Get Away With Fran

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.

May 3, 2010

Spectacular Paul Gauguin cruise in Tahiti

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


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.


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


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…)

April 6, 2010

See Fran on Fox – Flyers’ Rights

Filed under: Travel Advice — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 3:29 am

Ok, getting to the airport to find your flight is cancelled or you are otherwise denied boarding just stinks. But what should you do in this situation? And what are your rights?

Help, my flight has been canceled

Check the DOT website for consumer advice and regulations.

Contrary to popular belief, airlines are not required to compensate you for damages if you get to the airport and find your flight has been cancelled.

They do have to accommodate you on another flight. And often they will try to put you on another of that carrier’s flights. But depending on the reason for the cancellation (delayed flight crew, mechanical), you may also have the right to request going on another carrier, if that carrier’s schedule is better (while in line waiting to get re-ticketed, check your iPod or Blackberry for schedules).

If the agent doesn’t offer to put you on another, more convenient carrier invoke Rule 240. They may look at you like you have three eyes, but this old rule basically means they should put you on the next flight even if on another carrier. The website even recommends you carry a copy of the rule and your carrier’s policy on cancelled flights when you fly (the latter policy can be found at the airline’s website).

Also, if you get to your flight much later than scheduled and/or have to do a very different routing, call the airline’s consumer line and complain, and you may get some compensation (usually $100 in airline credit to be used for a future flight).

What is I get bumped because the flight is overbooked. Can I get money?

There are two kinds of bumping: voluntarily and the other involuntary. When a flight is oversold, the gate agents will ask for volunteers and offer you $200 or $400 and sometimes even more in air credit if you give up your seat. It’s your decision whether to take it. They then book you on that carrier’s next available flight (or occasionally on another carrier’s flight).

If you are involuntarily bumped due to an oversold flight, you are covered by DOT regulations (see If you arrive at your destination more than an hour late, you may be entitled for compensation up to $400, or the cost of your ticket. If you are more than two hours late you may get up to $800, or the ticket cost. But the airlines have several outs the way the rules are written. And the carrier probably won’t volunteer the cash unless you ask. You also, BTW, have the option of cancelling your trip for a full refund.

What if my flight is really late?

If your plane is late, especially due to weather or air traffic congestion, you won’t get much, if anything. For a mechanical delay, you may be offered meals and compensation for phone calls and maybe even a hotel stay if you are delayed overnight, but again, you have to ask. There is no federal rule requiring the airline to do any of this. Each carrier in the U.S. sets its own policy (check the airline’s website). But in Europe, airlines are required to compensate you for late flights, with meals, calls, hotels and sometimes cash, up to the amount of the ticket, but again there are exceptions such as weather delays.

What happens if my luggage is lost?

The question is, is the luggage lost or delayed. If delayed, the airline personnel will typically offer you a toiletry kit and send you on your way with a promise your bags should arrive in a day or two. If more than 24 hours, start asking for compensation to buy clean clothes and additional toiletries (check that airline’s website for their policy). If your luggage is really lost, and only about 2% of bags are, you are entitled to compensation based on the depreciated value of your items, up to $3,300 in the U.S. (substantially less in Europe).

What’s the deal with the latest security rules?

TSA is using random search measures (they announced this last week), but exactly what and when is secret. There are expected to be more pat downs, use of technology screening, dogs. You can, BTW, opt out of technology screening in favor of a pat down. And you still can’t carry large containers of liquid and do in the U.S. need to take your shoes off.

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.

March 15, 2010

Take me to Miami

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , — admin @ 1:27 pm

16th Floor Pool Deck

OK, I know I am the envy of my East Coast pals today, as I have landed in Miami where it is warm and sunny (and not rainy and dreary as it’s been for days now in Boston).

There is something wonderful about coming out of the airport and feeling, well, kind of sweaty, but in that good, “I am in Miami” sort of way.

I am staying at the much-lauded, 411-room Epic Hotel in downtown, a Kimpton property. And my first impressions are this cool design hotel deserves all the praise.

EPIC Main Exterior (lo-res)

Literally I had a fleet of bellmen in crisp tan uniforms snap my bag out of the cab before I could blink an eye.

Lobby- Living Room

In the lobby (above) the equally well-dressed and efficient front desk team got me speedily checked in and within minutes I was in my airy, 18th floor room, checking out my very own deck, which overlooks the property’s hip pool/social area on the 16th floor (top photo, except there are bikini clad bods there at present), tall residential buildings and the ocean beyond.

One Bedroom Suite

Complimentary wine is served poolside during an hour-long daily social hour, starting at 5, so I may just hop down for a swig before I head off to meetings and other social obligations tonight. I’m in town to cover Cruise Shipping Miami (formerly known as Seatrade), the annual gathering of the cruise lines and ports and others affiliated with cruising. In the next few days, I’ll fill you in on the latest and great in the world of cruising.

But meanwhile, I heard the San Antonio Spurs are staying here tonight. Lots of very tall men walking around tonight. That, and free Internet access (every guestroom at the Epic has wireless and a complimentary desktop too). Woo-hoo.

March 12, 2010

Partying like Jennifer Aniston at Borgota

Filed under: Travel Advice,U.S. — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 8:13 am


OK. I kind of hate Jennifer Aniston. Who doesn’t? She is way too perfect.

And now she may or may not be with hunky Gerard Butler – depending on which of the rags/mags you believe, their “coupling” is either a publicity stunt for their new movie, “The Bounty Hunter, or “true love.” I’m betting the former.

But you can’t deny they had time together at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City. And that’s because the PR folks at the hotel are making the most of their JenBut connection.

In fact, Butler and his leading lady filmed several scenes of their comedy at the Borgata and according to a press release, “got to know each other” off-camera while frequenting the hotel’s restaurants and hot spots.

In celebration of the film’s release, and what the hotel terms “the couple’s budding romance,” The Borgata has created an A-list “Follow the Bounty to Borgata” package, available through April 10.

Included are accommodations in a spectacular Hideaway Suite at The Water Club at the Borgota; a spa treatment from the Immersion Spa (Jen is reportedly a fan of the Ultimate Oxygenerating Facial; no comment); a $200 food and beverage credit you can use at Bobby Flay Steak of Seablue by Michael Mina, where Aniston and crew dined during filming; and a $100 retail credit for use at one of the Borgata boutiques. Plus you get VIP Entry and Complimentary admission to MIXX and mur.mur nightclubs, so like Jen you can glide past the velvet rope.

No guarantee the paparazzi won’t spot you, though. The package is priced at $1,499, and available weekends only.

February 26, 2010

Dog gone fun in Anchorage

Filed under: U.S. — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 7:42 pm


“Bark, bark. Bark bark bark.” You could hear the dogs from blocks away, an odd sound in a city of nearly 300,000. But then again this is Anchorage, and it’s nearly March, and that means time for the dogs to come out to play – especially if they are sled dogs.

For the 75th year, Anchorage is putting on Fur Rendezvous, also known affectionately as Fur Rondy, a nine-day festival, including races with dogs and mushers, which kicked off today.


Fur Rondy was originally envisioned back in 1935 as a way to add a little spice in a city of about 3,000 people, in a place where winters are long. Dog races were part of the entertainment.

To imagine the races today you have to imagine that despite a couple of 20-story skyscrapers and offerings like a Nordstrom’s and Starbucks, Anchorage still manages to feel a lot like a small, one-horse town – it’s just that there many “horses” on several downtown streets.

Some of those streets were purposely left unplowed in a snowfall yesterday (though not as much snow as in New York) and are being given (more…)

January 28, 2010

Warm in the Caribbea on MSC Poesia

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


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.


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.


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…).


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


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.

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