2009 Cruise Schedule, revisited

Well, I have the first half of 2009 lined up: In March I am sailing on the MSC Lirica on a 10 day Caribbean Cruise with stops in the Dominican Republic, Antigua, St Marteen, Tortola, St. Lucia and San Juan, Puerto Rico. MSC is an Italian line, which got some bad reviews when they first tried to penetrate the American cruise market with their Caribbean offerings (they have been taking Europeans around the Med for years). A while back they brought on the former President of RCI'S Celebrity Cruise line, and since then they have steadily improved the product, and the reviews are getting better and better. Personally, reading between the lines, most of the dissatisfaction seems to be from people who expect this Italian line to be just like their favorite American cruise ships. People who are more adventurous, and better traveled, seem to "get" the way they do things, and have a pretty good opinion. Personally, I love Italian food and culture, and I am really looking forward to this cruise, as I always look to try new things and see things from a different perspective. In any case, in over a hundred tries, I have failed utterly to have a "bad" cruise. Cruises are kinda like sex and pizza - when they are good, they are great, and even when they're bad, they're pretty good.

Following that, in April/May, I am going on the Queen Mary 2, Eastbound TransAtlantic (New York to Southampton, England). I am really looking forward to 6 days on the largest ocean liner ever built. Everything I have read about this ship and cruise has been fabulous. Despite their being absorbed by Princess and Carnival PLC, so far, by all reports, Cunard has maintained their standards, and offer a truly classic luxury cruise experience.
Moreover, once in England, I will probably hang out a few days. My latest plan entails taking a train to Liverpool for a couple days of Beatle tourism, and then a ferry to Dublin for a couple days before flying home. For some reason flying from Dublin to LA is about half the price of flying from London to LA, so the price is almost the same to stay the few days extra.

And next, over the 4th of July weekend, I will be joining 30 or so of my Santa Fe High School Alumni friends for a 3o year Class Reunion. It's just a 3 day Carnival Paradise cruise down to Ensenada, but, obviously, it's more about the Reunion and hanging out with some old friends.

In the meantime I am on the lookout for some good cruises in the last half of the year.

But first, I have to get thru Christmas.......

This just in...add a two day Cruise to Nowhere on the Carnival Splendor. Apparently Carnival has a couple open days as the move the Splendor from her current home port in Florida, around South America, to begin a new season of 7day Mexican Riviera cruises from Long Beach. Rather than leave her tied up doing nothing, they are taking some people on a quickie two day trip...and I am one of the lucky ones.

EDIT: Okay, 86 the QM2...stuff came up.

But now I am adding a 3 day on the Carnival Elation, May 28th...taking my neice and two nephews, ages 5, 7 and almost 9...so I am sure I will be able to report on the Camp Carnival thing.

Next, I have added in a 7 Day Alaska, Sept 5th on the Norwegian Star. I sailed on NCL in Hawaii, and had a good time. This is a first time trip to Alaska (I never really wanted to go, frankly, as I don't think it's a vacation if you have to wear long pants and shoes). NCL is giving me a terrific deal as a reward for becoming a FREESTYLE SPECIALIST, that I couldn't pass it up.

And then an 8 day Mexico Cruise on the Carnival Spirit out of San Diego, on Nov 19th - got roped into it by some new friends (ones I sailed with on the Splendor). By making it 8 days instead of 7, and leaving from San Diego instead of Long Beach, she can get all the way to Acapulco, along with Manzanillo and Zihuatenejo, instead of the usual Mex Riviera ports. While I have been to each of those ports, nowhere near as many times as the old Cabo, Mazatlan, PV thing...so that should be cool.

So, that's the schedule (for now)


Ruby Princess Pre-Inaugural

Well, I got in at 3 this morning, but here goes.

The Cruise was fabulous, but two days is not enough. Had a balcony on the Aloha (12th) Deck, with a great view. Staterooms are the same as the other Grand Class ships, as is the basic layout of pools, lounges, restaurants and shops, for the most part. Princess has added another buffet station (Cafe Caribe)on the later (I think Crown and after) ships.
The biggest difference is in the "Piazza", the main lobby/atrium area. It is now used for a variety of "street entertainers", which on this two day cruise included a Doo Wop Group from New York that were great, and a Juggler/Unicyclist/Comedian who was fabulous, as well as the usual pianist and chamber music type stuff. Around the edge of the piazza they have a coffee bar, a patisserie with fresh bakery goodies as well as salads and sandwiches, a wine and cheese bar, and the best sushi bar at sea I have seen. The second day I stopped in for sushi 3 times.
There is also the new "Sanctuary", an adults only retreat with it's own pool, steam and sauna rooms, dedicated Serenity Stewards to bring special drinks and snacks, etc. I am told it was great, though I just walked thru. When you only have one full day, you can't get too laid back.

So, I arrived at FLL at 10:30, after a red-eye from Vegas, got on a bus and was at the Port in 10 minutes, checked in and in my stateroom 15 minutes after that. Unpacked and went upstairs to the buffet for a little lunch. Muster Drill was at 2:30, after that a quick dip in the jacuzzi, while watching "Casablanca" on the MUTS, and then it was time to dress.

Went down to the piazza for coffee, then up to the pool deck for the cocktail party kickoff. Roses everywhere, Ruby Red Everything. The festivities were kicked off by the President of the line, followed by Gavin McLeod, and then, of all things - A wedding. Right there on the boat, with Gavin McLeod giving away the bride, and Trista and Ryan as attendants. If I was the least bit romantic, I probably would have swooned. And then Trista and Ryan did the formal Naming Ceremony bit, and that was cool.

So, a little later I wandered down for dinner, and was seated with a really great bunch. The Vice-President of Finance, the Fleet Benefits coordinator (or something like that, he dealt with employee issues of all sorts), and the Compliance Director (who dealt with all the regulatory stuff for all the countries Princess does business in). As well there were four other Travel Agents, two young ladies from Dayton, and two from Tampa. During dinner the Vice President for Entertainment came by, a really witty Brit who has been with Princess for 30 years. He was dressed in a ruby velvet tailcoat with rhinestones, and was cracking jokes with everyone at the table. Not til the next day, when I saw him in a nice blue blazer and slacks did I really believe he was the vice president of anything. Dinner was great. Lobster like they used to do it, great pasta dish, a desert that was so good I don't remember what all was in it. The SailAway was delayed, (In fact we didn't leave the dock til sometime after 11pm, and no one ever explained why, but it's a new ship, so it could have been anything) so I went on down to the lounge.

The big show was an ABBA tribute band, that were quite good actually. Almost made me think I liked ABBA. After the show, and a quick stop in the Casino, it was off to bed for me, as I had been going since my 1 am flight from Vegas.

The next day I breakfasted at the buffet, eating outside on the fantail, one of my favorite cruise rituals. That view and the fresh ocean breeze makes even buffet eggs taste great. After breakfast I attended a Sales seminar, then made my first sushi stop of the day. Back to the room for a quick nap, and then a couple of hours of just walking around checking out all the lounges and such, as well as the entertainment in the piazza. I just missed the Pub Lunch, another new Princess Cruises innovation (copying from their Cunard Line, I am sure), so I consoled myself with a little more sushi.

Then it was time for the Gavin McLeod tribute - a little documentary on his life and career, followed by a Q and A. Lot's of fun, and I did get a chance to get a picture and chat with him a bit afterwards. Following that a trip to the casino, to recover my previous nights losses - almost, but not quite. Then just sat by the pool and relaxed for a while, until time to get dressed for dinner. My tablemates from the night before had arranged to meet at 7. Of course, I had to stop for some sushi on the way in.

Another fab meal, with crab legs and a perfect, tender beef tournedo. The dessert was a chocolate cake funnel-like thing filled with chocolate syrup, topped with white and dark chocolate decoration, and a deep-fried chocolate truffle on the side. I don't even like chocolate all that much, and it was to die for. We were also visited mid-meal by the Executive Chef for Princess, a guy with an obvious passion for both food and ships.

After dinner there was a "Rock Show" with the band Shockwave. Really quite a production, with lasers and strobes and fog machines, etc, which brought to mind a lot of concerts I went to back in the 70's and 80's. And then off to bed. Well, actually, the balcony for an hour of just sitting and feeling content, then bed.

Then up in the morning, another buffet breakfast on the fantail, and off to Ft. Lauderdale. I had 7 hours to kill before my flight, so I grabbed a cab to AIA and Las Olas, and wandered around for a few hours, and a nice lunch - then to the Airport and home.

All in all, a great couple of days. And I look forward to doing a full 7 day on the Ruby Princess, hopefully this summer.


Ruby Princess Pre-Inaugural 2 day cruise and Naming Ceremony

Wow, this is gonna be fun.

I am invited to the Naming Ceremony of the brand new Ruby Princess. I have never been to a naming ceremony, so that right there sounds like a great day. The Godparents of the Ruby Princess are Trista and Ryan, from The Bachelorette. Apparently (I don't pay much attention to these things) they have been married for 5 years now, and have one son and another baby on the way. So I guess it is possible to fall in love on a TV show.....who'da thunk it?

Following the naming ceremony, we are off for a 2 day "cruise to nowhere". By all accounts these are pretty elaborate affairs, and Princess picks up the tab for EVERYTHING, with an open bar, coffee bar, etc, all sorts of entertainment and special events, like a mass Vow Renewal Ceremony, and exclusive concert movies on their Movies Under the Stars system (a 300 square foot LED TV screen by the pool). They are also starting the first night with a "Ruby Red Formal" dinner, with the guests invited to wear ruby formal dress, or at least ruby red accessories.

Most of the guests are travel agents who have achieved, like yours truly, "PRINCESS COMMODORE" AGENT Status, the highest level of training in Princess products. As well there will be lot's of VIP's from Corporate, and ten couples who won an essay contest, and the aforementioned Trista and Ryan. Most importantly of all, none other than THE Cruise ship Captain of all time, Gavin McLeod (Capt. Stubing from THE LOVE BOAT series) will actually be onboard, with a tribute film followed by a Q & A session. How awesome is that?

Anyway - I am off on Nov. 6th for this little adventure, and I will post all about it when I get back.


Carnival Paradise

just got back from a 4 day Baja Mexico with my brother on the Carnival Paradise. Found a price I couldn't refuse, and I am taking a group on this boat in July of 09 for my Santa Fe High School 30th Class Reunion, so I thought I should check it out.
I have been on pretty much all of the Fantasy Class ships, and they have aged surprisingly well. This being the last, or second to last, one built, it is in great shape. While it has not yet undergone the "Evolutions of Fun" treatment, they HAVE upgraded the bedding, with better mattresses and pillows, and duvets instead of blankets/bedspreads. VERY MUCH AN IMPROVEMENT.
This being my home port I have been on a half dozen 4 day Baja's with Carnival on several different ships. The stop in Catalina, being a tender port, we spent on-board (tendering in a wheelchair is just not that fun, unless it is a super port). We had a great day just hanging out by the pool and indulging in the buffet, which has been upgraded as well. For a Mass Market line, Carnival has great food. We did get off in Ensenada, took a lift equipped bus downtown for a buck a piece and walked around for a few hours, bought some cheesy souvenirs for the niece and nephews, and hung out in a bar eating tacos and having a beer. Good times.
Wheelchair accessibility is good, given the age of the ship - with just a few tight corners, doorway thresholds, etc. And no dedicated wheelchair seating in the main theater, although there was room to slide up to a table, and we went to all the shows.
The cabin was adequate. Carnival has both "wheelchair accessible" staterooms, which are purpose built, very roomy and a great bathroom set up. They also, on the older ships, have "modified" cabins, which are the same size as the regular (fortunately their standard cabins are much larger than all the other mass market lines, like RCCL), but have barrier free showers, no lip into the bathroom and wider bathroom and hallway doors. The design is such that it is a little awkward to get a shower chair in the shower, but once there, it works great. And with two of us, plus a chair that doesn't fold, the floorspace is pretty much covered. On the other hand, the only time we are in their together is at night, so it works out okay.
Anyway, we had a great time, this cruise is an old standby, but easy and comfortable, and I think I have all the information I need for my big 30th Reunion.


Amtrak - Riding the Rails

An oft-overlooked vacation style, Amtrak. Although the Golden Age of Train Travel passed decades ago, there is still much to recommend using Amtrak for your next vacation. I have taken the Amtrak's Sunset Limited (Los Angeles to Orlando) round trip, the Southwest Chief (Chicago to Los Angeles) end to end and the Texas Eagle (San Antonio to Chicago) end to end.I have also ridden partial routes from LA to Oregon, St. Louis to Kansas City, and New York to D.C.
One thing about a train: It is both transportation and destination. The train ride itself is faster than driving, the seats are more spacious than airline first class, and the sleepers are quite comfortable. And besides your personal seat/sleeper there is a Bar Car with a snack bar, a good place to hang out and talk to people or play cards, the Observation Car, which is mostly windows, another great place to meet and get to know your fellow travelers, as well as watch some great scenery slide past, and finally, the Dining Car with better meals than you might expect (and lower prices), served on linen table cloths with real cutlery and crytal to boot.
Most Amtrak routes combine city sights with lots of wide open spaces. Even the East Coast routes are very scenic, and the Coast to Coast routes all have amazing scenery.
As well, when you are on the longer routes, you develop a camaradiery with your fellow passengers, much like on a cruise ship. Cocooned away from the rest of the world, in your own little moving universe, friendships develop, and stories get swapped. It is really quite a fun break from the everyday.
Personally, I don't mind driving, but to really enjoy the trip I prefer the train. It leaves you free to walk around, talk, gawk and snooze, without endangering the other passengers.
Also, as a way to get from here to there, the Amtrak is, as I said, faster than driving, and the Train Stations tend to be in the middle of town, rather than 10 miles out in the 'burbs, like airports, so generally there are hotels and tourist areas within walking distance of the station.
I said earlier the sleeper cars are pretty comfortable (and when you book a sleeper, all your meals are included). Besides the little rooms one generally thinks of, Amtrak also has Family Suites, and Wheelchair Accessible Suites. The Family Suites, which will sleep two adults and two children, stretch all the way across the car, giving a window on both sides.
The Wheelchair Accessible Sleeper also stretches across the car, and is located on the lower level, making boarding easy. The only downside is that the rest of the train is not accessible without climbing stairs. There are some stations where wheelchairs can be boarded to the upper level, but it takes careful planning, because you are then stuck until the NEXT such station, to reboard on the lower level of your room. The good part is, it not only includes all your meals, but there is room service.
Both Family and Wheelchair Accessible Accomodations are limited, and generally sell out early, so you need to plan well in advance if you need them. Other sleeper and regular coach seats are usually available right up to the last minute.
Of course, we here at http://www.daveholmantravel.com/ can help you with all the arrangements.


The Dollar is Falling - Where should I go? For those of you who have been thinking of a European vacation, but finding prices are thru the roof due to the strong Euro, I have one word: CRUISES. since cruises are paid in Dollars, and include your transportation, hotel and meals, you can avoid most of the weak dollar problems. And European cruise offerings have exploded in the past few years, with many new and exciting iteneraries from the Eastern Med, with trips to the Black Sea, Turkey, Greece and Croatia, to Western Med with more traditional ports in Italy, France and Spain. Most Med cruises include overnight stays in ports like Venice and Barcelona, allowing plenty of shore time to see these cultural capitals.Also, Northern Europe is becoming more popular, with dozens of cruises from England, Germany, Holland, and Scandinavia. Most of these include an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.Also, if you don't want to cruise, you might try ARGENTINA. The Argentinian Peso is still pegged to the dollar, so food and hotel costs are remaining steady, and it is a truly beautiful country with thousands of miles of coastline, dramatic Andes mountain hiking, and touring, and modern vibrant cities.For more ideas on how to travel with a weak dollar, and still get a great value, call us, or visit http://www.daveholmantravel.com/ to see all our fabulous vacation offerings.Technorati Tags:Travel, wheelchair+travel, travelogs, cruise, vacation, train+travelAdd to: Technorati Digg del.icio.us Yahoo BlinkList Spurl reddit Furl
Labels: Cruise, Europe, South America

by Dave
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Nashville, TN - Music City

And it really is. The whole city is about music. I didn't think I would like Nashville the first time I went. I am not much of a country music fan. Besides, I have been playing guitar for 35 years, and the one thing I knew about Nashville is that I couldn't swing a cat without hitting 10 guys who could play better than me.But it turns out to be one of my favority cities in America. And it's not all country. Just spend a Sunday afternoon on Broadway, starting at Tootsie's and working your way towards the river, hop into each club, grab a drink and listen. You will hear Country and Western, then Bluegrass, then Rock, then Blues, a little of everything. Most of the musicians are wannabe's, a few are usetabe's, but they are all good. When you are done on Broadway, go around the corner to the Ryman Theater, original home of the Grand Ole Opry. One of my favorite photos is of myself standing onstage at the Ryman, guitar in hand. I can say I played guitar on the same stage as the likes of B.B.King, and Eric Clapton. Granted, no one was listening, but still....For a more formal night out, try Printer's Alley, which has several good clubs, the best of which is the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar. The house band there, Stacy Mitchart and the Blues U Can Use Band are awesome. I first heard them in 2000, and again on subsequent trips, and he just keeps getting better.And even though I am not a huge Country Western fan, the Hall of Fame is a must see. It tells the history of Country music, as well as Bluegrass and Gospel and such that preceeded. Until I went there I had no idea that Henry Ford's second greatest contribution to America was popularizing Country Western - he heard the Carter Family and some others, and got their music played on radio stations all around America. And I had a little taste of home, listening to a video by Clint Black talking about staying in Apple Valley (where I used to be Mayor) and recording a duet with Roy Rogers. Nor did I know, until I took a bus tour of Nashville Stars Homes that Hank Williams, Jr and John Ritter were neighbors growing up.Another must-see is the New Opry House, and the Opryland Outlet Mall. Among the cool stores there is the Gibson Guitar's mandolin and fiddle factory. You can walk around playing guitars and such selling for upwards of 10K, while watching the luthiers hand-crafting Gibsons high end mandolins and fiddles, then grab lunch and listen to some music - all without leaving the store.I also, on one trip, crashed a party at the Gibson Custom factory. It was the 10th birthday party of the shop, and me and my partner just walked right on in, like we belonged. (I had stumbled upon them setting up while sending out a parcel at the UPS station next door). The food was great, obviously the music was better, and during the evening I got a chance to talk to Slash, and Ted Nugent - so that was cool....There are also lot's of recreational opportunities in and around Nashville, with several large lakes and waterparks, some great historical sites like The Hermitage, Andrew Jacksons home and plantation, and a great Stadium if you want to take in a Tennessee Titans game. Again, not a huge fan of the Titans, but the locals love their team almost as much as Wisconsiners love their Packers, so it's a great place to see a game.And, as always, if you are ready to take a trip to Music City, stop by http://www.daveholmantravel.com/ and we will help you with all the arrangements.


Golden Princess to Mexican Riviera - DONE

Okay, just got in, thought I would do this while it's still fresh.

I have done a dozen or so Mexican Riviera cruises ( I live close enough to drive to the Port), this one is in the top 5. Some good, some not so good.

As far as the ports go, Sorry, but "been there - done that". Got off the ship for about 45 minutes in Puerto Vallarta, otherwise we stayed on board.
The Golden Princess is a beautiful ship, well maintained, nicely laid out, and too big. But that's just my opinion.
The wheelchair accessible balcony stateroom was very nice, roomy, good bathroom, and reasonably accessible. A few odd things as far as wheelchair access, typical of ships her age - at the front door, the floor is built up an inch or so, to allow easy roll in - but only from the hall going in. Apparently no one realized that wheelchairs must eventually come out, so there is a 1" lip on the inside. Navigable, but one of those things, that if you don't hit it at just the right angle, can bring you to a screeching halt.
Also, there is a 3-4 lip to the balcony, each direction, but only one (portable) steel ramp, so no matter which side you put in on, it is a tricky manuever to go out to the balcony.
There are also excessively high lips at every door on the Promenade deck, and the doorway leading from the Lido deck (where the pools, buffet, ice cream parlor, pizzeria and the grill are located), forward, out to the pool area is just a mess, with steep ramps that have a lip, to a door jamb with a lip, to a steep ramp back down. So, if you lift the front of the chair to clear the lip on the ramp, you plant the tire between the ramp and the doorway. The only way to get thru is backwards, basically, but that requires turning around in a narrow hall, and backing thru two sets of doors. The alternative is to use the mid-ship elevators to access the Lido deck, but of course, these days the Stewards' carts are pretty much a permanent fixture of the hallways. I long for the days when Stewards did not have carts, and vacuums were never just left out in the hall.
On the plus side, the layout of the ship is easy - most of your outdoor activities are on the Lido Deck, or the Sports Deck, up one. Most of the other venues are immediately adjacent to the Atrium: Deck 5 has a restaurant, a couple bars, Library, etc. Deck 6 another restaurant, some bars, shops and the Casino, and the entire length of Deck 7, the Promenade Deck, is public space, from the Princess Theatre, forward to the Vista Lounge, aft. Most of the public spaces are very nice, and well suited to the various events.
I must say, though, the Princess Theatre is rather small for a ship this size, and from the limited wheelchair areas (all the way back, and to each side of the technicians) the roof is very low, making it appear even smaller. I know Princess has chosen to have more, smaller entertainment venues, to break up the crowd, but it doesn't really work, and there were always lots of irate people who couldn't get in to see the main show in the Princess Theatre, because they only showed up 10-15 minutes before showtime.
The restaurants were great, with good to excellent food. We never waited more than a couple of minutes to be seated. I like the Anytime Dining, overall. The downside is that you don't get the personal touch from the servers that you get with Traditional. On the plus side, we sat with a different group every night, so we got to meet and talk to more people than with the Traditional.

While the ship itself was fine, overall, to my mind Princess service is what sets them apart from other mass market lines. This cruise was no exception. From the moment I pulled up to the curb to drop my Mother and Brother, a porter helped me grab the bags, and an attendant practically grabbed my Brothers wheelchair and off they went. By the time I parked the car and walked into the terminal, they were done checking in, and we went on board, where another attendant took over the wheelchair and took us straight to our staterooms.

Likewise our Steward was perfect. I never saw him unless I needed him, and the rooms were maintained perfectly.
The Waiters were all good, with the exception of the last night when Mary from Grenada and Vineta from Macedonia were, simply, awesome. They were really fabulous, talkative, helpful and efficient.
I would also like to say the Casino Staff (we spend way too much time in the Casino) were excellent, friendly and eager to help.
The entertainment was okay, with a pretty good magician, an average production show, one okay stand up comedian, and one really great stand up comedy/music act by Steve Moris. He is really kind of corny, but you can't help but laugh. He was definitely the highlight of the week.

A couple of glitches did occur during the week. The second night out, while we were having dinner, a series of power outages took place. The Captain announced the problem was something to do with the power management computers, and eventually he decided to shut down the engines whilst everything got fixed. We sat, dead in the water, for an hour or so, with minimal lighting from emergency power. No big deal, except the elevators were not working, so my brother was stuck in the Atrium with the wheelchair. I did notice there was sufficient power to operate every cash register at every bar, and every slot machine in the casino, so I am pretty sure they could have left one elevator operating, even if they had to restrict it to mobility impaired passengers only. Just in case you were wondering whether a cruise line would allow safety to trump revenue, I think there's your answer.
Also, the following night, after falling into bed at 1 am, I was awakened by the telephone, at a little after 4 am. A voice came on and told me there was a fire in my area, and to report to my muster station immediately. After finding a light switch, pulling a shirt on, digging that other shoe out from under the desk, and wondering if I needed a Passport to enter the country by lifeboat, I was just going out the door, to figure out what to do with my brother and his chair. The phone rang again, and it was the bridge, telling me the smoke alarm in my room had gone off. He then asked me if everything was okay. I assured him that, apart from the damn phone ringing, and recorded messages guaranteed to stop your heart, I was just dandy.
Apparently, just another little computer glitch, but one I would not like to repeat.
All in all, I would give this one, oh, say an "8" on a 1-10 scale.


NCL's Pride of Hawaii - Now the Jade, cruising Europe

Pride of Hawaii - Hawaii
I was on the April 30 sailing of the Pride of Hawaii. In a word - Fabulous. We flew in the morning of the cruise, arriving in Honolulu at 11am. Went straight to the ship. Boarding was relatively painless, and we were on board by 12:30. The ship is beautiful in a kitschy-hawaiiana kind of way. We hung out in the Spinnaker Lounge, a riot of colors and shapes that even Carnival couldn't match. The giant W shaped double chaise loungers were actually very comfortable. We then went to get a bite to eat at the buffet. It was quite crowded, as it was the only food available, but the set up was fairly efficient, and the food was, well, as good as buffet food gets. We got into our room at about 3pm, and I was quite pleasantly surprised. I was a little leery of the "obstructed view" thing, but it was the only outside, accessible cabin available when I booked. The obstruction was the roof of a life boat at the level of the window bottom. So you could not see down to the water, but had a clear view, straight out, and plenty of light. The cabin was roomy enough for the wheelchair, and the bathroom layout was excellent. One odd note - from the Blue Lagoon restaurant, mid-ship, to the Cat G staterooms the hallway was narrow, with two sharp turns, both ramped, so its "push uphill, turn sharp left, push uphill, turn sharp right", and hope no one is coming the other way. Given that the four staterooms on that hall are "accessible" staterooms, it seems weird to make them so hard to get to. From the rear elevators, no problem. And other than that, the ship is very wheelchair friendly, with wide decks and minimal thresholds, etc. The first night we ate at the Alizar dining room. We got there at 6pm, waited less than 10 minutes to be seated, and were finished with dinner at 7:20. That was pretty typical of every night but "formal night" when we waited about 30 minutes to be seated. We sort of alternated between the Alizar and the Grand Pacific. Having read some real horror stories about Freestyle Dining, all I can say is, it never happened to us. Yes, the wait staff was more "Outback" than "Spago", but, frankly, so am I. They were uniformly friendly, energetic, helpful and never missed an order. The food was fine and well presented. I would say NCL is about average for cruise lines. I have had better, I have had worse. Most days for breakfast we ate at the buffet, or in the room. Again, pretty much average. Several days we had lunch at the Blue Lagoon, where we got some really good food, except the meat loaf, which was absolutely dreadful. Sorry, just had to say it. The only bad meal I had all week.
We stayed on board during our first port call in Kona, lazed around the pool, recovering from the jet lag. The pool area was great, again with vibrant colors and shapes. I heard a few negative comments, but I think some people just don't get it. If you are looking for understated elegance, this is entirely the wrong boat. If you are a fan of Hawaiiana you will love every bit of it. Our next port, Maui, started off great, til my brothers wheelchair had a blowout. Now, this is the kind of thing that can ruin your day, or your whole vacation. I called around, and found a place that could replace the tire. I was going to drop my brother off, then push the wheelchair a couple miles back to town. As we were boarding, one of the crew noticed the flat, and asked if I needed help. I told him my plan. He asked if it would be easier to take off the tire, and then tracked down the tools I needed, and brought them to the stateroom. It is hard to express the difference between lugging an empty wheelchair in and out of taxis and all around the city and carrying an 8 inch tire, but, trust me, it's HUGE. Needless to say, I got the names of everyone who helped, and made sure their supervisors heard how wonderful they were. So, we got back out in time to go to the beach, before sunset. Spent the second day walking around Lahaina. The next port was Hilo. We did a little shopping, and spent the rest of the day, again, by the pool. Finally, Kuaui. This was the only place we had never been before. We hired a van for the day, and drove all the way up to Hanalei Bay, then back around to Waimea Canyon. Our guide was a lovely lady from Mass who has lived in Kuaui for 20 years, and had an impressive knowledge of the geography, botany and history of the island. The final day, we went up on deck for the Na Pali Coast cruise-by. This is some of the most fantastic scenery ever, and worth the cost of the whole trip. And, so, back to Honolulu. We did the Easy-fly thing, and it is well worth the $20 pp. Schlepping bags from ship to taxi, taxi to plane is my least favorite part of travel. All in all, we had a great week, and would recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to see a good cross section of Hawaii in a limited time.


Golden Princess to Mexican Riviera

Well, booked it today.....Had an offer I couldn't refuse. So me and my brother are taking an accessible balcony stateroom and heading to Mexico. February 9th.

Don't even know how many Mex Riviera cruises I have taken. So, the ports don't really matter. Don't get me wrong, Puerto Vallarta is great, and Mazatlan has some memories for me. Like getting 86'd from Senor Frogs in 1984 (a long story). Also, I will probably spend the whole day in Cabo just walking around the Marina being envious of the guys that can afford those sport fishing yachts.

But on this itenerary, it's all about the cruising. I have done Princess on this route, back in 99 on the Dawn. Great ship. The Golden is even bigger and newer, so we will see what Princess has in store for us, this time.

I will post all the details of the ship, and especially the features of the wheelchair accessible cabins as soon as I get back.