NCL Partners First Print Ad

So, back in the spring, I was asked to do an ad for Norwegian Cruise Lines new Partners First initiative, to run in various trade magazines.

They finally printed mine.  So, I can add "Model" to my C.V. now.


The Great American Steamboat Company Inaugural Season

The Great American Steamboat Company’s inaugural voyages this spring will be filled with surprise and delight. Genuine southern hospitality will greet us as we call on these towns for the first time in years. We can expect to be greeted by local dignitaries, experience musical fanfare and even see the local children who will be allowed to “play hooky” from school in order to greet the much-loved steamboat, the American Queen.

There is no better time to reserve space aboard an authentic American icon and to be among the first lucky travelers to make history, as the grand American Queen returns to the waterways of America’s Heartland. Contact us today.

Roundtrip New Orleans

6 nights

April 13 - 19, 2012

Visit: New Orleans, Oak Alley, St. Francisville, Natchez, Vicksburg, Houmas House

New Orleans to Memphis

8 nights

April 19 - 27, 2012

Visit: New Orleans, Oak Alley, St. Francisville, Natchez, Vicksburg, Helena, Memphis

Memphis to Cincinnati

7 nights

April 27 - May 4, 2012

Visit: Memphis, Henderson, Louisville, Madison, Cincinnati, plus leisurely Mississippi River cruising

For information on any of these River Cruises, call Dave Holman Travel Services, 760.265.3687

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Great American Steamboat Company · One Commerce Square · 40 South Main Street, 21st Floor · Memphis, TN 38103


Jet Charters and Other Charter Travel Options

After finally making it through the ridiculous lines at the airport, many of us are too tired and frustrated to enjoy a flight. Long road trips can tire people out even more, making the arrival to a final destination anti-climactic. Trying to hail a taxi on a busy night in the snow can transform a delightful evening into an unfortunate experience. In situations like these, you may find yourself wondering if there are any alternative means of travel. Charter travel is one possible alternative. Commissioning a jet charter, for example, can put the fun and excitement back into flying.

If eight friends want to take a trip over a long weekend from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, they could possibly hop on a light jet charter for a reasonable price. Light jets often have seating available for eight to ten passengers. Based on a few online estimates, light jets can cost roughly $2,000 for each hour in flight. The number of hours the friends would need to spend in flight would be a little under two and a half. So the flight would cost around $625 per person, which is a lot less than many people might imagine chartering a jet would cost.

Flying on a jet is not only for Tom Cruise and Tiger Woods. All kinds of different people charter jets each and every day to get to business meetings across the nation. If your situation requires you to fly by yourself, you should think about taking a trip in the air on a jet charter. It will definitely be an opportunity for you to unwind in privacy as you fly. Very light jets can be chartered at lower rates than light jets, and they are a little smaller in size, which makes them a good fit for individual flyers.

A limousine is a perfect way to get to weddings, proms, company parties, etc. It definitely beats showing up in a cab. The majority of limousine charter businesses give you a wide range of choices of stretch sedans and SUV limousines. No matter what kind of limousine you decide to charter, it is certain that you will arrive to your destination with an air of sophistication.

If a big family is planning on taking a trip to another state for a family reunion, a bus charter can be an excellent way to get there. A bus charter is also perfect for the volleyball team to make it to the final state competition. Bus charters allow large groups to ride together rather than drive in several, separate vehicles. So, they reduce the expenses of filling up multiple gas tanks.

If you are tired of airports, long drives, and taxis, you should evaluate the benefits of charter travel. If you make the decision to charter a jet, limousines, or bus, you will be doing yourself a huge favor and setting your trip up for succes. .

For more information or assistance with your charter travel needs, call DAVE HOLMAN TRAVEL SERVICES, at 760.265.3687


Celebrity Millenium Ship Inspection, 9/19/11

A day of mixed messages, is what I am going to call it.  Though I am not a big sailor or seller of Celebrity Crusises, in the last couple years, they have gotten some great reviews on their new ships.  And the people I know that have sailed them, have raved about the service, the programs, the food, etc.

I am glad I know all that, because, just based on the event I attended yesterday, I'd have a hard time really pushing anyone to try Celebrity.  First off, we met in the dungeon of the Residence Inn in San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter.  Definitely, downscale.  And right off the bat we get a briefing on Celebrity's latest "brand identity" campaign:  Modern Luxury.  This is to differentiate from "traditional luxury".  Cris DeSouza, the Celebrity channel manager putting on the presentation had a series of slides to illustrate, with, you know "Mercedes Benz, traditional luxury, versus Audi, modern luxury", etc...one of the examples was Ritz-Carlton, traditional luxury, versus W Hotels, modern luxury.  I am pretty sure I drove past W to get to the Residence Inn...and the comparison might have been easier to illustrate from a conference room there.  I have to say, most cruise lines DO have there events at places like W and the Beverly Hilton, or at least a full-on Marriott.  Residence Inn stinks of budget considerations...not really the message, when you are trying to sell modern luxury.

All that aside the presentations were good.  We also got to hear from some travel industry veterans and the Corporate Groups people.

Then we went over to the Millenium and stood in line.  Took nearly an hour to get 50 agents onboard.  Ridiculous.

But, finally, we did get aboard, and ran straight to lunch.  Lunch was good to great.  Celebrity prides itself on the quality, and the presentation, of their food.  I have to give them kudos on the presentations...they were uniformly excellent.  We started with a grilled Portobello mushroom with some sweet and savory sauces spritzed on the plate,and a dollop of some creme fraiche based something.  It was the best! 
And then a soup that was (and I am not being a smart alec, I really can't remember) a cream of "something".  Way too salty.  With all due respect to Mario and Rachel and all the other second tier cooks on The Food Network, salt is cheating.  We are all predisposed to like the taste of salt.  Witness the popularity of pretzels and potato chips.  But salt is for snacks and comfort food, it has no place in cuisine that is taking the high road. 
The other interesting part of the soup was that it was drizzled with sherry.  Again, if you are trying to be "modern luxury" I don't know where sherry fits in.  My great grandmother used cooking sherry, and I am sure the Queen Mary kept lot's of it in the pantries for their fine dining in 1958...but, these days, not so much.
The next course was a nice salad.  Now salad is salad, and not much you can do, but, again, an artful presentation saved it.  The greens came in a bunch, tied at the bottom with a thin slice of cucumber, and resembled a bouquet.  Nice touch. 
For the entree I chose braised short ribs.  Now, the beef was fall-apart tender, and served with a swoosh of mashed potato, a few carrot slices and a tempura green bean, for a nice looking plate...but, short ribs?  Again, my grandmother made some killer short ribs, back in the day...not sure, but if I was shooting for "modern luxury", I'd have gone with duck or an interesting fish or something....
Desert was a chocolate cake, warm, on a bed of chocolate sauce with a weepy whipped cream and some crushed almost around the plate.  Very pretty, but pedestrian in taste.

So, now, on to the ship...we had to hurry through, as we were running very late, but I did get to see most of the main public spaces...and the overall impression was "tired".  They kept telling us how things were going to look after April, when the Millenium get's "Solsticized".  That is to say, she is undergoing a $50 million face lift, and refit, to bring the decor and amenities up to Solstice-class standards.  Not a moment too soon.  Even though she is only 11 years old, the Millenium's interior was out-dated when she was built.  All dark woods and velvet furnishings.  Very "traditional luxury".  I am glad they are getting away from that look.  I sincerely hope I can do another ship inspection as she makes her way back to Alaska in the spring, and after the new look is installed.  In fact, several of us observed that they might have been better off to leave this whole event for then.  Certainly the ship is devoid of any kind of "WOW" factor as she is.

The one exception was the meeting spaces.  They are numerous, well laid out, very flexible, perfectly located and extremely comfortable.

So, right now, on this ship, about the only thing I would be pushing would be Corporate Meeting-type groups.  For that purpose she is excellent.  As to your basic 7 day Caribbean thing...I would definitely steer my groups and clients to the newer Solstice-class ships, if they are up for giving Celebrity Cruises a whirl.

As always, if you are interested in more information on Celebrity, give us a call at 760.265.3687 or "like" us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/DaveHolmanTravel


Celebrity Millenium Ship Inspection, 9/19/11

So, this is what I get to do Monday!  I'll be back to post pictures and a review.  With several lines leaving the West Coast, or cutting back their deployments, it's a great time to check out CELEBRITY!!!

Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from our Spring Keys to Success Home Based Training Events in Ft. Lauderdale, San Francisco, and Seattle, WA, Celebrity Cruises has decided to add new dates and cities to the program's Fall, 2011 line up:

San Diego
New York
Fort Lauderdale

This exclusive training is for serious home based agents with a high motivation for success! The high-octane day includes training from industry veterans Anita Pagliasso, Industry Leader and Author, Scott Koepf, Industry Veteran, Motivational Speaker & Vice President of Sales for Avoya Travel, Stuart Cohen, Industry Speaker and Chief Motivational Officer for Exclamation Points, Inc.!

Celebrity’s own in-house experts include Beth Lindsley, Corporate Meeting and Sales Manager, Ron Gulaskey, Director of Corporate Meetings/Incentives & Charters, and Cris De Souza, Home Based Channel Manager.

Best of all, the Keys to Success events all include a ship tour and lunch onboard one of our stunning Celebrity Cruises vessels!


San Diego with AMTRAK

Quick trip to San Diego. The nephews and niece have been bugging me to take a train trip. It just wasn't going to work out to take a cross country, so I figured we'd try a short one, just to try it out. The Pacific Surfliner, LA to SD is a nice 3 hour run. And San Diego is always a good choice when the temps climb to 100F at home.

So, we hopped in the car and headed to Union Station. Called AMTRAK on the way down (illegally using a cellphone while driving, but it's okay, because I was smoking in the car with kids, too. But we did have our seatbelts on! Safety First!).

After all the discounts for Seniors, Disabled and Children (I am the only one in a group of 6 that had to pay full fare), it came to about $260 r/t total for 6. Not bad.

Now, I love me some AMTRAK. I really do. BUt I can't say the same for Union Station in Los Angeles. In the last few years, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority, while not providing rapid transit to speak of, HAS managed to build a headquarters at the cost of over ONE BILLION DOLLARS. Cuz, you know, it's tax money. It's not like we have to pay for it. Anyway, they built that monstrosity (it was referred to as the Taj Mahal for a while, until people realized the Taj Mahal could fit in any of the several dozen executive washrooms) across the tracks from Union Station, and then this whole "Gateway Plaza" building, for all the people in LA who don't use the Metrolink trains. And while they were at it they reconfigured the parking. Now, all the overnight parking is on the Gateway Center side (you know for all the people who commute to their jobs and stay overnight), while all the parking on the Union Station side is 2 hour maximum. Because we all know when you right the AMTRAK somewhere, you are probably going to be right back.

Anyway, dropped everyone in front of Union Station, drove 15 minutes to the long-term parking, then walked thru the mile of tunnel under the trainyard, got back to the front of Union Station to pick up tickets and walked back almost to the car, where we boarded the train...

But it gets better from here, honest! Actually, the trains on this route are pretty new and nicely done in terms of wheelchair access. While the chair has to stay downstairs, and can't get to the snack car or whatever, the lower level is roomy, easy to transfer to the seat, and the seats are nice. Roughly equivalent to a business class seat on an airplane, but more leg room and way wider aisles. On the cross country routes, the seats are like first class air seats, but, you know, it's only a 3 hour trip.

Anyway, got down to San Diego at 7pm. Right on time. Walked over to the Holiday Inn On the Bay, which is less than half a mile from the Santa Fe Station, and right across the street from the San Diego Cruise Terminal. This is the first time I have ever stayed here, but I have known bunches of other people who have used it for pre- or post-cruise stays. I live less than 3 hours by car from the port so I have just driven in the morning of, when I cruise from San Diego. And there are better hotels/locations if you are actually vacationing in San Diego.

I have been in the pub/restaurant (The Elephant and Castle) a few times. It's a nice little pub/sports bar/restaurant. The last time I was there was to bring In 'n Out burgers to a friend who was getting on a cruise ship the next day. She is from New York, had never known the joy of a Double Double, and, yes...I will drive 2.5 hours to hook up an In 'n Out virgin for the first time. They ARE that good. And the bartender was so cool, he not only didn't say anything about me bringing in food from outside (I am sure he saw the bag from In n Out, and realized the gravity of the situation), he actually brought us extra napkins and such.

Anyway, we went in and had some appetizer-y stuff, but no one was really hungry, so we went on back to the rooms and watched TV.

We had adjoining rooms with bayview balconies. Pretty nice for a Holiday Inn. Nothing extraordinary, except the location. If you do ever cruise from San Diego I absolutely recommend it.

So, we got up this morning and headed back to the restaurant. Had a great English breakfast, which is, of course, one of the reasons God created England, I think...to give the world a True Breakfast. Everyone else had omelettes and such. Quite good. Would have been expensive, but "Kids Eat Free" is going on at Holiday Inn, so saved a bundle there.

After breakfast, me and the kids dropped the mom and the Steve at the room and went to the pool. They splashed around a bit, and compared the lovely heated water here to the arctic waters they have to swim in at my house. But, you know, to h**l with 'em, until they start making enough money to pay for heating the darn thing.

After a swim, we walked over to the San Diego Maritime Museum which, unlike the last "maritime museum" I went to, in Astoria, Oregon, is chock full of museum-y stuff. Included in the entry, you can tour the Star of India, a fully restored clipper ship, a smaller pirate-y schooner whose name escapes me, a Soviet Submarine (which was awesomely claustrophobic. I don't like submarines much at the best of times, but those Soviet submariners had to have had major tranquilizers in their diet. That thing was AWFUL), a couple of racing yachts including the Stars and Stripes, a 100 year old steam powered yacht, an American submarine and another ship whose name escapes me, but which, right now is hosting an excellent exhibition of Gaugin are work. So, that was cool to kill a couple hours.

After the ship inspections and stuff we headed on back to the room, got packed up, and as I write this we are halfway back to LA...nothing like a last minute whirlwind tour.

Of course, I am determined to take these guys to Florida or D.C. on the train, hopefully next summer.

And for all your train travel, san diego hotel or cruising needs, don't forget to call DAVE HOLMAN TRAVEL SERVICES, 760.265.3687, or email daveholman@verizon.net.


Partners First at Norwegian Cruise Line

Miami - Apr 15, 2011 ---

Norwegian Cruise Line ("Norwegian") today announced "Partners First," the company's corporate philosophy of putting its travel partners first at Cruise3Sixty, the official travel agency conference of the cruise line industry. Andy Stuart, Norwegian's executive vice president of global sales and passenger services, detailed how the company is putting partners first in three key areas: investment in long-term travel partner success; a complete focus on being easy to do business with; and a commitment to travel partners on direct business.

"Travel partners are an integral part of our business and putting them first is part of our DNA," said Stuart. "We felt that we needed to do a better job of communicating this philosophy to our travel partners so that they could clearly understand our commitment to them."

In terms of investment in agents' long-term success, the company committed $16 million toward new customizable marketing tools, increased marketing support, improved communication and keeping NCL University as the most robust travel partner education site and online community in the industry. The company is also investing in its outside sales team and expanding its inside sales team by 45% to dramatically grow the line's reach to ensure every single travel partner has a contact at Norwegian to help grow their business.

Norwegian is also focused on streamlining the booking process and is investing $7 million in new technology booking improvements for travel partners, along with guaranteeing all rate quotes, offering partners a competitive advantage with promotional groups and creating an email address ? askVivian@ncl.com ? where partner operational questions go direct to the company's vice president of passenger services, Vivian Ewart.

Stuart also outlined Norwegian's stance on direct business. "There's been a lot of noise in the marketplace recently about direct sales. We want to assure our partners that we do not use customer data from travel agent bookings for direct business. We will not contact our partners' clients to book directly with us," said Stuart. "Also, our direct business has no price advantage."

To ensure travel partners are aware of Norwegian's commitment, the company has engaged a dedicated trade agency, R&R Partners, to handle all aspects of the company's trade marketing and programs. R&R has handled aspects of Norwegian's trade program since 2008.

An open letter from Andy Stuart to travel partners will appear in a number of trade publications the week of April 18, 2011 outlining the company's commitment to travel partners. Travel partners are encouraged to visit www.partnersfirst.ncl.com to view a video of Stuart discussing "Partners First," along with an area for partners to post their comments with regards to the company's commitment. A new trade advertising campaign focused on "Partners First" will launch in May. The campaign will feature actual travel partners and will celebrate their knowledge and commitment to their clients.

"It's important that our travel partners understand that Norwegian is a new cruise line today with the entire company focused on guest satisfaction and putting our partners first," said Stuart.


Hesperia Service Animal Ordinance

Push by local "Tea Party" to strip Persons With Disabilities of their Civil Rights beat back,

For those of you who don't know, the Obama Administration recently made an administrative change in the Americans With Disabilities Act.

This Act, passed by the Congress, and signed by President George H.W. Bush back in 1990, basically recognized that American citizens with disabilities should not be deprived of the right to participate fully in society. It is, to people with disabilities, what the 19th Amendment is to American women, and the 13th and 14th Amendment (as well as the Civil Rights Act) are to Black Americans.

It requires all public places, as well as employers, to make "reasonable accomodation" for people's various disabilities, so that they can fully partake of the life us able-bodied citizens enjoy.

For 21 years, the necessity for public accomodations to allow "service animals" to enter their premises has been in operation, with very little problems, and almost no litigation as to what constitutes a service animal.

Then along comes the Obama Justice Department. Under pressure from groups like hotel operators (who feel they are losing revenue because, while they are more than happy to allow pets, which they charge extra for, charging extra for a service animal is a violation of the A.D.A.), they totally on a whim, with no input from Congress, decided to upend the law and define "service animal" to include only seeing-eye dogs. Period. Again, it bears repeating. CONGRESS did not change the law. There were no public hearings or committee meetings. No court decision compelled a change in the law. Typical of the high-handed arrogance of this Administration, they simply DECIDED to ram this change in the law thru, despite the fact our Constitution does not give the Executive the power to make law. Here in America (at least, before Obama), laws are made by the Legislative branch, subject to review by the Judicial branch, and are enforced by the Executive branch.

Fortunately, our City Council here in Hesperia is very responsive to the citizens they serve. They are sensitive to the needs of all our people, including those with disabilities. So, an service animal ordinance was proposed to keep the law in Hesperia identical to the way the law has been in all of America for the last 21 years. It passed the first reading on a 4-1 vote. The lone dissent was Bill Jensens Tea Party lapdog, Bill Holland.

And then the most bizarre thing happened. A former Councilmember/current Planning Commissioner/self-styled Tea Party activist decided he needs to get his name in the paper, apparently. So this guy, Bill Jensen, decides to totally support the Obama Administrations decision to strip disabled Americans of their Civil Rights. He activates his mindless followers, fills their heads (and their hands, they all show up at the Council meeting and just read what he tells them to) with lies and stupidity in the most despicable and craven act of political cowardice I have ever seen. About 20 of them. People I know know better. People who, for two years now have vocally resisted the Obama Administration's usurpations and distortions of our American, Constitutional way of government. Now all of a sudden they are on The Annointed One's bandwagon.

I couldn't take it. I had to let loose and tell them the truth to their face. I told them I was embarassed to be in the room with them. And I am. I am embarassed that the city I call my home could contain such heartless evil as these people propose. And I am ashamed that I have ever done business with any of the business people who came and spoke to deprive their fellow citizens of access to their places of business.

So, I am telling you now, unless and until they apologize fromally and publicly, I will actively seek the removal of Bill Holland and Bill Jensen, and I urge all of you, from this moment forward to boycott the following businesses, since they seek to exclude citizens from their places of business: Century 21 Rose Realty, Marriott hotels, Italian Kitchen, attorney Richard Smolin, Sizzler Restaurant on Main St, A-1 Cleaning Service and, finally THE HESPERIA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.

That's right. the Chamber's Executive Director, Yvonne Woitovich, has drunk the Jensen Kool-Aid, and decided that the Chamber's members are best served by advocating against being accomodating to Americans with disabilities. She claimed to speak for the Chamber, and I can only take her at her word. Personally, I will no longer do business with anyone who belongs to the Chamber, unless and until the Chamber apologizes and retracts it's support for marginalizing the disabled, or until that business resigns it's membership. If they think allowing service animals is bad for business, let's show them how bad being anti-disabled is for business!

I know, some of you will think this is extreme, but when it comes to protecting the rights of those of us least able to protect themselves, I will NOT COMPROMISE!


Norwegian Star, 3/3/11 ...THIRD Day At Sea

Okay, so first off, I referred to the Cruise Director as "Jamie". Her name is, in fact "Jaime", though she still pronounces it "Jay-mee" even though everyone in California knows that name is pronounced "Hy-mee". It's a Canadian thing. I talked to her last night and she gave me a long winded explanation of the gender ramifications of the placement of the "i", but I think it's just more Canadian sillines, like putting random "u"s in words that don't need them, or calling ham, "bacon". Don't get me wrong, I have many friends who are Canadian (or Canadien). But they have to get over acting like they are still tied to the Old Country, and accept their lot as a suburb of the United States.

But, back to my story. We got up in time for a leisurely breakfast in the buffet, before the morning trivia. The topic was Europe, and it went badly for everyone. I know I am starting to sound xenophobic today, but let's face it: Dead Presidents and pointless American wars are more interesting than Dead Monarchs and pointless European wars. Plus we have taller mountains and longer rivers, and our history is easier to remember, because there is less of it.

After trivia was the morning bingo. Still no winner. Then I ditched the family at line dancing and did the Signature Scavenger Hunt. Somehow I got hooked into a team of really old people (as opposed to just "old" like me), so I had to do the running towards the end. We did okay, though.

Next up, lunch at Cagneys. Sea Scallops and fries. As good as ever.

After lunch, Patrick tracked me down and told me the Hotel Director wanted to treat us to dinner. Decided to try the Teppanyaki, so he made us a reservation for the 5 o'clock sitting. Bad idea. I will explain in a minute.

Before dinner, we cruised around a bit, listened to the band by the pool until the cool wind drove us in. Headed down to the casino, where mom did good, and I did not. I decided to get in the Blackjack Tournament. I am on the leaderboard and headed for the final tomorrow, probably. As usual, I took the interesting route. Starting with $2000 in chips I lost the first three hands. Down to $400, I bet it all on the fourth hand, won, and let it ride. Hand 5 BLACKJACK. So, back up to my original $2000 with two hands to go. No choice but to just leave it all out there. Dealer busted on the sixth hand, and on the final hand, I had to bet first. Me and one other player had $4000. The qualifying score was only $3300. If not for the other guy, I would have just bet $100 and played it safe. But, like I say, I had to go first. So I pushed out my whole stack, and so did he. I got dealt a 12. He got a face card. Dealer had an 8. So, I hit the twelve and got a 5. 17 against the dealers 8....what the hell, gotta do it. Hit one more time and pulled a 3. Dealer had the 18. I win. But,so did the other guy. We are tied for 3/4 place. If it happens that we get bumped to 6/7, we'll have to have a tiebreaker. Keeping my fingers crossed. But I am pretty sure the $8000 will hold up.

Anyway, after the Blackjack, the mom cashed in her winnings and went on upstairs. There was a 4 o'clock bingo with the cruise raffle drawing, and we had dinner reservations for 5. This is where it gets tricky.

They really should coordinate the dinner times at Teppanyaki with the rest of the ship. All the other restaurants start dinner at 5:30. So, the cruise staff knows they can drag out the bingo, and keep upselling stuff to build the pot and the raffle until 5:15 or so, and not interfere with anyone's plans. Except the one guy (me) out of 2,400 passengers who NEEDS to be somewhere at 5. And with the Teppanyaki, where they sit all 15 people at the same time, if you are late, it's pretty rude. I wouldn't mind being a little late if it was just me, but I was wanting to be courteous to the rest of them, you know. So, I got to bingo at 4, sat thru interminable sales pitches, til 4:30 when they finally started playing. Got thru the first three games (without winning, by the way), and then at 4:50, they decided to do a little MORE selling before the raffle draw. I finally had to give my last card to the lady next to me, and just pray this wasn't the one time I was destined to win the free cruise with one of the 50 or so tickets I had accumulated.

Fairly ran to get to the restaurant on time, and it was excellent. We all had the "Shinto" combo, shrimp and scallops. The meal was tasty, the chefs were fun (though they were not as flamboyant as some I have seen, they had all the basic tricks down). And we were at the table with an extended family of 5 adults and 6 kids. Just watching the kids watching the chefs was a good time. And the chefs hammed it up for them pretty good. So - Thanks Filipo and Claus, for the excellent dinner...but work on changing the schedule, yeah?

After dinner, we listened to the piano bar guy, Michael for a bit, before the show. They have a new show, "Elements" on the Star. It was the best production I have seen in a long time. Music, dancing, magic from the Extreme Vegas couple, etc. The best part was the "Water" portion. Two of the dancers in blue bodysuits and flippers descend from the ceiling on trapezes with bungee cords and drop down to just a few feet above the middle of the audience, and then bounce around and turn flips, like they are swimming. Then back on the trapeze for some synchronized flippering, then another jump, etc etc. Like a water ballet, only in mid-air. Very cool.

I then deposited the early-to-bed crowd in the cabin, and walked around for a bit. Tried my hand at Name That Tune Trivia, but is was on movie songs, and I am just not a movie person. I actually knew most of the songs, but didn't know what movies they came from.

I ate dinner too early, and by 9:30 I was feeling a little hungry, so I went over to the Blue Lagoon for some wings, and listened to the Melodic Trio in the Atrium for a bit, before heading to Spinnaker for he White Hot Party. That was fun. Got me a glass with trippy lights in the bottom, talked to Jaime (whatever) and the Cruise Staff. It was Beverly's birthday, and she looked to be enjoying it. Talked to a couple of the dancers...after two shows of Elements, they also have to dance at the White Hot Part (but just for one quick set, but still). Also had a long conversation with the Asst. Systems Manager (so, you know, the #2 Geek On Board). He has recently come over to NCL from Carnival and loves it here with NCL.

It's that kind of thing, by the way, that makes me enjoy NCL more than any other cruise line I can think of. Real, personal interaction with the crew and the staff. They are almost all very approachable, willing to talk about their jobs and their lives both onboard and at home. It is nice to be able to have that kind of interaction.

Anyway, it was fast approaching midnight, and I was not really liking the music all that much (a little to pop for my taste - cuz I am getting old). On the subject of music, though, I hope DJ Keith (for the most part a good DJ) would get the memo that soul Sister is about as over as the Macarena. If I hear that song one more time this week, I am probably going to hurl.

So...ciao for now, mon amies.


Norwegian Star,3/2/11 Puerto Vallarta

Upon arrival at Puerto Vallarta, it was cloudy, foggy and looking like rain. We weren't sure we really wanted to go out in it. So, breakfast in the room, while watching the Disney Wonder pull in alongside us.

Fortunately, within an hour or so it started burning off. By the time morning trivia was done (by the way, we finally won a trivia, as only two teams showed up), it was completely sunny and warm (if a tad humid), so we headed down the gangplank, got a van to take us to the Malecon, and did a little shopping. Also watched the Palantla flyers. Sat in a cafe, had a cold drink and watched the tourists. Oh, and got the refrigerator magnet, of course.

After an hour or so, we headed back to the ship. Up to the buffet for a little lunch. Patrick the concierge tracked me down and told me the Guest Services Manager was looking for me. We went back to the room to let Steve rest up a little, and I went and met with them, as reported yesterday.

We then headed down to the Folklorico show in the main lounge. The dancing doesn't really excite me, but I do love the music, and the costumes were great. After the show it was time to sail away. Went up to the pool, had a little snack and listened to the band there until Bingo. Didn't win, again. Bingo has not been good to me this week. But there's always tomorrow.

The afternoon trivia, unlike the morning, was completely packed. Had to sit in the back of the room, where the thru traffic combined with Henry's Filipino accent made it quite an adventure. We still missed winning by only one point, so I am declaring it a moral victory.

By this time, mom and Steve were completely shot (those lousy sidewalks, foot tall curbs and cobblestone streets in PV are tough for slow walkers and wheelers both). So they opted for room service for dinner. I decided to take this opportunity to dine at Cagney's (good beef is completely wasted on those two).

Started with the salmon appetizer. LIke the Fatoush with lamb chops on the lunch menu, this "starter" would be a meal most places. A serious chunk of smoked salmon, warmed and served with toasted brioche. Excellent. Then the Lobster Bisque. a tad saltier than I remember. And for the main course, an 18 oz T-Bone, with creamed spinach and fries. The filet side of the t-bone was so tender just a fork practically mashed it. We are talking seriously melt in your mouth tender. The rest of it was excellent too. I know I have waxed rhapsodic before about the Cagney's Fries AND the creamed spinach. Both are simply wonderful. For dessert I went with Creme Brulee. Not bad. Not the best I have ever had, but passable. If you ever find yourself on an NCL ship, you simply have to give Cagney's a shot. That and the Moderno churrascaria if it's available. They are both "don't miss" experiences.

Afer dinner I got the old folks settled in for the night, and headed down to the "Battle of the Sexes" game show in the Spinnaker. Oddly, the men won. That almost never happens. I credit that, in large part, to my willingness to take my shirt off in front of several hundred strangers. The game was to make a line of clothing laying end to end across the lounge. NONE of the girls were inclined to take their shirts off for their team. So, they deserve their defeat...and the scorn of all their fellow cruisers.

And the next round, which was basically a serious group hug, wherein the men got 39 people standing on a regular double bed sheet. Yep. 39. 30. Plus 9. The weak sisters only managed 34.

After the game it was off to the Stardust for a Second City performance. They were really good. However, as a venue for sketch comedy and improv, the giant main theater sucks. The EPIC, where they perform in a little tiny comedy club, 5 feet from the audience is way better. But it is what it is, and simply by having Second City, NCL is miles ahead of the competition on entertainment.

Finally, the Dancing With The Stars thing, back in the Spinnaker. As usual, the dancing ranged from the ridiculous to the sublime. The best part was the interviews in the Loser's Lounge, conducted by Jamie, the Cruise Director. She was perfect in mocking the losing contestants, without being mean. The judges, a couple from Second City, and the wardrobe guy were also hilarious.

So, by the time that was all wrapped up at midnight, the city walk in PV was catching up with me too. Off to bed.

Tomorrow is a full day at sea. Gotta bingo/trivia/slot tournament the day away.

Later, kids


Norwegian Star, 3/1/11 ADDENDUM AND UPDATE

Okay, I am going to get this out of the way, now, and drop it. Apparently a series of miscommunications. I WILL give NCL major points for, at least reactivelly, responding to customer service issues. Bottom line, I was mis-informed. While NCL is "in the proccess" of having "access managers" on board every ship, the person I was under the impression was so designated, says that she is not (although she apparently will be, once trained). And apparently, she did not get my message, either from the Access Desk at Corporate, or thru the person I talked to on boarding day.

She did come and meet with me today, and we had a "frank exchange of views" as they say in the political world. She told me the only communication she was aware of was my message to the Hotel Manager, Jean-Micelle, re: moving a headboard to facilitate transfering my brother to bed. At this point I really can't say if the fault is in Miami, or onboard here, or both, or neither. And if I misconstrued what I was told, I apologize for that. I can say, thank God I have direct access to the Hotel Department higher ups.

And while I am at it, I would like to say that NCL is far from the only cruise line with issues as far as accessibility. With the exception of Princess, HAL and RCCL, they are all way to slow to respond and embrace the PWD (persons with disabilities) community. And it seems the whole industry's attitude is to do what the lawyers tell them they have to, rather than to do what is right from both a moral and financial standpoint. Again, with the exceptions above, they don't seem to recognize what a good business decision it is to accomodate people with disabilities. Apparently they think of the disabled as mostly people scraping by on Social Security or a veterans pension. What they're missing is how many of that community have been on the receiving end of multimillion dollar settlements of various sorts. Usually structured to provide a consistent lifetime income rather than a big lump of money. So, not rich, but certainly able to afford to travel. And, pretty much by definition, with plenty of time on their hands.

The few cruise lines who DO make a serious effort to work with the PWD community are reaping rewards for it. And, again, the community is not asking for a lot of "special" treatment. But, if an able-bodied person can get on an airport shuttle, or a bus tour around a port, why shouldn't a wheelchair user?.

Anyway, I am tiring of the subject, and I am sure you are too.

We are in the midst of a great day here in Puerto Vallarta, and I am going to get back to it.

Manana, mi amigos!

Norwegian Star, 3/1/11, CABO SAN LUCAS

Okay, no Cabo for the wheelchair. There was breakfast at Cagney's though. Steak and eggs. First piece of beef I have had all week, and it was most excellent.

And then morning trivia. And then, hang out and admire the scenery from the floor to ceiling windows in the suite. Shortly after the tendering got underway, the captain did a slow 360. Kind of nice to sit and watch the panoramic view. After the extra day at sea, everone was dying to get off the boat. so it was pretty much empty for those of us who stayed on board.

We grabbed lunch in the buffet, met a nice couple from Montana, and went to check out the golf putting contest. I am pretty sure I won, since I was the only contestant. Maria sat and chit-chatted with Steve and mom for half an hour or so, and then I took Steve to the Spa for a massage/facial/scalp treatment/etc. Winnie from Zimbabwe worked him over for an hour plus and he came out glowing...or shiny from oil, or something.

By the time that was done, the Afternoon trivia was on. People were making it back on board, so there was a pretty good crowd.

We had an early dinner at the Aqua main dining room. Prime Rib for me, Sea Trout for mom and some sort of pasta something for Steve. All the food was good, and the service was excellent. The maitre' d and the hostess both greeted us by name, and during the meal Sawant, the Restaurant Manager, again came by to say "Hi" and see how we were doing. He really is great. He has shown up nearly every time and every place we eat, and never fails to greet us.

After dinner we caught the show "Shout". A Mod 60's musical. Lot's of Dusty Springfield tunes and the like. Great, colorful costumes. While it was a pretty typical cruise ship show, musical numbers interspersed with fairly lame comedy vignettes, the five girl singers were all excellent.

After dinner we did a quick trip to the casino. Mom won a little. Me and Steve compensated for her by losing a little.

Steve was done, so I took him back to the room, and headed to the Spinnaker for the game show. Not as good as Pyramid the day before, but fun. I was feeling a little hungry, so I decided to try out Endless Summer, the tex-mex restaurant. As someone who grew up in a Mexican restaurant, has family in New Mexico, and has spent a LOT of time in Texas, I know a little about tex-mex food. My expectations were fairly low, given this is Tex-Mex, as designed by a Jamaican Executive Chef and implemented by cooks from various South Asian countries. I was pleasantly surprised. A few things, like the guacamole, were perfect. Everything was good. I had a quesadilla to start, tortilla soup and the signature warm lobster tacos. The tacos were filled with some sort of lobster bisque-y stuff, and it did slide out of the tortillas, which is definitely not how we would do it, in Tex-Mex land, but it was tasty. During the meal, the F&B Manager, Claus, came over to inquire about my day, and to see if we have gotten the wheelchair ashore in Cabo.

After the late dinner, I went down to check out the party at Spinnaker. Apparently the port call wiped out some of the late-night partygoers. It was pretty quiet (the last couple nights, I have been impressed with how many people have been out dancing late). So, I decided to join them and turn in pre-midnite.

Now, one thing I have got to get off my chest. I don't really like to blow in bad employees. You can see, I make a point of singling out the good employees, and pretty much ignore the rest. But the so-called Access Manager on this ship is completely pissing me off (even now, I am not going to name her...the people who should, know who I am talking about). I put in a call to her the first day, which has never been returned. So far the only contact, as I mentioned in an earlier post, was a letter stuck in the door, with a key coded for the elevator to Versailles (which, by the way, quit working after one day, and had to be replaced at the Pursers Desk). And while I can't go anywhere without Andrew the Concierge, or Maria, Ray-Ray, Sam, Beverly and Henry from the cruise staff saying "Hi", and I can't go to any dining room without Sawant and Claus and various others checking up on me, etc, I have had the Access Manager walk right past me and look the other way EVERY SINGLE TIME. It appears she has an aversion to people in wheelchairs. Which is not uncommon, but not a very desirable trait in someone whose job description includes dealing with people in wheelchairs. Seriously, maybe someone at NCL needs to actually take the time to find someone on each ship that WANTS to help disabled guests, rather than assign it as a task to a certain job, regardless of the person holding that job on each ship. What they have done would be analogous to assigning Equal Opportunity compliance duties to someone, and not bothering to ask if they are KKK members, first.

Now, the ship, as a whole, is pretty good, access-wise, given that it's 10 years old. The suite, which was designed and built more recently, is EXCELLENT. And still I am in a position where I can NOT recommend this ship to my disabled clients. Which is a shame for NCL and for me, as I really love their product in a lot of important ways.

Anyway, down off that high horse.

We are now in Vallarta, it has rained during the night, and is still cloudy, but with a promise of sun later...stay tuned for more...


Norwegian Star, 2/11 SECOND Day at Sea

Slow start to the day. Breakfast in the room. Finally got out on deck just in time for morning trivia. Huge crowd for that. Off to bingo for another round of losing. Lunch was at Cagney's. This time I went for the Fatoush with lamb chop. They call it a "starter". It's got half a rack of lamb on it. Y'all know I am a serious carnivore, but I find it hard to believe anyone thinks three lamb chops is an appetizer. It was delicious, along with some Cagney's Fries.

After lunch we went out by the pool for a bit. It's finally warming up, as we head south. We chilled around the pool, listening to Xcite for a while, then one more try at Bingo. Still losing.

For dinner we went to Ginza. Steve and the mom ordered off the Chinese menu. Spring rolls, egg drop soup and some sesame chicken something or other. They both seemed to enjoy. I, on the other hand, attacked the sushi menu. Starting with Ahi, Mebachi and Ebi nigiri, and then a spicy tuna roll, spicy scallop/maguro roll and a tempura shrimp roll, and finished off with a plate of mebachi sashimi. EXCELLENT. As good as the sushi on the EPIC, which is to say, as good as I have ever had on a ship, and better than all but a few of the land-side sushi bars I have gone to. Again, the value of the premium restaurants on NCL is incredible. For a measly fifteen bucks I had a sushi fest that would have cost me fifty or sixty bucks back home. All while being serenaded by Michael at the piano bar in the atrium below.

After dinner we took in the show "Extreme Vegas". Half a dozen staffers had told me it was a "don't miss". They were right. Magic, music, acrobatics. Personally, I was most impressed by Daniela working a half dozen hula hoops, while being hoisted to the ceiling. That takes a lot of strength to keep those hoops going when your feet are off the ground.

It was bedtime for the dead heads after the show. Got them safely tucked in and went to the game show in the Spinnaker. My homegirl, Maria wasn't there, so Sammy and Beverly got all the chocolate strawberries. Talked to Beverly for a while after the show. Nice lady, from the Phillipines. We listened to karaoke and talked ship for a bit, til a really bad "Bridge Over Troubled Water" came up, and I was driven away. Took a quick turn at roullette. No go. It was almost time for the party at the pool, so I ducked in the cabin to get a sweatshirt (it's warmer, but not really warm), and went down to the Lido. The pool party was great. Good turnout. The band, who have been forced to play disco and 80's and Country so far, got to let it out a bit with some rockin' music. Green Day, Blink182, that sort of thing. I know, as a musician, you gotta do what you gotta do for a steady gig, but you could tell they were playing "their" music for this one. So, lot's of fun. I also met and talked to the Food and Beverage Manager, Claus for a while. He's been with NCL since the 80's, and worked with all the other hotel staff I know. Another really personable guy, who obviously loves his job. Among other things he told me he already has menus for the Moderno Churrascaria for the Star. I had heard last week that they put the churrascaria in the Sun, and were going to do it on the Dawn when she dry docks in May. Now the Star. I think it is safe to say it's going fleet-wide, which is Great News, as far as I am concerned. While I might not choose or recommend NCL JUST for the Moderno experience, it will be a big factor.

So, the band wound down about midnite, and so did I. Cabo in the morning. I am getting conflicting information on tendering the wheelchair. Some say I can, some say I can't. In the end, it's gonna come down to what the crew at the gangplank decide. I will let you know!

By the way, plug time: If you are ready to book a cruise on the Star, or any NCL ship (or any other ship, for that matter) give us a call at DAVE HOLMAN TRAVEL SERVICES, 760.265.3687. Or zip me a message at http://www.facebook.com/HolmanTravel


Norwegian Star, 2/11, First Day at Sea

I hit a Royal Flush on a poker machine. $1000. Yep. One thousand. Dollars. U.S. Just had to get that out of the way.

Okay, I finished yesterday by saying we had to turn around in the middle of the night and drop someone in Ensenada for medical attention. Consequently, no Cabo today. Someone needs to drill ship officers on basic P.R. techniques. In a fashion typical of most, in my experience, the Captain made his announcement over the public address system, in the public areas of the ship, but not in the cabins. I am not sure what time it was, but it was pretty early, and I only heard it because I was out on deck typing this up. And I can tell you that the area was desserted. A pretty huge number of passengers were still in their cabins, and did not hear the announcement. Of course, rumours flew around all day until the Cruise Director, in the afternoon, repeated the announcement to the entire ship, including in the cabins. In my experience , it's best to just get the bad news out there, to everyone, fast. Most people are going to understand a medical emergency, and those who don't, won't. Leaving it up to the cruise director to step up, hours later to explain the situation is just weak.

But, hey, I wasn't getting off in Cabo anyway, so...

Had breakfast at Cagneys. Good Eggs Benedict. Then back for the morning routine, and finally to Bingo at 11. Not so good. The only thing I won was in a raffle. I got a lotto entry. In order to claim that, I had to go to the Casino Hostess. But first, lunch at Versailles, the larger of the two main dining rooms. A little note here about wheelchairs and accessible cruising. I have yet to see the designated Access Manager. NCL has a person on each ship who is supposed to be the "go to guy" on accessibility. I expressed an interest in meeting with this person, and was assured at the corporate level that she, among other duties, meets wth all guests with disabilities. So far, nothing. And this repeats a pattern I have seen at NCL, where there is a severe disconnect between the Corporate Office and the Shipboard personnel. I did get a note and a key to operate the elevator to Versailles. Fortunately, I was aware of the keyed elevator to get to the accessible entrance, as it's the same setup as on the Pride of Hawaii/Jade, which I only discovered THEN because the Maitre'd explained it the first time we tried to get in there on our Hawaii cruise. Anyway...back to the story. Lunch was good, we had a table towards the back. looking out the huge windows,at the wake of the ship. Too far north for any whale or dolphin sightings. I had the fish and chips. Better than the fish and chips at the Blue Lagood, if memory serves. After lunch we sat by the pool and listened to Xcite for a while. We actually found a table in the sun, so it was nice, and not quite as chilly as the day before, though I expect it will be even nicer today, as we have gotten a little farther south.

After a bit, we checked the casino to see if the hostess was there to give me my lotto ticket. She was not. So I wheeled Steve up to a poker machine, sat down next to him, put $20 in each machine. Just to kill some time til the hostess came back from her break, right. About five hands in, BADDA BING, BADDA BOOM!!! The Royal Flush. Awesome! Nothing like winning early in the week. Certainly upgrades my dining and shopping plans. So, we played out the $20, cashed in the $1000 and went back to the pool deck for a while, then to the room to rest up for dinner. Back in the room was another plate of chocolate strawberries. No more wine.

Dinner was at La Cucina, the premium Italian eatery. Most excellent. The service was awesome (we were there early, and the waitstaff outnumbered the customers). The bread was to die for. The antipasto was interesting, and the Pasta e Fagioli well done. I also had the Carpaccio to start, and the Saltimbocca was a huge portion, tender and tasty, if just a tad over-saged. Mom and Steve both had the vegetable lasagna, and it was, likewise, huge and filled with all manner of healthy vegetables. Finished with the ricotta cheesecake, and I might have to go back for some more. It was the best!

After dinner we went the the Captain's Cocktail Party, nibbled and drank and met the officers, as well as a few of our fellow guests. It was then time to drop mom and Steve off (they really are party poopers) at the cabin for the night.

Afterwards, I went across the hall to get a book at the Library. The Star really does have a nice library. Decided I had gone long enough without Blue Lagoon hot wings, so I headed down, rectified that situation whilst reading, and then at 10:30 to the Spinnaker for the 70's party. The Village People (actually a bunch of drunk guys from the Pub Crawl, aided and abetted by the Cruise Staff) showed up for the YMCA. That was cool. I hung out, discoing with Maria until 11:30 when they do the lotto drawing at the casino. I didn't win. Hard to feel too bad about it, though. I did hang out and play a little roullete, but that didn't go so well, either, so I decided to call it a night.

One note about this Family Suite on Deck 12. It is directly below the jogging track on 13. Most of the early morning joggers are actually light on their feet, and not at all disturbing. But from the sound of it, some extremely large person has decided to take up jogging in clogs today.

So, that's all for now. Stay tuned tomorrow for further adventures of one more Day at Sea.


Norwegian STAR, 2011, Boarding Day

BOARDING DAY - We got to the port just before noon, went thru security, walked right up to the VIP check-in line, took ten minutes there, then about 10 minutes in the Concierge lounge waiting for our butler, Andrew, to escort us onboard. We were in the stateroom by 12:30. Doesn't get much quicker than that.

There was a bottle of champagne and some chocolate strawberries waiting for us. The room is awesome. Basically, a little less than 500sf, all open, except the bathroom, with curtains to divide the bed from the couch/bed, and both from the dining area/desk/vanity/closet area. I have a bunch of pictures, but I probably won't post them til I get home, satellite internet being so slow and expensive. The bathroom is very large, with roll-in shower, large sink, plenty of grab bars and a fold down shower seat. There are also two sets of closets (for a total of 4), half a dozen night stands, and a Lavazza coffee maker. Very cool, that: pop in the pod, hit the button,out comes coffee (or espresso, depending on the button). And it just eats the pods, so, nothing to throw away.

After checking out the digs we went up to Cagney's for lunch. One of the nicer perks of a suite is breakfast and lunch at Cagneys. Better food, AND no lines. We all had the pan-seared scallops, mom and Steve started with the shrimp cocktail (the shrimp are simply HUGE). I went with the crab cakes. Oh, and some Cagney's Fries. I have been missing those. It was all very good.

When we got back to the room, there was another bottle of sparkling waiting for us, along with some canapes, and an invite to the Lattitudes Party at 1 tomorrow, and the Captain's Cocktail Party at 7. We chilled in the room, figuring out the light switches and coffee maker til 4, when we went to the Sailaway party and BBQ. Based on the weather reports all week, I didn't think it would happen (The mighty SoCal Blizzard of '11 was a complete bust, by the way). It was cold and a tad windy, but no rain, so we listened to XCite, the pool band that's been here since the last time I was here (or maybe they left and came back, I don't know). It was fun, if a bit cool. We did finally decide to have a bite to eat in the buffet, rather than continue to brave the chill, though. As soon as the casino was open we went down, at mom's insistence. (My gambling Jones doesn't come from nowhere, you know). Bloody awful for all of us. 'Nuff said.

After dinner and casino it was back to the room. Busy time. First, Patrick, the Concierge came in, then the two stewards (whose names escape me at the moment), and then Andrew again to see if I was going to be in the room for a while, as the Hotel Director, Filipo wanted to drop by. So, got Steve ready for bed, watched an episode of HOUSE, and waited. Filipo finally called and asked where I was having dinner, I told him I was heading to AQUA, one of the main dining rooms. He said he would meet me there. So I ditched the family and went to dinner.

When I walked up to the desk at Aqua, the restaurant manager. Sawant, greeted me by name. He said he had just been looking at my picture. I love how they do that. lol. Anyway, he seated me and called Filipo. I started with the Smoked Salmon appetizer. Excellent. About a pound of salmon, and three leaves of greenery...the perfect ratio. Then the beef broth with ravioli thing. Also good. Just as my Mahi-Mahi showed up, so did Filipo. We talked for a few minutes. He apologized for not getting to me sooner. Poor guy - first day on the job, and a bunch of trucks didn't show up, etc. I assured him I understood what a hassle boarding day is for everyone on the staff. Anyway, I finished my meal, virtuously eschewing dessert, and went up to the showroom to check out the Welcome Aboard show.

Good News! My favorite cruise staffer, ever, is onboard. Maria, the Transylvanian Princess Herself. We talked for a bit before the show, but she had to go be introduced and stuff.

After the show, I ran up to the room to get the strawberries, then down to the Spinnaker Lounge for the 80's party. I have to say, as much as I love the suite complex they put here on Deck 12, (replacing, along with some other stuff, the Spinnaker Lounge up front with glass all around), I do not like the new lounge. The ceilings are too low, and the seating is terribly boring. Just several lines of cocktail tables, and a few boothy things along the wall. I understand they have to try to accomodate a bingo parlor by day/nightclub by night in the same area, but, especially after partying at the Bliss Ultra Lounge on EPIC, this just doesn't get it. However, I did talk to Maria a while, caught up on what we've been doing the last year, and she introduced me to all the cruise staff and dancers, while sharing out the strawberries.

About 11 I was done in - boarding day, with the drive and all, is always tiring. So, off to bed. And, as I type this, the Captain is announcing that we have turned around and are heading to Ensenada to drop of an injured passenger. Which explains why I woke up with a view of ocean, instead of land. Anyway...TTFN.


Norwegian STAR. Manana.

Well, they've cancelled Mazatlan.  Not a big surprise.  Other lines have pulled out of Mazatlan lately, too.  I was looking forward to it, because there's a nice trolley excursion that is wheelchair accessible.  But instead of a different port (Manzanillo, for instance), NCL has decided to spend two days in Cabo San Lucas.  Were it just me, I would be more than happy to spend an extra day in Cabo.  It is my favorite port on the Mex Riviera.  BUT, it's a tender port.  And NCL, like most but not all cruise lines, won't take wheelchairs on tenders. So, we're kinda stuck on the ship an extra day.  I have always maintained, though, that if you have to be "stuck" somewhere, a cruise ship is the first choice.

So, maybe the extra day on board I'll get Steve a nice massage in the room or something.  Whatever.  It will all work out.  It always does.

On the major plus side, since I posted about the disappointing cancellation, I have received messages from "the powers that be" at NCL.  I am impressed with how seriously they take customer service, from the CEO all the way down the line.  And their commitment to their travel partners is unmatched in the industry.

Anyway. it's almost time to go.  I am almost packed, and the most awesome thing is we are waiting for snow.  Should be here tonite. 

NOTHING is more gratifying than starting a tropical vacation by driving thru snow. 


Norwegian STAR In Two Days

And, while I wait for my ship to sail, I thought I might share some background.  The Norwegian STAR was originally launched in 2001.  Since then, she has undergone several remodel/renovation/updates.  But just this last year she had a pretty major overhaul, which included the addition of a whole section of suites on Deck 12, which necessitated the relocation of the Spinnaker Lounge and the meeting space that was there formerly.  And moving the Spinnaker forced the relocation of the shops.  By all accounts all these changes are hugely successful, and NCL announced just recently that the Star's sister-ship, Norwegian Dawn was getting pretty much the same makeover before this summer.  They also turned the Soho restaurant into an Italian eatery.  That last was a mistake, IMHO.  Soho was one of my faves.

I last sailed on the STAR in November of 2009, before all these changes.  The last time I was onboard was for a ship inspection in mid-2010.  They were in the middle of all this, then.  I don't know if I like them moving the Spinnaker Lounge, as I really like that room, with all the windows.  On the other hand, all those windows are now in my Deck 12 Family Suite, so maybe it's a wash.

Anyway, as well as undergoing all these changes, which I shall be reporting on first-hand all next week, NCL has decided to abandon the West Coast, at least for a while.  When the STAR finishes her program of 7-day Mexican Riviera Cruises this spring, and heads to Alaska, she won't be coming back.  I also think that's a mistake, but with any luck NCL will be back.  But when they do come back, it's not likely to be the STAR.

So, we have a ship I love, that just had an extreme makeover, and is leaving me soon.  When the opportunity came up, with a great deal on a suite, I just had to jump all over it.

Stay tuned, starting Saturday, for my Live From the Norwegian EPIC, 2/11 series.


3 Days til Norwegian Star

While waiting, I thought I would share with you all.  Just watched a webinar with the NCL team.  Among other things, we were told the Norwegian Dawn will be getting basically the same Deck 12 Suite additions, during it's dry dock in May, that were done to the Star last year.

Apparently the Penthouse and Family Suite additions have  been a pretty huge success.  And since the Dawn and the Star were built as sister-ships, it makes sense to keep them the same.

Also, they talked about what a huge success the Churrascaria has been on the Norwegian Sun.  Not surprised, as I think it's the best restaurant at sea, ever.  But did not get an answer about introducing it fleet-wide.  Personally, I wish they would.  I am sure it could replace either the TexMex or the Italian restaurants.

Anyway...Three days from now, I'll be setting sail on the Norwegian Star in a wheelchair accessible AJ Family Suite.  Looks like rain on sailaway, which might cancel one of my favorite NCL activities, the Deck BBQ.  However, after the rain in LA, it looks to be somewhere between 78 and 80 degrees and sunshine at all the ports.

So, I am looking forward to a great cruise - join me in my daily "Live From the Norwegian Star" posts starting Saturday.  It's the next best thing to being there.


Carnival Splendor Returns - As Good As New

And I was on it, when it was new, so I should know.

Went yesterday to Carnival Cruise Lines' Splendorous Occasion.  From what I could see, a good time was had by all.

I got to the port real early, and had to sit around for a bit, but they finally let us on at 1:30.  After checking out my room, and dropping my bag, I took a walking tour, bottom to top.  While I didn't expect any changes, since the fire and damage were all down in the engineering spaces, I confirmed that, indeed, nothing has changed.  She looks exactly like she did last year.

Finishing the tour up on the Lido Deck, I went to the Deli and got a pastrami sandwich.  Then down to the lobby to see who all was with me, after a quick stop at the Coffee Bar.  Talked to a few agents I know.  Paul and his girlfriend Kelly showed up, and we all headed up to the Lido for some Mongolian BBQ and Indian stuff from the buffet.  Delicious.  Another stop at the Coffee Bar, then back to the room to change for dinner.  There was a cocktail party by the pool.  Gerry Cahill, Carnival CEO, said a few words, and I did get a chance, afterwards to talk to him and to John Heald.  When I told John that my friends and I were seriously hoping to see SPAM on the menu, at least as an appetizer, he got a chuckle, but stated flat out:  NO SPAM!  I really think Carnival missed an opportunity here.  With all the negative press they got back in November, including the "spam allegations" in the WSJ, I would totally have come up with a dish with Spam and some kind of garnish, maybe drizzle a Miracle Whip-based sauce around it, called it "SPAM a la Splendor" and shoved it down every reporters throat.  But that's just me....

Anyway, after the little cocktail party, dinner was served in the Gold Pearl main dining room.  Open seating, cattle call.  Me and my friends grabbed a table for 10, and then invited everyone who walked by to join us.  Filled the table, and it was a nice little group.  Dinner was a formal night menu.  Guess they didn't really have time to prepare anything special.  I had some of my favorite old stand-bys - the Roasted Pumpkin Soup, White Mushroom thingie, and two entrees, because I can never decide between the Roast Duck and the Lobster/Shrimp combo.

Skipped dessert and headed up for more Coffee from Yulya, the Belarussian Barista.  Stuck my head in the theater where VROOM was playing...seen it...didn't like it all that much...So I went down the hall, looked in the Disco, which was not happening, yet, and then, of course, to the Piano Bar.  A brand new Piano Man, on the first night of his first gig with Carnival.  In fact, until last week when he caught the Splendor in San Francisco, he'd never been on a cruise ship at all.  Chris Novak, from PA.  Good guy, affable, and a damn fine piano player, HOWEVER, he seriously needs to expand his repertoire.  I am not sure how you can be a Carnival Piano guy and NOT know a single Neil Diamond tune.  And only one Frank Sinatra.  I defend a piano players right to mostly play what he likes, and to ocassionally tell a customer he does not know a particular song, but it really does get annoying after a while to hear him respond to EVERY request with "I don't know that song" or "I can play it, but I don't have the lyrics" or whatever...again, once in a while, cool.  No one can know every song.  But we're talking some real "piano bar standards" here.  Anyway, I hung out, because, as always on a Carnival ship, the best bunch is at the piano bar.  Wandered over to Karaoke for a minute, and a couple times to the Disco, but kept ending up where I always do.

At about 12:45 someone reminded us that the Coffee/Dessert bar closed at 1am, so a few of us headed down.  Got my final coffee and a hunk of cheesecake the size of a small car.  Awesome!  Then back for one more round at the Piano Bar, and finally gave it up around 2 and headed back to the stateroom for a solid 4 hours sleep before heading home.

All in all, a nice evening of friends and food and fun.  THANKS, CARNIVAL!


The Splendorous Occasion Is Almost Here

Tomorrow, it's down to the Port of Long Beach to get onboard the Carnival Splendor for a one night Splendorous Occasion.
While I didn't hear from anyone about bringing a guest, somewhat to my dismay, I do have plans to meet a fellow agent, Paul Cathcart from Virginia.  We first met on the pre-Inaugural of the Ruby Princess several years ago.  He is now starting up his own Host Agency.  That should be good.
Also, I hope to get a chance to talk with Gerry Cahill, Carnival's CEO.  His rousing talk during the 2 day West Coast Inaugural in March of 2009 had a lot to do with me staying in the business.  If you all recall, at the time, the economy was in free fall, and no one was really sure where it might end.  I wasn't at all sure I could make a go of the travel business, frankly.  His optimism, and stated commitment to getting his cruise line and all us agents thru it helped me, and I suspect, a few other jittery TA's.
While the economy is still dragging along, and by no means "good", it does appear stable and seems maybe the worst is behind us.  And he was right - we did survive (well some of us did, anyway).  In fact, I not only survived, I am making plans right now to expand, add agents, and finally go "bricks and mortar".  That is, quit being home-based and open an office.
Should be some exciting news on that front in the next few weeks.  The biggest obstacle right now is that commercial property owners apparently haven't got the memo that there is a vast oversupply of vacant commercial space, and rents are nowhere near rational.  But, like I said, hopefully some news on that front soon.
Anyway, as I said, I owe Mr. Cahill a "Thank You", and hope to get a chance to deliver it tomorrow.

Any of you that are ready to book a Mexican Riviera cruise on the Carnival Splendor, give me a call at 760.265.3687.  As a couple other ships are leaving the West Coast, the Splendor's pricing is only going to gu UP...so BOOK NOW!
Just made a reservation for the Norwegian Star on Feb 26th. The last minute deal, combined with the Dash Event OBC's were just too good to resist. Plus I really wanted to check out the new suites added to the Star when she was refurbished last year. Since she is leaving the West Coast soon, I just kind of had to jump on it.
I am taking my brother, who is in a wheelchair, and my 78 year old mom (for those of you who don't know, I specialize in Accessible Travel). I know that NCL has had some issues about accessibility, but my personal experience doesn't bear it out. In fact, one of my strongest memories of the Pride of Hawaii is when my brother's wheelchair had a tire blowout in Maui. The Engineering Dept lent me tools, and helped me take off the tire, while the front desk people located and got directions to a medical supply store so I could get a replacement. All in all, the service was way above and beyond.
I have also received excellent service on the Star in the past. On the other hand, the service and attention I received on my recent EPIC cruise has raised the bar, so, I guess we'll see if those Suite perks are really all they are cracked up to be.
I will, of course, be doing a daily "Live From the Norwegian Star" post at http://daveholmanstravelblog.blogspot.com and at http://www.facebook.com/HolmanTravel
If you are interested in trying out NCL's Suite Life, give us a call at Dave Holman Travel Services, 760.265.3687


Discovery Channel on Norwegian EPIC - UPDATE

I asked an NCL VP about this last week, and he said if he told me, he'd have to kill me.  My latest info is that they are doing a show about "MEGA-SHIPS", scheduled to air in July or August.  So, I am guessing they are, or have been, aboard the Royal Caribbean Oasis OTS and/or Allure OTS, and the Cunard Queen Mary 2...can't think what else, right now.

The funny part of this is I remember my very first cruise on the Carnival Tropicale.  It was billed as a MEGA-LINER, in those days.  It was all of 46,000 tons.  At the time the largest ship in service was Norwegian Cruise Lines SS NORWAY (which I sailed on in 1987), which I believe tipped the scales at 70,000tons.  Nowadays you have to get to 150,000 to be considered a contender. lol


The Splendorous Ocassion 2/19/11

Got my confirmation today.  Sadly, for some reason, they don't want to let me take a guest.  So, I zipped a message to John Heald, Carnival's Cruise Director Extraordinnaire.  He is forwarding it to The Beards, to see if he can fix it.  Since, you know, me and John go way back to that 42 seconds we spoke on the West Coast Inaugural of the Carnival Splendor.  It's good to have friends.

Oh, well, however it turns out, it should be a fun night.  The Splendor is one of my favorite ships, and for a while there, nearly a second home.  When they brought her to the West Coast, towards the end of March 09, I was on the 2-day Inaugural, as I said, earlier.  And then, towards the end of May the whole Swine Flu in Mexico panic happened, and they changed to a Canada run, and prices dropped thru the floor, so I took my brother up to Canada.  A couple weeks later, in early June of that year, I was scheduled to take my neice and nephews on a 4 day to Mexico, and they let me opt out of that, because of the Swine Flu - and it turns out it only cost me another $100 to turn a 4 day into a 7 day on the Splendor...so off I went again.  Canada twice in one summer! 

And the Carnival Splendor 3 times in 10 weeks.

I also had clients on her last cruise, the one with the engine room fire.  I must say, Carnival handled that very well, and my clients were satisfied with the response from Carnival.  And, now, after several months in the yard, she is coming back into service.  YAY! 

So, I can't wait to get on, and check her out, and see if everything is still as pink and delicious as she was before!

Stay tuned, and I will let you know. 

And, if you are ready to book your Carnival Splendor cruise, or any other cruise, give a call at 760.265.3687.  We here at Dave Holman Travel Services are standing by.


DISCOVERY Channel on Norwegian EPIC

Just heard from a friend the Discovery Channel is onboard NCL's Norwegian EPIC this week.  Not sure what they are taping for, but I will keep you posted as I find out.


A Splendor Affair, FEB 19th

Just got an invitation to join the good folks from Carnival on the Carnival Splendor, Feb 19th for a big bash to celebrate her return to service.

As most of you know, the Splendor had an engine fire late last year, and was dead in the water for several days, before being towed in to port in San Diego.

But, now, the repairs have been made, and she is good to go, and will be returning to her regular Mexican Riviera schedule on Sunday, Feb 20th.  But with an extra day to kill after she gets to her home port in Long Beach, Carnival decided to have a kind of "grand re-opening".

She won't be leaving the dock for our little party, but, hey, any day on a cruise ship is better than a day on land, I say.

As some of you may recall, I was on the 2day West Coast Inaugural of the Carnival Splendor, and shortly thereafter, when the whole Swine Flu thing hit, I sailed her up to Canada twice in 5 weeks.  She is my favorite West Coast based ship,and the one I book clients on most.

So, I am happy she is returning to service, and I'll report back here, to let you know how it goes!