Cruise News for March – May, 2020

Last week when I looked at the site, I discovered some cruise lines were offering cruises for $25 per day per person. Today it has all changed. Due to the unpredictable environment surrounding the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, most of the major cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, and MSC will temporarily suspend sailing operations to and from U.S. ports for 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cruise Lines International Association announced today.

Shutdowns are part of the cruise industry’s efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus and to keep passengers, crew and communities safe and healthy. If you are scheduled to cruise soon, contact your travel or cruise specialist or go directly to the cruise lines reservation site.

Here’s the latest (as of March 13, 2020) on each cruise line. Click on the name of the cruise line to learn more:

AIDA

German cruise line AIDA has suspended all operations through early April. Cruisers on canceled voyages are asked to rebook for another cruise through spring 2022; bookings made by May 31, 2020 will receive an onboard credit.

AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways has suspended all operations and is cancelling all Europe river cruises through April 25, 2020.

Avalon Waterways

Avalon Waterways on their website states: “Due to ongoing changes regarding COVID-19, please note that call volume to our reservation staff is extremely high, resulting in above-average hold times. We are prioritizing calls related to departures between now and April 30. If you are calling about a departure May 1 and beyond, you will be asked to call back the week of March 16th. We appreciate your cooperation during this time and thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.”

Azamara

Azamara allows passengers to cancel up to 48 hours before a cruise and receives cruise credit through 2021.

  1. Effective Friday, March 13, 2020, guests of all ages will be screened prior to boarding, regarding underlying issues that may prevent them from sailing including chronic heart, lung, liver, or kidney disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, or cancer.
  2. Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, if you are over the age of 70 at the time of embarkation, you must present a doctor’s letter certifying you’re fit to travel and do not have severe, chronic medical conditions. As a reminder, Azamara is a subsidiary of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Please share the letter on their site to your physician, which can also be found on their Travel Advisory.

Carnival Cruise Line

The company is monitoring COVID-19 developments from their state-of-the-art Fleet Operations Center in Miami, so that they can quickly respond to any situation and communicate promptly. Guests remain tremendously supportive and understanding. In turn, our entire crew is committed to providing you a great vacation.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity is cancelling all sailings scheduled to depart from U.S. ports for the next 30 days.

Celestyal Cruises

All cruise operations are suspended until May 1. Passengers who paid in full for the canceled sailings will be offered a future cruise credit valued at 120 percent of the original booking value, or a refund of original amount paid.

Costa Cruises

Costa Cruises has announced due to the new measures introduced by the Italian Government on March 9, 2020 to contain the health emergency in the national territory, Costa Cruises has revised the routes of its vessels which will call at Italian ports until  April 3, 2020. The cruises currently sailing will only call at Italian ports to allow customers to disembark and return home, no excursions or embarkations will take place. They have also canceled bookings for Italian guests following the provisions of the Decree of the Italian Prime Minister. The company has taken steps to inform interested customers by offering them a future cruise credit so that they can later enjoy their vacation onboard on a different date.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages

Cruise & Maritime Voyages has confirmed the temporary suspension of all worldwide cruise operations for embarkations taking place from today (Friday 13 March 2020) for six weeks until Friday 24 April 2020.

Crystal Cruises

Crystal has cancelled sailings on Crystal Serenity until April 21 and Crystal Symphony until May 8.

Disney Cruises

Port Canaveral will temporarily lose one of its major cruise lines. Disney’s two largest ships, Disney Dream and Disney Fantasy, are based there. Both can carry 4,000 passengers. The Walt Disney Company has suspended all ships starting on Saturday, March 14 through the end of the month. It will affect eight scheduled Disney Cruise Line sailings out of Port Canaveral.

Fred. Olsen

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has taken the difficult decision to pause their ocean cruise operations until May 23, 2020. For the time being, their river ship Brabant is not affected by the pause in operations, and will commence as planned on April 6, 2020.

Gate 1 Travel

All Gate 1 trips have been suspended for departures Mar 12 through Apr 30, 2020. Cruise payments, and travel insurance if selected, will be available as a future travel credit. Passengers can apply these funds towards new travel services booked within 18 months.

MSC Cruises

MSC Cruises has cancelled all Caribbean cruises from Miami from March 14 – April 30. They are offering guests the following two options: 125% future cruise credit or request a refund. The future cruise credit can be used on any sailing departing on or before December 31, 2021. 

Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line is cancelling all voyages with embarkation dates from March 13 to April 11, 2020. They will plan to recommence and operate with embarkations beginning April 12, 2020.

Oceania Cruises

Beginning March 13, all travel from Europe to the United States will be restricted for 30 days. Updates will be posted on their webpage as they become available.

Paul Gauguin Cruises

The French State and French Polynesian authorities have decided to suspend all cruise calls in French Polynesia until April 11, 2020. Paul Gauguin Cruises will be communicating throughout the day with travel advisors and guests booked on affected sailings and will be sending out notices and updating our travel advisory as our plans are introduced.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises has suspended fleet operations until May 10.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

For all existing and new reservations made by April 30, 2020 on Regent Seven Seas Cruise voyages embarking on or before September 30, 2020, guests who have paid in full have the option to cancel up to 48 hours prior to departure date and receive a 100% Future Cruise Credit.

Royal Caribbean

Royal Caribbean “understands the gravity of the public health crisis confronting the country. And this is our part to play. So, beginning at midnight tonight, we are pausing the fleet’s US sailings for 30 days.”

Saga Cruises

Given the government advice, Saga Cruises is temporarily suspend our Ocean Cruises onboard Saga Sapphire and Spirit of Discovery from March 15, 2020 to 1 May 1, 2020. “If you have booked a Saga Ocean Cruise during this period, we are offering you an additional future cruise credit to the value of 25%. This means if you choose to amend your booking to a future date, the full amount you have paid for your cruise, plus an extra 25% will be transferred to that booking; or we can send you a voucher for this amount to be redeemed against any future Saga Ocean Cruise. This future cruise credit will last for a period of 24 months.”

Scenic Group

The Scenic Group, which includes Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours and Emerald Cruises,  suspends all River Cruises from now until April 30, 2020.

Silversea Cruises

Silversea is not sailing from any U.S. Ports over the next 30 days.

Uniworld

Uniworld Boutique River Cruises has suspended all European itineraries until April 23.

Viking Cruises

Viking Cruises was one of the first to cancel all river and ocean sailings until May 1 across its global fleet of 74 ships.

Virgin Voyages

The new cruise line will now launch the Scarlet Lady, until July 15.

Windstar Cruises

Small ship cruise operator Windstar has temporarily suspended operations worldwide for cruises embarking March 14 through April 30.

The New Viking Jupiter Ship

Last week, at the International Ballroom inside the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Viking Cruise Line invited 800 cruise and travel professions to the official naming of their newest Viking ocean ship, Viking Jupiter. It’s the sixth and latest elegant, state-of-the-art small class Viking ocean ship to sail with 930 guests.

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During the official naming of the beautiful ship in Beverly Hills, Executive Vice President Karine Hagen thanked her father Chairman Torstein Hagen for allowing her to do something meaningful in her life.

The ship offers all veranda stateroom and suites designed to provide maximum comfort. They range from 405 to 1,163 sq. ft., and have one of the best bathrooms of any cruise line.

Dining is destination-focused with regional cuisine, and Viking offers the most al fresco dining at sea. There are 8 dining options, all with no additional charge to passengers.

To bless the ship, a violinist came out to perform onstage, and Google Earth was projected on a large screen. One of the Viking Captains arrived onstage and conversed with the Viking Captain onboard the Viking Jupiter via satellite. As the ship sailed towards Cape Horn, Chile, the naming ceremony of this ocean vessel began.

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A Nordic Viking approached the stage with an axe (the symbol of power and success), and Norway’s most beloved soprano singer Sissel Kyrkjebo. She is the Viking Jupiter godmother, and joined him to perform the ancient Norwegian ship naming ritual, that goes back more than 4,000 years. Sissel is Norways most beloved singer and the voice of Ariel in Disney’s film The Little Mermaid. As the formal godmother of the ship, her duty is to bless the ship, and the safety of her crew and passengers throughout her journey.

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Traditionally, godmothers break a bottle of champagne against the ship’s bow during the formal naming before the inaugural sail. On Viking, they use the spirit of the Nordics, instead of champagne, they break a bottle of Gammel Opland Aquavit to name their ships. This Aquavit is a celebratory drink people sip during special occasions, and traditional Norwegian Christmas meals.

Founded in 1997, Viking founders purchased four ships in Russia and called this small line, Viking River Cruises. By 2000 they expanded into the American cruise travel market. Soon it became the leading long ship leader exploring the world’s rivers. Growth continued creating more ways for guests to experience and explore the world, and soon Viking became the largest river cruise line in the world. With this success, in 2015 Viking introduced Viking Ocean Cruises and expanded its global reach.

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What makes Viking ships unique is that they are simple and elegant, not splashy and gaudy. The cruises are calm, quiet, informative, enriching and quite different from others. What also sets this cruise line apart from others is they don’t allow children under 18, they have no casinos onboard and they don’t nickel and dime their cruise passengers.

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Viking has designed a specific cruise program for Chinese travelers who wish to sail Europe’s iconic waterways.

Today with 72 river ships and 6 ocean liners, Viking connects people and cultures around the world. Coming soon, Viking will introduce Viking Expeditions taking passengers to Antartica, the Arctic and The Great Lakes in 2022.

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Torstein Hagen shared with the guest that his most favorite cruise is the “Waterways of the Tsars.” It’s from St. Petersburg to Moscow on a 13 day cruise from May to October 2020 and starts at $5,499 per person.

To learn more click on Viking Cruises.

The New Luxury Carnival Panorama debuts in Long Beach

Carnival Panorama was christened on December 10, 2019 in Long Beach by her godmother, Vanna White, the hostess of American game show Wheel of Fortune, along with the USC Marching Band, and top Carnival Cruise Line executives.

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Photo Courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line

Christine Duffy, President of Carnival Cruise Line introduced the ship’s Captain Carlo Queirolo. He expertly sailed the newest and largest Carnival Cruise Line ship, Carnival Panorama from Marghera, Italy to Long Beach, CA on a 39-day journey across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Strait of Magellan to Long Beach, CA.

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Photo by Jill Weinlein

“The Carnival Panorama is the first brand-new Carnival ship to sail from Long Beach at the Carnival Cruise Terminal in 20 years,” said Duffy. ” After her maiden voyage from Long Beach to Ensenada on December 11, 2019, she will sail from Long Beach for seven-nights to the Mexican Riviera every Saturday, stopping at three ports: Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta.”

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CRUISE CABINS

The ultimate family vacation is staying in the extra-roomy, keycard-protected Family Harbor section of the ship. Family Harbor Suite Stateroom 2414 is a Balcony Suite featuring unique nautical decor, a full bathroom with a separate bathtub, and a cozy sitting television area with curtains offering privacy for parents. Exclusive perks that families love include the nearby Family Harbor Lounge offering breakfast, snacks during the day, plus Hasbro board games, family movies, and video games. Other benefits at Family Harbor include free dining onboard the speciality restaurants for young passengers, and a free evening of Night Owls babysitting service, so parents can get a little alone time.

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Family Harbor Bathtub

Cloud 9 Spa Staterooms

For those seeking a relaxing suite near the Cloud 9 Spa and Fitness Center, reserve one of the Cloud 9 staterooms that are designed in all sizes, from cozy interior cabins and spacious suites. Cabin 11206 offers an ocean view balcony with chairs and a table. Cloud 9 Spa passengers receive priority spa reservations, unlimited access to the thermal suites, free fitness classes and exclusive discounts.

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Cloud 9 Spa Suite

Havana Cabana Suites

One of the best areas on the ship for families with guests 12 years and older are the Havana Cabana Suites. The tropics-inspired staterooms offer two twin beds that can be converted into a king bed. A comfortable sofa, coffee table, deck and seat offer optimal living space with floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding door leading out to an outdoor lanai. Inside the full bathroom is a rain shower. Step outside to sit in one of the patio chairs, with a table and swinging hammock chair. Staying in this area offers passengers exclusive Havana amenities including access to  its own Cuban-themed bar and Havana Pool and outdoor bar area. Steps lead to two raised whirlpool tubs above the swimming pool at the aft of the ship. Only Havana guests can enjoy reserved deck lounge chairs.

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Havana Suite

DINING

Carnival Panorama offers 10 different indoor and al fresco dining experiences, including the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse, Library Bar, and Bonsai Sushi & Teppanyaki. Carnival’s most popular Guy Fieri’s – Guy’s Burger Joint, and his Guy’s Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse and Brewhouse are onboard. Enjoy fresh seafood at the Seafood Shack, Asian cuisine at JiJi Asian Kitchen, Italian food at Cucina del Capitano and Mexican delights at Blue Iguana Cantina.

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CARNIVAL KITCHEN

Onboard is a culinary demonstration kitchen offering cooking classes for passengers to learn from the culinary pros. Enjoy hands-on instruction and afterwards taste your creations with your new group of foodie friends.

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BARS & LOUNGES

On the 13 passenger decks there are 25 lounge and bars including Guy Fieri’s  BBQ and Beer – Guy’s Pig & Anchor Smokehouse. This onboard working brewery offers an exclusive line of Parched Pig craft brews — a smoked porter, a farmhouse ale, a hoppy IPA and a toasted amber, brewed under the supervision of a pro brewmaster. The tropical Havana Bar offers live entertainment and some of the most colorful cocktails onboard.

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ACTIVITIES

Passengers have so many opportunities to have fun and burn calories on the ship. The Panorama is the first ship to offer a 3,000-square-foot SkyZone Trampoline Park with a 12-lane trampoline court. The recreational area features a blacklight basketball area, a climbing wall, and balance/jousting beam. The space will also offer fitness classes, besides the classes offered in the fitness center next to Cloud 9 Spa.  Special activities throughout the cruise include family dodgeball and basketball games and blacklight glow parties in the evening. Entry to the Sky Zone Trampoline park has a small surcharge.

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Now guests can now soar on groundbreaking open-air bike-ride-in-the-sky SkyRide and SkyCourse ropes course. To cool down there is a massive WaterWorks aqua park, and SportSquare recreation area. There are 3 swimming pools and 6 whirlpools.

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ENTERTAINMENT

Music is everywhere on the Panorama. Comedy shows, Las Vegas style casino, a promenade of boutique stores and live shows. Guests can also be a superstar at Lip Sync Battle. This is Carnival’s stage version of the hit Paramount Network series. Join other passengers in a series of competitions to channel your inner superstar. Guests who make it to the finals, get their own music, spotlight, prop, choreographers and even backup dancers to elevate your performance as a superstar, diva, and rockstar.

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Click here to book a Carnival Panorama cruise to the Mexican Riviera.

Cruising the Cyclades Islands in Greece

Arriving to Marina Zeas after a three night stay in Athens, my family and I excitedly walked onto the 157-foot, 49 passenger Galileo motorized sailing ship to embark on an 8-day ‘Jewels of the Cyclades’ cruise showcasing some of the most popular Aegean Islands.

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First launched in 1992, and most recently renovated in 2016, passengers are welcomed by the Greek Captain and his crew of 16, before being issued their stateroom key. Staterooms have portholes in the tastefully decorated cabins with spacious twin beds that can be separated or pushed together. There are two closets, and an en suite with a stall shower. Each cabin is air-conditioned and offers a mini safe, hair dryer, radio music and telephones to use internally.

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Taking a tour before sailing to the first Greek Island port of Paros, we explored the indoor and outdoor public areas, as well as the Main, Upper and Sun Decks. Although this ship mostly cruises by motor, sails are raised if the Captain feels it will be safe and comfortable for the passengers.

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Meals are served on the Main Deck dining room next to a lounge area with a full bar. In the morning, we took our breakfast out to the shaded outdoor area for fresh air and to enjoy sea or port views. In the evening, we enjoyed a drink under the stars on the Sun Deck before and after dinner.IMG_1315-2

What I liked about dining on the Galileo was the unassigned seating. We could sit together as a family, or meet other guests throughout the cruise. A few were from the United States, England and Australia. Breakfast is served as a hot and cold buffet daily, with egg dishes customized per each guest order. A few lunches and most dinners were provided as sit-down service.

Leaving Athens before sunset, we arrived in the picturesque fishing village of Paros and disembarked to explore this popular island. In the evening the locals and visitors sit outside at the multiple tavernas for a meal. The Byzantine Monastery of Ekatontapyliani (translated to the church with the hundred doors) is worth visiting. It’s an easy walk up cobblestone streets past traditional Greek architecture, to this historic stone church with 99 doors and one secret door. At the top of the hill the views of the town, boat docked nearby and neighboring islands are beautiful.

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The second day we arrived early at the secluded Polyaigos bay. As the captain dropped anchor into the still aquamarine water, the staff lowered a swimming ladder, kayaks, paddle boards and provided snorkeling equipment for passengers to swim and partake in outdoor activities. This barren island is privately owned by the Greek Orthodox church, and doesn’t see many tourists, so snorkeling in the clear water is ideal.

Back onboard, we sailed to the port Chora on Folegandros island. Steeped in history, this rock strewn island was once an asylum for political prisoners banished from the island of Crete starting in 1900 to 1970. It’s one of the best-preserved islands in the Cyclades. Sights to visit include the picturesque narrow living quarters, and the church of Panagia (Virgin) built over the ruins of the ancient sanctuary of Artemis. Located on the top of a cliff, visitors follow a steep stone path beginning at Pounda Square, and serpentine up a 15 minute walk to the church. This pinnacle offers outstanding views of the island and the sea. Down below are a variety of traditional taverns, gelato shops, and local craft stores.

IMG_1811Sailing to Santorini, the ship anchors in Ormos, the old port at the bottom of a volcanic cliffs. This area has a few taverns, small shops and three different options to get up to the top of the picturesque village of Fira. The easiest way is a three-minute cable car ride. Adventurous visitors can walk up a steep zigzag stone pathway with over 600 steps, or pay to ride a mule up to the top.

The main town of Fira is the most visited area on the island. Visitors walk along the narrow streets to admire breathtaking hotels, restaurants and homes perched in niches carved into the caldera. Take a cab, rent a car or scooter to the fairytale town of Oia. The whitewashed buildings and blue dome roofs bring a pop of color and beauty in this village.

Park and walk out to a worn historic castle that serves as a lookout point. It offers 360-IMG_1820degree views of the blue water and neighboring Greek islands. There is a picturesque old windmill that has become one of the most photographed sites.

Santorini is not known for its beaches, however the next port we visited, Mykonos has beautiful sandy beaches, beachside cafes and warm baby blue colored water.

Docking at the busy shipping dock in Mykonos, we took a local ferry boat into the heart of the picturesque and historic town. Known for its summer party atmosphere, delicious Greek food, chic lifestyle, and lively nightlife, Mykonos town is named ‘Little Venice.’ It’s quaint narrow stone walkway, alleys full of shops, outdoor cafes, hotels and churches reminds visitors of Venice, Italy. During sunset, a popular viewing spot for locals and visitors is the row of 16th-century windmills on a hill in town.

IMG_2119A must see excursion is the small island of Delos. We boarded a ferry for a 40 minute ride to this UNESCO World Heritage site. According to Greek mythology, this is a holy island of ancient Greece, and the birthplace of Apollo and twin sister Artemis.

As we docked, a knowledgeable guide walked us through a fascinating open-air museum, while describing the once thriving political, religious and commercial center around 8th century B.C. This 1.3 square mile island is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, housing thousands of restored and preserved remnants. Besides towering temple columns, there is a grand theater, private homes, and innovative drainage and water system.

British contemporary artist Antony Gormley installed a series of different human like sculptures and strategically placed them throughout the island. His art installation named SIGHT, has 29 art pieces perched outside and two inside the small Archaeological Museum.

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One of our last visits was to the island of Syros, considered as one of the most picturesque Cyclades capitals. We visited preserved Venetian mansions, narrow alleys, and spectacular sunset views from impressive Catholic and Orthodox churches perched on two different hill tops. It’s not as touristy as neighboring Mykonos, Santorini, and Paros, but the island has a lot of charm. Architecturally this is one of the most fascinating ports in the Mediterranean, displaying some of the most beautiful 19th century buildings in Greece. The town of Hermoupolis is ideal for walkers to explore narrow streets to discover Greek restaurants and ouzeries.

Take a local bus to the seaside village of Kini for beautiful beaches, warm water and beach view cafes.IMG_1177

Cruising the Cyclades onboard the Variety Cruises’ Galileo offers passengers an enlightening Greek Island experience. The small boat has a friendly and accommodating crew that make sure each journey is smooth sailing.

To learn about upcoming cruises in 2020, go to Variety Cruises.

This article was featured in the November issue of Not Born Yesterday 

Regent Seven Seas Mariner Luxury Cruise

Walking onboard the Regent Seven Seas Mariner before it set sail from Los Angeles, through the Panama Canal to Miami, each guest received a flute of sparkling wine before receiving their suite key card.

The Seven Seas Mariner was constructed as the first all-suite, all-balcony ship in 2002. During the summer months, she sails along the coast of Alaska in comfort and style. Other months, she takes guests on longer sailings to some of the most fascinating ports in the world.

With over 350 suites, measuring from 301 to 2,002 sq. ft., guests sleep European king-size Slumber Bed with a padded headboard or two twin-beds. Each bed has high thread count European sheets and duvets. Elegant rosewood furniture, serene luxe fabrics and curtains, and lighting add a bit of sophistication. Some of the rich marble-appointed bathrooms have a separate soaking bathtub and a glass-enclosed shower. All the suites offer a large walk-in-closet with cozy robes and white slippers for guests to enjoy. There is a writing desk, one or more flat screen televisions, and a security safe.

Located on Deck 9 are two of the largest Master Suites with wrap-around balconies in the front of the ship. Stepping inside the two bedrooms and two-and-a-half marble bathrooms, it feels similar to an opulent million dollar apartment in New York, Miami or Beverly Hills. Passengers staying in this stateroom receive a personal butler to assist with any request. The large living room and dining area is ideal for cocktail and dinner parties. Glass sliding doors lead out to a spacious forward and side balcony outfitted with lounge chairs, table and chairs. In total this suite offers 2,002 sq ft., of indoor and outdoor space.

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Dining options include the largest specialty restaurant onboard, Compass Rose. Tables are decorated with elegant designer Versace floral vases and dinnerware designed exclusively for Regent Seven Seas.

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The elegant steakhouse PRIME 7 is handsomely decorated Country Club style with rich leather wing-back chairs, beautiful stained woods, and cream, sand and navy blue colors and fabrics. Another reservation only Le Cordon Bleu of Paris is the formal Chartreuse. These fine dining options are available for one dinner on week long cruises and multiple evenings for longer sailings.

Since this is an all-inclusive ship, wine, beer, champagne, well drinks, meals, snacks, coffee and tea are included inside the restaurants, bars and lounge areas. The enclosed Connoisseur Club is ideal for after-dinner cigars and Scotch.

During days at sea the library is a spot to check out a book, find a bridge partner to play cards while at sea or play a board game.

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Nearby is an Internet cafe and plenty of computers available 24/7 for guests to keep in touch with loved ones while at sea. For those who need to work a little, this area offers printers, e-mails, Internet access and wireless access throughout the ship, so guests can work on their own personal laptops.

Outdoor activities include a full length swimming pool and three bubbling hot tubs. There is a full-circuit jogging track, paddle tennis court and shuffleboard deck, plus a grass croquet and bocce ball area. Golfers can practice their putting skills at the synthetic grass putting green.

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Inside the Las Vegas style Casino with slots and table games, is a spiral staircase leading down to the elegant Stars Lounge for evening music and dancing.

The famous Canyon Ranch SpaClub offers a variety of facial and massage treatments, next to a full service Beauty Salon and fitness club.

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Each sailing has approximately 700 passengers and 450 friendly crew members dedicated to providing exceptional service on all four Seven Seas ships. Soon, in February 2020, the Seven Seas Splendor will set sail offering the same exceptional standards of design and comfort. Her all-suite floorplans range from from 307 up to 4,443 square feet. All suite on this ship include a furnished private balcony.

Regent Seven Seas Cruise Ship offer smooth sailings around the world. Talk to your favorite cruise specialist to see when and where you can enjoy the “suite-life.”

This review was featured in Luxe Beat Magazine  on October 8, 2019.

 

 

 

 

Finding JOY on a NCL Cruise

I had no idea I would be so pampered in luxury on the revitalized Norwegian Joy during her inaugural sailing to Ensenada, Mexico. Once I presented my passport upon check in, I received a private key card to the Penthouse in The Haven Courtyard. This new, spacious and beautifully appointed concierge enclave offers the most luxurious and well-appointed accommodations.

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Tapping my card near the entrance on deck 17, the glass door opened to allow me into this exclusive area. A certified butler greeted me and led me to my spacious stateroom cabin 13108. The Haven offers a private bar/lounge, pool, sundeck, whirlpool, library, dining room and 180-degree glass observation lounge.

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My stateroom is modified for the handicap combining a bedroom and living area with a couch. This can be pulled out into a sofa bed for one or two guests. There is a small dining and sitting area, and full size soaking bathtub and large shower in the bathroom. Sliding the glass door open to an extra large balcony with two chairs and a table, reveals an ideal spot to watch a sunrise with a cup of coffee or sunset with a glass of wine.

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One could just stay in this exclusive area of the ship during the duration of the cruise, yet for those looking for variety in cuisine, there are three main dining rooms, a help-yourself buffet and eight specialty restaurants on board that include a fun American Diner, Japanese Teppanyaki, Texas Barbecue, Italian La Cucina and Le Bistro showcasing food from around the world.

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I was invited to a “Taste of Joy” lunch in The Manhattan Room, one of the three complimentary dining rooms on the JOY. The chef’s presented signature dishes prepared at five of the speciality restaurants – American Diner, Q Texas Smokehouse, Food Republic, Ocean Blue, and Cagney’s Steakhouse.

Each course was paired with two premium wines – a Chateau Ste. Michelle Chardonnay from Columbia Valley, Washington and an organic red blend from II Borro Salvatore Ferragamo Borrigiano “Valdarno di Sopra DOC” from Tuscany, Italy.

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We started with two appetizers from Q Texas Smokehouse that included a large charcuterie plank topped with artisan meat, pickled vegetables, olives, mustard and a long baguette. The Deviled Eggs had bite size pieces of maple glazed bacon on top. Other specialty items at Q Texas Steakhouse that we enjoyed included the Pitmaster Platter that arrived with tender oak-smoked brisket, spare ribs, chicken and cut into hearty squares jalapeño cornbread. Side dishes from the restaurant included crispy fried okra served with a Cajun mustard sauce. For dessert we had three sweet treats. From Q Texas Steakhouse was their bread pudding soaked in whiskey and brown butter.

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The whimsically designed American Diners serves lobster roll sliders on brioche buns, and flatbread topped with soy-glazed enoki and shiitake mushrooms, griddled onions, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and truffle oil.

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Ocean Blue is known for its fresh innovative seafood. A signature favorite is the Tuna Tower made with layers of pomegranate-soy marinated tuna, avocado, frisee leaves, peppers, carrots and scallions. Another delight on the menu is the Lobster Mac & Cheese made with gouda and parmigiano-reggiano cheese. It was topped with panko crumbs and a parmesan cheese crust. The pastry chefs at the restaurant make a toothsome Valrhona chocolate cake at Ocean Blue that is moist and topped with caramel popcorn and a vanilla drizzle. It’s served with chocolate ice cream.

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Dishes from the Food Republic kitchen included crispy pinko-crusted salmon filled with avocado and rolled with cream cheese in a nori roll. There was a drizzle of sweet barbecue eel sauce. A plate of pan-fried pork belly wontons arrived topped with scallions and chives. For dessert Food Republic makes an assortment of baklava filled with pistachios, pecans and walnuts. They also may an ethereal rose water panna cotta topped with rose petals and chopped nuts.

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Cagney’s Steakhouse signature menu item is Surf and Turf. It arrives on a plate with premium black-angus filet mignon and large sautéed butter garlic shrimp. Sides include large grilled asparagus topped with garlic and shallots and fries topped with truffle oil and herbs.

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After lunch we walked to the center of the ship to meet underneath a towering light fixture sculpture in Ocean Place. This three deck soaring ceiling area offers a variety of bars, the specialty restaurants, a casino, shopping and live entertainment. We joined other passengers for a pub crawl on the 8th deck. Our first tasting was at the Sugarcane Mojito Bar for Honey Ginger Mojitos and Wiki Rum Punch.

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Next we visited The Cellars for an informative wine tasting experience. NCL partnered with famed Michael Mondavi Family winery and offers a collection of nearly 100 different wines. Throughout the year, The Cellars offers “Meet the Winemaker” cruises allowing guests to meet renowned vintners on select sailings to learn more about their favorite blends, wines and vintages.

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On June 8, 2019 winemaker  Bob Bertheau from Chateau Ste. Michelle will be on the JOY pouring wines and educating passengers. He oversees the winery’s diverse wine portfolio including Columbia Valley, Single Vineyard, Ethos Reserve, Artist Series and Limited Release Club wines.

On August 17, 2019 fourth generation Napa Valley winemaker Rob Monday Jr. will be on the JOY. Raised by Isabel and Michael Monday, Rob spent much of his childhood playing among the vines and barrels at Robert Monday Winery.

On November 24, 2019 special guest Juan Munoz Oca will be onboard pouring Columbia Crest Reserve, H3 and Grand Estate wines. He was named winemaker at Columbia Crest in 2011.

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Last we walked over to The District Brew House featuring 24 beers on draft and over 50 different bottles of nationally recognized and local craft beers. Since the JOY will be sailing to Alaska during the summer, The District will pour local craft Alaskan Husky IPA, Alaskan Amber and Alaskan White Ale.

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Channel your foodie cravings by tasting and savoring spectacular dishes onboard the JOY this summer to Alaska. The ship will take guests on a 7-day journey from Seattle with visits to the ports of Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Victoria, British Columbia, and Icy Strait Point, known for its truly authentic Alaska wilderness and cultural experiences. Book your 2019 Alaska cruise vacation adventure today to select the best choice of staterooms on board.

To book another NCL Cruise destination, click here NCL Cruises.

Bringing Back the Splendor of Catalina Island

Cruising over to Catalina Island onboard the smooth Catalina Express, I immediately noticed the Catalina Island Company and Catalina Island Conservancy are investing millions of dollars to attract more affluent visitors. Exiting the ship, I boarded a Catalina Conservancy shuttle for a tour of Avalon before entering the interior of the island to enjoy lunch at the Airport in the Sky.

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Besides building a new state of the art Catalina Island Museum, adding a newer 15,000 sq. ft. Mediterranean designed full Spa and Wellness facility, building a 23,000 Vons grocery store, and renovating some of the historic hotels, the Conservancy teamed up with some U.S. Marines to repair the Airport in the Sky runway.

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With the help of ACE Clearwater Enterprises, the Torrance-based aerospace and power generation manufacturing company, donating $1.5 million towards the Airport in the Sky repair project, this new asset to the island will bring more affluent visitors. Tony Budrovich, Catalina Island Conservancy President and CEO launched a fundraising campaign last October for the repair project.

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Kickoff began January 2019 with more than 100 Marines and sailors arriving at the island to work and live next to the runway. These men and women will work six days a week to replace the deteriorating 3,000-foot runway asphalt surface, with a smooth concrete one.

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The Airport in the Sky opened in 1946, and the Catalina Island Conservancy took over the operation of the public airport in 1972. Not only does the airport serve the Island’s businesses and 4,000 residents, but also approximately 3.5 million pounds of freight, medical and emergency supplies annually.  As the condition of the runway grew worse, developing pothole and loose gravel, the airplane landings declined. “The runway was so bumpy that some of the Marines thought it looked worse than runways in Afganistan and Iraq,” said Conservancy Board member Mike Sullivan.

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The Catalina Island Conservancy works to protect, understand, renew and explore Catalina’s plants, animals and ecosystem for residents and visitors to use and appreciate. This project was a necessary priority to start work on in 2019.

The partnership with the Conservancy, Marines and Navy is a win-win for everyone. “It’s a unique opportunity for training the Marines to develop real-world construction skills, while serving the needs of a community,” said Zachary Bodner 2nd Lieutenant Communications Strategy Officer. “It’s a partnership with the Department of Defense’s Innovative Readiness Training Program, which matches community needs with military training opportunities.

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The main runway is closed to the public right now, but the other facilities remain open, including the airport’s Nature Center and nearby hiking and biking trails. The airport restaurant, DC3 Grill is open daily serving the best bison burgers, grilled bison tacos, chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies.

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Depending on the weather and other factors, the airport runway is scheduled to open in late April. Board member Sullivan told me, “This new and smooth runway will attract small plane enthusiasts and large jets. Hopefully, it will double the number of landings from 60 to 120 a day. Landing on this unique mountain top runway is only $25.”

To visit, go to Catalina Island. Click here learn more about the Catalina Island Conservancy .

This review was featured in JustLuxe on Feb.1, 2019

Meeting Curtis Stone at SHARE

Australian Chef Curtis Stone’s is one of the most charismatic chefs I’ve ever met. His mega-watt smile, culinary talents and charm has landed him appearances on a number of top rated programs including Take Home Chef (TLC), Top Chef Masters (Bravo), and Food Network’s All-Star Academy.

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Chef Stone began his cooking career in his homeland of Australia and later honed his skills at Michelin-starred restaurants in London under renowned chef Marco Pierre White. Southern California foodies embraced Stone with open arms when he opened his first solo restaurant, Maude in Beverly Hills in February 2014. The restaurant is named after his beloved paternal grandmother and first culinary mentor. Stone’s unique approach at Maude is to give a fine dining culinary experience by serving an array of multi-course dishes, showcasing the finest ingredients available each month of the year.

With its success, Stone opened his second restaurant, Gwen Butcher Shop & Restaurant in Hollywood in July 2016. He did all this while also becoming a New York Times bestselling author with six cookbooks – his most recent titled – Good Food, Good Life.

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I learned that one night while dining at Maude, Gordon Ho the Chief Marketing Director and Head of Sales for Princess Cruises had an idea. Since Stone is in Southern California and Princess Cruises’ headquarters is in Southern California (Santa Clarita), Ho approached Stone to see if he would collaborate with Princess Cruises and have a similar restaurant concept at sea onboard the Princess fleet.

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Stone embraced the idea and soon he was working in the kitchen with the Princess Cruises culinary team to create and open SHARE by Curtis Stone. It’s his third restaurant and first at sea, giving cruise passengers an exclusive opportunity to enjoy an exclusive and exquisite dining experience.

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While the ship was in the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro for the day, before taking a 39 day voyage to the South Pacific (Hawaii, Tahiti and Fiji), I had the opportunity to meet Executive Chef Curtis Stone and many members of Princess Cruises’ culinary and marketing team. It was a special celebration lunch to debut his new menu onboard the Emerald Princess. SHARE by Curtis Stone is also a fine dining experience on the Ruby Princess and the Sun Princess.

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Sitting at a table for four, I admired the elegant dining room with floor to ceiling glass windows allowing passengers oceanview dining. Inside SHARE is a private dining room with Stone’s family pictures, memorabilia and cookbooks strategically placed in bookshelves. A highlight in this room is a copy of Stone’s first recipe of Orange Cake written in crayon.

While enjoying the six-course menu, we all agreed Chef Stone has made an art out of connecting strangers and loved ones by presenting beautiful executed dishes, while using the finest ingredients, premium meats, and seafood. With each course Chef Stone came out to the dining room to tell us a little story about each dish.

Here’s a preview of the menu at SHARE by Curtis Stone on the Emerald Princess:

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For a Starter we enjoyed a artistic plate with a swirl of Nduja (spicy, spreadable pork salumi from Italy) with a couple of slices of Duck Speck, green olives and two types of freshly baked breads. First I spread the Nduja on the bread and topped it with the savor thinly sliced duck.

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Next we received the salad course of Kanpachi Crudo with sliced mango, a dollop of avocado puree and shredded almonds on top for a little texture to balance the smooth and fresh fish and fruit.

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For the pasta dishes made fresh daily, Chef Stone and his team made a heavenly Ricotta Cavatelli with Brussels sprouts leaves, beets and sunchokes.

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The fourth course was soup of the day – a rich lobster bisque with pieces of lobster and minced shallots.

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The main course was tender Duroc Pork served with broccoli puree and carrots.

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We finished with a decadent Toffee Cheesecake decorated with with dried apple chips to give it a nod to autumn, and grapes soaked in a red wine reduction.

Cruise passengers can experience this exact experience for a supplemental $29 per person fee when cruising onboard the Emerald Princess. Wine and cocktails are extra. To book a cruise onboard Princess Cruises, call your cruise specialist or click on this link  Princess Cruises.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Princess Cruises Debuts a new Cocktail & Beverage Experience

When I learned Princess Cruises collaborated with actor, television personality and master mixologist Rob Floyd, to elevate the ships cocktail and beverage menus, I was so happy for this union.

I’ve cruised on four Princess Cruises ships and have always enjoyed unpacking once while visiting multiple ports in Mexico, Alaska and the Caribbean. It’s one of the best ways to see and experience the world.

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I met the handsome Rob Floyd, founder of Cocktail Theatre, four years ago in Santa Monica at the Sonoma Wine Garden (Here’s my review of Rob Floyd). He always delivers a unique performance mixing live entertainment and a winning smile with an unforgettable cocktail experience.

Both Floyd and the Princess team have created destination-specific cocktails made from ingredients from every corner of the world. In addition to the new elevated cocktails, the cruise line has added 20 new high-end and exotic spirits, 39 new wines by the glass (starting Fall 2018), and 17 new international and craft beers to the new bar and dining room menu. 

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“We are so excited to be partnering with notable industry leaders like Rob Floyd on globally inspired cocktails,” Mario Siebaldi, senior vice president of guests operations for Princess Cruises told me at a cocktail and bar bites preview featuring Rob Floyd at Electric Owl on Sunset Blvd.

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While watching Floyd make a cocktail named Ver-Jus, we learned its made with St. George “Terroir” gin, St-Germain, muddled green grapes, lemon juice, and simple syrup.

Siebaldi pointed out the new signature glasses that guests can order with these cocktails. “Our aim is to provide guests the best cruise vacation experience at sea.” After sipping the drink, guests have an artistic souvenir to bring home. “We also have created new shareable drink recipes, so our guests can recreate their favorite memories once back at home,” said Siebaldi.

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This portfolio of new drinks for Princess Cruises allows guests to have fun exploring the different offerings at the various bars on board. 

“I was truly inspired by ingredients from all the amazing destinations that Princess Cruises sails” said Rob Floyd. “Guests will be able to enjoy a wide selection of fully realized drinks that combine what I refer to as the Three T’s: taste, technique, and tale.” 

Floyd believes spectacular drinks combine the best of “The Three T’s.” First is “Taste,” as interesting ingredient combinations produce delicious flavors. The second element is “Technique,” refering to the skill and craft that goes into creating each drink. Last is “Tale;” a creative and fascinating inspiration behind each unique cocktail.

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Whether traveling to Mexico, Italy or the South Pacific, these globally designed cocktails by Rob Floyd are fun and flavorful.

Here’s 10 New Cocktails on the Princess Cruise Line Ships:

  • Mayan Heat: Patrón Silver tequila, Triple Sec, lime juice, agave syrup, muddled jalapeño
  • Italian Sunset: Aperol, Bombay Sapphire gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, Angostura bitters
  • Ver-Jus: St. George “Terroir” gin, St-Germain, muddled green grapes, lemon juice, simple syrup
  • Mint Divine: Bombay Sapphire gin, ginger beer, cucumber, lime juice, simple syrup, fresh mint
  • Amaretto Manhattan: Bulleit Bourbon, Disaronno, sweet vermouth, Angostura orange bitters
  • Princess Punch: Absolut Elyx vodka, St. George raspberry liqueur, fresh lime, simple syrup, Gosling’s ginger beer
  • East Side Punch: Absolut Elyx vodka, fresh mint, cucumber, lime juice, simple syrup, club soda
  • A Trip to the Tropics: Absolut Elyx vodka, apricot liqueur, orange juice, pineapple juice, pomegranate juice
  • Ivory Coast: Grey Goose vodka, Amarula African liqueur, Kahlúa, chocolate shavings
  • The Egyptian Zombie: Bacardi Superior rum, Gosling’s Dark rum, blackberry brandy, sweet and sour, orange juice, pineapple juice, grenadine

For those who can’t drink alcohol, Princess Cruises and Rob Floyd have created “zero-proof cocktails.” They have all of Floyd’s “3-T’s” and are light, fruity and refreshing in taste and flavor. The two most popular non-alcohol drinks include:

  • Zero Mojito: Fresh mint, lime, simple syrup, Sprite
  • Strawberries on Fire: Fresh strawberries, lime juice, agave syrup, jalapeño, soda

Princess Cruises is working with Doug Frost, one of only four people in the world to hold both the prestigious ranks of Master Sommelier and Master of Wine to refresh the wine menus.

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Before leaving I learned Princess Cruises is offering a summer thirst-quenching deal with the Sip and Sail promotion. Guests who book a balcony, mini-suite and suite bookings will receive complimentary beverages. More information about the Sip and Sail offer is available at Princess Cruise Deals All prices are per person based on double occupancy. The Sip and Sail cruise deal runs through September 5, 2018 and is available to residents of United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Bermuda who are 21 years of age or older.

Additional information about Princess Cruises is available through a professional travel agent, by calling 1-800-PRINCESS or by visiting the company’s website at princess.com.

 

10 Reasons to take an luxury AmaWaterways Cruise

Last week I met with AmaWaterways co-founders Kristin Karst and Rudi Schreiner to learn more about their elegant European river cruises.

While enjoying a three-course lunch at the new FARMHOUSE restaurant at the newly renovated Beverly Center, Karst remarked that Executive chef and farmer Nathan Peitso (second-generation farmer of Kenter Canyon Farm) menu was similar to the cuisine on their cruise ships. As Peitso works directly with his family farm and the region’s top farmers to grow, harvest, and create his fresh and flavorful dishes, AmaWaterways chefs work with their suppliers in the regions they visit, to provide guests with authentic food and wine experiences.

Here’s what I learned about AmaWaterways river cruise in Europe and beyond:

  1. Rudi Schreiner has been in the river cruise industry since 1992 starting at Uniworld. When the Danube canal opened, 3,000 miles of waterways, river cruises could visit over 10 countries from Amsterdam to the Ukraine. The first cruise in 1994 had 100 passengers. He met Karst at Viking Cruise Line in 2000. When his contract at Viking expired, he and Karst started their own cruise line and in 2002 Ama (means love) Waterways set sail. Today they operate 20 ships – 300 days out of the year. The ships range in size from 28 to 160 passengers.
  2. Not only does AmaWaterways ships cruise down European rivers that include Rhine river cruises, France and Portugal sailings, but they also have Asia and Africa river cruises for passengers to see the world in luxury and comfort.
  3. Passengers have the opportunity to discover local culture and sights on shore excursions included in every port of call.
  4. All dining on board starts with breakfast where guests wake up sipping sparkling wine while enjoying a buffet, fresh pastries, and made-to-order items from the menu. Stop by the Main Lounge for a light lunch, or head to the restaurant for full menu while sipping high-quality regional wine, beer or a soft drink. Dinner is a multi-course affair with wine recommendations that accompany visually stunning dishes. Try local favorites — goulash while cruising through Hungary, bratwurst and sauerkraut after returning from an excursion in Vienna, and Camembert cheese while sipping wine while cruising on the Seine. The Executive Chef, Primus Perchtold earned three gold medals at the European Championship of Culinary Art and oversees the menus aboard every cruise in Europe. Guests receive one of his recipes on their pillow each night to recreate his dishes at home.
  5. Each ship offers free internet access and Wi-Fi onboard.
  6. For an active adventure, ride a bike along the Danube. Each ship has 25 bicycles that you can use to explore on your own or join a guided bike tour.
  7. In 2018 AmaWaterways offers 64 Wine Theme cruises. They invite a dedicated wine host to share with guests their wine from small and medium US and Canadian wineries. Passengers get to taste Old and New World wines.
  8. During the winter season the ships visit the Magical Christmas Markets along the Danube. The 7 night cruise includes Nuremberg to Vienna. Cruises start Nov. 23 through Dec. 23, 2018.IMG_5573
  9. The new Wellness program offers multiple classes throughout the cruise on 6 different ships. Next year the will program will be offered across the fleet.

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    Photos by AmaWaterways
  10. The new AmaMagna ship defines contemporary elegance in river cruising. Rudi Schreiner designed this ship offering staterooms with windows or a full balcony.  The Owners Suite is 710 sq. ft. There are multiple dining venues – all at no charge. Debuting in May 2019, the ship is twice the width of traditional European river cruise ships.

To reserve a cruise on AmaWaterway, contact your cruise specialist or travel agent or call (800)626-0126 – http://www.AmaWaterways.com.

 

 

TOP CHEF – Chris Crary Signature Sailing

Photo by Jill Weinlein
Photo by Jill Weinlein

Celebrity Cruises and Bravo Media are offering “Top Chef” fans and food lovers the opportunity to meet a new lineup of cheftestants on the Celebrity Reflection® sailing November 14, 2015.

The exclusive “Top Chef Signature Sailing” cruises to the Eastern Caribbean from Miami, Florida. Guests get an up-close-and-personal culinary experience with six former “Top Chef” competitors, including Los Angeles’ Chris Crary, the Executive Chef of Hyde Sunset Kitchen + Cocktails.

Other chefs include Nina Compton a Top Chef New Orleans runner-up; Tiffany Derry a Top Chef D.C. and Top Chef All-Stars contestant; Ash Fulk from Top Chef Las Vegas; Gregory Gourdet a Top Chef Boston runner-up; and Doug Adams, a Top Chef Boston finalist.

Passengers can choose from an array of exclusive chef-hosted shore excursions, as well as, new watch duel-style cooking demonstrations, where cheftestants battle each other while answering fans’ questions. The audience gets to choose the winning dish.

solstice_class_thumbFoodies on the cruise can enjoy exclusive and intimate experiences with the chefs by booking private cooking classes and private dinners to improve their skills and get advice on preparing sumptuous dishes at home.
Celebrity will continue to offer interactive Quickfire Challenges and “Top Chef”-inspired menu evenings on its modern luxury vacations onboard nine ships, for all sailings departing through June 2016.

The Quickfire Challenges put guests in the spotlight to get a taste of the pressure the cheftestants experience on the show. Plus, guests can indulge in a selection of the dishes the judges raved about on the series at “Top Chef Night” in the main restaurant.

The Celebrity Reflection® is a newer ship with an expanded deck, additional staterooms, more seating in the main and specialty restaurants, more sun lounge chairs on the pool deck, and more seats in the theatre. There is the new Lawn Club Grill celebrating outdoor grilling and The Alcoves offering cabana-style relaxation. Passengers can take a painting class with a Master Artist from the ArtCenter South Florida in The Art Studio, before or after a spa experience in the Canyon Ranch SpaClub®.

Bravo’s Emmy® and James Beard Award-winning “Top Chef” will return for season 13 this fall. For more details about Top Chef at Sea, visit celebritycruises.com/topchef.

For more information about Celebrity Cruises call (800)437-3111 or your travel professional.

Carnival Cruise Imagination

IMG_8012When the Carnival Elation left Long Beach last year to go to New Orleans, Carnival introduced the Carnival Imagination to the West Coast.

The Fantasy class ship leaves the port of Los Angeles on Sundays with as many as 2056 passengers and 920 friendly crew members for a four night cruise with stops in Catalina Island and in Ensenada. When it returns on Thursdays, it docks back at Long Beach to refuel, restock, clean up and get ready to greet new passengers for a three night cruise to Ensenada and back to home port.

During Spring Break my family and I sailed on a four night cruise. Checking into our room U 42 offered the ideal cabin for my daughter and I. Two twin beds in a “L” shape, writing desk, television, large window, plenty of closet space, bath with a large shower and safe in the closet.

Our room steward “Rama” from Bali was a sweet woman. She kept our cabin fresh and clean throughout the cruise.

After the safety drill, we dressed and went to the Your time Dining – American Table. It was just unveiled on February 16, 2014 with a new culinary menu. Located in the Pride Dining Room allows guests to dine from 5:45 p.m. at your leisure, however if you come after 6:15 p.m. be prepared to wait for up to 45 minutes for a table. Ask for Leo and Oswaldo’s table. They will give you wonderful service.

The American Table menu on the Carnival Imagination offers four appetizers that include seared tuna on a noodle salad with sesame dressing and vegetable spring rolls with a Vietnamese dipping sauce.

There are tapas for the table meant to be shared with others that include fried calamari or flatbread with caramelized onions.IMG_8157

Each night is a rare find dish, such as spicy alligator fritters with a tropical tomato salsa. It’s a food that your may have always wanted to try, yet never dared to order. Now it the time to be adventurous.

Also on the left side of the menu is a list of featured wines From a Moscato from Pavia, Italy, to California Chardonnay by Kendall-Jackson.

Main dishes featured are braised beef short ribs, sweet & sour shrimp, beef lasagna and a vegetarian chickpea biscuits with roasted squash and peppers.

They serve grilled Mahi Mahi fillet, flat iron steak chicken breast and pork chop. Each can be accompanied with a chimichurri, BBQ sauce, Bearnaise, peppercorn, roasted garlic or tomato tapenade sauce.

The first night the Port of Call was in Los Angeles. Nicknamed the City of Angels, Los Angeles is often billed the “Creative Capital of the World.” Food culture in Los Angeles is a beautiful fusion of mixed cultures influenced by a melting pot of creative new restaurants Mexican food is blended with Asian cuisine. Peruvian food is the rage paired with creative cocktails.

The menu offered the ultimate Margarita blended with 1800 Reposado 100% blue agave tequila mixed with Cointreau with lime juice and salt. There were duck potstickers and miso marinated salmon with a sesame rice cake, bok choy and ginger soy vinaigrette.

Under the Rare Finds section on the menu was spicy alligator bites, frog legs and escargot Bourguignonne.

Sides were roasted corn and vegetable succotash, lo mein noodles, sauteed beans with bacon, whipped Yukon potatoes or green salad.

For dessert, the Nutella Tiramisu was a sweet ending to a surprisingly new and improved culinary menu.

IMG_7988Our first stop was in Catalina Island. The ship anchors in the Pacific Ocean near the historic island and Shore Boats tender passengers to the Green Pleasure Pier.

Once on the pier we walked into town to catch a shuttle trolley for a one hour tour of the city of Avalon with various stops along the way. Sometimes we stopped for 10 minutes to investigate the surroundings, other times we stopped just to pick up or drop off passengers.

The trolley takes guests to the beautiful Catalina Casino that was built in 1929 as a dance pavilion, not a gambling casino. Further out is Descanso Beach where the Catalina Zip Line Adventure begins. There is construction right now at Descanso Beach for a new Beach Club.

Inside the Catalina Casino is an informative museum to learn about the history of Catalina Island. William Wrigley of the chewing gum empire bought the island. He had his Chicago Cubs come here for their Spring Training.

Marilyn Monroe lived on the island with her Merchant Marine husband when she was just 16 years old. Also, the actress Natalie Wood died when she drowned near her boat near the island.

Before going back on the Imagination, we played 18 holes of golf at the Island’s miniature golf course.

Back onboard we enjoyed another American Table dinner before a terrific pop rock show in the Dynasty Lounge: Divas. The singers and dancers dressed in high fashion costumes performed Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Brittany songs. It was worthy of a Las Vegas show.

The next morning we walked off the ship and explored Ensenada, Mexico. Many guests on the Carnival Inspiration book an excursion to horseback ride in Ensenada, go IMG_8099wine tasting, see the blow-hole or take a city tour. We explored the town by foot.

We started at the end of the cruise terminal with a visit to the Ensenada Historic Museum located inside the exquisite 1930’s Riviera de Ensenada. Once a luxurious hotel and casino, this Mission style building was initially operated by the heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Dempsey.

The museum depicts rock caves with interesting mural art, a replica of a mine and various exhibits of colonization by missionaries and early European settlers.

Next, walk towards one of the tallest flag poles in Mexico. It reaches 338 feet at the top and the National flag measures 164×92 feet. It weighs about 265 pounds. The nearby National Civic Plaza has three bigger than life sculpted gold heads of Miguel Hidalgo, Benito Juarez and Venustiano Carranza. Each man has significance in Mexico’s history.

I picked up a map at the Visitors Information Center on Bulevar Lazaro Cardenas (Costero) and Avenue Gastelum. We walked up the street to the Regional History Museum of Ensenada. It’s the oldest public building in Baja California. Built in 1886 with adobe, it served as military quarters where soldiers lodged, a hospital, the local jail and a school.

This building now belongs to the National Institute of Anthropology and History. When this complex was a jail, prisioners could pay for a cell upstairs rather than stay in several “holding” tanks. They were allowed to decorate their cells, adding personal touches, such as tile and hand paintings on the walls. Walk into some of the cells and you can detect a wall painting of a bay with trees and mountains. In another cell we saw a portrait of a beautiful woman with a church, moon and clouds in the background.

IMG_8030Currently part of the old prison offers an exhibit of lighthouse photographs. There is also a giant lighthouse beacon.

Upstairs, the second floor used to be the offices of the District Judge and a guard tower. It also was housing for pisoners who could afford to pay for a room. There was an earthen oven for baking bread.

Near the port is the Old Customs House. It was built in England, shipped and assembled in Ensenada in 1887. In 1922, the building was owned by the Marine Customs Office. In 1992 the building was given to the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

It now exhibits items recovered from the lost Galleon the San Felipe that was wrecked in Baja California in 1576. It’s an interactive spot for families, with an excavation box with items that are similar to what was recovered when the wreck was found. There are beautiful blue and white porcelain displayed in glass cases. Many were rice and soup bowls.

On one wall is an interactive game with magnetic “Galleon” game markers called The Manila Galleon Game. The object is to roll a dice in a wood box and move the galleon the number of spaces rolled. Read aloud the events that took place where you land to learn about the galleon voyages. Each space is equal to about one week at sea.

The game takes about 10 minutes. Land at one spot and learn the scurvy killed 208 people on one ship with only 192 surviving or in 1696 the sea surged with such high waves that 12 men together could barely steer the ship.

Back onboard we played miniature golf up on the top deck, before getting ready for another interesting American Table dinner. Afterwards, we went to the lively HasbroIMG_8108 The Game Show, where guests go onstage and win prizes. It was great fun.

Many people despair that on Sea Day there won’t be enough to do and they will grow bored. On the Carnival Imagination, exercise classes start at 7 a.m. We woke up and played 27 holes of miniature golf before breakfast. The course was practically empty and it was invigorating to get fresh air first thing in the morning. We went down to the Pride Dining room for on open seating Sea Brunch offered from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s a different menu than what is offered most mornings.

Afterwards we learned how our cabin steward folded our towels into elephants, swans and dogs in the Dynasty Lounge. The staff encouraged guests to come on stage to learn how to make adorable animals from white fluffy towels. Immediatley afterwards was a puppet show by four folded towels that was quite entertaining.

There was a second episode of Hasbro The Game Show, a chocolate extravaganza up on the Lido deck with various chocolate desserts, a chocolate fondue with fresh fruit and donuts to dip into.

We joined three other teams in the digital scavenger hunt. For 20 minutes, we raced around the ship to take a picture of a wall of candy, smiling bar waiter or waitress and the golf putting green. There were a total of 25 items to take a photo of to show the activity director. The winner received a trophy of the ship.

On the last night of the cruise, the library is turned into an elegant dining room for a Chef’s Table Dinner and Wine pairing for $75 a person. Unless you find the table up on IMG_8199the Lido deck on the first day of your cruise, you will never know about it. It’s an exquisite dining experience for foods and culinary afficianados who want to go beyond the regular dining experience on a cruise ship.

After dinner we went to Punchliner Comedy Club presented by George Lopez to watch a family friendly show and then went to the Dynasty Lounge to see Epic Rock a fantastic 1970s and 1980s rock show that debuted on our cruise. It was sensational.

The next morning the ship docked in Long Beach and guests leisurely disembarked. It’s less stressful now to leave your cabin in the morning. You can still enjoy a nice breakfast in the Pride dining room, play one more round of golf and walk off the ship around 10:30 to 11 a.m.

Published on Cruise Critic http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=252992

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