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Ship Shape on Norwegian Bliss

Porthole Cruise Magazine - December 14, 2018

Vitamin Sea: Cruising is Healthy

Wellness on the Water


Discover the (proven!) health benefits of cruising.

By Heather Mikesell
 
Although most people don’t immediately think of a cruise vacation as an opportunity to get in shape or make positive lifestyle choices, today’s cruise ships provide a host of healthy options that can help transform a week at sea into the ultimate wellness retreat.
 
For many years, cruising got a bad rap for its tempting all-you-can-eat buffets and sedentary lifestyle it seemed to promote. However, nothing could be further from the truth these days, as health and wellbeing programming takes center stage.
 
“Cruising provides wonderful access to the open seas and its natural benefits, such as re-energizing and detoxifying sea-salt air, the flow and lull of the waves, and being close to the water,” says Mary Bemis, editorial director of Insider’s Guide to Spas. “The health benefits are numerous, as more ships have awoken to consumer demand for healthy lifestyle and wellness options.” As a result, wellness-minded passengers are discovering the many healthy rewards to be found on a cruise.
 

Me Time

While the advantages of just getting away from it all are obvious, cruising goes beyond helping people to disconnect.
“One of the biggest benefits is the gift of time, when you’re freed from any tasks or responsibilities,” says Ann Brown, a spa industry veteran and founder of Saltability. “Most of us are so overwhelmed, and a cruise gives us a pause that allows us to set our intentions to whatever our goals may be — more sleep, better nutrition, increased workouts — or giving back to ourselves in ways we wouldn’t naturally do, such as having our meals prepared or getting a massage.”
 
According to Brown, it’s the benefit of taking time for themselves that really allows people to relax, which is especially important these days. In fact, in a 2014 Stress in America survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association, 75 percent of Americans reported experiencing….


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Photo: RF

Theme Cruises: Rock the Ship

Rock the Ship


What the artists, fans, and organizers say about music-themed cruises.

By Bill Kopp
 
While retirees and young professionals might not always share the same taste in music, one leisure activity with appeal that spans generations is the music festival experience.
 
So cruise lines and vacation planners have come up with a successful way to capture that excitement, making rock ’n’ roll–themed cruises today’s popular version of “floating festivals.” Varying widely in scope and character, all combine the thrill of live music and the excitement of a cruise, while erasing the barriers between concertgoer and performer. Here’s just a sampling of what those involved have to say about these rockin’ experiences.
 

Where the Action Is

The nostalgia-themed Where the Action Is Cruise features pop stars from the 1960s. The annual event grew out of conversations between ’60s bandleader Paul Revere and his Boise, Idaho–based travel agent.
 
“This coming January will be our 24th year,” says Tammy Selee of Concerts at Sea, which organizes the cruise. Unlike some other music-themed cruises, the WTAI cruise is limited to 800 passengers, and reserves only a portion of the ship. Keeping its human scale has allowed the Where the Action Is cruise to flourish.
 
Using the onboard theater and ship lounges for its activities, Concerts at Sea creates a cruise-within-a-cruise experience. The demographic for the WTAI cruise falls mostly into the 65- to 70-year-old range, and many are fiercely loyal.
 
“There’s no group of people more nostalgic than baby boomers,” says Selee. “We’ve got people returning for their 18th cruise with us. Before I get off the ship at the end of the cruise, more than 200 people are booked for the next one. It’s become a family reunion without the family!”
 
Unfortunately, Revere passed away in 2014, but his band, led by son Jamie, continues to headline the cruise, along with 1960s hitmakers Mitch Ryder, The Cowsills, and several others.
 
“The meeting-and-greeting is constant,” said singer-guitarist Bob Cowsill, who’s gearing up for his family band’s third cruise. “We [performers] get to know our fans. The connection is really special; it stays with us after the cruise ends.”
 

Jam Cruise 15

Cloud 9 Adventures has been hosting music-themed cruises since 2004, says Kelly Viau, the company’s director of business development. On the roster is Jam Cruise, which focuses on musicianship and the interplay between top-notch players. The full-ship event in 2017 aboard Norwegian Pearl will attract between 3,000 and 4,000 people for the annual sailing.
 
According to Viau, Jam Cruise attendees come from all over North America, skew between 35 to 50 years old, and are fairly evenly….


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Photo: Langille

Cruising with Kids

MSC Cruises for Kids

Family Matters


Kids of all kinds will find something to love aboard MSC Cruises.

By Jodi Ornstein
 
Ahhhh, cruising. Days spent relaxing on deck with the sun in your face and a drink in your hand. Miles and miles of blue ocean and skies, hours and hours to spend with a good book on your balcony. This is what cruising is all about, right?
 
Not when you’re cruising with kids, it isn’t!
 
So when my husband, two daughters (ages 7 and 11), and I boarded MSC Divina in Miami for a long-weekend cruise, all I could hope for, as any parent sailing with kids, is that they’d be entertained, have as much fun as we would, and that we’d achieve the perfect combo of family time and alone time.
 

Focus on Family

MSC Cruises has always been focused on the family experience by offering a wide range of entertainment, amenities, services, shore excursions, and dining options specially designed for families and children.
 
“Because we’re a family-owned company, family influences everything we do,” said André Schlemmer, cruise director aboard MSC Divina, adding that those influences trickle down to the youth program.
 
Schlemmer points to some of the most popular events on board, including Smurf meet-and-greets and the LEGO Experience Day, which, through a partnership with LEGO Group, includes a program of LEGO-dedicated activities such as construction and video game challenges. At the end of the day, children graduate with a LEGO diploma and are presented with a souvenir certificate by the LEGO Sailor mascot verifying that they are a Junior Master Builder. On some ships, there are also specially designed play areas that offer up to 1,075-square-feet of creative play spaces that include soft play areas, interactive play walls, and videogame zones. There’s even a special LEGO toy of MSC Meraviglia, which debuts June 2017, that’s available for sale fleetwide at the onboard shops.
 
MSC also offers services for babies and young children, many of which are offered in collaboration with Chicco. For example, baby equipment is available throughout the ship (free of charge); there’s a Chicco corner in an onboard shop; MSC BabyTime is a daily program dedicated to playtime between babies and their parents; MSC BabyCare is a daily childcare service; and there’s specially designed children’s menus and warm milk available 24 hours a day (for a small charge).
 
Another onboard program that Schlemmer says he’s really proud of is the Junior
UNICEF Ambassador Program. As part of a global partnership with UNICEF, MSC created a special MSC for UNICEF Day on board where….


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Photo: MSC Cruises

Like a Local: Budapest

Bring on Budapest

Close the guidebooks and let a local lead the way.

By Jennifer Walker
 
When I was 8, my Hungarian mother decided to move us to Budapest so I could learn the language. Even though we returned to the UK when I was 11, I always wanted to go back. So three years ago, I packed up my life and moved back to Budapest as an adult and never looked back.
 
The Hungarian capital embodies numerous personalities, where each district sports its own unique story. Divided by the Danube River into two sides — Buda and Pest — the city spirals into 23 unique districts similar to Paris’ arrondissements.
 
For example, the elegance of the V District is defined by the Basilica and the Parliament; the historic Jewish Quarter in the VII, along with its famous dilapidated ruin bars, is a hub for the city’s nightlife; and the I District across the river features medieval streets, close-up shots of Buda Castle, and panoramas of the Danube River. Budapest is a city where each street has its own narrative and secret, only revealing itself if you keep your eyes and ears open.
 

Tourist Tips

There’s a reason why Budapest is called the City of Spas: It boasts more than 200 caves that are carved out by thermal springs. In fact, the Molnár János Cave is one of the largest known active thermal water caves in the world. While crowds flock to the Széchényi and Gellért baths or the Rudas Turkish baths, try those offering a less busy experience such as the Lukács baths for a throwback to Budapest’s turn-of-the-century spa culture or the Veli Bej or Király baths for a historic Ottoman experience.
 

If It’s Free, It’s For Me

Budapest has some wonderful outside spaces such as City Park, its most famous. To escape the crowds, make your way to Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. Among the green urban parkland and colorful flowerbeds, you’ll find ruins from an old monastery, a 100-year-old water tower, a Japanese garden, and even a musical fountain.
 

Off the Beaten Path

Ride into the Buda Hills on the Children’s Railway. The train service, which runs throughout the summer, is entirely staffed by children (engineers and drivers excluded). Novelty aside, the railway offers views over the Buda Hills, taking you off the beaten track into this hidden, rural part of the city.
 

How Not to Look Like a Tourist

There are many telltale signs that you’re tourist: hiking apparel, those horrible selfie sticks, and moving slowly in packs with a map in hand. But in my opinion, the most terrible tourist crime you can commit is riding a beer bike. They clog up the streets, they’re obnoxious, and nothing….


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Photo: Getty

Travel

Tried and True: Johnny Jet Travel Tips

Surviving Holiday Travel


Travel expert Johnny Jet answers your most common questions.

 
It’s hard to believe, but the holidays are upon us. For those who’ll be setting sail this season, here are 10 tips for a smoother, faster, and less expensive travel experience if you’ll be taking to the skies to catch your ship.
 
1. Double-check your passport.
It’s a great idea to make sure your passport is valid. Some countries won’t let you in unless your passport has more than six months before its expiration date.
 
2. Get Global Entry or TSA PreCheck.
If you travel internationally, get Global Entry. If you travel to and from Canada often, then get NEXUS, or Sentri for frequent travelers to and from Mexico. These memberships allow you to breeze past the typically long customs and immigration lines and automatically enroll you into TSA PreCheck, so you don’t have to wait in long security lines. If you don’t have TSA PreCheck, then be sure to ask if there’s more than one security checkpoint.
 
3. Be security ready.
One reason security lines are so long is because infrequent travelers don’t know the drill. Make sure you learn the 3-1-1 liquids rule and pack accordingly. Also, pull out your laptop from its case, as well as coins, keys, and phones. Better yet, put these smaller items in your jacket pocket and have your ID ready to go.
 
4. Don’t check valuables or medicines.
If you’re checking a bag, remember not to pack any valuables inside. Although the airlines claim they will reimburse you up to $3,300 for lost domestic bags, they exclude “fragile” items, “valuables,” and “business effects,” which includes things such as cash, electronics, jewelry, and artwork.
 
5. Reconfirm your flight.
If you bought your ticket far in advance, there’s a good chance your flight times or routings have changed. The airlines are required to notify you, but just in case you overlooked a message, always double-check.
 
6. Sign up for flight notifications.
These days, flights are going out almost at full capacity, which means if you miss your flight or if it’s canceled, you don’t have….


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Photo: Getty

Going, Going, Galapagos!

Going, Going, Galapagos!


Exploring one of the world’s most elusive archipelagos.

 
Story and photography by Michel and Lisa Verdure
 
We were walking in the highlands of San Cristobal Island for less than 15 minutes when we heard the definitive call of the elusive mockingbird. This beautiful gray creature, which is found only on this island, is a species that evolved to be completely different from all other mockingbirds in the world. As our guide described in detail the evolution of the flora, fauna, and animals of the region, we realized we were in for a very special experience.
 

The Journey Begins

Our UnCruise Adventure kicks off in Quito, Ecuador. From Casa Gangotena, a boutique hotel located in the old town overlooking Plaza San Francisco, we start with a full day of visiting the city’s historical landmarks. In small groups, we chose between walking tours or bus tours led by guides who are Quito natives, speak excellent English, and are extremely knowledgeable about the history of the city.
 
Landmarks of interest that we visited included the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the tallest church in Ecuador; The Plaza de Independencia, where the heroes of the revolution against Spain are honored; The Jesuit church, filled with gold leaf and beautiful paintings; The Presidential Palace, a historic residence that’s built around a central courtyard; and Iglesia San Francisco, the beautiful church located on the plaza across from our hotel.
 
The backdrop behind the hotel is the famous winged Madonna, El Panecillo, who looks over Quito from atop a 650-feet-high hill, and was constructed in 1976 of 7,000 pieces of aluminum. Having the opportunity to experience Quito added dimension and perspective to our trip.
 

Getting to Know the Galapagos

The oceanic Archipelago of Christopher Columbus, commonly known as the Galapagos Islands, is entirely volcanic and was never a part of the mainland. All of the species of flora, fauna, and wildlife had to evolve to survive this challenging terrain.
 
The islands are a province of Ecuador, and lie about 620 miles off its coast to the west. There are 19 islands in total, and much of the access is determined by the government to ensure conservation of the islands.
 
The Galapagos encompasses the Galapagos National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve, and tourism is designed to allow nature to flourish in its natural state, free from human manipulation. The result is an experience unlike any other you may find on this planet.
 

San Cristóbal

We were driven to the highlands of San Cristóbal, the Galapagos’ oldest island, to Cerro Colorado and its famous giant tortoises. It was during this walk that we heard that song of the mockingbird and realized we were in the company of naturalists who were highly educated, love what they do, and made their excitement contagious.
 
We learned that the mockingbird is endemic to this island, and how it evolved to survive according to plant and food availability. There are three other species of mockingbirds in the Galapagos; each evolved differently on separate islands, but all are from one original colonization.
 
Cerro Colorado is a semi-captive breeding center for the giant tortoises. At one point there were 10 species of tortoises in the Galapagos. After the arrival of people in 1535, the tortoises became a significant food source, and it is estimated that more than 220,000 were killed over time, with only five species left. There are now about 22,000 tortoises on all of the islands, and the breeding center is working hard to restore that number.
 
The next day, we continued to explore Isla San Cristóbal by choosing a power walk at Punta Pitt, an ecological area with beaches and trails for exploring. We were introduced to frigatebirds, bachelor sea lions, and three types of boobies. The most striking thing we noticed was that the wildlife does not….


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Belly Up to Florida Breweries

Belly Up


Say cheers to Florida’s local craft breweries.

By Evan S. Benn
 
In case you haven’t noticed, craft beer is on many savvy cruisers’ radar. From onboard specialty brews to the first brewery at sea to beer-themed cruises, several cruise lines are noticing the trend and bringing more beer on board.
 
If you have a true taste for the craft, why not also take time on shore to explore local breweries? If you’re cruising from or calling on one the Florida’s popular ports, you’ll find that small, independent, and focused-on-quality craft breweries are bubbling up throughout the Sunshine State. Here are some of the best suds to seek out before, during, or after your cruise.
 

Miami

Miami’s craft beer scene is centered in the Wynwood Arts District, an easy five-minute car ride from PortMiami. You’ll find three craft breweries — all fewer than three years old, and all within blocks of each other — as well as countless restaurants and other watering holes. Have more time? Consider a day trip to Homestead, where Schnebly Redland’s Winery has an on-site brewery, Miami Brewing Co., which infuses its beers with mango, coconut, and other tropical flavors.
 

J. Wakefield Brewing:

Johnathan Wakefield’s brewery excels at fruit-infused tart beers and hoppy ales such as the fantastic Hop for Teacher IPA. Enjoy a flight in his Star Wars–themed tasting room. JWakefieldBrewing.com
 

Wynwood Brewing Co.:

This family-owned brewery struck gold — literally — with its Pop’s Porter, a gold medal winner in the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. Try the robust, malty brew in Wynwood’s funky, friendly, graffiti-flecked tap room. WynwoodBrewing.com
 

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale has developed beyond its “Fort Liquordale” reputation as a Spring Break destination into a city with craft beer options that cater to grown-ups. Besides breweries, Fort Lauderdale is home to the excellent Riverside Market, with a location near Port Everglades, which boasts more than 200 beers in bottle and on draft. A little farther north, in Boynton Beach, veteran-owned Due South Brewing Co. is another….


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Photo: Coppertail Brewing Company

Design Time: Queen Mary 2

Modern Makeover

Behind the Remastering of Queen Mary 2

By Fran Golden
 
When your task is to redesign and contemporize the 12-year-old Queen Mary 2, Cunard Line’s flagship ocean liner, you know a lot of eyes will be watching. Many cruisers dream of crossing the Atlantic aboard this iconic ship, so when it came time to “remaster” the interior and onboard experiences, Alison Clixby, Cunard’s director of hotel design and projects, decided to borrow a page from history.
 

Iconic Inspiration

Working closely with renowned London-based interior design firm SMC, Clixby and her team drew inspiration from the original Queen Mary, the beloved ocean liner now permanently moored in Long Beach, California, which celebrated its 80th anniversary this year.
 
“The original ship was a true inspiration and provided a wealth of Art Deco features and details to work with in creating the new design for Queen Mary 2,” Clixby said.
 
Much of the $132 million bow-to-stern redo took place this spring at Hamburg’s Blohm + Voss Shipyard, where the ship was out of the water for 21 days and in the water for another four. During this time, Queen Mary 2 actually grew with the addition of 50 staterooms (15 for solo passengers), making it now a 151,000-ton, 2,705-passenger (based on double occupancy) ship.
 
At the shipyard, cranes carefully placed eight blocks of prefab Britannia Club and interior staterooms in place on Deck 13. Nearly every interior space was torn apart, and anything that wasn’t was carefully covered in sheets of plastic. If this was your house being redone, you’d have to relocate for months.
 
Yet somehow Clixby, who’s worked in shipbuilding for 25 years with Cunard and Carnival UK and is a rare female presence at the shipyard, was cool as a cucumber.
 
“As always, with such an important and major project like this, we went through many iterations during the development phase, making sure every detail was precise and on concept,” Clixby explained.
 
When Queen Mary 2 launched in 2004, with HRH Queen Elizabeth serving as godmother, the ship was the largest in the world. (A title it held only for a short time.) Still, more than a decade later, there was a lot of space to update.
 
Over one million man-hours went into the project, and more than 300 shipping containers arrived to the shipyard, bringing, among other things, nearly 594,000 feet of new carpeting in 26 stunning geometric patterns inspired by the original Queen Mary.
 
There were also some 6,500 pieces of new furniture; new bronze, brass, and marble fittings; and 3,900 gallons of paint for both the interior and exterior of the ship, including environmentally friendly paint for the…


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Photo: Cunard

Battle of the Barges

Battle of the Barges

Cruising the waterways of Ireland vs. France

By Steve Leland

The prospects of an off-the-wall travel experience while sampling the trappings of the good life, such as gourmet dining with liberal libations, were all too much to overlook. Who am I to say no? So I decided to book a barge cruise. Better yet, I booked two.
 
A cruise on the River Shannon in Ireland and another through the countryside canals of Champagne, France, ticked all the travel boxes. Can these vessels — regally named Shannon Princess and French Country Waterways’ Princess — live up to their royal monikers? While Shannon Princess navigates a nautical inroad to Irish sights, spotlighting folklore and Irish tradition, Princess emphasizes culinary creativity of Michelin-style gastronomy enhanced by the beauty of France’s Champagne region.
We’re going to jump ship, so to speak, and slip into this under-the-radar subculture of cruising that is quietly coming of age. Check your thoughts about ocean cruising at the gangway and welcome aboard to … the battle of the barges!
 

Cruising the Emerald Isle

Shannon Princess, described as a luxury barge hotel, is owned and operated by husband/wife team Ruairi and Olivia Gibbons. Assisted by a well-trained staff of two, they combine warm personalities and every conceivable talent to bestow an unforgettable journey on 10 fortunate guests through the heart of the Emerald Isle.
 
Like a Noah’s Ark passenger list, the sailing’s diverse group came in pairs, and soon discovered that we all came seeking the same thing: refuge from our everyday real world lives.
 
Boarding the vessel immediately introduces a welcoming, unpretentious salon and dining area. Plush chairs and sofas beckon to weary travel legs and the family-style table sets the scene for engaging dining camaraderie. Following a brief champagne toast from our hosts ensuring a comforting “our home is your home” ambience, we walked 10 steps down a graciously appointed hallway to our awaiting suite.
 
Expectations had been tempered to anticipate basic accommodations, but surprisingly the king-size bed and overall room design left Irish eyes smiling. A massive double window skimming the surface of the water would serve as the 3-D movie screen to the transitional….


The Canals of Champagne, France

French Country Waterways’ Princess, originally custom built for shipping magnate Daniel Ludwig as a private barge, is rightfully designated as a luxury boutique hotel barge. Guests are met in the heart of Paris and transferred by way of a one-hour drive to the awaiting vessel in Château-Thierry. An attentive crew of five collaborates to ensure exceptional service for a maximum of eight guests for a cruise through the inspiring Champagne region of France. Four exquisite, unusually large and well-appointed suites serve as accommodations for a six-night escape from everyday life.

This is authentic France; no hordes of tourists, no queues, no souvenir shops. Immediate impressions establish a feeling of entitlement, negating any hint of a mass-market product. Conversely, this is a carefully scripted, personalized travel experience complemented by an intoxicating mix of exceptional cuisine and classic French wine and champagne. (More on the intoxicating reference later.)
The atmosphere aboard the vessel exudes a luxury home vibe while simultaneously carving through the Marne River and narrow canals of the French countryside. Mornings begin with locally sourced breakfast displays of fruits, à la cart selections, and freshly baked pastries to die for. As a general rule, the privately escorted excursions begin shortly after breakfast via the boat’s private Mercedes van and personally escorted by the captain.

Each night before dinner, the following day’s itinerary is vividly explained by the hosting captain, who, besides navigational duties, assumes a cruise director role as well. The welcoming dining room plays host to resplendent dinner menus and presentations of carefully selected wine pairings. Evening dinners commence with locally sourced champagnes and hors d’oeuvres, followed by dissertations on the wines and eventually the main event plates of passion. The show is far from over as three different cheeses are introduced each night and, for an encore, ambitiously created desserts take center stage.

Midway through the cruise, guests are treated to….


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Photo: Shannon Princess