Get Away With Fran

September 29, 2014

Best Cruise Moments on TV

Filed under: Cruise,Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 5:31 pm

Here I manage to combine two things I enjoy, cruising and TV trivia. This was a fun story to research. Hope it’s a fun read too. http://www.usatoday.com/story/experience/cruise/best-of-cruising/2014/09/29/10-best-cruise-ship-tv-moments/16423715/

September 12, 2014

Cruise ship comedy

These cruise ships will make you laugh. Check out my article in USA Today. This was a fun one to write.

http://www.usatoday.com/story/experience/cruise/best-of-cruising/2014/09/11/the-best-cruise-lines-for-comedy-shows/15413043/

June 27, 2011

Sea and Glaciers

Filed under: Cruise,Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , — admin @ 12:30 pm

After departing Vancouver, the Disney Wonder spent a day at sea. We were pretty lazy. We played a lot of shuffleboard, and we all won at least once (great thing about shuffleboard; little athletic skill required).

Sasha went swimming in the heated family pool. She says it wasn’t cold, even though outdoor temps were low 60s.

We got dressed up for dinner – formal night, though most people went with cocktail attire and some did not even go that far.

Disney Cruise Line has a unique rotation dining system where you eat in a different restaurant each night but with the same waiters. It’s especially clever. Kids don’t get bored by similar menus and ambience and get to know the waiters. We ate in the lively Parrot Cay the first night and the fancier Tritons the second. Sasha did not want to sit through a full multicourse meal the first night, but by the second our Serbian waiter, who performed magic and made Origami from the children’s, was not only a familiar face but a pal.

After dinner we went as a family to see the Golden Mickeys show in the main theater. It features clips from Disney animated movies and dancers and singers performing some numbers too. We all enjoyed it.

My brother and I dropped Sasha off after at The Edge, the ‘tween hangout, so we could check out some of the entertainment for adults-only. Seems other passengers had the same idea. The comedy show, featuring three whacky brothers, was so crowded in the disco they had overflow to the Diversions bar where you could watch on video screens. The physical comedy got lost in translation on the screens, so we headed instead to the ship’s movie theater to see the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. It was sold out too, no seats available. We wandered the ship a bit – passing a folk guitarist and singer, but then picked up Sasha and headed back to the cabin.

Next day, appeared to be another day at sea, but appearances can be deceiving. We spent about five hours in and around Tracy Arm Fjord, where we saw humpback whales close enough to spot even without binoculars, bald eagles, seals, a bear (through binoculars), snow-capped mountains reflected in clear water, blue icebergs (and white ones too) and then the amazing sight of Sawyer Glacier, a massive lake of moving ice heading ever so slowly towards the sea. And yes, we saw calving and even from a distance the sight of ice falling off a glacier into the sea is magnificent.

The temperature fell below 50, but the heated pools still called Sasha, who spent time swimming with a pal.

Dinner in Animator’s Palette, where animation appears throughout the meal, had Sasha smiling throughout the meal. Her smiles continued at the show where a really fun magician sure knew how to appeal to the family crowd, and the three brothers performed their unusual brand of song, dance and sound effects to many giggles.

June 22, 2011

Disney Cruise and Biking Vancouver

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — admin @ 10:01 pm

(This week Getaway will be written with the help of 11-year-old Sasha, Fran’s niece. We’re heading off on a Disney cruise to Alaska.)

Before getting on the Disney Wonder in Vancouver, we headed along the Vancouver waterfront when we came across a bike rental place and decided why not? So off we went past Coal Harbour with its houseboats and views of snow-capped mountains to Stanley Park, a huge park right outside of downtown Vancouver.

We didn’t realize we were in for a 5 ½-mile ride around the island when we started on the park’s bike trail, but it was relatively flat and really worth doing. Sasha says it wasn’t that hard. We passed beaches packed with people enjoying a nice, sunny day with temps around 70. We passed steep cliffs. We saw birds including cranes and seagulls and, Sasha says, a different variety of nature. Loved the mountain views, especially.

It was after noon when we got to the ship. I’ve been on the Wonder before and was curious what Sasha would think. First thing she seemed to enjoy was the number of kids, including a friendly 4-year-old she chatted with while we were checking in. We headed up to the buffet for lunch, and we both found plenty of choices we liked – funny, our common pick was salmon, which we both found yummy.

Sasha was excited to see the pool. The Edge, the ‘tween club was less exciting at first, with not many kids around, but she later hung out there a bit. The club has all sorts of computer games, Wii, X-box, PlayStations and other attractions.

Sailaway was pure Disney, with a big crowd whooping up on deck especially when characters made appearances.

The waiters were really nice at dinner in Parrot Cay, though Sasha says they came on strong (though she later warmed up so much to one waiter she was giving him hugs). She was thrilled to sleep on a bed that comes down from the ceiling as a third berth in our cabin. The cabin has a balcony and the Disney Cruise feature of 1 ½ baths. With Sasha’s father joining us too, we were surprised that there was enough storage space for all our stuff (we all three brought big suitcases to Alaska).

Sasha had a late night swim in one of the heated pools before bedtime.

June 21, 2011

Cruising Alaska with Disney

Filed under: Cruise,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:54 am

(This week Getaway will be written with the help of 11-year-old Sasha, Fran’s niece. We’re heading off on a Disney cruise to Alaska.)

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Yesterday we (me, niece Sasha and my brother Ben) got up before 4 a.m. to catch a flight to Chicago and on to Vancouver. The cool thing is, given the time difference (Vancouver is three hours behind the East Coast), we still got here before 11 a.m.

We spent a little more time at the airport than we had had intended, since our luggage had stayed in Chicago. It was later delivered to our hotel, so no worries. But this is one reason why flying in a day ahead of a cruise is a good thing — a safeguard against delays, lost luggage, etc.

With our free time in Vancouver, we grabbed good dim sum from a food truck conveniently parked outside the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel, which itself is conveniently right at the pier where we will embark on the Disney Wonder today.

Also nearly is Gastown, where we headed next. This historic area is today full of shops, restaurants and the like (it’s a tourist haven), but there are also reminders of the past when loggers and trappers hung out here including cobblestones, gaslights and a steam-powered clock. And some of the shops are wonderful. Hill’s is a must for its Native American art including totem polls. Those into design should walk into the John Fluevog shoe store (65 Water St.), not only to admire the handcrafted shoes but the “building,” which is a glass-enclosed former parking. The display tables are made of reclaimed tree trunks with Alaska pipeline as the base.

Next stop Chinatown, but those walking with kids should be forewarned that the tourist signs direct you on a route past an area that seems to be a hangout for drug users — a passing needle exchange van gave us a good clue.

Still, make a bee-line for the Dr.Sun Yat-Sen Gardens (578 Carrall St.), the first Chinese garden outside China when it opened 25 years ago, and a wonderful spot with a lily pond, koi fish, hand-carved Chinese architecture taking into account Yin and Yang, bamboo and an overall peaceful ambience. Sasha particularly liked the resident box turtles, though a docent said the park has no idea where they came from, just that they arrived one day.

Dinner was Southern-style BBQ at Peckinpah (2 Water St.) in Gastown, only because that looked good to us all when we passed by. Ribs and mac and cheese hit the spot.

Back near the hotel, we walked over to the Olympic Flame from the 2010 Winter Olympics. A local family passing by happened to have a torch from the games their Special Olympian son had carried, and they let us hold it. Sasha says that was amazing.

Given the time difference, we were surprised we all managed to stay awake until 9 p.m., when it was still light outside since we’re pretty far north.

June 19, 2010

Epic entertainment served up by Norwegian Cruise Line

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:35 pm

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Norwegian Cruise Line has been touting its new 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic as the cruise ship for entertainment. And a first glimpse proves they deserve the bragging rights.

Now I will admit I am not always a fan of cruise ship show productions. I generally find them pretty darn boring. But I was awe struck by the dinner performance of Legends in Concert in the Manhattan Room restaurant (one of the ship’s two main dining rooms). No, that’s not Tina Turner in the top photo, but a really good Legends impersonator.

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Elvis and Madonna also made impressive appearances.

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There was an excellent Motown tribute too. And you see all this while eating – in my case a decent New York Strip steak. I love the idea of dinner with show – tomorrow I’ll check out the ship’s Cirque Dreams circus with dinner.

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Audience members get called into the show, and the performers just happened to pick NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan, who was a good sport participating in a rendition of “My Girl.”

The show in the dining room is about a half hour, but Legends also does a full-length show a few nights each cruise in the theater.

After dinner, I checked out some of the clubs in the ship’s entertainment area on Deck 6. “Howl at the Moon,” an act involving two piano players facing each other and taking audience requests, is the place to go if you like your entertainment participatory (they perform some nights in the comedy club, which other nights features the Second City comedy troupe).

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But the place with the most enthusiastic crowd was Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club, where the top notch band tonight was doing a little Prince, a little Hendrix, a lot of amazing guitar playing.

“Blue Man Group,” the ship’s headline act – and the reason for many to come on Epic in the first place – was not performing tonight due to a minor technical issue in the theater. But I hope to see their premier at sea tomorrow night.

First photos – Norwegian Epic, WOW

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 9:05 am

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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.

Manhattan Room

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

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , — admin @ 2:02 pm

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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.

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