Monday, December 21, 2009

Celebrity Cruises Introduces the Celebrity Silhouette

We have exciting news! Celebrity Cruises has named today the fourth ship among their Solstice Class fleet. Their brand new ship will be called, Celebrity Silhouette. Like its sister ships, the 2,580 passenger Celebrity Silhouette will feature larger staterooms with 90% oceanview and 85% with private verandas. The Celebrity Silhouette is scheduled to begin sailing in 2011. More details regarding this brand new ship is coming soon...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Royal Caribbean And Celebrity Cruises WIN Big at the 2009 Travel Weekly Readers Choice Awards.

On behalf of everyone at Direct Line Cruises, we would like to congratulate Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises who virtually dominated the 2009 Travel Weekly "Readers Choice Awards".

Exceeding last year's incredible success, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises won a total of seven awards out of ten categories for which they were eligible, including:
  1. Best Caribbean Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean International

  2. Best Premium Cruise Line: Celebrity Cruises

  3. Best Premium Cruise Ship: Celebrity Solstice

  4. Best New Cruise Ship: Celebrity Solstice

  5. Best Overall Cruise Ship: Royal Caribbean Freedom of the Seas

  6. Best Overall Cruise Line: Royal Caribbean International

  7. Best Cruise Line Sales & Service: Royal Caribbean International

Accepting the awards were Dondra Ritzenthaler (Senior Vice President of Sales for Celebrity Cruises), Vicki Freed (Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Royal Caribbean International), Ken Muskat (Vice President of Sales for Royal Caribbean International) and Joanne Schimelman (Vice President of National Accounts for Royal Caribbean International).

Once again, congratulations to Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises for being so overwhelmingly recognized by the entire travel agent community (and their clients) two years in a row.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Celebrity Cruise Line Announces Beverage Packages

Every cruise line offers its guests the convenience of purchasing a fountain soda package. I think it’s a good deal. (Wait, let me clarify that. I think it’s a bad deal that the cruise lines charge for soft drinks in the first place…why not add $40 to the cruise fare of each passenger and make it inclusive)? But since they don’t do it that way, the soda package is a pretty good deal. Now Celebrity Cruise Line has taken things a step further with a variety of beverage packages. Is that a good deal? You decide.

For those of you that love the slushy colorful concoctions that are synonymous with cruising, the frozen drink package may be to your liking. Starting at $22 per night you can enjoy an unlimited variety of frozen and blended drinks. Strawberry or Piña Coladas Mango Tangos, and Margaritas… oh, I feel the onset of brain freeze! But as much as I enjoy sipping these as I sit by the pool, if I drank $22 worth in a day (I guess that’s about 3 or 4 of them) you’d find me at the bottom of the pool! It’s worthy to note that these drinks can be made with or without the alcohol and on our last cruise my son sampled them all….the non alcoholic version! He’s a gulper, not a sipper, so this would be a good package for him!

Celebrity has also added a beer package at $34.50 per night. Brands served include both domestic and imported brews such as Corona, Heineken, Budweiser, Samuel Adams and many more. Wow, that’s almost $250 per person for a week of drinking beer! Still, I suppose it can really add up if you buy it bottle by bottle. A few bottles by the pool, one while you watch the sunset, a couple with dinner, one with the evening show…

Whether one chooses the Classic ($51.50 per night) or Premium ($76 per night) Liquor Package, guests can take advantage of an unlimited variety of the selection of spirits available onboard Celebrity, per person. Whether in a bar, lounge, or any of the restaurants, your favorite drink is yours for the asking. Worth it? I don’t know, unless this was a family plan, I think I’ll have to forego it!

So those are the details. All beverage package prices include a 15% service charge. For Celebrity to institute such a program there must have been many requests for it. I know as a travel agent I have been asked many times if alcoholic drink packages were available. So what do you think? Deal or no deal?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Oasis of the Seas…. First Impressions

Never before have I been so impatient about a cruise ship’s debut. Not unlike the anticipation and excitement I felt as a child on Christmas Eve, the months and days leading up to my one night sailing aboard Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, were filled with eagerness and high expectations. I was awed by the first revelation of “Project Genesis.” Like every other “Loyal Royal” I sat gingerly at the edge of my seat waiting for hints to be dropped, neighborhoods to be revealed and details to be disclosed. All the while I knew what a dangerous game I was playing with myself as it is often the case that I get myself all worked up over what I consider to be an ultimate experience, only to be disappointed when reality and expectation diverge! But now I have seen her and I can say thank you Royal Caribbean, Oasis of the Seas is everything I hoped she would be! I’d like to share with you my first impressions of her seven neighborhoods during my whirlwind 24 hours onboard.

Due to a job that includes some wonderful perks I was lucky to find myself aboard the November 19th one night cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. Check in was as quick and efficient as promised in the new and improved Port Everglades, Pier 18 cruise terminal. Despite my numerous cruises on Voyager class and Freedom class ships, I was still not prepared for my first “ahh” moment when I stepped aboard the Oasis and found myself amid the astounding Royal Promenade! The area is wider and more spacious than I imagined it would be, but it is the brightness and airiness that makes the Royal Promenade a truly evolutionary feature of the Oasis. This is due to the Crystal Canopies, giant skylights from Central Park above, that flood the area in natural light. Once again the Royal Promenade will be the heart of the ship featuring guest services, shops, bars, lounges and a variety of spots to get a bite to eat. Several “street parties” take place here, but I’ll have to wait for my summer sailing to experience them.

The area I was most eager to see was Central Park. Could a deck within a ship be transformed into a paradise of greenery and make me forget for just a moment that I am out at sea? The answer is a resounding YES! That’s because during the planning stages of the Genesis project it was determined that the increased width of the ship would allow the design team to open up the “spine” of the ship to the elements. One such area became Central Park, a lovely outdoor space where guests can stroll under blue skies or dine beneath the stars. Paved paths curve around lush and exotic gardens passing by Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table, Vintages, and the very special 150 Central Park (I had the privilege of dining here and look forward to telling you about it in the near future). The aforementioned Crystal Canopies look like glass sculptures on this level but if you peer down you can check out what’s going on at the Royal Promenade. As pretty as this area is during the day, after dark it becomes a magical and romantic haven. I think that a balcony cabin overlooking this area would be a lovely option for a couple.
The other neighborhood of the ship that takes advantage of the open air above is the Boardwalk. Enter an area that epitomizes the playground-on-pilings boardwalk areas found at Coney Island, Ocean City, or Myrtle Beach. Its complete with the first ever carousel at sea, ice cream parlor, donut shop, candy shop, and family friendly eateries such as Johnny Rockets and The Seafood Shack. In order to give you a tried and true review I rode the carousel even though I was unaccompanied by a child, ate a chocolate donut (I was boring… other varieties, mango glazed for example, were available), browsed in Pinwheels and Candy Beach and licked an ice cream cone as I made my way down to the far end. The only thing missing was the ceaseless cacophony of children squealing in delight…sure to be remedied on the first revenue sailing! At the very end of the Boardwalk, set against the backdrop of the ocean, is the amazing Aquatheater. There will be two different shows performed here, but I was only able to see a sampling of what the talented divers are capable of. Still, the Aquatheater itself does not have a bad seat in the house and I look forward to revisiting! I had the opportunity to check out the balcony cabins that overlook the Boardwalk. Perfect for people watching, a partial ocean view, and fresh air!

I love the whole concept of Entertainment Place! It’s a grouping of “after dark” entertainment venues that give the feel of a night club district. There’s Jazz on 4, Casino Royale and Studio B. A word about the ice show, “Frozen in Time” ….don’t miss it! Sorry, that was three words. When I saw “Spirits of the Seasons” on Explorer in August I thought it was incredible. This new show is even better. It’s an interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen popular children's stories such as “The Ugly Duckling” and “The Little Mermaid”. The skating is as always, superb, the costumes colorful and the story, creative and imaginative! Blazes, the disco, is also here and I liked the layout of it a lot, as it’s all on one floor. Right across the way is Comedy Live, a stand up comedy club with décor inspired by a New York subway station. Don’t think dark…its not. Lots of oranges and blues with tables scattered about a small stage. My favorite lounge on the ship, although not located in this area, is Dazzles. It’s elegant and glamorous and sexy…can you call a lounge sexy? Yes, the crushed velvet chairs and muted tones of pink and taupe and color changing chandeliers…very sexy! Behind the stage is a floor to ceiling glass wall that looks down onto the Boardwalk. The band was playing Beatle’s music on my one-nighter and the dance floor was packed! You’ve got to stop in for a drink!

The Pool and Sport Zone is bigger and better on the Oasis. It stretches out to the entire length of the ship! When you’re up here it feels more like a resort than pool deck! My favorite area was the Beach Pool with its gum drop colored striped loungers and sloping entry into a saltwater pool. The H2O Zone looked like a great area for the littlest of cruisers with its geysers, whirlpools, and colorful squirting octopus. I read that there are a total of 21 pools onboard if you include the whirlpools! There was no time for me to confirm this but I will say I counted lots and lots of loungers! Now that’s good news! Another big “wow” is the Solarium. Until I saw this area, my all time favorite was the Solarium aboard Radiance of the Seas. This area is huge, with pools and palms (unlike trees in Central Park, these were fake), hot tubs, cabana styled chaises and rattan seating groups. The perfect adult only retreat! I should mention my co-workers enjoyed lunch at the Solarium Bistro, where the menu reflects a more health conscious fare.

Time was of the essence on this one night cruise so I had to forego my favorite spa treatments and did no more than pass through the Fitness Center. For your information, it will boast new spa treatments not before found on Royal Caribbean ships and other new-for-Royal Caribbean options such as Kinesis group classes. The spa area also will have a Thermal Suite at sea with heated tile loungers, saunas and steam rooms; three couples massage suites and seven individual treatment rooms. Kids and teen passengers, meanwhile, will find their own dedicated spa on the ship. The fitness center will have the latest cardio and resistance equipment, and offer spinning classes, kickboxing, pilates and yoga. The treadmills and ellpticals are no longer facing a wall of glass looking out onto the ocean and that is something I will miss.

I quickly walked through the Youth Zone and what I saw was quite impressive. It’s the largest space afloat dedicated to young cruisers. Kids Avenue is a central boulevard with dedicated Adventure Ocean spaces and themed play areas. You will also find a nursery for infants and lots of room for toddlers with plenty of ride on toys! The dedicated science lab will be a hit with school age kids! Now quite honestly, Royal Caribbean’s Adventure Ocean program has always been sensational. As a parent I was always pleased with both the facilities and the exceptionally well trained staff. It is the size of the ship that now allows the program to take it to the next level. You’ll find exciting new enhancements, spaces created and equipped for particular activities, and age appropriate enrichment programs. The Teen Zone looked really cool too! It’s a place I could see my son wanting to check out, even if just to initially meet up with others his age. They could then go off to play basketball, eat, play dodge ball, eat, play ping pong, eat, play mini golf, eat, surf, eat zip line, eat….Well, you get the picture!

So, that was my glimpse of Oasis of the Seas. Absolutely incredible and certainly worthy of all the hype! I can’t wait to return with my husband and son this coming summer. I know I skipped over tons of stuff, including info on the restaurants and the shows. There was just too much to see and too little time! You however, wouldn’t have that problem. You can take an entire week to experience all the Oasis has to offer! So that leaves you with a choice. I’ll cruise her again this summer, return to write all about it for you to read, OR, you can book it for yourself! See ya onboard!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Seven Godmothers for Oasis of the Seas

It’s a radical idea, but what do you expect from the world’s most revolutionary cruise ship? At today’s official naming ceremony seven women will stand up as godmothers for Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas. That’s one extraordinary woman per neighborhood. According to the cruise line each godmother was chosen because she personifies strength of character and exemplifies the spirit of giving. They are as follows:

Gloria Estefan: world-renowned singer and songwriter. (she was godmother of Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas).
Michelle Kwan: Olympic games medalist and the most decorated figure skater in United States history. She is also an American Public Diplomacy envoy promoting education, positive health practices and respect for diversity
Jane Seymour: a multiple Emmy and Golden Globe winning actress, as well as an Officer of the British Empire, who remains actively involved in the J and J Foundation benefiting children in need.

Dara Torres: twelve-time Olympic medalist and oldest female swimmer to compete in a record five Olympic games (1984, 1988, 1992, 2000 and 2008)
Keshia Knight Pulliam: film and television actress is best known for her role as Rudy Huxtable on the classic sitcom "The Cosby Show."

Shawn Johnson: four-time medalist at the 2008 Olympic games for women’s gymnastics and cancer philanthropist.

Daisy Fuentes: international television personality and producer, beauty and fitness expert, who is committed to improving children’s health and treatments through St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Starlight Children’s Foundation and the March of Dimes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oasis of the Seas on Good Morning America this Friday

Tune in to Good Morning America this Friday (11/20/09) between 7 AM and 9 AM for a live broadcast onboard the NEW Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas. Direct Line Cruises will have staff onboard the world's largest cruise ship for the next two weeks. For live updates and photos onboard, make sure to visit our Facebook page.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Epic Entertainment

When one thinks of world class entertainment, places such as Las Vegas and New York City come to mind. What about cruise ship entertainment? Would it be a stretch to say you could find that same caliber of entertainment at sea? Not if the cruise ship you’re talking about is the soon to be sailing Norwegian Epic!

“Howl at the Moon”, a Rock N Roll Dueling Piano Bar, will make Headliners aboard the Epic its newest location. Already in 14 cities nationwide, this high energy show not only entertains guests, but allows them to become part of the show. The audience is encouraged to sing, dance and clap along with music from the 70’s up till today. The show itself is a four hour late night experience that allows people to stop by for a drink or settle in for more of their evening. I’ve been told by people that have experienced this show is that the biggest problem with “Howl at the Moon” is that every time you get up to leave they begin playing another song you forgot how much you loved! Another amazing addition to the entertainment lineup just revealed is “Legends in Concert”, the original and largest celebrity tribute show in the world! “Legends” has earned numerous entertainment industry awards and its no wonder. Their shows appeal to music fans of all ages. The collection of celebrity impersonators include, but is not limited to Elvis, Cher, Madonna, Barry White, Tina Turner, Rod Stewart, and Tim McGraw. Three performers will be onboard at a time, with the performers rotated every four months to keep the show fresh and exciting. The free 45 minute concert will be held six times per cruise in the Epic Theater. A cabaret style show spotlighting one of the performers will be held in the Manhattan Room, the NY inspired supper club.

The lineup of entertainment was impressive aboard the new NCL Epic before the new additions were announced. It included Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams and Dinner, Fat Cats (blues and jazz), and the comedy of Second City. Now my only concern would be having enough time during a one week Caribbean cruise to experience everything the Norwegian Epic has to offer!

Friday, October 30, 2009

It's A Girl!

This week there was lots of excitement in the small city of Turku, located on the southwest coast of Finland. It was on Wednesday, October 28th that STX Europe officially delivered Royal Caribbean their newest baby…all 225,000 tons of her! Welcome Oasis of the Seas! Today, this amazing floating city, 2,165 crewmembers, and some additional 300 trainers and testers will begin the transatlantic crossing to U.S. shores. At the helm will be Captain William S. Wright, Senior Vice President of Marine Operations for Royal Caribbean International. You may remember him as the Captain of Freedom of the Seas when that ship made her first appearance in 2006, then the world's largest cruise ship. Once again Captain Wright will have the distinguished honor of debuting the “new” largest cruise ship in the world, as he guides the Oasis of the Seas to her new year-round homeport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Once docked at the new cruise terminal in Port Everglades there will be ample time for the planting of lawns and gardens, show rehearsals, and other last minute touches prior to her first cruise with guests onboard. Staff from Direct Line Cruises will be there when ABC’s “Good Morning America” unveils her beauty and innovation to the world on live T.V. the morning of November 20th. We’ll be posting photos on our Facebook page, so be sure to check it out!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Epic’s Ice Bar…So Cool it’s Hot!

The first Ice Hotel was built in the village of Jukkasjarvi Sweden in 1989. Existing each year between December and April, the entire structure is made out of snow and ice blocks. Within the hotel the Absolut Ice Bar is the most popular room in the place, with its vaulted ceiling, plenty of ice block seating (covered in reindeer skins) and see-though bar. The vodka cocktails are even served in chunky ice glasses!

It is this unique experience that is the inspiration behind the Ice Bar aboard the NCL Epic. In this frosty freezy wonderland the walls, tables, bar, stools, glasses and life size sculptures glisten and gleam. The Ice Bar will be kept at a frigid 17 degrees; not too pleasant for most warm blooded species! Although the vodka will certainly help raise body temperatures, faux fur coats are available at the door to assist. The Ice Bar is one of 14 in the world, but it is the first true ice bar at sea.
The Ice Bar is not the only unique after dark hot spot aboard the Epic. There’s Spice H2O, an adults-only, sultry, steamy, Ibiza-inspired beach club. Or Bliss Ultra Lounge, the electrifying high-energy lounge where music videos playing on multiple plasma screens create an electrifying experience. Leave it to NCL to provide the hippest, liveliest nightlife at sea!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oasis of the Seas Debuts on Good Morning America

If you are one of the many curious cruisers that can hardly wait for a sneak peek of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, the time is drawing near! On Friday, November 20 from 7am to 9am “Good Morning America” will be broadcasting live from this spectacular ship! If you’re like me you have tried to imagine Central Park. Were the designers really able to create an area of lush foliage, winding paths, and secret gardens that could make you feel you are strolling through Eden? When the camera pans the Boardwalk will you feel the excitement of Ocean City? Maybe they’ll tour a Loft Suite and we can steal a look at these accommodations that are worthy of a spread in Architectural Digest! I wonder who will be the first person race down the zip line that traverses this mega ship! Maybe they'll show the dive team in that amazing Aqua Theater!Answers to these and all your questions in less then a month! So set your TIVO’s and DVR’s so you can watch this special preview over and over again….or at least until you can experience it for yourself!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


BINGO has long been a part of my life. When I was about 9 or 10 my mom would allow me to accompany her on Monday nights to the church hall to play. I was only allowed to go during the summer months because the games didn’t finish up until close to 11pm and that would have been too late to stay out on a school night. I shared her tin can of pennies which we used as markers, but I had my own fluorescent pink dauber (that’s BINGO talk for ink markers) for the “specials”. Like everyone else my mom and I would line up our good luck charms (rabbit’s feet, trolls, etc) and hope for the best! As a “tween” my girlfriends and I would ditch our mom’s once we got to the hall, and position ourselves at our own table in back. Babysitting money paid for donuts, chips, soda, and of course our BINGO cards. We would spend the evening talking about cute boys, snobby girls, and the music of the Jackson 5 and Bobby Sherman. Sometimes we’d even pay attention to the game. Fast forward to my son’s years in elementary school. BINGO was the school’s most profitable fund raiser and once again I found myself at the church hall; only this time I was selling the BINGO cards, donuts and calling the numbers. When my son moved on to high school my BINGO nights came to an abrupt halt….until that one rainy day aboard a cruise ship. With nothing else going on I made my way to the show lounge. I remember being a bit wary. I knew playing with penny markers was probably not the way it was done, but when I was handed the sheets of games with the fold back tabs I was delighted by the novelty of it! The crowd was mixed: old and young; men, women and children; the experienced BINGO player and the newbie. The staff knew all the BINGO jokes and then some! I learned the BINGO Boogie, a requirement of claiming a prize, but unfortunately had no need to show off my moves. No matter, I was hooked! Now when we cruise BINGO is one of the activities we never miss. Since it’s expensive we play selectively; just “Win a Cruise” BINGO and “Jackpot” BINGO. My son won Jackpot BINGO on our Mediterranean cruise, and even though he had to split it with another player, his share of the prize money was more than a lifetime of my own winnings! Our last cruise brought BINGO to a new level with the use of hand held electronic games. Selling for over $60 for a session, these devices play more than 20 games at a time. They alert players by displaying how many numbers are needed for a BINGO, the actual numbers you’re waiting for, and they jingle and flash when you’re waiting for one more number (you’re cue to stand and get ready to boogie)! Once this gadget is turned on you can just sit back and sip your “drink of the day”. So where’s the fun in that? Well, at least you’re still required to BINGO boogie! Today there just never seems to be enough time to make my way to my hometown BINGO hall, although the games go on without me every Monday night. I’m content to know that I will play again on my next cruise, which is always just around the corner.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

World’s Largest Cruise Night (or should we say "week")

It will be a night like no other in the cruise industry. In one 24-hour period on October 14, 2009, thousands of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) member travel agencies will participate in the World's Largest Cruise Night. Here at Direct Line Cruises, we wanted to do MORE. We wanted to give you MORE time to decide on the perfect cruise, MORE ships to choose from, MORE sail dates to pick from, and MORE onboard credit to enjoy. From 10/13 – 10/16 Direct Line Cruises will offer onboard credit on ALL of our cruise line sailings! Plus, free travel insurance on cruises 5- nights or longer! We’re not calling it the World’s Largest Cruise Night (week) for nothing!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Royal Caribbean 2-Day WOW Sale

Are you ready to put some “WOW” into your life? It’s easy enough to do. Just book your next Royal Caribbean cruise on Tuesday, October 6th or Wednesday, October 7th on any sailing from December 1, 2009 forward and receive up to $200 onboard credit and 50% reduced deposit! What a great way to lock into an amazing cruise for next year without tying up a lot of cash. On top of that you get onboard credit to spend in the spa, the stores, or even a shore excursion. With Royal Caribbean’s Price Protection, you can book your cruise now and not have to worry about overpaying! But it gets even better! This sale includes Oasis of the Seas, a ship synonymous with WOW, for cruises that leave after April 1st 2010. You only have two days to take advantage of this sale, so don't wait. Let Royal Caribbean WOW you!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Technological Advancements Onboard Oasis of the Seas

I marvel at technological advancements made during my lifetime and admire the genius it takes to develop it. I am appreciative of the ways “gadgets” make my life easier; make it more organized, more simplified, or just more fun. And when I board Oasis of the Seas, I know I will be thanking Royal Caribbean for the technological enhancements that will make my vacation experience all that more remarkable. For example…

Guests can rent something called a WOW Phone on the Oasis. I love my I-Phone, but when onboard Oasis of the Seas, I want one of these! (This phone actually looks like a customized version of an I-Phone) From your WOW Phone you can:
*Call or text another WOW Phone user
*Track your children in Adventure Ocean or elsewhere on the ship
*Receive onboard “real time” GPS that allow you to locate other members of your traveling party
*Call a stateroom
*Pull up a map of the ship
*View your weekly customized calendar
*View the daily “Why Not Today” (formerly known as the Cruise Compass)

There will be Digital Signage that will assist in navigating around the ship with unique state of the art way-finding graphics. It will be especially useful during mustering and departure. Many signs are interactive and guests will be able to view dining menus, check restaurant seating availability, watch videos about spa treatments, and check show times in the various theatres.

Hand Held Technology will expedite service. For example, a bar server enters your order on this gizmo as you sit by the pool. By the time he walks back to the bar, your drink is ready and waiting for him! Now that’s a quick turn around! This devise will also be used in the photo gallery, some retail areas, and by maintenance people to ensure problems are quickly addressed.

High Definition Television Systems in staterooms do a lot more than show movies and music videos! Guests can simplify their ship experience by pre-paying gratuities, or by booking shows and shore excursions. The system allows one to view a personal cruise calendar that includes any reservations that were made for shows, restaurants, the spa, or excursions. Through the T.V. a guest could browse the internet, order room service, and order wine to be delivered at dinner. From the comfort of a stateroom one can view info and hours of operations for onboard bars, activities, the spa, or casino. Guests can even take a look at traffic flow updates for food venues! It is easy to check the charges on a sea pass account, read about the ports of call, and watch a port shopping preview. And if, by the slightest chance, you find yourself with nothing to do on this amazing ship, you can always watch T.V.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Oasis of the Seas...How Sweet!

Revolutionary, Innovative, Ground-Breaking, Unique, Incredible. All of these words have been repeatedly used to describe Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. I won’t disagree with any of these, but I’d like to add one of my own….Sweet!

Debuting on Oasis of the Seas will be “The Cupcake Cupboard”, the first cupcake shop at sea! You’re not rolling your eyes, are you? This is critical information! In my opinion (for what it's worth), the cupcake is the quintessential dessert. Perfectly portion controlled, it’s like having a scrumptious little cake all to yourself. There’s no guilt in eating the whole thing and not sharing, because that’s how they are meant to be eaten. Then there’s the beauty of these little desserts. Soft and swirly icing piled high in deep dark chocolate, snowy white, or any color of the rainbow, maybe with tinted sugar or little candies sprinkled on top. They offer the perfect high icing to cake ratio! How divine! They’re easy to serve and easy to eat. They’re portable. Cupcakes make people happy. Even big, burly men smile like little boys when they are given a cupcake. Wouldn’t you?

Cupcakes have become a pop culture craze in the culinary world. Over the past few years trendy cupcake bakeries have opened in cities like Chicago, NYC, and LA, with people waiting late at night on lines out the door. The cupcake has gone gourmet and is playful, hip, and oh so cool. And that’s why you’ll find “The Cupcake Cupboard” on the Oasis of the Seas. So sweet!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Formal Night: A Love / Hate Relationship

One of the things I love most about cruising is the formal nights! To me it’s like playing dress up just as I did when I was a child. What woman doesn’t feel alluring wearing a long dress that gracefully sweeps slightly above the ground as she walks? Or that feeling of being so incredibly irresistible in that sexy little black number that hugs your body in all the right places! You carefully select a little beaded purse and a pair of strappy heels that are higher than you would ordinarily wear, but they’re oh so perfect. It’s a chance to pile your hair atop your head with wispy tendrils framing your face. You look absolutely amazing! But it’s not just about the ladies. What woman can resist a man in a suit, or better yet, a tuxedo? So debonair! Is it possible that he’s smarter, funnier, sexier, when he’s all dressed up? Makes you want to keep your arm linked with his….maybe a bit possessively? And then there are the children…little prince and princesses dressed in their finery! It is a fairy tale evening! How lucky that the ship has photographers on every deck to capture the magic of such an evening….

One of the things I hate most about cruising is the formal nights! Months before the cruise the feeling of dread overwhelms me as I go shopping for a new dress. There are racks and racks to choose from, but they’re all too big in the chest, too tight in the hips, too short for my chunky legs, and why oh why are they all black???? I hate wearing black! Eventually I find a dress and shoes, but nobody will mistake me for Cinderella. My hair is too short to be glamorous and I wonder if a rhinestone clip would help. My husband does not own a tux. He last bought a suit in 1999 and has gained 10 pounds since. My teenage son is growing by leaps and bounds and I refuse to buy him something that he’ll wear only one evening. Thank goodness the cruise line solves those problems for me. They will rent tuxedos, including shoes, onboard.

“The Night” arrives and my family joins the hundreds of other people that are milling around the public areas of this beautiful ship. I lose my individuality in a sea of black dresses. I glance at my “boys” and feel my heart swell with love. I wanted to bring my camera but my silly little evening bag barely holds my key card and a tissue. I link arms with my husband… because if I don’t I’ll surely fall. My feet are being brutally tortured with every step I take. My son is grumpy, swears he’s being strangled by the bow tie, and cannot deeply inhale because the cummerbund has restricted his diaphragm. To lighten up the mood, my husband begins to waddle and make penguin noises. By the time we take are places in front of the camera any discomfort is forgotten and we are all laughing. The photographer snaps a pretty picture of my perfect family, which I will frame and proudly display when I get home. I love cruise formal nights!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Oh Baby!

Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas…a ship that boasts an overabundance of innovation, announced another “first” this week. Although many will hear about it and just shrug, the impact it will have on young cruising families is one that is able to turn a fun vacation into a fabulous vacation! What can this possibly be? I’m talking about the first nursery at sea – with infants accepted who are between six months and 36 months.

Now in all honesty, cruising, and Royal Caribbean in particular, has always been very family friendly. But still, if your child was not three and potty trained you did not have access to those wonderful kids clubs that allowed you to go off and enjoy some “couple time”, or maybe the chance to take pleasure in a bit of solitude. Having a nursery onboard is like bringing along your babysitter…without having to pay for another cabin! Here’s your chance to have the time to workout in that extraordinary gym, enjoy a spa treatment, or try out the zip line! Maybe you’d like to have a scrumptious dinner at 150 Central Park and afterwards take a romantic stroll through the gardens. Why not catch the evening’s water & light show at the Aquatheater and then have a night cap at the floating Rising Tide Bar? You can feel confident leaving your baby because every member of the nurturing staff has been vigilantly screened and has experience in childcare.

Every year over 25,000 infants and toddlers under the age of three sail on Royal Caribbean ships. It’s nice to know that somebody in the company took notice, saw a need, and did something about it. I bet he or she is also a parent who knows what its like not to have a sitter on a Saturday night!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Girlfriend Getaway

Once a year a travel magazine I subscribe to puts out an issue called “Girl’s Getaways.” It’s an issue full of suggested spas and resorts for getting away …ladies only, please! I find it odd that they have never recommended a cruise. In my mind, nothing could be more perfect!

Cruising is the ultimate “girl’s getaway!” It’s here, in the middle of the ocean and away from the stress of kids, man problems, aging parents, or whatever responsibility is getting you down, that one can truly begin to unwind. It’s a great way to come together to share laughs and tears, to reminisce or strengthen bonds. Chatting poolside, lavish spa treatments, shopping on tropical islands or foreign cities…that’s my idea rejuvenating body and soul! Rainbow colored slushy drinks that make everyone’s stories even funnier, two appetizers at dinner and rich chocolate desserts. These are indulgences to be shared with best friends. Sing-a-longs at the bar, slightly off key, of all you favorite songs; the same ones that you blasted when you all shared that small apartment in your younger days. Dancing the night away like you once did, before you started going to bed at 10pm, because now you have to rouse a cranky teenager at 6am so they won’t miss the school bus! It’s like stopping the world and getting off, for just a short break, to revitalize.

Celebrate, 21, 30, 40, or 50! Re-connect with the women you once shared your hopes and dreams with, when you were in high school or college. Invite your mother, grandmother, and daughter for some generational bonding. Cruising is the ideal “girl’s getaway” for girls of any age!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Say What?

On a recent “ladies night out” we started chatting about this year’s summer vacations, which then led to ideas for next year. I love talking about my plans and began to tell my friends about a cruise my family has booked for next August. My voice automatically rose a few octaves and the words were coming out fast and furious as I excitedly told them all about Royal Caribbean’s amazing Oasis of the Seas. When all was said and done one woman replied, “Wow, what a boat!” Boat? Boat you say? The Staten Island Ferry is a boat! Oasis is a ship! And at 220,000 gross tons, a mega ship at that! Which leads me into the topic of this posting…cruise vocabulary. Here are some definitions to help out all you newbie cruisers out there:

Aft: Refers to the rear of the ship

Berth: Your bed on the ship OR the place in port where the ship is

Bow: Refers to the front of the ship

Bridge: The area from where the captain controls the ship

Cabin: Your room

Cabin Steward: The person responsible for cleaning your cabin

Deck: Levels or floors of the ship

Disembarkation: The process of getting off a ship

Embarkation: The process of boarding a ship

The ships kitchen

Gangway: The entrance or exit area of the ship

Itinerary: The schedule of ports of call

Muster Station: The area you are designated to report to in case of an
emergency evacuation

Nautical Mile: 6078 feet or 1.15 miles

Port: The left side of the ship

Port of Call: A destination you visit

Purser’s Desk: The guest relations desk

Starboard: The right side of the ship

Stateroom: Another word for your cabin or room

Stern: The rear or aft of the ship

Tender: The vessel that transports you from ship to shore if the ship is
anchored a distance from the port

So there you have it, a primer in cruise ship vocabulary. The lingo you need to know to sound “in the know” on your next cruise.
Bon Voyage!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Win a FREE Cruise on the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas!

Are you feeling lucky today? Direct Line Cruises just announced the start of the FREE Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise contest! In case you haven't heard, the Oasis of the Seas will be the largest and most innovative cruise ship in the world when she begins sailing this December. The lucky winner will receive a FREE balcony stateroom for two on ANY 2010 Oasis of the Seas sailing. The winner will be randomly selected at the end of November. Direct Line Cruises will publically announce the winner in the middle of December.

To enter the contest, simply CLICK HERE. Good Luck!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Florida / Bahamas Cruise; So Much to Do!

Part 2

Back on your ship and heading further south, you arrive at the Bahamas. In 1492 Christopher Columbus first made landfall here…I’m surprised he ever left! Today you’ll find historic charm, modern attractions, and ecological wonders waiting for you to experience. Nassau, Paradise Island, and Grand Bahama Island (Freeport) are the most common ports of call.

Nassau, home the famous Straw Market, is a shoppers Nirvana. Here you can find a plethora of faux designer handbags, shot glasses, t-shirts, beaded jewelry, and all kinds of kitschy tourist souvenirs. Look a bit harder and you can find wonderful baskets, bags, and dolls made from dried palm and sisal plant leaves. There are extraordinarily talented woodcarvers that sell their creations as well; masks, animals, figurines, and statues. All in all, the market should not be missed.

The Golden Age of Piracy lasted from 1690 to 1720 and Nassau was at its heart. A little known attraction, but one of my favorites, is the interactive museum Pirates of Nassau. Located just around the corner from the Straw Market, I found this place quite by accident. Here you can board a replica of the pirate ship "Revenge" and enter the world of the infamous Blackbeard and his blood thirsty cronies. The rooms are dark and it may be a little scary to very young children, but my family really enjoyed our visit here.

The Atlantis Resort has become synonymous with Paradise Island! This mega compound offers so much that spending a day here is like sampling only one of Ben & Jerry’s many flavors! There is the beach of course, but people come here from the ship in droves to experience the jaw-dropping water slides, pools, lazy river, marine life exhibits…Ship sponsored shore excursions restrict areas you can visit, so choose carefully. For free reign of the resort, consider booking a room for the day and you will have access to everything.

All the islands of the Bahamas offer an overabundance of water related activities. Sailing, swimming with dolphins, snorkeling, diving, jet skiing, fishing, kayaking…it’s all available either as a shore excursion or on your own. Me, I’ll be swinging from a hammock on the beach with a slushy pink umbrella drink, glancing out into the turquoise sea…

Look into the beautiful NCL Jewel or NCL Gem for cruises that leave New York City headed for these exciting ports in 2010. What’s best is that you can cruise this identical itinerary five times and never have the same vacation twice! Whatever you, your friends or your family enjoy doing, they will find it on a Florida / Bahamas cruise vacation!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Florida / Bahamas Cruise; So Much to Do!

NCL offers weekly cruises from New York City year round. However, a question that we are often asked is how come there aren’t more varied 7 day itineraries from New York to choose from. The answer is actually quite simple. Logistically, a ship can only make it so far south and back again within a seven night time frame. That southern port is the Bahamas. Add to that a stop at one of Florida’s fun-filled cities and you have the ingredients for one great cruise.

Port Canaveral offers a multiplicity of activities for cruisers to choose from. The first things that always come to mind are those famous Orlando theme parks! Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World! What family wouldn’t get excited over the choices that are available! Most cruise lines offer shore excursions to the theme parks in the area. If you would rather do it on your own, there are several rental car agencies that serve the area. From there the ride to the major parks is approximately 45 minutes.

Cocoa Beach is just minutes away from the Port Canaveral cruise terminal. Maybe you’d like to spend the day relaxing on the beach or playing in the waves. And speaking of waves, did you know that Cocoa Beach is considered the surfing capital of the East Coast? How about a lesson?

For those that want to a bit more adventure, or are just nature lovers, a fun morning can be spent air boating down the St. John’s River in pursuit of alligators! The marshes are also home to many species of birds so don’t forget binoculars.

When I think of Port Canaveral “I Dream of Jeanne” pops into my mind (okay, I’m showing my age). Although my son was clueless as to the antics of Major Nelson and his side kick, he nevertheless thought the trip to the Kennedy Space Center was one of the coolest places he’d ever been! Actually, so did I…tours offered at Center include viewing the shuttle launch pads, the Rocket Garden, the Apollo Saturn V Center and much more. This is a trip I recommend to everyone.

Part 2 to follow; The Bahamas!

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'd Rather Be Cruising

I’m on vacation this week, and I’m writing this while sitting at a table by the pool at a very lovely resort. I have a pink, frosty umbrella drink on my right and a bowl of frozen grapes to my left. If I turn my head ever so slightly I can marvel at the tumultuous Pacific Ocean. Despite all this, I must confess, we’d rather be cruising!

There is no doubt about it. Cruising gives you the best value for your dollar. Our first full day at this beautiful place, we planned to spend the day hanging out at the pool. Not wanting to leave, even for lunch, we decided to eat at the pool side café. We ordered a simple meal…four hamburgers, two bottles of water and two smoothies. When the bill for $94 came, I thought my husband would go into cardiac arrest! Yikes! We will definitely have to make alternate plans for future lunches!!

A visit to the spa is an indulgence I allow myself on every vacation. When I cruise I know that if I make my appointment on a port day, the price will be a lot lower. I can also purchase a package of two or three treatments that can save me quite a bit of money. Here at the resort there are no “specials.” I stopped by for a menu and price list only to find that my favorite oxygen infusing facial will cost $225! They would have to promise me that I will leave the spa looking 29 again, before I spent that kind of money!

Like a cruise ship, this place has a nicely appointed gym. It’s just that the work out is not the same when the ellipticals do not overlook the ocean! Not that it matters much. Due to airline weight restrictions on luggage, I was unable to pack my work out clothes and sneakers.

We are halfway through our time here, but my husband hardly looks rested or relaxed. Each day there is somewhere different to drive to…a beach, town, restaurant, or amusement park. Although our navigation unit gets us everywhere we want to be, he still must contend with traffic, metered parallel parking spots, tolls roads without an “easy pass”, and me yelling, “Pull over…I want to take a picture!” It's so much easier to leave the "driving" to the captain!

As busy as we are during the day, the evenings are another story. The pool area is closed at 11pm, and the lights shut off around the activity patio that has the ping pong tables, pool tables, air hockey tables, etc. There is no teen lounge here like you would find on most cruise ships. With two sixteen year olds with us, this has become a bit of an issue. They’ve met other teens and would like to hang out a bit later, but since I’m not volunteering my villa as a meeting place, it looks like they better be content coming back to our room play a game of family scrabble or Monopoly!

My family cruises so often that when we take any other type of vacation, we can’t help but compare. Sure there are plusses and minuses to whatever type of vacation you take, but it seems that no matter how I look at things, cruising always seems to come out on top.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Northeast “Drive To” Ports That Offer So Much More

These days the cruise lines talk a lot about “drive to” ports. But what if you live too far to drive to any port? What if you have to fly? Why does everyone first think of heading south? Why not fly to New York City, Baltimore, or Philadelphia? Wow! These cities are great vacation destinations in their own right! Instead of flying to Florida, people from all over the U.S. could plan their own pre-stays for a few days in one of these amazing cities, and after they’ve exhausted themselves with all there is to see and do, hop on a ship for some rest and relaxation! What an incredible vacation that would be!

There’s no place in the world like New York City! Climb to the top of the Empire State Building or Lady Liberty’s crown. Take a horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park. Or the museums…there’s the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, or my favorite, the Museum of Natural History. Shop along 5th Avenue by day, and at night take in a Broadway Show. Soho, Greenwich Village, China Town, Little Italy, delicious! Then it’s a quick cab ride to the 12th Avenue piers where you can board the NCL Dawn or NCL Gem. It’s just as easy to head for Cape Liberty where the Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas or Celebrity Summit is waiting for you.

Fall is a great time to tour Philadelphia. The Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the National Constitution Center and the Betsy Ross House are so inspiring. So much history! Not your thing? Maybe you’d prefer to run up the steps of the Museum of Art like Rocky did! Or seek out the best cheese steak sandwich. Do whatever, remember, freedom was born in Philadelphia! How appropriate that you can then embark on a freestyle cruise aboard the NCL Majesty heading for Bermuda, or Canada / New England. Did you know that our nation’s capitol is just a shuttle ride away from the Baltimore harbor? Washington DC is a great vacation spot whether you 8 or 80! Take a few days to tour the many museums that make up the Smithsonian. The monuments that honor past presidents and our heroic war veterans will bring a tear to the eye of even the most austere visitor. Tour the Capitol or the Supreme Court. Kids love the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the Spy Museum. Oh, so much to see and do! Then, soothe those achy feet at the spa once you’re aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas. Or let the crew aboard the Mercury pamper you like only Celebrity knows how.

So come on you people from Illinois, South Dakota, and Kansas. We’re ready to welcome those of you from Michigan, Oregon, and Tennessee. Fly over from Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, and New Mexico. Check out our great cities and cruise from our ports. We promise you the vacation of a lifetime!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Celebrity Life

Every cruise line has something unique to offer their guest that sets it apart from every other line. Celebrity Cruises, like other premium brands, has always put a lot into the enrichment programs they offer onboard. A new series of sophisticated experiences called “Celebrity Life” is designed around topics the line knows best; dining, learning, and wellness.

“Savor” is all about food and wine. This will include eight new wine events, six spirits and mixology tastings, and seven different interactive programs for guests hosted by the ship’s Executive Chef. Culinary programs feature interactive cooking shows and competitions, as well as guest chefs who will sail with Celebrity. Mixology 101 was developed by world-renowned Master Mixologist Junior Merino. Imagine learning how to create these cocktails and serving them to your own guests back home!

“Discover” gives guests the opportunity to expand their knowledge through partnerships with Rosetta Stone, and Smithsonian Journeys. There will also be astronomy, technology, and dance classes offered. Make the most of your vacation photos by taking a class in Photoshop or blog creation.

“Renew” is a health and wellness program. Look for more options at the spa, seminars on stress management, or get an introduction to alternative healing systems such as Chinese medicine. And if rest and relaxation is not enough to erase those laugh lines, maybe BOTOX and anti-aging facials will do the trick!

The above is just a sampling of what Celebrity plans to offer. Some Celebrity Life programs will have a fee, but many will be at no additional cost. Look for the debut on the new Celebrity Equinox with fleet-wide rollout complete by the end of November.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Who is that man in my bed?

It was the end of another wonderful day aboard an incredible ship, somewhere in the Mediterranean. My husband, son and I were making a quick stop at our cabin after dinner so my son could change out of his “fancy clothes.” We slid the key card into its slot but as we pushed open the cabin door we were greeted by the sound of the blaring television. How odd…we rarely watch it and I knew we wouldn’t have left it on when we went to the dining room. But that didn’t surprise us half as much as the man tucked into my bed, enjoying the movie!!!!

Mr. T, the towel man, caught us by surprise! It was years ago, but every time we tell the story of finding him, we laugh. Each cruise I look forward to the turtles, snakes, swans, elephants and monkeys that may be waiting for me at the end of the evening! My vacation photo albums have more pictures of towel critters than they have of my husband!

I love it when props are used to enhance the critter. I have been known to leave my sunglasses or hat on the coffee table just in case they are needed. Years ago I remember my nightgown being used. That never happens anymore. Maybe somebody thought it was kinky and filed a complaint! Some cabin stewards have let me keep a weeks worth of these cuties lined up on the couch. Each night my little family grows a bit larger.

On my last cruise the lounge was full, and people were standing 3 deep to watch the towel animal folding demonstration. And that was on a warm and beautiful day when you would expect everyone to be enjoying the sunshine and ocean air! I was among the masses. Why, I ask myself? It’s not like I’m going to start making them at home. Will anybody? Unlikely… they’re not all that quick and simple to make. As a matter of fact, it’s easier to just book another cruise!

It doesn’t matter if your 2 or 82, everyone loves towel critters! And everyone has a favorite. I appreciate the time and effort that it takes for my cabin steward to leave us these special creations. In return, I make sure we leave him something special. Maybe that’s his point, but its ok by me.