Restaurant to Princess Cruises

It seems like every cruise line wants to be affiliated with a celebrity chef these days so it certainly wasn’t surprising to see Princess Cruises jumping on the bandwagon. The cruise line has launched an exclusive partnership with Australian celebrity chef, restaurateur, New York Times best-selling author and television personality Curtis Stone. Chef Stone is probably best known as the co-host of Bravo's Top Chef Masters and Around the World in 80 Plates.

The effects of the partnership will be noticed across several dining venues: “Crafted by Curtis” menu items in the main dining room; a new specialty restaurant concept and menu; and a Chef's Table by Curtis Stone.

“Crafted by Curtis” menu items offered in the main dining rooms will debut in October 2015. Guests sailing onboard any of Princess Cruises’ 18 ships will have the opportunity to savor fresh new cuisine designed by Chef Stone every day in the Main Dining Room. Personal reflections by Chef Stone will also accent each “Crafted” selection.

 A new restaurant, “Share,” will be available on select Princess  ships. Chef Stone's exquisite menu offers various courses including gourmet salads, handmade pastas, premium quality meat and seafood fresh off the grill, an array of decadent desserts and more! The new eatery will offer family-style dining and feature a communal table as well as decorative curios from Stone's personal collection including photographs and travel souvenirs. A surcharge will apply in the new restaurant, but the price hasn't been determined as of yet.

I’m a big fan of a Chef Table dining so I was glad to see Curtis Stone overseeing this type of experience. Chef's Table by Curtis Stone will be introduced on select Princess ships beginning in January of 2016. This unique and intimate experience designed by Chef Stone, will include an enriching galley tour featuring Champagne and hors d’oeuvres. Guests will then be lead through the dining room to a special multi-course meal prepared by the Executive Chef onboard.