Rendering of the project in Belize

Rendering of the project in Belize

Norwegian Cruise Line announced that it has purchased approximately 75 acres in Southern Belize for the planned development of an eco-friendly cruise destination.

The land, called Harvest Caye, is made up of two adjoining islands in the Stann Creek and Toledo districts that had previously been approved for a resort development with an air strip.  Norwegian plans to invest $50 million in the project.

Read the rest of the article here!

View from the bar area.

View from the bar area.

Stayed at Sheraton Ft. Lauderdale Airport and Cruiseport hotel this weekend. While I WOULD recommend for its shear convenience before or after a Port Everglades cruise, please realize that it is an extremely busy hotel, and they could do a little better at paying attention to detail:
1. At least four ice machines were not functioning
2. Trays of uneaten food were left on (our) hallway floor for over eight (8) hours
3. Our TV remote control was not fully functional
4. A light bulb was out on one of our bedside tables
5. After the first night both room keys expired and had to be refreshed
6. One of the three elevators was out of order, and we read other reviews, stating the same, all the way back into April.

Yes, minor inconveniences, but certainly not up to traditional Sheraton standards. With all of that said, the staff was very friendly, the lobby is impressive, the food was above average, the bar selection excellent, our room was clean and, very important in South Florida…excellent air conditioning.

A couple of notes: 1) Fitness Center is in a separate building, is small, and little selection of equipment, and 2) Parking is $15 per night…you can get around the latter by joining their rewards club when you book. Joining is free, and complimentary parking is one of the perks to choose from when you check in.

A few of our Facebook fans are cruising this weekend and next…Bon Voyage! Have an excellent time!

Sapphire Princess photo: princess.com

Sapphire Princess
photo: princess.com

Today Carnival Corporation & plc announced it is introducing its Princess Cruises brand to China in 2014, naming Shanghai as home port for Sapphire Princess during a four-month season expected to carry 70,000 passengers.

The new round-trip cruises, which begin next May, will bring a brand-new premium cruise experience to the rapidly growing China vacation market. Princess will offer the quality and comfort sought by discerning Chinese travelers, delivered by the largest premium cruise line in the world.

Read the rest of the article HERE!!

 

A glass of ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival Cruise Line's new private-label draught beer brewed especially for the new Carnival Magic, is served in the ship's Red Frog Pub. Photo  by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines.

A glass of ThirstyFrog Red, Carnival Cruise Line’s new private-label draught beer brewed especially for the new Carnival Magic, is served in the ship’s Red Frog Pub. Photo by Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines.

We go on holiday to get away from it all, right?  Maybe not always, as some families will travel together to go visit other family they have elsewhere in the world. I think we can all agree that this is not always a “vacation!!”  But, stick with the notion of being on a cruise (and being away from home), regardless of who you are traveling with.  Do you like to have the “comforts of home” at your fingertips, or are you seeking to get away from the venues, ideas and concepts that remind you of being at home?

Lately, familiar partnerships are being formed left and right on cruise ships.  Many of the partnerships revolve around food, music, entertainment and shopping…many of them found directly on board certain ships.  I certainly cannot fault the cruise lines for doing this; it’s a proven model that works…just ask Las Vegas.  Some of the classiest hotels sport certain chain burger joints, sub-sandwich shops and traditional shopping mall retail stores.

In my mind, it’s not so much that these venues are present on cruise ships, or can be found at port destinations.  I understand people…many people…enjoy comfortable and familiar surroundings, and may not leave home if some of these items can’t be found at their holiday destinations.  But, some of these things are part of a daily routine, like coffee every morning at a certain chain coffee house, on the way to work!  I’m doing my best to not mention business names, so this is how I will do it:

“I absolutely LOVED the Allure of the Seas, and I would sail with her again.  However, a certain amenity featured in the heart of the ship reminded me of work, and I did not want to be reminded of work while sailing on the Allure!”

We took a Hawaiian cruise several years ago, and it was an awesome trip.  Four days at sea from Ensenada, Mexico followed by Hawaiian Island-hopping.  Couldn’t wait to get to Kauai, since I heard about how untouched it was compared to Maui and Honolulu.  When the Vision of the Seas docked, and I ran up to get photos of the mountains and the landscape, what was the first thing I saw?  It was a very well-known chain superstore.  I won’t say the name, but it rhymes with “Fall Smart.”  I realize people who live there may need, and love, a “Fall Smart,” a “Bold’s Jim” and a “Hoarder’s Books and Music,” but it certainly detracted from the excitement of seeing Kauai for the first time.

I am not a Carnival mark, but at the same time, I wouldn’t turn down a Carnival cruise; love it all.  I truly like what Carnival has done with their sports bar concept, and crafting their own beer.  This is original.  They could have easily partnered with “Ham Adums” and themed their bars Boston-style, but they did not.  On holiday, I like to experience different. I like to experience local. I realize it isn’t easy, and an impossibility in some cases (due to suppliers), but I’d love to see ships offer more cuisine and arts/crafts based on where she’s going.

Okay…off to “Tarmucks.”

Shops of St. Thomas, USVI.

Shops of St. Thomas, USVI.

The debate goes on with regards to cruise passengers’ feelings about the ever-increasing amounts of “specialty charges” on board most major cruise ships.  One thing is for sure…numbers don’t lie!  A recent study (conducted by the Business Research & Economic Advisors (B.R.E.A.) for the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association) shows decreases in Average Percentage of Passengers Making Purchases at 21 (survey) participating ports of call in the Caribbean.  In my opinion, it is pretty clear that as passengers partake of an increased number of on-board activities (costing money), it is less likely that they will spend more on land.  Here are the stats as compiled by the B.R.E.A. (2008/09 Cruise Year, 2011/12 Cruise Year):

  • Watches & Jewelry: 18.1%, 17.0%
  • Taxis/Ground Transportation: 23.3%, 18.5%
  • Clothing: 40.0%, 40.1%
  • Local Crafts & Souvenirs: 48.5%, 46.7%
  • F&B at Restaurants & Bars: 41.5%, 45.8%
  • Shore Excursions: 56.6%, 56.1%
  • Other Purchases: 22.2%, 20.0%

The net result was a slight decline of 0.8 percent in the average weighted expenditure of cruise passengers during the 2011/2012 year to $97.12 per passenger visit, from $97.93 per passenger visit in the 2008/2009 cruise year.  Interesting of note is that while the average amount of passengers who made purchases decreased, the dollar amount per purchase, per passenger, increased!  Seems those who are shopping are spending greater amounts while in port!

Happy Cruising and Happy Fathers Day everybody!

Nassau's Atlantis, as seen from the deck of Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas.

Nassau’s Atlantis, as seen from the deck of Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas.

The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association, in its most recent report on Economic Contribution of Cruise Tourism, lists The Bahamas as Number One in “Total Cruise Tourism Expenditures” (2011-2012 Cruise Year) with a total of $393.8 (U.S.) million.  While many of the ships calling in The Bahamas dock in Nassau, this total encompasses all ports of call in The Bahamas.

St. Maarten ($356.2 million), The U.S. Virgin Islands ($339.8 million), Puerto Rico ($186.6 million) and The Cayman Islands ($157.7 million) round out the top five.  Together, the top five accounted for 72 percent of the total cruise tourism expenditures among the 21 destinations.  The bottom two were St. Vincent and The Grenadines ($3.0 million) and Nicaragua ($2.0 million).

All destinations combined totaled $1,990.0 million.

IMG_5022This was our final day at sea heading back to New York City.  Again, the beautiful weather continued, and it was warm enough to ride the slides, and for the rest of our group to challenge the rope course and to walk the plank!

The water slides on Breakaway are by far the fastest water slides at sea that I’ve experienced.  In addition, the water is heated, so even on cooler, windier days, passengers can enjoy the pools and the water park.  Just keep your towels close by!  The two free fall slides provide quite the rush, but the others aren’t anything to stick your noses up at either!  They ride fast, and, at some point, you are in total darkness.  The first time is the greatest, since you do not really know when you are going to reach daylight and splash at the bottom.  We spent the rest of the day relaxing at Spice h2O and enjoying cold beverages.

On the Breakaway, passengers may choose their colored luggage tags for disembarking.  A chart is provided with the approximate times that the colors will be called, so that you may plan your morning accordingly.  In addition, you may disembark as soon as the ship is cleared if you can carry all of your luggage off of the ship.  Otherwise, it was requested that your bags be placed outside of your staterooms as close to 11:00pm as possible, on the final night.

The process on the final morning was very civilized; not as chaotic as I had envisioned.  The bags were easy find, but if you do not recall from Embarkation Day, the pier is perpendicular to the street, so it is a long walk out once you have your belongings.  Catching a cab was easy…just across the street on 12th Avenue is a taxi stand, and they are all lined up and waiting.  The ride to La Guardia Airport was a brief 25 minutes, and cost, with toll and tip, $42.  Many people were sharing rides to the airport as well.  Another positive note…we were in the taxi line 21 minutes after our luggage tag color was called…and we left from the 12th Deck!!

Got a later start on Friday, but breakfast foods were still available in the Garden Cafe at 11am. The staff keeps ¼ of the buffet open for breakfast while lunch is being prepped; great for the late risers!

We did not want to wander too far from the ship today, our final day in port. We walked towards the Maritime Museum, and as we got closer, noticed a sign for “Fun Golf” and “Beach Water Sports.” We actually saw these signs upon arrival two days ago, but assumed it had something to do with boarding a bus and traveling elsewhere, since neither of these amenities were mentioned anywhere on the ship; not even in any of the literature. We were (pleasantly) surprised to learn that we were already there!

That’s right…just on the other side of the wall of the Maritime Museum! A beach with chairs for rent and all types of water sports and activities, AND, next to it, a separate entrance for FUN GOLF. Fun Golf has an 18-hole putt putt course, and each hole is a miniature version of a famous hole from 18 different PGA tour stops! The facility is brand new (about 45 days since its opening), and obviously well maintained. The co-owner, Jill, explained to us that there will be more, with plans to add a restaurant to the already popular Caddyshack Bar, where we hung out for about 90-minutes, after our 18-holes! The cost to play golf is $15 per person, and is well worth it. This was not one of those putt putt courses that you can complete in 20-minutes! We wish we knew about these two facilities earlier. Be sure to check them out, and look for pictures on our Facebook Page soon!

We boarded the Breakaway about 3:30pm, had a late lunch, and then headed for the obstacle course. Not much of a wait time at all, so I was in gear in no time. I am not fond of heights, but saw all of these kids doing the course, so I had to do it! I’m happy to say that I completed the course, but did so in probably half the speed of everyone else. I got to the plank, and actually walked it…and even thought it was easier because it was a solid piece to walk on, while most of the course was suspended and gave a bit when you walked on them. It was cool, because the ship was leaving the port as I walked the plank. By the way Oasis-Class Ship Fans, there is a zip line on the NCL Breakaway too…it’s part of the course, and is about the same distance across!

After dinner we made our way to deck 16 to grab some chairs for the fireworks display, set to begin about 11:15pm. The music of the 80’s Party was fantastic, and it led straight into the fireworks display, which was choreographed to the music! The fireworks lasted for about 5-minutes, and while others expected it to last longer, I did not think it would last five minutes. What can you expect at sea? Another successful innovation for Norwegian Cruise Lines!

On Saturday, weather permitting, it is off to the water park. Enjoy the weekend…cheers!

The beautiful weather continued, and the wind died down, so it seemed a bit warmer although it was only about 75 degrees. But, it was a welcomed change for someone who currently calls South Florida his home.

We decided to be served breakfast today, so it was off to O’Sheehan’s…and yes, they DO serve breakfast…and we were glad! It seemed to be one of the best kept secrets on the ship. All of the servers were smiling, friendly and attentive, and it was a nice experience to start the day.

Today we rode the ferry, also just steps from the ship, into Hamilton. The cost was the same as a round trip bus ride, but takes a fraction of the time; about 25 minutes compared to a 50-60 minute bus ride. NOTE: Ask the dockside workers about the ferry schedule! The printed schedules that were handed to us only noted one-hour intervals. It turned out that there were ferries every half-hour, and the schedule only showed that for weekends.

Hamilton was very beautiful, but typical of most of the cruise ship island destinations in the Caribbean. Typical meaning the same types of shops, pubs and restaurants that cater to the mainstream masses. Venture down some of the side streets and then you will find where the locals go. And THIS IS WHERE YOU WILL NOTICE THE DIFFERENCES!! In Hamilton, you will feel much safer; it just seems this way. You also do not have several people coming up to you asking for money, or if you want your hair braided! The city is well maintained, and we joked that it should be called “The Island of Boca Raton (Florida).” Definitely more upscale in appearance, offerings, and yes, in price!

We had lunch at a local restaurant called “The Lobster Pot.” Everyone in our party enjoyed the atmosphere and the food. We each had an alcoholic beverage with our lunches and the bill was a reasonable $101, and it included the gratuity. The lobster bisque was excellent, though none of us had lobster for lunch.

From there, after a little shopping, we caught a cab ($22 divided by 4 people) to the Crystal Caves. Entrance into the caves cost us $22 per person, and included a guided tour. The caves were beautiful and the stories behind how they were discovered are very interesting. The tour was brief, maybe 30 minutes, and there is a lot of climbing involved. It is about 87 steps back up, and then a subsantial incline to reach the exit (also the starting point). Don’t drop your cameras or iPhones into the waters, because that is where they will stay. The guide called it “the other gift shop!”

We returned to the ship, but not before stopping at the Rum Cake and Glass Factories at the dockyard shops. You can sample the rum cakes and watch the artists create glass art!

We had dinner at the Noodle Bar, on board, and it was very reasonably priced. I had the fried rice with beef and pork, and a vegetable spring roll. My wife had the Peking noodles, and she enjoyed it enough to order another!

Later in the evening we enjoyed the GLOW PARTY, formerly known as THE WHITE HOT PARTY. I don’t think we were the only passengers that did not know about the change, because three-fourths of all in attendance were in their white-hot get-ups! If it is on NCL’s website, either we missed it, or it needs to be more obvious. Regardless, it was fun, and is the reason why Day 5’s blog update is coming to you this morning!!

Time fell short on us yesterday, so today we are going to, hopefully, get onto the rope course, and walk the plank. Make it a great day everybody!

Today was our first day in Bermuda, docked at King’s Wharf. The beautfiul weather encountered during our days at sea continued today. Because of this, we decided to make this our beach day, so we headed to Horseshoe Bay beach.

Transportation was easily accessible, and the buses were large, comfortable and air conditioned. Tokens and bus passes were available for purchase just steps from the ship, and the buses were located close by as well. Note that they only accepted cash or travelers checks; no credit cards. It was $7.50 round trip per person.

The bus ride to Horseshoe Bay took about 25 minutes, and there were no stops between the ship and the beach. It is a winding, one-lane road in either direction. Once we reached the stop, it was another 500 yards, downhill, to the beach entrance. If it is the return to the top you are worried about, there is a $2 per person shuttle that will take you in either direction! Beach entry is free.

At the entrance, there are restrooms, showers and changing stations. Both the mens and the womens sections were fully functional and cleaned throughout the afternoon. To the left, you will find a snack bar restaurant, with seating located just outside, and beautiful views of the beach. Cold soft drinks, beer, coffee drinks and water are all for sale, along with sandwiches, wings, burgers, chips and more. By the way, beers are very reasonable here. And, Coolie made us feel very welcome!

The beach is very picturesque, but we favor a calmer surf. We call Florida home for now, and we are more accustomed to the calmer waters of South Florida and the Caribbean. The sand was incredibly fine and soft, and easy to clean off of everything, including our bodies. After a few hours, we walked up the hill (our workout for the day), and waited in line for the next bus. We boarded, and it was standing room only. If you have difficulty standing for long periods of time, I advise you to wait for the next bus (if you find yourself in this situation). It is a very winding road, and there is LOTS of stop and go traffic. It can be a challenge!

We arrived back at the shipyard and headed straight to The Frog and Onion Pub. We had fish and chips, fried pickle chips, French Onion Soup and wahoo (a local catch). They also brew their own beer, so we ordered their IPA and the Wheat Beer. We were four people, and the bill was $127, which already included the gratuity. They also gave us souvenir pilsner glasses, which was a nice surprise. Heading back on board, we had to show our stateroom keys AND government issued photo IDs.

Once on board, I went back up to deck 15, pool deck. This time, I analyzed the layout more closely. Most of the areas to lay out near the center of activity are shaded! If you want to catch some rays on Breakaway, you’ll need to head aft, toSpice h2O (adult only area), or find a lounge away from the pool area, where you really won’t hear the music. For a ship based out of the cooler Northeastern U.S., I am kind of surprised at all of the shaded areas on pool deck; and I do not mean temporary structures that can be moved. This would be more understandable in a ship based out of a warm weather climate, going to more warm weather climates! But, not complaining…just an observation, since my mind is built this way!

We will be back tomorrow, with more from Bermuda, and a plan to try the suspended obstacle course and the plank! Good night!