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Crown Cruise Vacations | December 18, 2014

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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.

PREPARING PERFECT CUP OF TEA

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.”

TIRAMISU

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

WOW! From Royal Caribbean International

November 6, 2014 | Heidi

For a limited time you can receive up to $1500 free onboard spending money for specialty dining, beverage packages, shore excursions and more. Spend your cash your way. Only on Royal. Live for the WOW. Plus, mention promo WOW INSURANCE when you book a new reservation and we will include travel insurance as a bonus for all guests.

Sail to the warm waters of the Caribbean or the Bahamas. Discover the wondrous cultural marvels Europe has to offer. From the blue ice to the scenery and wildlife, everything in Alaska is absolutely breathtaking.

On 3-5 night Caribbean and Bahamas you can get OBC of $100 oceanview, $200 balcony and $400 suite. For 6+ night select destinations it’s OBC of $400 oceanview; $600 balcony and $1,000 suite. And Europe, Alaska and 7+ night Australia it’s $600 oceanview, $1,000 balcony and $1,500 suite.

Prices are per person, cruise only, based on double occupancy, and in US dollars. Valid for new reservations only. Canceling and rebooking is subject to current rates and promotions. Not combinable with any other offers. Offers are subject to availability can be withdrawn at any time. Airline-imposed personal charges such as baggage fees may apply. Air: Checked air bag fees could be up to $150. More details here http://crowncruisevacations.com/email/2014/11_06_14/index.html?utm_source=11_06_14&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=webpage

Royal Caribbean onboard spending money on new cruise bookings made between Nov. 6-16, 2014 (excludes Quantum of the Seas and Anthem of the Seas).

Cruise Trivia: Can you name the American Queen godmother? Hint: This godmother once lived in a graceful Memphis mansion.

November 3, 2014 | Heidi

Choosing a godmother for a vessel is a great responsibility. When the boat is christened, that is the official start of the vessel’s life.

For the christening of the American Queen, the event in April 2012 was celebrating not only the new launch of the vessel but also the rebirth of the legendary riverboat. Built in 1995, the American Queen was once part of a trio of  beautiful sisters. Originally owned by the Delta Queen Company, the American Queen – along with the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen – ruled the rivers. Devoted travelers 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 Queen was torn apart 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.

Then a newly formed company, the Great American Steamboat Company, bought the American Queen for $30 million and put another $6.5 million in refurbishment.

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.

The new company chose Memphis as the homeport for the American Queen. That brings us to the trivia question –what famed lady with Memphis connections was chosen to the godmother of the American Queen and to preside at the new christening?

Don’t look a the answer below until you have formulated your own. A hint – this godmother once lived in a graceful Memphis mansion.

 

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(Answer:) Does the name Presley ring a bell?

Priscilla Presley, the one-time wife of Elvis, is the godmother for the American Queen. Priscilla used to reside just a few miles from downtown Memphis at Graceland. The place where Elvis lived, died and is buried, Graceland is the No. 1 tourist attraction in Tennessee.

In 1979, Priscilla Presley became co-executor of the Presley Estate. Under her direction the estate grew into a phenomenally successful organization. In announcing Priscilla Presley as the American Queen godmother, the company noted that her efforts in leading Elvis Presley Enterprises exemplify grace and dignity, two adjectives that also befit the American Queen.

The Chickens of Key West

October 28, 2014 | Heidi

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

Cruise Ship Trivia: Can You Name the Godmother of the Royal Princess?

October 22, 2014 | Heidi

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.

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(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

An S.S. Legacy river cruise guided by a Banjo-playing captain

October 13, 2014 | Heidi

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