Friday, February 29, 2008

Norwegian Jade To Call Europe "Home"

With the popularity of cruise travel growing across the Atlantic, we've seen this coming. For the first time in their 41-year history, Norwegian Cruise Line will homeport a ship year-round in Europe. The 2,400 passenger Norwegian Jade will sail a variety of itineraries in Europe year-round, extending its inaugural season in Europe that begins March 30, 2008. The ship will homeport in Europe full time through to the spring of 2010 instead of the current seasonal deployment that was to end in Nov 2008. As part of the year-round deployment, NCL is introducing three new European itineraries: 12-day Eastern Mediterranean sailings and 9-day Canary Islands and Morocco sailings, along with a 14-day Eastern Mediterranean holiday cruise, all roundtrip from Barcelona.

“We’ve seen strong growth in Europe and Freestyle Cruising has been a big success with our European guests,” said Colin Veitch, NCL’s president and CEO. “Norwegian Jade has been very well received in her first season, and our full three-ship fleet in Europe is doing so well that we are now confident in committing a ship year-round to this strongly growing market.”

London-based Travel Trade Gazette reports that NCL expects Norwegian Jade’s two winter itineraries from Barcelona to appeal particularly to the UK market, although healthy interest from other European source markets and North America is anticipated as well. TTG quotes NCL's UK general manager Stephen Park as saying, “This is a massively positive move for the NCL business. Europe is the centre of growth in cruising at the moment and NCL has endorsed that by its commitment to Europe.”

Yes, my fellow Americans, that means more choice for Europe and less for the Caribbean. Norwegian Jade was originally slated to sail from NYC on 10- and 11-night Caribbean cruises beginning in Dec 2008. NCL is offering booked passengers the opportunity to move their reservations to comparable sailings on Norwegian Gem, the cruise line's newest vessel.

Norwegian Jade’s new European sailings from Nov 2008 through April 2009 go on sale March 3, 2008. The balance of the new deployment through to spring 2010 will be opened for sale shortly thereafter. NCL reps are available at 877-474-2960 Mon through Fri from 9 am to 5 pm ET to assist anyone with existing reservations on Norwegian Jade’s transatlantic and New York sailings. Get the full story in CruiseDiva.com's Cruise News.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Oceania Cruises Unveils a New Class in Deluxe Cruising

Oceania Cruises, which launched with a single vessel designed for the now-defunct Renaissance Cruises, is poised to add a new class to their current three-ship fleet of “Regatta-Class” vessels. CruiseDiva.com is pleased to share the first design details of the line's new Oceania-Class Ships.

Scheduled for delivery in 2010 and 2011, the new ships will feature rich, dark woods, Italian marble, lustrous granite, fine wool carpets, and sumptuous leather. The new Oceania-Class has been designed with all the signature elements that guests favor, and the d├ęcor will be imbued with the same warmth and charm for which the Regatta-Class is renowned. Signature public spaces will include Martinis, Horizons, The Patio, and a Grand Staircase that sweeps up both sides of the lobby. A whopping 96% of all accommodations will feature private teak verandas and passengers will have six open seating restaurants in which to dine.

“These new ships are a very personal expression of this brand as many members of our team are personally involved in the selection of furnishings, fabrics, artwork and the thousands of minute details that make the difference between an ordinary ship and a masterpiece,” stated Frank Del Rio, Chairman and CEO of Prestige Cruise Holdings.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Your Cruise: Embarkation Time

A question that appears frequently in my email, as well as on Internet message boards, is "What time should I get to the pier on embarkation day?" While I've seen message board posts advising passengers to arrive at the cruise terminal as early as possible, that's not always the wisest approach.

Why isn't it a good idea to be first in line at, say, 10:30am on embarkation day? Well, for one thing, you may not be able to enter the terminal that early and it could be raining.

For smooth sailing, CruiseDiva.com explains why Timing Is Everything on embarkation day.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cops on Cruise Ships

Is it really necessary to hire cops to police cruise ships? Apparently one California state senator thinks so and has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require cruise ships sailing from that state's ports to have one aboard.

State Senator Joe Simitian (D), author of the bill, reasons, "We've got air marshals on planes with a couple hundred passengers, but we've got no one on board the cruise ships with 10 times the number of passengers." Has the senator ever been on a cruise ship? He apparently doesn't realize that cruise lines have security personnel in place aboard every ship afloat. In any case, state residents will be pleased that the senator won't require them to pony up tax dollars to pay for state law enforcement at sea. Police officers' salaries would be funded by a $1 per day passenger fee. In addition to being peace-keepers, the senator also proposes that officers would serve as "licensed marine engineers to monitor compliance with environmental laws." He's been a big supporter of such environmental laws in the past.

Excuse me, but how dumb is it to expect a policeman to be qualified to handle the duties of a licensed marine engineer? And, what's the jurisdiction here? The senator's California bill is modeled after Alaska's ocean ranger program. Has anyone in Calfornia taken notice of how "successful" the Alaska program has been since that state's voters passed a 2006 initiative to place Coast Guard-licensed environmental engineers aboard cruise ships? Take a look at where it stood last month.

We have one word for this proposal... DUH. Check the LA Times for the details behind this ill-conceived plan and its supporters.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Down Under: Another Cunard Royal Rendevous

Cunard could bring Sydney to a standstill this weekend when its ocean liners Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth 2 call at the city. The Royal Rendezvous follows just one year after a meeeting of QE2 and Queen Mary 2 enthralled the city in February 2007. Queen Victoria will make her maiden call at the city on Saturday, Feb 23. Her famous sister, QE2, arrives the next day. Currently on her farewell World Cruise, QE2 will be making her 29th and final call at the port exactly 30 years after she made her first call there on February 24, 1978.

The highlight of these historic visits will occur at 6:00pm (local time) on Sunday, Feb 24 when both ships will leave their berths (Queen Victoria from Circular Quay and QE2 from Garden Island) and head for a historic sail past at approximately 6:30pm. Each will pass on either side of Fort Denison and will greet each other with a "Whistle Salute," which will be heard over 10 miles away. This sail past will acknowledge the first and last time these two Cunard Queens will meet in Australian waters. QE2 will then make her way to Circular Quay where she will remain until her final departure from Sydney on Monday, Feb 25.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Cruise Travel: Life On Board

Have you ever wondered what it's really like to be a cruise ship crew member? They work hard and are on duty for long hours. Yet, over the years I've read accounts of after-hours hard partying that often clouds what it's like to actually live below the public decks.

For a totally refreshing look into a young American crew member's life aboard NCL America's Pride of America, I'd like you to meet James, who is currently blogging from the ship. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, James has been a world traveler--and cruiser--since childhood. While he's only 20, he exhibits a maturity well beyond his years. James shares life on board, including what he and his crewmates do during their on- and off-duty time, as well as his future aspirations to grow with the cruise industry. In addition to writing the blog, which also includes photos, he also creates video blog entries and responds to readers' questions. I'd always wondered where they took the luggage that is collected on the last night of a cruise. Thanks to James, now I know.

Visit James' blog Life of a Cruise Ship Crew Member and get to know this engaging young crew member. Aloha!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Cruise Travel: What's New on Holland America Line's Website

Holland America Line's cruise experience is just a mouse click away with the line's redesigned website. The expansive video gallery is filled with snapshots, video clips, virtual tours, ebrochures and podcasts that detail nearly all aspects of a Holland America sailing, from accommodations to dining to activities on and off the ships.

"Increasingly we find our guests turn to the Internet to view and plan their Holland America Line cruise," said Richard D. Meadows, CTC, executive vice president, marketing, sales, and guest programs. "We redesigned our site to offer a virtual experience that offers a true flavor of the cruise that awaits our guests, from what their stateroom looks like to activities in port."

A combination of updated graphics, re-organized information, and search tools underscore the details and diversity of the line's worldwide itineraries. An interactive map lets you click on a continent and zoom in on a destination with access to port details, shore excursions, and itineraries. After booking a cruise, you can visit the My Reservations page and reserve shore excursions, check-in online, and even purchase onboard gifts. Take a tour of the Holland America Line web site and, by the time you embark, you can be totally familiar with your ship and ports of call.

For an advance look at Holland America's latest newbuilding, visit the Eurodam Blog.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Launches Black History Month Celebration

A longtime supporter of early childhood development initiatives, Miami-based cruise company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is expanding its efforts to include a support program for teens aging out of local foster care systems. As part of its Black History Month activities, the corporation will launch a program designed to provide foster care children ages 16 and older with critical support services such as education, life skills and employment training, affordable housing, transportation, physical and mental health care, and more. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. is partnering with several non-profits in the effort.

"In most cases, children who grow up in foster care turn 18 and suddenly find themselves with no one to turn to for support, which often leads to them becoming homeless, unemployed, and in some cases, mentally ill," said Horace Hord, Associate Vice President of Global Community Relations, RCCL. "We recognize that South Florida communities have a dire need for support for these teens, and we aim to help make their transition from foster care to becoming productive, happy and healthy adults an easier one."

The program is launching in tandem with the corporation's Black History Month extravaganza this year. On Wed, Feb 20th, 60 Miami-area foster care students ages 16 and older will attend a day of training on life skills, financial literacy, and career opportunities. Barrington Irving, the local youth who recently became the youngest pilot to complete a solo flight around the world, will speak to the teens mid-day, bringing several flight simulators with which the participating teens can experiment. The U.S. Coast Guard also will be on hand to talk with teens about potential career opportunities with the agency.

The evening will feature an extravaganza celebration that kicks off with activities for the teens at Jungle Island in Miami. Open to the public are a light dinner and reception at Jungle Island, where well-known television actress and former foster child Victoria Rowell will sign copies of her book about her life experiences and deliver a keynote address. The reception begins at 6 pm and Rowell's remarks begin at 7 pm.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cruise Travel: Skipping School

Attendance was a very serious matter when I was a school girl. Not that I ever had perfect attendance. Although others did, I was occasionally kept home with things like measles and mumps.

Had you asked my parents if they would take their children on a vacation during the school year, their response would have been an emphatic, NO!" How about if there was an educational nature to the trip? Like, for instance, a cruise to other countries? The answer would still have been no. To my parents, and their peers, nothing was more important than school for their offspring. To take us out of school for a pleasure trip was unthinkable.

While most of the children aboard my most recent late-January cruises were younger than school-age, there were others who'd obviously been taken out of class to accompany their families on cruise vacations. I can understand their parents' desire to take advantage of off-season fares, but that's as far as my understanding goes.

Travel can be uplifting, inspiring, and even educational. However, what kind of lessons do children learn when their parents take them out of school for a leisurely Caribbean cruise? That saving money on a vacation is more important than the children's education? That it's okay to be selfish?

To my way of thinking, their parents' behavior sends the wrong message to kids. No wonder we're facing the "me" generation.

Friday, February 15, 2008

(Not Quite) Barred From Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, Maine doesn't have the mansions of Newport or historic vibe of Boston, but during "fall foliage" season it can be one of the most beautiful stops on a New England/Canada itinerary. It can also be one of the most crowded.

Despite the fact that the town currently allows only two cruise ships to anchor in the harbor on any given day (or three ships if one is small enough to dock at the Town Pier), Bar Harbor residents and merchants have complained that ships have gotten so big that, even with the current limits in place, there are days when the downtown area is overcrowded and roads are congested by tour buses. What's a small town to do when the ships that are scheduled to visit can each carry more than 3,000 passengers? For example, two ships scheduled to call at Bar Harbor this season are huge; Explorer of the Seas has a capacity of 3,114 passengers and 1,185 crew and Caribbean Princess can carry 3,110 passengers and 1,142 crew.

In a move to solve the problem, the Bar Harbor Town Council recently voted to impose a daily limit on the number of passengers (not including crewmembers) that cruise ships may bring to town. Set to begin in 2010, from May 1st to June 30th and from Sept 1st to Oct 31st, passenger counts will be limited to 5,500. In July and August, the passenger limit will be 3,500 a day or, up to 3,700 at the discretion of the Harbor Master. The reasoning for the limits is sound. According to one Council member, visitors will have a more positive experience if the town is less crowded.

Bar Harbor's Cruise Ship Task Force proposal suggested that ships be allowed to visit Bar Harbor as late in the year as Nov 10th, but the Harbor Committee recommended the Oct. 31st cut-off date. They cite the need for lobster fishermen to have the harbor all to themselves during the productive fall season. That also makes sense. What would a day in Bar Harbor be like without a lobster lunch?

Photo: Golden Princess at anchor from atop Cadillac Mountain

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love Sets Sail: Captains Can Help Guests Tie the Knot

Hey, lover boy! Give that girl a diamond for Valentines Day and prepare to set sail on a sea of love.

The sailor's knot is known for being easy to tie but hard to break. Couples who wish to be married at sea by the captain will soon be able to do just that aboard Azamara Cruises' and Celebrity Cruises' ships. The lines plan to launch legal, captain-led wedding ceremonies later this year to complement their existing vow renewal and in-port wedding offerings.

"While many of our guests come onboard seeking a once-in-a-lifetime wedding or vow renewal location, and we've been happy to provide them with in-port weddings led by a local official, their number-one request is for captains to perform the ceremony," said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, Azamara Cruises and Celebrity Cruises Vice President of Hotel Operations. "Now, we're able to fulfill that wish, while sailing the open waters of the world."

With the recent re-registration of seven of Celebrity's eight ships in Malta, where Azamara's two ships also are registered, government regulations have changed to allow for captains to perform legal marriages while the ships sail the seas of the world. Guests planning to be married at sea by Azamara and Celebrity captains will have a variety of packages available to them and should book their weddings well in advance of their sailing dates to allow time for the processing of licenses and other legal documents. Lovebirds are encouraged to visit Azamara Cruises and Celebrity Cruises web sites for details.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

NCL America: Is One Ship A "Fleet"?

It's only been a week since I reported that NCL America's Hawaii fleet had officially shrunk to two ships. So, imagine my surprise when a late-in-the-day press release arrived in my email box yesterday announcing that one of the two remaining fleetmates--Pride of Aloha--is also withdrawing from the line's Hawaiian island service on May 11, 2008.

Yesterday's press release emphasizes NCL's major fleet-wide Freestyle 2.0 initiative, featuring significant product and hardware upgrades to its modern fleet, including Pride of America--the only NCL America ship set to remain in Hawaii service. The release also calls the transfer of Pride of Hawaii to NCL’s European deployment a "temporary" move. While I have no insight into how temporary it will be, it took an act of Congress to flag the three foreign-built vessels under the US flag in order to offer Hawaii inter-island cruises. Any attempt to return the newly re-named Norwegian Jade under the stars and stripes could encounter some pretty steep obstacles.

For passengers booked on Pride of Aloha from May 11, 2008 and beyond, NCL is holding space and will offer the same cruise fare as they currently have paid on their Pride of Aloha cruise if they would like to transfer to the same week on Pride of America, departing one day earlier. For additional details, read the entire press release at Cruise Diva's Cruise News.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Carnival Cruise Lines' "Circle C" is Fun for "Tweens"

Family cruise leader, Carnival Cruise Lines has introduced a new on-board program called “Circle C” aimed specifically at the 12- to 14-year-old age group, with expansive new clubs, trained staff, and a full schedule of activities--including everything from sports such as basketball, volleyball, ping-pong and various water games to late night movies and “swimming under the stars” pool parties.

Designed to complements the line’s other youth-oriented programming, including “Camp Carnival” for younger kids and “Club O2” for 15- to 17-year-olds, the focal point of “Circle C” activities are custom-designed clubs, providing the "tweens" a place to truly call their own. With a sleek modern design created especially to appeal to younger teens who want to hang out with new friends, the areas are decorated in a vibrant motif, with oversized picture windows and plush comfortable seating. Facilities feature a dance floor with high-tech sound and lighting system, along with 42-inch plasma-screen TVs to display movies and music videos, a touch-screen jukebox stocked with the latest hits, and gaming pods with the latest video games and consoles, with 20-inch plasma-screens positioned throughout the room.

“Circle C” is just the latest enhancement to kid-centric amenities aboard the “Fun Ships.” Children ages 2-11 can enjoy diverse activities and dedicated facilities of “Camp Carnival,” which continues to evolve with new 1,600-square-foot play areas on “Fantasy-class” ships and new programming fleetwide. For older kids, there’s the “Club O2” teen program featuring teen dance clubs, just for teens shore excursions, and more. Also new is Carnival WaterWorks, an aqua park featuring a 300-foot-long twister water slide, dual-lane racing slides and water spray apparatus, currently rolled out as part of the “Evolutions of Fun” refurbishment program on select ships. Carnival Splendor, set to debut in July, will boast Carnival’s largest play area to date and a water spray park.

Carnival Cruise Lines expects to host 600,000 kids this year– the most in cruising. Other family-friendly features include babysitting services, stroller rentals, children’s menus, and a variety of spacious accommodation categories, with dozens of inter-connecting cabins ideal for large families or family gatherings.

Pictured above is an artist's rendering of "Circle C"--Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines

Friday, February 8, 2008

Celebrity Cruises Rolls Out A New Way to Count to TEN

Ten of 2008’s hottest new restaurants will open this fall, but you won’t need special connections to book a table. In fact, you won't even need directions, since the GPS coordinates will change daily. That's because the 10 restaurants are all on one of the world’s most eagerly awaited new cruise ships: Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Solstice.

"The dining experience has always been central to our guests’ cruise experience, and on Celebrity Solstice, we’ll present the extraordinary service the brand is known for, in venues designed to perfectly complement the spectacular cuisine," said Celebrity’s President and CEO Dan Hanrahan. "The larger size of Celebrity Solstice allows us to offer more options for our guests, with menus created by some of the best talent in the business

Celebrity has partnered with some of the world’s best designers in the hospitality business to create the restaurants onboard Celebrity Solstice; among them, preeminent restaurant and hotel designer Adam Tihany, who created such lauded restaurants as Per Se, Jean Georges, Le Cirque, The Sea Grill and Osteria del Circo in New York; Aureole, Bouchon and Seablue in Las Vegas; and Monte’s and the chic Mandarin Bar at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.

Get a behind-the-scenes peek at the interiors of Celebrity Solstice’s Dining Venues on CruiseDiva.com.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Princess Cruises Wants to Know, "Are You the Greatest Romantic?"

The leader of love at sea, Princess Cruises is launching a nationwide search asking, "Are You the Greatest Romantic?" All "romantics at heart" can nominate themselves or someone they believe deserves this highest honor of amorous aptitude. "The Greatest Romantic" will be chosen from a field of entries narrowed down to five finalists determined by the line's Department of Romance experts. After a public vote, he or she will become an "ambassador of love" for the department for one full year, in addition to receiving a romantic cruise for two.

The contest launches on Valentine's Day and Princess invites all romantics to submit a video telling why they deserve this honor. Videos can be entered until March 20, and then from April 1-14 the five finalists will be posted and the general public will have the chance to vote for their favorite "Greatest Romantic." The winner will be announced on April 15 and receive a romantic, 7-day cruise for two to Mexico or the Caribbean, including airfare. While onboard they will receive a special couple's package from Lotus Spa. "The Greatest Romantic" will also enjoy a year-long title of Princess' "ambassador of love" as a member of its Department of Romance.

"From a personal love story to an original poem or creative stunt, we're seeking compelling video entries expressing romance from many perspectives," said Jan Swartz, senior vice president for Princess Cruises. "Be it in small or dramatic ways, we're looking for someone who can channel their inner romantic and espouse the meaning of romance for others, plus share how they make romance a part of their daily lives."

Three-minute video entries should compellingly convey why the person is the ultimate romantic. For a complete list of rules and video requirements, as well as sample video entries for romantic inspiration, visit greatestromantic.princess.com.

As Valentines Day approaches, we know you are in the mood for love. Cruise Diva shares her picks for the Most Romantic Ships. Get hints to enhance Romance at Sea and enjoy Princess Cruises' sumptuous Ultimate Balcony Dinner.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Cruise Travel: Mutiny Over Fuel Supplement Fees?

When we hit the road to embark on a cruise last month we knew filling the tank of our super-size SUV was going to cost more than the last time we made the trip south to Florida. Sure, we could drive a more fuel efficient vehicle, but we like our comfy Ford Expedition and where would I put the luggage in a Prius?

Like other SUV, truck, RV, and van owners, we've made a lifestyle choice and the cost goes into our budget. If we couldn't afford it, we wouldn't drive it. Similarly, when going on a cruise, we factor in not only the fare, but all the add-ons into the bottom line when making decisions. Which is why I believe so many booked passengers were upset when fuel surcharges were levied a few months ago by the majority of cruise lines. I can't say that I blame fellow passengers on one level--the charges were retroactive for the most part and unexpected. On the other hand, anyone who hasn't noticed the soaring cost of fuel during the past year probably hasn't been paying attention to much of anything.

Cruise lines held out longer than other segments of the travel and hospitality industries, which have routinely added such surcharges for some time. Think airlines, automobile rentals, and even hotels and restaurants. Most consumers don't like it, but seldom do they 'mutiny' the way booked cruise passengers have. The Miami Herald and other media outlets report that the Florida Attorney General's Office is following up on over 150 consumer complaints to determine whether the fuel supplement fees imposed by cruise lines were "appropriate and properly disclosed to passengers."

It would be easy to say, "just cancel," to those who object to the fuel surcharges, but there's a lot of emotion involved in this situation. Although there have always been minor fluctuations in port charges and government taxes over the years, passengers have long considered their fare contracts with cruise lines to be a sacred assurance that they won't pay a dime more than agreed upon at booking. While they could have cancelled upcoming sailings without penalty and made other plans, some avid cruisers simply won't consider anything but a cruise vacation. Others have purchased non-refundable airline tickets or pre-paid for shore excursions. There's a huge hassle factor in turning travel plans upside down and starting from scratch.

The outcome of the Florida Attorney General's investigation won't be known for a while; however, no matter what happens on that front, don't expect cruise lines to give consumers a free ride in the face of rising costs to operate. If the fuel surcharges are deemed unfair, cruise lines aren't going to operate at a loss. While we wait to see how this plays out, following are a couple comments from Miami Herald readers for your enjoyment.

  • "Look at the other companies that have had to add a fuel surcharge. Doesn't surprise me. I love all the whining that has been going on at the Cruise Critic board. Those Carnival people know how to yell about five dollars. Carnival had better be careful as it will on board lose sales on Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schiltz malt liquor and Winston cigarettes with that surcharge."
  • "My favorite comments on the fuel surcharge come from the Cruise Critic people, who keep whining that 'it's about honoring the contract.' Funny, when the money or shipboard credit flows their way, you don't hear them screaming bloody murder about the cruiseline going outside the bounds of the sacred contract."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Aloha, Pride of Hawaii

The newest of NCL America's Hawaii-based ships sailed yesterday from her Honolulu home port for the last time as Pride of Hawaii. Christened in May 2006, the cruise line announced last year that it would pull the ship from Hawaii service due to financial losses caused by weakness in its Hawaii operations fare pricing.

Presently on a "farewell" 5-day cruise to Los Angeles, Pride of Hawaii will enter wet dock upon arrival on Saturday. After the colorful Hawaiian-themed hull artwork is painted over she will be reflagged and renamed. Emerging as Norwegian Jade she is scheduled to leave Los Angeles Feb 16 on a 13-day Panama Canal cruise bound for Miami. From there, she sails to Barcelona, Spain, where a casino will be added before the ship enters service in Europe.

Pride of Aloha and Pride of America, NCL America's two other U.S.-flagged ships, will continue to operate inter-Hawaii cruises.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Cruising Back-To-Back

Even though I've sailed on nearly a hundred cruises and write the cruise travel material for eight Fodor's guidebooks, I continue to find new experiences at sea. Just this month I joined in the fun on a full-ship music charter and sailed on back-to-back cruises for the first time.

First of all, The Smooth Jazz Cruise, a full-ship charter on Holland America Line's Westerdam, was an incredible opportunity to indulge in my passion for cruising while exploring the smooth jazz scene with a ship full of ardent fans. Each night's two-hour concerts in the main show lounge were certainly entertaining, as were the music sessions in more intimate settings, but one highlight for me was meeting so many nice people. One morning I found myself having coffee on deck with a delightful gentleman who turned out to be Grammy nominee Kirk Whalum's father. Like all Holland America Line ships, the atmosphere on Westerdam is gracious and refined. That doesn't mean the passengers were stuffy, though. A late-night poolside Pa-JAM-A Party was well attended by passengers clad in PJs and robes and dancing went on well into the night in the Crow's Nest.

The week-long Smooth Jazz Cruise went by all too swiftly and it was time to disembark in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday and get ready for our next cruise--a five-night sailing on Carnival Imagination from Miami on Monday. At times the logistics of packing for back-to-back cruises seemed almost as daunting as storming the beaches of Normandy. Fortunately, I had two things going for me... we drove to Florida and I have a dear friend in Fort Lauderdale who happened to be sailing with us on the second cruise. Marcia kindly offered the use of her washing machine to solve my dilemma of how to pack enough unmentionables for two weeks and we were able to leave our excess luggage in her garage. That made room for her luggage and we were all able to drive to the Port of Miami together, thus also saving on the high cost of parking there ($20 a night!).

While I could have done laundry aboard the Carnival Imagination, having a day between cruises meant the luxury of not having to waste my time hassling with it during what turned out to be an exceptionally fun cruise. The "Evolutions of Fun" enhancements are all in place on Carnival Imagination and have transformed the aging Fantasy-class vessel into a bright and shining modern cruise ship. It should come as no surprise that when the world's largest cruise line sets about to do something that they do it right, but the level to which Carnival Cruise Lines went in the transformation astonished even me. I wasn't expecting an "all new" look and feel and it was hard to believe Carnival Imagination was launched in 1995.

There is a lot more to share on CruiseDiva.com and here on the blog in the coming days. For now, I hear the distinctive DING of my clothes dryer! So much for the glamorous life of a travel writer.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Carnival Imagination In Port: Nassau

The last day of our cruise vacation promises to be full of activity and we’re looking forward to fun ashore in Nassau as well as on board Carnival Imagination. Throughout the cruise there’s been a lot of keep everyone as busy as they want to be. There are children cruising with us but they’ve been nearly invisible—they’re having a great time in Camp Carnival and in the Water Works pool. Disney Wonder is berthed beside us today in Nassau and I can’t help but wonder if they are just a tinge envious… our water slide is bigger than their water slide.

With so many passengers ashore we’re taking the opportunity to chill out at the Lido Pool. The entire area has been re-built with new tile in the pool; thatched roofs that shade one of the two hot tubs, the pool bars and snack bar; and a covered stage where games have taken place this week. Stylized palm trees offer a tropical vibe that’s fresh and, frankly, fun.

Later there will be plenty of time to pack. We’re going to “self assist” in the morning so we don’t have to rush to put luggage in the passageway tonight. That means we won’t have to miss any of this evening’s show—Carnival Legends starring our fellow passengers. We’ve heard that some real talent has been tapped and it promises to be quite an event.

Watch CruiseDiva.com for an in-depth “Evolutions of Fun” report and many more photos next week.