Posted by: Tom Baker | November 17, 2017

MSC Meravigila-Wonderful? YES!!!

I h

ave sailed several times with MSC and had mixed experiences from excellent to not-so-good. I decided to give them a try once again and sail in the Mediterranean taking my mother on a special 7-night cruise sailing round trip from Genoa to Naples, Messina, Malta, Barcelona, Marseilles and back to Genoa.

The ship is brand new having been introduced in June of 2017. This ship currently is the largest in the ever-growing fleet of Italian liners built by MSC which stands for Mediterranean Shipping Company. BTW, MSC is the largest container company in the world.

Meravigilia means WONDERFUL in Italian and I will start the spoiler by telling you she was just that!

This magnificent custom-built liner is 1034 feet long, 167,600 tons, carries 4400 passengers, and 1400 crew. The ship is technologically advanced, green, and incredibly well-laid out compared to other modern super liners recently introduced.

This ship has extra wide elevators, three banks of elevators and staircases (almost all other new built ships have only a forward and aft set of staircases and elevators), extra wide corridors, public spaces, and has 5 pools (one with a dome) vs. 3 on most other ships in this size!

I booked one of the last remaining cabins which happened to be in the MSC Yacht Club, coined as a ship-within-a-ship. It is brilliant. I booked the last inside Yacht Club suite which was 182 square feet, elegantly designed, adequate storage, superb Dorelan bedding, pillows, monogrammed sheets, large bath towels, superbly English trained butler service, private concierge desk and services, a Top sail lounge for Yacht club, Private open-seating gourmet restaurant where menus change daily, a private pool, bark grill, and sunning area-all of this in a private key access area on the forward top 4 decks of the ship. MSC has a cool watch tool that acts as your room key, and card throughout the ship. You could even pre-book shows and alternative dining from the electronic reader board using your MSC watch. There is complimentary 25-hour room service, food available 20 hours a day in the Top Sail Lounge, and an incredible menu of pizza delivery that was simply irresistible..

There are just a few MSC yacht Club services:

  • UNLIMITED DRINKS in all bars and restaurants of the ship
  • MSC Yacht Club restaurant with all-inclusive dining at flexible times
  • Priority check-in and check-out in dedicated area
  • Exclusive Top Sail Lounge offering finger foods, desserts, afternoon and midnight snacks
  • Private swimming pool and bar (for those staying in MSC Yacht Club)
  • Luxury suites with Egyptian cotton linens
  • Dorelan pillow menu and bedding
  • 24-hour butler and concierge service
  • And more!

The check in was done shoreside in a Yacht Club tent where guests are met buy shoreside butlers who usher you into a private check in area and onboard the ship within minutes and taken to the concierge where a tour is provided, and your suite is already awaiting you…

I found the Yacht Club quite affordable and my cabin cost around $2200 for 7-days for my interior suite but most Yacht Club suites have private balconies. There are less than 20 interior suites which run about the same price as a standard balcony in the rest of the ship but offer so much more!

I found the ship incredibly clean, the layout excellent, the music varied and entertaining. Moreover, the clientele hailed from every part of the globe. There were plenty of Italians, French, Germans, Spanish, British, not too many Americans but we were about 5% according to the Cruise director, tons of SE Asians, Chinese, and South Americans. I loved the liveliness of the clientele and the amount of activity throughout the ship.

I dined primarily in the Yacht club restaurant where the food was excellent, and the experience was quite luxurious. One night was spent in Teppanyaki which cost an added 24 euro per person and it was the best experience I have had in this type of venue on any comparable ship I have sailed.

There are multiple dining venues including sushi, steak house,  Eataly Restaurant and shop, 3 main dining rooms, the Marketplace buffet (I personally stayed away from this due to the crowds). This venue also had a mozzarella making kitchen-how cool is that? Along the lengthy open colonnade inside the ship and off the atrium, there are plentiful gorgeous shops, bars, clubs, a chocolate shop that is just out of this world, a creperie, gelato shop, shore excursion desk, and more…

The ships spa, gym, and shopping outlets were far more upscale than any other contemporary brand ship. I honestly would rate this ship as premium from my own experience given my experience onboard (Maybe flat out Luxury experience in the MSC Yacht Club).

The shows were amazing with every type of show and NEW production show each night. The entertainers were all quite good and there was even a Puccini opera! MSC has partnered with Cirque du Soleil and has two unique shows which have an added fee of 19 euro per show with champagne and macaroon snack. Both were entertaining and excellent but left the audience wanting more as they were only 45-minutes long each and abruptly ended wherein the audience did not understand that the show was over. You can even have dinner in this spectacular marvel of a venue for an added fee.

The Meraviglia has an amazing indoor sport arena, 4-D theater, massive kid’s area for all ages, slides, outdoor fun activities, and tons of hot tubs and pools everywhere…

While my sailing was packed, I did not find the ship overwhelming, but I don’t like crowds and enjoyed the Yacht club which buffered my experience exponentially.

This ship has a magnificent 3 level atrium which is lined with sparling Swarovski crystal steps that cost 10,000 euro per step. This adds a little more glamour to a stunning ship which has many more sitting areas clubs, bars, and more!

MSC is unique and allows embarkation in each port of call which takes of some of the crush when guests disembark. Early sailing were publicly slammed for absurdly long waits to disembark after a cruise but this never seemed an issue on my sailing at any time.

I would not hesitate to sail this ship again, but it is an international experience, has fewer American’s than most other lines, and is uniquely Italian in spirit and attitude. The Yacht Club remains t be an exceptional experience and one I highly recommend if you want more value and the extra TLC. MSC offers this experience better than any other line who may offer similar suite experiences.

You can see my entire ships photos here:

Read More…

Posted by: Tom Baker | May 26, 2017

The Lovely Seabourn Encore


Another amazing entrant has joined a league of small ships in the luxury sector of the cruise market. Seabourn Encore entered service last December and has had nearly six months of service under her belt as the larger sister to a trio of slightly smaller ships in the Seabourn fleet.

This vessel is incredibly well laid out and offers plenty of space for its luxury seeking guests . Encore is 40,000 plus tons, almost 700 feet long, caters to 600 guests in an all-suite configuration, making her among the most spacious luxury vessels afloat.

My cruise was a March  10-day Indonesian Archipelago cruise sailing from Bali to Singapore stopping at Komodo Island, Celukan on Bali, Probilingo, Sumatra, and Singapore. I had taken a longer version of this cruise on one of Seabourn’s now retired 200 passenger ships in 1993 and loved it. This cruise was quite the opposite as things have changed dramatically in Indonesia with the advent of technology and a flourishing economy… I’m not saying that I did not enjoy this trip but found so much of the exotic charm of Indonesia had been erased. Bali still lured with its exotic charm and incredibly gentle people but the place was radically built up from a few short decades ago and that landscape was clearly changed exponentially. The highlights were the 6.4 earthquake on sailing day in Bali before boarding the ship, the frightening private tour at Komodo Island where the evil dragons do exist and are as dangerous as advertised, and a lovely day to visit the magnificent temple of Borobudur with a lunch at Aman’s amazing resort adjacent to the historic site. Singapore is always amazing regardless and about the cleanest and most organized city on the planet!

About The Ship


Built at Fincantieri shipyards outside of Venice, the Seabourn Encore has a decidedly less Scandinavian feel than her predecessors and more of a yacht like feel with well-built dark wood furnishings and  richer fabrics. Each public space is exceptionally spacious and there is more public room space than on some ship that hold 1400 or more passengers. Famed interior designer Adam Tihany has created exceptional spaces throughout this elegant vessel with highly couture décor.

Seabourn Service


Seabourn has always had the skill set to procure staff that are caring, kind, gentle, and willing to please their sophisticated guests. Encore did not disappoint in most areas although my cruise entailed a major cruise staff change out so there were quite a few staff who did not quite have the companies “knack” u to snuff but the experience was still very pleasing form a staff interaction standpoint.

The staff in the Colonnade Buffet restaurant was exceptional and in Thomas Keller Restaurant. The Main Dining room was where I had quite a few concerns but I found a lovely waitress from Barbados who was exceptional and my entire party gravitated to her as she was exceptional and provided over the top service. A really unique thin that Seabourn has provided its dining staff is a pad that enters your suite number and your picture comes up when the Maitre d’hôtel confirms your table space. The pad logs all your meals, where you sat, who your wait staff were, and who joined you at your table. This is a very good tool for the staff and helps remember guests discerning needs.

The level of bar service was exceptional as this onboard all-inclusive product has an open bar policy where I enjoyed a nightly pre-dinner lovely champagne Kir Royale Cocktail nightly in The Club enjoying live music and having more than my fill of Seabourn’s generous complimentary caviar policy… A quick visit to the small casino was easy as this venue sits adjacent to The Club tempting patrons to drop a few dollars here and there!

Public Space & Entertainment


This ship has a wonderful feature called Seabourn Square that is an enormous lounge that serves as the ships Front Desk, a café, coffee house, library, shore excursion office, all with incredibly comfortable “living room” type of elegant furnishings. While I might ramble a bit about some features in other categories of this short review, this ship offers plentiful space and options for a magnificent spa and gym, observation lounge, huge showroom for Seabourn lectures and nightly entertainment that included excellent and professional review shows, two pools, multiple spa tubs, and a unique new area called The Retreat, where guests can pay extra for exclusive sunning areas, cabanas with TV’s and butler type service. This area has not taken off yet and I am not sure it will but it was drop dead gorgeous…

Encore’s Suites


I was in the lowest verandah suite category on Deck 5 forward and my suite seemed to measure a little over 300 square feet inside and I had a larger balcony than higher suites at 83 square feet although it had a partial metal wall. I did not find this to be a deterrent whatsoever. The average suites are very spacious with oversized queen beds (almost a king), beautiful and bountiful cabinetry, a full sized sofa, vanity, coffee table, two club chairs, a walk in closet, and a stunning dark marble and granite bathroom with separate bathtub and shower stall and twin sinks-all this with ample storage. Movies are on demand and programming is all complimentary and abundant. Internet, however, is not free (not yet anyway). The suite was comfortable, soothing, and simply elegant. The only area I did not have good service was here as my attendant was brand new, never met us on the first day, and became ill half way through the cruise wherein the Chief Housekeeper had to attend her suites which created a long delay of making up the suites and sometimes not cleaning the room at all other than making up the bed and replacing towels…

Seabourn Cuisine


Cuisine onboard was a mixed bag. Sometimes it was exceptional and sometimes it was not. The most disappointing aspect for me was Thomas Keller Grill. Having dined at both Perse and French Laundry, this steakhouse disappointed me hugely in the quality of food provided. Food was limp, under cooked, or even burnt… I tried the venue on 3 occasions during this 10-day cruise and all were a big disappointment. I heard this from many others as well but some thought it was the only place to dine. Go figure. I wonder what Mr. Keller would say if he just showed up… The Main dining room also varied although I always found something to eat. The advertised Sea Bass on formal night arrived as paper thin Barramundi. The complimentary wines were a bit weak. The biggest shock was the delivery of pedestrian Barefoot wine, where the  tried to tell me it was an award winning wine. I advised him I could purchase this for $4.99 a bottle at Costco in the US!!! As the cruise progressed the food did improve. I will add that the food at the outdoor poolside grill and in the Colonnade buffet was simply wonderful-as was the service there. Regardless of my comments, I did manage to gain close to 5 pounds…Perhaps the Kir Royales and caviar???

Please enjoy my Seabourn Encore photo album using this link:

Happy sailing…

Posted by: Tom Baker | February 5, 2017

The Most Luxurious River Ship Yet-Introducing…Crystal Mozart!

While all of the river cruise companies claim luxury and 5-star services, none can compete with the newest entry into the River Cruise market, Crystal River Cruises!

 Crystal Cruises has been the most heralded cruise Line for some 22 years in Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure and decided a little over a year ago to take the 6-star services to Europe’s Rivers with a fleet of newbuilds… The first ship was a rebuild from a hull built in 1989, the largest river ship ever built, the TS Mozart. After taking the vessel down to bare metal and completely rebuilding it at an untold cost with all couture interior decoration, Crystal rechristened this elegant vessel in July of 2016. Crystal Mozart is 395 feet long, 74 feet wide, carries only 154 passengers in an all-suite configuration with an extensive crew of 92 to pamper its guests. To put it in perspective, other luxury competitors have less than 50 crew members to care for roughly the same or more guests…

 I am including a link to my extensive photographs of this gorgeous vessel and my 10-night December 2016 Christmas Markets Cruise sailing roundtrip from Vienna but here are some of the facts that make this vessel extra special…

 The Crystal Mozart is all-inclusive onboard and includes luxury accommodations that range in size from 216-884 square feet, all have butler service, 24 hour room service (unheard of on other vessels), includes gratuities, all gourmet meals, premium beverages, and an extensive list of daily sightseeing excursions!

 The best features are her onboard service and carefully selected genteel crew who hail mostly from Central and eastern Europe. The are about the best I have encountered at sea or on any other river experience. The dining options are taken in three venues (vs. 1 or maybe two on other ships) and offer open seating (also unheard of on other vessels). The food is farm to table and as close to Michelin as one can get. Crystal River Cruises also includes an array of excellent shore excursions and offers guest the chance to book a Michelin Star dining experience in places like Vienna or Budapest, also included in the price. My favorite event was the private evening visit to Belvedere Palace in Vienna wherein the guests were treated to small curated art tours of the extensive Klimt paintings while sipping the adored Adele Champagne and then ending with a classical Austrian concert in the Marble Hall along with ballet and Opera performances-This is a real WOW!!!

 Crystal Mozart will be joined by a fleet of newly built all-suite 80 passenger vessels starting in 2017 that will cruise Europe’s rivers. For now, the Mozart id the Belle-of-the Ball and offers an exceptional cruise experience

Experienced travelers will love this pampering experience on the most stylish of vessels and exceptional crew who will pamper your every need!

 Link to My pictures:



Posted by: Tom Baker | November 9, 2016

Something Special-Something NEW

Viking River Cruises is the undisputed leader in the River Cruise market with 50% of all river cruise inventory. Some competitors refer to this excellent brand as the Carnival of river cruises but that could not be farther from the truth. Viking Cruises is a privately owned and operated company with headquarters in Los Angeles. A few short years ago they announced that they would enter the cruise market place with Viking Ocean Cruises and some 14 months after the launch of Viking Star, Viking has introduced one of the most unique and wonderful cruise products that has already propelled the brand into Travel & Leisure Readers top Spot for 2016…

 At 48,000 tons, 745 feet long, 930 guests in all balcony accommodations the Biking Star introduced in 2015 will be followed by identical sisters Viking Sea (2016), Viking Sky (2017), Viking Sun (2017), and Viking Spirit (2018).

 I was fortunate to sail for 4-days from New York to San Juan in October and had ample time to enjoy this magnificent ships facilities from top-to-bottom and will tell you after some 275 cruises, this is one of the finest, high quality built and designed vessels to EVER enter service! This ship is laden with Scandinavian design with a very modern and light flair, lots of wood, soft leather, tile, Scandic Art, and is perhaps the cleanest ship I have sailed on. Viking Star appears larger indie than her 48,000 tons with most of her finely designed balcony cabins coming in at 270 square feet. The thoughtful design touches are everywhere but all cabins and suites have large screen TV’s with complimentary movie channels, Viking includes beer, wine, and soft drinks at lunch and dinner, and include all alternative dining venues as well as a complimentary shore excursion in each port-of-call. This coupled with pricing that match lesser quality competitors Princess Cruises and Holland America Line give Viking Ocean Cruises a HUGE EDGE over other premium class lines. The companies policy is to under promise and over deliver and that they do!

 I honestly would classify the Viking Star and her sisters in the high deluxe category falling just under luxury brands. The food is excellent in all the venues, the ship has thoughtful library book collections throughout the ship, offers a spectacular pool, solarium, magnificent spa, multiple dining venues that are never crowded, and offers unfailingly polite and well-trained crew to pamper its guests. I would imagine that Viking’s competition must be shaking in their boots…

 Viking claims to be a “Thinking Person’s Cruise” and I agree. Between excellent lectures, great floor shows with terrific singers, and great information provided on ports and the complimentary array of excursions offered, this is a win-win cruise…

 Take some time to review my extensive photos taken onboard this wonderful ship Viking Star. Better yet, take a cruise on here in the Baltic & Norway, The Mediterranean, Cuba, Canada/New England, and yes, even Cuba!!!




Having just completed my 11th river cruise from Nile in Egypt to the Danube, Rhine, and Rhone rivers in Europe! This sailing was with Viking river Cruises, the largest player in the river cruise market. While some of Viking’s competitors call them the “Carnival” of river cruises, that could not be farther from the truth! Viking River Cruises is a class act and a fine company. They are indeed the biggest company with 65+ river ships but are privately owned, well managed, Their CEO even reads every customer complaint letter personally and sets a task group to solve any issues that pop up. They are quality controlled and own all of the assets outright with little or no debt, and own a sophisticated hotel training school in Switzerland where all staff are trained.

 My small group of 27 sailed this year on Viking Heimdal  (a perfectly maintained 3 year old vessel) on August 3-10, 2016 from Avignon to Lyon in the South of France along the Rhone in lovely Provence. Our typical group cruise has been around 60 participants but times have changed and concerns over terrorism have increased slowing some tourist  business especially in France. Nonetheless, our smaller group prevailed and we had a marvelous time with perfect weather and a most safe journey! River cruises are popular for the sophisticated traveler due to the intimacy and smallness of the vessels as river ships cater to a smaller audience of 130-190 maximum guests, offer more port stays and visit the internal heart of Europe where travelers are most welcome!

About Viking Heimdal

This fantastic vessel is only 3 years old, looks absolutely brand new inside and out, and is managed by the affable Hotel Director Bea who runs a tight and very friendly ship. The Heimdal Cruise Director is Christine and she too is a kind, warm, personal, and with a s fine an attention to detail as one could possibly want. Both ladies seem4d to be at all places at all times-a true management skill that goes above and beyond. The Viking Longships are innovative in their design with a Scandinavian décor that is simple, colorful, and elegant. Viking Heimdal is 443 feet long, carries a maximum guest compliment of 190, has a pampering crew of 50, 4 decks in total, and more floor to ceiling space and balconies than ANY other river ship! The ship has a lovely main lounge where lectures, wine and cheese tasting, evening entertainment, ans social activities take place. The large open air lobby offers a substantial library with an honor system check out for books, a small internet center, a gift shop, concierge desk-where land spa, gym, bike rentals, dining ashore, and other arrangements can be made, a large dining room where all meals take place, and a lovely Aquavit Terrace at the front of the ship which can open all the way up for a huge indoor/outdoor seating area and all meals are also served here casually. It is a spectacular part of the ship and always busy with guests. The top deck has open air and covered deck chairs, loungers, a sports and jogging track, and even an herb garden where  Chef Max picked his daily herbs. All of this atop closes down when traversing the locks for guest safety and many of the features fold down to deck level during this process. I found this quite fascinating.

 The Cruise

My sailing offered a journey along France’s southern Rhone River from Avignon to Lyon. This is a delightful trip with abundant scenery, vineyards (some of Europe’s best wines), Roman ruins and history, as well as the Papal cities of Avignon, Van Gogh’s Arles, Tournon for a visit to the amazing vineyards and town of Chateaneuf du Pape, and Lyon, the gastronomical capital of Europe! We visited Avignon, Arles, Vienne, Tournon, Viviers, Macon, and Lyon along with scenic cruising on the Rhone and traversing some 12 locks that made the Panama canal transit seem pale by comparison! It is a historic, artsy, and wine lovers paradise…

 Getting There

The ease of Avignon is reached by TGV or Viking transfer from nice or Marseille. I chose to come by TGV from Paris ( a three hour high speed ride). The return from Lyon offers air service through Paris of Frankfurt with ease or the TGV back to Paris (only two hours).  Airfare from most US gateways is quite easy and most of my passengers flew with Air France, KLM, British Airways or Lufthansa.

 The Staff

As mentioned, Viking staff are well trained in Switzerland and understand the nature of its well-traveled guests. The staff were accepting, warm, and very friendly without being too knowing. It was a ship that welcomed everyone freely and easily. The staff of 50 multi task and work hard long hours. Tips are pooled at the end of the cruise and one can sign the optional tips to their shipboard account (16 euro per guest per day) including the Cruise Director. The ship’s bar staff is excellent and offer superb array of cocktails. The silver Spirits beverage package (a bargain at $170 per guest for a week) included top shelve beverages. Keep in mind that Viking provides complimentary bottled water, coffee drinks, and beer, wine, and soft drinks with lunch and dinner! My cabin was meticulously maintained with fresh flowers, stocked mini bar, Viking branded generous toiletries, and even a Nespresso coffee machine!



The cabins on the Viking Heimdal and all Longships are standard and range from a smaller 135 square feet for a standard French Balcony cabin to 445 square feet for the larger Explorer suites. All have a decent sized bathroom beautifully tiled with heated tile floors, plentiful storage for a 7-day journey, convertible twin to queen sized bed with fluffy pillows, duvet, and even a 40 inch inter active and complimentary television with substantial movies. Internet is complimentary onboard but can be quite spotty and slow on the river-be aware! I found that my mobile device was the most reliable for work email and Facebook vs. a laptop or IPad. There is no room service offered.


Viking includes a daily tour on each itinerary (sometimes 2) that are included in the price of the program. These tours are hosted by English Speaking guides and take off on Viking’s own fleet of first class coaches. They are bus and walking tours so guest need to know and group sizes could range up to 30 per tour bus. The whisper head set made touring easy though as one could window shop, and look around all while listening to the excellent guides employed by Viking. Tours are also set by pace of guest so you can advise what pace works best and the proper coaches are assigned. The departure for tours is done easily without any rush and guests are all pre assigned to a coach and that number along with a special address and phone number of the ship are handed out to each guest before departing. It is civilized and highly organized. Most of the tours depart around 9am or so and return around 1230-130pm in time for a substantial lunch onboard the ship and then Viking offers an optional afternoon excursion for a fee generally or allows for free time to visit the ports, shop, dine ashore, or just stay onboard and relax.


The dining experience on Viking Heimdal was the best yet of my 5 Viking River Cruises. They seem to keep upping the bar each time and doing a better job. This is likely due to the fact that all competition on the rivers has ramped up and the guest expectation is higher especially considering the higher price point. Prices start around $2300 per person to $3500 on average. Viking offers up to Free or reduce rate airfare from certain air gateways. Breakfast and lunch are buffet style in the dining room with a superb array of salads, hot and cold items, and even off the menu order items for those who do not like buffets. Dinner service is 700-715pm each night and open seating with a menu where 3 courses are offered and multiple choices of delicious items and on this cruise-plentiful French cuisine and items from Provence are on the menu. The food quality was absolutely top drawer, tasty, and well prepared by Austrian Chef Max who was quite skilled in the style of French dining! If a guest did not want the dining room, a more casual service was offered in the expansive indoor/outdoor Aquavit Terrace upstairs. There was never a lack of food and always a snack to be had whether fresh fruit cookies and even a delightful cheese and wine tasting one afternoon. The quality and taste was better than nearly all but high luxury ocean going ships. Viking also serves complimentary soft drinks, beer, and wine with lunch and dinner. There is also a dual set of coffee bars with tea and snacks offered 24 hours a day!


A river cruise is ideal for an experienced traveler looking for the intimacy of a smaller ship, travel experience that becomes more personal, allows for more guest interaction, and allows for freedom of choice… My group had a brilliant time and experience as we sailed the Rhone River and you can see my complete pictorial found on Smugmug here:

 Happy Cruising!



Posted by: Tom Baker | July 31, 2016

A Most Luxurious Ship Indeed…


While regent Seven Seas Explorer is marketed by its owners as the “most Luxurious Ever Built” and Trade Marked as such, this is really the perception of the traveler and their idea as to what luxury is. Luxury is defined differently by many and is a matter of perspective…

Having spent 8 day on this amazing new ship, I will attest that Seven Seas Explorer is indeed extremely luxurious and likened to a Four Season or Ritz Carlton hotel ashore. The décor of the ship is both traditional and contemporary and built to match timeless style to be a trendsetter for the next 20+ years. She is 56,000 tons, 735 feet long and carries only 750 maximum guest pampered by a crew of 542. The space per guest alone belies luxury but this ship is stylish, appointed with amenities for really discriminating travelers and follows the parent companies all-inclusive motto of providing business class airfare roundtrip overseas, all beverages onboard, gratuities, and most shore excursions. This takes away the nickel-and-diming approach so many cruise lines follow today and caters to a highly affluent guest seeking fine dining with many added restaurants (all-included of course), large suites-this ship is an all-suite configuration, higher to normal crew to passenger range nearly 1 to 1, and space-no lines, no waiting, no inconveniences of any sort-ever!

I was privileged to sail with some 700 VIP travel agent partners, press, and shareholders of Regent Seven Seas parent company Norwegian cruise Line Holdings which also includes Contemporary brand Norwegian Cruise Line and upper premium brand, Oceania Cruises. This portfolio is managed by competent CEO Frank Del Rio, who started Oceania Cruises in 2003 during challenging times and carried

The company to great success. He is a true visionary and leader. Frank also does not miss a beat and has impeccable style as he was constantly around the vessel fine tuning the most intimate details making sure this exquisite vessel was ready to take on her wealthy clients and pamper them in the style promised to deliver.

The ships Christening took place in Monte Carlo on a breezy July night by Princess Charlene (wife of Prince albert-also in attendance), and followed by a touching concert by Andrea Bocelli. It could not have been any more romantic and stunning. A large black tie crowd joined pier side for a number or proceedings by companies management before Princess Charlene cut the ribbon that sent the bottle of my personal favorite, Vueve Clicquot champagne hurling towards the bow of Seven Seas Explorer and resplendently smashing. I can caught a bit of champagne splatter on my tuxedo…

The Ship

Has an amazing array of public rooms, gift shops, dining venues (at least 6), large lounge for Broadway Style entertainment (shows are produced by Norwegian cruise Line) and while not all my style, they were quite professional with excellent singers and dancing! There is a casino, huge Canyon Ranch Spa at Sea-complete with a gorgeous infinity pool at the aft end of the vessel, a large true swimming pool, and oh, so much more for the few 750 guests who will have the pleasure of sailing onboard. The lobby is perhaps the most elegant I have ever seen and the ship boast some 200 chandeliers, acres of intricate marble and granite- and the list goes on… you can judge for yourself from my personal Smugmug picture to follow in two links below.


The all-suite configuration falls in line with Regent’s policy of having an al suite ship in its small 4 ship fleet. The Explorer has suites that range in the smallest at 219 square feet (well, not really a suite) to over 3875 square feet. A majority of the suites are in the 415-464 square feet in size. This was the category I was in and I loved the layout. The colors were done in dark blue and gray hues with a dark blue carpet (unfortunately, this carpet color showed every speck of dust and item dropped on it). The cabin was decorated in rich lighting and moldings, had beyond excellent drawer space a small sofa and coffee table, large vanity for the ladies, a huge walk-in-closet with even more drawers, and a safe, a bar set up, complimentary stocked refrigerator, 24 hour full menu room service, massive marble and granite bathroom with twin sinks excellent storage, full sized bathtub, and a separate shower. It was gorgeous but did not have heated floors and at night I had to place towels down as it got very chilly on the feet. The suite is well supplied with supple towels, robes, slippers, umbrella, and plentiful L’Occitaine toiletry amenities. The balcony was massive and had plenty of elegant furnishings in high end wicker style. The doorbell was a nice touch but oddly missing was the electronic Do Not disturb or Make Up My Room signal. One had to hang an old fashioned plastic coated paper on the door which did not fit and tore easily. Nonetheless, the suites are lovely and the bedding as comfortable as any true luxury hotel anywhere in the world!


The Seven Seas Explorer has an amazing multinational crew onboard but a bulk of her cabin and dining room staff hail from the Philippines and Indonesia. At first, I was concerned that they may lack the training that other all European crewed ships in this luxury category usually employ and at least most staff hail from Europe, but this did not deem to be an issue at all and I found the service quite good across the board-especially in the dining room. The exception was my cabin steward who was never particularly friendly and always seemed bothered and overworked. All-in-all, my service was quite good with the exception of some meals taking exceedingly long to serve dinners but hey, on vacation who really cares and fine dining is about TAKING YOUR TIME!!!


The overall dining experience rated an 8.5 out of 10 for me personally. I found the food quality and taste excellent in all the dining venues and had the chance to dine in every venue onboard. I had two entrees that were not to my liking but that is my taste. Otherwise, I found the food very good, served nicely, and most of the time, it was downright excellent. There is still some room for improvement and other guests had issues that were conveyed pretty constantly, but I did not encounter and serious flaws in the food and felt the quality, presentation, and taste mostly excellent. Mr. del Rio is going to take this brand for Michelin Star ratings so perfection must take place and I know they will work quite hard to obtain this coveted award… The ships main dining room was never full and the food there was as good as any of the alternative dining venues which included. Italian- Sete Mari, Asian- Pacific Rim, Steakhouse- Prime 7, and Modern French- Chartreuse. There is also a huge buffet area both indoors and outdoors by the massive pool, gelato bar, and casual café and coffee bar open breakfast until dinner time! Don’t forget if you get puckish in the wee hours, there is an excellent 24-hour full menu room service choice…

Shore Excursions

While regent Seven Seas offers unlimited complimentary shore excursions, I enjoyed about half of the ones taken and walked off of two due to the guides not really speaking to the group but to individual travelers instead of the whole. This seems to be a continued weak link in this brand as far as I am concerned and I find most well-traveled folk want private or small group arrangements vs. organized large group travel when sightseeing… Nonetheless, my concerns do not seem to hurt this brand…

Lasting Thoughts

This magnificent ship is a welcome addition into the high luxury category and I know she will win the hearts of her affluent travelers as she sets sail on the World’s Seven Seas…

Toms Picture links:

Posted by: Tom Baker | June 28, 2016

The Med Is A Buyers Market



One of the most rewarding and insightful cruises is a cruise to the Mediterranean. I have put together a guide of cruises based on my decades of experience cruising in this wonderful destination.

Ships and Cabins

Best-value ship The Norwegian Epic megaship is quite affordable. It offers top-notch onboard entertainment, lots of dining options, the most coveted ports, and a Nickelodeon kids’ program, all with rates starting under $100 per person per day.

Best large ship My favorite large ships are Celebrity’s Eclipse, Equinox, Silhouette, and Reflection. These four cruisers are 1,041 feet long but carry only 2,850 passengers, making them some of the most spacious in all of the Mediterranean. They are practically contemporary art galleries, with amazing public areas, lots of open deck space, huge gyms, Canyon Ranch spas, and food and wine designed by James Beard. Nearly 90 percent of the cabins have balconies, and there are lots of connecting cabins for families.

Best ship for foodies Even compared with much higher-priced luxury lines, Oceania Cruises has the best food, wine, and array of gourmet restaurants. It’s no fluke: Famed chef Jacques Pepin designs menus for every dining venue on all of Oceania’s ships.

Best-value cabins Norwegian Cruise Line’s mini suites offer nearly twice as much space as their standard balcony cabin. These cabins have almost king-sized beds, large sitting areas with a full sofa and vanity, and most have a larger bathroom equipped with a shower-tub unit. These cabins often go for under $200 per person per day for a weeklong Mediterranean cruise.

Norwegian Epic – Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Cabins worth the splurge The 5,750-square-foot Garden Villas on the Norwegian Pearl and the Norwegian Jewel. They each have with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, floor-to-ceiling windows, multi-tiered balconies, and an outdoor hot tub. Oh, and there’s a butler too, on hand to help you unpack, make reservations for restaurants and shore excursions, or plan the party you could easily host on your huge private sundeck. All the Garden Villas are in the VIP Haven section, which has its own pool, gym, and restaurant. While there are more luxurious ships sailing in Alaska, Norwegian has gone all out with its Garden Villas. They’re easily the largest family staterooms at sea—they can comfortably accommodate up to eight—and are outfitted with the same amenities you’d expect to find at a five-star hotel. In fact, these rooms are so private and so luxurious that many Hollywood and music-industry celebrities, and even one royal family, have booked them. Not surprisingly, luxury like this doesn’t come cheap: The suites run about $25,000 per week, but occasionally you can snag them for thousands less.

Best cabins for families Thanks to an innovative design, the connecting cabins on Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice class of ships borrow some space from the public hallways (the recessed front doors to the two cabins form a private entryway), giving families more room to maneuver. You can fit a total of eight travelers in the two rooms, which together comprise nearly 400 square feet. Furthermore, the privacy partitions on the balconies can be opened for maximum family use.

Where to Cruise

Best itinerary Though most itineraries are built to fit into a week’s vacation, a 10- to 12-day cruise gets you to more ports and, in the end, delivers a much more rewarding experience. Celebrity’s ten-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise on the Reflection, starting and ending in Rome, covers Sicily, Mykonos, Santorini, Athens, the ancient Greek ruins at Ephesus (in modern-day Turkey), and more. There are several departures from May through September.

Best short cruise I wouldn’t recommend anything shorter than a seven-day cruise; choose a Western Mediterranean itinerary that starts and/or ends in Barcelona or Rome—both have convenient flights from the U.S. I like the Norwegian Epic’s seven-day Western Mediterranean from Barcelona, which covers history (Rome and Pompeii, accessible from Naples), the arts (Florence, accessible from Livorno) the French Riviera (Cannes), and Majorca.

Don’t-miss port Barcelona. While Spain’s economy is in trouble, this city thrives with rich Parisian-style streets and Belle Époque architecture. It also has amazing pre- and post-cruise hotel options (at more affordable rates than you’ll find in Italy or France), and a world-class cornucopia of restaurants, nightclubs, and shopping. Plus, the weather is pleasant and mild year-round.

Best photo op Without a doubt, a cruise into or out of Venice—with the sunlight glinting off the red roof tiles of this ancient city—is worth a thousand pictures. The ships dock just half a mile from St. Mark’s Square, and virtually all of the itineraries that begin or end in this wonderful port include an up-close cruise right along the Grand Canal.

Port most worth the trek Celebrity Cruises visits Salerno, in the heart of the rugged and scenic Amalfi coast, while most other big ships have to call at Naples. From Salerno, you have access to Amalfi, Positano, Ravello (go by local ferry—it is faster and less hair-raising than the drive), and even Capri. This is a somewhat isolated part of Italy, where the postage-sized ports offer local atmosphere, warm hospitality, and some of the best ceramic shops anywhere!

Best shore excursion Santorini Sailing’s half-day group tours on their luxury yachts and large catamarans: Cruise around this scenic Greek island for a panoramic view (avoiding the huge crowds that flock to the small town of Fira), swim into the sulfur springs of the volcanic caldera, then stop at a beach for a gourmet barbecue with unlimited wine, beer, and soft drinks—all for around 90 euro per person. If you can, book the afternoon tour, which drops you at the top of a cable car that takes you down to the port after all the crowds have left, and you are there with a handful to watch a stunning and romantic sunset over the Aegean before heading back to your ship.

There are so many wonderful ships, price points, and options for cruising in the Mediterranean. Take your pick as increased capacity has made this destination a buyers’ market!

Happy Cruising.



Posted by: Tom Baker | June 22, 2016

Alaska Cruises-The Details

I have cruised to Alaska more than 50 times and have put together a nice reference guide for what I think are currently some of the best offerings to the great land for 2016 and some new cruises being offered in 2017.

Ships and Cabins

Best-value ship
The Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl, which set sail from downtown Seattle every Saturday and Sunday from May through September, and the Norwegian Sun, which cruises between Vancouver and Seward (a port for Anchorage) on what’s often called the Route of the Glaciers. Fares on these ships can be up to 25 percent less than on Holland America, Princess, and Celebrity. These ships are especially suited to families with young kids: The onboard atmosphere is casual—there’s no dress code—and the ships have well-managed kids’ clubs and a wide variety of entertainment options.

Silver Whisper Medallion Suite

Best ship for a splurge
Silversea’s all-suite Silver Whisper, which carries just 382 passengers. Even the smallest cabins are nearly 300 square feet and come with butler service. The food is sophisticated, thanks to Silversea’s partnership with Relais & Châteaux. Daily rates average $600 per person and include cocktails, wine, and other drinks, as well as gratuities. The ship caters to a largely international crowd.

Best large ship
The 2,800-passenger Celebrity Solstice. It’s a stylish ship, with wide-open spaces and glass skylights that fill the public areas with light. While the food in the main dining room is average, several of the ship’s smaller specialty restaurants turn out great meals for a modest fee. Starting in 2015, travelers in the top-category suites will get access to their own private restaurant, sundeck, and indoor lounge, and all beverages will be included in the cabin fare.

Best small ship
Two 62-passenger expedition vessels—the National Geographic Sea Bird and the National Geographic Sea Lion—sail between Sitka and Juneau, visiting many more ports than most big ships can manage. First-rate naturalists give lectures onboard between ports, and when the ship is docked, passengers board zodiacs, canoes, and kayaks to explore their natural surroundings up close. Neither vessel is plush, and the food is more home-style than gourmet, but the service is good, and you learn a ton. These Alaska cruises are pricey—nearly $1,000 per person per day—because of the unique itinerary and shipboard expertise, but they sell out quickly nonetheless, so book a year in advance. Ponant and Silversea have added their ultra-luxury ships in the Expedition market changing the game for those wanting to splurge on the BEST of the BEST!!!

Best ship for families
Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America often run promotions where kids under 18 sail free or at a fare of $99 to $199 per person. These sales are limited-time and capacity-controlled, but watch for them, because they can be the best-value sailings in Alaska. Keep in mind that Norwegian’s shipboard atmosphere is much more casual than Holland America’s; the latter is more traditional and has a dress code on some nights.

Best ship for a solo traveler
There are no bargains for solo travelers on an Alaska cruise: Fares for singles are based on double occupancy and thus are typically twice the usual price. Sometimes luxury lines such as Regent and Crystal Cruises and Silversea may charge solo travelers just 30 percent to 40 percent more than the usual per-person price.

Best ship for independent travelers
The small-ship expedition vessels operated by Un-Cruise Adventures and by Lindblad Expeditions/National Geographic offer knowledgeable onboard naturalists, zodiac landings, kayaking in Glacier Bay, guided hikes, and more. They cater to adventure seekers who would never be caught dead on a tour bus. Of course, the smaller the ship, the heftier the price tag. Rates start at $6,290 per person for a seven-day Alaska cruise.

Best ship for foodies
On Silversea’s Silver Whisper, chefs from Relais & Chateaux design menus for the main dining room and for Le Champagne, the smaller restaurant that specializes in gourmet food and wine pairings. Crystal Cruises, the #1 Rated Cruise Line in the World by Conde Nast and Travel & Leisure is also a foodies cruise with a Nobu restaurant onboard among many other grand dining choices!

Best-value cabins
Many people think they want a balconied cabin on an Alaska cruise, but the truth is that with cooler temps and plentiful rain and wind, passengers rarely use those balconies. Among my favorite cabins are Holland America’s large oceanview staterooms. At 200 square feet, with big picture windows, three to four closets, and relatively large bathrooms that come with a tub, these cabins accommodate three to four passengers comfortably and work especially well for families. AquaClass cabins on Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice are about the same size as the ship’s oceanview staterooms (195 square feet) but come with a balcony plus access to the spa’s private steam rooms and lounge, a dedicated concierge, and Blu, an intimate shipboard restaurant. The mini-suites on the Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl are 285 square feet (compared to 160 for a standard oceanview cabin) and sleep up to four people. They’re priced significantly lower than similar staterooms on competing ships and often cost only an extra $100 per person above the price of a balconied cabin.

Cabin worth the splurge
The 5,750-square-foot Garden Villas on the Norwegian Pearl and the Norwegian Jewel. They each have with three bedrooms, three bathrooms, floor-to-ceiling windows, multi-tiered balconies, and an outdoor hot tub. Oh, and there’s a butler too, on hand to help you unpack, make reservations for restaurants and shore excursions, or plan the party you could easily host on your huge private sundeck. All the Garden Villas are in the VIP Haven section, which has its own pool, gym, and restaurant. While there are more luxurious ships sailing in Alaska, Norwegian has gone all out with its Garden Villas. They’re easily the largest family staterooms at sea—they can comfortably accommodate up to eight—and are outfitted with the same amenities you’d expect to find at a five-star hotel. In fact, these rooms are so private and so luxurious that many Hollywood and music-industry celebrities, and even one royal family, have booked them. Not surprisingly, luxury like this doesn’t come cheap: The suites run about $25,000 per week, but occasionally you can snag them for thousands less.

Best cabins for families
The two-bedroom suites (Category SC Penthouse or Haven S4) on the Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Pearl, both of which sail on seven-day cruises from Seattle. The suites are 540 square feet, which is more than three times the size of a standard oceanview cabin, and have a king-size bed and sea-facing en-suite bathroom in the master bedroom. The second bedroom also has its own private bathroom, and there’s a living area and a dining room too. Both suite types offer concierge, butler, and VIP services. They can sleep up to six passengers (there’s a pullout sofa in the living room). Second best are the standard balcony cabins on the Celebrity Solstice. The ship has 121 connecting cabins in category SD-1A where Mom and Dad can have their own stateroom that connects to another stateroom accommodating up to four kids. Each cabin is at least 195 square feet, not including the balcony space, where the privacy partitions can also be opened.

Where to Cruise

Mount McKinley

Best itinerary
One that encompasses both the Inside Passage (an archipelago of 10,000 islands in the Alaska Panhandle near British Columbia) and the Gulf of Alaska (the coastline farther north that gives you access to Alaska’s interior). Sailings that include the gulf enable you to continue inland to Denali National Park, home of the tallest mountain in North America and the Big Five of Alaskan wildlife, including grizzly bears. These sailings are usually one-way between Vancouver and Anchorage—you fly into one city and back from the other—which makes them more expensive than solely Inside Passage cruises, which tend to be round-trip out of Seattle or Vancouver. Round-trip airline tickets to Seattle are most affordable, and thus many people find round-trip Inside Passage cruises out of Seattle to be the most budget-friendly and convenient; just be warned you’re missing Alaska’s backcountry.

Best short cruise
In May 2015 Princess Cruises will begin four- and five-day sailings round-trip out of Vancouver to Ketchikan (the salmon capital) and Juneau (the state capital and home to Mendenhall Glacier). Prices start at only $449 per person. The route is limited to the Inside Passage, but that’s good if you suffer from motion sickness, since the water there is calmer than in the Gulf of Alaska.

Don’t-miss port
Juneau, the state capital. It’s where you can heli-hike to Mendenhall Glacier; visit a salmon hatchery; take a guided rain-forest walk; or go river rafting, whale watching, or even golfing. Or you can sample an Alaskan-made microbrew and a halibut burger at the Red Dog Saloon, then take an aerial tram ride up Mount Roberts for panoramic views.

Port most worth the trek
Again, Skagway. It’s where the Klondike Gold Rush began in 1898, and the city still retains its historic character. One of the more interesting (and fun!) shore excursions is to take the narrow-gauge train along the jaw-dropping cliffs, while local guides spin yarns about the miners living in the area during the height of the Gold Rush.

Hidden-gem port
Sitka. It’s a historically rich and colorful little fishing town that was once the capital of the Russian fur-trading empire. In fact, it was here that the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. Today the shops, architecture, and even a local dance company hark back to the motherland. Sitka is also a base for water sports such as sea kayaking and diving.

Alaska is more popular than ever and choices abound for those looking for great prices and options…

Happy Cruising!

Posted by: Tom Baker | January 11, 2016

Cuba Cruise 2016-A Real WOW!!!

2016-01-06 18.15.14

Cuba is a land of deep contrast. The effects of a 50 year US embargo are seen in the decay of the cities especially in Havana but the country lives on with a vibrant culture of amazingly strong people that thrive despite its own governments restrictions and the countries lack of employment opportunities. The main cities including Havana seem to be starting a revival of sorts with a modernization of older buildings, burgeoning art scene, opening of new restaurants, and all great things Cuban that  never went away even during the last 50 years where time seems to have stood still.

Today, Americans are allowed to travel to Cuba via the People to People ALLOWED experiences  for travel under 12 US government set categories and one I  highly recommend for travel to CUBA before it really changes with proposed development is a Cuba Cruise. Cruising allows for a comfortable and affordable way to see this unique and VERY special island… Current US government allowances have approved travel programs to about 24 land and sea travel companies for US citizens to travel to Cuba. Currently, land tours average $800-$1000pp a day which is quite pricey for the quality of experiences offered! The quality of hotel offerings are few, quality is pretty low barring a couple of exceptions, and guests who participate in a land tour are hand held by a guided program most of their time ashore… A cruise offers a reliable way to see ports without long land distance coach tours from city to city traversing this large and beautiful island on unreliable roads and provides a comfortable home at sea to go to at the end of a day’s tour while visiting the various ports.

My cruise offered a 7-day Montego Bay itinerary and frankly the BEST of the cruise programs I have seen thus far. The ship sailed from Montego Bay to Santiago de Cuba (birthplace of Castro’s Revolution), a day at Sea, 2 full days and overnight in Havana (Capital and gem of Cuba), a beach day at unspoiled Maria La Gorda, and the artistic town of Cienfuegos with its amazing art galleries and Greek Revival architecture!

Going to Cuba and People To People Requirements

All  American Citizens and US residents (regardless of nationality) must complete a People To People application and make a $95per person donation. The best way to do this is use the link and follow the simple instruction:

Additionally, all travelers are required to purchase medical insurance that is valid in Cuba. The cost is affordable  $4.50 per person a day for Special Insurance if under 70 and slightly more if you are over 70, there is a $3 per person a day supplement. The link to do purchase this is:

Many US insurance companies like MH Ross now sell insurance that covers travel to cub for trip cancellation, interruption, and medical. This is separate from the above medical insurance!

Cuban visas are provided at embarkation. Guests must carry this as well as their passport in all ports of call when going on tour or going on an independent visit.

Montego Bay

Embarkation was smooth after a 2.5 hour flight from Houston. There are abundant flights to Montego Bay from many US gateways. The port is a short 15 minute ride from the airport and costs around $35 for a cab. The pier embarkation process takes just minutes and ones luggage arrives to the guests cabin simultaneously as the guest!

Disembarkation was smooth but Jamaican officials are slow in reviewing forms and this process takes more time. Do not plan a flight out before 1130am… Luggage is taken ashore and the process is completed from around 8:30-10:00am. The return cab costs the same.

The Celestyal Crystal by Cuba Cruise

This 3.5 Star ship has a storied career and was built originally in 1983 as a car ferry but was widely known in the 1990’s as NCL’s Leeward offering 3-4 day Bahamas cruises. She has been recently  partially refurbished by her Greek owners and offers 7-day cruises from both Montego Bay for Americans and Havana for foreign nationals. Crystal is only 25,000 tons, carries on average 800 passengers, 9 decks, and is 532 feet long!

The ship is vintage 1990’s, intimate, comfortable, and immaculately clean. Her cabins are spacious in most categories and while a bit dated in style, they are kept clean by a delightful cabin crew. Cabin bathrooms vary based on the cabin type and the higher the cabin type, the larger the shower stall. Celestyal Cruises just rebuilt the ship in November of 2015 and added some 53 balcony cabins to the vessel increasing overall comfort.  The public areas offer a large show lounge, main bar, some smaller meeting rooms, outdoor aft bar with Jacuzzi (very popular, 2 dining rooms, a buffet restaurant, a small pool with sliding glass dome and is air conditioned, a spa, hair salon, large gift shop for the size of the ship, and a tiny casino with slots and 3 gaming tables.

Onboard Service & Crew

The ship has a multi-national crew with 20% Cuban staffing for the Cuba Cruises. The staff  are quite friendly and work incredibly hard. The bar and dining service seem to be slower than most ships and this creates longer than usual waits for guests. Peak hours at dinner time 7-8pm create longer waits and the ship offers only open seating in the two main dining rooms along with a buffet up by the pool nightly to help offset waiting time but dinners usually lasted 2 hours or more due to lengthy waits between courses. Bar staff were taxed as the company now offers all-inclusive beverage programs and guests tend to drink more than on other ships!

The front office staff were always helpful and friendly but questions abounded frequently due to the newness of the ship (my sailing was only the third). Cabin staff were most helpful and kept cabins quite clean with two daily cabin and bathroom cleanings. One had to request hand towels which was odd. Bathrobes are provided for higher grade cabins. The gift shop staff were very friendly and always very helpful.

The ships officers were aloof and not nearly as friendly as I have experienced on other Greek ships. This was a bit of a disappointment but did not ruin the experience.


The affable Cruise Director Danny was one of the nicest I have encountered, her attended to a long list of activities including one-of-kind nightly 1 hour review shows (some featuring Cuban history like a show called Revolution). The singers were very good and the amount of offerings was more than most lines provide during a week. The ship also offered extensive Cuban dance, cooking lessons and activities around the People To People Immersion program, and a fantastic Cuban lecture series during the week which was quite detailed and interesting. There were usual vegetable carving classes by the cooking staff, and other normal shipboard activities during the time at sea.

Onboard Dining

Breakfast and lunch were mostly buffet style in the restaurant with some special order items and the offerings were fairly extensive but the quality was mostly average at best. All dining is open seating onboard so you most arrive with your party if you are traveling as a group of family. The food ranged from good to poor based on what you ordered and this was the downfall. I had some delicious and poor offerings all in the same meal selection so quality of preparation and delivery varied. The fish offerings were the best (not the Shrimp though). The deck BBQ was also quite good. I ended up ordering excellent Asian noodles with chicken several times which came on a steaming hot grill… Menu choices were the same as most ships but quality did vary. I heard the steaks were very thin and tough. The ship did offer a paid for upgrade for better quality steaks, shrimp, and lobster for a fee from $14.95 to $25.95 per person depending on the upgrade. Room service also came with a charge that was $6.95pp for continental breakfast and then a full varied menu that ranged from $4.45pp for sweet to$7.45pp for Pizza’s. The dining experience was pretty basic as I find on most mass market 3-4 star rated ships, but I certainly did not starve.

Excursions and People To People Tours

All tours for the P2P program are offered daily and guests  can actually upgrade tours in some ports and include nighttime show like the famous and historic Tropicana nightclub show in Havana… The offerings were mostly interesting and executed in a fairly timely manner in each port of call . The coaches were very comfortable fairly new, and had excellent A/C under the government owned Transtur. The guides are also provided by the government and varied in quality. I had very good Cuban guides except for the first day in Cuba wherein the guide barely spoke English and had a hard time communicating. When ashore, groups were 50 plus in size and it was nearly impossible to hear the guide speak in any noisy outdoor environment. The cruise line needs to invest is the whisper system for these type of tours to allow guests to get more out of their experience. All-in-all, I enjoyed the tours and learned quite a bit about Cuba and its people.

My Last  Impression

Celestyal Cruises offers the most affordable way currently to see Cuba. Other cruise lines charge significantly more and offer less time in ports as they sail from Miami or offer fewer port visits. Celestyal Cruises does not demand participation in the People To People program which allows guests to go ashore on their own if they like and not have to attend all lectures and Cuban based programming if they are not wanting to do so. I felt this made the overall program open to guests desire to learn as they wished and participate in the amazing destination that Cuba offers with its lack of US restaurants, shops, business, and influence. The Cuban people are kind, warm, willing to talk to you and have a strength that is amazing given their strict communist government implications. The restaurants are becoming abundant and some are downright amazing and incredibly affordable, there are exceptional art & ceramic galleries with superb unheard of prices. One can procure masterful paintings at a fraction of the price than nearly anywhere else in the world. There are incredible museums, well-kept antique American cars fill the streets, and beautiful song and dance are abundant everywhere. American’s can bring home Cuban Cigars and Rum now but all purchases for art works, gifts, and the aforementioned must be made in cash. Some vendors took US cash but most took only the Convertible CUC (Cuban Peso). There were change kiosk’s in every port allowing guest to convert the currency of their choice. I loved my Cuba experience, enjoyed going now before things radically change, and encourage anyone who wants to experience a vacation that is like stepping back some 50 years to do it now before things really do change!

My Pictures

Posted by: Tom Baker | November 15, 2015

Escape to Norwegian Escape!

Norwegian Escape

The New 162,000 ton, 1069 foot long, 4200 passenger Norwegian ESCAPE  is the latest entrance into the modern Norwegian Cruise Line fleet and is perhaps the best ship introduced into the fleet thus far.

Main Lobby

Norwegian Cruise line Holdings which also includes high premium class cruise brands Oceania Cruises and ultra-luxury Regent Seven Seas Cruises is managed under the venerable Frank Del Rio, a man of great style and panache and carries a unique motto- “Family first”. Del Rio has brought over many attributes from his own successful Oceania Cruises to the new style and décor of ESCAPE as well as improved the dining experience for all guests in all venues claiming that the NEW Norwegian Cruise Line is soon to be the “foodies cruise line” in the contemporary market brand shared with Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, and MSC Cruises.

Standard Balcony Cabin

I think Norwegian has a greater chance to be the winner as it seems so focused on experience and has always been the most innovative of cruise lines that all other brands have implemented and copied NCL innovations from full Broadway shows to Freestyle Dining and so on…


Escape offers a wide variety of cabins and suites to meet the needs of today’s diverse traveler. She has the largest array of complimentary and reservation (fee based) dining venues that make this more like a large world class resort than a traditional cruise experience. This ship has something for everyone and for all ages.


I found the dining experience excellent throughout and sampled a wide variety of venues during my recent 2-day Christening Cruise with Cuban born singer Pitbull. You can see Frank Del Rio’s touches everywhere and under NCL’s NEW president and longtime NCL veteran, Andy Stuart, the future of this company has never looked better! The seafood buffet offered abundant fresh Alaskan King Crab, full lobster tails, and fresh fish of wide-variety including sushi… There are two Margaritaville Venues by Jimmy Buffet, top brand gourmet dining venues with Bayamo by Jose Garces and Food Republic by the Pubbelly Group. These are just a few of some 28 dining venues onboard.

Food Republic

Entertainment was lively and exciting throughout this huge vessel with two full Broadway shows including After Midnight and spectacular Million Dollar Quartet as well as a fee based supper club with its dinner show and 1980’s theme Brat Pack Show which is a throwback to The 80’s Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day off…

Million Dollar Quartet

My balcony cabin was very comfortable with plenty of storage for a week or so and had a very nice well planned bathroom with shower stall. The balcony was larger than slightly smaller Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway.

The Luxurious Haven

Families will go crazy with amazing pools, slides, sporting activities, gym’s Mandara Spa, and huge dedicated kids clubs for all age groups…

NCL is already making some improvements to the Casino which will have enclosed smoking areas to improve overall guest health experience and note that the remainder of the ship remains strictly non-smoking per Safety Of Life At Sea maritime rules.


The Haven (private access high end suites) complex remains the largest in the fleet with nearly 3 decks dedicated to the space with its own ship within a ship experience and couture decorated suites, private pool, lounges, sun deck, spa, bar, restaurant (indoor and outdoor), and concierge desk…

Who is the Norwegian Escape for? Just about everyone. It meets the needs of travelers who may be more budget conscience to the high end luxury traveler wanting the private Haven enclave. This ship really competes with Las Vegas but is so much better as it floats, sails the Caribbean year-round, and offers multiple ports-of-call. It also offers an affordable vacation offer.

See my full photo show here:

 Happy Sailing!!!


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