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Carnival Magic arrives in Venice for its maiden voyage

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 30 - 2011

Carnival Cruise Lines’ newest ship, the 130,000-ton Carnival Magic, arrived in Venice, Italy, in anticipation of its inaugural nine-day voyage departing tomorrow, May 1.

www.expertcruiser.com is onboard to report on all the festivities along with blogging about the Carnival Magic’s new features that include a huge water park, two-story adults-only Serenity area, and an expansive sports deck with a ropes course and outdoor weightlifting. Additionally there are two new dining options: RedFrog Pub, which serves its own private-label draught beer. There’s also Cucina del Capitano, a trattoria that brings the heritage of Carnival’s Italian captains to the table.

Prior to departure, the ship will be officially named in ceremonies presided over by Lindsey Wilkerson, a former patient at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who now serves as an employee and an ambassador of the organization. The selection of Wilkerson as godmother is a tribute to Carnival’s ongoing partnership with St. Jude, one of the world’s premier centers for the research and treatment of pediatric cancer and other catastrophic diseases.

Tomorrow’s nine-day cruise from Venice ends in Barcelona May 10, positioning the vessel for a summer schedule of seven- to 12-day Mediterranean voyages through October 16. Carnival Magic will then sail on a 16-day transatlantic crossing then launch seven-day Caribbean service from Galveston, Texas, becoming the port’s largest year-round ship.

Stay tuned to www.expertcruiser.com for all the latest Carnival Magic news!

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Spoiled on Silver Spirit

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On April - 12 - 2011

In these days of ever-expanding megaships, with thousands of passengers pouring off at each port, there’s something to be said about the more personal and intimate aspects of small-ship cruising. The 540-passenger, all-suite Silver Spirit is just a year old and is the first new ship for ultra-luxury line Silversea Cruises since 2001. While Spirit is the biggest ship in the Silversea fleet it still offers the familiar layout of the line’s other vessels and maintains the line’s hallmark of high customer satisfaction.

Luxury lure

Anticipating a cruise onboard Silver Spirit is a bit like going back to see an old friend. The last time I spent significant time on the Spirit was to report on the vessel’s sea trials in late 2009 while it was still under construction in Italy. I know the Spirit inside and out, but I was curious to see how it functioned with passengers. I’ve always believed you don’t really know a cruise ship until you experience it with a full load of passengers.

Fast forward to December, 2010 and I am in Barbados sipping a flute of champagne while being escorted to my suite by tuxedoed staff. My butler Karthik asks if I would like my luggage unpacked and if I need anything else. I decline and decide to savor the champagne from my deck and admire the azure blue Caribbean sea. Talk about being spoiled!

SilverSpiritCaribGalleryCruise lines can build great ships, but if they don’t have a great crew everything suffers. On Silversea the devil is in the details and even the smallest details are remembered by crew. For example, my nightly drink preferences at Connoisseur’s Corner were always remembered by the bar’s attendant, Ricardo. Ricardo is the epitome of the type of crewmember you will find at Silversea – seasoned and highly polished in the art of service etiquette. Prior to working for Silversea he plied the waters as a crewmember for Sitmar Cruises and Royal Viking. He says Silversea is one of the few lines left that truly values highly personalize service. “That’s what luxury cruising should be,” he says. Indeed this sybaritic ship is all about surrounding oneself in luxury, fine dining, and like-minded travelers on a quest for new horizons.

Loyal Silversea customers, who on any given voyage can total more than 40 percent of the passengers, are very discriminating. Known as Venetian Society members this group knows and demands luxury. One crew member told me when the Spirit first came out it took some ‘Venetians’ time to get used to the bigger ship. Some Silversea aficionados are split on the preference between the line’s smaller ships and the Spirit. A business titan from the Midwest, who was marking his 300th day cruising on Silversea, told me he likes the Silver Spirit best because it has amazing new features, but his wife prefers the Silver Cloud for its ‘coziness’. Another couple I met was on their first Silversea cruise and immediately fell in love with Silversea and the Silver Spirit. The couple, who are long time Regent Seven Sea Cruises customers, quickly realized Silversea offered them more of what they were looking for and now insisted that nothing but Silversea would suffice.

European roots

SilverSpiritCaribluggageOne way Silversea has decided to keep posh factor high is to stick to its European roots in ambiance, dining, and amenities. The ship’s 270 suites range in size from 312 to 1,668 square feet (95 percent with balconies) and passengers lack for nothing in these suites. There is a menu of eight pillows to choose from, a selection of room scents from Laura Tonatto, a choice of Bvlgari or Ferragamo toiletries, and never ending bottles of Pommery Champagne and boxes of Pierre Marcolini chocolates. And, every suite comes with a butler who will not only unpack your suitcase but clean and freshen it as well.

The Art Deco décor is understated and evokes a comfortable atmosphere. Vintage nautical photos decorate the walls and plush chairs and sitting areas are everywhere inviting guests to linger. Indeed they do — passengers gather at all hours to drink Bellinis or cappuccinos or just to relax to soothing musical entertainment. Deck space onboard is expansive with numerous comfortable lounge areas affording shade or sun allowing guests to choose their al fresco preferences.

The Spa at Silversea takes things to another level offering a medi-spa and Oriental Medicine Program with onboard physician. At 8,300 square feet it is the largest in the fleet and features a beauty salon, fitness center, nine spa treatment rooms, two sauna rooms and two steam rooms. The spa also debuts a Thermal Suite, an exclusive spa area furnished with heated lounge chairs along with a private Hammam Chamber (Turkish bath), where guests can customize their scrub treatments. In addition, The Spa offers an outdoor relaxation area with expansive aft sea views and comes equipped with plush loungers and large whirlpool allowing spa lovers a place to relax pre- and post-treatment.

Epicurean delight

Perhaps the highlight onboard Silver Spirit is the culinary delights in the six restaurants. The line has a partnership with Relais & Châteaux; the only cruise line afforded the honor. The line’s staple restaurants are here including The Restaurant, which offers 21 menus from International classics to inventions made on the ship. La Terrazza is the heritage of Silversea and offers freshly made pasta with ingredients flown in from Italy. The Pool Grille offers spa and quick fare and in the evening is transformed into the fun Hot Rock Grill. This al fresco dining experience is the most relaxed on the ship. This is a cook-it-yourself affair, where you grill your own meat or seafood on hot volcanic stones. I ordered the Filet Mignon, accompanied by lobster, grilling both myself. To make the job easy, the meats are seared before being delivered, still sizzling, to the table.

Le Champagne is highlight of the line’s association with Relais & Châteaux where for $30 guests can indulge in a six-course menu and for an additional $200 sample the wine pairing offerings. Seishin carries a $40 cover charge for the 11-course degustation menu that includes such specialties as Beluga caviar sorbet, sushi, sashimi, carpaccio of king scallops and more. Seishin’s main feature is the rounded and centered food prep station known as la table du chef where guests can watch the chef at work sculpting fresh sushi and sashimi. Adding premium Sakes to the degustation menu is an additional $40 per person, while the wine pairing menu goes for $200 per person each.

Stars Supper Club is a truly special place and was packed every night during the cruise. The venue is modeled after the Rainbow Room and is more than dining, it’s food-entertainment. The ambiance is jazzy and offers a bite size tasting menu encompassing flavors from around the world. Indeed you could make a meal here if you order all 20 tastings. The live jazz singer who works the room makes this venue an unforgettable experience.

The art of doing whatever you want

SilverSpiritArrival2Cruising is as much about the journey as about the destination. My favorite part of the voyage was staying on the ship and savoring the art of doing nothing. I’ve been to every island in the Caribbean and I didn’t feel guilty about not going ashore. The Spirit is big enough where every day I was stumbling on undiscovered nooks and crannies to relax in. Truth be told, I spent much of my time in my suite, a place so wonderful and comfortable I didn’t want to leave. I passed entire afternoons on the veranda, lolling on the wicker lounges and watching the Caribbean slide by. Of course I took occasional breaks to check on e-mail, work out in the fitness center, or to order room service that offered everything on the daily restaurant menus.

Ultimately, the real luxury of Spirit, though, is its focus on keeping the traditional cruise experience alive and highly refined. As we pull out of Grenada I hear a couple laughing at the pool bar. The woman points over to the gigantic cruise ship docked next to Silver Spirit. “We will never go back to that again.” Indeed you don’t really know a cruise ship until its being enjoyed by passengers and Silver Spirit is certainly living up to all its passenger’s expectations.

If you go:

Silver Spirit plies the waters of the Mediterranean in the spring and summer months, and the Caribbean and South America in late fall and winter. Prices for 7-day voyages begin at $3,518. Visit Silversea Cruises Website for more details.

Further reading:
Silver Spirit takes on the seas
It’s early September as I arrive at the Fincantieri Monfalcone shipyard in Trieste, Italy. Dawn is breaking and the winds are howling down from the mountains. Hundreds of yard workers, vendor specialists, technicians, and Silversea Cruises employees are gathered on the pier to board the Silver Spirit. There’s excitement in the air as the ship is going out for sea trials.

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Advice, gallery, Reviews

Will Remy be the first restaurant at sea to be awarded a Michelin Star?

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 23 - 2011

The top-of-the-ship views are spectacular, the interior exquisite, and the ambiance totally French – but it is the cuisine and service that make the Disney Dream’s new French restaurant Remy authentic. Remy1The idea for Remy was spun off the popular Disney movie Ratatouille and Remy is without question a Parisian experience at sea.

Dressed in long white aprons, black jackets and bow ties the pedigreed service staff has worked at the finest restaurants in Paris from Le Cinq at the Four Seasons Hotel George V to Le Bristol. The gourmet cuisine is by award-winning chefs, Chef Arnaud Lallement from l’Assiette Champenoise, a Michelin two-star restaurant just outside Reims, France, and Chef Scott Hunnel from award-winning Victoria & Albert’s at Walt Disney World Resort. RemyChefsTableBoth chefs have collaborated to create a French-inspired menu featuring superior products and seasonal ingredients sourced from around the world. However, it will be French-trained Chef Patrick Albert who will be the executive chef for Remy and will provide diners with epicurean excellence each day aboard the ship.

Dinner at Remy is a lavish and leisurely affair. Tables are elegantly set with Frette linens, Riedel glassware, Christofle silverware and china made exclusively for Remy, with gracious accents such as purse stools for women’s handbags. There is also a private Chef’s Table dining room, Chez Gusteau that seats eight. RemyFoodThe intimate room is furnished with rich décor inspired by the film – bold, red carpet, chairs and drapes with touches of gold, opulent chandeliers, and scenes of Paris on the walls. Chez Gusteau has its own entrance to the kitchen to allow the chefs easy access. Guests also may be seated in the glass-walled wine room amid more than 900 bottles of wine.

Diners will start off with a signature chilled Taittinger Champagne cocktail made tableside. There are two tastings menus to choose from that include wine pairings, or order a la carte from the menu. RemyChefsThe menu is complemented by a stellar wine list. The restaurant offers two wine lists: a special French list with 200 vintages from most every region in France, and Remy’s Vault, a separate and exclusive wine list with rare wines from all over the world. Select wines from the French list also are available by the glass. From Remy’s Vault, 22 wines are selected as the best of the best. The list includes a 1947 Château Cheval Blanc, a single bottle retails for $25,000. Yes, there are $25,000 bottles of wine on a cruise ship! If that’s too much you can always pay $13,000 for a 1961 Château LaTour.

RemyVaultArtistry comes from the kitchen with focused tastes such as smoked bison with fennel salad and blood oranges; lobster with vanilla, bisque and lobster roe foam; wild loup de mer; Australian Wagyu; a tomato tart with Parmesan espuma; coastal turbot with vin jaune sauce and gnocchi, and young pigeon pie with foie gras, spinach and tomato. Simple sweet endings like a vanilla-poached pear or a dark chocolate praline with cocoa sherbet pair beautifully with post-prandial coffee service including French press and grand crème.

An additional charge of $75 per person is required to dine at Remy, in addition to the cost of wine and alcoholic beverages. Wine pairings selected from the French list are an additional $99. If you love French cuisine this is an experience not to be missed as Remy may possibly end up being the first restaurant as sea to be awarded a Michelin star. Time will tell.

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Blog, gallery, Reviews

Disney Dream’s Believe show bestows magical life lesson

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 21 - 2011

Just as designing the Disney Dream was an intensive project so too is the entertainment that goes onboard. Last October, I was one of a handful of journalists to attend an exclusive preview of Disney Believe, the ship’s new Broadway-style show in Toronto. Disney Cruise Line maintains facilities there to workshop new entertainment, train actors, and recruit talent.

Believe1The Disney Believe show has been more than two years in the making. The line partnered with renowned Broadway director Gordon Greenberg, along with choreographer Patti Columbo and writer Kirsten Childs, to create an original production that is unlike any other show at sea. A master illusionist was brought in to help with thrilling character moments and to create stage magic the producers worked with 3D modeling, design, and animation to create the sets, costumes, and even the special effects that will be used. “We had to up the ante with Dream,” said David Duffy, the line’s Creative Director, Entertainment and Port Adventures. Indeed they have. Duffy states that the show will play in the state of the art theater on Dream that rivals those on Broadway and London’s West End. Greenberg added that the technology used in the show will be ground breaking with things that have never been used on Broadway like front and rear projection.

With the story, design, and casting all in place the 24-member cast spent 10 weeks rehearsing in Toronto and six weeks onboard the Dream while under construction in Germany. As I watched the rehearsal of several high-energy scenes it’s very clear the performers are the cream of the crop from around the globe. There’s no lip-syncing at Disney its live vocal performances at their best.

Disney Believe tells the story of a workaholic father who, through the power of Disney magic, reconnects with his daughter and learns a valuable lesson about what is important in life. The show takes guests to the garden of Dr. Cornelius Greenaway, a brilliant botanist obsessed with cultivating his precious plants. Dr. Greenaway is so preoccupied with his garden that he overlooks the birthday of his daughter, Sophia. Saddened, Sophia makes a special birthday wish and the impossible happens: Genie from Disney’s “Aladdin” appears to make her wish come true. Joined by a host of characters, Genie takes Dr. Greenaway on a journey where he learns that magic is real and is embodied in his beloved daughter. More than 20 of Disney’s most beloved characters take the stage during Disney Believe, including Cinderella, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Belle (“Beauty and The Beast”), Rafiki (“The Lion King”) and Princess Tiana (“The Princess and the Frog”).

I couldn’t wait to so see the show when I boarded the Disney Dream for its christening on January 19. David Duffy was right; the Walt Disney Theater where the show is held is impressive. Spanning three decks with orchestra and balcony seating, the 1,340-seat theater is resplendent with art deco styling recalling luxurious show places of a bygone time, best of all there are no obstructed views. At the same time, it is equipped with theatrical technology that Gordon Greenberg noted making it one of the most advanced venues on land or sea thus allowing stories to be experienced in a whole new way.

Disney Believe turned out to be better and more colorful that I had imagined. John Massey, the Disney performer who plays Genie, stole the show with his silly wise cracks and dancing. The music and costumes were spectacular; however, it was the story line that made the most impact. I noted a lot of teary eyes and smiles leaving the theater. But the best sight was seeing all the fathers holding their precious children a little bit tighter.

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Blog, gallery, Reviews, Tripblog

Disney Dream Photo Tour

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On January - 19 - 2011

Disney’s newest ship Disney Dream was christened in a lavish spectacle that only Disney could pull off. Featuring every Disney character imaginable the christening included a helicopter lifting a gigantic bottle of champagne to break on the bow, elaborate fireworks, and Oscar-winner and the Dream’s godmother Jennifer Hudson singing at the ceremony.

The much-awaited, 130,000-ton, 2,500-passenger vessel features a lot more bells and whistles than its sister ships and offers the cruise industry’s first AquaCoaster at sea. The ship also boasts virtual portholes in inside staterooms and new entertainment options.

ExpertCruiser is onboard for all the festivities and will be blogging live from the ship. Here are some photos from today’s events and tour of the ship. Tomorrow we visit Castaway Cay and will include much more information about Dream’s amazing dining options.

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Blog, gallery, Reviews

Royal Caribbean silences skeptics with Allure of the Seas

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On December - 14 - 2010

By Anita Dunham-Potter (editor@www.expertcruiser.com)

Last December, Royal Caribbean International introduced Oasis of the Seas, at the time the world’s largest cruise ship spanning 16 decks, encompassing 220,000 gross registered tons and, with all berths filled holds 6,200 passengers. Back then the massive size of the ship was the focus of every media story. Will it float? Will it fit into ports? Will it take half a day to get on and off?

AllurepoolsLast month with the launch of Oasis’ slightly larger sister ship, Allure of the Seas, the size factor isn’t even a consideration. The skeptics have been proven wrong and the big story is how these mammoth vessels are attracting a wide-ranging group of passengers. “There are no more questions that the Oasis-class ships are working,” says Royal Caribbean president Adam Goldstein.

Indeed, both Allure and Oasis are expected to carry 600,000 passengers in 2011 with some 30 percent of those customers coming from non-North American markets. The clear attraction is that there are no ships at sea remotely like them and with the launch of Allure of the Seas, Royal Caribbean upped the ante and added more unique offerings earning it the nickname “the entertainment ship”.

Parks, pools and more

AllureSolariumLike her sister ship, Allure has the wow amenities such as a zip-line and a carousel. It features the Rising Tide bar that ascends and descends from the ship’s Promenade area—with indoor stores and cafés—to its Central Park, an open-air “park” with pathways, flower gardens and canopy trees that spans the length of a football field.

The Aqua Theater situated at the very back of the ship of has the deepest pool at sea (18 feet) is by night an outdoor amphitheater, hosting synchronized swimming and diving shows featuring athletes jumping from as high as 72 feet up, and like the famed Bellagio in Las Vegas’ a fountain show set to music, laser lights, and videos. During the day guests can watch movies, football games or choose to relax on chairs located on the surrounding tiered platforms.

AllureCaroselAllure has four pools: Two are made to feel like a beach, with sloped entries you can walk into just as if you were walking into the ocean. Staterooms come in all shapes and sizes with revolutionary cruise ship accommodations in 37 different categories and unique offerings such as duplex “loft suites” that have 18-foot windows looking out to the ocean. Other staterooms have views of the line’s seven “neighborhoods,” such as Central Park, the Boardwalk, home to the Carousel, and other venues.

The Youth Zone features 28,700 square feet just for kids and teens, with Kids Avenue, a central boulevard connecting various themed play areas; a nursery for infants and toddlers; and a theater for children. This gives parents time to enjoy the adults-only retreat, the open air Solarium. Adults have their own swimming pool and six whirlpools—four of them cantilevered 136 feet above the ocean. At night, the Solarium transitions into an adults-only setting for specialty dining and outdoor dancing.

AllureParadeNew fairy tales

Eight distinct features give the Allure a personality different than its sister ship. Allure boasts a number of new venues including the first Starbucks at Sea; new restaurants such as Brazilian steakhouse Samba Grill and Mexican eatery Rita’s Cantina; a 3-D movie theater and more.

Allure also is the first cruise ship with DreamWorks characters onboard including Shrek and Fiona, which is due to a new partnership between Royal Caribbean and DreamWorks Animation. Dubbed “The DreamWorks Experience” the onboard offerings will include a “How To Train Your Dragon” ice show; “Madagascar” aqua show; character breakfasts, character meet-and-greets and other movie-themed events will take place on each sailing.

Big production shows are different on Allure as well. While Oasis has “Hairspray,” Allure brings another Tony Award-winning musical to the seas, “Chicago”. Additionally, the “Blue Planet” show on the Allure is a whirling acrobatic wonder set to Beatle tunes.

And more ‘fare-y’ tales
Last year with the launch of Oasis of the Seas fares were at a premium since there was no other ship at sea like it. What a difference a year makes as Allure enters the market.

AllureWaterShowStewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert who is nationally recognized as The Cruise Guy, notes the fares during Oasis’ launch late last year and into the first quarter this year averaged $1,471 per person based on double occupancy for an inside stateroom – at the time double the fare for similar digs on other top notch cruise ships. With Allure’s entrance into the Caribbean scene thus doubling capacity fares have gone down – a lot. Chiron notes that Allure’s fares are 31 percent less than Oasis’ fares a year ago averaging $1069 per person. Fares for both vessels going into 2011 are very similar with Oasis averaging a slightly higher premium at $1104 per person. This of course is good news for families wanting to try out Oasis and Allure, but were turned off by last year’s higher price tag.

Allure of the Seas like Oasis sails from Port Everglades and the world’s largest cruise ship terminal. Amazingly with this state-of-the-art facility Royal Caribbean is able to get passengers from curbside to the vessel in just 15 minutes – a feat other large ship cruise operators are envious of.

Royal Caribbean’s “Nation of Why Not?” campaign defines its fleet as the ideal destination to declare independence from ordinary cruise vacations. Clearly, Allure and Oasis are anything but ordinary and the growing number of passengers flocking to these ships has other cruise lines wondering what they can do to top it.

© www.expertcruiser.comYour online consumer guide for cruise travel and information.

Filled Under Blog, gallery, Reviews