Get Away With Fran

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.

January 22, 2010

Pre-cruise in Fort Lauderdale

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

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Sitting on my deck at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, watching yachts navigate the Intracoastal Waterway, I am reminded why it makes a lot of sense, if you are cruising from Fort Lauderdale, to come in a day or two early.

For one thing, you can enjoy what this week (and typically, though with exceptions) is spectacular, warm weather, a big bonus for those coming from winter climates of the cold variety. For another, you can start your vacation unwinding early. And there’s also not having to worry about missing the ship due to weather back home – you’re already here.

I am off tomorrow on a weeklong voyage on the MSC Poesia. But right now I’m getting in the mood.

The new Hilton benefits from location, location, location. Formerly the Fort Lauderdale Grande, the hotel – which recently underwent a $70 million, top to bottom redo – is on 17th Street, all of 5 minutes from Port Everglades, the busiest cruise port in America (and only 9 minutes from the airport, and less than that to the beach).

FLLGRHH_Fort_Lauderdale_Marina_Hotel_accom_standard The façade may be a 1960s-ish tower, but don’t let that throw you. The restyled hotel is very much a chic waterfront retreat.

Factors of note:

Price: The hotel has pre- and post-cruise packages starting at $149 per night (through August), and even throws in a couple of drinks and water taxi tickets so you can explore the surrounds (Fort Lauderdale, with the beach and “Venice of America” status).

Service: From the moment I arrived at the 589-room Hilton yesterday every staff person I have encountered has gone out of their way to be friendly and accommodating and even, well, smiley. The hotel feels like an intimate boutique property, at least service-wise. So kudos to the staff.

Features: You gotta love a resort with its own marina, which adds to the views – you can take a walk and get close with the yachts. And the pool area and surrounding deck are downright lovely. There’s also a state-of-the-art fitness center.

FLLGRHH_Fort_Lauderdale_Marina_Hotel_dining_theg Food: While the pizza I ordered from room service was tiny and overpriced (though tasted good), the other dining venues I’ve tried have been impressive. Antea is a lobby spot, and social gathering place and the vegetarian egg white breakfast sandwich I had today was delicious (much better than it sounds) and only $10 with coffee, plus free newspapers. Lunch outdoors near the pool at The G, was also a nice respite – big Greek salad and ice tea hit the spot. For fancier tastes, the China Grill offers Asian fusion and has a sushi bar.

Guestrooms: I am working on a real desk and have high-speed Internet access (reasonably priced). OK, I know typical vacationers may not care about those features, but I do. The furniture is all contemporary, the colors nicely muted and soothing, there’s a big mosaic-tiled stall shower, the sheets are 300-thread count, the flatscreen is 32”, and there’s a Keurig coffeemaker. I’m a happy gal.

Views: As mentioned at the top, there are views. Every guestroom has them from a balcony or patio and out floor-to-ceiling windows. The Intracoastal Waterway is the focus, and it’s a pretty focus too.

January 21, 2010

Silver Spirit is officially launched

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:10 pm

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The fancy new Silver Spirit was officially christened today in Fort Lauderdale. The pier was done up to reflect the art deco decor of the ship, classical musicians played and opera singers sang. All very classy, of course, as you would expect from ultraluxury cruise line Silversea, launching its first new ship in nine years.

The Spirit is the line’s largest ship by far, carrying 540 passengers, but still small by today’s ship standards. Line officials made big hints another new ship would follow. Silversea Chairman Manfredi Lefebvre said it’s fun to see the vision of a new ship become a reality and added, “You will see more of these.”

Lefebvre’s sister, Silvia Lefebvre, did the honors of christening the ship as its Godmother, but oops, the champagne bottle attached to a tether did a big thud, and then another, and then another, until a staff member grabbed the line and made sure the bottle smashed.

Officials later blamed the wind, because while the skies were sunny and temps in the 70s, there was a breeze.

Some 450 invited guests were in attendance including passengers embarking today on the ship’s 91-day Grand Inaugural Voyage.

January 15, 2010

SpongeBob and singles on NCL

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 10:48 am

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SpongeBob and Dora the Explorer will be making regular appearances on the Norwegian Jewel, on cruises out of New York beginning in April, and on the soon-to-launch Norwegian Epic, on cruises in the Caribbean beginning in July. And that will no doubt come as great news to family cruisers; those with kids. (Actually, I can name an adult or two who would probably like to pose with the costumed characters as well.)

The appearances are part of a big partnership deal between Norwegian Cruise Line and Nickelodeon, the premier family entertainment brand. Look too for shipboard game shows like Slime Time Live! with, yes, opportunity to get slimed with the green stuff; live Nick performance shows; Nick-themed arts and crafts and games in the Kid’s Crew program, character breakfasts (for a fee) and more.

The announcement was made to press and 300 travel agents onboard the Norwegian Gem for lunch, while the ship was docked in New York, and there were hints the program could be expanded to other NCL ships as well.

But families aren’t the only cruising group NCL is hoping to draw in larger number with new offerings.

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NCL also announced its block of interior cabins on Epic known as The Studios, would be marketed and priced for solo travelers. That means instead of paying double fare to occupy a cabin by yourself, those who “vant to be alone” can book one of The Studios cabins from $799 for a weeklong eastern or western Caribbean cruise. The cabins are tight, at 100 square feet, and all interior (no ocean views), but feature a very hip design that includes padded walls for leaning, a double bed, portholes into the hall and colored lighting that you can adjust to your mood – red for love, for instance.

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The area is only accessible with a private keycard, and those in The Studios also get exclusive access to The Studio Lounge, a two-deck social spot with a bar, coffee service, plasma TVs, cushy seating and what’s expected to be a meet and mingle atmosphere (ie., singles hot spot).

January 8, 2010

Celebrity Cruises Celebrates

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 7:06 am

Celebrity Solstice - First Arrival Port Everglades 11/03/2008

Cruise fans who read my columns will know that I have long raved about Celebrity Cruises. To me, it is and has always been the best of the premium lines, based on decor, food and overall experience. And the prices have always been reasonable, adding to the allure.

When the line last year came out with its first Solstice-class ship, Celebrity Solstice, I couldn’t wax poetic enough about the Solstice’s stunning spaces including the all-white dining room with two-deck wine tower (created by the same designer who did Le Cirque in New York, no less).

Other writers did the same, as did customers. The Solstice and sister ship Equinox have been big hits and the cruise line got the message.

So for the New Year – which happens to be Celebrity Cruises’ 20the anniversary – the line last night announced plans to “Solsticize” its entire fleet. That means Celebrity’s four Millennium-class ships will be updated in dry dock, to look more like their newer siblings. The redo begins with the Celebrity Constellation in April.

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At a clever party for media, top-tier travel agents and some members of Celebrity’s Captain’s Club, held at the ultra hip  Museum of Arts & Design in New York, Celebrity President & CEO Dan Hanrahan also announced a very smart new tagline for the line’s advertising, “Designed for You,” which actually pretty much says it all.

The success of the Solstice-class even caught Celebrity executives by surprise – truly the ships are stunning and have been so received – and now they are going to capitalize on that. A third sister ship, Eclipse, debuts later this year, a fourth, Celebrity Silhouette in 2011, and a fifth after that. Hanrahan called the Solstice, “brand-defining.”

In creating the new campaign, Celebrity did a six-month market research study to understand the needs of its guests, and decided, based on 10,000 international cruisers, they want Solstice-class. And the ad campaign will focus on these ships.

That’s a good thing for Celebrity and parent company Royal Caribbean, since the Solstice-class represents a total investment of $3.7 billion.

The ships offer a number of cruise industry firsts including a half-acre of real grass up on top, a Hot Glass Show with master glassblowers, AquaClass spa cabins and the industry’s first application of solar technology.

So how many of that will appear on the redone Millennium-class ships? Uh, none that we heard about last night. But the Millennium ships will get the addition of other popular Solstice-class features including Tuscan Grille, the Napa Valley-meets-Italian-steakhouse; Bistro on Five, the vibrant, popular creperie; an ice-topped Martini Bar; the coo Café al Bacio and Gelateria; an Enomatic wine bar, and more sumptuous suites and restyled staterooms, all with flatscreen TVs.

And new color schemes, carpeting and upholstery throughout the redone ships will be reflective of Solstice Class, officials said.

After Constellation, they’ll be updating one ship a year, Hanrahan said.

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 www.ellentv.com.

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

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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?

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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 1, 2009

Philadelphia is for Iron Chefs and Foodies

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

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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…)

November 20, 2009

The giant awaits – first look at Oasis of the Seas

Filed under: Cruise — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 9:03 am

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My pal Michele and I got up real early to catch a JetBlue flight to Fort Lauderdale at 6 a.m.. But that’s the kind of sacrifice you make to be among the first to get on the newest world’s larges cruise ship.

Oasis of the Seas is five times the size of the Titanic, a whopping three football fields in length. And the Royal Caribbean ship will carry more than 6,200 passengers (when you include families with kids, which will no doubt be attracted by features that include an onboard amusement park).

Heck, I’m really looking forward to trying the onboard merry-go-round myself and maybe the zipline across the top deck too (if I can get up the courage).

The ship has a Central Park with grass and trees, and I expect my credit cards to start buzzing in the Royal Promenade, outfitted with a bunch of shops.

We’ll be boarding with other invitees on the pre-inagural, two-day sailing to nowhere this afternoon. So stay tuned for reports.

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