Posts Tagged ‘cruise ship travel’

Adventuring in the Amazon: A first-timer’s experience!

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Ambling up the Amazon River – It’s not a Disneyland Experience!

Traveling up the great Amazon River, now touted to be the largest river on the planet, is a slow murky process.  Large chunks of verdant vegetation float leisurely by on water that looks as brown and as opaque as chicken gravy.  Land can be seen in the distance, but these landmasses are islands, not the South American mainland.  (According to our onboard naturalist, Hutch, the Amazon is composed of thousands of islands and we cruise in and around them on our way to Manaus.)


How to Find the BEST Cruise Deals! Start with Vacations-To-Go!

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Mexican Coastline by Sheree Zielke

Are you yearning for the open seas?  A vista complete with swaying palm trees and exotic lands?  Someplace that isn’t here (where you are at the moment)?

Then grab a cup of coffee and settle down with your computer for at least 45 minutes.  You are about to go on an adventure, a cruise, the first cruise you should take before booking your real cruise.

Your first port of call?  Vacations To Go.

Read on . . .


Choosing a Cruise Ship Cabin: Mushroom pit or Porthole? Which is best?

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

Celebrity Mercury in Christchurch by Sheree Zielke


Ocean view?  Porthole?  Verandah?  Penthouse suite?  Desolate mushroom pit?  Which is best for you?  Well, that depends.  Read on.


If you book your cruise early enough, you should be able to tell your travel rep where you’d like to live on your ship.  Choosing a cabin suited to your personality and biological needs is the first step in ensuring a memorable and happy cruise. 

  Let’s start with these three terms first: Amidships, fore, and aft.  Mercury ship side by Sheree Zielke





Amidships has its positive aspects especially for those prone to seasickness.  Consider this the middle of the seesaw while the fore (front) and aft (back) are the ends of the teeter totter yielding the most noise and hardest wave action.  The fore can be extremely noisy in rough sea as the hull is beaten by waves, but the aft, in calm waters, can provide a more private place to sun and rest.Rough seas by Sheree Zielke


A ship like the Celebrity Mercury houses its Shipmates Fun Factory at the rear of the ship on the Vista Deck, Deck 9.  Most people view a cabin near this area to be a negative placement, but quite the opposite is true.  You rarely hear the kids, and when you do, it’s usually a happy noise.  And you are only steps away from a quiet back area.  It’s an especially nice bonus for those not able to secure a private verandah or balcony.


A balcony is a must for very warm cruises, like through the Mediterranean, but definitely not in colder climes like Alaska and Australia.  A balcony is also a waste on a transatlantic crossing since all you’ll see is water, and more water.



If you can’t get a balcony, an unimpeded deluxe ocean view cabin is wonderful.  While you can’t step outside, you do get natural light, and you will always be able to see out in spite of salt-grimed glass.


An inside cabin (for me) is to be avoided at all costs especially by those suffering from even minor forms of claustrophobia or SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  An inside cabin is akin to a tomb or a coffin.  It is always dark, and upon awaking there is no way to tell the time of day.  But if you can stand living like a mushroom, then book an inside room (you will save a whack of money.)


Then there is deck height.  The higher the deck, the more you will feel the wave action.  But those passengers housed in lower decks will SEE the wave action, right outside their window.


Keep in mind, when booking your cabin, the side (port is left, starboard is right) of the ship it’s located?  Ask your travel agent the direction you’ll be cruising when alongside land; you’ll want to book your cabin on the side closest to the land, obviously.


For help in making a more informed decision about your particular ship, try CruiseMates or this USA Today article.  Other really good research sites are CruiseCritic and SecretCruises.


Above all, if you are picky, book early so you can secure a room to your liking.  Check if your travel agent or the cruise line is offering any deals; in many cases, upgrades may be available.  An upgrade could mean the difference between an unobstructed and an obstructed ocean view room.  You will appreciate the difference when you find your “ocean” view filled with a life boat or a window-cleaning platform.Mercury Side View by Sheree Zielke


Oh, and a room with a porthole?  Imagine having a view on the world about the size of your toilet bowl.  If you can stand this peephole outlook, you’ll have money left over for those other expensive ship extras like shore excursions, and soda pop (an endless pop on a 10-day cruise for two people is 100-bucks). 



Sheree Zielke

Day at Sea: Day of Boredom or Day of Fun! It’s Your Choice!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

A “day at sea” sounds like a splendid idea, doesn’t it?  But after you’ve gazed out at unending waves, for hours on end, with not a hint of land in sight, you will soon begin looking for something to do to ease the boredom.  A cruise ship activities staff has just the answer. Whether you are super physical, or you like attentive pampering, or you are a trivia junkie, you WILL find something to do.

Here’s a sample list of activities recently offered by our ship the Celebrity Mercury on a January sailing around New Zealand and Australia.  The list is typical of most cruise ships depending upon the size of the ship.

Participatory Events/Organized Games:

  • Salsa or ballroom dance lessons
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Trivia games (Beatles, TV, men vs. women, musical oldies)
  • Shuffleboard tournament
  • Boxed games – Tribond, Scattergories, Pictionary
  • Bingo (this can be a costly affair as cards cost $20 each)
  • Bridge tournaments
  • Golf putting challenge
  • Pool games
  • Table tennis competitions
  • Basketball free throw
  • Cooking demonstrations
  • Flower arranging demonstrations
  • Wine-tasting with a sommelier (you’ll even be given your own aluminum tasting cup)
  • Art auction (TACKY!!!! We know this is part of every cruise, but we would walk miles to get around this uniquely horrible offering.)
  • Prizes are usually lame like pens, sun visors, notebooks, but sometimes you can win bingo cards, or even a stay in the ship’s penthouse suite.

Passive Activities – Drop-in:

  • Casino slot play/card tournaments
  • Deck walking
  • Spa treatments
  • Pilates and yoga classes
  • Arts and crafts – making picture frames enhanced with seashells or paper bead necklaces
  • Reading
  • Internet
  • Edutainment (educational) presentations (port history, port hi-lights, digital cameras, wine)
  • Golf technique improvement clinic
  • Movies
  • Stage shows
  • Musical presentations

Non-physically demanding Activities:

  • Sunbathing
  • Eating
  • Shopping (most ships have a variety of jewelery, clothing, perfume and souvenir boutiques and “sidewalk” sales)
  • Sleeping
  • Watching TV
  • Journaling
  • And…Catholic mass

And then there are the Junior Cruisers:

Many parents and other caregivers bring children on cruises.  And most ships are ready and able to help with children as young as 3 years of age.  The Celebrity Mercury calls those little ones aged 3-9, Ship Mates; those aged 10-17 are called Ensigns.  Activities might include the following:

  • A huge variety of crafts including mask-making
  • Design your own race car
  • Physical participation games (like camp games)
  • Movies
  • Sleepover nights & pajama parties
  • And for the ensigns…a learn-how-to-gamble class.  (I’m not kidding…they’ll teach your teen to play Texas Hold ‘em and Blackjack.)

For a more in-depth overview of cruising with children, see my article on “Cruising with Children.”

There’s just no excuse for being bored, on board!

Regardless of what activity you choose to alleviate boredom during your cruise ship “day at sea,” rest assured that the cruise activities staff will do its darndest to get you involved.  Your participation or lack thereof, is entirely up to you. 

But trust a seasoned cruiser when I say this: Move, don’t just lay around, because the steady stream of delicious food served up on most ships will make an impression upon you, and your bathroom scale, when you get back home. 

See my other blog entry on losing weight gained on a cruise.

Sheree Zielke

Napier: The Perfect New Zealand Port-of-Call!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

  TEN Good Things about Cruising into the Port of Napier, New Zealand

  1. No tender boats necessary.  Walk down the cruise ship gangplank to awaiting shuttle buses and taxi cabs.  (You can’t walk out of this port though; have New Zealand money handy.)
  2. Trip into Napier is very affordable.  And very quick.  $4/person via cruise shuttle bus or $10NZ for a cab.  Trip is about 5 minutes.
  3. Napier, New Zealand by Sheree ZielkeNapier town has something for everyone.  Miniature golf, great shopping, restaurants, an ocean spa, a museum, botanical gardens, a skate park, and great architectural scenery (Napier’s downtown was destroyed in a fire in 1931, so rebuilding was done in Art Deco style.)
  4. Easy affordable access to the Internet via email cafes in the city centre area.  $2/15 minutes.
  5. Golf course nearby.  Just grab a cab and you’ll be there in less than 15 minutes.
  6. Taxi drivers and tour operators actually like their guests, and aren’t just in it for the tips.  (Our driver, Splinter, was surprised by our tip – he told us he rarely got one.  That’s too bad, because it certainly wasn’t due to any lack on his part.)
  7. Marine Parade – This is Napier’s great main street.  Spend your entire day just walking this stretch of land which hugs the coast.  Beautiful views and great exercise.
  8. Olive Branch Bread Company – If you like freshly baked bread, this is a MUST-visit bakery.  It’s located on Hastings Street just down from the Visitor’s Centre.  My mouth is watering at the memory of this bakery’s crescent-shaped, black olive and rosemary bedecked, candied fried onions-stuffed, loaf of bread.  You must visit early in the day – breads are sold out by mid-afternoon.
  9. Sail away is a blast.  Set sail to the sounds of a Dixie band, and a show and shine of a ½ dozen vintage cars, complete with drivers in period dress (local volunteers). It’s fun to watch the maneuverings of the tug boat as it nudges the giant cruise ship into position to make its way safely out of its very narrow slip and back into the harbor.
  10. WINE!  If you are a wine lover, grab a cab; there are over 50 wineries in the area, like the Mission Estate Winery, New Zealand’s oldest winery shown below. 

    Mission Estate Winery by Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand might be considered the perfect cruise ship port-of-call.  But don’t take my word for it – go visit for yourself.

Sheree Zielke

Ugly Americans Have Nothing on Ugly Cruise Ship Passengers!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

 Ugly Cruise Ship Passengers – Relax, for Heaven’s Sake!

You’ve heard the term, “Ugly American?”  Well, here’s a label you may not have encountered: Ugly Cruise Ship Passenger.  And that’s because I just made it up, following a 14-day cruise around New Zealand and Australia.

While at breakfast, a few days into our cruise, outside of Christchurch, New Zealand, I overheard several disgruntled passengers each with his or her own complaints about the ship’s crew and its amenities, or lack thereof.

A British couple was having a serious discussion with another British couple over the lack of fruit carvings.  Yes, fruit carvings.  The foursome felt ship management was being somewhat amiss at not having fruit carvings.  One chap remarked that it was probably due to some health regulation or other – that a kitchen staffer may cut himself in the process.  One of the white-haired ladies suggested wistfully that fruit carvings were a long-gone tradition, “a thing of the past,” said she. But both couples agreed that fruit carvings were a must on a cruise.  Sheesh!

At another station, a surly gent stormed up to the tall white-hatted waffle chef, and demanded to know why, for TWO mornings in a row, the coffee machine on the back deck had no coffee.  The chef stared at him briefly, and then, as though the information had finally made its way to the cognitive part of his brain, he apologized and went about finding the waiter in charge of making the coffee.  The passenger, unimpressed, whisked away, cup and all, and headed to another coffee station, just 50 feet away.

While seated at our breakfast table, a group of Americans were discussing the view through the sea-grimed windows.  One loudly complained that ship staff should “wash the windows,” because salty scum was clogging his view (a view only a few feet from the back deck with its open air tables, and no windows).  And after all, it was 6 AM! How long did management need to ensure a sparkling view?

Cruise ship passengers are a hard lot to please.  From the moment they step on board, many become mini tyrants of their own tiny kingdoms.  The mentality is that “I have spent my hard-earned money, and I expect perfect service in exchange.”  That’s regardless of how many other passengers (our ship had nearly 2000) are also expecting this unerring attention to their comfort.

Here’s my best advice for enjoying a cruise vacation: RELAX. 

Know that not everything will be perfect.  Yes, a port or two might be missed due to dangerous weather conditions.  Yes, that special food you were hoping for may not be on the menu (but try asking – nicely).  Yes, room service might be a little slow especially if it’s a day at sea and ¾ of the passengers have ordered in-room breakfast.  Yes, going ashore at the Melbourne port may be a tedious ordeal (but Melbourne is so worth the wait).  Yes, your TV reception may be horrible (Northern hemisphere TVs don’t work well in the Southern hemisphere). 

And oh yes, there may be no fruit carving.  Grab an orange, an apple, and a butter knife and do a fruit carving of your own.  The artistic act may help to bring you peace.

Sheree Zielke

Cruise Ship Weight Gain — Don’t Despair!

Friday, January 25th, 2008

Vacation Weight Gain is not Cause for Despair — Try These 10 Steps to Getting your Weight Back to Normal

Okay, so it happened.  You went on vacation, you ate, and you ate some more. Now your scale says you have gained a few extra pounds.  Five? Ten? Fifteen?  Maybe even twenty?  Don’t despair!  Your weight gain doesn’t have to be a permanent thing, if you don’t want it to be a permanent thing.  The good news is that you can take off those extra pounds as easily as you put them, and in about the same amount of time, too. 

Remember your body is only doing what it has been programmed to do.  Vacationing usually takes us into warmer temperatures, where there is certainly no shortage of food.  Warm weather plus and abundance of food?  Hmm, our body thinks, it must be summer.  So, like a big old grizzly bear, our body begins storing the extra calories.  But unlike a grizzly bear, we don’t need to wait for hibernation to get the pounds off – just a wee bit of discipline will obtain the desired results.

(Always follow medical advice first. 
This weight control advice is for the average moderately healthy person.)

There is a method whereby you can rid yourself of that temporary weight gain quickly, and relatively easily.  It’s not so much a weight loss technique, but rather a weight control technique

Here’s what to do:

  1. Weigh yourself.  Be brutally honest.  Mark that weight on a calendar.
  2. Decide you are going to lose the extra pounds.  DECIDE.  This won’t work if you treat your decision as a passing fancy.
  3. Stop all foods.  For the next 2-3 days you are going to drink water, and water only.  (Okay, I cheat a bit and have a morning coffee – but that’s not a great idea.  Try to stick to water.)Squeeze fresh lemon juice into your water (the lemon juice as a detoxifier).
  4. Herbal teas have also been acceptable on this plan.  And, if you really want to be a purist, drink your water…warm.  Experts believe this is a more effective way to fast, and to detox your system.But whatever you do, DRINK water.
  5. Drink as much water as you can handle.  When hunger pains hit, do NOT eat; drink water.  The pains will subside and will lessen in occurrences. Your body is trainable.
  6. Weigh yourself daily, every morning is best.  The weight loss will act as wonderful encouragement for you to continue limiting your diet.  Mark your calendar.  You will smile during the first few days because your weight will drop quickly.  But it will slow down, too.  That’s normal.  Just stick to the plan.
  7. Be prepared to come slowly off your fast.  After 2-3 days of just water, introduce soups.  Avoid heavily processed soups full of sodium.  Make your own soup, or use a higher quality soup, like Knorr, and add your own seasonings.
  8.  After soup, begin adding solids to your diet (in small portions).  Start with proteins and whole grains (fiber reduces appetite). AVOID all carbohydrates that aren’t naturally-occurring; choose to eat the carbohydrates that come in whole grain breads and cereals, fresh vegetables and fruits.  But only in small quantities.Eat only one meal or three very small meals a day until your weight is back to normal.
  9. Advisory:  You must continue to monitor your weight, keeping your food intake controlled for at least a month, or your body will think you were just kidding.  As soon as you begin stuffing your face again, the weight will pile back on. Quickly.  That’s “yo-yo” dieting.  Stay in control until your body stabilizes itself.
  10.   Above all, deal with your vacation weight gain IMMEDIATELY.  Do not wait for a week, or even a day to pass by before addressing the problem.  You will be most successful if you lose your extra weight in the week to 2 weeks following your vacation.

Sheree Zielke