Monday, March 30, 2015

Enhancements To The Norwegian Star

The Norwegian Star recently returned from a two-week dry dock where she received a number of enhancements including new dining and entertainment venues. If you’ll be onboard for one of her summer European sailings, there’s a lot for you to look forward to!

A while back when I was writing about the Norwegian Escape I mentioned the Norwegian Cruise Line and Jimmy Buffet partnership. Well, the fleets first Five 0’Clock Somewhere Bar will actually debut aboard the Norwegian Star. I can’t think of a better place to be sipping margaritas!

The Star has also been retrofitted with one of my favorite places, O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill. O’Sheehan’s is a 24-hour complimentary restaurant that serves up local traditional pub fare. I don’t know what I enjoy more; the pot pie or the fish and chips.

Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian-style steakhouse, was relocated and Sugarcane Mojito Bar, first introduced on Norwegian Getaway, was added next door. The cover charge was removed from Ginza, the Asian fusion restaurant. There will be some items that will have a nominal charge, but that’s usually the case with sushi. Japanese Hot Rock Ishiyak is a new addition to the menu and will also have a small charge.

Digital signage, first introduced on Norwegian Breakaway, has also been added to the Star. I love this technology! The interactive touch screen signs allow guests to get directions and reserve dining and shore excursions simply with a scan of their stateroom key.

Norwegian Star will spend her summer season sailing from Copenhagen with a number of 7 to 14-day itineraries through the Baltic Capitals and Norwegian fjords.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Alaska Cruise or Cruise Tour?

Considering a cruise vacation to Alaska this year? If so, will a cruise cover all you’ve dreamed about seeing, or might you be better off looking into an Alaska cruise tour? Not sure of the difference? Let me explain.

Alaska cruises that are round trip to/from the same port (Seattle or Vancouver) are referred to as Inside Passage Cruises. For a U.S. resident it is often found that it is cheaper to fly to Seattle than it is to Vancouver, and that is one  reason why many of the Alaska cruises now originate from there. However scenic transfers from Seattle to Vancouver are available via rail, bus, shuttle transfer or rental car. All Inside Passage cruises tend to explore the same southeastern ports of Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Sitka. They are a great way to see Alaska’s coastal mountains, glaciers, marine wildlife, and towns.

The cruise tour is a fully escorted tour of interior destinations before or after the cruise. The cruise portion is one-way between Vancouver and either Whittier or Seward, near Anchorage. It is set up this way in order to give the cruiser multiple options for adding days before or after the cruise portion in order to explore interior Alaska. Cruise tours are available in any number of different lengths, but the most common range from 10-14 nights, all including the 7 nights aboard the cruise ship. If you want to experience the Northern Lights at Fairbanks or see the towering heights of Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park, the cruise tour option is for you.

A cruise that takes you into the United States' ""Last Frontier"" is a must-do cruise! Whether it be a 7-night Inside Passage cruise or a 14-night cruise tour, there is no right or wrong way to cruise to Alaska. Tailor your Alaska cruise vacation to make it the perfect trip for you.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cruise Line Entertainment Takes a Bow

Living within an hour drive of New York City, I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy some of the world’s finest entertainment at venues like Carnegie Hall, Radio City and Lincoln Center. Then of course, there’s the Great White Way; who would dispute that Broadway theatrical productions are the best in the world? So, is it possible for a person who’s experienced the top echelon of music and theater to be roused by cruise ship entertainment?   Absolutely!

Cruise ship entertainment has come a long way from the glitzy and glamorous musical reviews of the past! Lavish set design, special effects, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems and talented casts add up to professional performances that are as good as those found in New York and Las Vegas. Here are just a few examples:

Royal Caribbean’s Broadway at Sea features performances of some of the world's most famous musicals. Cats (Oasis of the Seas), Chicago: The Musical (Allure of the Seas) and Saturday Night Fever (Liberty of the Seas) are available to passengers at no extra charge. I recently saw Mama Mia on Quantum of the Seas and felt it was every bit as good as the version I saw on Broadway! During the finale there wasn’t a guest in the theater that wasn’t out of their seat singing and dancing!

Norwegian Cruise Line does Broadway productions too. On Norwegian Breakaway, you can see Rock of Ages, a five-time Tony® Award-nominated musical that relives the music of the 1980s. Legally Blonde the Musical, a shortened version of the off-Broadway production, can be seen on the Norwegian Getaway. And if you have never seen the totally outrageous antics of Blue Man Group in Las Vegas or N.Y.C., you can catch them on the Norwegian Epic.

The Walt Disney Company is a master of entertainment so it shouldn't be a surprise that Disney Cruise Line stages amazing shows appropriate for the entire family! Onboard the Disney Fantasy, Disney's Aladdin—A Musical Spectacular will thrill adults and children alike with its flying carpets, magic lamps, wise-cracking genies, princesses and evil wizards. Disney Dreams - An Enchanted Classic is still running on the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder and it is one of my all- time favorites!

Princess Cruises has just announced a partnership with composer Stephen Schwartz, of Wicked and Pippin fame. He will oversee four musical shows that are scheduled to make their debut on Princess cruise ships in coming years. The first musical to be produced will be called Magic to Do, scheduled to debut aboard the Crown Princess next fall.

Carnival Cruise Line teamed up with renowned comedian and TV personality George Lopez to help select talent for their fleetwide Punchliner Comedy Clubs. Early evening shows are family-friendly but the late night, age 18 and up shows are completely uncensored! And imagine having the unique opportunity to see a band you love rock the ship in a theater venue! That’s what Carnival Live Concert Series is all about! 2015 acts include Styx, Journey, Rascal Flatts, Smokey Robinson and critically acclaimed country group, Little Big Town.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Farewell Splendour of the Seas

Royal Caribbean has recently announced that Splendour of the Seas, which debuted in 1996, will leave the fleet in April 2016. Despite my love for the Royal Promenade on Voyager-class ships, the distinct neighborhoods of the Oasis-class ships, and the glamour and technology of the Quantum of the Seas, Splendour will always and forever be my favorite! It is with great sadness, but warmhearted memories, that I will bid her farewell.

I have cruised aboard the Splendour of the Seas three times. The first time was in 2003; our first family trip to the Mediterranean.   My son was 10 and I planned family-friendly excursions that I hoped would be fun for both adult and child. We enjoyed biking along the 16th century wall that surrounds the city of Lucca, climbed to the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, rode the cable car above Barcelona to Montju├»c Castle, and all agreed that visiting the catacombs in Rome was cool but a bit creepy.

Just as memorable was returning to the ship each afternoon for a round of family mini golf, and munching on the chocolate chip cookies and soft serve ice cream at the Windjammer, even if it might spoil our appetite for dinner. Every evening my husband and I watched our son head off to meet his new friends at Adventure Ocean (what a great group of counselors) leaving us on our own to sip wine while watching those beautiful Mediterranean sunsets!

My family returned to the Mediterranean and the Splendour of the Seas in the summer of 2oo6. This time we visited the Acropolis of Athens, wandered along the cobblestone streets of Mykonos, criss-crossed Venice via gondolas and water taxis and rented a car to tour the island of Rhodes.

Back onboard Royal Caribbean's Splendour we were pleasantly surprised that two crew members remembered us from our previous cruise. Maybe it’s the more intimate size of the ship, or maybe just a particularly warm and friendly staff, but for that week the Splendour felt very much like a home away from home! I remember one afternoon sitting at the pool deck when over the loud speaker an officer (or maybe it was the cruise director) called our attention to some smaller Greek islands we were passing, then read a short excerpt from Homer’s Odyssey. It was quite magical! That was the same cruise that my son won Jackpot Bingo…with a prize large enough to book our next cruise!

My final voyage on the Splendour of the Seas was in 2012, this time a “girlfriend trip”. We shopped till be dropped in Turkey, watched some women getting fish pedicures in Crete (too gross for me, thank you), and tasted the wine made from grapes grown in volcanic soil on the island of Santorini.

Onboard we shared a junior suite situated along the back of the ship that had a huge balcony, perfect for hosting sail away cocktail parties. We dined in the specialty restaurants including the Chef’s Table, which was one of the highlights of our trip! We lingered in the elegant Centrum, listening to music and watching the Ballroom dancers. On sea days we lounged in the lovely solarium, napping, reading and chatting the day away. Another magnificent cruise!

After such wonderful cruise vacations aboard the Splendour of the Sea, how can I not be sad to see her go? And while I know I’ll have other great experiences on other Royal Caribbean ships, the Splendour will always remain near and dear to my heart.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Viking River Cruises Heads Down The Mississippi

Who has not read Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and not dreamt of a trip down the Mississippi? What an adventure! You may remember that he traveled on a homemade raft. It even had a wigwam on it, perfect for escaping the blazing sun or rainy weather. Right in the middle of the wigwam was a framed layer of dirt so he could safely build a fire to keep warm on chilly nights or cook his catch of the day. Not your idea of luxury river cruising? No worries! There is a much better option!

Beginning in 2017 Viking River Cruises, known for its luxury European river cruises, will offer its first North American itineraries. Two new specially built luxury riverboats will embark from docks near the French Quarter in New Orleans for a journey along the Mississippi River to itinerary stops in St. James, East Baton Rouge and West Feliciana parishes, continuing upriver to Memphis, St. Louis; or St. Paul, depending on the season.

Like all Viking cruises, the journey will be enriched by knowledgeable local guides, activities and excursions that will immerse you in the history, culture, and cuisine of all the great cities and towns along the Mississippi River. So sit back, relax, enjoy “Old Man River”, and let the pace of river cruising allow you to take pleasure in the ever-changing scenery.