Friday, December 23, 2011

Poesia at Sea & Ft Lauderdale

Did I mention how much I love seas days? After our departure from Montego Bay, Jamaica at about 2:30pm, we enjoyed more "sea time" then the next day - all day was a "sea day". I have to admit that this trip was a great experience, and my son and I had some excellent father-son bonding time, however; I think I put too much of a work-load on myself with video and photos. My expectations are to produce the best possible content for my audience, and I did a few things different on this cruise. Usually I'll conduct many interviews withe the crew and staff, but on this trip I did only a few interviews. You'll just have to wait and see how it all comes together. I want to see how it all comes together, I never know exactly how the videos will turn out until I start editing. An example of something I have never done before was to produce a music video, which I'm happy to say....I got the video footage I was wanting and I think when it's all edited together it will put a smile on your face. To say the least, I wore myself out on this trip. I think my son Jacob had a great time! The kids program onboard is very good and they have plenty of activities for the kids. That was another fun video I made.....I had my son host a review of the kids program onboard the MSC Poesia.

Back to our "sea day", for some reason time seemed to slow down, which is a good thing. The weather was perfect and there was no wind on deck, it was the perfect conditions for making video. We arrived into Ft Lauderdale early in the morning, December 23rd. Disembarkation was simple. We had some breakfast then headed down to the gangway and out to Customs. We breezed through Customs and waiting outside was our Courier to pick up our large piece of luggage by a company called Lugless and The courier was even so kind as to drop us off at the airport. I hope you watch our videos, listen to our audio talk show segments and read our full review of this experience aboard the MSC Poesia.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Poesia At Sea and Montego Bay

All day Tuesday we were at sea which is my favorite time to be on a cruise ship. It's when a ship is "at sea" when it is doing what it was built for. I love the subtle motion of the ship and the sea air, the nice breeze and all the activities happening around the ship. Poesia rides the sea well. I might have to take a vacation to rest from this trip, because I've been running full-steam, and have not taken much "ME" time. Of course my son is with me so I have to make sure he is having fun. Speaking of my son, he swam in the pools on deck from about 8:30am till 3:45pm. He got a little sun, but he's ok.

Today, Wednesday, we were in Montego Bay, Jamaica. I had pre-arranged to go on the ZipLine with Jamaica Zipline Adventure Tours. We were suppose to meet a representative at 9:00am but they didn't show up until about 10:00am, so Jacob got a little bored waiting in the terminal, but he was excited when we were on our way up into the hills for the Zipline Adventure. The road up into the hills was full of giant potholes, and part of the road was gravel and at times I was wondering where our driver was taking us. It was a very rough ride to the site. They treated us very well on this tour, once we arrived at the site. We went through orientation, signed a waiver, got fitted with our gear for zipping. Then we got into an army six-wheel-drive vehicle and made our way up the hill further. I thought the ride to the site was rough, but this ride was so rough we had to have a helmet. (it was an Adventure). This zipline has five courses, and they claim they have the longest zipline in the Caribbean, but I think Royal Caribbean's Labadee zip is longer. We had two guides assist us for the duration of our zipping. One of the guy's had a scary nickname...."Trouble"....but he was cool. I can't explain enough how much my son enjoyed this experience! He is going to be talking about this for years. I had fun too. About halfway through the tour, they offered us fresh coconut juice, pineapple and sugarcane. What was really interesting about this excursion was the ecological information our guides shared with us about the jungle and the plants. The rough roads aside, this was a very fun experience!

Upon returning to the MSC Poesia, My son and I had lunch in the dining room. I had an interesting sword fish appetizer that was very tasty and uniquely prepared, then I enjoyed a delicious, fresh salmon My hat goes off to MSC for excellent dining. I did find some time to rest after lunch, and then it was time for dinner. Tomorrow we are at sea again all day which I love, however; I'm going to be scrambling to get last-minute video shots.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Poesia Roatan

My impressions of the MSC Poesia
I've read many passenger reviews of Poesia on Cruise Critic and various message boards, and there were many negative comments so I was very interested in experiencing first-hand what an MSC cruise was like and finally here I am cruising the MSC Poesia. I have enjoyed the ship and the crew onboard. The dining has been excellent, the crew work very hard and I wasn't sure about the spa, but I am now hooked. I spoke with a couple today at lunch who owned a popular cruise franchise - I knew which one because it was advertised on their shirts - and they had some negative things to say about the level of service. I asked them for specifics and I was given the same lame reasoning that I've read from other people offering their "glass half empty" response. The true is, many Americans just don't understand the international "European" way of service. When traveling in Europe, you can expect prompt, efficient service, yet in may appear to Americans to be abrupt and sometimes even rude. If these "glass half empty" Americans would be exposed to the world as it is, and not just the American "bubble" of expectations, they would appreciate some of the intricacies of world travel and perhaps the International, "European" culture. I'm trying not to say "small-minded", but oops there it is, I said it, many America travelers don't get it. Having traveled the world, I can appreciate the culture here aboard the MSC Poesia, which has deep roots in Italy and all over Europe. The MSC brand is like the Carnival Cruise Line of Europe, which is very recognizable, but not very well known here in the American market. Back to this couple I spoke with, I asked them about their complaints and found them to be very small-minded comments from people who really need to travel the world more, and the more I talked with them, the more they agreed their negative comments were not valid. MSC truly offers a fascinating product, yes it's mass-market, but I think they deliver a quality product that more Americans should experience.

On this cruise I have been impressed with the dining, the quality and taste of the food. Admittedly, I have not experienced the entertainment yet, because I get so tired in the evenings, but tonight I'm going to make an effort to see the least part of the show. I've also been impressed with the ship's decor, the brass handrails, the artwork, and the use of glass and marble. The layout of the deck plan takes a little getting use to, but I think the passenger flow is very good. Our stateroom was a little smaller than I expected, but it is comfortable and quiet. I often hear about how slow the ship's internet is, but I have found it to be acceptable. The ship seems to ride the seas very smooth, and without question the crew keeps the ship spotless and well maintained.

Today in Roatan, my son and I met with a friend I have had since 1999 Dr. Glen Solomon. Glen is the founder of the Majken Broby Children's Home, an orphanage in here in Roatan since about 1981. In 1999, I lead a group of 225 passengers on a ship called the SeaBreeze which stopped in Roatan. We produced a big event here in Roatan where we offered a concert with musicians, singers and a speaker. A big tent was erected at the location of the orphanage, and the governor of the island let all the kids out of school that day to have a marching band and parade thru town. It was a big event here in Roatan and Glen Solomon was an instrumental part of making that event a success. What a pleasure it was to see Dr. Solomon again and to visit the sight of the orphanage. I gave Dr. Solomon a case of Kids Against Hunger food to distribute to some of the more needy families here in Roatan, and he said it will go to good use. The Administrator of the orphanage said that the KAH food will be very useful when they have their Christmas gathering of the very poor at the church. Many families will greatly appreciate the gift of KAH food. I was particularly interested in exposing my son Jacob to this orphanage where he can see first-had how there are kids who don't have a Mom and a Dad. Additionally, my son Jacob, saw what "real" poverty is like, and that he is blessed with a mom and a dad who love him and his life is pretty good, relatively speaking.

I didn't eat much for dinner tonight because there has been so much great food the last couple of days. My son Jacob has been plugging-in to the kids program onboard the MSC Poesia, and he has enjoyed the activities so far. I'm going to make a video of Jacob with his review of the kid's program onboard.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

MSC Poesia Cozumel

Docked in Cozumel today. The day couldn't have gone better! I met with the Cruise Director this morning and made arrangements for the many video shots I'll need. The big plan for today in Cozumel was to swim with the dolphins with a company called Dolphin Discovery. We had the Royal Swim package which was truly an amazing experience. I think my son was swimming in the water with the dolphins for at least an hours, they played and danced together, then Jacob hung onto the fins of two dolphins as they pulled him through the water. Two dolphins even pushed him by his feet and raised him out of the water like he was on a what an adventure! These dolphins were even able to push my mass out of the water. It is a beautiful day today in Cozumel with a temp of about 80 degrees. I'm looking forward to this evening and I'll try to make it to the show tonight.

Key West MSC Poesia

Our first port is Key West. I think got off the ship for only about two hours to walk around and take few pictures. If you've seen some of my past videos, I have to's not easy shooting those videos sometimes, lots retakes to get it right. You never know what people will do in the background. I had some woman do the rabbit ears thing behind me while I was conducting an I had to do it again. Maybe I'll run it anyways? I have very much enjoyed the dining and the cruise experience so far, however; my brain gets very tired and busy with all the video shooting I need to get and I also have to make sure my son is having fun either swimming or hooked up with the kids program. I haven't been as productive as I would like, but I still have five days or so. Last night after Key West was formal night, so my son, Jacob, put his sport coat and tie on....he looked nice. I still have not been to a show at night because I'm so tired by about 8,9,10pm. Currently we are enroute to Cozumel, it's a beautiful morning. I think we are going to steam, shower, then I have a meeting with the Cruise Director at 9:00am. More later.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Boarded the MSC Poesia

December 16th - Ft Lauderdale Embarkation day.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Ft Lauderdale just off of 17th and had a very pleasant night. The suites was wonderful, on the 11th floor overlooking the port where the ships dock. We woke up to see our ship docked, and a few other ships including the Pacific Princess, the Seven Seas Mariner and the Zuiderdam. Embarkation process was simple and the process was only about 20 minutes. Soon we were crossing the gangway and boarding the MSC Poesia. Our stateroom was a little smaller than I expected, but the room, although compact, has everything we need to make it our home for the week. Onboard the MSC Poesia was familiar because I visited the ship about a year ago, so it wasn't difficult navigating the various lounges and restaurants. I'm traveling with my ten-year-old son, and he wanted to get plugged-in to the kids programs which started around 8pm. We had dinner first seating at 6pm, just after boat drill. Regarding the boat drill, I noticed that many passengers didn't take the drill seriously or follow directions. From my perspective, the crew manning our boat station didn't enforce too much structure, and many passengers in my area just stood around talking, or didn't bring their life jacket. Perhaps it was because many of the instruction over the PA system were in multiple languages. Back to dinner. I'm looking forward to experiencing the dining because of the strong Italian heritage of this family-owned cruise line. I love Italian cuisine, and after my first evening at dinner, I was not disappointed. My son and I were on deck as the ship left Ft Lauderdale. Maybe it was because we departed late at about 8pm, but I didn't hear the hoopla from the condominiums as we passed them on our way out to sea. Usually there are horns and whistles, but this time very little activity. As much as I wanted to see the production show tonight, I was too tired. My son had fun at his first kids meeting with games and dancing, I picked him up at 10pm, then time to wind-down in our stateroom. Tomorrow we are in Key West.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ft Lauderdale

December 15th, 10:30pm - had a very busy day which started out very early in the morning 3:30am. Flew to Milwaukee, the to Ft Lauderdale. I tried to sleep on the plane, but am not sure if I slept or not. My parents were waiting for us in Ft Lauderdale airport, and we took off to check in at our hotel the Embassy Suites on 17th, which, by the way, is the ultimate pre or post cruise hotel in Ft Lauderdale. We are on the 11th floor and have a view of the port, so it will be fun waking up tomorrow morning to see the ships. I made a stop to my favorite bookstore, Bluewater Books & Charts, which has tons of nautical and maritime books. I got the latest Douglas Ward Berlitz 2012 book.

Today I met with Phil Allen, the Executive Director of Port Everglades. I've had him on my show in the past, but only over the phone so it was nice to meet with him in-person and talk with him about this bustling port. Then I met with Uf Tukel, who is the President and owner of iCruise. I talked with Mr. Tukel about his iCruise App which is the best in the cruise industry.

Next we went to our hotel, Embassy Suites to freshen-up before meeting with some friends and family at "The Melting Pot", a restaurant that specializes in fondue. I had never heard of this restaurant, and I was very pleased to experience this fun, creative way to dine. We had great conversation, the food was tasty, fresh and plentiful. So for those looking for an interesting place to enjoy dinner before or after your cruise in and out of Ft Lauderdale, The Melting Pot is a great choice.

Looking forward to a busy day tomorrow as we have breakfast here in the Embassy Suites. I am meeting again with family and friends for breakfast then off to the port to board the MSC Poesia.

Pre-Cruise Travels

December 15th, I'm heading to Ft Lauderdale with my son, Jacob. We are meeting with a few people in Ft Lauderdale to interview for Cruising Authority including the Director of Port Everglades and the owner of iCruise. I'm also happy to meet up with some friends and my parents will be picking us up at the airport and spending some time with us. At this very moment I'm in between flights in Milwaukee waiting for our flight to Ft Lauderdale. I can say enough how much I appreciate the services of a luggage shipping company called LugLess at wow, it is such a relief and a luxury to travel so light and not have to check our bags at the terminal. No need to go to baggage-claim either because Lugless is delivering our luggage directly to the hotel where we are staying in Ft Lauderdale. It's super convenient and offers peace-of-mind knowing that our luggage is cared for and delivered without all the hassle normally associated with lugging those larger pieces of luggage. Another peace-of-mind is knowing that we have travel insurance with Access America. You never know what could happen during a trip, and you might need special medical help, and with Access America, I don't have to worry about the costs of injury or any medical attention we might need, if some unforeseen accident occurs.

Ok, enough of the sales pitch....Tomorrow, December 16th my son and I embark on the MSC Poesia. MSC has said they put in for visitor passes for my parents, so that will be fun to show them around our ship before we leave. Here's some insider information for those who follow my talk show and videos....there is a HUGE-level of planning that goes into putting the content together for these shows. My head is buzzing with all the creative shots I'll need, and on this trip I'm trying some new ideas. We are planning our first Cruising Authority iCruise Treasure Hunt, where I will be hiding a special wooden magic wand somewhere in the western Caribbean, and I'll be creating a treasure map. The treasure map must be followed in order to locate the magic wand, and the first person to locate the wand, follow the directions and ship it back to me, will win a brand new Apple iPad, courtesy of cool is that? I'm also planning to produce a music video on this cruise which should be fun. I'll be conducting a special study during this cruise entitled "The Science of Romance at Sea". I'm a happily married man, so of course I am not a participant, rather I will be working with three couples during the cruise onboard the MSC should be a fun study. Additionally, I will be featuring a little history of entertainment at sea going back to the days of the trans-Atlantic liners. Maritime Historian and author John Maxtone-Graham will be offering some input as well as Douglas Ward, the Author of the Berlitz Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships.

I hope you'll continue to follow this blog as we cruise aboard the MSC Poesia.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Blog Posts from Pride of America to Hawaii

I decided to post my notes that I wrote during our cruise aboard the Pride of America departing August 6th. Enjoy this opportunity to see behind the curtain - so to speak. I missed the last two days....I just got too busy to write in this journal. Please feel free to comment below. Also visit our main website at and see ALL the content we posted including videos and photos.

Day one Pride of America 08/06/2011

We flew out of Minneapolis at about 10pm and arrived into Las Vegas at 11:30pm and our departure (transfer) wasn’t until 6:45am the next morning so we decided to take a shuttle to the stip in Vegas to see what was going on and we were amazed to see that this town dos not shut down, its open and thriving all night long. We were very tired of course but gutted it out and walked around the strip until finally we just couldn’t take it anymore and called out shuttle to take us back to the airport at about 4:30am. Our flight departed at 6:45am so we had plenty of time to check in and get ready for our flight to Los Angeles. Once in LA we had a short layover then finally it at about 8:45 it was time to get on the plane to Honolulu. Five and a half hours later we arrived in Honolulu to perfect weather 83 degrees and sunny. The humidity wasn’t too bad at all so it was a very comfortable temperature. I had arranged for us to be picked up by Jay’s Limousine service in Honolulu and Jay himself was there to take us to our ship the Pride of America docked in Honolulu.

We were able to bypass a large number of passengers waiting to check in because we were Latitudes members with Norwegian Cruise Lines. (Latitudes members are people who have cruised with NCL in the past). Having cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines several times in the past we were able to by-pass a large line of people trying to check-in. We were onboard the Pride of America within about 20 minutes, yet the staterooms were not ready for us so we ate in the Lido buffet for lunch. With Diamondhead off in the distance we had a nice buffet lunch until finally at about 2pm we were allowed to go to our stateroom. Our original room assignment was 8096 which was not bad, an average balcony stateroom. We unpacked and walked around the ship a little. In somewhat of a daze from a lack of sleep we started to really get tired at about 3pm, so we just hung out in our stateroom for a while. Our large piece of luggage, that we sent in advance with a company called Luggage Free, was delivered to our stateroom so we unpacked and relaxed in our room for a while. At 4:30 we had the usual boat drill and at 5:30pm we decided to have dinner in the Liberty Dining Room. I ordered the Lobster and Red Snapper while Terri had the beef. It was a pleasant dining experience, but I wanted to be out on deck when the Pride of America departed so we made sure we were finished with diner to experience the ship’s departure from Honolulu. The weather was perfect, the sunset was beautiful as the Pride of America moved away from the dock and headed out to sea past the beautiful Waikaki scene and the famous and Diamond Head backdrop. Upon our return to our stateroom, I noticed a phone message from the Hotel Manager. He wanted me to call him as soon as possible. I made the return call and he wanted to meet with me in the lobby. Ultimately he wanted to let me know that there was a cancelation in one of the suites and he ask me if I wanted to move into a suite so I accepted the opportunity to transfer into suite number 11006. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to have Terri, my wife, experience a suite with butler service. We quickly threw our stuff together and moved into the suite. We were both extremely tired so we unpacked quickly so we could go to sleep. Tomorrow we are in Maui, and our plan is to have a very relaxed day and get the sleep we need to be rested and able to move ahead with the busy project of creating video content for Cruising Authority.

Day Two – Pride of America - August 7th, 2011 (Maui)

After our very tiring travels on Saturday, we decided to lay low all day on Sunday. We woke up leisurely and spent a lot of time in our suite. We ate breakfast in the Lazy J Steakhouse. I ordered my favorite breakfast, Eggs Benedict, and there was something new on top of the eggs…truffle, which added a sophisticated touch. We walked around the ship a little today, since most of the passengers were on shore excursions. I didn’t produce any content for Cruising Authority today because we were just relaxing. I did some work on the computer, loaded a few photos, and wrote out some of the questions I plan to ask the Captain, Cruise Director and a few other members of the crew. My initial walk around the ship these first two days, experiencing the dining and service onboard has impressed me. After having dinner the first night in the Liberty Dining Room, then the second night in the Skyline Dining Room, I noticed the soups were a bit on the salty side. The first night I ordered the Mushroom Soup and it was a little too salty, and then the second night I ordered the Black Bean soup and it too was salty. The food overall and the level of service, however; has been exceptionally good. I have enjoyed the décor in both the main dining rooms. The Liberty Dining Room has a very patriotic décor with red white and blue, the stars and stripes, paintings and statues of America’s great early Presidents. It was a very classy design to the room, and the staff were all very attentive and accommodating. The Skyline Dining Room had an art deco décor, depicting sky scrappers of New York in the 30’s and forties. Again a very classy design. As odd as it may sound, this Sunday evening while docked in Maui, my wife and I took a walk off the ship to a little mall area and we decided to go to a movie, just like we might do at home on a date night. It’s odd because here we are at this beautiful island of Maui, on a luxurious ship with a plethora of entertainment options onboard, and we end up going to a movie. We saw, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. After dinner my wife and I did go to the Aloha Polynesia Show and enjoyed it very much. Today we rested, but tomorrow I plan to get to work on producing video and audio content for Cruising Authority. The onboard Group Coordinator and the Hotel Director are working with me to arrange my interviews, which should begin in a day or so. Tomorrow, Monday the 8th, we are planning to go into Maui and explore the sites a little more.

Day Three – Maui (August 8th – Monday)

The Pride of America was docked in Maui all day today. I took some time this morning to steam in the steam room. I really like the steam room on the Pride of America, located up in the Spa on deck 12. We stayed onboard until about 11:30am then we decided to rent a car and explore a little of Maui. Thanks to a great local car rental broker at Discount Hawaii Car Rental, we drove off to a valley between a mountainous region and saw some beautiful rock formations that reminded Terri and I of our cruise on the Yangtze in China, and the rock formations in one of the gorges. We were told that it was a unique day because usually the top of the mountains are covered with clouds, but during the time we were there, the mountain top was visible. We then drove off to the other side of the island just for the drive and to see the sites. We returned to the Pride of America about 3:30pm. Tonight we experienced the Italian restaurant called Little Italy. I had the Salmon and Terri had the Chicken Parmesan. After dinner I set up my video gear for two interviews, one with the Hotel Director and the other with the Shore Excursions Manager. Both were excellent interviews. At 9:00pm we went to the Illusionist show, and finally retired for the evening at 10:45pm.

Day 4 Hilo

Today in Hilo, the Big Island of Hawaii, we stayed onboard the ship all day. Terri and I enjoyed a very pleasant hot tub on deck at 8:00am to wake up after a restful sleep. Next I made my way to the steam room in the spa while Terri headed back to the suite to shower, then we grabbed some breakfast at Lazy J’s. Today we explored the ship, I took some pictures and video. Terri had a Bamboo massage today at 12:45 and loved it because of the soothing oils and tension-relieving therapy for aching muscles. This evening, dinner was very special and romantic. Both Terri and I selected our favorite entrée’s from the menu and had our butler serve dinner on our verandah. It was a beautiful and perfect Hawaiian evening in Hilo as the Pride of America made it’s departure enroute to our next port of Kona. After an exquisite dining experience, we had more interviews scheduled in the Library with the Cruise Director, Hawaiian Ambassador and the Food and Beverage Director. After our interviews, which will be seen on our Cruising Authority talk show videos, Terri and I went to see a show with Second City, a comedy troop that does improv. Both of us were very tired after a full day on the beautiful Pride of America so we retired for the evening.

Day Five - Kona

I think it’s a great way to start the day by enjoying a good steam in the spa, which I indulged in again this morning, however; this time I convinced Terri to also hit the steam room. Lazy J’s has such a great breakfast menu, and this time I ordered the crabcake eggs benedict. I wasn’t too sure about the first bite then I added a little salt and pepper with a twist of lemon and ahhh, what a great taste! Terri had the scrambled eggs and bacon. Today in Kona the Pride of America was at anchor while passengers tendered into Kona. I did more video commentary on deck and met up with the Hotel Director and explained to him that I’d like to take some portraits or photos of the Pride of America from the tender before heading over to the port. When the ship is at anchor that’s a great time to get video and photos of the ship clear of any dock. The pictures I wanted to get required a sleight deviation from the usual tender route to port, so the Hotel Director made arrangements for a special tender ride to get the optimal position for photos. I did get some great pictures and then we headed to port for a little walk around town.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Sweetness of Luxury aboard the Silver Spirit

Enter the world of Silversea and you are embraced by a refined, unobtrusive blend of modern design and a sophistication reserved for the affluent individuals who are accustomed to concierge and butler services, fine dining, exquisite wines and exotic destinations. Today the world often seems like it’s shaking with political and economic fallout all around us, yet when you board the Silver Spirit those cares of the world fall away, and it’s like entering an oasis of peace. I recently boarded the Silver Spirit for a seven night cruise through the Italian Riviera, however; I missed the first couple of days because of transportation and logistics. We boarded the Silver Spirit in Taormina, Italy on a beautiful day in May. The ship was anchored in the harbor perfectly contrasted with the ancient Italian culture, and beckoning us to open our imagination to the upscale experience awaiting us. As a Journalist, I usually travel with my wife, but this time my Father-in-law, Richard, assisted me with my video work. It’s interesting, Richard is a retired minister and now works in an executive position with Kids Against Hunger, so this level of luxury was very foreign to him. Can you imagine how thrilled I was to watch Richard experience the fine dining and exotic excursions?

The Silver Spirit is Silversea’s newest and largest vessel with luxury accommodations for 540 passengers. At 642 feet long and 36,000 tons, Silver Spirit is not a small vessel, however; compared to most of the newbuilds today, she is on the smaller more intimate size. With 376 European crew members serving the 540 passengers, the crew to guest ratio is higher than on most other cruise ships. It is this exclusivity that is so appealing to Silversea passengers, in a ship that offers amenities and services for a few hundred as opposed to a few thousand passengers. I didn’t see crowds of passengers nor did I wait in any lines for dinner. The feeling onboard the Silver Spirit was close to being at a private club or yacht, but the most distinguishing element was a relaxed, carefree, precise environment to indulge in the good life…whatever that may mean to you.

I enjoyed the dining experience, knowing that each meal was made-to-order, and a testament to the expertise of highly trained chefs, with the best possible ingredients. Every evening, complimentary fine wine is served and the wine glass is kept full throughout the meal. The attentive waiters made me feel like they enjoyed their job and were sincere when they often asked if I needed anything. The reason I mention this is because on the many cruises I’ve been on over the years it’s not uncommon to notice that many wait staff personnel are on automatic pilot, and work as if they are on an assembly line just doing their job. This was certainly not what I experienced onboard the Silver Spirit, the waiters and waitresses were genuinely focused on providing exceptional service. I counted at least six different restaurants onboard the Silver Spirit from the main Restaurant on Deck Four to the Italian La Terrazza on Deck Seven and the Pool Grill serves a wonderful “Hot Rock” dining experience on Deck Ten overlooking the pool. The Hot Rock dining gives the guest an opportunity to cook their own meat on a hot slab of rock served at your table, so you can have fun preparing your fresh fish or steak cooked exactly how you prefer. Rudi Scholdis, Silversea’s Culinary Director, was onboard our voyage preparing mussels using beer, at an exquisite poolside buffet. Setting the standards for Silversea’s cuisine fleet-wide, Chef Rudi has demonstrated his culinary expertise for Royalty including Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Heads of State like Bill Clinton, King Kayd of Saudi Arabia, Israeli Prime Minister Netenayu, and numerous Hollywood stars. Since Chef Rudi has prepared fine dining for all these famous world-personalities, why not for me? On a Silversea voyage you can ask the same indulgent question, “why not you”?

Luxury does have a certain “feel”, a certain “taste”, and even a familiar “sound”, relative to the distinguishing senses of those who can afford it. During my experience aboard the Silver Spirit, I savored the aroma of luxury, even as a mere Journalist. For me, there were numerous and specific moments that caused me to be more than content, for example; I enjoyed the spa onboard, particularly the steam room and sauna that each had a large window looking out to the sea. I’m no elite, and I may have been pretending to be someone I was not, but it did feel good to have the ability and freedom to ask for a glass of champagne while in the relaxing thermal bath on deck by the pool. During our visit to Rome, my Father-in-law and I embarked on a special shore excursion lead by Rosalba Iocca, who was no ordinary tour guide. Yet another example of Silversea’s commitment to provide the very best for guests, Rosalba was an expert in Roman history, she studied archeology, but her greatest asset as an expert Roman guide was through her intimate contacts at Vatican City and the Coliseum. Rosalba lead our bus group ahead of the masses waiting for hours in lines to enter the museums and the coliseum, circumventing the system and quickly ushering our group immediately into the many museums, the coliseum and so much more as if we were VIP’s or someone special. It’s no coincidence, our tour guide to Rome was the best there is, and I’m certain the Shore Excursions people at Silversea go to great lengths to plan, coordinate, and capture the best guides, tour routes, buses, and VIP access for Silversea guests.

Whatever your definition of luxury is, the perks of being a Silversea passenger are obvious, but sometimes the perks are subtle. The beautifully appointed suites, the butler service, wide cooridors, fine dining, classy interior décor and the refined-level of service among the crew stand out as an obvious statement of luxury, however; I noticed a few small details and perks that might get overlooked. Mini news-of-the-day printouts from the country of your residence are placed in the slot just outside your suite each day. If you are from the U.S.A. you’ll receive news applicable to what’s happening in America, if you come from Britain, you will receive a news-flyer focused on news in Britain. I noticed the shape of the silverware in the restaurants, particularly the handles, had a unique feel that better conformed to your hands. For those passengers who were residents on the world cruise, there was a special engraved plaque just outside your suite with your name and the country you are from. Many cruise ships have the internet available, but through MTN Satellite Communications, there were more Wifi hotspots throughout the whole ship, so you could access the internet on your laptop or internet device from the pool if you choose. Security is tight on all the cruise ships throughout the industry, however; I did appreciate the precise, yet unobtrusive manner in which security was conducted at the gangway. I was delighted to see a set of quality binoculars in our suite so we could explore the horizon or get a close-up view of the port we were visiting right from our private veranda. The fresh flowers, over-sized fluffy towels and the personalized stationary in our suite was a nice perk. The scented oil sticks in our bathroom were not only nice to look at, but created a rich, subtle fragrance. Obviously the Silver Spirit scored high points from my perspective, and when you look at the popularity of Silversea among the affluent, it’s clear to see the expectations of luxury, are continuously met by a wide range of people from around the world.

I enjoyed the hardware of the Silver Spirit and appreciated the consistency of quality in the ship’s design, the artwork onboard, and the fittings that provide the atmosphere and ambience of luxury. I’ve said this many times and it is also true aboard the Silver Spirit, you can have a fabulously luxurious ship, yet it’s the crew and staff that make up the personality of a ship. A highly trained and fine-tuned crew, complete the element of luxury on any ship. The crowning jewel aboard the Silver Spirit is the crew and staff that contribute to the overall sweetness of luxury on this ship. I want to encourage you to indulge and savor the sweetness of luxury aboard the Silver Spirit or any of the ships in the Silversea fleet. Pick out an itinerary anywhere in the world and you should be able to find a Silversea ship that goes there.

Please feel free to leave a comment below. If you have cruised with Silversea, I'd like to hear from you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Swedish Culture on the Gota Kanal

For over 137 years the Gota Kanal Steamship Company has been in operation, cruising the canals, locks and lakes that cut across Sweden, and today provide a classic and cultural experience for passengers who embark on the journey between Gothenborg and Stockholm. The company’s prized vessel is the M/S Juno, first launched in 1874 and continues today as the world’s oldest passenger vessel with sleeping accommodations still in operation. M/S Wilhelm Tham is the next oldest vessel in the company’s fleet of three boats, launched in 1912. Finally, the youngest boat in the fleet is the M/S Diana, built in the Finnboda shipyard not far from Stockholm in 1931. Borton Overseas, in Minneapolis, Minnesota recently offered me an opportunity to experience this iconic journey with Gota Kanal, aboard the Diana’s first cruise of the season from Gothenborg to Stockholm. As an ocean liner and classic passenger ship enthusiast, cruising the canals of Sweden on an eighty-year-old vessel like the Diana had a certain romance to it.

Boarding the Diana in Gothenborg and being greeted by the staff pier-side on a red carpet, was a great introduction. Upon presenting a boarding pass, your name is checked to see if it is on the passenger manifest, then Kjerstin Lundwall, the Guide and Tour Manager, welcomes travelers and vacationers aboard, while a crew member carries your luggage and escorts you across the gangway. The moment I stepped aboard the Diana, I felt as
if I were stepping back in time to a simpler era. With 28 cabins on three decks and a passenger capacity of about fifty, it was clear this journey would be an intimate, and exclusive experience. There were many notable passengers, according to Captain Ake Foghammar, who have experienced this Gota Kanal journey, including Hans Christian Andersen, the famous author and poet, the King of Sweden and Teresa Heinz the wife of U.S. Senator John Kerry, to name a few. On this particular voyage there were two governors from a couple of Swedish providences, a couple from Australia, and a good mix of people from Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, the U.S. and England. One couple purchased a new Volvo from the factory in Sweden, and chose to also see the country aboard the Diana with Gota Kanal. The CEO of the Gota Kanal Steamship Company, Hakan Gullberg, was also onboard, celebrating the first cruise of the season. Mr. Gullberg said his company is part of the Stromma Group, one of the largest tourism companies in Sweden.

The history of this steamship company is fascinating, and equally amazing are the locks and the canal that stretch across Sweden. The first lock was built in 1800 with very primitive technology, yet very ingenious techniques, and hard labor. The lock and canal system transformed Sweden’s commerce, allowing for more cost-effective transport of goods and materials from east to west and back again. Wooden log fenders line the sides of Diana, protecting the hull, as she occasionally glances against the lock. Passengers on the Gota Kanal vessels will experience these locks and canals, and gain an up-close appreciation for the rich history that envelops each little town along the journey.

From the comfort of a wicker chair, the teak deck of the Diana, the gentle hum of the motor and sounds of the water trickling by; all these elements will calm the senses and offer a relaxing, enchanting experience. The Diana still maintains her wooden railings with brass fittings and continues on like she has done for eighty years. Unique to a Gota Kanal journey is the intimacy and community that develops onboard among fellow passengers. With the absence of television, internet and modern-day electronics, the main focus is relaxing onboard, fine dining and a sense of community. At 268 tons and with only 28 cabins, Diana is not a large vessel, so gathering on deck, the main lounge, or at meal times are the perfect opportunity to engage in conversation with fellow passengers. The community onboard, the dining, and the culture of the locks and canals are the featured entertainment.
A fascinating element to the Diana is the extraordinarily small passenger cabins. Some of the old cruise director jokes on cruise ships about how small the passenger’s cabins are, comes to mind as I sit in my tiny little room A14, on the Diana. The sleeper cabin on a train is larger than the sleep compartments aboard the Diana. Don’t get me wrong, the beds in these compact cabins on the Diana, are very comfortable and the linens are wonderful, however; most passengers will only use these rooms to sleep and maybe freshen-up using the small wash basin. Reminiscent of the Victorian era, occupants will enjoy the classy wall-trimmings, hard wood framing, a cold and hot water washbasin with a wooden cover, and brass hooks for hanging a coat or bathrobe. There’s also a very shallow closet for hanging a suite or dress. With so little space to even stand in these cabins, a suggestion is to pack a smaller carry-on suite case and slip it under the bed for storage, because the larger bags will not fit. For the passenger accommodations on the Bridge and Sheltered Decks, cabin doors can be propped open with a hook allowing for fresh air to circulate, or the door can be opened completely offering a view of the passing scenery. For privacy the cabin doors can be closed or a curtain can be slid in-place while the door is open. Cabins have no toilet or shower, so passengers must use a community bathroom and shower located on each deck. These tiny bathroom facilities are also very compact, yet well maintained and cleaned throughout each day. A good perspective on these tiny cabins is that passengers will not spend much time other than freshening up or sleeping, rather; more time will be spent on deck socializing with fellow passengers and enjoying the sites of this historic lock and canal system.

Cruising the locks and canals aboard any of the Gota Kanal Steamship Company vessels is saturated in the Swedish culture, which includes traditional Swedish cuisine. The highlight of each day aboard the Diana, for example; was breakfast, lunch and dinner. A common element to Scandinavian dining is fish prepared in many ways including pickled, fried, baked, poached, and certain menus include specially prepared raw fish. Onboard the Diana we enjoyed a fixed menu, however; for those with special dietary requirements and made arrangements in advance, vegetarian entrées were available. Seating was assigned during lunch and dinner, yet for breakfast, which is buffet-style, passengers could sit wherever they wish. A classic tradition is the ringing of the dinner bell. The waiter or maitre d’ will walk the decks ringing a bell or gong to announce that it’s time for dinner. Some of the characteristic sounds onboard during lunch and dinner is the click-clacking of the dumb-waiter delivering the prepared meals from the galley below. Dining aboard the Diana was a first-class experience with crisp white table linens, fine tableware, and the wait-staff are dressed in white jackets with black and gold epaulets and gold buttons. Fine spirits, cognac and wine, were also available for an additional cost to enhance the dining experience. There was the occasional beef or poultry entrée, however; the majority of cuisine was fresh local fish. The Chef in the galley, one deck below, prepared each entree with artistic flare and included fresh cooked vegetables, potatoes and the perfect accompaniments for each main dish. The dinning room itself aboard these Gota Kanal vessels, has an intimate, friendly and classy ambiance, yet without exception, passengers will enjoy a delightful social experience, a highlight of this special Swedish journey.

The crew aboard the Diana were genuinely proud to serve each passenger. In Stockholm, at the conclusion of our cruise or journey across Sweden on this historic and charming vessel, with the red carpet rolled out just past the gangway, the entire crew of the Diana stood in line to shake our hands and hug us as if we were family. At the very beginning of the journey when we embarked on the Diana in Gothenborg, as I stepped aboard for the first time, I felt like we were about to experience something special, and upon disembarkation in Stockholm my premonition was clear and accurate. I think my fellow travelers also experienced a camaraderie unique to this journey, where the rich heritage and culture of Sweden came alive aboard the Diana. The Gota Kanal Steamship Company, and the crew of the Diana indeed offered somewhat of a time-travel experience reminiscent of a simpler era. It was clear that the folks who live in the small towns along the canal passage saw the Diana as a gleaming and proud representation of their rich culture and heritage, and consequently, our fellow passengers clearly experienced that sense of exclusivity and pride of participating in the journey.

Check out our photo albums from our Gota Kanal Journey:

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Continued Gota Kanal Diary

Day four Gota Kanal

May 2nd, 2011

Today we had somewhat of an adventure because the Diana got stuck in a lock where there was some maintenance being done on the lock. Somehow a large piece of plastic got caught in the propeller so we were delayed for several hours while a diver went down to unwrap the plastic from the propeller. Once the plastic was removed we were on our way once again across a lake. The Diana went through more locks and we came to a “step lock” where there were about five locks in a row, all stepping down to another lake. We were allowed again to disembark the Diana and watch as the boat made it’s way from one lock to another until finally reaching the lake. These are great moments to take pictures of our boat doing what it was built to do, which is to navigate from Gothenborg to Stockholm on this classic journey across Sweden. Today we passed more historic homes along the canal and ventured out into yet another lake. It began to get more and more cold as we progressed. I need to mention that one of the more endearing times spent onboard the Diana is the wonderful meals, particularly at diner where traditional and exquisite food is prepared. The Diana has such an interesting mix of passengers from all around the world. Today a passenger got the news on their iPhone that Osama BinLaden was killed, so I can say I was cruising the Gota Kanal when I heard this historic news, that many Americans have been waiting to hear for many years.

On our cruise we have people from Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, England, America and as far away as Australia. The conversations and the lazy cruising is very relaxing and enjoyable. The Diana, even though she is the youngest boat in the Gota Kanal fleet at 80 years old, is like cruising in a time machine because it’s not difficult to imagine what it was like in the 30’s 40’s or 50’s navigating the exact same route onboard such a charming, classic vessel. The décor onboard hasn’t changes too much since the 60’s with beautiful wood finish and brass fittings in her interior spaces, teak decks, wicker chairs on deck, in fact these Gota Kanal boats have attracted famous passengers like the King of Sweden for example. The sunset was beautiful as we enjoyed our dinner. Near the end of dinner I had to stand up and stretch, so I walked out to the bow to enjoy the colorful sunset glimmer on the calm waters ahead of us. I took-in the fresh chilly air and finally went back to the dinning room for some hot tea and more delightful conversations with our fellow passengers. Tonight I got to go on the internet with my lap top. A fellow passenger let me use the Wifi from his iPhone. It was fun to talk to a friend on Sykpe and also talk with my wife Terri, who couldn’t make it on this particular trip. This evening, once again, went very late as we stayed up until about 1:00am to socialize. I was recruited to show some magic tricks so I entertained our little group of 25 people for about an hour. I usually don’t like to stay up so late, but the conversations were so fun.

Day 5 Gota Kanal

May 3rd, 2011

This is our last day aboard the Diana with Gota Kanal. I woke-up at about 7am and made my way to breakfast . I still have more commentary to do for my talk show and a little video to make. I’ll be glad when I return home and all my video, and photos have made it safely. Some observations I’ve made about the type of people who would consider a Gota Kanal journey like this. I’m in my forties and there were some younger people on this cruise who were mostly tour agents from travel companies taking a familiarization cruise with Gota Kanal, so it was not the typical passenger complement. The younger generation may not appreciate a trip like this because there’s not much to do onboard, but watch the scenery go by, rest, relax, and enjoy the fine dining. The usual age of passengers on a journey like this tends to be more elderly, those who enjoy the more restful pace, and a nostalgic, classic, and historical journey. Those who are naturalists, who enjoy the beauty of the country, can experience what the more rural interior of Sweden is like, and go deep into the Swedish culture. Today during breakfast it snowed and it was quite cold outside. This is not the typical time of year that Gota Kanal operates, so the weather is a bit colder than usual. The normal season for Kota Kanal cruises start the end of May and go through the summer months when it’s warmer.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gota Kanal Cruise Diary Post 2

Day One Gota Kanal, Gothenborg Sweden

April 29th, 2011

We arrived into Gothenborg around 11:30am and took a bus into the city. A cab ride was 450 Kronas yet the bus was only 80 Kr. Unfortunately we paid too much for a cab ride to the hotel. It was only about two miles, and the cab driver charged us 265Kr which is about fifty dollars. We stayed at the Comfort Hotel right along the waterfront on Gothenborg, however; when we went to check-in at the hotel, the front desk person said we were too early, and check-in was not until 3pm, so we had a few hours to walk the waterfront area with many interesting boats and a maritime museum. I was thrilled to see all three of the Gota Kanal company’s fleet of boats docked in a line, and I had the opportunity to go aboard each of them for a look around. I was particularly interested to visit the Juno, which is the oldest passenger vessel still in active service, first launched in 1874 as a steam ship. Of course she has been re-engined with diesels, but overall, the three Gota Kanal boats have retained their old-world charm and décor. The boat we were to embark on is the Diana built in 1931, and the crew was quickly getting her ready for the first voyage of the season on April 30th. You have to wonder what it would be like to cruise the Gota Canal on a 80 year-old vessel, and I was about to find out the next day.

Day two Gota Kanal, Departure from Gothenborg

April 30th, 2011

Departure from Gothenborg aboard the Diana was scheduled for 9:00am, so we made sure to be at the pier no later than 8am. We were greeted by the First Officer and the Activities Manager, along with several crewmembers, who were ready to carry our luggage to our stateroom. Departure day is always a very exciting time because we meet the crew, fellow passengers and board the vessel that we will call home for several days. I was asked for my cruise documents and then escorted to our stateroom number A14. I must say something about the “staterooms” aboard the Diana, which were the smallest accommodations I have ever seen. Our room had two bunks, there’s a washbasin with very little space to even stow our luggage. It’s a good thing we only traveled with small carry-on luggage, because there’s barely enough space for two people to even stand in this tiny room. These “staterooms” are merely for sleeping at night, not for lounging. I could make an old joke that I must leave my “cabin” to change my mind. I should add that our cabin does not have private toilet and shower facilities, so passengers on A Deck must walk out on deck to a dedicated public bathroom aft of the passenger accommodations.

Shortly after our departure from Gothenborg the crew gathered all passengers in the lounge for an introduction to the staff, a safety talk and an explanation of our itinerary. All passengers were on deck to watch as we arrived at our first lock. It was fascinating to watch the crew members prepare to pass through the lock system, as one crewmember would jump off the boat to assist with tying-up the boat.

Today we docked so we could visit several locks that are no longer in operation. One of these locks was like an archeological sight in ruins, having been built in 1800 and it operated for over one hundred years till 1916. What was truly amazing is how massive and challenging this structure was to build with such primitive tools in 1800. The lock is impressive even for 2011 standards. More about the amazing locks later.

Later in the afternoon, passengers were allowed to disembark the Diana to walk along-side and watch as the boat went through several locks. This was truly fascinating to watch the Diana rise up in the lock, then pass through to the next lock. We were also blessed with great weather and I got some nice pictures and video.

Dinner on our first evening was a wonderful occasion featuring a local fish and an elk roll. We were still trying to adjust to the time change from the U.S. to Sweden, so I thought I’d be going to bed rather early, but instead, I stayed up very late to socialize with a few passengers. We had a great time talking about our various languages, accents and dialects. We went to bed at midnight, and I must say it was rather challenging as we tried to figure out how the two of us will navigate around our luggage and get into our bunks…it was like a puzzle, but once we finally got into our bunks, it wasn’t long before we were sleeping.

Day three Gota Kanal

May 1st, 2011

The day started very early, at 4:30am because we couldn’t sleep any longer. I cleaned up using the washbasin in our cabin, and in a few minutes I was ready for the day. I got some nice photos of the Diana early in the morning with a subtle mist or fog just above the water. We passed a quaint town where the local people come out to see the Gota Kanal boats like the Diana pass through the area. It’s a special occasion for these locals because the the Gota Kanal boats have such a rich history of passing through these locks and canals since 1874, and interestingly enough the exact same boats have been in operation since the beginning. When we reached this little town some of the locals came out to sing for us with an accordion and a guitar. The children were out to greet us to, they gave us flowers, and because most of these locals were church people, they spoke a blessing for us and our journey and finished with How Great Thou Art, and old Christian hymn. The weather was beautiful today and we passed through long stretches of canal with farmland and a few small rural towns with very nice homes that faced the canal. Today we went through more locks and a large lake, before arriving at an interesting excursion to visit a massive fort built in eighteen hundreds which became the gold depository for Sweden until about 1960. We walked through tunnels that went underground where the army would hide and store their weapons and artillery. What made the tour fun was the sounds of gunfire and cannons, it was kind of an adventure tour. This fort complex is massive and currently houses a compliment of the Swedish army. It was Sunday and May 1st, so no stores were open that day. Finally, the Diana docked in a town for the evening, and a few of us went into town. Of course nothing was open except for the Seven Eleven, so I bought some chips and chocolate cause I wanted a snack. Upon returning to the boat, a few of stayed up till midnight in the lounge to talk and socialize.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Arrival in Goteborg

Travel is exciting, but can be very tiresome, particularly when you are flying halfway around the world, in my case from Minnesota to Amsterdam, then to Goteborg, Sweden. Of course the flight was nearly eight hours, then a three hour layover in Amsterdam before flying to Goteborg, where I am tonight. The time change does a number on your body, not to mention the long hours of sitting and waiting. So it's great to finally get to our launching point for this next cruising adventure. Tomorrow morning we embark on a little vessel called the Diana with Gota Kanal, a company that has been operating three passenger ships since 1874. The company's oldest vessel, which is the oldest existing passenger vessel still in active service, is called the Juno, and I had a chance to visit this beauty today after we arrived in Goteborg.

The journey to Goteborg was uneventful, and as I had hoped, everything went smoothly, and now here we are at the Comfort Hotel within walking distance of our boat the Diana. I'm traveling on this whirlwind adventure with my father-in-law, Richard Sandbach, and I can see that he is going to enjoy this trip very much. After we arrived in Goteborg, at around 11:30am, we were told that check-in at our hotel was not until 3pm so we stowed our luggage and walked around the water front to see the three Gota Kanal boats tied up, among a few other interesting boats and ships. I'm looking forward to getting a good night sleep tonight so we can pack up and board our boat tomorrow for a 9am departure aboard the Diana.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

From Sweden to Italy

I hope you'll take he time to subscribe and follow me on this site so that you'll see the latest content I'm about to add in the next couple of weeks. April 28th, I leave for another trip starting out in Sweden with Gota Kanal. I didn't realize until recently, there was a canal cut across Sweden with locks for small vessels to make the transit from east to west or vice versa. On April 30th, I'll board the Diana with Gota Kanal in Gothenburg for a four night transit to Stockholm. According to the Gota Kanal website, the Diana will journey through one river, eight lakes, two seas and three canals with 66 locks. It sounds exhausting, but I am told at Borton Overseas, right here in my back yard, the journey is remarkable and one of the "must see" experiences in Sweden.

Upon our arrival in Stockholm, I'll have two nights to visit this charming city. I plan to explore the maritime museum where the massive Vasa, a royal warship that sank on it's maiden voyage in 1628 and salvaged in 1961 and currently preserved. I can't wait to see this huge wooden ship and the museum in Stockholm. I plan to produce a video and share my experience with our Cruising Authority audience. Again, please follow me on this blog so you'll be able to track my progress.

After a two-night visit to Stockholm, I fly to southern Italy where the Silver Spirit awaits. I'll be online throughout this voyage aboard the Silver Spirit posting updates to this blog, hopefully with photos, and I'll be using the internet service onboard provided by MTN Satellite Communications. I can't wait to board the Silver Spirit, explore her decks, and experience the fascinating excursions in this part of the world. The problem is that I'm traveling without my wife to these romantic, historical, Italian destinations, rather; I'll be traveling with my father-in-law who will help me with my videos and camera work. Sponsoring this cruise event is Luxury Only, one of the largest and most respected cruise-only companies that specializes in planning luxury cruises with Silversea.

During this whirlwind journey, you'll enjoy the usual excellent commentary and videos, but I'll also produce specialized content exclusively for our new Premium members at so be sure to subscribe to get the exclusive additional content. I look forward to this trip and especially having you follow what I'm doing right here on this blog. Don't miss out on this Cruising Authority Adventure!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Nieuw Amsterdam Cruise Review

There are many cruise products out there to choose from when it comes to planning a family vacation, and a few years ago a Holland America Line cruise might not be on the radar for parents to consider, however; within the last ten years more family amenities, features and programming have been integrated into their ships and is evident on the Nieuw Amsterdam. For nearly one hundred and forty years Holland America Line has established itself as a solid, reliable, classy company, starting out as a Dutch national passenger shipping line, operating trans-Atlantic crossings and world-wide itineraries mostly for transportation like most other shipping companies in the early nineteen hundreds through the fifties. Of course the passenger shipping industry faded as the jet aircraft took over the trans-Atlantic route, and a few of these “national” passenger shipping companies, like Britain’s Cunard Line, the United States Line and Holland America Line, shifted their services from transport roles to cruising. I recently took my family on a cruise aboard the fourth ship in Holland America Line’s history to bare the name Nieuw Amsterdam. Launched in July of 2010, the beautiful “vista-class” Nieuw Amsterdam is Holland America Line’s newest ship incorporating all of the “Signature of Excellence” amenities and features that first-time and return passengers have come to enjoy over the past several years. My wife Terri, and my nine-year-old son Jacob, accompanied me on the eastern Caribbean itinerary aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam with the great anticipation of enjoying a wonderful vacation together as a family.

As a Cruise Industry Journalist, I was very busy onboard throughout the whole cruise aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam gathering video and audio content for my Cruising Authority website at and admittedly, I didn’t relax as much as I should have. My wife helped me with getting the videos, so she worked extra hard on this “vacation” along with me. We did have our moments where we enjoyed time together as a family on shore excursions and some meal times. For us it was convenient to check our son into Club HAL while we worked on getting the video content together. Most passengers with children however; could use the “Club HAL time” away from their kids and enjoy the pool, the spa, or laying out on deck.

My son enjoyed Club HAL, which came as a surprise to me because they didn’t have the water slides and water parks like some other cruise ships. Club HAL has rooms onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam dedicated to certain age groups; there was a child care area for little kids then a “tween” room for kids up to about 12 years old then a teen area. The “tween” room is where my son hung out for various planned activities. This “Tween” room had an authentic New York Taxi Cab for the kids to play in and around. This cab allows for the kids to use their imagination and pretend to drive everywhere. These days, I guess if the kid’s facility has enough video games, that’s sufficient to entertain these younger passengers. I know Club HAL also had numerous other activities to keep the kids busy like Spy Night and Paper Airplane Night, and a Club HAL version of the Olympics as well as a pajama party. Even though there are no water slides, my son swam for hours in the Lido Pool area on Deck Nine midship. As a parent it made me happy that my son was having a good time on this cruise, and I could count on Club HAL to provide the activities for him to enjoy himself. Jacob is nine years old and was given the opportunity with our permission of course to check himself in and out of Club HAL. I think my son enjoyed that freedom and responsibility to be able to leave if he was bored and go to our stateroom. Boredom, however; was not in my son’s vocabulary during this cruise when he was engaged and plugged into Club HAL.

Dining onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was a treat for all of us as a family. Since we were on vacation, if my son wanted pizza, we gave him the freedom to go for it, and on Deck Nine aft there is a little pizza place called “Slice” where pizza was available throughout the day. I enjoyed the mornings as a family because we usually ate together in the Lido, and of course there was a plethora of options including, eggs, omelets, sausage, bacon, breakfast rolls, cereal, and my breakfast of choice in recent months, oatmeal. There were fruits and juices and pancakes, nearly any breakfast you can imagine was available in the Lido each morning. We also ate from the Terrace Grill at the Lido Pool area for lunches. I was impressed to be able to have a turkey dog or a salmon burger rather than the usual beef hotdog or hamburger. Our first night onboard, as a family we had reservations in the Tamarind Restaurant, which was delightful! Even my son enjoyed some of the unique options and he was adventurous enough to try a little caviar. The service, presentation and quality of the food in Tamarind was excellent and worth making reservations in advance to eat in this place. There is a charge to eat here, and it’s worth the extra few dollars to experience this Asian fusion dining. To truly go over-the-top and indulge in fine dining at it’s best, without question the Chef’s Table eight-course meal in the Pinnacle dining room was exceptional. We dined on the best Versace tableware, had the best wine sampling for each course, and I ate things I normally wouldn’t care for, because it was prepared with exquisite culinary skill and craftsmanship. Particularly delicious was the Frappe of Lobster and Porcini Bisque, wow, that was such a delightful and smooth taste! This evening at the Chef’s table was the first time I had ever indulged in the delicacy of Goose Liver and I was surprised there was not a “liver” taste to it. We also had Sea Bass with Caviar, Veal and completing the evening with the “Dialogue of Chocolate Seduction” which was seductive!

For the Manhattan Dining room I would recommend either first or second seating rather than the new “As You Wish” dining, because chances are you’ll have a different wait staff each visit who will not have the opportunity to know you and your general preferences. We elected to dine in the Manhattan Dining room twice with As You Wish reservations and I wouldn’t recommend it. The reasoning is because the wait staff has numerous tables at different levels and times of their course which may be somewhat challenging for the wait staff to accommodate the varying schedules efficiently. We felt that our waiter rushed us through our dinner and even brought out two courses at the same time, like for example our salad and entrée arrived at the same time. This may have been an isolated incident, however; we noticed that both of our experiences in the Manhattan Dining room were similar. Additionally, although the wait staff was very efficient, I felt that our waiters acted with more of a robotic precision rather than the more personable and friendly manner you would expect when enjoying a fine-dinning experience. Again, I think if we had a regular wait staff each night, we would get to know them and they would get to know us, and there would be a more personable exchange, which we felt we missed in the “As You Wish” dinning experience. One more observation about the Manhattan Dinning Room was the level of noise when the room was full. Wow, it got loud and difficult to carry on a conversation with someone across the table. I think part of the noise is from the design of the room, which acoustically allowed for sound to bounce all over the place because of the smooth surfaces. I think that perhaps if you are able to get a table away from the center two-level-high section of the room, in a corner, you may have a better experience with regard to the basic dinning room volume and maybe enjoy your conversations with your tablemates easier.

This voyage aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam took us to the Eastern Caribbean ports of Half Moon Cay, Holland America Line’s private island and beaches, St Maarten, San Juan and finally Grand Turk Island. I am convinced that Half Moon Cay is one of the top three private beaches owned by a cruise line with it’s soft, white, powdery beaches and beautifully colored water. Holland America Line has done a great job of building play areas for kids and families with a fun water park and now a new two-level high pirate ship bar. From the pirate ship’s top deck you can get a great view of the whole island. As a family we didn’t get off the ship in St Maarten and elected to hang out and swim in the Lido pool while most of the passengers took off for excursions. We did, however; go on the Rain Forest Drive while in San Juan. I had been to San Juan about fifty times but never visited the rain forest, so this was my opportunity to do something I had never experienced. I was a little concerned that my son would get bored, and in fact he didn’t want to go, but fortunately he found a friend his age on our bus and he had a great time exploring the observation tower and the lush trail through the forest. We stopped at a waterfall and climbed around together, which I think my son really enjoyed. The rain forest tour was a success! Finally, with our visit to Grand Turk, we decided to go on the horse back riding adventure and swim. This was my first time to Grand Turk and my son’s first time riding a horse. My son was so funny, as I tried to take video of him while he was riding the horse, and he kept telling me he cannot look back because he was concentrating on driving the horse. The tour was very organized and I got a kick out of the operators of the tour as we were all being assigned a horse to ride. I felt like I was in high school waiting to be chosen to play on a particular team, as the operator would size up the various people in our group and then select a horse they thought would be best for that person. I would guess that the children in our group were assigned horses that were more obedient and docile. I was told that these horses came from Jamaica and were retired race horses. After a ride along the beach to the lighthouse, we returned to the little coral so the saddles could be changed for riding in the ocean. The operators would take small groups to the beach on horseback, and into the ocean up to our knees. The horses would plow through the water and even run through the ocean which was quite exhilarating. If there was one moment during our cruise that I was glad we had travel insurance with Access America, this was it. You never know what could happen, and even though we were all safe and there were no accidents or injuries, I had peace of mind knowing that if there was a problem, we would have been taken care of.

While in Grand Turk, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and was able to meet Winston Scott, who was one of the astronauts from the space shuttle program. We happened to be in Grand Turk during the grand opening of an exhibition celebrating the splash down of the John Glenn space capsule in 1962 just off the coast of Grand Turk Island. There was a mock-up of the John Glenn space capsule and some very informative placards explaining the history of the space program and how Grand Turk Island has been a pivotal place for NASA and the U.S Military.

Holland America Line has certainly evolved over the past ten years or so in order to gain a wider and more diverse demographic which includes a less elderly yield. The entertainment for example, appeals to more discerning passengers with a taste for higher quality and more professional entertainers. I think what Holland America Line has done with the entertainment is excellent. They are working with a shore-based entertainment company that provides top quality and talented musicians that have the flexibility to stand on their own as entertainers. As an example, there was a quartet of violinists that alone performed an entire concert in the Explorers Lounge, and their talent was also utilized in the bigger, combined shows with singers and dancers. The same can be said about the four-man group called Cantare, who were also utilized in a number of other shows during the cruise. I enjoyed the grand finale show where Sandy Patti’s “Love in Any Language” is sung as crew and staff from all over the ship come together to bid farewell.

Was I unhappy with any aspect of the cruise? Holland America Line creates such a comforting environment, it would truly be a challenge to find unhappy passengers, however; on our cruise there was a very small number of passengers who were experiencing gastro-intestinal issues or norovirus, so the crew had to work extra hard and longer hours to make sure the ship was sterilized and absolutely spotless. Hand sanitizer was used at the entrance to all the restaurant areas so it was mandatory for all passengers to sanitize their hands when entering the dining venues or entering the ship from shore. The buffet in the Lido was on lock-down so no passengers could help themselves to food, rather the food was served by the crew. No salt and pepper shakers were available on the tables, but individual packets were available upon request. The biggest disappointment for my wife and I was the fact that the spa with the thalassotherapy pool and the thermal beds and hot tubs were unavailable and closed throughout the duration of the cruise. This was a precautionary measure to minimize the risk of spreading this GI disease. I wouldn’t of course blame Holland America Line for this, because they were in fact taking extra stringent precautions to prevent further spreading of this highly contagious virus. After speaking with the Hotel Director, he informed me that their extra stringent measures were effective in preventing further issues, which overall, allows for more passengers to fully enjoy their cruise.

I think the new “Signature-Class” vessels, the Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam, both of which I have cruised on, are the maximum size of ship that Holland America Line should build. The cruise industry has plenty of larger ships, and Holland America Line maintains that “premium” standard, even with ships as large as the Nieuw Amsterdam. Both the Eurodam and Nieuw Amsterdam are wonderful ships, well built, with classy interiors and with truly exceptional crew members. With ships of this size, however; there is a magnified “feeling” that this is a very large company and I think the more intimate, personalized, experience onboard is watered down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the crew onboard do an excellent job and the ships never feel crowded, in fact I think Holland America Line has mastered the art of providing an excellent, comfortable, classy and “premium” vacation experience. It’s like the “feeling” you get when you live in a small town, compared to living in a larger metropolitan city. It’s that “small-town” feeling that causes passengers to become so loyal to Holland America Line. For the discerning vacationers, Holland America Line delivers. For families with children vacationing aboard any of the Holland America Line vessels, you can be assured that your kids will also enjoy a fun and memorable vacation.