Get Away With Fran

June 19, 2010

First photos – Norwegian Epic, WOW

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Okay, I have been on the brand new Norwegian Epic for a few hours now (on a special invited guests preview in Rotterdam, Holland), And I am saying wow. My first wow came when I got to my deluxe balcony cabin. It is not at all the square box we all know, but feels more elegant with its curvy walls and furnishings. Dare I say it? It’s sexy. And I love the fact there are coffeemakers among the amenities.

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There has been much discussion about the bathrooms, which feature separate, translucent toilet and bath or bath/shower, and sink. But there is a curtain you can pull to separate the compartments from the bed area, and I like the look. And the colors are nice, cream and purple. There is an elegance you may not expect from NCL.

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I have already chosen my favorite hangout spot and it is O’Sheehan’s, named for NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan. It feels very much like a giant “Cheers” bar with bowling (three big lanes) and an overall fun pub atmosphere. And it’s open 24 hours per day. Fish and chips or a juicy burger washed down with a beer. Yay.

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And if you want to shell out $20 (including two drinks) to be super cold in the Ice Bar, where it’s always 17 degrees (they lend you a fake fur to wear), the space is really super cool, in oh so many ways.

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It’s too cold here in Rotterdam for the water slides today, but check them out. they sure look like fun.

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Manhattan Club, one of two main dining rooms, is a nice, traditional space, again more elegant than you might expect, with two-deck-high windows. The ship has a whopping 20 dining spots, plus room service. I have bashed NCL on food in the past – they charge for many venues and my feeling has been the food is better in the places you pay for. But I have to say lunch today in the other dining room, Tastes, was delicious – I had a Caesar salad with shrimp and a wild mushroom omelet.

Okay, some more photos. First the much hyped Spiegel tent where the Cirque Dreams dinner show will take place (I’ll see it tomorrow). NCL officials tell me they think this will be the ship’s big hit.

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And here’s a look at the Bliss Ultralounge, the sexy nightclub with bordello-esque decor and cages – yes cages – for dancers. And there is three lanes of bowling too.

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Now for the family crowd, the kids’ center is huge, with multiple spaces for various ages. Teens get their own club in a different part of the ship.

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I haven’t seen SpongeBob yet, but thanks to an agreement with Nickelodeon, I understand he’s onboard along with Dora the Explorer (they’ll be doing shows and character breakfasts).

The Epic’s spa is the largest at sea, and I’ll be trying a treatment tomorrow. The reception area is also huge and felt it – there’s no pretense that this is an intimate place, but presumably that changes when you get inside. The gym too is massive, with 37 treadmills among the equipment.

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Among other much talked about spaces is the Studios area where there are a bunch of small cabins for solo travelers and a lounge where everyone can hang out. Love the lounge. The cabins are small but neatly designed with padded walls and mood lighting that changes colors.

You can, for instance, make your room red, as in “hot,” as in, well, like this ship.

First photos – Norwegian Epic arrives in Rotterdam

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 1:12 am

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The 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic, the most-talked-about new ship of 2010, arrived in Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, today, and will take on its first passengers – me included – this afternoon.

I was on the pier as the ship came in. A small crowd of locals was gathered. Fireboats shooting water helped escort the ship for a time in the Nieuwe Maas river.

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Then a tug took over, giding the 153,000-ton Epic to the pier.

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Some people thought the original artist renderings of Epic looked too boxy. But in reality, it’s a big, resort ship and looks just that. Lots of balconies, some square angles. It’s different, but different can be good.

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I caught a little glimpse of the waterslides on top. It’s cold and windy here today and a little rainy too, so not sure I’ll actually try them.

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Can’t wait to get onboard, though, to check out the entertainment including “Blue Man Group” and the “Cirque Dreams” dinner theater. And then there is the world’s largest spa at sea and 20 restaurants and that crazy Ice Bar that must be explored.

(All photos by Fran Golden)

June 10, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn visits Torshavn

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 11:43 am

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Q: Where is Toshavn? A: In the Faroe Islands. Q: Where are the Faroe Islands? A: In the general area of the North Sea and North Atlantic.

So why would a cruise ship like Seabourn Sojourn visit here? Because the scenery is absolutely beautiful. Plus it’s on the way to Iceland.

We docked right near downtown Torshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands, and population about 19,000, where we were greeted with an all male choir.

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Admittedly, since I had work to do, I promptly headed off in search of an Internet cafe. Friendly locals – including the choir guys – pointed me towards the hotel – it was easy to find as it was one of the tallest buildings in town and marked “hotel” – where there was a nice, contemporary coffee shop with free wi-fi. I parked myself there for much of the ship’s afternoon visit.

And let me mention everyone I talked to spoke both Danish (the Faroes being part of Denmark) and perfect English, even here, really in the middle of nowhere.

Others went off on the various excursions offered by Seabourn to explore this land of the Vikings, including a President’s Choice hike, which on this visit was actually attended by the line’s President and CEO Pam Conover, onboard for the ship’s maiden voyage.

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My foray into downtown didn’t stop me from seeing views, which at times reminded me of New Zealand. With the Midnight Sun – we’re pretty far north – it only gets dark briefly this time of year. As the Sojourn passed close to little islands and rugged cliffs, we’d see a house here or there, and wonder what it’s like to be so isolated.

 

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I should mention that up until Torshavn, and through the night as we cruised towards Iceland, the seas where very still, almost to the point of distraction. However, we did wake up today doing a little rock ‘n’ rollin, in a small storm. I was glad I had prepared with a patch behind my ear.

Yesterday evening, I did some further exploring of the ship. So if you’ll indulge me, I’ll add to my favorite spots the two-deck spa, where a relaxation room has an unusual footbath to get your blood circulating – you walk in cold water than hot then cold then hot, etc., and then rest on heated loungers.

Upstairs at the spa, there’s also a quiet, open-air relaxation area. You can enjoy both on a $30 day pass.

And the Observation Bar on Deck 10 is a great spot for socializing at night – it’s done up in contemporary furnishings and blue lights and kept kind of dark so you feel like you’re in a trendy club. During the day, it’s also a wonderful forward-facing spot to take in the views. And with an open deck area in front, you can grab your camera and easily take photos of those views as well.

June 8, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn makes first port call at Invergordon, Scotland

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The beautiful  Seabourn Sojourn, on its maiden voyage, made its first port call today at Invergordon, Scotland. There was even a bagpiper to meet us. We didn’t get sunshine but the rain held off for at least the morning.

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The town itself is a former navy base, now known for the repair of oil rigs. It’s not the prettiest town in the world. But still, locals have added flair by painting murals on several of the buildings on High Street.

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But I was most impressed with the friendliness of people here. Getting off the Sojourn, which was docked only a few blocks from the center of town, I asked at a visitor information booth if there was wi-fi to be found anywhere. Quite a discussion ensued. One fellow said, in a wonderful thick accent “Ooh, let’s see. There’s one at the museum.” And another older fellow chimed in “Ooh, and one at the church.”  And a third guy, with a wink in his eye, opined “And the church is free, but the museum isn’t.”

As it turned out there wasn’t Wi-Fi at the museum, but there were computers to use.

I explore the town in about a half hour. Walking back I noticed some souvenir shops near the pier. From one I purchased several tartan wool scarves – only about $20 each, so how could I resist? And the shopkeeper made my day, when he handed me my change with a “Thank you, lass.”

While I was exploring, my pal Jennie went off to see one of the castles for which the northern Highlands are famous (she also got to see countryside and sheep). Jennie reports the tour of Cawdor Castle (see photo at top), the 14th century castle that inspired”Macbeth” was excellent, with a well-informed guide and a Seabourn crew member on the bus as an escort. The guide though didn’t give the juicy version of the castle’s history, which very much involves sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Back on the ship, there was a performance in the Grand Salon of Highland dance and song, and a bagpiper was involved.

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Impressive. Among the other things that has most impressed about the Sojourn is the food. Jennie and I last night sampled Restaurant 2, which is the Sojourn’s specialty dining venue. Let me report it was awesome, seven extravagant courses, and each course had multiple tastings.

Okay, for you foodies out there, we had a crisp little bite of foie gras, lobster roll with yogurt caviar sauce, a bacalaito fritter with avocado and tomato salad, seared salmon with white bean salsa, Shiraz braised oxtail soup with manchego potstickers (my personal favorite), drunken turbot with porcini and swiss chard and Tuscan braised veal with mascarpone mashed potato, limoncello tiramisu foam over marinated oranges, dark chocolate ganache, espresson panna cotta and condensed milk ice cream, followed by a night cap of a Kahlua frappe.

And yes, we could walk afterwards, sort of. And I apologize for not having photos. I was too busy eating.

Food on this entire cruise has been amazing, so the fact there is even a specialty restaurant seems superfluous. But I still love it.

June 7, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn sets sail on maiden voyage

Filed under: Cruise,International,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 10:50 am

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The luxurious Seabourn Sojourn set sail on its maiden voyage on Sunday. The evening departue afforded wonderful views of London in the distance (we embarked from Greenwich) as we cruised down the Thames towards the North Sea.

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Seabourn President and CEO Pam Conover called the sailing a “momentous occasion,” and said it was particularly significant to her since she is British and the ship was doing its first sailing out of London. “You can take the girl out of Britain, but you can’t take Britain out of the girl,” Miami-based Conover said. She then led a countdown, signifying the official start of the cruise.

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And then the drinks flowed, including green martinis (my pal Jennie enjoying one in photo).

Suddenly the sound of drums and a surprise, the Royal Marine Guard came marching across the pool deck playing songs (including “Rule Britannia”).

One passenger, Arline Moore of Florida, said she was so touched she was almost teary. “Isn’t this wonderful,” she exclaimed.

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And then, another treat – fireworks over the Thames.

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A crew member proferring more drinks told me those working on the ship were excited to have the first guests onboard. “We have put a piece of our hearts in this ship,” he said.

June 6, 2010

Seabourn launches new cruise ship with Twiggy

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:20 am

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When a new cruise ship begins service there is much excitement and anticipation. A cruise ship’s maiden voyage is a historic event. And I am most excited to today be on the maiden voyage of the Seabourn Sojourn, as the ship leaves from London (Greenwich). The cruise is 14 days, and I’ll be on for the first six to let you know how it goes.

Last year, when Yachts of Seabourn launched the first of its new class of 450-passenger ships, the Seabourn Odyssey, I raved about how modern and beautiful and stylish a luxury ship it was. As sister ship to the Odyssey, Sojourn gets the same raves. This is simply one of the most beautiful, most luxurious, most expertly run ships out there. We’re talking 6-star all the way.

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I’ve actually been on the ship for two days now as I was here for the naming ceremony with British supermodel Twiggy as Godmother (the second night with the ship docked in London there was a fundraiser for a breast cancer organization).

I was excited to meet Twiggy – at age 60 she still looks fab. And Twiggy told me while she has never cruised she’d like to try it some time. And why wouldn’t she after seeing the Sojourn – if you’re going to start somewhere you might as well do it at the top, which is precisely what Twiggy did as a model in the 1960s.

Anyway, back to the ship. Real passengers will come onboard today for the first time (the first two nights were travel agents, press and guests invited to a breast cancer fundraiser). It will be fun to see their reaction. Also onboard for the maiden voyage is Seabourn President and CEO Pam Conover.

Captain Karlo Buer of Norway told me the ship is all ready to make its debut and he recognizes many names on the passenger list as Seabourn regulars.

I am in a lovely penthouse suite – everyone has a suite on this ship but mine has a nice big living area and separate bedroom area (regular suites have a curtain separating the two). My friend Jennie will be joining me onboard soon.

For those who know Seabourn, the Sojourn (and Odyssey) are twice as large as the line’s other ships and carry twice as many passengers. But bigger is not what strikes me most. Rather it’s how airy and contemporary these ships feel – almost like a fancier version of a W Hotel. The smaller ships feel traditional. this one feels modern, even hip.

My favorite spots so far are the spa, a two-deck affair (on this ship the second deck is a quiet sunning area open to all, whereas on the Odyssey it’s a private area you have to pay for); and the concierge area, which does not have a front desk, but rather helpful staff seated at regular desks in an area that also has plush seating indoors and out, a coffee bar (they make a great latte) and an internet cafe.

I have days to explore so expect to find other gems.

Of course, the other amazing thing about Seabourn is the crew. So helpful, so friendly, trying to get to know every guest. They really make the experience. And that is obvious from the second you step onboard.

BTW, Seabourn is doing two-for-one fares and free air offers if you act fast. The Sojourn spends the summer in Northern Europe.

June 1, 2010

London bound to see new Seabourn Sojourn

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , — admin @ 5:14 pm

I’m heading to England this week to see the new Seabourn Sojourn. Can’t wait. British supermodel Twiggy will be the godmother of the ship, so I’m expecting a very chic naming ceremony (note to self: pack a mini skirt).

Then I’ll be cruising on the ship to Scotland (haven’t been there since I was a wee lass, seriously) and the Faroe Islands (part of Denmark) and then to Iceland. It’s an unusual itinerary on an ultra luxurious 450-passenger ship, that promises to be fab.

Stayed tuned for details. Oh, and do pass the champagne, please.

May 6, 2010

Hiking in paradise on Paul Gauguin Tahiti cruise

Filed under: Cruise — admin @ 10:16 pm

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It was a little cloudy on our arrival into Cook’s Bay on Moorea, early this morning, but even so when I pulled open the curtains and stepped onto my cabin balcony on the Paul Gauguin I had to gasp. Moorea is arguably more beautiful even than Bora Bora.

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Moorea (pronounced MOE-oh-ray-ah) serves up dark, jagged peaks (peaking through the clouds today) above miles of lush greenery and the bluest of blue sea. Bays occupy what was once a very big volcano’s crater. The whole scene is strikingly beautiful.

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The island boasts too some 37 miles of white sand beaches and a large coral reef full of undersea delights. But I stuck to land today, booking an escorted hike up a trail known as Three Coconuts, which you reach from the Belvedere lookout, about a half hour’s drive from where the ship’s tenders dropped us off (even if you don’t do the hike, don’t miss the lookout).

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I knew the hike was 3 ½ miles and was going to be going uphill for better views of Mouaroa, the most impressive of the peaks. But I got the idea we might be in for more when our guide, Iro, took out a large knife and began whacking bushes to find us walking sticks.

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I had the song “Bali Hai” from “South Pacific” stuck in my head. A mysterious paradise was calling as we hiked up the trail towards the clouds on dirt, muddy dirt, rock steps and wet rocks and over tiny streams and over and under tree roots.

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Sweaty from the tropical heat, the nine of us on the hike persevered, and reached the top in just under two hours. And we were well rewarded with spectacular views in all directions – Cook’s Bay with our ship at anchor, Opunohu Bay on the North Coast. And Mouaroa, looking a tad evil over the magical landscape.

A deep forest canopy protected us from the little rain above, but we did slip and slide a tad climbing down (and yes, I ended up on my butt at one point).

Still, Bali hai? Piece of cake.

May 5, 2010

In the water with sharks in Bora Bora on Paul Gauguin cruise

Filed under: Cruise — admin @ 5:51 pm

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Okay, ready. Get the theme from “Jaws” in your head. Think shark.

Now combine that with the musical “South Pacific,” and views of the most gorgeous island on earth, Bora Bora, with its impressive volcanic peaks and sea in all kinds of shades of blue and green and swaying palm trees and the silkiest of white sands.

And yup, you pretty much have my day. Well, add a few friendly stingrays to the mix and a bunch of different kinds of fish – Bora Bora serves up an undersea world well worth exploring too.

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Five of us headed off from our ship, the Paul Gauguin, with Ringo Tours (you can book them via the InterContinental Bora Bora Le Moana Resort) in a six-person boat in search of sharks. And when we found them, we got in the water and snorkeled with them.

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No worries, these were small black-tip sharks (about 4 feet long), more interested in the sardines proffered by our boat captain, Aree, than in us.

Still when four are nearby, that voice in your brain goes “shark.” So I stayed back when some of my companions ventured further, and that’s when I noticed a much bigger shark hanging out way below in the 32-foot sea. Turns out he was a lemon shark (maybe 10 feet long).

I watched him for awhile and he seemed to notice me too. I knew he was probably harmless, but when he circled back for a closer look, I decided it was time to scurry back up on the boat.

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I was a little more comfortable getting cozy with stingrays. When Aree, after some singing on his ukulele, steered the boat to a waist-high spot of water, big gray discs started to appear.

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We jumped into the sea and the stingrays rubbed against us, like dogs looking to be petted, their skin velvety smooth. Even though we were on a reef in the middle of the sea, and not in some aquarium, these stingrays sensed meal time and about a dozen hung around us looking for Aree’s sardines.

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A third stop on our excursion took us to a coral garden, in about 16 feet of water, which was jam packed with many kinds of fish including some decent-sized ones and beautiful colorful coral. A fourth stop offered the same.

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After all that snorkeling, we headed to a private motu, where lunch was served in a hidden cove, and we’re talking a gourmet lunch with a cold bucket of champagne awaiting, with breathtaking views everywhere. I can’t imagine Captain James Cook, the first westerner to sight these shores (the Paul Gauguin actually anchors in the same inlets as Cook) ever imagined tourists here could have it this good.

May 3, 2010

Snorkeling in paradise on Paul Gauguin cruise

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , — admin @ 9:37 pm

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Views today were even prettier than the day before, though yesterday I would not have thought that possible. Cruising in Tahiti is truly amazing.

The Paul Gauguin cruise ship actually didn’t move very far. We overnighted in Raiatea, the second largest of the Society Islands in French Polynesia, and then within the same barrier reef, cruised this morning to Taha’a, a tranquil, mostly undeveloped place where people fish, raise livestock, grow vanilla and, occasionally cater to tourists (long ago the thing here was firewalking but that’s rare today).

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Two Polynesian fellows took about a dozen of us passengers from the ship out in a small, open boat for about 15 minutes to an uninhabited islet so we could explore an underwater coral “garden.” The excursion ($129) was billed as being for experienced snorkelers and was challenging only in that you needed to avoid the coral in very shallow water, maneuvering in a mild current. Minimal effort and well worth it. And I say this even though I did manage to get my knee slightly rubbed on coral early in the trek, and have a few itchy dots to prove it (I fought the coral and the coral won).

The multi-colored corals themselves were spectacular – purple, blue, orange. And I saw yellow fish and tiny blue ones, black fish and some with multiple colors (sorry fish folks, I am not a pro). None were bigger than you’d find in a fancy (more…)

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