Why is the Celebrity Solstice Such a Great Choice in Alaska?


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When you ask people what’s on their bucket list?  Almost always, you will hear Alaska.  For those first time visitors to Alaska, what makes the Celebrity Solstice such a great choice? 

  • Cruising in general is a great way to see Alaska

When visiting Alaska for the first time, cruising is one of the best choices you can make.  Several port cities are only accessible by sea, and what better way to get up close to a glacier than by approaching it via a ship?

  • Value

Yes, Celebrity Cruise Line is considered a deluxe brand and their tag line is “Modern Luxury”, but the value of this ship is remarkable.  When you plan your trip in advance, you are often able to obtain special amenities through their exclusive concierge program for a lesser dollar amount than what a regular balcony would cost you on another cruise line.  And if you don’t have the time or budget to add on the extra days for a side land trip, then the Seattle roundtrip itinerary will save you quite a bit on airfare.

  • Onboard Enrichment Lecture Series

On Alaska itineraries, uncover the wild and wonderful shores with the help of a nature expert.  An onboard naturalist provides guests with the inside scoop on everything Alaska through their Enrichment Lecutre Series.  Lectures are humorous, energetic, informative and entertaining.  Also included are guided wildlife viewing and photo opportunities.  Lecture topics include:

  1. Sail away from Skagway
  2. Hubbard Glacier
  3. Morning Wildlife Search in Chatham Strait
  4. Pondering Puffing and the Elegance of Eagles
  5. Orca – The Killer Whale
  • Outstanding Entertainment

Celebrity guests can experience widely varied entertainment, including new theater productions through an exclusive partnership with Poet Theatricals exclusively on Celebrity Solstice Class ships.  For a little fun after dark, make your way up to the Sky Observation Lounge.  Each night the room is transformed to reflect a different theme. From wild red for tango nights to midnight blue for ballroom dance.  Take lessons by day and be ready to dance the night away!

  • Culinary Delights

Celebrity Cruise Line prides themselves on their delicious food and beautiful presentation for dining.

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  • Relaxation

What better way to unwind after a long day of sightseeing than slipping into the relaxing adult only pool in the Solstice Solarium?

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What more can we say?  Great ship.  Great destination. 

For more information on the great value of the Celebrity Solstice in Alaska visit  http://cbrooks.cruiseone.com/travel/cruise_articles/CMSDealPage.html?TemplateOid=1612360268

A Fun Twist on Fundraising for Non-Profit Organizations


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Fundraising is a challenge for everyone, so how about an idea for an easy and fun fundraising event that will create buzz and generate dollars?  If you happen to be in charge of fundraising for a 501 c3 organization, you know that passive fundraising is a nice break for the fundraising chair.  Passive fundraising occurs when the organization has very little work and no initial funding to invest, yet the organization receives the funds. 

Cruise fundraisers are a great way to promote your organization and raise money!  A travel agent that specializes in this type of event will take care of all the details.  If you’d like more information on “putting the fun into fundraising”, visit our webpage for more information.

www.cruise2escape.com

 

 

Norwegian BreakAway Coming in May 2013


They say a picture is worth 1000 words, so a video is worth even more.  Above you’ll find the latest video release for Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship, the Norwegian Breakaway, coming in May 2013.  Stay in New York pre-cruise and take in a Broadway play, board this beauty of a ship and wave to the Statue of Liberty as you sail away, explore Bermuda, and enjoy the innovative features as you get-away on the BreakAway. 

The only thing I won’t be doing on this ship is “walking The Plank”.  My fear of heights just won’t allow for that.  I wonder how many brave souls will conquer it.

Alaska: The Top Destination for Cruisers in 2012


 

Be sure to watch the videos at the end of this article!

 Alaska may not be the last frontier for long. In 2012, this vast wilderness proved to be the top destination for cruise passengers even beating the ever popular Caribbean!

Cruising is the perfect way to view Alaska. You’re able to visit multiple cities, hop off the ship and explore Alaska by foot, and get an up close viewing of glaciers and whales from the ship. It’s the best of both worlds.

Did you know that Alaska covers 570,373 square miles of land, four times the size of California, twice as large as Texas and 12 times the size of new York? Alaska is home to 19 of the 20 tallest mountains in the United States. This vast state has the highest concentration of bears and bald eagles on earth and there are more caribou than people!  Sounds like an exciting place to explore, right?

Today we’re going to take a closer look at Princess Cruise Line’s Alaska program.  I’ve chosen to highlight Princess because, they have been awarded “Best Cruise Line in Alaska” for 5 years in a row by Travel Weekly! Princess has nearly 40 years experience sailing to Alaska and has continually developed cruise itineraries and comprehensive cruisetours to offer the most-desired features.

Even with the diversity of what you’ll be able to explore from the ship, most people agree to really make the most of your Alaskan cruise, you should add a land tour to your vacation package.  The combined package would be called a cruisetour.

 What is a Cruisetour?

  • A princess cruisetour combines their signature 7-day Voyage of the Glaciers cruise with 3 to 8 nights on land.
  • The land portion can happen either before or after the cruise.
  • All cruisetours include at least 2 nights in the Denali National Park area, home to Mt. McKinley.
  • Passengers travel by luxury railcars and deluxe motorcoaches and stay at Princess owned-and-operated wilderness lodges. Princess Rail Service travels the route of the Alaska Railroad (a National scenic byway) between Whittier, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks.

 The railcars include:

  • Large glass-domed windows for panoramic wilderness viewing
  • Outdoor viewing platform
  • Delicious meals featuring local Alaskan cuisine
  • Rail guides provide expert commentary along the way
  • There is free time for excursions and independent exploration.

 The most popular cruisetour option is the Denali Explorer (10 to 13 nights). Most itineraries include Princess same-day rail service between the ship in Whittier and the Denali-area lodge. This tour includes a Denali Natural History Tour into Denali National Park – plus options to Fairbanks and/or Anchorage!

 Denali National Park is Alaska’s highest rated inland attraction and home to North America’s tallest peak, Mt. McKinley. The park is a 6 million acre wilderness preserve teeming with wildlife and natural beauty.

 In addition to the two lodges in the Denali area, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, there are two lodges in other area of Alaska for Princess guests – Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge and Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge

 These other lodges give an opportunity to build on the core Denali-centric denali Explorer cruisetours and offer some unique programs to “off the beaten path” areas of Alaska not typically visited by other cruise lines.

 The cruise portion of these trips is a Voyage of the Glaciers Cruise. Guests will sail between Vancouver, B.C. and Anchorage (Whittier), Alaska, and visit 3 ports of call (Ketchikan, Juneau & Skagway) with two glacier-viewing experiences. Arrange the cruise before the land portion (Northbound), because you will usually save money this way!

 In port, you’ll experience:

  •  Juneau – capital of Alaska, once part of Alaska’s Gold Rush and home to Mendenhall glacier, the largest ice formation accessible by road. 
  • Ketchikan – known as the ‘Salmon capital of the World” where you can stroll on historic Creek Street and visit the spectacular totem poles
  •  Skagway – the “Gateway to the Knondike” is full of restored buildings, wooden sidewalks, shops and saloons for a complete boomtown experience. Home to the White Pass & Yukon route Railway.
  •  Onboard naturalists give lectures and share insights about wildlife, history and points of interest. In addition, the Naturalist is available throughout the cruise to meet one-on-one with passengers to answer questions

Research from the State of Alaska consistently shows that passengers go to Alaska for glaciers, mountains, wildlife, Denali National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, the Alaska Railroad and Inside passage cruising. What’s your reason for wanting to visit Alaska?

Want a visual of the program?  Check out these videos:

 Princess Cruise Lines Alaska Program

Princess Cruise LInes Lodges Videos

Disney Dream Ship Review October 2012

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“Welcome to the Brooks’ Family”!  Our own personal greeting is announced over the intercom as we walk down a pathway created by crew members into the grand atrium.  You can’t help but notice the extraordinary chandelier dripping with crystals and fit for a Disney Princess’s ballroom as you enter the Disney Dream.  Children might ask if they are walking into a fairy tale.

We know the October 18th, 2012 cruise will be too short for our liking – just 3 days to the Bahamas and back.  We’ll have to get started right away exploring and enjoying the Disney experience.

For us, this cruise is piggybacking off our travel agency’s annual convention held at Coronado Springs Convention Center at Disney.  Therefore, we were able to experience the transfer system Disney uses to whisk guests from Disney World Resorts over to the cruise port.  This is travel made easy.  We’re loaded onto one of Disney’s Magical Express buses, with comfortable seats and TV screens to test our Disney trivia along the way.  The ride is about an hour long and we’re delivered to the door to check in at the port.  After going through security, we’re on the ship in 15 minutes or less.

Since our cabin won’t be ready until about 1:30, it’s time to catch our first lunch at sea in the buffet.  Unlike most cruise lines, Disney includes complimentary soft drinks at all meals.  This is a plus for the Cola lovers! And yes, there will be soft-serve ice cream available throughout the cruise – very important for our family.  After a leisurely lunch with friends, our cabin is ready, so we’re off to explore.

Disney Balcony Cabins:

Upon entry, you’ll slip your key card into the pocket on the wall to control your electricity.  Disney has implemented an energy saving program.  When you grab your key to leave the room, the lights will automatically shut off.  We experienced this on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic as well, so luckily we were able to figure out how to turn on our lights!

One of the first notable differences between Disney’s Deluxe Balcony and most other cruise line cabins is the split bathroom.  You’ll find two bathrooms:  one with a tub/shower, sink and vanity area, and another bathroom with the toilet, sink and vanity area.  This makes it very convenient for two people to get ready at the same time and also provides much more storage space.  The small tub would be perfect for bathing young children. 

On the dresser/desk, you’ll find Disney’s “Wave” phones which are provided to all families.  If you have family members going to different events on the ship, this is an easy way to keep in touch – simply dial your room number with a 1 or 2 afterwards and you’ll be able to track down your family in no time!  That is if they’re good about answering the phone!

The cabin is tastefully appointed and you’ll find ample storage.  Even the coffee table opens up like a chest where you can stash your possessions if you happen to struggle with the art of packing light.  Not that I’d know anything about that problem!

Ok. We’ve explored the cabin; now it’s time to complete a quick ship inspection before we settle down to enjoy the cruise.

Children’s and Teen Programs:

The children’s and teen programs were open to the public during the ship inspection time.  Stepping into these fantastical rooms could make any adult want to step back in time to childhood.  If traveling with children, there will be no need to worry about entertainment for the kids.  Video games, arts and crafts, and Disney animation throughout will make your children feel like the world revolves around them if just for a little while.

Tip:  Families should be sure to join in the fun of the “Solve the Mystery Game”.

Dining and Entertainment:

Disney has implemented a unique rotational dining program on their ships.  Guests are assigned to a dining time and wait staff, but each evening all of you (including your original wait staff) will rotate to a new dining room.  Our first night we ate in Art Animation where the animation just might come to life if you’re lucky.  The décor of this bright and cheery room will delight young and old alike. However, if you like a quieter atmosphere this might be the night to visit a specialty restaurant. Due to the noise in this dining area, we found it difficult to hear others while making conversation.  The two other dining rooms are the Enchanted Gardens, think soothing surrounding fitting a princess, and the Royal Palace which boasts a French inspired menu.   We missed our dinner at the Royal Palace, because we opted to try out one of the specialty restaurants that night, although we did enjoy a sit down breakfast one morning.  Palo, one of two specialty restaurants, was well worth it.  We were seated directly in front of the windows in Palo where we enjoyed a beautiful view of the ocean.  The service was impeccable, the atmosphere was quiet and relaxing and the food hit the spot. 

Disney is all about putting on a good production, so be sure to go to the evening shows.  Remember, you’re experiencing a Disney product, so the costumes alone are worth the time.

Tip:  You have the ability to experience the shows in two completely different ways depending on the seating you choose.  To enjoy the special effects from the typical audience perspective be sure to sit in the main lower seating.  Get there early as the theater can fill up.  You’ll be caught up in the story and amazed by what you see.  If you are someone who has a true interest in theater – props, setting, special effects, etc., you may want to take in one of the shows in the balcony.  From this view you’ll get a glimpse of how some of the effects are created from the stage floor, and it’s interesting on a whole different level.

There is also a theater where you might decide to view a Disney movie.  One of the choices on our trip was Nemo in 3D.

Late Evening Entertainment for Adults:

The Disney Dream has an adults-only lounge and bar venue called ‘The District’.  You’ll find a sports bar with big screens to scratch that game itch, as well, as lounges where you’ll find karaoke, musicians and various entertainment.

AquaDuck:

No review of the Disney Dream would be complete without a review of the “AquaDuck” waterslide.  With see-through walls that jet over the edge of the ship on one curve, this is a must-do for everyone.  Expect to wait in lines.  I’m guessing an average 45 minute wait. 

Tip:  We experienced the AquaDuck the first afternoon right after sail-away.  I think we beat some of the crowds.  I would suggest going straight to the AquaDuck after viewing your cabin on that first afternoon BEFORE sail away for the least crowds.

Fireworks at Sea:

Pirates are alive and well onboard the Disney Dream.  On Pirate night, get in touch with your inner swashbuckler, don your eye patch and join in the fun.  Do NOT miss the show on the top deck under the stars on this evening.  First, you’ll experience a Pirate Play on the pool stage that leads into the only Fireworks at Sea.  I doubt you’ve ever experienced fireworks this close before. 

Tip:  Best viewing area to avoid obstructions by the AquaDuck – Deck 12 starboard side directly over the pool.

Castaway Cay – Disney’s Private Island:

Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, has got to be one of the most well-laid out and comprehensive private islands visited by cruise ships.  After stepping foot on the Arrival Plaza, you’ll need to choose between three main areas: 

  • Scuttle’s Cove, the children’s program areas where your children will be entertained while you scuttle over to the adult-only area,
  • Castaway Family Beaches, where families enjoy a beautiful view, a swimming and snorkeling lagoon and the “Pelican Plunge”.  Even though we were traveling without children, we made our way over to conquer the Plunge.  Fun for children of all ages!
  • Serenity Bay – an exclusive beach area for adults 18 years and older.  You’ll enjoy your own lounge chairs, umbrellas and water chairs.  Massages are available in ocean-front cabanas.

Use the tram to travel between areas and check the entire island out.  You also might want to consider renting bikes to explore on your own.  Everyone is served a delicious hot bar-b-que on the beach, hopefully with plenty of sun on the side.

Who should consider a Disney Cruise?

1)      People with children who want an intimate Disney experience.  You’ll have much easier access to characters on the ship than at Disney World.

2)      Multi-generational families – plenty of options for all age groups who want to travel as a family

3)      Disney Fans of any age

4)      People with food allergies.  This one might sound a bit funny as a recommendation, but we were traveling with a friend who has food allergies.  Disney bent over backwards to accommodate her dietary needs including delivering a special meal to her at the Castaway Cay bar-b-que.

Disney Cruise Lines – a magical experience!

River Cruising


*Picture provided by Uniworld Boutique River Cruises

River cruising continues to rise in popularity across both the United States and abroad, especially among travelers seeking more intimate experiences to more exotic locales. River cruising is emerging as a popular vacation for travelers of all ages who want to immerse themselves in the culture of a region while enjoying the creature comforts of home.

With a variety of innovations – from excursions to onboard amenities river cruising is a segment of the travel and tourism industry that can now offer something for everyone.  Here are our three reasons why a river cruise should be a must on every traveler’s bucket list:

1)  Exotic Destinations. River cruising continues to highlight the destinations it serves by immersing cruisers in the culture.  Getting up close and personal with the wildlife of the Galapagos, exploring the cities along the rivers of Europe or Asia or taking in the charm of the Mississippi are all possible on todays’ river cruises. River cruising opens up access to places unreachable by large ships and creates an intimate connection with the cities they visit.  Especially popular in Europe, river cruising allows travelers to immerse themselves in the center of the Old World visiting big cities and authentic small towns.

2) Experiential Cruises. River guests can enjoy trips tailored to their tastes with programs just for them. Food and wine aficionados should consider the `Culinary Delights’ itinerary from AmaWaterways. Once aboard, guests can work with a local chef to plan menus for their entire voyage, shop in local markets for ingredients and prepare their own meals! Guests seeking more adventure can sign-up for bike tours that let you travel alongside the ship from port to port, taking in the scenery as you go. Tech-savvy travelers who need to stay connected will now have access to onboard Wi-Fi and those looking to stay fit will love the fact that most river vessels now have onboard gyms.

3) More Convenience surrounded by Elegance. Unpack only once while enjoying an ever-changing scenery from fairytale villages and picturesque castles to medieval towns and grand cities.  As river cruising demand continues to boom, more ships and destinations are being added for cruisers to experience. No less than 5 new river cruise ships will be added in 2013 by the major river cruise lines: Avalon, AmaWaterways and Uniworld.  Cruisers are also finding more choices while aboard from customized dining experiences on and off the ship, to specialized excursions. If you’re looking for a floating 5-star hotel experience, Uniworld Boutique River Cruises may be just the right fit with their marble-clad bathrooms, comfy robes and gourmet dining experiences.

Whether it’s because of the out-of-the-box destinations, local flair or intimate venues, more travelers are opting for river cruises to truly escape. As innovation shapes the industry and more people see the value in river cruising, finding the right ship – and itinerary – can be tricky. A professional travel agent can step in and help navigate the options, offering the right choice for your personality, interests and budget.  For more information, contact us at CruiseOne – The Brooks Team.  770-456-5631

Dominica – An Unspoiled Adventure


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Dominica proved to be a largely unspoiled destination, perhaps not yet discovered by the throngs of tourists that visit so many of the caribbean islands. Wanting to see as much as possible at this port, we took an excursion that allowed us to visit three very different sites.  The day proved to be quite adventurous and bordered on being strenuous for these aging bodies of ours. 

Our first stop was Champagne Reef for snorkeling. And no, they don’t serve you Champagne while you snorkel. It’s called Champagne Reef, because steam vents on the ocean floor release air bubbles into the water. As you snorkel, you’re able to swim over and through the bubbling water. Just another indicator of the activity that brews beneath the bottom. Dominica was formed from volcanic activity, and as our tour guide explained, they’re just waiting for the next eruption. We’ve snorkeled in many locations, but this was absolutely the best snorkeling we’ve experienced. There was still a variety of live coral and the number of species of fish that we saw was impressive. Sergeant majors, parrot fish, an octopus, and a variety of tropical fish paraded beneath our fins. If you’re a snorkeling fan, you’ll enjoy this site. After about an hour in the water, we were off to our next adventure.

 Along the way, we stopped at a look-out that allowed for a perfect snapshot of our ship below. As is to be expected there were local vendors showing off their wares. I found a man displaying the most adorable bird feeders carved out of a coconut. He carved the coconut to look like two love birds sitting together. I asked him about the history of the art, and he explained that the indigenous families to the area were taught to produce these authentic feeders.  

 Titou Gorge was our next destination. Do you remember the scene in Pirates of the Caribbean II where spears rained down on the characters swimming through the gorge?  Well, Titou Gorge is where they filmed the movie.  If you’re observant you will spot the remnants of one of their ropes hanging from the rocks above. We swam through the narrow passage way that finally emptied out into a pool filled by a waterfall. The challenge in this little venture was the water was ice cold! Luckily, after a few moments submerged your body was numb making the experience manageable! Lon jumped from the ledge of the waterfall.  However, after my surfing incident in Hawaii, I decided it would be best to cheer him on from below.

 The day was not over yet. We loaded the bus and were on our way for a scenic drive to Trafalgar Falls, one of Dominica’s most popular sites. The hike down the trail to the falls was not for the faint of heart, but I was impressed with how people of all fitness levels made the trek.   After our tour guide declared a bush along the trail as edible, we threw caution to the wind and sampled a leaf. It tasted like green apples. After we arrived at the bottom of the trail, we were treated to a soak in a natural hot spring. The water flowed forcibly throw a pair of rocks to give a back massage.   It was like sitting in a natural hot tub made of stones. After a few moments of relaxation, the walk back up the hill had to be faced.

 After reaching our tour bus, we sat back satisfied that we had immersed ourselves into the natural wonders of Dominica – even if for only one day.

Celebrity Summit Ship Review April 2012


On March 24th, 2012 Lon and I embarked on a Seminar at Sea with Celebrity Cruise Lines.

 

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Boarding the Celebrity Summit in San Juan, Puerto Rico, we along with all the other passengers were greeted by crew members and a choice of welcome aboard champagne or orange juice. This simple gesture set the stage for a cruise and crew that were indulgent and accommodating beyond what you typically find. Celebrity describes themselves as “Modern Luxury”, and they set the tone from the beginning. 

Glimpses of “Modern Luxury” are found everywhere. You enter the ship right around the corner from the Martini Bar with its ice-covered counter. The Summit was just recently “solsticized” with new carpet, many refurbishments and a few additional restaurants added. The décor is classy and the atmosphere relaxing. The pool deck is adorned with beautiful wood furnishings, but most importantly, topped with comfortably luxurious chair pads that are missing onboard many other ships.

 If traveling on this line, make sure to explore the Adults-only Thalassotherapy Pool area. Not only are the surroundings elegant, but the salt-water pool is jetted and warm. The perfect place to unwind those tired muscles.  

I know I’ve mentioned this before in a previous review, but you must attend the Spa Tour on the first day of your cruise! Once again, I was the lucky winner of a facial. Only a small number of passengers attend these events, making your chances of winning relatively high. 

My review will now focus on the three areas in which I thought Celebrity Cruise Line really stood out:

  • Customer Service from the Crew
  • Food Quality
  • Overall Environment and Feel

Customer Service from the Crew: 

The crew expressed a true desire to accommodate people’s wishes. Simply because Lon mentioned that he loved Tiramisu one night during desert, our waiter saved him an order for the next night and surprised him with it – leaving him to eat two deserts. No matter what the request the crew always responded with friendliness and enthusiasm.  

Food Quality: 

Along with a gourmet menu, Celebrity’s dining experience incorporates a futuristic high-tech aspect to dining with experiences ranging from the use of digital menus in one of the restaurants to self-serve wine dispensers in Cellar Masters. Nominated for “Rising Star Chef of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation, Celebrity Cruise Line’s Master Chef, Jacques Van Staden, is quoted as saying that “I consider all the details – texture, color, smell, presentation – to create dishes that leave guests with fond memories of a culinary journey”. While you’ll experience this culinary journey in the main dining room, you will find it taken to even the next level in the specialty restaurants. 

We had the opportunity to experience two of the specialty restaurants while onboard, The Normandie and QSine. The Normandie is a French restaurant with doting service, a delicious menu, the ability to have the staff pair your wine with your meals and even a little side entertainment – as they prepare a few dishes at your table. This is the perfect place to celebrate a special occasion or for those who appreciate a gourmet experience. 

QSine on the other hand is a whimsical experience where food becomes art. Each guest orders with an iPad, viewing dish descriptions and sending selections to their cart. If eating in a large group as we did, you’ll share in each other’s order until you say, “We just can’t handle any more food.” The presentation is as delicious as the taste. Creativity abounds here.

 On our last sea day, a brunch was served in the dining room. We almost missed it, because the hamburgers and crunchy fries were calling our names out by the pool deck. However, we had heard everyone raving about this, so we made our way to see it for ourselves. Ice carvings, white and dark chocolate fountains, mounds of seafood and deserts were laid out everywhere. This is definitely a not to be missed event. 

Overall Environment and Feel:

 Each cruise line has its own personality and feel. That’s why I like to experience different lines and ships. The intent of your trip determines which line is best at the moment though many of us develop favorites. Although there were plenty of activities onboard this ship, there was no frenzied feel, no feeling that you needed to rush to get to where you were going. 

There were very few children onboard this ship. Even though all ages were represented amongst our fellow guests, the average was skewed toward middle-aged and above.  The environment was classy and relaxed. 

We enjoyed a host of activities onboard this ship – your usual musical acts and comedians, but two activities stand out to me. They were both part of the Celebrity Life Learning Series. 

When departing Dominica, the crew opened up the helipad area to guests. This is the area where helicopters land on the ship in an emergency. Located at the very bow of the ship, we had to enter through a crew area. With nothing blocking our view, we were able to watch as the pilot ships dropped their crew members off at the pilings located in front of the bow and unhooked the large ropes that help to secure the ship while in port. The ropes were then cranked in from the ship. It was interesting to see this all up close and made for a great place to take pictures.

 On another evening, the navigational officer gave an educational talk on “Navigating by the Stars”. Once again on the bow of the ship, but this time after dark, the crew shut off the lights in our area, so we could see the stars and moon. The officer explained how even though they have navigational radar, they have trained officers who still know how to navigate by the stars in case of a power outage. An interesting lesson ensued with the sextant, a navigational instrument that’s been in use for years.

 I think this cruise line is well-suited for couples looking for a relaxing get-away, people who enjoy gourmet food and good service and for the wine connoisseurs.

For Valentine’s: Romantic Getaways Serve as a Ritual to Help Your Nurture Your Relationship


It’s February, the month that people across the globe take time to celebrate that special person in their life. So how did this tradition begin? Pope Gelasius I established Valentine’s Day in A.D. 496 to commemorate the life of a Christian martyr. 

It was not until the middle ages that Valentine’s Day became associated with romance.  With time, February 14th became known as the date for celebrating St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers.  There were at least three Christian saints named Valentine and no one seems to know for sure which one inspired Valentine’s Day.  Perhaps it was the priest named Valentinus who was jailed for helping Christians.  While he was jailed he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and would send her notes signed, “from your Valentine”.  Some stories report that he cured his love’s eyesight which allowed her to read his notes.  The cure reportedly caused her father, the jailer, to convert to Christianity. Sadly, Valentinus was eventually executed, earning him his status as martyr.

As stories of Saint Valentine were passed down, the tradition of exchanging love messages and gifts slowly developed.  Thus, a ritual was born.  Rituals can be a powerful tool for bonding and keeping people together.  Whether it be a society, a culture, or a family, rituals give people a sense of community.

Marriage counselors and psychologists advocate that romanitic rituals are important in keeping your relationship alive.  Daily, weekly, monthly or yearly, “unique, shared rituals are an important part of the glue that holds couples together.”  Carol J. Bruess.

Romantic getaways are one way you can begin your own rituals  and acknowledge that “Love is the immortal flow of energy that nourishes, extends and preserves…”  Smiley Blanton 

Preserve your life, preserve your love, develop your own rituals.

Hilo: The Big Island – Volcanoes & Tropical Gardens


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Once again, our day started with a rainbow outside our balcony window. This results in our stumbling over each other half asleep to grab the camera and start shooting away. A fun way for amateur photographers to jump out of bed.

Today we’re renting a car and exploring Hilo on our own. Thrifty car rental has a shuttle service that picks you up at the port. We only had to wait about 5 minutes for a pick-up and then it was a 10 to 15 minute ride to pick up the car. This is a great island to rent a car and explore on your own. The drive was leisurely without much traffic. The island is easy to navigate with a very simple road system. It’s about 45 minutes to our first destination.

First on the agenda is what The Big Island is famous for – Volcano National Park, site of Kilauea Crater, Hawaii’s active volcano. Today’s the first day of summer so we get in free. Whoopee! First stop is the Visitor’s Center. Lucky timing! Ranger Dean is about to begin his educational talk. He gives us an animated overview of volcanoes and the history of Hawaii’s volcanic activity. A good chuckle from the crowd erupts when he said he is often asked, “How do you know it’s safe to be here?” and he answers, “Who said it’s safe to be here? You came to see a volcano.” Thanks for the comforting words Ranger Dean. Now, it’s off to see this thing for ourselves. Walking down the dirt trail toward the crater, you see the steam rising before you get to the viewing site. Steam vents surround you on all sides as you walk the trail, prepping you for the main event. It’s a truly impressive sight to walk up and see the crater sitting out there in the open field smoking away.

After our short hike, we’ve worked up about as vast an appetite as the crater itself. For lunch, we decided to stop by a local diner, Cafe 100, in downtown Hilo. Simple food, low prices, and a walk-up diner where you can eat outside.

The rest of the afternoon was left to the chance of a guidebook and map. We take off in our little rental car North of Hilo up Hwy. 19 and end up on the Scenic Route. Though all of Hawaii is beautiful and unique, once we enter the scenic route, both of us look at each other and say, “This is what Hawaii is supposed to be like.” Lush vegetation with all-encompassing trees, cliffs with waves crashing against them, and gorgeous flowers.

But what is it with all these chickens? Yes, I said chickens. They are everywhere you go. Walking along a scenic overview, who should stroll up but a rooster and two chickens. They just seem to wander around everywhere.

Aahh, but the scenic route is only a tease for the grande finale. The Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens. This place is a must see. You’ll feel like you’re in the Garden of Eden. Waterfalls, ocean, flowers, gigantic trees. A photographer’s heaven and a stroller’s paradise. We spent two hours wandering through all the paths. Beautiful! But we have to keep an eye on the clock, so we must leave this garden oasis and start our journey back to the ship. First, an authentic Hawaiian treat – Shaved Ice. We found a Mom & Pop Shaved Ice & Smoothie Shack along the scenic route and I had my first Pineapple shaved ice – delicious! You have to try this treat when you go to Hawaii. The ice just melts in your mouth as soft and smooth as snow. Looking at the view the owners of the “shack” had, Lon was ready to sell all our belongings and try to be their newest competitors!

Back onboard we ate in the Dining Room and went to see the “Second City Show”. Second City always put on an entertaining improv act. After the show, we walked around a bit and ran into a few people we had met along the way. We’re finding the cruisers on this ship to be quite friendly.