A Bit Of Bliss . . . NCL Style

A couple of weekends ago I was invited, along with 4000 or so of my closest competitors, to fly from DFW to LAX to experience a tiny, tantalizing taste (just under 40 hours to be precise) of NCL’s newest floating masterpiece, The Bliss.   It probably tells you everything you need to know about travel agents that they will blissfully (pun intended) get up at 3:30 am, fly three hours and Uber another half hour to board an inaugural cruise on a brand new ship and sail gleefully off . . . to nowhere.   Such is our devotion to new experiences, expanding our already vast library of knowledge and OK, I admit, complimentary libations.

The Aqua Park

I was permitted a guest and I brought along my grandson, Samuel Denton Walls (take note of his awesome middle name), a very recent high school graduate.  The only thing better than experiencing a beautiful new cruise ship by yourself is the delight of viewing it through the eyes of someone who has never set foot on one of these floating destinations.  Plus, Sam proved exceedingly helpful once I offered him a small stipend to be my official photographer and videographer.  The photos and video you see here are his handiwork.

So what does the NCL Bliss have to offer?  Honestly, there are way too many features to recount them all in this post but click here and then “highlights” for a full recounting of the many venues and activities.  I will focus our remaining moments on just a few of my own impressions.  Before I do, those of you who are looking at the picture above and are imagining me plummeting through one of those blue tubes extending over the side of the ship like some bulbous human torpedo, you are cursed with hyperactive imaginations.

The A-List Bar

On the other hand, should you picture me lingering in this venue instead, you would be very near the mark if not on it.  This was one of my favorite watering holes due to the fact that it is conveniently wedged between Cagney’s Steakhouse (my personal favorite specialty dining venue) and Los Lobos, in their words, “a premium Mexican restaurant celebrating traditional flavors with a modern twist.”  Unfortunately, I did not get the opportunity to visit “The WDSC03957olves” (English translation) but I tried my best to offset that omission by behaving rather like a ravenous wolf myself at Cagney’s.  Don’t be misled by my restrained demeanor in this picture to the left.  Before the flash even had time to dissipate, I was up to my elbows in Australian lamb.  Pray, what other fare would you expect from a wolf?  We don’t do tofu.

I am hardly a connoisseur of fine art (unless watching every episode so far of Genius on the life of Pablo Picasso and attendance at two recent “wine and paint” parties qualifies) but I was very impressed by the magnificent works of art liberally sprinkled around the Bliss.  That feature, among others, is treated in the video below.

One of the most unique features on the ship is the Grand Prix race track with Formula One style cars racing around the largest competitive racetrack at sea.  On one of Sam’s few respites from filming the next great Indie film to take Cannes by storm (see below), he managed to take a spin.  Not wanting to embarrass him with my own racing prowess honed over years of driving the DFW metroplex, I refrained.

I invite you to take ten minutes . . . I promise it will seem like less than half an hour . . . and watch this riveting video.  I apologize in advance for the sound quality.  No matter how rudely I shouted at the other 4000 invited guests to stop having such a boisterous good time, they treated my efforts to create a video masterpiece with what can only be charitably called disdain.  These six little vignettes will give you a flavor of additional features on the Bliss that time and space fail me to mention here.

NCL Bliss video

If you are longing for the perfect ship to sail you from the shores of your mundane daily rut and into a sparkling sea of fine dining, stimulating entertainment and/or soothing relaxation (as you prefer), the NCL Bliss is the obvious choice.  Visit our website tltravelagents.com to find one of our experienced vacation travel advisors who will be only to happy to make this happen.

My Trip / The Ship / A Tip

Those of you who have been paying attention . . . just for grins let’s kid ourselves and assume that’s 100% of you . . . will have noticed that this recent series of blog posts has been called “Golden Circle 2013”.   I’m curious.  Did that unfamiliar term cause you even a moment’s pause or did you just shrug your shoulders and mutter “Whatever” like some bored tween being asked to clean his room?

Picture from my balcony on Navigator of the SeasGOLDEN CIRCLE 2013

Not that it happens all that frequently on these pages but there happens to be a perfectly logical reason for the use of this term.  Every year our franchise organization, Travel Leaders, sponsors a reward trip for some of its top performing franchisees called, not coincidentally, the Golden Circle.  To qualify you have to be willing to sport a gold belly button ring of no less than twenty-four carats.  (OK, I’m being silly.  Fourteen carats is perfectly fine.)   Actually, you just have to be the creme de la creme of the travel industry, able to dispense expert advice, draw upon decades of distilled experience and resolve prickly problems all without breaking a sweat or mussing your hair.

This year’s trip was a seven night Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas in and out of Civitavecchia, Italy, the port near Rome.  More about the cruise ship momentarily.  But why, pray tell, did I fly to Rome from Dallas-Fort Worth by way of Dubai?  For those who can still afford a globe, even a cursory glance will reveal this is not exactly the most direct route.  In fact, it is 14 hours from DFW to Dubai and another 5 1/2 hours from Dubai to Rome.  I promise I was not amassing frequent flyer miles.  I did it for the perfectly sane reason all of us travel zealots do what we do.  I succumbed to a new destination’s allure, a new airline’s ambiance and a new culture’s attraction.   The travel itch, mon ami, simply has to be scratched!

Navigator of the Seas PromenadeNAVIGATOR OF THE SEAS

The Golden Circle cruise was aboard the Royal Caribbean vessel Navigator of the Seas.  The cruise that I was on was the penultimate cruise before the Navigator left the Mediterranean for its new home, Galveston, Texas.  Would you believe that the reason for this repositioning was that I struck up such a fast friendship with the captain that he wanted a home port nearby where I could continue giving him little navigation tips to enhance his career?  No, I didn’t think so.

Would you believe that I wrote an entire post explaining this move back in May?  You should!  It was called Travel Industry Proposes, Royal Caribbean Disposes.  Read this post and you will learn that not only is the ship coming to Texas but will be undergoing an extensive dry dock revitalization.  In upcoming posts as we sail from port to port, we . . . that is the we of majesty in case you didn’t notice my toe ring . .  will share  more about this charming vessel.

Sidewalk cafe in Ladispoli, ItalyA TIP

Being slightly intoxicated by the holiday spirit(s), I have magnanimously decided to share three tips for those contemplating booking a Med cruise!   First tip, never ever book your flights to arrive the day the ship sails.  That is a sure-fire recipe for unnecessary stress.  Arrive at least a day earlier. as I did.

Secondly, if you are sailing from Civtavecchia (near Rome), you might want to consider booking an overnight stay in the charming little town of Ladispoli.  (Bonus tip:  the accent falls on the second syllable.)  I stayed at a modest but perfectly suitable little place called the Hotel Alle Tamerici which offers a very cozy restaurant.

Tip number three.  So how do you get from the madhouse known as Fiumicino Airport in Rome to the tranquil Italian seacoast?  I’m glad you asked.  You simple contact Raffaele Rispoli with My Cab In Rome.  Raffaele is a charming and knowledgable denizen of that region of Italy and will gladly spirit you wherever you need to go.  Here is his website and email address (rrispoli at gmail dot com) if you would care to avail yourself of his dependable services.

Did this blog post ignite an all-consuming urge to experience even more?   There are two possible responses to that impulse:

1)  Take two aspirin, lie down and see if the feeling subsides

2) Click on this link where you can view over 200 pictures I took on my Golden Circle trip

Check back soon to hear about our first port of call.

Vicki Freed: One Of Royal Caribbean’s Leading Ladies

There are achievers and then there are over-achievers.  (You may have noticed,  I intentionally omitted under-achievers since that strikes a little too close to home for some of us.)  Vicki Freed, the Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Support & Services for Royal Caribbean International, certainly belongs to the over-achiever category.

Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean

One of the few times you will catch Vicki just hanging around!

She has set an incredible record of accomplishment.  Should I attempt to catalog her rather daunting list of achievements here, it would only serve to make Vicki blush and, more importantly, take time away from hearing her valuable insights.  I suggest instead you read her full bio here.

What is even more remarkable though is how she has managed to reach the pinnacle of the cruise industry while retaining such warm affection and high esteem among so many of her colleagues and travel industry constituents.  I refrained from saying all because surely there must be someone out there for whom Vicki is not the flavor of the month but lacking an electron microscope and a research sabbatical, so far I have not been able to detect one.

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the SeasWhat you will discover for yourself when you listen to the recorded interview below is that Vicki combines a keen intellect with an ebullient charm.  This happy confluence of gifts has served her well in her career.  She embodies the brand she represents:  contemporary style and timeless grace.  Cream rises inexorably to the top and Vicki is the executive equivalent of crème de la crème.  Hey, I would be right there too if I hadn’t somehow become a little curdled along the way!

Before you listen to the interview, you might be amused (not that I was at the time) by this quick aside.  In preparing for the interview I alerted my co-workers not to come calling, put my phone on Do Not Disturb, turned off my cell phone and securely shut my door, all to insure that the recorded call would be as clear as possible.  Notwithstanding all my precautions, sixty seconds into the interview a window washer started spraying what sounded,  to my ears at least, like a 3″ fire hose on to my exterior windows rattling the window panes and shattering my nerves.  By some miracle, you will not be able to detect the clatter on the recording!

I seem to have been assigned a guardian angel who requires both morning and afternoon naps.  Granted looking after me has to be particularly exhausting but why can’t I have someone shepherding me around with a little more energy or perhaps, more importantly, a less perverse sense of humor!

OK, let’s get to the good stuff!  In our conversation, Vicki, among other things:

1)  Offers some excellent advice to first-time cruisers

2)  Gives us just a peek into the new Quantum class of ships on the near horizon

3)  Nimbly explains how “Every Ship Can Be The Best Ship”

Click here or on Vicki’s picture to see probing questions magically transformed into perceptive answers right before your very eyes . . .  or ears, I suppose, in this case.

Interview with Royal Caribbean's Vicky FreedDo you have a favorite travel industry executive that you would like to see subjected to the unquestionable prestige of appearing on Backroom Banter?  Vicki has set a very high bar but if you do have someone in mind, send me their name and I will see if can’t appeal to their charitable spirit as I did with Vicki.