When I told a friend I was cruising to the Conch Republic, he looked a bit puzzled. “Is it in the Bahamas?” he asked. “Or maybe Hawaii?”
Good guesses. But wrong on both. The Conch Republic is located in the good old USA, in Florida, in fact. Conch Republic is the nickname for Key West.
How did the far tip of Florida get that moniker? From what might have been the shortest the shortest naval battle in history.
“We declared war on the United States and threw stale Cuban bread at a Navy officer,” Key West guide Robert said. “It lasted for about a minute. Then we surrendered and asked for $1 billion in foreign aid to rebuild. We’re still waiting for that $1 billion.”
A popular stop for cruise ships, Key West knows how to make cruisers feel welcome. When my ship docked for the day in Key West, many of us climbed aboard a Conch Train open tram to tour around the unusual community. Driver Robert pointed out sites of interest and told us stories of Key West’s past and how it got its nickname of the Conch Republic.
“You are in the Conch Republic,” he said, gesturing to a Conch Republic flag on a porch. “We are proud to be Americans and we are proud to be Conchs. Our local high school sports team is the Fighting Conchs.”
The problem began in 1982 when U.S. Border Patrol set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the Florida Keys so agents could search cars for contraband. Since the checkpoint was on the only road into and out of the island chain, traffic was brought to a standstill. A 17-mile-long traffic jam resulted.
The roadblock angered residents, visitors and Keys officials who complained that the Keys were being treated as a foreign country. Citizens should be able to come and go more freely, they argued.
When their protests were ignored, Keys residents decided to secede from the Union. On April 23, 1982, the southernmost point in the continental United States did just that. They seceded from the United States of America and formed the Conch Republic.
“The roadblock was quickly removed,” Robert said. “That is why our motto is ‘We seceded where others failed.’ We celebrate that.”
In fact, a 10-day Conch Republic Independence Celebration is held every April. In a town known for its parties, the annual celebration is legendary. That is one thing I quickly learned to like about Key West.
In addition to its colorful characters, laidback atmosphere, renowned Key Lime Pie, balmy weather, many museums, fishing fun and fascinating history, Key West is the only place I know that publicly celebrates the end of every day. Folks gather in Mallory Square to salute the sinking of the sun and to watch for the famed green flash – a special glint of light in the water at sunset.
I think I could get used to that. Celebrate every day and live life to the fullest. Good philosophy to have no matter where you are.
Story and Photo 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
If you’ve ever cruised on this vessel, you might have relaxed in this very spot and watched the sun set on a beautiful day.
For a bit of cruise ship trivia, see if you can recognize this popular vessel. Don’t look at the answer below until you have formulated yours.
A hint: Mark Twain was fond of this form of travel.
If you recognize it, good for you. If you don’t, make plans to book a cruise. Rolling on the river is an unforgettable experience any time of day or night.
(Answer:) Despite the odds, the lovely American Queen is cruising the rivers once again.
Her improbable tale started when the youngest of three sister ships was constructed in 1995. Listed at a whopping 418 feet long with a passenger capacity of about 435, the American Queen is said to be the biggest steamboat ever built. With her elaborate gingerbread trim and six decks, the American Queen looks like a fancy floating wedding cake.
Once owned by the Delta Queen Company, the American Queen – along with the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen – ruled the rivers. Devoted cruisers eagerly awaited each year’s itineraries.
Then hard times hit. In 2008, the Majestic American Line, which then owned the American Queen, went belly up. The historic Delta Queen was permanently docked in Chattanooga as a floating hotel. The Mississippi Queenwas sold for scrap. And the American Queen was put in the custody of the United States Maritime Administration. The luxury steamboat sat in mothballs for years. Her future seemed dark.
However, three steamboat lovers – Jeff Krida, chief executive officer of the original Delta Queen Steamboat Company; Christopher Kyte, founder of the travel firm Uncommon Journeys and formerly the top seller of Delta Queen Steamboat Company cruises; and John Waggoner, president of HMS Global Maritime – decided they couldn’t allow the beautiful boat to be destroyed.
In 2011, they joined forces to form the Great American Steamboat Company and bought the paddle wheeler for $30 million. After a $6.5 million facelift, the American Queen is back where she belongs – on America’s rivers.
In April 2012, the American Queen left her new homeport of Memphis for an inaugural cruise. Priscilla Presley did the honors of formally rechristening the boat with a bottle of champagne. Since then, the American Queen has been drawing passengers with her charms of bygone days.
By Jackie Sheckler Finch
For all you dedicated travelers and book lovers, here’s a tough cruise destination question. This is the tomb of a well-known writer. For a bit of trivia, where is the tomb located and who is buried there?
A hint – he was a “divine” author.
Don’t look at the answer below until you’ve formulated your own response. Congratulations if you are correct. If not, you sure are not alone. Some passengers on my cruise went to the wrong place looking for this burial spot. So we live and learn.
(Answer) This is the great Dante’s tomb in Ravenna, Italy. Although Dante was born in Florence and dearly loved that city, he spent the last years of his life in Ravenna after being exiled from Florence for his political beliefs.
It was in Ravenna during the end of his life that Dante wrote “The Divine Comedy.” He died in 1321.The mausoleum is quite small on a narrow lane and easily overlooked. I walked to it with no problem but heard back on the ship that some passengers couldn’t find it.
Don’t mistake a mound of earth next to the mausoleum as Dante’s final burial place. Another photographer did that and was showing me his photos of what he thought was the grave. That is actually where Dante’s urn was moved and buried from March 1944 to December 1945 because of fears that his tomb might be bombed during World War II. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.
Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
So you’ve been on many cruises. Walked off the ship in many shore stops. But maybe you were in a hurry and didn’t really stop to enjoy something that was right in front of you.
See if you recognize this statue. A hint – it is on a popular island.
Seems like a wonderful vacation idea for a cruise ship stop. Rent a moped or scooter and breeze around a beautiful Bahamas island.
But many cruise lines, as well as the U.S. Department of State, are warning against that choice.
“Serious injuries and deaths have resulted from accidents involving the rental of mopeds or scooters,” noted the FunTimes newsletter on my recent Carnival Cruise Lines voyage. “ We strongly discourage their rental.”
The view was breathtaking. As was the ride to get to the top of St. Thomas Island.
Whenever I return, this will be an island trip I will have to take again. And again.
First, we caught an island shuttle for a winding trip to the top of St. Thomas Island, appropriately named Mountain Top. Our driver “Toothpick” (“because I’m so skinny”) expertly guided the vehicle up the narrow road to the highest peak on the island and gave us a history lesson at the same time.
Recently, travel guidebook publisher Lonely Planet released its lists of top destinations for the upcoming year. It’s hard to believe 2014 is right around the corner, but it is the time of year where lists start finding their way into the news. Today, we noticed their top ten family destinations for 2014, and there’s a lot of great calls in our opinion.
Hawaii is one of those must-see destinations. But the price of a week on the islands can give some serious sticker shock! One great way to save some money and see many of the different islands that make up our 50th state is on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America. This US flagged ship is one of the only ways to cruise the Hawaiian Islands, offering round trip options from Honolulu, and has just gone through a 30 million dollar renovation. The upgrades are pretty substantial, too.
If I’d said it once, I must have said it a dozen times during my first short stay at Walt Disney World. This is a whole different culture than I was expecting. I’ve traveled a lot of different places, experienced a lot of different things – but the culture shock in the Magic Kingdom was intense! I don’t think that I’ve ever been in a place before where everyone just seemed so happy before.