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!

Napa Valley’s Bardessono Proudly Flies The Green & Gold

Almost by definition, every world-class hotel or resort must have its own unique footprint.  To some small yet meaningful extent, it should be unlike any other place on earth.  Bardessono can claim the rare attribute of having an almost invisible footprint . . . carbon that is.  As I will shortly explain (after a brief disclaimer), this hotel has somehow managed both to raise the bar for green sensitivity and to set the gold standard for seamless service.

Bardessono Inn ExteriorFirst the disclaimer.  Having never lived in California, I am not exactly up to cruising altitude on this whole green thing.  The green with which I am most familiar is the envious green pallor  which washes across my countenance whenever I think about those fortunate folks who are frequent guests at this exquisite inn.  Although, in my own defense, I do drive a Prius and in Texas that alone is sufficient to get you branded a card-carrying tree-hugger.

GREEN

Environmental Responsibility

Bardessono has earned a platinum certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), their highest designation.  In point of fact, they are one of only three hotels in the United States having achieved this rating.  Gratefully, since I have already paraded my woeful ignorance of such matters (see above), I am relieved of the obligation of pretending I understand all that implies.

Bardessono Solar Panels

The hotel has provided an  impressive list of proactive environmental steps on this page on their website which you can peruse at your leisure.   You will find mention of heating and cooling, lighting, low water use, reuse of materials, organic gardens and much more.  As the hotel likes to point out, the various environmental elements are hidden but ubiquitous.  If even that doesn’t quench your thirst, drop me a note and I will send you their sustainability brochure.

Having given that subject its due, let’s move on to a topic with which I am much more familiar, i.e., my shameless embrace of self-indulgence.

GOLD

As you can clearly see from the image on the right, underneath the name Bardessono areBardessono Logo written three descriptive terms:  hotel, restaurant, spa.  In the case of Bardessono, by all rights these elements should be listed individually since each component could easily stand alone on its own merits and, it so happens, each can be enjoyed individually.   Appropriating the outline they have conveniently provided us, let’s take a glance (would that time and space permitted a more robust perusal) at each aspect.

Hotel

Let’s begin with the fact that Bardessono is located in the center of downtown Yountville in the heart of Napa Valley with 62 luxurious guest rooms.  Each and every room was designed for private, in-room spa services.  Have you ever wished following your spa treatment you could just drift away into a prolonged, contemplative trance?  I tried that once after a particularly relaxing massage but the staff eventually . . . and I thought rather rudely . . . insisted I give them their room back.  At Bardessono, it is your room!  More about the spa therapy center in a moment.Bardessono Inn Spa Suite

 If you are the type that likes to know exactly what you are getting, just mosey (a uniquely Texas gait) over to their website and you will find not only a detailed description of Spa Suites, Steam Spa Suites and Tufa Suites, along with their ADA counterparts, but also detailed floor-plans and included amenities.  Every room has either a furnished courtyard or balcony.

Restaurant 

 In most restaurants, everything starts in the kitchen.  In Lucy Restaurant everything starts in their garden.  They like to call it “Garden cuisine that is always in season”.  Click here for a very cool one-minute video interview with the chef, Victor Scargle who is almost as gifted at explaining things as I am.

Lucy's Garden Table

If you want an unforgettable experience, book Lucy’s Garden Table which includes a tour of the garden, a seasonal speciality cocktail and a multi-course meal.  Click on the picture above for a full description.

One of the coolest pages on the entire website, in my never quite humble estimation, is the page that talks about their culinary suppliers and providers.  Who wouldn’t want a “Liberty Duck”, a “Wooly Weeder” open range, milk-fed lamb or a “Broken Arrow Ranch” antelope?  OK, a vegan I suppose.  You got me there!

SPA

The spa menu at Bardessono reminds me of the wine list at the famous Paris restaurant Bardessono SpaLa Tour d’Argent.  For just a moment, I was sure they thought I had asked to see the Greater Paris phone book.

I invite you to download their lovely 12-page online spa brochure (even their brochures are green) and sample for yourself.  You will find numberless ways to be hydrated (in case you are dehydrated) and an equal number of ways to become detoxified (in case you are toxic).   You can even be “waxed” and “polished” if you have somehow lost your sheen, I suppose!  As mentioned above, your spa butler will gladly transform your room (assuming you are a hotel guest, of course) into the perfect spa environment.

I would endeavor to summarize the Bardessono experience had not Jim Treadway, both the General Manager of Bardessono and the Vice-chairman of aptly named Benchmark Hospitality, not already done it so well in this brief video.

Well, I think my task is drawing to a close.  I have presented a compelling case for planning your next trip to Napa Valley, I have elucidated numerous reasons Bardessono should be your next home away from home and finally, after 100 plus blog posts, I hope to high heavens you know by now who you are supposed to call.

So my final bit of advice is go for the gold and make your friends green with envy!

Peter Island BVI: A Perfect Slice Of Paradise

Have you ever yearned desperately  to get away for a few days from the hectoring demands of daily life?  No, I mean really get away . . . to somewhere exotic, somewhere enchanting, somewhere shamelessly exclusive.

Peter Island SunsetOn the one hand, you only have a few precious days at your disposal because we both know that the world could easily run aground upon uncharted shoals without your steady hand at the helm!  We simply can’t risk Western civilization as we know it by having you fly halfway around the world to get somewhere.  On the other hand, you’re not the type who is willing to accept the pedestrian or prosaic in exchange for mere proximity.  What you need is a place relatively close yet somehow worlds away.  How does one find such a place?

You are so in luck, dear reader!  Dr. Denton, who just happens to have an advanced Peter Island Spa degree in travelology (a term not to be confounded with that online travel company . . . you know, the one with the demonic looking gnome), is about to write you the perfect prescription for your “Get me the bleep out of here” blues.  As they like to say about themselves in forgivable immodesty, Peter Island Resort & Spa is That PlaceThat place you dream about . . . that place you picture as you close your eyes and blow out the birthday candles . . .that place . . .  I think you get the idea.

Here are three irrefutable reasons Peter Island Resort & Spa is the perfect slice of paradise for you and just what the “Doctor of Divine Destinations” ordered.

THE NATURAL SPLENDOR

Deadman's Beach on Peter IslandLet’s begin with the fact that Peter Island is located in the British Virgin Islands.  Say no more!  (Just kidding, I always say more.)  Consider that this private island is 1,800 acres but only 300 acres have been developed, the rest devoted to walking trails.  The island has a fascinating history a brief synopsis of which can be read here.  The important fact for our purposes is that since 1978 the island and its only resort have been owned by a single family from the midwest who have painstakingly built a lasting legacy by wedding a pristine setting to a world-class resort.

The resort boasts five breathtaking beaches:  White Bay, Honeymoon, Big Reef Bay, Deadman’s and Little Deadman’s (I am thinking of incorporating the last name on this list on my tombstone sans the possessive.  Pithy yet descriptive).  I recommend you plan to stay at least five days so you aren’t faced with hurting one of their feelings.  For beaches, they are surprisingly sensitive and quite jealous of one another.

THE UNRIVALED ACCOMMODATIONS

Beachfront Junior Suites bedroomYour accommodation options in paradise are fairly easy to explain if not quite so easy to select.  Let’s start with the Ocean View rooms which are very close to the lobby, pool, marina, bar and Tradewinds Restaurant.  Each of the eight buildings contains two rooms upstairs with private balconies and two rooms downstairs with private patios.

The most popular room category is the Beach Front Junior Suite pictured above.  Each of these suites has two-person Jacuzzi tubs, two-person showers and king size beds.  Hmm, you might want to be very discriminating when selecting your traveling companion.  I suspect you might be seeing a lot of each other . . . if you catch my drift.

For those who prefer to spread out a little, there are three amazing villas to choose from:  Crow’s NestHawk’s Nest And Falcon’s Nest.  Click on any of the three images below to read more about each one.  I will let you in on a little secret.  There is a fourth villa which is not available as it is for the exclusive use of the owner . . . including any guests he might want to invite, of course.  Just for the record, my next available date is tomorrow and pretty much any date thereafter.

Peter Island Resort & Spa  Peter Island Resort & Spa  Peter Island Resort & Spa

THE SUMPTUOUS CUISINE

At Peter Island, the chef likes to say there are two key ingredients in every dish he prepares:  only the finest and only the freshest!  I don’t know about you but that certainly works for me.  The signature restaurant is called Tradewinds and I lifted this sentence from their website, ‘Warm breezes whisper as the delicate chimes of German china, French silverware and Italian crystal fill the air.”  Good grief!  I am going to have to spend a month’s salary on Rosetta Stone programs just to eat there.

I have already decided my first morning I am having “Jean Kelly’s Famous Coconut-Crusted French Toast With Bananas and Pancake Syrup.”  For dinner I am vacillating between “Grilled Scottish Salmon” and “Plantain Wrapped Locally Caught Snapper”.  I suspect I have plenty of time to decide while waiting for the owner’s engraved invitation to arrive.

Warning:  Clicking on any of the images below could lead to a sudden rush of digestive juices for which I refuse to bear any medical responsibility.

Dining at Peter Island  Dining at Peter Island  Dining at Peter Island  Dining 3

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, one of my personal standards for measuring a property is if it is represented by Island Destinations, one of our favorite tour companies whose tag line is “The Authority In Luxury Travel”.  Peter Island Resort & Spa is in their portfolio, by the way.  Otherwise, you can rest assured I never would have brought the matter up.

In any event, Cindy Parsons, one of their destination specialists, has this little personal endorsement, “For ultimate privacy, book the Falcon’s Nest Villa; it’s practically your own little hotel within a hotel and is completely secluded. Step out to 360 degree views of the U.S and British Virgin Islands. The butler is on hand to drive you down for nightly entertainment.”  I so love to have my butler drive me down to my nightly entertainment.  Don’t you?  Next time you find yourself hungering for a brief respite, contact us and we will order you a perfect slice of paradise as only the incomparable Peter Island Resort & Spa can serve it.

Finally, I am curious about something.  How many of you had never heard of Peter Island before reading this blog post?  Comment and let me know.

Viva La Ziva: Turning Silver Into Gold

Two or three years ago I visited a particular resort in Los Cabos, Mexico that I liked a great deal.  A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to return to that same property for another stay.  I was excited by the prospect for two reasons:

1)  I fully enjoyed the location, facilities and experience on my first visit.

2)  I discovered that this property had changed ownership and was now owned and managed by the Playa group and operated as the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos.  After all the buzz, I was very keen to experience the new Hyatt all-inclusive concept for myself.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos

Not a bad way to be greeted upon arrival. They all seem so pleased to see me!

In my previous post, I presented lots of background information about the exciting new Hyatt Zilara and Ziva brands.  I encourage you to take a moment and read that post.  (Just be sure to tether yourself to this post.  I don’t fancy floating through cyberspace in an unflattering, bulbous space suit searching for you.)  If you are wondering about the title of this blog post, the explanation is simple.  The property was pure silver before but through a miracle of alchemy that only the Hyatt folks in white lab coats could pull off, it is now solid gold!  As proof, consider the fact that the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos was awarded Triple AAA’s 2014 Four-Diamond designation this past March.

In that prior post, I talked about the “evolution of all-inclusive” and listed a few specific amenities such as the butler service, unlimited pillow menu, Tequila sommelier and romance concierge.  Let’s spend the remainder of our time together considering a few more marks of distinction.

Service From The Heart

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos saluteI will grant you I am not necessarily the brightest porch light on the street but I admit I was a bit confused when I first noticed that the staff were constantly smiling at me while placing a hand over their hearts.  I quickly ruled out a strange contagion  of cardiac ailments . . . unless these were the most affable and chipper heart attack victims I have ever met.  As it turns out, this is their unique and very endearing salute to their guests.  It is meant to convey that their service comes not from duty but from the heart.   And you know what, it so clearly does!  I’ll let the dour cynics roll their eyes and call it hokey if they care to provided they leave me alone to bask in the radiant warmth of the staff’s genuine hospitality.

Beyond Gourmet

Let’s be honest.  Buffet and gourmet are not normally used in the same sentence by true Hyatt Ziva Dining Optionsgourmands.  Leave it to Hyatt to shatter even that common misconception.  The Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos can claim not one but two gourmet buffet restaurants:  one features international cuisine and the other Mexican.   However, if your patrician upbringing produces involuntary quivers at the term “buffet”, not to worry.  There are five specialty  à la carte Restaurants, including Bon Vivant (French classical), Lotus (Teppanyaki-style cooking with a Sushi bar) and Coral (outdoor grilled seafood).  I wouldn’t worry about a precipitous weight loss during your vacation.

Spontaneous Moments

When I was a guest at the Hyatt Ziva, I was privileged to meet . . . and even spend a little quality golf course time with . . . Francisco Silva, the General Manager.   As will be true of every generalHyatt Ziva Los Cabos manager as each new property opens, he had just been challenged to create a unique “spontaneous moment” for his guests.  This is intended to be some unexpected amenity rendered to the guest at no charge.  Francisco had a couple of ideas he was mulling over but he said if he told me he would have to kill me.   OK, not really but these general managers are very competitive.  They take tremendous pride in their profession and especially in assembling a staff from top to bottom that reflects their values.  After spending some quality time with Francisco, it is easy to see why the service at his resort is so exemplary.

Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos exteriorAs I sit here and stare at the picture above (you must click on it for the full effect), I picture myself at just this time of day, sitting on one of the floating conversation / fire pits in the foreground, sipping an Argentinian Malbec all the while letting a gentle ocean breeze waft over me.  Since I am exhausted from penning yet another literary masterpiece anyway, I have decided to go reheat my coffee and come back and gaze at the full screen version of this picture for the next several minutes until a zen like serenity envelopes me.

I know!  Let’s both make this picture our new desktop!

Hyatt All-Inclusive Resorts: Evolution or Revolution?

Playa Hotels and ResortsAre you familiar with Playa Hotels And Resorts?  Probably not so much. Have you ever heard of Hyatt Hotels?  With the possible exception of a few frost-bitten souls living on Deception Island, Antarctica, most would say, “Yes, indeed.”    “And what does one have to do with the other?”, I hear you asking.  I hope you were asking because if you were just clearing your throat, this is going to be a very short blog post!

*Playa Hotels And Resorts harbors the lofty goal of becoming “the leading international resort and leisure company in the all-inclusive resort segment .”  If that were my personal goal (instead of trying to avoid homelessness and/or deportation), I would be looking around for some strong coattails to ride.   You might say Playa hit the lotto!  Just a little less than one year ago, a subsidiary of Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced a considerable investment (considerable as in $325 million dollars) with the goal of acquiring and developing new all-inclusive resorts under the iconic Hyatt brand.  You can read all about it here.

I was recently privileged to hear Kevin Froemming, Playa’s Executive Vice President and CMO, artfully present the concept that undergirds all their efforts.  It is summed up in their tag line, “The Evolution of All-Inclusive”.   After I unveil some of the pillars resting on this solid foundation, I will leave it to you to decide whether this is gradual evolution or more akin to radical revolution.

ROMANCE CONCIERGE

Couple Massage at Hyatt Zilara CancunI will begin with my personal favorite.  I don’t think any of you guys out there will have any trouble identifying with this.  You are on vacation celebrating some special occasion:  honeymoon, anniversary, joint release from state prison . . . something.  You want this trip to be burned into her memory like a cattle brand on a yearling calf’s backside.  (My personal lack of romance expertise shows up even in my crass analogies!)

The problem is, you don’t have the foggiest clue where to start.  Here’s what you do.  You tell her you are going down to the gym for a workout.  Strike that.  She will never buy that.  Tell her you are going to a tequila swilling contest in the cigar lounge.  That should do the trick.  Now here’s the sneaky part.  You are really going to the appointment you have set with the “romance concierge”.  An hour later (two hours if you stop by the bar just to become convincingly tipsy) you will be swaggering back to your room, romance agenda tucked safely in the back pocket, hair flowing like Fabio on the cover of some trashy novel.

Tequila Sommeliers

Speaking of Tequila, have you noticed that there are more varieties of tequila in Mexico Tequila Sommeliersthan visible stars in Andromeda.   Unless you want to share my humiliating experience of standing frozen in indecision before a wall of tequila for an embarrassing length of time, I suggest you avail yourself of this service.  And should you find yourself in Jamaica (more about that momentarily), you will be offered the services of a rum sommelier.  I once considered becoming a box wine sommelier but couldn’t find a hoity-toity French school for that.

Beach Butlers

    Beach ButlerLuggage Butler

I don’t know how many personal butlers you have at your beck and call but speaking for myself, it is a very low and and very round number.  And, even if I did, it would probably not be a beach butler seeing as I don’t own any beach property either.  (Life can be so very cruel, don’t you agree?)   All the more reason to be excited by the prospect of having your whims catered to by, not just a Beach Butler, but a Pool Butler, a Luggage Butler, a Family Butler and a Suite Butler.   I know what you are thinking.  You figure I am delusional after being generously over-served by my Tequila Sommelier.  Nope, I am stone cold sober and for once (circle your calendar) dead right about something!  Hyatt all-inclusives have more butlers than Mickey Rooney had wives!

Unlimited Pillow Menu

OK, I’m running out of time and there is more I want to share so I will let this little item pass Unlimited Pillow Menuwith the observation that I am obviously a Neanderthal slug devoid of any trace of refinement.  I wouldn’t have a clue how to order a pillow.  When you get beyond white, soft and rectangular, I am pretty much clueless.  I will leave this item to the more cultivated and genteel among you.

Hyatt Zilara and Hyatt Ziva

The Hyatt all-inclusives, for now at least, will fall into one of these two categories.  The first Zilara, the Hyatt Zilara Cancun is to be found, not exactly shockingly, in Cancun and is the former THE ROYAL, Cancun.  It made my top five list in my post Crème de Cancun: The Top Five Resorts.  The first Ziva is the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos.  I will let you decipher where it is located.  Here is the distinction between the two:  The Hyatt Zilara resorts will be adults only and Hyatt Ziva resorts will be family properties.

ALERT:  My next post will share details of my recent stay at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos!

Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall JamaicaI will conclude this post with an exciting announcement!  The former Ritz-Carlton Golf And Spa Resort in Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica was sold to Playa Hotels And Resorts in September, 2013.  It will open after a multi-million dollar renovation in November, 2014 as the first combined Hyatt Zilara / Hyatt Ziva, Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica.  This development deserves a blog post all its own which, should I linger a little longer, it will have.  Be watching for that post soon! (Also Hyatt Ziva Cancun and Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta are opening in late 2014.)

*  Not to wander too far off into the weeds but Playa Hotels And Resorts, in addition to the Hyatt branded and Playa managed hotels we have been talking about, also has its own Playa branded and managed hotels and other branded and managed hotels as well.  That will have to keep for another time but if you simply can’t wait,  you can read about their entire portfolio here.

100 Points Of Tripe

In June of 2013, I wrote a post called, “What Do You Get A Blog For Its First Birthday?”.  In the same spirit of shameless self-congratulations (proving I haven’t matured in the intervening year), here is a short interlude from our regular programing to celebrate both my second blog birthday and my one hundredth post!   If that doesn’t rank right up there with the signing of the Magna Charta and the Normandy invasion on D-Day for historical significance, I can’t imagine what would.

Dancing hot dogIf you are one of the tiny minority who have not studiously perused every post I have ever written, here are a couple of ways for you to purge your shame and cleanse your conscience.  Trust me, this will constitute some serious penance!  You can go to the “What Did I Miss?” page along the top for a list of all 100 posts or, conversely, you can scan the right rail for a list of categories.  Then by simply reading all one hundred at one sitting, you will be automatically inducted into the Travel By Terry “Hall Of Masochists” of which I am currently the only member.  At this point, the meetings are short, lonely and, as you might expect, painful.  I would love some company.

Wordpress badgesIf you think I am being a little too hard on myself calling this post 100 Points of Tripe, as I pointed out in a previous post, hot dogs (of which I am a fan) are largely tripe and quite tasty!  I take it for granted that you are chomping at the Frankfurter to join the celebration and so I have provided a means for you to do so.  Simply register your opinion in the poll below.

As I enter my terrible twos, I encourage you to come back soon for another tasty . . .  if not necessarily nutritious . . . offering.   With any luck at all you will be entertained, educated and enticed which, coincidentally, happen to be the three pillars of this humble blog.

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!

JW Marriott Marquis: Miami Nice (2)

In my previous post, I expressed the belief that every great trip includes both a memorable habitation and a remarkable destination.  Having paid Miami its due, or more precisely having submitted a modest down payment, my attention now turns to my Miami lodgings.

The hallmark of a great brand is consistency.  Having stayed at several JW Marriotts in the past, for this trip I packed, along with my country club casual clothes (the stated dress code for my subsequent cruise which will be the subject of my next post), some pretty high expectations.  The JW’s in Orlando, Ko Olina and Cancun all know how to set the bar very high.  Not so high I couldn’t reach my Captain Morgan and Coke, thank goodness, but high nonetheless.

Somehow I knew this was going to be a great couple of days when I stumbled into the hotel at almost midnight bleary eyed and punch drunk after a long-delayed connecting flight.  I asked at check in if there happened to be a Wells Fargo ATM nearby where I might obtain company for the lonesome George Washington crumpled up in the corner of my wallet.  The desk clerk pointed me down the hall and after walking fifty feet or so, this is what I saw next to the ATM.

Concord Coach 746/8

You know you are off to a great start when you desperately need an ATM and your hotel shares a building with your bank!

The next clue that I was obviously being rewarded for living such an exceptionally clean life (watch out for that bolt of lightning!) was this view when I entered my room.  When youJW Marriott Marquis Miami feel like you have been rode hard and put away wet as we are wont to say in Texas, trust me, this is precisely what you are hoping to see!  I am not ashamed to say I may have kissed the pillows and caressed the covers just a tad before crashing and burning like some seven year old’s first model airplane.

The next morning . . . at least I think it was still technically morning . . . I tore open the shutters and threw up the sash (must have been the airplane food from the night before) and what to my wondering eyes should appear but this gorgeous view from one of JW Marriott Marquismy two corner windows.  I’m telling you, this clean living thing pays huge dividends.  You really should try it. The grey skies did nothing to lessen the euphoria that I was now feeling.  Life is good at the JW Marriott!

In my previous post, I alluded to a couple of grueling workouts in the Met2 Fitness Center, grueling being a relative term of course.  Watching the pleasure craft and cigar boats meander down the canal does help to take your mind off your burning thighs and quivering buttocks (not the most attractive visual I readily admit).

Without a doubt the highlight of my stay was dinner at db Bistro Moderne.  I know some of you read these posts to benefit from my mistakes, though they be rare as hen’s teeth, so here is a bit of sage advice.  Some of my companions in the picture below ordered the steak and braised short ribs.  Being from Texas and a little persnickety about my beef, I ordered the Scottish salmon which was quite succulent.  Yet, I had to sit there the entire meal and listen to every last person who ordered the beef moaning and sighing like some 19 year old coed in a college production of “When Harry Met Sally” about the short ribs being the best they had ever experienced.  I swear, I thought they were all going to lean back and light up cigarettes afterwards.  Now I have to worry, until my next trip at least, that I missed out on the “better than sex” ribs of a lifetime.

DSC01753In summary, here is a Terry Tidbit you can take right to the adjacent Wells Fargo bank.  If you have a trip planned for Miami, let us book you into the JW Marriott Marquis, try the breakfast croissant at The Newsstand, have a light lunch at The Cheese Course and, for goodness sake, save lots of room for the braised ribs at db Bistro Moderne.  If you do those four things, you will be the one at the corner table audibly moaning and sighing!

JW Marriott Marquis: Miami Nice (1)

As someone who has been privileged to experience way more than my fair share of nice trips, I think I can say without any fear of contraception (as the British comedian Benny Hill used to say), every great trip at a bare minimum contains these two components: a memorable habitation and a remarkable destination.

My most recent Travel Leaders advisory board trip to Miami did not disappoint in either regard.  As you will soon discover, I have chosen to reverse the order below.  I do this for no more defensible reason than the fact that my fragile psyche needs reassurance periodically that, though I may not control the course of world history or even my own piddling destiny for that matter, I at least rule my humble blog like a deranged South American dictator.

MIAMI

Bayside Marketplace MiamiMiami is one of the most fascinating cities in the US. For one thing it is a cosmopolitan melting pot where, frankly, a snippet of overheard street conversation in English is the exception rather than the rule. It may not rival the arrival halls of Dubai International or London Heathrow for diversity but it runs a close second.

Another of my favorite things about Miami is that you can take a short walk from your hotel, as I did one morning, and you will encounter all manner of fascinating small eateries. (Disclosure: I am a foodie only in the broad sense that I consume excessive quantities of anything remotely edible.) I walked out of the JW Marriott Marquis heading in the general direction of Bayside Marketplace and in a matter of just a few minutes, I found the following three fascinating eateries: The Newsstand CafeCLOS Bistro & Café and The Cheese Course.

The Newsstand Cafe is small but offers a nice selection.  I was there on a quest for a tasty breakfast that would not require another mortgage on the old home place.  While I was The Newsstand in Miamistudying the menu, a nice young lady suggested an egg, cheese and ham croissant.  I even had my choice of several varieties of cheese.  I went with the one I figured had to be good . . . the gouda.   (If you are going to follow this blog you better be able to withstand a few groans.)

The next spot I encountered was CLOS Bistro & Café.  It was only a two-minute walk from The Newsstand.  I know, I know.  What the heck was I doing walking into a French bistro two minutes after breakfast.  I can only refer you to my foodie disclosureClos Bistro Miami above.  After all, what is breakfast without a little dessert, right?  Anyway, I waddled in and immediately confronted the display of delectable dainties you see in the picture to the right.

I exercised what I consider remarkable restraint and ordered only one small (OK, smallish) pastry and no wine whatsoever.  Of course, it was still 9:30 in the morning but I nevertheless feel I deserve a little credit.

I have saved the best of my little sidewalk cafe trifecta until last.  I walked all over the Bayside area snapping pictures and drinking in the atmosphere.  See, it’s not all about eating.  I then returned to the JW Marriott Marquis and worked out for a solid hour on three different aerobic machines.  Surely that sufficed to offset at least the pastry.  However, the problem was that all that exercise only served to reignite my appetite.  (I eat to work out, I work out to eat and so flows the cycle of my life.)

For lunch I chose The Cheese Course, of course!  Not only am I an expert in all things travel related but I also am clairvoyant.  I know exactly what you are wondering right now.  What kind of cheeses are those?

The Cheese Course MiamiThe soft cheese on the left is Epoisses created by monks and named for their village in Burgundy.  Apparently, it takes a village to make good cheese.  It is described as “having a barnyard aroma (really), a blond interior and brimming with meaty, creamy richness.”  The firmer cheese on the right is Midnight Moon from Holland, made with goat’s cheese and in their own words possesses “prominent caramel notes”.    As an aside, do you know the only cheese that is made backwards?  Edam!

You get to select from more than two dozen accompaniments so I selected, quite brilliantly if accidentally, the fig spread.  Delicious!  As you might guess, I spent a most pleasant hour on the terrace with a light breeze wafting over me and savoring every last bite.

JW MARRIOTT MARQUIS

Goodness, once again time has flown by under the seductive charm of my effortless prose.  Not to worry.  I will simply go to my title, insert a discrete little (1) and make this post a two-parter.  Click this link for JW Marriott Marquis: Miami Nice (2) where I sing (not literally, thank God) the high praises of one of Miami’s finest hotels.  I feel comfortable promising that the next post will rise to the same exacting standard I have set here!