Friday, December 31, 2010

Sunset of 2010

Red skies at night...
sailors delight. 
  
One famous nautical superstition has sailors looking to the evening skies to determine the weather for the next day.   A colorful sunset with red skies meant the seas would be calm and the weather favorable delighting the sailors.

What will the artist's canvas look like tonight as the final sunset is painted in the evening sky?    Let's hope that the sunset signals calm seas with favorable conditions for the coming year.

Year of Disasters - Natural & Man Made

Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Volcanoes, Hurricanes

Photo courtesy Royal Caribbean International

Early in 2010, a major earthquake hit Haiti killing or injuring  hundreds of thousands, causing billions of dollars of damage, and devastating this already struggling nation.

The cruise industry and others rallied to try to help the country following the disaster.   Royal Caribbean, who has a long-standing relationship with the government of Haiti, led the cruise industry response (even while being criticized).  The nation would later suffer additional loss of life and damage when a hurricane struck the country.

Later in the year, the world's eyes turned to the skies over Iceland as volcanic ash grounded flights over Europe disrupting travel across the entire world.   Passengers were stranded in airports for days until the ash cleared.

Some passengers were unable to get to their cruise ships on time while in other cases, the ships provided an alternate means of travel for stranded air passengers.   It was a logistical nightmare for the entire travel industry and put additional strain on the economy.


Hurricane season began with a vengeance and it was feared that the NOAA predictions of a higher than normal season would become a reality.   There were a larger than usual number of named storms and hurricanes, but fortunately, they didn't produce the devastation of years past. 

That doesn't mean that there wasn't any loss of life or property damage.  As mentioned, Haiti did have substantial damage as did St. Lucia and other Caribbean countries.  Cruise itineraries were changed as storms approached or in their wake as services were restored.

Oil Spill, Ship Fire

During the height of hurricane season, an explosion on an oil rig caused loss of life and a major oil spill that would consume resources from the federal government and other agencies.  The spill severely endangered the ecology of the Gulf Coast region.    It took months to clean up and the effects of the spill will remain for many years to come.

Cruises were not impacted during the spill as the impacted ports remained open. Despite the continued cruise line presence, the economic impact from the oil spill took its toll on the region.  Many people changed their vacation plans as the cleanup continued.

The most recent major event of 2010 was the engine room fire on Carnival Splendor which stranded passengers on that cruise and impacted vacation plans through February next year.  The good news is that the industry will learn from this event and become even safer.

Cruise Line Expansion

2010 saw the introduction of several new cruise ships including Costa Deliziosa, MSC Magnifica, Celebrity Eclipse, P&O Azura, Norwegian Epic, Seabourn Sojourn, Holland America Nieuw Amsterdam, Cunard Queen Elizabeth, Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas, and Disney Dream.

The introduction of these new ships means there are more choices for the consumer.  As demand continues to increase, the capacity is keeping  pace assuring that a cruise vacation is well within the realm of possible vacation choices.

While the economy and disasters have been front and center all year long,  passengers are returning to cruising and we anticipate prices will rise as 2011 pricing comes out.   There might be some time yet to take advantage of lower prices, so it is wise not to procrastinate.  

Just like 2009, we saw an increase in first-time cruisers and those that have tried cruising continue to return year after year.    A cruise vacation remains an extremely good value making it a wise choice for those that decided to take a vacation.

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, Prosperous New Year to all!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

USCG Generates Recommendations Following Splendor Fire

Fire Control Panel
Carnival Splendor
Fire Investigation
Generates Recommendations

The USCG has released CO2 system safety concerns in the wake of the Carnival Splendor fire.   The investigation is ongoing, but the following two reports discuss preliminary findings and associated recommendations.

WRONG DIRECTIONS: A RECIPE FOR FAILURE

As stated in this report, "A machinery space fire onboard a relatively new vessel was effectively responded to and
extinguished by the vessel’s quick response team firefighters using portable extinguishing equipment.
However, before it was declared completely extinguished and approximately five hours after the fire
started, the master of the vessel made the decision to release CO2 from the vessel’s fixed firefighting system. It failed to operate as designed. Subsequently, crew members were unable to activate it manually and CO2 was never directed into the machinery space. "

In short, the report indicates that there were various discrepancies in the vessel’s Firefighting Instruction Manual (FIM) and therefore made the following recommendation:

Because of these and other issues, the United States Coast Guard strongly recommends that
Vessel Builders / Shipyards, Classification Societies, Insurers, Owners / Operators, System Service
Personnel, and others involved with these systems:

  • Ensure that all supporting documentation, piping schematics, plans, manuals, component labeling and instructions are consistent with each other and relevant to the systems, equipment, and components installed onboard the vessel.


SIMPLE FAILURES RENDER CO2 SYSTEM INOPERATIVE

During the investigation, several issues pertaining to the CO2 system were discovered leading to the following recommendation:

Because of these and other issues, the United States Coast Guard strongly recommends that
Vessel Builders / Shipyards, Classification Societies, Insurers, Owners / Operators, System Service
Personnel, and others involved with these systems:
  • Carefully and critically review, routinely inspect and maintain, verify and test their Fixed Fire Fighting installations to ensure that they will operate correctly during an emergency.
Both of these reports were

Developed by the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarter’s Office of Investigations and Analysis, Washington, DC. Questions may be addressed to HQS-PF-fldr-G-PCA@uscg.mil.


The cruise industry is carefully watching the investigation of the Carnival Splendor fire incident.  It is hoped that through reports like the ones just released by the USCG, passenger and crew safety can be enhanced as a result.  The industry takes safety very seriously and has an excellent record overall.


Carnival Splendor's sailings have been canceled until February 20, 2011 as a result of the fire.

For more details and additional related blog posts, see:

Carnival Splendor Cruise Cancellations Extended

 

 

Monday, December 27, 2010

East Coast Snow Aims for Cruise Ports

Photo Courtesy Carnival Cruise Line
CARNIVAL PRIDE ®

Weather Forecast:
Baltimore - SNOWY

Bahamas - SUNNY


CARNIVAL FANTASY ® 
Delayed  Arrival

Carnival Fantasy's arrival in the Port of Charleston, SC  
Monday, December 27, will be delayed several hours. Carnival is advising embarking passengers to arrive after 1:30 p.m.  

Note:  This Blog Post covered a particular event, however, links contained in this article may still be useful during later weather events.     Click (here) for Weather & Travel Links

New York and New England Airports Closed

The East Coast is being hit by a major snow storm which has stranded passengers in several states including New York and Boston.   The closures won't directly impact cruises in that area since there are none scheduled to leave until January 2nd.   Of course, passengers trying to depart from or through New York or Boston, will be impacted by the closures.
 
Carnival Pride and Norwegian Jewel were not impacted by the snow storm.  They departed on schedule Sunday afternoon.



IMPORTANT WEATHER LINKS

NWS - Local Weather

NWS - Baltimore, MD

Baltimore Sun Weather Page

NWS - Charleston, SC

IMPORTANT TRAVEL LINKS

Airport Delays


Port of Baltimore

Port of Charleston

It is always advisable to allow extra time for travel to your port of call, especially during winter months.   Check with your air carrier in advance to see if there are any changes to your flight schedule.   The cruise line will notify your travel agent of any known itinerary changes, but last minute changes can also occur.   Best advice is to expect changes and have travel insurance to assist you with any missed connections.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Move It! Move It! DreamWorks Parade

Allure of the Seas - Move It! Move It!

Everyone likes a parade! Join all your DreamWorks movie friends on Allure of the Seas Royal Promenade for a parade like non other you've seen before on a ship.  Passengers line up all along the promenade for a look at the parade.   While there isn't a bad spot along the route, some spots have a slightly better vantage point, especially of the stages that are along the way.

The restaurants along the route are the first to fill up as passengers grab seats for the parade.  It is possible to move some of the stools and get a front row seat for the parade.   You'll want to line up for the parade at least 30 minutes in advance to find a good location.

The parade starts out with some overhead action, as a platform unfolds near the Cupcake Cupboard. When scouting out your viewing location, take the stages and overhead stages into consideration  so that you don't miss any of the entertainment.

The following video shows some of the action from the parade.   The costumes are very colorful and there's plenty of action to keep you interested.    More videos and photos can be found on our Facebook Fan Page.  Make sure to like us.

FB Photos & Videos:
DreamWorks Parade Finale Allure of the Seas



Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Azamara Journey Discoveries Lounge
Merry Christmas

As I gaze out the kitchen window this morning, I see a white blanket of snow covering the ground and nearby trees.   The snow began falling late last night just in time for a White Christmas.   Looking at the untouched snow, everything looks quiet and peaceful.

Images like this usually stay with you for some time and when you close your eyes, you can sometimes see them again as if you were seeing them for the first time.

We've had the good fortune of being able to add other images to our memory banks this year.   The tree in this picture decorated one of Azamara Journey's lounges. The crew had just started decorating for the holidays on the final day of our 12 Night West Indies voyage.

We had hoped that they would have decorated sooner, but they told us it was too early. The voyage following ours would be the first one that had the holiday decorations.
Allure of the Seas Glass Elevator

Prior to our Azamara Journey cruise, we were onboard the Allure of the Seas for a pre-inaugural cruise to nowhere.   This picture of the glass elevators shows some simple holiday decorations.

Decorations play an important role in helping people get in the holiday spirit. For the cruise ship's crew, the holidays are business as usual as they go about assisting passenger's needs.

We sometimes forget that they are away from home for long periods of time. We had dinner with the Captain of the Azamara Journey one night. We learned that he was heading home after spending three months at sea away from his family. He was excited to be heading home for Christmas to spend time with his young child and wife.

Holidays are a time for family and friends. My wish for you this Christmas Day is that you are sharing the day with those that you love and care about, and who have mutual feelings for you. For those that are away from home, such as cruise ship crew and those serving their countries in the armed services, may the peaceful images in your mind help you to be close to those you love, if only in your heart and mind.

Trunk Bay, St. John USVI
People read this blog from all over the world, so I don't know if you are looking out your window and seeing snow like I did, or perhaps a sandy beach that has just had the tide wash back out to sea leaving a peaceful image of untouched sand.

Whatever images you are seeing, may they sustain you and bring you peace on this Christmas Day.

Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your lives by sharing our adventures and cruise industry information.   My blog and facebook fan page are my gifts to you.  I hope you enjoy them.  Merry Christmas to all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Carnival Splendor Cruise Cancellations Extended

CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES CANCELS
ADDITIONAL VOYAGES 
OF CARNIVAL SPLENDOR 
AS REPAIRS CONTINUE

Ship Now Scheduled to Re-Enter Service February 20 

Carnival Cruise Lines has announced additional cancellations of Carnival Splendor.  The January 16, 23, 30 and February 6 and 13, 2011, voyages were canceled to allow for additional repair time following the engine room fire aboard the vessel in November. 


UPDATE FEBRUARY 2, 2011 (click following link for latest)

Carnival Splendor to Leave San Francisco and Return to Service



Update:   The investigation is ongoing, but the U.S. Coast Guard has released preliminary findings

USCG Generates Recommendations Following Splendor Fire


Carnival Splendor needs new generator, alternators, switchboard parts

Carnival's statement indicated that as the repairs have been progressing, additional problems were uncovered requiring additional repair time.  In addition, some parts were unavailable and had to be manufactured in Europe.

The ship is currently in San Diego, however, it will sail to San Francisco in mid-January where repairs will be completed at a dry dock facility.

"We sincerely apologize to our guests for having to cancel these additional cruises," said Gerry Cahill, Carnival's president and CEO.  "We made our best effort back in November to estimate the necessary repair time with a strong goal of not having to modify it at a later point in time.  Unfortunately, as the repairs have progressed and we have discovered additional issues, it is now clear that we need more time.  We know this is extremely disappointing for our guests and particularly disheartening for those who already had their vacations cancelled once and are now being affected again."

As has been the case with the earlier cancellations, guests booked on the cancelled voyages will receive a refund or future cruise credit equal to the amount paid, along with reimbursement of air transportation-related change fees. Those who re-book may also receive a 25 percent future cruise discount and/or onboard credit depending on the ship and sailing date of the new booking.

Additional details can be found in Carnival Splendor's Travel Advisory statement.

While this is disappointing, Carnival Cruise Line has once again tried to accommodate guests impacted by this accident.   We all look forward to the day when Carnival Splendor will once again be sailing the seven seas with passengers enjoying the repaired ship.

Related Blog Posts:


Carnival Splendor Repair Status
Carnival Splendor Fire Investigation 
Assisting Carnival Splendor 
Carnival Splendor Without Power After Engine Fire
Carnival Splendor Cruises Cancelled until January 16

The Pictures Tell The Story

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Gator Park

Post Cruise Shore Excursion - Gator Park

Everglades National Park

Gator Park
in the heart of Florida's Everglades National Park was our post-cruise destination for a few hours before heading to Miami International Airport.   The shore excursion was arranged during our West Indies cruise on Azamara Journey.   Since our flight wasn't until 5 PM,  instead of going directly to the airport, we opted for the shore excursion.

Gator blends in with surroundings
Alligators, Birds, Crocodiles

Florida Everglades is home to hundreds of bird species as well as thousands of alligators, and crocodiles.  During a visit to Gator Park, you'll get up close views of alligators and bird species for certain and you may have an opportunity to see some of the other inhabitants in their natural setting.


Airboat Ride


The highlight of the excursion to Gator Park is a 45 minute airboat ride through the Everglades.  Each airport holds up to 20 people, 4 per row.  Every seat is a great seat. While your guide will be pointing out alligators and other things of interest along the way, each person has the opportunity to be on the lookout.  You never know what you'll see during your boat ride.  

You'll be able to stand up when the pilot / guide slows down to point out alligators or other marine life.

One of our group holds an alligator
Weather plays a role in how active the alligators and other wildlife are in the park.  The weather had been on the cool side for several days, and the alligators were a little sluggish.   That was fine for us since that provided plenty of opportunities for us to see them coming out for some sun on this gorgeous day.


We've been to Gator Park before but still enjoyed our visit there.   Following the airboat ride, we had some lunch, which we ordered when we arrived at the park.   Then we watched a wildlife show which included alligator wrestling and if you were feeling brave, you could actually hold an alligator and have your picture taken with it.   Actually, you didn't have to be too brave as the alligator's mouth was secured so that you didn't have to worry about being its lunch.


There are more pictures on our Facebook Fan Page.  If your flight leaves after 3 PM, consider a shore excursion to Gator Park if your cruise offers the tour.   Another option on our cruise was a Miami City Highlights tour.  Both tours concluded at Miami's airport about the same time.   We still had plenty of time before our 5 PM flight, but did enjoy our little diversion visiting the gators of Florida.



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Disembarkation Day Azamara Journey

Caught on Deck of Azamara Journey in Port of Miami
Watching a pod of dolphins playing near the ship
Today is the dreaded final day of our back to back cruises.   Seventeen days ago we left the cold of Chicago behind and headed to sunny Florida for our pre-inaugural cruise on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas which was followed by one day in Miami and this 12NT West Indies cruise on Azamara Journey.

Both cruises were amazing in their own way.   As usual, my ever vigilent husband somehow managed to capture most of the highlights of our cruises.   In this photo, he caught two of our companions and I out on deck 5 of the Journey watching a pod of dolphins playing near the ship.   We had spotted them through the cafe window as we were having breakfast.  Our friends hadn't seen them, so we told them to go out on deck to see if they were still around.   Low and behold, they were still there, thrilling anyone that was fortunate enough to be gazing out at Miami's skyline in the background.

Sailing into Miami is always a treat early in the morning.   The sun glistens off the tall buildings and reflects in the water.   I'll post some more Miami skyline pictures on my Facebook Fan Page when I get a chance.   I think you'll enjoy them.   This portion of Miami's skyline has been made famous by the CSI Miami television series.

Azamara Journey Port Everglades
We booked late flights (around 5 PM) for our return home.   It is always a good idea to book flights after noon of disembarkation day because you never know how long it will take to clear the ship.   Before anyone can disembark, non-US Citizens must clear through immigration on board the vessel.    Sometimes, the staff needs to make repeated announcements for guests to be cleared.

Passengers disembarking
The thought of hanging around MIA airport for 6 hours or more didn't thrill us, despite it being a nice airport.   We booked a post-cruise tour through the shore excursion desk.    We were given luggage tags, Lavender 1, which meant we'd be one of the first groups off the ship.   Basically, only people with early flights disembarked prior to us.

Once off the ship, we claimed our luggage, which was quite easy to find in the small number of passengers which were on the bus tour along with us.   We didn't need a porter this time, so we proceeded directly to Customs, gave them our passports and form and were on our way outside to one of the waiting buses.

Onboard bus to Gator Park and then MIA airport
The shore excursion we selected was a visit to Gator Park where we would have the chance to take a 45 minute air boat tour through the Everglades and then an interactive show which included the opportunity to hold an alligator if you liked.

We've been to Gator Park before, but this is one of those places where you can visit more than once and enjoy yourself.   Whenever you are dealing with nature, you can guarantee you'll have a different experience - you never know what you'll see.

I'll feature Gator Park in another post and also post pictures on our Facebook Fan Page.   This is a fabulous tour which is perfect for occupying a few hours before you return flight.

Arriving at MIA
Our bus pulled into Miami International Airport around 12:30 PM or so.   The driver made two stops at each of the main terminal locations, unloaded the bags, and sent us on our way.

As you can see, we still had several hours to kill at the airport, but at least we'd had a fun experience speeding through the everglades in an airboat and watching the amazing wildlife that inhabits the Florida Everglades.

There was also a city highlights tour that we could have selected.  Some of the passengers picked that excursion but regardless, both tours ended at the airport about the same time.

Sadly, this ends our current cruise adventure.    We've had a wonderful time on both cruises and will be posting additional blog articles and more pictures.   There is just so much to share with my readers, it was hard to select a sample to get started. I hope you come back often to see what other stories I have for you.   If you have questions, feel free to contact us.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Disney Dream Delivered

Meyer Werft Delivers Disney Dream
Photo courtesy Meyer Werft and Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line Takes the Helm of Newest Ship

Delivery Ceremony celebrates final milestone
Disney Dream set to depart for Florida 

The final chapter has been written on the Disney Dream's construction as shipbuilder MEYER WERFT turned over the keys of the new ship to Disney Cruise Line December 9th in Bremerhaven, Germany. Following maritime tradition, the MEYER WERFT flag was lowered, while the Disney Cruise Line flag was raised, transferring ownership from the shipbuilder to Disney Cruise Line.

Construction began nearly two years ago in Papenburg, Germany.  The delivery  signals its readiness to welcome guests on its maiden voyage, set for Jan. 26, 2011, from Port Canaveral, Florida.   The Disney Dream will depart for Florida on December 19th after crew and provisions are loaded on the new ship in Germany.

DCL Commenting on the Disney Dream

“The Disney Dream is an extraordinary ship, in part because of the collaboration of the superb shipbuilders at MEYER WERFT and the innovative technology and storytelling that our Disney team has developed and implemented aboard,” said Karl Holz, president of Disney Cruise Line.  “I cannot wait for our guests to experience this newest addition to our fleet, a ship that will delight and surprise all ages.”

From a water coaster at sea called AquaDuck, and inside staterooms with virtual views, to Enchanted Art that immerses guests in stories, and fine dining at Remy’s, the Disney Dream will deliver family cruise experiences like no other.  The shipboard experience remains focused on the legacy and heritage of The Walt Disney Company’s most known assets – master storytelling, world-class entertainment and legendary guest service.

Our Thoughts

Those of us in the travel business call this the "Disney Difference".  The Disney Dream adds to the list of completed vessels in 2010.   We believe this will be one of the years that stand out in cruise industry history as a year of innovation that takes cruise vacationing to a new level.

Meyer Werft's Thoughts

“It gives me great pride to deliver the Disney Dream, which is the largest ship that MEYER WERFT has ever built,” said Bernard Meyer, managing partner of MEYER WERFT.  “Over the last few years, I have seen this ‘dream’ transform from the design phase to a magnificent reality, which guests will soon be able to enjoy for years to come.  To make this dream come true, it takes a special partnership.  The collaboration among Disney Cruise Line, MEYER WERFT and its suppliers has been excellent and very creative.”

Disney Dream Schedule

The Disney Dream is scheduled to depart on Dec. 19, for its transatlantic voyage to the U.S., with an expected arrival on Jan. 4, 2011. Captain Tom Forberg will officially take the helm of the Disney Dream for Disney Cruise Line.  As part of the Disney Cruise Line ship construction team, Captain Forberg has been with the company for 15 years and was responsible for launching Disney’s first two ships, the Disney Magic and Disney Wonder.

The Disney Dream is scheduled to sail three-, four- and five-night cruises to the Bahamas, from Port Canaveral.  Sister ship Disney Fantasy is currently in production at the MEYER WERFT shipyard and is scheduled to set sail on its maiden voyage on April 7, 2012.  It will sail seven-night alternating eastern and western Caribbean itineraries, also from Port Canaveral.

Congratulations Disney Cruise Line on another family vacation choice which will continue Walt Disney's legacy for many years to come.  It's hard to believe it all started with a mouse.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Birthday Celebration on Azamara Journey

Today we celebrated my birthday at sea on Azamara Journey.  It was a wonderful day from start to end.

While I slept, my husband had decorated the cabin with a Happy Birthday banner he purchased in St. Barth.  He also put a banner on the door.

We went for breakfast in Windows Cafe.  Following breakfast, we headed to the Discoveries Restaurant where the Grand Buffet Brunch was being served.   We took a few pictures and planned to return for lunch.
The reason we did things this way was that we had an Engine Control Room tour at 11 AM and wouldn't have time to leasurely enjoy the brunch otherwise.

The tour was fascinating as this was the first time seeing an engine control room on a ship this size.   The chief and staff have the responsibility of making sure everything runs smoothly.

Obviously, they monitor the engines, but there is so much more that is controlled by the power generated onboard.  The most important thing is keeping the temperature within the proper range for all the various ship's components.

When we returned to our cabin, our cabin steward, Valentina, and her helper, Jose, were there to greet us.  While we were at breakfast, they had made up our cabin and added more to the decorations.   They added balloons on the door and on the bed. There was a certificate wishing me a Happy Birthday.  They wished me a Happy Birthday and we chatted for awhile.  They have been great throughout the entire cruise.
Grand Buffet Brunch

It was now time to head back to Discoveries for brunch.  Since we are Discoverer Members of Le Club Voyage (the highest ranking for the loyalty program) we had a reserved table for brunch. We sat with the guests who had joined us for dinner with the Capatain earlier in the voyage.  This time, we were joined by Staff Captain Aris for a most enjoyable brunch.

Captain Aris arranged for the 8 of us to join the bridge tour at 1:30 PM, so we next headed to the Looking Glass on deck 10 where the tour gathered.  I'd missed the tour the other day due to a meeting, but my husband had gone and taken pictures.

Following the tour we went to change into our bathing suits and laid out on the spa deck which is where the thalassotherapy pool is located. We stayed up there for a few hours and then it was time to get ready for the evening's festivities.

First up was a Le Club Cocktail Happy Hour in the Looking Glass.   From there we headed across the deck to Prime C for dinner with another couple we met on the cruise.   We had invited them to join us for my birthday dinner.   We had a fabulous time at Prime C.  I'll cover that in a separate post, as that deserves its own treatment.

As usual, the evening entertainment was in The Cabaret on deck 5 at 9:45 PM.  Tonight's entertainment was entitled "Broaway Showtoppers".  The musical arrangements and direction were by Eric De Gray, our Cruise Director.  He starred in the performance along with the Journey Singers and Dancers and the Boys in the Band.  Once again, it was a fabulous show since the entertainment on the Journey is one of the best at sea.

Despite the fact that we were gaining an hour of sleep tonight as the clocks are set back to Eastern time,  I was tired and decided to retire to bed following the show.

One more sea day and then we will be back to Miami. Check out my Facebook Fan Page for more pictures.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Park Cafe Allure of the Seas

Park Cafe Central Park

Welcome to Central Park, a neighborhood where you can enjoy nature or indulge your cravings for something tasty from one of the quaint shops along the path.


PARK CAFE


Strolling through Central Park, we decided to have some more lunch. Unlike other cruises, we had decided not to have a sit down meal in the buffet, but rather to try one or more of the dining venues.

One of the best kept secrets is Park Cafe's Signature sandwich. It is slow roasted beef on a bun with au jus.

If you wanted, you could order a panini sandwich or even have a salad made to order.  As the name suggests, service is buffet style.   There are several counters to chose from, so take your time and select one or more of your favorites.

We highly recommend the English Toffee cookies and other pastries to complete your meal.

As you know, several of the dining options on the Allure have an extra charge, but Park Cafe isn't one of them

For more pictures, see our Fan Page on Facebook.

There is much to tell about the Allure of the Seas.   Central Park is just one of the locations where you can find a quick bite to eat or have a relaxing meal.

We will continue our coverage of Allure of the Seas on our blog and Facebook page, so be sure to check back to see what else we've added.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Azamara Journey Spa and Fitness

Astral Spa Fitness

Welcome to Astral Spa, Azamara Journey's spa and fitness center.  Following lunch we took a tour of the spa, signed up for the cruise pass for the Thermal Spring and private spa deck.   The Thermal Spring features a private spa deck with Thalassotherapy Bath.   Minerals in the warm water, combined with powerful jets massage your body will you bask in the sun.

Thalassotherapy Bath
One of the best bargains for a couple on the Journey is to sign up for the full cruise use of the spa deck which includes the Thalassotherapy Bath.   The price (at time of this post) is $20 per person for a one day pass or $99 a person for the whole cruise.   A couple can purchase the same pass for $175 which is a substantial savings over single use or individual pricing.

We signed up for the entire cruise but due to rough seas, all pools were closed the first sea day.   We'll just have to go multiple times some other day to make sure we get the full benefit of the package.

As is the case ships, this spa is run by Elemis and is a full service facility.   We are looking forward to hot stones massages on Friday.   Another bargain is to schedule your massage or other service on a port day, which is why we picked Friday.   We'll be in St. Martin for the entire day, leaving at 11 PM at night which gave us plenty of time to see the port while also taking advantage of special pricing.

Check out our Facebook page for more pictures.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Greetings from Azamara Club Cruises Journey

Azamara Journey Port of Miami
After disembarking Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas pre-inaugural, we transferred from Fort Lauderdale to Miami where we spent the night at the Marriott Biscayne Bay.   From our bay view balcony, we watched the sunrise as the ships pulled into port.

Hidden behind the Celebrity Cruises building is Azamara Journey, which will be our home for a West Indies cruise.  For those that haven't heard of Azamara Club Cruises before, we'll be telling you all about the company, the cruise experience, and the ports of call we visit over the next 12 days.

Azamara Club Cruises reinvented itself in April of this year, adding new amenities and destinations.   It is part of the Royal Caribbean Ltd. family of cruise lines but it does operate as an independent business unit.  

Azamara Club Cruises is a luxury cruise line which strives to bring you a different experience than on the larger ships in her sister cruise lines.   You'll be immersed in the destinations you visit with more time spent in the destinations than on most cruise lines.  

The ship has just come across from sailing in Europe this summer so this is the first opportunity for us to experience the ship after the program changes.    Be sure to check back here and on our Facebook fan page for pictures and more details.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hot Dogs at Sea on Allure of the Seas

Boardwalk Dog House
Allure of the Seas
Most cruises we start out with lunch in the buffet, but on Allure of the Seas, we decided to try a couple of the venues in Central Park and Boardwalk.

If you have been reading coverage of the Allure of the Seas pre-inaugural cruises, you may have read a review that said the Dog House was a miss.

We come from Hot Dog country, Chicagoland, so our curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to make our first lunch stop on the Boardwalk.

"Hot Dog" Selections
Sausages & Baguettes
Custom Toppings


Select the "hot dog" of your choice from the menu and add one or more toppings to complete your meal.   The choices include mixed peppers, fried onions, sauerkraut, and sweet relish.


Dog House Menu
We enjoyed our selections:  

  • The Big Apple which is chicken and bits of apples on a sesame seed baguette.
  • The Sicilian which is pork, garlic, oregano and Italian spices on an oregano and paprika baguette.
We topped one with sauerkraut and the other with peppers and onions.   

Having cruised for years, we are well aware that everyone has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to food served on the ships.   We took an informal poll among others that were seated around us.  Everyone had the same opinion as we did, that the meal was enjoyable and that they didn't understand why it had been labeled a "miss".   

Regardless of what others say, our suggestion is that when you are on the Allure of the Seas, you  find out for yourself.

TAKE OUR POLL IF YOU'VE EATEN AT DOG HOUSE ON ALLURE

DreamWorks Sail Away Party on Allure

Sail Away Party - Aqua Theater - Allure of the Seas

DreamWorks Characters
Start the Party
Allure of the Seas
Sail Away
Following the mandatory safety assembly, it was time to get ready to sail.  To start the party in a unique fashion, we decided to join the party in the Aqua Theater.   There was another party underway on the Royal Promenade.


Party Celebration

The cruise entertainment staff, along with the DreamWorks cast of characters,  got the party started with a flag parade and then one by one the DreamWorks characters joined them on stage.

Under the stage where the performers are standing is the pool that is used for the aerial water shows and dancing waters.

King Julien XIII
The first Madagascar character to join the party was King Julien XIII, a ring-tailed lemur who has light gray and white fur, big yellow eyes, tiny whiskers, a black nose, thin black eyebrows, fox-like ears, a long black-and-white striped raccoon-like tail and wears a crown.  


Since he loves to dance, sing, and party, he was the perfect one to get the celebration going.


Alex the Lion
Alex the Lion, the alpha lion of his heard, showed more interest in dancing than in hunting, much to the disappointment of his father who tried to teach him to hunt.


No hunting was going on poolside, but  there was lots of dancing as Alex joined the cast on stage.  By now the audience was getting into the party spirit.  


One by one the cast of Madagascar and other DreamWorks movies joined in the celebration on stage, each appearance bringing roars from the audience.   Some folks from the audience were chosen to come onstage and join in the dance.


Shrek and Fiona


All Parties Come to an End



It probably isn't a surprise to most that Shrek and Fiona were the grand finale to the sail away party.   They are shown here waving good-bye as the party comes to an end.


We have plenty more pictures and details to share with you about the party.   To see the rest of the pictures, become a fan of our Facebook Fan Page.


It's not everyday that you go on a cruise and party with the DreamWorks characters.   Royal Caribbean has entered into a partnership with them so this is only the first of many times you'll be able to see them on board Allure of the Seas.   In fact, rumor has it that they have moved in.



Friday, November 26, 2010

Greetings from Allure of the Seas

Looking Aft from our Boardwalk Balcony Cabin

We watched as Allure of the Seas crossed the Atlantic in anticipation knowing that it would soon be our chance to explore the largest ship afloat ourselves and bring you our insider look at this new ship.

Today, we wait no longer.   This is the first of many update on Allure of the Seas that we'll write both here and on our Facebook Fan Page.  You'll want to sign up for our fan page so that you won't miss any updates.

Boardwalk Balcony Aft Cabin 12719
We arrived at the Port Everglades pier around 11:00 AM.  Royal Caribbean built a new port facility specifically for the Allure of the Seas.  They claim that from the time you enter the front door, it will only take 15 minutes to get checked in.   They did hold true to their promise.

In order to make that possible, the embarkation area is divided by deck numbers.   If you have a suite you get escorted to a separate are where you even will have a private seating area.   You'll be the first to get on the ship once it is available for boarding.

The first thing you do after entering is to go thru security screening of your luggage just like you would at an airport.   After the security check, you are directed to the checkin personnel for your deck.

All you need is your Sea Pass, Passports, and credit card for onboard charges.   You'll fill out the health questionnaire while the agent processes your paperwork.  By the time you finish signing your name, the agent will be waiting to snap your first photo - this one is for your Sail 'n Sign card.    This will be the only card you need for the rest of your cruise.  It will get you in your cabin and unlock all the extra goodies that you can purchase onboard the Allure of the Seas.

Allure of the Seas Aqua Theater
Room with a View


At 11:30 AM the ship was cleared for boarding so we made our way up the winding ramps to the gangway entrance.   Along the way we had our photo taken and showed our key card a few times before the formal embarkation was over.

Many of the cabins were not available but we lucked out and our cabin steward told us we could drop off our luggage.    We were on our way to explore the ship and sample some of the dining options.

Looking Forward from our Balcony
Boardwalk Balcony Cabins


One of the unique features on Allure of the Seas  are the many different types of cabin categories. Last count I believe there were 37 different types.    Even among the types, some locations are better than others, depending on your requirements, so I strongly encourage you to seek professional assistance to select the right cabin.

As mentioned, we had a room with a view.    The cabin we had was 12719, which is one of the AFT  Boardwalk Balconies.   We had a perfect seat for the water shows right from our balcony.    The aft cabin also has a great view for sail aways.    Looking towards the forward part of the ship from our balcony you can see the various dining and entertainment options of Boardwalk.

Finally, you can watch all the action of the Zip Line and Rock Climbing Wall.   Check my Facebook Fan Page for some photos of me zip lining over Boardwalk.    What a ride !!!!

Welcome aboard ... there's lots to tell, so this is going to take quite some time to share everything with you.   We had an action packed day onboard the Allure of the Seas.  BTW, I'm writing this from my balcony - so far the onboard internet has been very good, but we all know  speed depends on where the ship is relative to the satellite.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving 2010

Norwegian Epic - Main Pool
HAPPY
THANKSGIVING
 
Where is Chris?

Treetops - Vancouver, Canada
It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving is here already. Where did 2010 go? As has become my tradition, I'd like to share with you some of the things that I'm thankful for and highlight some of my adventures this year.

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.

While this has been another tough economic year, it appears that the cruise industry has weathered the storm once again. Just this month, we have been highlighting the introduction of Allure of the Seas. Just a year ago, her sister ship was added to Royal Caribbean International's fleet.  The two ships are the largest ships afloat.

The value of cruising has never been stronger. Even in these tough times, more and more families have taken to the seas.  Indications are that the record discounts offered the past two years will be coming to an end.  In the meantime those discounts have made cruising an even better value, and consequently we have seen a surge in first-time cruisers.

The photos above are from some of our cruises this year.  Cruises Inc. and Cruise One held their National Conference on the brand new Norwegian Epic and we were fortunate to be able to attend.  Just like the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, several new innovations were introduced on the Epic.   Although it isn't quite as large as the RCI ships, it is no small ship.   The entertainment and food on the Epic take center stage along with the studio suites, which allow solo travelers their own haven at a price point to match. The Epic has much to offer cruisers.

Norwegian Epic alternates between Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries.   Our conference was on the latter itinerary which included stops in Costa Maya, Roatan, and Cozumel.   The picture of me in front of the Epic was in Roatan where we hired a local cab driver to take us around the island after we did a bit of shopping near the pier.


In June this year we attended Cruise3Sixty, CLIA's annual conference.  This year it was held in Vancouver, Canada.  We extended our stay following the formal conference which allowed for touring of some of the local attractions, which despite many trips there in the past, we had not had time for.  I'm pictured here hiking through Treetops at the  Capilano Suspension Bridge.


Boardwalk
The highlight of the year is yet to come.   We will be sailing on Allure of the Seas for one of the pre-inaugural sailings.   The final cruise of the year will be on Azamara Club Cruises Journey.   We will tour the West Indies on that cruise.

We wonder what the Pilgrims, who came to the New World in Tall Ships, would think about the Allure of the Seas.  Their ships measured 110 feet, held 150 passengers at most, and took months to cross the Atlantic.  The Allure is more than 10 times that length (1182 feet), holds almost 8000 passengers and crew, and took just a couple weeks to cross the Atlantic.

Thank you for making our blog column a part of your lives in 2010.   I hope that the information we share helps you to dream about future cruises of your own. I'd be honored to help you plan those trips. I have the best job in the world - helping make dreams come true. For that, I'm truly thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving to All