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Crown Cruise Vacations | August 30, 2015

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2013 January

Disney Cruise Line offers frightfully fun cruises for Halloween

August 25, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

The wind is howling. Leaves are skittering to the ground. It’s that bewitching time of year and Disney Cruise Line will be treating guests to a wickedly good time. Disney ships will be transformed into a ghoulish wonderland filled with frightfully fun events and activities, special decorations, unique menu items in the restaurants and themed parties on deck.

The 2015 Halloween on the High Seas takes place on most voyages aboard all Disney Cruise Line ships from September through October. This extra-spooky celebration features Halloween-themed parties, lively entertainment and elaborate décor, including The Pumpkin Tree, which magically transforms throughout the cruise.

Other special experiences include:

  • Mickey’s Mouse-querade Party, a celebration in addition to Pirate Night with games, dancing and lots of candy! Beloved Disney characters, wearing special Halloween costumes just for the occasion, will join guests for this fun-filled costume party.
  • A Nightmare Before Christmas—Sing and Scream, an interactive movie experience where guests are part of the action, followed by a meet-and-greet with Jack Skellington and Sally.
  • Haunted Stories of the Sea, where the bravest cruisers gather under the stars to hear some true—or not so true—tales of the sea told by a mysterious sea captain storyteller.
  • Creepy Cabaret, a party in the atrium featuring favorite Halloween-themed music performed live by a band of ghostly musicians.
  • Halloween Isn’t Just For Kids: For adults, the nighttime entertainment district on each Disney ship becomes the ghoulish setting for a costume contest and a Villainous Takeoveron the dance floor.
  • Spooky Movies:To get guests into the spirit of the season, Halloween-themed movies will be shown in Buena Vista Theatre, on Funnel Vision by the family pool and in guest staterooms.
  • Ghoulish Delights: Disney Cruise Line chefs have conjured some very special treats for Halloween, including chocolate cake with pumpkin filling, spider cakes and “Spooky Juice.”
  • More spooky fun includes mask making and a ghostly takeover of ship announcements.


Photo by Disney Cruise Line

Holland America’s  ‘Dancing with the Stars: At Sea’ cruises into final season

August 17, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Bring along your dancing shoes for a special chance to dance at sea with “Dancing with the Stars” Mirrorball Trophy winners and America’s favorite TV mom Florence Henderson on Holland America Line.

The voyages mark the final chance to experience “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” before the partnership concludes. Tony Dovolani and Kym Johnson, along with celebrity personality Carson Kressley and Florence Henderson will be on the cruise departing Ft. Lauderdale on Jan. 3 and the Champions Cruise on Jan. 10, 2016.

When ms Nieuw Amsterdam sets sail for the Caribbean on two seven-day voyages, guests will be able to watch these four fan favorites take the stage to perform routines from the ABC hit television show as well as exciting new choreographed dances.

Additional events on these cruises include dance lessons with the ship’s professional dancers; a special fashion show featuring glamorous show costumes from the TV show; and a chance to meet the stars, ask questions and take photos with them. 

“We are thrilled to have the talents of Tony, Kym, Carson and Florence entertaining and mingling with our guests on these last two special theme cruises,” said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line.

 “And the Champions Cruise on the Jan. 10 sailing features the exciting grand finale dance-off following a year of guest competitions, and we look forward to crowning a new Mirrorball Trophy winner with the help of these fabulous stars.”

The partnership between Holland America Line and “Dancing with the Stars” the last few years has been popular with passengers, Ashford said. “The program added an engaging element to our cruises that many guests embraced with passion and dedication.  We are thankful to ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and BBC Worldwide for an amazing run.”

For a recap about the sea competition, every cruise that departed on or after Sept 21, 2014, and continuing with cruises that end by Nov. 24, 2015, every sailing on all 15 ships in the Holland America Line fleet features exclusive “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea.”

Included are complimentary dance lessons with the ship’s dance pros and a dance competition that gives guests an opportunity to compete for a change to represent their ship on the Champions Cruise. Winners of the guest competitions with the highest scores from each of Holland America Line’s ships receive a free ocean-view stateroom for two on the Champions Cruise. And maybe they will bring home the coveted Mirrorball Trophy and title of Holland America Line’s “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” Champion. There will be one winner from each ship on the Jan. 10, 2016, Champions Cruise.

Fans of the TV show probably already know the names. Tony Dovolani is a 19-season veteran of the show – the longest running dance pro – who took home the top prize during the all-star season. Kym Johnson has been on the show for 17 seasons and is a two-time Mirrorball Trophy winner. Carson Kressley was a season 13 participate and is also an Emmy-winning television star, celebrity stylist, author and fashion designer. Florence Henderson kicked up her heels on the TV dance show during season 11 but she is best known as matriarch Carol Brady on the classic TV series “The Brady Bunch.”

Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch. Photo courtesy of Holland America Line


Carnival Cruise Line celebrates new Dr. Seuss book on ships

August 13, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

To celebrate the new Dr. Seuss book What Pet Should I Get? Tampa Bay Rays all-star Evan Longoria and Carnival Cruise Line have teamed up to help animal shelters. Longoria will be donating $100 to Pet Pal Animal Shelter for every home run he hits during the 2015 season. Carnival will be matching that donation.

Carnival also sponsored special readings of the book by Longoria aboard the Carnival Paradise in Tampa and broadcaster Angela Hill aboard Carnival Dream in New Orleans. In addition, Carnival is donating money to the Tampa Bay and Louisiana Chapters of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Carnival is the No. 1 cruise line for families and we’re delighted to team up with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to bring the joy of reading to kids with these special presentations in Tampa and New Orleans while supporting local animal rescue organizations,” said Carnival’s president Christine Duffy.

“The kids were absolutely thrilled to have been treated to a reading of the first new Dr. Seuss book in 25 years and our most sincere thanks to Evan and Angela, as well as the SPCA, for the valuable work they do each and every day,” she added.

The author, whose real name was Theodor “Ted” Seuss Geisel, died in 1991 at the age of 87. When his widow, Audrey Geisel, was remodeling the home after her husband’s death, she found a box of text and sketches. She set it aside and 22 years later – in the fall of 2013- the box was rediscovered.

Audrey Geisel said she was not surprised to find an unpublished book since her husband always worked on multiple projects at the same time. The book What Pet Should I Get? was likely written between 1958 and 1962. It features the same brother and sister seen in Dr. Seuss’ 1960 classic One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish.

Wearing Dr. Seuss’s signature striped hat and surrounded by SPCA rescue dogs, Longoria and Hill read What Pet Should I Get? to happy children. Following the reading, children and adults joined The Cat in the Hat, Sam I Am, and Thing 1 and Thing 2 for Carnival’s popular Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast with The Cat in the Hat and Friends, part of Carnival’s exclusive Seuss at Sea program.

Launched in 2014, Seuss at Sea is a fleet wide program featuring youth, family, dining and entertainment experiences inspired by the world and words of Dr. Seuss. The program includes such fun activities as the Seuss-a-palooza Parade and Story Time, as well as character interactions, Dr. Seuss toys and games and popular movies.

Photo by Carnival Cruise Line

Kathie Lee Gifford announces new Pinot Noir Rosé wine for Carnival Cruise Lines

August 4, 2015 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Relax aboard a Carnival cruise ship and sip GIFFT Pinot Noir Rosé wine as you watch the ocean roll. The new wine was officially launched this week by “Today” show host Kathie Lee Gifford as part of her GIFFT wine collection.

“I love that I’m launching our Pinot Noir Rosé aboard Carnival with whom I’ve had such a fantastic partnership for so many years now,” Gifford said in a news release. “The fact that we can expand on that relationship through a love of wine is just all the better. I can’t imagine a better spot for folks to enjoy a glass of GIFFT wine than while relaxing out on the ocean aboard a Carnival ship.”

The new brand joins the GIFFT Red Blend and Chardonnay that were introduced fleet wide aboard Carnival ships earlier this year. The limited-edition Pinot Noir Rosé  is 100 percent estate-grown and features ripe strawberry, raspberry and red apple aromas to exhibit bright fruit flavors framed by a crisp juicy acidity.

The wine was created with California-based Scheid Relax on a Carnival cruise and Family Wines, one of the largest vineyard owners in Monterey County known for having the longest growing season in California.

Carnival is the only cruise line featuring GIFFT wines. In its tasting ratings, Wine Enthusiast magazine rated the GIFFT red with a 91 of a possible 100 points while giving the chardonnay 88 points.

“Our guests have really embraced GIFFT wines to make them among the most popular offerings on our wine list,” said Eddie Allen, Carnival’s vice president of beverage operations. “The aromas and flavors of this rosé are very food friendly and complement so much of Carnival’s vast shipboard culinary offerings.”

Gifford originally became associated with the “Fun Ship” brand in the 1980s when Carnival launched the cruise industry’s first national television campaign. She appeared in the “If You Could See Me Now” and “Ain’t We Got Fun?” ads.

Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch. Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Lines



Seeing menu items helps passengers make dining choices

July 30, 2015 | Heidi

Ever peruse a cruise ship menu and have a difficult time choosing what to order? Do you look around at other diners to see what they may be eating?

Iceland ProCruises has a helpful way to make choosing a bit easier on its cruise ship, the Ocean Diamond. Several of the evening’s menu offerings are placed on a decorative front table as passengers enter the ship’s dining room. Seeing the beautifully presented dishes can sometimes make or break a menu choice.

Often in a restaurant, I have looked at a companion’s dinner and thought it looked better than mine. But by then, of course, it was too late. The Ocean Diamond lets diners see what some of the specialties on the night’s menu are before they place an order.

The first Icelandic-owned expedition cruise line set sail in June 2015. The new company offers round-trip cruises on the Ocean Diamond from Reykjavik during Iceland’s summer months of June through August.


Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

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