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Friday, January 11, 2019

When it’s the Destination, Not the Journey


I’ve always thought that cruising is right for everyone. But I was wrong.

After speaking to a friend who just returned from his first cruise, I rethought my assumptions.

While cruising has a lot to offer all ages, it’s not necessarily the best way to travel if you’re all about the destinations. Here’s why:

Itineraries change. Weather, a damaged pier, a government travel ban or a passenger with a life-threatening condition are just some of the reasons you may not make it to the port you lusted after. On one of our early cruises, we almost didn't get to Grand Cayman because the sea was rough and getting into the tender proved tough.
 
As the tenders bobbed briskly, the captain almost called off our visit to Grand Cayman
(pictured on a calmer day!)
Tenders take forever. If the port you long for requires tenders, know that the process of getting on and off, and back and forth to the ship eats up significant time.
 
Tenders can take forever; build in lots of time
Crappy weather can rain on your parade. I planned one cruise just for a stop in Martinique. When we got there, it poured. All day.

It could be Sunday or a holiday. If the pouring rain in Martinique wasn’t enough, it was also Sunday. The sole thing open was the supermarket. Another trip, we went to St. Maarten, only to discover it was a national holiday. But no parades or costumes. Just a half-empty city.

The stay may be short. In San Juan on one trip, we had to rush back to make a 1:30 p.m. deadline. While port stays of 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. may work for early birds, it doesn’t for night owls.

Excursion diversion. An excursion to ruins may sound great online, but you could spend most of the day getting there and back. Our first time in San Juan, we planned a visit to the Bacardi factory. The bus ride was long, the wait for the tour was long, and the tour was short. And so was the time we had left to actually see the city.
 
We missed seeing the fabulous El Morro our first visit to San Juan because the Bacardi excursion ate up the whole day
One of the neat things about cruising is that you can visit interesting ports, and hit multiple ports in one trip. But to view the cruise ship as merely transportation can set the traveler up for disappointment. Cruising is as much about the ship as the ports.

If that weren’t true, cruisers wouldn’t salivate as they do at the thought of a new ship debut.

So, go for the journey as much as the destination. You’ll have double the fun and none of the disappointment.  

Friday, December 28, 2018

Bonaire: Cape Cod on the Caribbean


On seeing Bonaire’s capital city, Kralendijk, my travel companion immediately thought of a small Cape Cod town of his memory.



The “B” of the Southern Caribbean’s “ABC islands” is, indeed, peaceful and picturesque, with its clear blue water sprinkled with sailboats, a promenade along the harbor and tropical foliage. Just a block from the water is a street lined with vivid colored buildings housing boutiques and upscale tourist shops.   


Bonaire is decidedly, too, one of the more European of the Caribbean ports, save, perhaps, for St. Barts. Dutch is the primary language and it’s everywhere. Outdoor cafes with their blackboard easel signs tout the day’s delicacies, like wahoo, barracuda and iguana soup.



Sweetening the pot is that each time we’re in Bonaire, we’re the only ones there. In fact, a local told us they can go days without seeing a cruise ship.

It’s also among the few Caribbean islands not in the hurricane belt. It’s actually quite dry, with only 20 or so inches of rain a year, giving it an unusual mix of desert and tropics.

In so many ways, it’s the ideal port to visit—stuff to see without an excursion and a quiet spot to laze over a coffee or beer, or stick your head in some chic shops.



If you’re into more active activities, you’ll appreciate knowing that Bonaire is renowned for its scuba and snorkeling—the island itself is built on a reef.

Then there are beaches to bathe in, salt flats to visit, flamingo sanctuaries to photograph…



A visit to Bonaire is usually combined with stops at “A” and “C”—Aruba and Curaçao. If you do see the itinerary, grab it. Aruba and Curaçao are great destinations, and Bonaire is truly memorable. Its tourism office says it best, “Once a visitor, always a friend.”*

* Island motto, Tourismbonaire.com


Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Decking the Decks and Doors


You can have it all when you Caribbean cruise at the holidays—sun and sand, and sizzle, sparkle and Santa. Here are just a few ways the ships don holly and make jolly:

Eye candy from Harmony of the Seas' gingerbread village
Light and bright. From Princess’ glittering piazza railings to Royal Caribbean’s ceiling-suspended stars and massive ball-laden trees, eye candy abounds.

Pointing to the holidays. As Christmas nears, poinsettias dot many a deck. On Celebrity’s Constellation, they line the grand staircase. On the Regal Princess, they’re everywhere.

Figuring it out. Holiday figurines pop up here and there, like around Guest Services on Harmony of the Seas.


Guests get into it. Then there are the passengers. Like the ones who wear Santa hats. Or the teens with the reindeer headbands. Those who do up their doors.

It takes a galley to create village. The frosting on the cake, though, is when the gingerbread village appears. The Constellation’s houses with their gumdrop tops was the centerpiece in a common area. Harmony’s frosty, candy-coated village was planted in the Promenade.

It took a galley to create this village on Celebrity's Constellation
The gingerbread village brings out the cameras—and the kid in us all. It reminds us how sweet and surprising cruising—and life—can really be. Happy holidays from Musing About Cruising!



Friday, December 7, 2018

Sweet Slumbers: How to Sleep Well on Your Cruise


"Bed, bed! I couldn't go to bed
My head's too light to try to set it down
Sleep, sleep! I couldn't sleep tonight
Not for all the jewels in the crown…”

 – “My Fair Lady,” Alan Jay Lerner / Frederick Loewe


Having trouble sleeping on a vacation seems counterintuitive, right? But there are plenty of reasons the z’s may elude you.

You’re excited, keyed up. Maybe you’re up late, dancing the night away.

Or you know you’ve got to be the first off the ship at 8 a.m. to make your excursion.

Whatever the reason, if you find it a challenge to get the nods you need, I’m here to help with a few tips:

Head rest. Celebrity’s Concierge and Aqua Class, and Disney’s Concierge level offer a pillow menu. Don’t want to spring for the upgraded rooms? Bring your own pillow. We do. Always.

Get thin. You’re going to the Caribbean and yet your bed has a heavy blanket. The first thing we ask the room steward for when we get onboard is a thin one.

Hit the gym. The experts say exercise is great for a good night sleep. Just don’t do it too close to turning in, or it will have the opposite effect, says WebMD.

Sweat then wet. A how-to-sleep-better wheel left in our room on the Royal Princess says that taking a hot shower 90 minutes before bed can help you relax. You might turn on the TV while you’re on the Royal, too—its “Sleep Channel” has ocean sounds “proven to help lull you to sleep.”

Star light, sleep tight. We’ve gotten into the habit of sitting on the balcony before bed. Something about the quiet, the darkness and the stars bring us back down after an adrenalin-rush day.

Turn up the noise. Every night, we plug in the noise machine. With the outlets clear across the room, we need a long extension cord and have to be creative in where we string it. But it’s invaluable for blocking out noise—even most PA announcements.

Light up your throne. If you do get insomnia, having a portable reading light you can bring into the bathroom or over to the desk chair can help you read until you get sleepy.

Stay inside. Someone recently wrote on a cruisecritic forum that not knowing whether the sun had come up caused her to sleep one day until 1 p.m. An inside cabin can keep you in the dark—and deliver a great night sleep.

Darken the night. If you have a balcony room, keep the curtains closed tight to keep out the light. Duct tape—or even towel clips—can do the trick.

But, you may ask, is it really that important to get a lot of shut-eye on your cruise? Well, you don’t want to sleepwalk through it all. And then when it’s over, you may just feel like you dreamed the whole thing.

Musing’s Top Tip: Check out this section of Princess’ website to see what else the cruise provides onboard to give you the best sleep experience. And if you want to reproduce it at home, you can even buy their award-winning beds. Carnival too allows you to recreate your experience when you get home with their bedding.

Musing’s Top Tip Too: Like these tips and quips? Find more at Musing About Cruising on Facebook and Instagram!


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Classic Cruising: Review of the Royal Princess


That Princess picked Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, to christen the Royal Princess in 2013
reflects what the cruise line delivers—a classic cruise experience.
 
You won’t find zip-lines, go-karts or tattoo parlors on this ship. But what you will find are excellent shows, varied food, elegant décor and a laid back, relaxing vibe that helps you, says Princess, “come back new.”

Eating
The MDR. The main dining room food was, well, main dining room food. The Norman Love desserts were a standout, but the rest was a mixed bag.

The buffet. Horizon Court was truly the most expansive I’ve seen on a cruise ship. There were very good roasts, many vegetable choices, multiple salad bars, and premium foods like mussels, calamari, shrimp and salmon, a big variety of cheeses (brie! Gorgonzola! Goat cheese! Edam! Stilton!), terrific fresh rolls and focaccia, smoked fish, prosciutto and quiches, as well as a few Asian dishes, for foodies like me. There were also typical buffet foods, from fried chicken to meatloaf to lasagna.

Theme nights were fun—German, Italian, Brazilian and American. While not everything is terrific, it’s hard to imagine not finding something to like.

The specialty restaurants. At Crown Grill, the service matched the food—both were outstanding. The 8 ounce filet mignon was fork tender and flavorful, and the molten chocolate cake was deliciously decadent. My travel companion had the sampler plate—four mini versions of their desserts—and I was jealous.


The nibbling. There’s also a 24-hour International Café with good quality sandwiches, quiches and desserts, and pizza thought to be the best at sea.

Watching
The shows. Princess has upped its game significantly on its production shows and two in particular were terrific. “Encore” had a romantic, old-world set with tunes both familiar and new, with a bit of opera thrown in. But the best was “The Secret Silk,” which featured a sweet story, amazingly elaborate and colorful costumes, constantly changing interesting sets with an Asian theme and unique puppetry. All showcased Broadway quality singers.


The movies. Movies Under the Stars (MUTS) is like a drive-in without the car (but with better audio!). This trip, they were showing “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again,” among others. Snuggle up under their red plaid blanket on a padded lounger, load up on free popcorn and you’ve got yourself a different way to do the night.


The fountains. While some complain that the fountains take up precious pool space, they are fun to watch. The water spurts out every which way, in color and to music, with the movie screen doing something or other in the background.


Playing
The Royal Princess has some great activities, such as an inexpensive wine tasting ($9.50), interesting lecture by a ship officer on navigation (here’s a tidbit: life boat capacity on the ship well exceeds the capacity of passengers plus crew), galley tour and behind-the-scenes event by the production show staff. These last two events were offered free—there’s often a charge on other cruise lines.

You’ll also find the usual cruise events—game shows, contests, bingo, ice sculpture demo, karaoke, dance lessons—as well as the spa, casino, etc.

And then…Princess’ mini-suite can cost not much more than a balcony if you time your trip right…Horizon Court buffet is well staffed with waiters who will bring beverages such as orange juice, coffee and water to your table…The buffet is open with a full dinner until 11 p.m.…the balloon drop on the second formal night in the ship's stunning piazza was a colorful and lively party combining bopping to music with balloon popping…music around the ship varied from steel drums to solo guitar…there was a wedding chapel tailor-made for vow renewals…


In fact, there’s quite a lot to like about Princess. And it’s why we find ourselves on the line again and again.

Musing's Top Tip: For more quips and tips, visit us on Facebook and Instagram!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Weighing it Up: Cruising and the Fear of Gaining


I’m a 5.5 ft. female. I could weigh 225 pounds.

Where did I come up with that number? When we first started cruising, I weighed 110. On each of our 23 cruises, I put on 5 pounds. If I add them all up, and tack them onto 110, I’d weigh 225.

But I still weigh 110.

I know some people are terrified at the prospect of major weight gain on a cruise. But it doesn’t have to happen. Below are a few of my tips to keeping those extra pounds to a minimum. Some of these are obvious, but they’re reminders for me too, as I’m about to eat my way through cruise #24:

Use the “StairMaster” to actually get somewhere. In other words, take the stairs. Not only is it good exercise, but it’s entertaining. You never know what kid is going to come screaming down it as you’re climbing up. And it beats waiting for the elevator, only for it to swoosh right by your floor. Or trying to cram in to that small space with 15 other folks.



Jogging track. This has got to be one of cruise ships' biggest secrets. Because it’s always empty. And often has great views. The one on Oasis class ships takes you the whole length of the ship (2.4 laps=1 mile), including past the dramatic wake at the stern. There are even some cutesy signs you can smirk at as you fly by.
 
Joggers to the left, walkers to the right on Allure of the Seas

There’s a gym too. You can take classes, or do the treadmill while watching TV, listening to music (bring your earphones) or watching the waves.

Don’t go overboard. Eat only what you really enjoy—skip the rest. Shrug off the temptation to “get your money’s worth.”

Lighten up. If you supplement some of your hard core eating with lighter stuff, you’ll feel better—like a martyr, even. Some examples: most of the ships have a restaurant with healthier food, such as Celebrity AquaSpa Café or Royal Caribbean’s Vitality Café.

Or, one day, just have lighter foods—fish, veggies and fruit. Cereal for breakfast. Or lighten up one meal a day.



Watch what you drink. The beverages we like best—booze, specialty coffees—come laden with sugar and calories. In fact, one study found that liquids account for 22 percent of calories in the typical American’s diet.¹

At the risk of depressing you:
  • If the drink package is $57 a day (current price for Royal Caribbean’s Deluxe Beverage Package)
  • If a Budweiser is $7.25 (price on Royal Caribbean ships)
  • To break even, you have to drink 8 beers
  • 8 beers x 150 calories = 1,200 calories

You’re consuming 1,200 calories just from beer. That’s before you’ve even eaten anything.



Walk in, around and out of town. Not only is it good exercise to walk into town at ports, but it’s the best way to get beyond the just-for-the-tourists attractions to see how the locals live. The kids in their school uniforms in the streets for lunch. Street vendors selling everything from fruit to underwear. The political posters.

Of course, you’re on vacation to have fun, and food and drink is a big part of the fun. But with a bit of moderation and a bit of exercise, you can still have a blast and not go crazy packing on the pounds.

And then—this is most important of all—the minute you get home, the party’s over. Go back to your regular eating. Those extra pounds will come off in no time.

¹Milk Processor Education Program, as reported by Reuters

Friday, October 19, 2018

Cruise Directors: A Job as Big as the Ship They Sail In


Some play it straight. Some steal the show. Some are even in the show.

They’re all front and center. It’s tough to ignore your cruise director.

Ever since Julie’s voice penetrated the PA on the “Love Boat,” the cruise director has become a pivotal presence on ships. Part customer service rep, part salesman, part cheerleader, part actor—and even sometimes, part comedian—the cruise director is, undoubtedly, the most visible crew member onboard.


The cruise director tells us what’s going on every day, and what we should spend more money on. “He”—because in 20 cruises+, we’ve only had one “she”—hobnobs with cruise loyalists, and is quick with a handshake and small talk.

He emcees events—indeed, can make or break them. There’s been more than one “Love and Marriage” game show where the CD came to the rescue with a nudge, a tease, an innuendo—anything to liven up the contestants.

Kicking off the aqua show on Allure of the Seas
Yet this is only the part we see. Behind the scenes, they’re organizing, managing and keeping the entertainment running smoothly. This piece from Travel Weekly gives a glimpse into what it’s really like. In short, it’s exhausting!

While some cruise directors are laid back, more often they’re not. They’ve got their own TV shows. They hold the mike and grab the attention.

But when the urge comes to try something different, CDs shift to a corporate job, only to find themselves longing again for the shipboard spotlight. That’s where they’re a celebrity—second only to the captain.

Sometimes they even overshadow the entertainers they’re introducing. Some CDs are so beloved by passengers that they become the attraction themselves. Cruisecritic.com forums praise some of them by name. Some threads even track what ship each CD is sailing on. John Heald’s blog charts the CDs on Carnival ships. Disney too posts a schedule not only for CDs, but captains too.

Whether you like your CD in the foreground or background, making you laugh or just giving directions, you have to admire them for the efforts they put into making sure you—and thousands of your cruise companions—are having a great time.

Musing's Top Tip: For more tips and quips, check us out on Facebook and Instagram!

Friday, October 5, 2018

Cruising and the Unexpected


I’ve been asked—more than a few times—why do I keep cruising? Aside from the obvious reasons—love of the sea, great value, the ultimate in relaxation—cruising is full of surprises.

These can be on the ship, in a port or with the sea. If you’ve gone on a number of cruises, no doubt you’ve had a few surprises of your own. Here are a few of mine:

The piano and the elevator. While waiting for the elevator on Harmony of the Seas, our eyes opened wide as the doors parted to show a man inside playing a full upright piano.
 
Only moments earlier, he was playing this piano inside an elevator on the Harmony
Princess and the pops. The year Princess celebrated its 50th anniversary, at the Caribbean Princess’ Captain’s Welcome, along with champagne, the crew handed out Norman Love chocolate truffle pops.

The cruise director and the joke. On a sunny sea day, when a whole lot of people were around the pool, the CD got on the PA and said, “There’s a dolphin starboard.” Everyone dashed to the railing only to then hear him say, “Uh…I was only fooling.”

The lizard and the lettuce. Strolling through Wilhelmina Park in Oranjestad, Aruba, we happened on feeding time. The park keeper tossed out the makings of a salad to the slew of wandering iguanas.



The gold and the silver. It pops up for an hour or two at a time, and you never know where or when. The Inches of Gold concession has a treasure chest of affordable jewelry you can order by the inch, which means you get just the size you want.



The galley and the village. Toward the end of our pre-Christmas cruise on Harmony, as we meandered into the Promenade, we were as enchanted as children to see a whole gingerbread village laid out for view and cameras.



The holiday and the flower. One cruise happened to be on Mother’s Day and the crew handed every woman a single red rose.

The couple and the champagne. Heading back to our stateroom one night on Allure of the Seas, a cabin door opened and a guy stepped out. “Do you drink?” “Moderately,” I answered, cautiously. He thrust into my hand a bottle of champagne. It appears that he did not, and he got it as a gift.

While each cruise may not always be champagne and roses, there’s bound to be surprises somewhere. Maybe it’s part of a port we haven’t explored, a sunset kaleidoscope of colors, a shower that spawns a rainbow or a chocolate array in the dinner buffet. 



When we stop being delighted by these slices of the unexpected, it’s truly time to stop cruising.

Musing's Top Tip: For more tips and quips, visit us on Facebook and Instagram!