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by Barbara Kingstone
I haven’t cruised for years. There’s really no valid reason for this delay since I’ve enjoyed cruising. It’s so easy and creates a sense of carefree diversions where one is devoid of tension, obligations, just floating without a care. ( Ah, but the stickler is that there is still internet accessibility.)
Most people decide on their cruises by the ports of call and ship size. That said, I couldn’t resist the itinerary of the small-ish Seabourn Spirit, certainly one on the top of the list of luxury cruising companies.
Imagine the itinerary-Venice to Montenegro, down the picturesque Dalmatian coast with various ports of call and back to Venice.
My first and lasting impressive of this fine ship will always be the service. I wondered why our photos were taken when we boarded thinking it was for security reasons (which I’m sure is one of the reasons) and then so surprised when every staff member knew my name within hours. I assumed that they probably had new passengers’ photos plastered on their walls. I’d like to think that we were poster celebs for the 10 days, like George C. and Angelina J.
Although this liner is small with a maximum of 208 passengers, there’s nothing missing that a larger ship has to offer. The first indication that this would be one swell trip, is the cooling bottle of the finest champagne awaiting us on the coffee table in our suite’s sitting area. The next great memory has to be the very large walk-in closet, spacious enough for an around the world trip wardrobe. Also, a large double sink bathroom and bath/shower where towels are changed twice daily, a comfortable king size bed, great lighting, flat screen TV, and a small mini bar. filled with our pre -requested liquids..at no extra charge.( And believe it or not, tipping for all the staff is included in the ticket price.
I challenge the larger ships to be able to have the no-fuss about when or where to eat and with whom. This is a floating boutique hotel while the larger sea competitors have thousands of people, some up to 6 thousand like a breakaway village. Seabourn Spirit is flexible with their meal times and choice of venue and tables.
Breakfast for my husband and myself was usually at the outdoors,7th deck, The Verandah. The August morning sun beamed down, but still not steaming, hot and humid, as it would become later, during the day. And also a great opportunity to see the Dalmation coastline while deliberating the choice of menu which was as overwhelming as the sights.
An early riser, I would head to the gym, small but certainly adequate, where there were always a few constant exercise devotees -so intense that no one ever said a word, so unusual since this was such a friendly group of people.
A few lazy mornings we had breakfast in our perfectly decorated taupe and ecru colored room where the rugs echoed the blue Adriatic Sea. When we stated, on the request form, the time for our meal, right on the tick of the clock, there was a ring at the door. Linen table cloth and napkins laid put for the perfectly serviced morning starter. It was also a way to avoid the temptation of the overwhelming menu and buffet . And what an opportunity to sit in front of our French ceiling to floor doors to our small balcony and smell and hear the sea.
All the meals were nothing less than spectacular and an early morning trip to the fish market in Split, Croatia with Chef Martin Kitzing, was an eye opener on how he chose his produce. That same day for lunch there were the sardines he had bought that morning, now delicately grilled . ..delectable.
It was on this ‘Shopping with the Chef’ tour where I also learned more about fish than I ever knew including that it’s not the eyes that show freshness since with some ice applied, they all look fresh again. “Look at the inside of the fins and make sure they are pink and not slimy, push the flesh of the fish and see how quickly it returns to the original and make also sure the flesh isn’t slimy,” Chef instructed.
However, this was not our first port of call. The butterfly-shaped Port of Kotor,(pronounced Kotoure) Montenegro,(Europe’s youngest country), once part of the now gone Yugoslavia, is far from haute Kotoure!
But just 20 minutes away and feeling as though we had arrived on a different planet, is Tivat and Porto Montenegro, already considered a world-class port. Businessman, Toronto based, Peter Munk, known for his vision, a former hotel owner, mega yacht owner, gold mining magnate,(Barrick Gold Mines), realized the great possibilities for this part of the island. It didn’t take Munk too long before he purchased, a major slice of the island. There are various tales how Munk made the quick decision about this area, one being that he saw this remarkable landscape from a helicopter while with a government official and said “I’ll take it”. The other is less extravagant. A government official knowing his visionary aspect, wealth and also his very comprehensive knowledge in many areas, plus his affluent friends, Munk would be the perfect candidate with his futuristic view, to make this a most important luxury tourism.
Tourism is important especially for poor countries and here is a destination with major shops, 80 suite deluxe hotel which will be completed in 2014, extraordinary sea side villas, a old ship yard building now a naval museum with hundreds of 100 year old shipping objects, an old submarine as its centerpiece, and, of course, the finest food stores and restaurants. Even in the incomplete state, a thriving, posh area with smartly casually chic dressed property owners or, off their yachts for either the day or more, filled the buzzing, streets with their electric energy and joie de vivre.
And a positive for those who are camera shy, it will be almost impossible for the paparazzi with even the longest lenses to snap photos of the rich and powerful. Privacy is key to this lavish resort.
And as the ads attest to this sanctuary by the sea designer “by yachtsmen for yachtsmen”, the area has become the “it” playpen for the extremely rich and powerful and a mooring place for some of the world’s largest yachts bored by the Riviera, Caribbean and other once top marina but lacked privacy, have found a new playground.
The now completed pool area is of major importance since it is stunningly beautiful. The black and white design is beyond any in a ‘Best of the Best’ book. White sofas, tables, great cabanas surround the pool and bar. Small tots are separated in the 64 metre pool by a most unique designed black open-wood frame, The large square is the perfect framing not only for the mountains and sea but the passing boats.
And that was the first delicious ‘taste’ of the rest of the trip’s destinations.
Back on the Seabourn Spirt there are enough public spaces for private time. The Library/ Reading Room, Business Centre, casino, a fine boutique, hair and spa salons, a small whirlpool a few decks below from the pool area. And since it’s such a small and costly ship, perhaps that’s the reason there were no children although there’s no mandate about not having them aboard. And there’s also no children’s’ program. So, no splashing or squealing does have its advantages.
The two sea days were filled with activities, for those who were interested and seeking some brain simulation. Trivial Pursuits turned into a great competition to win the Seabourn visor which seemed to the winners, a solid gold souvenir. Another evening my small group won at ‘Liars’ and we came away with a treasured pen, always useful when you’re a writer- again, an amusing, delightful hour.
Evenings, also included entertainment. The lecture about our destinations was far from interesting and that basic information could easily be found on Wikipedia or other internet sites. But that was the only glitch made up for by a great comedian, also a Canadian flutist and a on-staff guitarist.
The next port of call, Corfu, Greece, was so crowded and the sunny, 40c had many of the ship’s guests rushing back to our private, quite ship.(shuttle service to the port was always available). There didn’t seem to be any economical hardship in Greece. Every cafe was filled. However, discovering an old synagogue was worth the stay and the discussion with one of the 60 Jews who still live here and was convincing there is no anti-semitism. However, when a friend asked directions, the cafe owner, said, “I’m not your servant. Hitler was the best”.
Dubrovnik, Croatia, again this being August, was a mob scene with barely walking space as was glorious historic city of Split. It’s imperative, no matter the weather, to see the Diocletian’s Palace, now fronted with seaside cafes and boutiques.
Two most unexpected wonderful cities were the unexpected beauty of Lecce, Italy, famous for the sandstone known as pietra di Lecce and the amazing Baroque architecture and some of the ancient doors. The tour included seeing only a few of the 99 churches,the magnificent Baroque architecture. However, my guide pointed out to me privately, that the Basilica was originally a synagogue and this was the Jewish area. A large building, now an hotel, has a reminder to all with one room called, La Synagoga. The narrow street with very small shops were where the religious shawls were woven and made. Now there are souvenir shops.
And only the Seabourn could pull off having a home made Italian lunch on the private patio of an circa1800s palazzo then meeting the present owner whose family has owned this magnificent edifice for generations.
The next surprise was Rovini,(Rovinj) Croatia, with narrow cobble stoned streets filled with smart shops, cafes, a very busy marina and houses painted in the most amusing hues of pink, blue, yellow.
Returning to the welcoming staff of Seabourn Spirit was like returning to the warmth of a friend’s fine mansion on the sea. I am smitten by this memorable cruise and all that this small ship offered would fill many albums.
By Barbara Kingstone
Seven years ago on my first Three Gorges Cruise, I was underwhelmed by the ship, the food, the service and, of course, the river, not yet completed, and the concern about what was to happen to the Yangtze River, the dam not yet completed. Over 1300 villages and nearly 1.3 people, many farmers who had made their livelihood for generations as farmers, had to be evacuated.
There were still a noticeable few farms seen then. Now, there’s the occasional sighting of an isolated house and farm set high above the now very much wider river and as we glided along on the M.S. Yangtze 2, it was difficult to forget that many metres below, there were sunken villages.
This ship, Yangtze 2, the newest of the fleet, is a great achievement but then in a country where there are 1.3 billion people who take great pride in their country and their work ethics, all is possible. This newly built, M.S.Yangtze 2, is considered a five star cruising ship, M.S. Yangtze 2 was launched in September 2011.This is most certainly a far cry from the last Chinese cruise I was on, also run by the government. I don’t recall but I doubt that then they had been certified for safety. It’s obvious that the crew and staff have gone through vigorous training.
Of course, every major undertaking has controversial aspects and nay sayers.. The dam itself shows a most amazing ability that still stuns the world with the ability to have actually built this most complex waterway with even more complex hydraulics and various mechanisms. Dr. Sun Yat Sen, in 1919, thought about a dam and although built and will be completed in 2015, the site was changed The dynamic transformation of the area is clear of any villages since all have been submerged. Far too complicated for me to understand, there is a museum which shows the plans, hydraulics various machinery that makes you silently hear that once sleeping beauty, shout, I warned you .
Many farmers and their families have been relocated and often retrained for other jobs. And as far as eco friendly, there is now clean energy versus the old coal fire power once used to provide electricity. Now the major cities of over a billion population is serviced by the new system.
We would spend three nights and four days afloat this five star ship.on a ship Even the highways, when we had to take a van, are as smooth as glass, without pot holes which is also an accomplishment since their weather fluctuates from cold in the winter to steamy and humid in the summer and then there are the monsoons to contend with.
After walking a rickety, steel and wood, long gangplank to the ship where every 6 feet, there was a crew member to remind you to be careful, it was a bit of an unexpected shock to see an overlarge, opulent, crystal chandelier hanging over a curved double stair case which leads off from a reasonably sized lobby where the velvet winged back chairs were studded with large rhinestones. Nothing too Chinese about these!
Who could have imagined this extreme change. The service was exemplary as we got off and on for excursions. Even the constant greetings -in English by the staff was gentle, while I struggled to say my few phrases in Mandarin.
The spacious enough suites, with dullish color, but lack of decor had an adequate flat large-sized TV, with a few English channels and the absolute beauty of the oft changing shapes and heights of the mountainous area seen from the large windows. What I enjoyed most was the small balcony complete with a small table and two chairs, perfect for that morning cup of tea of coffee from the room’s counter or a late night observance of the sky’s sparkles.
And even a mad shopper couldn’t ask for more closet space, adequate for anyone who had intended to fill the space with the remarkably priced goods (see Shopping in Beijing) and with enough drawer space for non hanging garments
The housekeeping staff was impeccable. The bathroom, small but adequate- mine with a glassed in shower- was for one person at a time, especially one who doesn’t travel lightly but with loads of cosmetics and a carry- on pharmacy of pills and potions. In hind sight, there could have been more shelving units. However the more expensive suites- and only one was available for site inspection, didn’t spare any cost. If you were in a five star hotel, you’d not know the difference that you were on a ship, since the amenities were grand . Remember the song, A Slow Boat to China. Well, I found myself humming it constantly
Each evening, the next day’s program was printed out and put on the turned down bedding. It was a challenge to wake up early but a delight to take tai chi exercise with Dr. Zhao on Deck 6 where there is also a reasonably sized pool and large in-door bar. Dr. Zhao is a man of few words, if any at all, but one with many positions. There were no directions other than to “watch and follow my positioning”. End of conversation. The unsmiling Tai chi master seemed stressed by the lack of more advanced attendees and I learned more from a wonderfully friendly Chinese woman who showed me some essentials. And then off to a massive choice of breakfast edibles before heading to a daily excursion.
The two restaurants were always busy. One is off the lobby located on the 2nd floor and could seat 300 guests. The more exclusive dining room, while much smaller on the 6th floor (although the elevator only goes to the fifth, the rest of the steps had to be considered part of your daily cardiac/aerobic exercise). Both had choices from Chinese to International menus.
I adored passing the several of the often unused rooms. My favourite, looking more like an English library, with tufted brown leather sofas,was a bit of a gaff since there weren’t any books and only a handful of Chinese magazines. Making up for the lack of reading material were an unique pair of tall red vases and a stunning large quartz vase as a nod to Chinese decor. The lively colored carpeting of yellow, blue, green,and red was modern. The Cigar Room where I never even sniffed the smoke, a seemingly unused Chess room was made up by the action in the Game room filled with Mahjong players who preferred to stay on board instead of taking the outstanding sightseeing trips which they had probably seen before. I could hear the mahjong tiles rattling which brought back most pleasant memories of that singular unmistaken noise from the year in Hong Kong and also when passing houses of Toronto’s huge Chinese population..
Much needed was the large venue which, and like a chameleon, became a cinema, conference platform and where I was asked to give a speech about tourism. I focused on the needs of disabled/ handicapped guests who would want to see The Three Gorges. But the traditional high thresholds, the wobbly and long distant gangplanks, narrow doorways now make that impossible. There are two available disabled rooms on the ship with over 200 rooms.
After dinner, a large bar became the evening entertainment disco/space where one evening a fashion show featured seriously stunning old traditional robes (my Chinese friend said the colors were all wrong) to the present day trends, all modeled by the staff.
On the lowest level of the ship (called level 1), were the amenities like the perfect foot massage for about $15 and a great unexpected wash and blow dry for about $20. With the humidity and heat, suddenly hair became an important issue for women with frizz problems, only to be expected in July when temperatures reach the high 30c (90f)
With our various ports of call, we often had to take a small van to the locations. Not to be missed, high on my list, are, of course the three gorges, Qutang, Xiling and Wu ,the latter, the most beautiful. We passed stone caves many metres high above the waters, where once Ba burials took place,Ghost Town, Dazu Stone Grottoes with extraordinary carvings and the most beautiful excursion for me were the three natural stone bridges. However, someone forgot to mention to me that there are 900 steps down (not 10 or 40 at a time but all 900) plus about a 6km (3.6mile) walk to the exit. During the numbing walk is a traditional small building now an hotel and where a movie, Impressions of Yulong, was filmed.
No matter how magnificent the white cliffs, huge sculpted mountains, the silent interrupted by tweeting birds, gushing streams overflowing from the pelting rainstorm, a few small but wonderful waterfalls and marvellous crevices. But the heat was debilitating and a kind person, carried my heavy bag and held my arm to help with those steep steps.
I was never as happy to see a waiting open sided cart ($2) which took us back to our van. Of course, during the entire trek, there were the constant offering of being carried, like old royalty, in a wood chair like old royalty, held usually by two elderly men. The idea seemed most tempting but the thought of these men having to carry my 120 pounds (okay 125 pounds) in this humidity made me hesitate.
Awaiting us back on board was the Captain’s dinner, another ceremonious adventure.
There are few adventures that could capture a country that now boasts of skyscrapers, subways, hundreds of thousands of cars, cafes from just about every country and being navigated through the once unthinkable Three Gorges.
My new Italian friend whom I met on the shop, Rossana Tasso, a tour operator from Venice, has her own opinion after many trips around the world. This was her first trip to China. Although she liked the ship she found it difficult to understand the culture.
“It is very different from ours,” said the stunning Italian. “I’m fascinating to know different places, see, and travel to other countries. But I must accept without judging because China is so much more disciplined with a very different kind of organization. They are very strict. But look at us Europeans. We are in a bit of a mess. The first time in the first time in Asia, I was shocked when I first went India,Thailand,Indonesia and other far East countries. But China, it is even more different and hard to break into their senses and moods.” But at the end of our discussion, she agreed that they enjoyed the trip and had a very positive feeling to bring back to her clients.
Yes, China has awakened like Rip Van Winkle, except the world is watching, wondering how so much has happened with such a great population in such a short time. The Three Gorges trip is the best showplace for the dynamic happenings in China
If you love to splash out when you go on vacation by taking first class flights, visiting fancy restaurants and staying in the best hotels, then you’ve come to the right place. As a keen traveller and a lover of luxury, you may have considered going on a Mediterranean or Caribbean luxury cruise. This blog post will show you just a few of the great advantages of cruising.
Whether you cruise with Royal Caribbean or Princess Cruises, all luxury cruises offer the utmost quality in every sector. Everything is done to perfection, from offering high quality food to ensuring your cabin is always clean and tidy. Cruise lines try and offer everything you could possibly need to make your trip perfect. Many cruises have computers on board, so when you are close to the mainland, you might be lucky enough to find some internet signal so you can send an email to your family telling them about your trip so far, or even just have a quick game of foxy bingo and upload a few photos to Facebook.
Cruise lines such as the Royal Caribbean have everything a luxury traveller like yourself could possibly want and need. For those who want to soak up the sun and relax, there are plenty of outdoor swimming pools to enjoy. Plus, whenever you fancy a drink or a snack, a you can visit one of the many bars and restaurants. Nothing is too far away and there will be several bars and diners on each floor. This is one of the great things about cruises – everything is close and accessible at almost any hour of the day.
More adventurous people on the other hand can try out some of the exciting activities and classes going on. Every cruise has a fun schedule where each day something new and different is organized. You can attend a theatre performance, have a rock climbing class or even enter a volleyball competition.
by John and Sandra Nowlan
At first they looked like white birds skimming across the ocean surface before diving into the restless water. But we were in mid-Atlantic, far from shore, sailing on an ultra-luxury cruise ship from Barbados to Cape Verde, off the coast of West Africa.
The schools of flying fish (we were tempted to call them flocks of flying fish for their uncanny aerial ability) were just one of the many delights of this repositioning cruise, a twice-a-year ritual for many cruise ships as they move from their winter itineraries in the Caribbean and South America to summer destinations in Europe and the Mediterranean. Surprisingly, the Silver Spirit had only 240 passengers, about half the normal total, served by 370 well-trained and gracious staff. Service is always excellent on Silversea, but this was amazing! Warren Brown, a guest from Bermuda who has crossed the Atlantic 16 times, thought that the average North American just doesn’t like to go on an ocean passage. They seem to prefer the ‘bus tour’ type cruise with stops every day.
This was our fourth trans-Atlantic cruise and, like the other lucky passengers, we love the extended time at sea, the gentle daily blend of ship and ocean and the huge selection of activities available. In particular, ocean crossings offer an array of talented guest speakers who entertain and inform in a series of lectures. On this cruise the daily talks in the spacious main theatre were by a biologist/oceanographer, a retired British ambassador and a forensic pathologist. Also, Morton Dean, the former CBS and ABC television reporter told us of his adventures in the world’s hot spots and showed video clips of his work. Every evening the main theatre was open for a performance by the six resident singers (the ABBA night was particularly memorable) or a variety of excellent vaudeville acts. The bars and lounges also had live entertainment.
This cruise also had a culinary theme and most mornings at sea featured food demonstrations and tastings ranging from Normandy style Dover sole to moist chocolate cake with raspberry coulis. In the afternoons an elegant Tea was offered with 12 kinds of Ronnefeldt loose organic tea served with finger sandwiches, scones and pastries accompanied by live music.
The crossing was exceptionally smooth and many guests spent their days on comfortable deck chairs around the pool or in the large library where the fine selection of books was augmented by daily satellite editions of major newspapers from Canada, the US, Britain and Australia. Excellent coffee, tea or complimentary cocktails were always available from the attentive staff.
Most guests chose this kind of cruise for its total relaxation and change of pace from normal life. Ken Dunlop and Nathalie Roy of Val D’Or, Quebec, were typical. “We’ve cruised with our kids before,” Ken Dunlop told us. “But I work in an intense business and this is our chance to get away from it all. We love days at sea and we each read a book a day. We’re already confirmed for this cruise next year!”
The large, well-equipped staterooms, each with a well-trained butler to meet every need, are key reasons why, according to Hotel Director Paolo Percivale, more than 50% of Silversea passengers are repeat guests. All suites have comfortable beds (queen or twin), plenty of storage space, a well-stocked complimentary bar, lots of mirrors and marble bathrooms with tubs, showers and high-end toiletries. The flat screen TV has a choice of many channels and hundreds of on-demand movies. Almost all suites have a spacious balcony. Silver Spirit also offers 26 double-size Silver Suites, with separate powder and living rooms, a huge walk-in closet and a Bang & Olufsen audio system.
Leisurely dining is one of the great pleasures of cruising and Silversea consistently showed us that small ships can be especially creative at mealtime. Its formal partnership with the prestigious Grand Chefs Relais and Chateaux brings a level of sophisticated cuisine that ranks among the best we’ve ever enjoyed. The main, single level, dining room offers open seating and contemporary international fare with an excellent selection of complimentary wines. Unlike most other lines, Silversea purchases fresh fish and produce in the various ports it visits and we benefited with delectable fresh seafood from Barbados, St. Lucia, Cape Verde, the Canary Islands and Morocco.
Remarkably, Silver Spirit also offered five other restaurants at mealtime and we got a chance to sample them all. La Terrazza, at the stern of deck seven, is the spot for breakfast and lunch buffets. We usually hate the jostling and disorganization of cruise ship buffets but this ship seems to have perfected the self-serve concept. A separate room for dining (including the spacious back deck) and a well-planned food area meant no crowding and lots of time to choose among the huge variety of salads, main courses and desserts. In the evening La Terrazza becomes a fine Italian restaurant that follows the principles of Slow Food.
The upper level of the Pool Grill (casual fare and pizza at lunchtime) turns into the Black Rock Grill in the evening when waiters bring a pre-heated volcanic flat rock (450 degrees F.) to your table and let you cook your steak or seafood exactly as you like it. A unique and very tasty open-air experience. The extra-cost Seishin restaurant is an intimate dining area featuring Asian fusion cuisine and Kobe beef while the formal Le Champagne (also extra cost) is the only Wine Restaurant by Relais and Chateaux at sea. Here, an exquisite six-course menu is featured with perfect wine pairings.
Our favourite dining experience on Silver Spirit was the Stars Supper Club. The Art Deco inspired design and cozy furniture is perfect for the chef’s fixed menu of fifteen small but creative dishes served three at a time over five delicious courses. Among the offerings (the menu changes every three days) were lamb noisette with pancetta and Thai prawn with birds eye chili. Culinary heaven! To add to the atmosphere of a 1930s style supper club, a talented singer of light jazz, accompanied by piano, serenades diners and dancers throughout the evening.
After five days of tranquil sea time, it was exciting to land at Porto Novo, Cape Verde, the westernmost municipality in all of Africa (even though the continent’s mainland is 570 kilometres to the east). Porto Novo (population: 20,000) is the major town on Santa Antao, one of 10 islands that make up the country of Cape Verde. Our bus tour of the island covered tropical rain forests near sea level and desolate, chilly volcanic mountaintops. The little towns combining Portuguese and African heritage and the amazing seascapes from roads carved into the sides of volcanic cliffs provided one of our best-ever cruise ship tour experiences.
Three more sea days brought the Silver Spirit to the Canary Islands and then to Morocco where we chose a long, 13-hour tour to the ancient imperial city of Marrakesh. With the largest public square in Africa (filled with snake charmers, monkey handlers, acrobats and story tellers) and the biggest traditional market (called the souk) in Morocco, this exotic city of close to a million inhabitants was well worth the visit. We purchased a 45 Spice mix and a leather bag, enjoying the bargaining process (expect to pay about half the original asking price).
As we approached our final destination in Portugal we asked a few fellow travellers about their cruise experience. Moncton native Brenda Atwood and her husband Cliff of Thunder Bay, Ontario, were especially happy with the spaciousness of the ship and the service they received. “They cater to every possible wish,” she said. “You’re never fighting for a deck chair. They know you by name almost immediately and they have your favourite drink in front of you before you sit down!”
Guest speaker Morton Dean told us he enjoyed every minute of the crossing. “I’ve flown over the Atlantic many times but this trip has given me a whole new appreciation of the ocean. I’ve seen it now as I’ve never seen it before.”
John and Sandra Nowlan are travel and food writers based in Halifax
by Stacey Redish (aka StaRed), Member of CruiseCrazies.com
So you love your kids, and you love to cruise. Now you’re thinking of taking the kids with you instead of leaving them with the grandparents, but you’re nervous about it. Here are a few ideas that can help to make this upcoming cruise one of your best family vacations, ever!
Include the kids: Let’s face it, kids are creatures of habit. They thrive on routines. Could you imagine showing up at an unfamiliar port city and seeing a massive ship staring you in the face, but you had no idea where it was going to take you? Include your kids in the planning! The pre-cruise planning is always a big part of the fun, so include your kids in your searches for shore excursions and your planning for port cities. If the kids are old enough to surf the ‘net, delegate research subjects to them. If they’re too small, start showing them photos of the ship and the port cities, so that they are somewhat familiar with the sights. Not only will this help build their excitement, it will help to reassure them during this break from their routine.
Be realistic: No, this will not go 100% according to plan. Things never do! But instead of getting caught up in the “why,” focus instead on the solution. When kids see mom and dad staying calm, they almost always follow suit. If you are late to your dinner seating, don’t let it ruin your evening! Instead let the kids pick their own food at the yummy buffet. Be prepared for all scenarios ahead of time and always travel ashore with your passports, because cruise ships will leave behind a late family. Know the important phone numbers to have in each port and be prepared. A prepared parent is a calm parent. Calm parents equal calm kids.
Mommy and Daddy need time, too: Decide on a ship with a great kids club. Disney, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Carnival are all known for their stellar kids clubs and planned activities for children and teens, while Celebrity and Holland America are known for a more mature clientele. Going to the club is something your kids will love to do, while you and your spouse get that time for a quiet dinner or a few hours of peace at the pool. And PS – time apart is just as precious as time together. Your kids will love hanging out with their new friends as much as you will enjoy your quiet time with your spouse.
Be a kid, yourself: Play with your kids! Take them to the pool, go down the waterslide with your daughter, challenge your son to a rock climbing contest. Forget the parent mode for a while and be a kid with your kids. Chances are you’ll have more fun than you’ve had in a long while, and you just may get even closer as a family than you were before.
Remember bedtime: Your kids will be tired after all of the fun they’ve experienced during the day. Remember to break for naps and try to keep a regular bedtime routine. Even though they will strongly disagree, kids need more sleep than adults do. Sleepy kids always equal cranky kids, and cranky kids equal melt-downs. Remembering to keep everyone well rested – and hydrated! – will cut the melt-down probability to almost nothing while ensuring your cruise photos will be full of smiling and happy faces from everyone!
Vacations are exciting, adventurous, and frankly a little scary! Preparing yourself and your kids ahead of time, and remembering to expect the unexpected, will pave the way for smooth sailing and great memories to last a lifetime!
by Nina Wright
After years of sailing our own 36 foot sailboat on Lake Huron’s North Channel we were sceptical about the pleasure of being guests on someone else’s boat. But, two new hips and a knee replacement urged us in that direction. If we were going to do it however it had to be to a new and exciting destination. The Baltic beckoned -with St. Petersburg, Russia as the big draw. After much investigation and conversations with other friends and travellers we selected the Oceania Cruise line and their 14 day Baltic itinerary which gave us ports such as Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Bruges etc but allowed for a full three day stay in St. Petersburg. Our choice of cruise line was heavily influenced by size of ship as we could not imagine a boatload of 3000 plus tourists arriving en masse at any dockside terminal.
Insignia, is a 674 passenger ship which because of its size can dock at ship terminals in each city which some of the larger ships cannot use. In spite of its size, our ship still contained all the amenities one could hope for – spa, fitness room, swimming pool, casino, entertainment centre etc.- just on a modest scale. Perhaps most importantly it offered the irresistible combination of shipboard efficiency, coupled with warmth of service, comfort and safety.
Our cruise started in Stockholm and major photography exhibitions were on at both the Moderna Museet and Fotograsfiska (the Museum of Contemporary Photography). These shows, plus the enormous wealth of fabric, glass and wood design present in virtually every retail outlet made our two days in Stockholm well worth the visit. One of the real culinary highlights was Lux, a superb small waterside restaurant (one Michelin star) whose chef, Henrik Norstrom, created a fabulous summer tasting menu from locally-grown organic meats and vegetables.
Upon departure for Helsinki we spent four glorious hours as the ship sailed through the archipelago that surround Stockholm, the island landscape being evocative of the Lake Huron North Channel with its pink granite islands and multi varieties of pine where we had sailed our 36 ft. sloop for the previous thirty years.
Once docked in Helsinki we opted for a quiet walk around the bustling port market, through town to the quaint rock church, had a modest light lunch before winding our way back to the ship. In spite of the cobblestone streets, sturdy sneakers made the walking do-able. Those sneakers have now seen their best days as cobblestone was present in almost every destination and my lovely wardrobe of sandals never left the bottom of the closet floor!
As expected, the highlight of the experience was most certainly St. Petersburg and reaching it by boat in place of the usual airport hassle was a definite plus. We arrived at 8.00 am and from Toronto had arranged for a private car and driver with our own guide to meet us at the boat to get an early start. Tatiana, our elegant young guide, who had been provided by the Red October tour company, was waiting to whisk us off to The Hermitage for early admission. Early admission is pretty critical as hordes of impatient tourists followed us and we were fortunate to have been able to arrange this timing as it contributed to making the experience a much more intimate and powerful one.
An important aspect of our up-front planning was the reservation of a wheelchair, as they are in short supply and, without prior arrangement for the elevator to be in operation, of little use. We chose to view the living quarters of Czar Peter the Great and the Rembrandts -all on upper floors. As everyone knows this is a vast complex and could take days if you had it. We loved what we saw and determined to return one day. It is claimed that there are over 40 kilometers of corridors filled with treasures that reflect the wealth and tastes of the Czars .To see the unfolding of those historic times and the art and architecture collected is a not-to-be- missed experience.
The next morning our Mercedes took us to Catherine’s Palace, a drive of over 20 kms, during which we passed many memorials, parks and landmarks, all of which Tatiana was able to describe in detail and in fluent English. Again the early arrival and prior wheelchair arrangement were essential to the quality of our visit and the opportunity to see more of the Russian masterpieces.
On our final day in St Petersburg the weather stayed warm and sunny as it had been since Stockholm, so we decided to enjoy the gardens of Peterhof Palace. The estate, designed by Czar Peter the Great, was lush and filled with freshly planted flowers surrounding the hundreds of exquisite fountains and waterfalls (cascades) found throughout the grounds. It is a unique feat of engineering that all the fountains run without any mechanical power and depend on the gravity of spring-fed lakes and a complex series of valves and jets to produce eye-boggling multiple sprays of crystal clear water shooting high into the air. It was a perfect setting in which to take a long walk under a cloudless sky.
During the Second World War St Petersburg was surrounded by the heavily armed German army which kept the city under siege for over 900 days. Most of the historic buildings were destroyed and have all been perfectly restored to their original splendour, although many treasures were looted and have disappeared from sight. Like so much of Europe the visitor is not aware of this carnage and the Russian authorities have spared no effort in their restoration efforts.
On the night before leaving St Petersburg we learned that the Grand Hotel, which dates back to 1820, was having an evening of supper music featuring a Tchaikovsky ensemble with a little ballet and opera . We decided to add this evening of Russian theatrics to our itinerary as the Grand is also known for its excellent cuisine. We were not disappointed and during a superb dinner served in a stunningly beautiful Baroque-style dining room we experienced a delightful repertoire of classical Russian music.
We left the next morning heading for the ports of Tallinn, Riga, Visby, through the Kiel Canal to Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Bruges, each of which we would visit on our way back to the Port of Dover in England where the voyage would come to an end. Although the focus of our trip had been Russian splendour and history, the opportunity of being able to see first- hand all these picturesque smaller towns was a real bonus.
So while we had never expected to be devoted cruisers, the Insignia and the Baltic has converted us to looking for other exotic destinations where we can unpack once, experience many new and exciting countries, and enjoy the comfort and luxury of a floating home