Posted by: Tom Baker | June 18, 2018

Royalty On The River- Introducing Amadeus Queen


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The oldest river cruise company, Amadeus River Cruises with over 40 years of river cruise experience just launched its latest and most beautiful river cruise ship in Amsterdam.

The Amadeus Queen was christened in Amsterdam in a blustery April day by the daughter of the family owned cruise line that operates some 15 ships on Europe’s rivers. The Luftner family operate this incredibly well run and best-kept secret of river cruise companies. The Queen is 443 feet long has 4 passenger decks, and caters to a mere 162 passengers is one of the most spacious river ships and decorated in a very modern yet warm style. To put this in perspective, Viking long ships are the same length but carry 190 passengers in the exact same linear space.

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AMADEUS QUEEN DIFFERENCES

  • Larger cabins-average 188 square feet, have electric drop down French balconies, all have walk in closets, and have large bathrooms
  • Well trained European crew-Amadeus Cruises operates its own training school in Malta and has top notch quality control
  • Excellent food quality- The Luftner family are foodies and provision their vessels with top notch European grown food and meals are prepared farm to table!
  • Tours are not included-they are sold in modules with 15% discounts for advance purchase. This allows guests to tailor their experience based on individual desire vs. forcing all guests into the same tours as on other river cruises.
  • Amadeus prices are substantially less than all other competitors as they do not have the massive marketing costs of their competitors
  • This is one of the finest, most affordable, and elegant river cruise products…

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Enjoy this 360 degree tour here: https://v8a-moving-pictures.com/lueftner_cruises_amadeus_queen/index_en.html

I was privileged with being invited to the christening cruise of this most lovely ship and really though she was beautiful. Besides the appreciably larger staterooms, I enjoyed the glorious indoor/outdoor pool at the aft of the ship which is part club and part pool. This was designed after a Russian Oligarch’s private yacht and is just brilliant! My meals and service were excellent as well and this is a river cruise company not to be missed.

Check out my detailed pictures here: https://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/Amadeus-Queen-Christening-Cruise-April-2018/

Happy Cruising!

Posted by: Tom Baker | June 11, 2018

BEAUTIFUL BLISS!!!


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I recently sailed for two days on Norwegian Cruise Line’s beautiful and BEST SHIP to date, the 2018 Norwegian Bliss… The most amazing change besides her stunning interior décor is the amazing forward facing double deck observation lounges found both in the private Haven complex (for suite guests) as well as the massive side flanking and forward facing general public observation lounge which is one of the largest and most elegant complexes at sea…

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The 168,600-ton, 1070 feet long, 138 feet wide, 4,200-passenger, and 1716 crew members, 1 billion dollar cruise ship boasts the innovative features found on Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Breakaway, as well as a number of new interactive experiences. The new miracle by NCL features an expanded Haven – the line’s concept “ship within a ship”. This space (accessible only by keycard) boast an outdoor terrace, private restaurant, courtyard area with retractable roof pool, whirlpools, spa treatment rooms, separate sauna, private sundeck. Other differences from the Breakaway-class NCL vessels are: more Haven Suites (42 to 55), 26 additional Penthouses, 14 Spa access suites, more Studio cabins (59 to 82). The home port of the ship is Port of Miami.

Bliss itinerary program

Norwegian Bliss itinerary program is based on weekly 7-day Alaska voyages departing Seattle on Saturdays. Passengers experience the wildlife and beauty of Alaska while visiting Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and enjoy the charm of Victoria BC.

Following the inaugural Alaskan season, the ship was homeported in Miami, Florida for the winter season 2018-2019, with scheduled 7-day Caribbean roundtrips to St Thomas USVI, Tortola BVI, Nassau Bahamas.

In January 2018, NCL announced that for winter season 2019-2020, the Bliss ship will be homeported in NYC- New York. From NYC, the ship will operates on roundtrip itineraries to Caribbean (a total of 18 voyages). Ranging from 7- to 14-days, the itineraries visit call ports in Bahamas (Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay), St Lucia, St. Thomas USVI, Antigua, Jamaica (Ocho Rios), Puerto Rico (San Juan), Barbados, St Maarten, St Kitts, Roatan, Mexico (Costa Maya, Cozumel), Belize (Harvest Caye).

Bliss Cabins

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Most Norwegian Bliss staterooms are 170-tt2 Balcony rooms (1088). There are a total of 2206 staterooms in 42 categories. 47 are the wheelchair accessible rooms. The largest staterooms are the Haven Deluxe Owner’s Suites (900 ft2). The ship offers 82 single cabins (studio staterooms designed for solo travelers) with virtual views and exclusive Studio Lounge. The ship also features many family cabins (connecting staterooms) across most categories.

Bliss Dining options – Food & Drinks

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Norwegian Cruise Line introduced Norwegian Bliss’ à la carte specialty dining at the signature specialty restaurants onboard, providing passengers the freedom to savor gourmet dishes, various tastes and the flexibility to choose the number of courses to enjoy during the meal. On Norwegian Bliss guests can choose between 11 complimentary dining options. They can also experience new flavors at signature specialty restaurants, such as Le Bistro, La Cucina, Cagney’s Steakhouse and Ocean Blue. Norwegian’s signature specialty restaurants feature enhanced menus including favorite dishes and new tastes. Whether passengers prefer a light meal of a favorite soup or appetizer, or indulge in a dinner featuring Maine lobster, with the new à la carte options, they have the opportunity to create their own, desired dining experience.

  • The shipboard dining options feature the new “Q Texas Steakhouse” (barbecue eatery with live country music). The menu includes brisket, chicken, ribs and sausages smoked over oak, pecan and hickory woods. A modern Mexican restaurant is named Los Lobos (first debuted on Norwegian Dawn in 2016). I dined here one night and the food was surprisingly excellent as were the margaritas!
  • Adjacent to Los Lobos is The A-List Bar, serving handcrafted cocktails, premium spirits and wines.

Norwegian Bliss is the first NCL ship with full-service Starbucks store. The first Starbucks at sea was opened in 2010 on Allure of the Seas (Royal Caribbean). Another new for NCL amenity is the chocolate-themed dessert outlet Coco’s (patisserie / treat shop), serving handmade pralines, crepes, truffles and other treats paired with specialty teas and coffees.

Follows the complete list of Norwegian Bliss restaurants and food bars.

  • Private Room at Taste (100-seat, group private dining venue)
  • Savor Restaurant (forward Dining Room, complimentary)
  • Taste Restaurant (forward Dining Room, complimentary, with Your Time dining)
  • Le Bistro (French specialty dinner-only restaurant; reservations-only; US$20 cover charge)
  • Teppanyaki (Japanese Hibachi specialty, reservations-only restaurant; US$25; open for Lunch and Dinner; features live cooking demonstrations)
  • Manhattan Room (aft-location Dining Room; complimentary; Freestyle dining, Dinner only)
  • O’Sheehan’s Neighbourhood Bar & Grill is now called The Local (sports bar, with 24-hour American cuisine – burgers, steaks, desserts; complimentary)
  • Food Republic (via partnership with Pubbelly Restaurant Group; specialty restaurant open for lunch through dinner, offers international cuisine; iPad ordering system)
  • Cagney’s Steakhouse (specialty dinner restaurant for prime steaks and gourmet seafood specialties; reservations-only, US$30 cover charge per person and free Kids Menu)
  • La Cucina (Italian specialty restaurant; reservations-only, US$15 cover charge; with outdoor seating waterfront area)
  • Ocean Blue Restaurant (seafood restaurant)
  • Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville At Sea (debuted in Southampton on October 27, 2015 as a complimentary fast food restaurant; however, in November 2015 NCL confirmed that the first ever Margaritaville at Sea aboard Norwegian Bliss, would operate as a specialty a la carte restaurant, due to “crowd-control reasons”)
  • Garden Cafe (complimentary buffet restaurant with various cuisine stations)
  • Q (Texas barbecue eatery)
  • Los Lobos (Mexican restaurant)
  • Coco’s (chocolate-themed dessert outlet)
  • The A-List Bar (serving handcrafted cocktails, premium spirits and wines)
  • Starbucks coffee shop & store.

Entertainment options – Fun & Sport

The Bliss vessel features expanded 55-suite Haven, a spacious sundeck, 2 whirlpools, private dining and specialty restaurants, expanded courtyard, outdoor terrace, Thermal suite, treatment rooms (14 – suite Heaven SPA) and fitness center.

NCL Bliss is the world’s second cruise ship (together with NCL Joy) featuring a Ferrari racetrack (deck 19). It’s a first for a cruise ship based in North America. The facility is built by RiMO Supply (RiMO Germany Group) and operated via partnership with Scuderia Ferrari Watches. This is also the first ever branded Formula 1 race car track.

  • The 2-level track spans on 2 decks and offers incredible sea views at height of 60 m  (200 ft). It has capacity up to 10 racers at a time on electric go-karts (Ferrari branded).
  • The Go Cars can reach speeds up to 40 mph (65 kph). In comparison to the sister-ship Norwegian Joy, Bliss’ racetrack is 40% longer and has 10 turns (Joy has 8), two of which are cantilevered over the ship’s side.
  • Passengers booked in Concierge and The Haven staterooms enjoy complimentary rides with bookings. The used by RiMO technology ensures optimal usage under intensified UV conditions and saltwater exposure.

NCL Bliss features an open-air laser tag course on the top deck. Other top-deck features are Aqua Park )with 2 multi-deck water slides, one with a hull-extending loop, one with transparent loop section stretching down to the below deck), 2 racing slides (inner tubes with length over 110 m / 360 ft) with a transparent section.

Pool Deck 16 has 2 pools (located away from the deck’s center) and cantilevered whirlpools (hot tubs over the ship’s sides). A water fun kids zone (on top deck) has splash pads, tipping buckets, water cannons and slides.

Follows the complete list of Norwegian Bliss lounges, clubs and other entertainment venues for kids, teens and adults.

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  • Bliss Theatre (800-seat; features Broadway-style musical productions; two grand-shows per night). Theater’s signature programming features the new Broadway musical show “Jersey Boys” (“Best Musical” 2006 Tony Award, rock ‘n’ roll themed) and the “Four Seasons” musical (NCL exclusive production show by Warren Carlyle / themed on Cuba’s culture – dancing, music, costumes).
  • The Supper Club (theatrical entertainment dining venue, with grand-style aerial acrobatics; surcharge $30-40 PP)
  • Atrium (3-deck midship hub area – “678 Ocean Place”, with a big-size LED screen, dance area and live entertainment)
  • Atrium Cafe & Bar (specialty tea & coffee bar)
  • The Library; Card Room; Internet Cafe (24-hour)
  • Headliners Comedy Club & Lounge
  • Mixx Bar (live piano music; pre-dinner cocktails); Bar 21; 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar; Tobacco Road Liquor Bar; The Humidor (cigar lounge); The Cellars Wine Bar; Sugarcane Mojito Bar; Prime Meridian Bar; Studio Lounge
  • Carlo’s Bake Shop (cakes, pastries, bakeries; cupcake classes)
  • Art Gallery
  • The Cavern Club replica of the Liverpool music club, Beatles music, tribute bands performances)
  • Bliss Casino (served by Skyline Bar)
  • The District Brew House (craft beer hall featuring a keg room, 24 draft beers on tap and 50 different bottled beers; via partnership with Wynwood Brewing Company, Miami)
  • Dolce Gelato (Italian ice cream)
  • Atrium Boutiques (tax-duty free shops); Photo Gallery & Shop
  • Waterfront Promenade (1320 ft/402 m long; open air dining and entertainment venues)
  • Aqua Park (3-deck, with two pools, 2 racing twist-slides and 5 multi-level waterslides)
  • Kids venues, club lounges (Kid’s Aqua Park, Splash Academy for kids 3-12 yo, Guppies Nursery for kids 6 months to 2 yo)
  • Mandara Spa & Fitness (Thermal Suite, Snow Room, Salt Room, Medi Spa, 24 Treatment Rooms, Beauty Salon, Barber Shop, fitness classes)
  • Spice H2O (adults only; served by Breezeway Bar & Grill)
  • Entourage Teen Centre (jukeboxes, table football, video arcades, teen disco)
  • “The Haven” (Suite- and Villa-passengers only complex; consists of The Haven Courtyard, The Haven Restaurant, The Haven Lounge)
  • Rock Climbing Wall; Jogging Track; Sports Complex (Spider Web – enclosed 24ft/7m tall kids climbing wall with spiral slide, Bungee Trampoline, 9-hole Mini Golf course, the largest at sea Ropes course, Zip Line, The Plank – 8ft/2,5m extending platform)
  • Vibe Beach Club (adults only).

This is a ship for all tastes and budgets and is one of the best ships introduced to date. Please check out my complete photo tour: https://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/Toms-Norwegian-Bliss-Gallery-May-2018.

Happy Cruising!

 

Posted by: Tom Baker | April 11, 2018

MSC Seaside-Bella Italia in Miami


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MSC Cruises recently made a huge investment in the North American market with a US purpose-built ship, the MSC Seaside. She is a massive line designed architecturally to mirror the exciting condo architecture of Miami’s hip and sexy high-rise condominiums.

MSC will also bring the 2017 built MSC Meraviglia in 2019 as well as the return of the slightly older MSC Divina for longer Caribbean Cruises and the smaller decade old and recently stretched Armonia to sail to Cuba from Miami.

This is good news for cruisers who want something very different. MSC is different from almost every other purpose built Caribbean ship or those catering to the North American client. The primary difference is that this is a European run and styled cruise line with a whiff of amenities catering to a typical US or Canadian Traveler. The MSC client is truly international coming from every part of the world. On my sailing, the clientele was about 40% American and 60% from the rest of globe, there were Chinese, French,  French Canadians, Germans, Swedish, Brazilians, Emirates, Italians, and more… I would say this was truly a United Nations of  globally based guests of all age groups-all getting along famously well.

The first thing people ask me is “does everyone smoke?” The answer is a resounding No. MSC does not allow smoking anywhere inside the vessel or anywhere on a balcony and accesses huge fines if caught. There are two outdoor areas for smokers and I found the odor to not be as pervasive as some other US based ships I have sailed on. This ship also reminded me of cruising back in the 1980’s when people dressed nicely for dinners and going out in the evening. This was refreshing but not at all stuffy or over the top… This was not a ship where many guests show up in their gym clothes for meals.

The MSC Style offers more live music, more dance clubs (3 with DJ’s on my March sailing), a new review show every night that garners rousing standing ovations, a lively cruise staff that keeps things hopping day and night but in a fun way where everyone enjoys it. The White Party held on deck was attended easily by 2000 of the 4500 onboard and it was super fun. The daytime foam party held poolside was also great fun. Oh, by the way- English is the primary language onboard and including all signage throughout. Non English speaking guests have dedicated cruise staff hosts and a TV channel to communicate shipboard activities, safety drills, shore excursions and more..

The service staff are a bit more low key than US based ships and service was not as frantic throughout. Yes, bar service was a little slower paced, but it was pleasant and very efficient as I found everywhere on the ship. The dining room service was paced, and dinners are stretched out not too far from a typical European dining experience where meals last two hours. We Americans like to eat and run so if you don’t like sitting down to a longer meal, maybe this line is not for you.

Being a new ship and a big ship, there are still some teething problems and mechanical issues where an elevator was out of order from time to time, there were some periods where a sewage smell (not a deal breaker but it did appear) showed up in some mid ship areas, and some other smaller service areas where added training will correct. BTW, every ship has these same issues ongoing at some point or another. There is no perfect ship or perfect product!

My only critical points would be the buffet areas were always crowded and full when open like on most ships, the pool area is jammed on sea days so if you do not save a chair early on, you have to look far and wide to find a chair unless you are in the Top 19 (Aurea Class Cabins-These are higher priced balcony cabins and regular suites that include all beverages and have a dedicated sunning area or the MSC Yacht Club, a ship within a ship class for suite guests that has a large and beautiful pool deck and sunning are for its exclusive guests. More about these two classes of service later on in my review…

I will say, I loved this ship. I loved the service, the food, the pizza (yes, it is excellent and addictive), the shows, the kind service staff that I found throughout, the sexy style, architecture of the ship, modern furnishings, the high quality of boutiques, my cabin and its very nice amenities, and the fact that this is a European style ship different from other US Caribbean ships…

As I stated earlier, this giant of a ship was purpose built for Miami and entered service in the North American market in December of 2017. MSC Seaside is 160,000 gross tons, is 1059 feet long, carries 4134 passengers in double occupancy cabins, has 1413 crew to cater to its passenger compliment. MSC Seaside’s Godmother is the Italian actress and personality, Sophia Loren who holds this title for all 14 MSC cruise ships!

This is one of the most technologically advances ships with an incredible jumbotron outdoor TV screen showing movies and perfect sound system, easy to use directory boards throughout the ship where your provided MSC wristband not only opens your cabin door but charges and records all onboard expenses including allowance to book alternative dining and shows. I really liked this tool and aspect.

The ships architecture, wide promenades, two buffet restaurants, 2 main dining rooms,  4 swimming pools, amazing Aurea Spa and massive gym powered by Techno-Gym, multiple bars and clubs, entertainment venues, incredible kids club, Venchi Chocolate shop, café (best Chocolate Martini ever), incredible alternative dining venues (6 in total) that in my opinion are best in class managed by famed Hawaii Chef Roy Yamaguchi, all add up to a fantastic ship and cruise experience if you want something different… Oh, this ship has 322,000 square feet of public spaces!

Cabins and suites rang is square feet of 130 for a typical inside, 172 square feet for ocean view, 226 square feet for a typical balcony and suites range from 250 square feet to almost 1000 square feet including balconies…

MSC separated the class of cabin into these categories:

  • Bella- basic cabins and lower cruise fares
  • Fantastica- a bit higher price range and includes confirmed dining time and some drink vouchers
  • Aurea- higher priced yet and offers open dining, the Top 19 exclusive deck area for sunning, inclusive of almost all beverages, and provides a spa treatment for 2!
  • MSC Yacht Club- high atop the ship and forward facing where suites have card access, private check in area, private 2 level gorgeous lounge, private restaurant where the menus change daily for lunch and dinner (NCL’s Haven menu is the same every day and night), English trained butlers and Concierge service, a private pool, outdoor buffet area, and so much more. Pricing here is the highest, but rates are FAR LESS than their competitors offering similar service i.e NCL!

MSC also allows brand loyalty match so they ill honor their own provided amenities based on your tenure cruising with other brands. Proof of your status must be downloaded on the MSC web site and voila, a few days later, you are confirmed based on approval. I am a platinum Plus member with NCL which gave me Black Status-MSC highest loyalty level. Here is was showered with incredible amenities, champagne, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate model of the ship, dinner for 2 in an alternative restaurant of my choice, and much more..

I loved this ship, the cruise experience, and while MSC has been controversial in some of the cruise review boards, I believe much of the experience is misunderstood by US travelers expecting an all-American experience and this it is NOT!

I think the product in under-priced in the US market frankly and this too creates issues for MSC. If you are a world traveler and want a lovely Italia style cruise with truly and international flare, try this ship.. I would go again in a heartbeat…

See all my pictures here: https://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/Toms-MSC-Seaside-Cruise-February-24-2018/

Happy Cruising!

 

 

 

Posted by: Tom Baker | November 17, 2017

MSC Meravigila-Wonderful? YES!!!


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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: https://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/MSC-Meraviglia-Med-Cruise-September-2017/

Read More…

Posted by: Tom Baker | May 26, 2017

The Lovely Seabourn Encore


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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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: https://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/Seabourn-Encore-Cruise-March-2017/

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: https://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/Crystal-Mozart-by-Tom-Baker/i-qhFN7PJ

 

 

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!

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Cabins

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.

 Sightseeing

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.

 Dining

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!

 Overall

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: https://cruisecenter.smugmug.com/Viking-River-Cruise-Provence/

 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.

Suites

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!

Service

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!!!

Cuisine

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


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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.

 

 

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