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Crown Cruise Vacations | January 30, 2015

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2012 December

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.

Make Carnival Magic’s Tiramisu for the holidays

December 11, 2014 | Heidi

Do you love desserts?  It would be hard to beat this Tiramisu recipe for a delicious holiday dish!


Carnival shares recipe for popular tiramisu

By Jackie Sheckler Finch

No wonder I love tiramisu. I knew it had coffee, alcohol and ladyfinger cookies in its delicious blend. But until I attended a cooking class aboard the Carnival Magic,I wasn’t sure of the other ingredients. Every one of them is yummy.

After watching the instructor and tasting the scrumptious results, I’m going to try to the recipe when I get home. Might be dangerous now that I know how to make it.

Here is the recipe shared by Carnival Magic chefs and some little tips on how to make it.

First off, our cooking class leader Wes said that tiramisu is not something to whip up in a hurry. Although it isn’t difficult to make, he said, it is necessary that some of t

he steps in the recipe have time to be refrigerated for the best consistency. So, for best results, don’t plan to make it right before dinner and expect to serve it an hour later.

“I would make the mix beforehand and refrigerate it overnight to get it into the right mousse-like texture,” he said.

Another very important tip, Wes said, is that the filling ingredients must be cooked in a double boiler.

“You don’t want to cook the eggs in a regular pan,” he said. “You just want to make a nice frothy yellow base in a double boiler.”

Although other recipes might call for a different base, Wes said Carnival Magic chefs prefer ladyfingers. “They make a good consistency.”

When you are ready to assemble the tiramisu, Wes suggested using clear glass containers for visual appeal.

“You make three layers of mousse and two layers of ladyfingers,” he said. “It is very important that you use clear glass so you can see the layers and how fluffy the tiramisu is.”


Filling ingredients:

6 ounces egg yolk

¼ quart heavy cream4 ounces sugar

4 ounces mascarpone cheese

1 ounce Marsala wine

1 ounce Grand Marnier

1 package ladyfinger cookies


Syrup ingredients:

1 ½ tablespoons instant coffee

4 ounces sugar

6 tablespoons Kahlua

½ cup water


Whisk heavy cream until it forms soft peaks. Refrigerate until use.

Cream yolks and sugar until smooth. Add in cream over a double boiler whisking constantly until coating consistency to make a sabayon (French name for light mousse-like sauce).

Cream mascarpone cheese until smooth and fold into sabayon.

Gently fold Grand Marnier, Marsala and whipped cream into the sabayon and refrigerate until the mixture sets.

For syrup, dissolve instant coffee in hot water, mix sugar, Kahlua and refrigerate to chill.

Soak ladyfinger cookies in coffee syrup and arrange in three alternating layers of cookies and sabayon mixture in tiramisu dish. Serve garnished with chocolate powder. Slip a strawberry slice on the top of the dish and put a slender piece of biscotti in the mixture. Serves four.

S.S. Legacy works hard to be ‘green’ ship

December 2, 2014 | Heidi

ABOARD THE S.S. LEGACY – Two aluminum water bottles are lined up on the desk in my cabin. Cloth napkins on the dining table take the place of paper. No Styrofoam or plastic cups are used on this vessel. Daily menus are printed on small pieces of paper, as are daily itineraries so that paper use is minimized. Recycling efforts are everywhere.

“We take our commitment to conserve and protect the environment very seriously,” said Patrick Rice, hotel manager for the S.S. Legacy. “We do everything we can to be ‘green.’”

On my weeklong cruise along the Columbia and Snake rivers, I am noticing many of the efforts made by Un-Cruise Adventures cruise line. My itinerary and all preparations for the trip, in fact, were made electronically. Cutting back on the use of paper is an ongoing goal.

The tiny menus work just as well as huge ones. And the small piece of paper with the next day’s itinerary that is placed on my bed at turn down each night is all I need to keep up with daily activities.

As for cleaning – which the ship’s crew seems to do constantly to keep everything looking lovely – the ship uses “green” cleaning supplies. “It is all-organic, no chemicals,” Rice said. “We use Simple Green on our deck.”

Eco-friendly toiletries and amenities are provided for passengers. Instead of bars of soap and bottles of shampoo and body wash, the S.S. Legacy has soap, shampoo and conditioner dispensers in the shower and by the bathroom sink.  Those cute little bottles that many hotels supply are nice but they do seem a waste of plastic, as do bars of soap that are often opened, used a few times and then left for the housekeeper to discard when the guest checks out.

The ship also encourages less frequent washing of linens, which I always support when a hotel or motel offers the choice. I don’t wash my bedcovers at home every day, nor do I wash my bath towels after one use so I see no need to have it done when I am staying in a hotel, motel, ship or other accommodations.

Cruising some of the world’s most fragile and pristine ecosystems, the S.S. Legacy believes it is a privilege to explore the world’s natural wonders and strives to leave a positive impact on the people and communities they visit, Rice said.

Passengers on large ships often don’t even get to step foot off their ships.  With several thousand passengers on the big cruise liners, such a huge amount of people could be harmful to the fragile environment and the small communities along the way. In contrast, the S.S. Legacy has 33 passengers on our cruise. And we will leave the ship every day except one, walking ashore to visit museums and other attractions.

“Our goal,” Rice said, “is to leave any place that we visit better than we found it.”

Story and photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch


The six-toed Hemingway cats of Key West

November 25, 2014 | Heidi

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

The ‘Pole Flying Dance’ in Cozumel, Mexico

November 17, 2014 | Heidi

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