Get Away With Fran

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 3, 2010

Spectacular Paul Gauguin cruise in Tahiti

Filed under: Cruise,International — Tags: , , , — admin @ 1:24 am

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I knew I would use the word “spectacular” a lot on this trip because I was coming to Tahiti, South Pacific paradise found.

I didn’t know I’d start thinking it from the plane. But flying eight hours from LA, over Pacific Ocean, ocean and more ocean and suddenly a view of islands shaped like crescents and clouds that mirrored the shape of the volcanic peaks on land – spectacular.

I’m in Tahiti to review the Paul Gauguin, a luxurious, 332-passenger cruise ship named for the French impressionist artist who helped put French Polynesia on the map. I actually cruised on the ship about 11 years ago, but it’s now under new ownership by the folks who also operate Pacific Beachcomber luxury resorts here. So time, I figured, for a revisit.

And yes, the ship is rather spectacular. It’s the little things that count of course, and nice first impressions on a hot tropical evening were made by the cold towel and glass of champagne offered as we arrived at the ship, docked in Papeete, capital city of this island nation.

On the ship, my verandah cabin is done up in classy, mellow style and has a flat screen TV, an IPod docking station, fresh flowers, and L’Occitane bath products. There’s a nice big and rather plush bed, and plenty of room to stretch out.

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After a decent night’s sleep, breakfast on my verandah this morning – gotta love room service – was an ahhh experience as I watched the ship approach the island of Raiatea, views including the bluest of blue seas and greenest of green landscape.

It’s the colors, man, seems an appropriate phrase. The name Raiatea actually means bright sky. And the sun was sure shining. (more…)

April 8, 2010

Oo la la, French dining on Disney Dream

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 11:53 am

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When the new Disney Dream debuts early next year, one onboard restaurant will have a decisively French accent.

Remy, a nod to the diminutive star of Disney Pixar’s “Ratatouille,” will be an adults-only venue, with a cover charge (not yet determined but likely to top $75 p.p.). And you know what? Based on a sample meal prepared for couple dozen members of the press last night, it just may become the ship’s must-do attraction (well, along with the water coaster Dream is debuting for the first time at sea).

In creating the set menu, the cruise line turned to two top chefs. Impressively, Disney (more…)

March 16, 2010

Norovirus means no go for Celebrity Mercury

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 5:18 am

Among the issues cruise line executives will no doubt discuss at the Cruise Shipping Miami conference today is the dreaded norovirus, the fast moving stomach bug, that can quickly infect a ship, or for that matter, a hotel, or a shopping mall or, gulp a conference, or any other gathering of people.

Norovirus has been much in the news in the past few weeks with one ship, the beautiful, 1,749-passenger Celebrity Mercury out of Charleston, South Carolina, so hit with the illness on multiple sailings (including 22% of passengers on one cruise in February) that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a “no sail” recommendation yesterday.

In response, the ship will be volunarily “grounded” for a cleaning and sanitizing Thursday to Sunday, I confirmed with Celebrity President Dan Hanrahan, who I had dinner with last night at a party at the W Hotel, hosted by Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Though he added, a lot of cleaning efforts have already been underway – including a complete sanitizing before the last cruise and, newly, use of a new machine that cleans with technology that didn’t make a lot of sense to this technaphobe but apparently uses electric currents of some sort.

And Hanrahan also made the clear, all this despite the fact, according to him, that the issue is not that the ship isn’t clean. It’s that norovirus is spreading all over South Carolina and sick passengers keep getting on. All passengers are required to fill at a form saying they are in good health, but not everyone tells the truth, Hanrahan added.

You can get norovirus by touching surfaces a sick person touches, like chair arms, and stair banisters. It’s spread through the air too, and is particularly hard to contain. Why do cruise ships seem to get it so often? They really don’t, any more than other contained spaces. But unlike others they are required by law to report outbreaks to the CDC.

Meanwhile, Hanrahan also indicated because of this and other issues, Celebrity is none too pleased with Charleston and unlikely to base a ship in that city in the future.

January 28, 2010

Warm in the Caribbea on MSC Poesia

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 4:16 pm

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Today is a lazy day at sea for passengers on the MSC Poesia on this Caribbean cruise. But yesterday’s port of call was Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, with most passengers hitting the beach. Mom and I took advantage of the $6 p.p. shared taxis to Cane Bay, up and over a mountain on narrow roads (I was glad I wasn’t driving) to one of those gorgeous beaches that really make a visit to the Caribbean – soft white sand, clear water, verdant mountain views.

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I’ve been reading a book about the Irish mob in Boston, but took time out for a dip in the water and a nice walk along the beach. Then my book and a beach chair ($5) and I was one happy gal.

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Back on the ship, I continued my dance education – this week’s cruise is themed Latin Dance – with an afternoon bolero class and evening salsa (me with guest instructor Minas, in photo). I borrowed a new pal’s husband for a few dances, but when the moves got sexy – instruction for the women to do a particularly provocative leg move – I gave the husband back and practiced with a female member of the ship’s entertainment team instead (I know, kind of a waste of a good move, but…).

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In fact, a note about the classes, they are best if you bring a partner. Mom has joined me for some – we got cooking in the bolero class for instance – and a Swedish woman was my partner another day (with me in the lead!). One day a man with strong arms made a beeline across the room to practice a few steps with me and there have occasionally been staffers on hand. But if you are serious about learning some steps, bringing a regular partner is a good idea.

January 25, 2010

Aboard the MSC Poesia

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 8:22 pm

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This week I am onboard the MSC Poesia (Italian for poetry) cruising the Caribbean, accompanied by my mom. This ship is part of the Italian line MSC Cruises, known more to Europeans than Americans. And this is actually the first time I have cruised on one of the MSC ships (though I’ve done nearly 100 cruises).

Sophia Loren is the godmother of this vessel, which is wintering in the Caribbean with prices that have attracted a very international crowd, some sailings going for under $500 a week for inside cabins. Several Americans I talked to came onboard driven by price (there’s even a program where families can bring kids for free).

The cruise line has been criticized before in the area of service. And though I came on with an open attitude, it’s hard to hide stuff from a journalist, and service in general has been uneven.

One example of many: At lunch yesterday my mother spilled her ice tea. We were at the Lido buffet and there were several crew members nearby. One came over and placed a sign on the floor to warn people it was wet. It was a good five minutes, however, before someone brought a rag to sop up the mess on the table. Still, our dining room team (at dinner) and cabin stewards have been great.

Food I would categorize as just OK, again good at times and not great at others, though I do agree with the president of the line, Rick Sasso (formerly of Celebrity Cruises) who has bragged the pizza is the best at sea (it’s delish!).

Entertainment is an area where MSC shines. There’s an excellent singer who does everything from Barbara Streisand to opera. There’s a juggler who whirls things so fast you can hardly keep track. And the acrobats are top notch (including a pair of women contortionists). A can can number by the dancers in the first night’s show had Mom complaining, “Enough with the bottoms already.” But really it was all well (and tastefully) done to please the international crowd.

January 24, 2010

Dance Fever on MSC Poesia

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:05 pm

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One two, cha cha cha. On the 90,000-ton MSC Poeisa people are dancing up a storm. The Italian cruise line MSC is fond of theme cruises and on this ship, this week, the theme is Latin Dance. Hence, in addition to classes onboard taught by the activities crew there are also nighttime classes taught by pros, and sexy pros at that – the kind of dancers who seem to put meaning in every wiggle.

“The dance floor is our place where guys can feel strong,” proclaimed last night’s instructor as he worked guys and gals alike through a little salsa and a little cha cha cha, teaching us the steps and moves. I did my best to follow directions which included “make the guy go ‘Oh my god, that’s exciting, what’s happening.”

Except my partner last night was my mom. So moving my hips provocatively proved a little awkward. Still, I did learn a decent butt out, wiggle move.

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About 60 people crowded the dance floor in the ship’s Zebra Bar last night, which is a very cool lounge all done up in black and white stripes. It’s one of several wonderful spaces on this surprisingly fancy ship, where the designers are not afraid of color – several of the rooms are red or burgundy, the theater a lovely shade of purple (don’t read sarcasm here, it’s really quite pretty).

The 2,550-passenger ship gets its name from the Italian word for poetry – it’s pronounced Po-ee-zee-a. But today people onboard seemed to be thinking more about sun and dancing (well, also bingo and art auctions and eating and the usual shipboard activities).

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The pool deck was full of sun worshippers, but at 11 a.m., many got up to learn the bachata, a four-step dance with origins in the Dominican Republic. A crew member on stage offered instruction in English, Italian and Spanish – the crowd onboard is diverse in age and nationality, with many Europeans onboard as well as Americans, South Americans, etc. Mom had as a bridge partner an archeologist from Sweden, and I spotted one fellow pushing his walker wearing a “Life’s too short not to be Italian” t-shirt.

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At the afternoon tango class, more languages were added, the crew instructor going back and forth between languages with ease, but occasionally going overboard in English, like when he told the men and women to separate to learn more steps, advising the ladies, “Say goodbye, honey, sweetheart, baby, later.”

But he also kept bringing us back to reality with what may become a catch phrase for those of us hoping to bring home a few steps, “Concentration on vacation.” I tried to concentrate, only stepping on someone’s foot once.

Again, the afternoon class had about 60 participants and it was clear if these classes/theme cruises catch on MSC will need to get a larger dance floor.

January 23, 2010

Swimming Pools, Movie Stars

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 4:41 pm

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My mom is accompanying me this week as I head off on a Caribbean cruise on the MSC Poesia. And thanks to her flight getting into Fort Lauderdale nice and early we had an extra treat yesterday, a chance to run over to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, where we snagged last-minute $29 tickets to see the Miami City Ballet. Well, snag is kind of exaggeration as it turns out the theater was, sadly, pretty darn empty, which means people missed an amazing performance of “The Golden Section” by Twyla Tharp and several well-performed Balanchine numbers too.

Today we decided with a few hours to kill before the cruise, we’d take one of the water taxis around Fort Lauderdale to see the canals that have gained the city status as “Venice of America.” The tour included a whole bunch of millionaire’s homes and corny commentary, but was a nice diversion.

Getting off at Los Olas Blvd., to check out the gallery scene we got another little surprise: Actress Jane Seymour was doing a show of her works at the Wentworth Gallery. And she was there. I chatted a tad with her about her status as one of seven godmother’s of the world’s largest ship, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. She said she had just done a New Year’s cruise and had a great time onboard with her family.

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After our celebrity sighting, mom and I headed off to the Poesia, where my first impression is what a pretty ship. I’m liking the cabin, all done up in red. And the public areas have a nice contemporary appeal.

It always cracks me up when you embark from Fort Lauderdale, the largest cruise port in America (I know I said this in an earlier blog but they’re real proud of that here) and people in the apartments and condos near the harbor stand onshore to wave and blow horns and ring bells – for every ship that comes by. You’d think it would get old after awhile with three or four or eight or whatever ships a day. But nope, there they were as usual this evening as we passed by and just as enthusiastic as ever.

More of course as we spend a week onboard cruising the Caribbean.

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