Monday, December 29, 2014

Cruising the ABC Islands

The ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, are the three western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean (off the coast of Venezuela). They are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, thus share a Dutch colonial history as well as a West Indian heritage. All are popular ports of call on a Southern Caribbean cruise.


The cruise port of Aruba is located in the capital city of Oranjestad. A state-of-the-art tram begins at the cruise terminal and meanders through the city making stops at monuments and museums, as well as at key shopping areas. The city’s streets and malls are dotted with international luxury retailers, diverse boutiques, and dazzling jewelry stores

The beaches in Aruba are world class and all beaches on Aruba are open to the public Eagle Beach with its sugar-like sand has been named the best beach in the Caribbean. There are shaded picnic areas, some huts, and a variety of motorized water sports.

But when you tire of soaking in the sun, there's scuba diving, snorkeling, great windsurfing, parasailing (thanks to those famous trade winds), sky diving, jet skis, many different types of boat cruises and all the other watersports you expect from a Caribbean island.

Aruba’s interior is not lush …its landscape is very desert like with scrub coral and cactus, iguanas, goats, donkeys, strange boulder formations and even the remains of a Spanish gold mine. The best way to see this side of the island is to book a jeep tour and they are offered through the cruise line or can be booked independently.


Cruise ships dock in Kralendijk, the sleepy capital of Bonaire. A newly constructed seaside promenade lined with shops, restaurants and bars leads downtown. Near the cruise ship pier is an outdoor market in nearby Wilhelmina Park which sells local wares and foods. Kaya Grandi, the main street in Kralendijk, also has shops with clothing, souvenirs, jewelry, snorkeling and diving equipment.

Just north of Kralendijk on Bonaire’s western coast, Eden Beach is perhaps best-suited for beachgoers who like to have easy access to food and drink. Serving the beach is a small restaurant and beach bar. Lac Bay, a sheltered lagoon off the Caribbean, lies along the southeastern coast of Bonaire. Although the vast majority of beaches on Bonaire’s eastern coast have rough surf, Lac Bay Beach is the exception, making it a relatively safe beach for families.

Bonaire is a diving and snorkeling paradise, surrounded by staggeringly diverse coral reefs that are part of a protected national marine park. Turtles, rays, sea horses and fish of every imaginable color abound in the pristine waters of the park.

Available shore excursions include visits to the Donkey Sanctuary, Flamingo Sanctuary and the original Spanish settlement of Rincon, founded in 1527.


The largest of the ABC islands is Curacao. The capital Willemstad, settled in 1634, might be the most photographed city in the Caribbean thanks to its well-preserved, cotton-candy-colored Dutch Colonial architecture and buildings like the Mikve Israel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in use in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s a lovely walk along the Queen Emma pontoon bridge and if timed right, you may see it swing open to let ships in and out of the harbor. There’s also the famous floating market laden with produce, and even if you’re not buying, the photo opportunities are delightful!

Playa Port Marie is a gorgeous sandy beach a cab ride away. Spend the day enjoying the beautiful turquoise waters with very calm waves. It's very appropriate for small children. There is a snorkeling trail and it also features a great sea-side restaurant!

If you’d rather explore the rest of the island, jeep caravan shore excursions are a good choice.   Hato Caves, an elaborate network of stalactites and stalagmites with 1,500 year old drawings as well as the Christoffel National Park, 4,446 acres teeming with exotic wildlife and gardens are two of the most popular destinations."

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The New 2015 Cruise Ships

There’s nothing like the excitement generated by the launching of a new cruise ship! What innovative changes can we look forward to?   Will there be Celebrity chefs and new restaurants? For those of you that like to be amongst the first to step onboard, here are the ships debuting in 2015.

Norwegian Escape

Maiden voyage: October 29, 2015

Home Port: Miami, Florida

The Escape is a Breakaway Plus-class ship, meaning that she includes all of the revolutionary features of the Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, and then some! This ship is the ultimate family-friendly ship. Some feature to look for include:
  • The largest ropes course at sea, a three-story maze of challenges including two planks and five zip lines!
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Mini golf.
  • The largest Aqua Park at sea and feature four multi-story water slides, a dedicated Kids’ Aqua Park, two pools and four hot tubs.
  • Nickelodeon branded entertainment returns including SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick Star and Dora the Explorer, among other favorite Nickelodeon characters.
  • Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” restaurant and the “5 O'Clock Somewhere Bar”
  • The Waterfront and 678 Ocean Place, an oceanfront boardwalk lined with restaurants, bars and shops, combined with three expansive, flowing decks of dining, bars, and entertainment.

Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas

Maiden voyage: April 22, 2015

Home Port: Southampton, England and Fort Lauderdale, Florida

The Anthem is the second ships in the Royal Caribbean Quantum family so you can count once again on seeing all the same revolutionary features you loved on the Quantum!
  • RipCord, a skydiving simulator that lets you soar in a safe, controlled environment.
  • North Star the capsule that ascends over 300 feet above sea level offering breathtaking 360° views of the sea.
  • Bumper cars, roller-skating, basketball and other activities at the SeaPlex, an indoor activity center.
  • The return of the Dynamic Dining concept that gives guests 18 different dining options and the flexibility they demand!
  • Your favorite DreamWorks characters from Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon
  •  “We Will Rock You”, based on the music of Queen, will be the Broadway show available on the Anthem

Viking Star

Maiden voyage: April 11, 2015

The Star is the first ocean cruise ship operated by Viking, the river cruise giant. She is a small ship; 48,000 tons carrying 928-passengers. Some things that set this ship apart from the competition:
  • Every port-intensive itinerary will begin and end with overnights in port, and none will have more than one sea.
  • One complimentary shore excursion in each port.
  • Complimentary beer and wine.
  • Complimentary Internet access.
  • A beautiful glass-backed infinity pool.
  • The main dining room will have floor-to-ceiling windows that can slide open to provide al fresco dining.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Searchin' For My Lost Shaker Of Salt On The Norwegian Escape

I can’t claim to be a “Parrothead” or even part of the flock of fanatics that love Jimmy Buffett’s music. I am, however, a huge fan of a good hamburger and if I’m washing it down with a margarita (salt the rim of the glass, please), all the better! So I was pretty excited to hear that Jimmy Buffett is taking to the high seas by opening his   “Margaritaville” restaurant and “5 O’clock Somewhere Bar” on the Norwegian Escape.

“Margaritaville”, will be one of the Norwegian Escape's complimentary dining options. The “5 O’clock Somewhere Bar” will be one of the line's restaurants on the Waterfront, a row of indoor-outdoor dining options, complete with live music and seating for optimal ocean viewing. The brand will also have a presence on the line's two private resorts at Harvest Caye in Belize and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. The partnership will eventually extend to the line's other vessels in the fleet as well.

The Norwegian Escape, as well as “Margaritaville” conjure up images of what the perfect Caribbean cruise vacation should be…. a family-friendly, laid back, sandal wearing, take life easy kind of atmosphere! Beginning November of 2015, the Escape will homeport in Miami year-round, sailing an Eastern Caribbean itinerary.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Carnival Introduces Spin U

It’s not always easy to cruise with older teens, those 15 –17 year old (I speak from experience)! Finding something for them to do onboard that’s interesting and engaging is not easy! However, Carnival Cruise Line is committed to fun for all ages and has come up with a new and exciting program…Spin U!

Spin U was developed as part of Carnival’s Club O2 teen program in partnership with legendary DJ Irie. The program is a great for kids that love music, the idea of sharing it with others and as a starting point in learning how to DJ. Whether they want to spin at a party, club, be the next DJ superstar, or just pick up a new hobby, Spin U teaches the fundamentals of mixing, blending, and scratching.

Different packages will be offered including a free 30-minute introductory session that includes an overview of equipment basics and spinning and mixing techniques. A 45-minute program called DJ 101 expands upon the intro class with a comprehensive overview of mixing and scratching ($20). Three DJ Master classes follow ($99 for all 3) that help participants master the art of mixing, mic skills and understanding song structure and transitions. One lucky student may even get to try out their new skills entertaining guests poolside on the Lido deck.

Spin U is currently being piloted on six and eight day cruises on the Carnival Freedom with fleetwide rollout expected by the end of 2015.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Celebrity Cruises River and Ocean Cruise Vacations

Ocean cruise or river cruise? Nothing beats the luxury, entertainment and pampering guests experience on an ocean cruise vacation.   However, river cruises can take you to the very heart of some of the world’s most exciting cities and enchanting towns!   Can’t decide? Now you don’t have to. Introducing Celebrity’s European river-and-ocean cruise vacation packages!

An industry first, these one-of-a-kind vacations combine an immersive Amras Cruise river journey with a Celebrity luxury ocean sailing. The 11 new river-and-ocean cruise packages offer guests the opportunity to explore Europe inside and out by way of four well-known rivers – the Danube, Rhine, Rhône and Seine, and then continue on by sea around the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Russia, Turkey and other destinations.

Lets take a closer look at one such voyage, the 16 Night Seine Symphony, & the Med.

 Guests will fly into Paris, one of the most romantic cities in the world, to board the Amadeus Diamond. Following the Seine north from Paris, the ship will stop at the fairytale towns and landscapes that inspired many a great artist; van Gogh, Cézanne, Pissarro, and Monet! Every bend is a feast for the eyes: cathedrals, chateaux, fishing villages, gardens and Gothic masterpieces. Venture to the beaches of Normandy, where Western Allies landed not so long ago. Returning south, guests will spend a day and night docked in the City of Lights.

Then fly from Paris to Barcelona, where guests will spend 2 days exploring this exciting city before embarking on a 7-night Celebrity Equinox cruise. Luxurious accommodations, award-winning cuisine, impeccable service and amazing entertainment await. Ports of call include Cannes, France; Genoa, Italy; Rome, Italy; the Amalfi Coast and Crete, Greece before disembarking in Athens!

 Celebrity’s European river-and-ocean cruise package offers a unique vacation experience. Ranging from 16 to 24 nights, Celebrity Explorations’ river-and-ocean cruise packages include:
  • Seven-night Amras Cruises River cruise, including gourmet dining; regional wine and beer and fully guided tours and excursions.
  • Dedicated Celebrity Cruises Destination Concierge to ensure a seamless and personalized river cruise experience.
  • Flights to a major European city near the ocean cruise port.
  • One- to two-night luxury hotel accommodations before embarking on the ocean cruise.
  • Convenient transfers from the airport to the hotel and the ocean cruise port.
  • Celebrity Cruises Classic Beverage Package, including wine and spirits.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2015 Carnival LIVE Concert Series

The first season of the “Carnival LIVE Concert Series” is winding down and was a smashing success with one sold-out onboard show after another! And it’s no wonder…these were no amateur performers! The artists that played onboard the Carnival ships were Grammy Award and CMA Award winners and nominees. These musicians have played in major concert venues all over the world, and maybe you’ve even paid a pretty penny to see one of them in a hall that holds 20,000 people. Now imagine seeing them a theater that has a cabin capacity of 1000! That’s the experience you’ll have if you book a Carnival Live Concert Series cruise.

Coming on board in the first part of 2015 will be Journey, Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Smokey Robinson, and Styx, back by popular demand for the second season. Carnival LIVE tickets for 2015 range from $35 to $60 for general admission (in addition to cruise fare), significantly less than land-based concerts. VIP tickets are available for $125 to $250, offering fans seating in the first four rows, an artist meet and greet, a souvenir photo with the artist and a commemorative concert pass.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quantum of the Seas Sneak Preview

My time on Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas was short. I was invited onboard along with other travel agents and the media for a 2-night cruise to nowhere to view her cabins, eat and drink in her restaurants, amuse myself in her play areas, and enjoy the entertainment onboard. So I did, and less than 48 hours later I walked off the ship completely and thoroughly WOWED!

Thank goodness no time was wasted on long lines at the cruise terminal. It was truly 10 minutes from sidewalk to ship! I had completed my guest registration, uploaded my security photo (so simple even someone as technically challenged as myself did it without a glitch), and printed my Set Sail pass several weeks before embarkation. Upon arrival at the pier my Set Sail pass and passport was scanned by personnel roaming the terminal with i-Pads, my luggage was x-rayed and I headed up the gang plank, easy peasy!

My Sea Pass card was waiting for me in my cabin but went unused, as I opted for the RFID Wow Band, which I immediately strapped to my wrist. The wristband opened my cabin door, checked me into restaurants and shows, and was used in the shops to make purchases. It was so nice not having to fumble around looking for the Sea Pass card in my pocketbook!

Quantum of the Seas has done away with the mammoth dining room and traditional early and late seating times. Instead, there are 18 different dining venues; some complimentary and others with a cover charge. There is casual dining, formal dining, eat-in, take-out, buffet, elegant decor, whimsical decor as well as several celebrity chef restaurants. I had dinner at Chic (contemporary food served in a glitzy room of white and gold décor) on one evening and Grande (classic dishes served in an elegant restaurant where every night is formal night) the second evening. The food was delicious with each meal ending with a decadent chocolate dessert!

After dinner I enjoy nothing better that a good show, and Quantum of the Seas did not disappoint! “Mama Mia”, the smash hit based on the songs of Swedish pop sensation ABBA was the musical onboard. It was every bit as good as when I saw it on Broadway! The Music Hall is the spot for live music onboard the Quantum…bands, musicians and DJs.   There was a Led Zeppelin cover band and a Journey cover band on my cruise.  Be sure to look for the self-leveling billiard tables on the 2nd floor.

The multifunction “living room” known as “Two 70” gets its name from the sweeping 270 degree views of the ocean by day. It’s a great place to hang out and read, or sit with a snack from the Café @ Two 70. In the evening it’s transformed into a multimedia theater and multiuse venue. On one evening I saw a show called StarWater featuring singing, dancing, aerialists, robotics, and projections. On another evening it was transformed into a comedy club.

There are so many places to “play” on Quantum of the Seas, for both the young and young at heart! The Sea Plex is an indoor play area that hosts basketball, roller-skating, circus school and bumper cars! The last time I sat in a bumper car was some 15 years ago with my then 5-year old son beside me at the wheel, looking to crash into everything and anything! This time I had the car to myself and I was really surprised by how much fun it was!

Rip Cord is a first for a cruise ship…it gives guests a sky diving experience in a safe, controlled, simulated environment. Before taking flight participants must take a training class and are then suited up in a jumpsuit, goggles and helmet. They are then ready for two flights accompanied by an instructor. Even if you choose not “sky dive” (I did not, but some of my co-workers did), it’s almost as much fun to just watch! I feel the same way about the Flow Rider, which incidentally is also onboard the Quantum. For people like me that would prefer a more passive experience in the sky, the North Star offers breathtaking views of the ocean, the ship, and scenery below in a capsule attached to an arm that ascends over 300 feet above sea level.

If you would like to experience Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas you’d better hurry. She sails from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey until May 2015. After that she will homeport in China and that would be one heck of an airfare expense!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Crystal Cruises Takes Guests to Downton Abbey

Are you obsessed with Downton Abbey, the British drama about an Earl, his family, their house servants, their lives, life challenges and loves during the early 1900s?  Do you close your eyes and picture yourself moseying through the lavish Edwardian mansion and park nestled in the lush North Yorkshire landscape?  If you answered yes, then you need to know about a very special land program presented by Crystal Cruises.

On July 8th 2015, the Crystal Symphony will set sail from Reykjavik, Iceland, on an 18-night North Cape and Arctic Circle voyage, which concludes in Dover, England. Offered as a post cruise land package, guests will have the chance to enjoy a two- night “English Countryside & Highclere Castle” that takes guests to the sites and set of this popular PBS television series!

Guests begin their tour with a visit to Berkshire’s Basildon Park, which is used as the Grantham family’s London house. There is a stop at the Swan Inn, the infamous spot where Lady Sybil and Branson the chauffer elope, and a lovely lunch with period-costumed hosts at Byfleet Manor, known as the Dowager Countess’ home.

There will be plenty for guests to see and do in Bampton, a village filled with locations that double as the Crawleys’ home, the hospital and the church where Lady Edith was jilted at the altar.  At night, tour participants will stay in an authentic English manor house, aka the Four Seasons Hotel Hampshire, boasting luxurious amenities amid its age-old setting.

The highlight of the tour is the visit to Highclere Castle in Hampshire, arriving just like visitors on the show, in vintage 1920’s chauffeur-driven automobiles! There, Crystal passengers will be the guests of honor at a private champagne reception and tour of the estate, including numerous rooms made famous on the series, such as the library and drawing room.

This two- night “English Countryside & Highclere Castle” is exclusive to Crystal cruisers. There is no other way for Downton fans to step back in time for a taste of how life might have been in England if they lived alongside the Grantham family."

Monday, September 15, 2014

Riding the Alaska Railroad with Celebrity Cruises

A Celebrity cruise to Alaska offers travelers a glimpse of our beautiful 49th state and its stunning landscape. However, many amazing vistas are well inland and impossible to reach without a pre or post land tour. When you incorporate a Celebrity cruise tour that includes a ride on the Alaska Railroad, the trip becomes a once in a lifetime experience! The Alaska railroad portion of Celebrity’s cruise tours utilize the 350 miles of track between Fairbanks and Anchorage, which may include stops at Talkeetna and Denali National Park, depending on the tour selected (and there are many to choose from that vary in length and price).

What is it about the lore and romance of a train ride? Many travelers have said that riding the rails was the highlight of their Alaska cruise tour! Onboard rail guides provide expert commentary calling attention to worthy landmarks along the way, pointing out wildlife, and entertaining passengers with history and folklore.  The scenery is picture perfect; mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. At one point the train passes within 46 miles of the summit of Mt. McKinley. Between Talkeetna and Denali National Park the train crosses over Hurricane Gulch on a bridge that is 914 feet long and 296 feet above the creek below! Yikes! Another incredible view is between Denali and Fairbanks where the train snakes through the Nenana River canyon gorge. Then there’s the wildlife! Osprey, eagles, moose, Dall sheep, mountain goats, beavers and bears have all been spotted as the train chugs along.

The Wilderness Express cars that are used by Celebrity Cruise Line (as well as Royal Caribbean) are usually the last two cars of the Alaska railroad. The cars have a full-length curved glass dome that provides spectacular 360-degree views. The forward facing leather seats in the upper dome recline and have fold down trays. On the lower level there is a dining room that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner for an additional cost. Some of their specialties are Alaskan halibut and reindeer chili! A full service bar is available. On  this level there is also a small outdoor viewing platform which is a great spot to take pictures.

Are you ready to experience the Alaska Railroad for yourself?  Book a Celebrity cruise tour on a 2015 Alaska cruise in an ocean view or above today, and receive  $200 onboard credit!  In addition, this offer is combinable with the Celebrity Pick Your Perk promotion (choice of free beverage package, free gratuities for 2, or additional onboard credit) for an even better value!  Both of these promotions are available for a limited time only,so don’t delay!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Alaska Cruise Webinar hosted by Celebrity Cruises

The entire team at Direct Line Cruises is thrilled to partner with Celebrity Cruises to talk about one of our favorite cruise destinations; Alaska.  That's right, on October 15th, we will be conducting two online webinar sessions focusing on Celebrity Alaska cruise vacations.  You may choose between the 11 AM EST or 7 PM EST sessions.  But, just make sure you attend at least one because we will be discussing all 2015 Celebrity Alaska cruise itineraries, cruise tours and many other Alaska insider tips.

Oh, and did I forget to mention FREE prizes and cruise savings?  All listeners of our Alaska webinar on 10/15/14 will be eligible to receive EXCLUSIVE savings off their future Alaska cruise reservation with Direct Line Cruises.  In addition, a few lucky listeners will be randomly selected to win some incredible prizes.  All you have to do is register and listen.  It's that simple!

So, what are you waiting for?  CLICK HERE and register today for this educational and fun Alaska Cruise Webinar."

Monday, September 08, 2014

"We Will Rock You" on the Anthem of the Seas

We Will Rock You, a show based on the songs of the British rock group Queen, will be the musical aboard Royal Caribbean’s new Anthem of the Seas. The show was a huge hit in London, where it played to sell-out crowds for 12 years, and is now in its first national U.S. tour.

The musical showcases Queen’s biggest hits and it hard not to sing along to “Another One Bites the Dust”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “We Are the Champions”, “We Will Rock You” and my favorite, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

A live Queen concert exuded a theatrical atmosphere with outrageous special effects and costumes.  “We Will Rock You” delivers the same experience! It will definitely be something to look forward to on the Anthem of the Seas.

Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, the second ship in the Quantum family, will debut in the spring of 2015. She will arrive and begin sailing from Cape Liberty, New Jersey that fall.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Celebrity Cruise Line “Signature Event Sailings”

Every year all around the world there are extraordinary events and festivals that are renowned for their exclusive ambience and memorable status.  Don’t you wonder what it takes to get hold of a ticket or to get your name on the VIP list for one of these iconic gatherings?  The answer is as simple as booking a Celebrity Cruise Line “Signature Event Sailing”.

The Celebrity “Signature Event” sailings for 2015 through 2016 include:

*Anzac Day, the 100th Anniversary Commemoration in Turkey:  12-night Turkey and Greece cruise departing on April 22, 2015, on Celebrity Constellation. 

*Cannes Film Festival: 10-night Mediterranean cruise, departing on May 11, 2015, from Barcelona on Celebrity Equinox.

*Redentore Festival in Venice: 14-night Turkey and Black Sea cruise, departing on July 5, 2015, from Istanbul, visiting Venice during the historic Redentore Festival on Celebrity Constellation.

*The British Open in Edinburgh: 12-night British Isle cruise departing on July 15, 2015, from Amsterdam on Celebrity Silhouette .

*Carnival in Rio de Janeiro: Celebrity Infinity sets off on a 14-night South America and Rio Carnival cruise, departing on January 31, 2016, from Buenos Aires.

*Chinese New Year in Hong Kong:  14-night Chinese New Year cruise, departing on January 31, 2016 aboard Celebrity Millennium.

The program includes onboard experiences that compliment the particular Celebrity “Signature Event” such as special guest speakers, unique shows, and other activities.  This is a unique opportunity for cruisers to explore a particular destination and its culture in an exclusive way.

Taking a closer look at one such expedition, what movie aficionado wouldn’t delight in a trip to the Cannes Film Festival? Well, the 10-night Mediterranean cruise, departing on May 11, 2015, from Barcelona, Spain on the Celebrity Equinox coincides with that festival! Passengers can be part of the glamour and sophistication of the largest international showcase of cinematic art by attending an exclusive VIP rooftop celebration ashore with live French music, cocktails and a can't-miss view of the locale's picturesque harbor. Onboard, Celebrity will host a film festival of their own celebrating past Cannes Film Festival winners.

Planning a cruise around a world famous event can make exploring a foreign country even more fun and exciting. Celebrity’s “Signature Event” Sailings provides guests with inside access into the most desirable events across the globe while immersing them in each culture-rich destination."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Quantum of the Seas ; A Ship With Beauty and Brains

We knew she was a beauty, and now we find out she’s got brains too!  Introducing Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas, the first “smart” cruise ship! How smart is she? She’s the most technologically advanced ship ever to sail. What will that mean to her guests?

Passengers can move from sidewalk to shipboard in 10 minutes!  Now, when guests do their online guest registration they may also complete the check-in process by uploading their photo ID’s. They will then be issued a digital boarding pass, which allows them to skip the check-in process at the pier!

Luggage will  be ticketed with an RFID tag, which allows guests to track their bags from drop-off to cabin delivery.

03B connectivity focuses satellite beams on the Quantum of the Seas as she sails giving guests lightning speed Internet connections.  They can Skype, stream video, and share photos faster and at a less expensive rate than they have on any other.

The enhanced Cruise Planner allows Quantum guests to schedule shows, meals, spa treatments and shore excursions in advance so they can start enjoying their vacation the minute they step onboard. The new downloadable app, Royal iQ combined with the RFID WOW band, reduces lines and waiting times. It will be easier to text and call friends on and off the ship.

Guests can stop by for a drink at the Bionic Bar, where robotic arms will mix up your favorite cocktail.

Be entertained by the Roboscreens at Two70 that can transform the floor to ceiling windows into any scene imaginable.

Royal Caribbean has always embraced innovation and the Quantum of the Seas will be the most  technologically advanced ship to sail the seas!"

Monday, August 18, 2014

Cruising to Québec

Have you always dreamed of experiencing the charm of Paris, but the thought of “crossing the pond” has squelched any hope of you doing so?  If so, you may want to consider cruising to Canada and New England. A stop in Québec City allows cruisers to discover a little bit of French flavor in North America!

Old Québec exudes European charm! The Upper Town is perched on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River providing views of the countryside for many miles beyond. The castle-like hotel, Château Frontenac was built by the Canadian Pacific railroad at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and has dominated the city’s skyline ever since.  Old Québec is a walking city and nothing is as enjoyable as wandering the cobblestone streets of the Petit-Champlain district, the oldest neighborhood in North America. It’s a great place to shop, eat and people watch. Cafe tables overflow on the streets and flowers are everywhere, much like a Parisian neighborhood. There are lovely boutiques and cute shops, many which specialize in maple products. Ride in horse-drawn carriages, stroll by centuries-old architecture, enjoy street entertainers, singers, and artists, particularly at Old Québec's open-air art gallery, Rue du Trésor.

The French explorer Samuel de Champlain founded Québec early in the 17th century, and fortifications, ramparts, and gates that surrounded the city serve as a reminder of its role in the colonial wars. The city was the capital of New France until 1760, after which it fell under British control before eventually becoming part of an independent Canada. A key part of the city's fortifications, the star-shaped Citadel, sits high above the St. Lawrence River and the views are amazing! Today, the Citadel’s functions are ceremonial; the changing of the guard and the firing of cannons, but the Citadel is quite interesting and kids love exploring the grounds!

The Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, located only 20 minutes from Québec City, has been a “place of miracles” for the past 350 years. The shrine, North America's oldest pilgrimage site, attracts some one million visitors a year. It’s a neo-Roman style basilica with hundreds of stained glass windows, and valuable works of art including a golden statue of Saint Anne. The shrine is well worth a visit, whatever your beliefs.

Montmorency Falls Park, just a few minutes from Québec City, attracts nature-lovers and sightseers alike with its 272-foot waterfall. To put that in more relevant terms,  Montmorency Falls is one and a half times taller than Niagara Falls! There are staircases that allow visitors to view the falls from several different perspectives or a gondola that carries passengers between the bottom and the top of the falls. A suspension bridge over the crest of the falls provides access to both sides of the park as well as a spectacular view.

So if you’re looking for a cruise vacation with bit of European flavor, consider a cruise to Canada.  Look for an itinerary with Québec City as a port of call and it will be like visiting Paris…without the jet lag!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Chocolate Journeys with Princess Cruises

Chocolate and cruise vacations are two of my favorite things (not sure of the order ranking))! One has very little to do with the other…until recently. Princess Cruises has just introduced Chocolate Journeys, a rich and delicious chocolate experience onboard its fleet of 18 ships! The brand new program will offer guests a variety of opportunities to taste the inspired creations crafted by one of the world's foremost experts in chocolate, Norman Love.

For anyone who does not recognize the name Norman Love (he is a regular guest judge on Food Network Challenge series), let me just say that the man is a master chocolatier of international acclaim! In fact, a highly respected consumer ratings magazine recognized his company, Norman Love Confections, numerous times as the best ultra-premium chocolates in the nation! So then, what does this new partnership with Princess Cruises offer guests onboard?

The experience begins with the “chocolate love pops” that are served with your favorite drink at the Captain’s Cocktail Reception.  Doesn’t that sound better then piggies in a blanket? A very special chocolate drink menu has been developed too.  The “S’more Chocolate” is made with vanilla vodka, a grand marnier spiked marshmallow and crushed pretzels on the rim of the glass! Other choices include the chocolate chilli margarita, a chocolate salted caramel rum shake, and a chocolate bacon bourbon special! Are you a wine drinker only? Vines Wine Bar serves premium chocolates paired with wine, a delectable combination!

As expected, guests can look forward to the most divine chocolate desserts, exquisitely presented, each and every night!   What can be better than finishing off your meal with a bittersweet chocolate mousse with caramel cream and milk chocolate crunch? Or chocolate tiramisu, mascarpone cream with espresso gelato!  Personally, my mouth is already watering for the moist chocolate cake with raspberry crème brulee and bittersweet chocolate mousse…with a tall cold glass of milk on the side!  Yum!

Lastly, bring your chocolate experience home with you by learning how to make your own treats at one of the chocolate cooking demos.  Guests will get expert tips from the onboard pastry chef with recipes prepared by Norman Love. Chocolate Journeys will premiere on Regal Princess in November 2014 and roll out to all Princess ships by January 1, 2015.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Norwegian Cruise Lines Adds An All-Inclusive Package

Cruising has always been pretty close to an all-inclusive vacation experience with accommodations, food, and entertainment all incorporated in the cruise fare. Imagine how convenient it would be if a cruise was truly comprehensive and you could step onboard knowing your credit card would not be charged another cent!  Well, for a limited time only, Norwegian Cruise Line will offer an all-inclusive package on all 2015 sailings (a few exclusions apply) for new reservations made from August 4th through August 29th!

So exactly what is offered in the new Norwegian Cruise Line all-inclusive package, how much does it cost, and will guests find it worth their while?  The price of the all–inclusive package added to a 7-night cruise is $899 per person but guests then receives 10% off the cruise fare! For those booking the more costly cabins such as mini suites, suites and the Haven, this savings may actually make up a good portion of the all-inclusive package price!  It also includes gratuities, which is something you would likely pay anyway, so it’s nice to get that expense out of the way.

In addition, the package includes the Ultimate Dining package, something that I’m a big fan of!  The dining package gives guests the opportunity to try a different specialty restaurant each night of their cruise, an experience you don’t want to miss!  Cagney’s Steakhouse, the French La Bistro, the Italian trattoria…the choices vary by ship but they’re all delicious!

The new all-inclusive package also adds the Ultimate Beverage package (unlimited mixed drinks, beer, wine and soda) to your cruise experience.  Depending on how much you actually drink will determine if this is worth having.  For many it is, but for someone that never has more than a glass of wine at dinner and maybe a cocktail later in the evening, it wouldn’t  provide much value.

A shore excursion credit of $200 per person, a 250-minute Internet package per person, 20 photos of any size, chocolate-covered strawberries, a bottle of wine, one bingo session and six bottles of water are also part of the all-inclusive package.  That’s all good!

The new all-inclusive package is priced by the number of days, and is available for all stateroom categories. For cruises from three to five days, the shore excursion credit is $100 per person; and for sailings from 9-14 days, the package includes 12 bottles of water. Remember, this is a limited time only offer, but I suppose if enough people find it advantageous, Norwegian Cruise Line would consider extending it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Norwegian Cruise Line Debuts Dining Enhancements

Cruise ship dining has changed considerably in the last 10 years.  Passengers have so many wonderful options when it comes to the dining venues and gastronomy available onboard: French, Italian, Asian, Brazilian, steakhouses, sushi bars and seafood restaurants are all represented.  Conversely, with the addition of all these great choices which by the way, require a dining surcharge, many guests have returned from their cruise saying that the food served in the main dining rooms at no additional charge is not what it should be!

Whether or not this was a “hot topic” on Norwegian Cruise Line’s post cruise guest satisfaction surveys, guests sailing with NCL this summer and beyond can look forward to more choices in their ship’s complimentary dining venues. New regionally focused dinner menus will debut, meaning choices will vary by ship itinerary and will change each evening of the sailing. Popular traditional dishes (think prime rib or rack of lamb) will share the menu with current dining trends and exciting new dishes ( care to try mojito shrimp ceviche?). There will also be more seafood options available such as grouper, barramundi, sushi and crab dishes.  In addition, the menus will include a wine pairing recommendation and anecdotal culinary history.

For cruising foodies there’s even more to get excited over! Norwegian Cruise Line will host a “Chocoholic Night” one evening per cruise, featuring specialty chocolate-based desserts in each restaurant!  Just reading about some of the new offerings has my mouth watering and stomach growling!  Guests can indulge on warm chocolate lava cake, rich chocolate Nutella pot de crème or scrumptious white chocolate strawberry mousse…how divine!

Another enhancement sure to be well received is the ability Norwegian Cruise Line guests will have to make reservations for complimentary dining rooms up to 90 days prior to the cruise date.  Long wait times at these dining venues are a complaint that we as travel agents have been hearing quite a bit of lately.  In keeping with the Freestyle philosophy, guests now have a choice.  They can make a reservation a 5:30 pm, 6:30 pm, 7:30 pm or 8:30 pm or just show up whenever.

These changes will be available on most of Norwegian’s fleet by July 31, and onboard the Jade, Spirit, Sky and Pride of America by early 2015.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Look At Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas

For many, many years people from the Northeast have enjoyed cruising on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas from Cape Liberty, New Jersey.  Ready for a change, those same travelers rejoiced when it was announced that the brand new Quantum of the Seas would replace the Explorer in November of 2014…only to bemoan her redeployment to Singapore in early 2015. However, all is not lost because after the shuffling of ships was completed, it was announced that Liberty of the Seas would homeport in Cape Liberty from May 2015 through October 2015!

Those that have cruised on the Explorer of the Seas will feel instantly “at home” on Liberty of the Seas.  It’s like the Explorer on steroids!  Built in 2007, the Liberty of the Seas includes all the amenities that debuted with the Freedom-class and was then refitted with numerous Oasis-class features during a 2011 stint in dry-dock. The end result is an amazing ship that cruisers of all ages will look forward to experiencing!

Liberty of the Seas offers energetic cruisers lots of different ways to keep active! There are mountains to climb (the iconic Royal Caribbean rock-climbing wall), oceans to conquer (in the form of a Flow Rider surf simulator) and battles to fight (check out the full-sized boxing ring for a high intensity cardio workout)!  Work up a sweat on the full-sized basketball court, or chill out by gracefully gliding across the ice-skating rink.  Be sure to leave time for a family tournament of mini-golf!

There are 4 pools on the Liberty, including the Solarium, an adults-only retreat, as well as the H2O Zone water park!  Little cruisers will have a splashing good time running through the Zone’s interactive water geysers and everyone knows that happy kids equals happy parents! A huge video screen has been installed in the main pool area showing movies in the evenings and music videos and such throughout the day.  And speaking of movies, there’s an indoor 3D theater that the whole family can enjoy!

“Saturday Night Fever: The Musical”, which premiered in the West End at the London Palladium in 1998, tops the list of Broadway caliber entertainment!  Fans of the original movie will find that Liberty of the Seas' version includes the same wonderful cast of characters and one show-stopping song after another! It won’t take longer than the intro number to have guests clapping their hands and dancing in the aisle!

Through the Royal Caribbean and DreamWorks affiliation, kids can look forward to movies and themed activities featuring characters from Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, and more! There are meals, parades, photo ops, Meet & Greets, and lots of other fun programs that the whole family will find enjoyable!

Like all Royal Caribbean ships, there are plenty of dining options aboard the Liberty of the Seas.  Aside from the Main Dining Rooms and the Windjammer Café, guests may choose to dine in Jade (sushi and Asian fusion), Sorrento’s Pizza, the Café Promenade, Johnny Rockets, Chops Grille (steakhouse) and Portofino (Italian cuisine). There’s even a gourmet cupcake bakery!

So Northeast cruisers, exult!  Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas is coming soon to Cape Liberty, New Jersey. But don’t procrastinate, because she will be homeporting here limited time only, and you don’t want to miss the chance to enjoy this magnificent ship!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cruising to Greece: Mykonos

Thus far we’ve stopped in Athens, Rhodes and Santorini on our cruise to the Greek Islands. This week we finish up our voyage with a closer look at the picturesque fishing-village island of Mykonos. The island is located almost in the center of the Cyclades complex in the Aegean Sea and a prettier island would be difficult to find.  All over Mykonos you will see what is referred to as typical Cycladic cubist style of architecture… whitewashed cube-like buildings lodged closely together to form a kind of haphazard labyrinth of narrow alley ways and streets.  What’s the best way to spend your time here?  Just get lost!

Other than the white architecture, the most recognizable feature of Mykonos is the windmills. They started to build them in the 16th century to grind the agricultural harvests by harnessing the famous Mykonos wind for power. Sea-going vessels would stop to pick up the milled flour for transport all over the eastern Mediterranean. Although there were originally sixteen in number only a handful of windmills remain today and they are probably the most photographed object on the island…except for maybe Petros!

Petros the pelican is the mascot of the island of Mykonos.  You can get a glimpse of him as it strolls at an unhurried pace through the city's alleyways, although he is quite fond of the harbor area. Legend has it that more than 40 years ago an island fisherman stumbled upon a wounded pelican. He was so moved by the pelican's plight that he decided to take care of him until he regained his strength.  Yet when he was healthy enough to be set free the pelican did not leave the island, instead deciding to make Mykonos his home. (The original Petros passed away but his loss was so deeply mourned by the people of Mykonos that they introduced a substitute and the tradition continues).

Take some time to stroll to Little Venice, located on the western edge of the island, where colorful houses were built by the sea, their balconies hanging over the water. During the 16th and 17th century pirating was common and it is believed this area was used for the necessary quick loading and unloading of goods. Today it’s the perfect spot to stop for lunch or a drink while taking in the gorgeous views.

If you’d rather lounge in the sun and sand, the most famous beach in Mykonos is Paradise Beach, located 4 miles southeast of the town. The beach has facilities, and you can rent chairs and umbrellas. Most of the time, the sea is tranquil. You can get to Paradise Beach by the local bus or by taxi.

Greek mythology buffs and archeology enthusiasts might want to consider a half-day trip from Mykonos to Delos (either independently or as a ship excursion). Delos is said to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Its history goes back to 3000 BC and was actually the largest city in the world at one point.  Today the entire island is a UNESCO site and the remains are in excellent condition You don't necessarily need a guide if you do your own research before visiting, however when I visited I found a guide to be helpful.

Thanks for cruising to Greece with me!

Monday, July 07, 2014

Cruising to Greece: A Day in Santorini

The last few weeks I’ve written about cruising to Greece covering the archeologically rich city Athens and the medieval port of Rhodes.  If your Mediterranean cruise includes Santorini, it’s an entirely different experience. Who doesn’t recognize the pastel colored buildings clinging to steep cliffs, along with whitewashed churches with bright blue domed roofs as the landscape of Santorini? When you arrive by cruise ship that is exactly the sight that greets you!

Sitting high on the cliffs is Fira, the capital of Santorini. From where the cruise ships disembark guests, there are several ways to proceed to town.  If you are fit and energetic you may walk all the way to the top or you can even have a donkey take you up there. In my opinion, the most sensible way to reach Fira is to be whisked up by the modern cable car.  (A word to the wise…when its time to return to the ship, if you plan on taking the cable car back down, leave yourself plenty of time!  If there are multiple ships in port the line can be very long, and tenders do not wait for guests that dawdle).

Fira is Santorini's busiest and most commercial town. The streets are filled with all kind of shops, especially jewelry shops, souvenir shops, galleries, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. On the southern edge of town is the Museum of Prehistoric Thira (not to be confused with the Archaeological Museum of Santorini). It houses amazing Bronze Age objects from the buried town of Akrotiri and other ancient settlements on the island of Santorini. It is well worth seeing if you have an hour to spare and a must see if you plan to visit the Akrotiri excavation site itself.

Akrotiri and its excavation site is about 7 miles from Fira and can be reached by bus or taxi. The ancient city was destroyed after the tremendous volcanic eruption about 3600 years ago. Similar to Pompeii, the volcanic debris that was deposited on the surface of the island covered the whole settlement, protecting it from the natural elements. Excavations began in 1967 and thus far only the southern tip of a large town has been uncovered. It has revealed complexes of multi-level buildings, streets and squares, with remains of walls still standing. My visit was fascinating and if you are interested in archeology, I recommend you take the time to visit here.

To many, Oia, situated on the northernmost part of the island, is the most beautiful village visited on a Greek Island cruise. White buildings, ochre doors, cobalt roofs and, fuchsia blooms- it’s no wonder it one of the most photographed village in the world!  There are basically two streets: one with traffic, and a lovely inland pedestrian lane, paved with marble and lined with shops, restaurants, and bars. Exploring the pathways deeper into the village is a lovely way to spend your time. Be sure to leave some time to stop for lunch at one of the tavernas that offer an awe-inspiring view of the caldera and the Aegean Sea!

The Santorini Santo winery has to have the most amazing view of any winery in the world making it worth a visit even if you’re not a wine lover! Should you decide to imbibe, they have a nice selection of local wine that you can order by the glass, bottle or as a wine ‘flight’ which give you the option of trying several different wines. You may also order platters of meat, cheese, olives, tomatoes and breadsticks…a perfect Mediterranean snack, or if you’re lucky enough to be in port overnight, the perfect spot on the island to watch the famous Santorini sunset!

Next time, as we continue to cruise around Greece we will stop in Mykonos…stay tuned!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Cruising to Greece: Rhodes

In our first installment of Cruising to Greece we took a look at the top sites of Athens.  Today, we journey to Rhodes, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, and the largest of the Dodecanese Island complex. It is one of the most beautiful Greek islands, with a landscape of fertile plains, low hills, and green forests. Rhodes is a port of call on many Eastern Mediterranean and Greece Island cruise itineraries and a full day in port presents a lot of options for exploring the island.

Hiring a taxi for a half or full day island tour is a great way to see as much of the island as possible. Cabs can be hired when you walk off the ship or can be booked online ahead of time.  You then have the freedom to set our own agenda (perfect for those that prefer to research a destination ahead of time) or follow one that the driver suggests (they do this day in and day out, so you’ll be sure to see all the island highlights possible in your allotted time).  Full day tours will usually include Old Town, a visit to the Grand Masters Palace, the Acropolis of Rhodes, the village and Acropolis of Lindos, the Valley of the Butterflies, a winery stop as well as a lunch break at a lovely restaurant on the Mediterranean Sea.

Many cruisers to Greece choose to spend their day on the island of Rhodes by renting a car or taking a taxi directly to Lindos. Located on the eastern shores of Rhodes, Lindos is a whitewashed labyrinth of little alleyways which was deliberately designed to confuse pirates.  Today it’s a lovely place to meander, with quaint shops and pretty cafes!  The climb from the village of Líndos up to its famous Acropolis can be quite exerting on a hot day, but its so worth the journey! (An alternative is to ride a donkey to the top; the station is by the main square and the cost is about 5 Euros). At the foot of the steps leading to the acropolis there’s a relief of a Trireme (ancient Greek warship) carved into the rock which dates back to 180 BC! Further up leads to the Acropolis gate with its ruins of sanctuaries, temples, and public buildings all built by the Knights of St John. Continue a bit higher to reach the stately remains of the 300 BC Doric Temple of Athena Lindia. Apart from the historical significance of the Acropolis, the view from the top is breathtaking…you can see the whole city of Lindos as well as the surrounding bays!

Of course, an entire day can be spent by simply exploring Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  The medieval fortress-like buildings, walls, gates, narrow passages, minarets, old quarters, fountains, and lively squares make it feel like you have stepped back in time. The best place to start your tour is at the top… the top of city walls, that is! That’s the perfect spot to snap photos of the rooftops, fortifications and the moat. Then begin strolling the down the Street of the Knights, where many of the Inns of the crusading Order of the Knights of St John were based. It is one of the most complete medieval streets in the world, and its buildings of chiseled sandstone form one uninterrupted facade. The Palace of the Grand Master and Archaeological Museum are the two most popular attractions and are worth a visit. There is of course, plenty of shopping in Old Town and many lovely places to stop for lunch or a cold drink.

Rhodes, a port of call on many Mediterranean cruises,  has something for everybody; shoppers, beach-goers, history lovers and archaeology buffs! So whatever you choose to do with your day in Rhodes, I guarantee it will be memorable! Next stop…Santorini.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Cruising to Greece; First Stop Athens

The Greek islands are full of important cultural sites, breathtaking landscapes, idyllic beaches, and quaint villages of whitewashed buildings and cobblestone paths.  Its clear to see why its one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world!  Since Greece is made up of clusters of inhabited islands, there’s no better way to explore the region than by cruising to Greece!
 Lets take a closer look at Athens, the capital of Greece and one of the world’s oldest cities.  When you cruise to Athens you actually dock in Piraeus, about a half hour from the main part of Athens, a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis with a population of over 3 million! Many cruise lines offer a shuttle to the heart of downtown, but subways and busses also connect the port to the city center.  Once you get to the heart of the city, there are certain sites that should be a “must-see” on everyone’s itinerary.

The Acropolis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, is known as the cradle of civilization around the globe. In ancient times, it was the greatest sanctuary of Athens, dedicated to the patron goddess Athena. The Parthenon (the main temple), the monumental entrance called the Propylaea, the temple of Athena Nike and the Erechtheion (easily identified by the six draped female figures that support the entablature) are four masterpieces of classical Greek architecture that shouldn’t be missed.

If time permits, I highly recommend a visit to the Acropolis Museum. The juxtaposition of antiques and ancient artifacts displayed in a beautifully spacious modern glass building is striking! There is good signage and information in English, and an in-house archeologist is on hand to answer any questions you may have.

Just below the Acropolis is the Plaka district, a historic area filled with shops and restaurants. The shops are a mix of the tacky tourist items as well as jewelry, leather, furs and art. If you’re ready to break for lunch there are some really good, traditional, restaurants serving authentic food such as spanakopita, gyros, moussaka, and souvlaki.

 The Ancient Agora was the commercial, social and political heart of Athens during ancient times.  Excavation of the area revealed a large number of temples, stoas, altars and even a concert hall. Today two large buildings are intact: the Hephaisteion - the best-preserved temple in Greece, and the Stoa of Attalos, which is now, home to another wonderful museum. The rest of the Agora looks like a large park with ruins of ancient buildings visible all around.

The Temple of Olympus Zeus is known as the largest temple in Greece. The massive ancient complex took nearly seven centuries to complete. The temple stands today simply as a remnant of Greek history, and even though only 15 out of 105 huge columns remain, it is still worth seeing.

Plateia Syntagmatos (Constitution Square) is the central square of the city, near the Parliament and many upscale hotels. The most famous aspect of Syntagma is the 11 am changing of the guards by the Evzones in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The uniforms worn by the guards are quite unique, with the pleated kilt or fustanella and pom-pom decorated footwear!

A full day in Athens is enough to see all of the above sites with ample time for shopping and lunch. Watch for our next installment of “Cruising to Greece” where we’ll talk about  Rhodes.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Partying in Rio with Azamara Cruises

The Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is a world famous 5-day celebration, the biggest carnival in the world, with two million people per day on the streets! The official start date is on the Friday before Ash Wednesday, and it finishes on Fat Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. If you have ever considered cruising to South America, what better time to do so than the Azamara12-night Rio Carnival voyage on February 7, 2015.

The Rio Carnival is most known for its glorious Samba Parades. Held every year in the Sambodromo, it is the focal point of the carnival. There are four Samba Parades, held on all four nights of the carnival. The two big performances are on Carnival Sunday and Monday when the premier Samba Schools of the city compete against each other for the title of Champion. It is a stupendous show full of outstanding choreography, dazzling and sexy costumes, irresistible music and unimaginable props and floats. Tickets are very hard to get, but not for you!  If you book the Azamara 12-night Rio Carnival voyage, you will have the opportunity to purchase box seats or grandstand seats in the Sambodromo and be a part of this gargantuan event!

But don’t be confused into thinking that a samba school is actually a dance school; rather, its a musical organization. A typical samba school can have thousands of members, although only the most talented get the chance to “do their thing” in the big parade. These performers include singers, musicians, and dancers.  Other members are the bearers of the flags, banners and puppets. The rest of the school participates behind the scenes and are in charge of the creation of costumes, floats, props and whatever else is needed for the extravaganza.

In Rio de Janeiro, Carnival has been around since the mid 19th century, but in the 1920’s this unique music called Samba was incorporated. It’s an urban music style that arose in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and is a mix of influences from Europe, Africa and South America. Of all Brazilian music styles, Samba is undoubtedly the best known and has become a symbol of the Brazilian nation and its people.

Aside from the days you spend in Rio, the Azamara Journey’s itinerary also includes Montevideo, Uruguay, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Punta del Este, Uruguay, and Buzios, Brazil.  Although Carnival in Rio will undoubtedly be the highlight of your vacation, this is a wonderful cruise to discover the many cultural, natural and architectural wonders of South America!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Alaska Shore Excursions Worth Splurging On

Nothing is as amazing as an Alaska cruise vacation.  Add a spectacular shore excursion or two and you can make it the trip of a lifetime!  I’m talking about an expedition that cannot be replicated on other itineraries and is synonymous with the “real Alaska” experience. Here are a few suggestions well worth splurging on:


One of the most scenic excursions you can take out of Ketchikan is a floatplane tour to Misty Fjords.  The area is part of a vast coastal rain forest and cloud-shrouded monument, hence, its name. The best way to fully appreciate the dramatic beauty of land is from above.  Stunning waterfalls, steep fjords and rock walls jutting 3000 feet straight out of the ocean mark the region. This is a great area for wildlife viewing. Both brown and black bears, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, moose, and wolves roam the land while sea lions, harbor seals, killer whales, and porpoises share the waters. Most tours include an exhilarating water landing which gives you the opportunity to step out on to the plane's floats, where you can delight in the scenery and snap some photos that will make your friends drool with envy!

If you ever sat on the edge of your sofa engrossed in an episode of Discovery Channel's award-winning TV series Deadliest Catch, this is the excursion for you! Set out on the Aleutian Ballad crab boat, the only genuine Bering Sea crab fishing vessel licensed to carry leisure passengers.  It was actually a part of season two of the show, (no worries, the boat has been completely remodeled to provide for guests’ comfort and safety)! Be prepared with your camera as the crew hauls up 700 lb. crab pots full of Alaska King crabs, octopus, prawns and sharks, just to name a few, that are placed in the live tank on-deck before being released back into the wild. If you are brave enough you can try your hand at holding one yourself for the perfect photo to share when you get home!

When you cruise between July and early August you have the chance to experience black bears up close and personal! Just hop in a floatplane and fly along the Tongass National Forest to Anan Creek. Anan Creek supports one of the largest salmon runs in Southeast Alaska, and the bears like to congregate at its big, beautiful waterfall. To make viewing and picture taking safe and comfortable, the Forest Service has constructed an observatory near the falls.  Being able to observe these mighty creatures scooping up and feeding on salmon in their natural environment is certainly a site to behold!


 I bet you didn’t know that the Alaska “state sport” is dog mushing.  Really! So what better way to experience the real Alaska than dog sledding on a remote glacier? Of course you must first get to the dog camp.  No taxi can make the trip, but that’s ok because this excursion includes a helicopter ride! After a kennel tour and getting to know the dogs you can tuck yourself into a cozy, warm sled and go for the ride of your life! Or, if you think you can handle it, ride on the sled as the musher, standing on the runners with a team of huskies dashing through the snow.

A ride on the White Pass Railway is one of the most scenic train rides in the world and a must-do excursion when in Skagway! This narrow-gauge railroad route was built during the gold-rush era and cab be quite the “white knuckle” ride as the train chugs along hugging sheer granite walls, crossing glacial rivers, passes rushing waterfalls, and traverses cavernous gorges! Now imagine taking the experience “up a notch” by disembarking the train at Glacier Station and continuing on with a wilderness snowshoe trek through a magnificent, snow blanketed, sub-alpine rainforest valley. This spectacular trail winds along the raging Skagway River and toward a smaller valley containing the Laughton Glacier.


The Juneau Ice field, much of which is contained within the Tongass National Forest,  is home to 40 large glaciers including Mendenhall Glacier and Taku Glacier, as well as 100 smaller ones. Although not for the faint of heart, helicopter companies offer exhilarating excursions that give an aerial view of spectacular rock formations, rainforests, glaciers, icefalls, ice spires, and vibrant-blue crevasses of the Ice field.  

Upon reaching a destination glacier, the pilot/guide will shut down the helicopter and escort guests on an informative, relaxing walk along the glacier’s surface. For those that want to try something a bit more exerting, some tour companies replace the leisurely glacier stroll with a 2-3 mile ice trek. Guides will teach you the proper use of the mountaineering gear so that the remote areas of the glacier can be accessed. All you need to bring is a camera, and a craving for adventure!  Now while all this is very cool, if you’re thinking about this excursion, don’t put it off… global warming is causing the glaciers to rapidly recede and you owe it to yourself to experience them in all their magnificent glory!

Be daring…be adventurous…be courageous! Book one of these outrageous shore excursions and make your Alaska cruise vacation a once in a lifetime event!

For more information on Alaska Cruises and shore excursions, visit our new website at

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Oceania Cruises Gives Us A Taste Of The World

Without a doubt, for me, one of the most satisfying aspects of traveling is eating! I’m a huge fan of tasting the food from every country I visit.  After all, if you don’t try the local specialties you lose a chance to truly explore the country and it’s culture! Well, it seems like Oceania Cruises feels the same way, confirmed by the introduction of the new and exciting “Taste of the World” menu!

“Taste of the World” is an option guests may select on the lunch menu served in the Grand Dining Room or the Terrace Café.  Each plate consisting of six or seven beautifully presented tastings representing the cuisine of one of thirteen countries. Guests may order the plate as their entrée or as an appetizer to share with their tablemates.

Traditional British cuisine is substantial, yet simple and wholesome. The plate that represents English cuisine consists of portions of salmon cake with tartar sauce, roast beef with coleslaw, soft eggs with potato salad, traditional fish and chips, honey & mustard pickled vegetables, classic Yorkshire pudding and minced beef and onion pie.

A blend of Chinese, Arawak Indian, French, Indian, British, African, and Spanish cuisines is what makes Caribbean food so unique.  The Caribbean plate created by the Oceania chefs is made up of jerk chicken with dirty rice, avocado & pineapple salad with passion fruit vinaigrette, crab cake with fiery poblano aioli, tart lemon marinated fruit salad, dhal puri flat bread and acras de morue and sweet potatoes.

The Provence region includes the Rhône and Durance valleys; highly fertile agricultural areas which are considered to be the garden of France. Fish and shellfish are also eaten in abundance. Oceania chefs represent the region with a plate of salted cod aioli, artichokes barigoule, chicken liver pate with aubergine in vinegar, spicy Nice black olive tapenade, fried barbajuan with spinach and ricotta stuffing, traditional salad nicoise with tuna and green olive fougasse.

The cuisine aboard the Oceania ships is amongst the finest at sea, yet their chefs have found yet another way to make it even more exciting. “Tastes of the World” gives Oceania cruisers the opportunity to immerse themselves more deeply into the culture of the region they are visiting through this new gastronomic experience.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Royal Caribbean Ships Certified as “Autism Friendly”

Autism on the Seas is an organization that arranges and staffs cruise and land resort vacations for families with special needs children including autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and other developmental impairments. Autism on the Seas recently awarded Royal Caribbean ""autism-friendly"" certification, which makes it the first cruise line to receive this distinction.

So, what does this mean to a family with an autistic child that books their next cruise vacation with Royal Caribbean? It means that these families can be confident that all Royal Caribbean ships have autism friendly products and services that will help accommodate family members with autism.  Families will appreciate the priority check-in, boarding and departure, special dietary accommodations, Adventure Ocean Youth Program specialized grouping and Adventure Ocean toilet-trained policy exception.

Right now Royal Caribbean holds “bronze” level certification, but my late this year the cruise line hopes to be upped to “silver”. “Silver” status ensures that Adventure Ocean youth staff will have received basic awareness training in autism and other developmental disabilities Features that are being added include autism friendly movies when there are a least five children with autism onboard.  This means that films will be shown in a low-lit / low-volume environment in which guests can freely talk and get up and walk around during the showing. The cruise line looks forward to making appropriate toys available for lending as well as scheduled activities for children of all abilities. Written or visual guides will be made available to help families better prepare for the cruise experience.

Accommodating the needs of the growing and underserved autism community is a defining moment in the travel industry. Royal Caribbean’s initiative to accommodate this population should be commended, as it will open the door towards filling the gap for special needs families looking for a vacation with consideration made for their wide range of unique requirements.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Celebrity Cruises Visits Iceland

Exotic lands…mystical cities…Celebrity Cruise Line has certainly been putting together some of interesting land-sea vacation packages!   The Celebrity Constellation’s “Journey to Three Continents” gave travelers the opportunity to experience an African safari before cruising the Black Sea.  The newest pre-cruise escapade takes adventurous travelers to “The Land of Fire and Ice”… Iceland! Three nights are spent in the capital city of Reykjavik, the perfect home base for the adventure that follows!

More than half of Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants call Reykjavik home, yet a mere twenty-minute drive from the city center takes you into the isolation of Iceland's spectacular landscape; striking features of boiling mud pools, gushing geysers, lava and hot springs. The Golden Circle Tour, one of three  excursions that are included by Celebrity, takes participants to these Thingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), the Gullfoss Waterfall, and the geothermal active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers of Geysir and Strokkur.

Another guided tour visits the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.  Believe it or not, the spa was accidentally formed by run-off from a power plant, which pumps up the geothermally heated water from a full mile below the surface. People began bathe in the unique water and apply the silica mud to their skin. Conditions such as psoriasis were greatly improved from the mud application.  Those who oversee Blue Lagoon wisely saw opportunity in that, and began developing different spa services and products. Today the Blue Lagoon is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland!

However for many, the biggest draw of this trip may well be the Northern Lights, the eerie shimmering curtain of glowing colors, undulating across the night sky! Iceland’s location, just below the Arctic Circle, is a prime location for viewing this phenomenal masterpiece. Due to the longer periods of darkness and the magnetic field of Iceland’s northern latitude, one can see Auroral activity on a average 100 nights a year!

This amazing 3-night pre-cruise package can be added to the 12-night Northern Europe itinerary aboard the Celebrity Infinity cruise on 10/1/14 or the 14-night Canary Island itinerary aboard the Celebrity Eclipse cruise departing on 10/5/14."

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Bermuda: Off the Beaten Path

With its blue sky, pink sand, and azure water, its obvious why there are so many cruise ships lined up at Kings Wharf, Bermuda between April and October!  Whether you’re cruising to Bermuda for the first time this year, or returning yet again, we’d like to suggest some places that will take you off the beaten path, allowing you to discover a different side of Bermuda.

Spittal Pond is a national park located in Smiths Parish. This 64-acre reserve, which stretches along the coast, provides a diversity of habitats having several freshwater ponds with surrounding marsh and woodland areas.  It’s Bermuda’s largest bird sanctuary, so remember to bring your binoculars.  Spittal Pond has unique geological features too, such as the checkerboard, a formation of marine limestone with a distinct pattern of cracks. Look for the ""Spanish Rock"", (also known as ""Portuguese Rock"") which carries the initials of a sailor and the date 1543! The initials are the earliest evidence of human presence on the island.  It is thought that a marooned sailor, while looking out for a ship from the cliff top, carved the rock.  Today the spot is still offers the perfect vantage point for some views!  The reserve can be easily explored by following the well-marked loop trail that starts at the parking area.

Cricket is the most popular sport on the Bermuda and there’s no better way to immerse oneself in the island’s culture than attending a match! Although the game play and rules are very different, the basic concept of cricket somewhat resembles that of baseball. Teams bat in successive innings and attempt to score runs, while the opposing team fields and attempts to bring an end to the batting team's innings. Cricket is played during the summer with the season culminating with the Bermuda Club Match. During this two-day holiday the whole of the island turns its attention to the game that opposes teams of each side of the island, the Somerset Cricket Club in the west and the St. George’s Cricket Club in the east.

Tom Moore’s Jungle (also called The Walsingham Nature Reserve) is found on the North East of Harrington Sound in Hamilton Parish. It was named after Thomas Moore, an Irish poet, who in 1844 wrote some of his famous works here, supposedly while resting under a calabash tree. The jungle, often described as a “time traveling experience”, transports you back to the 1500’s when Bermuda was an uninhabitable, uncharted piece of land. The most convenient entrance to the jungle is a dirt path to the left of the entrance to Tom Moore’s Tavern. The entire jungle can be accessed by one of two main trails. There’s a lovely trail that sticks closer to the shore, and a more difficult wooded trail with multiple tributaries that winds throughout the inland parts of the reserve.  Under the dense cover of trees hikers will pass through mangroves, forests and pools of water. There are amazing caves all throughout the walk, one viewable from a wooden deck. There is a hard to find swimming grotto with clearly defined steps leading to the water, but remember you are entering at your own risk.

Horseback riding is a beautiful way to experience Bermuda.  Horses cannot be hired and ridden without supervision, as Bermuda has very strict laws regarding horseback riding in public areas, however there are several equine facilities available for group trail rides. No riding experience is necessary, just a wish to experience the beauty of Bermuda on horseback.  The stables offer group horseback riding along the historic railway trail, through quaint villages and on the dunes of the south shore beaches. Trail guides share a wealth of information about Bermuda peppered with entertaining folk tales, making it a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

 So if you’re cruising to Bermuda this summer, and looking for something other than another blissful day at Horseshoe Bay, we hope you find these suggestions helpful."