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Enjoy a Winter Getaway in the Caribbean on a Warm and Sunny Cruise

December 29, 2018 | Sierra Mays


Enjoy a Winter Getaway in the Caribbean on a Warm and Sunny Cruise

Celebrating 10 Years! Sophisticated Cruise Specialists at Crown Cruise Vacations Provide Exclusive Offers, Exceptional Value & Unparalleled Service

Princeton, N.J. (Dec. 18, 2018) – Now celebrating 10 years, Crown Cruise Vacations President Ross Spalding and his team of travel and cruise specialists are experts at booking families, friends and individuals on a multitude of great choices for dream cruise vacations. Read more...

Shore Excursion: Vicksburg man starts bottling Coca-Cola, changes soft drink world

December 25, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Once upon a time, Coca-Cola drinkers could only get their cold beverage by visiting a soda fountain.

On a summer day in 1894, however, a young Mississippi candy merchant and soda fountain operator changed all that. Joseph Biedenharn had an idea that quickly changed the soft drink industry.

The Vicksburg businessman put the popular drink in bottles so that people anywhere could enjoy it whenever and wherever they wanted.

“Now people could buy their Coke and take it home,” says Donna, guide at the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum in downtown Vicksburg. “They didn’t have to go to a soda fountain anymore when they wanted a Coke. Now Coke is sold all over the world.”

Oh, the things you can learn on a shore excursion from the American Duchess. When the boat docked in Vicksburg, I took the hop-on, hop-off Steamcoach to explore the city.

As a nice perk, the Steamcoach is complimentary for passengers and makes its rounds at stops around town every 15 minutes or so. Another service from the steamboat company is that most shore excursions are included in the cruise price, plus most museums allow cruise passengers to visit free.

Exhibits feature Coke history & memorabilia

Opened in 1975, the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum houses a wide variety of exhibits detailing the beginnings of Coke, the history of the Biedenharn family, collection of Coca-Cola advertising, shelves of different Coke bottles and a bunch of Coke memorabilia.

Among the exhibits is a reproduction of the equipment first used to bottle Coke and a restored candy store and office area featuring furnishings and displays of the 1890s. The museum is housed in the actual building where the first bottling took place.

The museum also sells ice cream, candy, fountain Cokes, Coke floats and Coca-Cola souvenirs. An ornate onyx soda fountain adds a beautiful historic touch. “You couldn’t afford to have an onyx soda fountain like this today,” Donna says.

Coke itself was created in 1866 by Dr. John S. Pemberton, a pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia. He thought it would be nice to have an alternative to bars where people went to drink alcohol. He envisioned drugstore soda fountains as family-friendly gathering places. Coke syrup for the fountain drinks was distributed throughout the South, including Vicksburg.

But Joe Biedenharn noticed that country folks couldn’t get to the soda fountains as easily as townspeople. Why not, he thought, put the soft drink in bottles that could be transported anywhere?

How ‘soda pop’ got its name

At first, the Vicksburg man used whatever bottles he had on hand to bottle Coca-Cola. The early bottles were sealed with a rubber disk that was pushed into the neck of the bottle and held with a wire.

“When you pulled the stopper out of the bottle, it made a popping noise,” Donna says. “That’s where they say the name ‘soda pop’ got started.”

In order to fight imitators and make the Coca-Cola bottle instantly recognizable, the company decided to settle on a unique bottle design. Ben Thomas, one of the original patent bottlers, said that “we need a bottle which a person can recognize as a Coca-Cola bottle when he feels it in the dark.”

The now famous Coca-Cola contour bottle was patented in 1915 by the Root Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana. Because of its curvy shape, the bottle was nicknamed the “Mae West” after the voluptuous Hollywood sex symbol.

Photos and article by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

The museum showcases early Coke bottles.

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

The museum is a Coke collector’s dream

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

The Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum is housed in the old building where Coke was first bottled



Shore Excursion: Seeing the strange and beautiful in Salamanca, Spain

December 18, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Craning their necks, a crowd of people gathered outside the University of Salamanca searching for a tiny frog somewhere on the university’s walls.

A street vendor stood ready to help onlookers find the tiny critter and to sell them a postcard photo and souvenir of the elusive amphibian.

Now celebrating its 800th birthday, the University of Salamanca has many treasures and tales and the frog is just one of them. Of course, it is not a real frog. It’s a carving of a toad atop a skull.

“Legend says that students who can find this skull with toad atop it on the facade of the university will have good luck on exams,” said tour guide Mercedes Arribas. “The carving is very difficult to see.”

It definitely was hard to find but I did see it and got some photos with help from others in the crowd.

Another tale says that the toad atop the skull is a warning to students. The toad represents sexual temptation and the skull is death. So students should pay more attention to their studies than to carnal pleasures or their time at the university might be short lived.

Founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX, the University of Salamanca is the oldest in Spain and one of the oldest in the world. Located in the interior of Spain, Salamanca sits in the heart of old Castilla and boasts what is said to be the purest form of the Spanish language.

“Many students come here to study Spanish,” said Julio Cordero Gonzalez, Director of the Office of the Eighth Centenary. “We have students come here from around the world.”

Visitors and group tours also visit the university to admire its architecture and hear the history of the teachers and students who once graced these halls – such as Miguel de Cervantes, Christopher Columbus, Ignatius Loyola and Hernan Cortes.

Teacher jailed for five years during Inquisition

Arranged around a Renaissance cloister, the old classrooms were considered luxurious for the time. Restored to its original simplicity, one classroom has backless wooden benches barely 8 inches wide. Although they looked quite uncomfortable, the benches were considered a pleasure for the times, Arribas said.

“Before then, students had to sit on the floors,” she said.

The ancient rooms also were unlit. But light wasn’t necessary for reading or taking notes. Students were expected to listen closely and memorize what was said by teachers.

One darkened classroom was where humanist Fray Luis de Leon once taught during the 16th century when the forces of the Inquisition were hunting down heretics. The Spanish clergy of the Inquisition had scoured libraries and burned books considered unfit.

One of Spain’s finest poets, de Leon was also a celebrated theologian and brilliant teacher at the University of Salamanca. When he translated the “Song of Songs” from the Bible into the people’s native language, he was denounced as a heretic.

Arrested in 1572 by the forces of the Inquisition, de Leon was thrown into prison where he suffered for nearly five years. When he was finally released, de Leon returned to his classroom greeting students with the words, “As I was saying yesterday…”

Fray Luis de Leon died on Aug. 23, 1591, at the age of 64. His tomb is in the University of Salamanca’s Chapel.

How did astronaut carving get on ancient cathedral

Salamanca is a very walkable city and, with only a day here, that was what my group was doing.

Our first stop was at the beautiful Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) crossing the Tormes River. Originally constructed in the year 89, the bridge was reconstructed in the 17th century after it was damaged by flooding. The bridge offers an excellent view of Salamanca’s two cathedrals.

Salamanca boasts two cathedrals that are connected side by side. The Old Cathedral was built between the 12th and 14th centuries in the Romanesque style. Built in stages from 1509, the New Cathedral is a magnificent Gothic structure.

But it is an unusual carving on the outside of the New Cathedral that draws a good deal of attention and speculation. If you look carefully, you can see a distinct carving of an astronaut. How was that possible? There were no astronauts in those long-ago days.

“During a 1992 renovation, workers carved the 20th century figure,” Arribas said. “But it sure does make people stop, look and wonder if we were actually visited by space beings centuries ago.”

Another interesting structure is a former palatial home known as La Casa de las Conchas (the house of shells) that is now a public library. Outside the home are a slew of shell decorations. I thought they might represent the Camino de Santiago whose pilgrims use scallop shells to commemorate their walk.

But the shells on this house are part of a love story, Arribas said.

“The house was built by a husband for his beloved wife,” she said. “The scallop shell was the symbol of her family. Her husband had 365 shells put on the outside of the house to show his love for his wife every day of the year.”

Plaza Mayor a favorite gathering spot

Strolling through the Plaza Mayor, Arribas told us that the large gathering spot has long been known as Salamanca’s community living room. As the most important place in town, Plaza Mayor seems to always be hosting some kind of party or event. When we were there, a music and light festival was going on.

Folks of all ages gather on the Plaza Mayor. Spaniards are fond of taking their paseo (evening stroll) to the Plaza Mayor. College students and young singles gather here to see and be seen. Parents prepare their babies for sleepy time with a walk. Even a pair of storks seem to be people watching from on high.

Salamanca is a favorite with storks who nest atop cathedrals and other historic buildings. The big birds are considered symbols of good luck. The clicking noise storks make remind me of Spanish castanets.

The sun was going down as we left Salamanca and it was easy to see why Salamanca has long been called “The Golden City.”

Buildings are constructed of a warm brown sandstone which glows with a golden color at sunrise and sunset. It’s no wonder this old city by the river Tormes is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Story and photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

A skull with a toad atop it is difficult to find on the outer walls of the University of Salamanca

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

An astronaut carving on an ancient cathedral

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

La Casa de las Conchas (the house of shells)

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

Storks in Spain are considered good luck

Carnival Victory Cruise: ‘American Table’ dining room offers tasty menu choices

December 11, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

I remember the first time it happened to me. I had enjoyed clam chowder many times, particularly when I lived near Cape Cod and worked at a Massachusetts newspaper.

But on a long-ago cruise when I ordered clam chowder, I received a big white bowl with some chopped clams in the bottom. Mighty skimpy.

Then the dining room waiter poured a small pitcher of clam chowder over the clams. That’s more like it, I thought.

On my Carnival Victory cruise, I saw the same look on the face of a newlywed bride at the dining room table next to mine. She had ordered chilled peach soup.

What she got was a big white bowl with a blob of chopped peaches. Then the dining room waiter poured a pitcher of soup over her peaches. I could hear the bride and her husband laugh as they realized how puzzled they had been.

Cruises are a wonderful way to try something new. In fact, Carnival encourages that yearn to try unusual food.

On our Carnival Victory dinner menu under appetizers is an item called “Rare Finds.” The food listing goes on to explain that these are “foods you always wanted to try but haven’t yet dared.”

Very cute idea. And very popular judging by my dining companions on the Carnival Victory. I must be an adventurous eater because I have already tried most of them.

It’s a safe bet that if you don’t like that night’s choice, a Victory server will be sure to bring something else that you do like. A couple of times I have not finished my appetizer or entrée – certainly not that it wasn’t good, just that it can be food overload on a cruise. Invariably, my server would ask if the choice wasn’t to my liking and if I would prefer something else.

Some ‘Rare Finds’

In case you are curious, here are Rare Finds choices on my cruise.

–          Frog legs with Provençale herb butter served with warm brioche

–          Braised rabbit in puff pastry shell with red wine sauce

–          Braised ox tongue with onion marmalade

–          Cured salmon and candied tomato with dill cream, grapes and lemon dressing

The salmon was great. Frog legs and rabbit, I didn’t need to try. I ate both rabbit and frog legs plenty of times as a child when my father caught them and my mother cooked them.  Ox tongue I have never knowingly eaten and don’t intend to eat, even though the server said it is quite delicious.

Also as part of Carnival’s new American Table style is a different place setting than many passengers are accustomed to seeing. There are no tablecloths except for the formal Captain’s Dinner. Instead, the lovely wooden tables get to show their shine.

Doesn’t bother me at all not to have tablecloths. Just think about all the laundry that saves. So much more environmentally friendly. On other cruise ships, I have seen servers changing tablecloths as soon as diners get up to leave so the table is ready for the next diners.

On the Victory, servers respond quickly to clean tables and set them anew. We do have cloth napkins, plus a big carafe of ice water sitting on the table.

Part of the dinner table décor for American Table is cute little bread plates with images of American city landmarks. For dinner my first night, I had a plate with the Hollywood logo sign.

Each table has a wine bottle with a stone on a rope around it with the table number. I don’t have a reserved table but have been escorted to a window dining table every night. That’s because on the first night when asked where I would like to sit, I answered “window” and the dining room staff remembered that.


The menu is long and seems to offer something for everyone. It starts with about 10 appetizer choices, including fried calamari, chilled Vietnamese roll, cream of ripened tomatoes, shrimp cocktail, smoked chicken quesadilla, corn chowder, heart of lettuce, kale or romaine Caesar salad or lychee bisque. That’s was our first night’s dinner.

Next on the menu is entrees – slow cooked prime rib, spanakopita and stuffed bell peppers, grilled jumbo shrimp, teriyaki salmon fillet, spiral pasta with mushrooms and aged parmesan or the featured vegetarian of Indian style vegetable dish with lentils, basmati rice, pickles, papadam and raita.

Each evening, diners can also select “From the Grill” entrees such as salmon fillet, flat iron steak, chicken breast and pork chop.

For an extra $20, diners can choose one of the following: broiled filet mignon, New York strip loin steak, broiled Maine lobster tail or surf & turf.

All the entrees come with side dishes but those also can be ordered separately. Side dish options include mac & cheese with bacon, creamed spinach, ratatouille, baked potato with all the toppings, sautéed green beans and french fries.

‘Port of Call’ cuisine

A fun section of the menu deals with each “Port of Call” on our cruise itinerary. For example, in Cozumel, the menu notes that “Mexico is famous for producing some of the sweetest and juiciest corn in the region as well as grass-fed sustainably raised livestock. And, of course, tequila.”

The “Port of Call” offers a special cocktail, appetizer and entrée. The Cozumel cocktail was a margarita made with El Jimador Tequila, Patron Citronge and lime juice. Appetizer was tortilla soup with braised chicken. And entrée was steak tacos grilled over an open flame and topped with fresh pico de gallo, cilantro and avocado-arbol chili.

Desserts have included Carnival’s signature melting chocolate cake, crème brulee, chocolate hazelnut cake, apple crumb pie with ice cream, baked Alaska, cheese plate, tropical fruit plate or ice cream.

On the featured wine list are several choices, including Carnival’s special Gifft wines by celebrity winemaker Kathie Gifford – a chardonnay and a red wine blend. Carnival Cruise Line began offering Gifford’s wines in 2015.

Before that, the “Today” show host and former Carnival spokeswoman had joined the cruise line in the 1980s where she sang and danced her way through several ad campaigns.

That’s a fun thing about cruises – a chance to try something different and learn something new.

Photos and article by Jackie Sheckler Finch


Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

Chilled peach soup comes with a small amount of peaches and the soup is poured atop

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

Chilled peach soup comes with a small amount of peaches and the soup is poured atop

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

Bread plates feature images of American city landmarks

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

The Atlantic Dining Room is light and airy with ocean décor


Cruise Trivia: What is the tangerine-colored thing on the side of this ship

December 4, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

For all you dedicated travelers and cruise ship lovers, here’s a new ship question.  Debuting in November 2018 in Florida’s Port Everglades, the Celebrity Edge is definitely cutting edge in design.

But some people are puzzled about that strange tangerine-colored thing on the side of the Celebrity Edge. Do you know what it is?

I’ll admit that it looks like a piece of construction equipment accidentally left behind on the ship. However, the colorful object actually has a purpose other than being an eye-catching design feature.

A hint – its name is the “Magic Carpet.”

Don’t look at the answer below until you’ve formulated your own response. Congratulations if you are correct. If not, might be time to book a Celebrity Edge cruise and experience the Magic Carpet yourself.


(Answer) That bright tangerine structure on the new Celebrity Edge is the world’s first cantilevered floating platform. It actually moves up and down on the exterior of the ship to reach heights of 13 stories above sea level.

Although it might look like lifeboat orange, Celebrity says the color of the metal mechanical structure is tangerine.

When it’s up on Deck 5, the Magic Carpet is a restaurant offering unforgettable al fresco dining as the ship glides over the glistening water below. When it is on Deck 14, it serves as a late-night bar.

When it’s down close to sea level on Deck 2, the Magic Carpet becomes a comfortable and fun way to board a tender for a shore excursion. Instead of the unpleasant process that happens on most cruise ships when boarding a tender, the Edge has a luxurious lounge where passengers can relax before stepping on or off a tender.

For those who thought the Magic Carpet may be a fancy elevator that passengers ride up and down – no way. Passengers will never be on the Magic Carpet when it moves. Nor will the ship cruise when the Magic Carpet is down functioning as a boarding area for the ship’s tenders. The Magic Carpet is not constructed to be seaworthy when the ship is moving.

By the way, those Edge tenders are large and comfy. No cramped hard wooden benches to sit on like some other cruise ships offer. The Celebrity Edge tenders have relaxing upholstered chairs, TV screens and large windows to watch the seascape coming and going.

When we returned from our short tender trip, we stepped off the tender onto the Magic Carpet where we were greeted with cold drinks and snacks. Hope other ships follow the Edge’s lead and make the necessary tender cruises for shore excursions a more leisurely and happy experience rather than the unpleasant cattle drive that many passengers dread.

Way to go, Celebrity Edge!

Photos and story by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Carnival Sensations’ Grooving for St. Jude helps raise money for children’s hospital  

November 26, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch






By Jackie Sheckler Finch

On this beautiful day at sea, Marilyn is buying a special gift for her granddaughter at home.

The cuddly teddy bear wearing a Carnival T-shirt that the Florida woman just bought for $25 is for a very worthy cause – St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“We usually buy the ‘Groove for St. Jude’ T-shirts for $10 but this year I thought I’d buy the teddy bear for our newest granddaughter,” Marilyn said. “It’s all for a good cause.”

When the Groove for St. Jude event started on the Sensation, the top deck event was packed. Passengers were lined up to donate and get either a “Groove for St. Jude” T-shirt and a “Care to Play” wrist band or a teddy bear.

Since December 2009, Carnival Cruise Line has partnered with St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis to raise more than $13 million to help St. Jude in its fight against childhood cancer.

Now Carnival is stepping up those efforts even more. The new goal is the most ambitious one so far – to raise $5 million in the next five years for a total of $18 million.

St. Jude provides no-cost care to children from around the world. It also helps families of those children with a motto that no child is turned away because of a family’s inability to pay. St. Jude care and support is free for children and their families. St. Jude has an amazing 80 percent success rate in treating cancer.


I grew up watching the “Danny Thomas Show” on our very small screen television at home. He is the comedian who went on to found St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

As a starving actor, the story goes that Danny Thomas made a vow. If he found success, he would open a shrine dedicated to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes. The actor never forgot his promise. After becoming famous in the early 1950s, Danny and his wife built St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Opened in 1962, the hospital for needy children turns away no suffering child. It cares for children regardless of race, religion or ability to pay. Danny Thomas fervently believed that “no child should die in the dawn of life.”

Danny Thomas died of heart failure at age 79 on Feb. 6, 1991. He is interred on the grounds of St. Jude in Memphis. When his wife of 55 years, Rose Marie, died in July 2000, she was buried alongside him. Their daughter, actress Marlo Thomas, is now outreach director for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Carnival Sensation invites cruiser to pour their own ThirstyFrog Red beer

November 19, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch





By Jackie Sheckler Finch

He used to live in the forest, soaking up the rain. Now he lives on the Carnival Sensation, basking in the sun.

That’s the Carnival story about the RedFrog. And they’re sticking to it.

In fact, the little tree frog has made himself so at home on the cruise ship that he has his own private label draught beer, custom-brewed specially for Carnival – ThirstyFrog Red.

The first pub ever on a Carnival ship opened May 2011 on the Carnival Magic with ThirstyFrog Red beer and the response was overwhelming. The ship ran out of the private label draught beer.

So popular has ThirstyFrog Red become that it is now served fleet wide. Carnival describes the specialty beer as having “rich taste and delicate aroma with toasted notes resulting from the fine caramel and black malts using during the brewing process.”

I’m not a beer connoisseur but I thought it tasted good.

A new option I saw on the Carnival Sensation – at least new to me – is a self-service beer station in the Lido buffet. Passengers can pour their own beer at 29 cents per ounce. All you have to do is place a glass under the tap, swipe your Sail & Sign cruise card, pull the tap and pour up to 14 ounces of ThirstyFrog Red.

 New dining options, bars added in 2017

In the ship’s 2017 remodel, the Carnival Sensation received a RedFrog Rum Bar and a BlueIguana Cantina. The Sensation also has a BlueIguana Tequila Bar.

Located on the Lido deck, the BlueIguana Cantina serves up freshly made tacos, burritos and tortillas with no extra charge. The Cantina serves breakfast and lunch. Tacos are topped with choice of chicken, pork or fish. Burritos offer chicken, pork, fried fish or shrimp.

Both come with unlimited toppings such as refried beans, cilantro lime rice, roasted corn, charred green peppers and more. Then head over to the salsa bar to add even more to the meal.

I never tried BlueIguana Cantina for breakfast but I was told that the breakfast burritos are good and that you can get scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, hash browns, cheese, salsa, pico de gallo and more. Huevos rancheros also are a possibility.

Blue Iguana’s tale

Of course, the Blue Iguana has to have a tale to tell. What makes him blue? Some think he was born that way. But legend has it that he spent too much time in the blue agave fields soaking up the spirit of tequila.

You also might be asking how an iguana finds a pair of purple sunglasses … that fit. Let’s just say it boils down to one memorable trip to Cozumel, Mexico. The rest of the story, it is said, can be heard if you treat Blue to a tall tequila drink.

To keep it fun, the BlueIguana and the RedFrog have devout followers who engage in friendly competition.

“We think it started when Blue stole Red’s drink and put it on his menu,” a bartender said. “We think that’s where the rivalry started.”

As RedFrog himself might say – “Chill out. Live life to the fullest.”

Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Shore Excursion: Vicksburg doll museum brings back childhood memories for many visitors

November 12, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch





By Jackie Sheckler Finch

Mike Bakarich was happy when his wife Carolyn opened her Yesterday’s Children Antique Doll and Toy Museum in 1986.

“I finally had a place to sit,” he says with a smile. “She had dolls all over the house so I was glad when she got them out of the house and they weren’t taking up my seats.”

After a year, Carolyn moved her museum to a historic 1849 building in downtown Vicksburg, Mississippi, where it is still located. But Mike is now the person who welcomes visitors to the huge toy collection. His wife died in 2014.

“She loved these dolls and loved talking to people about them,” he says. “Women would come in and she would talk to them about the dolls. She knew the histories of the dolls and knew collectors all over the world.”

The four-room museum includes more than 1,000 dolls dating back to 1843, plus pedal cars, rocking horses, doll carriages, teddy bears and much more.

“We’ve got some boys’ toys in here, too, like G.I. Joes and a big car collection,” Mike says. “Something for the men to see while their wives are looking at all the dolls.”

What seems to be the most popular doll? “It’s always the one that women had when they were a little girl” Mike says. “I guess that doll brings back memories for them.”

The path to Vicksburg

Born in Chicago on May 6, 1928, Mike grew up in Arizona near the Mexican border. Although he is “not much of a collector,” there was one childhood toy he really yearned to own.

“I always wanted a bicycle but I was raised during the Great Depression and we didn’t have money for something like that,” he says. “I got a horse instead.”

At first, Mike said he thought he’d grow up to be a cowboy. “But then I found out that cowboys don’t earn much money.”

Instead, Mike joined the Army and advanced through the ranks until he retired in 1980 as a Brigadier General. The way he met his future wife was just a chance encounter, Mike says.

“A friend of mine was in an auto accident so I went to visit him in the hospital. His fiancé came to visit him, too, and Carolyn came with her. That was it.”

The couple had seven children and adopted four others from Korea. When Mike retired from the Army, the family moved to Michigan where Mike worked for Bechtel nuclear power company. They moved to Vicksburg in 1984 when he took a job at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.

The number of visitors to the museum varies with the seasons. “We can always tell when one of the riverboats is docked here because we get a lot of those passengers in the museum,” Mike says.

That’s why I was there. When the American Duchess docked in Vicksburg, I caught the hop-on, hop-off Steamcoach to visit a couple of museums, walk through downtown and admire the flood wall. Cruise passengers receive free admission to the museums.

As for the future of the huge doll and toy collection, 89-year-old Mike says, “I just take it one day at a time. This was Carolyn’s love and I keep it going for her. But you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Shirley Temple dolls date from 1934-1938.


How ‘Teddy Bears’ got their name told on Vicksburg flood wall

November 5, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch






By Jackie Sheckler Finch

President Teddy Roosevelt was happy to get out of the White House and go hunting in the woods about 25 miles north of Vicksburg, Mississippi. He set out for the four-day hunt on a fine November day in 1902.

When dogs treed a bear and the guide signaled for the President to shoot the animal, the nation’s leader refused. Hearing about the story, political cartoonist Clifford Berryman drew a sketch of Teddy Roosevelt with a little bear tied to a tree and the caption “Drawing the line in Mississippi.”

Soon toy manufacturers were producing “Teddy’s Bears” in honor of the event. The stuffed toys were later called teddy bears.

“That’s a true story,” says tour guide Michael on a shore excursion from my American Duchess cruise. “A lot of people don’t know that’s how teddy bears got their name.”

That fascinating bit of trivia is featured on Vicksburg’s Riverfront Murals, 32 murals painted on the city’s flood wall by renowned artist Robert Dafford.  Each mural measures a huge 12-by-20 feet.

When the American Duchess docked in Vicksburg, we could easily walk off the boat and visit the nearby flood wall. For my day in the city, however, I used the hop-on, hop-off Steamcoach to ride around downtown and then got off when the bus neared the flood wall.

“Each mural was paid for with private funds,” Michael says. “Not bad for a city with a population of about 23,000.”

I had seen Robert Dafford’s work on other riverfront murals and think it is an excellent idea. The large concrete walls are a necessity for flood protection from the Mississippi River but having them painted with local history is a pleasure to see.

The artist did similar murals in Portsmouth, Ohio; Cincinnati, Ohio; Maysville, Kentucky; and Paducah, Kentucky. It was in Paducah that Vicksburg resident Nellie Caldwell saw the Louisiana man’s work and chaired a committee to bring him to Vicksburg.

For his projects, the artist meets with local officials and historians to create a list of subjects related to the town’s history. The walls are water-blasted and covered with a coating that fills up the surface and smooths it out. Then Robert Dafford designs and completes each mural.

Artistic history book on flood wall

On April 12, 2002, the City of Vicksburg unveiled its first riverfront mural. The panels feature the city’s role in American history, commerce, culture, region and technology.

One of my favorite murals honors blues legend Willie Dixon including his quote “The blues are the roots, the rest are the fruits.” Born in Vicksburg in 1915, Willie Dixon created a playlist of more than 500 songs performed by some of the most famous artist of the 20th century, including Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Etta James, the Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley and Eric Clapton.

The mural shows Willie Dixon playing in the Blue Room, a famous Vicksburg lounge. The Blue Room opened in the 1940s and closed in 1972. Called “The Poet Laureate of the Blues,” Willie Dixon died in 1992 at age 76.

The Sultana tragedy also is the subject of one mural. A side-wheel steamboat, the Sultana was built in 1863 and designed to carry 376 passengers. On April 24, 1865, however, the Sultana docked in Vicksburg to pick up Union soldiers recently released from Confederate prisons and was crammed with far more souls than it could carry.

The Federal Government paid steamboat lines $5 per solder for the trip to Cairo, Illinois. Prior to arrival in Vicksburg, it was discovered that one of the boat’s four boilers was leaking. Instead of taking time to replace the boiler and perhaps lose the commission to ferry the men, workers put a metal patch over the damaged boiler.

To make matters even worse, greedy boat owners loaded 2,300 soldiers on the Sultana. In the early morning hours of April 27, three of the four boilers exploded when the boat was seven miles north of Memphis.

More than 1,700 people were killed in the explosion. Many were burned to death in the terrifying fire that followed. Others were drowned in the swift flood waters of the Mississippi. The accident is said to be the worst maritime disaster in American history.

Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Carnival Sensation décor reminiscent of retro ‘60s mod

October 29, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch





By Jackie Sheckler Finch

Chrome and silver. Gold and purple. Neon lights. Orange leather seats. Triangle-patterned bar stools. Plush sofas. Squiggles and curlicues galore. The Carnival Sensation décor, to me, looked like retro ‘60s mod.

I almost expected to see movie secret agent Austin Powers sashaying down the ship promenade. I lived through those times so I like the styling of the 25-year-old ship.

The heart of the ship is the soaring glass-and-metal atrium. Two rocket-shaped glass elevators zoom up and down for great views. The Atrium Bar is a hopping place with drink specials and live music on a raised stage over the bar.

The Deck 7 atrium is home to Guest Services, Shore Excursions, and a five-station Internet Café. Deck 8 has Fantasia Lounge and the ship’s Fun Shops offering Carnival souvenirs, toiletries, cruise clothes, handbags, designer watches, sunglasses, jewelry, liquor, cigarettes and more.

The Promenade on Deck 9 is aptly named. It’s a good place to walk, glance in the galleries, see the action in the casino, browse Pixels photo gallery, stop by the new Cherry on Top gift and candy store, and more.

The ship’s photographers do a good job and I’m sure those ship photos often become valued family memories. The photographers roam around taking casual photos and they also set up beautiful backdrop sets for special nights, particularly during the captain’s dinner which is the only dress-up night on our five-day cruise.

Photos are displayed on large boards and can be bought or not. Life goes so quickly and I know from my own experience that families often put off having a professional photo taken, thinking we’ll do it later. But later might not come. On my home office desk are two ship photos of a cruise I took with my grandson Logan and my sister Elaine. Brings back happy memories.

Can’t get there from here

Built in 1993, Carnival Sensation does have some inconveniences. It is one of those you-can’t-get-there-from-here ships. For my first night’s dinner, it was a bit of a hunt to find my Fantasy Dining Room on Deck 8 forward.

Sounds reasonable to walk up to Deck 8 or take an elevator there but if you arrive at the wrong end of the ship, you’re out of luck. You can’t just walk to the other end of the ship on Deck 8. There is no thruway. Instead, you have to either go up and come down or go down and come up.

Quite a few of us seemed lost that first night. One woman said she would just follow me. With my sense of direction, that might not have been a wise move. But we did find our Fantasy Dining Room.

On Deck 0 is the medical center. Two self-service coin-operated laundries are busy places on Deck 6 and Deck 7.

At the top of the ship on Lido Deck 10 are two whirlpools, the main pool and an activity stage where dance lessons are offered and games such as corn hole are played. Carnival Waterworks is on Deck 11. For folks at least 21 years old, Serenity Whirlpool is located on Deck 9.

The Carnival Sensation is a grand old lady who is not ready to hang up her traveling shoes. And she shouldn’t.

Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch