Get Away With Fran

December 21, 2009

Art deco elegance highlights Silver Spirit

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:29 pm

Silver Spirit is all about art deco elegance which may come as a surprise to fans of the line who are used to ships that are more sleek and contemporary – Euro trendy. Call this one – Silversea’s largest ship at 36,009 tons and 540 passengers – more old-fashioned traditional; a luxury throwback in a good way.

Art deco touches include etched glass in new spaces like The Bar, a new bar and coffee area off the reception area – boasting aqua blue colors and a light “winter garden” ambiance. Cool new spaces include Stars Supper Club with live jazz and a menu that Silversea’s top F&B guy terms as “snacks” but other line executives call dinner – I guess it’s all a matter of how much you eat; the bites at Stars are meant to be shared, like tapas.

My own dinner tonight in the La Terrezza was amazing, the Italian restaurant one of six on the ship – I had the beef carpaccio, house-made vegetable ravioli and the most delicious fresh sea bass with grilled vegetables.

But another surprise – make this one even a shocker – came tonight in the ship’s theater (really a show lounge and an odd affair design-wise with all seats two-person banquettes and no bar service, but I digress). The surprise was the show – very Carnival Cruise Lines, on a psychedelic set complete with a VW van and eight performers (four singers and four dancers) prancing around the small stage in a 1960s/70s-ish production, and singing songs like “Aquarius” from “Hair” and even some Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Mamas and Papas and Simon and Garfunkel. I nearly fell off my banquette when one fellow appeared on stage all in leather to sing “Born to Be Wild,” accompanied by women in skin-tight jumpsuits basically pole dancing on chairs.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it wasn’t good – it was decent as these things go – just not what you’d expect from an ultraluxury cruise line. Then again, the show brought back recollections for me of an, ahem, hazy variety, so maybe that’s the goal.

The ship very much delivers in terms of elegance, beautiful all-suite accommodations with all the amenities Silversea passengers have come to expect (the suites are big) and more – the TVs hidden in the bedroom mirrors are a nice edition. And the ship has spaces that Silversea fans will very much recognize and surely embrace – comfy lounges, an expanded casino, an H Stern jewelry shop.

Different can be good, but so can familiarity.

My preview cruise of Silver Spirit continues tomorrow in Barcelona (I will be checking out the ship’s spa including the unique hammam).

December 17, 2009

“Ellen” audience goes cruise wild

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 12:58 pm

Norwegian Cruise Line made a surprise appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” today with four ship officers in uniform giving every member of the studio audience – more than 300 people in all – a certificate for a seven-day cruise for two. Much screaming ensued when the giveaway was announced – you can watch the whole thing at

The episode was Day 11 of a “12 Days of Giveaways” series on the show.

“We are thrilled to present Ellen’s audience members with a cruise on one of our signature Freestyle Cruising vessels as part of our ‘Year of the Freestyle Vacation’ promotion,” said Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian Cruise Line’s chief executive officer.  “Ellen is one of the funniest, most engaging personalities on television today.”

DeGeneres introduced the prize by first announcing other prizes including an underwater digital camera. “You might be wondering why you are going to need all these things,” she said. After a canned plug for Freestyle cruising – “up to 20 dining options…” – she was hardly able to announce the cruise prize before the crowd went wild. A giant poster of the Norwegian Epic, NCL’s newest and largest ship, which debuts in July, was displayed onstage.

In conjunction with the “Ellen” appearance, and available to all, NCL has created a special deals page.

December 15, 2009

Best deal to China ever

Filed under: International,Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:24 am


I got a press release today that advertised “Best price on a China Package – Ever.” And the funny thing is I think it just might be. If you can leave, like, now, or even in the next few weeks, you can do China, complete with air and hotel, from under $1,000.

China Spree’s China Express – Bejing Free-style Travel package (say that five times fast) is a 7-day deal with roundtrip air on Air China and five nights’ accommodations at the 4-star Beijing Huabin International Hotel, described as a comfortable, 290-room property only a 10-minute walk from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City (my Beijing photos, above and below). The hotel offers LCD TVs with satellite channels, broadband Internet access and minibars, hairdryers and coffee makers, so how bad could it be?


The operator is even throwing in airport to hotel transfers (by bus, not pedicab) and daily American breakfast. The tab? From $588 per person if you can get yourself to San Francisco; from $988 from New York’s JFK (plus airport fees and taxes from $299). Fares are available from other cities as well.

There is also a land-based price for those who have frequent flyer miles to burn. Reasonably priced tours and other add-ons are also available once you’re in Beijing – so you can get too to the Summer Palace and the Great Wall (from which I sent txts to friends bragging I was on the GREAT WALL). There are meal packages available too.

The low prices are available for departures in December and January.

December 9, 2009

Azamara gets club-y and more all-inclusive

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 2:14 pm

AZA_Journey_Exterior3 If you haven’t yet tried the upscale, small-ship line, Azamara, you are not alone. (I haven’t for one.) Looking to make sure more people get onboard the two-year-old line, owned by Royal Caribbean, officials have done some tweaking including a new name – Azamara Club Cruises. The word “club” is designed to make the experience sound, well, clubby, as in “I belong,” as in exclusive.

The line’s President and CEO Larry Pimentel also announced this week that ACC is going mostly all-inclusive. No more “nickel-and-diming” for things like house wine at lunch and dinner, gratuities, soft drinks and specialty coffees – they’ll all be included in the cruise fare beginning in April.

And to pay for all that fares will be going up.


Also, in a bid to attract more people who like to spend time on land and haven’t, perhaps, considered cruising before, the line will be spending more time in ports, allowing for more contact with locals and including overnights in cities like Istanbul and Sorrento. In Pimentel’s words, the ships are “slowing (more…)

December 1, 2009

Philadelphia is for Iron Chefs and Foodies

Filed under: Food,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , , — admin @ 6:50 am


My cousin prepared a great Thanksgiving dinner in Philadelphia. But I need to book a return trip because I’m an “Iron Chef” fan and Philadelphia now has two Iron Chefs now, practically next to each other – well-established sushi master Masaharu Morimoto and the latest winner of Food Network’s “Next Iron Chef,” Jose Garces.

photo_jose_garces What you probably don’t know unless you’ve been to Philadelphia recently to dine at Morimoto or Garces’ Chifa, opened last year (he also has four other restaurants in the city of Brotherly Love), is that the Iron Chefs have places practically next door to each other on Chestnut Street in the Market East neighborhood. I can’t think of another city where Iron Chefs share a street!

Last year, when son, Eli, was graduating from Temple U., in Philly, we decided to have his graduation dinner at Chifa, then newly opened and highly recommended by a pal in the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. We couldn’t resist Garces’ concept of Peruvian and Cantonese fusion, (more…)

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