Monthly Archives: July 2013

Featured Ship: Celebrity Reflection

Celebrity Reflection joined the Celebrity Cruises fleet in 2012, the latest “Solstice Class” ship afloat and offering a new level of amenities.  Reflection quickly became that cruise line’s busiest ship, currently splitting its time between sailing the Mediterranean out of Civitavecchia (near Rome) and cruising the Caribbean from Miami.

celebrity-reflection-sky-suiteBeyond the usual variety of standard staterooms, Reflection has an unusually large number of suite types.  There are 34 AquaClass suites situated near the AquaSpa and include priority dining at the healthy Blu specialty restaurant.  Penthouse Suites have lots of living space, including a living/dining area that’s bigger than most staterooms – you also get a butler to help you find your way around all that space.  At the top end of on-board accommodations is the Reflection Suite.  A two-bedroom suite with butler service and all kinds of other high-end amenities, its most notable feature is the bathroom – specifically, the shower: perfect for your inner exhibitionist, it’s a glass-enclosed rain shower that hangs off the edge of the ship!

celebrity-reflection-lawn-club-grillReflection’s top deck features include the “Hey, they’re growing grass up there!” Lawn Club, where you can take an art class, grab something to eat in The Lawn Club Grill or have a small party in one of the private Alcoves cabanas.  For some indoor relaxation the AquaSpa was given some updates plus new spa and salon services.

“Qsine” is the newest restaurant, offering items designed to impress “foodies” (and with iPad menus).  The aforementioned Blu is aimed at the healthy, spa-interested crowd.  Murano offers Celebrity’s modern take on classic French cuisine.  Tuscan Grille is an “Italian steakhouse” with one of the nicest contemporary atmospheres you’ll find on a cruise ship.  And, of course, there’s the big open-round-the-clock Main Restaurant, the casual Oceanview Cafe and bars and lounges all over the ship.

Featured Cruise: 11-13 Night Cruises From Sydney, Australia

In recent years, cruises to Australia and Asia have grown leaps-and-bounds in popularity, with Sydney becoming an extremely popular departure point for cruises that explore Australia and New Zealand.  The biggest batch of cruises scheduled to sail from Sydney are in the 11-13 night range.  Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean are the biggest providers of these cruises.

map of 11-night cruise from Sydney, Australia to New ZealandIf you want to include New Zealand – and you do, you really do – then you need to allow at least 11 days for a round-trip from Sydney.  At least once a month Royal Caribbean sends one of their ships on a cruise that includes visits to Melbourne, Port Chalmers and Wellington.  If you’d rather stick to a tour of Australia’s east coast, Royal Caribbean also schedules 11-nighters  that travel north from Sydney to Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Cairns and Willis Island.

Celebrity Cruises specializes in 12-night cruises from Sydney to New Zealand.  These are one-way voyages that end in Auckland.  By eliminating the time required to travel back to Sydney, they provide a couple of extra days to explore New Zealand.  These cruises include visits to the spectacular Milford Sound, Doubtful Inlet and Dusky Sound on the southwestern end of New Zealand’s south island.

map of 13-night Sydney to New Zealand cruiseStretch your cruise out to 13-nights and you can get a more thorough tour of New Zealand, round-trip from Sydney.  That’s enough time to travel all along New Zealand’s eastern coasts (two islands, two coasts) with multiple scenic stops.  Princess Cruises offers this voyage with ports of call that include Auckland, Wellington, Port Chalmers and Fiordland National Park.


Featured Ship: Carnival Sunshine

Although it originally launched back in 1996, Carnival Sunshine essentially started over in 2013 as a new cruise ship.  Formerly known as Carnival Destiny, the ship was the beneficiary of $155 million worth of renovations.  The top-to-bottom transformation included 182 new cabins that increased the ship capacity from 2,642 to 3,006 passengers and the addition of Carnival’s most comprehensive set of “Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements” to date.

The variety of dining available on Sunshine is pretty amazing.  Among the new offerings are “JiJi” (Carnival’s first Asian-themed restaurant); the steakhouse Fahrenheit 555; Cucino del Capitano (you can probably guess the type of food on the menu); and a Guy Fieri Burger bar.  The BlueIguana is a Mexican cantina offering freshly made tacos and burritos.  Plus a pizzeria, Mongolian Wok, the JavaBlue Cafe, the Shake Spot, hot dogs at SeaDogs and more.  And you can always choose from the room service menu, available 24 hours a day.

You shouldn’t have any problem keeping yourself hydrated on Carnival Sunshine.  The options for liquid refreshments range from the RedFrog Rum Bar, the BlueIguana Tequila Bar and the RedFrog Pub (serving up Carnival’s own RedFrog beers) to the EA Sports Bar where you can grab a drink, watch some sports or play the latest EA Sports video games.  Other indoor fun can be had in the casino – slot machines, all the usual table games and poker.

carnival-sunshine-waterworksThe focus of water-based fun on the top deck is the brand new Carnival WaterWorks, with several great water slides including the paired Speedway Splash slides that let you take on all comers in a race to the pool waaaay down below. SportSquare is the fitness area up top, with a jogging track and the SkyCourse ropes course.

The kids can spend time having fun with kids their own age in the Camp Carnival, Circle C and Club O2.  Relaxation for adults is available in the Cloud 9 Spa and the Serenity retreat.  Serenity is an adults-only spot located in the new deck added to the front of the ship as part of the renovation.

Looking to save a little money – and not really expecting to spend much time in your room?  Then an interior stateroom might be just the thing for you.  But that’s just the starting point for the many stateroom options on Carnival Sunshine.  There are exterior rooms with portholes and others with full-sized picture windows.  There are rooms with balconies and aft-facing rooms with expanded balconies for great views of where you’ve been.  And then there are the suites: Grand Suites and Ocean Suites and Cloud 9 Spa Suites.

TheCruiseNexus has the full current schedule of Carnival Sunshine cruises, including departures from New Orleans, Barcelona and Venice.

Featured Cruise: 3 Night Bahamas Cruise From Miami

carnival-sensation-atriumFor people who are looking to take a cruise on a long weekend, the most popular cruise in the world is the 3-night voyage to the Bahamas.  And the most popular departure port for these cruises is Miami, from where they are sailing two or three times every week, year-round.

Those of us in the United States sometimes forget how close many of the popular island cruise destinations are to the ports of Florida.  It’s pretty cool that you can sail out of Miami, hit Nassau and maybe another Bahamian port, and still get back to Miami in three days.  These kinds of short cruises are perfect for first-timers who want to try a cruise at minimal time and expense.

The ships used to make these short trips don’t fall into what we’d call the “Super Mega Ship” category, but instead the merely “Really Big” with capacities in the 2,400-2,700 passenger range.  Cruises are offered on a regular basis by Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival, with a few more by Disney, MSC and Celebrity.

All of the 3-night Bahamas voyages include a stop in Nassau.  Royal Caribbean and Norwegian also add a stop at their respective private island.  Royal Caribbean’s is called CocoCay (formerly known as Little Stirrup Cay) and Norwegian owns Great Stirrup Cay.  As you may have guessed by their former names, they’re right next to each other, a couple of hours north of Nassau.

If you’d rather prefer starting your cruise a little farther north – and closer to Orlando and Disney World – you’ll also find a large number of 3-night cruises to the Bahamas departing from Port Canaveral.  Again you’ll find Carnival and Royal Caribbean making the trip a couple of times a week – and from here they’re joined by the “home team”: Disney Cruise Line.  Disney’s Dream is the largest, newest ship making the short trips to the Bahamas – 4,000 passengers on a ship that’s only 3 years old.


Featured Ship: Royal Princess

royal-princess-sea-walkThe latest incarnation of Princess Cruise Lines’ Royal Princess set sail on its first voyages in June 2013 after being christened by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge (you know, Prince William’s wife, the former Kate Middleton).  It became the line’s biggest ship and featured a new batch of state-of-the-art cruise ship amenities.  Unique to Royal Princess is the “Sea Walk” – a glass-enclosed walkway that hangs off the edge of the ship, over 120 feet above the water.  The SeaView Bar occupies a similarly scenic spot on the opposite side of the ship.

royal-princess-bellinisRoyal Princess has the usual variety of staterooms, from the windowless interior rooms to mini-suites to full-size suites.  All outside staterooms have balconies.  Passengers in suites get sitting areas, an improved level of furniture on the balcony, complimentary mini-bar, luxury linens and bathrobes, fresh flowers, walk-in closet and upgraded bathroom supplies.  Some of the highest-end suites have hot tubs, PC’s, wet bars and fireplaces.

Dining onboard is available in both “Traditional” (fixed time, table, waiter, etc.) or “Anytime Dining” (eat whenever and with whomever you’d like).  Specialty restaurants include Sabatini’s (featuring – you guessed it – Italian fare) and the Crown Grill steak and seafood restaurant.  Horizon Court is the big top-deck buffet.  Other casual eateries include Alfredo’s Pizzeria, a pastry shop, the Ocean Terrace seafood bar, the Gelato gelateria, the International Cafe and “Vines” – a wine, sushi and tapas bar (that’s “tapas”, not “topless”).

royal-princess-sanctuaryThe top-deck pool on Royal Princess is the cruise line’s largest ever and transforms into a water and light show at night.  The Sanctuary and Retreat Pool are also on the top deck, but offer a bit more peace and quiet as “adults only” amenities.  The Sanctuary has been enlarged on Royal Princess and features a new design.  The pool area is also home to the “Movies Under The Stars” video screen.

In addition to those outdoor movies, other night-time activities include entertainment in the Princess Theater, dancing in Club 6, gambling in the Princess Casino plus drinks and entertainment in the Vista, Bellini’s, Crooner’s and Wheelhouse bars/lounges.  A completely new addition to the entertainment line-up is “Princess Live!” – a TV studio-style theater where they’ll be staging cooking shows, concerts, game shows and comedy performances.

When you’re not venturing forth on land when the ship is in port, you’ll find plenty of on-board daytime activities.  More than just some great pools, Royal Princess has the Lotus Spa; fitness centers; an aerobics studio; a “lawn” space for putting, bocce or croquet; jogging track; a basketball, volleyball, tennis court; a laser shooting range and an indoor golf driving range.

As of July 2013, Royal Princess was scheduled to spend the next two years on a mix of voyages to the Mediterranean, Caribbean and northern Europe.  See the comprehensive current schedule of Royal Princess cruises.

Featured Cruise: 11 Night Mediterranean Cruises From Civitavecchia

11-night-mediterrean-western-mapIf you live outside of Europe, you may not have heard of Civitavecchia.  It’s a port city, located on the Tyrrhenian Sea about 75 km (50 miles) northwest of Rome.  And, as the cruise port closest to Rome, it’s Italy’s busiest departure port for cruises around the Mediterranean and elsewhere.  It’s also a popular stopover point for cruises that start elsewhere on the Mediterranean.

There are lots of different cruise options out of this port, but the most popular “mid-length” cruise out of Civitavecchia is the 11-night Mediterranean Cruise.  At 11 days, these cruises are long enough to fully explore the areas either to the east or west, but not so long that the cost in money or time becomes prohibitive for many cruise fans.

11 day cruises to the western Mediterranean frequently include a visit to Barcelona, a trip through the Straits of Gibraltar and continue out into the Atlantic with stops at island towns like Funchai and Santa Cruz de Tenerife.  Other variations to the west don’t go as far, but include stops in Monte Carlo, Marseille, Naples and Palermo.  Some cruises are round-trip, bringing you back to Civitavecchia, while others finish up in another major port like Barcelona.

11-night-mediterrean-aegean-mapThere are also several different varieties of cruises that travel out of Civitavecchia toward the eastern Mediterranean.  Some head to Greece, visiting Piraeus (near Athens) and a couple of the Greek islands before going on to Istanbul, Turkey.  Or they may substitute a trip to Egypt and Israel instead of Istanbul.  The second major variety to the east includes Greece and then a lot of time in the Adriatic Sea.  These cruises usually include visits to Dubrovnik (Croatia) and Venice.

11-night cruises on the Mediterranean Sea out of Civitavecchia are offered by many of the major cruise lines, including Costa, Celebrity, MSC and Holland America.  If an 11 day Med cruise sounds good but you’d rather start somewhere else, they’re also offered out of Barcelona, Piraeus and several other cities.

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