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 cafĂ©. 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.