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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
On a recent cruise on one of the small exclusive, Seabourn ships, the Seabourn Spirit, my two passions met…cruising the Adriatic in complete luxury on this marvelous liner and their boutique filled with terrific jewelry.
However, this is most unusual since most top-end ships I’ve been on usually have low end boutiques which has always been a puzzle to me. Where else could one find an affluent, captive audience especially on sea days, and offer unfashionable, dull merchandise? Plus the fact many items have the cruise name splashed across the front, side or back. I always feel that that the wearer becomes the ship’s walking advertiser or the announcement that they are ‘flush” enough to have taken a special cruise.
Knowing this, I avoided going into the small boutique the first day. But on closer inspection in the display windows, there were several truly marvelous piece of jewelry.
One designer in particular, held my attention enough to make me cross the threshold and find out who he/she is.
Christine Escher, is a most elegant Parisienne, with soft blond hair (twisted in the back in a French roll held by one of her own designed accessory) and very azure blue eyes. One would suspect she was one of the elegant guests, which she was in a sense. But she was also the hard working businesswoman and had, for this trip, brought some of her cache of glorious designs, there to discuss the stones, inspiration and quality of each of the dozens of chic precious and semi precious items.
“I never give my jewelry on consignment so I must be here to discuss each piece,” says the soft spoken woman with the compelling French accent.
Once or twice a year she leaves her atelier on the rue de la Paix near the Place Vendome in Paris where she has a private clientele for whom she designs one of a kind items and floats on one of the Seabourn cruises with the pricey collection. She sells to small exclusive boutiques in Paris, St. Tropez, Toronto and other major cities.
“ Before I worked 80% for shops and 20% for private collection, but now that’s reversed.” She admits the economy has changed but not her bottom line.
That said, she’s clever enough to also add some of her considerably less costly sterling silver and electroplated designs which still have top-end creativity and are tremendously successful.
I ask about the gem stones and listen as she recalls that she studied economics at university but never finished, instead had a change of heart. “Even as a child I loved jewels.” So she learned this trade by herself before taking a jewelry course for 4 years after which she received a gemology diploma.
And for the last 35 years, she has had great success. Right off, her talent was acknowledged and become an exclusive designer for the renowned Van Cleef and Arles in Paris and New York where her specialty was an exotic collection in wood studded with gems
“These pieces are very expensive now,” she shows a bit of pride, although too restrained for her success. “I know this because of auctions where the prices for them have become very high.”
But wood isn’t as easy at one would think. She learned about the shrinking in various weather conditions and various other aspects of this material. As she became more knowledgeable, Escher realized that the bottom of the shank could easily split, hence she began using gold in that area of each ring.
“But I’m still learning all the time about the art of making jewelry.” she tells me in the quiet Library Room on the ship. “I have a lot of people working for me. For example there is a special man who does my ebony wood jewelry but I have a lot of workshops throughout France because I have big production,” she states, en passant.
Firstly, she sketches the designs for the craftspeople and then edits if need be, when she sees the first piece completely finished.
She mentions Rene Boivin, a famous jewelry designer from the 40s, who is certainly her great inspiration as much as is sea life which appears throughout her collection. As a matter of fact, she is wearing a fabulous Boivin ring with inset rows of triangular pink sapphire set in gold. As for the her other inspiration, she works around the star fish which seems to be her signature since this shape is seen throughout. One caught my eye, a stunning round large brownish moonstone where the star fish is set in diamond on the top. Also noticeable on earrings plus she diversifies at times with snail-like designs on her earrings and rings.
Luckily, Esher loves to travel. This gives her the opportunity to find fine gem stones . “I love aquamarine, tanzanite, opals, so I often go to the destinations where they are mined.” She also now has contacts in Germany and India and China.
“I don’t want my jewelry to be cheap. I like them to be heavy which raises the price since they are 18 karat gold, but although they have weight, they are easy to wear. Of course, now with the raise of the price of gold and the poor economy, cost is an issue and I don’t want to lower my standards, so yes, the sales are slightly lower. But on liners like Seabourn Spirit, there is not too much resistance” says the savvy woman.
As I look through her album of her designs from now and the past which she has on the ship, I see some exquisite creations. One is a dark blue sapphire and white diamond flower ring and a pink beryl with yellow gold ring “a range between orange and pink”. As for her own favorite, it’s aquamarine especially in her cache of earrings.
“I’m very stupid, I really should add all my mentions and photos from famous fashion magazines,” she says then adds, “I will when I return to Paris.”
In the meantime, the small boutique has a few interested travelers who seem to want her attention. She must go. But not before she insist I try on my own favorite, the brownish moonstone ring, which is most tantalizing. It isn’t as much fun as owning but it’s a start.
Reservations are being taken for the First Annual Breast Cancer Survivor’s Cruise to the Bahamas, hosted by Denise’s Breast Cancer Survivor’s Foundation, a nonprofit charitable organization based in Stormville, NY.
The “Cruise for a cause” is raising funds to help breast cancer patients and survivors, their families, and caregivers through Denise’s Breast Cancer Survivor’s Foundation, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit Assistance in Healthcare, a charitable foundation headquartered in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Open to the public, the cruise is offered to men and women who are currently receiving breast cancer treatments, breast cancer survivors, caretakers, families, friends, and anyone who simply wishes to enjoy a relaxing vacation knowing they are, at the same time, helping individuals who are coping with cancer. Activities include a welcome cocktail party, workshops, guest speakers, and other special group functions, with plenty of free time for enjoying the tropics.
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
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!