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

click on images to enlarge
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 completely 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 between 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 fortune 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.

Click on the image to the left for more Blog posts about this 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.