Thursday, July 30, 2009

Cruise ship to pay for cleanup of oil spill in Vancouver harbour

Cruise ship to pay for cleanup of oil spill in Vancouver harbour

This is the same ship that was detained in New York in June when a safety inspection discovered a small hole in its hull along with other minor deficiencies.

Cruise ship detained in New York City

Not very good...

House Committee Approval of Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act

Crime reports may become mandatory on cruises

Alaskan governor not on side with head tax repeal

Governor doesn't support head tax repeal

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tired of hairy chest contests? Might I suggest...

French wine and French gastronomy are often en...Image via Wikipedia

In Vancouver we are currently in the midst of a insane heat wave. It's about 5,000 degrees out right now and if I didn't think I'd be electrocuted, I'd be writing this from the comfort of my bathtub. One thing that does help, though, is the glass of cold, local chenin blanc I have at my side. I love wine and I love cruising.

No surprise, then, that one of my favourite things to do on cruises is to go to the wine tastings or seminars. They're fun: you get to drink some wine, maybe learn something new and meet other people. It's a great way to break up a sea day and come in from the sun for a spell.

If you've wondered about going to one but thought it might be too stuffy, I can tell you from my experience they're anything but. There's a bit of swirling and a whole lot of swilling but no spitting - no worries about dribbling red wine down your white shirt. They are informative if you choose to listen rather than quickly work your way through the wine in front of you. But the information is delivered in a fun, relaxed way. I've been to several and I almost always learn something new each time.

The wine samplings are decent - whites, reds and maybe a dessert wine. Princess has two wine tastings: one is a basic one and another features more higher end wines and champagne. You pay a bit more but probably the only time I'll ever be able to try Opus One!

A cynic would say they're just trying to sell more dinner table wine but so be it. It's fun, informative, and a good way to waste away an hour or so, all for the price of a couple of glasses of wine. If you're tired of the usual poolside shenanigans, try one on your next cruise. Maybe we'll be table mates.

The Beatles and Celebrity Equinox...

'Here Comes the Sun': Celebrity Equinox Named in Southampton
— Founder of Walk the Walk Presides as Godmother of Second New Solstice-Class Ship

Another good reason to cruise!

In case you needed one, it's good for the economy...

Cruise Lines Generate Record $40 Billion Contribution To U.S. Economy In 2008

Monday, July 27, 2009

Necropsy: Whale may have been sick

Update to the unfortunate whale incident.

Necropsy: Whale may have been sick

New RCCL/Celebrity/Azamara air program

AlternateTextHereImage via Wikipedia

Guests of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Cruises Enjoy More Options, Peace of Mind with New ChoiceAir

This looks pretty flexible allowing passengers to select their airline and itinerary at the time of booking.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Appeal to end Alaskan $50 cruise pax head tax

Opening into Russell FiordImage via Wikipedia

Summit Participants Push Repeal of Cruise Tax

Roll out the barrel: bringing wine onboard

Like many, I like to bring wine on board when I cruise: some for cabin use, some with dinner in the dining room. Different lines have different policies, though, as to what you are officially allowed to bring on. Unless consumed in your cabin, they will all officially charge a corkage fee for drinking it in the dining room. Officially being the operative word in both cases and oftentimes randomly applied.

Below is a link to my list outlining each major line's policy. It is in scroll mode so you'll have to use your mouse to scroll down to read it in its entirety. Please keep in mind this is taken from their websites as of July 26, 2009. In some cases your actual ticket or contract may say something different. I'm no expert but if push came to shove over a disagreement while boarding I would imagine the ticket I carry - the official contract between myself and the cruise line - would be the final word.

As different as every line's policy is is the way in which these policies are applied. Some people talk of bringing more than the official amount on board, either in carry-on or in checked luggage. Others talk of having wine confiscated and held until the last night of the voyage if they're over the official limit. Some successfully bring wine on board at ports of call while others have it held until the end of the voyage. I've witnessed both happen, sometimes on the same ship but in different ports. Sometimes corkage will be applied every night, sometimes it's more hit and miss.

Please remember the attached is taken directly off their websites. I would welcome comments from all as to what your experience has been. Just click on "comments" below to post. I think this would be very valuable for everyone and help guide others in their decision.


How much wine for which line?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Cruise ship impales baby whale, docks at Vancouver port

Oh, this is so very sad.

Cruise ship impales baby whale, docks at Vancouver port

UPDATE: This is a press release from Princess as of yesterday afternoon taken from their website.

News Article

Sapphire Princess Statement

This morning at 6:30 am as Sapphire Princess was preparing to dock in Vancouver, a dead whale was discovered on top of the bulbous bow, the part of the bow that goes through the water.

We were shocked and saddened by this discovery, and sincerely regret the circumstances which led to the whale's death. It is unknown how or when this could have happened, as we have strict whale avoidance procedures in place when our ships are in the vicinity of marine life. We are not aware that any whales were sighted as the ship sailed through the Inside Passage to Vancouver yesterday.

Upon discovering the whale, we notified the Canadian Coast Guard, and they have asked for the assistance of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We will cooperate with any investigation into the circumstances of the whale's death.

We take our responsibility to be good stewards of the marine environment very seriously, and have clear guidelines for our ships on how to operate if whales are sighted nearby, which include altering course and reducing speed as required.

Friday, July 24, 2009

So you think you can dance? Or sing?

If you can do either or know someone who can, here's a great opportunity. Auditions in New York in September.

Casting call: singers and dancers for Celebrity's Equinox and Solstice ships

Good luck!

Fall out from Bermuda's stand on cruise ship gambling...

Holland America may stop visiting Bermuda?

Hotels chief: MPs are destroying tourist trade

Greece: swine flu cases found aboard Ruby Princess

Greece: swine flu cases found aboard Ruby Princess in Greece

Celebrity Cruises Artfully Presents 'The Essence of Equinox'

Art collection on new Celebrity Equinox includes pieces from Celebrity Galaxy

Celebrity Cruises Artfully Presents 'The Essence of Equinox'

Thursday, July 23, 2009

European vs. American Cruise Market

Just thought I'd post a link to this interesting article outlining the differences between the European and American cruise markets, focusing mostly on Costa and MSC Cruises. Great reading particularly for any North Americans considering either line.

Understanding the European Cruise Market

Celebrity Cruises Launches 'Celebrity Life'

Celebrity Cruises Launches 'Celebrity Life'

Interesting - Celebrity and Oceania both have very intriguing dining changes within a day of each other. Others to follow?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Chef Jacques Pepin to Open French Bistro Onboard Oceania Cruises

Oceania Cruises' M/S Regatta in Stockholm Frih...Image via Wikipedia

Be still my beating heart: yum, yum.....

World Renowned Master Chef Jacques Pepin to Open French Bistro Onboard Oceania Cruises' New Marina

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Reflections #3: Junk Food and Jammies

Garden of EdenImage via Wikipedia

Embarkation day for passengers: as exciting and fun as debarkation day is not. Getting on the ship for the first time, checking everything out, unpacking, lifeboat drill, maybe a cocktail or two before dinner. And then your first big meal on board and meeting your new dinner mates. Fingers crossed you're all compatible and there's not a lot of long, awkward pauses. After dinner maybe a nightcap or two, try your luck in the casino or a walk on deck, before collapsing in bed tired after your first big day on board.

Embarkation day for crew: exhausting. Everyone has been up bright and early getting the ship cleared, trying to get passengers off quickly, cabins cleaned and set up for the next round of passengers, sorting out and delivering luggage, getting stores on and sorted. On top of the work hard there is often the play hard the night before. Crew members are also often debarking that morning, going on leave. This can mean big send-off parties the night before that usually go on very, very late. Add it all up and crew are exhausted by the end of embarkation day.

On days like this my cabin mate and I, in the scant time we had between passengers getting on and off, would run over to the closest Winn-Dixie. We'd quickly run down the aisles and load up on the worst kind of junk food we could find along with some gossipy tabloids. Our favourite was the Weekly World News.

When the day was finally over - and we always worked longer than usual because embarkation day never went smoothly – we would pick up some beer or a cocktail from the crew bar and head back to our cabins. There we'd get in our sweats or jammies, prop ourselves up on pillows, open a beer, eat our way through our junk food and read the Weekly World News out loud, both of us trying to top the other with the most outrageous, ridiculous story we could find.

The long day, lack of sleep and the paper's utter nonsense and out and out fabrications would lead to hysterical fits of laughter, tears running down our face. That and a few beers later, the day's stress would melt away and we would finally crash, sleep well and be ready to start all over again the next day with a new voyage and new round of passengers. Hopefully rested enough to take on the next evening's formal night, always a big night.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

When wine gets in the way...

Things get overlooked. Like, say, blogs for instance. I am just back from a long weekend away with friends which involved some golf, a lot of sun, and a lot more wineries and bottles of wine. We were in B.C.'s wine country and I have the as yet unpacked boxes of wine and a staggering credit card bill to prove it.

But this has nothing to do about cruises and everything to do with my absence.

And now I must really unpack all that wine, shake the cobwebs out of my brain and think about my next post.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sea Days or Port Days?

If my husband had his way cruises would have no sea days - just one port after another. Me, I like a nice mixture of the two.

We have been on a couple of 14-day Southern Caribbean cruises where just about every single day was in port. Halfway through I was exhausted, wanting nothing better than to sleep in till, oh, I don't know, maybe nine. Instead, I found myself staggering out of bed early each morning, awakened by - horrors! - an alarm of all things. (Isn’t that what you take a cruise to escape from?) Barely enough time to prop myself up in the shower, quickly down a cup of faux coffee, rush out the door, down to the gangway only to realize that as usual,I’d forgotten my ID in the mad panic out the door. Once ashore - and awake - I was always glad to have started so early, the entire day stretched out to explore, snorkel, shop, relax in the sun and have some umbrella drinks or ice cold beer at the beach. One more beautiful port to take in.

The downside to all the port days, though, is the price factor not even counting the most obvious one - shore excursions. If you’re not close to the ship, there’s lunch. There's drinks ashore, chairs and umbrellas at the beach, transportation, shopping, tour guide tips, ka-ching! It can really add up and in the back of my head I’m wondering to myself if I’ll ever get a chance to see what lunch is like on the ship, something I've paid for and am barely using.

How much you enjoy or don’t enjoy port days can be dependent on such things as shipboard activities or lack thereof, the weather, or how easy it is to get a chair poolside or anywhere remotely near the sun for that matter. This, of course, being dependent upon the number of chair hogs on your voyage - a topic all to itself. There are those who are content to simply like back, relax, read, whatever and never get off the ship. For them, the ship is the destination.

I don’t mind a couple of port days in a row. You can sleep in knowing you don’t have to be anywhere at a particular time. You can check out activities, or not. You can eat whenever you want and don’t have to pay for it. Port days are definitely cheaper. Well, except for those poolside buckets of beer. Or the drink-of-the-day specials. Or the shops being open. Or the casinos being open which, on the other hand, if fortune shines on you, they can be a lot cheaper!

Man Accused of Killing Wife on Cruise to Mexico - ABC News

Man Accused of Killing Wife on Cruise to Mexico - ABC News

Man accused of killing wife on cruise...

FBI: Woman Killed on Cruise

I'll post more details as they become available.

More ways to have fun on the new Carnival Dream

Interactive 'FunHub' to Debut on New Carnival Dream

Monday, July 13, 2009

Where do old cruise ships go to die?

"TOPAZ" at Kobe Port Terminal of the...Image via Wikipedia

Just came across this site with pictures of a couple of old cruise ships, in the hands of ship breakers in Alang, India. One of the ships, the Topaz, originally sailed as the RMS Empress of Britain with Canadian Pacific Steamship. In later incarnations she also sailed with Carnival as SS Carnivale. Maybe some of you remember her?

The other ship, the SS Maxim Gorkiy, was originally supposed to sail this year as SS Marco Polo II but sadly was sold for scrap instead.

If you're not familiar with ship breaking, you should check it out. It's fascinating - and disturbing - on many levels and shows like 60 Minutes have done some great stories on it.

Cruise ship breaking in India

You'll need to scroll down the bottom for the pictures.

They also sell items salvaged from cruise ships on the beach of Alang, India. Interesting site to look through.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Reflections #2: Scampi? Again?

View from the Leonardo Dining Room

When I first joined the ship I was in heaven. The food! The food! From day one I just strapped on the feed bag and went for it. I would start each day with smoked salmon and cream cheese on a bagel. Cereal? I don't think so. Lunch was an all-out exercise in carbo loading. And after snacking in the afternoon on bar snacks or dainty little afternoon-tea sandwiches there was dinner.

Every night a big meal: filet mignon, crab, lobster, prime rib, on and on it went. I developed quite a taste for caviar just because, well, it was there. One of our favourite meals was scampi. Our waiter knew it and would pile our plates ridiculously high as we halfheartedly begged him to stop.

And this was back in the day of midnight buffets, too. We worked hard and played harder. The buffets were an interruption in festivities, a chance to regroup and soak up some of the partying.

But a funny thing happened. Several months later and, ahem, several pounds later, I got tired of constantly eating so much food. I was exhausted, lethargic and running out of clothes that fit comfortably or rather fit at all. I was also getting tired of dressing up every night to go out for dinner.

So I started going to the crew mess for dinner. No need to dress to impress: I could just throw on something ratty and line up with everyone else in the cafeteria style mess, lush carpet replaced by cold concrete, ambient lighting by harsh fluorescent lights. After months of rich, heavy foods my system embraced Caribbean red beans and rice and within a couple of weeks I started to look and feel a bit more svelte.

Things were different back then. There were no spa choices on the menu. No healthy heart options. No vegetarian options. It was mostly rich food with richer sauces. But when I'm faced with the old "what shall I make for dinner," I miss it, and if any one's got a killer recipe for scampi, feel free to send me a copy!

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Friday, July 10, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night...

Or maybe it was a beautiful sunny day with what seemed the gentlest of swells. No matter: whenever I came back from leave I almost always got seasick when the weather or seas turned. It was usually just once and then I was good for another four months.

I wasn't alone. Both our cruise director and chief engineer, with many years at sea between them, got sick when they came back from leave, as did many crewmembers. You're either prone to seasickness or you're not and it can hit in the most unpredictable ways. You can make it through a windswept, rocking storm just fine and then become positively bilious on a bright sunny day with gentle, undulating swells.

To add to its charm it can hit without warning. One minute you're fine and the next you're frantically looking for a bathroom, bin, bag - any open receptacle will do. I remember being on the bridge once in casual conversation with others. The next thing I was dashing madly down the alleyway, the first mate yelling, "First door on your left! First door on your left!"

Some are affected by it worse than others. Once in Whittier, Alaska we were tied alongside on a beautiful summer day,the water like glass. Despite this, a woman phoned our office looking for the doctor, complaining of being seasick.

When I go on cruises I always come prepared because it is something you can usually stave off. I discovered Bonine a few years ago and swear by it. I like it because you only need to take one a day. I take it before going to bed and therefore am less apt to stagger around the ship all day like an extra out of Dawn of the Dead, an unfortunate side effect of Dramamine. Unfortunately, the last time I checked my local pharmacy I discovered it is no longer available in Canada for some bizarre reason. Just one more thing I'll have to add to my shopping list next time I am State side.

This isn't a what to do or what to avoid article on seasickness. There are plenty of those available on the Internet. But if I may add one piece of advice, don't foolishly court it as my husband and I did once on the northbound portion of a Mexican Riviera cruise. For some reason we thought it was a great idea, in rough seas, to go to the very top and forward lounge, stare out to sea and watch the ship go up and down, up and down, up and down in the crashing waves. But we did and paid for it by spending the last night in our cabin. Lesson learned; don't stop the Bonine just because the voyage is almost over...

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Gambling Bill Defeated in Bermuda...

For those who enjoy Bermuda cruises and gambling:

Cruise ship gambling bill defeated

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Kinda still here....

First, thank you all who have submitted wine store suggestions. I hope to start getting something concrete together within a week or so.

Unfortunately, my time today has been spent comforting and pampering my kitty who is unlikely to see Sunday. Any of you who have been there know how hard it is. I'm afraid I just don't have much focus right now to write anything worthwhile.

In the meantime, if I hear anything newsy I will post it.

And please keep your ideas coming if you know of any good wine stores near embarkation ports.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Calling all wine drinkers!

A large glass of red wine contains about three...

Is it just me? I have Googled, Yahooed and MSNed and cannot seem to find a site that lists places close to embarkation ports - preferably worldwide - where you can pick up some wine before boarding. I know it's something I'd find useful and judging from the posts of others on Cruise Critic, I'm not alone.

I can do a lot of the research myself but would love to get input from those with first-hand knowledge of places that are close to embarkation ports and whose hours are convenient. Any other comments regarding selection, pricing, store websites, etc. would be very useful, too. I will be happy to compile all the information and post it somewhere for posterity. You can either contact me directly using the form at the very bottom of this page (scroll down - way down) or leave a comment at the bottom of this post.

And if such a site already does exist, please let me know because I can't find it!

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Yay! Celebrity's Captain's Club just got a little more generous...

Celebrity has revamped their Captain's Club recognition program for repeat guests. Some of these benefits will roll out as early as this month. Others to follow.

Details on their website:

Celebrity Cruises launches New Captain's Club; members are "Center of Attention"

Cruise ship industry reverses stance ...

Cruise ship industry reverses stance, backs federal safety bill - Los Angeles Times

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is the sun over the yardarm?

On quiet days aboard the ship, usually when everyone was ashore, my favourite time was when our captain used to come down to the office for a visit. He always referred to us as "my lovelies" and truth be told, there were at least a couple of us who had a crush on him.

We referred to these times as his "fireside chats" and apart from great stories, he would often throw in an explanation of a nautical term or two. In honour of this wonderful man I've attached a link under "Useful Cruise Links" to a site with the origin of many nautical terms and phrases.

It's not really modern-day cruise related but at some level it kind of is. I've always found word origins fascinating and I'm sure there are others who will find some of these interesting, too.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Man dies on virus-hit cruise ship

As being reported by the British media:

Man dies in cruise ship bug outbreak

UPDATE: There are now reports that this death was unrelated to the bug outbreak as reported below:

150 people fall ill on virus-struck cruise ship

Reflections #1: Excuse me? I have to do what?

When I signed up to work on a ship, I pictured myself traveling the world, having fabulous meals, walking the decks late at night gazing at the stars. I never imagined myself in a cramped room, late at night, ink up to my elbows, in tears trying to get a printing press working while plotting its demise.

On our ship we in the purser’s office were responsible for producing all the ship’s printed material - the daily program, tent cards, cocktail invitations, menus and the like. The laying out part of it was kind of fun and you could even get a bit creative using an IBM Compositor and later an Apple Mac. Nice, clean user-friendly machines…

But no matter how much everyone enjoyed that part, they knew what lay ahead: the AB Dick printing press. There were rumours that one of our ships - the QE2 - had real printers who did this at union rates. Not us, though. We all had to take our turn on it once every four months. The most immaculately groomed of us could, within a matter of one shift, have deep black ink embedded under nails that could only be gotten rid of by growing them out. Despite smocks that we wore securely over our uniforms, the ink defied all odds, sometimes getting right through to our bras.

The machine was used constantly and as such had a tendency to break down, a lot. At sea with no technicians available, we were at the mercy of finding an engineer who could help us out yet again. The program had to go out every night without fail even if it took until midnight. You therefore had cabin stewards anxiously popping in and out looking for them as they in turn couldn’t finish for the night until there was a program under every cabin door.

When the press actually did work, it was kind of soothing to stand back and listen to the rhythmic “ka-thunk, ka-thunk, ka-thunk,” as each sheet ran through. Still, you couldn't allow yourself to become too complacent as massive jams and breakdowns were only one sheet away, lying in wait.

I’ve no idea how daily programs are produced these days or by whom. I imagine the job is far easier now. But I can never look at one without remembering what we had to go through to produce them back in the day.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

At last! Second Amtrak train between Vancouver & Seattle

It is finally going to happen beginning in August:

Go-ahead for new Seattle train

It looks like this will depart Seattle later in the day and then depart Vancouver in the morning, exact schedules unknown right now.

Hopefully the Seattle departure will be late enough to benefit those disembarking trying to get from Seattle to Vancouver. The current train is much, much too early.

As for leaving Vancouver in the morning ideally the timing will benefit those disembarking and trying to get to Seattle. If it's too early, though, it should still help those trying to get to Seattle to embark. Right now the train is far too late.

Either way, though, it might make day-tripping easier and it's nice to have another alternative.

I'll keep you posted!

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Saturday, July 4, 2009

iPhones and making calls on ships...

Just came across this article which may be very useful for iPhone users. I'm not so can't comment from personal experience.

iPhones ahoy! Making calls on cruise ships, updated

Shared via AddThis

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Friday, July 3, 2009

Final Payment - Yippee!!!

Apart from the excitement of putting down the deposit on a cruise the next best part is the final payment date. Assuming you've budgeted wisely, of course, and you even have the final payment. Barring freak storms, flu outbreaks or civil unrest, the cruise is within sight.

I did just that today, well, my husband did, for our Oct. 2 Zaandam cruise. No more backing out now without paying cancellation fees. We are now firmly stuck in. Time to start thinking about filling out the online immigration forms and setting up our shipboard account. Time to remind myself that - yikes! - I only have three months left to renew my passport, something I'd foolishly been putting off when the cruise was far, far away.

As Holland America has now moved to e-documents, I made sure to request paper documents. It may well be the last cruise I ever take in which I have something tangible to hold in my hands before leaving, evidence of a cruise around the corner. There's something so much nicer about holding stiff coloured luggage tags rather than flimsy black and white ones printed off my computer, barely readable as I try to suck out every last bit of ink.

On a longer cruise, I would seriously start researching the ports now; however, this is only a 2-night cruise with a stop in Victoria. We may not even leave the ship this time but rather hang out in the hot tub, socialize and drink special coffees.

I know there are some who would start thinking about packing now. I rarely unpack from previous cruises except for what I need in my non-cruise life. But that's more because of laziness rather than any efficiency on my part. But the beauty of that is that apart from throwing in some smalls, I'm almost always ready to pick up and leave on a moment's notice. Well, there was the time, though, when I left all my bathing suits behind on a Mexican Riviera cruise...

But I think packing is a whole 'nother post in itself, don't you?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

30 Cruise Ship Passengers Injured in St. Thomas Tour

CHARLOTTE AMALIE (AP) -- An amphibious tour bus veered off a road Wednesday, injuring about 30 cruise ship passengers who were taking a shore excursion in the US Virgin Islands, police said.

The Duckaneer, which has a boat-like hull for traveling in water and wheels for moving on land, was carrying 47 passengers from the liner Freedom of the Seas when it went off the road in St. Thomas and crashed into bushes, police spokeswoman Melody Rames said.

About 30 people were treated at nearby Schneider Regional Medical Center for minor injuries, hospital spokesman Sam Topp said. One passenger suffered a broken ankle and was expected to be kept overnight for observation, he said.

In a Wednesday evening statement, the head of cruise ship's owner, Royal Caribbean International, said the company was closely monitoring the injured passengers.

"The safety and well-being of our guests is our highest priority, and we will continue to do our very best to assist them," said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO.

The Freedom of the Seas is on a seven-night Caribbean cruise that departed Port Canaveral, Florida, on Monday and concludes there Sunday. Other port calls include CocoCay, Bahamas, and Philipsburg, St. Maarten.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My new netbook: I think I'm in love...

So here I sit on this sunny Canada Day, outside on my deck, birds tweeting away, cold drink at hand and my lovely little netbook on my lap, blogging away. Unlike my laptop which overheats as soon as I turn it on, this little beauty is as cool as the day is not. I LOVE this thing.

I've had mine for a couple of days and don't know how I lived without one before. The possibilities are endless especially when cruising. Surfing and writing away on the balcony while my husband's getting ready. My husband checking out the Canucks' scores while I'm getting ready. All without having to leave our cabin, assuming it is wifi equipped.

Then there is the issue of photos. Try as we might, we've never gotten around the issue of having to pay the ship to download pictures from our camera. Even bringing our own CD's doesn't solve the problem. We've still been charged. No more. Now we can just download them for free, at our convenience, to the netbook. And with a 160GB hard drive we'll be downloading them into the next millennium.

I know. There are those who will say the idea of taking a holiday is to get away from everyone and everything. But for those of us who like to stay in touch, share pictures, check the news, write, or just be digitally connected they're a great little toy to take along. No more paying to download pictures or videos. No more going back and forth to ship Internet cafes, hoping a computer is free.

As for brand, after doing all the comparisons and researching online I settled on an HP Mini. I'm sure others will have their own brand loyalties but when compared side by side with an Acer its features were identical. In the end the slightly larger keyboard size of the HP won me over. I hadn't realized how cheap they were or how light. You can take these puppies anywhere and that is exactly what I will do on our next cruise in October when I will be blogging live from the Zaandam.