Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Sunset of 2008

Close your eyes and picture yourself on the balcony of your favorite cruise ship. It is almost dusk. Memories of the day's activities are running through your mind. You open your eyes just in time to witness the sun slowly sinking from the sky and settling into it's nightly resting place deep in the ocean.

Darkness surrounds you as the sun's light is completely extinguished. This doesn't bother you since you have hope that tomorrow the sun will once again rise high into the sky above and shine brightly as you explore yet another destination along life's journey.

As 2008 draws to a close, I would be remiss if this column didn't take a look at the year in review. Somewhere out there, someone stood on a balcony looking at the final sunset of the year and just as you, hoped for a bright tomorrow.

Perhaps this year, more than others in recent time, many people are hoping for a brighter tomorrow. The last quarter of the year has been the most challenging as we learned that we were indeed in a recession.

Close your eyes one more time and think about the good and the bad times of 2008. On the bad side, I suspect your list will include the rising cost of fuel, the credit crunch, the housing problems, bank bailouts (and more bailouts)... On the good side there are the new leaders that were elected that bring the promise of change to the new year. The task of digging out of the recession is in their hands.

The cruise industry was not exempt from the credit crunch and rising fuel costs. All the major cruise lines imposed fuel surcharges which added to the cost of your vacations. The good news is that the end of the year brought declining fuel costs and the cruise lines have rolled back those surcharges. Already the sun is starting to peak out from it's nightly resting place.

Amidst all of this, Celebrity Cruises new ship Solstice set sail for it's inaugural season. I was fortunate to be one of the first passengers to set sail on this new ship which has set a higher standard for all the cruise lines to meet. We'll take a closer look at this ship in future columns.

What are your happy memories from 2008? I hope that you were on a cruise vacation. I also hope that the economic woes of 2008 haven't prevented you from planning future cruise vacations.

For those of you thar are regular readers of my blog, you know that we visisted Bermuda, Alaska, and the Galapagos this year. Due to the holidays I've gotten behind on my blogging, but promise to continue the Galapagos trip column in January.

In bad times, investors seek out value. Cruise vacations continue to be the best travel value, so this is the time to take advantage of the bargains that are available.

Let us close the book on this historic year together. Tomorrow, when you awake, open the book on what I hope will be a brighter tomorrow. Happy, Healthy, Propserous New Year to all!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Galapagos Surprise - There She Blows

The events of the morning of day 7 changed my afternoon plans. We had a wet landing for our morning excursion. I wore my Teva shoes which worked out well for the excursion. When leaving the island, the waves were preventing the Zodiac from getting completly to the beach, so we had to wade out a bit to get back in. I decided to keep my Teva shoes off.

When we returned to the ship, I still had my shoes off and didn't think much about it. Unfortunately, while disembarking, my foot slipped and I managed to stub my toe. I didn't break it or anything but it was sore. I didn't think it would be a good idea to go hiking any distance with the sore toe, so I decided to change to the low intensity activity instead.

My husband went ahead with our original plans of the high intensity activity. I'll discuss that in a separate post : Galapagos - Dry Landing Fernandina Island

The low intensity activity consisted of a Zodiac ride along a channel betweeen Isabela and Fernandina islands. We saw flightless cormorants, green sea turtles, sea lions, and iguanas. I was enjoying myself despite my sore toe. What happened next would become the highlight of the day.

One of the naturalists spotted Orca whales and announced it on the radios. Even on land the groups were aware that Mother Nature had blessed us with a special treat. Just a few feet from our Zodiac there was an Orca whale breaching the surface. We started to follow nearby, staying just far enough away not to invade its privacy. Before we knew it, there was a pod of 4 whales in the area giving us quite a show.

It was a pleasant surprise to see Orca whales just a few feet from our Zodiac. All of us, including the naturalist, got some amazing pictures. The most amazing picture was when one of the whales had a sea turle in its mouth. This was definitely a rare occassion. In fact, rarely are Orcas seen in this area.
So, my misfortune earlier that day turned out to be a great fotune after all. I would have been on land and missed this amazing sight. View pictures from my Zodiac adventure: Galapagos - Zodiac Ride Fernandina

I obviously can't say that you'll see Orcas if you go to Galapagos, but no matter what Mother Nature has in store for you during your visit, I can say you will cherish that for the rest of your life. I have many memories from this day and from the entire trip.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Remembering Pearl Harbor

"December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Sixty-seven years ago today, at precisely the moment that I started this column, the United States was drawn into World War II when Pearl Harbor was attacked. While this was before I was born, it is still a date that is impossible for me to forget.

These pictures were taken during a visit to the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial during a cruise vacation to Hawaii. These images remain in my mind several years after our visit. We were so moved by our visit, we went back the next day for a second visit.

Out of respect to the Sailors and Marines entombed below, visitors are asked to remain silent during their visit. The silence adds to the eerie atmosphere at the memorial.

I am often asked what is my favorite or memorial cruise vacation. As I have always said, that is a very difficult question to answer. Every cruise vacation has one or more memorable moments. The visit to Pearl Harbor definitely ranks among those memorable moments for me along with our visit to the Normandy beaches.

Cruise vacations to Hawaii, often start or end in Honolulu, Oahu. I would encourage you to visit the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial during your visit there. It is even more moving when you visit on or around December 7th.

As we mark this anniversary, let us not forget the many troops, past and present, that have dedicated themselves to keeping us safe. We especially remember those that gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

We Interrupt Galapagos Review for Important Info

While lying in my bed this morning, I was thinking about iguanas, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos turtles, and penquins. My mind wandered to Celebrity Solstice and the game of crochet we played on the upper deck. These were just a few of the great memories that were running through my head. It was very peaceful and quiet.

All of a sudden the quiet was interrupted with the sound of heavy machinery working outside. What could that be, I wondered. Then it dawned on me. I was no longer on a ship in Galapagos, or on Celebrity Solstice, but I was back to reality in my own bedroom.

I recalled watching the news and weather forecast last night which called for 1-3 inches of snow.
No, it couldn't be true; the weatherman couldn't have been right. Reluctantly, I got out of bed and went downstairs to look out the window. This is what I saw....

Indeed the weatherman was correct and the grass, sidewalks, and streets were now covered in a new blanket of snow. In its untouched state, I have to admit the snow does look nice, but I'd much rather look out of my window and sea a sandy beach.

Perhaps many of you that are reading this today have had a similar experience. For those that are in warm climates, enjoy your warm temperatures and pleasant views.

Call to action -- the rest of you know what you need to do. It's time to plan your escape on a cruise ship. Right now is a good time to plan for your winter getaway if you haven't done so already. You can use the links on the right of my column to start your planning.

I know you are probably thinking the economy isn't good. Every day you read depressing stories in the newspaper. I'm happy to report that there was some good news in the papers yesterday that you may have missed.

Carnival, NCL, Disney, and Royal Caribbean all announced a suspension of fuel surcharges for their 2009 sailings. This applies to existing and future bookings. Refunds or onboard credits will be issued as indicated by each cruise line. The press releases also indicated the critieria when surcharges could reappear. But for now, they are gone which is good news for those that want to get away from the winter weather.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope that you, your family, and friends have plenty to be thankful for this holiday season.

I know that I have plenty of things to be thankful for, including my health, family, and friends and the ability to share my love of cruising with all of you. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to explore new worlds with family and friends again this year.

The highlight of the year was our cruise to the Galapagos aboard Celebrity Xpedition where we got to see the magnificent widlife and scenery of the Archipelago. Highlights included Blue-footed Boobies, Flightless Cormorants, Frigate Birds, Galapagos Penguins, Sea Lions, Galapagos Turtles, Land and Marine Iguanas, and Sally Light-foot Crabs.

What a wonderful world that has been created for us to explore. As I started to write this article, I couldn’t help but think about the innovative and brave explorers who ventured into the unknown seas in search of a New World. Without those first ship-builders, captains, and crews, who passed their knowledge down from generation to generation, I suspect I wouldn’t be writing to you about our recent voyages.

Our cruise to Bermuda was another highlight of this year. We sailed from New York to Kings Wharf, Bermuda where we docked for two days. This is a small country which can be explored by public transportation including bus and ferry. Once again, you can't help but think about the early explorers, especially when visiting the Dockyards or Fort Hamilton.

I can only imagine what it would be like sailing the open seas without knowing where you were going or what you would find when you arrived at your destination. I am thankful to those explorers that made it possible for us to journey to far away places.

Another highlight of this year was a pre-inaugural cruise that I took on Celebrity Solstice, their newest and most magnificent ship yet. Those early pilgrims sailed the oceans in ships that were made of wood, not steel like those of today. They had no engines to speed them along, but instead had to rely on the wind to guide them to their unknown destinations.

The Solstice, complete with all the latest navigation technology, makes the job of the Captain quite easy. The early explorers had their sextants and crude charts which might have been enhanced by information from previous voyages.

I’ve been on several Trans-Atlantic cruises over the years. Usually there are about 7 sea days as the ship crosses the Atlantic from the last port of call (depending on the itinerary). Contrast that with the 65 days it took for the Pilgrims to sail from Plymouth, England to the New World. I’ve often sat on my balcony, during one of those sea days, and let my mind wander. Once again, I’d find myself thinking back to those first voyagers and what they must have been thinking as all they saw was water around them. They put their trust in their captain to get them safely to their destination. Today, modern technology, along with the skills of the captain and crew, get passengers to their destinations in very comfortable accommodations.

The final highlight from this year was an Inside Passage Cruise to Alaska. I've not processed our pictures from there yet, but when I do, this will be another cruise I'll share with you. Imagine the explorers sailing into the unknown waters of Alaska with icebergs surrounding their ship. Today, modern technology keeps the vessel safe as it gently pushes the icebergs away as we journey closer to the glacier that lies ahead.

Those of you, who have been sailing in the past, join me in thanking those early voyagers whose knowledge helped form this transportation industry which we perhaps take for granted. I wish you all good health, so that you will be able to continue to travel around the world exploring new sights.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Galapagos - Bartolomé Island (Day 6)

Day 6 (Wednesday, Sept. 3rd) continued with our afternoon activity. This day turned out to be be one I was waiting for all my life. It was the day that I saw penguins in the wild for the first time. I love penguins, but up until now, I'd only seen them in captivity or on the television or movie screen.

Bartolomé Island (Spanish: Isla Bartolomé) is a volcanic islet in the Galápagos Islands just off Isla San Salvador’s Sullivan Bay coast. The tiny islet of Isla Bartolome is among the younger of the Galapagos Islands. With a total land area of just 1.2 sq km, this island offers some of the most beautiful landscapes in the archipelago.

One of the most famous landmarks in the Galapagos can also be found here, Pinnacle Rock, which is among the most frequently photographed vistas of this volcanic island chain.

Shown recently in the Hollywood movie ‘Master & Commander’, this towering rock face is actually an eroded lava formation. Formed when magma was expelled from an underwater volcano; the sea cooled the hot lava, which then exploded, only to come together and form this huge rock made up of many thin layers of basalt. Pinnacle Rock is considered to be the emblem of the Galapagos to many, and is one of the most recognizable sites here.

Tourists can get off on the island opposite Pinnacle Rock and then proceed to climb a 600m trail to Isla Bartolome’s 114m high summit. From here one is treated to some truly stunning views of Sullivan Bay, Isla San Salvador (Santiago), Pinnacle Rock and Islas Daphne.

Though a pretty desolate island with mostly dried shrubbery like candelabra cacti and a few lava lizards running about, what makes this island so special besides Pinnacle Rock is the fact that out here, one can spot the ever playful Galapagos Penguins, which are the second smallest penguin species in the world. They are the only penguin to cross the Northern Hemisphere which means they live more north than any other warm weather penguin.

Found near Pinnacle Rock’s shore or swimming in the waters around the Rock, these penguins are a joy to watch as they can be found nowhere else on earth, especially in such warm climates.
Our afternoon activity was a Zodiac ride along the coast searching for penguins and enjoying the geological formations. We saw several penguins on shore and playing in the water just a short distance away from our Zodiac.

After cruising along the coast we made a wet landing on the beach. We proceeded to cross the Isthmus that separates the two beaches found on Bartolomé. The Blue-Footed Boobies were diving for food on the other side of the beach. It was an amazing site to watch them dive into the water.

Following the hike, we had time for swimming and snorkeling with the penguins, sea lions, and tropical fish. So far, this was the best day of our cruise yet.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Galapagos - Bachas Beach (Santa Cruz)

Day 6 (Wed. Sept 3rd) dawns and we are at the mid-point of our Galapagos cruise. We've seen sea lions, iguanas, blue-footed boobies, cormorants, and many other species of birds and local wildlife. We now turn our attention to the sea to get a closer look at the aquatic life.

Bachas Beach is a beautiful beach located on the northern coast of Santa Cruz Island. The name "Las Bachas" comes from the poor English pronunciation of "barges". During the 1950's the WWII barges had broken their moorings and ran aground on the beach.

The morning activity that we chose was a wet landing on Bachas Beach. After a short hike, we had time to snorkel. Pacific Green Sea Turtles nest on the back beach area, so it was off limits. There were various types of tropical fish such as Yellow tailed Surgeon Fish, Parrot Fish, and the small Galapagos Damsel Fish.

We spent about 2 hours at the beach before returning the ship for lunch. View our Galapagos - Bachas Beach photo album.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Galapagos - Baroness Outlook (Floreana)

All of Day 5 (Tuesday, Sept. 2nd) was spent on Floreana Island. Our afternoon activity was a Zodiac ride, wet landing and hike to Baroness Lookout.

In the 1930’s Floreana became a setting for intrigue and mystery. A German dentist and his mistress, a young family (the Wittmer family who still live on the island) and self proclaimed baroness with three men came to settle in the island. Shortly after the baroness and her lovers arrived chaos began. They terrorized the other inhabitants while planning to build a luxury hotel.

Eventually, the baroness, her two lovers and the dentist all turned up missing or dead. There has been much investigation searching for what really happened on Floreana, but there have never been any hard answers. For this reason, Floreana is referred to as the “island of mystery”.

The landing site in the afternoon was supposedly used by the baroness to spot ships that would come to visit these “eccentric” residents of Floreana. From there we had a hike to the lookout. Due to the wet landing, we had our Teva shoes on. We definitely suggest footwear such as that since the last portion of the hike is along a steep incline with stairs built into the path that are quite a distance apart. Make sure to bring your hiking stick with you for this activity.

Diary of Celebrity Xpedition - Click for Full StoryOnce arriving at the lookout, we had a magnificent view of the surrounding area. There is a wooden platform at the top so you can rest a bit before returning to the Zodiacs.

This was one of the more picturesque spots that we visited during our Galapagos journey. Be sure to visit Galapagos - Baroness Lookout and our other photo albums for more pictures.

Diary of Celebrity Xpeditions Galapagos

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Galapagos - Cormorant Point (Floreana)

Floreana Island is the sixth-largest island in the archipelago and one of four that Charles Darwin visited while aboard the HMS Beagle. In 1832 Ecuador annexed the islands and established the first human settlement. It soon turned into a penal colony as many political and other prisoners were sent there. The island was the first capital of Galapagos during the 19th century.

Day 5 begain with a wet landing on a beach that has a large amount of Olivine crystals that were part of the volcanic history of the site, known as Punta Cormorant (Cormorant Point). We placed our snorkeling gear on the beach and proceeded inland eventually arriving at a brackish pond where we observed pink flamingos. Sea Turtles nest on this island. We saw their tracks on the beach.

Following our hike, we went snorkeling and swimming. Sea Lions played with us in the water making for an enjoyable morning in the water. After two hours we returned to the ship. Those that wanted to do an advanced snorkel left for Champion Island where they were able to snorkel with Sea Lions, Spotted Eagle Rays, and Green Sea Turtles.

In my next post, we'll continue with the afternoon activities. Before continuing our journey, view our Galapagos - Cormorant Point album.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Galapagos - Española

Our afternoon activity was scheduled to be a dry landing at Punta Suárez, or Suárez Point, which is located on Española, the oldest Galapagos island. It has a high concentration of wildlife.

As our Zodiac approached our dry landing site, the waves started to roll in, preventing us from landing. One Zodiac had successfully made a landing before the waves started crashing in. The Naturalists always take safety into consideration and decided to wait for the waves to subside before attempting the landing.

We made several attempts to land at the original point, but then changed to an alternate rocky spot which was away from the waves. Several people got off the Zodiac at this alternate location. There were a few people, myself included, that were leary about exiting on the volcanic rocks and stayed onboard the Zodiac. We made a final attempt at the original spot and then returned to the alternate location to let anyone that still wanted to do the dry landing to exit the Zodiac. My husband got off, but I stayed on the Zodiac and returned to the ship.

Expect to observe sea lions, Galapagos hawks, Blue-footed and Masked Boobies, and Red Marine Iguanas, strange creatures found only on this island. In additon to the above, my husband saw Mocking Birds and a snake. As usual, he was able to get up close to the wildlife for plenty of photo opportunities.

Because we had wasted so much time trying to land, the hike was shortened, but the overall experience was still satisfying. We are glad that the Naturalists are safety and conservation minded. Check out our Galapagos - Española photo album for more pictures of this activity.

Galapagos - Day 4 Snorkeling Orientation

Monday (Day 4) morning was action packed starting with the 7 AM Circumnavigation of Kicker Rock, followed by breakfast, and then immediately followed by a Dry Landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno at 9 AM.

Monday afternoon began with lunch in Darwin Restaruant upon return from our morning excursion. Following lunch, it was time to pickup snorkeling gear which would be used for the remainder of the cruise. As you may have noticed, excursions thus far have consisted of dry landings and hikes or Zodiac rides around islands. Tuesday would be the first opportunity of several to snorkel.

Celebrity Xpedition staff was on Deck 6 starting at 1:30 PM to assist the passengers in selecting their snorkeling gear. Each passenger selected their snorkeling equipment which included snorkeling mask, snorkel, fins, wet suit, mesh bag, and optionally a life vest. The naturalists were on hand to make sure the equipment fit properly.

Even though we have our own snorkeling gear that we use on cruises, we opted to use the equipment provided by Celebrity Xpedition. Doing so kept our weight down for our baggage. The equipment was fine although by the end of the week, I did notice that my snorkel was showing signs of wear. You'll want to check your equipment carefully to be sure it is in working order. I'm assuming that they periodically replace defective equipment.

After selecting our gear, we checked it out with one of the naturalists. You are responsible for the equipment from that point on. Everything goes into the mesh bag which comes in quite handy when disembarking the Zodiacs.

Most snorkeling outings include a wet landing and hike around the island before swimming and snorkeling. Once on shore, the bags are lined up and the hiking activity takes place. Following the hikes you get into your snorkeling gear and head for the water. The bags have plenty of room for storing cameras and other personal items that you don't want while snorkeling.

Following a snorkeling activity, all equipment goes back into the mesh bag. Every attempt is made to keep sand off of the Xpedition, so the gear never goes beyond the aft deck. Once back onboard the ship, you remove your personal items from the mesh bag, take out the towels and wet suit and leave in the snorkel mask, fins, snorkel, and life vest. You then dunk the wet suits in sanitized water and return to a naturalist who hangs them up to dry. The mesh bags are also dunked and hung up. Each bag has the cabin number on them, so you simply pick up your bag the next snorkeling activity.

The entire snorkeling operation is very organized. By the way, there is an orientation on Monday afternoon but it mainly is about how the snorkeling gear will be handled. The expectation is that you already know how to snorkel. So, if you've never snorkeled before, you might want to get some instruction prior to your cruise.

We'll discuss snorkeling activities in detail in future posts. Snorkeling is an integral part of the Xpedition, so I suggest that you plan on attending the orientation and picking up your gear.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Galapagos - Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

After the visit to Kicker Rock, we set sail for the island of San Cristobal, arriving at approximately 9:00 AM. San Cristobal is the fifth largest and the easternmost island in the Galapagos Archipelago and one of the four islands that Charles Darwin visited aboard the HMS Beagle.

The morning activity for everyone consisted of a Dry Landing at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to visit the Interpretation Center(Human History Museum) and walk through the town.

The town is stretched out along a small harbor. On one side of the harbor is a military base and on the other side is the dock where we disembarked from the Zodiacs. We boarded a bus for a short ride to the Interpretation Center which is financed by the government of Spain. It offers a journey through the history of the isalnds form the context of man, nature, and conservation. We learned about the characteristics of the natural areas and about the natural processes that have made Galapagos such a unique place in the world.

Upon returning from the museum, we walked along the waterfront part down Charles Darwin Avenue. It is a cobbled street with benches and nice plantings along with a few shops. We spent about 2 hours in the town before returning to the Xpedition by Zodiac.  View our Galapagos - San Cristobal photos.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Galapagos - Kicker Rock

7 AM on Day 4, the sun is rising behind Kicker Rock (Leon Dormido in Spanish or Sleeping Lion). This island is found off the northwest shore of San Cristobal Island. It is a massive angular rocky block very similar to Gibraltar.

Xpedition has dropped anchor and the Zodiacs are being lowered in preparation for a special morning activity. There is only one activity offered: Early Circumnavigation around Kicker Rock - Zodiac Ride Only. Since I'm telling you about this, you guessed it, we did get up early to partake in this activity and are very glad that we did so.

Kicker Rock's size alone is impressive but even more interesting is the cliff that splits the rock into a narrow passage. The Zodiacs took us up close to Kicker Rock, also going thru this narrow passage.

This interesting formation is referred to as a Tuff structure. Tuff is formed when the ejecta and ash from a volcanic explosion mixes with water vapor. The resulting formation has a cement finish. As we visited this island we saw more sea lions, frigate birds, that we circling high above the rock, and other inter-tidal zone life.

We spent about an hour circling Kicker Rock and taking plenty of photos. If you'd like to see more pictures, see our Kicker Rock album. Breakfast was waiting for us in Darwin's Restaruant when we returned to the Xpedition.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Celebrity Xpedition - Day 3 North Seymour Island

North Seymour Island is located at the central area of the Archipelago, just north of Baltra. Following the mandatory Life Boat Drill, the ship's Zodiacs began loading passengers for our first activity.

There were two options, a High Intensity Activity - Dry Landing at North Seymour Island and a Low/Medium Intensity Activity - Zodiac Ride and Dry Landing. In order to accomodate all passengers, the Zodiacs first drop the groups doing the dry landing on the island and then return for those that opted for the medium intensity activity.

You may be wondering what a Dry Landing is. It is exactly as it sounds. You can wear hiking boots or any other sort of comfortable shoes without fear of them getting wet. It is advisable to wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes and use a hiking stick on most Dry Landings.

Those that took the Dry Landing walked on an uneven path which took them inland to observe frigate birds and possibly Land Iguanas. Eventually, they arrived at a beach area where Galapagos Sea Lions, Blue Footed Boobies, and Marine Iguanas were observed.

We opted for the Zodiac ride along the coastline which searched for Galapagos Fur Seals, Lava Herons, and Swallow Tailed Gulls. The Geology of this reqion is quite impressive due to the limestone trapped between two layers of basalt lava.

Following the Zodiac ride, we too made a dry landing on North Seymour Island where we hiked along a portion of the trail observing Blue Footed Boobies, Galapagos Sea Lions, Marine Iguanas, and Frigate Birds. The male Frigate Birds have red throat pouches that extend to attract the females. Blue Footed Boobies have blue webbed feet. We'll see them again later in the week.

The only difference between the two activities was the length of the hike. In both cases, you had a good opportunity to see the inhabitants of North Seymour. Our Cruise Director had joked that we would take our first 300 pictures of Sea Lions during this activity. That wasn't far from the truth since we definitely did see quite a few of them during our visit.  View our Galapagos - North Seymour Island  album.

We boarded our Zodiacs for the return ride to the ship which was anchored nearby. Back onboard, Captain Fausto Pacheco, Master of the M'V Xpedition and his officers welcomed us with a toast which was followed by the briefing of the next day's activities. Our first day in Galapagos had been amazing. There hardly are words to describe our first experience following in Darwin's footsteps.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Galapagos - Day 3 - Welcome Aboard

Passengers gathered in Discovery Lounge for a welcome aboard drink and check in. The Guest Relations staff made their way through the passengers to complete the embarkation process. the process went rather smoothly and soon we were off to our cabin and then on to a lunch buffet in Darwin's Restaurant.

We had time to settle in before returning to Discovery Lounge for a briefing about the afternoon activities.

At 3 PM, Jorge Parrales, our Cruise Director, made a short presentation, explaining the shore excursion we'd be doing later in the afternoon. As was the case most of the time, there were two choices - High Intensity Activity - Dry Landing at North Seymour Island or Low/Medium Intensity Activity - Zodiac Ride & Dry Landing at North Seymour Island. The presentation showed the terrain and the wildlife we were expecting to see. The major difference between the two excursions was the length of the hiking.

I'll detail the shore excursion in a separate post. Following the excursion, we returned to the ship, freshened up, and once again met in Discovery Lounge for drinks before dinner. Every evening, around 7 PM, the Cruise Director gives a briefing concerning the following day's activities. At the conclusion of the briefing you then sign up for the activities that interest you. This helps the crew plan for Naturalists and Zodiac crew needed.

Dinner was served at the conclusion of the presentation. Other than the extra briefing when we got onboard, this is a typical day aboard the Celebrity Xpedition in Galapagos. For some more pictures, see our Celebrity Xpedition - Welcome Aboard Album.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Celebrity Xpedition - Day 3 - Flight to Baltra

Sunday, August 31st we bid farewell to JW Marriott Hotel Quito for our new home for the next seven days: Celebrity Xpedition. Our luggage was taken to the Quito Airport via truck and we followed by motor coaches.

Upon arriving at the airport, we went through security and were shown to VIP lounge where we waited for our flight to Baltra. Our flight was a charter on TAME Airline. We flew from Quito to Guayaquil where we made a short stopover to refuel. On the flight from Quito, we had breakfast which consisted of yogurt topped with cereal. The flight to Guayaquil was about an hour.

We landed in Guayaquil and were instructed to remain seated with our seat belts open. This was a security measure incase anything were to go wrong during refueling. It didn't take long for the refueling. Additional passengers boarded our flight. We learned later that they were the naturalists and some crew members.

On the flight from Guayaquil to Baltra we were served lunch which consisted of a ham and cheese sandwich. Drinks were available, including wine which was the same wine we'd be served throughout the cruise.

Once again, the flight was about an hour. We deplaned and walked to the airport lounge. We checked in with Celebrity and received our Galapagos National Park paperwork and cards. After completing our checkin process, we boarded a bus for a short ride to the site where we'd meet the Zodiacs which brought us to the ship.

The first thing we learned was the Galapagos handshake. Everytime we entered or exited the Zodiac, we'd use this handshake to assure our safety. As you can see from the picture, the handshake involves clasping right hands of a naturalist or crew member and yourself. Even if the Zodiac were to move due to a wave, you have a firm grip and can safely exit the craft.

Once onboard we were greeted by the staff, shown to Discovery Lounge, and offered a glass of champagne. Embarkation was completed in the lounge and we headed to our cabin to drop off our carry-on bags. Lunch was being served in Darwin's Restaurant on Deck 3.

In my next post, I'll continue with the activities for the remainder of our first day onboard Celebrity Xpedition.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Celebrity Xpedition - Day 2 - Equatorial Line Monument

Following lunch at El Crater we boarded our motor coaches for a short ride to the Middle of the World (la Mitad del Mundo)Monument. This famous monument marks the equatorial line: the centre of our planet earth: 0˚-0'-0" Latitude. It is possible to straddle both hemispheres at the same time.

This 30-meter-tall monument, located 10 kilometers north of the city of Quito, Ecuador, marks one of the points where the equator goes through the country. Inside the monument is a musuem about the indigenous ethnography of Ecuador. The first thing we did when we got inside the musuem was to take the elevator to the observation deck which offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.

After touring the museum we did some shopping at the boutiques located on the grounds of the monument. A special Equator passport stamp is available at the museum. The stamp is also available at the Celebrity Xpedition hospitality desk at the JW Marriott Hotel.

This stop concluded our Qutio tour. We boarded the motor coaches and returned to the hotel where we had some free time before our group dinner.

Learn more about our trip: Diary of Celebrity Xpeditions Galapagos

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Celebrity Xpedition - Day 2 - El Crater

After visiting Quito's historic Old Town, we boarded the motor coaches for a ride to El Crater Restaurant. This restaurant is built inside a volcanic crater and offers 360 degree views of the crater Pululahua.

The Pululahua Geo-botanical Reserve is located 30 minutes North from Quito near the Mitad del Mundo Monument. Pululahua means "smoke of water" in the indigenous language Quichua. The Pululahua is an inactive volcano which its last eruption was believed it happened around the year 500 B.C.

Fog was starting to roll in when we arrived at the restaruant so our guide suggested that we take our pictures of the crater before going inside for lunch. We took his advice and took several pictures which you can see in our Quito - El Crater Restaruant photo album.

Our menu included choice of beverage including local beer or a blackberry smoothy made from locally grown fruit. The entree choices were chicken and beef along with potatoes and vegetables. We enjoyed our meal while viewing the crater from the restaurant's windows.

Following lunch, we once again boarded our motor coaches for a short ride to the Equatorial Line Monument. I'll talk more about our visit there in my next post. Our day in Quito was quite lovely so far with Celebrity Xpeditions staff providing a very organized tour.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Celebrity Xpedition - Day 2 - Quito Old Town

Saturday, August 30th we began our day in Quito with a breakfast buffet in the Executive Lounge on the 9th floor of the JW Marriott Hotel. There were a selection of fresh fruits and juices which were so different than the ones back home. The pineapple really stuck out in my mind - it was a lighter color and very sweet. There also were a selection of hot foods and pastries.

Celebrity Xpeditions pre-cruise stay includes complimentary use of the lounge. Besides breakfast, snacks and Hors D'oeuvres are served there later in the day. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, and bottled water are also complimentary. One glass of wine or local beer is also included.

After breakfast we met the Xpeditions staff in the hotel lobby and boarded one of the four luxury buses that were chartered for our group. Celebrity Xpeditions staff really pays attention to details to make the cruisetour special. The bus seats were covered with the Xpeditions logo (pictured above).

Our first stop was at the Basilica of the National Vow, (Spanish: Basílica del Voto Nacional) a Roman Catholic church located in Quito, Ecuador. The basilica stands on a steep hill to the northeast of the old town and can be seen from almost everywhere in the city. We only had enough time for a photo stop both exterior and interior. It is unfortunate that we didn't climb up the bell tower because it offers several vantage points of the city. The stained-glass windows in the church are outstanding, equaling those that we've seen in Europe for example.

After a short bus ride, we arrived at Plaza de Independencia, the the heart of the Quito old town, which is walled by the four pillars of society, the Cathedral , Presidential Palace , the Archbishop’s Palace and the Municipal Palace.

We entered the Presidential Palace from its north side, passing the guards. Two ‘toy-soldier’ guards, decked out in antiquated gold and blue uniforms, the Grenadiers of Tarqui, flank the main entrance. After getting pictures taken with the palace guards, we toured the exterior of the palace.

We toured several of the other historic buildings in the old town area including the monestary, before boarding our coach for the drive to El Crater Restaurant for lunch.

As we headed away from Old Town we got a glimpse of El Panecillo (the Virgin Monument) which towers over the city of Quito. View our Quito Old Town album for many more pictures.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Celebrity Xpedition - Day 1

Friday, August 29th seemed like any other morning as we got out of bed, took our showers, and got dressed. We went downstairs for some breakfast as usual. Sounds pretty normal - right?

You are probably starting to wonder why I'm telling you about what appears to be a normal day.
Did I mention it was my husband's birthday? Ok, but that still doesn't explain why I'm telling you this. I suppose you want some more hints, so I'll oblidge.

If you were at our house, you would have noticed duffel type suitcases and backpacks lined up by the door. (I can't give you a bigger hint than that.) Now it's making sense, this must have been the departure day for a cruise. You guessed it!

Since the end of July 2007 we had been waiting for this day to arrive. While aboard Celebrity Century on our North Cape cruise, we booked the Celebrity Xpedition 10 night Galapagos cruise. It seemed like an enternity since we made our reservation.

Celebrity Xpedition has a capacity of 92 passengers, so it is necessary to plan far in advance. There were several dates we could have gone but we selected the August 29th departure to take advantage of the Labor Day holiday. It would mean my husband could take one less vacation day. Also, we would be able to celebrate his birthday in Quito, Ecuador.

We had an early morning flight to Miami, Florida where we would change planes for Qutio, Ecuador. There was a slight delay in Miami, but for the most part, it was an uneventful travel day.

Arriving in Quito, we deplaned and walked down a long corridor to baggage claim. The first thing we noticed was a sign that said slow down you are at an altitude of 2,850 m (about 9,350 ft). Since we were pulling a carry-on bag, we did take their advice.

Celebrity Xpeditions staff greeted us as we arrived in the baggage hall. We completed the customs and imigration process and took our luggage to the waiting buses. Our guide gave us bottled water and explained that we had a short ride (about 15 minutes) to the JW Marriott Hotel, Quito.

We arrived at the hotel and went inside to register. There were tables set up in the lobby to accomodate us. After checking in, we took the elevator to our room. The luggage was brought to our room shortly after that.

Our hotel room was located on the eighth floor. We had a beautiful room with a view of the pool area and Quito. Click on the picture above or for a closer look, view my J W Marriott Quito album.

The rest of the night we were on our own. We stayed in the hotel room, unpacked a few things, and watched some television. The next morning we'd have breakfast and embark on a city tour.

August 29th wasn't a normal day for us afterall. We woke up in one continent, North America, and went to sleep in another, South America. This was just Day 1 of an amazing journey that I will share with you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Packing for Galapagos

When planning for your Galapagos adventure aboard Celebrity Xpedition you will learn that there are weight restrictions for your checked and carry-on luggage. Xpeditions arranges a charter flight on Tame Airlines from Quito to Baltra with a stop in Guayaquil for refueling. On this flight, you are limited to 30 pounds of checked luggage per person and one carry-on bag weighing 14 pounds or less. You can leave additional luggage at the JW Marriott Hotel in Quito.

At first these restrictions sound daunting, but with some careful planning and packing you'll find this is not a problem at all. Assuming double occupancy, select two soft-sided (duffel type) bags for your checked luggage. We used bags that even had wheels for easy handling. Also use a backpack for your carry-on bag. This will easily fit under your seat on the plane.

As I mentioned, you can leave additional luggage in Quito, so keep your pre and post-cruise clothes in the luggage you check at the hotel. In our case, we used a roller-bag carry-on for that purpose. We had purchased a few souvenirs in Quito, and we also left those at the hotel.

Attire onboard Xpedition is casual, so there's no need to bring dress attire for the evenings. We opted for the very casual evening attire - simply substituting long pants for our shorts. Some women did bring dresses along for the evening, but that isn't necessary. Don't bring formals or suits or you'll be out of place.

Your clothes should include t-shirts, shorts, long-sleeve cotton shirt, sweatshirt, lightweight nylon or similar jacket, wide-brimmed hat, cargo pants, jeans, and rain gear (your waterproof jacket would also work), two or more bathing suits, Teva (or similar) shoes.
Make sure to bring cameras, extra lenses, filters, extra film or memory cards, batteries, chargers, waterproof camera bag, disposable waterproof cameras or underwater camera, bug spray, and suntan lotion. If there are any medicines or toiletries that you like to use, make sure you bring ample supply since you can't run out to the nearest Walmart to purchase them during your trip.

There is a small gift shop onboard where you can by logo wear, including the Celebrity Xpeditions wide-brimmed hat. Even though we had one with us, we did purchase another one.

Each day you'll receive the daily guide of events. There will be suggestions about what to wear and bring on the excursions. Depending on the location, there may be certain colors you'll want to avoid wearing. For example wasps would be really attracted to bright colors and flowery clothing. Stick with white, dark colors, or beige and you should be fine. Check out my photo albums for ideas about what people wore on our cruise.

Good shoes are a must. I already mentioned Teva shoes. We used Teva shoes and were very glad we had them for wet landings. In addition to your water shoes, you'll want either hiking boots or sneakers. To keep the weight down in your checked luggage, you might consider wearing the heavier shoes on the flight to Baltra.

Each night the crew will brief passengers on the next day's excursions. It is highly advisable that you attend these sessions. There will be slide shows which will help you decide on the proper attire and select the tour that is best for you.

There will be plenty of opportunity to go snorkeling and swimming during the trip. Xpeditions has wet suits and complete snorkeling gear. We have our own gear, but opted to use theirs. We were satisfied with the equipment, although some of the gear looked to be starting to show some wear. If you are advanced snorkelers, you might want to bring your own mask and snorkel (assuming you haven't hit you weight allowance yet).

Luggage will be handled for you most of the trip. It goes without saying that you should have luggage tags on your bags. It doesn't have to be the Celebrity tags - any tag with your name will suffice from airport to hotel.

After claiming your luggage at Quito airport, you won't see it again until they deliver the bags to your hotel room. You'll want to keep your carry-on bags with you. All your medications, cameras and other equipment should be packed in your carry-on bags. You don't need to worry about 3-1-1 restrictions when you travel to Baltra. You can even go through security with water bottles.

We are still working on our website for the cruise. There are several photo albums linked from the Photos page now. Additional resources will be added which will help you plan.

Hopefully this answers most of your questions about what to bring with you on your cruise. Next time we'll start detailing our actual Xpeditions experiences.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why Visit Galapagos

2009 will mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, the 150th anniversary of the publication of his work 'On the Origin of Species' and 50 years since the establishment of the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). What better time to visit Galapagos Islands which served as the inspiration for his great works?

The Galapagos Islands contain a unique combination of land and oceanic ecosystems, with many distinct habitats found in each. The Galapagos are located at the point where major ocean currents meet and the islands straddle the junctions between several shifting tectonic plates.

This area is truly unlike any other place on earth.

The Galapagos Marine Reserve (GMR), one of the world's largest protected areas, has more than 2,900 reported marine species and over 18% of those live nowhere else on earth. Some of the best known coastal animals of Galapagos include sea lions, fur seals, flightless cormorants, albatrosses, three species of booby, two frigatebird species, sea turtles, the marine iguana, and penguins.
The Galapagos National Park Service works hand in hand with the Charles Darwin Research Station implementing their common goals of conservation and preservations of the natural resources with the Galapagos National Park and Galapagos Marine Reserve. The park service approves all itineraries of boats visiting the islands making sure that the tourism is distributed evenly throughout the islands. They also work as the licensing board for guides in the islands.
We visited the Galapagos onboard Celebrity Xpedition. Celebrity Cruises is also heavily involved in protecting the GMR. You'll even have the opportunity to contribute yourself during your visit. Once you've visited the Galapagos, I'm certain that you too will want to see this land preserved for generations to come. The Celebrity Xpedition guides were very knowledgeable making for a fabulous experience in the Galapagos.
In my next post, we'll start to examine the trip in more detail.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Returning from August & September Cruises

Some of my faithful readers are wondering what's happened to me the past month or so. Fear not, there's nothing wrong. We've just returned from two fabulous cruises - Celebrity Xpedition to Galapagos Islands and Celebrity Mercury to Alaska.

Despite the ability to keep in contact while onboard both ships, I opted to take a break from technology and completly emerse myself in nature all around me.

As usual, we've taken lots of pictures which we are sorting through. We are finally at a point where we can start sharing details of the cruises and some pictures. I suspect this will be a long process since there are lots of pictures to go through. It's very hard to select just a sampling of pictures to share.

Our Galapagos cruise ranks among our all-time outstanding cruises. Just look at the expression on my face above as we explored the Galapagos Islands via zodiac. Stay tuned for all the details. You can check our Cruise Vacations website - we've already posted links to some pictures on the Photo page (starting with the pre-cruise hotel stay in Quito).

We highly recommend this trip if you are true nature lovers. Words can hardly describe the experience, but I will give it a try in upcoming articles.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Specialty Dining

When you tell someone that you are going on a cruise, what's the first thing that comes to their mind? I'll bet you answered "food" - you can eat lots of food, all day long. If you changed the above question to indicate that it was a Celebrity Cruise, how would that affect their answer? Assuming that they are familiar with Celebrity, I suspect they'd indicate that you'll be eating lots of excellent food during your cruise.

The restaurants on Solstice were developed in partnership with some of the world's most creative culinary minds, pairing innovative menus, wine lists and unmatched service with an atmosphere sure to satisfy and delight you.

Enter Silk Harvest Restaurant and embark on a journey to the Far East. Your family-style meal consists of cusine form Japan to Thailand including items such as sushi, stir fry, and Asian cocktails.

Satisfy your appetite for healthy choices in Blu, the specialty restaurant serving guests in the new AquaClass. Blu's menu features fresh, flavorful dishes with healthful, indulgent fare. The meal is complemented with a selection of International and California wines.
Do you have a taste for a steak? Tuscan Grille offers a splash of Italy with Italian wines paired with selections, such as caesar salid prepared tableside to an antipasti station.

Murano's is available on many of the Celebrity ships, so you may already be familiar with this restaurant. Indulge in a savory multi-course meal, with a blend of freshly prepared Classic and Modern continental dishes and a superb wine collection.

Specialty Dining on Celebrity Solstice is well worth the additional charges for exceptional service. Make your reservations early, so that you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Tranquility Base Here

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstong began his transmission from the moon with "Tranquility Base Here". Every person that was glued to their radios or televisions waiting to hear those first words immediately had an image of peace and calm. That same image comes to my mind as I view these images of the Celebrity Solstice AguaSpa. Thus, you know why I've titled this article the way I have.

The AquaSpa colors and surroundings put you at ease as soon as you enter. The aromas from the essential oils engage another of your senses and you are now really starting to relax.

Forget about the packing, the hassles of travel, and even the problems associate with your job. Once you give in to your senses, you'll begin to really enjoy your cruise and all the AquaSpa has to offer.

If you have been on a Celebrity Cruise before, you may already be aware of the special treatment you will experience in the AquaSpa. As with most cruise lines, there is a selection of spa treatments including my favorite, the Hot Stones massage. My husband likes that also but his ultimate favorite is the four hands massage, which is usually not on the menu. If you ask, you might be able to convince them to offer it.

After your massage, visit the Persian Garden where aromatic steam, new-age music, and a tranquil setting put you completely at ease. Use of the Persian Garden is complimentary for AquaClass and Suite guests.

If you've entered the spa and don't want to leave, then perhaps the new AquaClass cabin category should be your choice. This new class of cabin shares a deck with the AquaSpa Relaxation Room. Select spa elements are incorporated into the stateroom. You'll be entitled to specialized access to spa ammenities and the Spa Concierge and features assigned seating at Blu.

The AquaSpa Solarium is an adult-only pool area complete with a private lap pool surrounded by dancing waterfalls and comfortable lounge chairs. It is the perfect complement to a day of relaxation. After a day at the Solstice AquaSpa, I believe you too will think you are indeed at Tranquility Base.

Celebrity Solstice sets sail this November, with a special charter on November 21st. Ask me how you can be among the first to experience the Solstice AquaSpa.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

From Grass to Glass

Your sea day onboard Celebrity Solstice is off to a good start. You've just completed a round of lawn bowling at The Lawn Club and are looking for some other activity to keep you occupied. How about watching a glassblowing demonstration? I can safely assume that you've never seen a demonstration while at sea before, since Celebrity is the first cruise line to introduce this feature.

Celebrity Cruises, in collaboration with Corning Museum of Glass, is introducing a very unique enrichment experience on Celebrity Solstice. The captivating art of glassblowing moves to sea when the Museum’s “Hot Glass Show sm” debuts on Celebrity Solstice in December 2008.

The Hot Glass Show will provide live demonstrations and a narrated performance of glassblowing, designed to entertain while enriching cruisers about the art, history, and science of glass. Since 2001, the Musuem has traveled the Hot Glass Show to musuems, art fairs and public festivals around the world, extending the glassblowing experience beyone the walls of the Museum. Commenting on the alliance, the Museum said “This collaboration with Celebrity Cruises allows our Museum to dramatically expand our outreach across the world.”

A custom-designed, outdoor glassmaking studio is the setting for the Hot Glass Show which will present the history and craft of glassblowing, from its ancient origins to its current countless uses. Three resident “gaffers”—highly skilled glassblowing artists—will educate and entertain cruisers with live glassmaking shows, lectures and workshops.

Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International (parent company) have a history of raising the bar and bringing innovation to their modern cruise ships. Once again, they have enhanced the cruising experience for those fortunate enough to sail on the Solstice. I can't wait to see this new show when I sail on the Solstice this fall. It is always exciting sailing on a ship during it's inaugural year. I suggest adding an inaugural year sailing to your list of must-do cruise vacations.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Green Green Grass of Home

As you lie in bed you hear the rain outside hitting your window. You decide you'll stay in bed awhile until the rain stops. The rain does stop, so you take your shower, get dressed and head outside.

You love the feeling of wet grass between your toes, so you kick off your shoes and run through the grass. All of a sudden you hear a ship's blast and that stops you in your tracks. Where am I? You look around and see water. You look down and you are indeed standing on wet grass.

No, you aren't dreaming - you are onboard the brand new Celebrity Solstice. This is the latest edition by Celebrity Cruises. Probably the most talked about new innovation on this ship is The Lawn Club. There's nothing like this on any other cruise line. You'll find The Lawn Club, a freshly mannicured lawn, on the highest deck of Celebrity Solstice. You can enjoy casual activities such as lawn bowling and putting in an outdoor countryclub setting.

In the next few posts I'll be giving you an inside look at the Celebrity Solstice which is scheduled to debut December, 2008. On November 21st, I'll be onboard the Solstice for a special pre-inaugural sailing. You could be among the first to set sail on Celebrity Solstice and join me onboard for this special sailing.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

NCL Dawn Bermuda - Disembarkation

It's hard to believe the final night onboard Norwegian Dawn has arrived. We had purchased an Internet Cafe package for the week and we still had some minutes left. So we had time for one final check of emails printing off our boarding passes for our flights home.

The Internet Cafe is located on Deck 9, and is reachable via the center staircase from Deck 8. That isn't always convenient, so we find out the secret - there is a doorway on Deck 9 (mainly intended for those that are handicapped). It is certainly easier to use that entrance than to go down to Deck 8 and then back up the staircase.

After dinner, we took a final stroll outside. There were just a few people walking around on deck. Many people were putting final items in their luggage in preparation for disembarkation. We opted for early disembarkation where we carry our own bags off the ship. That meant we didn't have to get luggage outside our door by any certain time. We were already packed, so it really didn't matter.

The morning of disembarkation arrived. We went up to Garden Cafe for our final breakfast. The early disembarkation would begin at approximately 8:30 AM, so we didn't have to get up too early. After breakfast, we went to our cabin, picked up our bags and headed down the elevator to the gangway level. When we got down there, the hallway outside the elevator was packed. There was no where to go - we couldn't even get off the elevator. The line was not moving at all even though the early disembarkation had begun.

We were finally able to get out of the elevator, but other people weren't as lucky. We've been on many ships, but never saw such confusion and a mess. After quite some time, a couple crew members came along and organized the line. It stretched from mid-ship to aft and back around the other side of the ship. It took us until 10:00 AM to finally disembark the ship. Once outside the ship, the customs process went very smoothly and we were headed to the cabs to go to the airport.

Someone had mentioned that one of the gangways wasn't operating, so perhaps that accounted for the crowds and lines for disembarkation. Hopefully that's the case since there was a lack of organization that should not be the case. Despite the lines, the crowds remained relatively patient and it didn't ruin the great cruise that we had in Bermuda.

This concludes our Bermuda cruise. If there's any additional information that you might need, feel free to contact me. I suggest you consider Bermuda for one of your future cruises.

Happy Cruising !!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NCL Dawn Bermuda - Garden Cafe & Other Dining

Regardless of the cruise we are on, it seems that we eat many meals in the buffet. Garden Cafe is the buffet dining venue on Norwegian Dawn.

We had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Garden Cafe several times during the cruise. Made to order omelets and waffles are available during breakfast hours along with a good selection of typical foods. For lunch and dinner there is a wide selection of hot and cold entrees including made to order pasta. Don't forget about the dessert selections including ice cream, sherbets, cookies, and sugar-free items.

NCL didn't forget about the kids when designing the Garden Cafe. They have their own private kid-sized section with their own buffet line. It is stocked with kid-friendly favorites.

Bimini Grill, located poolside at the Oasis Pool, is a great place to grab a burger, grilled chicken, hot dog, and fries. The advantage over Garden Cafe is that you don't have to adhere to any dress code. After you are done with your burger and fries, stop by at Sprinkles Ice Cream Bar which saves you a trip to the Garden Cafe.

We aren't sushi or tapas fans, so we didn't try Salsa Tapas Bar or the Sushi and Sashimi Bar during our cruise. Both of these venues were pretty busy each night, so it would appear that those that eat there were enjoying the food.

For those that want main dining room service, there are two choices onboard the Dawn: Aqua Main Dining Room and Venetian Main Dining Room. We didn't eat at either of this on this cruise, but have eaten at them in the past. A couple things to note are the menu doesn't change during the cruise and both of the main dining rooms have the identical menu. You'd want to be sure to include other dining choices during your cruise or you would most likely be disappointed.

We also didn't eat at Bamboo - A Taste of Asia since we opted for Teppanyaki instead. The menu did look appealing but we simply didn't have enough time to eat everywhere.

We did have one disappointment one evening. That was at Blue Lagoon. We had eaten there on Norwegian Pearl and enjoyed the meal. This time I ordered Fish 'n Chips and was looking forward to it (based on my past experiences). It was perhaps the worst fish that I've ever eaten. It seemed to be overcooked or simply a poor quality of fish. I looked around at others that had ordered it and they too had similar looking fish, so I didn't bother to send it back. On a positive note, the tomato basil soup was excellent. So my advice to you would be to check to see what people have ordered before placing your order.

If all of the choices I've described in the various posts aren't enough for you, there's always room service. We were never in our cabin long enough so I'm unable to report on that option.

I hope that you've enjoyed the information about the Norwegian Dawn Bermuda cruise. In my next post, I'll cover any miscellaneous items and disembarkation.

Monday, July 28, 2008

NCL Dawn Bermuda - Le Bistro French Restaurant

One restaurant that we didn't actually try was Le Bistro French Restaurant. When you walk through the doors of this French restaurant, you might believe that you are in a charming French hotel. The walls are decorated with the art of Monet, Van Gogh, Matise, and Renoir.

The menu consists of modern classical and contemporary French gourmet dishes. As you would expect, there is an extensive selection of fine French wines to complement your meal.
While we didn't personally experience the Norwegian Dawn's interpretation of French Cuisine, several passengers that we spoke to did and thoroughly enjoyed the meal and experience.
Again, there is an additonal charge for Le Bistro French Restaurant and you'll want to make reservations so that you won't be disappointed that you are unable to dine there.

Monday, July 21, 2008

NCL Dawn Bermuda - Impressions Italian Restaurant

Our final night aboard the Norwegian Dawn, we made a reservation for Impressions Italian Restaurant which is located on Deck 6. We met another couple who had dinner with us earlier in the cruise and invited them to join us.

The menu is traditional Italian which includes pasta dishes, seven different sauces to choose from, steak, veal, chicken, and other dishes. Crispy fresh salads, pizza, and authentic Italian desserts complete the offerings.

Our waiter was very accommodating. Our son couldn't make up his mind between the veal parmigiana and the Italian steak - so the waiter brought both of them. He did finish both of them so needless to say he enjoyed his meal.

The other couple that joined us for dinner were celebrating their wedding anniversary. The wait staff sang to them and brought an anniversary cake. It was a very lovely evening.

As with the other freestyle dining options, there is an extra charge. I'd recommend adding Impressions to your list of restaurants to try assuming that you enjoy Italian food.