Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cruise Review: Norwegian Pearl

Veteran cruisers Mary and Vincent Finelli have done it again—they've been out to sea and share a review of their recent Norwegian Pearl cruise through the Western Caribbean.

Not only do they give an insider's look at the ship, "Freestyle Cruising," and what to expect in an accessible stateroom, but they also share some insight with readers about the history of Norwegian Cruise Line and the Port of Miami.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Mariner: Day 5, Dominica

Dominica is a port of call that’s unfortunately not on the itineraries of most cruise ships. Unspoiled, its interior is a lush rain forest dotted with waterfalls and that’s what shore excursions are focused upon today.

Back on board, it’s our final afternoon to enjoy Seven Seas Mariner since we’ll be leaving for home tomorrow. There’s no better way to spend our limited time today than in a cabana on the pool deck. Curtained for privacy, each of the three cabanas is furnished with thickly padded wicker sofas. The ideal spot to kick back and relax, unlike on other ships, here on Seven Seas Mariner there is no charge. Cabanas are first-come, first-served, but we've had no trouble finding one available. Waiters from the pool bar drop by to offer refreshments and the pool grill is nearby if we have the urge to snack.

What about last night’s Caribbean deck barbeque? We got rained on while anchored off St. Barts so the festivities were curtailed somewhat. However, the barbeque was prepared as planned in a covered area and there was enough seating for those of us who wanted to dine poolside. The “Disco on Deck” party was moved indoors to the Horizon Lounge and it was rocking into the wee hours. Seven Sea Mariner’s staff scrambled to make it all work and the evening proved to be just as much fun as if the rain hadn’t inconvenienced them.

I really hate to pack tonight… we’ve met such interesting people and this has been such an enjoyable and laid back segment of the world cruise that we wish it could last longer.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Mariner: Day 4, St. Barts

As you might expect, everything happening on board during a world cruise is something of an event. Yesterday was no exception, with a morning lecture presented by Max Mayfield, who those of us in the U.S. know informally as “Mr. Hurricane.” Formerly the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, he’s particularly familiar to Floridians who’ve counted on his storm predictions over the years. Mayfield began his presentation with praise for Seven Seas Mariner’s passengers for being wise to begin their voyage outside hurricane season and went on to recount how hurricanes have changed the course of history. It was a fascinating talk with a question-and-answer session following.

Another highlight was the grand opening of Seven Seas Mariner’s boutiques. Under new management (by Harding Bros. of the UK), Captain Delavault cut the ribbon and the doors opened to eager shoppers. We had spent a day without retail therapy as they were stocking the shelves and were raring to go. Amid the elegant and costly items are reasonably priced tee-shirts and golf shirts so there’s a bit of something for everyone.

You may question my sanity for including a photo of a passenger launderette in today’s blog. Most of us take a vacation to get away from routine household chores, but lengthy cruises mean that dirty clothes pile up and it’s nice to be able to take care of them on our own. Sending them out to be done is also an option, but the launderettes are complimentary and actually pleasant. They are the first I’ve ever seen on a ship that have a sitting area.

And now it's time to grab a tender ashore and take a stroll around town in St. Barts.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Mariner: Day 3, at sea

Yesterday’s galley tour was most informative on several levels. In addition to learning that Seven Seas Mariner chefs have a database containing 4,000 recipes and only begin to repeat menu items every 14 days, we also learned that guest preferences are also taken into consideration when orders are placed for the ship’s stores. For instance, on the world cruise there is a gentleman whose preference for kale at breakfast has been noted and 75 pounds of his favorite are on board. Not only is there a recipe database, but also a database of guest preferences. That’s simply one example of how Regent Seven Seas Cruises takes service seriously. Even my cabin stewardess has noticed my fondness for green grapes rather than red ones.

Back to the food—while most stores are brought aboard at the beginning of a cruise, fresh items indigenous to the regions where the ships are sailing are also purchased in ports of call. “Destination” meals are a dining highlight as well. During the first leg of the world cruise there will be a Caribbean Barbeque on deck as well as a churrasco when Seven Seas Mariner reaches Brazil.

Last evening before dinner we had the opportunity to meet our neighbors here on deck nine at a Block Party. Everyone was invited to bring a wine glass from their suite and mingle in the passageways as stewardesses served wine and cheese for the gathering. It was a lot of fun and participation was high—one of our neighbors even interrupted her preparation for the evening and attended in her bathrobe.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Mariner: Day 2, at sea

With heightened security concerns in today’s environment, most cruise lines don’t offer tours of the bridge any more. Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ ships had an “open bridge” policy in the past that allowed guests to drop by and view the inner workings at any time, but that has even changed. Happily, in its place are bridge tours and anyone on board can request one.

Our group met in the lobby and proceeded to the bridge where the Seven Seas Mariner’s azipod propulsion system was explained. We also learned about the communications and navigation systems and stepped out onto the open bridge wing for a look at the controls located there.

We’ve discovered a couple favorite spots on board—the Coffee Connection for specialty coffee drinks, tea, and snacks and the Connoisseur Club where Mel can smoke a cigar. Regent’s smoking policy is very strict with no smoking allowed in suites or on balconies. Other than the cigar lounge, smokers can only light up at the Casino bar counter, in a designated area of Stars Nightclub, the outside area of the Horizon Lounge, at the Pool Bar, and on the starboard side of the pool deck. In essence, Seven Seas Mariner is a refreshingly smoke-free ship.

It’s windy and a bit choppy today, which makes an afternoon nap a very appealing prospect. We’re going to visit the galley later to see what the chef has planned for our dinner in the Compass Rose restaurant tonight. Last night’s prime rib will be difficult to top.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Mariner: Embarkation Day

Of all the times we’ve embarked on a cruise, today had to have been one of the easiest. After passing through security, we proceeded aboard Regent Seven Seas Mariner to check-in in the show lounge. What a civilized process. Of course this is not a mega ship carrying thousands of passengers—Seven Seas Mariner accommodates only 700 guests—so that makes the process less painful. I'm just glad I didn't have to unpack some of the luggage being brought aboard today for our fellow passengers who will be on board for the entire world cruise. Steamer trunks may be a thing of the past, but packing for a world cruise must be serious work!

While we waited for our suite to be ready, we headed to the pool grill for lunch. The grill and adjacent seating are upgrades that I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of. The salad bar and a made-to-order burger hit a high note.

Our suite (pictured above) is a Category C Penthouse and we love all 376 square feet of it (with an additional 73 square feet of balcony). The shower has already been deemed the best at sea by Mel—it has a rain forest shower head, a hand-held shower, and a tiled seat, plus great water pressure. My favorites? The walk in closet, dressing table with magnifying mirror, and the large desk.

We haven’t had the opportunity to see all the renovations on board yet, but what was immediately apparent is the change to a neutral color scheme with splashes of bold color accents that has replaced the original blues and peaches.

If dinner tonight in the Compass Rose restaurant is any indication of what’s to come, we’ll have to spend a lot of time in the gym burning off calories. It’s a good thing we’re not one of the world cruisers—they would have to disembark us with a crane.

Tomorrow we’ll be at sea and visiting the bridge and the galley. Join us then!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Cruises Completes Major Ship Refurbishment Project

Regent Seven Seas Cruises (RSSC) has completed the first phase of the company’s most ambitious ship refurbishment program. The line’s 700-guest all-suite, all-balcony luxury vessels, Seven Seas Voyager and Seven Seas Mariner, emerged from their respective dry-docks just in time to debut on their 2009 World Cruises. While we won't be on board for the entire voyage, Cruise Diva is embarking on Seven Seas Mariner in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow and will begin sharing her daily first-hand impressions here on the blog.

The refurbishment program, which cost approximately $40 million–the largest investment on existing tonnage ever by RSSC–was overseen by the line’s Vessel Operations team working in conjunction with renowned marine architectural firm of Yran and Storbraaten of Oslo, Norway. The resulting feel aboard each ship is fresh, elegant and luxurious, while retaining the warmth and charm for which RSSC is acclaimed.Radiating a new sense of warmth and sophistication, the ships’ public spaces are resplendent with elegant new furnishings, carpeting and accents. From the bold jewel tones of Signatures, to the elegant Chablis and Merlot palettes of Compass Rose, or the soothing colors of sand and sea in the Observation Lounge, every area exudes a new sense of style and elegance.

“Both ships have never looked better, they are nothing short of stunning,” said Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises. “Seven Seas Voyager and Mariner each set the benchmark for ultra-luxury cruising when they were introduced. They are now setting new standards and are now undoubtedly the most beautiful vessels in the industry,” he added.

Highlights of the refurbishment on both ships include:

  • The creation of Prime 7, a fresh, contemporary interpretation of a traditional grill restaurant
  • The re-design of lounges and public rooms to create more spacious areas for relaxation
  • The creation of new lounge and dining areas around the Pool Grill
  • New carpeting, wallpaper, upholstery, light fixtures, and drapes in most public areas and guest suite accommodations
  • More casual dining options with the installation of a pizza oven and ice cream bar
  • The creation of an extended coffee and snack bar area on Seven Seas Voyager, similar to the popular Coffee Connection on Seven Seas Mariner
Reaction to the new look and feel of the ships has been universally positive from guests and travel agents alike. Members of RSSC’s newly-formed Regent Seven Seas Council, comprised of the line’s top-producing travel agents, visited Seven Seas Voyager in Los Angeles last Monday. “I have always sold RSSC to my clients with confidence,” said Greg Nacco of Cruise Specialists, a Council member. “But now, with the recent refurbishment and the Free Shore Excursions, I am even more passionate about the product. We’ve had a number of clients already return from their cruises raving about the changes,” he added.

The second phase of the refurbishment program, a similar makeover for the third ship in the RSSC fleet, Seven Seas Navigator, is scheduled to take place in April 2010. For more information, visit Regent Seven Seas Cruises website and follow along here on the blog as Cruise Diva sails on the first leg of the Ring of Fire 2009 World Cruise.

Cruise Diva first reviewed Seven Seas Mariner (pictured above) in 2001 during a port call in Charleston, South Carolina and is anxious to see the changes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Guys & Cruises: The New Male H(e)aven

Men are finding that the cruise experience has them specifically in mind. Contrary to popular belief, guys and cruise travel can—and do—go together. While persuading one's husband, father or a male friend to take a vacation at sea may have been a challenge in the past, today’s cruises offer men of all ages plenty to do—with or without accompaniment by the women in their lives.

“Cruise lines today are pursuing male cruisers as never before, by creating new on board experiences previously unseen and targeted specifically with the men in mind” says Bob Levinstein, CEO of Cruise Compete, LLC. "At sea or in port, there's plenty to keep the male cruiser contented all day long, whether in “active mode” or simply relaxing by the pool or on the beach. It's easier than ever to get a man on a cruise because they are virtually guaranteed to have an unforgettable vacation."

Industry reports indicate men now account for nearly 45 percent of all cruise guests. The number of male-targeted activities offered by the cruise lines clearly reveals this ever-increasing appeal to men of all ages. Among them:

Fabulous Food “24/7”—It’s always “meal time” on a cruise ship. Casual buffets and bistro-style cafes offer light menu items, and ethnic specialty restaurants offer the reservations-only dining experience. Virtually all ships feature 24-hour pizzeria services and room service. The cruise lines also offer expansive menus for persons with special dietary restrictions. In many eateries, casual attire is welcome.

Hit the Gym—Want to continue that workout at sea? The cruise lines have terrific running tracks and state-of-the-art gyms/equipment. What better way to work off that sumptuous cruise cuisine than doing a few laps around a track atop the ship’s upper deck, breathing in that fresh sea air?

Tee It Up—Thought you couldn’t golf at sea? Men who prefer to hit the links rather than the pool or beach can indeed enjoy the game at sea. In addition to amazingly real, on-board computerized golf simulators, many cruise lines have expanded their stops at some of the world's most picturesque and challenging golf courses throughout the world.

Sun Time is Fun Time—Not everyone likes to bake in the sun all day, so the cruise lines have turned themselves into floating entertainment centers. The newest innovations include bowling alleys and Flowrider surfing pools. Virtually all of the major cruise ships already feature winding water slides, challenging rock-climbing walls, giant trampolines and ice skating rinks (sans hockey sticks and pucks), among other recreation amenities.

Private Islands—Many of the cruise lines utilize “private islands” to which only they (and their guests) have access. Their many amenities include beach and water sports, snorkeling, boat and kayak rentals, and hiking and sightseeing opportunities, to name but a few.

Experience Unique Adventure—Cruise travel offers countless opportunities for men looking for adventure. In addition to the private island opportunity described above, a number of cruise lines offer port excursions to fulfill active lifestyles guaranteed to raise everyone's adrenaline. Carnival Cruises take travelers to Belize on an unforgettable cave tubing and rain forest exploration tour. Those traveling with Celebrity Cruises to Alaska have the opportunity to experience a thrilling rain forest canopy and zip line adventure. Cruisers who “like it hot” may enjoy Norwegian Cruise Line's mesmerizing helicopter ride over Kilauea, the Earth's most active volcano. Crystal Cruises puts travelers who enjoy speed behind the wheel of a Formula 1 race car in Monaco, with both on- and off-course instruction.

Pick Your Vice: Beer, Wine, or Cigar Bars—There is no shortage of bars on most cruise ships. International brewers showcase signature and specialty beers and sponsor special onboard beer-tasting parties for those of drinking age. For the more sophisticated palate, wine-tasting opportunities abound. Many cruise ships also feature cigar bars with an expansive assortment of stogies to choose from any time of the day or night. When in port, travelers are invited on special excursions to visit local pubs and brewers. For example, Carnival Cruises’ guests visiting Saint John, New Brunswick can sample their favorite Moosehead beer products and other specialty beers only available on Canada’s Atlantic seaboard.

Roll the Dice—For the “gambling man”, virtually all ocean cruise ships feature floating casinos (with the exception of Disney Cruise Lines). Popular games such as blackjack, roulette, poker, craps and slot machines test one's luck while passing the time. Note that the casinos only operate when the ship is at sea, or when local laws allow gaming in port. If an on-board casino is not enough, many cruise ports also feature land-based casinos. Veteran cruisers tell us that Royal Caribbean's newest ships feature the largest gaming areas.

Relaxation (Spa) Heaven—In the past, the health spas found on many cruise ships were filled almost exclusively with female guests. Times have changed, however, as more men are enjoying the luxurious pampering and ultimate relaxation afforded spa visitors. Renowned Steiner of London, the largest spa provider in the world, operates many of the spas at sea which now rival the very best land-based spas. It is not uncommon to see men enjoying massages, facials and pedicures. Additional services include aromatherapy, hydrotherapy, and thalassotherapy (seawater-based treatments). Herbal and seaweed wraps also are common among many spa guests.

Greatest Shows on Earth—Forget sappy lounge acts; they don’t exist aboard today's cruise ships. From Carnival's “Fiesta Latina and Far from Over: The 80s Musical Reviews”, to Royal Caribbean's “Invitation to Dance”, based on the popular Dancing with the Stars television show, the cruise lines are producing lavish new, multi-million dollar, special effects-laden entertainment extravaganzas. These Las Vegas-style productions are sure to please even the most discerning cruise travelers (and men with short attention spans).

As Cruise Compete's CEO Bob Levinstein puts it, “The cruise lines are offering a number of exceptional deals during 2009 and beyond on a variety of sailings to destinations around the globe. Cruise fares include accommodations, superb food all day and night, white-sand beaches, world-class golf, relaxing spas, gambling, adventure and quality entertainment and shows. Simply put, for an average of $50-$100/day, there is absolutely no better value out there."

Cruise Diva adds this advice: "Don't pay more for your cruise than your tablemates. CruiseCompete makes it easy to let independent agents compete to offer you the best deal." It's a quick and easy way to get the best deal on your cruise vacation. Avoid time-consuming shopping around and let travel agents compete for your business.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Celebrity Cruises Extends Amazing Ships, Amazing Perks Sales Event

Celebrity Cruises has extended their Amazing Ships, Amazing Perks (ASAP) Sales Event until Feb 1st. That means that you have a few more weeks to receive up to $200* onboard credit per stateroom when you book select sailings.

To receive a 50% reduced deposit**, simply book now through Feb 28th, 2009. This offer is valid on all Celebrity sailings* between March 2009 and March 2010.

Why wait? Take advantage of the ASAP Sales Event now by calling your travel agent, visit Celebrity Cruises online at, or call 1.888.305.9153.

*Onboard Credit is not redeemable for cash and is quoted in U.S. Dollars. Any unused amounts are not refundable. This offer is valid for new individual bookings only on a per stateroom basis, and does not apply to groups. Offer valid for all stateroom categories based on availability. Offer is not combinable with any other savings or onboard credit offer. Offer is available for Cruisetours, however, onboard credit amount is applied to cruise portion only. For onboard credit offer, bookings must be made between Jan 5 and Feb 1, 2009. For reduced deposit offer, booking must be made between Jan 1 and Feb 28, 2009. Payment (reduced deposit) must be made at time of booking. The booking must be created, named, and deposited. Booking will not reflect reduced deposit. Onboard credit amount is based on length of cruise, 3-5 nights $50 USD per stateroom, 6-9 Nights $100 USD per stateroom and 10 Nights or longer $200 USD per stateroom. Offer applies to select Celebrity cruises sailing March 2009 through March 2010. Onboard credit will be applied to qualified bookings by Celebrity Cruises within 3 weeks after booking or prior to the departure date. Excludes Celebrity Xpedition sailings. Itineraries and offers are subject to change without notice. Certain restrictions apply.

**IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT BOOKING ONLINE AND REDUCED DEPOSIT: Bookings made on the web site will not show Reduced Deposit amount. Deposit amount will be manually adjusted and difference will be refunded.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Norwegian Star Rescues Sailor Off The Coast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Last Monday night at approximately 9pm, Norwegian Star, while sailing from Cabo San Lucas to Mazatlan, Mexico, answered a mayday call from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) indicating a nearby 45-foot sailboat, the Carpe Diem, was taking on water approximately 60 nautical miles off the coast of Cabo San Lucas.

Carpe Diem Captain Donald Masingale, 65, of Oklahoma, who had been at sea for two days en route from Puerto Vallarta to La Paz, Mexico, where he resides, discovered his boat had a major leak and was rapidly taking on water. After trying to pump out the water, he could not keep up with the water flooding the boat. According to Masingale, he thought he could make it to the nearest shore; however that was some 90 miles away and the boat, filled with water, was difficult to steer in the 30 knot winds and six to eight foot seas. Realizing his boat could capsize at any minute, he sent a distress message to the USCG who relayed the message to Norwegian Star, the closest vessel to the sailboat. Norwegian Star Captain Lars Bergstrom quickly changed course and once they reached the Carpe Diem, dispatched one of the ship’s rescue boats to retrieve Masingale.

Once safely aboard Norwegian Star, the sailor was treated to a warm welcome from the Captain, along with dinner and spent the night in a guest stateroom. He disembarked the ship upon arrival in Mazatlan, Mexico. Before he departed, Masingale thanked the Captain and crew for the rescue and “for the royal treatment once on board.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Carnival Goes North: To Alaska

The start of Carnival’s popular Alaska cruise season is right around the corner, with the 2,124-passenger Carnival Spirit embarking on its first 2009 voyage to the Last Frontier May 13. Carnival Spirit’s 2009 Alaska program will consist of 19 seven-day voyages—16 Glacier Route and three Glacier Bay cruises—through Sept 9.

The week-long Glacier Route voyages operate either northbound from Vancouver to Whittier/Anchorage or southbound Whittier/Anchorage to Vancouver calling at Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka and cruising Prince William Sound, College Fjord and the Inside Passage. The three Glacier Bay cruises operate round-trip from Vancouver on May 6, Sept. 2, and Sept 9, and feature Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, along with two full days cruising the Inside Passage.

In addition to the opportunity to view magnificent Alaskan scenery—calving glaciers, massive snow-covered mountains and rugged fjords—guests sailing on the Carnival Spirit can enjoy all that this exciting “Fun Ship” has to offer. From fun-filled activities for adults and kids alike to captivating entertainment and delicious cuisine—including special menus featuring local Alaskan delicacies—the Carnival Spirit is truly the ideal way to explore the 49th state. For additional information and reservations, contact any travel agent, visit or call Carnival’s Alaska Desk at 1-800-529-6792.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cruise Review: Azamara Quest

Join Allen Fox aboard Azamara Quest for a thoroughly enjoyable 24-night cruise from Athens to Singapore.

In addition to examining the food, entertainment, and shipboard ambiance, Fox relates that, "Azamara does most things really well and what we weren’t 100% happy with did not spoil anything for us. I read a definition of 'luxury' that went along the lines of, 'Luxury is being treated the way you want to be treated,' and I think that this cruise meets this definition."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Silver Wind: Richards Bay, South Africa, Day 7

What would you call a suite that is larger than a one-bedroom Owner’s Suite and that has the largest bathroom on board? Here on Silver Wind it’s currently called a Medallion Suite, despite the fact that it covers 678 square feet versus 587 square feet for an Owner’s Suite and 541 square feet for Silver Suites (Silver Suites are considerably larger and a significant upgrade over Medallion suites on Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper.)

From our photos here, you can see the living room is spacious enough to seat a dozen for cocktails and four can comfortably enjoy room service meals at the dining room table. Three large picture windows offer expansive views.

There are two televisions, DVD and CD players, a large walk-in closet and dressing table, guest powder room, and the bathroom I mentioned above is massive. A water closet encloses the toilet and bidet and there’s plenty of room at the centrally located sink/vanity top to store toiletries. However, it’s the tub/shower room that’s jaw dropping. Next to the jetted tub is a rain shower in an area that could easily accommodate a half dozen people.

The only drawback to the Medallion Suite on Silver Wind is that it has no balcony; however, the suite’s best feature is its price. For one of the largest suites on board (and the largest bathroom), you’ll find it smack in the middle in terms of fare categories.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Silver Wind: Richards Bay, South Africa, Day 6

After two days of big game drives, this diva was ready for some rest and relaxation. Mel set out for an all-day tour and I’ve kicked back on board Silver Wind for a “sea” day. After breakfast in La Terrazza, where fluffy pancakes are prepared to order, I watched a first-run movie in my suite and then claimed a comfy corner in the newly completed Observation Lounge to read and take in the scenery of Richards Bay. After the early morning coffee set up was removed, serve-yourself soft drinks appeared, so everything I need is at hand. From my lofty perch, I could see the tree-lined shore and had the room nearly to myself until it was time to leave for lunch.

Formal dining room lunches aren’t normally my first choice—I’m more the casual poolside grill type—but today’s menu featured Mexican dishes and I couldn’t pass up vegetarian tacos with guacamole and cheese, chicken and goat cheese quesadillas, and enchiladas. Of the three dishes, the spicy quesadillas were my favorite.

Then it was back to a leather sofa in the Observation Lounge with my book and a rum punch from the pool bar. Past passengers will recognize the space the lounge occupies as the former fitness center. A structural addition during Silver Wind’s recent dry dock relocated the gym to its current starboard side location adjacent to the new spa and the Observation Lounge took its place overlooking the ship’s bow. Its shelves are stocked with reference books and board games, but, like me, the few passengers who’ve found their way up to the lounge on deck nine are curled up with novels or snoozing. Or both.

Mel will undoubtedly regale me with his adventure ashore today when he returns; however, I don’t feel like I’ve missed a thing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Silver Wind: Durban, South Africa, Day 5

Silver Wind’s arrival in Durban was somewhat unusual—the harbor pilot was to board via helicopter. Unfortunately, wind and rain thwarted that plan and we were escorted into port by tugboats.

Once tied up, we were greeted by Zulus in tribal dress performing native songs and dance. Inside the terminal was a marketplace of crafts and souvenirs. We made our way through security to coaches that were taking us to the Tala Private Game Reserve where we hoped to catch sight of more Big Five animals—namely the rhino and cape buffalo. We wouldn’t be disappointed, even though the buffalo eluded us.

Once in the game reserve, we immediately spotted giraffes, impalas, hippopotamus, and, finally, the rhinoceros. The day was drizzly and gloomy, but our guide steered the open Land Rover off the beaten path to make sure we’d have the best experience possible. We couldn’t have asked for more.

Back aboard Silver Wind we ordered room service dinner from the restaurant menu and called it a night early. Tomorrow is a big day with an all-day excursion in Richards Bay where we might add another of the Big Five to our sightings.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Silver Wind: Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Day 4

Those of us accustomed to cruising in the Caribbean generally consider “wild life” to be the rush back to the ship after a day at Carlos ‘N Charlies in Cozumel. Today’s wild game drive was entirely different and the real thing. People here in South Africa talk about spotting the Big Five—elephants, buffalo, rhinos, lions, and leopards—and we were about to see two of them.

Addo Elephant Park, which covers over 126,000 acres is as wild and untamed as its residents—elephants, lions, wildebeest, leopard turtles, and kudu. The elephant herd was nearly extinct when the park was established and now there are some 300 that have been bred from the few that remained. We were pretty well assured to see at least some pachyderms and when we reached their favorite watering hole, there were dozens. The baby elephants were particularly adorable, following in their mothers’ shadows to escape the sun and heat. Cameras clicked away as the elephants frolicked in the water and we were treated to quite a show when two males began a skirmish.

The piece de resistance, however, was a rare lion sighting. There are only a dozen lions in the park and we were fortunate to see two—a male and a female lounging in the shade. Our bus escort said she’s been in the park thousands of times and has only seen one. It was quite a thrill. That was what we came to Africa to see and we certainly won’t go home disappointed.

Tomorrow we’ll be in Durban and visiting a much smaller private game reserve. Will we add the other three of the Big Five to our list of sightings? Our cameras are ready!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Silver Wind: At Sea, Day 3

Silversea cruises are all about service and fine dining. Today I was a recipient of the kind of caring service you can expect to find aboard Silver Wind. We decided to sit outside on Deck 8 just aft of the Panorama Lounge where there’s an excellent view of the ship’s wake from padded steamer chairs. While it’s sunshiny and warm, there’s a stiff breeze. After joking to the steward who offered to bring us refreshments that I’d rather have a sweater, he went to get me a blanket. I didn’t ask for one, but he wanted to assure my comfort.

Food is another area that shines on Silver Wind. Today’s luncheon buffet in La Terrazza features the beautifully prepared sushi pictured here. While that may not be “comfort food” to everyone, the pasta course and veal stew served in La Terrazza last night certainly were. Reservations are required for the 35 to 40 seats available for dinner, but there is no added charge for dining in the Italian specialty restaurant.

This evening is formal night aboard Silver Wind and we’re looking forward to familiar dinner favorites like Broiled Lobster Tail and Chateaubriand, however one entrée item has us intrigued—Filet of Highland Venison served with forgotten vegetables and forest flavours. We may have to order that just to find out what vegetables the chef has forgotten. At my house it would be the package of broccoli that got pushed to the back of the freezer.

We'll make it an early night because we're on a shore excursion tomorrow in pursuit of elephant sightings.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Silver Wind: Cape Town, South Africa, Day 2

A good night’s sleep is so important to our well-being that Silversea’s Silver Wind has been outfitted with some of the most comfortable bedding at sea. Before we left home I indicated our preference for a “queen” sized bed configuration and the pillow style we preferred. When we retired last night, it was immediately apparent that Silversea hit a home run with the new firm mattresses and cozy duvet. By the time we awoke to enjoy room service breakfast this morning, we were refreshed and almost over our jet lag.

During her recent renovation, not only were suites outfitted with new bedding, but all carpeting, upholstery, and drapes were replaced. A new bold color scheme successfully blends tones of gold, burgundy, rust and a mossy green to create a comfortable personal environment.

Bathrooms have also been re-done with vessel style sinks, a combination of marble and stone trimmed with warm wood accents, and wood flooring. The one thing left unchanged is the choice of toiletries. Those of us who love Bvlgari products aren’t disappointed.

We’ll sail from Cape Town this evening at 6pm. From sailaway, we’re headed to a sea day, but first we have dinner reservations for a taste of Italy in La Terrazza—tonight’s regional specialty is La Cucina Emiliana.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Silver Wind: Cape Town, South Africa

It was a wonderful feeling to finally arrive this morning after an 11-hour flight from Frankfurt. From what we understand, Lufthansa adds Cape town to its routing only in Germany’s winter months—South Africa is a great warm weather destination when it’s below freezing in Europe (as it was yesterday). The driver who met us at the airport and transferred us to Silver Wind told us the difference between American visitors and those from Great Britain is that Americans ask a lot of questions, while our British cousins simply want to know where the best beaches are.

Because we arrived at the ship hours before the official embarkation time of 3pm, we opted to pay for early embarkation ($100/person) in order to get a head start on our cruise. It made a lot of sense for us to take advantage of the opportunity to go aboard early as we were tired and hungry. By the time we finished lunch at the Pool Grill, our luggage was in our veranda suite. I unpacked while Mel went to the gym to work out the air travel kinks. There was even time for showers and a power nap before dinner.

If tonight was any indication, we’ll be eating quite well this week—the tenderloin of beef with ratatouille was tender and delicious. Our breakfast order is on the doorknob and we’re adjusting our schedule to local time by preparing for some well-deserved slumber.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Flying to South Africa

It's Monday morning, which means our Lufthansa flight has touched down in Frankfurt, Germany and we're preparing for a fourteen hour layover before boarding the next plane to Cape Town, South Africa.

Fourteen hours would be plenty of time to grab an express train from the airport that arrives in the heart of downtown in 15 minutes. From there, we could explore the Goethe Museum, the Museum of Communications, and one of the largest Jewish Museums in Germany. And we could sample some great wursts from any of the many sidewalk vendors.

How are we spending the day? After a long overnight flight—and with another one tonight—we're chilling out in the Sheraton Hotel that is just a short walk from Frankfurt's Rhein Main Airport terminals. The convenience of entering the hotel without leaving the airport was too seductive to pass up.

For our purpose, a room for the day was an ideal choice. I plan to catch up on the sleep I didn't get on the plane and look forward to a nice hot shower before we're on our way.

We'll be in Cape Town, South Africa tomorrow and boarding Silversea Cruise's Silver Wind bound for ports of call where we'll have the opportunity to see wild creatures in their natural habitat—and much more!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cruise Deals Ride The Wave Season

Okay, I know the economy has slipped and, if you listen to the news, we're in the midst of a mini-great-depression. Even so, most Americans are still employed and we love our vacations. We might scale back, but we don't pass up the time to get away from the daily grind and go somewhere. Not knowing what the future may bring, we might not put down a deposit on a cruise for next year, but we still like to plan ahead and savor the anticipation.

So, consider this ... with so many ships to fill, cruise lines are nudging our natural instincts with bargains galore. If you book a "Fun Ship" cruise during their "Fun4All" promotion between Jan. 5-23, 2009, Carnival Cruise Lines is offering free best available upgrades on a wide variety of departures throughout 2009. has announced a Cruise Getaways Sale with "Deals by Destination" that include 4-night Mexico cruises from $189 per person, 7-night Alaska cruises from $499 per person, and 12-night Europe cruises from $799 per person. Plus, Expedia is offering "Featured Cruise Line Offerings" such as kids sail for free on Disney Cruise Line, up to $100 to spend on the ship aboard Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line cruises from $169 plus up to $500 onboard credit.

To celebrate the completion of its fifth year of business, Oceania Cruises launched its largest promotion ever on Jan 7th with price reductions on more than 40 voyages. Windstar is extending its 50% reduction of deposits on all new bookings made now through Feb 28, for any 2009 sailing that is not within final payment requirement, which means that between now and Feb 28, you can make a deposit of $375 per person, instead of $750 per person. Book a cruise before Jan 19th on Azamara Cruises and pay only half the usual deposit, plus get up to $200 in onboard credit.

Even luxury cruise lines like Regent Seven Seas have announced fares that include shore excursions and Crystal Cruises is offering significant savings promotions that range from upgraded and complimentary air travel to family incentives, extended land programs, and dollars off. If you've ever considered a transatlantic crossing on Queen Mary 2, Cunard Line's grand ocean liner, 2009 fares start at just $745 per person.

You know you want to get away and now is the time to lock down a bargain on an otherwise out-of-reach cruise vacation. Certain promotions are time and capacity controlled and who knows how long the deals will last? Cruise Diva's Cruise News has the details on numerous available promotions.

So, where's Cruise Diva going? She's on assignment and arriving in Cape Town, South Africa on Tuesday to join the newly-refurbished Silversea's Silver Wind (pictured above). Watch here for blogs from the ship!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Anticipating the Arrival of Silver Spirit

Silversea Cruises has announced that its newest ultra-luxury ship, Silver Spirit, is set to debut in lavish style with a Grand Inaugural Voyage on Jan 21, 2010. On this extraordinary 91-day journey, dubbed "The Spirit of South America," Silver Spirit will sail from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles and twist back to New York on a fascinating itinerary highlighted by a visit to Rio de Janeiro in time for Carnaval, a journey around the end of the earth at Cape Horn, an in-depth exploration of the Mexican Riviera, a crossing of the Panama Canal and an unforgettable Statue of Liberty event in New York Harbor.

On the magnificent "Spirit of South America" odyssey, guests will visit more than 45 ports in over 20 different countries and island destinations across two continents, enjoying overnight stays in Fort Lauderdale, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Punta Arenas, Lima, Acapulco and Los Angeles. Silversea will begin accepting reservations on Jan 12. An area of the company's website at is now dedicated to Silver Spirit.

Other highlights of the inaugural itineraries include an 11-day "Holiday Spirit" maiden voyage on Dec 23, 2009, sailing from Barcelona to Lisbon; a "Maiden Crossing" transatlantic, departing Jan 3 from Lisbon for 16 days exploring the Atlantic and Caribbean islands before arriving in Fort Lauderdale; and a two-week grand "Atlantic Crossing" to Southampton from New York on April 23.

The 36,000-ton vessel will indulge her 540 guests with the largest suites in the fleet—95% feature a private veranda—and with one of the highest space-to-guest ratios at sea today, 67, providing 6,700 cubic feet of space per guest. The onboard décor will lend a sophisticated 1930s Art Deco ambiance to the public spaces, highlights of which include an indoor/outdoor spa measuring no less than 8,300 square feet, three whirlpools (two adjacent to outdoor pool, one in spa area), enriching performances in The Show Lounge and a choice of six dining venues including Seishin, a Japanese restaurant, and the innovative Stars Supper Club, featuring live music, dancing and nightclub-style entertainment.

After completing her inaugural season, Silver Spirit will spend the summer in the Mediterranean and then reposition to the Caribbean for fall and winter cruises. A new full-color, 36-page brochure showcasing Silver Spirit's Inaugural Season will be available in the coming weeks.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Medical Evacuation at Sea

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to witness a medical evacuation at sea? My friend Dr. Joe Reynolds, an avid cruise traveler, not only saw such an endeavor while on a 2004 transatlantic cruise on the Celebrity Constellation off the western coast of Spain just north of Vigo, he filmed it and shares it with YouTube viewers and now here on the Cruise Diva Blog.

First the crew lowered the mast and railings on the ship's bow and ... well, just watch! That's an incredibly brave team, both aboard the helicopter and on board the ship.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Rome Wasn't Built In A Day...

And it looks like MSC Cruises is going to take longer than that to recover from negative comments as the result of glitches that occurred on MSC Orchestra last weekend. MSC Cruises' latest entry to sail from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean met with a firestorm of criticism online when passengers returned from the 2-day MSC Orchestra cruise earlier this week.

It's unclear exactly what went wrong, but long lines at embarkation were a sign that something was amiss. It appears from the letter written by Rick Sasso, President & CEO MSC Cruises (USA) Inc.—which we have shared below—that boarding time was 4pm. Nevertheless, passengers eager to jump-start their cruise showed up hours before that and ended up waiting in lines that snaked through the terminal and extended to outdoors. A computer problem accounted for some of the melt-down, but one veteran MSC Cruises passenger told me that he remembers being impressed by how efficient the boarding process was on his previous MSC Cruises sailings, both in the Caribbean and in Europe.

What could have gone awry? While reports are circulating that the Immigration & Customs authorities weren't to blame, Cruise Diva suspects that another government body may have played some part in the delay that Mr. Sasso describes below. Any cruise ship with an international itinerary calling at a U.S. port must undergo an operational sanitation inspection performed by teams from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). MSC Orchestra had just arrived in the U.S. for the first time and was undoubtedly inspected that day. While the inspection doesn't generally cause timing problems, I recall one embarkation in the past that was held up because of it.

Obviously, first impressions weren't good and, for some passengers, the situation on board went down from there. Accustomed to North American-style cruise experiences, they simply weren't prepared for the authentic Italian product delivered by MSC Cruises. The line operates no differently in the Caribbean than it does in Europe and that came as a surprise to many on board who were expecting an Americanized version of an Italian cruise. Pizza Hut and Olive Garden, if you will, instead of the Via Veneto. There appeared to be major culture hurdles, resulting in passengers' unmet expectations. Even travel agents seemed stunned and, if anyone should be aware of what to expect, it's the professionals who sell the product.

However, the beauty of the ship couldn't make up for what passengers perceived as poor service and unacceptable food. I wasn't there and can't comment on the situation. I will be sailing on MSC Orchestra in a couple months and will share my impressions at that time.

In the meantime, here's Mr. Sasso's letter to travel agents:

First, I want to express my personal regrets and apologize for all the inconveniences and disappointments you experienced on the Jan 2, 2009 cruise aboard MSC Orchestra. I am very much aware that so many aspects of our service to you as a valued guest were not in keeping with our reputation for exceptional service and guest satisfaction.

A series of quickly occurring events had a severe trickle-down effect on every aspect of our service to you. Unusual immigration delays coupled with a critical computer failure at the terminal and an unprecedented early arrival of our 2,000 guests for a scheduled 4:00 PM embarkation made it virtually impossible for us to get back on track. The subsequent stress on the schedule we typically follow and the compression of staff and crew to manage the rolling delays prevented us from doing the job you expected, particularly in the short time you were onboard.

As a family-owned company, MSC Cruises has a special understanding of the value of a quality vacation experience for each of our guests, and we are committed to your satisfaction. We obviously fell short of meeting that commitment on this cruise, and we want to make that up to you.

As a gesture of our sincere apology for the disappointment you experienced and for your patience and understanding, we are sending each paid guest on the Jan 2, 2009 cruise a voucher for a $200 cruise credit on any future MSC Cruises Caribbean sailing. You will receive this voucher through the mail in the next few days. In the meantime, please feel free to forward this email to your clients.

Sincerely, Richard E. Sasso,
President & CEO MSC Cruises (USA) Inc.

At we believe that timing is everything—by following our arrival tips, you can insure smooth sailing on Embarkation Day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Royal Caribbean Adds Charge To Late Night Room Service

By now you may have already heard the news. After all, stuff like this speeds through Internet message boards like like a tornado through trailer parks.

Royal Caribbean has instituted a $3.95 service charge for room service orders between midnight to 5 am. Starting this month, the charge is to be levied per order—not per person, or per item—for orders from the room service menu. If you only order a beverage that you'd normally pay for anyway, that's outside the new service charge policy. Royal Caribbean says that a portion of the service charge is reserved for the server's gratuity and the remainder is on board revenue enhancement.

If you don't want to pay for room service after midnight, Royal Caribbean is planning for all ships in the fleet to have food available around the clock. On ships with Café Promenade, you'll find things like complimentary sandwiches and cookies and on other ships you'll find extended hours in either the Solarium Café or Sorrento's Pizza. You won't go hungry in the middle of the night. And, if you want to eat in the privacy of your stateroom, simply pick up what you want and take it with you.

So, I wonder what the furor is all about. European lines have charged for room service for years—and their charges are à la carte, not per order. Although MSC Cruises doesn't assess room service charges when their ships are cruising in the Caribbean, Costa Cruises does (it's a $2.50 service charge on ships sailing round-trip from US ports and 2 euro when in Europe). And, if you order pizza for delievery to your stateroom on Princess Cruises' ships, you'll pay a nominal $3 fee for it at any time.

Personally, I don't think the charge is such a bad idea. I've seen room service trays in the passageways early in the morning—presumably from the night before—and the plates often have a considerable amount of uneaten food on them. That's particularly true of ships that carry a lot of kids and teens. They just love the idea of food delivered by room service and I've heard stories about gargantuan quantities being ordered on a whim, especially by teens when their parents aren't around.

If you think nominal charges for room service on cruise ships are an outrage, you obviously haven't stayed in a hotel recently. One of my friends who used to work for a hotel says, "A coffee alone from room service would be a minimum of $5!"

As reported by Cruise News Daily, additional room service options are being introduced by Royal Caribbean soon:

"The room service menu will soon be expanded with some new choices called Dine In Delights. These will be some new premium options on the menu, 24 hours a day, usually branded with RCI's partner vendors onboard. When that rolls out, they will be offering a burger from Johnny Rockets on the menu (for a charge) alongside the regular room service hamburger (still free). Other Dine In Delight choices are expected to include a Sorrento's calzone and Ben & Jerry's ice cream bars. The program is being tested and tweaked now on Liberty of the Seas, but will roll out fleetwide by March."

Just think ... a burger from Johnny Rockets without the wait for a table! Works for me.

Photo Courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Freestyle Cruiser on NCL

You've probably seen those neat books most cruise lines leave in your stateroom these days. You know, the ones with the colorful slick covers that ask you not to pack them up to take home ... please leave me here for the next guest!

In addition to information about the cruise lines' ships, ports of call, and ads for popular shops ashore, inside the books are an array of articles. Who are the authors of those articles? You won't find any words of wisdom from globe-trotting author Paul Theroux, but in the just-released edition of Norwegian Cruise Line's Freestyle Cruiser you will find "All in the Family" written by Linda Coffman, the Cruise Diva.

I'm happy to be "cruising" with NCL's passengers on all the ships in the fleet. Just remember, enjoy the book on board and leave it for the next passenger. You can always read more of my articles on

Monday, January 5, 2009

How To: Select Your Cruise Ship Cabin

"What does it matter? I'll only use the cabin for changing my clothes and sleeping!"

Ah, I've heard that sentiment expressed many times. If it truly doesn't matter to you, go ahead and book the very least expensive category guarantee you can find. On the other hand, if you view your cabin as your sanctuary, you will want a bit more than "standard inside."

Cruise ship cabins are not all created equal; however, they are all designed for comfort, convenience, and practicality. Standard cabins on modern cruise vessels haven't quite achieved parity with land based resort accommodations in terms of size, but cruise lines have recognized that small touches (and more spacious quarters) go a long way toward overall passenger satisfaction. You are likely these days to find your cabin equipped with amenities such as personal safes, robes for use on board, hairdryers, and toiletries—the little niceties that hotels have long provided for their guests.

So, what will it be... Inside or Outside? Balcony Stateroom or Suite? Take a look at the accommodations available before you Select Your Cruise Ship Cabin.

Pictured above: Celebrity Solstice, AquaClass stateroom 1605
Photo © Linda Coffman

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Is it easy to "FALL" from a cruise ship?

While the news has been full of a recent incident in which a woman fell to her death from Norwegian Pearl off the coast of Mexico, and the Coast Guard has called off their search for a Carnival Sensation crewmember who accidentally went overboard as the ship was returning to it's homeport in Port Canaveral this past week, luckier passengers have actually been rescued alive.

Tragically, there have been instances of passenger suicides and suspicious disappearances over the years. But, by and large, a cruise ship is no different from any other vacation spot. Caution should be observed in any unfamiliar surroundings, particularly those that move. Along with sun screen and a bathing suit, the most important thing to pack for your cruise is the good judgment you use in everyday situations.

Is it that EASY to simply "fall" off a cruise ship? At Cruise Diva, we don't think so. We examine the issue and try to answer the question: Can you "FALL" off a cruise ship?

Saturday, January 3, 2009

MSC Orchestra Arrives in Fort Lauderdale for Inaugural Caribbean Season

With tug boats spraying a watery welcome, MSC Orchestra arrived in Port Everglades yesterday to begin her inaugural season of Caribbean sailings.

“We are very excited to introduce MSC Orchestra to North America,” says Richard E. Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises (USA), Inc. “It is an elegant ship in every respect–spectacular public areas, and a wealth of choices for dining, entertainment and activities, all with a style that epitomizes MSC Cruises.”

At 92,400 gross tons and carrying 2,550 passengers, MSC Orchestra is the largest of the line’s ships to sail in North American waters. With more than 236,800 square feet of public areas and 5 restaurants (L’Ibiscus, Villa Borghese, La Piazzetta, Four Seasons, the Shanghai Chinese Restaurant–the only dedicated Chinese restaurant at sea), 10 bars (two of which are open air), 3 meeting and conference rooms, a 21-foot by 12-foot outdoor LED screen, and the 16,146 square-foot Body and Mind Spa, MSC Orchestra represents the perfect combination of grace and style. To top it off, the majority of the ship’s staterooms have private balconies.

MSC Orchestra will sail alternating 7-night roundtrip itineraries from Jan. 10-April 18, 2009:
  • Eastern Caribbean: calling at Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; St. John, Antigua; and Nassau, Bahamas, as well as two days at sea.
  • Western Caribbean: calling at Key West, Florida; Cozumel, Mexico; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cayo Levantado, Dominican Republic, and two days at sea.
A special 7-night roundtrip Bermuda sailing departs Fort Lauderdale April 25. This itinerary includes three days in King’s Wharf, Bermuda and a day in Nassau, Bahamas, as well as two sea days.

During her inaugural season, MSC Orchestra will host baseball greats on its Jan. 24 Western Caribbean itinerary, and its Feb. 28, March 28 and April 11 Eastern Caribbean itineraries. On each of these special sailings, unique insight into the world of Major League Baseball as seen through the eyes of some of the greats of the game.

MSC Orchestra is scheduled to depart Fort Lauderdale May 2, 2009 on an 18-night voyage that will include a two-day visit to New York before heading eastbound to Copenhagen. The itinerary includes calls at Ponta Delgado, Azores; Lisbon, Portugal; Vigo, Spain; La Coruna, Spain; and Dover, England before arriving in Copenhagen.

On every cruise, passengers will enjoy the line’s highly acclaimed entertainment, European-style ambiance, dishes from “La Cucina Italiana,” and top-of-the-line pampering. For more information on how you can celebrate MSC Orchestra’s arrival, visit the MSC website or a local travel professional. And, watch the blog for first-hand reports when Cruise Diva sails in March aboard MSC Orchestra.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Coast Guard Searches For Missing Carnival Employee

News reports indicate that the US Coast Guard plans to resume the search today for a Carnival Cruise Lines employee who fell 82 feet from Carnival Sensation less than an hour into the New Year on Thursday morning.

While the employee's identity has not been released, co-workers indicated he was an off-duty entertainment staff member who may have been trying to take a photograph when he accidentally fell overboard. Fellow workers who witnessed the fall threw him a life ring, and ship officials began to search immediately, while contacting the Coast Guard for assistance.

Today's search will focus on following wind and wave patterns in the area, according to The Palm Beach Post. Search-and-rescue teams are combing nearly 2,000 square miles by sea and air, but conditions—including high waves, strong winds and currents—hamper the man's chances of survival without a life jacket in the 72 degree water.

Sensation was cleared to return to port after assisting in the search, docking at Port Canaveral around 10am Thursday after a 4-day Bahamian cruise.

More stories: Sun-Sentinel,, Orlando Sentinel,

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year, New Cruise Review

Happy New Year! is once again happy to share a new cruise review by veteran passengers, Mary and Vincent Finelli, who welcome you aboard their recent cruise on Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas.

The Finelli's reviews are always interesting for their keen eye and positive outlook on life. Especially informative are the comments regarding accessible facilities and the artwork displayed on board that they weave into their narrative.

Mary and Vincent also share reasons why they enjoy cruising so much—don't miss their observations about the sunset under "Entertainment." So simple, yet so elegant!