Thursday, August 31, 2006

My Honeymoon Cruise Vacation

I have to be quite honest with you, I am no stranger to cruising. But let me start at the beginning.

Just a few years ago I had never been on a cruise. One day my mother decided on a whim to join some friends on this cruise vacation that they had found at an “incredible deal”. After she realized the food and entertainment were also included in the price of the cruise, we were sold.

Since then I can’t tell you how many cruises I’ve been on. I have sailed mostly on the Royal Caribbean Voyager class ships, quite often from New York and New Jersey ports, and more often than not to the Caribbean. Some trips were family reunions, some were just the boyfriend and myself, another one was myself with my mom.

My then boyfriend now husband and I just got married in December 2005. When we were planning our honeymoon, we, not surprisingly, decided to go on a cruise. Actually, we went on both a cruise and a land based honeymoon. I wanted to go on a completely land based vacation, and my husband wanted to go on yet another cruise. I felt that we had been on a few cruises already so we should try to do something new. He felt that (and still feels that) cruising is the best deal we could find and of course, after having spent so much for our wedding, we should try to save where we can. So we compromised and did a few days at a 5star resort in Puerto Rico, and left from the San Juan port to take a 7 night Southern Caribbean cruise on the Celebrity Cruises Constellation.

I enjoyed both aspects of my honeymoon. The resort was beautiful, there was a private beach you could take a ferry out to every day and enjoy. The sun was strong and there were many pools that you could lay out by. The grounds were beautiful – definitely picturesque…we even saw a bride and groom posing for the perfect “getting married on the beach” style wedding. But there were a few things I didn’t like too much. First of all, the rooms weren’t nearly as clean as we were used to seeing on the different cruise ships I had been on. Granted I’m sure that Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines all make it their jobs, their number one priority to have those cabins spic and span for people…but then shouldn’t every hotel? Compared to the cabins on one of the cruise ships, the rooms at the land based resort were no where near as impeccable.

Another thing I had started to take for granted while on cruise ships was the fact that the entertainment was included in the price. While we were there, there wasn’t much entertainment offered at the resort – it was much more of a lay by the pool and have a few cocktails at night kind of place. One night they actually had booked a lounge act – a magician I believe, but you still had to pay for each ticket. I know, I realize that if I was at home I would have to pay for a ticket to see any kind of live entertainment as well, but the point is that I wasn’t home – I was on vacation and I had been spoiled with the cruise ships and their ability to give not only entertainment included in the price, but quality entertainment. In the defense of the resort, it easily could have been the time of year and that’s why they didn’t have a whole lot going on. Or maybe it was the day of thee week, I can’t remember. But I know now that on a cruise, it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, what month of thee year or season…the entertainment is always provided, there’s always a wide variety, and it’s always included in the price of the cruise.

The last thing that I really took home with me from my honeymoon was that cruise food really is good- and a good value. There we were at a 5 star resort among the palm trees and miles and miles of beautiful landscape and vegetation… and I thought the food was just okay. Actually, the food was okay, but what made it ‘just okay’ and not better was that it also wasn’t included in the price.

In the end I think my avid cruising hasn’t helped my outlook on other types of vacations. I just feel like cruising is such a good value for your money. You get a nice, very clean, room… you get a cabin steward who cleans your room and bathroom for you everyday. You get your meals included – and seriously, everyone always jokes about how people always gain weight on cruises, well, they don’t gain all that weight because the food tastes bad!

You also get free entertainment, and a variety at that. With some of the entertainers on the different cruise ships, we would sit back and seriously be amazed at their talents. While on Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas, they had a trio that my family would enjoy sitting around and listening to for hours – seriously every day the dads would congregate with their gin and tonics and listen to those guys play, and the rest of us would use them as a meeting place because we always knew where they would be. When we were on the Celebrity Constellation I was convinced that was the best entertainment I had seen – ever. Growing up in New York, I have always been a fan of Broadway and grew up appreciating the dancing, singing, lighting, background art, costume design…all aspects of theatre. For our honeymoon, when we got off the Celebrity Constellation I was so sold on the Celebrity Singers & Dancers, that I told my mom to book that ship just so she could go and see the same performers I saw. Then a few months later my husband and I took a two day tour of the new ship by Royal Caribbean, the Freedom of the Seas. And then I was even more floored by the entertainment. I had thought for a new ship the cast was probably going to have a few things they needed to work out, maybe their dance routines would be off, maybe they wouldn’t harmonize correctly…but they were phenomonial. They sounded great, they looked great, they were always on point, on key… even the backdrops were impressive. I remember one act they had a Pinnochio theme, and they opened the curtain and the stage literally looked like you were in Ghepettos workshop. All the dancers were dressed up like little marionettes, and they started the song with all the dancers lying on the bookshelves fast asleep. Then as the music kept going, all the marrionettes started coming to life. It was the first time since the barricade of Les Miserables started moving that I was completely amazed – and I could tell that everyone else was too, because as the curtain opened there was a uniform sigh of appreciation and amazement from the crowd. It was actually quite inspring, because you could tell that your fellow cruisers actually appreciated the effort that went into the making and creating, and the lighting of that backdrop. And it made me happy that the background crew had their work appreciated. I work in television so I always feel for the guys behind the scenes who always get overlooked.

What I think is ironic is that I actually learned about my vacationing style from my honeymoon. We did both a land based resort and a cruise – and now I appreciate the art of cruising so much more. I appreciate the price, the food and entertainment being included, the cleanliness of the cabins – and at the same time being able to wake up and have a whole new place to explore. Don’t get me wrong, I know I can have a good time at a hotel or resort – but for me, I guess I just appreciate the value of each dollar and personally feel that cruising makes my dollar go farther.

Friday, August 18, 2006

My Hawaii Cruise Vacation onboard the Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of Hawaii

I recently returned from the Norwegian Cruise Line Pride of Hawaii. My family and I wanted to visit Hawaii so we did some research. We found the Pride of Hawaii offered the best itinerary of the options we looked into. We made 4 stops and had overnights in both Maui and Kauai’i. We had the option of going to a hotel for an evening Luau or to check out Hawaiian nightlife.

The ship was beautifully decorated and very clean. Food quality exceeded our expectations. We were able to eat in 5 different restaurants. My advice: Book your dinner reservations as soon as you board. Otherwise you will likely get locked out of the specialty restaurants. On our sailing all restaurants were booked solid by the 2nd day of the cruise. So, as soon as you board see the maitre’d and make your reservations. The nice part, you can get a table for just your family – they have many tables for 2, 4 & 6. The service in the main dining room was slower than we are used to but we later found out it’s due to an understaffing issue. We spoke with one of our waiters and they said NCL is actively working on this situation. Since it is an American registered ship it carries an all American crew.

All public areas were colorful and happy. Palm trees surround the pool and spray a light mist every ten minutes. She has a spiral slide into the kiddie pool. Next to it is an adult pool with a waterfall. Nice idea but they didn’t actively keep the kids out of the adult pool. The crew didn’t push drinks on us, a very relaxing atmosphere. If you wanted to stay busy they had a lot going on. The afternoon hula and lei making classes were very popular. The evening shows were excellent. I especially enjoyed the magic acts. NCL brought on 2 guys from Vegas to perform 2 evenings.

The captain altered our itinerary so we were able to sail past the Napali coastline in daylight. We sailed past sea cliffs, waterfalls and rainbows. One evening we were due to sail past Mt. Kilawea to see the lava flow into the ocean. We had just finished dinner and came upon the viewing. Our waiter suggested we go outside to view it. He held our table while we went outside and had dessert for us when we came back: Great treatment in my book. If you’re thinking of doing a Hawaii cruise, book the Pride of Hawaii. There are 3 ships that do the same itinerary. I didn’t hear as much positive feedback from friends who sailed on the other 2 NCL ships (Pride of Aloha and America).