Bob & Nancy on March 27th, 2015

For anybody who likes cruising, and we assume you do, ships make great photo ops. Why else do we see passengers standing on the shore taking photos of the ships they’re traveling on, over and over. In fact, we do it ourselves. What follows this week are some of our favorite ship shots, mostly because of how much we liked the picture, or the situation…

Sky-GSKThis is the Norwegian Sky, from the beach at Great Stirrup Cay, the island the cruise line owns. This is our ship-on-the-rocks picture. The Sky is anchored offshore because, at least when we snapped this, the channel wasn’t deep enough and passengers were tendered ashore.

InfinityThe Celebrity Infinity was heading east in the Panama Canal, passing its sister ship, the Millennium. We knew it was coming so our camera was poised to catch this sail-by in one of the narrowest parts of the Canal, and we think it will still be this narrow when the Canal expansion is finished next year…or the year after…

Freedom-2We spotted the Carnival Freedom “almost on the rocks” during the day and liked the photo so much we came back and took it again at night. The reality is we were in Willemstad, Curacao long enough that we disembarked in the afternoon and, after having dinner 20 miles away, it was dark when we returned. 

Coral-KetchikanThe juxtaposition was irresistible. In the background, the Coral Princess. In the foreground, the statue of a carved eagle that welcomes visitors to Ketchikan, Alaska. This is eagle country and while you won’t find one this large, the real thing is often available to visiting photographers. Still, not a bad substitute.

AllureWhen we took this picture, we hadn’t yet been on Allure of the Seas, not surprising since this was the final waves of its initial Transatlantic crossing from Europe to Fort Lauderdale in 2010. The event was impressive…helicopters, streamers, tugboats spraying water and a plane overhead welcoming the ship to Florida.

If we needed a photo to sell friends on taking a cruise, not that we do, this shot of the Norwegian Sun in Guatemala might do the trick. Nobody thinks of this Central American country as a scenic place to visit, until you’ve been there. This was not quite halfway of a cruise to South America and was, frankly, a surprise.
Two shipsPhotographers would never pick this one as a great photo of cruise ships for sure. However, its significance to us disembarking in Port Everglades from Allure of the Seas on the left and boarding the Carnival Freedom on the right. While the ships are nose to nose, the walk was a little longer than it looks — about 15 minutes.

Today at All the latest cruise news

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
June 7, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten 
Inside: $569
Cost per day: $81

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Bob & Nancy on March 26th, 2015

The last time we were at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC, about a year ago, we re-discovered what an intimidating place it can be. You think you can “do” the Smithsonian in a day when, in fact, you need a week…even when you have a high-energy teenage grandson at your side.

Starting in July, Regent Seven Seas is taking the Smithsonian to sea, in a manner of speaking.

Called The Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys, here’s basically what it is:

Sunburst• On the ship, lectures by “charismatic” experts — there are 14 historians, authors and diplomats listed on Regent’s website — followed by “spirited” discussions

• On the shore, select shore excursions with a lecturer to become fully immersed in the history of the destination

This kind of thing isn’t for everyone, of course. It promises, however, to be similar to the kind of enrichment you get from visiting the Institution itself. It will be on the majority of sailings, more than 80, this year and next, on itineraries throughout the world.

The cruises seem to range from 8 to 24 nights, on a premium ship. That’s the good news. The bad is that it costs a lot more than visiting the Smithsonian Institution — even for a whole week.

Today at All the latest cruise news

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
September 6, 2015
Galveston (return): Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth
Inside: $356
Cost per day: $50

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Bob & Nancy on March 25th, 2015

Earlier this year, the story of a family forced to leave a Disney ship in the Bahamas was told in the Naples Daily News. It’s worth reading.

MickeyDisney told four of 31 family members they had to disembark in the Bahamas because their four-month-old baby, who had seen the ship’s doctor after “spitting up,” wasn’t supposed to be on the ship. Disney’s current policy is that children under six months are not allowed.

Our initial interpretation was that the family tried to pull a fast one. After reading the entire story, we changed our minds. It appears Disney dropped the ball, big time.

Click on the link to read the whole story and see what you think…then let us know:

Today at Holland America's getting excited

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
May 1, 2015
Boston (return): King’s Wharf
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

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Bob & Nancy on March 24th, 2015

When we ventured into the waters of the cruise world, the infamous “R Ships” were already history. Consequently, we have neither much knowledge nor appreciation for what they were, but every once in a while we hear about one of the R Ships, and what great ships they were when Renaissance Cruises was in business.

Or…what great ships they are.

The R Ships are still around, under pseudonyms. When Oceania set a one-day record for selling cruises this month, it was for one of the former R Ships, soon to be re-named (again) as the Oceania Sirena. Clearly, its history with seasoned cruisers had something to do with how anxious they were to sail on her again.

At the moment, the Sirena is still the Ocean Princess, which she will remain until Oceanundergoing a $40-million refurbishment one year from this month. Before she was the Ocean Princess, she was simply “R Four.”

There were eight R Ships, starting with R One in 1998. In case you’re wondering what became of them all, or even if you aren’t, here’s the list.

R One — After Renaissance went bankrupt, she became Oceania’s Insignia, then Hapag-Lloyd’s Columbus 2 and last year returned to Oceania as the Insignia again.

R Two — Chartered to Oceania, she was the Insignia before the Insignia was, and later Regattabecame what she is today, the Oceania Regatta (above).

R Three — Since 2002, she’s been the Pacific Princess.

R Four — See above.

R Five — Despatched to Pullmantur Cruises to become the Blue Dream and now with her Oceania brethren as the Nautica.

R Six — Another Pullmantur acquisition, the Blue Star, then the Blue Dream and R Five abdicated the name and went to Oceania and now, since 2007, the Azamara Journey.

R Seven — Chartered to a line called Delphin Seereisen and named the Delphin QuestRenaissance, then to Pullmantur as the Blue Moon and now, since 2007, the Azamara Quest (above).

R Eight — First became the Minerva II for Swan Hellenic Cruises, then sold to Princess to become the Royal Princess and now with P&O Cruises as the Adonia.

The fact that these eight ships — all of them exactly 30,277 tons in size, all of them carrying about 684 passengers — are still popular today is a testament to their design.

In fact, maybe they’ve improved with age. They certainly did when it came to their names.

Today at All the latest cruise news

Costa Fascinosa
7 nights
May 10, 2015
Savona (return): Rome, Palermo, Valletta, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona
Inside: $399
Cost per day: $57

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Bob on March 23rd, 2015

Forget about Air France, Air Supply or even Air Jordan. Let’s talk about Air Office.

That’s what you get when you buy Internet time on an airplane, a practice which up until recently was greeted with serious disdain — not to mention wastage of dollars — in this household.

Air office-350Not now.

There are some parameters you have to meet in order to qualify for admission to the Common Sense Department. You have to:

• have $20, or about that
• need Internet access because it will save you time on the ground
• be on a flight of more than a couple of hours
• have an understanding wife, especially if she has $20
• be unlikely to sleep on a plane

This was an American Airlines flight from Barcelona to Miami, on the way back from cruising on the Costa Diadema. There was work to be done. Cruise writing called. So did posting blogs. We are — all of us — so dependent on the Internet to do our jobs that there’s a certain deprivation that accompanies not being connected.

The fee was $19 for the entire flight, which was 10 hours long. And the speed was faster than most cruise ships in our travels.

It was the first time I’d spent an entire shift (eight hours) actually working and communicating with an assortment of sources on the ground, from 39,000 feet…for 4,841 miles…at 536 miles an hour…with the temperature on the other side of the window at 85 degrees…that’s 85 degrees below (F). 

No sleep. No movies. No music videos. No idle chatter. There would be plenty of time for all of that after landing.

And there was, thanks to my $19 Air Office.

Today at The state of the cruise industry

Ruby Princess
3 nights
April 26, 2015
Los Angeles, Vancouver
Inside: $119
Cost per day: $40

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Bob & Nancy on March 20th, 2015

Today’s photo subject is Lima, the capital of Peru. It’s a place we visited while on a 19-day cruise from San Francisco to South America, on the Norwegian Sun. We booked a private, eight-hour tour to give us the best chance of seeing a place new to us but our tour guide had a specific (and rigid) agenda and when it ended, we’d missed out on something we enjoy most — meeting the locals…

Found city-1This “found city” is called Huaca Pucllana, 40 acres of adobe ruins abandoned in 700 AD and discovered by accident about 50 years ago. Until then, it was just “a hill in the city” and Peruvians have been meticulously uncovering it since 1981 and are nowhere near finished.

EdithThis is Edith (we only knew her first name), the daughter of a doctor in Pasco, and well-educated herself because her family could afford to send her to “American” school. She spoke excellent English and talked a lot, which was fine, and clearly knew her history.

CrossAt the San Francisco Monastery, there is a lot of interesting religious artifacts, including a large display of crosses, most with the symbolic aspects of the events of Good Friday. By day’s end, we’d had our fill of Peruvian religion and artifacts.

Make loveGoogle “statues in Lima” and you’ll find many different angles of this one, the most popular if not the most famous artistic attraction on the waterfront. You’ll find some of two tourists in the foreground, trying to mirror this pose. No, we didn’t try it. 

Poor PeruWhen we asked Edith about this hillside settlement, she didn’t want to talk about it and tried to move us along quickly to the next stop. You see, this is where the poor live in Lima, the colors are their badge of poverty. In most cities, this would be a million-dollar view.

Casa Solar-1Inside Casa Solar de Aliaga, a colonial mansion that has been in the Aliaga family since 1535, when it was given to Jeronimo de Aliaga by the founder of Peru, Francisco Pizarro. A few rooms are still occupied by family, mostly elderly aunts.

Today at Coming back to America…MSC Cruises

Ruby Princess
7 nights
April 19, 2015
Los Angeles (return): Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas
Oceanview: $514
Cost per day: $73

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Bob & Nancy on March 19th, 2015

Without much fanfare and no politicking, voters are casting ballots this week for one of four candidates.

This is “Election Week” on the Crown Princess, where passengers will be selecting the cruise line’s annual Entertainer of the Year. There are four finalists: two comedians (Ben Seidman, Steve Caouette), one singer (Lovena Fox) and one violinist/entertainer

Entertainer of Year

(Christopher Watkins). All will be performing on the Crown Princess this week to win the audience’s affection, along with their votes.

The ship is presently at sea off the coast of Mexico, and it will be closing in on its return to Los Angeles when the winner is announced tomorrow night, the final night of the cruise.

It’s the fourth year for the awards and obviously it’s popular. When the Crown Princess had its lines pulled in at the dock in L.A., there wasn’t an empty bed on board. All room categories were sold out.

Zach WillinghamLast year’s winner (for 2013) was a singer, or vocalist as Princess calls it, Zach Winningham (right). Two years ago, the last time the Entertainer of the Year was crowned on the Crown Princess, we were among the people who watched another singer — Tony Tillman — win over two comedians and a mentalist for the 2012 title. The inaugural award was a comedian, Carlos Oscar.

It’s a fun event because the passengers are involved. It’s also rewarding for the finalists, who in the preceding year have been performing on Princess ships, which is how they become finalists. The winner goes home with $5,000 he or she didn’t have when the cruise departed.

Also a title they hope can be parlayed into more fame and more fortune.

Today at Cruising in Crystal's world

Celebrity Summit
7 nights
November 7, 2015
San Juan (return): Tortola, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Thomas
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

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Bob & Nancy on March 18th, 2015

Windstar, the yacht-style cruise line that has grown from bankruptcy four years ago to a fleet of six ships by summer, has unveiled its collection of voyages for 2016…There are 11 new ones and 30 new ports that Windstar ships will visit, all of it made possible by the addition of the Star Breeze and Star Legend this spring, following appropriate Star Priderefurbishment…Until they go into drydock, the ships will continue sailing as the Seabourn Spirit and Seabourn Legend…Then they’ll join another former Seabourn ship, now Windstar’s Star Pride (above), which has been flying under the new cruise flag for almost a year…The most intriguing of the new itineraries is a circumnavigation of Iceland on the Star Legend, from Reykjavik to Reykjavik in seven days at the beginning of July (least amount of ice?)…The fare is currently listed at $3,399 per person.

Richard BransonWhen our colleague Phil Reimer was writing about Richard Branson and his Virgin Cruises of the future last week, another layer of the story was unfolding…Colin Veitch, the former Norwegian executive whom Branson recruited to be a founding partner, is suing the magnetic entrepreneur because he claims he could’ve made $315 million before Branson dumped him…The suit is based on Veitch’s contention that it was his financing plan Branson used to start the new venture, which will apparently start with a pair of 4,200-passenger ships designed to attract young travelers…The question about the concept is this: Are there enough “young travelers” with enough vacation time to keep two big ships full year-round.

The folks who live and work around the cruise ship terminal in Fort Lauderdale have been used to seeing the twin towers of cruising, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, coming and going on alternating weeks…Oasis is moving to Port Canaveral next year, following the cruise line’s investment in a new terminal that opened in December…It will be replaced in Fort Lauderdale by Harmony of the Seas, the third Oasis - LabadeeOasis Class ship that will arrive next fall, so maybe the people who live and work around the Port Everglades terminal won’t even notice that Oasis is gone — unless they read the bold type on the side of the ship.

On the theory that there’s strength in numbers, seven Indian Ocean islands are sending representatives to wherever cruise executives gather to generate business for their ports…The seven include the Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Maldives and three most of us have never heard of, let alone visited…This month, they were at a tourism trade fair in Germany and managed to convince Costa Cruises to consider having more of a presence in the islands, which its ships visit, and to give residents a chance to board ships for round-the-islands cruises…The islanders are offering pre- and post-cruise shore excursions that include an African safari…Geography is perhaps the biggest problem — the islands are in the same hemisphere as Somalia…Can you say “pirates?”

Today at Royal Caribbean's next biggest ship coming

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
4 nights
August 24, 2015
Miami (return): Nassau, Coco Cay, Key West
Inside: $219
Cost per day: $54

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Bob & Nancy on March 17th, 2015

Van Gogh statueARLES, France — For most of our lives, the name Vincent Van Gogh was little more than that, a name. We knew he was a painter, perhaps because of jokes connected to his famous last name, perhaps because it had been buried in textbooks we tried hard to ignore. We knew he was a favorite of the art community, of which we have always been non-members.

Well, that was then.

Thanks to a shore excursion from the Costa Diadema, moored an hour down the road in Marseille, things have changed. Here in the French town where he painted some of his finest works and where 125 years after his death he remains something of an industry unto himself, we learned more about Vincent Van Gogh than we ever did in school.

That’s what travel does for you. That’s what cruise-ship excursions do for you. And that’s what Arles and the nearby town of Saint-Remy did for us. It is, indeed, true that you’re never too old to learn.

A troubled man all his life, Van Gogh moved to Arles in 1888, just two years before he died. His works — and we’re by no means experts at this — changed dramatically with the bright sunlight of Provence and his paintings reflected that with more brilliant colors, specifically yellow. He even lived in the “Yellow House,” now merely a roundabout long after it was destroyed at the end of World War II. One of his Van Gogh-Starry nightmost famous works — called The Starry Night — is of the night sky illuminated by his yellow paint.

Our guide, Pascale Maisonneuve, happily showed us the Saint-Remy “insane asylum” in which Van Gogh spent 10 months. From the courtyard of what is now a museum adjacent Van Gogh windowto a still-functioning mental hospital, we could see the window of his room. This is where, in 10 months, he painted more than 300 landscapes and subjects, including himself in what is believed to be his last of a series of self-portraits.

His painted selfies, as it were.

Many of his prints are displayed on the walls and on pedestals, and there’s a statue.  His is not a big industry in 2015 (a small fee to get into the museum that on this day has open doors with nobody home), but it’s a regular stop for the tour buses. Guides like Pascale actually get excited at the prospect of meeting the patients of today.

“Welcome,” she said, laughing, “to this crazy place. Yes, yes…the patients are very interested here. They want to participate and it can be very funny.”

On this day, there were no open doors to the hospital and, perhaps alas, no patients. Its most famous patient, who shall live forever on these grounds, was more than enough to satisfy us.

And to teach us, too.

Today at All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Pearl
5 nights
May 2, 201
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Victoria, Vancouver
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $59

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Bob & Nancy on March 16th, 2015

The nice thing about new music and shows and entertainment in general is that they never end. There are always creative minds that come along with something fresh and this is Stephen Schwartz-3-Magic to Doespecially true in cruising, an industry always eager to find a unique way to entertain thousands of passengers on cruise ships.

The pendulum of innovation now strikes Princess.

It’s called Magic To Do.

This is an original musical that will make its debut on the Crown Princess in the fall. There’s always a risk in creating original shows, for the simple reason that they’ve never been accepted, or popular, or award winners. To minimize the risk, you find a proven talent.

Stephen Schwartz-2-Ralf RühmeierLike Stephen Schwartz.

Proven? Three Academy Awards and six Tony Awards. Proven? The only songwriter in history to have three shows run on Broadway for 1,900 performances — Wicked, Pippin and Godspell.

Schwartz has been doing this for 40 years so Princess believes he’s a safe enough bet to sign him to a multi-year contract. Like most cruise lines, it has ship theaters that are capable of handling Broadway-style productions, which have already captivated passengers with long-running shows on Royal Caribbean (CATS and Mamma Mia! and Chicago and We Will Rock You) and Norwegian (Rock of Ages and Legally Blonde).

Princess says Schwartz, now 67, has had a life-long fascination with magic and that the new show will combine that with some of his famous songs and one he’s writing  exclusively for the cruise line. That’s about all that’s being said right now about Magic to Do, the first of four productions that will surface on the Princess fleet in the years ahead.

There are no guarantees they’ll be hits…but that’s show business, isn’t it?

- Stephen Schwartz photro by Ralf Rühmeier

Today at More details on Princess entertainment

Carnival Fascination
4 nights
April 30, 2015
Jacksonville (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $289
Cost per day: $72

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