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Crown Cruise Vacations | July 30, 2015

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New circumnavigation cruises of Iceland now offered by Iceland ProCruises

July 20, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

If Iceland is on your list as a “must-see” destination, the adventure has become even more enticing. The first Icelandic-owned expedition cruise line is now offering circumnavigation cruises of the spectacular country.

Iceland ProCruises set sail June 2015 on its 224-passenger, 105-crew super yacht Ocean Diamond. The 10-day cruises from the capital city of Reykjavik will be offered through Aug 6 in 2015 and from May 24 to Sept. 2 in 2016.

Cruising around Iceland means that guests will not have to pack and unpack to stay in different hotels, will not have to drive long distances between attractions and will not be seeking good restaurants for daily meals. All of this will be taken care of by the beautiful Ocean Diamond. Travelers can just sit back, relax and enjoy intriguing Iceland.

Although a new company, Iceland ProCruises is a subsidiary of Iceland ProTravel – a leading DMC in Iceland. Owners Gudmundur Kjartansson and Anne-Cathrin Brocker are seasoned veterans in Icelandic travel and tourism bringing their expertise to each cruise.

About the size of Kentucky, Iceland is a country like no other: 15 active volcanoes, 10,000 thundering waterfalls, 800 hot springs, immense lava fields, glaciers covering 11.5 percent of the country. Then there are the whales, puffins, fuzzy Icelandic horses (don’t dare call them ponies), erupting geysers, postcard-pretty fjords, Northern Lights and Midnight Sun.

The ship carries its own Zodiacs for shore excursions. Due to the size of the Ocean Diamond, the vessel is able to navigate through smaller areas of Iceland giving passengers a closer experience than larger cruise ships are able to offer.

The ship also has a specialized Icelandic expedition team to lead tours and present programs about what we will be seeing and doing. This is a great bonus because passengers will probably have many questions concerning unusual Iceland.

Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Photos courtesy of Iceland ProCruises


  Cruise Destination Trivia: Identify the sleeping stone puppy

July 12, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Recognize this adorable puppy? He is small, made of marble and more than 500 years old. He is napping in a place that many other listeners might have been tempted to fall asleep themselves.

This is without a doubt the toughest trivia question I have asked so far. If you know the answer, you must be a very well-traveled person with a keen eye for detail.

A hint: The puppy sleeps in a worshipful place.

Don’t look at the answer below until you’ve formulated your own response.

Congratulations if you are correct. If not, you sure are not alone. Might be time to plan a trip, preferably a cruise, to Europe.






(Answer)  The cute dog is in the Cathedral in Strasbourg, France. A guide told me that the small dog sculpture is in honor of Jean Geiler de Kaysersberg who would preach in Strasbourg accompanied by his dog who traveled everywhere with him.

Geiler was known to preach long earnest sermons that would put his dog to sleep. When Hans Hammer carved the pulpit in 1485, he crafted the small dog sculpture snoozing below the pulpit. Although the cathedral is one of the greatest masterpieces of Gothic architecture, it is wonderful to see such an unusual tiny touch in the midst of all this grandeur.  

Petting the puppy is supposed to bring good luck. I’ve heard that said about many statues. If true, I must be one of the luckiest people in the world.

Story and photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Shore Excursion: Black Forest, plus recipe for Black Forest Cake

July 2, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

A young boy on my Black Forest tour said he was a bit afraid of what might lurk in the dark woods. His sister expected to see fairy tale princesses. His father hoped to buy a handmade cuckoo clock. And his mother was seeking a recipe for the famed Black Forest Cake.

It’s strange what the words “Black Forest” can conjure up for first-time visitors. Some of those preconceptions are correct. Some aren’t.

First, guide Margritta told us, the popular site in Germany got its mysterious name not from the fact that it is dark and scary. “It’s because the conifer trees are so thick and leafy that they block out most of the light,” she said. “It is really a beautiful place.”

Margritta was right.

A popular stop on Rhine River cruises, the Black Forest is a wooded mountain range in Southwestern Germany. The forest mostly consists of pines and firs. “Those trees never lose their leaves so the forest is always shaded but it is not black,” Margritta said.

The forest and villages look as though they have stopped the hands of time, giving visitors a glimpse into what ancient Germany might have been like. The Black Forest does have a rich mythological tradition filled with werewolves, witches, fairies and dwarves.

“Legend says that the Brothers Grimm were inspired by the Black Forest when they wrote their stories,” Margritta said, referring to the authors of Snow White, Cinderella,  Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel and many more.

The Black Forest also has inspired fine craftsmen who create the cuckoo clocks. It is not clear who built the first cuckoo clock in the Black Forest or why but the handcrafted clocks with the teeny cuckoo bird and wooden gears were being built in the Black Forest as early as 1740.

As for that Black Forest Cake, I had a delicious piece of the cake in a Black Forest bakery where I watched a baker create one of the delights. On the way out, I got a postcard with the Black Forest Cake recipe.

What makes it special, Margritta says, “besides all the good cream and cherries is the wonderful Black Forest cherry brandy Kirsch. So you have to buy some of the Kirschwasser to take home and make your cake.”

I did see several travelers buying the Kirsch. Maybe to make cake. Maybe to drink. Kirschwasser also can be ordered online.

Before we left, Margritta shared another bit of interesting trivia. Supposedly, she said, the colors of the Black Forest Cake follow what the Brothers Grimm described in Sleeping Beauty – the girl was born with skin as white as snow, lips as red as cherries and hair as black as ebony.

“Those are the colors in the cake and in the traditional dress worn by women of the Black Forest,” Margritta say. “The blouse they wear is as white as the cream. The bollenhut (hat with big puffy red balls on top) is as red as the cherries. And their dress is as black as the chocolate shavings.”


                                                    Black Forest Cake


1 dark sponge cake

1 cup cherries

3 tablespoons cherry jam

3 cups whipped cream

3 leaves of gelatin to stiffen the cream

5 teaspoons of Black Forest Cherry Kirschwasser

¼ cup chocolate shavings from milk chocolate bar

Slice sponge cake through the middle into three even layers. Prepare the gelatin and add to whipped cream. Spread jam onto bottom layer, then cover with whipped cream and cherries. Cover with another layer of cake.  Sprinkle the cherry Kirschwasser evenly over the layer, cover with ¾ inches whipped cream and place last layer on top. Cover whole cake with remaining cream and decorate with chocolate bar shavings and cherries.

Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch


Shore Excursion: Ruins of ancient Ephesus in Turkey

June 22, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Carved into stone, the drawing of a footprint may be the first public billboard advertisement ever recorded in history.

“It pointed the way to the local brothel,” guide Bulent Yurttas said, leading us around the ancient city of Ephesus. The dots on the stone represent the number of prostitutes in the brothel and the heart carving means the women are eager for love.

Never know what you are going to learn on a shore excursion from a cruise ship.

When my Celestyal Crystal docked in Kusadasi, Turkey, I was looking forward to seeing the ruins of the historic Ephesus. I had learned about the city as a kid in church. But my Sunday school teacher never mentioned anything about the footprint or brothel. Mostly we studied about the apostle Paul and his preachings in Ephesus.

“Walking through Ephesus is like walking through history,” Yurttas said. “So much happened here.”

The streets of Ephesus were once trod by such important historical figures as Androcles of Athens, Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Julius Caesar and Cleopatra who is said to have brought her beloved cats to the city.

St. Paul reportedly lived in Ephesus for three years after the death of Christ and St. John wrote his gospel here. Some believe that Ephesus is the place where Mary, the mother of Jesus, spent the end of her days on earth after his crucifixion.

Ephesus was built by Greek colonists. The city flourished when it came under the control of the Romans in 129 BC. The city’s famed Temple of Artemis was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Although only an estimated 15 percent of the old city has been excavated, it is obvious that Ephesus was a very large and rich place. It is said to be the largest collection of Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean. At its peak during the 1st and 2nd century AD, Ephesus was a center of commerce and education, second only to Rome. An estimated 250,000 inhabitants lived here at the city’s peak of importance.

Before we left, our guide Yurttas pointed out a sculpture that shows how advanced the Ephesians were and how items from the past that are patiently unearthed can answer questions – and also create even more questions. The remnants of a statue honoring Emperor Trajan who ruled the Roman Empire in the 2nd century show a large ball with a foot on top of it.

“The statue meant that he ruled the world.  His right foot is on the globe,” Yurt’s said. “That meant that they knew the world was round long before later men said it was.”

AmaCerto cruise newsletter has valuable uses

June 15, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

On any cruise, I always look forward to reading the ship’s newsletter that magically appears on my stateroom bed every night.  The newsletters are filled with interesting information about where we are going, what we will be doing, the weather forecast and much more.

But on my recent AmaCerto voyage, cruise manager cruise Réka Piros shared even more reasons why The Daily Cruiser printed by AmaWaterways is such a valuable resource.

“Take it with you when the leave the ship,” Réka advised. At the bottom of the first page of The Daily Cruiser is the daily docking location of the ship, the ship’s phone number and Réka’s phone number.

“If you become lost, all you have to do is show a taxi driver or someone the docking location,” Réka said. “Or you can call us and we will come and find you.”

The Daily Cruiser also gives the time of the day’s sunrise and sunset, along with the weather forecast. I particularly like the saying printed under the name of the newsletter: “Every day is a new life to the wise one.”

The second page of the newsletter gives the cruise schedule for the day, along with the name of the specialty cocktail of the day. For example, the cocktail on the day we visited the Netherlands was the “Amsterdam Gimlet” consisting of vodka and Roses Lime Juice.

The third and fourth pages of the newsletter have some background information on the destinations we will be visiting that day.

Réka also shared a photo tip using the newsletter. “When you get home and you look at all those beautiful pictures you took, you might not remember the name of each place. You might think, ‘Where was that one? What day was that one?”

To help organize photos, Réka suggested taking a photo of the newsletter’s first page each day when you get up or the night before when going to bed. “That way you will know that all the pictures you took after that picture of the newsletter were taken in the places we visited that day.”

Another handy tip was part of Réka’s debarkation talk the last night of the cruise. To be sure nothing is left in a passenger’s stateroom safe, Réka shared what she does.

“The night before the cruise ends, before I go to bed, I take a shoe and put it in the safe,” she said with a smile. “I might forget that I have something in the safe when I’m in a hurry in the morning. But I won’t forget my shoe because I certainly won’t be leaving the ship barefoot.”

Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Grande Caribe can nestle into shore for unexpected stop

June 8, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Carol Schreck had never been fishing in her life. But when the Grande Caribe made an unscheduled stop at a lovely marina known for its many fish, Carol decided to give it a try.

She pulled in a whopping two fish – a smallmouth bass and a catfish. “It was beginner’s luck,” Carol said modestly. Her prize catches were released back into their watery home.

Although the Grande Caribe was due to dock and spend the night at Cuba Landing Marina in Waverly, Tennessee, the river was so high that ship captain David Sylvaria decided to tie up at Buzzard Rock Marina instead. Located in Kuttawa, Tennessee, the marina is nestled in a quiet cove on beautiful Lake Barkley.

A short canal a few miles from Buzzard Rock connects Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake for over 4,000 miles of shoreline and 220,000 acres of water surface. The river system winds around the Land Between the Lakes and connects to the intercoastal waterway reaching all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

No one knows how Buzzard Rock got its name but one tale involves an Indian princess and some bad luck. For Carol, however, the site was a lucky spot. “It was fun,” she said of reeling in her two catches. “It was a surprise, something I never expected.”

When the ship made its detour stop, cruise director Jenn McDaniel thought that passengers might enjoy some afternoon fishing from a bass boat or from the docks. Marina maintenance manager Dave Shelton was happy to oblige and provided complimentary fishing equipment and bait.

“The fishing is really good here,” Dave said. “We got a big variety of fish so it’s a prime fishing spot.”

Among the fish in Lake Barkley are largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, white bass and catfish. Lake Barkley is a favorite for bass tournaments with anglers catching bass that average four pounds each.

Although her fish didn’t approach a record size, Carol says she is proud of her catch and hopes to fish again. “It was definitely life changing.”


Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch



Carnival Cruise Guarantee

June 2, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Carnival Cruise Lines has long promised that travelers will have a wonderful cruise on their ships or get their money back. Last year, Carnival ramped up that promise even more with its “Great Vacation Guarantee.”

Now Carnival has announced that its popular guarantee will be offered again in 2015.

The deal guarantees that passengers who are not enjoying the cruise can notify the ship’s management within the first 24 hours of the voyage and receive a 110 percent refund plus complimentary transportation home. The guarantee also adds $100 shipboard credit for a future cruise.

Carnival is proud to carry nearly 4.5 million satisfied guests each year and is very confident in the quality of the vacation experience provided on board the 24 ships of Carnival Cruise Lines, officials said

The “Great Vacation Guarantee” is designed to provide an assurance to those consumers who may be considering a cruise that the company stands behind its and, if they are dissatisfied for any reason, passengers have a simple and hassle-free means for receiving a full refund and more.

Carnival will fully handle all the necessary travel arrangements to make it a truly hassle-free experience. In the event the cruiser drove to the port of embarkation, Carnival will arrange complimentary transportation back to that port.

If other guests in the same party do not want to exercise the Carnival Great Vacation Guarantee, they can stay aboard and continue their cruise.

To make the deal even sweeter, all incidentals will be refunded as well – 100 percent of the cruise cost, plus government fees and taxes, the Vacation Protection Plan, prepaid gratuities, and unused pre-purchased services such as the spa and unused shore excursions.

Then Carnival will top that with an additional 10 percent, which will be mailed via check. Or disgruntled travelers can receive that 10 percent as cash at the Guest Services desk.

Why is Carnival taking this gamble?

As the Carnival Cruise Lines website notes, “We believe, and have so much confidence in our product, that we felt it was appropriate to make our guarantee even stronger. We’re proud of the experience we deliver to the millions of guests who cross our gangway each year.”

Story By Jackie Sheckler Finch

AmaCerto river cruiser has top deck pool with swim-up bar

May 25, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

The AmaCerto cruise ship certainly has a great deal to offer – beautiful staterooms, delicious cuisine, professional staff, wonderful shore excursions and a pool.

That’s right. A pool. I’ve never been on a river vessel with a pool this big. Some river cruisers have tiny plunge pools and plenty of hot tubs. But the AmaCerto has a teardrop-shaped heated pool with some depth to it. At the deep end is a swim-up bar with barstools  and a bartender serving wine, beer and cocktails – in warm weather.

Although river cruise ships are limited to the same dimensions to fit into the locks on European rivers, the AmaCerto has certainly managed to include some eye-catching extras. In addition, the AmaCerto’s Sun Deck has a walking track, seating spots,  gigantic chess board, shaded area and pilot house.

Although I loved my winter cruise on the AmaCerto, I really would like to return for a summer voyage. The Sun Deck would be such a wonderful spot to sit and watch as we navigate the rivers and see the towns along the way. I would love to give this pool a try.  I’ve considered it every day on my cruise but it’s been far too cold for me. Just a good reason to cruise with AmaWaterways again someday.

Shore Excursion: Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington

May 18, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Sam Hill wouldn’t have had to ask me twice to live here. Perched high on a bluff overlooking the Columbia River, the French-style mansion was designed to have eight suites and enough room for 250 dinner guests.

The opulent home was built by Hill for his wife. But she never lived here. Her loss. Our gain.

Today, the impressive structure is now the Maryhill Museum of Art. The “Mary” part of the name was in honor of Hill’s daughter, Mary.

“This was in the middle of nowhere when Sam Hill built this house for his wife,” says Ryan Downs, heritage leader for Un-Cruise Adventures. “She never lived here.”

In fact, this area was so undeveloped and off the beaten path that the name of “Sam Hill” supposedly became a catchphrase for someplace way out in the uncivilized boonies, Downs says. “Allegedly, Sam Hill’s wife coined that phrase because he dragged her out here to what she thought was nowhere.”

Who would think to find the world’s largest collection of sculptor Auguste Rodin’s work so far out in the country? And that is only the start of what this museum holds.


Born May 13, 1857, in North Carolina, Sam Hill was a Quaker and a dedicated pacifist. He fell in love with the Pacific Northwest when he took a train ride through the Columbia River Gorge and saw nature’s treasures. Deciding he wanted to live here and create a Quaker farming community, Hill began building his dream home in 1914 and thought his wife and two children might be as delighted as he was to live in Goldendale, Washington.

When it became obvious that his wife wasn’t, Hill abandoned his mansion project in 1917. Rather than let the beautiful facility go to waste, Hill’s friend Loie Fuller encouraged Hill to turn it into an art museum. A pioneer of modern dance living in Paris, Fuller also was friends with well-known artists in France, which helped build the core of the museum’s collection.

In addition, Hill transferred his own art collections to the museum. That accounts for many of the artworks and culture on display of the indigenous peoples of North American. Intricate baskets, beadwork, and ancient petroglyphs are among the array of artifacts from Pacific Northwest and North American tribes.

Although it wasn’t totally completed, the museum was dedicated in 1926 by Hill’s friend, Queen Marie of Romania. The granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, Queen Marie was in exile at the time.

Hill didn’t live to see his museum be finished. He died Feb. 26, 1931. The museum was still filled with unpacked crates of art. And so it sat. Until 1937 when Hill’s friend, sugar heiress Alma de Brettevills Spreckels, decided to finish it in Hill’s honor. The museum was opened to the public on Hill’s birthday – May 13, 1940.

A $9.6 million expansion was added in May 2012 for a combined interior space of 35,000 square feet.  Located 100 miles east of Portland, the castle-like chateau was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.


One of the things I like most about the museum is its setting and the ability to see fantastic works of art up-close almost as in a private home. Of course, that is what the museum was meant to be.

Some of the collections I particularly enjoyed are:

~ 87 works by Auguste Rodin, considered the father of modern sculpture. The world-class collection of Rodin works includes bronzes, terracotta, plaster studies and watercolor sketches. It is amazing to see such well-known works as The Thinker, The Hand of God, The Age of Bronze and the life-size plaster of Eve from his masterwork, The Gates of Hell.

~ Queen Marie of Romania’s throne, crown jewels, gilt furniture, silverware, wedding dress and icon collection.

~ An unusual collection of about 100 chess sets. With great diversity, the sets represent the many counties, cultures and periods in which chess has been played.

~ One-third life-size mannequins wearing fashions of post-World War II France. The 1946 exhibit shows mannequins wearing fashions created by the country’s finest designers. To make it even better, nine different sets create elaborate backdrops for the mannequins as they showcase both casual and formal wear of the day.

~ A metal chest used by Hill to carry a beam fragment from the original pilgrim ship, Mayflower, from England to the United States. The relic was then placed in a vault within the Peace Arch at Blaine, Washington, in 1921. Two small planks removed from the fragment now rest inside this trunk.

~ The outdoor sculpture garden which was started in 1997. Scattered around museum ground are some interesting sculptures and neat places to rest and contemplate.

I spent the last half hour of my visit sitting on a bench in the garden watching the great Columbia River. I can certainly see why Sam Hill fell in love with the area. Strange that his wife didn’t. But then I never had to walk in her shoes. I am quite happy in my own.

Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Shore Excursion: Paducah, Kentucky, floodwall highlights local history

May 12, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Walking ashore at Paducah, Kentucky, I saw a bittersweet image.

There on the floodwall is a beautiful painting of the three sister riverboats – the Delta Queen, the Mississippi Queen and the American Queen.

The mural depicts an actual event.  On a historic July day in 1996, all three of the mighty steamboats docked at Paducah at the same time. The painting commemorates that gathering as local townsfolks welcome the queens and passengers.

As a many-times cruiser on all three boats, the painting brings back memories. Bitter  memories because two of the queens are no longer cruising. The Mississippi Queen was torn apart in 2011 and sold for salvage. The Delta Queen is permanently docked in Chattanooga as a floating hotel. And the American Queen was pulled from the rivers in 2008.

Sweet memories because the American Queen was bought by a new company and began cruising again in April 2012. The beloved passenger boat now makes regular stops again  in Paducah – a glorious sight for riverfolks and local people.

“We are delighted to see the American Queen back in Paducah,” says resident Betty McManus. “We have really missed all three of the boats.”

In fact, some shops in the little towns along the rivers went out of business after the boats stopped cruising four years ago. For the first time since 1811, there were no overnight steamships on America’s rivers.

“It does help our economy when the boats bring passengers here,” McManus notes.

Founded in 1815, Paducah was named for Chickasaw Indian Chief Paduke, known for his kindness and generosity to those traveling down the river by keelboat and flatboat. The famous floodwall is a work of art but the wall is actually the result of a disaster.

In 1937, the Ohio River at Paducah quickly rose above its 50-foot flood stage, cresting at 60.8 feet on Feb. 2. With 18 inches of rainfall in 16 days, along with sheets of swiftly moving ice, the ’37 flood was the worst natural disaster in Paducah’s history.

For nearly three weeks, the town’s 27,000 residents were forced to flee to stay with friends and relatives in higher ground. Buildings in downtown Paducah still bear plaques that show the high water marks.

Because Paducah’s earthen levee was ineffective against the ’37 flood, the United States Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to build the floodwall that now protects the city from the ravages of flooding.

“Then we decided to paint the wall to make it look better,” McManus says. “Now we have  almost 50 murals that show the history of Paducah.”

Started in 1996 by mural artist Robert Dafford and his team, the scenes on three city blocks of the floodwall were created over the next 10 years. One final panel was added in 2010 to honor the 100-year anniversary of the local Boy Scout troop.

“The paintings are touched up each year,” McManus says, explaining why scaffolding blocks the three Queens mural that I was trying to photograph.

Each mural panel has its own spotlight and an interpretive plaque with a short history lesson on the scene depicted in the panel.

Along with the three Queens panel, one of my favorites is a 1938 scene when the Ohio River froze solidly completely across. The huge freeze brought barge traffic to a halt. It also provided a winter playground for Paducah residents and schoolchildren freed from school by the freezing weather. Look closely and see a black dog scampering over the ice. Reminds me of my own Pepper at home.

Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch