KEY WEST – Rita Hayworth lounges on a bed. Tony Bennett curls up on a chair. Harry Truman suns himself on the front porch. Howard Hughes snoozes by a bench. And Dorian Gray hangs out somewhere around the bushes.
These cats are free to go wherever their want in the Hemingway House because it is their home. They are special cats and as many people probably come to see them as come to view the Key West place where renowned author Ernest Hemingway used to live and write.
They are the famous six-toed Hemingway cats.
“They are all descendants of Snowball, the original six-toed cat,” said guide Mary Jane. “We have 44 cats today and they lead a very good life.”
It all started, Mary Jane said, when an old sea captain gave Hemingway his six-toed fluffy white cat named Snowball. “Ernest Hemingway admired that cat so when the captain left town, he gave the cat to him,” Mary Jane said.
Seafaring legend has it that polydactyl cats (those with extra toes) bring a bounty of good luck. “Hemingway was a very superstitious man. He believed he needed all the good luck he could get,” Mary Jane said.
The Hemingway cats themselves seem to be quite lucky. “They have really good care here,” Mary Jane said. “The vet comes once a week to check on them … Our cats have an average life span of 18 to 21 years.”
The Hemingway tradition of naming cats after famous people has continued and the cats respond to their unique names. “They know when we are calling them and they come if they want to,” Mary Jane said with a laugh.
It might help, I noted, that guides and caretakers often carry kitty treats that the alert cats can sense no matter where they are.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
COZUMEL, Mexico – The five costumed men danced around the tall wooden pole. After tying ropes around their waists, the dancers climbed to the top of the pole. Once seated on platforms at the top, the dancers looked at each other, gave some kind of signal and then four of them flung themselves backwards.
The cruise ship crowd gathered below gave an audible gasp. The dancers dangled upside down going round and round the pole until they finally reached the ground.
The fifth dancer stayed atop the pole on a platform playing flute and drum as the dancers descended to loud applause.
“I saw it on TV but it is much more exciting to see in person,” said Marilyn Anderson of Florida. “No way would I do that.”
The Mexican Pole Dancers is a popular performance when cruise ships dock in Cozumel. Many of the tours offered as shore excursions include a chance to see the dance and tip the daring dancers.
The Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) or Palo Volador (Pole Flying) is an ancient ritual still performed in a modified form in various parts of Mexico.
According to one tale, the dance was originally created to ask the gods to end a severe drought. Supposedly, the dance was done, rain did fall, the drought ended and crops grew again.
The ceremony has been named an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO to help the ritual survive in the modern world.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
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The Royal Princess cruise ship made world-wide headlines when the vessel was christened in June 2013. Announcing the godmother for a new vessel is always an important step and definitely a newsworthy one.
But the announcement of the new Royal Princess godmother caused quite a stir. Seems that almost everything this young lady does prompts news reports.
The naming of a ship is a tradition thousands of years old. The ritual marks the birth of a vessel and asks for a blessing of good fortune and safety for the ship and its passengers and crew.
The tradition of naming a ship godmother also is time honored. A godmother is the symbolic patron or sponsor of the ship through its entire life and symbolizes the spirit of the vessel. In the mid-19th century, it became customary for a woman of distinction to be selected for the godmother honor.
Princess Cruises has a history of illustrious godmothers for past ships, including Diana Princess of Wales (who named the first Royal Princess in 1984), Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Dame Margaret Thatcher and Olivia de Havilland.
For a bit of cruise ship trivia, see if you can name the godmother for the Royal Princess.
Don’t look at the answer below until you have formulated your own. A hint – this was the last public appearance for the obviously pregnant godmother who gave birth a month later to her own royal baby.
(Answer) The wife of England’s Prince William, Kate Middleton, is godmother of the Royal Princess. Quite appropriate, don’t you think?
Kate is following in the footsteps of another very high-profile woman. Her late mother-in-law, Diana Princess of Wales named the first Royal Princess in 1984.
With all the pomp and ceremony befitting such a royal occasion, The Duchess of Cambridge officially launched the new Royal Princess cruise ship. “I name this ship Royal Princess,” The Duchess pronounced. “May God bless her and all who sail in her.”
The Duchess then released a gigantic bottle of Moet & Chandon champagne that smashed against the ship’s hull. “We can think of no more fitting godmother for our magnificent new Royal Princess,” Alan Buckelew, Princess Cruises’ president and CEO, said at the time.
“Her Royal Highness is an inspiring ambassador for Britain – with whom Princess Cruises shares strong ties – and she is admired around the world for her style and grace. We’re so honored she accepted our invitation to become godmother to our new ship.”
The 3,600-passenger Royal Princess is a “new-generation ship” for Princess Cruises. Among the special features found on board is a dramatic multi-story atrium serving as the social hub of the ship offering a host of dining and entertainment options; an over-water SeaWalk, a top-deck glass-bottomed walkway extending 28 feet beyond the edge of the ship; plush private poolside cabanas that appear to be floating on water; the new Princess Live! television studio; the largest pastry shop at sea; a special Chef’s Table Lumiere, a private dining experience that surrounds diners in a curtain of light; and balconies on all outside staterooms.
At 141,000 tons, the Royal Princess is the ninth largest cruise ship at sea and the largest ever for Princess.
Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch
ABOARD THE S.S. LEGACY - When Kevin Martin was a boy growing up in Missouri, his childhood ambition was to become a marine biologist or an archaeologist or maybe a doctor.
In a way, he has become all three.
“As a ship captain, I get to do a bit of all of those things,” Martin said.
Although he spent his childhood in St. Joseph, Missouri, Martin developed a yearn for distant waterways. “In college, I went on a sailboat and fell in love with it,” he said.
Of course, another famous Missourian also shared river travels with the world. Samuel Clemens, writing under the pen name Mark Twain, grew up in Hannibal, Missouri.
With a business degree from Graceland University, Martin discovered Un-Cruise Adventures and has been with the company for 10 years. A naturalist and certified interpretive guide, he spent more than six years as an expedition leader in Alaska, helping develop the company’s active adventures itineraries. He is now captain of the S.S. Legacy.
“Life is about gathering skills because you never know what you will be able to do,” he said. “You can never know what the future might hold.”
At first, Martin says, his parents were not too gung-ho about seeing their only son go to sea. Martin also has an older sister who lives in Virginia. “Now my parents gauge my happiness at what I do and that’s what is most important to them,” he said, adding that his parents are now cruiser themselves.
Martin and his wife, Kendra, also a ship’s captain for Un-Cruise Adventures, live on a 50-foot trawler in Seattle. He works six weeks on and two weeks off for Un-Cruise Adventures. “There is a lot that goes into a trip like this,” he said. “A lot of details.”
On our cruise, the captain seems to be everywhere. Each day, as we depart for our adventures, he is on deck to see us off. When we return, the captain is there to greet us.
Passing through the multiple locks on our journey – I think we will be going through 14 locks but that could be a few more or less – the captain is there. “The locks are a real bonding thing for the mates,” he said with a laugh.
A self-taught banjo player, Captain Martin also joins in for Open Mic Night and other entertainment on our cruise. As he says, one of the great joys of working on the S. S. Legacy is getting to meet the passengers on each voyage.
“A cruise is always a really nice time to connect with people,” he said. “It is very humbling to all of us that you would choose to spend a week of your precious time with us.”
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
It’s been a longstanding tradition for ships to have godmothers, a symbolic patron or sponsor through the ship’s life. The godmother symbolizes the spirit of the vessel.
In the mid-19th century, it became customary for a woman of distinction to be selected for the ship godmother honor.
If you’ve seen the MSC Divina, you know she is a beauty. But do you know who was chosen to be her godmother?
For a bit of cruise ship trivia, see if you can name the well-know godmother who launched this ship in May 2012. The age-old naming of a ship marks the birth of a vessel and asks for a blessing of good fortune and safety for the ship and its passengers and crew.
Don’t look at the answer below until you have formulated yours. As a hint, the MSC Divina godmother turned 80 years old on Sept. 20. She certainly doesn’t look it.
(Answer) If you said legendary actress Sophia Loren, you are right. And if you are lucky, maybe you can book the Sophia Loren Suite, Room 16007 on the MSC Divina, for a cruise.
The suite was designed by Loren herself. I didn’t get to stay there but I did see it, really a beauty. Located within the Divina’s famous “ship within a ship” – the MSC Yacht Club – the suite has a rich luxurious red sofa and chairs, plus a lush red carpet topped by a swirly figured carpet in the living room.
Situated far forward on the ship, the suite has balcony openings from both the bedroom and the living room. A bottle of champagne was cooling in a bucket when I was there, with two glasses ready for a toast.
The bed has a plush red headboard, white bedcovers with a red fabric throw on the bottom of the bed and red pillows for accents. A replica of the special dressing table used in Sophia Loren’s own dressing room has been fitted for an extra touch of glamour.
My favorite décor items are the stunning black-and-white photographs of Loren’s most memorable movie roles decorating the walls. Movie buffs will love that, especially the one of Loren hoisting her honorary Oscar in 1991. She also won a 1962 Academy Award for best actress in Two Women.
In the Yacht Club Library, you can browse through a selection of Sophia Loren’s favorite novels. I think it would be fun to read the same 20 classics that sparked her imagination. Books often reveal something about the person who cherishes them so it might be possible to discover a little more about one of the greatest cinematic legends of all time.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
Here are 7 reasons to consider a family holiday cruise this year:
1. Truly festive atmosphere – After Thanksgiving, the cruise lines get in the holiday spirit by decorating their ships from bow to stern. Some cruise lines spend in excess of $100,000 annually on holiday decorations. Christmas trees, lights, garlands and even artificial snow bring the festive season alive at sea. Hanukkah customs and celebrations also are observed. Religious services of all types are often held aboard.
2. Special guests – Christmas-time cruises would not be complete without guest appearances from Santa, Mrs. Claus and their elf friends. They make appearances on many ships during the holiday season in the spirit of fun and relaxation leading up to Christmas Day. As expected, Santa’s bag of goodies is full for the kids on board.
3. New Year’s fun – Ringing in the New Year is a splash aboard a cruise ship. Elaborate parties take place at sea for people of all ages and tastes. Special food, entertainment, toasts, party favors and more make the night memorable. For sports fans, many of the cruise lines offer special all-day tailgate parties to watch New Year’s Day football.
4. True relaxation – Leave the hustle and bustle (and accompanying stress) of the holidays behind and enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere with the family on a cruise vacation. There is no better way to spend an afternoon in December than lying poolside while sailing across the ocean, or snorkeling through a secluded reef on a cruise line private island.
5. Unique gifts – A cruise vacation is one holiday gift that will be truly appreciated. Plus, there is interesting shopping onboard the ship (The Jackie Kennedy Jewelry Collection on board the Golden Princess is quite reasonable and very beautiful) and in various ports. Special shipping arrangements can be made to get the gifts home. If Santa is going to visit the kids, the cruise lines recommend small token gifts that are easy to hide and transport. Leave big gifts at home to open before or after the trip and remember not to wrap presents before you stow them in your luggage, as they may need to be opened for security reasons.
6. No snow –- A holiday cruise is ideal for people looking for a change of scenery as colder weather moves in at home. With Caribbean temperatures in the low 80s during this time of year, the closest you’ll come to cold weather on a cruise ship is the air conditioning. (Some ships do feature snow falling in the ship’s atrium, but it is manmade and wonderfully designed to melt before hitting the floor.)
7. Great food- Nobody goes hungry on a cruise vacation, especially during the holidays. A variety of eats are available 24/7. Cruise menus fit the season, with world-class chefs preparing traditional Thanksgiving and Christmas meals, plus special kosher foods during Hanukkah. There are no shortages of gingerbread, cookies, pies and other deserts. Even better… you don’t do the cooking!
Cruise vacations offer holiday sailings plus kid-specific programs, all within the inescapable confines of the cruise ship, allowing families to enjoy the holidays in a relaxed and fun freedom, says Crown Cruise Vacations President Ross Spalding.
There are a number of outstanding sailings for families. The specialists at Crown Cruise Vacations offer these sailings as examples of cruises to choose from for a high-seas family holiday:
4-Night Western Caribbean Cruise on the Royal Caribbean International Brilliance of the Seas
5-Night Western Caribbean Cruise on Royal Caribbean International’s Brilliance of the Seas
sailing Dec. 24, 2014: round-trip Tampa, Fla., with stops in George Town, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico; with two days at sea.
3-Night Bahamas Cruise on the Disney Dream, sailing Nov. 28, 2014: round trip Port Canaveral, Fla., with stops in Nassau, Bahamas; and private island Castaway Cay.
5-Night Western Caribbean Cruise on the Disney Wonder, sailing Dec. 21, 2014; round trip Miami, Fla., with stops at Cozumel, Mexico; and Castaway Cay; with two days at sea.
Sophisticated cruise specialists at Crown Cruise Vacations provide exclusive offers, exceptional value & unparalleled service and can assist with experienced cruise information and bookings for holiday cruises and all types of cruises. For more information and to book a cruise call 1-877-283-1114 toll-free USA/Canada, +1-609-945-9801 direct dial or visit http://www.crowncruisevacations.com/
ABOARD THE S.S. LEGACY - In keeping with its 1900s theme, the S.S. Legacy has a simple way to keep track of passengers who are ashore and those who are aboard.
Each time we leave the Legacy for a shore excursion, we look for our cabin number on a large magnetic board and move our little magnet from the “aboard” column to the “ashore” column.
If there are two of us sharing a cabin, there are, of course, two magnets – one for each passenger. One person might go ashore and the other might not.
When we return to the Legacy, we move our little magnet again. The board also has a separate list for crew members.
Does it work? “We’ve never left anyone behind,” said Julie Kehr, assistant heritage leader on the Legacy. “There is usually a crew member around to remind you to move your magnet when you’re coming or going.”
On larger ships, the tracking system is usually done via computer. When passengers leave a ship for a shore visit, each passenger slides a personalized cruise ID card through a machine. A crew member is always there to make sure no one leaves the ship without sliding the card.
Upon return, a passenger goes through a security check and slides the personalized cruise card again.
At boarding at the beginning of every cruise, passengers on the large vessels have their photos taken and are given a cabin cruise key must like a credit card. The “key” is used to enter the passenger’s cabin as well as to exit the ship (and often to charge important items aboard ship, such as cold cocktails or beer). That way, the computer knows who is aboard and who is ashore, as well as what that person looks like.
Does that work? A carnival cruise director told me it is an excellent system but there are sometimes still cruisers who are having so much fun ashore that they lose track of time.
If passengers are not back at the well-publicized time that the ship is set to leave, those tardy passengers are on their own. Sure wouldn’t be fun to have to find a way to get to the next destination where the cruise ship is due to dock.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
If you’ve cruised the ocean wide, you’ve probably seen that tall “whale tail” decorating ships belonging to a famous cruise line. The red, white and blue funnel with fins on both sides is both decorative and useful.
For a bit of cruise ship trivia, do you know what cruise line uses the distinctive tail atop its ships? A hint – the name is often associated with clowns, appropriate enough because the cruise line’s vessels are often known as “The Fun Ships.”
Don’t look at the answer below until you have formulated yours.
If you recognize it, congratulations. If not, might be time to book a fun ship cruise.
(Answer) The “Whale-Tail” is a funnel design used on Carnival cruise ships. It is actually a Carnival patent.
The wings are functional as well as eye-catching. Made of a fiber glass composite, the wings are designed to help direct the flow of exhaust gases from the diesel engines, generators and other equipment. The wings direct the exhaust flow away from and over the aft decks and fun-loving passengers.
The first Carnival whale tail appeared on the new ship Tropicale launched in 1982. It is said that longtime Carnival designer Joe Farcus created the unusual funnel.
Called “The World’s Most Popular Cruise Line,” Carnival now has 24 ships with the company’s 25th, the Carnival Vista, scheduled to enter service in 2016.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch