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Crown Cruise Vacations | February 27, 2015

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Cruise Vacations

Crosby, Stills & Nash to serenade passengers on Cunard cruise

February 25, 2015 | Heidi

Remember the words to the beautiful song “Southern Cross” by Crosby, Stills & Nash: “So I’m sailing for tomorrow … I have my ship and all her flags are a’flyin.”

The name of the popular song is a reference to the Southern Cross constellation by which sailors in the Southern Hemisphere traditionally navigated their vessels.

Some lucky passengers are going to get the awesome experience of hearing the Grammy Award-winning trio perform that song and others on a special Transatlantic Crossing cruise aboard Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.

“We are excited to welcome Crosby, Stills & Nash onboard Queen Mary 2 during Cunard’s 175th anniversary year. Having these music legends perform will be nothing less than thrilling for our passengers,” said Richard Meadows, president of Cunard Line North America.

“The band’s presence onboard demonstrates Cunard’s continued commitment to providing unique access to some of the world’s most legendary artists, resulting in a truly unforgettable ocean travel experience for our guests.”

Crosby, Stills & Nash will perform three exclusive concerts for passengers on board Queen May 2 during the seven-night cruise from New York to Southampton on Sept. 4-11.

“This will be a unique experience for us,” said Graham Nash. “We’re really looking forward to making music, bringing back memories and creating new ones—and this journey from New York to Southampton, on this beautiful vessel, will do just that.”

The Grammy Award winning trio, who first performed together at the now legendary Woodstock Festival over four decades ago, burst onto the music scene in 1969 with their self-titled debut LP, now one of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

The band members are among the few to have been inducted twice into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, once with Crosby Stills & Nash, and a second time with The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies.

They have also been inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of fame, with the honor recognizing both CS&N as a group and each member as individual solo artists.

During the Queen Mary 2 Crossing from New York , the trio will perform some of their greatest hits including “Teach Your Children,” “Southern Cross” and “Wooden Ships” in the Royal Court Theatre. They will also participate in a Q&A session and special autograph opportunity for passengers on board.

By Jackie Sheckler Finch

Martina McBride to headline Carnival cruise concert for military families

February 16, 2015 | Heidi

The Carnival Freedom will live up to its name on Valentine’s Day by hosting a concert featuring Martina McBride to honor U.S. military families. The event also will welcome the Freedom to its new year-round homeport of Galveston.

“The arrival of Carnival Freedom to its new Galveston homeport is historic as it marks the first time a cruise line has based three year-round ships in Texas,” said Jim Berra, chief marketing officer for Carnival Cruise Line.

“We’re thrilled to celebrate this occasion by giving back to the great state of Texas and welcoming aboard military families who make our freedom possible.”

The event is being organized through a partnership between Carnival Cruise Line and Operation Homefront, a national non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial and other assistance to military families.  Carnival will provide a day of onboard fun and exciting activities for service members and their families. Among the day’s festivities will be a special outdoor Carnival LIVE performance by country superstar Martina McBride.

As part of the festivities, country superstar Martina McBride will perform outdoors that afternoon on one of the ship’s top decks.

“I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to perform again on a Carnival ship and am thrilled that I was chosen to be part of this wonderful event that honors U.S. service members and their families,” said Martina McBride.

“I’ve played for many audiences in my career, but it will truly be a privilege to salute these incredible families and partner with Carnival to bring them an extra special Valentine’s Day.”

Military families who have registered through Operation Homefront will enjoy a full day and evening of fun aboard the 110,000-ton Carnival Freedom while it is in port, including overnight accommodations, meals, entertainment and activities, all compliments of Carnival Cruise Line.

Prior to the concert, Carnival will conduct a special check presentation to Operation Homefront providing $100,000 to the organization.

“We are very excited to be partnering with Carnival to honor military families and celebrate the cruise line’s expansion in Texas,” said Tim Farrell, chief operating officer of Operation Homefront. “While we serve military families across the nation, we’re grateful for a partner like Carnival who wants to give back right here in our home state of Texas where we have the second largest active duty and veteran population in the country.”

Carnival Freedom recently underwent a $70 million makeover which added an array of Fun Ship 2.0 product enhancements. Event attendees will have access to the ship’s new family entertainment programming including Seuss at Sea, as well as the new Camp Ocean kids facilities.

The latest updates also incorporated a number of bar, dining and entertainment innovations including complimentary eateries such as BlueIguana Cantina and Guy’s Burger Joint, developed in partnership with Food Network personality Guy Fieri, poolside bars serving up delicious frozen drinks and cocktails including BlueIguana Tequila Bar and RedFrog Rum Bar, as well as the pharmacy-themed Alchemy Bar and the line’s Caribbean-inspired RedFrog Pub.

Carnival Freedom kicks off year-round sailings from Galveston Feb. with a special six-day voyage to Mexico followed by the launch of four- to seven-day cruises that visit beautiful ports throughout Mexico, the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida.  Together with Carnival Triumph and Carnival Magic, the line will carry more than 600,000 passengers annually from Texas – more than any other cruise line.

By Jackie Scheckler Finch




Learning about ‘Mr. Alaska’ Chuck West

February 9, 2015 | Heidi

The book on my cabin desk got me curious. Then I saw the display in a ship corridor with a fur-fringed jacket and some photos and thought I had better look into this man Chuck West, known as “Mr. Alaska.”

“He is a legend in Alaska tourism,” said Ryan Downs, heritage leader for Un-Cruise Adventures.

“He fell in love with Alaska as a bush pilot in the 1940s and wanted to share what he found with others … A lot of us on Un-Cruise Adventures probably wouldn’t be here if not for Chuck West.”

Born Nov. 27, 1914, in Des Moines, Iowa, Charles “Chuck” B. West was the son of Louis West (a shoe salesman) and May Bigham West. The family moved to Los Angeles when Chuck was two years old. After graduating from Hollywood High School in 1932, Chuck started as a messenger boy in a bank and worked his way up to teller. Taking night courses at college for two and a half years, Chuck went to work for United Airlines.

And that, as he often said, is when his life began.

Although West started out as a ticket salesman for United Airlines, he quickly became enamored with travel and flight. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, West signed up to take pilot training. Before he got his Air Force commission, however, West was asked to work instead as a pilot in the Air Transport Command, flying planes and supplies to Alaska.

“For those who’ve taken a small plane into Alaska’s back country, where gravel beds left behind by surging rivers and frozen mountain lakes surrounded by icy and unforgiving peaks are the actual ‘landing strips,’ the term bush pilot conjures visions of the exceptional,” a sign on the ship exhibit explains.

“Exceptional risk. Exceptional skill,” the sign reads. “Chuck West, in so many ways, was exceptional.”


As West flew over some of the most spectacular terrain on earth, his dream was born. His goal was to share these Alaskan wonders with the world.

West’s love for Alaska became even more solid when he met and married Marguerite Lee, an Alaskan gal who was once Miss Alaska. For decades, West created ways to show the magnificence of Alaska to visitors by air, land and finally, by sea.

However, most of the facilities and services of Alaskan tourism were still primitive or nonexistent when West arrived in 1945. To remedy that, West rolled up his sleeves and did what needed to be done. He founded Arctic Alaska Travel Service and began offering local sightseeing tours. He started the first air tours above the Arctic Circle, had the first hotel chain in Alaska, the first motor coach line and the first modern small-ship cruises.

At one time, West was the largest operator of U.S. flagged cruise vessels with nine known for their Alaska Cruises.

“The unknown quality made Alaska a hard sell,” West told The Associated Press in 1997. “It caught on, but we’re still fighting that ignorance about what Alaska is.”

In 1973, West sold controlling interest in his company Westours to Holland American cruise line. Then, at 58, after having undergone two heart surgeries, West founded another Alaska travel company that grew to become Cruise West, headquartered in Seattle.

West envisioned something more personal, something that could get travelers up close to really experience beautiful places and to meet the people who live there. His Cruise West vessels were shallow draft, which allowed them to nose into secluded coves and visit places that larger vessels could not.

During his time, Alaska went from being a territory, virtually unknown to tourists, to the 50th state. Alaska now sees an annual influx of mega-sized cruise ships arriving each summer filled with thousands of passengers. Alaskan cruises, such as Un-Cruise Adventures small ships, offer a different way to cruise – harkening back to West’s less intrusive vessels.

Chuck West died in 2005 at the age of 90. But his legacy certainly lives on. “We owe a lot to Chuck West,” Downs said.

After reading the “Mr. Alaska” book, I must agree. Chuck West opened up the world for many travelers, including me.

Photo and Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch


AmaWaterways shares popular recipe for Jägertee

February 5, 2015 | Heidi

River cruises through Central Europe are a great way to visit the cities and towns along the waterways. And returning from shore excursions on those cruises is such a welcome treat.

In the winter, crewmembers are waiting at the ship’s entryway with warm moist hand towels to wash away the grime of the real world. Then a hot drink handed by another crewmember is a soothing way to beat the bitter cold.

One of the popular drinks is called Jägertee. In English, this translates to “hunter tea,” a specialty beverage that originated in the 19th century and was enjoyed during the cold winter days by hunters and foresters.

Made with spices, wine, rum and tea – and served hot – this drink is packed with  flavor and warmth. If you’re looking for something unique to serve this winter, use this great recipe for traditional Jägertee shared by AmaWaterways Cruise Line.


European Jägertee

1 cup red wine

1 cup black tea

1 cup spiced rum

1 cup orange juice

1 cup plum brandy or Schnapps

2-3 whole cloves

2 lemon slices

¼ cinnamon stick

Pinch of sugar

Place tea, wine, rum, brandy, orange juice, spices and lemons in large pot. Allow the mixture to simmer for about 5 minutes – do not boil. Remove from heat. Use ladle to fill mugs. Sprinkle with sugar to taste.  Serves 6-8.

By Jackie Sheckler Finch


SHORE EXCURSION: Story of Lincoln Logs in New Madrid, Missouri

January 27, 2015 | Heidi

NEW MADRID, Missouri – You never know what you’re going to learn and where you’ll learn it. That is one of the joys of travel.

On a shore excursion in New Madrid, Missouri, I visited the tiny town’s historical museum and discovered an interesting tidbit about Lincoln Logs.

My brothers had played with the toy building blocks when I was a kid. And I always thought the name Lincoln Logs referred, of course, to Abraham Lincoln. After all, he was known as the great log rail-splitter and the future president who grew up in a small log cabin.

But that is not where the name came from at all.

The New Madrid Historical Museum has a great collection of earthquake information and memorabilia. At one exhibit, you can turn on a make-believe “earthquake” and see how long a toy building can withstand the violent shaking.

That is where I discovered some trivia about Lincoln Logs and, of all people, Frank Lloyd Wright.

Because Japan is prone to earthquakes, the famed architect used a series of interlocking notched wooden beams when designing the Imperial Hotel. The result, he claimed, would make the hotel “earthquake proof.”

Miraculously, the hotel was one of the only buildings to survive the Tokyo Earthquake of 1923 (magnitude 8.3).

That design also was the inspiration for the creation of the popular Lincoln Logs.

John Lloyd Wright, son of the legendary architect, thought of the Imperial Hotel design when he created Lincoln Logs in 1916.

And the “Lincoln” in the name is a nod to the Wright family – not to the Honest Abe connection. The Lincoln in the title actually refers to John Lloyd Wright’s father’s given name of Frank Lincoln Wright. Lloyd was the surname of Frank’s mother and he adopted that name when his parents divorced.

For more information: Contact the New Madrid Historical Museum at (573) 748-5944,

Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Greek cuisine a cruise delight

January 20, 2015 | Heidi

ABOARD THE CELESTYAL CRYSTAL - I’ll admit it. One of the things I enjoy most on a cruise is getting to try various foods.  Even a standard steak can taste different according to which chef created the recipe.

So I am excited to learn that my Celestyal Crystal cruise will feature Greek cuisine. Makes sense since we will be cruising to places in Greece and Turkey. But the emphasis on Greek cuisine is a new one, says Demetra Vlachou, research & communications manager for Celestyal Cruises.

“We want to make it as authentic as possible,” she said. “Before it was international cuisine but our passengers requested more Greek cuisine so that is what we are doing.”

The Celestyal Crystal menus are so appealing that it is difficult to choose. For example, the lunch menu today had these delicious options: Cretan Bruschetta, Solomos se Ampeloffyla, Karrotosoupa, Spanakotiropita, Seafood Pikilia, Greek Kebab and more.

I’ve already seen the dinner menu and those choices include Anixiatika Rolla, Kalamata Chicken Liver Parfait, Kolokithosoupa, Artichoke a la Polita, Prawn Souvlaki, Beef Tas Kebas, Masticha Cheesecake, Pasta Pralina Sokolata and even other taste tempters.

Sure sounds like Greek to me. And it definitely is delicious.

The daily newsletter left in our cabins also has a nice touch – Greek recipes that don’t seem too difficult to prepare. I’m saving those to try at home. And I’m sharing one of my favorites here for you to sample.

As the Greeks say before enjoying a great meal, “Kali orexi!”



(Spinach-Cheese Pie)


2 lbs fresh spinach

1 onion, finely chopped

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup cream sauce

6 eggs, beaten

1 cup finely crumbled feta cheese

Salt and pepper

Dash of nutmeg

½ pound phyllo pastry sheets.

Butter, melted


Wash spinach and discard stems. Dry thoroughly on absorbent paper and cut into pieces. Sauté onion in butter until soft. Add spinach and sauté a few minutes longer. Cool. Add cream sauce, eggs, cheese and seasonings. Mix well.

Place seven layers of phyllo pastry sheets in an 11x14x2-inch pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter. Add spinach mixture, then place eight phyllo pastry sheets on filling, again buttering each sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cut into small squares before serving.

Photo and Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch

New Carnival Breeze dazzles with recreation wonders

January 16, 2015 | Heidi

ABOARD THE CARNIVAL BREEZE – It  doesn’t look all that scary. But when you are up there standing on a thin rope with the vast sky overhead and the deep sea beneath, it can be quite exhilarating.

And a bit frightening, I must admit.

A first for cruise ships when it was unveiled on the sister Carnival Magic, the ropes SkyCourse aboard the Carnival Breeze offers outdoor adventure suspended above deck with spectacular views. Hooked to a safety harness, passengers can participate in different rope activities of varying fitness levels – easy, moderate and challenging – while enjoying awesome sights of the sea nearly 150 feet below.

Traverse rope bridges, swinging steps and beams. It is worth a trip to the top just to see the ocean scenes.

Although ocean liners have long had exercise options for sports and health enthusiasts, the new Carnival Breeze is certainly going an extra mile in offering outdoor recreation. SportsSquare has enough activities that cruisers might burn off those one or two pounds we are said to gain on a cruise.

That is one or two pounds a day.

The miniature golf course is getting plenty of use on our cruise to the Caribbean.  A large lighted multi-purpose court is popular for basketball, volleyball and soccer.  Strong netting around the court keeps balls from zooming into the ocean. There are also ping-pong tables and foosball tables.

Sky Fitness features a wide array of exercise equipment, stationary bikes, elliptical and rowing machines, punching bags and more. A six-station Vita exercise course seems well used whenever I pass it.

For a run in the sun or a stroll at sunset, Sports Court is an 800-foot-long padded jogging path that surrounds the fitness area and the Lanai is a convenient wraparound walkway on the promenade. Nothing like getting some exercise while watching the ocean roll and stars starting to light the night sky.

Story amd Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch





Meeting the owner of Celestyal Cruises

January 9, 2015 | Heidi

ABOARD THE CELESTYAL CRYSTAL  - My first day on the Celestyal Crystal and who should I meet? The charming executive chairman of the cruise company himself.

When I sat down for a cocktail and some hors d’oeuvres in the ship’s Horizons Bar, Costakis Loizou was there. He is the son of the man who in 1935 started the company that became Louis Group – Louis Loizou, known as the “Father of Cypress Tourism.” When Louis died in 1971, Costakis took over the business along with his brother Vakis. Today, Louis Group owns and operates 19 four-and-five-star hotels and five cruise ships.

“This is where cruising started,” he says. “We hope every year we will be adding new islands.”

With the smaller Celestyal cruise ships, he adds, “We can go where the huge boats cannot go.”

The company prides itself on providing an authentic Greek cruise. As part of that goal, Celestyal is cruising to islands this year that it has never visited before. In response to passengers’ request, the Crystal  also is serving Greek cuisine on the Greek cruises instead of the customary international cuisine. I’m really looking forward to that. I’ve already tasted some of the ship’s delicious food and know it is far superior to the Greek restaurants I have tried in the states.

“It is a different experience,” Loizou says of our cruise. “It is a combination of modern Greece and the traditional old Greece.”

Although Greece has been having difficult economic problems, Loizou says the country is recovering. “We would like to show the world that we have been through a very difficult time but we will be fine,” he said. “I think we have everything that somebody should wish to have … We will be back. We are already coming back.”

Then Loizou says the very words that describe exactly why I think this cruise will be a most memorable one for me. “The things you have heard about and read about, you are going to see.”

Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

S.S. Legacy: Half portions a good option for dining delights

December 30, 2014 | Heidi

ABOARD THE S.S. LEGACY – Would I prefer mahi mahi with feta and avocado oil, roasted rack of lamb with honey tomato relish or spanakopita? Decisions, decisions!

But the folks on my S.S. Legacy cruise have made those tough choices a bit easier. “Choose half and half,” our server suggests, noting that we can have a split portion of two different entrees.

So that is what I have done for most of my delicious meals aboard the Legacy. And I’ve seen other diners doing that as well. I have also noticed that the portions on this cruise are just right – not too big and not too small.

Along with its portions, the S.S. Legacy has another way to cut back on food waste in keeping with its “green” ship goals. Each morning, the chef comes out during breakfast to tell us what he will be serving for lunch and dinner. Then our server takes down our entrée choices.

“You can always change your mind and order something different,” chef Antonio Orlando tells us. “This is just so we can have an idea of what we will need to fix so that we don’t waste food.”

Sounds strange but I quickly got used to it and enjoyed knowing what I would be having to eat the rest of the day. For the cuisine, the chef supports local economies by buying salmon, fish and other locally-produced foods and products whenever possible. Each meal offers an entrée of fish, meat and vegetarian, along with a beginning salad, two side dishes and an ending dessert.

Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Cozy up with tea, and plan your warm weather vacation

December 18, 2014 | Heidi

‘Tis the time of year for cold weather, when our thoughts drift to lying on the beach for a warm weather vacation.

If you’d like to take a look at Caribbean cruises, click here.

For the Bahamas, click here.

And to look at Mexico, click here.

While you’re reading, stay warm by making yourself a perfect cup of tea- courtesy of Jackie Finch, who got these instructions while on Holland America’s Eurodam.


So how should the perfect cup of tea be prepared?

First off, never fix tea with tap water, which I have always done. “Chlorine and fluoride have been added to tap water which can greatly affect the taste of tea,” said Eurodam’s Party Planner Anaise Brown. “It’s best to use artisan spring water.”

Using hot tap water to speed up the boiling process is especially undesirable, she added, because then you are adding even more impurities from your home’s water heater. If you want to see the huge difference that water can make, Anaise suggests preparing cups of tea side by side using different sources of water. “You can really taste the difference.”

Never microwave a cup of water for tea. Of course, I always do that.  Instead, bring the water to a rolling boil in a kettle and let it cool a bit.

“Tea is very delicate so it cannot be in boiling hot water,” Anaise said.

Measure the tea into a glass container (plastic and metal pick up unwanted flavors, Anaise said) and pour the hot water over the tea. “Don’t let the tea steep very long, no longer than three minutes,” Anaise said. If it is steeped too long, tea can get an acidic taste.

“And never squeeze the tea bag.”

All this time, I had thought that twisting the string of a tea bag around the bag was the proper way to squeeze out any last liquid and taste. In fact, Anaise recommends buying quality loose leaf tea instead of tea bags. “It pays to buy loose leaf tea because it tastes better and you can use the leaves over and over for more cups of tea,” she said.

As for its benefits, tea contains antioxidants that can help protect the body. It also can boost the immune system and can help lower cholesterol. Tea is calorie free and helps keep a body hydrated.