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Archive for January, 2008


ExpertCruiser zip-lining in St. Lucia

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 30 - 2008

Want to find out what it is really like to zip down a 700 foot long cable? Watch this video and get a real taste of flying through the jungle like Tarzan!

Filled Under Cruise Videos

Zip-lining over St. Lucia

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 30 - 2008

(Click images to make larger)

(Click here to view zip-lining video of this tour)

Fitting the harnesses (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter)Forget bowling, rock climbing and ice skating. The coolest thing to do on a cruise vacation these days is to go zip-lining through the jungle. During a recent cruise stop in St. Lucia, I took a zip-line canopy tour of the St. Lucian rain forest. Strapped into a harness 80 feet above the jungle floor, I was flying through the air like Jane of the Jungle attached to a steel cable strung between two platforms.

Was I crazy? Sort of.

The art of zipping

Climbing up to the canopies (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter)We can thank Costa Rica for the boom in modern canopy tours by zip line. The system was invented by a group of botanists in the 1970s as a means to explore the hard-to-reach ecosystem of rain-forest canopies. Zip-line tours have come a long way since then, and can now be found throughout the world in the tropics, the mountains and even in the desert.

My zip-line adventure began on the east coast of St. Lucia in the heart of the rain forest at the beautiful Errad Estate. The 300-year-old estate was once a spice plantation, and it is full of fragrant nutmeg trees and abundant cocoa trees. There is also an amazing river and waterfall. All in all, the perfect setting for this crazy adventure.

Upon arriving at the zip base, our group was given a safety briefing and then outfitted with harnesses, helmets and gloves. Then it was off for the fun part. We would traverse a series of nine platforms, with the longest run being 700 feet with a 60-foot drop.

You don’t need to be the athletic type to enjoy this tour, but it isn’t recommended for pregnant women or people with back problems, and the set-up cannot accommodate anyone weighing more than 250 pounds.

Anita takes flight

Hooking up to the cables (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter)I climb the stairs to the first platform and wait for the young woman in front of me. As the young guide clips her harness to the cable, she gets panicky. She’s keeps asking her husband for reassurance. Turns out they are on their honeymoon and this is one of their first newlywed outings. She gives her husband a kiss. The guide tells her to sit and put her legs out in front and her right arm up and behind the pulley, lightly grasping the cable to keep her body steady.

“Remember, don’t put your hand in front of the pulley or you’ll hurt your fingers,” warns the guide. He lets go and the young woman is off.

“Oh. My. Gawd. Aaaaahhhhhh!” she screams as she streaks down the cable. It took a mere 10 seconds for her to reach the next platform. The young guide turns to me and says, “Time to go.” I turn to my own husband behind me and say, “You go.”

He’s a lot more gung-ho and quickly gets in touch with his inner Tarzan. Off he goes.

“OK, Jane,” jokes the guide. “You go get Tarzan.”

Zipping away! (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter)I laugh nervously. He snaps my harness hook to the cable. “Remember to watch your fingers — you don’t want to cut them off,” he laughs.

Here I am on a small, wooden platform, the rain forest some 50 feet below, strapped to a heavy cable. My gloved hands are shaking, and my heart is racing. I figure I am about to die.

I launch with a scream and the treetops blur under my feet. The cable hums and my screams echo through the rain forest as the wind screeches by my ears. Halfway down the cable, I start to spin sideways. I stretch my right arm back to steady my spin as they showed me in the safety briefing, and it works. I am still “woo-wooing” when I reach the platform. After the guide pulls me in and unclips my harness hook, I am still laughing.

Zipping down the cable (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter) “That was fun, let’s do it again.”

After zipping through all nine platforms, the entire tour group is exhilarated.

“This was the wildest shore excursion we’ve done on any cruise,” said one enthused participant. We all agree that next time we see zip-lining on the shore excursion list, we’ll all be signing up.

Filled Under Destinations, What's New?

Give this Godmother the Oscar®!

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 30 - 2008

Marion Cotillard christening the Costa Serena (Photo courtesy of Costa Cruises)Congratulations to Marion Cotillard, godmother of the Costa Serena, for her Oscar nomination. Cotillard was nominated for portraying French singer Edith Piaf in the film Marion Cotillard at the Costa Serena inauguarl in May (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter)La Vie en Rose. If you have not seen this movie you’re missing out. This is one of the best biopics ever made and Marion’s performance will leave you mesmerized. Give this woman the Oscar®!  Marion christened the Costa Serena last May in Marseille.

Filled Under Blog

G.A.P. MV Explorer wreck located in Antarctic waters

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 30 - 2008

GAP Explorer sinking off Antarctica (Photo courtesy of Chilean Navy via AP) According to Seatrade Insider, the Royal Navy ship HMS Endurance has located the wreck of the G.A.P. MV Explorer which sank in November off Antarctica. Fortunately all 86 passengers and 66 crew members were safely rescued and taken to a Chilean navy base on King George Island.

GAP Explorer sinking (Photo by Chilean Air Force via AP) HMS Endurance confirmed the Explorer wreck position to be at the northwest end of the Bransfield Strait, at a depth of approximately 1,130 meters (3707.35 feet). Royal Navy officials say that the depth of the wreck poses no hazard to shipping.

Apart from the oil slick, no debris was seen in the water and no debris was observed on any of the adjacent land in the vicinity of the wreck also visited by personnel from the Royal Navy ship.

Endurance is on an 18-month deployment in the region on Antarctic Treaty obligations, gathering survey data for United Kingdom Hydrographic Office (UKHO) and supporting the scientific research of the British Antarctic Survey. The collated data is fed back and processed at UKHO and drawn into charts used by mariners visiting and working in Antarctica.

Read more of ExpertCruiser’s coverage of the sinking of the MV Explorer.

Filled Under Blog

Norwegian Gem has all the Freestyle facets

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 28 - 2008

Seven years ago, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) rocked the cruise world with its “Freestyle Cruising” model. The concept took the old style of cruising — formal, strictly scheduled and stuffy — and turned it upside down by offering flexible dining, multiple restaurants and casual attire aboard ship.

Now NCL has a new ship, its 10th new vessel in seven years. The last of the four 93,500-ton “Jewel”-class vessels, Norwegian Gem is currently the only ship in the fleet offering all the facets of Freestyle Cruising to its 2,400 passengers, including 12 restaurants, a bowling alley, a rock-climbing wall, the four-bars-in-one Bar Central, roomy “Courtyard Villas” and gigantic “Garden Villas.”

Last year, private equity firm Apollo Management invested $1 billion in NCL, instantly making it a 50 percent owner of the cruise line. NCL said the cash infusion would help fund key areas, including fleet expansion and product enhancement. Sure enough, NCL recently announced new product enhancements under the Freestyle 2.0 initiative, including an additional $53 million investment in food alone over the next two years. NCL says lobster will be available every night in the main dining venues, each restaurant will have a signature dish, and a chocolate fondue tower will be placed in the Garden Cafe. Additionally, all cabins will get new bedding, duvets and towels, as well as tea and coffee makers.

The Freestyle 2.0 initiative will roll out over the next few months, and the changes should be in place on most ships by summer. Until then, Norwegian Gem serves as the poster ship for what’s to come fleetwide.

Sparkling Gem

The first thing I noticed about the ship is a change in the décor. Compared to the other Jewel-class vessels, the colors are more muted and, to my eye, more pleasing. The toned-down colors let the details of the ship come forward, so they sparkle all the more.

The heart of the ship is the Crystal Atrium, whose ceiling is topped with multicolored crystals. A stunning Dale Chihuly chandelier takes center stage above the staircase. The ship’s lobby is located in the atrium, as are several of the ship’s specialty restaurants. There’s also a two-deck-high LED screen, which displays nonstop videos and sporting events; this is also where Nintendo “Wii” enthusiasts can try their hands at a video-game tournament. Guests can grab a cup of coffee at the Java Café, sit back in a comfy chair and people-watch, or listen to one of the live bands that play throughout the cruise. Ringing the atrium area are the ship’s Internet center and the reception desk, which displays a painting by Claude Monet, “Vétheuil in Sunshine.” The picture is on loan from the collection of Tan Sri K. T. Lim, the chairman of Star Cruises, one of NCL’s parent companies.

During the day, the most popular place on board is the Tahitian Pool area, which has two pools, four whirlpools, a waterfall and a bright-yellow water slide for kids.

Staterooms

The ship offers 32 stateroom categories — the most of any cruise line — ranging from standard inside staterooms and balcony suites to interconnecting cabins and luxurious villas that come with a butler and concierge service. With its vibrant Caribbean hues, my 340-square-foot mini-suite was cheerful and welcoming. Most suites have a queen-size bed, a separate living area with a dining table, and concierge service. A standard ocean-view stateroom with a balcony encompasses about 200 square feet; regular ocean-view rooms and inside cabins range between 140 and 160 square feet. All cabins have glossy cherry wood walls and furniture, a flat-panel TV, a coffee maker, a minibar, a safe and a duvet, and most have a bathroom with separate toilet and shower/tub areas.

Families or groups traveling together can choose from some 280 interconnecting cabins in a range of categories from standard inside rooms to suites. Cabins of different grades can also be linked to create two- to five-bedroom areas. On selected voyages throughout the year, NCL offers a family-plan discount on certain arrangements of adjoining cabins.

NCL has also developed a “ship within a ship” concept that brings luxury accommodations to mass-market cruising. Guests looking for deluxe digs with their big-ship experience can stay in one of the two top-of-the-ship “Owner’s Suites” or the 10 “Courtyard Villas,” which come with their own butler and concierge. The villas ring a private, Balinese-style courtyard, which has rattan sun beds and hammocks, a plunge pool, a hot tub, a private sun deck and a gym. Each villa has two bedrooms and a living area and goes for around $5,800 per adult guest.

Want the biggest and best suite afloat? For $27,000 a week, you can stay in one of the two 4,400-square-foot Garden Villa Suites. For that hefty sum you get three bedrooms, three baths, your own private roof terrace, a private living room, a private garden, and a private hot tub and steam room.

Freestyle feeding

With each new ship, NCL refines the Freestyle Cruising concept that has become its signature amenity. Passengers enjoy the freedom to dine where, when and with whom they please. “Resort casual” is the norm for dress, and formal night is optional.

Dining choices include the ship’s two main dining rooms, Grand Pacific and Magenta, which offer traditional and contemporary menus, respectively. The newly configured Garden Café now offers a range of “action stations,” where dishes are freshly prepared or assembled while you watch, along with an outdoor seating area. Adjacent is the Kids Café area with smaller tables and buffet. There is also La Cucina for Italian fare, Tequila’s Tapas & Salsa Restaurant, and the Blue Lagoon for comfort food. For a cover charge of $10 to $20 per person, guests can dine at one of the following premium venues: Le Bistro (gourmet French cuisine), Orchid Garden (sushi, teppanyaki and Pacific fusion) and Cagney’s Steakhouse (steak and seafood). Still hungry? There’s an on-deck grill, a coffee shop, an ice cream bar and 24-hour room service.

To keep the dining venues running smoothly, seat availability and wait times for each restaurant are displayed on flat-panel monitors all around the ship. If you have your heart set on eating at Le Bistro and there’s a 30-minute wait, the maitre d’ will give you a pager that works anywhere on the ship. You can also reserve space at any restaurant through the maitre d’.

Entertainment

The three-deck-high Stardust Theater is the place to go for the ship’s traditional entertainment and the always-hysterical Second City comedy shows.

Bar Central is a hub of activity and has been reconfigured with an additional bar on the Gem. It now has zigzag seating that seamlessly connects Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar, Shakers Martini and Cocktail Bar, Magnums Champagne & Wine Bar, and the new (enclosed) Corona Cigar Club. Hang around long enough, and pretty much everyone on the ship will make a pit stop here. A few steps away is the ship’s smoke-filled casino. If you prefer a bar with a view, head up to Deck 13 at the front of the ship to the Spinnaker Lounge, which offers a nautical theme by day then transforms into a dance club at night.

The liveliest place on board is the Goth-inspired Bliss Ultra Lounge. During the day, Bliss is a sports bar with several flat-screen TVs and arcade games. If you have $5 to spare, you can also indulge in some wholesome bowling. In the evening, Bliss is transformed into a hip club with a dance floor and nonstop music spun by the ship’s DJ. Patrons can recline on large beds, admire the ultraviolet artwork, hang out at the bar, and try “mood-lit” bowling. Younger entertainment can be found at the Tree Tops Kids Club (for kids ages 2-12) and at the Leopard Lounge, a teen center and arcade area. For an additional fee, passengers can take advantage of NCL’s shipwide Wi-Fi capability or the broadband hookup in the cabins.

Norwegian Gem’s fitness center is open 24 hours a day for those who are so inclined. The facility has all the latest weight machines, cardiovascular equipment and free weights, plus a separate room for fitness classes. Aerobics and stretch classes are free; Pilates, yoga and Spinning classes cost $10 apiece. There is a jogging track and sports deck that accommodates basketball, volleyball and tennis, and a 30-foot-high rock-climbing wall. There are also two driving nets for golf, a shuffleboard court and pingpong tables.

The Yin & Yang Spa, run by Steiner Leisure, is the perfect place to unwind and get pampered. The best part of the spa is the Thermal Suite, which has great sea views, a hydrotherapy pool, tropical-style showers, a plunge pool, aromatic steam rooms, a sauna and heated chaise lounges. This is a pay area ($20 for a day pass or $75 for the week) and is worth it if you want to escape the onboard rat race.

If all the above isn’t enough for you, there are also special shipboard events planned throughout the week, including fine-art auctions, lectures, and the height of decadence: a late-night chocolate buffet feast.

The Norwegian Gem will spend the winter sailing seven-night and 10-night cruises from New York City to Florida and to the Bahamas and southern Caribbean.

Try this Gem on for size and it will surely rock your cruise vacation.

Filled Under Reviews, What's New?

A fond farewell to my blogger buddies

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 26 - 2008

John on deck (photo courtesy of Carnival)Sadly the “Bloggers Cruise” has come to an end. It’s midnight and as I am typing this blog entry the temperature has dropped quickly and is quite chilly. We’re not far off from Miami and I am already missing yesterday’s hot Jamaican weather. Even worse, packing up all our clothes and pulling out the down coats for our flights home is even tougher to take. I read it was in the teens back home…brrrr!

Bloggers dance on stage (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter)Earlier today John Heald held a “Meet The Press” panel so bloggers could turn the tables and ask us questions. It turned out to be very interesting and ran well over the allotted time because there were so many good questions. My esteemed colleagues: Erica Silverstein from Smarter Travel and Cruise Critic; Harry Shattuck from the Houston Chronicle; Clark Norton from Smarter Cruising; Robert Jenkins from the St. Petersburg Times; Kuki from Cruise Mates.com; and Susan Young from Southern Travel News really enjoyed chatting with the bloggers about all things cruising and blog related.

Last night in the Chic dining room (Photo by Anita Dunham-Potter)Afterwards there was a farewell cocktail party where we danced a new dance that John made up – the blogger McDonalds/Kentucky Fried Chicken ‘thingy.’ All the bloggers in attendance went on stage to learn the moves. It was quite fun.

Afterwards it was off to dinner then watching the final show – Carnival Legends where guests dress up as famous performers and sing songs ala Elton John, Madonna, etc… a great time for all.

Until next bloggers cruise – adios amigos!

Filled Under Blog