Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shore excursions I have loved: Aruba

I was going to write a post this morning going on about my new-found love for my netbook. Maybe later. But in the meantime, I thought I'd post the link below first.

Shiver Me Timbers!

I was approached by Virgin Holidays a few days ago to write a guest article for their blog. They have just posted it so I thought I'd share the link here. It's about one of my favourite shore excursions ever - a sailing and snorkeling trip out of Aruba on the Mi Dushi. We did this as a private tour a couple of years ago while on the Sea Princess. When we were on the Grand Princess last year the ship offered it as part of their excursions, but at twice the price.

This is a highly recommended tour if you like sun, sailing, snorkeling and fun!

Okay: for some reason I can't figure out how to make the link above active. Grrrrr..... you can either cut and paste the link OR if you click on the title of this article that will take you there.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Retirement Cruise Ship Nearing Launch

It's finally happened...

Retirement Cruise Ship Nearing Launch

This has been discussed often online - the price of staying on a ship indefinitely versus living in a retirement type facility on land. Sounds good in practice although they might want to shake up the itinerary a bit I'm thinking.

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture: Shipboard Martinis

My husband and I are not really spirit drinkers. But we will always make an exception for a shipboard martini. There's something about them that is just so social.

Celebrity in particular is known for its great martini bars and the seriously entertaining bartenders who work them. I have often seen better shows put on by them behind the bar than by entertainers on stage.

Apart from the healthy sized regular martinis they serve, they also have a martini sampler. This sampler consists of six mini martinis all for about the price of a regular martini, although I have read recent posts that it is twice the price on the Solstice. Hmmm....

The sampler is something you definitely want to share with a friend. Not saying you have a problem if you don't but at the very least you'll have to drink them fast before they get warm. If one of the flavours doesn't appeal to you, they're usually pretty accommodating and will make one you do like. It's just a win-win situation whichever way you look at it.

But a word to the neophyte: martinis are deceptively smooth and can catch up with you all of a sudden. We saw it first hand on the Constellation after a young fellow went through two samplers on his own. When he finally, very delicately, got up he made his way out of the bar as if we had just encountered gale force winds. I'm not sure we had even sailed yet.

Apart from the bartenders and their fabulous concoctions, these bars are simply a great place to congregate before or after dinner. There's always a lively crowd present and it's a great opportunity to hook up with some other passengers and have a laugh or two. But the bars are tiny so get there early!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cruise ship detained in New York City due to hull damage - or can you pronounce "Reykjavik"

The Associated Press

NEW YORK - A cruise ship carrying 848 passengers from Iceland is being detained in New York Harbor after a routine safety inspection detected a small hole in its hull.

A U.S. Coast Guard team discovered the damage , plus 16 other minor deficiencies , on the cruise ship Oceanic on Thursday. It found that about a gallon of water per hour was leaking into the vessel.

Chief Petty Officer Russ Tippets said Friday that's "a very small amount."

The Coast Guard determined the damage occurred after the ship left Reykjavik (RAY-kyah-veek), Iceland, on June 19 but before it arrived at its port of call in New York.

Tippets says it's expected the hole can be repaired before noon Saturday. The same passengers are set to depart then for their final destination, Venezuela.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cruising and those we leave behind: furry, feathered, finned or otherwise

This post is in honour of one of my cats, Katie, who has taken ill over the past couple of days and has occupied most of my thoughts. A couple of vet visits and several hundred dollars later we only have a tentative diagnosis of a hernia. This will likely require surgery and she is not a young cat.

And what does this have to do with cruises? Well, the health of my cat, nothing really. But my having a cat or having pets in general has a lot to do with cruises. It is always something you have to consider. Who do you trust with your precious companions while you're gone?

My delight in booking a cruise has oftentimes been hampered by the fact I have to find someone trustworthy to look after my two cats. I used to have a wonderful neighbour who I trusted implicitly. I would come home to two very healthy looking cats accompanied by a daily log of their activities while I was gone. Maybe a bit over the top but I always knew they were well looked after.

Then she took ill and I had to find someone new. I found someone on a recommendation who seemed okay when we met. Obviously more of an animal person than a people person but that was okay 'cause she was looking after our cats not us. We came home after a wonderful 14 day cruise to two extremely bloated, puffy cats and a tersely written lecture on her disapproval of our cats' diets. Judging by their looks and her note, they had been subjected to the feline equivalent of a 14-day junk food binge.

I have finally found someone again I trust and we have come home from our last couple of cruises to two very healthy looking cats. They're mad at us, of course, but that is usually short lived. I can once again book a cruise, or even a quick weekend away, without worrying about who will look after them.

And to any of you who have read and understand this all, please send your best wishes to Katie for a speedy recovery.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can't we play nice, people?

Hmm... I've searched and searched but can't figure out which ship this is. It may be a day-charter type cruise and not one of the big lines.

SEATTLE - Two police officers were assaulted by women as they responded to a huge brawl aboard a cruise ship early Sunday on the Seattle waterfront.

The officers responded to the scene at about 1:40 a.m. after receiving a 911 call about a large-scale disturbance aboard a cruise ship docked in the 1100 block of Alaskan Way.

When police arrived, they found a chaotic scene of more than 100 people on the dock, many of them shouting and arguing. Officers then learned that some passengers were still physically fighting aboard the ship.

Officers moved to the dock to begin clearing the ship, where they found a small group of people blocking the gangway and preventing passengers from leaving the vessel.

The officers ordered the group to clear the gangway to allow others to leave the ship, but they refused to do so and officers were forced to physically move the group out of the way.

While police were moving the group off the gangway, a woman in the group suddenly assaulted a male officer by jumping on his back, grabbing his throat and scratching him. She was arrested.

A second woman in the group assaulted a female officer, grabbing and scratching her throat. The second woman was also arrested.

Both women were booked into the King County Jail for investigation of assault on an officer.

The officers treated their wounds at the precinct headquarters.

The original cause of the onboard fight was not definitively determined beyond consistent reports that four women started fighting onboard and the fight escalated from there into a huge free-for-all.

UPDATE: It has been reported on the Internet this was not a major cruise line but rather a dinner/booze cruise operated by Argosy Cruise Lines.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Good Shipboard Coffee and Other Oxymorons

Ship coffee or rather the swill passed off as coffee, is generally agreed by most to be, quite frankly, god-awful.

I have to have my morning cup of coffee. If there is none in the house - which rarely happens - or if there is no milk to put in it - which often does happen - I can't start the day. So although I know shipboard coffee, either delivered by room service or served in the dining rooms, is going to be bad, I still drink it, employing mind-over-matter techniques to convince myself otherwise.

There are a few ways to get around this. Many ships have specialty coffee bars where you can have a pretty decent cup made. Of course you have to pay for this but it's usually about half the price of, say, Starbucks.

The coffee in the dining room can be hit and miss. I have found on some ships that if you order an after-dinner coffee that requires some prep - espresso, latte or cappuccino - it's often not too bad. Some ships have their "make-your-own" type coffeemakers in their lido restaurants. Again, hit and miss assuming you can figure out how to work the machine in the first place without spewing coffee all over the place.

Some people pack along their own coffeemaker and coffee. My hats off to you. However, I have enough trouble fitting all my shoes into my luggage and after about two hours on a cruise there is no visible counter space in our cabin. I'm not quite sure where we would fit a coffeemaker.

On our last Princess cruise, both my husband and I thought that the room-service coffee was actually not too bad. Honest. Usually I just barely finish a cup, enough to convince myself I've had my morning cup of coffee. This time I had a couple of cups each morning. Maybe we were just lucky that voyage.

But when it comes to my morning cup, I will happily take the worst a ship can offer over the best from Starbucks, grabbed on my way to work.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I want to run away to sea....

My life has been taken up the last few days with home renos. Worse, they're not even my home renos. Thus my absence.

While on my knees scrubbing grout with a toothbrush, my mind drifts to more pleasant endeavours: lazy days I have spent at sea, both as a passenger and crew. Days in which the only use I have for a toothbrush is brushing my teeth. No worries about blackened grout, discolored walls, faded paint or weed masses the size of New Jersey. My biggest worry is whether or not tonight's dinner menu has been posted.

No lying awake at night wondering whether the painting will be done on time, whether I can still purchase parts for a 10-year-old dishwasher or whether my husband and I will still be on speaking terms by the time we're finished. I am a terrible sleeper at the best of times at home, but give me an aft cabin and the particular movement of the ship back there, even in the roughest seas, always rocks me to sleep.

I needn't worry about unmade beds, piling mountains of laundry or menacing dustballs. No need to alarm myself with the fact the pizza delivery boy and I are now on a first-name basis. I am at sea, relaxed in my balcony chair, feet up, drink and unread book by my side, staring lazily out to sea. Not a concern in the world, the stresses of every day life slipping away like the ship's wake.

I want to run away to sea, but unfortunately I have some grout to attend to first.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Blink and you'll miss it: a lesson learned

As I'm sure many of you do, I keep my ear to the ground when it comes to price drops or adjustments.

I usually book in U.S. funds but on a recent cruise I purchased future cruise credits in Canadian funds since the dollar had been at par for some time. A month or two later, of course, the Canadian dollar started dropping leaving me to regret my decision. And by then I had already applied my future cruise credits (see blog below).

Recently, though, the Canadian dollar has gained strength and started to rise again. I could either cancel and rebook in U.S. or I could just wait and see if Princess adjusted their exchange rate which could potentially save me some money.

Well, I found out on Monday through a kind Cruise Critic poster that Princess had just adjusted their foreign exchange rate from $1.25 to $1.15. This effectively dropped the price of my booked cruise by about $170 a person. A nice little price drop and the second one since we'd booked the cruise.

But I was busy and got sidetracked. I figured I was safe because the drop was due to a change in their foreign exchange rate and what were the chances they'd adjust that again so quickly?

So I contacted my TA yesterday and although the spread between U.S. and Canadian prices were at the new rate, in the space of 24 hours the U.S. price had gone up. It had gone up to the point where the Canadian price was exactly where it had been before the rate adjustment. Grrrr...... my potential $340 savings gone.

So now I'm back to watching the pricing, hoping it will drop again and THIS time, I will move on it right away.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm feeling dizzy: must book another cruise...

I used to laugh at my mom who always felt ill at ease unless she had at least three cans of unopened coffee in the house. That was her worse fear: waking up and finding she was out of coffee.

I kind of feel the same way about cruises. If I have no upcoming cruises booked and there are no cruise countdowns on my signature I feel panicky. It's like a low blood sugar moment: a bit dizzy, lightheaded, unable to clearly focus.

One booked cruise is good; two is that much better. I see some people who have up to six upcoming cruises showing on their signatures. You must all sleep very well at night.

Is it just me? I sense it's not judging from what others post. Everyone knows the worst thing about a cruise is when it's over. One minute you're excitedly waiting to board the ship for the first time. Before you know it, you're walking downcast through your front door, hoping everything is in one piece and the cats have been fed.

And then horror of horrors, you're back to reality and work. All sense of relaxation gone, your tan starting to wash down the drain, the midsection bloat mercifully starting to subside.

For me,the only way to combat this feeling is to take things in hand, get proactive and book the next cruise. That is part of the fun of cruising: finding the next perfect itinerary, on the perfect ship, with the best cabin and at the best price possible. When I finally find exactly what I want and make a booking, a sense of calm descends upon me. I am at peace again, a small catastrophe averted. With another cruise on deck, I can get back to the task at hand and make a living to pay for it.

Except now my time is taken up with trying to find every possible picture I can of the ship online, checking out ports and the shore excursions, chatting with others, but that's a post for another day....

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Monday, June 15, 2009

Beaches - any of which I'd rather be at than here on a Monday morning...

I'm feeling lazy today. It's Monday morning and since I'm self-employed I have the luxury of allowing myself to be easily sidetracked, not really such a good thing financially speaking.

So to feel I've halfway accomplished something, I'm putting what little energy I have into posting some pics of a few of my favourite beaches, all of which I've enjoyed while cruising. Most of these were taken in the last couple of years from voyages on board the Azamara Quest, Sea Princess or Grand Princess. The pics in the top left and below were taken in Grand Turk last year. I would have visited it again this year on the Grand Princess but as sometimes happens we had to miss this port because of wind conditions. Absolutely amazing crystal clear water with great visibility. If only I knew how to scuba but good snorkeling just the same.

This is Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gordon, British Virgin Islands.

And yet another horrible looking beach on Virgin Gorda. Apart from a wild chicken running around, I think there were about 10 or 11 of us on the entire stretch of beach.

Brewer's Bay, Tortola, across from Virgin Gorda. If you're in Tortola for a full day you should have time to visit the Baths in Virgin Gorda and then spend some time on the beach here.

The Boatyard beach in Barbados. Apart from being a great beach with reasonably priced beer and beach chairs - always a good thing - the sand is like flour, amazingly soft and fine.

Saline Beach, St. Barths, one of many beautiful beaches on this island.

And my list wouldn't be complete without pics from either St. Thomas, looking down at Magen's Bay...

... or Orient Beach, St. Maarten.

And now I really do have to get back to work and make something of this day!

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cruising: something for everyone or may I interest you in a nude cruise?

Some cruise simply to relax with a book or stare out to sea all day, hypnotized by the ship's wake. Others may not see much of the day choosing to spend the evening partying and dancing away. Some never see much of the evening. You know the ones: poolside, drink in hand, at nine in the morning.

There are those who are up at first light, ship schedule in hand, determined to cram in every possible activity. And then there are the ones who never even open the ship schedule. Some cruise for the ports while others stay onboard, choosing never to get off the ship when in port.

There are cruises for foodies, cruises for wine lovers. Cruises geared towards families, cruises geared towards adults. You can golf on cruises, learn to ballroom dance, hone up on your computer skills, rock climb, skate, or surf. You can learn how to make sushi or exotic martinis. At wine seminars you can learn the difference between a cabernet sauvignon and a sauvignon blanc. You can show off your trivia, take the stage on karaoke nights, maybe even enter a talent show and perform in front of everyone at the end of the voyage.

And these are just things offered on regular itineraries.

Google "cruise" and your area of interest and you will find lots of specialty charter cruises, including, yes, clothing optional cruises. There are Elvis cruises, Beatles tribute cruises, jazz cruises, blues cruises. There are cruises on which specialty or big-name acts perform. One company, Sixthman, is responsible for putting together cruises that have recently featured such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd (YouTube has some great clips from these cruises), John Mayer, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies and a whole host of others. These cruises cost more than a regular cruise but if you love live music or are a huge fan of any such acts, they may well be worth your while. Instead of spending 2-3 days at an outdoor festival, lining up for the pleasure of using an outdoor toilet and camping amongst thousands of others, you can just stumble back to your cabin at the end of the night. It's like a festival without all the mud, muck and overpriced food and drinks.

Such is the beauty of cruising. There really is something for everyone.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Cruise Roll Calls

How many of you sign up for cruise roll calls on Cruise Critic but then never show up for the meet and greets on board? How many of you never even bother to sign up in the first place?

For those who may not know what these are, there are boards or "roll calls" on cruisecritic.com on which the commonality is a future cruise. You pick the line, the ship and then the actual voyage and meet other people who are taking the same cruise. The individual roll calls can range from hundreds of posts to thousands of posts depending on how active they are. Through them, a day and time is arranged as to when to meet or get together on the ship, usually held the first or second day. Depending on the numbers, sometimes a senior officer or two will come to the meeting.

I confess: I used to be a roll call lurker. I'd post a few times, maybe hook up with a few people for a private excursion but never showed up for the get-together on board. However, a recent 14-day Southern Caribbean cruise my husband I took with another couple completely changed my thinking. This was a great cruise with gorgeous ports of call every day but the downside was there was a definite lack of nighttime activity on board except for one very visible group of about 12 people. They were always out together and seemed to be having a great time. You'd see them in the specialty restaurant, around the pool, ashore, and in the public rooms at night laughing away.

Halfway through the cruise we met up with one of the couples from this group and it turned out they had all met through an online roll call. They obviously enjoyed each other's company and on the last couple of nights were already planning another cruise together.

So on a cruise we took in March I decided that this time we would actually show up for the meet and greet. As it turns out, we met two great couples who not only were at the next table to us in the dining room but lived about 10 miles away from us back home. Our group of four doubled to eight and we had a super time throughout the voyage with them. We had lively dinners together and great days ashore. We have since booked a future cruise on which one of these couples will be joining us.

Apart from friends you might meet, these roll calls give you the chance to join in on some great private shore excursions. We took two on our last cruise that were probably the best we've ever experienced and had we tried to arrange either of them on our own, wouldn't have had the wherewithal or numbers to do so.

If you've never signed up for a cruise roll call, consider doing so!

Welcome to my Blog

When I walked down the gangway the last time as a crew member, I swore I would never, ever take a cruise in my life.

Well, never say never. Some years later my husband suggested going on a short cruise out of New Orleans, since we were going there on holidays. Despite horrible weather throughout most of the cruise on a ship that was a bit tired and had seen better days, I haven't looked back since. Several years and many cruises later, I still never tire of entering a port on embarkation day and seeing the ship I’m about to board.

I’m fortunate enough that I have my own business at home with no one looking over my shoulder. When I need a break, or my hands get tired, or it’s rainy out or maybe I just really don’t feel much like working, I check out cruises. I check out different itineraries, different prices, different lines. I go on to cruise forums and see who's posted what. If I have a cruise booked - which I invariably do - I check out cruise roll calls and see if anybody’s posted something new.

I never thought it would happen but I am totally addicted to cruising.

So instead of killing time just aimlessly surfing on all things cruise related, I’ve decided to start a cruise blog. All the goods things, annoying things (can you say “chair hogs”), things on which people are divided (to tip or not for room service), deals, cabins, lines, itineraries, ports, excursions. Maybe even go back into my past life as a crew member - I will gladly answer any questions anybody might have!

I hope this will be an interactive site. Despite working in the purser’s office of a ship for almost three years, I have learned a ton of information mostly from others online.

So welcome to my first posting of my first blog!