Norwegian Joy Inaugural April 26-29
On April 26, we flew to Vancouver for a 3 night inaugural sailing on the Norwegian Joy. The Joy was the first ship purpose built for the Asian market positioned in Shang Hi. She weighs 167,000 tons and carries 3804 passengers. She is a sister ship to the new Norwegian Bliss.
The decision was made to re-deploy the ship to sail in Alaska on 7 night cruises during the summer season and Mexican Riviera and the Panama Canal from Los Angeles/Miami the balance of the year.
To “Americanize” the ship required an extensive $50 million make over which touched virtually every aspect of the ship. On embarkation, she looked and smelled like a brand new ship. A noticeable carry over from the Asian market was the huge casino which actually has been downsized to allow for other venues more customary to American tastes. The spa treatment rooms, for example, were expanded from 9 to 22.
In addition to the 2 level race car track, fascinating virtual world of the Galaxy Pavillion and Lazer tag, the Joy is the first Norwegian ship to have Concierge Class staterooms featuring:
-24 hour Concierge service
-priority embark and debarkation
-Exclusive Concierge Lounge
-24 hour room service and private breakfast
Dining is always an adventure on Norwegian with 2 main dining rooms (Taste and Savor) and multiple specialty restaurants most with partial venues on the Boardwalk over looking the sea. Be sure to make your specialty dining reservations well in advance before boarding because they have limited capacity. French (Le Bistro), Cagney’s (steak house), Ocean Blue (seafood), Smoke House (BBQ), American Diner. Food Republic., La Cucina (Mexican), and Teppanyaki. The food quality was generally good but was never hot enough. Probably the result of the new crew getting their act together which is not unusual on an inaugural.
Although we didn’t have time to sample all the various entertainment onboard, we were able to see the 2 main shows: Foot Loose was a good as any broad way production. Elements was good but more in the style of Cirque De Soliel with little plot.
The Joy is all about choices with a dizzing array of options and there is something for every body, If you want to travel in the lap of luxury in an exclusive atmosphere treat yourself to the Haven ….all suites, private pool, private dining room and key card access. It’s like a cruise within a cruise. You can enjoy all the ship has to offer and then retreat to your own private enclave. It’s the best.
A return to Rome: Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps (Part 5 of 5)Our journey in Tuscany was wonderful! Our professional motor coach driver made an appropriate stop midway through the 4 hour drive back to Rome where we stayed at the same hotel near Borghese Park. To recap, our first day in Rome was filled with the amazing Vatican City and the Colosseum. The following day, we ventured into Tuscany. Now that we have returned to Rome, our Trafalgar Tour Director arranged for a walking tour to visit other popular sights.
Piazza Navona is a lively square where people come to hang out. A welcoming sight for me was a Pizzeria with delightful red and white checkered table cloths along the sidewalk. The efficient waiters were outfitted in black pants and black vests with white pressed shirts – very authentic. Some of our group chose to stay and dine here rather than join our sightseeing walk. The long oval shaped square is very famous of Baroque Rome. The main attraction are the fountains. The center fountain is Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of Four Rivers) which is one of many master pieces by Bernini. For those interested in Geography, the four rivers represented here are the Danube, the Ganges, the Nile and the Rio de la Plata. The backdrop of the fountains and the square is the Church of Sant’Agnese. All of the square covers what used to be a Roman stadium for competitions and sporting events.
A short walk from Piazza Navona is the Pantheon. This magnificent building was such an impressive surprise for me. The Pantheon is one of the most well preserved ancient Roman monuments. It was originally a temple and then it became a church. The front porch has gigantic columns. It was free to enter. This is a must see for history and architecture enthusiasts as the inside has such a gigantic rotunda. The rotunda is exactly as tall as it is wide. At the top of the dome is a circular oculos (circular opening) which I learned is the symbol of the solar disk. It is the structure’s only light source. This was worth a visit.
We walked from the Pantheon to Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain). I had visited here thirty years ago with family and I was thrilled to revisit. I knew I had to have gelato (Italian ice cream) while people watching. But first, the challenge was to politely move through the crowd, have my back to the fountain and toss a coin over my left shoulder. It is said that tossing a coin in this manner guarantees a return trip to Rome. This fountain is massive with many sculptures and in the center is Neptune who guides a chariot drawn by two sea horses known as the spirited horse and the placid horse. It certainly shows off the abundance of Rome. I enjoyed a large gelato cone while observing people from all parts of the globe gather here. A true treat!
Our group had become a family and we enjoyed a unique dining experience on Isola Tiberina (Tiber Island) in the heart of Rome. It was a terrific finale to a fabulous trip! I had one more day on my own … to visit the Spanish Steps.
The hotel front desk attendant kindly offered walking directions to the Spanish Steps. It was about a twenty minute walk through the busy neighborhood streets lined with small vehicles, hotels, shops, businesses and deli’s. The Spanish Steps begin in Piazza di Spagna and rise to Piazza di Trinita dei Monti. People gather to rest or linger on the steps. Many enjoy the view of the city from up high. The church of Trinita dei Monti dates back to the early 1500’s and it includes some impressive frescos. The steps are lined with azaleas that offer a magnificent floral display throughout the summer months. At the Piazza di Spagna level there is a fountain and very close by are the designer stores of Prada, Dior, and Valentino to name a few. I should mention that there were no vehicles here. It was enjoyable just to walk around this energetic area of the city.
The end of this 10 day Italian journey was approaching. The Spanish Steps offered me a wonderful place to reflect on all that was experienced. I had such a feeling of satisfaction that I had seen and experienced as much as possible during the trip. I absolutely recommend a Trafalgar Tour. I enjoyed not having to think much about the logistics of the trip as we were guided. It is a trustworthy travel company that gives back to the local farm house and winery family businesses. These local locations are what many travelers want – to experience the region with people who enjoy sharing their kitchen, their cooking and their stories. Italy is full of history, art, science and passionate people! I invite you to contact me and my colleagues at CTC Travel to help you plan your next trip on land or at sea!
A reminder that you can see my photo posts on CTC Travel’s facebook page from April 2019. Enjoy
Pisa, Vinci, San Gimignano, Siena and Florence (Part 4 of 5)Pisa, Italy is famous for the Leaning Tower. For years, it has gone through renovations to keep it stabilized. These days, people can go up the tower if they choose. Most visitors enjoy taking creative photographs with one “propping up” the leaning tower or “pushing” the leaning tower. It is comical to observe people working on all types of creative poses!
The Leaning Tower is the bell tower for the beautiful large Cathedral of Pisa that is worth walking in to explore. The Astronomer and Physicist, Galileo Galilei, grew up in Pisa. During the Renaissance period (rebirth from the Middle Ages), Galileo sat in this Cathedral. Our local specialist informed us that Galileo would observe the large chandelier move back and forth from the breezes. He experimented and over time, the Pendulum Law was declared. It was fantastic to reflect on what took place here. Imagine Galileo conducting other experiments such as dropping objectsfrom the Tower to document the rate they would fall. The result was the Law of Gravity.
We had plenty of time on our own to shop the local vendors and either dine at one of the many outdoor cafés or stop in a local deli for a RosemaryFocaccia sandwich.We then met up with our group to move on to our next visit to the charming Tuscan town of Vinci.
Vinci is where Leonardo da Vinci was born in 1452. “He was the most diversified Renaissance Man,” to quote our Trafalgar Tour Director. We walked the through the same streets as this amazing inventor,scientist, artist, engineer and architect.There are several Leonardo da Vinci museums in Italy. Next to this small museum, we walked right into the very Baptistry where he was baptized.I learned so much detail about this man and his thinking processes. What affected me the most, was that he put all these thoughts into action to improve production and the future of medicine.
That evening, our group had dinner at a larger farm house that offered terrific authentic Italian cuisine with family style service amongst barrels of wine and lively music. What is nice about traveling in Tuscany is that the drives are relatively short distances between many of these key places. The next day we visit San Gimignano and Siena.
San Gimignano dates back to the 13th century and is one of the oldest and most preserved medieval towns in Italy. It is known for the many stone towers that were used for grain storage within the surrounding high stone walls. For generations, the height of the towers became somewhat of a competition amongst the families. We each received a treat of their famous gelato that was included in our tour. I had chocolate gelato and of course it was delicious! It was a pleasure to walk along the streets and imagine what it was like to live during medieval times here. The shopping was delightful with colorful pottery, leather purses and shoes.
We had a scenic drive in the Tuscan hills to a “Be My Guest” experience where we had a lovely lunch at a farm house hosted by a family where the adult daughter has become a talented Chef. We were presented with gourmet type cuisine in a wine cellar. To describe the garden like environment, we approached this place by walking up a lane that was lined with giant Italian Cypress trees. One could tell that this grand home had such history.The Wisteria and flowers were beautiful. The owner couple were genuine in wanting to share their stories of life in the peaceful Tuscan hills. There have been references of World War II throughout our trip regarding what buildings were respected and NOT bombed, like the Vatican and the Colosseum in Rome, for example. Here at the farm house, the owner pointed out the indentation in the stonewall on the side of the house from a bomb shell. In Europe, there is such history. Survivors moved on from the war and here we were enjoying the result of working from the farm to the kitchen to the table to create an experience for travelers. Trafalgar tours gives back to the hosts where they visit. This helps support them and to motivate the younger generation to stay and to help preserve this way of life.
A reminder that you can see my photos on the CTC Travel (Dallas) face book page. Just look for about 10 posts in April of 2019. Next, we took a 45 minute drive to the popular city of Siena.
Siena dates back to the medieval 14th century and over time, it became a strong business center. It is famous for the horse races, Corsa del Palio, that take place twice per year around the Piazza del Campo which is the town square. Large festivities surround the races of the 17 competing districts. This city is vibrant with terrific shopping and restaurants all around.
The next day we went Firenze, Florence! It is the capital of the Tuscany region and it is known as the Merchant City. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is magnificent. We walked all through Florence with the guidance of our wonderful Tour Director. Afterwards, we had flexibility to explore on our own. There are many museums and one must make choices of what to see in the allotted time. Michelangelo’s famous marble sculpture of DAVID is a popular choice. You must purchase tickets for the museums and pay attention to the length of time it takes to visit. If you are ok with seeing a smaller copy of DAVID, there is one in Piazza dellaSignoria (Signoria Square).Even the outdoor copy was amazing. Shopping for leather goods such as jackets, purses and shoes was a popular choice. There is also fine jewelry and art. Many choose to visit the famous Ponte Vecchiobridge where there are many local venders selling their goods. I enjoyed Florence so much!
Read along for the last part of my journey as our group circled back to Rome to see more popular sights.
Rome and Tuscan Highlights (Part 3 of 5)
Cinque Terre is a string of five villages that are located northwest of Tuscany in a region called Liguria. These are coastal fishing villages dotted with pastel colored houses that are in bedded in the rugged cliffs. We drove through the town of La Spezia to drive up into the mountains where we had views of the city down below. As we continued to climb, all of us were amazed by the stone terrace vineyards. Our Tour Director informed us that these villages had many challenges with survival in the past because of the difficult terrain. The people had to come up with a way to use the land to produce a product for trade as fishing was not enough. The vineyards became important. These terraced vineyards go from sea level up 4,000 feet. We tried to imagine from generation to generation the work that continues on these steep terraces. Amazing. This region is also known for producing it’s own unique Pesto.
We visited two of the five charming villages. Each had quaint shops, restaurants and colorful fishing boats. It was fascinating to see how these houses were built along the challenging terrain. I found the local people to be hard working, humble and friendly. After many years of enjoying professional photographer’s beautiful photos of this region, I was here. I was here in person to see this scenery with my own eyes. It was a thrill to take my own photos of this very special place. We walked up a walkway that hugged the edge of a cliffside. Often, I stopped to look back to see the view that so many would say is awesome. And it was awesome! It was a misty and cloudy day. And it was still a beautiful experience with the smell of the Mediterranean Sea and the waves crashing against the rocky shore and the spectacular view of the colorful village.
From this small village of Manarola, we walked through a long tunnel to arrive at the train station. It was a short ride to the next village of Monterosso. This village is the largest of the five villages and it has a nice beach. We had plenty of time to lunch at Ristorante da Ely and enjoy the local shops. Our group met back at the train station for about a 25 minute train ride to La Spezia to meet our trusty motor coach driver. We learned where many tourists take the ferry over to the villages from La Spezia during the peak tourist season, “next time,” I thought with a smile.
Tomorrow, we visit Pisa and Vinci (as in Leonardo Da Vinci). Looking forward to another great day! Join me!
My trip is posted on CTC Travel’s face book page. Take a look! And maybe you will want to take the same itinerary or something similar with Trafalgar Tours. Give me a call and I can help you plan your trip.
Rome & Tuscan Highlights (Part 2 of 5)The walk from the Sistine Chapel to St. Peter’s Basilica brought forth feelings of eagerness and anticipation. We slowly walked by THE HOLY DOOR. We learned that it is only opened every 25 years. All the faithful who walk through it during that year are in expiation of their sins.
Entering St. Peter’s Basilica one is struck by the grandeur. It is the largest church in the world. It is not only the architecture and decorative elements that are so impressive, it contains some of the most solemn and sacred items in the Temple of Christianity. I leave those details to experts. I will point out a few that stood out for me. The Chapel of “La Pieta” contains the famous marble statue of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ. Michelangelo’s work during the 1400’s depicted such a moving scene so beautifully. Many, including myself, stood in line to wait for a turn to stand up close to The Statue of St. Peter. It is a bronze statue that is believed to be dated back to 1200’s. Many choose to touch his right foot along with a prayer or with a photograph. Moving forward in the immense church, there is so much to see and take in including the chair of St. Peter (the first Pope) and the spectacular dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. We had plenty of time to meander through the church and our guide moved us outside to St. Peter’s Square to the area where the Pope speaks to the public. Last time I visited Rome, I did not have a guide and I must say that having a local specialist on this tour was very valuable.
We moved on to the Colosseum! It held about 50,000 people and it was used for centuries. There is a long history of uses one of which were for Gladiator battles in order to fight for their chance of freedom. There is so much more to see in Rome and we visited more of those sights at the end of our tour.
Tuscany:The next day we began our Tuscany segment of the trip. After just 30 minutes of leaving Rome, the terrain began to change to the rolling hills with tiled rooftop farm houses. We drove 4 hours north on a spacious motor coach to a town west of Florence called Montecatini. Our wonderful Tour Director and Driver always made stops where appropriate throughout the drive times. We stayed here for 6 nights and went on day trips in the beautiful Tuscany region. We really enjoyed Monetecatini for our home base with it’s pleasant town square and quaint restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops. Our 4 star hotel was located just 2 short blocks from the square and it included a spa with all the services. Every morning we enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast 5 stories up with a wide view of the town and with mountains as the backdrop.
Our first day in Tuscany, we were set to visit an old market in Florence. We met Chef Libero and his assistant. We were divided into groups where each group had a short shopping list and some money. Libero asked us to go into the market and bring back the fresh ingredients where we would then travel to his place to prepare a meal for all 32 of us. We all had a great time using our broken Italian to purchase the fresh fruits and vegetables etc. Going to the market and cooking is one of Trafalgar’s Lifestyle Experiences that is included in the tour. Chef Libero’s Ristorante is located on his family estate where we would learn to make our own pasta and enjoy the wine and olive oil that they produce. We were greeted in such a genuine way, complete with a music trio playing guitar and a welcome toast. Then on we went “to work,” said Libero with Italian gusto. Many of us gathered around several long tables where pasta stations were set for us to participate in making our own pasta dough, then to shape and cut and fill our Ravioli. It was work and we had a lot of laughs working together. Other groups gathered in the kitchen preparing sauces and soup and salad. After the preparing phase, the staff switched us in to the wine tasting phase of the day along with hors d’oeuvres. Then on to our meal that was served family style by Chef Libero’s friendly staff. The music continued with some singing and dancing that brought us all closer as we became a traveling family. Join along with me for the next day which was to visit the rugged coast of Cinque Terre, Italy.
An Italian Adventure with Trafalgar Tours (Part 1 of 5) - Rome & Tuscan Highlights
The next 5 editions of the Wanderluster will be written by one of our in-house travel advisors, Hilda Spillers, You may remember her from a previous blog entries when she detailed her visit down to Club Med Resorts in Cancun, Mexico. This time she was invited by Trafalgar Tours to experience all that they have to offer during one of their small group tours thru Italy.
To learn more about Hilda Spillers and her travel expertise & passions, please Click Here. Please remember to follow us on Facebook & Instagram if you would like to see more details & photos of our experiences.
Trafalgar Tours has been dedicated to taking our guests beyond the obvious sights that has helped us grow over the past 65 years into one of the most trusted and successful international guided vacation companies in the world. They passionately believe in the power of travel to broaden the mind and build bridges between people. By sharing with you the hidden places not mentioned in guidebooks, the local people you wouldn't otherwise meet and the traditions you may not have experienced by yourself, we ensure that you get the 'insider' view: an authentic and enhanced experience you simply could not have had on your own.
I had the pleasure of traveling to Rome and Tuscany and back to Rome for 10 days with Trafalgar Tours. Trafalgar has been guiding and escorting travelers for over 70 years. They offer special experiences beyond the sightseeing called “Be My Guest” experiences and Regional Experiences which I will write about in the Tuscany portions. These are opportunities to go deeper into the culture and into the region. As a solo traveler on this trip, I was delighted to meet great people and I must say that our group truly became a traveling family.There are many types of travelers and some prefer to travel independently. Traveling on an escorted tour has so many benefits. The main advantage is worry free; leave the details to the Tour Director; leave the driving to the expert driver; learn history and stories from the Local Specialists. An escorted tour makes the most out of the time you have in a destination. Now … on to Rome!Arriving at the Fiumicino airport, going through customs and meeting the transfer to the hotel went easily as specific instructions were offered prior to traveling. Rome is sometimes named “The Lasagna City” as it is layers of ruins and history. Rome is one of the few cities in the world that can claim 3,000 years of uninterrupted civilization while it thrives in modern times.Our 4 star hotel was located a block away from posh via Veneto and it was very close to a large and beautiful park named Borghese. From the moment we pulled up to the hotel, right there was a huge stone wall that dated back to the 3rd century and I was amazed when informed that it goes for 11 miles around parts of the city. Just behind the hotel, there was a pizzeria with a passionate restaurant owner. He offered wide welcoming arms to hungry American customers who just recently arrived in Italy. The Pizza Margherita was wonderful! Early evening, there was a welcome gathering in the hotel lobby and then we took a short walk to a fabulous restaurant where we enjoyed wine, many types of pizza and desserts that we all shared. “La Dolce Vita!,” The Sweet Life!Our first morning, we were off to The Vatican City. The Vatican Museums were our first stop and our Tour Director introduced us to a Local Specialist who met us at the motor coach. She walked us 2 blocks and we went right passed hundreds of people in line and soon we had a magnificent view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. I said to myself, “this is the way to do it!” Our Local Specialist gave us a lesson on the Sistine Chapel. She was entertaining with many stories of Michelangelo’s work, but also about his relationships with the Pope and some Cardinals of the time. One story was of a particular Cardinal that Michelangelo did not care for and he painted him on the lower right corner of one of his major works. Michelangelo chose to intertwine large snakes around this particular figure. This particular Cardinal was not pleased to see himself portrayed in this way. Ha! These are things that are not written in our history books!Walking through the Vatican City courtyards, massive stone hallways and corridors was a humble experience for me. As we approach the first of the Vatican Museums, the many people around us were merged into a long corridor. The Gallery of the Candelabra contains statues and busts and frescos dating back to periods B.C. and A.D. The Gallery of Maps was an amazing display of huge walls of maps of regions of Italy. The artist also included important historical events which several were explained by our local specialist. We each had ear pieces to hear her. This was great as the gallery remained relatively quiet as most people were listening to their guides. We continued through another long corridor to experience the Gallery of the Tapestries. These huge tapestries were from the 16th century and most were woven with strands of gold to enhance certain parts. The artistry and painstaking detail was amazing to me. To capture eyes and expressions on faces in a woven piece and multiply that by 11 of these huge tapestries makes me wonder, “how long did it take to create these? And, what an effort to hang them and maintain them.”In reflecting after the trip, one can read about these places, one can look at photos on line and in a book. But nothing can capture the feeling of seeing these amazing places and displays better than experiencing with your own eyes and senses. - - with a guide of course!We then made our way toward the Sistine Chapel. We all appreciated receiving a lesson of interpretations from our guide prior to arriving in the great hall of ceiling frescos painted by Michelangelo. He painted these frescos from age 33 to age 37. The walls were done by other artists of the time. All were asked to remain SILENT and no photos taken. We had plenty of time to take it all in and reflect on the meaning of the frescos and the amazing display of work and art. We regrouped and we walked on towards St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Peter’s square. I hope you will continue along with me for part 2.
Introduction of Virgin Voyages Cruise LineOn February 13th the newest entry in the cruise business, Virgin Voyages flew a select group of travel agencies to New York City for the introduction of their trend setting cruise line's first ship (one of 4 planned), the Scarlet Lady. As in everything Virgin, we were guests in the trendy Moxy Hotel in Manhattan.
The following day the event (a high tea in the fitting British tradition) was held on the 102nd floor of the One World Trade Center Observatory with commanding 360 degree views of the city. The choice of February 14th (Valentine's Day) was significant as red is the theme color for the line and consequently the ship's name, Scarlet Lady. The elevator ride from the ground level to the Observatory took 47 seconds with the history of New York projected on the walls from it's beginning to current day. It was very impressive.
We were met with champagne and tables set with a variety of petits fours surrounding the center stage. A one hour very humorous and totally casual presentation was given by Richard Branson (Founder) Tom McAlpin (President and CEO) and Stacy Shaw (Vice President). Several short videos were shown with renderings of the ship on monitors strategically placed around the room. Much of the conversation involved the innovative design of the ship and the efforts to reduce her footprint when operational. Her unique hull design and sleek exterior will make her stand out anywhere.
Virgin's goal is basically to take traditional cruising and turn it upside down. Its 2750 all adult guests will be called Sailors (instead of guests) and will not be hassled with such traditional things like gratuities, dining reservations (20 different free dining venues), unlimited wifi, all basic drinks including soda, bottled and sparkling water to name a few. Geonbae is a Korean barbecue where diners can cook their own meals over flameless grills. Razzle Dazzle focuses on vegetarian and vegan fare as well as a juice bar. There are no set dining times.
It appears the cruise line is directly targeting the young at heart. Those who just want to have an unstructed and unreserved good time. The dress is casual. Featured on the ship is a tatoo parlor and drag show brunch. Spa and fitness are an important part of the ship and features the largest sun bed at sea as well as very unique pools. Fitness classes are included in the fare.
The standard cabins (86% balconies) feature "sea beds" that serve as couches for entertaining during the day and beds at night. The balconies also feature hammocks. The top four Rock Suites even feature guitars and turntables.
The first sailings in 2020 will begin with four to five day cruises featuring Cuba and Costa Maya and Virgin's private island Bimini in the Bahamas where she will be able to dock.
To finish off the introduction of Virgin Voyages, we were invited to a massive party at the Playstation Theater on Broadway. The event featured DJ Mark Ronson, a moveable dance floor, countless bars, a huge variety of hors d'oeurves, and of course, Richard Branson. After showering the crowd with a bottle of champagne, he took to the dance floor with the professional dancers. The show also included acrobats and gymnasts. The music never stopped and neither did the party. We were exhausted.
In reflecting on the whole event, two things were obvious. One, Richard Branson is a radical who loves to be different and have fun. Two, Richard's commitment to both the planet and the travel agent community is quite evident.