Cunard’s Latest Queen Elizabeth

At last the most anticipated ship of the year was launched in October and named by Her Majesty the Queen. On an unseasonably warm and sunny day in October we were gathered with a host of dignitaries and celebrities from the Prince’s Trust to witness the pomp and ceremony of the naming of the 3rd Cunard ship to bear the name: Queen Elizabeth.

At the modern & spacious Ocean Cruise Terminal in Southampton we were treated to champagne, canapés and tea while being entertained by a 30’s style jazz band resplendent in tails and spats. A taste of things to come on board! This was certainly an occasion to remember – after all not every ship is launched by the Queen! We were supplied with an order of Ceremony and separate guest list in glossy keepsake brochures.

During the proceedings we spotted Alan Titchmarsh, Judith Chalmers, Simon Weston, Liz Dawn (Vera Duckworth), Alan Wicker and Jimmy Saville among others. We were entertained by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at the outside seating area and the delights of Lesley Garrett.

The Cold Stream Guards marched on to the stage and were put through their paces together with the fanfare of Trumpeters of the Irish Guards.

After the Queen had inspected the ship she arrived in her Rolls Royce to name the ship and press the button to release the champagne bottle and “Yes” it did smash – always a good sign. Incidentally the Queen is the only person alive who has been present at all 3 Queen Elizabeth ship naming ceremonies: when she was 12 years old in 1938 for the original Queen Elizabeth and in 1967 for the QE2.

As with all Cunard cruise ships they cut a very imposing presence in any port of call. This together with the established Cunard name and sailing on a Queen seems to attract attention away from all other ships in any particular port. The Queen Elizabeth is a home away from home for Queen Victoria fans and also Queen Mary 2 patrons. The decor on board is lighter, fresh and 30’s style in contrast to the heavier & darker Victorian theme of the Queen Victoria.

The aft pool deck has been extended further back for much more sunbathing space and you can no longer overlook the suite balconies below from the stern of the ship. Gone are the pastel tones and light wood shades that can be found in the Lido buffet restaurant of the Queen Victoria to be replaced with a much more sophisticated and sumptuous decor. The forward top deck games area has been upgraded to a covered bowls / croquet lawn club and looks lovely complete with Astroturf.

On decks 2 and 3 further enhancements have been made. The staircase in the Grand Lobby bears a wooden fresco of the original Queen Elizabeth and the portrait of her Majesty the Queen is not to be missed. The Chart Room Bar (found on Queen Victoria & QM2 ) has been replaced by an extended dining room area of the Britannia restaurant which accommodates the single seating Britannia Club dining for high grade balcony stateroom passengers. Also the Cafe Carinthia and the Veuve Cliquot champagne bar have been merged to form one larger bar area.

At last on board there is a new alternative dining restaurant which replaces the Todd English restaurant found on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria. This one is French and called the Verandah; it is has a sparkling 20’s style decor and looks very enticing indeed. They have also enhanced the shops on board with a Fortnum & Masons plus changed the art auction show room to an art gallery with reasonable prices. Unlike the art found at auctions on board other ships – the pictures and paintings for sale in the showroom on board the Queen Elizabeth are items that you would actually want to hang on your wall and show off!

As with all Cunard cruise ships you will still find the signature touches that make these cruises simply unbeatable. The FREE guest launderettes on each deck, the Commodore Club and the Golden Lion pub serving FREE Fish & chips at lunchtime. Of course the Queens Ball room particularly sets Cunard ships apart from others. This is a big band formal entertainment venue and the setting for daily afternoon tea with white china and white gloved waiters serving scones and clotted cream.

Don’t forget the FREE alternative dining evenings in a section of the Lido restaurant – dine by reservation with Waiter service and menus. They alternate the themes of Traditional English Carvery, Indian, Oriental, French and Italian throughout the cruise.

The Royal Spa is well worth the extra charge payable for the hydro therapy pool and the thermal relaxation lounge. The fitness centre is free and the segregated changing rooms each have a FREE Swedish sauna that are very popular.

All in all – a lovely sophisticated ship and not just a cloned production line job!

The Frugal Cruiser, Consider a Repositioning Cruise

The frugal cruiser… And who doesn’t want to save money on travel these days… Should consider taking a repositioning cruise.

Cruise lines that concentrate on the Caribbean in the wintertime… And the Mediterranean in the summertime have to get their ships from one cruising ground to the other.

Hence the repositioning cruise… Which offers at a reduced rate, a lot of sea days, great food, great relaxation, all of the same amenities you would expect on a cruise offering ports of call on a daily basis.

We just returned from a cruise from Fort Lauderdale that ended up 14 days later in Citavecchia, italy…the port closest to Rome Italy.

At a price of $899 per person… That works out to a per day price of $64 a person, this is truly a remarkable bargain… Try finding a resort, for $64 a day per person including all meals and entertainment.

The repositioning cruise, is not for everyone, since we had 8 sea days before our first port of call in Gibraltar. Subsequent ports, were Alicante, Spain…Barcelona… Marseille France… Livorno Italy (Florence/Pisa).

For those that take cruises for relaxation these eight days at sea can be heaven like… Great for relaxing on board, with good books and great company at mealtime.

The entertainment is what you would expect on a first-class cruise ship. Good dance reviews, singers, hypnotists and comedians.

The highlight of this particular cruise in my opinion, were the educational speakers… With the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster… Several talks on that fateful night off Nova Scotia, gave an insight that goes far behind the scenes… in more depth… than any movie could possibly cover.

To those that say eight days between ports is boring… I would beg to differ, there never seem to be enough time in the day to do all the activities that were available for the passengers.

Some repositioning cruises, going from the Caribbean to the Mediterranean include stops at the Azores or Bermuda… This particular itinerary did not include those stops.

So for the frugal traveler that enjoys the ambiance, service, great food that today’s mega-cruise ships provide… Take a look at the savings you can realize by taking a repositioning cruise.

These cruises leave generally from the Florida area in the spring… And from Mediterranean and European ports in the fall.

For those travelers, that want a bargain, a cruise between popular cruising grounds should be in your future.

There is a New Ship Arriving!

Oceania Cruise Lines’ philosophy is all about casual elegance in a relaxed atmosphere. There are no tuxedos or evening gowns required on their ships at any time. The staff on board prides itself on learning passengers names, preferences and wishes, all in the interest of making the vacation experience special.

Because of the size of their ships, there is great opportunity to make new acquaintances and create friendships that last a lifetime. Additionally, arriving at a port of call is a pleasant experience with so few passengers disembarking there are no long lines.

An integral aspect of a cruise is the dining experience. Oceania Cruises features a cuisine designed by legendary Master Chef Jacques Pepin, who serves as the Executive Culinary Director for the cruise line. All ships feature an open-seating experience in their four dining rooms allowing passengers to dine when and with whom they choose each evening. If you wish a quiet lingering dinner for two, this is available to you. If you wish to dine with new friends let the party begin, Oceania staff will accommodate your group.

Oceania has enhanced their cuisine by offering selections from the fabled Canyon Ranch spa with innovative ingredients and flavors creating a true sensory experience. Healthy living is featured though many of their dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Menus are creatively designed to reflect the region and ports visited on each cruise.

Oceania’s Canyon Ranch spa experience is one of the best on the high seas. Through fitness opportunities including aerobics, Pilates or yoga, a wide selection of massages, relaxing treatments, lectures and cooking demonstrations, your quality of life will be renewed.

Oceania’s newest ship, the “Marina” is scheduled to debut in January 2011 with a guest capacity of 1258. On January 22nd her first journey will sail across the Atlantic to the Caribbean waters, through the Panama Canal, up the Pacific coast of Mexico.

The ship will have stylish bars and lounges named Martinis, The Patio, and Horizons. There will be 10 dining venues, one will be Jacques, the first restaurant at sea for world-renowned Master Chef Jacques Pepin in addition to the Polo Grill, Toscana and Terrace Café and the Grand Dining Room.

The “Marina” will feature a Bon Appetite Culinary Center, Owner’s Suites furnished exclusively in Ralph Lauren Home and Tocar Interior Designs, and a grand stairway custom-crafted by French glass master, Lalique.

The Veranda Staterooms are 282 square feet and include expansive granite-clad bathrooms. The Penthouse Suites are 429 square feet featuring a separate living area and dedicated dining area. The lavish Vista Suites and Oceania Suites will have large private teak verandas with Jacuzzi tubs and en-suite Media Room.

The exclusive offer for past-passengers to book on the new “Marina” was a huge success, nearly 50% of the cabins released for sale for the first five sailings sold in less than 12 hours. This is a remarkable tribute to the experience passengers enjoyed on previous cruises. For people who plan in advance for their vacations, Oceania Cruises offers the best travel value. Many of their cruises offer two for the price of one (from the brochure price) and free airfare. This offer goes away as the ship cabins are reserved, so planning early is a great incentive.

There are many ships available for a wonderful vacation experience each with their own personality and allure. If you are looking for casual elegance with a small ship feel and enjoy more exotic destinations, Oceania Cruises may be your best fit.

Disadvantages to Cruise Ship Travel

Cruise ship travel is not for everybody. Although many enjoy cruises, some travelers prefer other types of vacations. Before going on a cruise, take time to consider whether or not this is the best method of travel for you. Be sure to research information about the specific companies you are considering as well as read reviews from other customers. Also consider talking to those you know who have traveled on cruises before and see if it sounds like something you would enjoy. It is important to get more information than just a recommendation from someone. What one person finds fun, you may not, so it is important to find out why a person did or did not enjoy a cruise ship experience.

Some do not enjoy cruises simply because of the nature of traveling on a boat. Those who are prone to motion sickness may not enjoy being on a boat because of the high likelihood of experiencing sea sickness. Severity differs for everybody, and sea sickness usually is not serious, but it can still be an unpleasant experience and can ruin a vacation. Consider whether or not this is something that concerns you. Medications and wrist bands help some who suffer from sea sickness, but they are not effective for everyone. For some people, sea sickness runs its course relatively quickly, but only you can decide whether or not this is a possibility you are willing to face.

Others are afraid to cruise because of the possibility of the boat sinking. Only you can decide whether or not you are a person who worries about this possibility. It may help to do some research. Any type of travel has inherent risks, of course. Some are terrified of airplane travel but sill travel on cruises. Others travel frequently on airplanes but would not consider going on a cruise. It is true that being on a boat is a different kind of experience than any other form of travel. Some are not so worried about the boat sinking but are afraid of being out in open water, unable to see the shoreline. Only you can decide whether or not being on the ocean bothers you.

Perhaps the most common fear of cruises in the last decade has been based on the media coverage of viral outbreaks on cruise ships. In the last couple years, this problem has improved, but most travelers are familiar with outbreaks of viruses such as the Norwalk virus. These viruses run rampant on cruise ships because of the large number of people in close proximity to one another for extended periods of time. Although general precautions can certainly decrease a persons’ chances of catching a virus on a cruise ship, it is true that illnesses are more difficult to avoid on a boat.

Along with viruses, crime on cruise ships has also been widely publicized. It is important to research each cruise line and get accurate statistics. Also, read reviews and information to learn how incidents are handled, and make sure you understand the level of security that will be present on the ship. Fortunately, most crime committed on cruise ships is property crime rather than violent crime, and this is relatively common with any type of travel.

Cruise Review NCL Jade Norway Cruise

I sailed on NCL’s Jade, cruising Norway from Southampton to the North Cape June 29-July 11, 2008. Here is my day by day diary.

Note: At the time of travel 1.00 USD = 5.09180 NOK

United States Dollars = Norway Kroner.

There are a lot of sightseeing ideas on the official tourism site: visitnorway.com

Day 0 We took Delta to London Heathrow. A very smooth on time flight.

Day 1 When we arrived at Heathrow, we looked for the coach terminal to take our pre-booked bus to Southampton (National Express) at 1150. Since we arrived at 9AM, this was plenty of time to get our luggage and walk to the terminal. The directional signs were not quite the overly precise way you an expect in Britain, so we wound up in Terminal 5, where we waited. Unfortunately, the coach terminal is nowhere near Terminal 5, something we did not find out until 1145, when we asked the bus dispatcher.

We missed out 1150 bus, despite the best efforts of the bus dispatcher from terminal 5, who called ahead to stop of bus from departing. She arranged another bus to take us to the proper coach terminal, where we waited for the 1250 bus, which would have brought us to Southampton just an hour before the scheduled departure time of 4PM for the Jade. We were wait listed for the 1250 and told to come back just before departure. Fortunately, an understanding bus driver allowed us on board, with the wrong tickets. He was masterful at avoiding the traffic pile up on the motorway, and by taking side roads through pretty towns, we were able to get into Southampton early! A taxi, readily available at the coach station took us to the ship in 5 minutes. One advantage of arriving so late was that there were no lines to board, and we were soon on the ship, just in time for the muster call. Before we knew it, we were on our way. The cruise left from City Cruise Terminal

A good long nap (we had been up for what seemed like days) meant we had a very late dinner, and missed the shows. Oh well!

Day 2: A day at sea with so many activities in the daily that we had trouble accommodating what we wanted to do in one day. Breakfast, a stretch class, learning to play bridge, entertainment, and more. I am so confused by bridge. I had always thought it was a game played by ladies with too much time on their hands. I have since discovered that it takes a lot of brain power to know all of the tricks.

Day 3: Alesund, a lovely small port with Art Noveau architecture and shops. A walking tour on our own included the stone church, and many nicely decorated shops and houses around the harbor. Very manageable on foot. Trolls are important here, and every one of them appears in the carved ornamentation of the buildings. Spend some time finding the trolls hidden in the buildings around Ålesund.

Day 4: Kristiansund – another nice small harbour. We strolled the area, although there was quite a bit to do in the vicinity if you wanted a shore excursion. Close to Kristiansund, you’ll find the island of Averoy, a fishing and farming society for generations. You may choose to visit the Milnbrygga – Norway’s National Klippfish Museum. Klippfish is salted and dried cod, which, exported to the Mediterranean countries, laid the foundation of Kristiansund’s growth.

Day 4 Svartsien Glacier – our first glacier was spectacular! Clear skies and clear blue waters. There was very little snow on the mountaintops – quite a bit less than in Alaska.

Day 5 Honningsvag is the stop for Nordkapp (North Cape) most northerly point of Europe. It was cold, even in July. The Arctic Ice Bar – made completely of ice – is a short walk from the cruise ship dock. Sjogata 1A (by the sea, alongside the taxi station). A modern design made by Laila Kolostyák, it can be visited in summer. All you will see in the inside is made on natural ice from the lakes of Lapland. Bar, walls, seats, tables, ramp with sledge, a map of the Artic, a life-size igloo where you can get in. In the shops in Honningsvag, you meet the local Sami people and their reindeer. If you go to the North Cape by bus, There is a huge hall here where you can see a film about the area have something to eat and drink and buy your souvenirs, and see a film. Another warning it was around this northern part of Norway that we had the roughest seas, although they were not bad.

Day 6 Cruise The Barents Sea

Day 7 Trondheim

Trondheim was the old capital of Norway, and the cathedral is where all the monarchs are crowned and if you go to Kristiansten Fort you get one of the best views across the city. After a catastrophic fire in 1681 destroyed most of the houses in the city, a new city was planned in the Baroque style. The streets were made wide to prevent fires from spreading. Some of the narrow alleys and narrow streets, many from the Middle Ages, nevertheless still. Even today Trondheim is spoken of as one of the typical wooden cities of Europe, and the city center has many special wooden buildings, some built as far back as the 1700s. Trondheim is filled with historical sights, museums, and art galleries.

Some highlights:

Crossing the Blomsterbrua (Flower Bridge) over the River

You can walk along the salmon river Nidelven in the city’s downtown district and the old wharves along the mouth of the river

The majestic Nidaros cathedral, the largest in Scandinavia. The Viking King, Olav Trygvason,was buried here in 997. The King was known as St. Olav, the holy king and the Patron Saint of Norway. Pilgrimages to the shrine of St. Olav started soon after his death and grew to great dimensions in the Middle Ages. Work on what was to become the Nidaros cathedral started in 1070 over the grave of St. Olav.

-The bright red old town bridge (“Gamle Bybro”) with its carved gate – The Gate of Fortune

– The picturesque, wooden houses painted in vivid colors in the downtown and old part of the city – Bakklandet districts

If you want an organized tour, take a sightseeing tour of Trondheim and its outskirts by bus. Daily departures at 11am.You will visit the Haltdalen Stave church at the Trøndelag Folk Museum, pass the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Kristiansten Fortress, the Royal Residence and the Cathedral. Duration 2 hours. Departure from McDonald’s next to the shopping centre Trondheim Torg. (Crossing Market Square with its colourful stalls, the statue of the Viking king who founded the city looks down on you from a great height. ) Tickets are sold by the guide and at the Tourist Information Office.

Day 8 Hellesylt A 3 hour stop was made here to let passengers take the overland tour to Geiranger, but we sailed instead to Geiranger, passing magnificent waterfalls.

Geiranger

Geiranger Fjord is known as “the most beautiful fjord in the world.”. From the village of Geiranger, your first visit is the Norwegian Fjord Centre, describing the daily life in Geiranger from the past and present. From here, you can see the winding, switchback roads to the top of the mountains. Sod roofed houses, and souvenir shops and beautiful views of the hills are the main draw if you do not take an organized tour.

Day 9 Bergen 8:00 AM 7:00 PM

Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, yet it’s got a great small-town feel. It is easily walkable, but we also took the tourist train for a 1 hour ride through the area and up over the city, Bergen of course is famous for its fish market, with UNESCO world heritage status The Wharf / Bryggen is characterized by its wooden buildings with pointed gables facing the harbor You can also take a trip on the Floibanen (funicular) for amazing views over the whole of Bergen and the surrounding hills.

Edvard Hagerup Grieg is from Bergen. (15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907) He was a Norwegian composer and pianist who composed in the romantic period. He is best known for his Piano Concerto in A minor, for his incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt (which includes In the Hall of the Mountain King), and for his collection of piano miniatures Lyric Pieces.

Day 10 Stavanger European Capital of Culture in 2008.

Your exploration begins in ‘Old Stavanger’, a lively area that consisting of more than 150 houses – well-preserved 18th and 19th century wooden houses, mostly built for seafarers, craftsmen and traders. An important rehabilitation project has meant that this is now northern Europe’s largest and best-preserved ‘wooden house’ settlement. Your stroll through Stavanger continues to the market square at the head of the harbour bay. A colourful scene greets you where fruit and vegetables, flowers and seafood are laid out on sale. There are lots of shops to explore, too. The impressive Cathedral forms a backdrop; built in 1125.

Day 11Thu Cruise The North Sea – –

Day 12 Fri London (Southampton)

The Ship: NCL Jade – Beautifully designed and maintained. Built in 2006

Crew: Unfortunately, this ship was just recently repositioned to Europe. It had been in Hawaii, with an all American crew, as required by law. When it was deployed to Europe, a mostly new crew boarded, although some are from other NCL ships. The lack or coordination and absence of team spirit was clear. I hope they will get better.

The daily newsletter was often wrong, even telling us to turn our clocks back on the wrong day. The activities were mis-timed. The announcements from the activities director ranged from silly to stupid young girl musings.

Our cabin was not made up on the first night, but things improved after that.

The Food: The Buffet had generous, always varied offerings and was nearly always open. The main dining room had slow service when we sampled it. Teppenyaki, one of the premium restaurants was good. The Italian Kitchen, though was inconsistent, being unable to reproduce the same dish on two successive nights. Different chef, different recipe perhaps.

Entertainment: The shows were aimed at the mainly English passengers on this cruise, which left from Southampton. I missed most of the jokes of the famous comedian, and could not understand why he made fun of anyone who walked in late. The dancers were just okay. The singers were mainly good, particularly the gospel singers. The crew show was foolish and required not a bit of talent.

Shore Excursions: We did not take any ship sponsored shore excursions. Since this was the Jade’s first visit to Norway, it seemed that no one bothered to do any shore excursion research in advance, and I found more information on the internet than at the shore excursion desk.

What to wear: Layers, including a fleece of some sort. It was not warm enough for summer shorts, although we sailed in July. It was sunny, and we never needed raingear or umbrellas.

Overall: We did have a good time, and I attribute the problems listed above to the inexperienced staff. I would try the Jade again, but at a much later date. after the staff has time to assimilate into a team.