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!