Thursday, December 27, 2007

Build a Collection on a Cruise

Do you remember my discussion of cruising myths back in November? I thought I'd revisit Myth #2: "I will be bored on a cruise" and offer another idea to make sure you aren't bored during your cruise.

Many of you put up Christmas trees in your homes and /or offices. Where did the ornaments come from? Do they have special meaning to you? Do they bring back fond memories? Do they tell a story of places you have been? Do you follow a theme for your tree decorations? Would you like your tree decorations to tell a story, follow a theme, or bring back memories? Do you know someone else that might enjoy an ornament from your cruise (maybe a new-born baby in your family, a client, a friend, a relative)?

Your answers to these questions may be the basis for starting a collection while on your next cruise vacation or perhaps adding to an existing collection. The picture here shows a few ornaments that we purchased while on past cruises. We collected an ornament from each port we visited.

You have several options when starting an ornament collection. Most ships have a selection of various ornaments in the gift shops onboard. You'll usually find a selection of "logo" items including ornaments in the shape of the ship. They may also include ornaments for the various ports of call.

When you are on shore, you can purchase ornaments from various locations. Often, you'll find a Christmas store in town. You may even find some hand-made ornaments that some local vendor has on display.

A little pre-planning will help your shopping experience. Decide what type of ornaments you want to search for before your first purchase. Ideally you'll want to be able to add to your collection on future cruises so that you can continue to enjoy your new project. A lot will depend on where you are starting from also. If you already have a "vacation destination" theme started (it doesn't have to be cruises only) you could either add a ship ornament or an ornament from each port. If you currently have Disney ornaments on your tree, you could look for Disney ornaments in each port.

A collection, such as this, gives you a purpose for your shopping excursions during the cruise. Later, when you display the ornanments, you'll recall the cruise (perhaps remembering the places you went, the people you met, even when and where you made your purchase).

Do you like the idea of starting or adding to a collection? Do you know someone else (on your gift list) that has a collection? If the idea of collecting ornaments doesn't get you excited, perhaps some other collection might. Here are some more ideas:

Building a collection of destination or ship magnets is another easily achievable possibility while cruising the high seas. Shown here are two collections - magnets from each port and magnets from ships we've been on.

I've written an article about collecting magnets on my website. You can read the entire story there.

There are many other ideas for collections from ship / ports of call including: spoons, thimbles, keychains, shot glasses, postage stamps, pens, plates, coffee mugs. The possibilities are endless.

Your mission, should you wish to accept it, is to pick a collectible item and either start or add to a collection during your next cruise. Keep the memory of your cruise alive by building a collection that whenever you view it, you'll bring back those fond memories.

Feel free to comment about your collections.

Happy Collecting


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Holidays

Holiday greetings to all on this Christmas Day. I hope this day finds you surrounded by family and friends. For the men and women serving our country, a special holiday greeting - may the peace of Christmas stay with you now and until you are safely home again. Thank you for your service.

The military aren't the only people that are away from family this holiday season. You may not even consider this when you are having a good time on a ship, but the people that make your cruise so enjoyable are away from friends and families 6 months on average. If you happen to be reading this while onboard a ship, make sure to wish the crew a happy holiday also.

Celebrating the holidays onboard a cruise ship is a great way to get together with your family and friends. I suspect you won't have a white Christmas, but I'm sure the decorations onboard will get you in the festive spirit. If you are considering this for next year, my advice is to plan early since many people have the same idea and prime space tends to sell out quickly.

I hope you enjoy reading about my cruise experiences. That's my gift to you.

Happy Holidays,

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Private Tour to Berlin

One of the ports we visited on our 14 Night Scandinavia / Russia Cruise on Celebrity Constellation was Warnemunde, Germany. We booked a private tour with Berlin Sightseeing with three other people from our Cruise Critic group. Our plans originally included taking the Celebrity "Berlin - a 20th Century Experience" tour with a train to Berlin and sightseeing once we arrived there. We had also considered doing this on our own, but due to the construction port advisory, we decided to take an organized tour.

When we arrived in Warnemunde, it began to rain. Around 7:30 AM. our driver met us by the exit of the port terminal. We got into the Merecdes van without getting wet. Off we went on our 2.5 hour ride to Berlin. We met our guide, Klaus, next to the Charlottenburg Palace at 10 AM.
which you can see in this photo. For more photos, see this album. After a photo stop, we were on our way to the Olympic Stadium , one of the sights of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

As you can see from this photo, taken from the tower which provides this aerial view, there was lots of activity as preparation was being made for the games to begin. Click here for more Olympic Statdium photos.

Other sites that we visited included Brandenburg Gate , Checkpoint Charlie , Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island . Read Berlin Tour Description for more details about our Berlin tour. We had free time in Berlin and went to KaDeWe (Kaufhaus des Westens) Department Store where we had a fantistic meal in the food court.

The entire town was tranformed for the World Cup. Notice the large soccer ball in front of Brandenburg Gate for example.

No trip to Berlin would be complete with the stops we made at Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. Just like during our Normandy trip, our tour to Berlin brought history to life.

I've often heard people debate about going to Berlin from cruise ports such as Warnemunde or Rostock. I believe it was worth the 2.5 hour drive from port to Berlin proper. The choice of how to get to Berlin is yours. I would recommend checking things like construction before you make a decision about venturing out on your own. We had plenty of time between the end of our tour and the actual departure from port at 9:30 PM, so we were comfortable taking a private tour.

If you are worried about missing the ship, then I'd advise taking one of the ship's tours instead. But no matter which way you go, I do believe you should include Berlin in your itinerary if your plans take you to this area of Germany.

For more pictures from Germany and the rest of this cruise, see our Photo Album page.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Normandy, France - Retracing History (Part 3)

We conclude our Normandy visit with three destinations: St. Mere Eglise, Pointe du Hoc, and Honfluer. St Mere Eglise was occupied by the Germans on June 18th 1940, and liberated by the Americans on June 6, 1944 (D-Day). As we drove into this quaint little French town, we saw the church where the paratrooper John Steel hung from the steeple after his chute got snagged. He was captured by the Germans after hanging there for a couple hours and then later freed by the Americans. Today you can see an effigy of this famous paratrooper. Inside the church there are two beautiful stained glass windows. One shows the Virgin Mary surrounded by paratroopers and the other shows St. Michael (patron saint of the paratroopers). A portion of the window is shown here. Across from the church is the airborne museum which marks the site of a house that caught fire during the battle on D-Day. View more pictures from our St. Mere Eglise visit.
Pointe du Hoc is a clifftop location built by the Germans on the coast of Normandy, France, not far from Omaha Beach. As we toured this location, we saw the now empty craters which had housed a battery of guns fortifying the region. U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion was given the task of destroying the strong-point early on D-Day . The Rangers successfully carried out their mission, scaling the steep cliffs and engaging with the enemy. We didn't have to stretch our imagination too far since our guide had a book containing pictures taken back in the 40s. Check out our photo album for more pictures of Pointe du Hoc.

The last images of Normandy that I'd like to leave you with are from our final stop before returning to our ship. Honfleur, France is a picturesque harbor town known for it's cobblestone streets, slate-covered buildings, painted many time by artists.
The Sainte-Catherine church, which has a bell-tower separate from the principal building, is the largest church made out of wood in France. As we walked along the harbor streets, it began to rain harder. We had considered having something to eat in one of the cafes that lined the harbor, but the rain put a damper on things. We had had a full day exploring Normandy, and decided that these peaceful images of this town were a fitting way to end our tour. Check out more pictures of Honfleur in our photo album.

We have been on many cruises in over 20 years. I'm often asked what is my favorite cruise. It is difficult for me to answer that question because each cruise has something special that I remember. Our visit to Normandy definitely ranks among my favorite destinations, especially due to the fact I could retrace history and begin to understand why my dad never spoke of the war. I highly encourage you to visit this special region, even if you aren't a history buff I think you will enjoy your visit.

Until we meet again, happy cruising.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Normandy, France - Retracing History (Part 2)

On this day in June 2004, this Normandy beach was calm, as seen in the photo. Out of range of this photo is a child riding his bicycle along the path. On June 6, 1944, this same beach was anything but calm as allied troops landed here.

President Clinton, marking the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, said 

"On that chilled dawn, these beaches echoed with the sounds of staccato gunfire, the roar of aircraft, the thunder of bombardment. And through the wind and the waves came the soldiers, out of their landing craft and into the water, away from their youth and toward a savage place many of them would sadly never leave."

Walking on this beach, I couldn't help but remember my dad and the struggles that he had endured on this very same beach 60 years ago. Fortunately, my dad had managed to leave this savage place, but it had left a mark on him forever. This is truly an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life.

The guns are silent now, but they still remain as a remembrance of the past. Our guide took us to all the major Normandy beaches during our tour. He brought along photo albums containing pictures from 1944 which he shared with us in each location.

Take a look at my Normandy Beaches album for more photos during this portion of our tour.

Not far from the Normandy beaches was another one of our stops, Le Grand Bunker Museum . The view at the left is looking out from the bunker. From the outside of the building, you'd never expect to find many small rooms accessible via narrow passages. There were several rooms including a radio room, operating room, supply rooms, and of course the observation room from which machine gun fire and grenades rang out in June, 1944. Click for More Photos.
We made a photo stop at Pegasus Bridge where there's a museum that tells the story of 6th (Airborne) Division on D-Day. There's also a cafe there. Click for More Pictures.
In my next post, I'll take you to St. Mere Eglise, Point du Hoc, and Honfluer for the conclusion of our Normandy tour.