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
A few spinouts later, the Florida woman emerged from her sleek Ferrari and proclaimed, “Whew! I need a drink!”
The race car simulator on the MSC Divina is so realistic, Sherma said, that she was breathless as though she had been running a marathon instead of just sitting in a stationary vehicle.
“It really gets your adrenaline going,” she said. “You feel as though you are actually out there racing.”
The Formula One racecar simulator was getting a workout itself on our three-day voyage aboard the MSC Divina. The state-of-the art simulator reproduces driving conditions in one of the fastest cars in the world. Wrap around video screens and vehicle movement makes it feel as though the driver is tackling some of the world-famous racecourses from Monte Carlo to Montreal.
“It’s even harder than it looks,” said MSC Divina crewmember Nelson Torres, in charge of the simulator experience.
It looked plenty tough enough to me. “A lot of people wreck,” Torres said. “It is a professional car and handles like one so people are sometimes surprised at how hard it is.”
The vehicle is an actual Formula One car, a single-seat, open cockpit, open-wheel racing with substantial front and rear wings. In the true racecar, the engine is positioned behind the driver.
In the simulator, “drivers” get to experience the thrill of traveling at high speeds. From the flash of the green light to the pit stop and to overtaking a rival, the goal is to safely and quickly make it to the checkered flag and be the winner. Not many simulator drivers accomplish that.
The Formula One Simulator on Deck 16 of the MSC Divina costs $9 for a seven-minute drive. “It’s something you have to do,” said Sherma. “It’s hard to describe unless you’ve done it.”
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Fin
ABOARD THE CARNIVAL FREEDOM - Are you a fan of rocking piano music made famous by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis? Maybe your tastes run more to 1980s pop from Cindy Lauper and Michael Jackson.
Or could be the smooth soul songs of Otis Redding that soothe you. Then there’s the feel-good beach music for island time with Jimmy Buffet, the Beach Boys and more.
Four brand new production shows featuring cutting-edge technology and live performances amid towering LED screens are now part of the Carnival Freedom’s extensive multi-million dollar makeover. The major renovations took place while the ship was dry docked in April and May 2014.
The new revues are presented in Carnival Freedom’s 1,400-seat Victoriana Show Lounge. In addition to the four spectacular Playlist Productions revues, Carnival Freedom’s theatre productions also include Hasbro, the Game Show. Fact paced and hilarious, the live game only offers larger-than-life adaptations of Hasbro’s iconic games.
Audience members volunteer to participate in the game shows, the only live game show of its type in the cruise industry.
A quick glimpse of the new shows includes:
Heart of Soul – Groove to popular R&B and soul hits from legendary singers such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding, Ray Charles and Al Green. Six lucky couples will have a dream date for the show with VIP seats, champagne and flowers.
80s Pop to the Max – Remember the era of Day-Glo, Spandex, big hair and “when video killed the radio star?” Relive yesteryear with the hottest music video hits from the 1980s, including Duran Duran, Cindy Lauper, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and more.
Getaway Island – It’s always 5 o’clock on this special island with its hi-tech recreation of 1960s beach movies. Cruise away to the music of Jimmy Buffet, Bob Marley, the Beach Boys and others. As a nod toCarnival Freedom’s new RedFrog Pub, the show also features a cocktail glass-spinning bartender and talented guitar soloist.
88 Keys: The Rock n’ Roll Piano Show – Tickling the ivories will make your toes tap in this show with hits from Billy Joel, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and others, plus Carnival Freedom’s own piano bar pianist.
ABOARD THE MSC DIVINA - Those little blue creatures known as Smurfs are now delighting youngsters of all ages on the new MSC Divina. The 3,500-passenger ship has a Smurfs-themed Mini Club (ages 3-6) and a Junior Club (ages 7-11), as well as other fun-filled family activities with the ship’s giant Smurf mascot as the guest of honor.
The Smurf mascot plays a number of key roles such as DJ and sous-chef during family events. Activities include Smurfs Family Disco, Smurfs Live Talent Show and Smurfs Master Chef – a special cooking demonstration held by the head pastry chef in which children learn how to make biscuits and cakes with hands-on experience.
Listen for The Smurfs 2 movie soundtrack, with the Britney Spears song Ooh La La, in the disco. A sequel to 2011 The Smurfs, The Smurfs 2, was released July 31, 2013, while The Smurfs 3 will be released July 24, 2015.
The Smurfs were created in 1958 by artist Pierre Cuilliford under the pseudonym Peyo. Originally in comic books, the Smurfs were later brought to the big screen and television. They have also inspired records and CDs that have sold millions of copies, as well as being the inspiration for entire collections of figurines and toys and many more products.
Today, there are more than 100 Smurfs whose names are based on adjectives that emphasize their characteristics. For example, “Jokey Smurf” likes to play practical jokes on his fellow Smurfs. “Clumsy Smurf,” of course, is clumsy. Other Smurfs are Brainy, Greedy, Vanity, Lazy, Dreamy and Grouchy.
Some Smurf characters are named for their professions – Poet, Actor, Handy, Harmony, Farmer, Clockwork, Painter, Tailor, Miner, Architect, Reporter, Timber, Barber and Doctor Smurf. Smurfette is the first female Smurf.
The leader of the Smurfs is Papa Smurf, known for his bushy white beard, red pants and matching red cap. A wise elder, Papa Smurf is always looking out for the welfare of the other Smurfs.
A bit of trivia that I like is that Mark Harmon, the actor and lead character on the NCIS television show, is called “Papa Smurf” by his fellow actors in the series. Sounds like a compliment to me.
By Jackie Sheckler Finch
Carnival Cruise Lines’ new shore excursions best price guarantee- now all you have to do is choose a tour!June 12, 2014 | Heidi
Shore excursions are part of the fun of cruising. Going ashore and taking a tour is an exciting option on cruises. And, almost always, there are more tour options than I can do. Makes for hard choices.
But Carnival Cruise Lines has now come up with a cruise industry first to be sure passengers get the best shore excursions possible. Carnival just announced a guarantee that guests who book a Carnival shore excursion and find a comparable tour at a lower price will receive an onboard credit of 110 percent of the difference.
“Many of our repeat guests who have booked Carnival shore tours previously are already knowledgeable on the outstanding value our tours provide,” said Mico Cascais, vice president of tour operations for Carnival Cruise Lines.
“However, our research indicates that many others, particularly first-time cruisers, are interested yet concerned as to whether or not they are getting the best deal,. The best price guarantee program will assure our guests they are getting both the highest quality and the best value on all of our tours.”
I’ve long known that the shore excursions offered by a cruise company are the best way to go. The excursions have to be well organized, reasonably priced, safe and interesting or the cruise line would not keep offering them.
I once saw a couple returning to our cruise ship shaking their heads and vowing never TO take a Jamaica tour again. The problem was not Jamaica and it was not the tour, it was the tour company. The poor couple had booked it with a tour company after they got off the ship and saw a cheap tour offered in Jamaica. Never ever do that.
CHOOSE CRUISE COMPANY SHORE EXCURSIONS
Stick with the cruise company excursions. They offer the best protection and now the best price. I was very pleased with my Bob Marley tour when the Carnival Breeze docked in Jamaica. But I don’t think I would have wanted to take the tour with any company other than the one backed by the Carnival company.
Of course, with Carnival’s new excursion protection plan, cruisers are guaranteed to get the best deal from a Carnival excursion. Sounds like a great program.
Guests sailing on a Carnival cruise who book a shore excursion through the cruise line can be completely confident they are getting the best price and best value with the introduction of a new shore excursion best price guarantee.
The only guarantee of its kind in the cruise industry, the program is now available fleet wide for all Carnival Cruise Lines shore tours on ships sailing from North America.
Under the best price guarantee, guests who find the same tour offered by another operator at a lower price than their booked excursion either before or during their cruise can complete a claim form to receive 110 percent of the difference in the form of a shipboard credit.
The guarantee is available for excursions booked prior to or during a cruise. If guests pre-book an excursion, then find a comparable tour advertised online at a lower price, they can complete an online form up to seven days prior to the cruise to invoke the guarantee. Guests can also complete a form during the cruise either before or after their excursion has taken place. Claims are typically processed within 24-48 hours.
DON’T MISS THE BOAT
Guests who book their excursion through Carnival enjoy the convenience of having shore excursion tickets delivered to their stateroom, 24/7 access to shipboard staff to answer questions and obtain assistance, and an assurance that they will receive a refund or the excursion time will be adjusted as needed based on weather or other issues affecting a ship’s scheduled port of call visit.
I heard a faint gasp during my Carnival Magic orientation meeting in December when Magic Cruise Director James Dunn told cruisers what would happen if they booked a shore excursion not offered by Carnival and didn’t return to the ship in time for its sailing.
“We will leave you,” Dunn said. “We’ve done it before and we will do it again.”
Of course, that is no problem when you book a shore excursion with Carnival. I’ve never been late getting back to the ship on a ship-arranged tour excursion. But if something were to happen with a Carnival tour, Dunn said, the ship would wait.
Ongoing communication between tour operators and shipboard staff ensures that the cruise line is aware and can make necessary changes to a ship’s departure time when a tour is running late or unexpected circumstances arise, Dunn said.
Sure worth the peace of mind to me.
The online and onboard claim forms require guests to provide the name of the competitor offering the comparable tour, excursion name, where the tour was advertised and the duration, price and any items included in the tour such as lunch, drinks, transportation or admission fees.
The best price guarantee is applicable to shore excursion matches on the same date as the tour purchased from Carnival.
Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
ABOARD THE CARNIVAL BREEZE - Are you a Blue Iguana or are you a Red Frog?
Seems like a strange question. But there is an interesting story behind the two critters who now make their home on Carnival Cruise Lines. The BlueIguana Tequila Bar is featured on the Breeze, Conquest, Dream, Glory, Liberty, Sunshine and Triumph.
“The most popular cruise activity is eating,” said cruise director Butch Begovich. “The second most popular cruise activity is drinking.”
And the Carnival ships have plenty of places to do both.
For starters, there is the RedFrog. The story goes that he used to live in the forest, soaking up the rain. Now he lives on Carnival, basking in the sun.
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.
Then there’s the Blue Iguana and, of course, he has 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.
According to bartender Boyan, margaritas are the most popular drink at the BlueIguana. But then you have to decide which margarita – the classic, the guava, the spicy, the mango or the chipotle pineapple passion margarita.
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 says. “We think that’s where the rivalry started.”
As RedFrog himself might say – “Chill out. Live life to the fullest.”
By Jackie Sheckler Finch
Giovanni Cutugno is living his dream as captain of the Carnival Magic.
“My goal always was to be captain of a cruise ship and I love my job,” he said. “I have been with the Magic since she started. She is my baby.”
The man from Italy has been with Carnival Cruise Lines an amazing 35 years. “I have been a captain for 23 years,” Cutugno said. “I am Carnival’s most senior captain.”
It started on Nov. 15, 1978, when Cutugno boarded the Carnival Festivale as a third mate. “I come from a family of seamen which meant it was in my blood,” he said. “But my experience was in cargo and tanker vessels.”
Working his way up in the ranks, Cutugno served on a long roster of Carnival ships – Mardi Gras, Carnivale, Tropicale, Holiday, Jubilee, Celebration, Fantasy, Ecstasy, Sensation, Fascination, Imagination, Inspiration, Paradise, Destiny, Fiesta Marina, Spirit, Pride, Legend and Conquest.
He moved from assistant navigator to third officer, then second officer, then first, safety officer and staff caption. In 1991, he became captain of the Tropicale. The Magic is the fourth new vessel he has commanded.
“Every time it feels like the first time,” he said. “You always learn something new.”
When he was introduced at the Welcome Board Show on the Magic, Cutugno came on stage to the sounds of Maroon Five. That is always his intro music, he said, because that is the GRAMMY-Award winning band that performed for a standing-room-only crowd on the Galveston pier when the Magic arrived in her new year round homeport of Galveston.
As ship captain, Cutugno gave Adam Levine and Maroon Five a tour of the ships’ wheelhouse. I was at the same kick-off concert and the weeklong cruise that departed Nov. 14, 2011, for the Magic’s inaugural cruise.
By Jackie Scheckler Finch- Courtesy photo