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A Personal Cruise & Travel Journal

All posts and photos © Janice Neves/Seven Sea Journeys, CruiseCrazies Authorized Agent

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Regal Princess: A Stormy Start and First impressions

In attempt to keep the costs down for this cruise, we initially booked an inside cabin. However, the price dropped and we were able to upgrade to a standard balcony at no extra cost. I wondered, would a balcony even be usable on a cruise like this, one in which driving rain and wind kept everyone inside? First things first ... get the balcony door open. We pulled and yanked to no avail, but finally the door slid open so that we could barely see the skyline and Statue of Liberty through the mist. Come to find out, when we had trouble with the door later that evening, we were told by our very gracious cabin attendant, Grace, that the wind makes it hard to pull the door open, to lean into the door and then pull. Whew ... what a relief! I didn’t want to gaze at the scenery through a rain-slicked window!  Once we looked around the cabin, I realized what I love about Princess staterooms - the fact that the space is much more functional and usable than the Norwegian cabins we’ve become accustomed to. I like having a desk more than a couch, for instance. The couch becomes a place to throw stuff, whereas a desk has drawers to hide things away. Love the Princess beds, as well, and their comfy beds are everything they advertise. The bathroom is compact but leaves enough room to move. The large flatscreen TV is mounted on the wall directly across from the bed, freeing up precious counter space and making TV viewing convenient without having to strain your neck. This ship is absolutely gorgeous, and even though the weather kept most people inside, it didn’t feel crowded. The decorating  scheme is tasteful, done in muted colors, using lots of mirrors and creative lighting to make it look ever so elegant. Artwork throughout the ship is sophisticated, matching the elegant tone and design of the ship. The Atrium is absolutely stunning. A special mention goes to the Seawalk, a very cool walkway extending out from the upper decks over the ocean with views at your feet 15 decks below to the water. Pretty awesome, and not as scary as I thought it would be. We have recently learned, after many a cruise, to head to our muster station about 15 minutes before the required drill alarm is sounded. In this case, our muster station was the Concerto dining room, to which we leisurely made our way, and had our choice of seats. We have also discovered other like-minded seasoned passengers who do the same - we saw one couple playing cards to occupy their time. We had intended on stopping by Club 6 for the Elite cocktail party at 5:00 pm but found ourselves at the Wine Bar, instead, off the Atrium for sail away. The weather was too nasty for a proper deck party, so the festivities were moved inside. Being our first time in a wine bar, we decided to try a “flight”, which we learned was a set of three 2-ounce wine samples. Even though the menu showed 8 different groupings, strangely enough, only two were available. I chose the European, and David chose the Italian. We were soon joined by three other friendly people From Long Island, adding some great lively conversation to our wine sampling. Due to the storm, sail-away was delayed by about 90 minutes. By then, some of the mist had cleared, and we had a decent view of both the NYC skyline, Lady Liberty and the Norwegian Breakaway heading into port.

Jan115

Jan115

Cruising Regal Princess to Canada: The Journey Begins

I remember my husband and I being aboard the Ocean Princess back in 2012 and watching a preview of the soon to premier Royal Princess. The new design looked so beautiful, with her large open atrium and understated elegance, and I knew it wouldn’t be long until we would sail this new class of Princess ship. However, it wasn’t until sister ship Regal Princess entered the picture a few years later that we were finally able to consider a cruise aboard the biggest ship in the Princess fleet. When I saw the Regal Princess was sailing a 5-night cruise to the Canadian Maritimes from New York in late October, I convinced my husband to juggle his schedule around in order to accommodate this short cruise, and it didn’t take much to convince my brother Norm and his wife, frequent cruise buddies, to join us!  The big day was finally here. The only slight blip on the horizon was the forecast of a nor’easter heading our way, threatening our sailing. As a result, instead of the 4-hour drive from Rhode Island to Brooklyn on the morning of the cruise, we drove down the night before with a stay an hour away from the Red Hook port, in Stamford, CT. This was a good move, because it made for a much less stressful drive for my brother, and we arrived relaxed and ready to cruise! We arrived at the port at 11:00 am in pouring rain, where Norm dropped off us and our bags, and went to park the car. Being Princess Elite, I was able to escort us all through priority embarkation quick and easy, and we were on board and in our cabins by noon. One of those fabulous things I love about Princess ... the rooms are always ready after boarding. No need for schlepping your stuff around while occupying your time until rooms are ready. We dropped off our stuff, checked out the room (more about that later), admired the fog, rain and mist from the balcony (I think I spot the NYC skyline ever so slightly), and is that Lady Liberty peering at us through the haze?). In just a short time, we were off to explore the ship!

Jan115

Jan115

Vacation Regrets and What I've Learned

I was cleaning out some old clothes the other day and came across a box of T-shirts, purchased from various past cruises and land trips at a time in my life when I liked wearing T-shirts. Most in the pile were too small and never (or hardly) worn, and should have gone out to the donation collection a long time ago. This re-discovery got me to thinking about small regrets about my vacations past. By regrets, I don’t mean missed flights, excursions gone wrong or hotels from hell, but those memorable little things that I deem now to have been a waste of time, money or just poor judgment. In the case of the T-shirts, for instance, while I have one or two that did become favorites, the rest turned out to be too small, too big, ill fitting, or just really not my style. Crew neck shirts choke me, for one, these days, which made having all those shirts now pointless. Still, I kept buying them “just in case”. In the end, I really hate T-shirts. Here are a few other past vacation regrets: Running out of iPhone memory. I don’t take video often, but last spring while going through the Panama Canal, I thought it would be really cool to record the Coral Princess going through the locks. It wasn’t long before the dreaded “memory full” words came up, forcing me to use up precious time to go in and delete stuff. Instead of one grand video to show the folks back home, I wound up multiple footage of about 10 seconds each, and spent the rest of my day deleting old stuff to make room for new. I have since upgraded to a phone with more storage, so I have some time before I reach capacity (I hope)! Overpacking. I’ve gotten pretty good at judging the weight of a bag and avoiding fees, but the real issue came about while on a drive-trip with the family around Portugal several years back. The trunks (or boots, depending where you live) of the rental cars had limited room, as you can imagine, necessitating me to consolidate, toss out a few things, and leave one of my empty bags in the hotel we were staying in. To validate my “charitable donation”, I chose the worse, oldest bag in the bunch. What’s the the moral of this sad story? Always figure in what, how and where you’ll be traveling when packing and choosing luggage. Not adhering to the family meet-up rules. Probably because I was so mesmerized by my surroundings or, more likely, because I have a severely limited attention span, I would inevitably miss the words “we’ll meet [here] at [such and such time.” I once spent an hour searching for my family in Disney World. Some mother, huh? They were all where they were supposed to be. I was not. This was in the day before cell phones, so cut me some slack. Not learning to read a map. Finally, the last and probably most important thing that would have saved me and my family a lot of grief was to learn how to read a map. My husband will tell you that I am the worst navigator. Now keep in mind that this was the day and age before GPS, when going to the local AAA office for maps, guidebooks and TripTiks was a requisite for any trip. My husband learned early on to put our 10-year-old in the navigator seat of the family car, because she could be trusted, and I could not. As one who has hated asking for directions, I probably spent many hours of my early life driving in circles. GPS, these days, still has me going in circles, but those circles are now smaller and less frequent. What are your little vacation regrets or annoyances? Maybe you have some greater than mine. Feel free to comment.

Jan115

Jan115

Friday's Food for Thought: Start your trip with a Blank Canvas

How I love this quote:  "Travel is like a giant blank canvas, and the painting on the canvas is only limited by one’s imagination." – Ross Morley When I was in the planning stages of my first cruise back in 2001, I combed through every book, magazine, website, review, video and photo I could find in order to choose the perfect cruise. Through others' eyes, I learned of the best ships, the best cabins, the best food, and the best destinations. I listened while others touted their advice on what to avoid and their 10-best lists. I ended up with many pre-conceived notions and over-inflated expectations of what cruise life is like. Granted, I felt prepared for that first ship adventure on the Grand Princess to the Western Caribbean, but I also dispensed with much of the useless advice I was given (despite the 1001 uses for duck tape, and how no one should leave home without it, I have never carried a roll in my 17 years of cruising).  I'm not saying that we should make the trip up as we go along - some preplanning is required. But I no longer plan down to the last pad of post-it notes. How many times do we visit the must-see sights in a destination only because someone said we'll be sorry if we didn't. For instance, when planning our time when the ship docked in Florence, it was suggested by some to combine our precious limited time in both Florence and Pisa. After all, how could we travel to this part of the world and NOT experience that leaning tower. Actually, we could. We've seen many a touristy photo - you know the one - the tacky photo of the guy pretending to hold up the tower so it won't fall.  We didn't feel the need to waste time when there was so much beauty in Florence to see. In other words, when you travel, create your trip from your own blank canvas. Start with the basics. Add your dream experiences - those bucket list items (the Sistine Chapel comes to mind!), but leave room for the unexpected - the seaside stroll, the impromptu music performance in the square, a chat with the locals over a pint in Dublin. See what that final painting reveals. It's those candid, unforeseen surprise moments that really make a trip!   

Jan115

Jan115

Fort Lauderdale - Beyond the Beach

I had the good fortune to visit some great places and experience new activities while on a recent visit to Fort Lauderdale for an event hosted by the Florida Convention and Visitors Bureau. Many of us who live in colder climates come to Fort Lauderdale for its pristine beaches and charming intercostal waterways. In fact, we had the opportunity to view several beachfront hotel properties in town including Sonesta, the W, Westin and the B Ocean - all of which have their own identity, style and budget, and all of which I would highly recommend to anyone who wants the full beach experience. Indeed, the Fort Lauderdale Beach is where it’s at! However, Fort Lauderdale is more than sun, sand and surf. If you're not a big beach person, in town for a day or two before or after a cruise, or just looking for a way out of the sun for a while, here are a few interesting places I discovered on my visit. Flamingo Gardens - Botanical Gardens and Wildlife Sanctuary. If you are into gardens, this is your place. You'll find exotic trees with names like "pink trumpet tree" and "Panama candle tree" and some gorgeous gardens including a butterfly garden, hummingbird garden and a children's fragrance garden. Getting married? There's a wedding gazebo to make your special day special! Be sure to check out the many beautiful peacocks that freely roam the property. This 60-acre oasis also features a wildlife sanctuary with alligators, otters, lots of birds, bobcats, turtles and, of course, pink flamingos! Our group had a special visit with Josh the Bear, where, with the help of his kind-hearted and informative handler, we had the opportunity to feed this beautiful animal which the facility rescued in 2013.  Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. What a surprise this special place is! Sitting just off the beach and surrounded by shopping plazas, restaurants, and luxury hotels is the last remaining preserved piece of serene property dating back to the late 1800s when Ft. Lauderdale was just wetlands and dunes. The home, formerly occupied by late artists, Frederick Bartlett and Evelyn Lilly, is loaded with odd, yet interesting collectibles from all over the world. The gardens are beautiful, though seemingly overrun with iguanas, and the property is also rented out for weddings and events. Before Evelyn died in 1997 (at the age of 109!), she had the good sense to give Bonnet House to the Florida Trust, with the express provision that the land be preserved and enjoyed for future generations. Sawgrass Recreation Park. Sawgrass is a family run business primarily featuring Everglades airboat rides. They offer rides for individuals, small and large groups, on airboats of various sizes. For our small group of 4, we had a private 30 minute ride on one of their small boats. It was my first airboat ride ever, and it was a blast racing over the grass-laden swamp. Wildlife wasn’t as abundant as I thought it would be, but we did stop to watch a couple of gators. Our guide was informative, filling us in on everything Everglades related. There is also a small wildlife sanctuary on site, featuring large and small endangered and exotic animals. The handlers were there to answer questions and offered visitors a chance to hold several, so it was educational and fun. Jungle Queen. The large, impressive Jungle Queen river boat has been cruising the canals since 1935. There are daytime sightseeing cruises, sightseeing and tropical isle cruises and the cruise we did - the sightseeing dinner and show cruise. Dinner and entertainment take place on their “jungle isle”, and on the way, you’ll cruise past lavish homes of the rich and famous and their mega yachts, complete with narration. Dinner is in a large covered pavilion, served family style on long tables, and consists of BBQ baby back ribs, chicken, shrimp and fries. Once you’ve had your fill, you can walk around and admire the animals and have a seat for the show. The variety show featured four acts, and they all were hilarious and fun, especially due to the audience participation. The hard seats we sat on, however, were painful. It was a fun night, though, but in all honesty, I didn’t really enjoy the dinner part, mainly due to my dislike of massive group dining experiences. But that's just me. if you don't mind communal dining in a crowded, noisy atmosphere, accompanied by an overly-loud band, then this is for you.  Fort Lauderdale Air Show. We just happen to be in town during this annual event. I hadn't seen stunt planes and since I was a kid, so this was a special treat. The weather was perfect, and our hosts provided us with a covered VIP viewing area complete with food and drinks. Obviously, because the traffic is nuts and hotel rooms are scarce surrounding the weekend of the air show, you might want to choose another time for your visit to Ft. Lauderdale. Unlike the air shows in my home state which take place over a hot air field, this one is perfectly located ocean side. Admittedly, I am spoiled now for air shows. With a private tent and section of beach, I don't think I'll want to view another air show any other way again!  Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Mermaid Show at the B Ocean, an underwater burlesque, so to speak, which takes place in the hotel’s Wreck Bar. Basically, the Mermaid Show features windows to the underwater portion of the adjacent pool which faces the bar, and pretty young women in full mermaid attire swimming around, stopping at the windows to peer in, smile, wave, and blow kisses. The later show, for ages 21 and older, goes on at 9:30, but we went to the 6:30 pm family-friendly performance. I must admit, it all felt a bit strange. With the guys hooting it up at the bar as they ogled the finned females, and the little kids loving the whole mermaid thing, it seemed like an odd mix of The Little Mermaid meets burlesque. Still, it was fun to watch. So, the next time you’re in Ft. Lauderdale, look beyond the beach for a new experience!

Jan115

Jan115

Packing Procrastination

It's Friday - my day off, meaning that I have three full days before the hubby and I fly to Ft. Lauderdale for a CruiseCrazies group cruise leaving for Panama on Tuesday. My packing/to-do list is printed, waiting for items to check off. However, in typical fashion, I am suffering from packing paralysis. I have a lot of loose ends to tie up, laundry to do, and bags to pack, and instead of starting this process, here I sit at the computer writing about it. My middle name begins with "P" - really. But instead of my real middle name, let's call it "Procrastination". My inability to focus on the task at hand involves several factors: #1: My husband came down with a mild case of pneumonia, now leaving us with a big Question Mark as to whether he'd be able to go. This started turning the wheels in my scattered brain - what if he can't go? Should I go without him? What if he goes, and he he has a re-bout, thousands of miles from home? How will the rest of the Crazies get along without me? (Very well, I suspect.) Immediately, all the negatives started to outweigh the positives, and after reciting them one by one, he's now convinced I don't want him to go, that if I proceed without him, I'll have less to worry about and, yes, have the whole mini suite to myself. Okay, while there may be a tiny grain of truth in those statements, I would feel really bad leaving without him.  Fortunately, after beginning a round of mega steroids and super strength antibiotics, and the green light from his doctor, he's feeling much better, and we're confident he'll make it to the plane - and the ship! So we're back to go! #2: The desktop computer, where I spend too much freaking time. I came here to pay some bills, and got sidetracked with Facebook, Instagram, email, messages and, my CruiseCrazies blog, of course. Before I know it, half of my day will be gone, and I'll have nothing to show for it.  #3: Find the stuff to pack. If I don't wash the clothes, I'll have nothing to pack. If I don't dig some warm weather clothing out of storage, I will have nothing to pack. If I don't pull out a piece of luggage, I won't pack.  #4: Over-packing vs. Under-packing. I want to pack light, but still have yet to manage this difficult feat. It looks easy on paper, but I always end up with clothing never worn at the end of the trip. My mind is full of "what-ifs" - what if it rains, what if it's cold, what if we're stranded somewhere? I just pack it all. In my "Tuesday Travel Tips" blog, I have told others on how to save room in your bags and pack efficiently. Yet, I have yet to take my own advice. #5: Last minute re-packing. This is the worst. I decide that the bag is too heavy, I want a different bag, I need to remove some things, and on and on. So, in essence, I pack twice. I think my procrastination comes from having taken too many trips. My mind tells me - Jan, you've done this a hundred times - you've got it down. Just throw things in a bag the night before, and you're good to go. It doesn't work that way, though, because I'm bound to forget something important - like my passport, without which I will go anywhere.  Now that I've listed my packing failures, it's time for action, the first step of which is to get off this computer. Soon we'll be on our way to Panama and the Caribbean on board the Coral Princess. Be back in two weeks, no doubt with lots of photos and travel tales to share!

Jan115

Jan115

New Year - New Un-Resolutions

It's a new year - March, already - and a belated Happy New Year! I hope everyone here at CruiseCrazies is in good health and has at least one cruise on the 2018 horizon!  I'd like to say I made resolutions for the new year, but that would be a lie because I never keep them. However, if I could put together a personal plan - an UN-resulotion, so to speak - it would involve three components: (1) cruise more, (2) cruise more and (3) cruise more ... oh, wait, that's the cruiser in me coming out, and I'm sure that's what we all here would resolve to do. What I meant to say was (1) ORGANIZE my time better, (2) BLOG more, and (3) CRUISE more, of course!  Let's start with the first - organize my time. I am a planner. I excel at travel planning. I keep a stellar household budget. My desk, for the most part, is neat - a place for everything and everything in it's place. What I CAN'T seem to get a grasp on is budgeting my time. I have ideas in my head, but I don't write anything down. So I start one project, then start another, and finally another, all without completing any. I'm a terrible multi-tasker. Even now, I have five desktop windows and ten tabs in my browser open because my thoughts jump from one idea to the next. I overthink some plans and totally blow off others. A-D-D? Who knows, maybe. I think it's just a time management issue. My plan for 2018 will be to actually keep a written list or schedule in a reliable place, which is clearly not my head. Next - I want to Blog more. I do love to write, and while I'm not a great writer by any stretch, I do write what I love. Whether due to writer's block, lack of interesting content, or disorganization as outlined above, my blogs - my two here on CruiseCrazies - and those elsewhere, have all been sadly neglected. I think that sometimes because I haven't been anywhere or done anything exciting, I simply have nothing to share. I do have ideas, though, about many things travel related - but, again, I don't write them down as I think of them. Therefore, my Blogging plan for 2018 will be to jot ideas down on paper or note them in my smartphone, and ultimately create some profound prose.  Third and last - CRUISE more! This is far easier said than down. First, I would have to quit my main job as an administrative assistant, and this is not yet possible because I need the money to - you guessed - CRUISE! However, my boss has been very forgiving of the 3-week vacation policy, now turning into 6 weeks or more, so I'll run with it. My husband's love of slot-playing - or should I say the amount of money he has "gifted" to the local casino - has resulted in some very cheap Norwegian cruises for us - once or twice a year. This has made a big advancement in my plan to cruise more - thank you, David! However, there are still oceans full of beautiful ships and so little time, and I would like to get a cabin on as many as I can before I die. For the first time in December, I cruised alone. I didn't have to wait for my husband's limited school-year schedule for that window of cruise opportunity. I just went without him - and I had a great time. So, my third and final plan for 2018 is to hop aboard a ship, alone if I have to, tell the boss I'm taking yet another week, and set sail when I want.  So, now that you are all witness to my personal plan, or my Un-Resolutions for 2018, let's see how I go. It's a little late for announcing new plans, three months into the year and all, but better late than never, right? Who knows, maybe by June, I'll post my belated "Best of" 2017 travel moments! Happy Cruising!    

Jan115

Jan115

The 12 Days of Christmas - for Cruisers

One of the great benefits of my husband’s recent retirement is his enthusiasm about making me a homemade lunch each day, lovingly packed into my L.L. Bean lunch bag and accompanied by a yellow note containing a game, puzzle, quiz or some other “assignment” to pass away the lunch hour. Today’s note contained blank lines numbered 1 through 12, headed by the title, “Name the 12 Days of Christmas.” I am nobody’s poet and not the most creative girl in the world, but I decided to give it a shot with my own twisted lyrics, sung to the famous classic tune, “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  Please be kind ...

Ready, let's sing ... On the FIRST day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  A cruise on a tropical sea. On the SECOND day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the THIRD day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Three shore excursions, Two credit cards, and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the FOURTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the FIFTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Five pairs of shoes  — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the SIXTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the SEVENTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the EIGHTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Eight airline tickets,  Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the NINTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Nine frozen mudslides,  Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits - Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the TENTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Ten trashy novels, Nine frozen mudslides, Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the ELEVENTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Eleven margaritas, Ten trashy novels, Nine frozen mudslides, Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the TWELFTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Twelve tubes of sunscreen, Eleven margaritas, Ten trashy novels, Nine frozen mudslides, Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea!
Happy Holidays!

Jan115

Jan115

How to Score Onboard Credit for Your Next Cruise

Do you ever wonder how some cruisers seem to get loads of shipboard credit to use for onboard purchases? For the benefit of you folks new to cruising, any added value in the form of cash for you to use on board your cruise - for things like beverages, shopping, drinks, shore excursions, the spa, and other for-fee extras - is known as on-board or shipboard credit. Some people get a lot of it, while others seem to get none. If you're looking to score maximum onboard credits for your next cruise, you just need to know where to look. Here are a half dozen tricks for finding free money for your cruise:   A Travel Agent. Don't expect an agent to fork over their whole commission to you in the form of credit so you can have a good time, but do expect them to know which cruise lines are offering some in the form of a promotion. The best way an agent can give you onboard credit is through a value-added offer (gifting you something rather than discounting your cruise), and many times this is done through group blocks the agent holds for the purpose of booking their clients. Either way, if you are dedicated and loyal to your travel agent, no doubt they will reward you.    Cruise Line Promotions. Cruise lines run deal after deal, and many of them come with a specific dollar amount of onboard credit, usually tied in with the number of days sailing or the category of cabin booked. The more money you are willing to pay for your cruise, the more credit you will receive.   Book Your Next Cruise While On Board Another. Most cruise lines have an on-board booking program, either a Future Cruise Desk or an entire office staffed by crew members whose job it is  to entice you into booking your next cruise with them. After all, this is what builds their loyal customer base. To do this, you would place a small deposit ($100 per person, in many cases) in a future cruise, and the cruise line will reward you with onboard credit, again, tied in with the number of days or category of cabin you intend on booking for your next cruise. In fact, you don't even have to decide right then and there. Instead, the cruise line will give you a year or two to think about it.   Refer a Friend. Many lines will reward you for bringing them business in the form of your friends and relatives who may be new to cruising - or a particular cruise line - and want to see what they've been missing.    Price Drops. This is hit or miss, but worth asking. If you find your cruise price dropped after final payment, the cruise line may issue you the difference in the form of onboard credit - or perhaps an upgrade.    Register a Complaint. Did you have a bad experience on your last cruise? If you had a serious issue with service or anything else related to your cruise, write a letter to the cruise line, explain what happened, and you may receive a letter of apology in return with a certificate for a discount on your next cruise or for shipboard credit. The amount would most likely depend on the severity of the complaint. Some assistance from a travel agent will help to assure your letter of complaint gets to the right people.   Not all onboard credit is combinable, meaning you may not be able to combine onboard credits received from a promotion with those received as a loyalty reward. But it never hurts to explore all the options.   Photo credit: Pixabay Free Web Photos  

Jan115

Jan115

Friday's Food for Thought ~ 5.29.15

"Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy." ~ Fanny Burney I felt the same way when I visited Europe - not just Rome, but Lisbon, Athens and Istanbul. Every other building pales in comparison. Photo © J. Neves

Jan115

Jan115

Friday's Food for Thought

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelo

Jan115

Jan115

My Top 10 Travel Moments of 2014

Another year has gone and it's time, once again, to lay out my annual Top 10 travel experiences of the year. Since the big summer trip for my husband and I this year was a Mediterranean cruise, many of the following favorites are destinations resulting from that 11-night sailing. Here are my top 10 favorites for 2014: #10) Flying First Class. On a selfish whim, I decided to splurge and upgrade our usual economy seats on Aer Lingus between Boston and Rome. Aer Lingus has a bidding system for first class upgrades, and since I find enormous pleasure in bidding for a good deal (Ebay, Priceline and so on), I thought, what the heck. We was paying a ridiculous amount for tiny seats with no leg room - why not pay a little more for a little luxury. Well, when all was said and done, it was an obscene amount we shelled out for a first-class upgrade. Was it worth it? In retrospect, probably not. At the time, however, when we were drinking free wine from real glasses, dining on “gourmet” airline food with real napkins, china and linen napkins, enjoying copious amounts of leg room and reclining all the way flat for sleeping, we said “Hell, yeah, this is TOTALLY worth it!” #9) Weekend Cruise aboard Disney Magic. A 3-night Martin Luther King Weekend cruise on a Disney cruise ship proved to me why Disney is a cut above the rest in terms of family cruising. From a “welcome aboard” fit for a queen to nighttime fireworks off the deck, the experience was truly magical - for young and old alike. #8) 9/11 Memorial: On a beautiful spring day, we rode Amtrak to New York City to spend a couple of nights seeing the sites. Though we have been to NYC numerous times before, one must-see on our list this time around was the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the newly designed World Trade Center. We paid our respects and reflected on the names etched in stone and the great human loss of that day in 2001. I commend those who created the concept and design for this solemn place with the reflecting pools and new “Freedom Tower” as a backdrop, for it was a peaceful and moving experience. #7) Wellfleet, Mass. This quaint, picturesque town along a stretch of Outer Cape Cod has been a favorite family summer getaway over the last 30 years. This year was extra special because we introduced our 1-year-old grandson to the wonders of bayside cottage life, as well as my brother and his wife. Spread out between two twin adorable bayside cottages, we enjoyed some precious family time among the dunes. It was so much fun, we’ve booked the same for summer 2015. #6) Amalfi Coast, Italy. We joined six other people from our cruise ship for a private excursion through the hills and winding roads along this beautiful stretch of coastline on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula. We stopped at picturesque, artsy towns along the way - Positano, Ravello and Amalfi, and though we would have liked more time in just one town instead of only a brief time in three, we experienced some of the most amazing scenery of our port stops on the cruise. Ravello was an especially enjoyable respite from the crowds, as the big tour busses don’t include it on their itinerary. We’ve made a mental note to explore Ravello further the next time we return to Italy. #5) Hotel Albergo Del Senato, Rome: Hotels don't usually make my top 10 list, but this charming hotel is the exception. With a killer view overlooking the Pantheon and Piazza Della Rotonda, we could simply slide open the shutters, open the big windows, and take in the beauty and character of Rome before ever leaving our room. Our own Roman Holiday! #4) Santorini, Greece - A cruise excursion brought us by boat to an awaiting motorcoach for a ride to the beautiful village of Oia, the most beautiful and picturesque place in Santorini. Located on top of a massive cliff, visitors experience charming houses in narrow streets, blue-domed churches and a spectacular ocean view. With limited time in town, we immediately found ourselves at a seaside cafe and a table with an incredible view. Notably, Oia is also famous for the most fabulous sunsets. Timing from our cruise ship did not allow us to view the sunset from the island, but we enjoyed a gorgeous Santorini sunset from our cruise ship. #3) Ephesus, Turkey. I won't lie ... it was as hot as the guidebooks said it would be when we visited in August. Fortunately, we hired a private guide who picked us up at the cruise port in a large minivan and delivered us to the ruins of this ancient city in air conditioned comfort. Armed with bottles of water and umbrellas for shade, we made our way through the stone covered streets and barren landscape imagining what life was like in those times. We were introduced to the magnificent Library of Celcus, an ancient brothel, some very interesting public toilets, the theatre where St. Paul preached, and other age-old structural remains. #2) The Colosseum. To see the Hollywood version with Russell Crowe is indeed entertaining, but to see this enormous ancient amphitheater in person is simply spectacular. With a tour guide and small group, we were able to get a good history, think about the labor it took to build such a place, and close our eyes and imagine gladiator combat, wild animal fights, and the roar of the blood-thirsty crowd. In the movie, gladiator Maximus boldly shouts to the crowd, “are you not entertained?” We were indeed. #1) Sistine Chapel/Vatican Museums: No visit to Rome is complete, of course, without a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. To be in the presence of such famous frescos, tapestry and sculpture was humbling and made even more special with an early morning private tour of the Sistine Chapel before opening to the public. With a small group of 6 others and very few people in the Chapel, we could fully appreciate the magnificence of Michelangelo’s famous ceiling in this incredible place without the massive crowds that would appear later.

Jan115

Jan115

09.11.2001 ~ A Remembrance

Thirteen years ago, today, our country - and the world - witnessed a horrific attack on our nation. In April 2014, my husband and I visited the 9/11 National Memorial & Museum in New York City. The Museum itself was not yet open to the public, but we were able to experience the Memorial, the Pools, the inscriptions of the names of all those who died on that horrible day, and the new Freedom Tower rising above the city as a tribute to that tragic day, as well as a symbol of hope for the future. To see several photos I took that day, please visit my newest travel blog, Sea Journeys and Shore Escapes. For more information about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, please visit the official website.

Jan115

Jan115

A Pre-Cruise Roman Holiday

On August 4, 2014, my husband and I embarked on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome aboard the Celebrity Reflection, but not before spending three nights in this great city. In that short amount of time, we experienced the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, great food, more great churches, the best hotel ever, and more. My narrative (including many photos) of those days begins here and continues in my personal blog, "Seven Sea Journeys - a Travel Journal". I hope you enjoy it! It was nearly the end of July and the first of August and time to embark on another annual summer vacation. As cruising has become our getaway of choice, we chose an 11-night cruise to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, where we would spend time on shore immersing ourselves in ancient history, architectural ruins and gelato! Our cruise would begin in Rome, so it only made sense to spend a few days prior in this magnificent city ... Click to continue ...

Jan115

Jan115

My Top 10 Most Memorable Travel Moments of 2013

In 2013, David and I were blessed with another year of amazing travel firsts - first time to Alaska, first time to San Francisco, first time to the Grand Canyon, first time in a tiny 6-seater plane, and other notable moments of first glimpses. New and different sights and opportunities always produce an abundance of fresh stories and photos to share. Here, in no particular order, are our top 10 most memorable travel experiences of 2013, followed by photos I took: Flightseeing in Ketchikan, Alaska. While aboard the Grand Princess on an Alaska cruise, we spent a large stack of bills on this privately-booked floatplane flight to see bears in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, the bears did not come out to play with us, but the ride was exciting nevertheless, landing and takeoff smooth as silk, and the view from the sky was beautiful. My initial fear of taking off in a tiny plane was replaced by sheer excitement, and the ride was worth every precious penny we paid. The Grand Canyon, Arizona. The thought of cold and snow at the South Rim made me really hesitant about visiting the Grand Canyon in February. However, I was so glad we did. Thankfully, the forecasted major snowstorm, which threatened to create a traveling mess, never materialized. Instead, we were left with a fine layer of fresh powder and sun. The effects of natural light and snow-layered rims of the canyon enhanced the beauty and splendor of this natural wonder. As we drove and stopped for photos at several points along the rim trail, I lost count of the number of “Ahhhh” moments where words could never describe what lay before my eyes. The quiet solitude of the canyon in winter was a gift, making me wonder why anyone would want to fight the heat and crowds in summer. Cathedral Rock Hike in Sedona, Arizona. On our drive back from the Grand Canyon to Phoenix for our flight home, we stopped for a night in Sedona. The drive through the winding, mountainous roads blessed us with some of the most beautiful snow-covered vistas we’d ever seen, and as we drove closer to Sedona and caught our first glimpse of grand red rocks, the scene took our breath away. As with the Grand Canyon, the light layer of snow against backdrop of red proved to enhance the beauty of these majestic rock formations. We are not the adventurous or active sort, but we managed to hike our old, tired legs a short way up the trail in the lightly falling snow toward the grandest of the red rocks, Cathedral Rock. Our hiking shoes were caked with red mud, but it was well worth the experience. Glacier Bay, Alaska. This is what we came to Alaska for and why we chose a cruise with Glacier Bay as part of the itinerary. We were blessed with a gorgeous, sunny day when we sailed in, and as she ship slowly guided past the great ice, we marveled at the majestic splendor of the glaciers and mountains reflected in the calm, blue water of the Bay. Muir Woods, California. A visit to the stately redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument was part of a post-cruise day tour of Sausalito and Marin County. Although the sections of the park were crowded with noisy tourists, there was plenty of opportunity for quiet tranquility on the walk through this forest of old, beautiful redwoods. The towering, majestic trees were simply stunning and I couldn’t help but feel small and inconsequential next to such natural beauty. Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. We had several opportunities to see the bridge, both on a pre-cruise city tour when we stopped for the obligatory photo ops and again on a post-cruise tour when we traveled over the bridge to explore the Marin County area and Muir Woods. It seemed that the bridge appeared different each time we gazed at it. At times the bridge was barely visible in the foggy mist, other times it was shrouded in clouds. On our final day in San Francisco, the fog lifted and a blue, sunny sky revealed the bridge in all its glory. But perhaps the most dramatic Golden Gate Bridge moment was gliding beneath the bridge aboard the Grand Princess on our way out of the Bay to Alaska. You could almost hear a collective sigh as the bridge approached then disappeared above us, and the applause that followed by all the cruisers on deck said it all. Dim Sum in Chinatown, San Francisco. Chinatown in this amazing city is a huge area of kitschy souvenir shops mixed in with authentic Chinese art, sculptures, crafts and other unique wares. There is a never-ending feeling of hustle and bustle here, and it was nice to stop at a small restaurant along the way for dim sum – good, inexpensive appetizers and tea to hold us over until dinner time while resting our weary feet. Alcatraz, San Francisco. I’d always been curious about this old prison since seeing Burt Lancaster as the Birdman of Alcatraz, and I wasn’t disappointed. A steep hike up to the prison from the pier was well worth the informative self-audio tour. Listening to the voices of former inmates tell of their time behind bars, stories of attempted escapes, the famous criminals imprisoned here, and what life was like at the prison made for a very interesting – and a little bit haunting - experience. Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari, Juneau Alaska. This was a 5-hour ship-sponsored excursion while aboard the Grand Princess on an inside passage cruise from San Francisco. Unlike many large group shore excursions, this one was refreshingly different. We were part of a small group of 12 other shutterbugs, both experienced and point-and-shoot type of travelers, and were led on a nature hike at Mendenall Glacier followed by an amazing small boat ride to search for whales. This tour did not disappoint. We saw amazing whale activity, enjoyed breathtaking views of Mendenhall Glacier, experienced beautiful plant and animal life, and learned some helpful photo tips along the way. Japanese Hot Rock at Izumi, Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. My daughter, with whom I traveled on a cruise to Canada aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, is an avid fan of Japanese food. So it was only natural we had to try Izumi, the newly-added Japanese restaurant to the ship’s roster of onboard eateries. I decided to be adventurous and try grilling my own dinner right at our table, all by myself, with just a 550-degree blazing hot rock, some steak, vegetables and a spatula. Like the waiter said, if it came out bad, I had only myself to blame. Not much of a griller at home, and steak not being my specialty, I was a little intimidated. However, it turned out to be lots of fun and the highlight of my onboard dining experience.  

Jan115

Jan115

Home for the Holidays vs. A Christmas Cruse: A Lively Debate

As the holiday season approaches each year, I wonder aloud to those who will listen: Wouldn’t it be great to combine two of my most favorite things in the world: Christmas and a cruise vacation. From the moment I picked up a copy of John Grisham’s “Skipping Christmas,” at the library, I knew that book was written with specifically me in mind. If you haven’t read the book, or seen its weaker film version (“Christmas with the Kranks”), the story is about a couple that decides one year to forego Christmas altogether and plan a cruise. Ultimately, the whole plan goes up the chimney when their daughter decides to come for a visit over the holidays. Don’t think for a minute that this intriguing idea hasn’t crossed my mind a few times. I certainly don’t mean to ban decorations and all other holiday things from our midst, as the fictional family had in mind. I greatly enjoy gift giving, holiday music and Christmas decorations, the tree and celebrations with the family. We simply would be absent from the festivities for a week or so in the days surrounding Christmas – the busiest time for meal planning, cooking, baking and clean-up. What if we were to just skip all that and sail away on a cruise ship to a warm, tropical place, where there were no dirty dishes to clean and beds to make? Now that’s what I call a gift! My husband has always been the traditionalist in our marriage. He believes in family and traditions – the ones we have grown up with and the ones we’vd created for ourselves. Not that I don’t believe in these things. I most certainly do. It is, after all, all about the family. But it still won’t stop me from dreaming about doing something a little different. I imagine my husband and I having a fun little debate: “Home for the Holidays vs. A Christmas Cruise.” With some key points and arguments, I imagine it would go something like this: School Break Him: I don’t want to spend my entire school vacation week away from home. Me: I thought that’s why they called it “vacation” – so you could go away and leave all the work behind. Festive Décor Him: What about the tree and all the decorations? Me: Our tree has gone from a rambling 6-foot spruce to 4-foot table twig, and the decorations come out right after Thanksgiving and stay up long past Christmas. The boughs of holly and dancing Santas will still be here when we get home. Besides, wouldn’t it be fun to see a cruise ship decked out in holiday splendor? Seasonal Music Him: My idea of Christmas is spending a relaxing night in front of the fire with Christmas music flowing from the stereo. Me: No one likes holiday music more than me, keeping it going well into January. Load Mannheim Steamroller and Jazzy Wonderland up on your iPhone, and you’re good to go! Just think, honey - instead of experiencing chestnuts roasting on an open fire, we’ll be two lovebirds roasting in the Caribbean sun - or, better yet, chilling under a shady palm tree! Christmas Dinner Him: What about the turkey, ham and mashed potatoes? Me: I spend the entire Christmas day in the kitchen while you’re lounging in the recliner with your eggnog and newspaper in front of the fire, playing with whatever new electronic gadget Santa left under the tree. I say give me a break, and let’s have someone else cook us a four-course meal and clean up afterwards. A White Christmas Him: It won't feel like Christmas without snow. Me: Even though we live in New England, I can barely count on one hand the number of times we’ve had snow on Christmas in the past 36 years of marriage. Lots of people all over the world celebrate Christmas in warm, tropical places - without a flake. Snow is cold, slippery, a pain to shovel and leads to heart attacks and broken bones. A cruise is pure relaxation and good for the soul. Gift Giving and Tradition Him: We need to be home for our traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family gift giving and gatherings. Me: Our gifts to each other will be the cruise, and we’ll give our gifts to the family when we get back. That way, we’ll have a Christmas after Christmas. Besides, as every devout Christian will tell you, Christmas begins ­on Christmas Day and doesn’t officially end until the 6th of January; hence, the 12 days of Christmas. The Religious Meaning Him: I won't think of missing church services on Christmas Eve.   Me: Did you know that cruise ships have religious services? Yes, they do. So you can celebrate the birth of Christ at sea. Besides, you fall asleep and snore in church. Family Him: What about the kids? What will they do? Her: Let’s see … our oldest has her husband, baby and her own new traditions to begin, and the younger two offspring will get together for Chinese food, video gaming, watch movies, sleep late and miss the holiday anyway. And if they do decide to wake up and partake in some festivities, there are plenty of relatives in a 5-mile radius who would be more than happy to share some holiday joy. Baby's First Christmas Him: We have a grandchild now, and it will be his very first Christmas. Why would you want to go away and miss this momentous event? Me: OK. Good point. No argument there. So who wins this debate? I do, of course. Are we cruising this Christmas? Absolutely not! Christmas with our grandson on his very first Christmas trumps a cruise any day! My dream Christmas at sea will just have to wait until next year's lively debate. Photo Credit: MSC Cruises USA

Jan115

Jan115

20 Signs That You Chose The Wrong Cruise

Think yours was the cruise from hell? Here are some REAL signs you're on a really bad cruise: 1. Upon embarkation, you hear a computer voice calmly announcing that “this ship will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3 ….” 2. The Captain’s name is Jack Sparrow, and he wants to know, “Where’s all the rum gone?” 3. The Atrium resembles a waiting room, with a sofa, folding chairs, and a coffee table containing a copy of “The World’s Biggest Cruise Ship Disasters Ever”. 4. “Stewart”, you’re cabin attendant, greets you on the first day, happily announces he’s going on vacation, and hands you a bucket and a sponge. 5. That “size-of-a-closet” inside cabin you booked (against the advice of your travel agent) is just that - an actual closet. 6. Your cabin is semi-private, and the bathroom is shared with the cabin next door. 7. On a visit to the bridge, “re-CALC-ulating” is repeatedly heard from the ship’s GPS. 8. The crewmembers are all wearing life jackets. 9. It’s Day 3 of a 4-night cruise, and you still haven’t left port. 10. Each passenger boarding the tender boat to go ashore is handed a pair of oars. 11. Tonight’s “Surf and Turf” dining selection is Tuna Helper and Spam in a Can. 12. Your dining room seat cushion also serves as your flotation device. 13. The only song the band knows is “There’s Got to Be a Morning After” (remember the original Poseidon Adventure?) 14. All the towel animals look like the Grim Reaper. 15. There are sharks swimming circles in the pool. 16. The end of the water slide is positioned off the side of the ship. 17. The lido deck is occupied by chair hogs – the live, curly tailed, 4-legged animal kind. 18. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the doctor on call. 19. The ship needs a jump-start at every port. 20. The chief engineer is overheard mumbling something about a “bucket ‘o bolts”.

Jan115

Jan115

"Mom Moments" from a Mother & Daughter Cruise

My daughter and I just returned from a cruise from New England and Canada aboard the Brilliance of the Seas - or should I say from just Canada, since I already live in New England, and it seems strange to say I returned from a place in which I already live. I thought I would share a few amusing personal cruise episodes, things that my kids fondly refer to as "mom moments." People of a certain age prefer to call them “senior moments”. I've always been a little clumsy and absent minded, but generally I'd say these missteps, mispronunciations, misreads, mistakes, brain freezes and blunders have increased with each new gray hair and wrinkle that appears. I think it started when I was about 40, when I decided to try eyeglasses with progressive lenses. I must have tripped over a hundred things just trying to get acclimated. Since then, I always blame the eyeglasses for every mom moment – or senior moment that comes my way. I could write a book, but here are just a few "mom moments" from our most recent cruise. The Elevator. So it would figure that on the first day just after embarkation, I would press the button for the elevator when the thing was already there beckoning in front of me with its doors wide open. Must be my glasses, I said aloud. My daughter immediately jotted this down as #1 in her notebook of mom's cruise moments. Caution: Wet Floor. Most people watch where they're walking. Not me. I was looking around the Windjammer, admiring the room and figuring out which buffet food station to begin my grazing, and WHAM! I walked right into one of those tall, yellow cones in the middle of the floor marked in big black letters, "Caution: Wet Floor". Why they needed to place it there I don’t know. The floor wasn’t wet. Fortunately, just the cone fell over – and not me. The only thing that was bruised was my dignity. There could only be one possible explanation - must be my glasses. The Jock. This wasn't a blunder of any kind, but just an unfortunate situation that adversely affected the rest of my cruise experience - and eyeglasses had nothing to do with it. I decided I was going to continue my daily at-home exercise regimen of 25 minutes on an exercise bike here in the ship's fitness center. I got on the bike, set the machine on automatic, set the tension to "it's so easy an ape could do it" and off I pedaled. I had a nice conversation with trainer, Six-Pack Steve, about workouts in general and how biking keeps my knee arthritis in check. OK, Steve wasn't his name, but the six-pack abs reference definitely fit. I finished my 25 minutes, left the gym and went about my day, returning to the room for a catnap before dinner. I woke up, and my knee had blown up like a balloon and I couldn't straighten it or bend it. I quickly raided my first aid bag, called for some ice, filled my handy Ziploc bags, and iced up the knee and limped off to dinner. With the help of some Jacuzzi time in the morning, some ice at night, a bottle of Advil and one of those stretchy knee braces, I was able to make my way around the ship and even in port, but just a lot slower. So ended my well-intentioned shipboard fitness plan. I had never cruised at any time other than summer, and was not accustomed to so many older people. Make no mistake - I counted myself among them on this cruise, and by day 2, and I was beginning to feel and appear like the oldest of the old, folks ambling about the ship with canes and walkers. In other words, I fit right in. As a side note, I was worried that 26-year-old daughter Jenn would feel out of place with this crowd. In fact, one gentleman, while waiting for the elevator, asked her “What’s a young thing like you doing on this ship?” To the contrary, she was very flattered being the youngest at the table every night. She wound up being the go-to person for advice on movies, science fiction, Facebook and the Internet. The Juggling Act: Get me a job on a cruise ship, because I can juggle! Too lazy to wait for an elevator, I was making my way down a flight of stairs one afternoon with two cups of coffee and a plate of pastry. Hey, it was only one flight and my bum knee could certainly make the trip. The only problem was I had only two hands - the plate in one and the two cups - one on top of the other - in the other hand. No hand left to hold onto the rail. I was doing great until my heel caught on a step, and sent my cups wobbling back and forth and my hand sliding around feverishly in order to compensate. Had to be the eyeglasses. In the end, I saved the coffee and my wits. Better yet, I didn't fall. Look Before Crossing. Something happened to me after I double-fractured my ankle on another vacation seven years ago. That's right - I was as clumsy then as I am now. I am a magnet for mishaps. Memories of a double ankle fracture on Cape Cod as well as a trip and fall, landing face first on a sidewalk in Savannah, Georgia, make stepping off sidewalks and traversing a street equivalent to walking on eggs. I don't want to risk breaking another ankle, nor do I want to fall down in the street and get run over. So, of course, there I was shopping with my daughter in Portland, Maine, last week, and while one side of my brain is concentrating on my footwork in navigating the sidewalk, the other side has failed to inform me of the approaching car. My daughter grabbed my arm and stopped me in my tracks. As I said before, it must be the eyeglasses. Three things I have learned from this cruise: (1) Get the knee fixed. (2) I can't be trusted to travel alone, and (3) Lose the glasses and look into contact lenses. For details of our cruise, read my review: Boston to New England/Canada Aboard Brilliance, Oct. 6, 2013

Jan115

Jan115

Self-Help for this Cruise Junkie

When I told my husband I would be cruising without him come October, he was less than enthused. We have enjoyed seven previous journeys at sea together, one being with Carnival, another on Norwegian, and the rest with Princess. I was itching to try another line, not because I disliked the other three, but simply because I want to say that I’ve sailed every major cruise line, at least once. David and I discovered cruising fairly late in life, at age 47. Why we waited so long to sail away on a ship at sea remains a mystery, but embarking on our first cruise for our 25th anniversary got us completely hooked. I spent countless hours over a 14-month span preparing for that first cruise - and the same is true for each one that followed. Has the excitement and anticipation dimmed over the years with each new booking? Not in the least. The only thing that has changed is the number of bookings I have in the pipeline. What was once the excitement and joy of booking one new cruise immediately after disembarking the last has now become booking three or four. My family says I'm obsessed, but I don't see it that way. I just love to be on the ocean and see it as an opportunity to try new experiences - new ships and new itineraries. No longer am I content to restrict my vacation time to the same week every summer to in order to work around a spouse’s school schedule. To quench my unending thirst for new cruises and to reaffirm my status as a cruise “junkie”, I began researching some other options and liked what I found. For instance, just up the road in Boston, Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas would be doing fall foliage runs up the coast through New England and Canada. I was super excited - it would be a new itinerary for me. Despite living in the Northeast my entire life, I had never been to any of the places on the schedule - Portland, Bar Harbor, Halifax and Saint John. Neither had I yet sailed Royal Caribbean, a line I've always wanted to try, but my husband always vetoed because "it's just not Princess." Well, I thought to myself, David will be busy with school when this cruise is set to sail, so here is my big chance to stray. Yeah, he'll object and otherwise put up a fuss over my going without him, but hey, he'll get over it. Next, I needed to find someone to join me. I don’t fancy the idea of traveling solo, and even if I did, I am not prepared to pay an obscene single supplement. So I started going through my meager list of family and friends and soon discovered it wasn’t easy to find someone with money to spare who wasn’t committed to work or babies. There was only one logical choice: our daughter, Jenn, who still had some vacation time coming. She jumped at the chance to take a week off from her hectic job in tech support, and I knew she would be a great travel companion, too - easy going, quiet and she doesn’t whine! I immediately blocked off a week from work and booked the cruise. Even better, as luck would have it, I qualified for a senior discount - another first for me. On one hand, I was dismayed that I would ever be considered "old", but on the other hand, I was grateful for the savings. Not willing to stop there, I continued my search for another cruise in the not-too-distant future. I had been badgering my husband for years about cruising during school break, but he would always protest, preferring to be home catching up on reading, TV watching or - more often than not - school work. What kind of vacation is that, I ask! Lo and behold, my email reveals that Princess, for the first time ever, will be sailing short 4 and 5 day cruises out of Fort Lauderdale, and wouldn't you know - one of them falls during April break! Surely, he will come around this time. After all, it's Princess, his favorite cruise line. Well, I was right. Not that it didn't take a little convincing, but he was on board with the idea pretty quickly. Before he had a chance to change his mind, I went immediately to the computer and booked our 5-day Caribbean cruise on the Ruby Princess scheduled to sail during April break. For what has become our annual summer cruise, my search for the new and different in 2014 resumed. We’ve been talking about the Mediterranean for a number of years, but when it came time to book, we’d always end up somewhere else on the map. Finally, it’s settled. Next August, we are jumping the Princess ship and climbing aboard yet another – this time, Celebrity. Once again, for David, it was not an easy sell to choose Celebrity over Princess, but the price was right, the promo was one we couldn't refuse, and both were really enraptured with the brochure depicting all the fun we would have aboard the very beautiful Celebrity Reflection visiting Italy and Greece. I can't wait to see what new cruise adventures await us in our retirement years ... some day. Maybe a transatlantic cruise? A repositioning cruise? A dirt-cheap last minute cruise only someone with a flexible schedule could possibly consider? The possibilities are endless, so stay tuned!

Jan115

Jan115

Winging It in Alaska ... "Bear"ly

A cruise to Alaska isn’t about standing at the railing watching the scenery. Don’t get me wrong; you’ll see some amazing scenery from the deck of a cruise ship – wildlife, panoramic vistas and glaciers. No, to really experience Alaska, you’ll need to get off the ship and venture out into the wild and commune with nature. My husband came up with the idea first – a flightseeing trip to see black bears in their natural habitat. I’d seen pictures - tiny planes that fly relatively low and land on water. The pessimist in me (or “negative nanny” as the hubby affectionately calls me) immediately came to surface, as I thought to myself … are these little winged vehicles safe? Is our will up to date? Is our insurance going to cover if the plane goes down? What if the plane breaks down and we miss the ship? What if the weather’s bad? Will I be able to get my arthritic knees up the ladder into the seat? Will my beefy husband fit? You can see where I was going with this. I found the idea a little unsettling, to say the least. When I am presented with any potentially new experience, I turn to my best friend, Google. I immediately opened up the iPad and began researching small Alaska floatplanes, the best companies, and the best places to see bears from Ketchikan, one of our ports of call. The more I read, the more I liked the idea. “Hey, this could be fun!” I tried to convince my skeptical side. My search revealed several well-recommended flight companies, so I began making some calls. Two viewing locations for bears in Ketchikan were recommended – Anan Creek or Traitor’s Cove. Both involved a half-mile trail through rainforest to a viewing platform overlooking a creek. Traitor’s Cove provided a guide to the viewing area. Anan Creek did not – once the plane landed, you were on your own, alone, at the mercy of any bear encountered along the trail. Since our comfort level regarding meeting any large 4-legged wildlife in the woods is pretty low, we opted for the safety and reassurance of a guide and Traitor’s Cove. The next consideration was price. Like many tours involving travel to locations in the Alaskan wilderness, a flightseeing trip would mean expenditure of a small fortune. Geez, I thought. I could buy another cruise for that money - a short one – but a cruise nonetheless. But, hey, this is Alaska. A ride on a small plane would be an adventure well worth the price. After reading some very positive travel reviews, we finally settled on a small family aviation business. Run by a young couple with two very cute kids (according to website photos anyway), Dad was the pilot and Mom ran the office, and they owned just two planes. Mom was very kind and friendly on the phone, patiently answered all my questions, took my credit card deposit, and we were good to go! I had read stories of bad Alaska weather – rain, cold and thick fog – conditions that could possibly hinder the view from the plane, or preventing the plane from even taking off, for that matter. As luck would have it, we were blessed with a perfect day for our flight from Ketchikan, with no rain in the forecast. I won’t lie, though … I was really nervous. My stomach was doing flips, and I ate very little that morning. We were picked up as scheduled on the dock, driven to the DeHavilland Beaver 6-passenger floatplane, shown a brief safety video while we all settled our account, and led to the plane, along with our 4 other flight mates. Now, remember when I mentioned the family owned two planes? Well, as we’re walking to the plane, Mom apologizes for running a little late – that one plane had to go rescue some passengers stranded by their other plane that had developed a small mechanical problem out on a Misty Fiords run. After registering the look of alarm on my face, she assured us that all was fine with the plane sitting in the water in front of us. Dear, God – I thought – I hope you’re right. It was time to board, and pilot Dad assigned us our seats. David and I were seated side by side in the row behind the pilot. It was a little tricky maneuvering up the ladder and in and out of the seats, but the pilot was happy to assist, and I am happy to report that we all fit just fine. Once the engine started and we began to take off, my worries melted away, replaced by excitement, and I felt perfectly at ease. Take off was very smooth, and we hardly felt a thing. Even better was the view. In a six-seat small plan like this, everyone has a window with a view, and we gazed in wonder at the mountains in the distance and the beauty of the islands and forestry below. After about 20 minutes of breathtaking scenery, with pilot Dad narrating into our headsets as we flew, we landed effortlessly at the dock. A guide greeted us and brought us for a short walk to the van that would drive us into the rain forest. Close to the van was a small outhouse, and I was reminded of a YouTube video I recently watched showing a woman held captive for some time by a curious bear pacing outside the door of the outhouse she was using at another bear viewing location. I really had to go, and I prayed that wouldn’t be me. Thankfully, no bears came calling. After a short ride in the van and some preliminary instruction in the event of an encounter with a bear on the trail, we hiked along the half-mile dirt path, marveling at the quiet solitude and beauty of the lush rainforest, with our guide pointing out some exquisite plant life along the way. As it turns out, we didn’t run into any bears in our pathway, but we did find some fresh bear poop (yes, you could even see the red berries he had recently eaten!) indicating to us that one may have been recently nearby. A walk in the woods is not complete without a photo op. Ours would be a scenic overlook from a bridge, with two people fishing nearby to provide prospective. We finally reached an observation deck overlooking a creek, where we all had our eyes peeled to the running water below in the hopes of seeing a bear or two come and feast on spawning salmon. We quietly waited and waited – for anything … a bear, a porcupine, a moose – something to start our cameras rolling. Other than a few salmon in the running water in the creek below, there was no sign of life – at least none that we could see with the naked eye. Finally, just when we began to give up hope of seeing any animal life, two bald eagles flew low overhead through the trees, landed and posed for pictures. These two majestic birds flew around, landed here and there, and otherwise kept us entertained for the rest of the time at the creek. Come to find out, the recent spell of unseasonably warm, dry, sunny weather in the area - while great for the tourists - had not been so good for bear sightings. The water levels in the streams were low, with far fewer salmon running, resulting in fewer bears showing up for dinner. In the end, no bears were seen on this trip. The only photograph showing evidence of bears at Traitor’s Cove was a detailed picture of bear poop! Although we were disappointed that the bears did not come out to play that day, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride! And as a bonus, upon flying back into port, we got a great photo of our ship. See more photos from our flightseeing excursion in my Web Album

Jan115

Jan115

Alaska Cruise Highlight ~ A Day in Glacier Bay

This was it, the reason for our cruise to Alaska - to see glaciers before they melt. We were aboard the Grand Princess, on a 11-day cruise which left San Francisco on July 29, 2013. The Captain told us the previous day that the best place to initially observe the glaciers would be port side, and a naturalist from Glacier Bay National Park would be on board to narrate about our wondrous surroundings. We reached Glacier Bay about 6:00 a.m., and as the morning wore on, the skies became sunnier and the water bluer than we could have imagined, setting up what would become one of the most breathtaking visual displays of nature that we've ever seen. We woke up early, grabbed our cameras and binoculars, donned a couple of warm layers and headed up top, where we could get a good panoramic vista. There were already a few hardy souls up there when we arrived, wrapped in blankets sitting in chairs by the railing. This looked like a good idea, so we did the same. I won't lie. It was freezing up there on deck! It wasn't long before we ran back to the cabin for another layer or two. We purchased a nice hot Irish coffee from the nearby cart to warm our insides and hunkered down bundled up in our chairs as the ship slowly glided through the bay. My new high-powered binoculars did not fail me as I scoped the waters for wildlife and calving glaciers. I spotted a few sea lions swimming by and a few whale spouts in the distance, and I heard from others that a moose was seen swimming from one shore to another. As beautiful as the hills of Ireland and Scotland were on our cruise last summer, they were no match for the beauty of these snow-covered rugged peaks, mountains, inlets, majestic glaciers and crystal-clear waters. The mix of clouds, sun, shadows and mist lay over the glaciers and mountains in such a way that they sometimes appeared to be magnificent works of art. As the ship made its way through the bay, we marveled at the splendor of it all, including two glaciers - Margerie Glacier and then John Hopkins Glacier - and were lucky enough to witness calving at Marjerie. One especially large chunk of ice starting from the top of the glacier came down crashing into the sea below and, fortunately, was captured on video by my husband. I had gone inside to warm up and, of course, missed the whole big calving event, but we are so lucky to have it on record! Our day in Glacier Bay truly exceeded our expectations. It was humbling to stand in the presence of some of nature's finest wonders, I and hope to some day return again for another glimpse. This is just a taste of what we experienced on our recent Alaska cruise. For the full report, READ MY FULL REVIEW. Check out my "Best of Alaska" Photos

Jan115

Jan115

A Pre-Cruise Weekend in San Francisco

July 26, 2013 ~ The day finally arrived! Our long-awaited weekend in San Francisco was about to begin, followed by a 10-night round-trip cruise aboard the Grand Princess to Alaska's inside passage, with stops at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, Canada. The icing on the cake would be beautiful Glacier Bay! Once again, David and I would be joined by my brother, Norm and wife, Dana. We found them to be great cruise buddies last summer sailing around the British Isles - their very first cruise - and we invited them along again on this Alaska cruise. Packing for Alaska was a challenge, as we needed to be prepared for cold, hot, rain, sun and everything in between. The luggage weighed in a few pounds shy of the limit, so we were good to go. David is a fan of warm tropical destinations, and every time I raised the subject of Alaska, he resisted, saying that Alaska cruises were for old, retired people. While I don't consider ourselves to be knocking on the door of the retirement home just yet, we are creeping close to that age and, frankly, I would like to enjoy the Alaska outdoors before I'm in a wheelchair! David was still reluctant, and it was my job to make him a believer. Three days in San Francisco and a repeat cruise aboard our first-ever cruise ship were the bones I threw to him, and he finally bit. Our adventure started off with just one slight glitch. It was 5:00 a.m.; we were packed, ready and.... waiting. Waiting for the pricey but ever-so-convenient transport we hired to take us to Logan. A call to the company revealed a mix-up in the times. It seems that when I changed our 5:30 a.m. pickup time to 5:00 a.m., they forgot to inform the driver. It was all good, though. The driver arrived within 20 minutes, we were finally on our way, and arrived exactly two hours ahead of the flight. As it turns out, Virgin America at Logan had the shortest check-in I've ever seen. We literally walked in the terminal, stepped up to the desk to check in, took a short few steps to the security check point, and made our way around the corner to the gate waiting area. No lines, no waiting! Our 6.5-hour non-stop flight went smoothly, and our driver, Mike, of Pleasant Limo, met us on arrival. For a very reasonable rate, he greeted us in baggage claim holding a sign with our name. He was friendly and polite, and drove us safely to our hotel. Best of all, he was on time! We chose the Tuscan Inn and Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco for a 3-night pre-cruise stay. Summer prices for hotels in this area are steep, but with my magic fingers, an iPad and a Hotwire App, I was able to find a lower rate - still pricey, but lower than anything else in that neighborhood. Upon arrival, the friendly desk staff warmly welcomed us. The lobby is nicely decorated, and the complimentary wine reception held at 5:00 p.m. for all guests was a nice touch. The room was a wee bit smaller than what I expected, but it was clean and cozy, with a very comfy queen bed. I liked the fact that the windows were dressed in white shutters rather than drapes, which added a feeling of space. The room was located inside, facing a quiet courtyard of plants and greenery, - something to consider if you don't like street noise. Complimentary morning coffee was available every morning in the lobby, and breakfast, lunch and dinner were served at the adjacent Pescatore restaurant. We had drinks at Pescatore on the day of our arrival, and the crab cake I ordered was very good. However, breakfast the next morning was another story. While my raisin cinnamon French toast was good, my husband's eggs were overlooked, my sister-in-law's were runny, and the cream was bad, turning our cups of coffee into something that looked pretty ugly. A second attempt at coffee with fresh cream failed, so we gave up on the cup 'o Joe. That was our first and last meal at Pescatore. We spent the rest of the day checking out Fisherman's Wharf, and had dinner outside at Alioto's. We had a covered patio table with an overhead heater, which came in handy on this cold, cloudy and blustery day in San Francisco. We found the seafood to be okay, but not nearly as good as what's found here in New England. It certainly was, however, a great place to rest and people watch. One of the coolest things we saw was the vintage antique arcade. What a blast to the past! We thoroughly enjoyed the ride down memory lane to all the old animated coin-operated figures and games. "Laughing Sal", which I had only seen in movies, was especially a hoot! By the time we finished, it was only 7:00 pm and the Wharf was hopping. Since our body clocks were still on East Coast time, we were all exhausted and went back to the hotel to rest up for another day. This is just a taste of what we experienced on our recent Alaska cruise. For the full report, READ MY FULL REVIEW. Check out my "Best of Alaska" Photos

Jan115

Jan115

San Francisco to Alaska ~ Let the Journey Commence!

San Francisco, Alaska and Grand Princess, here we come! I am getting a jump on reviewing this trip - our 2013 summer vacation - less than two days before departure. Tomorrow, I'll be busy double-checking and triple-checking my CruiseCrazies packing list to make sure I have everything covered and probably will be too exhausted to do much of anything else, let alone write. The idea - and I'm probably over my head on this one - is to write a day-by-day review of our experiences along the way - sort of a "Live From" report. As with most good intentions, however, things don't always turn out as planned. Much will depend, of course, on internet connection, cooperation from my iPad, free time and my level of exhaustion after a day of sightseeing. If my pen runs dry or I am just having too much fun to write, don't despair. You can count on a full trip review when I return! After months of preparation, excitement and anticipation, the day is nearly here. Our bags are nearly packed - or I should say OVER-packed - and we have to endure just one more day of work before finally escaping life's daily routine. Come early Friday morning, my brother and his wife will greet us with their cheery smiles, our hired car will scoop us up well before the New England sun rises, and promptly transport the four of us to Boston to await our non-stop flight to San Francisco. This is a first visit for all of us to San Francisco, and we are eager to experience as much as we can in the three days we have before boarding the Grand Princess. I understand that the city is alive with the America's Cup races, and being summer, I expect the streets will be bustling. Our home base for three nights will be the Best Western Tuscan Inn. Originally booked directly with the hotel using a 30% AAA discount, I later discovered an even lower rate through Hotwire, and being one who never passes up a deal, I canceled and re-booked our two rooms, saving us a few bucks - which we will blow later on the ship. Hey, it's vacation! My well-planned itinerary - which all in our party will follow because I tell them to - includes a 4-hour city tour with a local guide and an evening visit to Alcatraz, tickets for which were purchased the day they opened for sale. It's a good thing, too, because a week later they were gone. The rest we will make up as we go along. Armed with our mini city guide and advice from friends and acquaintances, I am sure we will have no trouble filling our time with all sorts of city splendor. Marin County, Muir Woods and Sausalito will be explored later with another local guide when we return from the cruise. Stay tuned ...

Jan115

Jan115

Share Your Alaskan Cruise Packing Secrets ... Please!

I am so excited, I am beside myself! Our new lightweight luggage has arrived and sits in my living room waiting to be filled with an endless variety of stuff befitting a 10-day Alaskan cruise. As I look at the assortment of wheeled bags in an array of sizes, I realize I went a little overboard in buying 7 pieces. What the heck was I thinking? I needed only a couple of replacements. But, hey - the old stuff was getting - well - old, so why not replace it all, I rationalized to myself. The kids will get the hand-me-down stuff currently stored in the basement. If they don’t want it, I’ll simply donate it. Armed with my CruiseCrazies packing list, I have begun a list of things I need to purchase. For starters, I have grown weary of laminating my own cruise luggage tags that the cruise lines are too cheap to provide, so I have ordered plastic tags for this purpose. New luggage requires new ID tags in bright, bold colors, complete with blazingly bold duct tape to match, for easy identification in the endless ocean of bags at disembarkation. I am not keen on messing up my pretty new luggage with tape which will eventually peel off and thus look ugly, but my husband wants every step taken to assure a clean get-away when departing the terminal. So be it. I so want to become a frugal, efficient cruise traveler and pack sparingly. Realistically, however, this will probably not happen – at least this time around. Being my first time to Alaska, my head is already swimming with multi-season items we need to pack. We have been watching videos of people who have cruised to Alaska. Images of people huddled in coats, hats, gloves, scarves and blankets outside on deck viewing glaciers and whales. Really? In August? Is it that cold in Alaska waters? How much winter clothing do I need to retrieve from the attic? I have been following the weather throughout the inside passage and tracking cruise ships along the way, hoping to get a feel for what to expect in the way of climate. However, the unusually warm weather experienced in the region over the last several weeks leaves me even more bewildered. I expect I'll need to pack for any sort of weather that comes our way. My husband has mentioned checking two 25” suitcases - his and hers - and this from a man who usually packs two days of clothing for a 7-day cruise. I was hoping for one bag to check between the two of us and a carry on each. Correction – make that just one carry on for clothing. My husband’s carry on bag will no doubt be solely used for a vast array of camera gear to quench his thirst for all things phototography. I have researched and written articles recently about slimming down and simplifying the packing process, but none of it has prepared me for the task that lay ahead. So, I turn to you, my cruising friends who have packed for an Alaskan cruise. Please share your Alaska cruise packing secrets!

Jan115

Jan115

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