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In Sitka, we were tendered in rather than being docked (NOTE: since the original post, they have since built a cruise dock in Sitka). Personally, I love being tendered in (as you can get some GREAT shots of the ship if you get a window seat), but it is also more limiting. It’s just not as easy to pop on and off the ship as you can when the it is docked right in the middle of town (which they are in most Alaska ports). Although technically you can go back and forth as many times throughout the day as necessary, most just take one round trip – just be sure you are back onboard before that last tender!
We headed up the ramp to the Visitors Center to try to find where the Russian Dancers performance was, and low and behold it was right there at the Visitors Center!
New Archangel Dancers, Sitka, Alaska
As we entered the building, there was also a quilt show happening in one of the adjacent rooms (I’m also a quilter, so this was a nice surprise!).
Sitka Quilt Show
The performance was very home spun, as it was actually just a troop of six ladies – apparently there were no men that had the same vision, so three of the six ladies took on the job of what the men would normally do, and the six of them performed traditional Russian dances.
Russian Dancers, with women performing the men’s roll
The costumes were as close as they could make but appeared quite authentic – they were actually quite good and in hearing about them, they travel down to the lower 48 for performances, so they are actually quite happy that there are no men in the group after all! lol
Costumes for the Russian Dancers
As we left the building to continue to check out the town, I was a little hungry, so we found this cute little collection of shops where I got a buckwheat banana and chocolate crepe – it was yummy!
Banana Buckwheat Crepe at the North Sister Shop
Sitka is a cute little mountain town with a lot of Russian influence so worth a walking tour, so you can get the background. There are quite a few churches, and you will find leather, fur and yarn shops scattered throughout the town (as well as the requisite tee shirt shops). It is also quite a fishing town.
Fishermen fixing their nets
Tlinget boat, Sitka Alaska
Sitka isn’t included on a lot of the cruise itineraries, but if you are lucky enough to select an itinerary that includes Sitka, you will not be disappointed.
Regatta in Sitka Harbor (behind breakwater)
Sunset as we sailed from Sitka
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Welcome to Astoria
After breakfast, we set off to see the town of Astoria, where we saw one of the locals drive by in what appeared to be a 1932 Ford Sedan. We saw him numerous times throughout the day, apparently taxiing folks to and from the ship.
We continued on and saw this cute 1912 trolley, also known as “Old 300,” so we asked the gentlemen inside about it – for just $1, they would take us to the end of the line, down the entire Riverwalk. We paid our $1 and within a few minutes the trolley was full of other passengers.
“Old 300” – 1912 Trolley in Astoria
The ride was delightful and probably the best money spent on the whole trip!
Sign on Trolley
The two retired volunteers giving the commentary were just charming (wanna-be stand up comedians, actually), but they were also quite knowledgeable about not only the Port of Astoria, but the history of the area, Astoria bridge (4.3 miles in length) and pretty much anything else they were asked.
Guests on the Astoria Trolley
The end of the line was a delightful 4 mile ride, where the instructions were: “Those on the water side, stand up.” Once we were standing, we were told to grab the exposed handle of the seat back and move it to the other side – we would then be facing the other direction for the return. Then the non-water side did the same thing. SO quaint!
Turning the Trolley at the end of the line
We rode back as far as downtown and proceeded to check out the town. It was a cute little downtown with lots of coffee houses and quaint old buildings.
Courthouse and Victorian House
It appeared that the downtown was vibrant, with plantings of flowers and very few ‘for rent’ signs.
The Astoria Column is also in Astoria, although we didn’t visit, but had a mini-reunion with one of our high school buddies. The Column is a 125-foot monolith atop Coxcomb Hill patterned after Trajan’s Column in Rome. Apparently the view from the top is well worth the 164-step, spiral stair trek, but I’ll never know…
Regatta in Astoria
When we got back to the ship we enjoyed watching folks return and even watched as some crew members brought on what appeared to be ice chests. We later heard the announcement that the chef had been to the fish market and ‘caught’ some fresh salmon, which would be served at the Terrace Grill for dinner. Count me in!
Sautéd salmon, with a variety of sauces
As soon as we sailed, we attended the lecture on “Alaska’s Glaciers & Ice: Origin, structure, movement, fate and effects of tide water glaciers” by Dr. John Palmisano – WOW – he packed a LOT of information about glaciers into 45 minutes!
Just as he was finishing, the captain announced that the helicopter was arriving to take the pilot off of the ship (due to the extremely choppy waters outside of the Port of Astoria, apparently it was safer for him to disembark via helicopter rather than the usual pilot boat).
The helicopter came in and began to hover, lowered the hook, the pilot was hooked on, they gave the signal and he was hoisted up and was safely inside the helicopter in about 30 seconds. It was just amazing to watch everyone do their jobs so efficiently and safely! (and yes the area had been roped off so no guest was anywhere near the activity).
Helicopter lowering hook to lift pilot from ship
After dinner, we retired early and got a good night’s sleep.
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This review was submitted by my brother, Jerry Smith (with a few editor’s notes for clarification)
Overall: This cruise was, for me, both impressive and surprising. It exceeded my expectations in many areas, especially the food. It was hard to find something to complain about.
Oceania Regatta in Astoria
Oceania Cruises: My sister, Soozie (Smitty to you, but as her brother, I can’t call her that), told me that Oceania (along with its competitor, Azamara) is considered “upper premium.” That means it is more expensive, of course, but also the ships are smaller, the food is better, the staff is more attentive and the clientele is more “seasoned.” In a word, the clientele itself is “upper” and “premium” fits for the cost, but also the “upgrades” that come with it in terms of quality of service, and especially, food.
Pancetta-Wrapped Jumbo Shrimp with Kalamata Olive Sauce and Vegetable Julienne
Chocolate cake with ice cream
Oceania’s motto is “Your World, Your Way,” which is their way of saying that whatever you want is what you’ll get.
Ship: The ship, the Regatta, which Soozie points out is NOT a boat (boats can be loaded onto ships, not vice versa), was clean, and had a capacity of around 600, I believe, (editor’s note: actual capacity is 684) so it is much smaller than a traditional cruise ship. Cabins were small, as was the bathroom (a bit claustrophobic), but sufficient. (editor’s note: We were in a balcony cabin)
Balcony Cabin 6063
We hardly used the TV, and did not visit the pool, sauna or hot tub.
Guest enjoying Hot Tub
The coffee-maker in the Terrace Grill and Horizons Lounge was quite good, capable of a wide variety of coffees, including espresso/cappuccino and teas. Editor’s Note: You could also get coffee drinks made to order at Barista’s Lounge, just outside the Grand Dining Room.
There were also the following “extras:”
• “Tea Time” from 4-5 each day in the Horizons Lounge at the front of the ship, with nice large picture windows looking forward to the water, which featured desserts on multi-level carts as well as servers with silver trays of finger sandwiches, both circulated throughout the room.
Tea Time in the Horizons Lounge while in Sitka
• “Happy Hour” with BOGO (buy one, get one) drinks from 5-6.
• There was also nightly entertainment, some of which was quite good (pianist Katie Clarke), and others not as appealing (“Noodles” Levenstein, an apparent comedian) as well as the Regatta Singers, two ladies and two men, that also performed throughout the cruise.
• There were also daily activities, including a ping-pong tournament (at sea days), putting competitions, and Team Trivia.
Conversation area, mid-ship
The middle of the ship had a number of lounges and a small casino, where you could stop and have a drink, and chat with fellow cruisers. These were generally full during the evenings, and there was a piano player in one lounge.
There was also a string quartet, “Bellissimo” that played much of the time in the Grand Hall, and at Happy Hour, which was always pleasant to have around. (Editor’s Note: They also did a full performance on the last evening, prior to dinner).
Bellissimo, string quartet performing at the Grand Hall
Food: I am pretty observant when it comes to food, I would say “picky”, but that sounds like I’m particular (e.g., won’t eat certain things), which is not the case. I do pay attention to how the food is prepared and presented, and I can find fault with lots of things (see my comments on the “Rhine River Cruise, From a Man’s Point of View” review).
Having said that, I have to say that the food on Oceania was delightful. Consistently not only good, but extremely good. Every meal seemed like dining at a 4- or 5-star restaurant.
Crispy Kadaif-wrapped tiger prawns with Mango chile Salsa
Herb-crusted rack of lamb with vegetable ratatouille and gratin dauphinois
For example, after a few days I noticed that the Grand Dining Room’s breakfast menu included a daily special Smoothie, as well as an egg special, in addition to a wide variety of items like muesli, oatmeal, pancakes, bagels, yogurt parfait, etc., you could get every day.
Disembarkation Day’s Breakfast Special
Once, I broke my long-standing refusal to eat Eggs Benedict (due to excessive fat!), when I noticed that it had pesto Hollandaise sauce. It was delicious (probably just as fatty too).
Huevos Rancheros in the dining room
Dining on the ship took the following forms:
• The “Terrace Café” is an upscale buffet at the rear of the ship, with a nice patio outside, as well as plenty of seating inside.
Terrace Grill Outside Dining with Golden Gate Bridge in background
Terrace Grill, inside dining
At any meal, there were 3 or 4 entrees to choose from, as well as vegetables and starches to accompany them. Same with desserts, plenty to choose from, all of them quite good.
Terrace Grill Lemon Cake and White Chocolate Cheesecake with Raspberry Filling
They had a daily theme for the food (Greek, Italian, etc.) (Editor’s Note: Food in the buffet was plated, then ‘served’ by gloved crew, not “self-serve” with serving utensils and sneeze guards)
• The “Grand Dining Room” lives up to its own description. Nicely color-coordinated tablecloths, silver, and lots of stemware, it looked fabulous.
Grand Dining Room
Place setting with Versace charger in Grand Dining Room
And the food there was consistently exceptional. Copies of the lunch and dinner menus were provided the night before, which helped in deciding where to eat.
Baby scallops in Shell with Lemon, Capers and Seaweed
Black Angus Beef Wellington with Truffled Potatoes and Vegetable Bouquitiere
• “Waves Grill” provided very good casual food near the pool, such as burgers and hot dogs, but the menu includes upscale choices like seared tuna burger and salmon burger. There is also a full ice cream bar, where you can also get smoothies made during regular hours.
Enjoying a Smoothie at Waves Grill
• Specialty Restaurants: “Polo Grill” and “Toscana” were also available with a reservation (editor’s note: 2 nights for suite guests and one night for regular cabins) at no additional charge. As good as the food was, I preferred the Grand Dining Room.
Table at Toscana
Bread baskets at Toscana
Olive Oil Cart at Toscana
Caprese Appetizer at Toscana
Staff: The staff were extremely attentive and friendly (“Your World, Your Way”), and willing to help, and went the extra mile.
Crew’s Farewell (crew of 370 for 684 guests)
Overall: This was my first time on an “upper premium” cruise ship, and I was very impressed. Just about everything was at least a little better than on the mainstream cruise ships (Princess, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, which recently acquired Oceania and Regent). Some things, like the food, were substantially better on Oceania.
It’s no wonder that many people we met on this cruise were repeat cruisers on Oceania.
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Check-in at Pier 2 Honolulu
In 2014, we returned to the Pride of America (POA) for another spin around the islands. We had sailed on her in 2007, about the same time of year, so the weather conditions were similar. In the boarding area, we were once again greeted with an orchid flower lei for me and a shell lei for my husband. They had Hawaiian music playing and water available.
Skyline Dining Room
Since we were returning cruisers, we were ushered into the ‘short line,’ had our photos taken for our key card and were walking across the gangway in just a few minutes. Since our cabin was not yet available we went to the Skyline Dining Room for lunch rather than the buffet (for a change). We were ushered to Table 1, a great little table for two in the corner at the window. This room is done with a New York theme, with contemporary chairs, mirrors, and etched glass mimicking the skyline of New York. Very simple and elegant.
Announcements were made when cabins were ready, floor by floor. There didn’t seem to be any logic or reason to the order, as the first deck to be announced was Deck 4, then Deck 9, then we were on 11 – I would have thought it would have been the deck with the suites, but apparently not.
We were in cabin 11536, so went up and checked it out. We had never been in a cabin that high, nor that far forward before, so we knew it was going to be a different cruise experience for us. The interior of the cabin was the same as last time, but with new carpeting. I had forgotten how beautiful the cabintry are on the POA!
I also was relieved that the beautiful murals of various spots and landmarks around the country at the head of the stairs were still there. Apparently the refit was to add 4 studio cabins and more suite cabins and move some areas around to do so, but the rest of the ship was the same, which was good – it still is really a beautiful ship!
Mt. Rushmore Mural
The one thing I really questioned about our cabin was the large overhang from Deck 12 that extended out about 10 feet farther than our balcony and obstructed the view upwards – it didn’t seem to be that much of a deal, but as the day progressed, it truly was.
Deck 12 overhang from Cabin 11536
At 4 p.m. we heard a VERY loud noise and realized that it was the Blue Angels doing their performance at Pearl Harbor. It was SUCH a delight to watch the Angels doing their amazing precision flying, but again, having that overhang REALLY made it hard to watch them as that protrusion obscured our view! Drat!
About the time they were finishing up, it was time for the Muster Drill, or as they call it Assembly Drill. I have never participated in a more organized, detailed, quick muster drill in my life! We were done in 15 minutes! They had even lowered one of the life boats down so folks could look inside. Very impressive!
Inside of a Lifeboat
Since we were there as a part of a group, there was a cocktail party at the Lanai on Deck 11, aft. It was nice to be out there when the sun set and we sailed away promptly at 7 p.m. We had hit it off with another couple, so all four of us went to dinner at the Liberty Dining Room.
Liberty Dining Room
This is an elegant room, done in rich navy and maroons with large paintings of presidents and other patriotic items as decor. I had the caesar salad and mahi mahi, which was served with couscous and mango salsa – it was very tasty!
On our way back to the cabin, there was a pianist, “Michael Masci,” playing at “Pinks,” the Champagne lounge on Deck 6, midship. He was exactly the type of pianist I enjoy – talented, with enough personality to be interesting, without being corny. He was delightful!
Aloha Cafe Lanai
Maui – Day 1
We went for breakfast at the Aloha Cafe – TIP: We have learned to go ALL the way to the back where we can enjoy our breakfast outside (I’m actually always surprised that there is usually plenty of room out there, which for us, are the best seats in the house, ESPECIALLY in Hawaii!).
After breakfast we went down to catch the shuttle to the Queen Kaahumanu Shopping Center. On the way back we struck up a nice conversation with one of the many Australian passengers – apparently there were about 300 Aussies on this sailing. There were also a lot of Japanese as well as a handful of other folks speaking languages I didn’t recognize. There was probably an event at the theatre that told how many from the various countries, but we must have missed that. I love that on a cruise you get to intermingle with folks from MANY countries!
Once back on board we went up to the Aloha Cafe for lunch, where we again sat outside and enjoyed the warm, but humid, windy and cloudy day (Hawaii was going through a heat wave, so it was unusually warm). We went back to the cabin and relaxed, but then went and enjoyed the sauna and steam bath before our scheduled massages (excellent by the way). After that we stumbled back to the cabin, ordered room service and called it a night!
Maui – Day 2
Since we had done this cruise before, we had already done the Sunrise at Mt. Haleakala excursion, which I would HIGLY recommend! It is truly a bucket list item that should be done at least once, but having someone else drive is even better. If you do go, make SURE you take plenty of warm jackets as it is VERY, VERY cold at 10,000 feet!
Sunrise on Mt. Haleakala
Truck full of sand
After breakfast on the lanai, we went back to the cabin for a leisurely morning and watched truckload after truckload of sand being loaded onto a barge. Before we sailed, the barge had been filled and was being towed off. A good day’s work!
After the session with my group, we went down for dinner at the Skyline Dining room. We both had the mahi mahi special – it was FABULOUS! The service wasn’t so hot, but the food was GREAT!
Coconut Mahi Mahi with Mashed Plantains – YUM!
Tonight’s entertainment was the “Not So Newlywed Game” which is one of my personal favorites on cruise ships. Usually there is one couple that is more animated than others, but all four of these couples had a particularly entertaining answer at one point or the other, so it was especially good. Norwegian even stepped up a bit more than just congratulating the couples with a bottle of champagne – the winning couple got a gift certificate for a set of bamboo sheets at one of the bedding stores on Kauai! Good for Norwegian!
Hilo – Day 3
We were up early and had breakfast so we could do the Volcanos National Park excursion. John was our tour guide/driver and was FABULOUS! Not only was he good at his job, he had just returned after having taken 3 weeks off to move his 75 acre ranch, including family and animals, out of the way of the advancing lava flow (again this was 2014). He was amazingly calm after having spent 3 weeks moving, but as he put it, you accept that when you live on Pele’s island.
John, Our Driver/Tour Guide at Volcanos National Park
Big Island Chocolate Factory
The first stop was the Big Island Chocolate Factory, where we were able to watch workers make the chocolate. They also gave out plenty of samples and of course, there were lots of sales! We drove by a beautiful Japanese garden, the largest outside of Japan, and then up to the park.
Our first stop at the park was the Kilauea Iki Trailhead, where we were able to look down into the Kilauea Iki Crater, formed in 1959. From there we went to the Thurston Lava Tube, where we got out and were able to walk through the lava tube – what an amazing experience THAT was!
Thurston Lava Tube
We then went on to the Kilauea Caldera, which is where the Halemaumau Crater was formed in 1974 when it erupted. This was also the site of the Jagger Museum, named after the first volcanoist who started collecting data and studying volcanos. It was a very good excursion but warranted a good nap back at the cabin!
Dinner was back at the Skyline Dinner with more friends from our group.
Kona – Day 4
Loading tender to go ashore
At Kona, ships are unable to dock, so we anchored off the coast and tendered in. After breakfast we got our tender tickets and were shortly on our way to Kona. Generally speaking, Kona is a completely different climate than the rest of the islands and is usually VERY hot and humid. Today was no exception.
Pride of America, with a tender, at Kona
We caught the shuttle to Hilo Hatties and loaded up on Hawaiian shirts and macadamia nuts and returned to the pier. Lunch was at Paradise Cafe, upstairs overlooking the harbor (and ship). Dale had hot chicken wings and I had pulled pork with a mango salsa. It was quite good.
Tonight we splurged and paid the surcharge for the steakhouse, Cagney’s. Dale had the St. Louis ribs and I had the filet – both were excellent! For dessert, Dale had the raspberry creme brulee and I had the Oreo cheesecake. So much for that diet!
Filet with scalloped potatoes at Cagney’s
From there we hopped into one of the hot tubs to warm up a little and then got dressed and went down to the Hollywood Theatre for a Tribute to Frankie Vallie and the Four Seasons by the group,” Oh What A Night,” four guys that were VERY good, both vocally and with their performance.
Kauai – Day 5
Today was our excursion to Wiamea Canyon, so we met our group at the Hollywood Theatre and walked down to the busses – all four of them! A young Hawaiian lady was our tour guide/driver, but sadly, she was not as good as John. Our first stop was the Spouting Horn out at Poipu Beach. This is a natural formation of lava that spouts water when the waves rush in. It also hosts some local vendors with hand crafted items and rest rooms.
We then headed out to another store, which had a variety of refreshments and of course, another opportunity for shopping, before heading up to the canyon. The drive from the store to the canyon is a winding road with lots of ess curves that takes about 20 minutes before you actually arrive at lookout point. I had forgotten how beautiful the canyon is. So many striated layers of earth, some waterfalls and of course, helicopters and planes doing tours of the canyon.
We got back to the ship and had a couple of hours before it would be time to meet to go to the luau.
Hula at Kiohana Plantation
We had the 4:30 meeting time for the Luau Kalamaku – apparently there was a 4, 4:15, 4:45 and 5 p.m. meeting time as well! We found out later that there were about 750 from the ship in attendance!!! WOW!
We had been to luaus before so figured it would be about the same – boy were we wrong! This was WAY better than your usual luau! This was a performance that included lights, costuming, make up, props and for lack of another explanation, would call it an opera, done in true Hawaiian style. They followed a story line depicting a father and his daughter that had fallen in love. The story followed the father and boyfriend as they went to find the new land and then returned, the couple married and then ended with the birth of the new generation. It was VERY well done – in EVERY way. HIGLY RECOMMENDED!!
Kauai – Day 6
My husband left early for his helicopter ride of Kauai – this was his third and most favorite thing to do on Kauai. NOTE: You can book this through the cruise line, but you can usually save some money by booking direct.
Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
Since I was involved with my group the entire morning, I met my husband for lunch at the Cadillac Cafe, which is the 50s diner on Deck 6 midship – they had the usual diner menu, so he had a hot dog and I had a cheeseburger and fries, then we split a hot fudge brownie – it was all very tasty, although the service was a little odd.
As Platinum members of Norwegian Cruise Lines, we had been invited to a special event held out on the bow of the ship at 2 p.m. as we sailed from Kauai, so headed out with hats and sun glasses. Boy was it hot out there and the reflective light from the white of the ship seemed to make it worse. As you might expect, they were serving champagne and mimosas, so it was a very nice event. After the welcome speeches and actual sailing, it got a tad breezy, although that was welcomed as it did cool us down a little bit, but we lasted about 1/2 hour before it got just too hot.
Bow of the ship special event
We went back to the cabin and started packing so that we could enjoy sailing by the Napali Coastline, which would happen at about 5 p.m. Since we had already unzipped the expandable part of the main suitcase in order to come, we had to do some real re-organizing, but we got it all into the suitcases and went back out to the balcony to enjoy the beautiful scenery!
Sadly, the wonderful narration of the coastline was only available through the public address system on open passenger decks, not through the Navigation channel, bridge channel or even through the loud speakers in the hall, so we missed out on that, but we were NOT going to move from our balcony to one of the crowded open passenger decks just to listen to the narration.
After the ship turned around and headed back to Honolulu, we went upstairs to the Skyline Dining Room for our final dinner. We noticed ‘Table 1’ was in the process of being cleared, we asked if we could sit there, knowing it would be a quiet table and were soon ushered to our table. The waiter had a bit of an attitude but we ordered and got through dinner and went upstairs to the Mardi Gras lounge for “The Perfect Couple” Game – since we had never seen this, we really didn’t know what to expect. It was not as good as the Not So Newlywed Game, but entertaining.
From there we went down a deck to the Hollywood Theatre for the ‘final show’ – the Variety Show. The magician (whom we had missed before) was back, as well as the Oh What A Night guys for some more Frankie Vallie tunes and then the crew did their thank you’s by bringing up on stage as many crew from the various areas of the ship to wave and say good-bye. This is always an emotional event.
Oahu – Day 7
We pulled into Honolulu Harbor and had our final breakfast. We met for the last time in the Hollywood Theatre and joined the rest of our group at 9 a.m. and disembarked for the last time and boarded the bus. Since our flight wasn’t until 11 p.m., we had the whole day to kill, so we did the disembarkation tour, that would take us 140 miles around the island of Oahu, with a stop for lunch and various places along the way. Leo was our bus driver/tour guide and he was delightful and had 35, 40 and even 80 point questions throughout the day (of course no one was keeping score and the points were random, but it added a sense of fun to the day). It was well worth the money for the tour AND was very informative.
Napali Coastline of Kauai
Cruising Tips, Packing Tips, Travel and Cruising Tips, Travel Tips
As you near your departure for your cruise, you’ll need to pack for your trip. These are the suggested items to have in your carry-on luggage (NOT to pack into your checked luggage). I’ve included items for both arriving the same day you board as well as if you will be arriving a day early. You may not need all of these items, but this is a suggested list (and memory jogger).
Plan to wear a shirt with a pocket on your travel day – you can put your boarding pass and passport or ID in the pocket, which is VERY convenient as you make connections throughout the day (although in today’s world, many use the QR code on their phone.
Carry on your person:
• Personal identification (driver’s license/passport)
• Travel itinerary – your FULL itinerary (including flight numbers and times) from the time you leave your home to the time you walk in your door again (I have found this EXTREMELY helpful, especially if your travel plans change and you need to contact the hotel at your destination) all on one sheet (your travel agent should provide you with this)
• Travel documents such as:
• Tickets/Boarding passes
• Reservation and confirmation numbers for your air, car and lodging
• Travel vouchers or coupons, especially if they have been prepaid
• Relevant membership cards (hotel, air, rental, etc.)
• Money (cash and currency at your destination)
• Credit card(s) NOTE: If you are traveling with your spouse, both of you should have cards from different accounts, just in case something should happen and you are unable to use one card, you will still have another card for the rest of your trip.
• ATM cards (make sure you know your 4-digit PIN number)
• Valuable jewelry inside passport holder inside your clothing (NOTE: you really should try to avoid taking any real valuable jewelry when you travel, but if you do, this is for you)
• Luggage tags for the ship that you will put on your suitcase AFTER you’ve arrived at your embarkation city
• Camera (with accessories, extra batteries, memory cards, lenses, etc)
• Travel entertainment (book, crossword puzzle book, handwork, etc.)
• Change of clothes (in case your luggage is lost or detained)
• Toothbrush and toothpaste
• Hand sanitizer
• Medications (including birth control)
• Sleepwear (again in case your luggage is lost or detained)
• Make sure you have packed any sharp scissors, liquids over 3 ounces, knives or other item that might be confiscated at the airport in your checked luggage. NOTE: When you pack to return home, remember to REPACK these items into your luggage again for the return trip!!
• Small ziploc bag to put any liquids in to get through airport security
• Inflatable neck pillow, ear plugs and eye mask (If it’s an overnight flight)
FOR THE SHIP (for that down time before your luggage arrives):
• Sunscreen – even if you’re going to a cool place, the reflection off the water out on the ocean can still be brutal, so have it handy
• Swimsuit – if you plan to visit the pool
• Sun visor/hat (with chin strap) – Again, even if you are going on a winter trip, you may still want/need a visor to help with the glare from the reflection of the water – the strap is for the wind so it doesn’t get airborn!
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American Queen at St. Francisville
We recently took a 9-day cruise on the American Queen Steamboat, round trip from New Orleans from Feb. 22nd to March 1, 2014. The weather in some of the ports was rather ‘brisk,’ but the cruise itself was WONDERFUL, with stops in St. Francisville, Nachez, Vicksburg and Plantation Row. There are a number of different itineraries available on the American Queen (other than our Round Trip New Orleans), as it cruises the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers as well. Check the AQvoyages.com website for all of the options.
Registration at Hilton Riverside (New Orleans)
Since an overnight stay at a local hotel is included in the price of the cruise, there was a registration desk set up in the lobby to greet everyone and give them breakfast tickets for the next morning. After breakfast we then went into the Registration Room, where we picked up our boarding passes and signed up for our dining room table. They also were taking reservations for the Premium Excursions (more on that later)
The ship itself is just gorgeous. It was built in 1995, but has recently been refurbished and you really DO feel as if you are on a riverboat ‘in the day,’ yet with modern conveniences (like the elevator). The ship holds 436 passengers, although our cruise only had about 250, most in the 60-80 age group, with no children … at all.
Mark Twain Gallery
The swing on Texas deck outside Front Porch
Rocking Chairs on the Bow of Observation Deck (Deck 4)
There were a number of beautifully furnished public spaces available to nestle in with a good book, such as the Mark Twain Gallery, Ladies’ Parlor or Gentlemen’s Card Room, although I only saw a couple of people in them at any given time. There was also areas at the bow of both Decks 3 & 4 with rocking chairs and swings that WERE used when we did have bursts of decent weather.
The two story Grand Saloon on Deck 1 (where all of the shows were) featured beautiful hardwood floors. Chairs would be moved onto the floor for the shows and then removed for later in the evening when the dance band would play and couples would dance.
There was also an elevated area around the perimeter of the dance floor, which is where we usually sat. There were also six small box balconies on Deck 2, reserved for suite guests. We were invited to sit there one night, but felt the view was better from the perimeter seating on Deck 1 anyway. As is the case on most cruises, people tend to sit in the same places throughout the cruise and this cruise was no exception, so there were some ‘balcony hogs’ … alas.
Grand Saloon Box Seats
Although this was somewhat of a small ship with just 436 passengers, it even had a spa
I understand that there is also a gym onboard, but we never found it, but we DID find the pool, which was up on Deck 5, next to the River Grill Bar and Calliope. The Calliope was usually played as we were pulling out of each port.
Our stateroom, 315, was on Deck three, category D, with a shared balcony. The double entrance doors opened onto the deck and was the only entrance to the room as the bathroom was at the rear of the cabin. On those brisk evenings, returning to the cabin was somewhat of a dash, but since it was a short distance, it was not a problem.
Texas Deck Balcony (Deck 3)
There were plantation shutters on the beveled windows in the door, which allowed us to control light as well as privacy. Fresh air was available through the transom window over the door. Two chairs and a small table were available outside each cabin and those were used by many guests throughout the ship, weather permitting.
Each cabin was named after a state, river or historical person, in our case our cabin was “Idaho,” which also had an information sheet about Idaho framed and hanging on the wall inside the room. It was kind of fun to walk around the boat and see the various names on the cabins! The Idaho plaque outside the cabin really did help us locate our cabin coming back in the evening when it was dark (remember this was on an outside balcony walkway).
Balcony cabin queen bed
Because the bed frames enabled the suitcases to be stored under the bed, the hi-loft beds were rather high so getting into bed was a bit of a challenge (for me), BUT the beds were wonderfully comfortable and allowed us to get a good night’s sleep.
The dresser doubled as a desk, which also had a safe, but there was NOT much room for anything else. There was an armoire to hang clothes, but with the plushy robes and life vests also hanging in the closet, there wasn’t much room for clothes, so I ended up rolling up one of the robes and sticking it in the upper unusable shelve to allow for more room in the closet. In our cabin there was just one desk chair, although in some of the larger cabins there were larger chairs and settees, which would have made for a more comfortable experience, I’m sure.
The bathroom floor and bathtub sized shower was tiled with a black hexagonal pattern, true to the day.There was a small glass shelf above the pedestal sink and a small double glass shelved unit behind that for storing toiletries, so the storage space in the bathroom was VERY limited. A hair dryer was available as well as a magnified lighted mirror next to the mirror on the wall. Towels were plush and because we were the first cruise of the new season, brand new! NOTE: Some cabins have a full bathtub.
Since this was a first/second seating arrangement, we were assigned a table that we would return to each night for dinner. However, at dinner the first night, one of the other couples enjoyed the ‘unlimited wine’ just a little too much and became quite rude, so we asked to be reseated for the balance of the cruise – they were more than happy to reseat us.
Karen and Percy
The service by our new waiter, Percy, and asst. waiter, Karen, was excellent. They were also serving two other tables, one of which was a little ‘demanding,’ so it was interesting to watch them wait on us and the demanding table with a smile and desire to make us all happy.
The dining room tables were set with white tablecloths and black cotton napkins, embossed gold chargers and white china and a red rose – simple, yet elegant.
Table Setting in J.W. White Dining Room
The food in the dining room was EXCELLENT – each night there were specials that featured two appetizers, a soup, a salad and then four entrees, as well as standard items available each night if you didn’t care for any of the specials. Each of the items was nicely presented also.
Chicken Pot Pie
For dessert, there was always some kind of bread pudding, as well as a variety of other favorites – we were never disappointed.
About the only thing that was amiss in the dining room, at least at the beginning of the cruise, was the frigid temperature. But things did warm things up by the end of the cruise, so it ended up being quite nice.
Since our cabin was just a few cabins away from the Front Porch dining room, we ate all of our breakfasts and lunches there and even had breakfast outside a couple of mornings when it was warm enough. For breakfast there was a nice variety of items, including yoghurt, eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grits, biscuits, oatmeal, variety of breads as well as an omelet station. They also had a WONDERFUL blend of coffee and fresh fruit, as well as soft serve ice cream, homemade cookies available any time of day.
Front Porch Dining Room
Lunch varied daily, but there was always a nice soup, variety of salads as well as roasted chicken (that you would see roasting while having breakfast) a hot entree, panini sandwiches and pizza and then, of course, desserts too.
There was a cappuccino machine, but it was out of order most of the cruise (which I have seen happen on many other cruises), but the ice cream machine worked the entire cruise, which made my husband happy!
There was also the River Grill up on Deck 5, but we never went back there, other to listen to the Calliope one time.
Anna Cargill, Matthew Aaron, Lydia Myers and Chris Handley
Since this was billed as a Big Band Cruise, I was expecting most of the entertainment to be of the Big Band era, but as it turned out there were only three Big Band nights, but the Big Band entertainers WERE fabulous!
The other four nights were the four singer/dancers in production numbers accompanied by the Steamboat Syncapators, a truly EXCELLENT orchestra.
couple dancing to Phil Westbrook
There was also a lounge pianist that would entertain everyone before and after dinner in the lounge separating the dining room and the Grand Saloon. He was very entertaining and was able to honor most of the requests from the passengers and had couples up and dancing before dinner, even on the carpeting.
There was also a two man duo, Jay and Will, in the Engine Room Bar that played after dinner in the evenings, but we never made it back there.
One of the REALLY nice things about this cruise is that the cruise line provides 3 to 4 busses that follow you from port to port so you can ‘Hop on, Hop off’ at each port. This Hop on Hop off is included in the price of the cruise (which, if you do ocean cruises can add hundreds of dollars to your exit tab!)
American Queen bus, wrapped to look like the American Queen
The night before each port, a map is available that shows the bus route and where it will stop. You simply go to the kiosk next to the purser’s desk to sign up for the departure time you want, as there are eight options in 15 minute intervals. In some cases, our arrival into port was a little late so the ‘system’ didn’t really work as intended, but everyone ended up getting on the buses and everyone enjoyed the tours.
Once aboard the bus, there was a local guide that gave the history of the city and fun facts that only a local would know. What we ended up doing (as did a lot of others as well) was to go around the complete loop first and then return to the spots of specific interest to us on the next bus. The busses really did come by about every 15 minutes so it really did work out quite nicely.
There were also Premium Excursions available in most ports that went to a specific area(s) for a more in depth excursion. We opted to do this in Vicksburg and visited the Civil War Memorial. The guide was a HUGE Civil War buff and gave us LOTS of history about the war and pointed out lots of interesting things about the many memorial statues inside the park. It was well worth the $59.
Ship’s pilot, John, in the pilothouse
The cruise also featured our Riverlorian (a historian and the river, hence Riverlorian), Jerry Hay. He was actually pretty knowledgeable about the rivers and gave us loads of information to help us to understand ‘why’ things were the way they were on the river. He would give talks during the day, announce things as we would approach them along the way and also led tours of the pilothouse once we were docked. The tours were done regularly throughout the cruise and as the pilothouse is not a very big space, they have to limit it to about 10 or so people. The new rule on the river is that a pilot must be in the pilothouse at all times, so John was there to answer our questions.
The other thing that was REALLY cool (actually rather warm) was to go down to the engine room. You can go down there any time, but it was quite fun to go down when the ship was under way so you could really watch things move. I was impressed with how CLEAN it was down there, but can only imagine how hot it would be in the hot summer months down there! YIKES!
This is not a cruise I would recommend to a family as there just is nothing for children to do, but it is a perfect cruise for people wanting to relax and remember a time gone by. It would also be good for folks that have motion sickness issues as there really is no ‘motion’ to get sick from. It was also a great way to really ‘experience’ the South and the people of the South. I hope to return to the American Queen and experience some of her other itineraries in the VERY near future since we had SUCH a good time on this trip!
Cruising Tips, Travel and Cruising Tips, Travel Tips
Arctic Chapel – Tromso
When you say the word “cruise,” one typically thinks of a BIG cruise ship that holds anywhere from 2000 to 6000 guests and features Broadway style entertainment and lavish midnight buffets.
However, there are a number of cruise lines that walk away from this kind of mainstream cruising concept and provide a different kind of cruise experience. One such line is Hurtriguten that sails up and down the coast of Norway.
We boarded the Finnmarken, a ship that even with full capacity only holds 1000 passengers. Since we boarded on Oct. 27th, during the off-season, there were only about 150 passengers that were going the entire voyage, from Bergen to Kirkenes. By that I mean that although this truly IS a cruise ship with staterooms, main dining room and a cruise director, it is also the ‘coastal ferry,’ whereby the locals (even with their car) can board the ship for just a port or two before disembarking.
These ships also take on cargo and deliver it to various ports along the way. It was quite fascinating to watch – once we were docked, the door of the hold would open up, the forklifts would off-load and load cargo and in the 15-20 minutes we were in port they’d close the doors and off we would go.
With Hurtigruten, a ship sails every day from Bergen going North and that same day, one sails from other the ‘end of the line,’ Kirkenes, going South. So on any given day, their fleet of 11 ships are spread out along the coastline of Norway, some going north, some going south.
Going through a narrow straight
Needless to say, throughout our 7-day northbound cruise, we passed a number of other Hurtigruten ships, and of course there was friendly competition to see which ship could get the most passengers out on deck waving as we would pass.
While docked at Rorvik, we were even able to board their sister ship, the Midnatsol, during our 45 minute port stop (of course we had to be mindful of the time in order to disembark and get back to our ship in time).
With a traditional mainstream 7-day cruise, the typical cruise itinerary will call on 3 to 5 ports with some ‘at sea’ days as well. The ship will usually pull into port in the morning, you are in port the bulk of the day and then sail again in early evening.
Smitty, Sami and reindeer at the North Cape
With a 7-day Hurtigruten cruise, however, the ship calls on 34 ports, yes 34, which means hitting 5 to 6 ports per day! Although some stops are just for 10 to 20 minutes, just long enough to disembark passengers and off-load cargo, sometimes you are in port for a couple of hours, such as Tromso, Trondheim and the North Cape, which was enough time to do a 4 hour, beautiful and informative shore excursion.
Needless to say, the ship is ‘on the move’ pretty much the entire time. Some of the stops were made in the wee hours of the morning. However, I must say that even though the ship pulled into port after we had retired to our cabin, it was never bothersome or disruptive to our sleep.
One of the appealing things about this cruise (at least for us) was the casualness of it – there really is no ‘dress code’ and jeans are acceptable, even for dinner in the dining room.
Speaking of dining room, for meals, there was a rather extensive buffet for both breakfast and lunch that varied daily. As one might expect, there were some traditional English items, such as baked beans and kippers available at breakfast, but also a wide variety of homemade breads, meats and cheeses, including Brie and bleu cheese, available at both breakfast and lunch. YUM!
Dinner, however, was usually a set menu with assigned seating, but if you didn’t want what they were serving that night, upon request they would also prepare something different for you. The last night of the cruise, they put out an amazing seafood buffet that included mussels, prawns, a couple of kinds of crab and even lobster!
For entertainment, local performers were often brought onboard, such as a traditional Norwegian fiddler, who played some folk tunes while a young man danced. Another night, a gal from a Sami tribe came onboard and sang some of their folk songs. Other nights there was a lounge entertainer, but as one might expect, he was barely tolerable, but that was OK since most everyone was outside trying to catch the Northern Lights anyway.
Although not for everyone, for us, the Hurtigruten experience was pleasant and provided us a relaxing weeklong cruise with a taste of Norwegian everyday life, close up views of majestic snowcapped fjords and the ability to see the Northern Lights up close and personal.
Cruising Tips, Travel and Cruising Tips, Travel Tips
Norwegian Pearl Haven Courtyard
As travel agents, we are often invited onboard a ship for a ‘ship inspection.’ This consists of a tour of the ship, which includes seeing the suites and prime cabins as well as regular cabins. We also get to see the public spaces and have lunch onboard. The hopes are that we will be impressed with the ship and better able to sell the ship, as well as the cruise line.
In 2013, we did one of these ship inspections on the Norwegian Pearl. The Pearl is one of four NCL ships in the Jewel class, which also includes the Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Jewel and Norwegian Jade. These four ships were built in the 2005-2007 time frame and hold between 2350- 2466 passengers, depending on the ship.
Since the cost of building a ship is in the multi-millions of dollars, wisely, the cruise lines typically build a number of ships with the same ‘basic’ deck plan in order to save money on the overall ship design. Then they decorate them in different color schemes and fabrics in order to give a completely different ‘look’ to each of the ships. This is done to make sure a guest that sails on a sister ship would not ‘feel’ as if they were on the same ship, even though it is essentially the same design.
As time goes by and they build new ships with newer features, the cruise lines do their best to refit the older ships and try to replicate the newer features on the newer ships, but sometimes there’s only so much they can do, but it’s still WAY cheaper than building a whole new ship! Celebrity calls that “Solsticizing.”
The Haven is an exclusive area on NCL ships with a private courtyard, pool, exercise area, restaurant and lounge that you can only access with a Haven key card. The Haven level also has other amenities, such as butler service, priority boarding and disembarkation (which can be a GREAT amenity in a busy port!).
On the Breakaway, there are 42 cabins (suites) in the Haven area, but on the Pearl, there are only 14 cabins. However, if you’re looking for exclusivity, the Pearl might be a BETTER option as there would be less people in the exclusive area.
On the Breakaway, you would never have to leave the Haven area for dining as the dining room and lounge are all a part of the Haven area, whereas on the Pearl, you have to go down a deck to access the Cagney Dining room for the exclusive breakfast and lunch. What the other agents and I thought interesting was that even if you were at the Haven level, you would still have to pay the surcharge at dinner for any of the specialty dining rooms.
The nice thing was that there were suites as well as family cabins available in the non-Haven area of the ship so a guest would NOT have to opt for the Haven area if you just wanted to book a suite.
Norwegian Pearl Lobby
Golden Princess Lobby
The other thing I find interesting about the Norwegian ships is that their main lobby is somewhat understated, when compared to same space to say the Princess, Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships, which usually feature a truly GRAND, open lobby area spanning multiple decks with a huge “wow” factor.
Carpeting on NCL ships also features fish swimming forward, so you always know where the front of the ship is!
Cruising Tips, Travel and Cruising Tips
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Cruising Tips, Travel and Cruising Tips
When you first board the ship, you might be given a small, pocket-sized ship deck plan – SAVE THIS.This will be MOST helpful as you try to get your bearings for where your cabin is in relationship to the public spaces onboard. If you lose it or need another one, they are also usually available at the Guest Services desk. Although in their efforts to go digital, those may or may not be available today.
Most of the newer ships have been designed so that most of the guest cabins are on certain decks (especially for the decks with balconies), with the public areas on other, separate decks. This DOES make it easier to navigate around the ship when you KNOW that some of the decks only have guest cabins.
In some cases, the public areas are spread out between two decks immediately on top of each other, which really DOES help, because pretty much anything you are hoping to find will be on one deck or the other.
The exception to this, however, are the main dining rooms – those will usually be on the lower decks – this helps with people that are prone to motion sickness as the smell of food sometimes intensifies nausea. By having the dining rooms on the lower, more stable parts of the ship, there is less chance of motion sickness.
As mentioned in the Elevator Ups and Downs post, it is a good idea to ALWAYS double check where you are when you first get off the elevator and then make sure that you head out in the right direction.
Depending on when you board, you may or may not be able to access your cabin right away. Instead, grab lunch in the buffet restaurant, your pocket guide and go explore!
Regardless of how many cruises I’ve been on, when I get home, I usually find that there were sections of the ship I never found, but exploring is fun and gives you a better ‘sense’ of the ship overall – after all, it’s going to be your home for the duration of your cruise!
I usually start on the top deck and work my way down. Since some of the elevators will be used for luggage distribution on embarkation day, the wait for an elevator can be lengthy, so you may need to use the stairs and it’s MUCH easier to go down! Once the cruise actually starts, you may or may not have time to just wander around, so now is a good time to do so!
Be sure to book spa services, specialty restaurant reservations and popular shore excursions as soon as possible, if you have not already booked them online. They will fill up fast – especially for ‘at sea’ days!