Friday, February 28, 2014

MSC Divina: Divine Entertainment

Nello Russo plays the
“Mesmerizing Sax”
From a solo saxophone, a rocking duo, and classical trio, to dueling pianos, bands for dancing under the stars, and high energy production shows, there’s music all around aboard MSC Divina.

In the reception lobby and decks surrounding it above we’ve enjoyed classic favorites performed by the Elegance Trio and Igor. Carey and Lee duel it out on pianos playing audience requests in the Golden Jazz Bar and Duo Ameritalian fill La Luna Piano Bar with some of the most beautiful songs ever written. In a variety of lounges, Nello Russo can be found playing his “Mesmerizing Sax” while Trio Latin Mambo and Duo Devotion fill various dance floors with their hot Latin, rock, Motown, and Island sounds.

International music with a Caribbean flavor in Black and White Lounge and live bands on deck poolside round out tonight’s dance music. And that’s just a sample of the talented artists that have been entertaining us nightly in MSC Divina’s lounges.

Devotion Duo poses for Cruise Diva
Nightly shows in the Pantheon Theatre have focused on performances created for the international audience onboard with heavy emphasis on visual entertainments—we’ve seen some amazing Cirque-style acrobatics performed along with talented singers, dance troupes, and adagio teams. Production show themes have included a tribute to popular operatic arias, pirate stories, Wonderland (as in Alice and other characters from Through the Looking Glass), and the Witches of Paris, French variety at its best.

All shows have been beautifully executed, but my favorite was “Simply Italian,” featuring the songs of Italy and a surprise for the American guests on board MSC Divina. Toward the end of the show the stairs behind the lead male vocalist lit up in red, white, and blue as he executed a stunning rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. When those of us from the United States stood in honor of our national anthem, many of the guests from other countries did so as well, making it a heartwarming experience. Of course the show ended with the emotional Con te Partiro, known to English speakers as Time to Say Goodbye and, for most Americans, probably the most recognizable of Italian songs.

And there’s even more. Other entertainment has included Cinema al Fresco—poolside movies and recorded concerts under the stars—as well as late night adult comedy and dancing into the wee hours in the Galaxy Disco.

There’s no such thing as boredom on MSC Divina and the entire ship is a divine feast of entertainment.

Images ©

Thursday, February 27, 2014

MSC Divina: Delicious Dining

Pizza! It’s become a staple on cruises and nowhere at sea will you find more authentic pizza than aboard MSC Divina and her fleetmates. Not only is it freshly prepared and complimentary in the Calumet Buffet restaurant, but pies can be ordered with your favorite toppings in Pizza Eataly and even delivered to your stateroom—each of those options for a nominal charge.

Dining doesn’t stop with pizza. Of course the Calumet and Manitou Buffet restaurants are popular choices for breakfast, lunch, and even laid back dinners after a day in port. With open seating for breakfast and lunch and set seatings for dinners, the Black Crab and Villa Rossa are MSC Divina’s main restaurants with wide varieties of menu options, including wonderful pasta. While large, each restaurant is elegantly designed in such a manner that dining seems intimate. The food and service have been exceedingly good.

Specialty restaurants on board MSC Divina are unique dining selections for a special occasion or just as a treat. Eataly Restaurant is where we each enjoyed Caesar salad, a tenderloin steak for Linda, and a specially prepared pasta dish for Mel. My steak was perfectly cooked—juicy, tender, and flavorful, it was one of the best I’ve ever been served on a cruise. Eataly specializes in healthy, high-quality foods and the menu with à la carte pricing offers sixteen selections, from cold meats and fish to Piedmontese beef from “La Granda.” Adjacent to the main Eataly Restaurant is Ristorante Italia, a more cozy dining section with a set menu and set pricing that includes sparkling wine with dinner.

To take a taste of Italy home with you, the Eataly Shop is stocked with such ingredients such as Gragnano Pasta, RIO extra-virgin olive oil, and Slow Food meat sauces. To brush up on your Italian cooking, there are also cookbooks to create authentic dishes.

While we haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet, the Galaxy Restaurant sounds appealing with its à la carte menu of Mediterranean fusion cuisine and trio of three, five, or seven course Gourmet Dinners paired with wine selections to complement each course.

Eataly Shop
On a casual note, sports enthusiasts don’t have to leave the big screens in the Sports Bar to grab a bite. While you’re cheering on your favorite team you can order American-style chicken wings, onion rings, chicken nuggets and other finger food for a nominal charge.

Complimentary snacks are also abundant. In addition to the buffet restaurants, self-serve ice cream cones are available every afternoon beside the Aqua Park pool and croissants are found every morning at the Divina Bar and Café Italia.

At the heart of MSC Divina is one of our favorite spots for a specialty coffee, pastry, or gelato—Piazza del Doge, where the atmosphere is quiet and relaxing during the day and lively with music and dancing every evening.

Naturally there is room service around the clock for continental breakfast and sandwiches, salads, soups, fruit, cheeses, and desserts throughout the day. A $3.50 delivery charge applies for orders from 11:00pm to 6:00am.

Images ©

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

“Top 18” Aboard MSC Divina

While the ultimate in privacy aboard MSC Divina is naturally within the confines of the exclusive Yacht Club, there is another spot where serenity is available at a much more budget-friendly price.

Out of the way on Deck 18 (and almost difficult to find) is Top 18, the adults-only sun spot high atop the ship.

Furnished with fashionable cushioned rattan sun beds, regular lounging sun beds with flip up shades at the head, and a large whirlpool, the area is a haven of solitude and quiet.

Top 18 Pricing:
Rattan Sun Bed $30 all day
Sun Bed $10 all day
Rattan Sun Bed $15 half day (afternoon, beginning at 3:00)
Sun Bed $5 half day (afternoon, beginning at 3:00)
Promotional 2-for-1 Sun Beds while in port $10
As you’d expect, there’s also a small bar within Top 18 for refreshments. Towels are provided, so just bring your tanning lotion and catch some rays.

Images ©

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

MSC Divina at Sea

Aqua Park Pool
People go to sea for a variety of reasons. Aboard cruise ships you find people at work and people at play. Those who are working aboard MSC Divina are really working hard to make the passengers’ playtime satisfying.

Sea days are quite naturally a time for passengers to relax and do whatever they enjoy the most. MSC Divina has three pools and several decks devoted to watery pursuits and sunbathing. With a large screen for movies and other programming located at one end and whirlpools at the other, the centrally located Aqua Park pool on Deck 14 is an ideal family fun area near the buffet and pool bars for snacks and beverages. Outfitted with waterfalls and jets, the adult pool is surrounded by a shallow pool designed for children.

Further forward is Le Sirene, a two deck solarium-style area with a pool and whirlpools on one deck and seating and game tables (table tennis, foosball) one deck higher, all of which can be covered by a sliding roof magrodome in case of inclement weather.

Le Sirene
Move up to Deck 15 and head aft past the water slide for the young set and the sports arena (located yet another deck above) and you’ll find the infinity-style Piscina pool with its own Zen area and bar—ideal for adults, but you’ll find youngsters there as well. Nearby are even more whirlpools. Altogether there are nine whirlpools available to everyone.

For the ultimate relaxation, there’s the Aurea Spa with a full menu of soothing treatments. On the other hand, for gym rats the fitness center is fully equipped to help burn off the calories found in the best pizza at sea.

If organized activities are high on your agenda, MSC Divina’s entertainment staff has that covered as well with crafts classes, trivia, dance lessons, Italian language classes, sports challenges, Bingo, and other games.

Or you could curl up on a comfy sofa in one of the lounges and immerse yourself in a good book. There’s a lot to like about a sea day on MSC Divina.

Images ©

Monday, February 24, 2014

At Home Aboard MSC Divina

After a speedy check-in at PortMiami, we’re aboard MSC Divina and off to the Western Caribbean with port calls in Jamaica, Cozumel, and Grand Cayman before a day on the private island Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas.

But first things first—we made ourselves at home in balcony stateroom 12107 where rich warm fabric colors and dark woods set a restful tone. Spacious and comfortable, twin beds combine to form a queen size with a cushy sueded headboard. Flanked by nightstands, each is topped with a lamp and has two small drawers for incidentals.

The combination desk/vanity also has two handy drawers, one with a built-in hairdryer. Shelves above house the flatscreen television and afford storage for the things we like to keep at hand. Below is a mini-fridge stocked with beverages and snacks and enough free space to chill any soft drinks or bottled water that we might have brought on board with us.

Opposite the desk is a full length sofa bed that would accommodate a third occupant and a coffee table adequate for in-room dining.

Behind two of the three closet doors in the stateroom is space for hanging garments—with more than enough hangers—and it’s also where we found plush terry bathrobes for our use while on board. The third door opens to reveal six drawers below two shelves, one of which holds a personal safe.

The bathroom rounds out the facilities and we were pleased to find generous storage there as well. In addition, a real plus is the roomy shower with glass doors—no shower curtain to stick to you while showering and no water dripping onto the floor.

Of note is the literature found in a leather folder on the desk that is among the most comprehensive we’ve seen on any ship in recent years. Inside the folder we also found a pen, note pad, and complimentary MSC Divina post cards—another rarity these days.

Once our luggage arrived we found plenty of room for everything we packed for a one-week cruise. After a full day of travel we rested well in the supremely comfortable beds and enjoyed sweet dreams of our upcoming journey.

Images ©

Saturday, February 22, 2014

MSC's "Med Way of Life"

This is what we have to look forward to in the coming week aboard MSC Divina. Although I know we'll be ordering pizza and gelato and dressing up for the formal nights, I'm not so sure about the pillow fight.

Take the tour of MSC Divina below and then follow along here during Cruise Diva's divine cruise.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Take A First Glimpse Of Norwegian Escape Accommodations

The Haven Courtyard
Norwegian Cruise Line has offered us the first look at Norwegian Escape by revealing the wide variety of staterooms on the line’s largest ship to date at approximately 163,000 gross tons and 4,200 passenger berths, scheduled for delivery in fall 2015. The accommodations include the company’s signature luxury ship–within-a-ship complex: The Haven by Norwegian®; along with Studios, designed and priced for solo travelers; and many options for families, multi-generational groups, spa enthusiasts, and more. Norwegian Escape includes all of the features of Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway, plus a number of new spaces and experiences.

“The stateroom offerings on Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Getaway have been so well received that we wanted to be sure to continue to offer such a rich mix of accommodations on Norwegian Escape.” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer. “On Norwegian Escape, we will have an optimal mix of accommodations, offering something for every type of guest whether it be solo travelers, families, or those seeking the ultimate in luxury and pampering.”

The Haven by Norwegian
Deluxe Owner's Suite Living Room
The Haven by Norwegian on Norwegian Escape will offer 95 ultra-luxurious suite accommodation options including: The Haven Deluxe Owner's Suite, The Haven Owner’s Suite, The Haven Two-Bedroom Family Villa, The Haven Courtyard Penthouse, and The Haven Deluxe Spa Suite. The exclusive, key-card only access two-story Haven on Decks 17 and 18 includes a private restaurant with outdoor terrace, lounge, and an enhanced courtyard area with retractable roof that features a pool, two whirlpools, sauna, spa treatment rooms, and sundeck exclusively for Haven guests. All suites will feature pillow-top mattresses and fine linens from The Bliss Collection by Norwegian™. The Haven’s exclusive benefits include priority embarkation and disembarkation; distinctive platinum keycard; the personal service of a butler and concierge, in-suite espresso/cappuccino machines; gourmet treats delivered each evening; along with plush bathrobes, slippers, oversized towels; and more.
The Haven Deluxe Owner’s Suite is the ship’s most luxurious, well-appointed, and spacious accommodation. At more than 1,300 square feet, four Haven Deluxe Owner’s Suites feature living room, dining area, wet bar, guest bedroom with bathroom, two spacious balconies, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Marble spans the master bathroom, which includes two vanity sinks and a tub with a view. There are also four Owner’s Suites at 572 square feet that sleep up to four and feature a separate bedroom, living/dining area, spacious balcony, and one and a half bathrooms.

The Haven features 25 Two-Bedroom Family Villas that sleep up to six guests, offering luxurious space for the whole family with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. In addition to the extra space, these suites offer floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies. In all, this private enclave is 540 square feet of modern, luxurious bliss. The large master bathroom includes a luxury shower, two vanity sinks and an oversized tub.

The Haven Courtyard Penthouses offer an elevated cruise experience and the guest’s choice of views featuring 22 Penthouses in the Haven, 14 Aft-Facing and 12 Forward-Facing Penthouses located on other decks throughout the ship. Each accommodates between three and four offers not only extra space, but also a king-size bed and dining and sitting areas.

For those who like to relax, Norwegian Escape offers 14 Haven Spa Suites. These suites that sleep up to three are tranquil retreats that feature soothing colors and clean lines to create a relaxing, spa-like ambience. Add a king-size bed, in-room hot tub, oversized waterfall shower with multiple body spay jets and complimentary access to the adjacent Spa Thermal Suite and Fitness Center and this is a true spa vacation experience.
Rich Mix of Accommodations
The ship’s 308 Mini-Suites are perfect for those seeking a little more room than the standard Balcony Stateroom. Featuring two lower beds that convert to a king-size bed, and bedding to accommodate up to two additional guests, Mini-Suites offer ocean views and more. There are 40 Family Mini-Suites on board that are an ideal accommodation option for guests traveling with children. They feature a king sized bed, a bathtub, bedding to accommodate up to two additional guests and are conveniently located near Splash Academy, the ship’s complimentary kids’ facilities. For those who like to indulge themselves, Norwegian Escape features 20 Spa Mini-Suites with tranquil spa décor and waterfall showers, offering exclusive access to the ship’s Spa Thermal Suite and Fitness Center.

Balcony Stateroom
Guests sailing in one of the 1,168 Balcony Staterooms can take in the views from staterooms that include two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed and bedding that can accommodate up to two additional guests. Of those, there are 172 Family Balconies that are ideal for guests traveling with children. These staterooms are also conveniently located near the children’s facilities. Some connecting staterooms are also available.

Norwegian Escape will also include Oceanview staterooms that feature large picturesque windows and two convertible beds that convert to a queen-size bed. Of the 114 Oceanview staterooms, there are 48 Family Oceanview Staterooms that can accommodate up to five guests.

Norwegian Escape’s accommodations mix also includes 407 inside staterooms which include two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed. Some Inside Staterooms have up to two additional Pullman beds and connecting Inside Staterooms are also available. This comfortable option is located on various decks throughout the ship and some are adjacent to the children’s facilities.

A total of 47 wheelchair accessible staterooms in a variety of categories, including suites, all feature lowered wash basins, collapsible shower stools mounted on shower walls, and toilets with collapsible arm guards.

Studio Stateroom
Solo Travelers
Norwegian is continuing its popular award-winning Studio staterooms designed and priced for solo travelers on Norwegian Escape. The 82 Studios are located inside a private keycard-only access complex and feature a full-size bed, a window to the corridor, and separate areas for toilet, sink, and shower. All Studio guests have access to the private Studio Lounge.

Norwegian Escape’s itinerary and homeport will be announced in mid-March, when the first sailings will go on sale.

Images Courtesy Norwegian Cruise Line

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cruise Review: Azamara Quest

Join Dr. Joseph Reynolds aboard Azamara Club Cruises' Azamara Quest for a voyage through Central America and Mexico from Costa Rica to Los Angeles with recommendations for independent touring options in several ports of call. Also get his unique observations about the Azamara Club Cruises onboard experience.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Celebrity Cruises Introduces Exclusive ‘Suite Class’ Experience

While other cruise lines, most notably Norwegian and MSC, have introduced ultra-private upscale ship-within-a-ship decks on their newest vessels, Celebrity Cruises plans to offer a somewhat similar experience on their existing fleet. Their most discerning guests who desire the very best will soon be able to indulge themselves with special perks for booking the new 'Suite Class' experience that will be fully introduced on Celebrity's ships during April 2015.

From the one-of-a-kind Reflection Suite, with its stunning ocean views and unique cantilevered shower, to the stylish Sky Suites, Celebrity's aim with the Suite Class experience is to set the standard in modern cruise vacations around the world. With exclusive new benefits including a suites-only restaurant, VIP lounge, complimentary premium beverages, plus more, the newly launched Suite Class is designed to create an ultimate luxurious experience with personal butlers taking care of every detail.

The new Suite Class will include:
-- Private dining: A dedicated private restaurant reserved exclusively for all Suite Class guests will be available morning, noon and night. Each meal will feature unique menus that offer dishes not available anywhere else onboard. Memorable dishes will be served, from locally caught seafood, to the freshest pasta. The Suite Class chef can provide a tailor-made experience to suite guests and prepare a dish to their liking, and the Cellar Master, Celebrity’s head sommelier, will select from more than 450 wines to provide the perfect pairing.
-- Premium 'all in' benefits: Premium beverages, dining across all specialty restaurants, unlimited Internet access, and a private bar with water, sodas, and beers will all be complimentary for guests staying in Royal, Penthouse, and Reflection suites.
-- VIP lounge: A private VIP lounge, Michael's Club, will be available to guests staying in Celebrity, Signature, Royal, Penthouse, and Reflection suites. A dedicated Concierge service and unique food and beverage experiences by Celebrity's James Beard-featured chef will be provided to guests.
“Our guests are accustomed to exceptional quality and service, and for those wishing to further indulge in the very best while on vacation we have launched 'Suite Class', specially designed to appeal to the most discerning vacationer,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises. “We know that suite guests value privacy, personalized service, exclusive access and flexibility, and providing them with their own unique benefits, such as a dedicated restaurant with a dining experience like no other, is just another way that we are significantly elevating the guest's vacation with us.”

Suite guests will also continue to enjoy a large number of benefits including:
-- The Celebrity 'Suite Class' welcome: Guests will receive priority check-in and embarkation
-- Legendary butler service: From unpacking guests' luggage to booking destination experiences on land, the Suite Class butler will be on hand 24 hours a day to ensure seamless, dedicated, and personalized service. The Suite Class experience will also include a daily high-end afternoon tea service served in the guest's suite.
-- Luxurious stateroom amenities & benefits: As well as enjoying spacious suites with verandas, guests can indulge in a variety of deluxe amenities including Bulgari bathroom toiletries, plush robes, premium bedding, and a pillow menu. A host of other extras will also be provided during the guest's cruise, including reserved theater seating for all Suite Class guests.
That sounds great and the amenities are terrific for passengers who pay the highest fare on board, but we wonder how that 'privacy' aspect mentioned by Mr. Bayley will play out in reality. As mentioned, other cruise lines with such exclusive offerings are truly private in that they are located on decks that are accessible only by key card. However, Celebrity's dedicated venues for the Suite Class passengers are located in well-trafficked areas of their ships and will be visible to everyone on board. By making Michael's Club accessible to only certain suite occupants (we noticed that some suite categories weren't included in all the perks mentioned above), Celebrity Cruises may find themselves the recipient of criticism for being snobbish, or worse. The line is in the premium category of cruises, but has begun tagging their fleet as 'modern luxury' in media releases for some time now. We wonder if perhaps they may alienate their loyal 'ordinary' passengers by taking away some of the onboard public spaces they've enjoyed in the past.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Norwegian Cruise Line to “Scrub Up” More Ships

To ramp up the cruise line’s commitment to environmental stewardship even higher, Norwegian Cruise Line will make a significant investment in the installation of 28 scrubbers on six ships in their fleet. The line has contracted with Green Tech Marine for the outfitting of the scrubbers on Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Pearl, and Norwegian Sun. The scrubbers will be installed starting this spring and installation will continue through 2016. Green Tech Marine also supplied the scrubbers on the line’s Hawaii-based Pride of America last year and will deliver 10 scrubbers to the company’s two new builds, Norwegian Escape and Norwegian Bliss, being constructed at MEYER WERFT in Germany.

“We remain committed to environmental protection at Norwegian Cruise Line,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer. “Therefore, it is important for us to invest in new technologies, such as Green Tech’s innovative scrubber systems, in order to reduce fuel emissions, overall energy consumption, and the company’s environmental footprint.”

Green Tech Marine is a world leading scrubber supplier that develops environmentally friendly, high-performance, energy-saving solutions to the marine industry. Green Tech’s compact scrubber systems will replace the current silencers on all six Norwegian vessels.

Image Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Monday, February 17, 2014

Celebrity Cruises Announces Celebrity Century’s 2014-15 Farewell Season

The rumor that Celebrity Century would be leaving the Celebrity Cruises fleet has been floating around for some time and now it’s official. While the line hasn’t said where Celebrity Century’s final destination will be after its farewell season ends in April 2015, it has announced plans to bid her a celebratory farewell as the ship hosts special events, including a newly introduced “President’s 'Celebration of the Century' Cruise,” during a year featuring a record number of ports of call and 17 new cruise destinations for the brand.

From March 2014 through April 2015, Celebrity Century will visit 77 ports across 32 countries, the most destinations worldwide of any other ship in the Celebrity fleet. New exotic destinations include Manila and Boracay, Philippines; Bandar Seri Begawan (Muara), Brunei; and Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar. Guests can take their pick from culture-rich experiences in Asia, Alaska, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, the Pacific Coast and South Pacific.

The farewell season will also feature exclusive onboard programming and special offers for guests. For instance, cruise vacationers can join Michael Bayley, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, on the President’s Celebration of the Century Cruise in Asia. The 14-night sailing from Singapore on Celebrity Century will depart March 8, 2015, and call on magnificent destinations in Vietnam and the Philippines. Additional special events and exclusive onboard programming will be announced shortly.

Available until April 30, 2014, guests booking any of Celebrity Century’s April 2014-2015 global itineraries can receive up to $200 per stateroom in onboard credit to indulge in spa treatments, globally influenced dining, unique shore excursions, and more. Celebrity’s Captain’s Club loyalty guests can choose between the onboard credit or an exclusive savings offer. Both offers are combinable with Celebrity's rich 123go! offer through Feb 28, 2014. For more information, visit

Since its inaugural sailing in 1995, guests have enjoyed Celebrity Century’s spacious and beautifully-designed spaces, premium spa, and award-winning dining experiences. Celebrity Century was the first ship to have the now hugely popular Martini Bar and Murano specialty restaurant.

Friday, February 14, 2014

American Cruise Lines Offers Lobster Lovers' Cruises

American Cruise Lines, the largest US-flagged cruise company that operates the newest fleet of riverboats and small cruise ships on more than 35 itineraries around the country, will be offering its popular lobster theme on all 2014 Maine Coast cruises. The 8-day theme cruise features lobster cuisine, a lobster boat excursion, a traditional lobsterbake in Rockland, and more. Offered on the 49-passenger American Glory and 104-passenger Independence, cruises begin in early June and sail through September. Guests will enjoy freshly prepared lobster and unique activities, while enjoying a personalized cruise experience along the coast of Maine. Highlights of the lobster-themed cruise include:
• Lobster Dishes – Experienced chefs who take lobster seriously have created unique menus which feature lobster throughout the cruise. The typical menu includes stuffed lobster tail, whole steamed lobster, lobster pot pie, lobster risotto, lobster omelets, and even lobster ice cream.
• Lobster Boat Excursion – Guests board an actual lobster boat for an authentic “daily catch” experience while enjoying gorgeous views of the coast of Maine. While catching lobsters, they’ll also learn about the lifestyle of Maine lobsterman.
• Lobster Bake – The highlight of the cruise is American Cruise Lines’ signature New England Lobster bake on the shore of the Penobscot Bay. Fresh lobster, clams, and corn are all steamed in kelp over hot coals. The feast is unlike any other, and also features live music and stunning views of the Rockland Harbor.
“We decided to extend this theme to all of our Maine Coast sailings due to its popularity among guests,” said Timothy Beebe, Vice President of American Cruise Lines. “Lobster is Maine’s specialty and people travel from all over the country to experience it. We look forward to allowing even more guests to enjoy the New England tradition and delicacy aboard this theme cruise.”

From Boothbay to Bar Harbor, Camden to Castine, American Cruise Lines brings guests to charming ports in Maine famous for their shipbuilding, beautiful national parks and quaint historic districts. They will visit the charming village of Belfast, famous for its beautiful Greek revival architecture, the Granite Mountains of Acadia National Park, and view the classic schooners in Camden harbor To learn more, visit

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Tips for South America Cruise Travel

Buenos Aires cabaret show
Don't Cry For Me Argentina
Research is high on my list of things to do when preparing for a cruise to foreign ports. Guidebooks are naturally a good place to start, as is the Internet. However, one of the best sources of information is someone who's already been there. In my case, I began my research for a cruise to South America in my own kitchen by interviewing my husband. Mel, also known at home as the Cruise Dude, has traveled extensively throughout South America for the past two decades.

These are Mel's tips for cruise passengers visiting South America and particularly Brazil:
• Take the time to learn a few phrases in Portuguese (Brazil) and Spanish (the rest of South America), especially greetings and pleasantries such as hello, please, and thank you. Don't hesitate to make mistakes; your hosts will appreciate the effort and be happy to assist you with the correct pronunciation.

• My favorite restaurants in Brazil are the churrascarias—what we would call a barbeque. Those that serve rodizio-style bring meat to the table continuously until you turn over the small chit placed beside your plate to indicate you are full.

• Be prepared to be the only restaurant patrons if you arrive for dinner before 9pm. South Americans linger over dinner, often well into the early morning hours.

• Guaraná (pronounced gua-na-na) is a carbonated soft drink made using the Amazonian fruit of the same name. Try some—it's quite refreshing. (The local brand in the green bottle is Mel's preference.)

• Brazilian Coffee, or cafezinho, is served strong, black, and with sugar in demitasse cups. Don't look for decaf. For coffee with milk, ask for café com leite.

• Two of Brazil's best beers are Cerpa and Antarctica. Most Brazilians prefer tap beer, called chopp.

Brazil's national drink is the caipirinha, a mixture of sugar, crushed lime, and pinga (a sugarcane liquor that somewhat resembles rum). Again, try one; however, be prepared for the inevitable "morning after" if you drink more than two.

• Belem, the gateway to the Amazon, has many fine restaurants and a fairly new cruise ship terminal. Taxi service is reliable and there are numerous markets for shopping.

• Drink only bottled water. In Brazil, it's água com gas (carbonated water) and água sem gas (non-carbonated water).

• Take care consuming fresh fruits, salads, and uncooked vegetables as cholera is not unknown in South America. You may even find warnings about it posted on your airplane. Good establishments are probably okay, but use caution.

• Don't miss the opportunity to take in a dance club for elaborate performances of Tango in Argentina and Samba in Brazil.

• The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema are all about people. You'll find residents and visitors alike soaking up the sun, playing volleyball, bike riding, and kicking back sociably. Beaches are patrolled and quite safe. Take care not to get too much sun and swim only where you know it's safe—certain areas are known to be polluted or have a strong undertow.

• Walk the beaches and enjoy the sights, especially the famous thong bikinis. Don't stare (the women are beautiful). Okay, go ahead and stare but wear sunglasses so you aren't too obvious.

• Uncut semi-precious stones can be a good buy in Brazil, although you would probably be advised to purchase emeralds from reliable jewelers. Vendors in Argentina offer fine leather goods at reasonable prices.
When traveling in South America, use common sense and exercise the same caution as you would in any other part of the world. While I have never felt personally intimidated, crime isn't unknown. Leave expensive jewelry and other valuables on your ship or in a hotel safe. Better still, leave good jewelry at home. Carry only a credit card and the cash you need with you. ATM machines are plentiful and VISA and American Express are widely accepted. Viagem do bon! ~ Mel Coffman.

Photo (c) Mel Coffman

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Practical Considerations Before Your Cruise

You’ve booked the cruise of your dreams and the sailing date is drawing near.

Anticipation builds... but you'll need to come down off Cloud Nine for some practical considerations. I've tried to capture the really important things—and some of the merely convenient stuff—that you should keep in mind to prepare. These may not all apply to your cruise; however, you may be surprised by what you hadn't thought of doing.

Whether you're new to cruise travel, or you're a seasoned sailor, let The Cruise Planning Timeline be your guide for smooth preparation.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New Cruise Review: Ruby Princess

To celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary our friends Mary and Vincent Finelli returned to Ruby Princess, where just incidentally they celebrated their 40th (Ruby) anniversary five years ago.

Unlike their previous anniversary cruise, which was a week long, this year's sailing was only four nights. However, Vincent described it best in his most romantic Italian, "We enjoyed our 'Dolce far niente' (sweet do nothing), since our time on the ship now is mainly spent in relaxation."

Join Mary and Vincent as they share their voyage aboard Princess Cruises' Ruby Princess.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Oops. The “Cruise Ship Disease” Hits A Land-Based Resort

After an intestinal virus sickened hundreds of guests and employees, the Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York closed at 1 pm last Friday and isn't expected to reopen until Feb. 14. A National Historic Landmark resort and Historic Hotel of America in the Catskill Mountains, the 269-room resort is located about 90 miles north of New York City and overlooks a lake in Ulster County. A disaster-remediation company has been hired to sanitize the facilities that accommodate 600 guests.

Quoted on CBS News, Nina Smiley of Mohonk Mountain House, which has been family-owned since 1869, said, “It’s a stomach virus and it hits people differently, and some people bounce back after a number of hours, and some people, it takes longer.”

Guests began reporting their illness at the resort more than a week ago and management realized by a week ago Sunday that they had a serious problem requiring a disaster cleanup effort. According to Smiley, “They are touching every inch and they are sanitizing.”

Why is this worth mentioning on a cruise-related blog? Well, because it just goes to show that Norovirus strikes wherever a large number of people are brought together on land or at sea. Guests probably arrived at the Mohonk Mountain House resort sick, just as they do when boarding cruise ships. However, we doubt that resort guests are asked upon check-in if they have had recent diarrhea or a persistent cough, questions that cruise ship passengers are required to answer in writing before boarding. Plus, it apparently took the resort almost a week to send guests home, shut the facilities down, and start the clean up.

We wonder if the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) has been as interested in this obvious outbreak of Norovirus as they are whenever it happens in such numbers on cruise ships. While media outlets have covered the story in the northeast, it’s obvious that the mainstream media has only paid passing attention to the situation as there has been little mention of it in national news. I only learned of it after Mel mentioned he heard a report on a satellite radio business channel while in the car. I read a lot of news stories online, but I had turn to Google to get the details.

“It could have started anywhere. It could have come from anywhere, and it could be from anywhere. This could happen anywhere,” Mohonk’s Smiley said. Her statement sounds somewhat desperate, although we are sure that cruise line executives would agree with her.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Carnival Captures “Memorable Olympic Moments”

If you are watching NBC’s telecast of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, you have probably seen the ad in the following video (unless you head for the fridge during the commercials).

Carnival Cruise Lines is the national cruise line advertiser of the Olympic Winter Games and their “bobsled” team has captured our hearts, as well as our vote for a winning team effort.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Miami, Your Ship Has Come In

Accompanied by fireboats marking her arrival with jets of water filling the air, Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship Norwegian Getaway made her grand entrance into the Port of Miami on Thursday morning.

After a star-studded Christening Ceremony on Friday that featured a performance by Miami native Armando Christian Perez, aka Pitbull, and the ship’s naming by The Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders acting as Godmothers, Norwegian Getaway enters service as the largest ship to homeport year-round in Miami. More information about Norwegian Getaway, which features a multitude of Miami-inspired venues and offerings, can be found at

Friday, February 7, 2014

Celebrity Cruises Partners With Canyon Ranch SpaClub

When we learned that Celebrity Cruises did not renew their agreement with Steiner Leisure to operate the spas on their ships we hoped the replacement spa operator would be one offering even better services. Our wish has come true with the announcement that Celebrity Cruises and Canyon Ranch, one of the world's leading spa and wellness brands, have sealed a deal to feature Canyon Ranch SpaClub® at Sea facilities onboard Celebrity's fleet.

Canyon Ranch and Celebrity will create the largest and most comprehensive SpaClub at Sea and debut exclusive SpaClub services and treatments. The Canyon Ranch SpaClub on Celebrity Cruises will include spa, beauty salon, wellness, and fitness amenities presenting signature Canyon Ranch offerings. The industry-leading brands intend to elevate the onboard experience by introducing exclusive SpaClub treatments and services tailored to the unique preferences of Celebrity's guests, including new facial and body treatments, and unique yoga and meditation classes.

"We are passionate about providing our guests with unforgettable experiences, and this collaboration with Canyon Ranch is an important milestone in our drive to elevating guests' modern luxury vacations," said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises. "We want every aspect of our vacations, from dining and destinations to relaxing in beautiful spa surroundings, to be special, and the experts at Canyon Ranch will help us deliver on this promise."

The new, robust spa menu features popular Canyon Ranch treatments, such as indulgent facials and facial enhancements, massage, thermal, Asian touch, and Reiki healing energy therapies. A selection of salon offerings, including hair care, nail, and makeup services, will also be offered. Fitness lovers can choose from private consultations to group classes, including yoga, Pilates, cycling, Mind/Body Connection and relaxation led by Canyon Ranch-trained fitness experts. Wellness programs such as personal exercise prescription, private nutritional consults, acupuncture, Chiropractic therapy and Canyon Ranch Healthy Feet(TM) centers will also be available on select ships. Additionally, Canyon Ranch health experts will provide onboard wellness lectures, workshops and cooking demonstrations.

In addition to its newly enhanced spa and wellness programming, Celebrity ships feature "AquaClass" accommodations, which infuse the stateroom experience with additional spa-like elements as well as a host of other extras. AquaClass guests can exclusively dine in the chic specialty restaurant, Blu, and enjoy unlimited access to the Persian Garden, a relaxing oasis with heated mosaic lounge chairs and grottos releasing a variety of dry heat, aromatherapy-infused steam and mists into the air.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas Gets Texas-Sized Makeover

After completing a month-long extreme makeover in drydock Royal Caribbean International’s Navigator of the Seas was primed to resume service from Galveston, Texas yesterday with massive Lone Star State flags draping the front and stern of the ship. Part of an extensive fleetwide program to enhance every Royal Caribbean ship, Navigator of the Seas returned to the Lone Star State with significantly enhanced features.

Most anticipated of all the ship’s additions is the new FlowRider surf simulator atop the Sports Deck (deck 13 pictured below), as well as the debut of Royal Caribbean’s first Virtual Balconies in 81 interior staterooms displaying expansive, real-time views of the ocean and destinations. Virtual Balconies were first announced for Quantum of the Seas, which debuts October 2014, and vacationers can be among the first to experience the innovation on Navigator of the Seas, even before the Quantum class is launched. Vacationers also can choose new Panoramic Ocean View staterooms, featuring floor-to-ceiling glass walls providing unobstructed views all the time.

Navigator of the Seas’ guests also can look forward to an expanded lineup of eight dining options, led by the debut of an all-new modern Mexican specialty restaurant Sabor, featuring authentic, modern, and unexpected Mexican dishes, such as Oaxacan Ceviche of Red Snapper, Spicy Chicken Flautas, or Chicken and Roasted Corn Empanada, topped with Green mole and spicy peanut sauce, to name a few. Sabor diners also can enjoy customized guacamole and salsas, made tableside, as well as an assortment of tacos, quesadillas, and burritos. Sabor has a service charge of $25 per guest. Guests can complement their experience with a curated menu of tequilas, mezcal, and Mexican beers, as well as delicious sangrias and tableside-mixed margaritas, for an additional charge.

Navigator of the Seas’ guests will also be the first to enjoy the fully revamped Chops Grille: The New American Steakhouse, which adds contemporary flair to traditional steakhouse offerings. The first among Royal Caribbean’s fleet to offer the new menu, Chops Grille on Navigator of the Seas will feature brand new selections, such as the Veal Chop Parmesan, a Slow-braised Short Rib of Beef with Bordelaise sauce, and a Dry-aged Steak Burger served on a brioche bun and topped with melted gruyere and pancetta. Guests also can still enjoy Chops Grille classic cuts, such as the 8 Oz. Filet Mignon, a 10 Oz. Grilled Sirloin Steak, and a range of new appetizers, soups, salads, and sides--such as new, decadent Truffled French Fries and Gruyere Cheese Tater Tots--that will complete the dining experience for a service charge of $35 per guest. Chops Grille also features two new premium selections, a 16 Oz. dry-aged NY Strip Steak and a 20 Oz. dry-aged Porterhouse Steak (an additional $18 and $19 respectively.

Navigator of the Seas’ guests also can choose sushi and Asian fusion dishes in the ship’s new Izumi Japanese Cuisine (a la carte menu), and delicious classic Italian favorites in Giovanni’s Table Italian trattoria ($15 for lunch and $20 for dinner per guest). Rounding out Navigator of the Seas’ culinary experiences is the grand, three-story main dining room, newly renamed Sapphire, the casual-dining Windjammer Café, and complimentary room service from 5–12 a.m. Navigator of the Seas’ specialty restaurants are available for advance online reservations for booked guests at

Guests also will enjoy some of the more popular concepts that were introduced aboard Royal Caribbean’s ground-breaking Oasis-class ships, such as new digital signage, bow-to-stern Wi-Fi service, new flat-panel televisions in every stateroom, an oversized LCD movie screen overlooking the main pool, a new Diamond Lounge for Crown & Anchor Society loyalty member guests, and the Royal Babies and Tots Nursery for the youngest guests ages six to 36 months. Additionally, the ship’s Champagne Bar has been re-conceptualized into Royal Caribbean’s signature, retro-chic R Bar.

Navigator of the Seas will sail 7-night Western Caribbean itineraries every Sunday from Galveston, visiting warm-weather getaways in the Caribbean, including; Cozumel, Mexico; Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; Falmouth, Jamaica; and George Town, Grand Cayman. In May 2015 the ship will reposition to its new homeport in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Silversea Gets "Personal" With Guests

Silversea Cruises has always made guests feel special, from the pre-cruise arrival of their documents in a silver box to being greeted by their butler on board. The ultra-luxury line has now taken that pre-cruise document ritual a step further with the launch of its new Travel Journal.

As part of the company's 20th anniversary celebration in 2014, Silversea has given its documentation package a complete makeover, with the goal of making travel easier for their guests. The result is a versatile new Travel Journal that consolidates the traditional assortment of loose documents of booklets, wallets, and luggage tag holders (see the link above for an image and description of the previous package).

For most voyages in 2014, guests will receive this convenient new all-in-one Travel Journal that contains the cruise ticket, air, hotel and/or land program information (if arranged through Silversea), personalized voyage itinerary, shore excursion details, and other useful information. The new Travel Journal will be rolled out in stages during the first few months of 2014, and some guests may receive the line's previous documentation package during the transitional phase.

"Our elegant new Travel Journal is unique to each guest and provides all the essential information needed for the voyage, all in one convenient place," said Kristian Anderson, Silversea's senior vice president of sales and general manager for North America. "And, it's a beautiful keepsake of what we are sure will be a remarkable travel experience."

Silversea has also rolled out another innovation online that is designed to make their guests' travel planning easier. An all-new "My Silversea" personal log-in area is now available at, enabling both guests and their travel agents to conveniently update their profile and preferences, arrange activities prior to a reserved voyage, and access a host of additional features.

In addition, specialty restaurant dinner reservations can now be pre-booked in advance (from 120 to 7 days prior to sailing), along with the optional shore excursions, beauty, spa and fitness services that previously have been available to reserve in advance through the line's website. Members of Venetian Society, Silversea's past guest loyalty club, will now also be able to conveniently keep track of their past voyage history by logging into "My Silversea."

For booked guests, the new more user-friendly portal replaces the "My Voyage" section of "My Silversea" is available for guests sailing on expedition cruises; however, the option to pre-book certain services and activities is still under development and will soon follow.

Travel enthusiasts interested in Silversea, but who have never sailed with the line, can now easily register at My Silversea as well to receive brochures and other communications. For that and more information, visit Silversea Cruises online.

Image Courtesy of Silversea Cruises

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tragedy on Norwegian Breakaway

Statement Issued Yesterday By Norwegian Cruise Line:
"We are extremely saddened to report that a tragedy occurred on board Norwegian Breakaway this morning. Our emergency medical team was called and notified that two small children were unresponsive on the pool deck. The team responded immediately and quickly administered CPR to both children. The older child was then airlifted by the U.S. Coast Guard to the closest medical facility, accompanied by his grandmother and a nurse from the ship. Devastatingly, the younger child passed away on board.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the family during this extremely difficult time and are providing full assistance and support.

The family is in our thoughts and prayers and we ask that you please keep them in your thoughts and prayers as well."
Image Courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Monday, February 3, 2014

Is Your Cruise Ship Sick?

Cruise ships have been in the news a lot this month with reports of Norovirus sickening hundreds of passengers and even cutting cruises short so that ships could be deep cleaned to avoid spreading the virus to passengers on subsequent sailings. It's almost become an annual ritual for reporters to do stories on the "cruise ship disease." However, when hundreds of cruise passengers report to the infirmary with similar symptoms, does that necessarily mean their ship is SICK? Hardly. But you'd never know that from news reports about nasty cruise ship diseases that attack unsuspecting vacationers.

Fact vs. Rumor
Let's face the facts first—travel by cruise ship often brings together large numbers of people from different regions of North America, as well as other parts of the world. In confined quarters, certain respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases can quickly spread from person-to-person contact. In addition, when ships dock and passengers go ashore, they might be at risk for diseases prevalent in the ports of call they visit. It is even quite possible that some passengers who become ill during a cruise were infected prior to boarding and they were actually "sick" before their symptoms became apparent.

Wait a minute... before we examine specific illnesses, let's think about how and when passengers are likely to be exposed to them. Cruise ships aren't the only places where large groups of people are likely to get together and outbreaks of "flu" and the "24-hour stomach bug" are common in such places as schools, nursing homes, and even hospitals. According to Princess Cruises, "Statistics have shown that the chance of contracting Norovirus on land is 1 in 12; and 1 in 4000 on a cruise ship."

Because respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases can percolate a few days before their symptoms strike with a vengeance, it is highly likely that some passengers bring their "bugs" on board with them. Before reaching a cruise ship, many—if not most—passengers pass through airports to board airplanes (with re-circulated, stuffy air) and they may spend the night in a hotel at their embarkation port and eat in local restaurants. Each of those places are breeding grounds for germs.

While most people are unaware that they have contracted an illness before embarking, others know they are sick but go aboard anyway, not acknowledging their illness for fear of being denied boarding. They might not seek treatment once on board due to the threat of being confined to their staterooms. These "alpha passengers" can be the beginning of a ship-board epidemic!

What To Do
According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), "Anyone who becomes ill while on a cruise ship should seek medical attention on board and see a health care provider upon returning home. Ill persons should limit contact with the general population on board as much as possible to reduce further spread of disease. People planning cruise ship travel, especially anyone older than 65 years of age, anyone with acute or chronic illnesses, or pregnant women should consult with a health care provider prior to travel for advice and possible preventive medication. Other measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases on cruise ships include frequent hand washing and obtaining appropriate immunizations prior to travel."

Two of the most prevalent diseases that spread through cruise ship populations are Influenza and Noroviruses.

According to studies, influenza infection among travelers is quite common; hence, it may rank with hepatitis A as one of the most common vaccine-preventable travelers' diseases. Seasonal epidemics of influenza generally occur during the winter months on an annual or near annual basis and can cause disease in all age groups. While rates of infection are highest among infants, children, and adolescents, rates of serious illness and death are highest among persons over 65 years of age and persons of any age who have medical conditions that place them at high risk for complications from influenza (e.g., chronic cardiopulmonary disease).

The risk for exposure to influenza while traveling depends on the time of year and destination. In the tropics, influenza can occur throughout the year, while in the temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere most activity occurs from April through September. In temperate climates, travelers can also be exposed to influenza during the summer, especially when on board a cruise ship with travelers from areas of the world where influenza viruses are circulating. Influenza might be, at best, an inconvenience; however, it can lead to complications, including life-threatening pneumonia, especially among persons at increased risk for complications. Annual influenza vaccination is the primary method for preventing influenza and its complications.

These are a group of related viruses that cause acute gastroenteritis in humans. Norovirus was approved as the official genus name for the group of viruses provisionally described as "Norwalk-like viruses" or NLV. The incubation period for norovirus-associated gastroenteritis is usually between 24 and 48 hours, but cases can occur within 12 hours of exposure. Norovirus infection usually presents as acute-onset vomiting, diarrhea with abdominal cramps, and nausea. Low-grade fever also occasionally occurs and vomiting is more common in children. Dehydration is the most common complication, especially among the young and elderly, and may require medical attention. Symptoms generally last 24 to 60 hours. Recovery is usually complete and there is no evidence of any serious long-term effect.

Highly contagious Noroviruses are transmitted primarily through the fecal-oral route, either by consumption of contaminated food or water or by direct person-to-person spread. During outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis, several modes of transmission have been documented; for example, initial food borne transmission in a restaurant, followed by secondary person-to-person transmission to household contacts.

Norovirus is often termed the "cruise ship virus," even thought the vast majority—some 60 percent to 80 percent of outbreaks—occur on land. However, it is often more unmistakable on cruise ships because all sick passengers and crewmembers are treated by the same physician, who is required to prepare a special report for the CDC if an outbreak affects 2% or more of the passengers or crew. The CDC launches and investigation if 3% of passengers or crewmembers become ill.

What else to do?
First and foremost—WASH your hands often with hot water and soap. A waterless, sanitizing hand cleaner is also recommended for times when soap and water aren't available (they are fairly effective and come in travel size bottles). Some passengers even go so far as to pack disinfectant wipes or a small aerosol can of germ-killing spray to treat their stateroom furnishings, bedding, and bathrooms before using them.

If you get sick, seek medical treatment and try not to infect other passengers.