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shore excursions Archives - Crown Cruise Vacations

Shore Excursion: ‘The Door’ Offers Bountiful Cherries, History and Much More

September 26, 2019 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

My aim was terrible. Instead of flying into the far distance, the cherry pit I was trying to spit tumbled out of my mouth and rolled down to my feet.

So much for the cherry pit-spitting contest at Lautenbach’s Orchard Country Winery & Market in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Hard to believe but the record for the best woman cherry pit spitter is 38 feet, 3 inches. For men, it’s 48 feet, 1 inch. Read more...

Shore Excursion: Seeing the strange and beautiful in Salamanca, Spain

December 18, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

Craning their necks, a crowd of people gathered outside the University of Salamanca searching for a tiny frog somewhere on the university’s walls.

A street vendor stood ready to help onlookers find the tiny critter and to sell them a postcard photo and souvenir of the elusive amphibian.

Now celebrating its 800th birthday, the University of Salamanca has many treasures and tales and the frog is just one of them. Of course, it is not a real frog. It’s a carving of a toad atop a skull.

“Legend says that students who can find this skull with toad atop it on the facade of the university will have good luck on exams,” said tour guide Mercedes Arribas. “The carving is very difficult to see.”

It definitely was hard to find but I did see it and got some photos with help from others in the crowd.

Another tale says that the toad atop the skull is a warning to students. The toad represents sexual temptation and the skull is death. So students should pay more attention to their studies than to carnal pleasures or their time at the university might be short lived.

Founded in 1218 by King Alfonso IX, the University of Salamanca is the oldest in Spain and one of the oldest in the world. Located in the interior of Spain, Salamanca sits in the heart of old Castilla and boasts what is said to be the purest form of the Spanish language.

“Many students come here to study Spanish,” said Julio Cordero Gonzalez, Director of the Office of the Eighth Centenary. “We have students come here from around the world.”

Visitors and group tours also visit the university to admire its architecture and hear the history of the teachers and students who once graced these halls – such as Miguel de Cervantes, Christopher Columbus, Ignatius Loyola and Hernan Cortes.

Teacher jailed for five years during Inquisition

Arranged around a Renaissance cloister, the old classrooms were considered luxurious for the time. Restored to its original simplicity, one classroom has backless wooden benches barely 8 inches wide. Although they looked quite uncomfortable, the benches were considered a pleasure for the times, Arribas said.

“Before then, students had to sit on the floors,” she said.

The ancient rooms also were unlit. But light wasn’t necessary for reading or taking notes. Students were expected to listen closely and memorize what was said by teachers.

One darkened classroom was where humanist Fray Luis de Leon once taught during the 16th century when the forces of the Inquisition were hunting down heretics. The Spanish clergy of the Inquisition had scoured libraries and burned books considered unfit.

One of Spain’s finest poets, de Leon was also a celebrated theologian and brilliant teacher at the University of Salamanca. When he translated the “Song of Songs” from the Bible into the people’s native language, he was denounced as a heretic.

Arrested in 1572 by the forces of the Inquisition, de Leon was thrown into prison where he suffered for nearly five years. When he was finally released, de Leon returned to his classroom greeting students with the words, “As I was saying yesterday…”

Fray Luis de Leon died on Aug. 23, 1591, at the age of 64. His tomb is in the University of Salamanca’s Chapel.

How did astronaut carving get on ancient cathedral

Salamanca is a very walkable city and, with only a day here, that was what my group was doing.

Our first stop was at the beautiful Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) crossing the Tormes River. Originally constructed in the year 89, the bridge was reconstructed in the 17th century after it was damaged by flooding. The bridge offers an excellent view of Salamanca’s two cathedrals.

Salamanca boasts two cathedrals that are connected side by side. The Old Cathedral was built between the 12th and 14th centuries in the Romanesque style. Built in stages from 1509, the New Cathedral is a magnificent Gothic structure.

But it is an unusual carving on the outside of the New Cathedral that draws a good deal of attention and speculation. If you look carefully, you can see a distinct carving of an astronaut. How was that possible? There were no astronauts in those long-ago days.

“During a 1992 renovation, workers carved the 20th century figure,” Arribas said. “But it sure does make people stop, look and wonder if we were actually visited by space beings centuries ago.”

Another interesting structure is a former palatial home known as La Casa de las Conchas (the house of shells) that is now a public library. Outside the home are a slew of shell decorations. I thought they might represent the Camino de Santiago whose pilgrims use scallop shells to commemorate their walk.

But the shells on this house are part of a love story, Arribas said.

“The house was built by a husband for his beloved wife,” she said. “The scallop shell was the symbol of her family. Her husband had 365 shells put on the outside of the house to show his love for his wife every day of the year.”

Plaza Mayor a favorite gathering spot

Strolling through the Plaza Mayor, Arribas told us that the large gathering spot has long been known as Salamanca’s community living room. As the most important place in town, Plaza Mayor seems to always be hosting some kind of party or event. When we were there, a music and light festival was going on.

Folks of all ages gather on the Plaza Mayor. Spaniards are fond of taking their paseo (evening stroll) to the Plaza Mayor. College students and young singles gather here to see and be seen. Parents prepare their babies for sleepy time with a walk. Even a pair of storks seem to be people watching from on high.

Salamanca is a favorite with storks who nest atop cathedrals and other historic buildings. The big birds are considered symbols of good luck. The clicking noise storks make remind me of Spanish castanets.

The sun was going down as we left Salamanca and it was easy to see why Salamanca has long been called “The Golden City.”

Buildings are constructed of a warm brown sandstone which glows with a golden color at sunrise and sunset. It’s no wonder this old city by the river Tormes is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Story and photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

A skull with a toad atop it is difficult to find on the outer walls of the University of Salamanca

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

An astronaut carving on an ancient cathedral

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

La Casa de las Conchas (the house of shells)

Photo courtesy of Jackie Sheckler Finch

Storks in Spain are considered good luck

Shore Excursion: Vicksburg doll museum brings back childhood memories for many visitors

November 12, 2018 | Jackie Sheckler Finch

 

 

 

 

By Jackie Sheckler Finch

Mike Bakarich was happy when his wife Carolyn opened her Yesterday’s Children Antique Doll and Toy Museum in 1986.

“I finally had a place to sit,” he says with a smile. “She had dolls all over the house so I was glad when she got them out of the house and they weren’t taking up my seats.”

After a year, Carolyn moved her museum to a historic 1849 building in downtown Vicksburg, Mississippi, where it is still located. But Mike is now the person who welcomes visitors to the huge toy collection. His wife died in 2014.

“She loved these dolls and loved talking to people about them,” he says. “Women would come in and she would talk to them about the dolls. She knew the histories of the dolls and knew collectors all over the world.”

The four-room museum includes more than 1,000 dolls dating back to 1843, plus pedal cars, rocking horses, doll carriages, teddy bears and much more.

“We’ve got some boys’ toys in here, too, like G.I. Joes and a big car collection,” Mike says. “Something for the men to see while their wives are looking at all the dolls.”

What seems to be the most popular doll? “It’s always the one that women had when they were a little girl” Mike says. “I guess that doll brings back memories for them.”

The path to Vicksburg

Born in Chicago on May 6, 1928, Mike grew up in Arizona near the Mexican border. Although he is “not much of a collector,” there was one childhood toy he really yearned to own.

“I always wanted a bicycle but I was raised during the Great Depression and we didn’t have money for something like that,” he says. “I got a horse instead.”

At first, Mike said he thought he’d grow up to be a cowboy. “But then I found out that cowboys don’t earn much money.”

Instead, Mike joined the Army and advanced through the ranks until he retired in 1980 as a Brigadier General. The way he met his future wife was just a chance encounter, Mike says.

“A friend of mine was in an auto accident so I went to visit him in the hospital. His fiancé came to visit him, too, and Carolyn came with her. That was it.”

The couple had seven children and adopted four others from Korea. When Mike retired from the Army, the family moved to Michigan where Mike worked for Bechtel nuclear power company. They moved to Vicksburg in 1984 when he took a job at the Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.

The number of visitors to the museum varies with the seasons. “We can always tell when one of the riverboats is docked here because we get a lot of those passengers in the museum,” Mike says.

That’s why I was there. When the American Duchess docked in Vicksburg, I caught the hop-on, hop-off Steamcoach to visit a couple of museums, walk through downtown and admire the flood wall. Cruise passengers receive free admission to the museums.

As for the future of the huge doll and toy collection, 89-year-old Mike says, “I just take it one day at a time. This was Carolyn’s love and I keep it going for her. But you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Shirley Temple dolls date from 1934-1938.

 

Carnival Cruise Lines’ new shore excursions best price guarantee- now all you have to do is choose a tour!

June 12, 2014 | Heidi

Shore excursions are part of the fun of cruising. Going ashore and taking a tour is an exciting option on cruises. And, almost always, there are more tour options than I can do. Makes for hard choices.

But Carnival Cruise Lines has now come up with a cruise industry first to be sure passengers get the best shore excursions possible. Carnival just announced a guarantee that guests who book a Carnival shore excursion and find a comparable tour at a lower price will receive an onboard credit of 110 percent of the difference.

“Many of our repeat guests who have booked Carnival shore tours previously are already knowledgeable on the outstanding value our tours provide,” said Mico Cascais, vice president of tour operations for Carnival Cruise Lines.

“However, our research indicates that many others, particularly first-time cruisers, are interested yet concerned as to whether or not they are getting the best deal,. The best price guarantee program will assure our guests they are getting both the highest quality and the best value on all of our tours.”

I’ve long known that the shore excursions offered by a cruise company are the best way to go. The excursions have to be well organized, reasonably priced, safe and interesting or the cruise line would not keep offering them.

I once saw a couple returning to our cruise ship shaking their heads and vowing never TO take a Jamaica tour again. The problem was not Jamaica and it was not the tour, it was the tour company. The poor couple had booked it with a tour company after they got off the ship and saw a cheap tour offered in Jamaica. Never ever do that.

CHOOSE CRUISE COMPANY SHORE EXCURSIONS

Stick with the cruise company excursions. They offer the best protection and now the best price. I was very pleased with my Bob Marley tour when the Carnival Breeze docked in Jamaica. But I don’t think I would have wanted to take the tour with any company other than the one backed by the Carnival company.

Of course, with Carnival’s new excursion protection plan, cruisers are guaranteed to get the best deal from a Carnival excursion. Sounds like a great program.

Guests sailing on a Carnival cruise who book a shore excursion through the cruise line can be completely confident they are getting the best price and best value with the introduction of a new shore excursion best price guarantee.

The only guarantee of its kind in the cruise industry, the program is now available fleet wide for all Carnival Cruise Lines shore tours on ships sailing from North America.

Under the best price guarantee, guests who find the same tour offered by another operator at a lower price than their booked excursion either before or during their cruise can complete a claim form to receive 110 percent of the difference in the form of a shipboard credit.

The guarantee is available for excursions booked prior to or during a cruise. If guests pre-book an excursion, then find a comparable tour advertised online at a lower price, they can complete an online form up to seven days prior to the cruise to invoke the guarantee. Guests can also complete a form during the cruise either before or after their excursion has taken place.  Claims are typically processed within 24-48 hours.

DON’T MISS THE BOAT

Guests who book their excursion through Carnival enjoy the convenience of having shore excursion tickets delivered to their stateroom, 24/7 access to shipboard staff to answer questions and obtain assistance, and an assurance that they will receive a refund or the excursion time will be adjusted as needed based on weather or other issues affecting a ship’s scheduled port of call visit.

I heard a faint gasp during my Carnival Magic orientation meeting in December when Magic Cruise Director James Dunn told cruisers what would happen if they booked a shore excursion not offered by Carnival and didn’t return to the ship in time for its sailing.

“We will leave you,” Dunn said. “We’ve done it before and we will do it again.”

Of course, that is no problem when you book a shore excursion with Carnival. I’ve never been late getting back to the ship on a ship-arranged tour excursion. But if something were to happen with a Carnival tour, Dunn said, the ship would wait.

Ongoing communication between tour operators and shipboard staff ensures that the cruise line is aware and can make necessary changes to a ship’s departure time when a tour is running late or unexpected circumstances arise, Dunn said.

Sure worth the peace of mind to me.

The online and onboard claim forms require guests to provide the name of the competitor offering the comparable tour, excursion name, where the tour was advertised and the duration, price and any items included in the tour such as lunch, drinks, transportation or admission fees.

The best price guarantee is applicable to shore excursion matches on the same date as the tour purchased from Carnival.

Story and Photo by Jackie Sheckler Finch

 

Taking an Azamazing Adventure

March 22, 2013 | Roger

It’s probably the best kept secret in upscale cruising. But the adventures are just so incredible that we can’t keep the secret any longer. As the European cruise season starts to take shape in the next couple months, one small-ship cruise line is standing out with special values and offers that simply nobody else is offering. Azamara Club Cruises has always had a sterling reputation on service, but in 2013, the focus is on the journey as much as the service with the introduction of Azamazing Evenings.

Three New Reasons to have an Azamazing Adventure Next Summer

October 15, 2012 | Roger

Azamara Club Cruises is a small ship, upscale cruise line that has consistently been a winner when it comes to on board experience and service, and every year the product just seems to get stronger. In 2011, the two ship line changed its focus to a more inclusive atmosphere with more overnights and longer times in port, as well as including your gratuities and wine at dinner on every voyage. For 2013, Azamara Club Cruises is introducing three new key enhancements which will make any cruise a truly “Azamazing” adventure.