Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Explorer of the Seas / 5 Night Bermuda Cruise (part 2)

Ship Activities: A cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, particularly one the size of Explorer of the Seas, is like vacationing at an all-inclusive resort. There is so much to do that the fact that the ship actually stops at amazing ports is like getting an extra bonus! As usual there was more to do than we could possibly have time for! Pool games and contests were hilarious. The Men’s Belly Flop Competition always grosses me out a bit, but still makes me laugh. Once again I was unsuccessful in getting my husband to enter the Mr. Sexy Leg Contest. Truth is I think he’d jump overboard before even considering it!

I did go to the cooking demonstration to reconfirm that gourmet cooking is probably not worth all the effort, but gave all my attention to the towel animal folding demonstration. I played BINGO, learned new line dances, visited the spa, and also the gym (actually, I only looked in the gym…unfortunately I forgot my sneakers…again).

There were two parades, my favorite being the Island Frenzy Parade. Parades on a ship? How cool is that? We enjoyed the live music nightly in the Crown & Kettle Pub. How convenient that its located steps away from the delicious cookies, freshly baked at the Promenade Café! We hung out one evening at the Sports Bar where we watched our beloved Mets bury themselves a bit deeper. Still, it was a good time commiserating with our fellow guests. We were at the Dancing Under the Stars Pool Party. Good band, good food! I even spent time sharpening my putting skills on the mini golf course.

There were lots of trivia contests going on all week, crazy games, and lots of movies playing in the Screening Room. We didn’t have the time for any of it. Missed the rock climbing, inline skating, karaoke, and jewelry making. But that’s the great thing about this cruise. There are so many choices! So pick and choose and have the best vacation ever!

Bermuda: Mark Twain said, “You go to heaven if you want - I'd rather stay here in Bermuda.” If you have never been to this British territory, you should definitely put it on your “places to go” list. Pink tinted beaches, azure waters, gently swaying palm trees…this is paradise! On our cruise Bermuda transportation passes were sold at the shore excursion desk, but I don’t know if all ships do this. When you get off the ship, the Visitor Information & Transportation Ticket Booth is steps away. Bermuda transportation passes cost $12 for one day, and $20 for two days. No need to exchange currency here. Tip: The good thing is that the passes are also valid for bus and ferry service. Use it to crisscross the island taking in the sights by land and sea. The island is only 21 miles long and 2.5 miles wide, but there is plenty to see and do!

Cabs are readily available, but more expensive and unnecessary for a beach run. Tip: If you’d like to sightsee by cab, look for one that has a blue flag. These taxi drivers are also tour guides, licensed by the government, and are happy to give visitors informative tours. Tours generally cost $30 per hour for up to 4 passengers.

Our first day in Bermuda was our designated beach day and we headed for Horseshoe Bay (along with everyone else from the ship). We bought bus tokens (cost $20 r/t for three) because a day pass was more than we needed. Follow the sidewalk to the bus stop. When cruise ships are in town the busses are practically lined up, so they’re hard to miss! The #7 Express will take you directly to the beach. There are chairs and umbrellas for rent ($10 apiece) as well as showers and a snack bar. Tip: Get there early because when they run out of sand chairs they give you those plastic deck chairs…ugh! Life guards were on duty when we were there. Leave the mobs of people behind by walking to your far left to find a more secluded spot. Busses back to the Dockyard run about every 30 minutes.

The second day we were in Bermuda we took the ferry to Hamilton to see the sights and shop. The ride over was as much fun as the destination itself! Tip: There’s a glass bottom boat that leaves from a spot adjacent to where the ferry docks in Hamilton. Kids get to throw out food for the fish which causes a feeding frenzy! The colored coral reefs and an 18th Century shipwreck will have you in awe! A great trip!

Our five night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas out of Cape Liberty was nothing short of perfect! I love the fact that there was no flying involved, and when the cruise was over, it was a short drive home. A great ship with plenty to do round the clock, and two days in lovely Bermuda makes for a flawless combination!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Explorer of the Seas/ 5 Night Bermuda Cruise

It has been several years since I’ve cruised out of Bayonne, New Jersey, and I have to tell you, I’d forgotten how easy it was! We left our home on Long Island at noon (which was actually 90 minutes later than I had wanted to depart, but tardiness is a flaw inherent to my husband’s side of the family). Tip: Get to the ship by noon. You may not have access to your stateroom, but go for lunch and then head up to the pool! Despite our initial delay, the ride to Cape Liberty was fast and uneventful. After pulling into the port area we followed the caravan of vehicles to the white tented area where we had our bags tagged and taken. It took only a few minutes more to park the car, and return to the check-in area in order to trade our set sail pass for our sea pass card. We hopped onto the waiting shuttle and before I knew it we were aboard Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas, ready to embark on a 5 night cruise to Bermuda.

Taking the stairs two at a time (because more stairs means more guilt free dessert) we detoured to deck five before even dropping off our carry on bag. We have never cruised on Explorer, but have sailed her sister ships a multiple of times. The ship layout is very familiar to us and we don’t need to waste time consulting deck plans. We knew where we wanted to go. The Explorer of the Seas is a Voyager class ship and the Promenade is the heart of this colossal vessel. It is always the first place we head…a family ritual of sorts. The vacation officially begins with that first slice of pizza from the Promenade Café. It’s actually more like a pie, but that’s the appetite of a teenage boy for you! Once that bit of business is taken care of everything else falls into place. I could write pages telling you about everything we did for five days, but I’ll spare you the details and just stick to a brief summary of what you might find useful in planning your own trip.

Dining: This was our second experience with “My Time Dining” and I love it! We were seated at Derek’s station each evening, and we found him to be both personable and efficient. Each night my son would order an entrée, but pass over the salad or appetizer. And each night Derek would bring him one anyway…just to try! Two of the four choices were successful. What a great way to get finicky eaters to sample something different! We decided this cruise was going to be “no fuss” and chose not to bring formal wear. Tip:My Time Dining” is still in the dining room and you should conform to the suggested dress code of the evening. On the formal evening we ate dinner at the Windjammer Café (casual dress) although we could have gone to Portofino (smart casual dress) or Johnny Rockets (casual dress). All in all, we enjoyed all our meals regardless of where or when we ate.

Entertainment: The ice show, “Spirits of the Seasons” was one of the best I’ve seen. The music was a nice mix of slow and upbeat tunes. The costumes were colorful and the skaters, absolutely spectacular! Tip: Two small children (under 4) were selected from the front row to be glided around the ice on a sled. The girls that were picked looked like they were having a wonderful time and luckily their parents had cameras ready to capture the smiles! Get there early for your chance.

There were two shows that starred the Royal Caribbean Singers & Dancers. The music in “Fast Forward” was great, as was the set design. “Invitation to Dance” showcased the talented dancers and was my favorite of the two shows. It was choreographed by Louis Van Amstel…a name that should be recognizable to all the fans of “Dancing with the Stars.” Tip: Check your Cruise Compass for times when the dancers give swing lessons…they were very patient with those of us that have two left feet, it was loads of fun and it was free!

Something new, at least I’ve never seen it before, was “Club Twenty.” The Solarium was converted to a hip Miami style poolside nightclub for adults only. I wish I could give you a review, but I exhausted myself earlier at the “70s Disco Street Party, and anyway, my son would be the first to tell you I’m not as hip as I’d like to think I am!

The “Destination Dockyard” Street Festival was lots of fun. It’s held on Monday evenings from 8pm to 10pm pier side (near the clock tower). There’s family friendly entertainment (we saw a magician and a juggler), local bands, craft market, and more. It was a nice change, getting off the ship after dinner, seeing the show, and strolling around the dockyard. Tip: There are hair braiding booths set up here for those of you that are interested.

To be continued tomorrow with ship activities & Bermuda....

Friday, July 17, 2009

Cruise Ship Gambling Bill Defeated in Bermuda

Much to the disappointment of the cruise lines and their passengers, cruise ships are not allowed to open their casinos while in port, regardless of the island. On most Caribbean or Bahamas itineraries the ship is in port no longer than early evening. The casinos are opened as the ship heads out to sea on its way to the next stop. However, on Bermuda itineraries the ship is often docked for several evenings on this beautiful island. Royal Caribbean's 5 night Bermuda itinerary spends two nights in port, while NCL ships dock for up to three nights. When the casinos are closed, it’s a great loss of revenue for the cruise line. For that reason, I’m sure all cruise line executives had great interest in what the Bermuda government was up to this past week. The news for them was not good.

On Friday Bermudian lawmakers rejected a bill that would have allowed cruise ships to open their casinos while docked overnight in the British Atlantic territory. The bill was opposed by church groups and politicians of both parties as they believed it would have paved the way for the relaxing of Bermuda's anti-gaming laws. Small business owners worried that cruisers would stay onboard ships in the evening rather than spend their money in Bermuda’s bars and nightclubs. On the flip side, others in the business community hoped passage of the bill would be a lure that would attract more cruise ships to Bermuda.

Despite the defeat, it is unlikely that this is a dead issue within the Bermudian government. The Premier, Ewart Brown, plans to reintroduce the bill again later this year. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Postcards from the Nation of Why Not

Have you ever seen one of those television commercials that show people stopping to chat with a reporter after exiting a new Broadway show, to give a raving review of the performance they just saw? Exactly how honest are these testimonials? I guess I’m just cynical, because to me, they seem so contrived!

What about cruise line commercials? Are those people playing mini golf when the ship horn sounds for real? What about the family with the moody teenager that doesn’t smile? (Although I must say, that one was SO EASY for me to relate to!) So is that genuine, or is it filmed with actors while the ship is docked in Miami? Hmmm…

This week Royal Caribbean will begin airing a series of television ads filmed on the amazing Liberty of the Seas, during her July 11 – 18 Western Caribbean trip! The ads, called “Postcards from the Nation of Why Not” will be the first time television viewers can witness somebody’s cruise experience while its happening. Rather than using actors, the film crew will capture footage of real guests stepping out of their normal comfort zones to try something new. How cool is that? It certainly brings new meaning to the proverbial “wish you were here” postcard!

Commercials air nationally the week of July 20th, but don’t worry if you miss them. You can view them on Royal Caribbean’s website.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A New & Improved Celebrity Captain's Club

Celebrity Cruise Line has always been a class act. As a guest aboard one of their many elegant ships, you can expect exceptional personal service, award-winning cuisine, world-famous amenities and tasteful accommodations. Their past guests have been able to take advantage of one of the best loyalty clubs available at sea…and now it’s even better!

The three tiered Captain’s Club already gives past passengers at the Classic Level (1-4 tier credits) access to a loyalty host while onboard, a premium discount booklet, complimentary custom air requests, a one category upgrade, pre-sailing specialty restaurant reservations, an online newsletter and an exclusive Captain’s Club party. The first change is with the party… and turning it into a Captain’s Club Celebration. This is the place to be to meet and chat with fellow members, the Captain, and senior officers. Guests will have the opportunity to experience interactive cooking demonstrations, and enjoy the unique "CC Jams" performance by a variety of shipboard musicians.

At the Select Level (5-9 tier credits) guests receive priority embarkation, a wine seminar, priority status to shore excursion waitlists, and a senior officer cocktail party. The new program adds 25% off all Internet packages, free pressing of up to 2 items per stateroom, and discounted laundry service.

Those that have achieved Elite Level (10+ tier credits) can take advantage of everything already mentioned plus a private shipboard departure lounge with continental breakfast, priority tender service, priority waitlist for dining room seating, and an invitation to an elegant tea. Enhancements include complimentary access to the Persian Garden on port days, 90 free internet minutes, one complimentary bag of laundry (wash, dry, fold), complimentary pressing of 2 items, complimentary dry cleaning of one item, and access to the Captain’s Club Lounge. Guests can enjoy the lounge for a coffee house experience from 8AM to 10AM, with complimentary espressos and teas. Every evening from 4PM to 6PM the lounge offers a quiet place for a complimentary pre-dinner drink.

A newly formed Captain’s Club Advisory Board was established to ensure that past guests will have a voice in shaping the program. Members across all tiers will be invited to participate. Additional features to the program will be added later in the year. The new theme for Celebrity’s Captain’s Club, "The Center of Our Attention", clearly reinforces the commitment the cruiseline has made to its loyal members...and it shows.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Ship Christenings

Ship christenings are a tradition that dates back many centuries. The methods have changed over time, but the purpose has remained the same…to bless the vessel and bestow protection on the ship, crew, and passengers.

A thousand years ago, Vikings christened their curved-prow warships with human sacrifice and the spilling of blood before setting off to pillage and explore. This paired with the incantations of a high priest would hopefully appease the gods. Romans and Greeks performed the ritual of blessing a ship with water for purification and for invoking the protection of mighty sea gods such as Neptune or Poseidon. Moving forward into the Middle Ages, water was replaced by wine, but the purpose remained the same.

By the 1800’s the christening of ships began to follow a familiar pattern. They became public events and the tradition developed that a female would do the honors and be named the sponsor of the ship. Champagne took the place of wine as the preferred liquid of anointment, probably because of its higher perceived value. Held by the neck, a bottle would be thrown against the ship, accompanied by much pomp and pageantry. That was until the christening of a British vessel in which a woman missed the ship and injured a spectator. From that point on the bottle was usually secured to the ship and covered in a sleeve to prevent fragments of the glass bottle from flying hither and yon.

Today the christening of a cruise ship, otherwise known as its naming ceremony, is a star-studded event. Cruise ship Godmothers are carefully selected so the lines can use the occasion to promote the new ship. The choice of a cruise ship Godmother is an ideal way to associate a ship with a certain image that is conveyed by the Godmother. The choices encompass a wide cross section of women that the public can relate to.

In 2007 when NCL started looking for a Godmother for the Norwegian Gem they didn’t look any further then their loyal customers. Women 18 years of age or older that had taken a cruise on NCL were invited to nominate themselves by sending in a video that showed how she embodied the attributes of the “hot & hip” Gem, as well as the free spirit of Freestyle Cruising. Cindy Cardella, a New Jersey stay at home mom, was chosen. Other members of this elite sorority of NCL Godmothers include Rosie O’Donnell, Kim Cattrall, Brooke Burke, Melania Trump and Angela Perez Baraquio.

Past Royal Caribbean Godmothers have included Her Majesty Queen Sonja of Norway, Lauren Bacall, Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Steffi Graff and champion wheelchair marathoner Jean Driscoll. When it was time to christen Independence of the Seas in 2008, Royal Caribbean wanted a British woman that dedicated incredible time and effort to improve the well being and future of young people under 18 years old in her community. Peers or family members nominated candidates. The winner, Elizabeth Hill, founded the Gamelea Countryside Training Trust, a charitable organization based on a farm that helps young people with learning or physical disabilities learn skills.

Just last week, Celebrity Cruise Line selected the Godmother of the Equinox. She is Nina Barough, founder of the charity Walk the Walk, which is dedicated to raising money for breast cancer research. Born in the UK, Ms. Barough is a breast cancer survivor herself. She will be naming the ship in a gala ceremony in Southampton on July 29. You may remember Celebrity Solstice Godmother Dr. Sharon L. Smith. She is a two-time cancer survivor, professor, and as biological oceanographer, a most appropriate choice.

The manner in which ships are christened has changed over the past centuries, in many ways reflecting our cultural shifts. The premise, however, still remains the same. To name and bless the vessel with the hope that such ceremony will bring good fortune and protection to all aboard as she ventures out on the high seas.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Freestyle Dining Packages

Norwegian Cruise Line has plans to make their fabulous Freestyle dining even better! In the weeks to come guests will be able to pre-book their onboard dinner reservations. The three different Freestyle Dining packages that will be offered will save guests some money too! All the details of the program have not yet been announced but here’s what I do know. A Silver Package priced at $45 per person will give diners a choice of three different restaurants. The $70 per person Platinum Package gives guests the choice of five different restaurants. Personally, I think this is a great idea since it saves people from wasting valuable “fun” time waiting in line to make daily reservations. For those that can plan ahead, it also prevents the disappointment of not getting your favorite restaurants at your choice times. Thanks, NCL, I'm loving it!