Sunday, December 11, 2011

NCL Announces Latitude Rewards

Norwegian Cruise Line has converted their popular Latitudes loyalty program to a points based system.  The program has been renamed Latitudes Rewards and current members have been automatically enrolled, having their past membership history converted to points.

Latitudes Rewards allows members earn points four ways.  It’s nice to see that the new system rewards the client that that books high-priced accommodations and cruises longer in length.  On the other hand, guests that are more conscious of cabin cost can earn additional points simply by booking early or using a specific promo code.  Points are earned as follows:
  • 1 cruise night = 1 point
  • 1 cruise night in a suite or villa = 1 additional point per night
  • 1 cruise night on a sailing booked 9 months or more prior to sailing = 1 additional point per night
  • 1 cruise night on a sailing booked with monthly Latitudes Insider Offer promo code = 1 additional point per night
Moving to the next tier of membership can be achieved faster than ever before. Bronze members are classified as guests with one to 19 points; Silver members are 20 to 47 points; Gold members are 48 to75 points; and Platinum members are those with 76 or more points.

So what does achieving loyalty status get you?
  • All members receive special offers for onboard credits for up to $250 on select sailings; priority check-in; a complimentary subscription to the Latitudes Rewards online magazine; access to an onboard customer service representative; a ship-specific lapel pin; and an invitation to a members-only cocktail reception. In addition they receive a 10 percent discount at the Duty Free Shop, free art when attending an art auction and discounts on Internet packages.
  • Silver members and above also receive nightly in-cabin chocolates and a discount off photos and spa treatments on port days.
  • Gold members and above receive priority disembarkation and tender tickets, a fruit basket, and an invitation to an exclusive onboard gathering with ship officers.
  • Platinum members receive chocolate-covered strawberries on the first evening onboard, concierge service, complimentary dinner and wine in LeBistro, free laundry service, complimentary “Behind the Scenes” tour, and sparkling wine in cabin.
Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s president and CEO said, “The satisfaction and loyalty of our guests is very important to us.  Our new Latitudes Rewards program demonstrates our commitment to delivering the highest levels of guest satisfaction while rewarding our loyal guests with enhanced benefits. We are dedicated to making sure our guests have the best possible cruise experience and look forward to welcoming them back on board again and again.”"

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advice for First Time Cruisers

I just overheard one of our cruise specialists here at Direct Line Cruises chatting with a first time cruiser.  Our agents love to share their knowledge and enthusiasm with these cruising newbies! If you’re a first time cruiser (or not) we hope you will find the following advice helpful in planning your cruise.

Make Copies of Your Identification Documentation: I make two copies of the first page of my passport, leaving one home that can be accessed by a family member if necessary, and the other I lock in the cabin safe if I’m carrying the original.  If the original is lost or stolen having a copy makes replacement easier. I think this is especially important when taking a European cruise.

Fly in the Day Before: If you’re flying to your embarkation port, arriving a day early makes the whole trip less stressful. Traffic, wind, snow, and over-sleeping have caused people to miss their flight.  Don’t let that happen to you!

Budget for Onboard Purchases: Although for some a cruise fare can be all-inclusive, for many others it won’t be.  Some additional charges you may incur are for gratuities, drinks, internet use, photos, specialty restaurants, and shore excursions.

Don’t Overpack: It took me a very long time to heed this advice myself!  Particularly on Caribbean cruises, the sea days can be spent in swimsuits (don’t forget a cover-up so you don’t have to change before heading to the lunch buffet).  As for the rest of your travel wardrobe, if you pack lots of neutrals (tan, black and white work well) you can mix and match your pieces and cut down on the shoes you need to bring.

Bring a Carry-On Bag Onboard: Pack it with anything you need access to before your luggage is delivered to your stateroom.  Medication, camera and a swimsuit immediately come to mind.

Take along a Small Tote or Backpack: On the ship it’s great for carrying around your daily planner, sunscreen, i-Pod, book, sunglasses and sea pass card.  Off the ship it can hold your camera, water bottle, map, etc.

Shut off that Cell Phone: Or if you can’t live without it at least check rates with your service provider before leaving home.  Roaming charges, Cellular at Sea and data charges add up quickly.

Pack a Night-Light or Flashlight: It makes navigating your way around your cabin in search of the bathroom in the middle of the night a lot safer. Those inside cabins, in particular, are very dark!

Don't Worry about Formal Nights: These evenings are not what they used to be. There’s no need to pack an evening gown and tux for formal night….unless you want to (and what’s better than seeing your man in a tux?). But anything from black-tie to Sunday best is fine, but if you’d rather stay in shorts or jeans, the buffet is always casual.

Use Sunscreen Liberally: Nothing ruins a vacation faster than a bad sunburn (believe me, I speak from experience).  Sometimes the breeze on deck makes it very comfortable to lounge by the pool all day, since it doesn't feel hot. Don’t be fooled, that sun is frying you. Protect yourself.

Happy Cruising!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Find Out What's Been Happening to your Favorite Royal Caribbean Ships

I thought I’d take a few minutes to share with you some miscellaneous updates regarding Royal Caribbean ships…

Oasis of the Seas now has a Starbucks onboard.  You may remember that sister-ship Allure of the Seas premiered the first Starbucks at Sea a year ago.  Both ships have the same menu as your hometown Starbucks, which is good news for those of us that go through withdrawal on mornings when we don’t have our special made to order coffee beverage!  Pricing is a la carte.

Splendour of the Seas is currently receiving the Royal Advantage treatment (renovation & revitalization) and one special area that will get a new look is the iconic Centrum. This area will re-emerge as stylish spot featuring enriching daytime activities as well as nightly entertainment including aerial performances! The Champagne Bar, which is located right there, will be transformed into the “R Bar”, a sophisticated 60’s lounge. Other amenities on Splendour of the Seas will be new dining venues: Chops Grille, Izumi, the Boardwalk Dog House, Chef's Table and the Park Café; the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, a Diamond lounge for Crown and Anchor loyalty guests, a Concierge Lounge for suite guests, an outdoor movie screen and upgraded technology throughout. I hope I have the opportunity to check her out next spring in the Mediterranean!

Independence of the Seas is returning to America for the winter 2012-13 season. She will then head back to the U.K. in April 2013 to offer Mediterranean and Europe cruises throughout the summer.  The Independence has been calling Southampton it’s year-round homeport, so this is a real treat for those that want to experience all the Freedom-class ships!

To check out these ships for yourself, call a cruise specialist at Direct Line Cruises at 1 (800) 352-8088."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cruising to Hawaii and the Island of Oahu

Many cruises to Hawaii start or end on Oahu, the third largest and most densely populated Hawaiian Island. The state capital of Honolulu is home to a diverse population, a fusion of east and west cultures rooted in the values and traditions of the Native Hawaiian people. It’s this underlying disparity between the ancient and the contemporary that makes exploring Oahu so enjoyable. Here is my list of recommendations for you to consider while in port.

Within the grounds of Pearl Harbor and the fairly new Visitor’s Center there are a number of exhibits, displays, memorials, and museums honoring not only the victims of the attacks at that site, but all of those who bravely served in World War II. Interpretive programs, including a 23-minute documentary film about the attack, and the boat trip to the USS Arizona Memorial, are a solemn and sobering experience. You are literally standing over a grave site where 1177 men lost their lives. Purchase tickets in advance, as the site sells out quickly every morning.

If you make it to the top of Diamond Head crater you will be well rewarded by the absolute best panoramas of Honolulu! The trail up isn’t bad at all, not what I would call a strenuous hike. There are handrails along the entire 1.4-mile round-trip journey and benches along the way. You start your ascent from the bottom of this 761-foot crater and the path is a bit steep better suited for shoes with a bit of traction as opposed to flip flops. After a considerable hike you will pass through a dark tunnel (flashlights are a good idea) then exactly 99 stairs. The stairs are real stairs as opposed to dirt or lava. You will then pass through a second tunnel. After a few more steps, you are at the lower level of the top of Diamond Head. There are no rest rooms or Visitor’s Center at the top.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Our Favorite Things About the Celebrity Silhouette

The Celebrity Silhouette was launched earlier this year on the other side of the Atlantic, but arrived at Cape Liberty, New Jersey last Wednesday morning for her stateside inaugural party. Travel agents from Direct Line Cruises were invited onboard for the celebration and the chance to give her a once over. Now we’d like to share with you our five favorite things….

The Design & Décor: Many of us believe this class of ship to be the most beautiful we’ve ever seen!  The Silhouette is the fourth of the Solstice class ships…a class defined by its modern design and sophisticated décor. Public areas have an upscale, contemporary feel infused with natural light. Expansive open gathering spots flow seamlessly into one another through the use of color and complimentary design. Shades of whites, creams, and grays are offset by the iciness of shiny chrome or the warmth of golden metal finishes. Discriminately used punches of color; tangerine, kiwi and turquoise keep the look fresh and not overly monochromatic. Stateroom design is much like a trendy boutique hotel room, incorporating both style and functionality. The restrained palette of earthy colors and warm “sunset” toned accents is lovely.

The Lawn Club: It was nice to see how this iconic Solstice-class feature has evolved from an underutilized “spot of grass” to the vibrant and purposeful “hot spot” of the ship. In addition to the lawn games such as bocce and croquet offered on previous cruse ships of the same class, the Silhouette features luxurious alcoves complete with wifi and waiter service.  Restaurants were also added to the area.The Lawn Club Grill is a small outdoor restaurant that is much like a backyard barbecue party, enabling amateur chefs to grill their own food using professional grade equipment accompanied by tips from master chefs. If you don't feel like cooking, one of the chefs will do if for you, but you’d be missing out on half the fun! The Porch is a quaint little spot open for breakfast and lunch. For those of you that have been on a Royal Caribbean Oasis-class ship, you’ll know what we mean when we say it was reminiscent of the Central Park Café. And there’s no better place to watch the sun sink into the horizon than the Sunset Bar at the aft of the deck!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cruising to Hawaii with a Stop at the Big Island

"A cruise to the Hawaiian Islands is a cruise to an enchanted land, especially the Island of Hawaii, itself. To avoid confusion with the name of the entire state, the Island of Hawaii is often called the “Big Island,” and what an appropriate name it is. Nearly twice as big as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, cruise ships usually make two stops here; one at Hilo on the east side, and then another in Kona on the west side. The cultural and geographical diversity of the island offers so much to see and do.  Here are my favorites!

One of the most magnificent national parks in the USA, Volcanoes National Park boasts having 2 of the world's most active volcanoes spewing molten lava, and for that fiery sight alone, Hawaii Volcanoes is worth the trip! Hiking is challenging and it makes me think this is what it would be like walking on the moon!  You can explore Crater Rim Drive by car or tour bus with its up-close views of sulphur banks and steam vents.  Along the way be sure to stop at the Jaggar Museum with its active seismographs that record volcanic activity of the islands. You'll learn how and why volcanoes erupt, the history of Hawaii's volcanic origins and how volcanology scientists conduct their research. Another not to be missed site particularly fun for kids is a walk through the Thurston Lava Tube.

A helicopter tour is a great way to get an overview of the island, especially the most current areas of volcanic activity. From an “in the sky” perspective you can view the bright orange lava flows and maybe even catch a glimpse of the lava spewing into the ocean. I have never seen anything so amazing! You’ll also see tropical rain forests and cascading waterfalls; all while the pilot explains the history and culture of Hawaii.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Immersive Europe Wine Cruise with Celebrity Cruise Line

Wine tours are among the trendiest and most popular specialty vacations in the world today. Wine aficionados are venturing far and wide to discover the world of wine, and where better to explore than the European countryside!  In response to their guest’s interest, Celebrity Cruise Line is presenting a series of new and distinct vacations in 2012 that will appeal to all wine enthusiasts. Whether you're a serious wine lover who wants to visit the best wine regions in Europe as well as enjoy professional and technical wine tasting, or just want to make wine a bigger part of your vacation experience, these cruises are worth serious consideration.

With some of the newest and exciting ships in the industry deployed in Europe next year, Celebrity will include a series of wine-themed sailings within their itineraries. From September 7 through November 18, 2012, coinciding with the fall harvest season, the Celebrity Constellation will present seven “Immersive Europe Wine Cruises” embarking from Southampton, England. The twelve-night cruises include three consecutive over-night stays; one each in Paris (Le Havre) and Bordeaux (le Verdon), France and one in Bilbao, Spain, and also feature visits to Vigo, Spain and Porto, Portugal. A cruise such as this allows guests to experience the essence of what makes these wine regions so famous. You will return home with a deep understanding and appreciation of the many great wines, and the beauty of the region. Being there at harvest time gives guests an opportunity to see what happens both in the vineyard and in the cellar during the important season.

Celebrity's onboard experience will echo the flavor of the region. Activities developed in partnership with local wineries, including Rioja tastings, Champagne brunches, Bordeaux samplings featuring up to five wines from well-known Chateaus, Port and food pairing dinners and more enhance the overall experience. Special events are planned in the ship's Cellar Masters bar, complete with its ""Enomatic"" by-the-glass wine serving system. A seasonal wine package featuring special selections from the region also will be added to Celebrity's already popular package offerings.

According to Celebrity's President & CEO Dan Hanrahan, ""It's a truly one-of-a-kind vacation. No other cruise line offers such an enormous breadth and depth of experiences in this highly-rated region during harvest season, and no other line can deliver it like Celebrity can, with our exceptional wine program, expertly trained sommeliers, Cellar Masters wine bars, and up to 500 selections of wine on every ship.""

For more information or to book an “Immersive Europe Wine Cruise” call Direct Line Cruises at 1 800 352-8088 or visit the Direct Line Cruises website."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Cruising to Hawaii and the Port of Kauai

Kauai,  Hawaii’s fourth largest island, is called the “Garden Isle.” That’s some nickname to live up to when you consider that each and every Hawaiian Island is known for its fertile, tropical beauty! Centuries of growth along with water and wind erosion have left the island with lush tropical rainforests, rushing rivers, cascading waterfalls and deep valley gorges. With much splendor to discover, what’s the best way to spend a day in port? These are my favorites, and all can be arranged on your own, or by simply booking the cruise line’s shore excursion.

One of Hawaii’s most amazing natural wonders is Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain dubbed it the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”  The canyon was carved thousands of years ago by numerous floods and rivers flowing down from the summit of Mount Waialeale. The panoply of canyon colors transform with the changing light of the sun making it one of the most gorgeous landscapes you’ll ever set eyes upon! Since the canyon can be viewed from a number of lookouts along Waimea Canyon Drive it’s easy to rent a car and explore it on your own.  Or better yet, relax and leave the driving to someone else by checking out a cruise sponsored shore excursion.

In 1870 a series of ditches, tunnels, and flumes was hand-dug by laborers to deliver water from the rainforest to the Old Lihue Sugar Plantation. It worked well but sugar production on the island ceased in 2000. Today you can observe this engineering feat up close and personal in a new way… by Tubing the Ditch! The two-mile trip has you floating along a fern- and fruit-tree lined tropical rainforest and through five manmade tunnels. It runs through some of the most beautiful land on the island with spectacular views of the ocean, coastline and valleys.  This is a great activity for the entire family, and a “kid favorite.” Please note that there is a lot of time spent in dark tunnels so it may not be appropriate for young children or anyone claustrophobic.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My Favorite Maui Shore Excursions

Hopefully you’ve had some time to check out our new website,, and now you see how affordable a Hawaii cruise vacation can be.  With that concern out of the way, take some time to review the different cruise lines and their itineraries and book the one that’s perfect for you. On to some excursion planning! Today I’d like to share with you my favorite picks for Maui.  All are easy to arrange on your own, but for those that want to leave the planning to the professionals, they are also available through the cruise line’s shore excursion department.

The Road to Hana is one of those trips that is all about the journey, not final destination.  And what a journey it is! 52 miles of undeveloped road, 56 one-lane bridges and 617 curves!  Yikes! You will pass by the most breath-taking scenery on the face of the earth. Pick up a map with mile marker descriptions that includes the best waterfalls, scenic views, beaches and hikes.  Be sure to look for the truck on the side of the road that sells shaved ice is flavors like guava, coconut cream, or green apple. Delicious! Rent a car to do this on your own.  The cruise lines offer both private van and small bus tours.

Haleakala National Park is home to Maui's highest peak rising 10,023 feet above sea level.  Seeing the sunrise from the summit is a life changing experience and one of the most popular things to do while in Maui.  Sit amid the clouds while the sun comes up and the sky goes from the blackest black to beautiful shades of pink, purple and blue. Wear the warmest clothes you have because it’s quite chilly up there!   Daredevils can choose to bike down the 28 miles from the 6500' elevation, descending to historic Paia at sea level. Adrenaline junkies will appreciate maneuvering the hairpin turns while admiring the extraordinary landscape! Both experiences are offered as shore excursions and that’s the best way to do either.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Norwegian Breakaway to Homeport in NYC

At a conference today in NYC Norwegian Cruise Line announced that their newest ship, Norwegian Breakaway, will homeport in New York City when she launches in April of 2013! From May to October she will be cruising a 7-night Bermuda itinerary but there's  no word yet on what will follow. As for the ships rather unusual name, the cruise line explained that it best reflected the innovation of the brand, and would provide a break at sea from the stress of everyday life. We New Yorkers, (as well as everyone in the tri-state area), think that’s pretty exciting news and look forward to giving her a warm welcome when she arrives!

So what do we actually know about the Norwegian Breakaway thus far? It has been said that the 144,017-ton vessel will embody the best features of both the Jewel-class ships and the Norwegian Epic.  One of the most favorable reactions to the Epic is the way the ship is laid out. According to CEO Kevin Sheehan, “Epic is a ship that's really conducive for people to be out very late at night. The location of casino, pub and lounges keeps the ship very active, unlike the old contemporary ships, where it was dinner, show, bed. So we're definitely pushing that idea of the ""action ship"" forward.”

There will be a myriad of cabin designs for passengers to choose from on the Norwegian Breakaway. Based on the particular design groups commissioned to work on this project (the same group that designed the acclaimed studios aboard the Epic), we can expect to see a clean contemporary design that is both beautiful and functional. Mr. Sheehan called it, “modern boutique hotel meets sea.”   And speaking of those studio cabins, we will see them once again on the Breakaway.  There will be 59 of these solo cabins clustered around a key card accessed lounge with bar.

While solo cabins certainly fulfilled a need long neglected on cruise ships, what about the opposite end of the spectrum…those families of five that often had no choice but to book two cabins?  No problem! The Breakaway will have 42 family oceanview cabins that can accommodate up to five guests. That is certain to please many families!

Monday, September 26, 2011

In Favor of Traditional Cruise Dining

When Norwegian Cruise Line implemented “Freestyle Dining” it was a pretty radical concept. Dining when you want, where you want, and with whom you want was so not the norm! For years the other cruise lines sat back and watched.  Would this open seating dining concept be a boom or a bust? Clearly it’s a boon, because every other cruise line now offers a version of it. So is this the beginning of the end for the traditional assigned dining times? I hope not since some of my best cruising memories revolve around it!

My husband and I took our first cruise together on a Carnival ship. We had “late” seating and found ourselves dining each night with another couple close to our age. To say we “hit it off” with them would be a gross understatement. By the second evening we felt like we were best friends forever. Our sea days were spent hanging out with them at the pool, after dinner we’d go dancing late into the night and we even booked all our shore excursions together! Fast-forward twenty something years and we’re still exchanging Christmas cards. It will always remain one of my most favorite vacations ever.

Cruising has been my family’s vacation of choice over the years and since my son is an only child we’ve often requested “early seating” and a large table for dinner. Time and time again we have been seated with another family with kids close in age to my son.  It’s amazing how some patient dining coordinator is looking over a long manifest of passengers playing “matchmaker”! While my son hasn’t made any friendships that stood the test of time and distance, for that one week he had a buddy to chat with at dinner and head off to the “kids club” with. As for my husband and me, we have enjoyed lively dinner conversation with wonderful people from all parts of the country.

Every cruise photo album I have has a page or two dedicated to our dinner time waiter and assistant waiter!  Is that crazy? Chit-chatting with the same wait staff each night is something I’ve always looked forward to on a cruise (I can only think of one cruise in which I didn’t like the servers assigned to our table).  They are almost always warm, affable, and interesting to talk to! Once on a European cruise, our Croatian waitress offered to show us around Dubrovnik since she was off the afternoon we were in port! While we didn’t take her up on the offer, her language lessons at dinner each night taught us words like “please” “thank you” and “good day”.

Now to be fair, we have also tried and thoroughly enjoyed Royal Caribbean’s “My Time” dining on several trips. Often in our busy lives, our cruise vacations are much needed family bonding time and we want to dine at a table for three at a time that is convenient for us. It’s nice having that option and it seems that many other people feel the same way.  So what does that mean for the future of traditional cruise dining? I’m not sure, but if it was ever to be discontinued, I for one would mourn its demise."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Direct Line Cruises Introduces HawaiiCruises.Travel

If you asked me to recommend a cruise itinerary that was synonymous with romance I know just the one.  A Hawaii cruise! Spend a morning in Maui, the two of you wrapped in a blanket, as you watch the sunrise 9,740 feet above sea level at the top of Haleakala. Or spend an afternoon strolling along the beaches of white, pink, green or black sand, holding hands and making plans for the future. Wouldn’t it be lovely to be sitting on your private balcony, sipping champagne with your beloved? Be witness to the sky turning red, pink, and violet as the sun begins to sink into the ocean. Hawaii is certainly the perfect place to get married, honeymoon, and celebrate a wedding anniversary.

If you asked me to suggest a cruise itinerary that would incite your sense of adventure I would know just where to send you. A Hawaii cruise!  It’s an itinerary that allows daredevils to bike from the summit of a volcano, carefully maneuvering a 3,000' drop and 29 switchbacks! Maybe you’d choose to zip line high above the wild jungle terrain taking in the sweeping picture postcard panoramic views. Or you might be interested in a helicopter ride that could take you to sights inaccessible any other way.

If you asked me to suggest the ultimate in a relaxing tropical cruise vacation do you know what I would suggest?  A Hawaii cruise! Spend your day napping on one of the many lovely beaches or work on that island tan. Sip a mai tai while taking in an authentic Hawaiian luau or spend an afternoon frolicking in a remote pool under a magical waterfall.  Kayak tranquil, glassy turquoise waters to a secluded beach for a picnic lunch under the palms. It’s a perfect cruise to get away from it all!

If you asked me where you could research, get rates and book a romantic, adventurous and relaxing Hawaii cruise online I’ve got you covered there, too! Direct Line Cruises is proud to announce the launch of their brand new website dedicated solely to Hawaii cruises at HawaiiCruises.Travel. The site allows immediate access to current pricing with the ability to book a Hawaii cruise online, 24 hours a day. An inspiring cruise guide shares information regarding Hawaii cruise itineraries and the characteristics of each island. Detailed ship descriptions make it easy to discern differences between ships and cruise lines.  So when you’re ready to book a Hawaii cruise be sure to check out the competitive pricing which always includes travel insurance for cruises 5 nights or longer at www.HawaiiCruises.Travel. For a limited time we are offering up to $500 in free onboard credit when you book your Hawaii cruise at www.HawaiiCruises.Travel. Hurry because this is an opportunity you won’t want to miss!"

Monday, September 12, 2011

NCL Project Breakaway Update

Norwegian Cruise Line revealed a bit more about the cabins that will be available on the two Project Breakaway ships that are scheduled for delivery in 2013 and 2014.  Although nothing revolutionary was disclosed, guests will benefit from the variety of accommodations they may choose from, both in cabin size and price point.

The Studios, staterooms priced and designed for solo travelers, will be included in the cabin categories available. You may remember that the concept and layout of these cabins met with accolades by all when they debuted on the Norwegian Epic. There will be 59 studios on each of the two ships. Another nice feature of these cabins is that it requires private keycard access to enter the Studio complex which includes an exclusive two-story lounge and bar.

The ship will have plenty of inside cabins. An inside cabin is always in demand for those passengers that feel they are only in their cabin to sleep and who would rather allocate their travel funds on other items.

Oceanview staterooms will return on these new builds, relieving guests of the additional expense of a balcony cabin when a window will suffice. Nearly a quarter of these cabins will be Family Oceanview cabins, with space to accommodate five! The price of a cruise for a couple with three children could be prohibitive if they are forced to book two adjoining staterooms and have to pay full fare for four family members instead of two! Having affordable accommodations for these families may make the difference of a cruise vacation or not!

Many cruise lines including Norwegian are seeing a demand for cabins near, and with direct access to the ships spa.  The Project Breakaway ships will have 28 Spa Balcony and 20 Spa Mini Suite staterooms.  These rooms have a more relaxing Zen-like feel often with additional in-room amenities.  Guests will also receive complimentary access to the Thermal Spa Suite.

Good work NCL.  It looks like there will be a cabin to meet everyone's needs!"

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Cruising to New England and Canada

Think about cruising in September and October and the quintessential voyage up the East Coast and into Canada comes to mind. Bear witness as Mother Nature waves her wand and trees alight in brilliant oranges, glowing yellows, fiery reds and rich browns. Autumn’s crisp chill has travelers donning a sweatshirt to stand on deck and snap pictures of the rocky, craggily coastlines and the historic striped lighthouses whose beacons continue to safely light the way for mariners.

In port, there is much to look forward to. The cities along the Northeast coast are rich in colonial history and many of the places where our “Founding Fathers” lived, worked and built the foundation of our nation are preserved and open to the public Cooler temperatures are perfect for strolling the quaint fishing villages where the seafaring tradition is alive and well. Afterwards, warm up with a bowl of hearty seafood chowder. North Atlantic whales feed off the New England coast through October making whale watching excursions a great way to spend an afternoon. If perhaps shopping is your lure, craft boutiques, antique shops and outlet malls abound.

Cruises to New England and Canada range from short 4-night getaways to 14-night journeys.  They depart from several Northeast ports including Baltimore, Boston, Cape Liberty, and New York."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

December Celebrations with Royal Caribbean

It’s an early holiday gift for Royal Caribbean’s most loyal cruisers, Diamond, Diamond Plus and Pinnacle Crown & Anchor members!  During the month of December this elite group will enjoy double points for the sailing they choose, special commemorative gifts and invitations to exclusive events.

A cruise during the month of December will certainly put you in the “holiday spirit.” Ships are decorated from bow to stern with festively draped garland, extravagantly ornamented trees, and exquisite menorahs. There are all sorts of planned activities available, and the opportunity for quality family time abounds!  Imagine being able to sit with the kids and enjoy classic holiday movies on a big screen, or decorate crispy, buttery cookies to be enjoyed with rich hot chocolate.  The kids will enjoy creating themed arts and crafts, which will make the perfect souvenir of your holiday at sea.

This offer is available on all Royal Caribbean sailings departing Nov. 26 - Dec. 31, 2011, (except for Liberty of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas sailings departing on Nov. 26, 2011).  Call a cruise specialist at Direct Line Cruises to discuss all your December cruising options."

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Royal Caribbean and Universal Studios Land and Sea Vacation Packages

Planning a family vacation is full of tough choices.  On one hand you have the kids that may be hoping for the adrenaline rush of rides, roller coasters and other theme park attractions!  A great time to be sure, but you return home needing a vacation!  Mom and dad may be longing for some R&R at sea on a well-appointed cruise ship that includes fine dining, great entertainment and maybe some pampering at the onboard day spa. What’s a family to do?

Why not both? A land and sea combo vacation! There was no way this could not be successful…the partnership between Royal Caribbean and Universal Studios, that is.  Their special land and sea package combines a 3 or 4-night stay at Universal Orlando Resort with a 3 or 4-night Bahamas cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas sailing out of Port Canaveral.  For those that want a longer vacation, that same land package could be added to a 7-night Eastern or Western Caribbean cruise aboard Freedom of the Seas, also out of Port Canaveral.

How do you make this extraordinary vacation package even better?  Extend the deal to those cruising out of Tampa! Now guests can combine a 3 or 4-night Universal Orlando vacation with a 4 or 5-night Western Caribbean cruise on the lovely Jewel of the Seas. This ship has a glamorous feel with wide-open spaces and acres of towering glass that fills the interior with natural light. Her pools, restaurants, bars, lounges, kid’s clubs, casino, spa and much, much more will keep the whole family happy!

All land and sea packages include hotel, shipboard accommodations, multi-day passes to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, and ground transfers between airport, hotel, theme parks and the port. Let a cruise consultant at Direct Line Cruises help your family plan this amazing vacation by calling 1-800-352-8088."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Great Stirrup Cay Update

You may remember that a while back I told you about the $25 million upgrades that Norwegian Cruise Lines is making to their private island, Great Stirrup Cay. I discussed the new marina that was constructed for island tenders, which as a result opened up a wider expanse of beach front for guests to enjoy.  In addition, a new dining facility was added, along with picnic pavilions.

Here are the newest enhancements available for guests at Great Stirrup Cay:
  • Guests can now book eco-adventure boat tours.  These one-hour narrated catamaran tours are both relaxing and informative. What a great way to learn about the habitat and history of the Berry Islands, take in the gorgeous scenery and work on your tan at the same time!
  • Those looking for a faster paced tour will be thrilled with the new 45-minute jet ski adventure outing! Riding a jet ski is fairly simple, yet exhilarating experience! Feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face as you zip through the sea! A professional guide goes along to assure guest’s safety.
  • The world’s largest inflatable water slide is now waiting for you to try!  The new Hippo Water Slide measures 40 feet high by 175 feet long!  Yikes!  Not for the faint of heart!
  • Enjoy the clear ocean air and beautiful beaches of the island during a game of beach volleyball or ping-pong!  New sand courts and tables are available for your enjoyment.
Interested in a cruise that stops at Great Stirrup Cay? Give Direct Line Cruises a call and we can chat about all your options!"

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Special in Specialty Dining

Many years ago Norwegian Cruise Line introduced the audacious concept of charging a premium for dining in a particular restaurant aboard one of their ships. Le Bistro was an upscale French restaurant offering a menu of modern and classic gourmet cuisine unlike anything served in the ship’s main dining room.  The success of this endeavor was immediate and brought forth the now popular concept of “specialty” or “alternate” dining.

Today every cruise line offers at least one specialty restaurant on each of their ships with the newer builds having many.  There are Asian, French, Mexican and Italian bistros, traditional steak houses and Brazilian churrascarias, upscale restaurants serving continental cuisine, English pubs, and American diners.

Most specialty restaurants require a reservation.  All charge a fee from $5 to $35 per person and a few have a cover charge in addition to la carte pricing. So what then, is the lure of spending additional money to dine in any one of these places, when good meals served in lovely dining rooms are included in the price of a cruise?

Cruise line dining rooms, though very elegant with sparkling chandeliers and stylish decor, are often, noisy, colossal rooms.  On the other hand, the specialty restaurants are smaller, and the atmosphere has a more intimate feel. Instead of having a meal hurriedly served due to the constraints of a set dining time, dinners served in the alternative venues are often long, leisurely evenings conducive to savoring fine wine, exceptional cuisine and stimulating conversation.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Online Booking of Shore Excursions and Specialty Dining on NCL

Norwegian Cruise Line has recently announced that they have upgraded their reservation system. Great, but what exactly does that mean for NCL cruisers?  Two things, and both are advantages for those cruisers (myself included) that like to pre-plan.

The first enhancement has to do with shore excursions.  In the past guests could reserve shore excursions before their cruise, but they were not charged for them until they were onboard. Now the guest is charged when they reserve it.  You’re probably thinking how I can possibly see paying the cruise line in advance of the cruise, as something positive. On port intensive itineraries like Alaska or the Mediterranean, the price of shore excursions can add up very quickly and some may find it to be unaffordable if it were necessary to pay for them all at once.  However, if you book your cruise far in advance you then have the opportunity to spread out the purchase of shore excursions over time.  It can be easier on the vacation budget that way.

The second enhancement allows guests booked on the Norwegian Epic to pre-purchase their specialty dining, including tickets to “Cirque Dreams and Dinner” as well as The Second City’s “Presumed Murdered” murder mystery show.  Look for an announcement in the near future for the ability to pre-purchase specialty dining fleet-wide.  Again, how nice to be able to pre-plan if you so desire.

Of course, Norwegian Cruise Line is all about “Freestyle Cruising” and giving guests endless choices.  Nobody is required to book anything in advance. Shore excursions and specialty dining can still be arranged once onboard the ship.  But isn’t it great having options?"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Azamara Club Golf Cruises

Imagine a vacation that lets you combine your love of travel with your passion for golf.  Through collaboration between Azamara Club Cruises and PerryGolf, a luxury golf tour operator, the ultimate package is now available.  Guests that purchase this exclusive program will have the opportunity to golf at renowned courses escorted by a PerryGolf tour manager. Imagine playing at Portmarnock, Ireland; Mission Hills, China or Montgomerie Links in Vietnam, depending on itinerary.

Packages have been assembled taking into account what the most discriminating golfers desire in a golf vacation, allowing them to do nothing more then concentrate on their game. Programs begin with a pre-cruise stay in a luxury hotel as well as a meet and greet dinner. During the cruise guests will play at four or five of the best courses in the world. In addition, guests can look forward to golf shoe shining, green fees, golf cart rental, luxury ground transportation and golf bag delivery to the first tee and return to hotel or ship and storage after the round.  Casual tournaments with awards and prizes are part of the fun. There are scheduled golfer socials, cocktail parties, and two group dinners, one in a specialty restaurant.

Onboard, guests can expect a cruise experience of exceptional quality. Azamara provides guests with impeccable service, sumptuous dining, supreme entertainment, and incredible itineraries. To plan your Azamara cruise and PerryGolf package contact Direct Line Cruises."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Haven

The Haven” is the new name for the elite suite complex on all the Norwegian Cruise Line Jewel-class ships, the Epic and the two new Project Breakaway ships. This ship within a ship area has the most luxurious, well-appointed and spacious accommodations at sea.

These suites have exclusive access to the Haven Courtyard, which includes a private pool, sundeck, hot tub, and fitness center. A private restaurant and lounge is available on the Epic and the new Breakaway ships.

Suites within the area have espresso / cappuccino machines and gourmet snacks delivered each evening. Pillow top mattresses, fine linens, plush bathrobes and slippers are all part of the pampering guests will experience.

Amenities have been upgraded, and include 24-hour butler service, concierge, courtyard valet and white tablecloth in-suite dining. Guests will enjoy priority embarkation and disembarkation, priority tender boarding, a platinum key card, and if needed, a complimentary limo to the airport.

I’d imagine it would be very easy to get accustomed to cruising like this!"

Monday, July 18, 2011

Celebrity Cruise Line Wine and Dine Packages

Guest’s like to pre-plan many aspects of their vacation.  At least that’s what Celebrity Cruise Line was thinking when they developed their new specialty dining packages.

“Our guests tell us that packages offer not only convenience, but also added value,” said Scott Steenrod, Associate Vice President, Food and Beverage Operations. “We realize our guests’ vacation time is precious, and we want nothing more than to make it easy for them to enjoy their vacation. Our specialty dining packages are one more way that we make their planning effortless.”

Offerings vary by ship but here’s some general information.
  • Individual Dining Packages: Single, per-person pricing for a package of three or five specialty restaurant visits. No wine included.
  • Savor Package: Includes three dining reservations per couple and three bottles of wine.
  • Gourmand Package: Includes five dining reservations per couple and three bottles of wine.
  • Bacchus Package:  Includes five dining reservations per couple and five bottles of wine.
A collection of over 20 premium wines that guests may choose from was pre-selected by Celebrity wine connoisseurs."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Royal Caribbean Considering El Salvador as a Port of Call

El Salvador’s tourism ministry is keeping their fingers crossed hoping that Royal Caribbean will consider the Central American country as a future port of call. If negotiations turn out favorably for them, the cruise line could begin featuring port days in Acajutla beginning as early as 2012. The Port of Acajutla is El Salvador’s main port and located on the country’s northwestern Pacific coast. While there is no doubt that the influx of cruise passengers would be a boon for the country, what about for the cruise passengers?

Somewhat of a bypass on the tourist trail, travelers are missing out on El Salvador’s vast natural beauty, forests, beaches and archaeological sites. Acajutla gives access to the Mayan ruins of Tazumal. The site was constructed over a period of 750 years but mostly from 600 to 900AD. Another amazing site is Joya de Cerén, a UNESCO World Heritage. This pre-Columbian Maya farming village has been preserved remarkably intact after it was destroyed by volcanic ash around 600 AD (similar to Pompeii). Montecristo Cloud Forest is another perfect location for an exploration.  With a great diversity of flora including ferns, orchids and mosses and wildlife like spider monkeys and anteaters, there is plenty to fascinate you here. El Salvador also boasts some of the best surf in Central America with surfers coming from all over the world to ride some serious waves!"

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Celebrity Silhouettes Lawn Club Grill

When a cruise line builds a class of multiple vessels it is not unusual for the design to be modified a bit from ship to ship.  Thus is the case of the Celebrity Silhouette, the fourth ship in the lovely Solstice class. One significant change will be an update to the underutilized Lawn Club. With the goal being to extend the frequency and length of visits to the area, new dining venues and experiences are being introduced.  The “Lawn Club Grill” is one such place.

During the day this area will host fun, interactive demos and classes. Scheduled activities may include hands on pizza making or chef-led demonstrations such as “Marinade 101”.  By night “The Lawn Club Grill”, as the name suggests, celebrates the passion of grilling!  Gleaming stainless steel grills, an open kitchen, and a large glass door fridge where you can choose your own meat help to make this a highly social and interactive experience.

“People tend to associate grilling with the relaxing, carefree mood of summer-exactly what a Celebrity vacation is all about,” said Jacques Van Staden, Vice President, Culinary Operations.  He continues, “What can be better than experiencing something that’s popular among so many cultures around the world, while relaxing near a lawn of growing grass, surrounded by an endless view of the sea?”

One guest per party is given the opportunity of being paired with a Celebrity Cruise’s chef and together serve as the groups “Grill Master,” taking on the responsibility of preparing the meal.  What a great way to learn proper grilling techniques and other barbecue secrets! (We have a good friend nicknamed “The Burner”…maybe I should book him on the Silhouette!).  Grill Masters will receive a free chef’s apron as a souvenir of the experience.

The Lawn Club Grill will be open 5-10 pm nightly and from 12-2 pm one sea day per cruise.  A fee of $30 per person is required and booked passengers can now make their reservation online.

The Celebrity Silhouette will begin sailing out of Cape Liberty, NJ in November 2011."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Celebrity Upgrades Millennium Class Ships

While Royal Caribbean has been busy with their Royal Advantage initiative, (passing on Oasis-class innovations to other ships within the fleet), sister company Celebrity Cruise Line is continuing to “solsticize”, that is bring popular Solstice-class amenities to their other ships.

Three Millennium-class ships, the Millennium, Infinity, and Summit are scheduled to receive some of these exciting upgrades between now and the spring of 2012. One big change will be the addition of the extremely popular Aqua Class balcony cabins. Booking this cabin gives you upgraded bathroom amenities, complimentary bottled water and complimentary access to the Persian Gardens in the spa area.

Guests will look forward to welcoming Qsine, the most creative restaurant at sea, to these ships.  The menu at Qsine consists of familiar dishes and comfort food artfully and whimsically presented. For example, Chitinis are Chinese savories served in a martini glass! And ordering is more fun when you do it on an iPad!

Other favorite eateries finding their way to these ships are Bistro on Five and Café al Bacio & Gelateria. Bistro serves paninis and fabulous crepes. The pistachio and nutella crepes and the banana crepes are very yummy, but you can also opt to build your own concoction! Creamy gelato, fresh pastries, and gourmet coffee selections are available at the Cafe al Bacio.

A lively place to hang out in the evening will be the Martini Bar where you can choose from 26 varieties of this classic drink. Adjacent to the Martini Bar is Crush, an intimate alcove that offers spectacular vodka and caviar on an ice-filled table.

Expect renovations to be complete on the Infinity by December 2011, on the Summit by January 2012 and the Millennium by may 2012."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

NCL Shares Details on Project Breakaway

Project Breakaway” is the name given to the new build of the two 4,000-passenger NCL ships. According to Kevin Sheehan, President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, the name “Breakaway” was taken from the vacation home his family would visit in order to escape the pressures of work, school…everyday life.  It also implies how NCL has broken away from the company they once were.

So, what do we know about “Project Breakaway?”  Mr. Sheehan said the new ships would take the best of the best from the line’s ship builds over the past 10 years, culminating with the Norwegian Epic that debuted a year ago.  He good-naturedly joked, “And now for the big news.  These ships will have fully enclosed bathrooms,” (referring to the controversial bathrooms on the Epic).

The same UK firm that designed the Epic’s award winning studio cabins will design the staterooms of the new ships. “Modern boutique hotel meets the sea,” said Mr. Sheehan in describing the new cabins. He continued by saying they would be “warm and inviting and have a very contemporary feel with clean modern lines.”

The reveal of the standard balcony cabins and mini-suites showed a product in which form meets function, aimed at maximizing space throughout. The design included a king-size bed (which can be separated) with a padded leather headboard, above that a recessed storage area for books or magazines, sofa bed with drawers below, built in flat screen TV that can tilt to face the bed or sofa and a roomy desk/vanity area with lots of storage.

The enclosed bathroom is lovely with glass-enclosed shower, generous size sink with easy to use faucet and again, lots of storage.  The mini-suite bathroom was spacious with double vanities, glass tile and a spa shower with rain head, jets and hand-held sprayer.

“Project Breakaway” ships will debut April of 2013 and April of 2014, respectively. Embarkation port and itinerary were not yet announced, although more details will be released next month."

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Radiance of the Seas and the Royal Advantage

I am in the process of renovating my master bedroom and bath.  Moving a wall, adding a shower and a closet, some crown moulding, a paint job and new furniture.   The job has been going on for 11 months…yes, you heard me right, 11 months! The contractor is busy, the tile is backordered, the plumbing was done incorrectly, the ceiling needed patching, and I can’t decide on a color scheme or furniture style.  Yet in a mere 21 days dry docked at the Victoria Shipyard in British Columbia, Canada, Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas has emerged looking well…radiant! As part of the Royal Advantage program, Royal Caribbean has begun adding some of the best aspects of the Oasis class ships to others vessels in their fleet, and the Radiance is the latest recipient.

The Radiance of the Seas, built in 2001, is one of the cruise line’s most beautiful ships. Her décor is sophisticated and elegant with warm, dark woods, polished marble and rich, luxurious jewel tones. Her trademark feature, an abundance of exterior glass, which includes glass elevators that look out onto the sea, keeps her interiors saturated in natural light. So, what exactly was done to make her even better?

Parents will be pleased to see the inclusion of the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery, a special area for children aged 6 to 36 months old. There’s a new Concierge Lounge for suite guests and a Diamond Lounge for elite Crown and Anchor members. Technological changes made to the Radiance of the Seas include ship-wide Wi-Fi and flat screen televisions in all staterooms. Overlooking the main pool is the newly installed outdoor LED video wall, perfect for movies under the stars, or the screening of major sporting events.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Carnival Miracle to Cruise Year Round from NYC

Start spreading the new, she’s leaving today…. And beginning in 2012 the Carnival Miracle will leave year round from New York City, offering three different 8-night itineraries!  The Carnival Miracle is no stranger to New York cruisers.  She’s been cruising out of Manhattan seasonally for years.

Gerry Cahill, Carnival president and CEO, said “New York is one of the highest-rated homeports for ‘Fun Ship’ cruising. Carnival Miracle’s new year-round eight-day departures offer consumers the best of both worlds — a choice of three attractive year-round Caribbean and Bahamas itinerary options with the opportunity to depart from one of the world’s great cities.”  I couldn’t agree more!

From April through October the Miracle will rotate an Eastern Caribbean itinerary (San Juan, St. Thomas and Grand Turk) with a Bahamas itinerary (Grand Turk, Nassau, and the beautiful private island, Half Moon Cay). November through April the ship follows a Bahamas / Florida itinerary (Port Canaveral, Nassau, and Freeport)."

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dual Embarkation Ports For Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Cruise Line announced that they have added the option of a second embarkation port on 2012 Mediterranean sailings on the Epic. Barcelona will once again be the primary embarkation port, however Norwegian is giving a limited amount of guests the flexibility of embarking three days later in Rome (Civitavecchia). Regardless of where you get on board, both itineraries will visit the same ports of call.

Having the choice of an embarkation port can be a wonderful thing! As you shop for airfare for your cruise, you might find the rates to be more favorable flying into one city as opposed to the other! I would guess flying mid-week instead of a weekend might also be a better deal. Having these different choices to examine can make a big difference in your overall costs, and that’s always a good thing!

In addition, if you would like to take a few days pre-cruise to explore the embarkation city, you can choose the city! If you want a few extra days to stroll Las Ramblas, seek out the quirky architecture of Gaudi or even take a side trip to Madrid, then a cruise from Barcelona makes sense.  On the other hand, maybe having that extra time in Rome excites you! A few additional days not only assure you of seeing all the highlights of the city but gives you time to venture a bit further.  Tivoli, Hadrian’s Villa, or a beach day at Ostia Lido would be lovely options to think about!

Norwegian Cruise Line now gives guests the convenience of selecting an embarkation port that works best for their vacation aboard the Norwegian Epic Mediterranean itineraries. Options, Flexibility, Choice.  Freestyle….it’s what Norwegian Cruise Line is all about!"

Monday, June 06, 2011

Norwegian Dawn Gets a Facelift

The Norwegian Dawn cruised into her new seasonal homeport of Boston last week sporting a new look!  A multi-million dollar refurbishment has left her shiny new with lots of great enhancements. Things were shifted around quite a bit; so much so that there was room to add 58 additional suites and staterooms! It’s always nice to see more family staterooms that will hold up to six guests and the Dawn will now have 24 and 10 of those will have balconies.

All staterooms were upgraded with flat screen televisions, which saves a bit a space and gives the room a cleaner look.  I was impressed that they did the same for the crew!

For those of you fortunate enough to have already cruised the Norwegian Epic, you may remember the Brazilian steakhouse, Moderno Churrascaria.  Guests loved this restaurant so much that it is being added to ships when they go into dry dock and its now a dining option on the Dawn!  Passadors serve skewers of all kinds of meat tableside, and the large self-serve salad bar contains sides and fixin’s.

The casino, probably one of the busiest spots on the ship was totally redone.  A more functional layout, new furniture and new carpet were part of the renovation.

Both the Kid’s Crew area and Teen Club got a new look.  It’s so important to have a segregated and age appropriate look to a child’s space!  It’s hard to get teens to hang out in a spot that’s not as “cool” as they are!  New game systems were also added. A room dedicated to little cruisers, The Under 2 Zoo, was added.  Here parents and their children have a special place to play together.

So, lucky you if you have an upcoming cruise on the Norwegian Dawn!  I thought she was a pretty special ship before her upgrades, but now she’s even better!"

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cruising the Mediterranean and the Port of Crete, Greece

Crete has a couple of different ports where cruise ships dock. The Navigator called on Chania, but it would be a short day as our all aboard was at 2:30 pm. While the beach was high on out to do list, we woke to cloudy and cool weather. What's a girl to do faced with such an abrupt change in plans? Shop of course! There was a city bus that ran shuttles into town, stopping in front of the the Municipal Market. It runs every 15 minutes at a cost of 3 euro round trip.

The Municipal Market is the local market with stalls selling cheese, freshly baked bread, spices, olive oil soaps, etc. I was sorry I ate such a large breakfast on the ship because the baking breads and pastries smelled so good.

Exiting out the back of the market and heading a block west is Skridloff, ""leather street"" . It's actually more than one street...a whole area of great little shops! I saw some of the best prices on leather I had seen and a corner shop in particular had very unique bags. I couldn't decide between two so purchased both along with a matching wallet. There weren't many merchants willing to bargain, but prices were good. Jewelry, glass, ceramics, leathers etc. Lots of tavernas and cafes to stop for a snack or lunch. If you take Halidon Street north you come to a lovely waterfront area. This is where we stopped for a snack of coffee and baklava and it was so good!

If you are shopped out or want to see the historical sites of the town head for the waterfront. The Venetian Dockyards that have been there since the mid 1200s and it's here that great merchant ships came for repair. Strolling to the other end of the waterfront is the Firka Fortress and Naval Museum, and the Byzantine Museum. You can walk through everything in a couple of hours.

Tip: If you are traveling with children there is a one hour glass bottom boat ride for 10 euro pp that leaves from the waterfront and also horse drawn carriage rides.

To get to the beach just follow the promenade along the waterfront. I heard it was ok, but there's a really beautiful beach, Chrisi Akti, about 10 minutes away by cab.

So that's it! I'm writing this last installment as I sit in the Rome airport waiting for our flight. What a trip! An amazing ship, a wonderful and eclectic mix of ports and fun-loving girlfriends to travel with. I can't wait to do it again!

Thanks for coming with us!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Cruising the Mediterranean and the Port of Kusadasi, Turkey

Kusadasi was the port I was most looking forward to, mostly because I wanted to see the ancient city of Ephesus and some of the surrounding sites. I have to say, it was one of the most magnificent places I have ever visited. The ship offered many different excursions to Ephesus, with minimal walking, others longer, and yet others combining Ephesus with other sites including lunch.

Once again my friends and I contracted with a private driver and guide to show us as much as we could possibly see in 7 hours! We started with a trip to the Virgin Mary's is believed that this is the house where she spent her final years. I like many found being there to be an emotional and moving experience.

Tip: If this site has religious significance for you, bring a small bottle from home so you may take some Holy Water from one or all of the three fountains. One was for health, one for wealth and one for fertility. There is also a prayer wall where visitors write a prayer on a white piece of paper and tie it to the wall, so remember paper or a tissue and a pen.

Then it was on to Ephesus which again has religious significance to Christians because St. John the Evangelist came here with the Virgin Mary in his care. It is said that this is where he wrote his gospel. For others, the city's significance is that it was the trade center of the ancient world and today, the best preserved ancient city. We saw the Library of Celsus, which was one of the 3 great libraries of ancient time, the Temple of Hadrian, Roman Baths, the Fountain of Trajan, the theater, and the Terrace Houses. These houses are well preserved and provide a vision of the lifestyle of the Ephesian elite. There are still archeologists working on site. If you have been to Pompeii and thought it incredible, you will want to see Ephesus, which by the way, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cruising the Mediterranean and the Port of Athens

Athens....the birthplace of democracy and home to some of the wisest men of ancient times. A city watched over by the ancient gods, Athena, Zeus, Poseidon to name a few, and where their memory is preserved. It is no wonder that in modern day people from all over the world look forward to visiting this city!

You can find some of the most famous archaeological monuments in all of Europe within the city of Athens. We wanted to see as much as possible in our 8 hours in port so we pre-arranged for a taxi for the day. Cabs are lined up where the ship docks in Piraeus (or you can take the subway to the city center, Syntagma Square). You can see so much more this way as opposed to a big bus tour. By 8am we were off the ship and on our way to to the Acropolis. It gets hot and so very crowded here that it's a wise move to make it your first stop. For 12 euro your ticket includes the Acropolis as well as several other sites, so don't throw it out if you have a day of touring planned. At the base of the site there are licensed guides for hire that can give you a brief history of Athens, the mythology, and what you are seeing. The sites at the Acropolis include the Propylaea, the Erectheion, the Temple of Athena Nike, and of course, the Parthenon. Using the guide, we went through the area in an hour.

Tip: Negotiate your rate and ask other people looking for a guide to join you and split the cost. We joined up with a family we met there that brought the cost down to
15 euro per person.

The Acropolis museum is small but so worth a visit. Lots of important pieces from the Acropolis were moved here to protect them. There are also archeologists on site to chat with and watch them work.

We then made a quick picture stop at the Kalimarmaro Stadium, home of the first modern day olympics, before heading to both the Greek and Roman agora. Then it was time for lunch.

Hint: Don't eat in the tourist areas. Ask someone who lives there to recommend their favorite spot.
We wanted an authentic Greek lunch and our driver took us away from the tourist area to a little taverna. We ordered 5 different dishes to share...I can't spell or pronounce their names, but it was a delicious lunch.

Timing was perfect because we were right on time for the changing of the guard at the president's palace. That whole ceremony takes about 20 minutes but is really interesting to see. If you don't have the time at least pass by for a picture of the guard. The uniform they where is quite unique.

The Plaka is where all the shopping is. Leather sandals, olive oil products, jewelry etc. Amongst a bunch of typical, cheesey souvenir shops are a few really nice places. There are also places to eat.

There is lots of traffic in Athens so leave yourself plenty of time to get back to the ship. You don't want to swim to the next port!

Tomorrow: Ephesus

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cruising the Mediterranean, At Sea

"I'm always pleased with the entertainment and activities aboard a Royal Caribbean ship and this cruise is no exception.

The ice show is called Ice Dancin' and is spectacular! Gosh, I feel like I'm always saying that about the ice show but it's true! The music was really good and the skating...well, if you've ever seen one of these shows you know what I'm talking about when I say UNBELIEVABLE! The skating surface isn't that large, yet they're twirling, jumping, spinning, throwing....! The guest performer was Alexey Sirota from Russia and he rolled around on something called a German Wheel. It was pretty cool to watch. They did a group of songs to a ""hockey theme"" that was a lot of fun. Costumes were great. I always enjoy the ice show!

I love the 70's Disco Inferno party on the Promenade. I guess you can say they were my ""glory days"" so I never miss it. It always gets really crowded especially when it seems like the entire ship is doing YMCA together !

""Now & Forever"" was the show starring the Royal Caribbean singers and dancers. I always like these Broadway revues best when I know the song. In this one the do an Abba medley so I was loving it! Strong leading man vocals was a plus too. All in all it was a good choice of show tunes.
We had dinner at Chops Grille. Have you tried it?

Oh my gosh, it is so good! The shrimp cocktail has humongous shrimp...they must be genetically engineered that way! For dinner I ordered shrimp again! So good! There were 5 of us at dinner so they put mashed potato, asparagus, green beans, onion rings, oven roasted potatoes, and mushrooms on the table to share. And although I usually have the Mississippi Mud cake for dessert, this time I spotted something velvet cake!

If you never tried Chops before, I really recommend it. It doesn't have to be for a special occasion. Just go!

Tomorrow : Athens

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cruising the Mediterranean and the port of Messina, Italy

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean. When looking at a map of Italy, it is located off the toe of the Italian ""boot"". The Navigator docked at the port of Messina on the island of Sicily. There are many options as to what you can do in port, some at no additional cost.

Since the ship docks right in town you can walk off and explore Messina. The cathedral is probably the main attraction with it's astronomical clock in the bell tower. Get there at 11:55 to see it do it's thing. Figures and evangelical scenes start moving around and it's quite a spectacle! Nearby is an original Crusader's church, Annunziata dei Catalani Church built in the 12th century. Or you can just wander the neighborhoods and markets.

An excursion to Mt. Etna, Europe's largest volcano is an interesting tour. I chatted with folks that picked this excursion and they said it was quite chilly up there, so if you ever choose to go, dress appropriately. They make wines in that's said volcanic soil is good for the grapes and some tours include a stop at the winery.

We chose to visit the the town of Taormina. You can get there by cab, train, shore excursion or in our case, we pre arranged for a private driver that also booked us a boat ride around the lake for the afternoon. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and the boat was cancelled. In it's place we went to other hill towns.

Taormina is a quaint walled city that sits high on a cliff. The two gates still remain as does a Greco-Roman theater built in the 2nd century. It is still used today and I bet it would be really something to see a Greek tragedy production on the site. There is also a very old cathedral; I believe somebody said it was from the 13th century.

For most, myself included, the lure of Taormina is shopping on Corso Umberto. Clothing, leather bags, and ceramics are there, but not necessarily good buys. We had a light lunch at a little cafe that made delicious Italian sandwiches and cappuccino.

Ceramics are crafted throughout Sicily and it was one of the items on my shopping list. There was a great ceramic shop in the hilltop town of Castelmola that I loved. The owner explained about the different artists, the regions in which they were created, and the symbolism of the pieces. I could have spent hours there, and as I type this I am still wondering how to get all the large fragile pieces home.

Movie lovers would enjoy the the Godfather towns we visited. There was the church Michael Corleone got married in, a house used in some other scenes, and a place called Bar Vitelli that had a collection of photo from the filming in the area. I'm personally not a fan of the movies but I enjoyed walking through the towns.

Tomorrow: A Day at Sea

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All Aboard Navigator of the Seas

We were in no big rush to be the first onboard so made a quick journey out on this last morning in Rome to pick up a pair of shoes admired in a window late last night . And since we were passing a gelato place, I figured why not. There are so many flavors to try!!! I had a scoop of coffee, nutella and chocolate.

When we got to the port in Civitiavecchia (a 75 min ride from Rome) we were able to just about walk right on the ship. On this cruise they collected passports to be returned at the end of the cruise.

**Tip: Before leaving home make 2 copies of your passport. Leave one with someone at home and bring a copy for yourself (info pages only).

**Tip: Remember to pack anything you may need immediately in a carry on (medications, bathing suit). I think our limo driver thought we were crazy when he took our bags out of the trunk and we began opening them all in the parking lot searching for bathing suits).

We have a balcony cabin. I love sitting on the balcony early in the morning with a coffee I grab from the Promenade. That being said, I'd take an inside if it meant that or not going. Get on the ship anyway you can!

The Navigator of the Seas has 2 specialty restaurants, Chops Grill and Portofino. We have reservations at both this week. There is a nominal fee but they serve meals as good as any fine dining restaurants on land. But more about that on another day.

The Royal Promenade has Vintages, featuring Robert Mondavi and Berringer wines.They also served sangria which I'll try later in the week. Some other Voyager class ships use this space as a sports bar. The atmosphere was lovely here and we sat a while for a pre dinner glass of wine and a plate of appetizers.

Tomorrow we arrive in Messina. See you then.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cruising to the Mediterranean; Arriving in Rome

We're here! We arrived in Rome on schedule and our driver was waiting to whisk us off to the hotel. The place we chose, Hotel Nazionale was centrally located, just a short walk from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The rooms were lovely, the staff friendly and the included breakfast was both convenient and delicious. Great choice!

With little time to spare, we quickly dropped off our bags and headed out to explore. There we're 6 of us, some have been here before and others had not. We split into groups of 2 planning to meet back at the hotel at 8 to go out to dinner.

Having already been to Rome twice before, this was my opportunity to leisurely stroll the cobblestone streets, stopping whenever something caught my eye. And the colorful tubs of gelato, and leather sandals definitely caught my eye! But we did lots of walking and when we began to tire we purchased tickets for a hop on / hop off, took seats on the open air top section , plugged in the headset and rode around for about 2 hours. We got off at the Trevi Fountain to throw our coins and walked back to the hotel.

Dinner was amazing. We heard about a restaurant from a co-worker and it sounded so good we knew we had to find it. Four of us took off on foot but after walking and walking, with the street we were looking for no where in sight we hailed a cab. The Trattoria der Pallaro on Largo del Pallaro was well worth the hunt to find! There's no menu here, and the food just keeps coming, course after course! The place was full of locals, as opposed to tourists like us so that says plenty! Owner /cook Paola Fazi reminded me of my childhood and trips to Brooklyn to visit family where my aunts who would put out an endless spread of food for Sunday dinner. When it comes to food, that's the ultimate compliment from me! We never asked the fixed price and were shocked that after all we ate including unlimited homemade wine we paid 25 euros pp!
With full bellies we hailed a cab to head back to the hotel. A perfect day!

** Do try to spend at least 2 nights pre cruise in your embarkation city. You need the time to recover from jet lag and you won't feel so rushed !

** Look for the restaurants where the locals dine you're guaranteed a great meal.

Tomorrow... All onboard Navigator of the Seas

Monday, May 16, 2011

Planning a European Cruise aboard Navigator of the Seas

Do you remember the Royal Caribbean commercial that featured a group of women on a Mediterranean cruise?  It showed snippets of their experiences…shopping for shoes, admiring Michelangelo’s David, taking corny pictures of holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and dancing the night away in a ship club. I loved that commercial and always thought that it would be so much fun to get away with the girls on a European jaunt!  And while I’ve been fortunate enough to take several amazing European cruises with my husband and son, none included the aspects best shared amongst girlfriends.  You know, spending time in the little shops on the Via Veneto, commiserating together over the extra hours in the gym it will ultimately cost if you indulge in yet another gelato or pastry, and chitchatting on the pool deck with a strawberry colada in hand!  Well, that is all about to change because next week, I along with five co-workers board a plane bound for Rome and a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.  I invite you to join me for the week, (pending a decent internet connection) as we tour Rome, Athens, Messina, Crete, Ephesus, and of course, check out all that the Navigator has to offer!

 Pre-Cruise Planning:

 When it comes to selecting a European cruise, I always look at the itinerary before the actual ship.  For this particular cruise I’m very happy with both.  Ephesus and Messina were high on my “places I want to visit” list and the Navigator of the Seas is a Voyager class ship, which has an abundance of the amenities I love. My advice for anyone doing their own planning is select a region or a country you want to explore and check your cruise line of choice for ships that go there. I have done all my European cruises with Royal Caribbean because their ships have everything I look for in a cruise vacation; great service, delicious food, flexible dining options (love “My Time”), and great nightly entertainment. This ship features the Royal Promenade and it will be great to know when we come back from touring we can make a we quick detour into the Café for a slice a pizza or coffee and a cookie!

 After the ship and itinerary is locked in its time to start planning out what to do in port. Your starting point is a good guidebook. Most public libraries have a nice selection but I prefer to purchase my books so I can I highlight what’s important to me and make notes in the margins. Once I have a good idea of what I want to see I have several options of how to go about it.  Cruise line sponsored shore excursions are always a safe bet, as they know where the majority of passengers want to go and what they want to see.  They provide transportation, knowledgeable guides and guarantee you’ll never miss the ship if there’s a traffic jam in the city center! Private shore excursions are another option, but if you go this way, choose a company that’s been recommended. The advantage to this is that you can tailor the tour to your personal specifications. Of course, one can venture out on their own with a good map and maybe a bus or train schedule. For this trip, I’m doing a combination.

 A couple of weeks before the cruise date I started figuring out how many dollars I wanted to exchange to Euros at my local bank. Most banks don’t charge a service fee if you have an account. I like to always go with a small amount in my pocket knowing that there are ATM’s all over Europe where I can easily get money when I need it. One thing about the European ATM’s is that you need a 4-digit pin code as opposed to a 6-digit and you may want to check with your bank regarding fees. My bank also noted my account with my travel plans so ATM withdrawals aren’t mistaken for fraud. You can even exchange money onboard many ships, but I’m unsure about fees and the difference in the exchange rate (though I’ll let you know once I’m there). I don’t think anyone uses traveler’s checks these days. I’m planning to shop using a credit card.  Once again I alerted the bank to my plans.  Some banks tag on a foreign transaction fee to credit card purchases, which can add up, but fortunately my card does not. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Europe; American Express not as much.

  We’re on an overnight direct flight into Rome, arriving just before lunch.  Unfortunately we are only able to spend one night in the city pre-cruise but I’ve been to Rome twice before (and once I throw my coin in the Trevi Fountain, I know I’ll go back again) so I’ve already seen the highlights. That being said, if you have the time, I recommend staying a few days in the city of embarkation.  It’s nice to adjust to the time, get rid of jet lag, and have extra time to explore the city.

 So, with all the basics out of the way I’m ready to go!  Hope to see you next weekend in Rome!"

Monday, May 09, 2011

Cruising to Asia aboard Celebrity Cruise Line

Traveling to the Far East…an exotic destination with a myriad of countries to explore! Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, China, Thailand; all have unique cultures, traditions, foods and languages, so this could be a bit of an intimidating trip for some.  Now imagine traveling to these foreign ports of call from the comfort and familiarity of a Celebrity cruise ship.  The Celebrity Millennium, to be exact. Beginning the winter of 2012 through early 2013 Celebrity Cruise Line will begin cruising through Asia.  Whether you want to explore the cosmopolitan cities or rural locales, hike the mountains or the rainforests, visit tranquil temples or opulent palaces, a cruise to Asia on the Celebrity Millennium is a vacation of a lifetime!

 The inaugural Asian season consists of three Hong Kong to Singapore cruises as well as several round-trip Singapore cruises.  Long flights and incredible embarkation ports demand pre or post cruise stays or a cruise tour to maximize your experience. Hong Kong, a former British territory is an exciting, electric city! A collision of Western and Eastern cultures, of ancient values mixed with the modern world, and of course, the shopping!  I could describe Singapore the same way and would recommend spending a few days in both cities. Cruise tours feature visits to Xian and Beijing giving guests the opportunity to see the Terra Cotta Warriors and stroll the Great Wall of China.

 Indonesia is a group of islands, 13,670 in all, though many are small and inhabitable.  Bali is the best known of these islands and when I think of Bali I think of the serene, lush tropical oasis that was the backdrop for Elizabeth Gilbert’s  “Eat, Pray, Love.” Rice paddies that cling to the hillside, dense jungles swarming with monkeys and hidden stone temples and sandy white beaches that beckon relaxation all make Bali the perfect retreat!  East of Bali is the island of Lombok, which has until very recently remained almost unknown.  With miles of pristine beaches, magical waterfalls, the large, looming volcano of Mount Rinjani (part of the celebrated “Ring of Fire”) combined with relatively few tourists, Lombok is paradise! Think of it as Bali was before the influx of tourism.

 Thai food has become popular throughout the world, but no matter how authentic your local restaurant claims to be, nothing compares to sampling the fare in Bangkok!  While some Thai food ingredients are familiar, others are strangely exotic, like the country itself.  Thailand has more than 30,000 Buddhist temples and Bangkok is home to some of the most beautiful in the world. If you have time to visit one consider the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which houses the country's most revered Buddha image and is on the grounds of the Royal Palace.  If you are lucky enough to be in Bangkok on the weekend check out Chatuchak, a huge, 9000 stall market that takes place in an area of the same name. It is a shoppers paradise selling everything from souvenirs, crafts,  clothes, antiques and all kinds of food from different regions of the country.

 It’s hard to figure if the increase of tourism in Vietnam is due to the country’s incredible natural beauty or American’s curiosity based on our history there.  Regardless, the Celebrity Millennium calls on several different ports in Vietnam that just may be the highlight of any cruise!  A stop in Ho Chi Minh City sharply illustrates the contrast of the adoption of Western culture and the connections to the past.  Skyscrapers stand alongside pagodas while motorbikes wizz by the food stalls that dot the streets.  Hue, another port of call, was the ancient Imperial capital city during the Nguyen dynasty.   The Citadel, constructed during the early 19th century, still remains, moat and all. Palaces, temples and royal tombs await exploration by anyone interested in the compelling history of the region. The cruise itinerary overnights in Hanoi. This allows time to visit the famed Hanoi Water Puppet Theatre and gives you time to travel to and enjoy the beauty of Halong Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage site is breathtakingly beautiful! Calm and clear bay water and thousands of limestone islands, many with lovely beaches and hidden grottos.

 A cruise on the Celebrity Millenium allows you to travel throughout the Far East on premier cruise line. Experience exotic cultures, sample authentic Asian cuisine, and discover ancient sites on an itinerary you’ve always dreamed about! The cruise specialists at Direct Line Cruises look forward to helping you plan this once in a lifetime vacation."

Monday, May 02, 2011

Cruising With Special Needs

If you are a cruiser with special needs or are traveling with someone that has special needs, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy a stress-free, perfect vacation!  With a little advance planning many of your requirements, whether they are mobility issues or medical related, can be met.  Every cruise line requires that the passenger fill out a “special needs” form prior to sailing to assure the ship is prepared when that guest arrives. They all maintain an Access Desks with coordinators that have experience in providing a safe and accessible cruise vacation for anyone that wants to take advantage of the assistance they provide.

 If needed, assistance is available to a guest from the moment they deplane in the city the cruise leaves from.  If a guest is purchasing cruise transfers, with advance notice, almost all cruise lines provide accessible transportation from the airport to the ship (not available outside the U.S.). Pier assistance is available to guests with mobility issues that need some extra time or a wheelchair for embarkation.

 For guests that use a wheelchair, scooter, or walker, please note that the cruise line cannot provide one for use onboard.  Wheelchairs are limited and reserved exclusively for embarkation and disembarkation, so be prepared to bring your own or there are companies that rent and deliver them to cruise passengers.  If you are traveling with your own motorized wheelchair or scooter some cruise lines require it to be powered by gel-cell batteries with chargers adaptable to 110 volts. 

 There may be limitations to guests that use wheelchairs or scooters when it comes to disembarking in certain ports.  Transferring to tenders, weather conditions, or steep gangways may deem it unsafe for the guests to go ashore.  As for shore excursions, U.S. ports almost always offer options for guests with mobility issues, but this is not always the case in foreign ports of call.

 Cruise ships offer accessible cabins in several different categories, (inside, ocean view, balcony).  Features of an accessible stateroom may vary between cruise lines or ships within a cruise line so check for specifics before booking. Stateroom and bathroom doorways are usually between 32” and 34” and without doorsills.  Bathrooms are traditionally equipped with grab bars, lowered sinks and roll-in showers.  Many have fold down-shower benches and hand-held showerheads.  Toilet seats are raised or commode chairs can be requested in advance.  The staterooms themselves have lowered vanities, safes and closet rods.  Refrigerators that hold medication, sharp’s containers for syringes, and distilled water for CPAP machines may also be requested.

 Blind or sight-impaired guests are invited to bring their service animals onboard and have access to all public areas except swimming pools.  Care and feeding (cruise lines are not required to supply dog food) of the animal is the responsibility of the owner.  Note that permits may be required for service animals to depart a ship in a foreign port and it is the responsibility of the owner to obtain them.  Braille has been incorporated in elevators and public areas of almost all ships. Low vision guests may ask for large print menus and cruise activity programs. Most cruise lines offer orientation tours upon request which is a great way to gain familiarity of the ship.

 The cruise lines will make every attempt to make technology available to assist deaf and low hearing guests.  Some staterooms have visual-tactile alert systems to warn the occupant of a knocking at the door, a ringing phone or smoke detection. Close captioned television is widely available but only on select programming.    More and more ships now have pagers available to alert guests of ship announcements.  For theater goers assistive listening devices are available on many ships.  Sign language interpreting services are provided on some cruise lines but should be requested 90 days before sailing.  Requests are subject to availability and other considerations and are not guaranteed.

 Guests that require peritoneal dialysis are welcome on all cruise ships. All solutions and equipment needed should be delivered to the ship on the day of sailing (although advance notice is required).  If a guest requires hemodialysis treatments, the cruise lines do not have the ability to administer these treatments.  There is however, a program called Dialysis at Sea, which specializes in the treatment of hemodialysis care while onboard cruise ship. This service is available on select Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise Line voyages.

 For those that need to bring oxygen onboard, different cruise lines have different policies as to what is permitted.  While Royal Caribbean Cruise Line allows all types, Norwegian Cruise Line does not allow liquid oxygen.  You are welcome to bring your own equipment, but cruise ship staff is not allowed to handle or assist you with it during embarkation or disembarkation.  For your ease supplies may be delivered to the ship, but you must use the outside vendor of the cruise line’s choice.

 Some people still believe that if they have any sort of disability or impairment, it could be more stress than relaxation to cruise.  Not so! Pre-arranging for special assistance 60 to 90 days before sailing is the key to smooth sailing.  The cruise specialists at Direct Line Cruises are able to assist you in communicating with the cruise line so that all your needs are met. With that done, the only thing left to say is Bon Voyage!"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Royal Caribbean Partner of the Year Celebration

There was lots of excitement last week at Direct Line Cruises corporate offices in Hauppauge NY!  As you may know, Royal Caribbean selected Direct Line Cruises as their 2010 Northeast Partner of the Year earlier in the year. Now it was time celebrate!

 We got word that Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President of Sales for Royal Caribbean and Joanne Schimelman, the cruise line’s Vice President of National Accounts, were flying in from Miami to mark the occasion.  They were joined by Cyndi Cobb, Northeast Regional Sales Director and Louise Habrack, our Business Development Manager.

We had a staff luncheon that day and had some fun by literally rolling out a red carpet for our VIP guests.  We greeted them in t-shirts that were made for the occasion.  Then we had our own, private Q & A session with Ms. Freed.  It was quite a day for all of us at Direct Line Cruises!"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cruising to Alaska and the Port of Skagway

Skagway is the historic hub of any Alaskan cruise.  It all dates back to 1896 when George Carmack and Skookum Jim chiseled a gold nugget from the bed of Rabbit Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River in Yukon, Canada and set in motion one of the most frenzied gold rushes in history. Over the next two years, at least 100,000 eager would-be prospectors from all over the world set out with dreams of making a fortune. Only about 40,000 actually made it to the Klondike, and precious few of them ever found their fortune. Fast forward to present day Skagway in which the town's eight hundred residents have gone to great lengths to recreate the original appearance of the boom town. I must say, the effort is much appreciated by the many cruisers that disembark for a day in Skagway!

The Skagway portion of Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park (free) includes a six-block downtown area as well as the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail.  The corridor along Broadway is lined with historic looking shops and restaurants, wooden sidewalks, and locals in period costumes. There is a Park Visitor’s Center located 2nd and Broadway and every day at 10AM there is a free ranger presentation on various topics. They also show a short film entitled “Gold Fever: Race to the Klondike” in the visitor center auditorium every hour (free). One hour Historical District Walking Tours (free) are led by park rangers several times during the day.  Sign up at the Visitor’s Center, as space is limited.

Hiking around the Skagway area is a great way to see the history and beauty of the area. Trail maps of hikes that vary in the degree of length and difficulty are available from the Skagway Visitor Information Center or at the National Park Visitor Center. The most popular that can be done within port time are Dewey Lake, Sturgill’s Landing and Upper and Lower Reid Falls.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cruising to Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan, Alaska sits along the shore of the Inside Passage within the Tongass National Forest.  When cruising into Ketchikan, Alaska you are surrounded by the beauty of the lush green mountainous landscape, which is nurtured by the plentiful rainfall of the temperate rainforest environment. In other words, come prepared for precipitation!  The average temperature in July is mid 60’s but when the sun is shining it can climb into the 70’s or low 80’s.

 The town of Ketchikan is picture postcard perfect. Pick up a walking tour map at the Visitor’s Center then start strolling, (or rent a bike), following the numbered signs posted throughout town. Be sure to walk down Creek Street (formerly the town’s red light district), with its row of brightly colored wooden buildings perched over the water on pilings.  These turn of the century structures are now lovely boutiques, restaurants, and galleries.  You will find Dolly’s House ($5 pp), the once infamous brothel, at 24 Creek Street. Today it’s a museum and gift shop.

 Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles.  At Saxman Native Village ($3 pp on your own / tour $15pp+), located two miles outside of town, guests can experience the rich living culture of the Tlingits. There are 32 authentic totem poles (some over 100 years old) and if you take a tour, guides will interpret their meaning. At the Carving Shed master carvers and their apprentices demonstrate their craft. A tour includes entry to the Beaver Clan House and a demonstration of traditional dance and song by the Cape Fox Dancers.  This was one of the places my family visited on our Alaska cruise and we all found it to be informative and entertaining, including my son who was nine at the time.