Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Hurtigruten & SAS Experience

At an art gallery in Eden Prairie, Minnesota about 1995, there was a painting that caught my eye, that would lead me to a magical place in Norway many years later. Passionate about the cruise industry, I have been on over 300 cruises around the world and have even worked on the ships as a Cruise Director and Entertainer. Today, as a Cruise Industry Journalist, I set out to find creative and fascinating cruises and itineraries that will be of interest to the listeners of my talk show and viewers of my videos. Back to the painting I saw back in 1995, at first glance this beautiful scene was of a mountain that rose out of the sea with a quaint fishing village at the base of this magnificent, magical, and mountainous rock. I thought it was a fictitious location, because the image was so powerful, so I inquired further only to see the gallery manager bring out the actual photo from which this painting was based on. I’ve travelled all around the world and had yet to ever see a sight as magnificent as this place and told myself one day I want to go there to see it first-hand. On a business card from the gallery, I wrote the name of this beautiful village with the intention to research more about this remote location in Norway called Reine Lofoten. And so finally in October of 2010 I saw an opportunity to possibly journey to Reine. I considered which cruise lines might visit Lofoten, and finally determined the best option was with Hurtigruten, which has operated passenger ships along the Norwegian coast for over one hundred years. I called this the Hurtigruten and SAS Experience because what better way to get to Norway than on a Scandinavian airline. Join me on this journey where we experience the “Most Beautiful Voyage” aboard the Hurtigruten ships and get to Norway in luxury with SAS.

From the U.S. it’s a full day and a half of travel to get to Kirkenes, our initial port of departure with Hurtigruten aboard the Nordlys. It certainly was a pleasant experience in Business Class aboard the SAS trans-Atlantic flight from Chicago to Copenhagen. The seats in this section have video and movies on demand, there’s a plug to charge your lap top if you so choose, and what I found to be truly fascinating was the electronically operated seat which reclines to a near horizontal position for sleeping at the touch of a button. Dinner was exquisite. This was the first time in my hundreds of flights all over the world where I could select my entrée from a menu of choices. I decided to have the Halibut and a fine wine. There’s also a special snack bar open to Business-class passengers where they have fruit, candy, chocolate, drinks and sandwiches available throughout the eight and a half hour flight. We enjoyed a nice dinner then decided to sleep through the flight since we were traveling eastbound. Flying on an SAS trans-Atlantic flight was the perfect way to prepare for a trip to Scandinavia.

After four different flights, we finally arrived at Kirkenes Norway in the Arctic Circle. After a long day of traveling it was a pleasure to stay one night at the Rica Arctic Hotel in Kirkenes. This hotel reminded me of an Ikea, in fact most of the items in the room seemed to be from Ikea. I liked the wood floors and the comfortable beds. Norwegians seem to like wood floors. Most of the airports we went through in Norway had wood floors. Speaking of floors, my wife enjoyed the “heated” floors in some of the bathrooms we encountered. The Rica Arctic Hotel had a very typical Norwegian buffet breakfast that included an assortment of fish, cheeses, breads, meats and some eggs. We could board the Nordlys at around noon, so we caught the bus at the front of the hotel around 11:00am. My wife has been on a number of cruises with me, but this “voyage” with Hurtigruten was an entirely different experience for her. I somewhat knew what to expect, because I read a lot about Hurtigruten prior to this trip, and I understand the concept of a multi-functional passenger vessel. I was looking forward to the experience of being on a “working” passenger ship because there is more of a “purpose” rather than simply a round-trip “bus tour” through the Caribbean like most cruise ships….not that there’s anything wrong with what cruise ships do.

Boarding the Nordlys with Hurtigruten was a far different experience than boarding a cruise ship. There were no lines, no other passengers in sight, only the Nordlys’ fascinating fold-out gangway awaiting our arrival. Most of the Hurtigruten ships have a self-contained robotic gangway and huge cargo hatch that open up onto the pier. We stopped for a photo then climbed up the gangway into the lobby of the ship. The Hotel Manager and another staff person greeted us. It was an absolute requirement, apparently, for us to have our hands squirted with anti-bacterial hand sanitizer as we boarded. We checked in, were given our room keys, and headed off to our little sanctuary “cabin” for this first leg of our five-night Hurtigruten journey. Our itinerary included two nights on the Nordlys, then three nights in Lofoten, and finally another three nights aboard the Trollfjord where we would disembark in Bergen.

Cruise Ship, Ferry, Cargo or Passengers ship?

I set out on this Hurtigruten Experience to determine where these ships fit within the cruise industry. The Hurtigruten ships can be broken down into several classifications, and there certainly is an element that resembles a cruise ship, however, when you look at the full picture, these ships are very different than your typical cruise ship. The Hurtigruten ships also carry automobiles, but I wouldn’t say they are one hundred percent car ferries either. The same applies to cargo, mail and these ships act as a passenger transport as well, bringing local passengers on short hops between point A and point B along the coast of Norway. I have heard a number of explanations for these multifunctional ships and their true nature, which range from “Ro Ro Ships” to “Hybrids” and “Working Vessels”, however, I place these ships in the “Coastal Passenger Liner” category….oh wait that’s not an official category. In the days of the trans-Atlantic liners, the ships were “working” vessels that carried passengers, cargo and mail from point A to B, which is quite different from what the cruise ships do today, but very similar to what the Hurtigruten vessels do. The Hurtigruten ships often visit up to four or five ports a day. These are short visits that last between ten to fifteen minutes to an hour or so, but mostly these visits are comparatively shorter than what you would expect on a cruise ship. So a note to typical cruise ship passengers, the Hurtigruten ships are not in the ports for extended periods of time, and barely long enough to go a shore to see the sights. There are some exceptions to this where the ship will stay long enough for an excursion, but overall, a voyage should focus on the beautiful scenery as the ship cruises along the coast from port-to-port.

The ports and scenery

A Norwegian coastal voyage aboard a Hurtigruten ship is a very visual experience. I often saw passengers quietly cuddled up in a chair, reading a book, in the observation lounge, watching the scenery pass by. Photographers could often be seen on deck near the bow or on the aft decks adjusting their apertures and depth of field on the incredible panorama of peeks, mountains and seascapes. Sitting in a cozy chair on the main promenade, my wife would laugh at me, as I would suddenly jump out of my chair to head outside to snap a photo or two. The scenery is so amazing it’s like sensory overload at times, and I would often scramble to the open deck to capture the moment either on video, a still shot, or both. Because the ships are not in port long, it’s best to sign up for the excursions, but often there were not enough participants for the tours so they were canceled, leaving me to fend for myself using a taxi to visit the sights. A few of the ports we visited stood out as being particularly memorable. We stayed one night in Kirkenes and had an opportunity to see the town a bit. Apparently the main industry in Kirkenes was iron mining, however, that industry has slowly shut down over the last few years leaving many without jobs. I was told a new tourism industry was rising up for that area, with tourists from Norway, Germany, England and France. In the winter season you could go dog sledding, or visit a hotel made of ice.

Hammerfest was a fascinating port that I enjoyed very much. As we approached the city aboard the Nordlys, we passed by a huge natural gas facility, which provided power and energy to the entire region. Hammerfest is also known to be the World’s most northernmost town at 70 degrees 39’ 48”N in the arctic region. There are ten thousand people who call Hammerfest home. This is the place where my wife and I experienced an amazingly rapid change in weather. It went from cold and clear to colder with near snowy and blizzard conditions in a matter on a couple of minutes or so. We watched as a wall of snow and wind hit us. In Hammerfest, I became a member of The Royal And Ancient Polar Bear Society. With only about 200,000 members this is a very exclusive club with members all around the world. The only way to become a member of this elite and exclusive club or society is to visit Hammerfest, and apply for your membership in-person. Elvis Presley wanted to become a member and sent one of his buddies to Hammerfest to acquire a membership for him, but he was declined because applicants must physically be there to apply for membership. This exclusive society seeks to preserve the polar bears and the unique and delicate ecology of this arctic region. It was fun to tell my wife that I was able to literally take her to the top of the World.

Before the Nordlys arrived at Svolvaer, Lofoten, we went on a special Sea Eagles Safari, an excursion that brought us up close to this mighty bird. We boarded a smaller boat that took us into the kjellfjord where these sea eagles nested and hunted for food. Our guide inflated the fish bait with air, then threw them out into the water near the boat so the Sea Eagles would swoop down, grab the fish out of sea and fly off to enjoy their meal. We were able to take pictures of this amazing bird as it buzzed right past our boat and nearly grabbed the fish out of the hand of our guide. The Seagulls were everywhere and they too were fun to watch.

The Nordlys stopped at the little town of Stokmarknes where my wife and I experienced a very interesting museum. The 1956 built Finnmarken was a Hurtigruten vessel that had been retired and turned into a museum. What was unique about this museum was the Finnmarken vessel was hoisted up onto land in a cradle so that you can actually walk under the hull of this ship. To me that was really cool to see a big ship like this on land and to walk under the hull, to be able to touch and see the propeller and rudder was a thrill. You can go aboard the Finnmarken and see her old staterooms and lounges. As a ship buff this was a highlight for me. I really enjoyed this museum!

A highlight of our Hurtigruten and SAS Experience was our three-night visit to Lofoten. After two nights cruising the coast of Norway aboard the Nordlys we disembarked in Stamsund, Lofoten at 10:30pm, rented a car and drove for about an hour south, in the dark and in the rain, to a quaint and amazingly picturesque town called Reine. Of course it was dark when we drove down to Reine, so we really couldn’t see much until the next day when we woke up in our little rorbuer and looked out the window. We checked into a rorbuer or boat house at about midnight in a wonderful place called Reine Rorbuer which is like a resort or bed and breakfast cottage in the middle of a fishing village that has been in operation since about 1785. The little rorbuer we stayed in could very well have been nearly two hundred years old, however it was rebuilt, refurbished and fitted with modern facilities, so it was very cozy. I have been all around the World and I am not exaggerating when I say Reine, Lofoten is perhaps the most beautiful and scenic place I have ever seen with my own eyes, and it was the fulfillment of a dream to visit this place. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, it was a beautiful painting that inspired me to one day journey to this place of Reine, Lofoten, and finally that dream became a reality and I was not disappointed. It truly was a magical place and I felt like I was in a dream as I marveled at the scenery. I could almost sense that there was a spiritual echo among the amazingly picturesque mountains, where God was saying, “Look what I have made for you”! The Managers of Reine Rorbuer, Hans van Kampen and Daniella de Vreeze were gracious hosts, and one day Daniella, a chef, prepared a special Norwegian dinner for us in their little rustic restaurant called Gammelbua. We also toured the fascinating fishery next to Reine Rorbuer that has a long heritage of sending dried fish all around the world. We saw first-hand how the fish was prepared and processed. The Director of this fishery told us about the theory that God specially created the Reine Lofoten area as a perfectly balanced environment for the fish to flourish abundantly because of the warmer Caribbean waters coming from the south, that seem to blend with the arctic waters from the North. A delicate and perfectly balanced ecosystem that seems to indicate there was a great deal of intelligence and design to the environment, allowing fishermen for centuries to enjoy an abundance of quality fish to catch. I didn’t want to leave Reine after three days, but we had to catch the Hurtigruten ship, Trollfjord in Stamsund, to continue our journey along the coast of Norway.

Another highlight of our voyage with Hurtigruten was our visit to Trondheim, which is the third largest city in Norway. As I mentioned earlier, the Hurtigruten ships do not stay in the ports very long and this fact was evident when we embarked on our excursion or bus tour of Trondheim, which lasted about two hours. Our bus tour quickly took us through town and up onto a hill where we could look out over the city. Next we visited a cathedral that has been there for over one thousand years. Trondheim is a historical and friendly community with a large university and a number of cultural centers and museums. After about an hour of touring the cathedral we returned to our ship the Trollfjord and shortly thereafter we enjoyed a chilly departure.

As we came closer to our final destination of Bergen the Trollfjord went through some beautiful passages and fjords. Our ship crossed the Arctic Circle 66 degrees 33’ North, on October 19th in the morning, and we were issued an official certificate indicating this accomplishment. Among the many rock formations and mountains, we came upon an interesting mountain that literally had a hole through it. I thought as we went further south the weather would improve and we would experience a little warmer climate, but this did not turned out to be true on our cruise because it was colder, with sleet and snow, which can be expected for this time of year. We were blessed to experience the first snow of the winter season when we arrived in Bergen. The hillsides near Bergen were covered in a fresh coat of beautiful white snow allowing for some nice photos. Bergen is the second largest city in Norway, tucked in the hills along the coast. We met up with a third cousin of mine who lives in Voss, near Bergen, and had a delightful Chinese dinner and visit with her. We walked around town through some of the shops and a mall.

Our journey with Hurtigruten had ended and the next morning we were off to the airport to fly home via SAS. Flying on SAS was an enjoyable experience because of the care and service of the friendly flight crew. During our eight and half hour flight from Copenhagen to Chicago we watched a few movies and entertained ourselves to stay awake so we could have a good sleep when we finally arrived at home again in Minneapolis. What type of person embarks on a Hurtigruten voyage? I’m going to come out and say that your typical cruise passenger might be disappointed because of the more specialized elements to a Hurtigruten voyage. There are no casinos, there is no formal entertainment or show lounges, the port visits are short, and the onboard amenities are comfortable but minimal. The dining is Eurpoean-style which some Americans may not understand. Europeans dine at a more leisurely pace, and the menu each evening is fixed to a set course as opposed to multiple options. Breakfast and lunch are buffet-style. Expect a lot of fish and cheese. A Hurtigruten voyage will appeal to those who enjoy the quiet, scenic, go-at-your-own-pace routine. Photographers and those who enjoy a rich Norwegian cultural experience will feel very comfortable on a Hurtigruten journey. For those who have a desire to visit an ecological and environmental wonderland, a Hurtigruten voyage will fulfill the quest for natural beauty, spectacular panoramas and abundant wildlife. As I compare our Hurtigruten voyage with our Alaska cruise we did in 2009, I can now say with complete confidence that while Alaska is very beautiful, a Norwegian coastal voyage with Hurtigruten is magnificent and the scenery pushes and exceeds my expectations to a higher level than I had anticipated. We have heard many people say, after we tell them of our trip to Norway, that a Norwegian coastal cruise is on their bucket list, and it should be, because I cannot imagine anyone visiting Norway like we did and not return feeling completely overwhelmed with the incredible scenery. Other cruise ships may visit Norway, but you can truly become entrenched with the culture when you embark on a Hurtigruten voyage. The Hurtigruten vessels have an all-Norwegian crew onboard and in fact, Hurtigruten is a Norwegian company with a genuine and rich Norwegian heritage and history. The artwork onboard all the ships reflect Norwegian artistry at it’s best. Cruising on any other cruise line along the coast of Norway would be like going to the grocery store and buying frozen fish for dinner, as opposed to going out with the fishermen on their boat to catch the fish, and preparing the fish dinner right there on the boat.

For those who have a Norwegian coastal cruise on your bucket list, do not delay, make your plans sooner than later to experience for yourself this incredible voyage, this beautiful journey with Hurtigruten. Your expectations will be fulfilled and you will come away with memories of Norway that will inspire you and fuel your imagination. Embark on a southbound or northbound itinerary or do what we did and custom-design your own itinerary so you can have an extended visit to a particular village or town of your choosing. Expect to be enriched by the culture and beautiful scenery.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Norwegian EPIC

First impressions:
Seeing the Norwegian Epic tower over the pier in New York was impressive, in fact the Epic completely blocked the site of the Carnival Miracle docked in the next pier over. I knew the ship was going to be very big, and what seems to always be among the first comments when you talk to someone is “wow this ship is really big”. Having also been aboard the Oasis of the Seas with Royal Caribbean, in January, which is a much larger ship at 240,000 tons, it was interesting to compare the two. Oasis is the biggest, but you’d hardly know the difference when ships get this big. I think as ships get larger, the ocean seems smaller, because the focus onboard these giants revolves around numerous options, more amenities, more dining venues, more entertainment, more staterooms and suites, and of course more people. The key is to build a big ship with excellent attention to passenger flow, and I think for the most part, NCL has succeeded in developing spaces and lounges that flow together well.

Wavy staterooms

One of the big discussion points as the Norwegian Epic is revealed in all her glory, is her “wavy”, staterooms with curved walls and separate compartments for the toilet and the shower. My first impression when I arrived at my room 9248, a deluxe Balcony stateroom, was that it felt small and narrow. I liked the wood-like paneling, and the lighting. There’s a large domed-ceiling above the bed that offered a soothing glow, which reminded me of something from the future. I discovered plenty of storage space, and clever baskets in a couple of the compartments, which are perfect for storing the dirty clothes after a long day at the beach or exploring the Mayan Ruins. The bed linens were nice, but the beds, themselves, were a bit too firm for my taste. The balcony was a decent size, and from what I understand, the air conditioning for the room, is connected to the sliding balcony door, and the air shuts off when the door is opened so passengers aren’t wasting or blasting cool air into the hot and often humid Caribbean.

There has been much to say about the bathroom arrangement in the wavy staterooms, most of the comments being on the “uneasy” side. After speaking with seasoned cruise industry journalists who suggested that North Americans will have a problem with the bathroom arrangement, I came to the conclusion that maybe experienced cruisers might struggle with it a bit, but first-time cruisers won’t notice anything terribly unusual. I have noticed when first-time cruisers board a ship for their vacation, everything is “different” and takes a little “getting used to”, for example; the movement of the ship, the lips at the base of many doors, compact staterooms, even navigating around the ship. Because “things are different” on a cruise ship, many passengers won’t notice or care that the bathrooms are unusual onboard the Epic.

I think the staterooms are smallish, even the suites. This is most certainly a high-density ship, and I think it will be interesting to experience the ship when at full capacity. Additionally, I think even a Deluxe Balcony Stateroom would be a squeeze for three or four people. I enjoyed the stateroom décor, and after spending some time in the room, I was pleased with the overall “feel” of the room. At a press conference someone asked about the little sink outside of the shower and toilet area with the tallish spout. The answer was that it was decided and chosen, several years ago, by Colin Veitch, the previous CEO of NCL, to install these unique sinks, so that he could easily fill his tea kettle. It was suggested, in somewhat of a joking way, that perhaps this is why Colin is the “previous” CEO and not the current CEO.


The live bands around the ship are also a huge plus in my book. Many of the cruise lines still use piped-in music or tracks, but NCL is using live music. There are numerous live music venues around the ship including a “Blues” club. It will take a week just to experience all the unique entertainment onboard the Norwegian Epic. Another interesting thing I discovered onboard the Norwegian Epic is that the ship doesn’t just have a Cruise Director, but also an Entertainment Director, because of the magnitude of entertainment offered.Without question, Norwegian Cruise Lines has upped the ante industry-wide with their “branded” entertainment including Blue Man Group, Second City, Legends in Concert, Cirque Dreams, and Nickelodeon at sea. Entertainment on ships has certainly evolved over the last couple of years with full-scale broadway-style musicals, high-diving shows and now branded entertainment. I enjoyed Blue Man Group, it was so refreshing and cool to see on a ship this eclectic and wild show performed by these “Blue Guys”. I have a theory about who the Blue Men are trying to be…..they are aliens from another world experiencing simple human interaction, and it’s hilarious, particularly the scene with the twinkie and the volunteer (victim) from the audience. I found myself caught-up in the show, and that says a lot because I have seen the best of the best when it comes to big shows on cruise ships, having been a Cruise Director.

The Norwegian Epic will have wonderful entertainment options for families with children because of the Nickelodeon at sea experience and the spectacular water slides on the pool deck. The youth and the teens have their own spaces and rooms for hanging out and playing videos games and watching movies. There is a vast sports deck with bungee jumping, basketball, and NCL is even offering ice skating, which is a direct competitive move to compete with Royal Caribbean. Now NCL can say, “Hey we also have ice skating at sea”. The Epic is packed from stem to stern with entertainment options from the shows, the live music and the very active bars with darts, bowling, and you can even play a game of pool on two pool tables. Freeze your butt off in the Ice Bar, enjoy dancing on deck with a giant TV screen, or find a quiet spot somewhere on deck for a romantic rendezvous, there’s so many options. The key is that not only is there a multitude of options, but the quality of those options is excellent.


When I first experienced “Freestyle dining” on the Norwgian Pearl a couple years ago, I was skeptical, however, I was soon sold on the concept when I realized that I didn’t have to go eat at a certain time if I didn’t want to…I could eat later and have numerous choices of where to eat. The Norwegian Epic has truly taken Freestyle Dining to the level with a plethora of quality dining options throughout the ship. You can get pizza, fish & chips, a sizzling steak, sushi, Teppanyaki, Italian food, French food, you name it and they probably have it aboard the Epic. I think I heard there were 26 different restaurants onboard. During my short visit I didn’t really have an opportunity to enjoy the fine dining in the restaurants because I was scrambling to get all my scheduled interviews, take pictures and video and explore the ship, so I just stopped briefly to grab a quick something and then I was off to my next meeting. I did, however; have a wonderful mushroom soup in the Bistro that is burned into my memory and taste buds. I don’t think I heard any negative comments about the food onboard. I really enjoyed the Garden Café for breakfast on Deck Fifteen because of the vast options including: fruits, meats, eggs, cream of wheat, pancakes and waffles, cereals, breads, pastries, all divided into stations throughout the Garden Café, and you can’t beat the views high above the sea.

Décor around the ship

I found the décor to be very whimsical and modern, with some classically elegant rooms for dining and socializing. The ship is very colorful but tasteful from the carpets to the artwork on the bulkheads. I didn’t think the décor was over the top like you might see on a Carnival ship, rather I felt the tone around the ship to be fun, classy, and modern. I enjoyed the way the interior areas were broken-up into nooks and very usable spaces. There wasn’t much wasted space on this ship at all, in fact the Norwegian Epic was designed to truly maximize passenger-flow from one area to another. There’s even an escalator to assist with this passenger flow midship. I could see an evolution in cruise ship interior design onboard the Epic that I haven’t noticed on other ships. I could see that a tremendous-level of thought went into the passenger areas. Gone are the days of boxy lounges and specific rooms; on the Epic, one room flowed and transitioned into another. I almost felt like I was in a casino in Las Vegas the way the various areas seamlessly came together. There was also an excitement in the air, not because this was a brand new ship, but I think the décor and laughter, the music and general pulse of the activity onboard promoted a sense of relaxation, and fun.


When I first saw the artist rendering of the Norwegian Epic, I thought there must have been a mistake, the ship looked comically top heavy and odd with decks 15 and 16 above the bridge area. After visiting the ship, I had a sense that the ship was very solid, and someone cleverly pointed out to me that this ship was built from the inside out. It really is what’s on the inside that counts, and the Norwegian Epic is truly a ship that will make a big splash in a very positive way with singles, couples, and families. And speaking about single cruisers, The Epic has these very cool pod-like, staterooms for single passengers, and there’s no single occupancy supplement which is excellent news for single travelers. I met with Mr. Paul Priestman who designed these single occupancy staterooms, and he was very proud of his work on these compact rooms. These rooms are almost patterned after the pod-like spaces in Japan where someone can sleep and clean-up and not much else. Mr. Priestman made these single rooms very comfortable, with fun lighting and clever cubbies for storage and hanging clothes. There’s also a private shower and toilet, so there’s everything you need to basically spend the week on this ship in your own small stateroom pod. It will be very interesting to see how passengers receive the Norwegian Epic this year while she is cruising the Caribbean. The hardware is very interesting, there’s a lot to do, but more importantly, the crew and staff are all very excited about their new ship. I also heard that a majority of the crew onboard has their own room, which is a huge plus for those who work on the ship for months at a time. What makes an excellent cruise vacation experience is not just the fancy hardware, but the care and excellent service of the staff onboard, which I am confident the Norwegian Epic will deliver with style!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Queen Mary Review

I've written so much about the Queen Mary which is now a hotel, museum and convention facility in Long Beach, California, but this time I'd like to offer a review of the ship as a hotel and attraction in southern California. This really does tie-in to the cruise industry too, because just aft of the Queen Mary is a cruise terminal where thousands of cruise passengers can depart from each week. While I was onboard the Queen Mary I often came across people wandering the ship that either just came off of a cruise or were just about to depart on their cruise from the Long Beach cruise terminal. Carnival Cruise Line's Paradise and the Carnival Splendor were docked at the cruise terminal throughout the weekend that I was visiting the Queen Mary. I need to remind my readers that I am passionate about the Queen Mary, her history and her future as an attraction in Long Beach. I know it sounds odd, but I had chosen a college in southern California because it was not far from Long Beach where the Queen Mary was. Since I was about 13 years old, I developed a unique interest in the Queen Mary, my friends in junior high school would tease me that I knew how many rivets and portholes were in the Queen Mary. I was fascinated by her size and engineering and history, then I discovered there were many other grand ocean liners during the trans-Atlantic era, when crossing the Atlantic by ship was the "only way to cross".

I spent the weekend aboard the Queen Mary Hotel with my wife and my son. For me this was a huge weekend because I was returning to the place I asked my wife to marry me, and I was going to have an opportunity to show my 9 year-old son the ship that has inspired me for so many years. Additionally, I produced an event aboard the Queen Mary during this weekend where I invited the listeners of my talkshow in the southern California area to come watch me interview a few people in front of an audience. The event was a huge success and everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. We were booked into the Eisenhower Suite which is the same room that President Eisenhower stayed in when he crossed the Atlantic aboard the Queen Mary. This is a key selling point for anyone looking for a hotel to stay at while visiting southern California..the fact that you can book yourself into an original first-class stateroom from the days when the Queen Mary was in her glory crossing the Atlantic on a regular basis. The who's who list of celebrities and movie stars, statesman and royalty that stayed in the suites aboard the Queen Mary when she was in active service is spectacular. To think that you could stay overnight or several nights in the same room that Bob Hope, Winston Churchill, Liz Taylor, Frank Sinatra, Billy Graham, or President Eisenhower stayed in while crossing the Atlantic is more than intriguing. The Queen Mary Hotel has a rather new management company so the rooms have new beds and linens which are very comfortable. New iPod docking stations have been placed in the rooms with flat-screen TV's and when you add the element of historical significance to your stay, it all adds-up to a memorable, comfortable visit.

The Queen Mary is a Historical Treasure and worth a visit. She's not just an old ship, the Queen Mary has an illustrious history that spans over 70 years. Most of her career has now been spent as a landmark in Long Beach, so she is a "place" where millions of people have visited, explored, and marveled at her size, her engines, her romance, and her history before she arrived in Long Beach. Ocean liners were mini cities or communities that had their own personality, and they were a microcosm of societal engineering. Today, Queen Mary is considered a building rather than a ship since she no longer separates herself from land, and she no longer becomes an island unto herself. The ship is still floating, however; which is nice, but gone are the days when passengers can feel the movement and energy of the ship as she pounds her way across the vast ocean. Queen Mary has been absorbed by the city of Long Beach as opposed to having the ability to escape to the sea, and yet if you squint, you can imagine what it was like when she was still an active ship.

What's there to do onboard the Queen Mary? Don't miss the opportunity to stay in the Queen Mary Hotel. You can also explore the museum and see the ship's last remaining propeller. There are plenty of great rooms and space for that special meeting, dance or banquet. You can take a self-guided tour or sign-up for an escorted behind-the-scenes tour. For those who want to experience a chill down their leg, you can try out the ghost tour experience. If you want a unique place to eat, the Queen Mary has many excellent dining venues, including the famous Sunday Brunch in the First-Class Dining Room or Sir Winstons with a great view of the Long Beach skyline. Or you might want to do what I did and find a deck chair to relax and just soak-in the southern California sunshine from the deck of the Queen Mary.

There is an ongoing effort to preserve and protect the Queen Mary's original areas, decks, rooms and lounges, and I know it is a daunting task for any management company to take on, because she's not a building but a ship, and ships have unique maintenance requirements. The maintenance onboard the Queen Mary is staggering, and for the most part, I think the current management company has done a fine job, however, her exterior desperately needs to be painted and cared for.

I'd like to thank the PR department aboard the Queen Mary for their generosity to host our Cruising Authority event in the Verandah Grill. I'd also like to thank a few of my sponsors for this trip to southern California which include: Advantage Rent A Car, AirTran, American Limousine and Disneyland. This trip to southern California would not have been possible without these great sponsors.

About the author: Barry Vaudrin is the host of the most listened-to cruise-related talkshow anywhere at Each week hear from interesting people related to the cruise industry, like presidents of cruise lines, historians, authors, and travel professionals that contribute in some way to the cruise industry. We also feature shows occasionally about ocean liners and the trans-Atlantic era. Barry is a cruise industry journalist who travels the World and features all sorts of cruises from mass-market, premium, upscale to luxury cruises.

For anyone looking for the perfect cruise vacation at the best possible pricing, be sure to contact me for a referral to a great agent: