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.