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!