Thursday, January 31, 2008

Carnival Imagination In Port: Half Moon Cay

The day began somewhat cloudy and, while it looked like it wouldn’t be the ideal “beach break” we were blessed with an absolutely perfect call at Half Moon Cay. Carnival Imagination passengers enjoyed ‘private island’ amenities and facilities to the fullest. If possible, it was an even nicer day than we had ashore last week while cruising on Holland America Line’s Westerdam. Carnival Imagination was the only ship anchored off Half Moon Cay today and we tendered ashore in the island’s large and efficient boats.

Even as early as 10am, children and adults alike were creating masterpieces in the sand to compete in the “Giant Sand Castle” competition. A buried treasure scavenger hunt pitted passengers against one another as did “Beach Survivor” where winners return to the ship and losers must remain on the island—someone will have to tell me how ‘losing’ that contest is bad.

Mel and I intended to take an eco-tour through the island’s lagoon, but the boat had problems and our excursion was cancelled. As it turned out, that wasn’t all bad as we were in the lagoon area last week and the tour cancellation meant we had more time today to spend with friends in the Private Oasis Cabana, one of the most exclusive areas of Half Moon Cay. With an over-water thatched roof deck, hot tub, cushy lounge chairs and our own bar and bar-be-que, it was the ultimate private island experience. Perfect for large groups, the Private Oasis is some thing you’ll want to look into booking if you are cruising with family or friends. Drinks and food are included and steps lead from the deck to the pristine beach and clearest water for swimming and snorkeling you can imagine.

We hated to leave, but we’re back onboard and looking forward to another excellent dinner and late-night show. Jorge, our cruise director has just announced that his “disembarkation talk” is about to begin… is it that dreaded time already?

Tomorrow’s another day—and we’ll be in Nassau—so we won’t worry about it until then!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Carnival Imagination In Port: Grand Turk

The first time we visited Grand Turk we concentrated on the country’s history and culture by touring on “The Guana” bus that makes a loop of the island, allowing riders to hop off and back on at will. For today, the eco-safari tour turned out to be a good choice to learn about the local flora and fauna. Our small excursion bus circled the island, stopping at Governor’s Beach to observe the location of the world’s third largest coral reef, a salt pond to spot birds, a shell beach, and a scenic area thick with mangroves where we could also see small cays in the distance.

The two-hour tour stretched out a bit on “island time,” but we made it back to the Grand Turk Cruise Center in time to enjoy the facilities—a large pool, restaurants, bars, wide stretches of beach, and, of course, shopping. The Cruise Center has been greatly expanded since our previous visit shortly after it opened.

By re-boarding Carnival Imagination an hour before our departure, we had our pick of comfortable wicker-style chairs in the adults-only Serenity Deck (photo above). With two hot tubs and plenty of thickly padded chaise lounges, it’s the ideal spot to order a Pina Colada from the bar steward and catch a nap or update the blog—as we are doing right now. Obviously Mel’s the one napping and I’m not far behind… zzzzz.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Use Your (Carnival) Imagination At Sea

Slight swells create a gentle motion on board Carnival Imagination today—just enough so we’re aware of being at sea, but not at all uncomfortable as we fully explored the ship.

We’ve sailed recently on Carnival Fantasy, the first of the eight popular Fantasy Class sister-ships introduced between 1990 and 1998. Although we thoroughly enjoyed that ship, which already had some ‘Evolutions of Fun’ upgrades in place, the next level of the $250 million initiative already completed on Carnival Imagination has, well, captured our imagination. In a 33-day drydock, Carnival Cruise Lines ordered many spaces gutted and essentially created a “new” ship. They plan to work the same magic on all eight Fantasy vessels (Carnival Inspiration is also complete at this time and Carnival Fantasy is next in line for an extreme makeover).

Ideally suited for short cruises ranging from three to five nights, Fantasy Class sister-ships have always provided fun afloat, but newer fleetmates tend to overshadow them these days with an abundance of private balconies and other state-of-the-art features. The ‘Evolutions of Fun’ enhancements go a long way toward bridging the gap. At dinner last night one improvement in our dining room was immediately apparent—the booth-style seating was removed and there are now numerous tables for two. In addition to great pizza and international fare, the Lido restaurant now features rotisserie chicken, Mongolian stir-fry, and a New York-style deli.

We’ll be taking a look at other upgrades during this five-night cruise, but the sun is shining and I’m about to make my way aft to the Carnival Water Works. Located where the aft pool and hot tubs used to be, spray from the water jets cools off youngsters splashing in the shallow pool and even provide some relief from the heat to nearby sunbathers. However, my objective, and the major attraction for all ages is a trip down the breathtaking corkscrew waterslide. Or maybe I’ll challenge one of the kids to a race down the side-by-side racing slides. It’s really cool fun.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Carnival Imagination Embarkation Day

No matter whether it’s your first or fiftieth cruise, embarkation day is always special. Carnival Imagination was berthed at the new Carnival terminal in the Port of Miami today, which made the embarkations process all the more efficient. We were getting our photo taken at 12:30pm and were on board shortly afterward. While waiting for staterooms to be ready at 1:30pm, we found a comfortable seat in the atrium lobby and enjoyed a rum punch from the lobby bar. While full, the ship doesn’t seem at all crowded.

Our standard outside stateroom on Upper Deck was worth waiting for—as part of the “Evolutions of Fun” enhancements, all accommodations now have flat screen televisions, Carnival Comfort beds, and new furnishings and bathroom fixtures. Particularly useful are bedside tables and a corner shelf beneath the television for storing small objects. There’s plenty of closet space, including shelves. The vanity/desk has drawers for even more storage. Bring your own hair dryer, though… they aren’t provided, although you may be able to borrow one to use during the cruise if you ask immediately after boarding. You won't have to ask for fluffy terrycloth robes to use; they are waiting in the closet.

While exploring the rest of the ship we were equally impressed with the fresh appearance of lounges and public rooms. A major improvement is that tables have replaced "dated" booth-style seating in the dining rooms, resulting in more room to move around for both guests and waiters. And our dinner was excellent—it’s hard to beat the food on a Carnival ship.

Another upgrade can be found in public restrooms throughout Carnival Imagination—fashionable basin-style sinks, heavy duty hand dryers, and all automatic fixtures. You don’t have to lift a finger to turn on the water, the powerful hand dryer, or even flush.

We’re sure to find a lot more to like tomorrow during our day at sea. Follow along as we tour the ship and discover other changes aboard Carnival Imagination.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Smooth Jazz Cruise Hits the Beach at Half Moon Cay

Dressing to the nines for dinner is always special and never more so than on a cruise. Not only did the Pinnacle Grill meet our expectations once again—they set the bar pretty high the other night—but they exceeded them during our formal night last evening.

Like many people, I don’t do time zone change well, particularly when it means losing an hour. However, last night we also reclaimed the hour lost earlier in the cruise which meant the late-night comedy show starring Alonzo Bodden wasn’t too late, even for me. And I didn’t want to miss it.

This morning was a good one to sleep in just a bit since Westerdam’s scheduled arrival time at Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s private island, wasn’t until 11am. (We shared Half Moon Cay today with passengers from fleetmate Maasdam, pictured above.) Another day in paradise awaited ashore where we enjoyed the pristine beach under an overcast sky. The clouds were no problem; it was still nice and warm but not overly hot and humid. Oh yes, there was food—a terrific barbecue and tropical drinks.

Alas, it’s time to think of packing up to disembark tomorrow. Our cruise has been a week of music, fun, activities, more fun, and making new friends. A fellow passenger from Montreal commented that if nations could follow the example of passengers aboard The Smooth Jazz Cruise then we’d all live in a better world. I can’t disagree.

I’ve only hit the highlights from Westerdam this week. Watch in the coming days for more about The Smooth Jazz Cruise.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Smooth Jazz Cruise at Sea Aboard Westerdam

Captain Peter Harris promised us clear skies and balmy weather for our day at sea and he’s delivered. It’s a gorgeous, sunny day on board Westerdam—just perfect for a volleyball competition in the pool or lazing on a deck chair.

The day’s line-up of activities is full with autograph signings, a poolside party, and “Just Sweet Enough” cooking class with Gerald Albright. Naturally there is music everywhere.

I must admit that I wasn’t a Smooth Jazz aficionado when we boarded last Sunday and barely knew what to expect. While the style is difficult to describe, it’s a little bit funky with some soul and R&B tossed in, all performed to a great beat. It’s contemporary and the sounds are infectious. And, yes, you can dance to it—Janet, a fellow passenger who is 83 years young has captivated us during the nightly concerts with her dancing in the aisles. Staying seated is nearly impossible.

Tonight is our only formal night of the cruise and the ladies I’ve spoken to are looking forward to dressing up… not that this isn’t a well-dressed crowd. All other evenings have been smart casual and nearly everyone has ramped it up a notch.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Westerdam in Curacao: The Smooth Jazz Cruise

One appealing aspect of an evening spent in port is the accessibility to local dining and nightlight. Well, it usually is appealing. Although Carlos ‘n Charlies has its charm, I doubt that any Westerdam passengers were there last night. In fact, the hottest night spot in Aruba was surely the Vista Lounge when all the artists on board took the stage and special guest Jeffrey Osborne made his first appearance.

In addition to the amazing entertainment, Westerdam’s chefs outdid themselves with the deck BBQ dinner (pictured). We were treated to down-home and upscale fare: ribs, steak, chicken salmon, chilled salads, and the best jambalaya at sea. There was even a white chocolate fountain with assorted fruits for dessert.

Although our sailaway party wasn’t until midnight, it looked like everyone aboard was there to bid goodbye to Aruba. We awoke this morning in Curacao, one of my favorite Caribbean islands. The day ashore was all too short, but we have a full afternoon of activities ahead of us with lectures and one-on-one meetings with the stars and the second round of Wayman Tisdale’s Star Search.

Tonight’s concert, featuring Mindy Abair and Jeffrey Osborne, promises to be one of my favorites. And, because tomorrow is a sea day, we can stay up late to enjoy the musicians in Westerdam’s lounges and not have to worry about getting up too early in the morning.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Westerdam in Aruba: the Smooth Jazz Cruise

Aruba is called “One Happy Island” and we were as pleased to be going ashore with our Smooth Jazz Cruise caps (photo) and bags as the residents were to welcome us. In addition to the main show last night, extremely strong winds kept us rocking and rolling aboard Westerdam so we have looked forward to spending all day in Aruba.

In fact, we’ll be docked here until midnight and tonight’s schedule includes one of the signature events arranged by Jazz Cruises LLC for their full-ship charters. It’s Caribbean Luau Night, which begins with a Poolside BBQ Dinner and ends with a Luau Sailaway Party. Naturally there is also a show in the Vista Lounge. Tonight’s Stars in Concert performance will feature all the artists.

It’s been fun to meet jazz fans from all over the country. Many travel to attend concerts and some have been on previous jazz cruises. Their delight at seeing one another is infectious and we are having a great time—this is a very social mix of people.

Because food is such a highlight of any cruise, I’d like to say a word about the cuisine on Westerdam—delicious. Seriously, we’ve enjoyed every meal so far and service has been superb. Last night we dined in the alternative restaurant, Pinnacle Grill and it was so fantastic that we made second reservation for later this week.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Tuesday at Sea: The Smooth Jazz Cruise Aboard Westerdam

It’s all about the music here on the Smooth Jazz Cruise. I don’t pretend to know a lot about it, but the performances in concert last night had me tapping my toes and, of course, swaying with the beat. Ranging from the simplicity of unplugged guitars to the rich sounds of multiple horns, Westerdam was rocking.

For today at sea—the sky is blue and the sea is full of “smooth” wavelets. Clearly we’re in for a beautiful day full of activities and behind-the-scenes looks into the lives and careers of the musicians who are working so hard to entertain us.

In addition to the lectures and autograph sessions, there may be a Smooth Jazz “Idol” in the making aboard Westerdam. One talented passenger will win Wayman Tisdale’s Star Search competition.

Pictured here is the little towel critter created by Hendry, surely one of the most personable cabin stewards at sea. The Smooth Jazz Cruise bag will come in handy when we go ashore in Aruba tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Smooth Jazz Cruise Monday at Sea On Board Westerdam

Even on a dreary afternoon yesterday in port Everglades we could feel the electricity generated by fellow passengers during embarkation on Westerdam. Many were repeat Smooth Jazz Cruisers and are here to enjoy their favorite music and artists in concert. Later, as we waited in the Sports Bar (Giants versus Green Bay) for our after-dinner show, one music (and football) enthusiast told me this was his fourth Smooth Jazz Cruise—he’d only missed the first one.

To kick off the Welcome Show, Rick Braun and his trumpet made a grand entrance, giving the audience a close-up as he played his way to the stage. While the music swept over the Vista Lounge, everyone was on their feet, moving and clapping to the beat. A few bars of “won’t you let me take you on a sea cruise” were met with approval.

Smooth Jazz Cruise posters awaited on our beds last night—pillow gifts that are great for collecting autographs, as are the program books we received earlier. We’ll have plenty of opportunity to use them.

Although today’s seas are a tad rough and we’ve encountered strong winds and some rain, we began the day on a high note during a rousing Gospel Hour with Jonathan Butler. What an appropriate way to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on this, his national holiday.

Don’t get the impression that it’s all seriousness on board Westerdam. Today is also T-Shirt Party Day with complimentary afternoon cocktails and snacks served poolside and later a behind the scenes look at “how songs become” and then Daiquiris with artist Mindi Abair. Naturally, we’ll attend another concert after dinner.

Because we set our clocks forward an hour tonight I may have to cut my time short at the PA-JAM-A party. At least I’ll be ready to fall right asleep—the late night dress code calls for PJs and, of course, jazz.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Pre-cruise: The Smooth Jazz Cruise

Oops. The weather is today’s hot topic of conversation among most folks here at our pre-cruise hotel in Fort Lauderdale. It’s a bit dreary and drizzling, but as one gentleman from Wisconsin put it—it’s not cold and it isn’t snowing.

Poolside last evening it became apparent that many people staying here are members of groups that are boarding a variety of ships today. Our cruise is a full-ship charter, the Smooth Jazz Cruise, and while we didn’t meet anyone sailing with us, the folks we spoke to are looking forward to enjoying special interests on their cruises as much as we are.

Whether it’s a full ship charter or not, there are a lot of “theme” groups on board cruise ships theses days. Just this past week I received information about a “Betty Boop” cartoon fan cruise and a series of “Wild Winners” Tournament cruises, featuring a series of slot, blackjack, and poker tournaments. Check out the Cruise News for details.

Time to pack up the car and head to Port Everglades. Mel says the rain has let up and Westerdam awaits.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Cruise Travel: Packing, Packing, and More Packing

The one thing I dislike about any trip is the physical act of packing suitcases. Yes, I've done it many times over the years and it should be an effortless task. Normally it is. However, in the case of our upcoming trip (we'll be on our way to Fort Lauderdale by the time you read this!), packing means two cruises back-to-back on different ships. Think "coordination" of enough clothing and other stuff. Thankfully, we have a day between the two cruises to re-group and do some laundry at a friend's home in the Fort Lauderdale area.

What's on Cruise Diva's schedule? First is the Smooth Jazz Cruise on Holland America Line's Westerdam. We embark Sunday, Jan 20, so watch for daily blog updates from sea through the 27th. You'll definitely want to sail along.

After a week aboard Westerdam, we'll embark on Carnival Imagination for an "Evolutions of Fun" cruise on Mon, 1/28. Again, watch here for daily blogging about the upgrades and all the fun of a Carnival cruise.

I'm anticipating blue skies, warm temperatures, and calm seas. Don't miss it!

Friday, January 18, 2008

'Turf's Up!' The Grass Will Be Greener on Celebrity Solstice

There's a new job opening at Celebrity Cruises: groundskeeper. The perfect candidate must be willing to perform his or her duties while traveling the world aboard a beautifully appointed ocean liner. The successful candidate also must be a dedicated horticulturist who possesses an unmistakable enthusiasm for the unexpected, as the greens will be miles out at sea.

When Celebrity Solstice launches in December, passengers will find that the grass really is greener on a Celebrity Cruises voyage. The ship will present an industry first on the top deck of the ship: real, growing grass, set in an innovative new country club environment known as "The Lawn Club." The half-acre Lawn Club on Celebrity Solstice will invite guests to enjoy bocce ball and croquet, practice their putting, picnic with a basket of wine and cheese, or simply feel the grass between their toes, while sailing the oceans of the world. The area also will feature the Hot Glass Show, another first in the industry, developed in collaboration with The Corning Museum of Glass; the Patio on the Lawn; the Lawn Club Shop, and the Sunset Bar.

"We want our guests to experience the unexpected, like the thrill of sinking a putt on a freshly manicured lawn in the middle of the ocean," said Dan Hanrahan, President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises. "The experiences on and around the lawn exemplify what we aim to achieve: to recognize, celebrate and indulge our guests in style."

The Lawn Club is the central element of the top-deck experiences on Celebrity Solstice. The Patio on the Lawn offers elegant yet relaxed sitting areas where luxury meets casual country club charm. Guests can read the morning paper, lose themselves in a good novel, or enjoy a cup of gourmet coffee with friends, courtesy of the patio's coffee cart service.

Get more information about The Lawn Club in Cruise Diva's Cruise News and read even more in "I Love the Nightlife," an inside preview of what's new and what's hot on Celebrity Solstice. Cruise Diva has the details and EVEN MORE images.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Port Everglades Hosts Nautical Royal Rendezvous

Queen Victoria, the newest liner in Cunard Line's fleet, made her maiden call at Ft. Lauderdale on Jan 16, just three days after making an historic Royal Rendezvous in New York on Sunday with both sister-ships Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2. Queen Victoria has been sailing with QE2 since departing Southampton, England on Jan 6 making a tandem Transatlantic Crossing together and meeting up again at Port Everglades. Who says that "sisters" engage in sibling rivalry? These two get along great.

Cunard's newest ship is on her Maiden World Cruise, while grand dame QE2 has begun her 26th and final World Cruise. QE2 will complete her service to the Cunard fleet in Nov 2008.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cruise Travel: Private Islands

When describing the “best” Caribbean port they visited, many cruise passengers might mention a destination you’ve never heard of. Half Moon Cay? Great Stirrup Cay? Castaway Cay? Where are they? Definitely off the beaten track, those are cruise line private islands.

Established to provide a beach break on an island (or part of one) reserved for their exclusive use, most passengers don’t select an itinerary based solely upon whether their chosen ship calls at a private island, but usually consider the stop a highlight of their cruise vacation. The very least you can expect of your private paradise is lush foliage and wide swath of beach surrounded by azure water. Facilities vary, but a beach barbeque, water sports equipment rental, lounge chairs, hammocks, and bathrooms are standard.

Holland America Line's Half Moon Cay has some of the finest facilities you'll find on a private island and I'm looking forward to enjoying them not once, but TWICE in the upcoming weeks. Cruise Diva will be aboard HAL's Westerdam next week and blogging about the Smooth Jazz Cruise hosted by Wayman Tisdale; Half Moon Cay is on our itinerary. The following week I'll board Carnival Imagination to check out the recently completed "Evolutions of Fun" upgrades and share them here. Yes! Half Moon Cay is also a scheduled stop for my Carnival cruise.

Want to find out more about the cruise lines’ private sanctuaries. Get the details--go ashore with and explore Cruise Lines Private Islands.

Photo: Horseback riding at Half Moon Cay, Courtesy of Holland America Line

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Cruise Travel: Texas Longhorns-Style

It seems to be true that in Texas, everything is bigger. When one of Royal Caribbean's largest and most innovative ships arrived in the Port of Galveston for its winter cruise season, they didn't "mess with Texas." To make Voyager of the Seas even larger than life, the cruise line attached the world’s largest set of longhorns to the ship. Not only that, but they are flying Texas-sized Lone Star flags from either side of the ship's bow.

At 600 pounds and spanning 140 feet, the longhorns will adorn the 138,000 ton ship throughout the winter cruise season. However, when the ship leaves Texas in April to head to Europe for the summer, YOU could show your Texas spirit by claiming ownership of the largest set of longhorns ever created. Oh yes, the giant state flags are included. Simply mosey on over to eBay and put in your bid. The longhorns, made of 10 oz flame retardant vinyl coated nylon and valued at $24,844, come with four blowers, a 30 ft storage bag, a cold repair kit, an all-important instruction manual, plus a 2-year guarantee on workmanship and materials. The four 70x85 ft nylon triangular-shaped state flags are valued at $23,468, AND the winning bidder also receives a 7-night Royal Caribbean cruise for two onboard Voyager of the Seas out of Galveston. The cruise, in a balcony stateroom, which is valued at $1,049 per person, must be taken between Dec. 2008 and April 2009 (some restrictions apply).

At this writing the bids are up to $2,550. C'mon high rollers, you know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em... think big and become the only Texas Longhorns fan on the block to own the ultimate inflatable yard ornament. Your generosity will support Starlight Starbright Children’s Foundation, which is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of children and families suffering through childhood illness. All proceeds will be donated to the charity.

We'd like to reward Royal Caribbean with a couple dozen yellow roses for originality and generosity!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Three Cunard Queens Rendezvous in New York

New York's iconic Statue of Liberty stood tall as a fitting backdrop for a Royal Rendezvous of Cunard Line's three luxury liners - Queen Mary 2, QE2 and the new Queen Victoria, which made her maiden call to New York yesterday. Thousands of maritime buffs lined the shores of lower Manhattan to see the regal fleet gather for the first and only time in New York. During a celebration that began with a whistle salute by each liner, the nautical royalty made a majestic procession through New York harbor illuminated by a fireworks-filled sky as they departed on their respective voyages. It is the first time that three Cunard Queens have been in service simultaneously in the company's 168-year history.

Photo Courtesy of Cunard Line

Cruise Wave Season: Travel Insurance Tips For Smooth Sailing in 2008

Cruise Wave Season is upon us: the annual three-month period from January through March when record numbers of cruises are booked by winter-weary individuals in search of a respite. While you're planning your high seas getaway, make sure you have travel insurance to protect your trip from the unforeseen events that can sink your cruise vacation, such as lost or delayed baggage, missed airline connections, and travel delays due to bad weather.

"With travel insurance, you can relax and enjoy peace of mind that your vacation is protected, all for a small fraction of your trip cost," explains Jim Grace, President and CEO of "So before you make your great cruise escape, understand the basics of travel insurance with these facts from"
  • No two travel insurance policies are the same
  • Coverages and premiums vary widely
  • Don't just buy the first policy you find; compare and get expert advice
  • Shop at one source to save time and money
  • Be a smart shopper, ask the right questions, and use an independent, unbiased, 50-state licensed insurance agency
  • Travel Insurance is insurance and coverage is more than just a limit; the policy wording is very important
  • The policy you purchased last year is often a very different policy this year as companies are constantly changing coverages and policy wording to meet consumer demand
  • is the most popular travel insurance website in the world and provides all of these services under one roof
"Lastly and perhaps most importantly, cruisers should know their coverage options," says Grace. "Typically, if you purchase travel insurance directly through a travel supplier such as a cruise line, airline, or tour operator, you cannot protect yourself should that travel supplier go bankrupt or become financially insolvent. Therefore, it's best to purchase your travel insurance protection from a third-party source."

Research is key to finding the right insurance at the right price for your particular needs. Cruise Diva recommends because it allows cruisers to review, rate, compare, and purchase travel insurance from the leading U.S. travel insurance companies in a completely secure environment. To find the protection that best suits your travel plans, visit their website or call (800) 487-4722 to speak with an expert travel insurance professional.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Norovirus: Not Just For Cruise Ships Anymore

London's Sunday Times is reporting that an outbreak of Norovirus has reached epidemic proportions in the UK. At least 2.8 million people have been struck with what they call the "winter vomiting bug" during the usual winter cold and flu season. With some hospitals on red alert and schools sending out letters to explain the symptoms to parents, there's no end in sight.

What's significant about this story is that not once in the article was Norovirus called "the cruise ship disease." Thank goodness some reporters recognize Norovirus for what it is--an extremely common illnesses that can strike anywhere.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Cruise Ships: Where You Can & Can't Smoke

One of the unhappiest groups of cruisers I've even met were four World War II veterans aboard R-1. It was back in 1999, when now defunct-Renaissance Cruises was the only no-smoking-allowed cruise line in existence. The otherwise charming vets were all cigarette smokers whose wives thought a cruise on a non-smoking ship would prompt them to abandon their habit. It didn't.

Those cunning gents managed to light the smoking lamp in the middle of the night on a deserted aft deck. As far as I know, no one complained, but that was over eight years ago and smoking is even less popular now than it was then.

Today's cruisers don't have to engage in "closet" smoking, but they do have to be considerate and follow the rules. Cruise Diva looks at the changing times in Smoke on the Water and outlines cruise lines' smoking policies.

Photo: Churchill's Cigar Bar Aboard Queen Victoria

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Iguazu Falls: Before or After a Cruise

On Monday, I introduced you to Amber Blecker and the hurdle she had to overcome to reach Buenos Aires, Argentina for her pre-cruise trip to Iguazu Falls. I love it when a story has a happy ending and I'm glad to report that she made it! In this case, you could call it a happy, if slightly delayed, beginning.

As Amber reports, "Iguazu Falls is widely acknowledged as one of the great waterfalls in the world, on a par (both in size and in strength) with Victoria Falls in Africa, and even larger than Niagara Falls in New York. Set in the midst of the rain forest at the juncture of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, this small area is one of the largest attractions in Argentina."

For the rest of her impressions, including photos, follow Amber's trip journal at CruiseResource News Blog.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Cruise Travel: Do You Want to Dance?

Every week I'm mesmerized by the beauty and strength of the contestants on television's Dancing With the Stars. Ask any athlete and they'll tell you that no one works harder than a dancer. Whether it's ballet, tap, or classic ballroom, dancing is a work-out that requires concentration and determination.

Over the years I've met many couples who signed up for a crash course in tango or cha-cha-cha before their first cruise. I have to admire their effort, although it was sometimes painfully obvious that they were mentally counting the beats of the music and hoping they wouldn't make a mis-step.

Couples with rhythm in their souls--and feet--have even more incentive to pack their dancing slippers for future cruises on Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas as their new production show, "Invitation to Dance" takes ballroom dancing to sea level. After an evening of Dancing With the Stars-style try-outs at the beginning of each cruise, four couples will be selected to participate in the "Invitation to Dance" production show. The finalists then work with Royal Caribbean's professional dancers to learn slick dance moves, attend costume fittings, and receive star treatment in preparation for their stage debut later in the week. Showtime is a heady evening in the spotlight for the dancing couples as they join the Royal Caribbean cast on stage and compete against each other for the applause and support of their fellow guests.

As someone who's performed a dance routine on a cruise ship, my advice to anyone who plans to audition is... stages at sea tend to move with the motion of the ocean. See what I mean in That's Entertainment, an insider's look at the Passenger Talent Show.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cruise Ads: Name Those Tunes

Catchy music can make or break a television commercial for me. If a favorite--or even familiar--song is featured, it's more than likely to capture my attention. Carnival ads featuring "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" never failed to make me feel like dancing.

Now that "Wave Season" is upon us, two cruise lines are riding the crest with new ad campaigns, including television commercials that began running yesterday. Carnival has introduced three, each with a different theme. Not to be out-done, Norwegian Cruise Line has launched a series of six. While I haven't seen the NCL ads yet, I have seen a sample of Carnival's.

You can also preview one of the 30-second television spots at Carnival's web site (just click the player to start the video). It's a low-key, heartwarming family-focused scenario appropriately backed by the lyrics of Queen, "oooh, you make me live," from the classic You're My Best Friend. While the music sounded vaguely familiar, I have to admit that I'd never heard of Queen. There are two more commercials I haven't seen yet, so I'm reserving judgment. I didn't want to jump up and dance, but the expression on the parents' faces when their little girl pets a dolphin is enough to make me want to recreate the experience with my own daughter. That is, if I had a daughter, I'd really want to share that feeling of wonder with her.

Carnival is also rolling out a print advertising campaign and I applaud them for featuring photos shot onboard one of the line's older Fantasy-class vessels. The "Consider it an adult moment..." advertisement illustrates the new all-adults-only "Serenity" deck beautifully and demonstrates confidence in the entire "Fun Ship" fleet.

Cruise Diva will be aboard Carnival Imagination later this month to give the Serenity deck and other "Evolutions of Fun" enhancements a try. I'll be blogging from on board, so you can sail along with me.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Cruise Travel: Arrive A Day Early & Insure Your Trip

For more years than I'd like to count, I've advised cruise passengers to arrive in their embarkation port city at least a day before their ships departure. At no time is that more important than when sailing from a far-away, or foreign, port. There are just too many things that could go wrong involving air travel these days. Consider the many flight and luggage delays and, as my friend Amber Blecker discovered yesterday while awaiting her flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, "the most dreaded word in a traveler's vocabulary associated with my flight... CANCELLED." Yes, a flight cancellation is the ultimate delay.

Amber blogs at CruiseResource News and planned to begin a "Live from" format to share her pre-cruise trip to Iguazu Falls and Star Princess South America and Antarctic cruise. Fortunately, she's rebooked her flight to Argentina for today, but the consequence of that cancelled flight meant more than simply a day's wait to get there. Amber's plan to see Iguazu Falls before she embarks on her cruise involves a connecting flight from Buenos Aires, which she won't arrive in time to catch.

Thankfully, Amber is a savvy traveler as well as a travel agent and has trip insurance. Her story begins with "Attitude is Everything" and you'll want bookmark her blog to follow her adventure.

For a peek at the sights, Cruise Diva recalls her trip to Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Teen Visits Dawn Princess to Thank Those Who Saved her Life

SAN DIEGO (Jan 6, 2008) – While it didn't look like she'd make the meet-up, 14-year-old Laura Montero, the teen who was successfully airlifted off Dawn Princess for an emergency appendectomy last month, was released from the hospital in time to greet the Captains and Crews of Dawn Princess and the USS Ronald Reagan who helped save her life.

In a special ceremony hosted aboard Dawn Princess, Captain Fortezze was honored to welcome Montero back on board and meet in person for the first time the Captain and crew of the USS Ronald Reagan who came to her aid when she required emergency surgery. Pictured above, the teen presents Dawn Princess Captain Marco Fortezze (left) and USS Ronald Reagan Captain Terry Kraft (right) with notes of thanks she wrote while recovering in the hospital.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Working Hand-In-Hand At Sea: Princess Cruises & The US Navy

Officers and crew of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and cruise ship Dawn Princess are set to meet in person at San Diego's Broadway Pier on Sunday, Jan 6th for the first time since successfully evacuating and saving the life of a teenage passenger in desperate need of an emergency appendectomy.

On Dec 15, 2007, the crew of the USS Ronald Reagan helped evacuate 14-year-old Laura Montero, who suffered a ruptured appendix while vacationing aboard Dawn Princess. After a dramatic helicopter transfer from the cruise ship sailing off the coast of Baja, Mexico to the aircraft carrier, the US Navy ship's surgeon performed an emergency appendectomy. (For details, see An Unexpected "Excursion" From Dawn Princess.)

The captains of Dawn Princess and USS Ronald Reagan remained in close contact during the approximate six hours it took to bring the ships within helicopter range during the night. Their face-to-face meeting for an official thank you will include not only the gratitude of Princess Cruises, but also that of the teen's mother. Laura, still recuperating in San Diego, is expected to return to her home in Albion, Illinois next week.

Don't Leave Home Without These Travel Aids

When I simply, positively have to, I fly to my embarkation port for a cruise. Usually that means that I'm flying solo. However, even when my husband accompanies me, conversation often wanes after we've made the decision that there's time enough for lunch in TGI Fridays rather than catching a quick bite at Burger King.

After listening to more than enough of CNN Airport News or when boredom sets in during a flight, an iPod becomes my indispensable companion. Both in the terminal and on the plane, the only thing that makes it more valuable is a set of Bose noise-canceling headphones (from Magellan's Catalog). With those, I can escape for hours in the company of Elvis, Aaron Neville, or any one of my other chosen artists. For a time, I can relive the sounds of my favorite movies, my youth, or get in a cruising mood with Jimmy Buffet. Crying babies don't intrude; neither do chatty seat-mates. They simply don't exist in the tranquility of my private world.

It isn't that I'm anti-social. It's just that I enjoy my space--something that is difficult to find these days in crowded airports and on fully booked flights. Try an iPod escape on your next trip. You'll thank me.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Cruises: Love Me (not so) Tender

Cruise ship passengers returning to their vessels from a day ashore in Grand Cayman had a bumpy ride Wednesday afternoon. A cold front arrived in the area earlier than expected and caught some passengers aboard tenders in 8 to 12 foot seas that made it nearly impossible for them to return to their ship.

One of five ships calling at Grand Cayman that day, Royal Caribbean's Radiance of the Seas opted to use their own lifeboat tenders rather than the larger vessels operated by local provider, Caribbean Marine Services. Problems began for the small lifeboats at about 1pm when the wind shifted to the north and exposed the west side of Grand Cayman to large swells. As a result of the high seas, Radiance of the Seas lifeboats were unable to safely offload tender passengers to the ship. Tender operations were temporarily suspended and all lifeboats were directed away from George Town Harbor to the smaller South Terminal, where passengers waited ashore before eventually being transported back to their ship. All-in-all, it took some passengers several hours to return to the cruise ship, with the last ones arriving on board at 5:30pm.

Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas opted to bypass its Grand Cayman port call on Thursday due to continued rough weather; however, two Carnival cruise ships weren't deterred from using the alternative Spotts Dock to complete their scheduled itineraries without incident.

An interesting editorial in Thursday's Caymanian Compass urges the government to move swiftly with two-year old plans to construct cruise ship berthing facilities because, "Small tender craft bouncing around, offloading passengers in heavy surf while banging into cruise ships and piers could have easily led to disaster." Whatever the hold-up is, the editorial opines that, "Considering what happened in the harbor on Wednesday, we should be counting our lucky stars and not the revenues lost by the bad weather."

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Wave of Cell Phone Service at Sea

Your New Year's resolution might read something like, "Get away from it all--take a cruise." However, if you're like many of us and have small children, elderly parents, or are self-employed, those lazy days at sea can be stressful. Just knowing that you can pick up the phone and check on the family or take care of business if you have to can greatly add to your vacation time enjoyment.

That's possible on more cruise ships thanks to an deal inked yesterday between Norwegian telecommunications group Telenor ASA and Princess Cruises, Cunard Line, and P&O Cruises Australia to install and operate the cellular network onboard 21 of their ships with a total capacity of approximately 45,000 passengers, as well as 20,000 crew. The service, provided by Telenor's wholly-owned subsidiary, Maritime Communications Partner (MCP), will allow everyone onboard to use their own mobile phones when sailing.

As with any cruise ship cellular service, check with your own mobile service provider to be sure your phone is compatible. If it isn't, you might want to consider renting a GSM-enabled phone that will work not only at sea, but in foreign ports of call as well. The peace of mind is well worth the cost.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Compensation Plans in the Works for Hurtigruten's MS Fram Passengers

MS Fram, built in 2007, and at 12,700 tons specially designed for cruising arctic waters, is sailing to Ushuaia, Argentina, after engine problems in Antarctica on Dec 28 caused the ship to drift into a glacier front at Brown Bluff and suffer damage to a single lifeboat. There were no reported injuries to passengers nor damage to the ship itself. The ship was able to restart its engines quickly and made its way to Chilean base Frei at King Georges Island for inspection. After the inspection, the decision was made to send the ship back to Ushuaia, scheduled to arrive on Jan 2.

Hurtigruten takes safety very seriously and it is of the outmost importance that the ship and all safety equipment on board are in perfect condition. This includes replacement of the lifeboat and identifying and repairing the cause of the engine problems. The line has therefore decided to cancel the upcoming Jan 2 Antarctica cruise in order to accomplish those tasks. Approximately 240 passengers will be affected by this cancellation. MS Fram will resume her scheduled cruise departures on Jan 10.

A compensation plan has been announced for passengers affected by the MS Fram's recent shortening of its Antarctica sailing of Dec 25 and cancellation of the Jan 2, 2008 departure. The refund amount for passengers currently aboard is in the process of being determined with information to be released immediately after passengers are notified; in the meantime, they will be offered a 30% reduction of fares for a future sailing in Antarctic or along the Norwegian coast. Passengers booked on the cancelled Jan 2 departure will receive a full refund of the cruise and its components as well as 50% off future Antarctica or Norwegian Coastal sailings.

Hurtigruten is making every effort to book all passengers on departures that run through Feb 2008. Re-bookings with the discount must be made by April 1, 2008, are non-transferrable, and can be for 2008-2009 season. Affected passengers can contact their travel agent or Hurtigruten at (800) 323-7436 or (212) 319-1300.