Wednesday, March 30, 2011
SOUTH AMERICA VIA STAR PRINCESS Part II
Does cruising still represent a good vacation value? According to actual cost data from Cruise Holidays, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Cruise Holidays recently determined the average daily cost per person of three popular cruise destinations (Alaska, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean) for the past three years – and found that cruise prices for 2011 remain very affordable. See the cost comparison below:
Average Cruise Cost per Person, per Day*
7-day Alaska Cruise
2011 - $248
2010 - $230
2009 - $255
2008 - $259
7-day Caribbean Cruise
2011 - $126
2010 - $147
2009 - $171
2008 - $158
12-day Mediterranean Cruise
2011 - $222
2010 - $262
2009 - $290
2008 - $269
*Average of all categories of cruise lines and staterooms. Includes only the cruise portion of each booking; excludes airfare, shore excursions, etc.
Of course, in addition to price, you should take other factors into account when selecting a cruise vacation. You’ll want to consider various destinations and itineraries; whether to sail on a cruise line or ship you haven’t experienced before or revisit one that you enjoyed; and maybe upgrade to a balcony stateroom or suite. Still, in making your decision, it’s helpful to know that cruise prices remain attractive and provide great value. Remember that the basic cost of your cruise includes your accommodations, meals, entertainment and lots of fun and amenities on the ship.
To help ensure that you can secure the cruise of your choice at the best possible price, book as early as possible. Cruise prices tend to rise as the sailing date draws closer, so advance booking is always a good practice, especially if you have your heart set on a specific cruise and sailing date. Talk with your personal cruise expert about the best cruise values available right now.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Revisiting the Titanic
A British travel firm has chartered a ship for a Titanic memorial voyage departing from Southampton, England, on April 8, 2012, and ending in New York. The entire cruise will be steeped in Titanic history, with menus, music and entertainment much as they were on the Titanic. After a stop in Cobh, Ireland, the ship will arrive at the spot where the Titanic sank, where a memorial service will be held. The ship will then call on Halifax, Nova Scotia, where passengers can visit cemeteries where Titanic victims are buried.
Azamara Club Cruises will send the Journey from Boston on April 9, 2012, to the spot where the Titanic sank. Bill Willard, who developed the remote-operated vehicle (ROV) used to explore the sunken ship during the 1998 Titanic expedition, will be on board, along with authors and historians who have studied the Titanic. Passengers can attend a variety of lectures and presentations on the history of the ship, its passengers, and expeditions to the site of the wreck. On April 14, an expedition ship equipped with an ROV will meet the Journey at the sinking site. The ROV will dive to the wreck and relay live video images of the resting Titanic.
While the sinking of the Titanic was a tragedy, it prompted changes in ship design and communications that have benefitted cruise travelers ever since. After the Titanic, ships were built with double hulls and taller bulkheads for watertight compartments. Wireless communication devices became mandatory for ships at sea, enabling crews to obtain weather reports, check their locations with precision and call for help in emergencies. While the doomed ship had enough lifeboats for only half of its passengers and crew, today’s ships have enough lifeboat space to accommodate everyone on board – another legacy of the Titanic.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Packed and Ready to Go – Day -1
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Fabulous St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is the city of the tsars, founded by Peter the Great. It was the capital of imperial Russia from 1712 until 1914 and still contains many of Russia’s greatest cultural treasures.
When visiting St. Petersburg, it’s important to book shore excursions through your cruise travel agent, which will assure that you are dealing with the best operators. Exploring St. Petersburg on your own can be difficult, and you may need a Russian visa, which you would have to obtain in advance of your cruise.
The most famous of St. Petersburg’s many attractions is The Hermitage, the world’s second-largest art museum (behind the Louvre). The museum’s incredible collection includes Botticellis, Michelangelos, El Grecos, Rembrandts, Renoirs and much, much more. One of the four buildings that make up The Hermitage is the stunning Winter Palace, which is beautifully restored. Other landmarks of St. Petersburg are St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Peter & Paul Fortress, the Russian Museum, and a number of spectacular imperial palaces surrounded by parks and gardens.
Because there is so much to see, many visiting cruise ships spend one or two nights docked in St. Petersburg. You can use the evening hours to see some legendary Russian ballet, take a boat ride along the city’s canals or even visit a nightclub.
When you visit St. Petersburg, be sure to dress for the weather – most of the museums and attractions are not air-conditioned, so wear lightweight clothing on warm days. Take a bottle of water with you, as local water supplies may cause a case of “traveler’s tummy.” Stay with your tour guide – if you wander on your own, it may be difficult to find someone who speaks English to assist you. Your personal cruise expert can provide more information about visiting the city of the tsars.
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Europe to Draw More Cruisers This Summer
While the appeal of Europe is certainly based on its fabulous ports, fascinating history and modern attractions, it’s helped by the fact that European cruises represent good value. A recent survey shows that Cruise Holidays’ experts agree three to one that, for now, European cruises deliver greater value than Alaskan cruises. Cruise Holidays’ data also show that the average cost of a 12-day Mediterranean cruise has steadily dropped since 2009. The average cost per day across all stateroom categories is down to $222 per person, compared to $262 in 2010 and $290 in 2009.
European cruises are also popular among experienced cruise passengers. While first-time cruisers often choose the Caribbean or another destination close to home, many of those who have experienced the comfort and convenience of a cruise vacation are ready to head to Europe.
In addition to value and convenience, one of the best things about cruising Europe is that so many popular cities and sights are accessible via cruise. Many of Europe’s major cities were built on the water, and approaching from the sea offers fantastic views.
Two of the most popular European cities to visit via cruise ship are Barcelona, Spain, and Rome, Italy. Barcelona is a vibrant city where you can spend a wonderful day simply walking through the distinctive neighborhoods, admiring the mix of Gothic and modern architecture. You can also browse the flower and produce stands of Las Ramblas and pause to enjoy some tapas (small plates of delicious food) with a glass of sangria.
Rome’s ancient ruins, precious artworks and religious sites give it the feel of a giant living museum. You can sightsee, shop, indulge in gelato and pasta, and experience a bit of la dolce vita (the good life) that abounds in Rome.
Because both Barcelona and Rome are located in the Western Mediterranean, you can easily visit both on the same cruise. There are several other regions of Europe to explore by cruise, including the Eastern Mediterranean, the Western Coast, the British Isles, the Baltics and Scandinavia. To consider all of your options for a European cruise, talk with your personal cruise expert.
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
South America via the Sun Princess
Sunday, 2/20/11 We left Seattle for Dallas around 7:00 am, changed planes and waited in the Miami airport for our LAN flight to Santiago which was four hours late. It was a 7 and a half hour flight, so thanks to Wayne’s frequent flyer miles we had sleeper seats. That’s the only way to go if you can do it. We arrived just after 12-noon the next day reasonably rested.
Monday, 2/21/11 We were met in the Santiago airport by a Princess Cruises rep who provided great assistance for retrieving our luggage, going through Customs, and catching the bus to the Intercontinental Hotel where we stayed. It was costly to enter Chile -- $140 each (a tax for both entering and exiting Chile), but everything went smoothly in the airport. We were warned not to bring in any food – the penalty for doing so was $10,000 – they had dogs that sniffed out food, and other dogs that sniffed out drugs.
We didn’t do much the rest of the day except rest, and walk a few blocks from the hotel to check out the restaurants and shops.
Tuesday, 2/22/11 Today we took a City Tour and discovered that Santiago is a very nice city – clean, well maintained, with many modern buildings (many due to rebuilding after Chile’s frequent earthquakes). They have earthquakes daily, stronger earthquakes weekly, and in 1960 they had one registering 10 on the Richter Scale which was the largest quake ever in the world. They also have many lovely parks and open spaces for public enjoyment -- all this with a backdrop of the Andes mountains towering over the city. The mountains are very close to the city.
Wednesday, 2/23/11 The bus trip to Valparaiso took about two hours. This is where we boarded the Star Princess. This town is interesting as it sits at the foot of the Andes and all the houses are built into very steep cliffs—the town has been heralded by UNESCO for it’s unique building techniques. We had lunch on the ship with a very interesting 86 year old lady. She was a widow, traveling alone from Argentina, but had lived in Washington, DC for 10 years. She was very sharp and feisty, telling us about an incident with Immigration or Security people. She loved fruit, bought some outside the ship and attempted to take it aboard to her room. Of course she was told she could not do that but she proceeded to do it anyway telling the authorities that they would have to “shoot” her to stop her. The next day she was visited by the ship’s management to tell her story. They later presented her with a large bowl of fruit.
Thursday, 2/24/11 This was a sea day so we attended a seminar about the technical aspects of photography and using Nikon cameras. I used the gym, and because the seas were a little rough and the gym is in the bow of the ship, the ship was pretty rocky and I had a little trouble standing up, but I still managed to work out for about 45 min. We had lunch with interesting people -- a doctor from California and retired couple from Arizona. This was our first formal evening, and after dinner we saw a production show done by the Princess Dancers. It was good.
Friday, 2/25/11 This was another sea day so I visited the gym again (the seas were a little calmer today), and we attended Part II of the photography seminar. It was excellent and we learned a lot. The evening entertainment was quite good – it was a one-man show from a man who lived in Uruguay and played a small unusual harp he bought in Ireland. It allowed him to play many songs that he could not have played on a regular harp.
Saturday, 2/26/11 Because this was another sea day, I took some time to catch up on this log, do my work out in the gym, and do some sightseeing (we cruised quite close to shore through the Chilean fjords). It is similar to cruising through the Inland Passage going to Alaska – very beautiful.
In the afternoon we attended a presentation produced and narrated by the ship’s photography personnel. It was a collection of videos and still pictures taken over six passages through Antarctica. Last year was the last year any cruise ships could navigate through Antarctica because of EPA regulations over environmental concerns. Some of the icebergs were two or three stories higher than the ship which was 18 stories high. It was very beautiful and the wildlife was abundant. Now the only way to see Antarctica is to fly over it which costs about $3000 or to cruise in a smaller ship that uses something like diesel rather than the bunker oil used by cruise ships.
The evening entertainment had a South American Gaucho theme. The female performed a freeform dance routine that was graceful and beautiful. The male performed a roping and dance routine with luminescent ropes with bobbles that when they hit the floor and combined with the noise from his spurs provided a unique entertaining performance.
Sunday, 2/27/11 The day started very early as we had a shore excursion to Magdalena Island Penguin Reserve that left at 7:30 am. It was not easy to get there as we had to take a tender from the ship to shore (from the town of Punta Arenas, Chile) where we boarded a bus for the ferry that took us to the Island. The island is in the middle of the Magellan Straight. The ferry trip took about an hour. It was a beautiful day with flat seas and sunshine. I was worried about the trip as the weather is often bad with rough seas and heavy winds, but that did not happen. The island was baron except for a lighthouse and a couple of sheds. There were thousands of penguins there. They were black and white and about 2 ½ feet tall. They dig holes in the dirt where they nest, and return year after year to the same nest. In about a month and when the babies have all their feathers, they make the trek from Magdalena Island to the waters off Brazil. Then they return to Magdalena Island in December to mate and nest. It was a great day and we took lots of pictures.
Monday, 2/28/11 Today we are in Ushuaia, Argentina (an Yahgan Indian word pronounced oo shoo-AYE-ah and meaning “a bay penetrating westward”) where we took a tour of the Andes mountains and city. It was a nice drive. We saw many very high mountains. , and stopped for snacks and a Tango show which was quite good.
Tuesday, March 1/11 The day began early to take pictures as we rounded Cape Horn back in Chile. It is a baron island with only a flag, church, a few buildings, and a monument in the form of an Albatros to commemorate all the seamen lost while sailing around the Horn. There have been hundreds of ships wrecked rounding the horn and thousands of lives lost. There was an expert on the area aboard the Star Princess who had rounded the Cape Horn 133 times prior to this trip. On all of his prior trips he had seen lots of rough weather, buthad never seen such calm, beautiful weather with sun as we had on this trip. Many times in the past it was so windy and rainy that the ship could not cruise close enough to the island to see it. We were very lucky.
We spent a good part of the day exercising to work off some of the extra calories we have been eating. Wayne likes to walk the decks. I like to use the gym. Then after dinner we listened to a singer impressionist performer.
Wednesday, March 2nd We took a tender from the ship to Stanley in the Falkland Islands which is a British colony. There was not much to see there but we read that a “must see” was the museum that featured history of the area and relics from the conflict between Argentina and the British in 1982. It was a 45 min. walk to the museum, and thankfully we got a shuttle ride back to the ship. The museum was pretty interesting.
Our entertainment for the evening was a Princess Dancers production show. These shows are always excellent.
Thursday March 3rd and Friday March 4th These were sea days and we spent our time in the gym or walking the deck. I took Yoga and stretching classes and another class on South American Zumba exercise/dance. This is an incredibly fun way to get exercise. We also went to hear talks on upcoming ports.
Saturday, March 5th Today we visited Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is a large beautiful city, but unfortunately we had a terrible tour and did not see many of the best parts. The only two stops that the bus made were 1) to the Recoleta (a famous cemetery consisting of large marble crypts), and 2) a handicrafts store. This was not a large store, yet all the buses stopped there and we had to stay there waiting for the bus to return for 70 minutes. There was standing room only and it was a miserable ordeal. We suspect that the tour operator got some kind of kickback from the crafts store for bringing passengers to the store.
The tour did include lunch and a tango show. Both were excellent but very long.
The evening ended well as we attended a performance by award winning Canadian singer, actress Lovena B. Fox. She was by far the best performer we have had on this cruise so far.
Sunday, March 6th Montevideo, Uruguay was our port of call today. In the morning we walked into the older part of the town and found it to be an old, rundown part of the city with lots of garbage on the streets. We could tell by the architecture that this was once a beautiful place. This was probably during the mid 1700’s after the Spanish founded the city. We walked to a large estuary where we saw people fishing and walking along the seaside promenade.
In the afternoon we had a great city tour to a newer part of the city. Unlike yesterday’s tour the bus made many stops for picture taking. We saw many old mansions and lovely homes, many outdoor sculptures, parks and beaches. Our guide spoke perfect English. Uruguay has a democracy but has nearly free socialized medicine and education through college level. There are problems that come with this though. While only 1% of the people are considered illiterate, the current ruling party handed out money to poor people which caused a huge deficit and the implementation of their first income tax. The average person makes only about $500/mo., but rents start at about $400/mo. so most young people live with their parents. The high education level of the population makes competition for good jobs high and drives down wages.
The weather for the past three days has warmed up considerably as we proceed North toward the equator. It has been in the low 80’s.
To be continued…
Monday, March 7, 2011
Celebrity Eclipse, the third ship in Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice Class, launched with signature features like the grass-covered Lawn Club. A new feature, the alternative restaurant Qzine, offers a unique menu and make-your-own guacamole.
The Seabourn Odyssey, like its sister the Sojourn, has the one of the largest spas on any luxury cruise ship. There are indoor and outdoor treatment rooms and a Kinesis wall that combines cardio, strength and flexibility training. The indoor/outdoor concept is also featured in the Colonnade restaurant, where diners can watch their delicious meals being prepared in the open kitchen.
Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Epic, like the cruise line’s other ships, features freestyle dining. Unlike other NCL ships, the Epic has a sprawling Aqua Park with water slides and a tube ride, and 128 studio cabins with a shared lounge space specifically for solo cruisers. The ship’s entertainment includes the Second City comedy improvisation troupe and the Blue Man Group.
While bigger isn’t always better, one would be remiss to leave out Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, now the world’s largest cruise ship, which began serving passengers in late November.
River cruise lines are also adding new ships to accommodate the growing demand for river cruises in Europe and Asia. While river cruise ships are necessarily smaller than their ocean-going cousins, new ships are being designed with larger staterooms and luxury features like balconies.
To find out more about how you can sail on one of the fabulous new ocean or river cruise ships – and to find out what’s in store for 2011 – talk with your personal cruise expert.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Holland America Line Launches ‘Stateroom Direct Service’ Program on All Sailings
News Release from Holland America Line (3/2/11)
New initiative allows guests immediate access to their stateroom upon embarkation
Seattle, Wash., Mar. 2, 2011 – Holland America Line has launched a new Stateroom Direct Service program that simplifies the boarding process by giving guests immediate access to their staterooms upon embarkation.
Under the program, staterooms will be ready as early as 11:30 a.m., and cruisers will no longer have to check their carry-on bags and wait in public areas while their staterooms are being prepared. Additionally, arriving guests will receive their luggage earlier, allowing them more time to unpack and settle into their rooms. Guests also will have the opportunity to enjoy lunch at their leisure in the line’s Lido restaurant, which features a full-service buffet.
“Holland America Line is always seeking new ways to enhance our on-board cruise experience, and through this streamlined boarding process guests can now get into their staterooms earlier and begin enjoying their vacation sooner,” said Richard D. Meadows, CTC, executive vice president, marketing, sales and guest programs. “Stateroom Direct Service creates the best start to a cruise for our guests and sets the precedent for top-notch service to follow.”
The early embarkation initiative is in place on all of the line’s 15 vessels. As part of its on-going fleetwide Signature of Excellence enhancement program, Stateroom Direct Service adds to Holland America Line’s long list of exclusive offerings that allow guests to maximize their premium cruise experience and start enjoying the on-board facilities and amenities as soon as they board the ships.
For more information and cruise fares, contact a professional travel agent, call 1-877-SAIL-HAL (1-877-724-5425) or visit www.hollandamerica.com
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Sailing Through the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal cruise season begins in October and runs through April. There is plenty of variety in cruise itineraries, which range from seven to 21 nights or more. The classic Panama Canal cruise goes from Florida and to California (or the reverse), with stops in some combination of ports in the Western Caribbean, Central America and the Mexican Riviera.
The 50-mile, nine-hour trip through the canal takes you between the Atlantic and Pacific with the help of three massive locks: Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores. Because the trip takes a full day, passengers are usually not able to disembark for shore excursions, but the complexity of the canal’s engineering and the beauty of its surroundings are more than enough to hold your interest. This type of complete trip through the canal is called a “full transit” cruise.
Another option for seeing the canal is a “partial transit” cruise. On these cruises, your ship will not go all the way through the canal. Instead, it will enter the canal and pass through one or two locks. Passengers can then disembark for shore excursions, such as a trip further into the canal on a smaller boat; a visit to a nearby rainforest or a native Embera Indian village; or a ride on the scenic Panama Railway that runs parallel to the canal. When you rejoin your ship, it will exit the canal the same way it came in.
Depending on the itinerary you choose, before and after your canal experience you can visit wonderful ports like the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Curacao; Puntarenas and Puerto Limon, Cost Rica; or Cabo San Lucas and Acapulco, Mexico.
To visit the Panama Canal yet this winter or plan ahead for next, talk with your personal cruise expert about all of your options for partial or full transit cruises.