Quantum: Debutante Of The Seas

Those of you who hang on my every word . . . assuming for the sake of this post that such hapless souls really exist . .  will no doubt recall that last August I was privileged to see Quanum at the Meyer Werft shipyardQuantum of the Seas in her gawky, gangly, pre-teen stage. Not to be uncharitable, she was displaying some serious zits back then.  You don’t have to take my dubious word for it.  Just look through these prepubescent pictures.  (The last 27 at the bottom are the new ones of the completed ship.)

All of us who took that tour of the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany last August voiced the same unshakable conviction: there was no way on God’s green earth that this ship was going to be presentable to the public come November. And yet, I was completely, if uncharacteristically, wrong!  I know, I am every bit as shocked as you are!

Quantum of the Seas Michael'sYet, here I sit at Michael’s Genuine Pub penning these words while sipping a brewsky and reveling in Quantum’s debutante ball. For those unfortunate readers who may not flutter about in high society like some of us social butterflys, a debutante is ” a girl or young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity and, as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal ‘debut’ presentation.”  I have a little sage advice for you young guys out there. Tread carefully when pulling the pigtails of your best friend’s freckle-faced kid sister.  Some awkward teens grow up to be ravishing young ladies!

There is simply neither space nor time here to detail all the innovative features and fascinating facets of this amazing ship.  Speaking of time and space, did you know that Albert Einstein wrote a book about space . . .  and it’s about time too.  (Sorry, I really can’t help myself.  It must be genetic.)

Bionic BarHere is one of Quantum’s more fascinating features.  This is the Bionic Bar which mixes you a drink, delivers it to you and then listens to your marital woes (although personally, I must say, I found the one on the right to be a trifle aloof and diffident.)

Since we can’t cover everything here, if you are interested in knowing more about:

1)  the back story regarding how this entire series of blog posts came to be, click here.

2)  the trip to Germany, the PreCab Cabin tour and the big “Reveal”, click here.

3)  The amazing technology behind smart check-in, the on-board app, the WOW bracelet, the incredible wifi bandwidth and more click here.

4)  The concept of Dynamic Dining, the wide array of dining options, the North Star and Ripcord by iFly, click here.

5) the average bmi of an adult African aardvark, I don’t have a clue where you should click!

Vicki FreedWho is that mysterious woman sipping a latte in the Royal Esplanade?  Why, I do believe it is Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s Senior Vice President of Sales, Trade Support and Service.  I interviewed her for this blog a while back . . . and yes, she is that incredibly generous with her valuable time.   Click on the image, or here, to listen to that interview.

One of the dining venues created by Devin Alexander, New York Times best-selling author and media personality, is called “Devinly Decadence”.  For me, while the cuisine definitely pleased the palate, at first hearing the name jarred the sensibilities.  I was all prepared to dredge up grammatical technicalities from my English major past regarding which parts of speech properly modify one another, not to mention spelling, when it finally dawned on me that the name of the venue was not “divinely” but rather eponymous, a take on her name Devin.  OK, so the little gray cells don’t fire as rapidly as they once did!

To tie a final bow on this five-part series on the Quantum Of The Seas, this royal debutante has blossomed into a regal mistress of the high seas.  I have no doubt but that she will delight her guests of all ages and for many years to come.

Quinceañera on Quantum of the SeasOne final note.  As I arose from my table at Michael’s and strolled down the Royal Esplanade, my ear was caught by the lilting voice of a young women emanating from inside Boleros.

As I stood at the door and gazed inside, it was obviously the speech of a newly minted fifteen year old young princess at her Quinceañera, roughly the Latin American equivalent of our debutante ball.    As I listened to her excited but quivering voice, I could not help but smile and think to myself,  “How perfectly apropos!”

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Quantum of the Seas: Dining, Diversion and Difficult Decisions!

Back when the book I’m OK, You’re OK by Thomas Anthony Harris was all the rage (I know, I am dating myself), I ran I'm OK You're OKacross this little ditty.

“I’m OK, You’re OK, OK is what we both are,
But as between the two of us, I’m more OK than you are.”

That fairly well sums up my misguided, even slightly delusional, outlook on life.  “Keep moving, nothing abnormal to look at here, Bub.”

However, I will be the first to admit that I do have a slight psychic tic when in comes to making decisions.  Thank goodness men’s attire has become less formal.  You have no idea how much time that has saved me standing in front of my impressive rack of neckties in the morning unable to pull the trigger.

If you share this particular character flaw, you may need to solicit a little professional help in planning out your Quantum of the Seas vacation.  (Our folks are excellent at helping with that, by the way.)  To shamelessly paraphrase Winston Churchill’s famous quote about Russia, the Quantum of the Seas offers choices, wrapped in options, inside of alternatives!  Fasten your seat belt because we are about to go around the ship in 800 words.

DYNAMIC DINING

Quantum Restaurants First, you must grasp the concept of dynamic dining which, fortunately, is so strikingly simply that even I got it on the first try.   The concept is to offer a mind-boggling array of delectable yet distinctive cuisine within an alluring variety of settings and ambiance served up when and how you choose.  For the first time on a cruise ship you have ultimate flexibility and control of your dining decisions.   For someone who can’t touch their toes with a yardstick and whose life has been careening like a steel ball in a pinball machine for decades, flexibility and control would be nice!

There are eighteen dining venues from which to choose.   What is particularly exciting is that, in addition to the specialty signature restaurants you have come to expect, there are five unique full-service restaurant options that are all complimentary and sans reservations!  Those are American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk, The Grande Restaurant and Coastal Kitchen.  To learn about some of the other eighteen options, simply click here .

Quantum Celebrity ChefsAnother exciting aspect of dynamic dining are these three celebrity chefs:  Jamie Oliver (Jamie’s Italian), Michael Schwartz (Michael’s Genuine Pub) and Devin Alexander  (Divinely Decadence at Solarium Bistro) all working their magic under the watchful eye of Cornelius Gallagher, Director of Culinary Operations at Royal Caribbean International.

If you would like to watch a brief video that perfectly encapsulates the themes I have just been sounding, simple click here.

DRAMATIC DIVERSIONS

For some people a perfect vacation is defined as doing nothing.  I think Royal Caribbean must have had a completely different set of folks in mind when they built the Quantum of the Seas, i.e., the ones whose definition of a perfect vacation is doing everything!  If the ultimate aim of taking a vacation is to escape the ordinary and experience the extraordinary, this ship has struck a center bulls-eye.

What kind of diversions would you find on the perfect cruise ship?  Hmmm . . . let’s dream a moment.

Quantum North StarThe perfect ship would have an “intimate, jewel-shaped capsule” that gently ascends over 300 feet above sea level offering “breathtaking views of the ocean, the ship, and the exciting destinations.”   That would be North Star.

Quantum SeaPlex                                                       The  ideal ship would also have a magical indoor space where you can indulge in your favorite activities like crashing bumper cars, roller skating like we did way back when, shooting a little hoops with a pick-up team or attending a circus school where you learn the ancient craft of the flying trapeze.  I know, let’s call it SeaPlex!

Ripcord by IFly

As long as we are brainstorming, let’s go way out on a limb.  In fact, forget the limb altogether.  Let’s create a way to experience the exhilaration (or in my case, sheer terror) of skydiving without committing the insanity of jumping out of a perfectly sound plane!  You will be floating on air in no time . . . literally . . .  thanks to Ripcord by iFly.

I promised you 800 words and I am getting perilously close.  I haven’t even mentioned Two70, Dreamworks, the Royal Loft or Music Hall.   If you have been paying attention, as I know you always do, it has no doubt begun to dawn on you.  If your humble scribe can’t decide which features to highlight, how are you going to figure out where to eat and what to do?  Not to worry, mon ami.   We have an army of people (OK, probably more like somewhere between a squad and a small platoon) that are eager to assist you.  You aren’t alone in your quest for adventure.

And with that, this is the 800th word: Cheers!

Quantum Of The Seas: Smartest Ship On The Seas Six Ways To Sunday

I have an embarrassing admission to make.   I have long harbored a secret (note I did not say laudatory) desire to be widely recognized by my associates as “the smartest person in the room.”  It has taken quite some time, intensive therapy and, it goes without saying, a mountain of irrefutable evidence for me to arrive at last to a place of serene acceptance.  I now freely acknowledge that the only time that phrase can be applied to me with complete veracity are those occasions when I step into a my hall closet to retrieve my wind breaker.

By way of stark contrast, Quantum of the Seas is indisputably “the smartest ship on the seas” six ways to Sunday.  If you are unfamiliar with that idiom, basically it means “every way possible, thoroughly, completely.”  (If you are a linguistic junkie like me, click here for a full explanation of why there are six ways to get to Sunday.)

Quantum of the Seas in Papenburg

As mentioned in my previous post, I was an eyewitness to the Quantum of the Seas reveal held in the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany on Monday, August 25th.  If you would like to view the full-blown (full-blown as in the one-hour, twelve plus minute) version, pop some popcorn, pour yourself a giant root beer float, fully extend the Lazy Boy recliner and click here.  It is very entertaining, actually.  If, however, you prefer the Denton abridged version, succinctly summarized and meticulously hyperlinked,  read away.

SIX WAYS TO SUNDAY

1)  SMART Check-In

Royal Cabibbean's SMART check-inAs explained by Richard Fain, RCCL’s Chariman and CEO, the first inclination was to make check-in easier.  The second thought was, “Let’s just eliminate it.”  I like the way these people think!

The process begins with entering all your documentation online at home before you even begin your trip (but after you have booked it with a travel professional).  You can even take a selfie and upload your own picture.  You will then receive digital boarding confirmation.  When you get to the ship, you print out a boarding pass and a crew member simply swipes your passport and scans your bar code as you board the ship.  The goal is “sidewalk to shipboard” in ten minutes.

Would you like to know more about the RFID (radio frequency identification) luggage tracking system that allows you to know when your luggage has been delivered to your room?  Are you eager to learn about RFID WOW bands, i.e., wristbands that facilitate navigation of the ship and onboard purchases?  Read More

2)  SMART Concierge

Smart concierge Again, this process begins at home with Royal Caribbean’s newly updated Cruise Planner.  Some people are spontaneous free-spirits that like to be blown along like a leaf on a blustery fall day.  OK, that would not be me.  I am more the type that gets very anxious just after lunch if I don’t have a clear plan for dinner.

Cruise Planner was designed for type-A’s like me who want to scope out the many dining options within “Dynamic Dining” (more about that next post), evaluate options for shore excursions and book my pedicure (just kidding, I am more of the full body massage type).  But what about when you get on the ship?  Someone should come up with an app for that.  Oops, RCCL just did.  It is called Royal IQ and it does amazing things.  How amazing?  Read More

3)  SMART Connect

Quantus of the Seas Smart connectAnyone who has ever cruised knows just how frustrating an issue connectivity has always been on every cruise line, including Royal Caribbean.  You could spend a nice down payment on a Harvard education just trying to connect.  Of all these six ways to Sunday innovations, the one I am about to describe will undoubtedly be the biggest game changer of all.

Royal Caribbean has partnered with O3b, a fascinating company in its own right, to deliver connectivity that is several times faster with hundreds of times the bandwidth than has been possible in the past.  This is done by means of a satellite directed beam that literally follows the ship along its route.  This means you will be be able to stream videos, Skype, Facetime and perform all the other functions you are used to on land.

Before we leave the subject of technology, by way of an insight into the soul of Royal Caribbean and not just bits and bytes, Richard Fain announced that RCCL is giving every crew member on every ship in the fleet a Windows tablet amounting to over 40,000 free tablets!  These hard-working folks spend months away from their families and these tablets, combined with the improved connectivity, will mean the world to them in terms of staying in touch.

If you want to be blown away (figuratively, of course), just watch this video.  View More

4)  SMART Experience

OK, fair warning.  It is not going to be possible to treat this subject in any detail here.  WeTwo70 Nighttime 2 are talking Two70, robotic entertainment, virtual balconies, North Star, RipCord by iFly, SeaPlex, bumper cars, roller skating, Bionic Bar and much, much more. But if you come back soon . . . I have always longed to have a repeat visitor . . . I promise we will explore both entertainment and dining in great detail.

For now I will simply mention that Two70 is one of the most amazing venues ever created on land or sea.  The name comes from the floor to ceiling glass windows that offer a 270 degree panoramic view of the surroundings; windows that can transform themselves into giant screens.   Eighteen 8k hi-def projectors will be able to create an amazing ambiance turning the room in a matter of seconds into a rain forest or a famous cityscape.

Are you ready to view another amazing video?  View More

5)  SMART Service

Royal Caribbean has always been renowned for their service but they are adding custom apps that will permit crew members to better accommodate guests’ preferences and peccadillos.  Do you prefer gluten-free dining or your dry martini shaken not stirred (in which case you are having severe James Bond delusions)?  Crew members are now equipped to cater to your every whim.

6)  SMART Sustainability

One of the more interesting aspects of this category was the reveal that this will be the first cruise ship to fully use an air lubrication system where the ship literally floats on a tiny layer of microscopic bubbles which coat the hull and reduce friction.  There are 66,000, give or take, light bulbs on the ship and not one is incandescent.  They even freeze the garbage so it can be recycled upon reaching port versus going into a landfill.

Time has overtaken us.  As I mentioned last time, all the pictures I took on my adventure can be viewed here.  Until next time, travel safe.  Your addiction to these spellbinding posts can be our little secret. Hey, you’re only human.

A Quantum Leap(frog)

Over the past several days, I have been standing in tall cotton . . . as we are wont to say in the south.  Just consider these three fortuitous and unexpected events.  First, as mentioned in my previous post, I was one of five travel professionals selected from a pool of more than five hundred entrants to accompany approximately seventy other folks from the travel industry and the media on a special charter flight to Papenburg, Germany.  Our express purpose was to take a sneak peek at the soon to be launched Quantum of the Seas and later on the Anthem of the Seas.

Miami Air Charte

A quick shout out to Miami Air. The food was both abundant and delicious and the service impeccable. Thanks for a great ride!

Secondly, in the departure lounge, my name was randomly drawn from among the four other contest winners for a seat in business class. Finally, upon arrival, we were dispersed to various small hotels and I was dropped off at the Arkadanhaus Papenburg. This beautiful boutique hotel had only been opened two weeks.  No guest had ever slept in my room which pretty much eliminates all possibility of bed bugs (assuming I am not a carrier, of course!)  and was situated on the canal in the picturesque heart of the city.  Our hotel soon became the envy of the other participants.

Arkadenhaus PapenburgIn some circles of Christian theology, there is a doctrine called “dying grace” which holds that pious Christians who depart this life somewhat precipitously (as opposed to a protracted illness, for example) are often granted a few particularly glorious days just prior to their demise. My wife’s uncle, for example . . .  a true saint . . . was called home during a peaceful sleep following an especially memorable family Thanksgiving gathering a few years back.

Now when you consider that I will soon be boarding a flimsy aluminum tube where I will be careening through the lower levels of the stratosphere at 500 plus miles per hour over a vast ocean, I am sincerely hoping that the items catalogued above merely represent a run of Las Vegas style good luck rather than my personal experience of  “dying grace”.  I’m not quite ready, Uncle Murray!

Starting with the previous post and for the next several, I will devote my modest literary talents to bringing you along on my whirlwind 48 hour touchdown to lift-off odyssey. My challenge will to be to distill a barrel of fun into a few drops of valuable insight. Given the enormity of the task, you will find embedded in some of these posts a very liberal sprinkling of hyperlinks. In that fashion, what catches your fancy here can be perused in detail at your leisure.

Let’s begin, shall we, with the title? Merriam-Webster defines a quantum leap  as “a sudden large change, development, or improvement.”  A quantumKnights gloves leapfrog is both coined and defined by your humble squire as “any sudden large change, development, or improvement that leaves your competition whimpering like a small child lost in the food court of the neighborhood mall.”  Royal Caribbean has thrown down the gauntlet and it remains to other cruise lines to accept the challenge. Those other cruise lines are in the unenviable position of having just watched RCCL vault over them in this multi-billion dollar game of leapfrog as if their feet were planted in concrete.

The remainder of this post, as well as subsequent posts on this subject, will be devoted to demonstrating the veracity of this admittedly bold assertion.

German Engineering

If you want a watch made, you go to Switzerland. If you want a world class ship built, you hire the Germans. You should take a moment and read this brief history of the Meyer Werft shipyard. Upon our arrival, we lunched in a building converted from the former Meyer Werft factory replete with the original moveable cranes overhead.

Following lunch, we toured the Ems PreCab Cabin Factory. Did you know that every cabin Vicki Freed and Terry Denton about to enter the Meyer Werft shipyard(some 2000 or so) will be built as a separate module and delivered to the ship to be inserted into its precise location? Nor did I. They have borrowed from the automotive industry the concept of a slow-moving (v e r y  s l o w  m o v i n g) assembly line where workers sequentially apply their own expertise. The picture on the left is Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services, and your humble servant about to enter the factory.  It speaks volumes about Vicki’s generosity in risking her stellar reputation by allowing her photo to be taken with moi!

Anthem of the Seas under construction

Following the visit to the PreCab factory, we moved over to the Meyer Werft shipyard’s Laser Hall and the Block Assembly and Building Hall where we saw the Anthem of the Seas in an earlier stage of construction. These great ships are built in sections and joined together with a very strong, water-resistant superglue. OK, I made up that last bit.

At 4:00 pm, sensing that sleep deprivation and our forced march were threatening to render us comatose, they allowed us to park our weary carcasses for the highlight of the day, the live web cast “Reveal” staring RCCL’s own Chairman of the Board RichardRichard Fain and David Pogue at the Reveal Fain and technology guru David Pogue. “And what exactly did they reveal?”, I know you are dying to ask.  I will tell you . . . next time.  That is what those in the news biz call “a tease”.   For those who were hoping for a detailed listing of the many virtues of the Quantum of the Seas,  just watch for the next post.  The Quantum tour was day two of our trip.

Here is a quick summary of the remainder of day one. Enjoyed a very nice dinner. Crashed and burned. Awoke half an hour later to the ear-piercing sound of fireworks being set off directly outside my window which thunderous racket in my stupor I somehow wove into a dream about a surprise Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Let’s all pray that part was just a bad dream.

If you would like to see all the pictures I took on my trip, click here.  Now is your chance to participate by taking this short survey.

Let The Anticipation Begin!

Would you like to hear the Denton theorem regarding a universal trait seemingly shared by every intrepid soul in the travel business?   (By way of  warning, unless you hit delete immediately, you are about to.)  So, here it past-present-future-traffic-sign-on-a-sky-backgroundis.  As much as we enjoy reminiscing about the past and reveling in the present, our secret passion is anticipating the future.

As Edward Streeter put it, “”Travel is ninety per cent anticipation and ten per cent recollection.”  Sometimes this affliction is so acute that we actually catch ourselves in the midst of one glorious travel experience dreaming about the next.  Admittedly, that is a little sad.

But here is another great travel insight (I am just full of them today, or as  some would say, just full of it.).  As much as we enjoy anticipating the next experience, for better or worse, it seldom turns out quite the way we expect.  The brilliant Benjamin Disraeli once observed, “What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expected generally happens.”   That, however, is precisely what makes travel so rewarding.  If it were predictable, it wouldn’t be an adventure, don’t you see?.

So what has prompted all this philosophical musing on my part, you may (or may not) be asking yourself.  As it happens, I am brimming over with keen anticipation as I stand on the precipice of another travel odyssey. Frankly, like so many of my travel exploits, I am indebted to one of my favorite travel partners, in this case Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.

A couple of weeks back, RCCL announced a contest where travel professionals were invited to submit an essay of 100 words or less explaining why they were “Loyal to Royal”.  I quickly realized that I can100 Words To Wow merely sneeze and expectorate at least 100 words, so I decided to enter.

To cut to the chase, five executives at RCCL headquarters were obviously feeling particularly magnanimous that day because miraculously, I was one of the five winners selected from over 500 entries!. Here is my entry.

Loyalty, like faith, is never sounder than its intended object. No amount of fanatical belief will support a heavy man standing on thin ice. I am “Loyal to Royal” in part because I have confidence in their consistent product, respect for their professional staff and agreement with their strategic vision. A much more important reason for my loyalty, however, is simply that across the span of twenty-eight years the foundation of my faith has never seen so much as a fissure. When one’s own commitment is consistently reciprocated and one’s trust proves entirely justified, loyalty comes very easily indeed!

Quantum of the Seas under construction

The prize was a trip tp Papenburg, Germany to the Meyer Werft ship yard for a sneak peek at the soon to be launched  Quantum of the Seas. The trip will be hosted by Vicki Freed, RCCL’s Senior Vice President Sales and Trade Support & Service and Joanne Schimelman, Vice President of National Accounts.  I interviewed Vicki on this very blog a while back which you can read and listen to here.

As I pen these words, I am wending my way at 30,000 feet to Miami. Tomorrow around 1:00 pm we board a special Miami Air charter for Germany.  I invite you to follow along over the next few days as I chronicle my journey and publicly post many pictures beyond even those on this blog.

In a sense we have come full circle.  I venture forth not knowing who else will be participating, where we will be lodging or the seating configuration of our silver chariot. If you imagine that I find these little gaps in my knowledge disconcerting, you need to go back and reread the first two paragraphs. The mystery only augments the anticipation.

I learned long ago that it is not getting there that is half the fun.  Thinking about being there . . . now that is half the fun!

 

The Zambezi Queen: Humble History, Bright Future!

The Zambezi Queen, for those familiar only with her present glorious incarnation, has a rather intriguing history.  Referring to something that began in the early 1990’s in historical terms probably risks offending professors of classical antiquities but I am not sure how many academicians would openly admit to reading my humble blog anyway.

Zambezi QueenThe ZQ, as she is sometimes affectionately called, was given the original charter to carry guests from Katima Mulilo down the Chobe and Zambezi Rivers and back.  Unfortunately, there was one small miscalculation.  The sheer size of the vessel made navigation difficult and it wasn’t long before the ship was unceremoniously converted into a floating hotel moored to the river bank for the benefit of visitors to the Caprivi Region of Namibia.   This is like imagining a 50’s era Santa Fe Super Chief dining car ending up as a burger joint along a rural Arkansas highway.

Redemption came in 2008 in the form of two visionary entrepreneurs, Tony Stern and Brett McDonald.  Where others saw only fading glory, they saw future greatness.  The redesign and renovations were extensive with an entire new top deck added.  The Zambezi QueenAs is pointed out on the website, “Celebrated South African fashion designer Jenni Button lent a hand in the classic yet contemporary interior with understated muted tones.”  The very bright future was only burnished when the Zambezi Queen became part of The Mantis Collection (a world-class organization you will learn more about in future blogs).

I don’t know if a vessel that claims a total of 14 suites (10 standard and 4 master) qualifies as a small ship or a large houseboat.  (If you are anal about such matters, you can find seven differences between a ship and a boat here.) All the suites share these features:  they are all located on one of the first two decks, they all have floor to ceiling windows offering spectacular views and each has an outside deck where you experience the sights and sounds of Africa first hand.

Zambesi Queen bedroom If you harbor a secret fear that experiencing the wilds of Africa requires compromising your “comfort room” expectations, let me flush away those concerns . . .  so to speak.  As the Zambezi Queen bathroompicture to the left clearly reveals, you will not only enjoy a cabin with a spectacular view but one with an equally remarkable loo!

When we ascend to the upper deck, we find a surprising array of enchanting public areas.  The dining room, the comfortable lounge with unobstructed views and the bar are woven together in a subtle fashion. Speaking of the bar, it is stocked with local and imported wines, beers and spirits with the locally sourced variety of each included in your cruise rate.  As was pointed out above, we have Jenni Button to thank for the impeccable yet understated taste that runs throughout the Zambezi Queen.

For those who place almost as much value on ambiance as taste when it comes to food, you will not be disappointed.  Let me introduce you to your Namibian wait staff.

our-staffNot only will you dine on savory, mouth-watering morsels but your meals will be delivered in a uniquely African manner.   Close your eyes and you would think you were in the heart of Africa.  Oops, that’s right.  You are in the heart of Africa!

The Zambezi Queen experience includes opportunities for bird-watching, Tiger (the aquatic variety) and Bream fishing in season, water based game drives by tender boat and even a visit to a local village.

Bird-watching   Fishing in Africa

African safari   African Village

There is so much more to say about this incredible experience but alas, no time left to say it.  I will just have to allow my feverish fingers to cool down until we meet again.  In the meantime, the obvious solution . . . to me at least . . . is for you to let me assign one of my crackerjack staff (at least I think that’s what I caught them nibbling on) to explain how you can make the Zambezi Queen part of your own bright future!

Cruising The Caribbean . . . Mediterranean Style (Parte Seconda)

Since our discreet little assignation a few days ago, I must confess I have been off flirting with another destination in Mexico.  You needn’t be jealous!  I assure you that it was completely innocent . . .  platonic even.   Therefore, assuming after a couple of tequilla tasting events in Los Cabos (blog post to follow) I can still reconstruct where we left off, let’s take up the narrative from that point.

OK . . . it is all coming back into focus.  We were midway through our discussion of “hardware” and about to transition to “software”.  If you are picturing toggle bolts and Firefox browsers, you probably should go back and read Parte Uno.   In my previous post, I mentioned spending obscene amounts of time in a dark corner of La Cantina Di Bacco being caressed by an impertinent Cabernet from the hills of Tuscany.  But the Divina offers any number of respites such as La Caramella, L’Angolo Dell’Oggetto, Il Gioiello and Caffe’ Italia.  Is the “Mediterranean Style” thing beginning to click for you?  Caribbean mystique meets European chic!  Did I mention that Sophia Loren is the godmother of their fleet?

MSC Cruise Spa And FitnessIf you are like me and an aficionado of spa treatments (the full body massage being my personal treatment of choice), you will certainly enjoy the MSC Aurea Spa and Fitness area.  I do take umbrage at their unauthorized use of my likeness in the picture above.  Oh well, as one of the “Don’t hate me because I am beautiful” crowd, I suppose one should remain sanguine about such things.  Can you really blame them?

SOFTWARE

The time has come to move from facilities to features.  One feature I place a premium on is a great itinerary.  Try these on for size.  If you like the western Caribbean, Divina calls at Falmouth, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico and Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.   If the eastern Caribbean floats your boat, try Philipsburg, St. Maartan; San Juan, Puerto Rico and again Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas.   There are additional itineraries with other fascinating ports of call called Caribbean Enchantment, Caribbean Wonders and Southern Caribbean.  For details about every itinerary, there is an online brochure which is available here.  And if you fall in love with Divina and can’t bear the thought of separation, you can follow her to the Med next summer!

MSC Divina ItinerariesI would be more than remiss if I did not devote a few words to the MSC Yacht Club or, as they like to style it, your Sanctuary At Sea.  The best way to describe this experience is to imagine you are traveling as the special guest of Gianluigi Aponte himself, the owner of MSC Group, who invites you to partake of his own inner sanctum far away from the maddening crowds.  You would expect that a man of his eminence would have his own private lounge, bar and pool, naturally.

Lounge on MSC Yacht Club  MSC Yacht Club bar

What else would you expect to be at your and Signor Aponte’s beck and call?  An exclusive butler and a private concierge desk, of course.  When you check in at the terminal, you would expect to skip long lines and to be discretely guided to a lounge where you would meet your butlerMSC Yacht Club butler who would escort you to your cabin.  You would no doubt anticipate gourmet dining in a private dining room.  It would almost be a given that each afternoon you would be invited to an English high tea where you and the Signor would converse about matters of international import.  What was not resolved in the afternoon session could be resumed over champagne and canapés before dinner!

Sadly, we can’t all be lifelong bosom buddies with “Luigi” as he starting asking me to call him after I saved his life for the second time.  Not to worry!  Everything I have described and more can be yours if you simply remember to book the Yacht Club on your next MSC cruise.  What’s more, it will not require a king’s ransom.  I was quite shocked to learn that the differential is much closer to a serf’s ransom, and a pretty scruffy serf at that.  This, without a doubt, is one of the greatest values on the high seas.

The Past Is Prologue

Here is some information you should know about MSC, the fastest growing cruise line in the world, before we wind up this little tête-à-tête.   In 2003, MSC sailed 127,000 passengers.  In 2014 an estimated 1,680,000 will live the MSC experience.  In that same period, they have gone from four ships to twelve and 5,000 berths to 39,000.

But even more interesting than where they have been is where they are going.  They are currently building two ships at STX France (2017 & 2019) and two more at Fincantieri (2017 & 2018).  Click here to go to the press release section of their website.  Read the 5/22/2014 news release and you will find they are not just building new ships.  They are building **NEW** ships in the most dramatic and revolutionary sense.  They will be “futuristic ships with groundbreaking designs.”   I witnessed a recent slide presentation of the new builds and even a jaded seafarer like me was knocked off my peg leg.  Fortunately the parrot was uninjured.

As I see it, you have two choices at this point.  You can dream the dream or you can live it.  As we like to say, “Lend us your dreams and we will repay you with memories!”

Cruising The Caribbean . . . Mediterranean Style

Rick Sasso is a man with a vision.  Perhaps it would be more precise to say the vision belongs to the Italian founder, owner and president of MSC Group, Gianluigi Aponte. This amazing family from Sorrento owns one of the largest cargo shipping businesses in the world. Their vision is to draw upon three hundred years of family sailingRick Sasso expertise to bring a new Mediterranean style of cruising to the US market, starting for now with the Caribbean.

So let’s say instead, Rick Sasso is a man with a mission. His mission, which he chose to accept in April of 2004, is to transform that amorphous, if grandiose, vision into a living, breathing reality. You have to admire the sheer audacity of the challenge. The US travel industry is just now crawling out of one of the deepest Rick Sasso, President of MSC Cruisestroughs anyone can remember. There are a number of well established cruise lines with instant brand recognition that have been plying the Caribbean Seas for more than a decade.

It takes two things to attempt this sort of breathtaking challenge: boat loads of money (literally, in this case) and the courage, cunning and quickness of a cat burglar. The Italian patriarch is presumably providing the cash and Rick the cojones.  If you are privileged to hear him present his strategy in person, as I was  a couple of weeks back, you will likely come away convinced that Rick will find a way to fulfill his mission. MSC DivinaTwo weeks ago, the Travel Leaders advisory board on which I serve conducted our most recent meeting in Miami at the JW Marriott Marquis to be continued on board the MSC Divina. We were special guests on a 36 hour cruise to Nassau before the ship headed to Brazil for the World Cup.

If you are unfamiliar with MSC Cruises, no need to berate yourself.   To be honest,  you share this rather embarrassing nescience with most of my counterparts in the travel industry, including me (Or, as they say in Italy, “me”.  I’m also quite the linguist!).  When this meeting was first announced, I was quite pleased because: 1) any sort of travel short of visiting Pyongyang beats the daylights out of performing actual work and 2) here was a great opportunity to fill in another hole in the sizable swiss cheese which is my cerebral cortex.

MiamiAs a quick aside, I took this picture of Miami just before we pulled away from the dock.  I airbrushed the clouds in for effect.  Nice touch, don’t you think?

Getting back to business, I am going to share with you a quick overview of the MSC Divina under two rubrics: hardware and software: I am selecting this approach because we professional travel snobs foolishly imagine that we can impress you, the travel consumer, by sprinkling esoteric travel terms through our writing like peanut butter chips on a double scoop sundae.

HARDWARE

By the term hardware, I mean the ship itself.  (For why I didn’t just say ship, see paragraph above.)  This is certainly one of MSC’s major points of differentiation.  There is an old saw that says, since you won’t be spending all that much time in your cabin, getting an outside balcony is not that important.  I don’t really subscribe to that theory.  For one thing, if you get a nice cabin, you probably will spend more time there.  Sitting out on the balcony for a morning cup of coffee or indulging in some late night star-gazing is a great way to start the mellowing out process.  It’s your vacation.  Live a little!

MSC Divina  Balcony cabin on MSC Divina

When you do venture out of your cabin, you want a cruise ship that offers variegated and interesting public areas to explore.  The Divina has those in spades.  My personal favorite haunt was La Cantina Di Bacco on deck seven.   Late afternoon, when you need a little relaxation, I recommend you stopMSC Dvina wine bar by, order a glass of vino and nibble on these little delicacies!   If you can still remember what you found so annoying last week at work, you’re obviously making the amateur’s mistake of stopping after one glass.

Speaking of being annoyed, I am on a roll here and once again I find myself banging up against my self-imposed limitation on loquaciousness.  I have barely touched upon hardware and we haven’t even gotten to software, firmware, dinnerware, or underwear (oops, sorry, that slipped in from another post.)

Come back soon and who knows what other mysteries I may unravel.   In the meantime, take three short minutes and watch this moving video (it really is heart tugging) which captures the essence of the cruise line quite beautifully.  You will see how these Masters of the Sea have infused the Caribbean experience with a Mediterranean flair.

Next time, I will take you by the hand (tell me you don’t have sweaty palms) and lead you to glorious new destinations, both inside the ship and without.  Feel free to bring along a few friends.   Just remind them to bring their passports!

The Un-Cruise Fab Five (plus a little surprise)

In the travel world there are, generally speaking, two kinds of travel companies:  the ones striving to offer something for everyone and those like Un-Cruise Adventures who are quite content, thank you very much, to provide everything for someone. To put it so simply even I can’t misconstrue, there are generalists and there are specialists.

Honesty compels me to admit that there are a myriad of places in the world where Un-Cruise is simply not an option.  They do serve five incredible destinations, however,  and should you long to experience one of those, congratulations are in order.  You have just won the travel equivalent of the Powerball lottery!  OK, that might be slight hyperbole but it is definitely your lucky day.

Un-Cruise Adventures DestinationsYou see, regarding those destinations Un-Cruise Adventures does offer, they are all over them like “white on rice”.  (If you are not familiar with that expression you need to listen to last Sunday’s segment on PBS radio’s A Way With Words.)  If you are a regular reader, you are probably not shocked to learn that this is my favorite radio program.

So which five destinations are we talking about?  Some of you have already cheated and looked closely at the image above and know the answer.  If you are over fifty, that bit of skullduggery was likely of no help anyway since, like me, you probably can’t read print that small.  If you are looking for your reading glasses, they are on your head.

Here is a quick look at all five with a comment or two about each one.  (The same sneaky little buggers who cheated and looked at the map have undoubtedly already glanced at the bottom of this post to find the little surprise. Tsk tsk . . . very naughty.)

Alaska’s Inside Passage

Un-Cruise Adventures AlaskaOn the Un-Cruise website there is this nice quote from Henry David Thoreau, “We need the tonic of wilderness.  We can never have enough of nature.”  Un-Cruise offers more than a dozen different Alaska cruises ranging from 7 to 21 nights.  If you enjoy wildlife (presuming that term doesn’t conjure up images of table dancing at Senior Frog’s in Cancun), you will be pleased to discover that every one of these adventures teems with God’s creatures.  You will encounter such diverse creatures as humpback whales, orca, bears, wolves, deer, bald eagles and all manner of sea birds.

Washington and British Columbia

I would venture to guess that, unless you are from the Pacific Northwest, most of you are Coastal Washington and British Columbiarilike me and unfamiliar with the seductive sounding San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Salish Sea, Princess Louisa Inlet and the vast archipelago of islands that grace the coasts of Washington and British Columbia.  Let’s be honest, you were born to have High Tea in Butchart Gardens and to take in nature’s wonders from a kayak or skiff.  I know I was!

Columbia and Snake Rivers

Columbia and Snake RiversBy any chance are you looking for something extremely cool (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) to do this fall or next spring?  Without giving away too much about my next post, Un-Cruise Adventures offers four very distinctive styles of adventure.  One of these is called Heritage Adventures.  I know this is a shameless tease but come back again and I will reveal everything.  (Hmm. That didn’t come out quite right!)  In any case, if you love history with period costumes, legacy reenactments and dead people walking . . OK, just kidding about the last bit . .  you are going to LUV this experience.

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

Sea of Cortez with Un-Cruise AdventuresTo cite the Un-Cruise website again, “Just south of California lies an unrushed and uncrowded inland sea known as the Gulf of California, Vermillion Sea, Sea of Cortez or Sea of Cortés.  Apparently you can call the thing whatever strikes your fancy at the moment.  I sort of like the Sea of Moi but maybe that’s a trifle pretentious.   I love the fact that this destination offers an area the writer John Steinbeck referred to as “ferocious with life” but also the culture and beauty of the mission town of Loreto and the rich history of La Paz.

Hawaiian Islands

Last but hardly least is the ever popular Hawaiian Islands.  Captain Cook dubbed them the Sandwich Islands after his visit in 1778 because, according to his diary, he had an incredible pastrami on rye at “The Little Mermaid Dive Shop” on Oahu.  See, it’s fascinating little historical tidbits like this you will learn on an Un-Cruise (if you travel with me, anyway).

Hawaii on an Un-Cruise AdventureGoodness, time flies when the words are flowing from your keyboard like syrup from a Vermont maple tree.  I do seem to recall promising you a little surprise.  If you like the fab five destinations, exercise a little patience and in late 2015 — if the dirt doctor hasn’t paid you a house call by then — you can add Costa Rica, Panama and Belize to the list creating the Exciting Eight!

When you come back for your next visit (I prefer the assumptive approach), I will tell you about the four very different style of adventures offered by Un-Cruise Adventures.  You will discover which one floats your boat, so to speak. Until then, which of the Fab Five destinations appeals to you the most?

The Unconventional World of Un-Cruise Adventures

Have you ever been on a cruise?  Ah, mon ami, but have you ever been on an un-cruise?

About the only thing these two experiences have in common is H2O and a vessel that floats.  My goal today is to introduce you to a travel company that has taken the commonplace and familiar and transformed it into something almost unrecognizable.  In a good way, of course!

Un-Cruise Adventures I say introduce because their product offering is so fascinating and diverse that it is going to take me several posts to do it justice.  In fact, what do you say we create ourselves a brand new category called Un-Cruising.  (I haven’t created a new category on this blog in a couple of weeks and regular readers know that normally brings on an outbreak of unsightly hives.)  That way, when I have whetted your appetite with this initial tantalizing post, you can can easily sate your hunger for more insights with future posts all nicely grouped together.  You could, I suppose, just go to their excellent website, but that would deprive you of my inimitable wit and charm, now wouldn’t it?

So what is unique about Un-Cruise Adventures?  As already suggested, it will take several posts to filet that particular topic like a twenty pound Columbia River spring Chinook but I can give you a few broad hints here.

Intimacy Versus Anonymity

Speaking in generalities, the major cruises lines believe bigger is better.  I suppose that’s true if, in your mind, no cruise is complete without a rock climbing experience . . . on board the ship!  I personally love the big ships too but with 6000 passengers and a couple of thousand crew, I feel lucky if I can remember my own name much less expect to be greeted by name in the bar.  Take a look at the Un-Cruise Adventures fleet.  You can add up the total passenger count from all eight ships and it might not equal one deck on the Oasis of the Seas.

Un-Cruise Adventures Chat with the CaptainBy the end of the cruise all the staff won’t just know your name, you will know all their names and their children in birth order!  You will have spent so much time on the bridge, you will know how the Captain takes his coffee and where he got that tattoo of a Geisha girl on his right forearm.

The size of the ships provides intimacy of another sort that may have never occurred to you.  I am referring to intimacy with the destination.  Their shallow draft and smaller size permits access to Un-Cruise Adventures hot tubplaces the larger ships could never dream of going.   See how close the ship is to the glacier!  Stop staring at the foreground, Mister.  We are not talking about that kind of intimacy.   Try to stay focused, OK?

If your dream vacation doesn’t include standing in long lines but does include feeling like Norm walking into Cheers where everybody knows your name, this is the travel experience for you.  I know a little about the travel business and trust me, with so few passengers on board to pay the freight, it is a certainty that not only will you be treated like a VIP, you will be a VIP!

Goodness!  There is so much more I wanted to tell you.  One of the neatest things is how they have organized their product into four adventure styles: active, luxury, heritage and charter, each with a very distinct focus and personality.  If you promise to come back soon, I will explain not just that but why they serve only five destinations* (and which ones) plus a whole lot more.

Un-Cruise Yoga ClassesIn the meantime, the picture above shows just how unique this experience really is.  This is their non-traditional emergency drill.  The instructor is saying, “Should anyone fall overboard, you should give your most believable impression of a dolphin!”

By now you should be salivating to know more about the Un-Cruise Adventure experience.  Wipe the corner of your mouth and come back soon!  I’m just as keen to tell you!

* One of those five destinations is Mexico’s Sea of Cortes. Click here to watch a great video!