Monday, July 1, 2013

Oceania Marina ship review

Oceania Cruises is celebrating their tenth anniversary, so they hosted agents for lunch and a ship tour on the Marina while she was in New York on May 26, 2013.  Launched in 2011 for 1250 guests, she is gorgeous. Here's a link to my photos.

Oceania Cruises is all about the food, and this ship was the first vessel they designed from scratch. There's a Bon Appetit Cooking School which offers hands-on classes (the first at sea). There are TEN dining options on-board and Jacques Pepin is their Master Chef (Specialty restaurants include his signature restaurant called Jacques, and Red Ginger, a sexy Asian venue). Wine Spectator hosts tastings, classes and wine dinners at La Reserve.

La Reserve


As if that didn't offer enough sensual pleasures for one vacation, there's a Canyon Ranch SpaClub with full-service salon and fitness center too. The staterooms aren't bad either, but the suites are superb, especially the 2000 square foot Owner's Suite.
I could live here happily

Oceania Cruises recently hosted a fireside chat with  preferred partners at The Kimberly in New York. Nikki Upshaw, VP of Sales and Thierry Vuolo (our fabulous Regional Sales Director) were soliciting travel pros feedback and brain-storming about ways to increase business. We decided their boutique style of deluxe cruising with unique itineraries, casual ambiance and gourmet cuisine is exactly what our clients would enjoy. After the en-suite pow-wow, we headed to the roof Upstairs for cocktails and then dinner at Noir.

Nikki Upshaw, Matilde Broder, Thierry Vuolo and I

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Hubbard Glacier

Our last day in Alaska on Regent CruisesSeven Seas Navigator sailing the Inside Passage in Alaska was cruising from Yakutat Bay into Disenchantment Bay to see Hubbard Glacier. We awoke early and threw on all our warmest clothes to head up to the Observation Deck. Terry Breen, Regent's on-board Alaska expert, gave an informative chat about glaciers. We observed the glacier calving and heard the white thunder - amazing. Here’s a link to My Photos.

Hubbard Glacier is the longest glacier in North America

Truly spectacular
 Go see them before they melt! Alaska has had a heat wave this summer recording 90 degree temperatures! Here's the story from NBC News.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Sitka (OTTERS!)

The last stop of of Regent CruisesSeven Seas Navigator sailing the Inside Passage in Alaska was Sitka, where a catamaran took me to see Sea Otters! Here’s a link to My Photos.

Sea Otters waving hello
This Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest excursion was booked through Regent Cruises (one of Regent's complimentary tours operated by Allen Marine Tours). The catamaran was docked right at the Pier and it was a little chilly that early in the morning. We saw a bald eagle perched in the trees, and a nearby eagle’s nest.


Then we saw a deer swimming between the islands. 


And then we hit pay dirt- a raft of sea otters chilling together, floating on their backs, waving to us. They have such adorable faces and they like to hug and cuddle each other to stay warm which is ridiculously cute. 


We stayed with them for thirty minutes before continuing on, cruising through more sublime scenery. After spotting a couple whales, we came across another raft of sea otters, this one with a Mom carrying her kid on her belly as she back-stroked alongside our boat. So much cuteness!

Dress in layers because the temperature changes drastically when the sun hides behind a cloud or the wind picks up and remember your rain gear (this is a rainforest climate).  And of course, bring your binoculars and a camera with a good zoom lens. 

Mount Edgecumbe, Sitka

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Skagway (DOG SLEDDING!)

The next stop of Regent CruisesSeven Seas Navigator sailing the Inside Passage  in Alaska was Skagway, where I flew by helicopter to the glacier to go Dog Sledding! Here's a link to my photos.

Eurocopter AStar 350
This perfect day started at La Veranda (caviar and champagne for breakfast, what a great idea).

This Icefield Flightseeing and Dog Sledding Excursion was booked through Regent Cruises (Regent Choice tour for $439 per person). A van took us to the Temsco Heliport where we donned glacier boots (which slipped over our tennis shoes easily) and red safety vests. Away we flew to Denver Glacier and admired dramatic views of ice falls, ice rivers and glacial lakes.

At Base Camp, we met the dogs on our team before heading out into the hills. Four guests plus the Driver were pulled by a team of eleven enthusiastic dogs, and they love to run. We each took turns as Musher - thrilling. 



After the ride, we met a litter of tiny 14-day old puppies plus one very playful two-month old named Solo.

My new best friend
I did stroll through town and made the obligatory stop at the Red Onion Saloon.

The perfect day ended at Prime 7 where I enjoyed crab cakes and Alaskan King Crab Legs for dinner. They were the best crab legs I’ve ever had, so sweet and tender that no butter was required. It was served with truffled asparagus and truffled fries. For dessert, the 14-layer chocolate cake (which takes three days to make) was the right finale for such an amazing day.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Juneau (WHALES!)

The second stop on Regent CruisesSeven Seas Navigator sailing the Inside Passage was Alaska’s capital, Juneau. It was a gorgeous 75 degrees and sunny. The shopping here is more extensive, and the prices may be better plus there’s an IGA in town if you want to pick up some tuna and salmon to bring home.  Red Dog Saloon is a little corny but have a beer there anyway. There are a couple of trail heads just a mile or so from the Port or you can take the aerial tram up the mountain to see the Raptor Center, etc. After a little hike on Perseverance Trail, it was time to head back to the ship for the Whale Watching cruise.

The Evening Whale Watching cruise booked through Regent Cruises (Regent Choice tour operated by Allen Marine Tours for $169 per person) guaranteed whale sightings and was recommended by Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society, so it was bound to be good.  The lower deck was toasty and the buffet spread looked good, but I needed to be up top on the Observation Deck no matter how chilly. The scenery was beautiful, but OMG- the whales!

Humpback Whales usually feed alone, but occasionally they team up to surround a school of krill with bubbles forcing the little fish up to the surface where they are gobbled in epic mouthfuls. This is called Bubble-Net Feeding. We witnessed this incredible spectacle several times, whales leaping up in unison with their mouths agape, and then splashing down with a collective crash. To see so many swimming in tandem was incredible.  

Oh yeah, I almost forgot- we passed Mendenhall Glacier on the way to the boat. It was pretty. Here's a link to my photos of Juneau.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan (BEARS!)

The first stop of Regent CruisesSeven Seas Navigator sailing the Inside Passage was Ketchikan, where I flew by seaplane to Prince of Wales Island to see bears (BEARS!). The flight was breathtaking, and the wildlife viewing was awesome: I saw four bears, three deer, two whales (mama with baby) and a bald eagle. Here's a link to my photos.



Alaska Seaplane Tours operated the excursion purchased through Regent Cruises (Regent Choice tour cost $419 per person).  A van met our group at the pier and it was a fifteen-minute ride to the floatplane dock.  The planes accommodate 4-6 passengers; mine had four guests plus the pilot. It was spectacular gliding through the fjords of the bay en-route to Prince of Wales Island, home of the highest concentration of black bears. We spotted a few solitary bears eating grass along the shore, ignoring the circling plane as we approached closer and closer.


We landed on a deserted beach in a small bay and quietly waited, hoping for curious creatures to stroll out from the tree line. There was an eerie hush as we realized how remote we were. A deer with frolicking fawn walked along the shore, the baby not much bigger than a dog. Thirty minutes later, we were back in the air and saw our fourth bear just around the bend from where we had landed. 


I chose this excursion for June travel because it offers the best chance to see bears this early in the season. Once the salmon starts running in July and August, the bear viewing gets much better (attention grizzlies: the buffet is now open).

I wandered the town in the afternoon, strolling past the T-shirt shops, gourmet markets and Inuit galleries along historic Creek Street for a photo of Dolly’s House (this landmark house of ill-repute is now a museum). Ketchikan has the world's largest collection of standing totems, and the  Totem Heritage Center is right in town. The population is about 13,000, and with four ships in port, the population just about doubled.  It was 71 degrees and sunny in Ketchikan, which was unusual weather for this rainy town (they get up to 200 inches each year, the salmon seem to like it- Ketchikan is known as the Salmon Capital of the World).


Back on board, I hosted the Signature Collection cocktail party at the Stars Lounge (oh yeah, I’m working). It was nice to meet so many folks and share the day’s adventures.

Alaska Cruise

Finally boarding Regent CruisesSeven Seas Navigator for a 7-night Inside Passage cruise to Anchorage, Alaska! Farewell, Vancouver.

Sailing away from Vancouver

The OPUS Hotel offers complimentary car service within town using their BMW Series 7, so I arrived at the cruise terminal in style. US officials are there in Vancouver to check documents as if we were entering the United States by boarding the ship (makes sense since we’ll be disembarking in Alaska). Regent Cruises completes check-in process on board the ship after handing you a welcome glass of champagne (very civilized). 

Here's our Alaska Cruise along the Inside Passage itinerary:



Staterooms weren’t ready until 3pm, but lunch was served at the Pool Grill and La Veranda (Hurray! They have Smoked Salmon Candy, along with heaps of Alaskan seafood and of course crab).

My Suite
 I’ve seen this ship before but she’s still looking good - such a nice size with very warm décor. The International crew is attentive and friendly, very willing to chat about their home and family. The Regent suites make me so happy- fresh flowers, fruit basket and bottle of champagne on ice. They are laid out like a deluxe hotel room so you intuitively know how to unpack. My suite is spacious and well-designed with walk-in closet, marble bath and Interactive TV with over 150 movies.

Love the marble bathrooms!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Day 3 in Vancouver

I took the Aquabus ferry from Yaletown to Granville Island to explore the local artisans’ studios, along with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. The Granville Island Public Market was my favorite experience, with produce stalls selling baskets piled high with gooseberries, blueberries, black berries and rasberries. The Fish mongers had live spot prawns and Dungeness crabs. I wish I bought more of the Smoked Salmon Candy, lots more (so yummy).

Back at the OPUS Hotel, I borrowed a complimentary bike and headed to Stanley Park. This 1000-acre waterfront park is the gem of Vancouver. A seawall promenade includes a bike lane and the views were stunning - pine forest, pond with swans, giant rhododendrons, and snow-capped mountains in the distance.  I passed a charming lighthouse, totem poles, Lions Gate Bridge and several beaches. The bike trail continued even after the park ended, so I followed the water along False Creek back to the hotel.

Almost the entire waterfront is developed as parks with bike lanes and lots of recreation areas. And these folks take their recreation seriously: on a Tuesday afternoon when it was 61 degrees with a 50% chance of rain, I saw folks paddle boarding, dragon canoeing, kayaking, running, walking, roller blading, skate boarding, playing beach volleyball, swimming in the public pool and of course cycling.

Click here for my Photos of Vancouver.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Vancouver, Day 2: Grizzlies at Grouse Mountain!




Strolled over to Canada Place to catch the free shuttle to Grouse Mountain, but the schedule was so limited that I used public transportation instead: took the Seabus to North Vancouver and then the 236 bus to Grouse Mountain.  Opted to skip The Grind (one hour or so hike up the mountain) and enjoy the Skyride aerial tram to the top of the mountain. 


Included in the Skyride ticket, you can take part in all the Mountain activities including:

Most of the activities were geared towards families, but the Wildlife Refuge's grizzly bears were the best! Watching these huge, powerful animals wrestle so close was thrilling. The Ranger chat was also engaging (did you know grizzlies really do like honey and dandelions?). The mountain views were spectacular and there was still lots of snow in mid-June.


The grand finale to an amazing day was dinner at Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar. Their oyster menu is longer than the wine or dinner menu, so I decided to sample several from British Columbia: Kusshi, Black Pearl, Chefs and Royal Miyagi. So delicious: buttery, soft, tender, smooth, velvety.  For the main course, I ordered the Sablefish with miso sake glaze, baby bok choy, edamame quinoa and shiitake mushrooms, bonito dashi with soy and yuzu. For dessert, -->the Yuzu Cheesecake with roasted strawberry compote, raspberry coriander sorbet. A superb dinner and a perfect second day in Vancouver.




Click here for my Photos of Vancouver.



Monday, June 10, 2013

Vancouver, Day 1.

The non-stop flight from Newark to Vancouver on United was about 6-hours and uneventful. Vancouver Airport is very nice, with lots of Native American art and a waterfall.

Welcome to Vancouver Airport
The Canadian Line train connects the airport to the city center for $7.50 per person.  The Yaletown stop was across the street from the OPUS Hotel, which had my Executive Suite ready for the early arrival (love it, thank you!). For lunch. I tried the local street food specialty: a Japadog! My “Kurobuta Terimayo” is made with Kurobuta Pork, teriyaki sauce, fried onions, Japanese mayo and topped with seaweed. Delish. Note to self: they have a NYC location at St. Marks Place...



Next stop was Chinatown to explore the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Chinese gardens (very serene Chinese gardens in the heart of the city). 



Then I strolled through the Gastown neighborhood to see the Steam Clock



As I continued along the waterfront, I saw Celebrity CruisesCelebrity Century’s sailaway. 


The waterfront area is stunning, with snow capped mountains across the harbor.   

Lego killer whale on the Vancouver waterfront

I also visited a few hotels including the Fairmont Pacific Rim (love the public space, can't wait for the room refurb next year), Four Seasons (lovely, of course) and Hotel Georgia (surprisingly wonderful).

The day ended perfectly dining on the waterfront terrace at C Restaurant on by the False Creek Yacht Club. Their sustainably-harvested, local seafood creations were inventive and delicious. I enjoyed the
-->Seared Scallops Appetizer with English pea ravioli, bone marrow croquettes, sauce veirge, lemon ash. My entrée was Line Caught Ling Cod with braised kale, smoked & pureed artichoke, fried clams, and romesco sauce. And the Lemon Dessert ("lemon meringue pie" lemon mousse, lemon curd, shortbread) was the perfect finale to a wonderful first day in Vancouver.

Here's a link to my Photos of Vancouver.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Seabourn Antarctica event

Seabourn hosted an event at the Ritz Carlton Central Park to highlight their new Antarctica Cruises. Seabourn Destination Service Manager Claudio Schultze and Chris Srigley, Assistant Expedition Leader were on hand to discuss this amazing destination. Chris said, "Antarctica will make you feel so alive and so insignificant in the same breath."


The Seabourn Quest offers 21-day "Ultimate Antarctica & Patagonia" cruises between Santiago (Valparaiso) Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina with five days exploring Antarctica complete with zodiac landings (parka is provided). They also offer a 24-day  Holiday Cruise and a 28-day Rio de Janiero, Brazil -Santiago itinerary this November. These voyages cruise through the Chilean Fjords, pass Cape Horn, visit Patagonia and the Falkland Islands. It's an adventure with diverse nature and wildlife aboard a luxurious new ship (including Rockhopper Penguins!). What could be better?

Oh yeah, a deal would. For a limited time, Seabourn is offering a complimentary veranda upgrade AND $1000.00 On-Board Credit for new bookings on the November 20, 2013 21-day cruise and the 24-night Holiday cruise.


For those of us who haven't retired yet:
*Silversea offers expedition cruises to Antarctica on the Silver Explorer. Itineraries are round-trip Ushuaia, Argentina and range between 10-18-nights.
*Abercrombie & Kent also offers 12-day Antarctica cruises round-trip Buenos Aires on Le Boreal.
*Lindblad Expeditions is a less expensive option, with a 14-day Journey to Antarctica on the National Geographic Explorer or a 24-day Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falklands on either the National Geographic Explorer or the National Geographic Orion.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I'm quoted in the Wall Street Journal!

I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal's Market Watch today on how traveling to the Mediterranean could save your life. Elizabeth O'Brien's piece called "Save Your Life: Eat tomatoes and mozzarella" discusses the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Well, who better than I to discuss the pleasures of eating one's way through Europe to fully experience a destination and to appreciate the culture more deeply? Recipes have always been my favorite souvenirs that I continue to share with friends and family.


 I can almost still taste the seafood paella after my cooking lesson in Valencia, Spain this past April.


Enjoying white asparagus with hollandaise sauce at a darling bistro was a highlight of my Spring 2012 trip to Paris.


The bouillabaisse in Marseille was as amazing as the view of the old harbor from the outdoor cafe - a delicious break during a Mediterranean cruise in 2010.

Is it corny to say that I truly believe in the transformative power of travel?  With each mouthful, we absorb the culture and let it nourish us. The new tastes we enjoy and the new places we explore become a part of us. These moments, these experiences do change us, enrich us and make us better. And healthier too!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Norwegian Breakaway review, inaugural cruise

Sailing on the inaugural cruise of Norwegian Cruise Line's brand-new ship, the Norwegian Breakaway was super fun! Here is my review of this mega-ship. Click here for my Slideshow.

Everyone will be excited about the top deck features (and with good reason):
Aqua Park with 5 multi-story water slides
Ropes course with zip line and walk-the-plank experience
Bungee Trampoline and Spider Web Climbing Cage
Sports Complex with Rock Climbing Wall, Miniature Golf course, Basketball court, etc...


     

But for me, the most exciting feature of the Norwegian Breakaway was the entertainment. Finally, a cruise ship with some serious nightlife options! Do make reservations online before your cruise.
THREE Broadway shows:
-Rock of Ages The Musical
-Cirque Dreams & Dinner Jungle Fantasy from Cirque Productions
-Burn the Floor is 'the ultimate ballroom sensation'
Fireworks show each week with 80's Dance Party
Second City comedy at Headliners
Fat Cats Blues Club
Howl at the Moon, dueling piano show
2 dance clubs (Bliss Ultra Lounge is indoors and Spice H20 is an open air space up on Deck 15)
9 other bar/lounges, including an Ice Bar (don't worry, you don't need to pack your parka because they provide arctic hooded capes)
The Rockettes are the ship's godmothers and on the first week of the month, several Rockettes will be on-board performing and offering fitness/dance classes.

    

Kids of all ages will love the ship too. Splash Academy for children 3-12 offers lots of fun activities, including a circus academy. The Under 2 Zoo is a nursery for babies between 6 months and two years old (a parent must remain present). Teens have their own club called Entourage (no adults allowed). The Arcade was a fun mix of new video games that I've never heard of before, classic games like Guitar Hero and retro games like air hockey. Lots of shooting, driving, flying, riding motorcycles, etc. Also, pirates.

Kid's Aqua Park with Nickelodeon characters

The dining options were absurdly extensive also: 27 different venues! It'll be hard enough for you to choose on a 7-night itinerary, but a two-nighter was too short indeed. FYI- Eleven of those options are complimentary, but the rest have extra charges. Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian offers three venues: Ocean Blue Seafood Restaurant is open for dinner, Ocean Blue on the Waterfront serves lobster rolls al fresco for lunch, and The Raw Bar shucks oysters and more late into the evening. Cake Boss star Buddy Valastro opened a Carlo's Bake Shop on-board (pre-order cakes for celebrations at sea). Specialty restaurants also include Teppanyaki, Sushi, Italian, French, Brazilian, Steakhouse, etc.

        

I approve of the staterooms. I liked the decor of my Mid-Ship Balcony stateroom (Room 14820, Category BA). The Deck 14 location was not my favorite (Deck 15 extends beyond Deck 14 and you could hear folks playing on the Sports Deck above). The showers in the Spa Balconies are significantly better.

Two sections on the ship are unique and special:
*The Haven: a ship-within-a-ship offering a peaceful, full-service retreat. All Haven guests have 24-hour Butler service, access to the private lounge, pool, sundeck and The Haven Restaurant.
*The Studios: designed and priced for solo travelers with an exclusive lounge with cafe and bar.


The Haven pool and sundeck with retractable roof

Studios are 100 square feet

The ship will be sailing from NYC year-round, offering 7-night Bermuda cruises all summer, in the Fall she switches to 7-night Florida and Bahamas cruises. In the winter, she offers a few 12-night Caribbean itineraries before the Bermuda season resumes.

EXCLUSIVE OFFER FOR TZELL CLIENTS Book in May and you will be WINED AND DINED –a free bottle of wine, plus Dinner for 2 at the Italian restaurant. This offer is fleet wide and exclusive to TZELL, offer expires May 31.