Focus On Fun Travel

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cruising the Norwegian Epic

     The Norwegian Epic, as briefly mentioned in my previous blog, is an amazing ship in many ways.  We did make the 1.8 Mile hike from the Freedom Tower MetroMover stop, thinking we would need the excercise to ward off the evil spirits of eating too much on a cruise ship.  We only regretted that move because the sidewalk ended just after crossing the bridge on NE 6th Street.  This forced us to cross a couple roads, which were busy, and ended up walking along 2 different and equally busy cruise ship terminals, Celebrity, Carnival, a non-used one, then finally the Norwegian terminal. We were excited to arrive at the vary same time as a friend and his wife (Paul and Krista), who had arrived late the night before and who stayed in Ft. Lauderdale.

Garden Cafe Forward overlooking Italian Restaurant
     Since we were on opposite ends of the ship, for check-in, we had to split up; Barbi and I heading toward the bow, Paul and Krista staying there at the aft.  This was about 11:30am.  Check-in was rather flawless and quick, which makes me glad we arrived a little early.  A little different than Princess, we were checked in, then sent to a waiting area for when they would allow us to board.  It wasn't bad and there was juice that was available. We were in the 4th group boarding, when they called us at about 12:30, and we boarded on deck 6 forward, but we were told that our staterooms would not be available until approx 2pm, so we headed up to deck 15 and the Garden Cafe for lunch.  The buffet takes up the whole forward part of the ship on Deck 15.  The design made it really easy to get food without standing in a line for too long.  The same items are served in different locations.  I went for a really cheesy mac-n-cheese, a roasted chicken breast, and some steamed broccoli.  My only disappointment here, and throughout the cruise was that no one came and asked if we needed anything.  They would clear used plates, but that was about it.  OH! Except to ask if we needed anything from the bar (Extra $$).  I did like that there were always utensils wrapped in cloth napkins stacked in a holder on the table. That is unique.  The menu in the Garden Cafe never varied from day to day, which I found to be a disappointment.  But, the usual good things were ALWAYS available.  Burgers, Hotdogs, Pizza, salad, coldcuts, and really good selection of Ice cream flavors (Not just soft serve vanilla and chocolate). How 'bout butter pecan? Surprise, we were allowed to go to our staterooms at 1:30.  Early!
Epic theater

     During this cruise, we really took advantage of the available entertainment on-board. Of critical importance, everyone should know that if you intend on seeing the world famous Blue Man Group, I strongly urge you book your seats well in advance of sailing.  We booked 45 days before, as these shows are always sold out.  And WOW! Was it an awesome show. And it is COMPLIMENTARY!  Consider this.  If you go to Vegas, tickets will cost you more than $100 to see them in decent seats.  Your cruise fare includes admission.  I would say that what you pay for this cruise is WELL worth it.  Also available for your entertainment, and again complimentary; The Second City comedy troup from New York in Headliners Comedy Club.  Alumni from this group includes John Belushi, Martin Short, John Candy, and Gilda Radner.  The comedy and improvisation was amazing.  For a show in Chicago, you would pay $30 pp.  Your cruise fare is getting cheaper by the day!  Finally, there was Legends in Concert.  Performing on stage for us was Steven Tyler (OMH, was he good)., Lady Gaga, and Elvis Presley.  I sang at the top of my lungs to Aerosmith favorites, while the Tyler imitator strutted around the stage and put on a really good show.  I am not much of a Gaga fan, and Elvis is always a favorite, but I would go back to this show.  If you were to attend one of these concerts at Bally's in Atlantic City, you would pay $37.50 per person.  Though we did not go, Nickelodian's Slime Time Live was also there for you and the kids to enjoy.  There was other entertainment that was available for purchase, such as Cirque Dreams and The Second City's murder mystery theater lunch.  We did go to the murder mystery and really enjoyed it, at the price of $20 per person.  As I said earlier, it is easier to book before the cruise.  But if you wait, there is a ticket counter on deck 5 or your stateroom interactive TV, which is convenient.  One other complementary place you should NOT miss.  If you like blues music, then do not pass by Fat Cats.  The band that played in here each night was incredible.  I took 10 seconds of video for an overall video production, and was immediately told to turn off the camera.

Balcony Stateroom 9060
     OK, I am going to insert my biggest disappointment with the Epic.  The Stateroom.  We had a balcony stateroom, and I guess I have always come to expect a little bit more for the price.  But this ship was built in France and has a very distinctive European design.  The first thing I had to overcome was the 12" - 18" of space at the foot of the bed.  Our luggage was placed outside the stateroom for us to retrieve, but I could not roll it past the foot of the bed.  Had to heave the luggage onto the mat placed on the bed.  I noticed throughout embarkation day that no cabin steward ever took luggage into the stateroom.  No special treatment here.  Also notice the curtain on the far side of the bed?  This is the divider between the toilet, behind frosted glass on the left, and the shower on the right.  One positive note, the curved design of the glass for the toilet and shower provided extra shower space.  For a change, I did not have to worry when dropping the soap on the floor.  See the towel hanging on the glass of the shower enclosure?  Right below and slightly right...there's the sink.  It is on the bedroom side of the curtain...right at the foot of the bed.  You could sit on the foot of the bed and wash your hands.  The bed was rounded at the foot and a little short for even me, and I am 5'9.  A couple days into the cruise, we discovered that the mattress and frame could be pushed back to give you a little more passing room, but then the bed sleeping was messed up.  Our cabin steward, Marlin, would always pull it back out to remake it.  Since this was the second voyage of the Epic since it's return from Europe, I think Marlin was still on European time.  The room was never made up before noon and never turned down before 8pm.  I guess she always expected we would be eating breakfast at 10am and eating dinner at 9pm, and always taking 2 hours or more to do so.  But you know what?  We always say..."You never spend that much time in the stateroom anyway."

Group dinner in The Manhattan
     Dining aboard the Epic can be varied, depending on your tastes and budget.  The first night, we ate in the Manhattan Room, Deck 6 aft.  We arrived at 5pm for the opening of the restaurant, along with 50 or so others in the line.  This dining room has a dress code, despite Norwegian being a "Freestyle" cruise line.  No shorts allowed.  There were several who were angry about this policy, as they were past passengers and were under the impression this policy did not apply on the day of embarkation, due to luggage still being delivered to staterooms.  A couple were able to argue their way past it by using this excuse, or pointing at the man in the wheel chair and saying..."he's wearing shorts!"  I believe a few of the passengers in following days would be disappointed about NOT knowing that this first night, LOBSTER was served.  I was not disappointed.  The Lobster was served as a cut in half tail, grilled, with the typical appetizers, salads, and dessert.  We were also instructed we could have multiple servings of the Lobster without having to order a whole additional plate of food.  NICE!  Considering the smallness of the tail,  I think I had 3 half tails.  All in all, probably 6 oz in weight.  Not bad for the diet, ya know.  The Manhattan room sports a jazz ensemble that plays music, along with some occasional singing, and a floor that is big enough for dancing.  We ate with Paul and Krista, and they got up and danced.  The only problem was where we sat, which was up close to the band, it was a little loud for conversation.  On another night when we ate here, with the group pictured above, we were farther back and it was perfect level for conversation and enjoying the music too.  We discovered a couple days later, that the line to get into Tastes Restaurant is not as long.  This restaurant is on Deck 5 mid-ship and requiring you to take the elevators/stairs in the forward section or the Escalators midship from Deck 7 in the Casino.  This restaurant is quite nice, but, we were told, does not have the dress code of shorts.  I never wore shorts to dinner, so I guess I never really got stopped.  It has the same menu as the Manhattan Room, and a part of it has an open area of dining looking up to the Casino on Deck 7.  We ate here more than the Manhattan Room and really liked it.  The wait staff were awesome, the atmosphere serene and quiet.
Tastes Restaurant From Above
O'Sheehans Bar and Grill is another you can choose from.  Eat a British style lunch of fish and chips, or any of the other menu items, then play some billiards.  Or take in a round of bowling.  Yes!  Really, there are three lanes of bowling here. (More on that later). If you are willing to spend a little extra, there are a whole host of specialty restaurants available to you.  I had Sushi at Wasabi.  Not badly priced depending on what you order.  Barbi and I also visited Moderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian Steak House.  If you have never visited this type of restaurant and you love meat, this is heaven for you. The cover charge is $25 pp, which is very competetive with Rodizio Grill or Tucano's here in Utah.  There is an all you can eat salad bar and then the waiters come by every minute or so delivering different flavored meats to you, such as (My favorite) Garlic Sirloin, Bacon Wrapped Chicken, Lamb, and Tenderloin.  They keep delivering until you turn over the little wooden thingy to display the red end, which signals Surrender!   Another favorite specialty restaurant is Teppanyaki, which is a Japanese steak house.  If you Like Benihana or the shore side Teppanyaki restaurants, you will feel right at home here.  Same cover charge, $25 pp.  With 21 places to eat (Including Room Service), which are either complimentary or have a cover charge, you will never want for a bite to eat. NEVER!

     Now for fun!  The Epic is loaded with fun things to do, both for kids and adults.  Now some may think I am a child at heart (Barbi would whole heartedly agree), but I believe the Epic Plunge slide video above shows how fun this can be for everyone!  There are 3 slides in total.  The purple is longer than the green, but the plunge was definitely the most fun.  I went twice!  Just behind the stairs to the plunge is a large children's water area, which is more shaded to protect those sensitive little skins from sunburn. Lots of Hot tubs all over the ship, including Spice H2O, which is an adults only area most of the time.  There is a pool here too, which doubles as a stage for other performances, along with a large screen TV.  We watched a video of Plácido Domingo one night. There is also an inside big screen at the Atrium, Deck 5 mid-ship, where I found Barbi one day watching Soul Surfer. The Epic Casino takes up half of Deck 6, and WOW! Was it packed every night. Some say that Carnival is the "Booze Cruise" (Which I don't agree with), but I will say this appeared to be the "Gambler's Cruise". During our NCL briefings, we found out that when the Epic is in Europe, the Casino is rarely used. But when it comes back to the Caribbean, it is most definitely used. I tried my hand at the "extreme" climbing wall, but could not get this slightly overweight body over the 2 foot ledge above me. I worshipped the sun from my balcony and from the pool deck. For those of you who "Truely" worship, there is a "Freestyle Sundeck" on Deck 19, which is adults only, and cannot be viewed from above or below. Sun however you like here!!!! I was wowed by the amount of machines and free weights at the fitness center. Honestly, I have never seen that many free weights on any ship. For those who love to play some hoops, there is a full size basketball court on the back of the ship above Spice H2O. Never seen that on any ship either! And one other First! Bowling! There are three lanes at O'Sheehans and 2 Lanes at Bliss Deck 7 Forward. We bowled and had a blast doing it.

     For the Solo Traveler, the Epic is the first in the industry to offer solo staterooms, and priced as such.  
Studio Stateroom
The whole length and inside Deck 12, you will find the Studio's, which are accessible only by those who reside there, and not the general passengers. They have a gathering area and a snack bar just for these stateroom, along with planned activities just for the solo travelers. At 100 Sq Ft, these cabins are small, but fully functional with the needs of solo travelers in mind. With an Amsterdam flair, there are round windows in each stateroom which one can view the passersby in the hallway outside. Each stateroom has a queen size bed (Though designated a double) and with all of the activities and attractions on this ship, I for one believe it is a singles dream. No more begging or bribing a friend to go along to share the cost of a double occupancy stateroom. Go on your own and make new friends. Barbi and I met one such traveler by the pool one day. She loved being on the ship and having the privacy of her solo stateroom. For those who want more exclusivity. May I introduce The Haven Suites. These luxurious accommodations at the front and top of the ship range in size from 322 to 5,722 square feet (Sleeps 8). This area has it's own private entrance, pool, restaurant, concierge, and fitness center. We were able to tour this area and it is amazing. If you think it is out of your price range, think again.
The Haven Pool
Three couples could share the cost of the 5,722 Sq Ft, 3 bedroom Garden Villa comfortably. And since it is a 3 bedroom villa, each bedroom has it's own private bath, and a hall bath. Similar to a 3 bedroom condo. Really! Check it out and live the life of luxury without having to hock your BMW! Norwegian does really well with these type of accommodations and the benefits you get by reserving one of these suites. The next closest to it is Cunard's Queen's Grill Suites, though their largest suite is not THIS big.

     Overall, I really enjoyed this cruise. I look forward to Norwegian Breakaway (2013) and Getaway (2014) to see if Norwegian improves the stateroom layout. Breakaway is on sale now and will be sailing from New York city to Bermuda for 7 day itineraries. I would love to be on one of those new voyages. Perhaps with 2 couple friends sharing the Garden Villa!

We Are Here For You

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Miami FL...What to do for a day

     As I mentioned in my last post, Barbi and I needed a vacation from our family vacation.  This being interpreted means, sailing together on a ship for 7 days.  Not just any ship, but on a ship we have never been on before.  And to equal the importance, on a cruise line it has been 10 years since we have experienced.  The Norwegian Epic was our next adventure.  This is the largest ship we have ever been on, which debuted just last year.  This ship is longer than Cowboy Stadium (Yes, the whole stadium..end to end), though it does not hold 80,000 people.  The Epic is 1,081 feet and holds 4,100 passengers. To some extent, I would agree with John Heald that the exterior of the ship is not the most beautiful of designs, but it is very unique.  That is to say, fits well within Norwegian Cruise Lines mantra..."Freestyle Cruising".  This ship has 19 decks, and it is an engineering marvel that she does not tip over.  Anyone who chooses to experience her will find a boat load (pun intended) of fun, excitement, and yes..even relaxation.

     This was a "working" vacation for us, as we were here for seminars provided by Norwegian while aboard the Epic, to bring us (Other Travel Agents) up to speed on all things Norwegian.  But before we boarded the Epic, Barbi and I arrived a couple days early and camped out in the DoubleTree At Biscayne Bay Hotel.  A couple days before arrival, the DoubleTree alerted us that they would upgrade us to a balcony suite for just another $20.  We agreed! Gee, who wouldn't?  Getting there from the airport was a quick and easy taxi ride of $27.00, though we thought it was a flat fee of $24.00. We gave him $30, said thank you, and headed in. The DoubleTree must really love us, since they upgraded us to a Jr. Suite, not just a balcony. And what a room it was, there on the 8th floor, eating warm fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, the size of the palm of your hand!  We were facing north with a side view of Biscayne Bay. There was a 50" LCD TV, Fully stocked Mini Bar and Snacks (You pay extra for those), sitting area, and a large bathroom with a 10' double sink area.  The Balcony was about 15' in length with windows from the room the entire length.

     The DoubleTree was not in the middle of downtown Miami, but was convenient enough by hopping aboard the FREE MetroMover just a block walk from the hotel.  The MetroMover would take you to many stops in the downtown area.  It is best described as an elevated electric bus. Each car on a rail would hold 30 people or so, and is a favorite ride of all kinds of people, homeless or not.  We hopped off at the Freedom Tower stop, which is 1/3 mile from the well known Bayside Market Place.

     Walking to the place where all want to shop was leisurely, and only took about 10 minutes, since we had to stop and cross at the busy intersection of Biscayne Blvd and 5th and 6th Streets, which also is the intersection of the Port of Miami.  Ooh! Crazy idea.  Let's walk to the cruise ship!  There is a sidewalk that runs along the whole north side of NE 6th Street, leading beside the American Airlines Arena, over the bridge, and right into the port.  EASY!

     Bayside Market Place really has a little of everything.  the picture above was taken beside a really large Hooka Bar.  There area all kinds of food outlets, mostly on the second level.  If you want to have a little Cuban food, here is a convenient place.  Barbi found a Starbucks, which she insisted we have breakfast the next morning.  She loves their muffins.  I really enjoyed wondering around Art By God, a unique art gallery, where you can find trophy animals on the walls, full size fossil specimens hanging from the ceiling, jewelry, animals skulls, and lots of other things.  Honestly, I thought it was really a cool shop and I would go again and just stare.  Don't take your kids in here.  Touching and breaking would be a bad thing.  I got the impression I was constantly being watched, as if I was going to grab and run.  There are all the other favorites here, like Bath and Body works, Footlocker, Victoria's Secret, Hooters.  If you forget something important, you can find it here, then have lunch at Bubba Gumps.  You can relax at the Bayfront Park right next door.  While we were there, a concert was going on at the amphitheater there at the park.

     The Doubletree has lots of shopping opportunities as well.  Eateries galore.  Walk out the back doors, you will find yourself at a marina where you can hire a boat to take you fishing or a tour of the waterways that are so prevalent around Miami.

    Miami is a vibrant city with lots of culture and history.  We really only spend 1 day there, but I would love to go back and explore some more.  If you go there, or have been, feel free to share your favorite spots and places that should not be missed.

We Are Here For You

Saturday, December 3, 2011

It's the getting there!

     We decided to leave for southern California late in the evening to allow the little grandkids to sleep most of the way there.  Everytime we have done this, we tell ourselves we will never do it again. Going without sleep for 30 plus hours is truely a pain!  But between 4 drivers, we made it safely and in time to our destination in Oceanside.  Seeing the ocean again was a dream come true.  It has been 5 months.

     Too early to check in, we decided to have breakfast at Denny's, just outside the gates of Camp Pendleton, the Marine Corps historic training base. After choosing the most inexpensive menu items, we enjoyed a nice, though noisy meal.  It was quite busy on a Saturday morning.  But everyone was happy in the sunny, warm, Late October Southern California weather.

     Honestly, I feel like I was the only one who wanted to go to the beach as soon as we could. I sometimes think I am an outsider with my wishes. But, due to arriving early and having no where else to go, the beach it was.  And what an awesome location. A 15 minute walk from the Worldmark by Wyndham condos, under the railroad tracks, past the marina and shops with all kinds of really cool clothes and trinkets.  Getting there was as simple as I have ever experienced it.  And I was not disappointed.  Here, about a mile north of the Oceanside pier, people were enjoying the cold Pacific water, either by wading, or mainly surfing.  The waves were perfect for it too.  My single son walked around in his bare feet talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. My pregnant daughter and her husband watched and played with their little girls, running from each wave as it washed up on the beach. My oldest daughter still at home had my Nikon D40 DSLR camera and was snapping away at all the photo opportunities everywhere.  Barbi and I enjoyed watching it all and savoring every minute.  No stress.  No worries!

     In the week we spent, we visited Seaworld twice, getting soaked to the bone by Shamu and his friends and enjoying all the park has to offer.  Went Trick-o-Treating in one of the neighborhoods Halloween night after Seaworld.  Attended a local church and were humbled and thankful for the kindness of the members, who, after finding out we were in need of a portacrib and high chair for our littlest grand baby, found a willing lady who let us borrow hers for the week.  Miracles and kindness are still found where ever you are in the world.  I Believe!  We also went snorkeling in La Jolla cove, which though the water was frigid, I think was a highlight.  It was amazing to swim out in the cove and near the sea lions which are so numerous there.  They were not afraid of us, but watched with curiosity as we hovered in the water with our black wetsuits, mask, and snorkel. They made lots of noise, swam under and around us.  I took my waterproof camera, but the water was still a little too murkey to get a really good shot.  You will just have to take my word for it.  If you are planning a trip to the San Diego area, I highly recommend some time in La Jolla Cove. The week after Halloween, it was not too busy at all.  If you have money burning a hole in your pocket, La Jolla is a great place to shop at high end stores.  It is really a fun little city.

     Thursday and Thursday night, it was exploring the Farmers market and Night market in old downtown Oceanside.  How fun was this!  Especially the night market, where Krista and I took lots of pictures and enjoyed the multicultural festivities.  When I say multicultural, I mean a whole lot more than just Hispanic.  There was African, European, Asian...I think I counted at least a dozen different nationalities represented in booths (Especially food) here.  Awesome!

     Alas, we planned on leaving Saturday morning, but when Friday turned rainy...and I mean not stopping soaking rain, we packed up and left early.  Good thing too.  Getting out of the LA Basin took an extra 2 hours.  We had planned on staying overnight in Saint George, but upon arriving at 11pm, we pushed on instead of keeping Grandma awake. Rain and Snow in the overpasses. A little trecherous, but again, getting there (Back) without incident.

     It was a fun vacation with the family, cooking turkey for an early Thanksgiving for the family we would not see at the real Thanksgiving time.  But as is sometimes the case, Barbi and I needed a vacation from this vacation.  And thank goodness, we only had to wait 5 days til just the 2 of us headed off to the Caribbean on the Norwegian Epic for 7 days.  HOT DANG!

We Are Here For You

Thursday, October 27, 2011

You can't cruise everyday...Dang IT!

     Our family is taking a land (Sort of) vacation next week.  We are driving to San Diego for a week on the beach, water, and, of course, Seaworld.  We have not visited Seaworld since our 24 yr old daughter was 6 months old.  She and her family are also going with us, which we are excited for.  Unfortunately, our 17 yr old can't come because of school grades.  School! 

     That's a long time to be away from the area south of Los Angeles, where we have been several times visiting Disneyland or cruising out of or arriving by cruise ship.  The west coast is convenient, relatively speaking, since we live in the mountains of Utah.  12 hours or so either directly west or southwest will land us in either San Francisco or Los Angeles.  But there is something special about the coast south of Laguna Beach.

     I remember a summer vacation one year when my mother took me and a cousin to California, and we stayed in Oceanside and visited a fair in Laguna Beach.  I remember it being a really awesome place.  uncrowded beaches, the ocean air, the mountains rising up so dramatically from the coastal areas.  My mother bought a picture that was made out of rosewood.  To this day, that picture still brings back memories.

     So we have our snorkel gear and wetsuits packed.  We have decided on a schedule for Seaworld and, lest we forget, trick-or-treating in the neighborhoods around the Wyndham Condos in Oceanside we will be staying in.  Ahhh!  Halloween in SoCal!  Cool!  We will go to La Jolla cove and beach.  Visit the LDS temple near there.  And, since I don't want to offend, visiting a cousin who lives in Dana Point, whom I have not seen in, I don't know, 20 years???

     This will be a fun trip, and my Nikon Digital SLR is bound to be full by the time we get back.  But I'll share with you all what you definitely want to see in that area.

We Are Here For You

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hurricane Rina News

NEWS ALERT - Hurricane Rina is churning through the Western Caribbean, headed straight for Cancun and Cozumel.  Currently a Category 2 storm, it is expected to strengthen before making landfall tomorrow night at Cozumel.
[Image of 5-day forecast and coastal areas under a warning or a watch]

     Start making alternate plans if you are headed to the region.  This is where travel insurance really comes in handy.  When shopping for travel insurance, understand all your options and what coverages are available.  Your travel agent can be a very valuable resource here.  Let them teach you.

     Some may think travel insurance to be expensive, but when it comes to the loss of your travel investment dollars, it is really cheap.  Just the cost of making airline changes could pay for the coverage all by itself.  Here at Focus On Fun Travel, we want you to have a memorable vacation in a good way.  Not one that you look back and say...What a nightmare!

     To stay informed, take a look at all the usual weather sources, including

We Are Here For You

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Norwegian Epic...Where are the real reviews?

     I have many times found myself googling the web to find out information about a certain feature at a resort or a cruise ship, only to be inundated with superfluous information, varied slightly, from an original press release from the company who is offering such a place.  Today, it is Norwegian Cruise Lines, Norwegian Epic, and the Posh Beach Club.  The Epic has now been sailing for over a year, with a passenger capacity of 4,100 each cruise, out of Miami, and I cannot find any real life blogging about the Posh Beach Club.  No.  Not even any really good comments from Cruise Critic.  Only regurgitated statements about what it is when it was announced from NCL more than a year ago.  "Adults Only", "Front of the Ship", "Hot Night Life", "Sizzle of South Beach", "Riviera."  Heavens sakes alive, people.  Hasn't anyone visited the Posh Beach Club?  Rumor has it it is $15 a day or $58 for a week (Starting the second day of the cruise).  With terms like "Hot", "Sizzle", "South Beach", "Adults", it sounds like a clothing optional place.  But with today's cruise ships and family atmosphere expanding, that is mostly taboo.  At least in the U.S..

     Barbi and I will be sailing on the Epic, Nov 12, for a 7 day Eastern Caribbean itinerary, out of Miami.  This will be the first time, since 2000, that we will sail on Norwegian, and we are really hoping for a better experience than the first time.  That particular cruise was our very first, and it was only 3 days to the Bahamas.  We stopped in Nassau, and spent the next day at sea because the Atlantic was too rough for us to tender off to the private island, Great Stirrup Cay.  We did not cruise again for 7 years.  But the Epic is so packed full of many exciting things, I really have high hopes that this will be a positive experience.  We are travelling with a couple of friends new to the Norwegian experience.

     So when we return before Thanksgiving, I promise to have a full review of everything I can see.  If I can swing it, I'll even explore the Posh Beach Club on Deck 19, and let you know if everyone has their clothes on.  We already have our tickets reserved for Blue Man Group, which will be awesome.  We also want to attend the Cirque Dreams Dinner Show.  Because of the spelling and "Vegas" atmosphere, I am assuming this is a Cirque du Soleil show, but there again, no bloggers telling me about it.  So I'll have to check it out and report for myself.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dreams of Paradise

     I found myself in a boat with some other fun life loving people, as we headed away from the dock at a high rate of speed.  As we headed out to sea, we encountered our first wave to pass over.  Because of the speed we were traveling at, we soon found ourselves airborne, soaring high in the air, traveling what felt like a mile.  With a loud splash and quite a thud, we landed in the water.  We started cheering and woot wooting, when the boat came to the next wave...a larger one.  This one propelled us even higher.  But unlike the other flight, the front of the boat started to shift and point downward at a sharp angle.  Similar to the experience of one of my youth scout leaders, John, who was sitting on the back of a large river raft that went over a huge wake of some class 5 rapids on the Snake river in Wyoming; which when the front went down, John and all of his large framed body was shot upward and over the bow of the raft; I also was thrown higher up in the air as the boat plummeted down, nose first into the water.  My friends were scattered over a small area, as I spread my arms out and started soaring over the area of the accident.  I saw others who were sitting at tables close by enjoying a lunch, so I called down to them: "Hey! Help!  Right there!  Can you help..." Marty! Don't you have an early morning meeting this morning?  Huh?  Wha...  Oh!  Can't I get that dream back?

     I love the sensation of flying in my dreams.  It is one of my goals (Bucket List ya know), to don a wing suit, jump out of a plane, and soar for miles and miles, before being forced to pull my parachute cord and land safely.  Thankfully we have near supersonic aircraft that can take us anywhere in the world in no time at all.  This means we can visit paradise anytime finances allows us to.  The other day, I received a promotional flyer from Princess Cruises detailing a 28 Day cruise itinerary that is round trip from Los Angeles, and visits Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, and Bora Bora.  Talk about Paradise!  Tahiti has been on Barbi's bucket list for years, and has been a 30th anniversary wish of ours as well.  Well, Number 30 is 2014..3 years away.  We got time to plan and save money.  When the adventure is $75 per day, the saving is even easier.  We can do this one!

     Some people think paradise is a hot beach.  Some feel it is exotic adventure in the orient.  Others, it would be climbing a tall mountain.  Where is your paradise?  What is on your bucket list?  Do you like to fly in your dreams too?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Passion in the Water

     As I traveled back home tonight after completing my FIRST open water dive, at the fabulous Homestead Crater, in Midway, UT, I passed many places were people were busy doing things.  A miniature golf course, where people were having fun.  A regular golf course, with carts busying around like ants, a Karate dojo, where adults and kids alike were learning self defense and self control, Boaters skiing, people fishing from a bridge. Joggers. Cyclists.  Throughout my life, I have tried many things to see what I might be good at and really like.  I tried baseball.  Did not make the first cut.  Guitar playing. I never learned more than strumming chords.  Bicycling.  At times, the physical stress has been too much.  I admit I have never liked to run.  When I was young, I accomplished a 5:58 mile, which is outstanding.  But I really pushed myself in order to make the marching band.  Yep, an 8 min mile was all that was required to make it...well, and to be able to play an instrument.

     I have been going through PADI open water certification, and I realize I missed my boat 30 years ago.  I really love being in the water.  And I mean IN it.  This intrigues me so much that I find myself wanting more and more every day.  I really love this.  Last night I blogged about Submarine cruising, and what an amazing vacation that would be.  Well, for me it would be.  I realize there are those of you out there who may feel a little claustrophobic.  But I also know that we all have the ability to overcome our fears to experience new heights in our well being. 

     Barbi is really afraid of heights (Speaking of heights).  She won't let anyone in the family be within 20 feet of the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Those of you who have been there know how challenging it would be not be closer than that anywhere.  Yet, in 2007, on a Western Caribbean cruise on the Grand Princess, we stopped in Belize, where we tubed on a river through tunnels in the mountains, then went Zip Lining through the jungle canopy.  We were 25 -  50 feet in the air moving from one tree to another through 8 stations.  At first Barbi didn't think she was going to be able to do it.  Once the first zip was through, and she felt safe, it was onward and downward!  She has even said she would do it again.  See!  It can be done, with a little will power, and someone you love there to support you.

     My high school is planning their 30 year class reunion.  Holy cow!  30 Years!  I have suggested to the committee that we take a cruise as a class, instead of getting together in our home town of Mesa, AZ for a Friday evening, then a partial Saturday during a weekend.  I expressed how much of a better deal everyone would get if we cruised.  Such as, for the price, everything is, entertainment, lodging, fun activities, and even getting together in a meeting room.  There are pools, dancing, karaoke, get the picture.  For a little more than an evening and a morning, this is a much better deal.  For me, it means getting back to the ocean.  You know...the Water.  And wherever we go, I know I can get in the water and explore this part of the world.  Fish, creatures, whales, plants.  Scuba or snorkel, it does not matter to me.  I just want to be in  the water.

     My point in all this is, if your vacations have become Blah.  Go get scuba certified.  It cheap.  It is easy.  It is safe.  And when you go to Cancun for a week, go out to Isla Mujeras and swim with Whale Sharks, the largest fish in the ocean.  They have no teeth and have never eaten a human.  If you take a western Caribbean cruise and you stop in Grand Cayman, the birth place of scuba; go out and swim with the stingrays, instead of just standing there.  Belize has the 2nd largest coral reef system in the world.  Stuart Cove's in Nassau Bahamas will take you scuba diving with Caribbean Reef Sharks.  Heaven only knows what can be explored in the Mediterranean.  Ship wrecks?!

     If you are in Utah County, I highly recommend Scuba Teds Dive Center, 50 N Main St, Springville, UT.  Mike Brothersen is my instructor.

We Are Here For You

Monday, August 8, 2011

There's a vacation just around every corner

     I find myself daydreaming each day about what my next vacation will be.  Cruise, Disneyland, Seaworld, San Francisco, Yellowstone.  Interesting how these are all on the western side of the U.S..  I guess I always think close to where I live....cruising being the exception...sometimes.  I have lamented before about hating to fly.  The airlines know that people will still fly to get across the country, so their attitude is, they'll pay to get there.  They'll deal with it and we'll get more money.  Well, this is America, so I know that the American dream is all about being successful.  I also know that competition spurs reform and innovation, which benefits the consumer more than the company vieing (Did I spell that right?) for market share.  I have not said it in a while, so I'll restate my challenge to those looking to have the American dream.  Come up with a new way to get people from one side of the country to the other, either in a timely fashion, or in a slower way, providing comfort and value for their money.

     Cruising is an awesome way to travel across oceans, if you have the time.  Other than Amtrak, which has limited routes, there really is not another viable alternative to traveling comfortably on land.  The long haul bus system is too cramped.  I have often found myself wondering if it would be possible to have a cruise ship size vehicle, traveling down I10 from Long Beach to Jacksonville, Fl, at 25 miles per hour, Non-stop, it would only take a little more than 4 days. With Port stops in Phoenix, El Paso, Houston, New Orleans, Pensacola, you could stretch it into 8 days. All along the way, enjoying comfortable sleeping cabins, all you can eat meals, room service, and entertainment.  How would it be powered you ask?  Wind power...sails you know.  If there is no 'bout solar?  Combination of both?  Dream it and it'll happen.

     We really need a high speed rail system in this country.  Unfortunately, our American government has spent the cost of building it on other frivolous things, so I guess we'll just have to wait until someone comes along to finance it privately.  Then those who need to get from here to yonder there can do it in 10 hours non-stop from San Francisco to New York City.  10 hours...hmm, that's at least how long it takes me to get from Salt Lake City to Miami Fl, with 2 or 3 plane changes.  What a lavatory full of waste!  I used to be able to fly from Phoenix to Atlanta in 4 hours. That's darn near impossible these days.  So I say, if it takes me 10 hours, I would rather do it in style for a few days, with lots of leg room, WiFi, Walking around communicating with people, playing blackjack, having a drink by the pool, soaking up the sun!

     That was some serious digression!  Sorry!  Vacations are so vitally important to health these days, it is right there with the full nutrition of the Moringa Oliefera tree in Zija.  Healthy body, Healthy mind.  These things come with relaxation, good food, good sleep, and socialization with our fellow human beings.  Some sun doesn't hurt, though my eyes are sensitive.  So literally, there are vacation opportunities everywhere you look.  I am finishing scuba certification this week.  Now I cannot stop thinking about exploring the underwater world with Scuba.  How about a submarine cruise?  How cool would that be?   Cruise to 6,000 feet down to see the daytime activities of the six gill shark off the coast of Seattle. Do a transpolar cruise under the north pole, under the ice, and come up to see polar bears hunting for seals.  Cruise by and see the remains of the Titanic!  I am raising my hand with developing this!!!  ohh, ohh, pick me!  Pick Me!  Let's explore more of our world before heading off to the moon again..or Mars.

We Are Here For You.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Are We Cruising Again....YET?

May seems like such a lifetime ago, and we, here at Focus On Fun Travel, have been busy exploring new places and new cruise ships.  I never thought a few years ago, that in one year, we would experience 3 new cruise lines.  But you get the benefit of our experiences, and we pay the cost!  Sweet!

February was our first time on Carnival Cruise lines, on board the Carnival Splendor, visiting the Mexican Riviera.  Carnival, I believe, is well known as the "Fun Ship." Some would interpret that as a "party ship" or "Booze Cruise."  Where the majority of cruisers are 20 something college students looking for an alcoholic binge.

While there appeared to be plenty of adult drinks being consumed and served, I never ran into anyone who was slobbering drunk.  I never heard anyone shouting at anyone with a slur. There were lots of fun poolside games being led by the entertainment staff. One included alcohol.

What I did find was lots of families with lots of kids.  More than 650 under the age of 14 on board. Because of that, the kids programs we bustling with activity and the kids were really having a great time.  My 9 year old never wanted to do anything but Camp Carnival. My 13 and 17 year old daughters wanted to hang out at their clubs all the time.  I was very impressed.

I would cruise Carnival again, knowing a few warnings.  The shows with the dancers and singers was Las Vegas style. Meaning adult men will enjoy seeing scantily clad women dancing and bouncing around. Those that don't want to subject their kids to this will want to avoid it, or insure they are at their activities while you enjoy it.  If you lose one of your children, go hang out at the ice cream machines.  They'll show up within the hour, no matter the time.  Don't book a balcony underneath the buffet. You will never sleep.  Don't bother showing up at check in early. The lines to get in, led to another line, which ended at another line.  Patience Brother!  It'll all be good...eventually.

In mid May, We boarded Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Checking in was what I expected.  A short wait in a line, go to a desk with a friendly person who checks my passport and gives me a room key, then up a couple escalators, on the ship, and WOW!  Royal Caribbean's ships are really beautiful.  When we got to our Jr. Suite...Oh My Heck!  This is huge.  All things are relative, but the extra 3x10 feet made a huge difference in the size of the suite. 

On this cruise, we were with 150 people who earned this as a reward for a company sales challenge.  What we did not anticipate was that before we disembarked, we would have 150 new friends.  The Serenade of the Seas made it very easy to be together when we wanted and privacy when we didn't.  The group and wait staff were excellent, just like we wanted.  I climbed the rock climbing wall, ate a sandwich at the Sea Side Cafe, REALLY loved the food in the dining room, and never missed a show in the theater.  These shows were what I wanted. Broadway shows that were not too loud and were perfect.  I will really look forward to sailing on Royal Caribbean again.  Here is what I learned to avoid, though.

Like Carnival, our Jr. Suite was right underneath the Windjammer Cafe (Buffet).  Really hard sleeping at 1am.  I am used to ships having elevators and stairs forward and aft.  On this ship, almost always, you have to go to the middle of the ship to go up or down.  It made for easy navigating and I never had an issue knowing what side of the ship I was on, but sometimes it was out of the way to go through the Centrum to go anywhere.  Many of RCCL's ships have limited Internet access, meaning not available in your stateroom, but if you are willing to drag your laptop to almost any level in the Centrum, the wireless works nicely. The library is one of those places, but it is not quiet, as there is always music playing on the bottom floor.

November will bring our 3rd new ship.  The Norwegian Epic is NCL's newest ship.  Our first cruise was on NCL, but that was 11 years ago, so the memories have faded significantly.  But we are really stoked about being on this very innovative ship.  Why?  How 'bout an 85 Min performance by the Blue Man Group?  Their typical show as seen in Las Vegas, which you will pay more than $100 each for.  It's free!  Go Bowling!  Maybe a Cirque Dreams and Dinner Show.  The only funnel slide at sea.  So much that 7 days may not be enough time to experience just the ship.

If you are going on a cruise soon, let us know where you are going and share your excitement and experiences.  We would love to compare notes.

We are here for you.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Time Flys and so are we

Royal Caribbean - San Juan, Puerto Rico
     Time to pack the bags and fly/sail into the sunset.  Tomorrow we join 150 new friends travelling to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a new journey for us, so to speak.  Though we have cruised many times, we have never cruised on Royal Caribbean.  Sunday we board the Serenade of the Seas for an adventure to the southern Caribbean, visiting 2 ports we have not been to before, St. Kitts and Curacao.  We have never been in a Jr. Suite.  We also have never flown on Jet Blue, which will be the carrier taking us to San Juan, so we will have lots to report on when we get back.

     It is amazing to me that I have left some out in this blog for almost a month and a half.  Life has a way of distracting us or making us think that other things are more important..Family...Church...Family.  You know?  Little things  (hmmmph)  I have, though, found a way to reinforce a strong belief of mine in the last 6 weeks; Travelling as a family is one way to insure the kids always remember the fun you had as a family, in spite of the spats in the kitchen.  So we are in the planning stages to take the family on a week getaway to San Diego, have fun at the beach, snorkel, and visit the sites we have not been to since our second child was only 6 months old (That's more than 20 years).  If you were to go (or have gone recently) to San Diego, what were your favorite memories?  What do you wish you had seen or done but missed out?

     Now, back to the cruise.  We set sail in the sunset Sunday evening at 8:30.  Monday morning we find ourselves in St. Thomas.  Last time we were here, we snorkeled at Coki Beach and explored Coral World.  This time, I want to explore and photo shoot Charlotte Amalie and take the tram to the top of the mountain overlooking the bay.  I am going to takes lots and lots of pictures.  Hope the computer can handle it.

     Tuesday, St. Kitts.  Here we have talked about taking a tour of an old fort and the city with some of our new friends.  But on this island, if you have the time and physical stamina, climbing the volcano through the rain forest is popular.  Of course, in every location, there are beaches.

     Thursday is Aruba, which will be our 3rd time here.  The snorkeling and scuba diving in the formerly known "ABC Islands" is amazing.  Clear and incredibly blue waters, reefs, drop offs, sunken ships.  Makes you quiver with excitement.  Dry desert climate with cacti like you find in Phoenix.

     Last stop is Curacao.  The former dutch colony, now independent, is alive with colors and the only place in the world with a pontoon bridge that swings open to let ships like ours pass by.  Here again, we plan to explore Willemstad, though I would not mind hitting one the the awesome beaches.  Here, it is all about the water, what ever you like to do.

     When you want to get away from everything, join us on a cruise some time.  We would love to share this amazing experience with you.

Desert and Beach - Aruba
We Are Here For You

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Smart Phone Cruising

     I have been a Smart Phone user with Verizon now for about 2 years.  Last year I held in my hand a Blackberry Storm when we set sail for Europe on a transatlantic cruise on the Crown Princess.  Before leaving, I called Verizon to explore my options.  What was offered was an unlimited data plan that would cover me while on the ship and in Italy, Spain, France, and Great Britain (Gibraltar).  For $25 for the month, I thought that was an awesome addition.  And it was!  Other than some initial problems after setting sail, I was able to stay connected.  This was for internet and email only, not voice calls.  Voice calls reverted to $2.50 per minute while on the ship.  Texts were $.05 to receive and $.50 to send.

     Now, a year later and now holding an Android, I find that Verizon has thrown out that unlimited plan, and replaced it with a plan that has limited possibilities while in port, and NO options while on the ship. NONE! Nada! ZIPPO!

     So, If you are considering a cruise and want to stay connected, plan and budget accordingly.  Here are Verizon's rates for while you are in port in Mexico and most places in the Caribbean:

$30/mo for 25MB of data transmitted/received
$100/mo for 75MB of data transmitted/received
While you are on the ship, be prepared for $20.48/MB of data transmitted/received.  This also applies if you do not sign up for a plan.

     I know what you are thinking, what constitutes a "MB" (Megabyte).  That is tricky and virtually impossible to predict (Remember...anything that follows "Virtual" is a Lie).  Emails with text only would be measured in KB (Kilobyte), and you can go a long way with 25MB.  If they have an attachment or pictures, those will quicky take up your allotted MB amounts.  If you use your web browser, you will again start eating it up.  Youtube?  Forget about it!

     You can turn off the data portion, and keep your phone for emergency phone calls, which can be very reasonable compared to some cruise ships.  At $2.49/min, that is a bargain compared to as much as $6/min for using the ship board phones.  Watch out for those text messages though.  Remember that you will be charged international roaming rates of $.05 to receive and $.50 to send.  Cheap way to quickly communicate, but can quickly add up if you have automatic text alerts from facebook, twitter, or the Amber Alert system.

     Important!!!  Before you leave, make sure you contact your cellular provider to alert them you are traveling out of the country.  Most of the time, you will need to update your device.  Talk to them about global plans available to you.  Remember to make sure they include the cruise ship if possible in what ever plan you can choose from, along with the countries you are visiting.  Don't forget to remove the plan when it is appropriate.

We Are Here For You

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

XM3 Challenge - San Juan, Puerto Rico

RCCL Grandeur of the Seas - San Juan
     May 15 is fast approaching, and Zija distributors will be gathering to board the Serenade of the Seas in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  When we were last in San Juan, Nov 2009, we were surprised at the heat and humidity, but found many wonders in this beautiful Territory of the United States.  From a world renouned Bioluminescent Bay to Rain forests at El Yunque, Cock fights to shopping.  There is definitely something for everyone here in the north east end of the Caribbean Sea.

     When you arrive at the airport, getting to old San Juan is easy as getting a cab.  For $19 (Plus Tip), you can fill up the taxi and have them take you to the Pan American Pier, where you can drop off your luggage to be loaded on the ship.  The ship won't start boarding until 2pm.  If you arrive well before that, either take a long stroll  (About 1 1/2 miles) around the bay to Old San Juan, or take a taxi over to that side.  Near old pier 4, you can pick up one of the free trolley's that will take you on a certain route around Old San Juan.

     Here are some other things you can do and see around Old San Juan:

Citadel on the Fort Wall
 El Morro (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) is a U.S. National Historic Site, managed by the US Park Service, and easily accessible from the port area in Old San Juan.  Open everyday from 9am to 6pm, you will have time to see this historic site, but you may wish you had more time.

I love to try the local cuisine.  Puerto Rico has hosted a few of the favorite Travel Channel types, like Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods) and Adam Richman (Man vs. Food).  But I am not a 5 star restaurant guy.  I like the smaller less well known places.  I recently found out about a place located on Calle Sol, from a blogger who always goes there when he is in San Juan.  So for lunch on Sunday, you'll find me at El Jibarito, 280 Calle Sol.

Raices Fountain
      For me, I had to take a stroll along Paseo de la Princesa.  Here you will find a piece of art work that celebrates the diversity of Puerto Rico, The Raíces Fountain of Old San Juan.  The fountain was not on when we were there, but I look forward to seeing and feeling the cool water spray.  Nearby, you can walk to the Gate of Old San Juan or visit the outdoor shopping area.  If you are feeling energetic or have lots of time, you can follow the Paseo all the way to El Morro.

     The architecture here is historical, just like many of the statues and monuments.  You will enjoy the beauty of it all.  The ship leaves at 8:30.  Make sure you are on board no later than 7pm.  There will be plenty of fun before and during the sail away party.

We Are Here For You

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Into The Wild Blue Yonder - Air Travel

     I have to admit that I am very disgruntled in air travel these days.  No longer is flying an exciting event.  My mother still will dress up to fly by air, even though security now requires you to remove almost everything.  Gone are the meals, replaced by at best, peanuts, or;  present your credit card and you can get a TV dinner warmed up.  Now, there is so much talk about paying to use the lavatory or even to sit down...seriously!

     What really discourages me, and everyone else who now finds air travel almost as necessary as breathing air, is the volitility of airfare.  Fares really make no sense to me.  I understand that oil prices have a great deal to do with the cost of flying people here and there.  But why does it cost me more money to fly from Salt Lake City to Ft. Lauderdale, than it does from San Francisco to Paris?  Thousands fly to both locations every week, from all over the U.S., so popularity cannot have everything to do with it.  Supply and Demand?

     So now, we are relegated to checking every search engine available on the net, along with subscribing to each airlines daily and weekly travels ads, just to hopefully save $100 on a fare that will cost me $1,400.  But if that is what we have to do, then we do it.  If we don't, then we fall victim to the whims of the airlines raising and lowering their fare, when just one of them makes a move.

     So, I rant about the airlines.  But I will admit an appreciation for one carrier that, for many years, and it continues today, to break the rules and buck the trends.  They buy their fuel by strategically using the futures market, thus stabilizing their cost of Jet A.  Many think they are an airline to be avoided, so people don't feel like cattle going to market.  I for one think they are genious!  No baggage fees. Fares that are more consistant.  A fun experience when flying with them.  I speak of Southwest Airlines.  And with their merger with AirTran in the second quarter expected, they will no longer be fenced in to the U.S. border.  Those who want to enjoy the warm sunny beaches of the Caribbean and Mexico, they will go there. Woo Hoo!

     But until they go worldwide, here are a couple tricks I learned a couple years ago.  This info has recently been published in the USAToday, so the airlines will probably find a way to squash it.

  • Begin your searches on a Monday.  Make note of the fares you find.  Then, start watching the fares on Tuesday.  Usually, at 3pm eastern on Tuesday, any great deals will show up on the booking engines available to you on the internet. 
  • If you can, start pricing at least 30 days in advance and try to travel in the middle of the week to get the lowest fare.  If you buy within 2 weeks of the travel, expect to pay a much higher price.
  • I like to get airfares from 3 different sites to insure I am not being taken advantage of by one site.
  • Make sure to add in (Manually...I know...what a pain) baggage fees, so that you get an apples to apples comparison on what it'll cost you.  Be aware that some airlines are even talking about starting to charge you to carry on baggage. OH BROTHER!!!
  • If you have a lot of airline miles with Delta, but United is $20 cheaper, I would still take Delta, because the addional miles to my account are worth something too.
     You might ask, what options do we have to air travel?  Do you say, "We have no choice!"?  If you need to get there (1,000 miles) by tomorrow, then you really have no choice.  Star Trek transporters are not here yet.  If you have extra time, consider Rail travel.  Or drive a car.  Considering that I used to be able to get from Phoenix to Atlanta in 4 hours on Eastern Airlines, today, it will take me 9 hours, because I have to change planes in Minneapolis.  How Lame!!!

     If you are traveling overseas.  Here is what I suggest.  Give youselves 3 weeks.  Take a cruise ship to get there and back.  It is relaxing getting there.  You change time zones once a day, instead of 7 of them in one day (No jet lag).  You are not cramped in an 18" seat for 10 hours, where you will need copious amounts of petrolium jelly to get yourself out.  Instead, you sleep in a comfortable bed and eat daily meals made for the next King of England.

     I encourage all to start coming up with alternative modes of transportation domestically, other than train, plane, and automobile.  I have seen amazing plans to bring back balloon travel.  Luxury travel.  I would be happy to travel from Denver to Atlanta, at 90 miles per hour, where I could enjoy the same luxuries as cruise ship travel.  A meal, A bed, An incredible view, and be able to walk around and enjoy myself all the way there.

     What are your ideas?

The Dining room at the back of the Holland America Amsterdam - Glacier Bay Alaska

We Are Here For You

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Excitement for Cruising comes in Waves

     Anyone who knows me, know that I am passionate about cruising.  But nothing flames my passion more, for this excellent way to travel, than announcements of new ships.  Today, Princess Cruises announced the beginning of construction for their "Next Generation" ship, which will be appropriately named Royal Princess.

     Many got very excited anticipating the first sailing of Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, which, because of its size, has had many nicknames applied to it.  It is a beautiful ship, but moving from a 3,600 passenger vessel to over 5,000 can create some logistical challenges.  RCCL continues to improve and make this and Allure of the Seas destinations unto themselves.  But this new Royal Princess, with it's beautiful sleek lines and amazing innovations will improve upon what the Love Boat has always succeeded in delivering, an incredible and romantic escape.

     Take a look at the information on the Royal Princess link above and see pictures on Flikr.  Also see the sneek peak video on  One of the innovations that excites me more than a zipline is the Sky Walk. A glass floored walkway suspended over the ocean from the top deck.  Movies under the Stars will have an even bigger screen.  In fact, a lot of things will be bigger...The Sanctuary, The Piazza, The fresh water pools.  Excited yet?

     I have always wanted to be part of a maiden voyage.  I believe this one will be it!  May 2013.  Since construction is in Italy, I would guess we will see a maiden voyage in Europe.  Who wants to go?  Let us know.  Follow us on Facebook and we'll include you in the invite.

We Are Here For You

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Cruising and the Motion of the Ship

     A good friend this week has asked me to help her plan a vacation to Italy for her 50th birthday.  I think that is an awesome place to go for a milestone celebration.  I know she does not like to fly, so I asked her if she would be interested in cruising there instead of flying there.  She told me she gets extreme motion sickness, so getting it overwith in 8 hours would be preferential.

     I had never considered this aspect that keeps people from cruising.  The perception that cruise ships constantly sway back and forth and side to side would keep even one who does fine in the air and in a car from boarding, especially if they were going to be on board for 8 days straight.

     When Barbi and I boarded our very first cruise, Norwegian Cruise Lines, in Miami 2000, we truely did not know what to expect.  We were attending a meeting in a room at the very front of the ship, that had windows looking forward.  When we left the shelter of the harbor and entered the Atlantic, the front of the ship almost immediately started to rise and lower.  It wasn't that we felt it, as much as we saw it.  But because of being fascinated by the sight, we soon found ourselves feeling queezie!

     There is an aspect of being on a ship that all sailors and seasoned cruisers will tell you about.  It is "Getting your sea legs."  On that first cruise, we were able to tough it out knowing we would be in Nassau the next morning.  Interestingly, as I now look back on that trip, the day after Nassau, we were not able to get off the ship at NCL's private Island because the seas were too rough, so we circled out in the Atlantic for the day.  I remember not feeling sick at all. Ahh. Sea Legs.

     Our 2nd cruise, on the Grand Princess in 2007, we came prepared with motion sickness medicine.  This would be a 7 day cruise, with the whole first day at sea, crossing the Gulf of Mexico.  As we left Galveston, we were out on deck watching the scenery pass by, knowing there would be no troubles since we took our little pills.  Two hours later, we were falling asleep.  The next day, again after taking the pills, we could hardly concentrate on what was at the buffet, we were so drowsy.  We at length determined this really sucked, and gave up on the pills to give it a go.  What motion?  This is awesome.

     There are 2 things at play here that I want to share. 
  1. The first is the Sea Legs I mentioned before.  In all the cruises we have taken since, the first day has always been the only time motion has bothered us.  On subsequent days, we continue to notice it, but our bodies quickly adapt to the movement, and we move with the ship. We are the ship. The ship and us are one!  When we get off the ship, we continue to sway, even though the land under us does not.  This can be freaky and interesting at the same time.
  2. Ship Design.  I have never been able to confirm this, but I strongly believe it had a lot to do with the differences between Norwegian 2000 and Princess 2007.  The Grand Princess has Wings!  Really!  They are really called stabilizers.  When the ship encounters swells that the captain determines is causing too much movement in the ship, he deploys the stabilizers.  These wings extend from the ship, giving the appearance of wings under the water, greatly reducing the movement of the ship side to side and up and down.
     Should you give cruising a try, but are worried about motion sickness, come prepared. Whether you take an over the counter pill, have your Dr. prescribe a patch, or you use pressure wrist bands, you always want to insure your vacation will be an enjoyable one.  I would also say, once you feel comfortable, try it without any of these items.  I believe you will find your sea legs quickly and you will begin to laugh as you try to walk down the hallway, but you cannot do it walking a straight line.  There is a cruise ship joke about that.  The drunk man can walk straighter than one who is not drunk.

Carnival Splendor Heading for Mexico

We Are Here For You

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Buzzing About Family Vacations

     I was reminded today from a friend that time together as a family is what everyone remembers throughout their lives.  Think about the gifts you have received for your birthday, Christmas, Bar Mitzvah, Kwaanza.  Now, compare that with the family vacations that stick out in your mind.  What makes you smile the most?  What is your favorite memory?

Pier 39 San Francisco
     At dinner tonight, I quizzed 2 of my kids about Christmas, then asked about our trip to Northern California last year.  Though amazing to me that they remembered Christmas, they had more enthusiasm and more to say about the trip..Alcatraz, The Giant Redwoods, The Condo, the Pool.  I know you are having your own mental pictures right now. 

     Every year, we attend a festival in a small town in Utah, and the kids always look forward to going as a family.  Even though thee is not a whole host of things to do, I believe it is simply going and being together.  My 9 year old told me tonight that our cruise to Mexico was the funnest trip so far.

Washington Coast

Great Wolf Lodge Grand Mound Wa

Fish Lake Utah

Bryce Canyon Utah

Puerto Vallarta Mexico
      So here is a challenge.  Start making memories with your loved ones.  Small overnighters to longer vacations.  In the region around you to overseas.  Challenge everyone involved, to be involved and contribute.  You'll teach your kids many things and share the wonders of the world.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Carnival Splendor (Not Spelled Correctly)

Carnival Splendor
Carnival Splendor - Cabo San Lucas Feb 24, 2011
Mexican Riviera Feb 20 – Feb 27, 2011
Ports of Call: Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas (2 Calls)(Mazatlan was cancelled after an “Incident”.)
The Carnival Splendor is a beautiful ship. Very vibrant and colorful, which adds to the overall “Fun Ship” atmosphere.  When we arrived early at check in, we found we were already half way back in line.  Normal scheduled entrance to the ship is 12 noon, but we, along with everyone else, figured we could get on board early since no one was leaving.  Well, we understood that about 1,000 people, Including John Heald and Gerry Cahill, needed to depart and rooms to be cleaned, from the party the night before.  Thus getting on at a time closer to normal was what we experienced.  But it was odd to stand in line to check in, then be pointed to another line to wait for entrance to the ship.  Embarkation here seems quite unorganized, at the port of Long Beach.
Carnival Splendor Balcony Statroom
When we were finally boarding, we entered on Deck 3 forward, in the Atrium, with the bank of glass elevators.  From here, we boarded an elevator to Deck 9, Promenade, for lunch in the Splendido Lido restaurant (Buffet).  Or at the hamburger grill or Pizzaria by the Lido Pool.  I chose a Calzone, freshly made, at the Pizzaria.  It was yummy.  My son in law says he had at least one a day, they were so good.  For me, there was much more to experience, and not limit myself.
When we arrived at our Balcony Stateroom, 8358, Here were my first impressions:
·         Bright room with a large window and a swinging door that goes out to the balcony.
·         Colorful Piccaso-esque artwork on the walls.
·         Nice sofa to view the, be it small screen, flat panel TV mounted on the wall, also facing the bed.
·         3 large closets providing hanging and shelf space for clothing.
·         My wife and I disagree on this, but I felt the layout of the bathroom was very nice and roomier than others we have experienced with other cruise lines.  His and hers glass shelves on either side of the large bowled sink. And a shower that felt bigger to me as well.  No more shampoo bottles, but a convenient shampoo and shower gel dispenser mounted on the wall in the shower. (NOTE: No Hair Conditioner provided, which was a surprise. Buying a bottle in the shop on board was 4 times more expensive than Walmart. Bring your own.)
·         The Safe is located in the cabinet below the desk area.  This is not easy to access, as it is positioned low.  You have to be on your knees to read the instructions on how to use the safe.  Other cruise lines position this in the closet up higher, so you are standing when you use it.
·         The desk area is wide and has a mirror that covers the wall for most of its length, making the room feel more open. (Note: As has been mentioned before on John Heald’s Blog, there is only one power outlet at the desk and one very high in the bathroom.  That’s it! No more!  If you have a computer, cell phone, curling iron, camera chargers, or any other electrical needs, you will find it difficult to take care of them all.)
·         The lighting in the room is brighter than any room I have encountered in the Princess, Holland America, or Norwegian fleet.  At night, you can see very well, with the florescent lighting around the edge of the ceiling from the doorway to the Balcony door.  VERY NICE!  There are also bedside lamps, a wall lamp beside the couch, and additional lighting at the desk area.
·         The biggest downer of the cruise was the location of our Balcony Stateroom, which of course costs more.  Our room was right under the Splendido Lido Restaurant. Walking on tile and rolling carts were bad enough.  But when the crew decides to clean the carpet at 3:30am, I was up for the day!
AS I sit here in the Atrium with friends, playing cards, listening to Cartoon Trivia, drinking a Pepsi from Walmart in Puerto Vallarta, I still believe there is no place better on earth than on a cruise ship!!!!
                Attending the shows has always been our favorite activity while on-board a cruise ship.  The Spectacular Spectacular is a fabulous show lounge.  Three comfortable levels put you close to the stage.  I honestly have not seen a more beautiful theater.  There were 2 major shows put on by the singers and dancers, Vroom and Musica Latina.  The costumes were excellent and the band was awesome.  The music was very loud, compared to shows on other ships, which those who are hard of hearing may appreciate.  I for one had ringing ears for quite a while afterwords.  The stage is smaller than other ships, but that makes for a very large seating area.  When sitting in the balcony areas (Level 4 and 5), the railing in front of you can tend to block your view of the stage.  While watching the comedy/magic show last night, I had to slump in my seat to see the entire stage.  If you are taller, it would be even worse.  NOTE: This is a Vegas style show and the female dancers were always wearing thongs.  This show may not be for all family members.  
We were originally scheduled Jan 30, 2011, and we requested “Your Time Dining”.  But because that sailing was cancelled due to dry dock and repairs after the fire, we rescheduled for Feb 20, which is the first sailing after coming out of dry dock.  Because we rescheduled, “Your Time Dining” was full, and only “Late Seating” was available.  This was our first experience with traditional dining, and more especially, dining at a late time.  We found this was too difficult, for our bodies, especially on “Elegant Night”, when Lobster and Prime Rib were served on the same menu.  I had to have both.  I have never eaten that much in my life, and resorted to Yogurt the next morning for breakfast.  Also, this time interfered with earlier show times, which we have always preferred.  Our waiters, Jose and Vlatko had a challenge with our table for 10.  This table was situated at the very back of the ship, on the upper level of the Gold Pearl Restaurant.  Three of our seats were between window partitions, making serving us difficult.  The first night at sea, we encountered rough seas, and 2 of our party could not handle the motion very well and had to leave.  The Maitre d’ was really fun in the dining room.  Here, nightly entertainment was provided by the dining room staff, either by singing or dancing.  Last night, my 17 year old daughter was up and singing and dancing with our waiters and having a great time.  I would have to say that the food itself was average, except for the Prime Rib, which was absolutely intoxicating.  It could have been our wait staff or maybe generally speaking, but the transition from one course to another was not as elegant as I have experienced on all other ships.  Such as, cleaning the crumbs from the table and cleaning off all dishes before serving dessert.
As for the Buffet area, knows as the Splendido Lido, which included areas:
·         Splendido Pool and Bar
·         Pizzeria and Grill
·         Mongolian BBQ
·         The Rotisserie
·         The Deli and Tandoor

I have to say I was most unimpressed with the service in these areas.  The most noticeable difference is the lack of food, except at lunch time.  Everything closes at 4pm, except for the Deli, Grille, and Pizzeria.  The only food served in the Splendido starts at 6pm, which is late for many people who want to have dinner at 5pm.  The most popular of venues, the Mongolian BBQ, only serves at Lunch.  The daily variety of food is almost non existant.  With the exception of the main course, everything else is pretty much the same.  Especially the daily breakfast menu here, the only thing I noticed, that varied from day to day, was the type of sausage served, which was mainly a couple varieties of Italian sausage.  Yesterday morning, my impression was “Left Overs”. Some American sausage, Italian sausage, mixed in with some hamburger and chili sauce.  The other thing I noticed was the lines at lunch time.  The way this is laid out, causes lines that stretch down hallways.  Other ships break up the items to be served into station areas, making lines almost non-existant.  The only other service I really missed at breakfast in the Lido, was having wait staff come by and offer a drink.  This happened only once, and only after I had sat in my seat for an hour talking with friends.  On other ships, this is a constant and consistent service.
Children’s programs, especially Camp Carnival for my 9 year old are worth their weight in gold.  My boy could not wait to get there each day, and we had to drag him from the ship on port days.  Activities galore.  Even eating dinner together.  He loved every minute and made lots of new friends, which, as I always say, makes cruising even funner.  My teens also enjoys time at Circle C and Club O2.  At 13 and 17, they both made new friends who will, I am sure, be facebook friended as soon as we get home.  There were approx 700 children under 18 on this ship.  The counselor’s for the 9-11 yr old group were very enthusiastic and wished for even more than 23 who stayed out til 3am this morning.  When those activities were done, they made sure each child made it to their cabin, with a parent present, safely.  Thank You, Camp Carnival!
Carnival Splendor Aft Lido Pool Adults Only
My 22 yr old son and his girl friend had the time of their lives on this cruise.  The night life for the younger crowd is perfect on these fun ships.  They spent a lot of time hanging out in the hot tub, with, what seemed, 20 other people (Way over crowded, but what the heck).  This, I believe, is where Carnival excels.  Alcohol and parties for the 21-30 crowd.  Gambling for them, but more especially, the older crowd.
From floor to floor, the Carnival Splendor and her Crew does a fairly good job of making a cruise vacation one to remember, and also one that is a great value.  We figured this trip cost as much, or less, than a week at Disneyland, when considering hotel, food, and 5 days at the park.  But on the Splendor, we got to see Mexico (Less Mazatlan).  We got to enjoy warm sunny weather.  We had a wide variety of entertainment to keep us busy.  We could eat Prime Rib and Lobster like they were our last meals on earth.  Felipe, the Cruise Director, did an excellent job keeping us informed and laughing (Thanks Mel and Herman and Alice).  When Mazatlan was cancelled, Felipe was on the speaker early to let us know and make us feel safe.  I honestly felt a sigh of relief that we were not going, only because of past incidents.  Seeing the whales, jumping Manta Rays, and the beauty of Cabo made up for missing Mazatlan.  One note:  The people of Puerto Vallarta are stating there is more to see and do there than Cabo.
So overall rating, including the feedback of previous Carnival Passengers (This was our First Carnival Sailing), a 7!  The Splendor apparently is doing things differently than the rest of the fleet, and I hope it is not a plan of migration for all the rest.  Concerns for everyone to consider:
·         Family Friendly is not altogether true.  Though the children’s programs are excellent, the shows are not for younger kids, when considering the costume apparel which is way too revealing.  Leave it in Vegas.
·         The Captains reception was extremely lacking on this sailing.  Past passengers felt that they were not appreciated, because of the down scaling of this event.  Their perception is that Carnival is cutting back.
·         Unless you are a Platinum Member, don’t arrive too early, or you’ll be sitting around.
So there you have it.  As I now sit in my balcony stateroom, watching the sunset off the coast of Ensenada Mexico, I feel that I must try Carnival again, as past passengers have told us that other vessels have been better.  I have to say my kids really enjoyed themselves, all 4 of them.  My wife and I, for the most part, have been able to relax and enjoy ourselves as well.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there is no better way to vacation.  I wil recommend this cruise to the following:
·         Newlyweds
·         Singles

I will be cautious to recommend to certain families, depending on ages of children, and affiliations.  Carnival’s Mantra, All For Fun, Fun For all lives up to its hype.