KEY WEST, Florida - He strutted down the street like he was cock of the walk.
“He’s beautiful. And he knows it,” a woman said, watching me try to take a photo of the confident rooster.
I think she was right. Perhaps this preening critter knew that he was a popular sight on cruise ship stops and that he could come and go as he pleased – protected by the laws of Key West.
Where else do chickens have such legal jurisdiction? Among its many idiosyncrasies, Key West takes care of its feral fowl or Gypsy Chickens as they are sometimes called.
A bartender along Duval Street told me that the scrappy little birds wandering the streets, yards, taverns, restaurants and everywhere else in this Florida community are descendants of ferocious fighters.
When Cubans came to Key West to escape troubles in their country in the 1860s, they brought their chickens with them. The birds were raised for meat and eggs. The roosters also were prized for their beauty and cockfighting prowess.
Even more chickens came when thousands of Cubans fled to Key West in the 1950s as a result of the Revolution. However, cock fighting was outlawed in the 1970s and many of the no-longer-wanted birds were turned loose. With easy access to meat and eggs in supermarkets, the backyard “grocery stores” were no longer necessary so those chickens also hit the road.
With few predators on the island (except hawks and feral cats) the “wild” chickens thrive on a diet of native insects and lizards. Several generations later, it is estimated that between 2,000 to 3,000 of these birds still roam freely throughout the island.
Although tourists like the colorful birds – and local artists have capitalized on that with chicken paintings, T-shirts, ceramics and even chicken jewelry – many locals are weary of the marauding creatures. Whoever thought roosters only crow loudly at the break of dawn is sadly mistaken. Passing headlights, flashing porch lights or any disturbance can set a rooster off on a loud concert long before daylight. Warnings from awakened sleepers to “shut up” seem to increase the crowing even louder.
The birds annoy homeowners by scratching up yards, flowerbed and vegetable gardens and by leaving “little gifts” on cars and lawn furniture. Territorial mother hens can seem a bit scary to unaware strollers. The chickens are regarded by some as a nuisance and a danger to public health.
But efforts to control the “invasive species” have met with strong opposition in notorious live-and-let-live Key West. To me, the scurrying chickens and preening roosters are a colorful part of the fabric of this unusual cruise stop.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch
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
We seem plunked down in a different world. It looks like something from the depths of history. Or maybe from planets beyond our orb.
Great shards of ice glisten like diamonds in deep sapphire waters. Tidewater glaciers sweep like rivers of ice down massive mountain valleys. Mountains, some as high as 15,000 feet, rise straight out of the ocean. Snow draped peaks tower over sparkling fiords.
“It feels like you are going back in time, back to the Ice Age,” said Ranger Fay Schaller as our cruise ship enters Alaska’s Glacier Bay. “We are traveling on one of the most beautiful places in the world.”
Accessible only by sea or air, Glacier Bay National Park is recognized as a biosphere reserve, as established in 1986 under the Man & Biosphere program of the International Coordinating Council. In 1992 the 3.3-million-acre park also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Aboard the Wilderness Explorer, we will spend three days in Glacier Bay, not merely cruising past the astounding scenery but actually stopping to go ashore, paddle a kayak or ride in a skiff. To see Glacier Bay is to enjoy nature in its primary stages.
First, our ship stops at the Glacier Bay Ranger Station headquarters in Gustavus, a town with less than 500 year-round residents and the official entrance to the park. Here we pick up Ranger Fay who will be with us for our entire visit in Glacier Bay. Some passengers and crew make a quick visit to the Glacier Bay Lodge to use the Wi-Fi for a last check of Internet and cell phones. During the rest of our cruise, we will have neither.
But, oh, the beauties we will see. No technology can compete with what Mother Nature has to offer.
In the 1960s cruise ships began entering Glacier Bay regularly. Today, entrance to Glacier Bay is closely guarded in order to protect the delicate environment so cruise lines must apply for permits to visit. A limited number of permits are issued each year for ships which meet the strict criteria.
The scenery is spectacular. The park includes 16 tidewater glaciers with 12 actively calving icebergs into the bay. Wildlife abounds, from sea birds to shore-bound birds. Whales cavort in the waters. Steller sea lions trumpet their songs from icy islands. Orca killer whales patrol for prey. Wolves and bears prowl the shores. Goats nestle in the rocky crags.
Even though we edge near the icy creations on the Wilderness Explorer and in our kayaks and skiffs, we don’t get too close. Without warning, columns of blue ice can smash into the sea with a primeval roar. Known as calving, the falling ice can create strong waves and toss house-sized chunks of ice.
“The Tlingits have a name for caving,” Ranger Fay said. “They call it ‘white thunder.’”
Seems like a very descriptive name for an almost indescribable feature of Glacier Bay.
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/
If you happen to see the American Queen cruising along one of America’s rivers, take a close look at that name beneath the big red paddlewheel.
Proudly posted on the back of the riverboat is the American Queen’s new homeport – Memphis, Tennessee.
“We are very happy to be the new home of the American Queen,” said Jonathan Lyons, public relation manager for the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Our city officials worked hard to get that honor.”
A major part of those efforts to please the American Queen and it’s passengers, Memphis recently constructed Beale Street Landing. The ambitious docking facility can accommodate 50-foot shifts in the Mississippi River’s height.
After a decade of design, planning, construction and a difficult budget, the Riverfront Development Corporation’s $43 million Beale Street Landing project officially opened June 28, 2014.
Beale Street Landing’s dock, where passengers load onto the American Queen and other riverboats, is made from barges so it can rise and fall with the river. Passengers can reach the boat by walking down the landing’s ramp. For those with mobility problems, golf carts are available to get to the boat.
And the new Beale Street Landing should get plenty of use, Memphis officials said. The American Queen docks here 13 times a year. The Queen of the Mississippi docks 15 times a year. The Grande Mariner and the Grande Caribe from the Blount cruise line both dock here four times a year. A local sightseeing cruise boat, the Island Queen, takes passengers on cruises twice a day.
Next to the landing is a small park with gardens and seats where people can sit and watch the river flow. A playground, restaurant and gift shop also are part of the project.
With such a great landing and such a marvelous homeport, cruise passengers might want to plan to spend a couple of extra days in Memphis before or after a cruise.
Story by Jackie Sheckler Finch
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Andrew Jackson loved his home so much that he chose to be buried there with his beloved wife Rachel. Some say that the man known as “Old Hickory” still keeps watch over his Tennessee plantation.
The Hermitage is preserved today almost as it was during the days of the man who became an American icon. Built between 1819 and 1821, the home has almost all its original furnishings including the wallpaper, which dates to the early 1800s. Today, the site is a popular shore excursion for riverboat passengers.
Jackson was born March 15, 1767, on the South Carolina border. His father died in a logging accident before Jackson was born and the family had to move in with relatives in order to survive. Both of his brothers died in the Revolutionary War and his mother died when Jackson was 14. The penniless youth tried his hand at the saddlery trade and school teaching but was drawn toward the law and became a lawyer in 1787.
Then he came to Nashville and found his future.
Staying in a boarding house, Jackson fell in love with the owner’s daughter, 21-year-old Rachel Donelson Robards who was trying to deal with a rocky marriage. Believing that her husband Lewis Robards had obtained a divorce, three years later Rachel and Andrew were married.
Then they found out that Robards hadn’t gotten a divorce after all. They were legally remarried in 1794 but the scandal plagued them the rest of their lives.
Jackson’s political star rose quickly and the 37-year-old Jackson bought the Hermitage property outside Nashville during this time. The War of 1812 gave Jackson a chance to rack up a string of victories that gained him a reputation as the country’s foremost commander in the field.
Then came the Battle of New Orleans. In 1814, Jackson and his ragtag army marched into New Orleans against the British. The British suffered more than 2,000 casualties. The Americans reported fewer than 20.
The victory confirmed the Louisiana Purchase, led to the acquisition of Florida, lent respect to the Monroe Doctrine and created a healthy regard for America’s independence. The victory also made General Jackson an instant legend and propelled him toward the White House.
But his past came back to haunt him – and eventually claimed his wife. The 1828 presidential campaign set a record for mud slinging and name-calling. The worst attacks in the campaign were those on Rachel’s reputation, accusations of adultery and bigamy that hurt Jackson and his ailing wife.
Jackson won the election, of course, but Rachel never lived to be in the White House. Rachel died three weeks before the inauguration.
On Dec. 22, 1828, Rachel suffered a massive heart attack. Jackson blamed his wife’s death on the nasty campaign of 1828 and the stress of the imminent move to Washington. On Christmas Eve, Jackson laid Rachel to rest in her white inaugural gown in the garden at the Hermitage, surrounded by weeping willows.
Shrouded in grief, Jackson then made his way to Washington. For the next eight years, through two tempestuous terms in office, Jackson made his mark on the presidency and the nation.
In 1837, Jackson at last retired to the Hermitage at the age of 70. While in the White House, Jackson had a permanent temple made of limestone created for his wife’s grave and his own. The structure resembled a Greek-style gazebo.
Lines from the epitaph he chose for her tombstone describes “a being so gentle and so virtuous slander might wound but could not dishonor.”
Every day, he visited Rachel’s grave. He missed his wife so much that he had a painting of her put in his bedroom so that she would be the last thing he saw at night and the first thing he saw in the morning.
On June 8, 1845, the 78-year-old Jackson finally joined his wife in death. The former president died of kidney failure and was buried beside his beloved Rachel in the Hermitage garden.
Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch
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