Avid traveler, and travel writer, Stephanie Bonilla returns to share her experiences from a recent Chicago visit. Many of our cruisers are from the Windy City, so we are delighted to share this contribution!

I finally booked my trip to Chicago after catching myself constantly looking up airfares from Miami to O’hare. It seemed I was on a subliminal mission to check the ‘windy city’ off my wanderlist. On a celestial Wednesday night, the stars aligned and I was able to find an extremely cheap flight just in time for Labor Day weekend.

Something about Chicago has always fascinated me. There’s something to say about a city whose endured so much (the Great Chicago Fire, every single winter ever) yet prevails year after year, never falling short of any “best cities to live in” list. Every Chicagoan I’ve ever talked with describes how miserable and brutal the weather can be, yet follows up his/her complaint with numerous ways the city blossoms during summer. For only three fleeting months of awesomeness, locals willfully withstand six months of snow storms and insanely cold temperatures. The only other city that comes to mind that houses such a loyal fanbase is NYC, where every winter becomes an obstacle of the spirit for its inhabitants. But why? What makes Chicago the outlier of the Midwest? I was determined to find out.

Friday

After taking the earliest flight out of Miami possible, we were checked in and ready to sight-see by noon. Chi-town is an extremely walkable city, allowing visitors to embark on their respective journeys via foot (or by purchasing a Ventra Card). We quickly made our way to Wild Berry, conveniently located on the outskirts of Millennium Park. The restaurant’s ‘Creamy Nutella’ crepe, which comes sprinkled and stuffed with chocolate drizzled banana goodness, is one of the many delectable dishes diners can choose from. Fall where you will on the brunch debate, this place won’t disappoint. We used our sugar buzz to take on Millennium Park, making it in and out of the park in about an hour and checking out its impressive amphitheatre and infamous Cloud Gate sculpture along the way. It seemed like everyone was out enjoying the summer’s heat, with herds of joggers and cyclists invading the park’s grounds. I started to see why Chicago’s residents are so bewitched by their city.

After wandering around the park’s surrounding area, we hopped on a train and headed to Goose Island Brewing Co., the masterminds behind one of my all-time favorite beers, 312. Although we didn’t make it to the walking tour, we sat in the brewery’s tap room for quite some time. Pint after pint, our buds were awakened with a mix of tasty ales. Already in the beer spirit, we took a train to Rock Bottom Brewery, a brewpub designed with beer enthusiasts in mind. Every craft-beer served at this pub is truly a labor of love. After trying a couple of brewskies and wallowing in the pub’s pungent hoppy aroma, we somehow stumbled back to our hotel to change in preparation for our evening plans. Volare was what was for dinner and marked the perfect ending to our eventful day. This gem should be on every restaurant list published about Chicago.  In fact, any lists printed prior to the opening of this restaurant should be required to be republished. If you like authentic Italian cuisine intertwined with a romantic ambiance, make sure you add this to your itinerary. Reservations are a must, unless you’re cool with waiting an hour or two for a table.

 

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Saturday

After having such a great first day in Chicago, Saturday had big shoes to fill. We started our morning by visiting the Willis Tower. There is so much to see here, particularly the sky deck that offers spectacular views of the city. If you’re brave enough, you can stand on one of the glass boxes that extend 4 feet from the deck, leaving you floating 1,353 feet up in the air. It’s truly a gnarly experience. After experiencing such an adrenaline rush we decided to indulge in some emotional eating. Fortunately, Giordano’s, Chicago’s famous deep dish pizza eatery, was just a few steps away. It takes around 45 minutes for the restaurant’s pizza artisans to work their magic, but the final masterpiece is worth the wait.

We embarked on a 75-minute Wendella Architecture Tour later that afternoon, learning about Chicago’s glittery skyscrapers and the history behind the city’s remarkable transformation. This tour is a must for design and architecture buffs, allowing passengers to see Chicago in a truly unique way. Once the tour was over, we treated ourselves to more food and drinks at a near-by gastropub called Public House. With a mixed crowd of yuppies and hipsters, this place has an awesome, laid back feel and some really good nachos.

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Sunday

Sunday started as quickly as it ended. Inspired by the city’s abundant energy, we decided to run to Lincoln Park, through the  Lincoln Park Zoo, over to Lake Michigan, stopping to gaze at beautiful brick houses along the way. We were famished by 11:30 a.m., making it back just in time for our brunch reservation at Hutch. From their pulled bacon Benedict to their jalapeno and garlic infused cocktails, this place knows how to fusion. Named on many of Chicago’s “boozy brunch” lists, seating at this restaurant comes much slower than it goes.

We rolled on over to Wrigley Field after brunch, the legendary home of the Chicago Cubs. If you’re visiting during baseball season, I encourage you to buy tickets to a game. Chicago fans are no joke, wearing their royal blue and red jerseys with pride.  Following a big win against the Arizona Diamondbacks, we made our way through the rowdy crowds, seeking shelter at Emporium Arcade Bar, an adult playground come to life.  If you could get your hands on any of the 400 machines found in this ‘barcade’, you can play Ms. Pac-Man while sippin’ on your PBR(s) and jammin’ to awesome tunes. The rest of the night is a little hazy, but I vaguely remember bar hopping and fireball shots being involved.

Monday

We attempted to cure our hangover with sunshine and the consumption of a lot of comfort food. Yolk offers a great food selection with more than just eggs on their menu. They’re known for pushing the envelope with creative breakfast and lunch items which include: scooped out pineapples filled with housemade Greek yogurt and fresh fruits or tasty Red Velvet FrenchToast.  Soon after eating and sipping on some much-needed coffee, we took Uber to Chicago’s landmark, Navy Pier. After taking a ride on the pier’s iconic Ferris wheel, our time left in Chicago was quickly approaching its end.

Our last stop on our trip was Lagunitas Brewing Company. Because why not get over a hangover at a brewery, right? Although the location is a bit rough around the edges, the facility’s size and interior more than make up for the sketchy locality. Be prepared to walk through many trippy hallways blasting Alice and Wonderland tunes.  Afterall, this is the headquarter of a beer-maker that believes the golden hued liquid they discharge out of a tap is the answer to social intercourse. My favorite part of Lagunitas, or any brewery for that matter, was their tap room. We sent our amazing long weekend off with lots of clinks of our Hop Stoopids and Sucks, a reference only true beer fans will understand.

‘Til next time, Chicago.

The Celebrity Equinox, docked in Istanbul, Turkey.

The Celebrity Equinox, docked in Istanbul, Turkey.

How disappointing would it be to fly overseas to catch your cruise ship, only to be denied entry into the country? Foreign Visa requirements are just one of the many items covered within the first few pages of your Cruise Passenger Ticket/Booklet. And, whether you book yourself, book online or use a travel agent (our recommendation), it’s always a good idea to look through your Cruise Docs. Often, we (especially veteran cruisers who have been to the same location) overlook reviewing the cruise docs, except for the correct spelling of our names and other pertinent “official ID info.”

A great example is our most recent cruise, a one way trip from Istanbul, Turkey to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy. I booked it myself, and, as a veteran cruiser with family who visited Istanbul a couple of years ago, I did not immediately skim through the Cruise Docs. Thankfully, I viewed them with over a month to go before our flight and discovered that an E-Visa was necessary for entry into Turkey. That stipulation was NOT in effect when my family members visited Istanbul. Celebrity Cruises made it very easy to obtain the E-Visas, with links via their own website.

Contributor: Stephanie Bonilla

pic001Florida is a clever little sucker. Let me tell you why. As a self-proclaimed “weekender,” I regularly study maps of Florida in search of my next mini getaway. My eyes tend to gravitate towards the peninsula’s coasts, hoping to lay themselves on our next beach-town adventure. I have never seen Anna Maria Island (AMI) marked on any of the maps I’ve carefully analyzed, which is why I was caught off guard when my boyfriend gifted me with a weekend stay on the island for my birthday. Had my eyes failed me? Was this a premature sign of ageing hitting me in the wake of my 28th birthday? I quickly grabbed my laptop for validation. Although AMI was not listed on any map, I soon learned a lot about this hidden paradise and the state it resides in: they are both really good at keeping secrets.

Another Day In Paradise

Approximately 40 miles south of Tampa, tucked along the Gulf of Mexico, sits this subtropical nirvana. The teeny island houses less than 15,000 residents and 3 tiny communities: Anna Maria (north), Holmes Beach (middle) and Bradenton Beach (south). With only one main road running north to south of this 7-by-2 mile island, AMI is the epitome of a small town. It proves, however, that big things really do come in small packages.

Our journey to paradise began very early. I got out of bed as soon as the alarm went off at 4 a.m. Before allowing my mind to go to a really dark place, I quickly reminded it that in just a few hours, we (my mind and I) would be laid back on a beach adding color to that wonderful tan we work 104 days a year for.

Since we were extremely excited about exploring the island, it wasn’t long before we arrived. We didn’t even stop for coffee, a common occurrence in all of our road trips. Catching sight of the Cortez Bridge, we knew we had arrived. The bridge is the only thing that connects the real world to this magical oasis. An old, historical fishing village is sprinkled just outside the bridge’s entrance, as if it was left there to remind incoming visitors that remnants of old Florida still remain. We drove directly to our hotel as soon as we crossed the bridge, our eyes slowly adjusting to the colorful beach cottages that served as a backdrop.

Our place wasn’t ready when we arrived– apparently even housekeeping live on island time. It didn’t faze us. We were in no rush to take refuge in our hotel room anyway. The property manager and his buddy were taking a break from the island’s heat in the inn’s office. After finding out it was our first time visiting AMI, they excitedly advised us of local eateries, bars and shops to check out. For the remainder of our stay, we used their informal itinerary as a guide for our exploration of the island. I’ll be forever indebted to them for leading us to some of the most perfect places I’ve ever visited. I hope this article does the same for you. Here’s what you should do:

Ditch Your Cottage, Explore The Landscape

A mix of colorful cottages and shady palm trees dominate the island’s landscape. The most challenging part of your day will be deciding on your transportation. You can hop on the island’s FREE trolley, rent a bike or scooter from one of the local rental shops, or use your very own two feet. Whatever your choice is, you will find plenty to look at.  One thing you won’t see on the island is high-rises. This modest beach community has been successful at maintaining its true old Florida beach feel by keeping developers and chainy hotels OFF of the island. It’s as if time was paused here 30 years ago and never started up again.

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But don’t let my description confuse you. Not everything on the island is kitschy and old. Although they are no higher than 3 stories tall, jaw dropping cottages have been built around the island, serving as both residences and lodging for visitors. Though beautiful, these new and improved bungalows still fit the “quiet money” mold exhibited throughout the island. AMI got the memo. Upscale just doesn’t jibe with beachy.

Overload On Island Grub

Like most islands, seafood is the prominent food of choice on AMI. You will not find any golden arches here. Local eateries take pride in serving domestic meals to seafood lovers, delivering shrimp, fish and oysters fished directly out of Florida’s waters.

But AMI doesn’t only do seafood right. A popular gem known by every local can be found just off the main road on the north end of the island. The Donut Experiment, a tiny boutique donut shop, allows mad scientists of all ages to create their own cake-based dunker. From key lime glazes to maple bacon or Sriracha toppings to choose from, the world really is your oyster at this island shop.

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Favorite Breakfast Spot: The Donut Experiment

Favorite Breakfast Spot: The Donut Experiment

Best Oysters: Anna Maria Oyster Bar

Best Oysters: Anna Maria Oyster Bar

Favorite Lunch Spot: The Waterfront Restaurant

Favorite Lunch Spot: The Waterfront Restaurant

Drink Like A Local

Bars can be found all over the island, ranging from rustic beachside tiki bars, to laid back establishments nestled in-between eclectic art shops displaying tropical motifs. Best way to describe AMI’s nightlife:  A Key West feel sans the rowdy crowds. When deciding what to wear, think: “What Would Jack Johnson Do.” In a land where flip-flops and shorts are standard and overloading on piña coladas is expected, packing should never be a cause of panic. Always choose comfort.   

The main thing to look for when bar hopping is live music. Be prepared to nurse your beer as you sway to a live rendition of Brown-Eyed Girl or a funky version of Rapper’s Delight. Unlike Key West, the local musicians don’t just croon Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville for a buck–they truly get to know their audience. We went from nervously calling out requests, to taking shot after shot with our entertainers and fellow escapees. Definitely check out AMI’s popular Bridgewalk area. Some of our favorite bars were located there:  Bridge Tender Inn and Waterfront Bar.

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Experience A Golden Hour – West Coast-Style

Florida’s west coast is infamous for its spectacular sunsets. As long as you’re on the west side of the island, you can pretty much catch nature painting the sky “magic” from anywhere on the island. Establishments like Sandbar crowd up just as the sun is about to set, prizing lucky guessers with a complimentary drink should they predict the correct sunset time. If there were ever a photo opp on the island, it would be during sunset. After all, sunset lighting is the best lighting, right? I’ll let the pictures work their magic.

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Soak Up The Rays

The “wake up slow” mentality is alive and well on Anna Maria. You won’t find many beach goers catching rays earlier than 10 a.m. There is plenty of space on the sugary white sand, so don’t worry too much about reserving a spot. The translucent turquoise water is just the right temperature to refresh those in need of a cool down. Swooping pelicans plunge into the pristine water in hopes of catching their next meal, while bottlenose dolphins grace observant beach bums with impromptu cameos. Make sure to pack lots of sunscreen and yummy drinks to get you by, but be sure you leave all alcohol behind in your cottage. Alcoholic beverages are not permitted on AMI’s beaches, unless you’re sipping it while sitting at one of those cute oceanfront tiki bars.

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Anna Maria Island turned out to be a very special place. If you’re looking for a slower, simpler Key West, this is the place for you. Something else I learned from this vacation: I apparently can’t keep a secret.

Today, we are excited to present the first story from our new contributor, Stephanie Bonilla! Her enthusiasm and passions for travel are apparent in her writing and now our fellow cruisers and travelers will benefit, while getting to know her. You can also learn a bit more about Stephanie via our Contributors page!


 

Stephanie Bonilla

Contributor: Stephanie Bonilla

How many times do cruise takers hop on an aircraft, take a taxi (or Uber), making it just in time to board their ocean greyhound and embark on their next adventure? Countless. How many of those passengers consider exploring the backyard of the ports they originally depart from? Not many.

Port Canaveral, also known as the “turnaround” port, is home to Florida’s second busiest cruise port. With popular cruise lines such as Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian using it to dock their vessels, thousands of passengers pour over gangplanks daily. Although the port’s locality doesn’t have much to offer, there are plenty of hidden gems waiting to be explored near-by. Take heed of the following piece of travel wisdom: Disney World will be the top contender when asking the Internet for advice– but there is much more to see in Central Florida than the mouse! Rather than fall victim to the common tourist traps, I challenge you to overcome your Disney itch and travel a little farther north to a place many locals have labeled as Mother Nature’s playground.

Blue Spring State Park

Just under an hour and a half drive from the port and only thirty minutes farther than the greater Orlando-area, wedged between your typical Central Florida neighborhood and more live oak trees than you can count, lies a hidden oasis. Since you can easily obtain all the park’s facts from a simple Internet search, I will refrain from spewing them out at you. All you really need to know is Blue Spring State Park covers over 2,600 acres and serves as a Manatee Refuge to a growing population of buoyant sea cows. The park’s biggest attraction, respectively called Blue Springs, is one of Central Florida’s hidden treasures. For the low fare of $6 per vehicle, visitors can cannon ball into one of nature’s swimming pools, hike miles of unspoiled wilderness, enjoy a barbeque in one of the park’s numerous pavilions, or bait up and cast their fishing line near the river’s shore. No matter what you’re into, this park’s got you covered. Now more on my adventure…

Stephanie Bonilla at Blue Spring State Park

Stephanie Bonilla at Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park entrance

Blue Spring State Park entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

Springin’ It
3-4 hours

After being greeted by friendly park staff, we quickly stumbled upon a tunnel of trees that lead us to the parking lot. Excited families with multicolored floats in arm caught my eyes as they disappeared behind oak trees, eagerly making their way towards the spring. I quickly got in my two-piece, kicked off my flip-flops and happily lugged my 4-foot hot pink donut float down a windy boardwalk. Arriving at the shore of the awe-inspiring turquoise waters, I could feel the explorer vibes flowing through my body. They were quickly stunned as my skin touched the 73-degree crystalline water. Man, was it cold! It took my body a couple of minutes to adjust to the chilly temperature. Although I’m a Miamian who prefers its lukewarm oceans, the excitement of exploring this swimming hole for the adventurous numbed any feeling of discomfort. You have the option of swimming, tubing, snorkeling or scuba diving down the spring. For those feeling a little more energetic, a thin rope serves as a divider for visitors who prefer to kayak or canoe. Forgot your raft? Equipment rentals for almost all of the water activities mentioned can be rented at the ground’s concession for a small fee—minus the scuba gear. We opted to bring our own floats and goggles in an effort to save a couple of bucks.

As we made our way down the spring, bathers congregated around the spring’s boil, watching jumpers leap off of trees and sandy banks into the clear blue water. This particular area is a magnet for scuba divers, housing an underwater cave and an abundance of marine life. Divers and snorkelers alike delve into the depth of this blue hole, attempting to unlock the cave’s mysteries. After spending a couple of hours soaking up the sun and investigating the spring, we decided to tap out and grab a quick snack.

The springs at Blue Spring Park

The springs at Blue Spring Park

Tubers and rafters at Blue Spring Park

Tubers and rafters at Blue Spring Park

 

 

 

 

 

Picnicking
1 hour

The park’s grounds have a variety of places visitors can use to kick back and dry off. Pavilions, BBQ pits, and grassy areas can be found just outside the spring’s boardwalk, with families migrating here to get their grub on. For the most part, these areas are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, so keep that in mind when making lunch plans. Though the park offers both food and drinks for purchase, we opted to bring our own ham and cheese sandwiches and hung out on the grass. Beer drinkers beware: alcoholic beverages are not allowed on park grounds. As the first one to crave a refreshing IPA to quench my thirst, I must admit I was a little bummed.

The Boardwalk at Blue Spring Park

The Boardwalk at Blue Spring Park

The Picnic area at Blue Spring Park

The Picnic area at Blue Spring Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Hiking

2-3 hours

As soon as lunch was over, we decided to walk some calories off on one of the park’s nature trails. We began our voyage at Pine Island Trail, a lesser-known, less-used terrain. Immediately upon entering the trailhead, hikers are welcomed by a sign warning them that this is a one-way path. 4.5 miles each way, the trail offers dense forests, shady resting areas, casual scrub-jay sightings, and plenty of photo opps. Nature’s magic is truly felt as you make your way through massive live oaks, leaving the sounds of humans behind. During our hike, we were lucky enough to spot scrub-jays, cardinals, deer, turtles, and a variety of insects. Love bugs are prevalent in this area, so don’t be surprised if a couple of intertwined honeymoon flies land on you. Overall, the long walk was well worth it. Since nearly a mile of the trail is fully exposed to the sun in each direction, I highly recommend that anyone taking this journey apply lots of sunscreen. Also, make sure to bring some H2O with you as well a bug spray. You’ll thank me later.

Entering the Pine Island Hiking Trail

Entering the Pine Island Hiking Trail

Hiking Pine Island at Blue Spring State Park

Hiking Pine Island at Blue Spring State Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Lagniappe
1-2 hours

If you’re all park’d out and still have time to spare, I highly suggest taking a drive 7 miles west to the near-by city, Deland. Located smack in the middle of Deland’s downtown strip is Santorini Greek Cuisine, a yelper’s dream come true. This little hole-in-the-wall offers great service, an array of Greek food options, and a relaxing vibe. For some of the best Greek food that will ever grace your palette, order the restaurant’s Athenian Chicken with a side of their lemon roasted potatoes. It’s enough for two and probably the best $13 you’ll ever spend.

Sweet tooth nudging you? Walk on over to Pat & Toni’s Chocolate and Sweet Things for your choice of creamy ice cream and chocolate-covered-anything. If chocolate covered bacon doesn’t entice you, try one of their dark mint truffles or imported licorice. It won’t disappoint.

Santorini Greek Cuisine, in Deland, Florida!

Santorini Greek Cuisine, in Deland, Florida!

Santorini Greek Cuisine's Athenian Chicken

The Athenian Chicken!

Pat & Toni's Chocolate and Sweet Things in Deland!

Pat & Toni’s Chocolate and Sweet Things in Deland!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Those with time to kill after getting off a ship at Port Canaveral should not think twice about making it out to this magnificent, pristine land. In less than 10 hours, visitors can enjoy a day full of activities, unforgettable adventures, and great food. Although at first glance this area doesn’t seem like it has much to offer, it proves that venturing away from your typical tourist stomping grounds can pay off. Remember, true adventure seekers don’t have to stand in 3-hour lines wearing Mickey ears!

Earlier this week, Royal Caribbean revealed its Caribbean plans for 2016-17. What better way to escape (mentally anyway!) the cold weather for a few moments and begin to think about future escapes?! Here we go:

Caribbean, Bermuda, and Canada & New England Adventures from Northeast U.S.

  • Quantum-class Anthem of the Seas will continue year-round sailings from Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne, N.J., and make its maiden season at Bermuda. Vacationers have a choice of five-night Bermuda or nine-night Bermuda and Caribbean itineraries throughout the summer, and eight- to 12-night Bahamas, Eastern, Western or Southern Caribbean cruises during the winter.
  • Throughout September and October, Anthem of the Seas will sail nine-night Canada and New England cruises from Cape Liberty, and Serenade of the Seas will offer seven-night Canada and New England cruises from Boston, Mass.
  • Grandeur of the Seas will sail five-night Bermuda, nine-night Bermuda and Bahamas, and nine-night Canada and New England cruises throughout the summer. In the winter, the ship will sail nine-night Southeast Coast & Bahamas and 12-night Southern Caribbean cruises.
Artist's rendering of Slides on Harmony of the Sea

Artist’s rendering of Slides on Harmony of the Sea

Everywhere in the Caribbean, from South Florida

  • From Miami, Enchantment of the Seas will sail three- and four-night short Bahamas getaways year-round, while Navigator of the Seas will alternate five-night Bahamas and Mexico with nine-night Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao and Labadee cruises in the winter.
  • Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas will sail a Western Caribbean and two new Eastern Caribbean itineraries in summer 2016, all seven nights in length and departing from Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Allure of the Seas will then be joined by the next groundbreaking, Oasis-class cruise ship Harmony of the Seas to offer a seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itinerary for winter 2016-17. Oasis of the Seas, meanwhile, will reposition to its new winter home of Port Canaveral along Florida’s Coast.
  • In the winter, Independence of the Seas will follow a sequence of four- and five-night short Western Caribbean itineraries from Port Everglades, while sister-ship Freedom of the Seas will alternate a six-night Western Caribbean with an eight-night Eastern Caribbean itinerary. For a longer vacation, Serenade of the Seas alternates a 10- and 11-night Southern Caribbean itinerary.

‘Out-of-this-world’ Caribbean Vacations from Florida’s Space Coast

  • Freedom of the Seas will continue alternating seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries during the summer 2016, and then reposition to Port Everglades for its new winter season.
  • For the winter 2016-17, Oasis of the Seas will inaugurate Oasis-class adventures from Port Canaveral, alternating a seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itinerary. Rhapsody of the Seas will take over three- and four-night Bahamas cruises from Enchantment of the Seas.
  • Vacationers also can choose quick four- and five-night Western Caribbean cruises throughout winter aboard Brilliance of the Seas from Tampa, Fla.
The Liberty of the Seas

The Liberty of the Seas

Mexico and Southern Caribbean from Galveston and Puerto Rico

  • Liberty of the Seas will continue its year-round deployment sailing from Galveston, Texas, offering vacationers a wide selection of seven-night Mexico and Western Caribbean cruises.
  • Vacationers also can choose seven-night, Southern Caribbean itineraries, sailing year-round from San Juan, Puerto Rico, aboard Adventure of the Seas. In the winter, Jewel of the Seas also will home port at San Juan and sail to the Southern Caribbean.

That’s it for now! Remember, we can help you booking your next cruise, including groups, with our partner, Cruises With A Personal Touch, where you’re guaranteed what the name relays! We also assist agents with their marketing, both print and digital, including group cruise websites! Cheers!

Nieuw Amsterdam

Nieuw Amsterdam

Holland America Adds Six Dancing with the Stars Theme Cruises

Holland America Line will continue the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” program in 2015/2016. For the third year, the collaboration brings the excitement of ABC’s hit show “Dancing with the Stars” to all of the ships in the Holland America Line fleet. The program will culminate with the annual Champions Cruise competition on ms Nieuw Amsterdam’s Jan. 10, 2016, western Caribbean voyage.

The 2015 schedule will continue to feature “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” programming on all sailings in addition to six special “Dancing with the Stars” theme cruises highlighting the show’s professional dancers and celebrities. In 2013 and 2014 select theme cruises featured professional dancers Tristan MacManus, Kym Johnson, Sharna Burgess, Emma Slater, Lacey Schwimmer, Chelsie Hightower, Mark Ballas and Derek Hough, along with television personality Carson Kressley, singer Joey Fatone, actress Sabrina Bryan and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson.

Disney Announces Early 2016 Deployment

Disney Cruise Line introduces two popular Caribbean destinations — Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Martinique — into the lineup of favorite tropical itineraries for early 2016. The return to the homeport of San Juan, Puerto Rico brings a new itinerary that includes Martinique.

From the warm Caribbean culture of Tortola, capital of the British Virgin Islands, to the exquisite French island of Martinique, these destinations provide Disney Cruise Line guests the chance to relax on pristine beaches, discover natural wonders and indulge in local shopping and cuisine.

Celebrity Adds River Packages to Cruise Offering

Celebrity Cruises has introduced European river-and-ocean cruise vacation packages.

Unique to the cruise industry and only available on Celebrity Cruises, these one-of-a-kind Celebrity Explorations combine immersive Amras Cruises river journeys with guest-favorite modern luxury ocean sailings.

“Our guests want to continue seeing more of the world with Celebrity, and we are dedicated to providing them with the most destination-rich vacations,” said Michael Bayley, President and CEO, Celebrity Cruises. “By introducing these river-and-ocean cruise packages, travelers can immerse themselves in Europe more so than ever before, with the ease of choosing a vacation package exclusively created by Celebrity.”

The 11 new river-and-ocean cruise packages offer guests the opportunity to explore Europe far and wide by way of four well-known rivers – the Danube, Rhine, Rhône and Seine – and then by sea onboard a breathtaking Celebrity cruise around the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Russia, Turkey and other destinations.

MSC and Lego Partner for Lego Experience at Sea

MSC Cruises and the LEGO Group have joined forces to bring children and families the ultimate LEGO Experience at sea, including LEGO designed playrooms and entertainment options. More.

AOL Launches Laughs on Deck With Carnival and George Lopez

On October 30, AOL announced the launch of “Laughs on Deck,” a new branded series in partnership with Carnival Cruise Lines starring George Lopez who serves as the cruise line’s curator of comedy. The first two episodes of the new AOL series are now available, with four additional episodes slated to go live in the coming weeks. “Laughs on Deck” marks an expansion of Carnival Cruise Lines’ current relationship with AOL, having signed on as the brand sponsor for AOL Original “Laugh Lessons with Kevin Nealon.”

grand-holiday

Grand Holiday to CMV

Iberocruceros’ Grand Holiday is set for a new life at Cruise & Maritime Voyages. The ship was launched as the Holiday for Carnival Cruise Lines in 1985 and today Cruise & Maritime Voyages announced that the Grand Holiday will be joining its fleet in Spring 2015 as the Magellan. Statement from CMV:

British based Cruise Operator, Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), is pleased to announce the addition of Grand Holiday from Costa Crociere to the CMV fleet, commencing ex-UK operations under the CMV livery in spring 2015.

Carnival Corporation Unveils Hybrid Wireless Network at Sea

Carnival Corporation & plc today unveiled the cruise industry’s first-of-its-kind hybrid wireless network – an enhanced high-speed service to eventually be rolled out to all 101 of its ships on all nine of its brands.

This technology innovation is expected to revolutionize how millions of its passengers stay in touch during their cruise and generate even greater interest in cruise vacations.

Carnival Corporation’s backbone connectivity network, known as WiFi@Sea™, will integrate a unique combination of strategically located land-based antennas installed along cruise routes, Wi-Fi from a port connection and advanced satellites, forming an innovative network that is a first in the cruise industry on this scale. The “smart hybrid” network is designed to provide passengers and crew with faster and more stable internet access throughout their voyage – a feature becoming increasingly important to travelers of all ages looking to stay connected and share their experiences through social media.

Once completed, the integrated network will seamlessly switch among its various technology solutions to give passengers the highest available bandwidth capacity and strength of signal. The network will be capable of providing Internet connectivity speeds that can be roughly 10 times faster than those previously offered on Carnival Corporation’s ships – ultimately expected to provide passengers with the best possible connectivity in the cruise industry. More.

Princess Partners with Discovery for Onboard Activities

Princess Cruise and Discovery Consumer Products announced their collaboration to create Discovery At Sea, interactive onboard activities and shore excursions. The new Discovery At Sea cruise vacations will feature themed tours, science activities, hands-on programs and games based on Discovery’s breadth of brands and programming. Debuting on Princess Cruises’ ships in early 2015, the interactive experiences are designed to bring to life the nature, wildlife and history of the regions guests are sailing. More.

Costa Victoria to the Rescue in South China Sea

Last Monday morning, while sailing from Hong Kong to Sanya Hainan Island, Costa Victoria rescued the crewmembers of a burning fishing boat spotted in the Southern Chinese Sea.

Holland America in Partnership with Marine Conservation Institute

As part of its “Our Marvelous Oceans” partnership with Marine Conservation Institute, Holland America Line has created a new program that highlights and educates guests and crew about marine protected areas around the world. Developed with the team at Marine Conservation Institute, the program will educate guests and crew through on-board presentations by shipboard personnel. Topics will cover what a marine protected area is and how to visit one without causing harm to the habitat and wildlife. This information can be enhanced through participation in featured shore excursions.

Port Tampa Bay Welcomes Norwegian Sun for Winter Season

Port Tampa Bay officials welcomed the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Sun to Tampa during a plaque exchange ceremony Sunday, November 2, commemorating the ship’s inaugural call in Tampa, as well as the start of the busy 2014-2015 winter cruise season.

Carnival Corporation Will Increase Fleet Capacity by Nearly 10 Percent through 2016

Carnival Corporation & plc announced it will increase fleet capacity by nearly 10 percent from 2014 through 2016, fueled largely by the addition of four new ships across four brands in less than 18 months. More.

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Regal Princess Launched in Star-Studded Ceremony

Princess Cruises, the cruise line made famous as the backdrop of the iconic Love Boat television series, christened its new Regal Princess with a tribute to the show as all six of the original cast members served as the ship’s godparents, and were joined by 25 of the show’s past guest stars.

The star-studded Love Boat themed festivities, which also launched the line’s 50th anniversary, celebrated the role the show played in Princess Cruises’ five-decades-long history.

All six Love Boat cast members – Gavin MacLeod (Captain Stubing), Fred Grandy (Gopher, the chief purser), Ted Lange (Isaac, the bartender), Bernie Kopell (Doc, the ship’s doctor), Lauren Tewes (cruise director, Julie) and Jill Whelan (Vicki, the captain’s daughter) – pulled a lever that first sent a record-breaking fifty champagne bottles smashing against the ship’s hull as a nod to the company’s anniversary celebration, followed by the breaking of a giant Nebuchadnezzar-size 51st bottle signifying Princess Cruises’ continued future success. More.

Carnival Gift Cards Now Available In More Than 9,000 Retail Locations

Carnival Cruise Lines’ gift card program – a prepaid card that can be used as payment toward a “Fun Ship” vacation or a variety of shipboard purchases – is now available in more than 9,000 retail outlets throughout the U.S. This marks the first time that a cruise line-specific gift card has been made available at retail establishments ashore. More.

PORT EVERGLADES 2015 CRUISE GUIDE AND NEW CRUISE APP

Port Everglades is making it easier and more convenient for cruise guests to plan their next ocean-bound vacation with an online version of the Cruise Guide (CLICK HERE) and a new, user-friendly cruise app for mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads (CLICK HERE).

CARNIVAL & DALLAS COWBOYS TAILGATE TAKEOVER

On Sunday, October 19th, Carnival Cruise Lines, the Official Cruise Line of the Dallas Cowboys, held its first-ever Tailgate Takeover at AT&T Stadium with an appearance by Chef Guy Fieri – whose Guy’s Burger Joints are on several of the line’s “Fun Ships” – as well as a pre-game concert by country music superstars Rascal Flatts.

MIAMI’S OLDEST BAR TO GET NEW HOME ON NCL ESCAPE

In celebration of Norwegian Escape’s one year to launch milestone, Norwegian Cruise Line today announced that Miami’s oldest and most legendary bar, Tobacco Road, will find a new home aboard the line’s newest and largest vessel.

The acclaimed establishment, which was issued Miami’s very first liquor license, is closing its original location this week after 102 years in business. In an effort to preserve the tradition of this iconic Miami landmark, Tobacco Road and Norwegian Cruise Line partnered to bring the Tobacco Road experience onboard Norwegian Escape, which will begin sailing from Miami in November 2015.

COSTA DIADEMA PRESENTED

On October 25, the Costa Diadema was officially presented at Fincantieri shipyard in Marghera (Venice), to Costa Cruises’ CEO, Michael Thamm and Fincantieri’s CEO, Giuseppe Bono. The ship will then set sail from Marghera on October 30 and will reach Trieste, from which her “Vernissage Cruise” will start on November 1.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN LAUNCHES TERMINAL IN NEW JERSERY, FOR QUANTUM

On October 24th, Royal Caribbean and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey dedicated the new cruise terminal at a small gathering at Cape Liberty Cruise Port, which will be the home for Quantum of the Seas starting on November 10.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)

Photo: Port Everglades

Photo: Port Everglades

The highly anticipated 2015 Port Everglades Cruise Guide, and a new Cruise Planning App (currently for iOS devices), are now both available! The following is from the Official Port Everglades website:

Port Everglades is making it easier and more convenient for cruise guests to plan their next ocean-bound vacation with an online version of the Cruise Guide and a new, user-friendly cruise app for mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads.

The much anticipated 2015 Port Everglades Cruise Guide is now online at PortEverglades.net. This year’s Guide features 120 pages of detailed descriptions and photographs for each of the 41 ships sailing from the South Florida cruise port. Along with the sailing schedule, the Cruise Guide provides valuable travel tips such as transportation information, embarkation and disembarkation procedures, security regulations, maps and directions, and pre- and post-cruise vacation ideas in Greater Fort Lauderdale. The print version of the 2015 Port Everglades Cruise Guide will be available in November at the Broward County Governmental Center, select Broward County Library locations, chambers of commerce in Dania Beach, Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale, as well as area hotels and the Port Everglades Administration building located at 1850 Eller Drive, Fort Lauderdale.

Just tap the free CruiseSchedule Port Everglades App and you are on your way to your next cruise adventure. Developed for mobile devices using Apple Inc.’s iOS operating system, the CruiseSchedule Port Everglades App provides detailed information on all cruise lines and their ships sailing from the South Florida powerhouse cruise port. Features include:

  • Fully searchable cruise schedules
  • Arrival/departure times with associated cruise terminal
  • Complete sailing itineraries listing each ship’s ports of call
  • Scroll and zoom itinerary route maps for each cruise ship
  • Deck plans and ship specifications for all cruise ships
  • Contact information for cruise lines, customs and parking
  • Port map includes cruise terminals and parking areas
  • Turn-by-turn GPS navigation to all terminals and parking facilities

To download the free app, just visit the iTunes Store. An application for mobile devices supported by other operating platforms, such as Android and Windows, may become available at a later date based on demand.

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NCL Begins Port Houston Service

Norwegian Cruise Line returned to the Port of Houston for the first time in more than seven years with the arrival of Norwegian Jewel on Saturday, October 11 at the Bayport Cruise Terminal. This inaugural call marked the beginning of the 2014 fall cruise season for Houston. The Norwegian Jewel will sail 27 Western Caribbean cruises through April 11, 2015.

Oasis of the Seas Upgrades

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Oasis of the Seas, which completed a 14-day drydock October 14th, has a new look, including “reimagined dining,” high-speed internet, new retail offerings, a new Broadway show, and new suites with exclusive suite dining and a lounge. Royal Caribbean’s Dynamic Dining offers guests more choices and flexibility by offering 20 restaurants, said to be as vast and varied as dining in the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Crystal ReCRYSTAL-CRUISES-LOGO1ceives Atlantic Alliance Award

The Atlantic Alliance has given Crystal Cruises its “Triple A – Award” for 2015, which it presented to Crystal in Los Angeles last week. Each year the Atlantic Alliance awards cruise companies that have made a particularly significant contribution to the region with its “Triple A – Award”.

Holland America Adds Pros to Dancing with the Stars at Sea

Holland America Line has added the professional dancers Sharna Burgess and Artem Chigvintsev to the remaining two 2014 Dancing with the Stars: At Seatheme cruises. Both currently performing on the ABC hit show Dancing with the Stars, Burgess and Chigvintsev will join the Westerdam departing Nov. 29 and the Champions Cruise that sets sail Dec. 6. Both cruises sail roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean.

C-Equinox_090731-2492_bAll Inclusive Packages Offered by Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises has announced an All-Included Europe Package beginning Monday, Oct. 13. Guests can now fly directly from New York or New Jersey where they can embark on their European vacation. The Celebrity All-Included Europe Package is available for the following prices: $2,999 Oceanview lead rate for seven-night Celebrity Equinox Mediterranean sailings; $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 12-nights on the Silhouette to the Baltic; and $3,499 Oceanview lead rate for 10- or 11-nights on the Reflection on Mediterranean sailings.

The package is available on seven-to-12-night European cruises ocean view or higher stateroom sailing between April 27 and October 12, 2015 on the three ships with round-trip, non-stop flights from JFK or Newark to Barcelona,  Rome, Amsterdam , Venice, Istanbul, Stockholm and Athens. Onboard amenities include a Classic Beverage Package for two including beer, wine and spirits;  non-alcoholic beverage packages for third and fourth guests; all cruise gratuities;  air and cruise taxes and port fees; and round-trip ground transfers.

Carnival Vista Construction Begins

Carnival Cruise Lines’ celebrated the keel-laying of its newest ship, the 3,954-passenger Carnival Vista, in a ceremony held last week at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone. The 133,500-ton vessel – the largest “Fun Ship” ever constructed – is set to debut in spring 2016.

Chinese Ports Brace For Immense Growth

By 2020, if estimates are correct, China’s cruise market will make up 4.5 million passengers and $8 billion in local economic impact. With that potential, government-backed ports are working hard to upgrade their infrastructure in time for new tonnage and more ships.

vikingstarViking Ocean Names Captain of Viking Star

Viking Ocean Cruises has announced that Captain Gulleik Svalastog will be at the helm of its first ocean ship – the 930-passenger Viking Star – which will sail its first cruise in April 2015.

Carnival Corp May Start Entry Level Chinese Cruise Line

Carnival Corporation is making moves in China and may add another brand to its portfolio in a Chinese entry-level/mass market cruise product.

Four Home Ports and Quantum in China for Royal Caribbean

Putting the Quantum of the Seas in China will not only attract new Chinese passengers but also promote pre- and post-China visits from international guests, according to Adam Goldstein, president and COO of Royal Caribbean Cruises. Building up in China, Royal Caribbean International will sail the Mariner from Tianjin in 2015, the Quantum from Shanghai, the Legend from Xiamen and the Voyager from Hong Kong, according to Goldstein, speaking today at the China Cruise Shipping Expo hosted by the China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association.

Ruby Princess Helps Set Port Saint John History

Port Saint John welcomed its 1000th cruise call on Oct. 16, while last year marked the 25th anniversary of cruising to Saint John since 1989.

The Rhapsody in Brazil: 2015-2016

Royal Caribbean International has announced that the Rhapsody of the Seas will be deployed in the Brazilian market, sailing from Santos for 2015/2016 season. The Rhapsody will arrive in Santos December 5, 2015 and will be on the South American coast until April 10, 2016.

Ebola Scare on Carnival’s Magic

Late afternoon on Wednesday, Oct. 15, CCL was made aware, by the U.S. CDC, of a guest sailing this week on board Carnival Magic who is a lab supervisor at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. This person handled specimens from the patient who died at that hospital earlier in the month. At no point in time has the individual exhibited any symptoms or signs of infection and it has been 19 days since she was in the lab with the testing samples. She was deemed by CDC to be very low risk. At the time of this posting, this hospital worker was cleared of the disease, The Magic returned home, and everyone was cleared to disembark.

Mediterranean Cruise-Land Package by MSC for Divina in 2015

MSC Cruises has announced inclusive air/land/sea vacation package deals for guests sailing on MSC Divina, the line’s largest ship specifically dedicated to North American travelers, while the ship is in the Mediterranean from May 16 through Sept. 19, 2015. Starting at $1,899, the 10-night package includes round-trip airfare to Rome or Barcelona, a seven-night cruise, a two-night post-cruise stay in a four-star hotel, and all transfers needed, including from the airport to the ship, from the ship to the hotel and from the hotel back to the airport.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)

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Panama Canal Season Begins

The Panama Canal cruise ship season has “officially” begun with the transit of the Coral Princess, on a repositioning voyage from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale. The Panama Canal Authority said it expects approximately 200 cruise ships to transit through the canal during this season that spans from October 2014 to April 2015.

 

Local Banks to Finance Port of Galveston Cruise Terminal Expansion

Three Galveston County community banks have worked together on financing for a $13 million expansion of the Port of Galveston’s Cruise Terminal No. 2. Texas First Bank, HomeTown Bank and Moody National Bank each pitched in for the unique funding package for the expansion of Cruise Terminal No. 2 to accommodate larger vessels and more passengers.Galveston

When completed next spring, Cruise Terminal No. 2 will feature 150,000 square feet of space and have a seating capacity of 1,600 passengers. The port currently handles over one million cruise passengers a year and is the 4th busiest cruise port in the nation–and ranks among the top 20 in the world.

 

Princess Launches 50th Anniversary “Inspiring Stories” Contest

Princess Cruises has announced that it is inviting past guests to join in celebrating its 50th anniversary by participating in an “Inspiring Stories” essay contest, sharing a moving experience that occurred on a Princess cruise vacation. The winner will ride on the line’s first-ever float in The Rose Parade on New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

The author of the winning entry, and up to three guests featured in the story, will be awarded a four-day trip to Pasadena, Calif., to join the cast members of The Love Boat as they “cruise” down the five-and-a-half-mile parade route on January 1, 2015.

 

First Tattoo Theme Cruise Set for April 2015 on Royal Caribbean

The first-ever tattoo-themed North American cruise, Ink or Swim, will sail April 16 – 20, 2015 from Fort Lauderdale to Cozumel, Mexico on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas. The first annual cruise will offer guests the exclusive opportunity to sail the high seas while getting ‘fresh ink’ from some of the most in-demand artists in the country, as well attend exclusive Ink or Swim events including onboard Burlesque shows, tattoo contests, complimentary photo shoots and a private beach party in Cozumel.

 

Holland America to Mexico and Hawaii this Coming Season

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Holland America Line is promoting its cruises to Hawaii and Mexico on a variety of itineraries ranging from seven to 18 days from this fall through spring (2015).

 

 

Carnival Announces Spring Live Concerts

Cruising has never sounded so good, according to Carnival Cruise Lines, which today unveiled its new Carnival LIVE Concert Series roster for spring 2015, bringing more of “the best live music to sea from some of most popular and highly requested music acts.” Coming onboard in the first part of next year will be Journey, Rascal Flatts, Little Big Town, Smokey Robinson, and Styx, back by popular demand for the second season, Carnival said.

 

P&O Offers Solar Eclipse and Northern Lights

P&O Cruises is offering an opportunity to witness two natural phenomena in one holiday; to see a total solar eclipse and, with luck, spot the elusive aurora borealis. Exclusively for adults, the Oriana’s will sail 14 nights roundtrip from Southampton on March 17, 2015 to the Faroe Islands and northern Norway.

(News compiled from cruise company press releases, Cruise Industry News and Tourism Boards)