Saturday, January 30, 2010

Family Reunions at Sea

Growing up I remember spending holidays, Thanksgiving in particular, amongst a barrage of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. Years passed and slowly, people moved away; a different town, another city, or even across the country. Our only connection now is the occasional email and yearly Christmas card. Last year a cousin of mine was determined to reunite our geographically sprawling family and suggested a reunion at sea! When you look at all a cruise vacation has to offer, it’s clear to see why it’s a great option for multi-generational get-togethers!

Cost is probably the most important issue when planning any type of family reunion. Everyone may have a different budget to work within and cost should not be an excluding factor. The virtually all-inclusive nature of a cruise allows each guest more control over their spending. When you cruise you pretty much know what your costs will be upfront. Cruise fare includes your accommodations, all of your meals (though not necessarily in every restaurant), a selection of beverages, and entertainment. The accommodations, or staterooms as they’re called, are available at such varied price points that it’s easy to find an affordable option for everyone!

The nice thing about a cruise is that there are so many opportunities for families to be together. Imagine everyone at dinner together, laughing and catching up on each other’s lives. Delicious meals that cater to kids, picky eaters, vegetarians, special diets, or those that want to try everything in sight! The best part is the cooking and the clean-up are left to someone else! Wouldn’t it be fun for everyone to share a day in port on some exciting excursion? Some families may want to spend every waking hour together…or not! Don’t worry, even the smallest cruise ship provides enough space to be alone or pursue personal interests.

Cruise ships are multi-generational floating resorts! Whether family members are five, seventy-five, or anywhere in between, there will be activities for everyone to enjoy. They all have children’s programs and teen clubs and when the kids are occupied and happy, everyone can have a better time. There are pool games, trivia, sports, art auctions, spas, gyms, dancing, Broadway caliber shows, and enrichment programs for all to enjoy. And if all you want to do is kick back and relax there are plenty of places to do that too!

We all live busy lives. There’s always so much to do that often we lose touch with some of the most important people in our lives…our extended families! But it only takes one person to change that…one person to put out an e-mail blast to everyone in the family that says, “Hey, it’s been a while. Let’s get together. What do you think about a cruise….”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

150 Central Park on Oasis of the Seas

(Disclosure: I am not a food critic nor do I play one on TV. I do however watch “Iron Chef” regularly on the Food Network).

150 Central Park is the most upscale dining venue aboard the Oasis of the Seas…or any Royal Caribbean ship for that matter. Before the Oasis of the Seas first sailed much was written about the dining experience one could expect at this signature restaurant and the chef de cuisine that was selected to manage it. It was a restaurant I wanted to try first hand, so it was a privilege to receive an invitation to dine here while I was onboard.

The restaurant, as the “address” implies, is located in the lush and lovely Central Park neighborhood. The restaurant itself, done in the earthy shades of moss, sienna, and ochre is warm and inviting. Of particular beauty is the mosaic-tiled wall that faces you as you walk in. The tables set in crisp white linen and Limoges bone china, which contrasts nicely against the comfortable richly colored velour chairs. There is a section of tables for two that are paired with tall, sage green concave chairs… and despite the elegance that surrounded me I have to chuckle, as these chairs reminded me of giant pickles!

Although Royal Caribbean could have gone courting for a celebrity chef, they instead launched an extensive worldwide search for up and coming talent. They found it at the prestigious 2008 World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Congress in Dubai, where Keriann Von Raesfeld was named the first American and first woman to win the honor of “Best Young Cook in the World”. “Keriann Von Raesfeld's incredible talent and innovative vision for 150 Central Park is the perfect fit within the constellation of culinary offerings aboard Oasis of the Seas," says Frank Weber, Vice President, Food and Beverage Operations, Royal Caribbean International. "Keriann embodies Royal Caribbean's culture of innovation.” Every item on the menu at 150 Central Park is Keriann’s own creation. Her vision for the restaurant is simple; fine dining at its best, but not stuffy fine dining. She has said that food should stimulate all senses. It should be elegant, sexy, and playful.

My dining experience was that and more! Upon being seated we were offered a choice of water; natural, sparkling, or kiwi infused. Unique to the table setting was a dish of artisan salts. Artisan salts are, for lack of a better description, “fancy” sea salts from different parts of the world. Our waiter told us a little about each variety and how each one’s distinctive color, flavor and texture could enhance our meal. The menu itself was extraordinary. We started off with Cream of Sunchoke, a richly satisfying cream soup made from potato and artichokes with parmesan froth. Melon Salad followed, which was a delightful contrast of flavors; the freshness of the fruit, the hint of pepper of the arugala, topped with tangy goat cheese and sweet candied walnut dressing. The next course to come out was Cube of Halibut. It was served with red onion atop a flakey, butter pastry, and it paired well with the fennel confit. Delicious! However, my favorite was a Kobe steak entrĂ©e served with shitake “bacon” and a celery root puree… plated so lovely with drizzled red wine demi glace and chive oil! Full as I was at this point, I never leave a restaurant without at least a taste of dessert. Keriann’s acclaimed banana split, which requires a day-and-a-half of preparation, did not disappoint! Roasted banana filling is rolled up in a freshly made crepe and served with roasted banana ice cream. It is then topped with cherries that have been marinated in port, hence its name “tipsy cherries”. Even this self-proclaimed chocoholic would have to give this dessert five stars!

Toward the end of dinner a woman in a white double-breasted coat and tall hat approached our table…it was Kerriann herself. How difficult it was to equate the amazing gourmet meal I was enjoying with the blonde, fresh faced, 22-year-old woman that came to introduce herself! She is as lovely as she is talented and we chatted amiably for a short while. We told her how much we were enjoying our meal and we wished her all the best at 150 Central Park.

I should note that 150 Central Park will have the most dynamic wine program of any Royal Caribbean restaurant. Master Sommelier John Blazon created the expansive wine list and will feature wine recommendations paired with the evening’s menu and presented in “tasting tiers” based on the bottles’ price. The restaurant will feature two menus per sailing, each offering a 6 and 8 course option. This is a dining experience that should not be missed. Reservations are recommended and can be made online prior to sailing or once onboard the ship. A $35 per guest fee covers the meal and gratuities.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Two big announcements were made today by Norwegian Cruise Line at an event hosted aboard the Norwegian Gem:

First, exciting news for families… NCL has partnered with Nickelodeon for what will surely be a unique family cruise vacation experience! Select NCL ships will feature “Nickelodeon at Sea”, a program that will include character meet and greets, character breakfasts, story hours, Nick-themed dance parties and interactive game shows. I remember one of those shows, “Slime Time LIVE”, was always a favorite of my son when he was 5 or 6 years old! What could be more fun for a kid than to be cruising and to have the opportunity to be covered with oozy goozy green slime! “Nickelodeon at Sea” will make its debut on the Norwegian Jewel when the ship begins sailing from New York in late April. (The Jewel continues her 7-night Bahamas itinerary all summer long out of New York.) The Norwegian Epic, which begins sailing in July, will also feature “Nickelodeon at Sea.” NCL will also offer annual Nickelodeon-themed cruises which takes the Nick experience to the extreme! These special cruises will offer more of everything Nickelodeon including special appearances by the Network’s live talent and show premieres! The first of these specialty cruises is scheduled on the Jewel later this year.

Good news for solo travelers too! Those cute little studio rooms on the soon to sail Norwegian Epic have been designed and priced to meet the needs of the independent traveler that prefers to cruise solo, or perhaps just have a room to themselves! Pricing starts at $799 with no single supplement! This is a long awaited industry first! It’s about time a person can choose to cruise by themselves and not be penalized by cost. Studio guests have access to an exclusive keycard-access-only Studio Lounge complete with large screen TVs, jukebox, and lots of comfy seating. What a great place to meet fellow travelers!

Celebrity Cruises Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary

At a gala cocktail reception last week, Celebrity Cruises commemorated its 20-year anniversary and announced future plans for the brand.

Hosted by Dan Hanrahan, President & CEO of Celebrity Cruises, the event was attended by approximately 100 invited guests from the press, selected members of Celebrity's "Captains Club" and representatatives from some of Celebrity's top travel agency partners. Also in attendance were Dondra Ritzenthaler, Senior Vice President of Sales for Celebrity Cruises and Richard Fain, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises LTD, the parent company of Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.

In addition to unveiling a new modified logo / "tag line" ("Designed For You"), Mr. Hanrahan previewed a new 4-minute brand video that was very well-received by all in attendance. But, the announcement that clearly drew the most cheers was the "Solsticizing" of Celebrity's Millennium-class ships, beginning with the Constellation in April of this year. Through this multi-million dollar initiative, Celebrity Cruises will provide these ships with many of the same features and amenities found on its award-winning Solstice-class ships. Below are just some of the enhancements that will be introduced on the Millennium Class ships:

  • More opportunities to enjoy Celebrity's world-class cuisine with the addition of Tuscan Grille, the Napa Valley-meets-Italian-steakhouse venue found on Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox.

  • Bistro on Five, the vibrant, popular creperie introduced on Celebrity Solstice and Celebrity Equinox.

  • A Solstice Class-inspired, ice-topped Martini Bar paired with Crush, whose ice-filled table presents a selection of chilled, top-tier vodkas.

  • The cool Cafe al Bacio and Gelateria, replacing the former Cova Cafe.

  • As introduced on the Solstice Class, an Enomatic wine bar, the state-of-the-art, Italian designed wine serving system allowing guests to select and serve, at the touch of a button, the wines of their choice by the glass.

  • More sumptuous suites, on a par with those in the most modern hotels in Europe, with all new furniture, flat-screen TVs, upholstery, bedding and carpeting.

  • Restyled staterooms, with entirely new carpeting, flat-screen TVs, upholstery and bedding.

  • New color schemes, carpeting and upholstery reflective of Solstice Class in every public venue, from the Celebrity Theater to Seaside Grill, from the main dining room to Michael's Club.

To help celebrate Celebrity's 20th anniversary, Celebrity Cruises and Direct Line Cruises are offering special reduced rates, up to $300* in FREE onboard credits, 50% reduced deposits plus FREE travel insurance on select sailings. This promotion applies to select sailings booked between 1/12 - 1/31/10. For complete details of this promotion, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Travel the World with Azamara Club Cruises

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only one page.”
-St. Augustine

A cruise has always been a perfect way to sample multiple destinations. Think of the ship as a hotel that floats you from one paradise to another. Maybe it’s seven days of island hopping ...Bahamas, St. Thomas, San Juan and St. Maarten, that includes a couple of relaxing days at sea. So incredible! Or a Mediterranean itinerary that stops at Monte Carlo, Rome, Naples, Florence, and Sicily, with too few sea days to rest weary feet! A trip like no other to be sure! But what if that’s not quite enough? What if you love the idea of cruising but crave more? More time to truly immerse yourself into a destination…a culture….a way of life? It’s time for you to explore the world with Azamara Club Cruises!

Think of Azamara Club Cruises as a boutique cruise line. In fact, it consists of only two intimate, yet elegant ships. It is a cruise line that caters to the discriminating and sophisticated traveler, yet the warmth and friendliness of the staff make for a relaxing onboard environment. Azamara Club Cruises is about exploring the world in a way that only a fortunate few will experience. With 140 ports of call in 50 countries, it’s all about the unique destinations and interesting itineraries that are waiting for you to explore. Of course Azamara visits all the places you are familiar with and would like to return to, but also forays into the exotic, like Bombay, Bangkok, and Beijing. Seven night itineraries are combinable into two or even three week cruises with non-repeating ports, make these voyages perfect for those that enjoy the luxury of extended leisure time. Azamara ships stay in port late into the evening and many of their itineraries include overnights in port allowing for a more in depth cultural experience. After all, you don’t want to just “see” a city; you want to “experience” it. Imagine having a full three days and two nights in St. Petersburg, Russia, or an overnight in Dubrovnik, Odessa, or Berlin! Azamara also offers experiences such as an overnight tour from Hiroshima to Osaka via bullet train, a Grand Egypt tour featuring the best of both Luxor and Cairo, or a three night expedition from Mumbai that includes a visit to the Taj Mahal! Onboard port enrichment programs focus on the local culture and history. Let the destination experts share with you their insider’s knowledge. Even the dining and entertainment onboard compliment the itinerary.

Azamara Club Cruises brings guests to the most exotic destinations. Magical, enchanted, wondrous places around the globe that are just waiting for you to discover. See these places like they were meant to be seen…through the local culture and its food, music, dance, art, and history. See the world with Azamara Club Cruises.