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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
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
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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.
(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.
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!