free to be…one man’s dream

English: Carnival Place, Carnival Corporation ...

English: Carnival Place, Carnival Corporation and Carnival Cruise Line headquarters in Doral, Florida. Photographed by user Coolcaesar on January 20, 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My husband works for a major player in the travel industry, Carnival. Under its corporate umbrella are not only Carnival Cruises, but also Cunard, Holland America, Princess, Seabourn, Costa, as well as others with which I’m not as familiar.

For several days, and nights, my husband has been preparing, along with others in management, to receive Carnival’s new CEO. 

I know nothing about the man except that he is…black.

Dr. Martin Luther King must be smiling down upon us from his heavenly perch. “Look at how far America has come”…he must be thinking…

…look at how far we have come…

………hugmamma.

Français : Le carnival fantasy

the world…a ship’s eye view

While others may have dreamed of traveling to the Far East, I have always been partial to the UK and Europe. A few years ago my husband, daughter and I were fortunate to sail through the Mediterranean with Holland America Cruises, while just a couple of years back my husband and I visited Venice and Croatia. Seeing the countryside of France and the British Isles was next on my list of must-dos. Sailing there on the Queen Mary did not disappoint.

Unique to cruising is seeing the coastline from the deck of a ship. I was totally enthralled with the breathtaking landscape that unfolded with each nautical mile traveled. The Scottish cliffs…majestic… …rugged…

…serene.

The Irish landscape…picturesque…

…idyllic…

…postcard-perfect.

I was equally captivated by the sunsets…

…and the cloud drifts…

…the man-made elements…

…and the ocean itself.

nothing compares to viewing the world from an ocean-liner…unless of course…one gazes down at earth…from the inside of a spaceship………hugmamma.

weekly photo challenge: ocean

rather be looking down from my lofty perch, than sitting in a tiny boat on the vast expanse of open ocean …………………………………………..hugmamma.

“growing lawns,” cruise ships?

I’ve been on my fair share of cruise ships, not a ton mind you like friends of mine, but enough to know that I love cruising. As mentioned in my post of 9/9/10, “european getaway, holland america line,”

Cruising is like taking your hotel everywhere you travel. There’s no need to pack , unpack and repack. You needn’t fret about transporting yourself from city to city. All meals are included, selections ranging from Asian to Italian to American to Continental to everything-in-between. And contrary to popular belief, you needn’t stuff yourself to overflowing. But if you do, exercise opportunities abound. There are spin classes, elliptical machines, decks to walk, and pools to swim. I can attest to the fabulous shopping, especially in the jewelry shops. Some of my favorite pieces, real and costume, were shipboard “gems.”  Nightly entertainment rivals Las Vegas and Broadway. Then there’s the casino for gamblers, the lounges for dancers, and the amusement arcade for the younger set. A theatre features current films, special cooking classes satisfy the gourmands among us, non-denominational services gathers the religious together. Finally, the ports-of-call are yours for exploring, if you so desire. Our family chose walking tours, so we killed the proverbial “two birds with one stone.” We could eat very well onboard ship, and rid ourselves of excess calories on the shore excursions.

Cruising is my idea of a REAL vacation, no making up the beds, no straightening and vacuuming, no cleaning the bathroom, no cooking and serving, no clearing away the table and stacking the dishwasher. I can rise early or late, eat whenever, nap if I like, finish a book I’ve only read for 5 minutes before falling asleep at night. Time to myself with no chores to do before I’m allowed to play, is my favorite part of being on a ship away from land, hearth and home, at least for a week-and-a-half or two. That’s enough to get me back into the swing of living the life I love.

An article in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, “Cruises Where the Grass Is Greener,” takes cruising to a whole other level. Ships are being equipped with ALL the amenities of home, leading you to think you’re still there. On the other hand the article’s opening line, Cruise lines are trying to solve a peculiar dilemma: How to make it actually feel like you’re on water,” seems to imply the opposite. Reading on, I understood their unique problem.

Built like fortresses these days, or at least like floating hotels or Malls of America, passengers might forget the unique experience of being on water. To remind them that they are indeed away at sea, “cruise lines are increasing the amount of outdoor space on both small, luxury ships and large, mass-market ships.” The Silver Spirit, Silver Seas newest vessel, with a passenger capacity of 540, “has 60% more outdoor deck space than previous ships, including larger guest-room verandas and the company’s first restaurant serving dinner outdoors. (Guests can cook their own meat and fish over hot volcanic rocks.)”

Celebrity Cruises’ Silhouette, which sets sail in July, will have two new restaurants with outdoor seating, an open-air art studio where guests can take painting lessons and VIP sea-view cabanas for rent. All will be located on the top of the ship surrounding a 12,000 square-foot lawn of growing grass.

Some suites on Oceania Cruisesnew 1,250-passenger ship, the Marina, have balconies outfitted with Jacuzzis and 42-inch flat-screen TVs specially made to withstand wind and salt water.

In an effort to lure younger customers to cruising, other lines are following suit. Carnival Cruises, however, has already secured its place as the premier party cruise company. I’ve never sailed with Carnival, but friends who have, were not disappointed. They wanted fun; they got fun. Sailing in May the lines’ newest ship,”Magic,” will “feature a 9,300-square foot water park, an outdoor video game area and an open-air sports facility with exercise bikes and rowing machines.”

In an attempt to compete with lavish sea-side resorts, cruise companies have incorporated spas, gourmet restaurants, rock-climbing walls, and Broadway shows like “Chicago” and “Hairspray” into their shipboard offerings. But increasing these to include grander outdoor spaces comes with a price, “ships face challenges that land resorts usually don’t.”

Nippon Yusen Kaisha’s Crystal Cruises sometimes ropes off the jogging track that wraps around its Symphony ship…in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, regulations require…(removing) paper coasters and napkins from all outdoor restaurants and bars. Alfresco activities are curtailed, too. “You can’t play ping-pong for fear the ball may go over,” says Mimi Weisband, vice president, public relations.

The grass growing in the Lawn Club atop Celebrity’s Solstice-class ships, had to be “hardy enough to withstand salt water and wind–and light enough so the roof wouldn’t cave in. The grass grows in a thin layer of sand, clay and volcanic pumice.”

On a recent afternoon onboard the 2,850-passenger Celebrity Eclipse, employee Eugene Creencia was ripping up areas of dried, brown grass and setting down wooden platforms in their place. …deck furniture and high-heels are banned…”It rips up part of the grass and we don’t have any to spare”…

Taking advantage of the shipboard lawn, when the ship docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, “several guests stayed onboard   and played bocce and croquet–and remarked on the incongruity of lounging in a park on a ship.”

Later that evening, a jazz trio played on the Lawn Club. Couples sat on wool blankets laid out on the grass while crew members passed around glasses of wine and plates of cheese and fruit. The lights of San Juan blinked on shore.

Not only are cruise companies expanding and enhancing the outdoor spaces, they’re seeking to bring the outdoor experience indoors as well.

Everything from gyms to manicure stations are getting floor-to-ceiling windows to enhance sea views. Carnival will place desiccated palm trees and agave plants on its new Breeze ship launching in spring 2012. “They don’t require soil or water. …You feel outside even if you’re in a climate-controlled,” space.

Cruise lines have not been exempt from the economic downturn, but have been making a steady comeback within the last year. “Carnival Corp.‘s earnings, for example, rose 22% last summer.”

If I were you I’d pack my bags and head for the open ocean.

just make sure you board a ship first…hugmamma.

“last frontier,” holland america line

Rugged Alaska is truly the last frontier, where wide open spaces abound and wild animals still outnumber people. For me its appeal is in a topography that is so unlike Hawaii’s. The extreme cold requires hearty vegetation. Evergreens do not flourish as they do in the Pacific Northwest, the barrier of ice beneath the soil preventing the penetration of tree roots. Most of Denali National Park is comprised of craggy, barren hills dotted with low lying bushes and rivulets formed by melting snow. There it’s possible to see bears, in clear view, ambling up hillsides or wandering alongside the road in search of food. Some with cubs trailing behind, others meandering  in solitude. Moose or elk might be seen, if one looks really hard, standing like statues behind patches of tall trees and brush. They wisely remain safely ensconced, out of range of hunters and their guns. Bears don’t seem to have that same innate dread, sidling up to tour buses sniffing the air hoping for a tasty morsel. Perhaps a “tourist-Mcmuffin?”

A number of years ago, my husband and one of his sisters organized a family cruise to Alaska. Twenty five of us sailed from Vancouver, BC, for a week of fun at sea. We all agreed it was the best vacation ever. Traveling with relatives on a ship meant having companions close by, with “elbow room” to do our own thing when we wanted. We shared formal evening meals in the main dining room. We celebrated our daughter’s high school graduation in the Pinnacle Grill, a very special gathering. My husband hosted a cocktail hour for the entire group in the Crow’s Nest lounge. Other than these get-togethers, everyone ate breakfast and lunch where they chose, in the Lido Restaurant or around the pool. Ship board activities were also left to everyone’s discretion, which included relaxing, shopping, swimming and gambling. Evenings we lounged together in the Piano Bar, the Sports Bar, the Crow’s Nest, the Lido Lounge or the disco. After dinner, most of us strolled to the rear of the ship for a musical extravaganza or a magic act. Some of the men got sidetracked, settling at gaming tables where we found them later, still gambling. A couple might have been big winners, although I’m not sure if they “broke even,” having invested a good amount. What’s certain is that they had a fabulous time.

Shore excursions were a “free-for-all.” A few of the men went fishing, some toured Mendenhal Glacier by helicopter where they landed for a dog sled ride, others walked the ports poking around in museums and shops. My husband, daughter, a friend of hers, and I,  joined a tour to see black bears. We flew a prop plane to a small island, where we stood a short distance from bears feeding at a salmon hatchery. Thank goodness the river overflowed with fish for we never felt threatened, never worried that we were a backup food supply. One outing the entire group enjoyed was whale watching. Other attempts made by my family in years past while living in New England, proved fruitless. Alaskan whales showed up on cue, swimming beneath our boat, breaching alongside, feeding in groups, and displaying their calves proudly. I’m positive everyone took enough pictures to fill 50 albums.

My husband, daughter and I had cruised Alaska a few years before the aforementioned one with family. That trip too was wonderful because it was our first to the “last frontier.” I remained as enamored of Alaska, the second time around. Perhaps there’s a third trip in our future, with family members who weren’t able to make the first oceanic reunion.

Holland America casts its “line” in the hopes that it will reel you in “Imagine giant glacial peaks and massive snowcapped mountains that glisten in the sun. Such is the view from the spacious deck of your five-star ship. Watch for breaching whales, soaring eagles and resting seals as you pass by. In as little as seven days, you’ll have a chance to pan for gold in Juneau and fish for king salmon in Ketchikan.”

With our family we took the 7-Day Inside Passage, Roundtrip Vancouver. We sailed to Juneau, Skagway and Glacier Bay National Park. Watching the glacier “calve” (break off) into the icy, blue waters below, magnificently displayed the power of Mother Nature. The sight was awesome, and humbling. 

  • In 2011, the ms Zuiderdam sails Saturdays: May 14-Sep 17
  • In 2011, the ms Volendam sails Wednesdays: May 18-Aug 31
  • In 2011, the ms Zaandam sails Sep 18

My husband, daughter and I took the 7-Day Explorer, Roundtrip Seattle (originally Vancouver, BC). It sails to Juneau, Hubbard Glacier or Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan, Victoria.

  • In 2011, the ms Oosterdam via Glacier Bay sails Sundays: May 8-Sep 18
  • In 2011, the ms Westerdam via Hubbard Glacier sails Saturdays: May 7-Sep 17
  • In 2011, the ms Amsterdam via Glacier Bay sails Sep 16

“The pleasure of mid-sized cruising – Our fleet of spacious, mid-sized ships makes a big difference in your onboard experience. You’ll feel it in generously proportioned public rooms, elegant staterooms and airy open decks–with plenty of room at the rail to see glorious Glacier Bay. Our ships are large enough to offer the amenities sophisticated travelers expect while preserving a refined ambiance.”

So give your travel professional a call to discuss a one-of-a-kind trip to see the “last frontier.” Or call 1-877-SAIL HAL (1-877-724-5425), or visit www.hollandamerica.com for more information. And tell them hugmamma sent you. You won’t be disappointed. Others I know have given the same “thumbs up” review.

hugs for the great outdoors, on a HAL cruise…hugmamma. 

european getaway, holland america line

As a not-so-frequent world traveler,  I wanted to share some Holland America Line information, in particular cruises which I can vouch for, since I’ve “been there, done that.” Cruising is like taking your hotel everywhere you travel. There’s no need to pack , unpack and repack. You needn’t fret about transporting yourself from city to city. All meals are included, selections ranging from Asian to Italian to American to Continental to everything-in-between. And contrary to popular belief, you needn’t stuff yourself to overflowing. But if you do, exercise opportunities abound. There are spin classes, elliptical machines, decks to walk, and pools to swim. I can attest to the fabulous shopping, especially in the jewelry shops. Some of my favorite pieces, real and costume, were shipboard “gems.”  Nightly entertainment rivals Las Vegas and Broadway. Then there’s the casino for gamblers, the lounges for dancers, and the amusement arcade for the younger set. A theatre features current films, special cooking classes satisfy the gourmands among us, non-denominational services gathers the religious together. Finally, the ports-of-call are yours for exploring, if you so desire. Our family chose walking tours, so we killed the proverbial “two birds with one stone.” We could eat very well onboard ship, and rid ourselves of excess calories on the shore excursions.

Cruising is my idea of a REAL vacation, no making up the beds, no straightening and vacuuming, no cleaning the bathroom, no cooking and serving, no clearing away the table and stacking the dishwasher. I can rise early or late, eat whenever, nap if I like, finish a book I’ve only read for 5 minutes before falling asleep at night. Time to myself with no chores to do before I’m allowed to play, is my favorite part of being on a ship away from land, hearth and home, at least for a week-and-a-half or two. That’s enough to get me back into the swing of living the life I love.

A brochure recently sent in the mail was like a siren’s call to passing ships “Welcome to Europe, the place we call home, where priceless works of art meet compelling natural landscapes. Let us offer you a firsthand perspective of our heritage. Only here will you bike through Barcelona’s historic squares or live the life of a Viking as you cruise through Norwegian fjords. Readers of Travel Weekly named Holland America Line ‘Best Cruise Line, Europe.’ Cruise with us and you’ll understand why.”  A friend from exercise class, swears this is true, having cruised with HAL for the first time to Australia with her husband during Christmas, and most recently to Alaska, treating family members. Like me, she also did a 10 day Mediterranean cruise, thoroughly enjoying the included ports-of-call.

In Livorno, we saw the famed Leaning Tower of Pisa, snapping photos to our hearts content. Stopping in Monte Carlo, we took a side trip to Nice and Eze where we walked charming streets, shopping in small boutiques. A self-guided tour of Barcelona’s old district was my husband’s idea of a great time, while my daughter and I gawked at the modernistic architecture and spent euros on the latest European fashions. Driving into the hilly countryside of Palma de Mallorca, we understood why celebrities Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta Jones chose to make their home on that breathtaking island. The white stone homes with painted blue doors of La Goulette were as mesmerizing, as the camels we rode near the docked ship were cause for nonstop giggles. Palermo offered us a chance to dine seaside in a local cafe among natives, our eyes soaking in the blue-green Mediterranean waters. In Naples we toured the beautiful Amalfi Coast, where we lunched, and shopped. But the “piece de resistance” was walking the streets of Pompeii, or what was left after its demolition by nearby Mt. Vesuvius. The cobbled roads, structural foundations, and preserved archaeological finds put us in awe of the Italians who built this city. Surrounded by the stillness and quiet, hot sun beating down on us, it was easy to imagine its citizens walking among us, going about their daily affairs.   

  • 20-Day Mediterranean Adventure Collectors’ Voyage – Roundtrip Civitavecchia (Rome)

Leaving Rome, the ms Noordam sails to Messina, Dubrovnik, Corfu, Katakolon (Olympia), Santorini, Kusadasi (Ehesus), Piraeus (Athens), Rome, Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Monte Carlo, Barcelona (overnight on board), Palma de Mallorca, La Goulette (Tunis and Carthage), Palermo, Naples, returning to Rome.

Dates include:  5/21, 31; June 10, 20, 30; Jul 10; Aug 6, 16, 26; Sep 5, 15, 25; Oct 5, 2011

Also available are 10 day cruises which feature some of the aforementioned ports. For this and other information, call your travel agent or 1-877-SAIL HAL (1-877-724-5425), or visit www.hollandamerica.com. Inquire about special promotions; it never hurts to ask.

tell them i sent you, with hugs…hugmamma.