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How To Enjoy Getting To Europe

DiademaNAPLES, Italy — Anybody who has flown to Europe or back knows there’s no such thing as the perfect day (or two), even if you fly business class.

Our trip to this southern Italian city was as good as it gets.

If you leave from the West Coast, as we did, figure on being in your hotel about 21 hours later. That’s 21 hours, period, not something adjusted for time changes. 

Our flight was on Delta. It was outstanding. Check-in, from airport arrival to gate arrival, took minutes, not an hour or two. We changed planes seamlessly in Seattle and Paris. There was plenty of activity to keep you busy on the flight over the Atlantic, if Romeo Hotelsleep wasn’t on the itinerary. A bunch of movies, music selections, even games to play in the seat-back screen. Meals with the regularity not seen, never mind rarely seen.

The best part: no nickel and diming. All included.

The transfer to the Romeo Hotel in the heart of Naples was easy and this beautiful W-style hotel is ideally located. From our window we could see the cruise ship, the Costa Diadema, we were about to board. We could walk to it in five minutes. Alas, there is (much) luggage to consider. A ride to the ship takes 20 minutes.

Then it was nap time. We think we have the sleep solution figured, because you leave mid-morning one day and arrive mid-day the next…more or less. So, sleep as little as possible until you check in, then catch a few hours (for your second wind), go for dinner around 7, hang in there until 10, then go to bed.

Assume you went to bed in North Naples-AntonioAmerica at 11 p.m. on Tuesday. That’s 8 a.m. in Italy. You get up at 8 a.m. (4 p.m. in Italy). Fast forward to bed time in Naples…10 p.m. Sleep eight hours. If you’re lucky enough to sleep until 8 a.m. (11 p.m. in North America), in that 48-hour period you’ve had about 16 hours’ sleep.

It’s not the ideal end to jet lag, but it’s close. And friendly people everywhere…at the airport, on the plane, from the airport, at the hotel.

Ah, dinner.

Osteria da Antonio was the place. He’s owned it for 26 years. When he goes on vacation in the summer, the people are lined up at his door waiting for him to re-open. Only 10 per cent of his customers are like us, strangers to Naples. The fare is classic Italian, in a seaside port. So you have fish: spaghetti with clams, and pasta shells stuffed with fish. A little tiramisu for dessert and half a bottle of white wine.

It was a two-day period that, as the Italians might say, was perfecto!

Today at portsandbows.com: Choices to embark Costa's Diadema

Celebrity Millennium
17 nights
April 26, 2015
Shanghai, Jeju City, Kobe, Shimizu, Tokyo, Petropavlovsk, Vancouver
Balcony: $1,199
Cost per day: $70
www.celebritycruises.com

Nassau: An Incredible Experience

 

One of the Caribbean ports that attracts a lot of cruise ships is Nassau, partly because of its geographical location as either the first stop or last stop for ships based in Miami and Fort Lauderdale…and perhaps partly because of those constant TV commercials about Paradise Island and Atlantis.

In any event, Nassau is popular.

During our visits to the capital of the Bahamas, of all the places we’ve visited — and for whatever reasons, Nassau is a place where we’ve always had a tendency to go off on our own — the most memorable was a hotel. The Graycliff Hotel.

We stumbled on it, while walking the streets not far from the cruise terminal, where we’d disembarked from the Norwegian Sky, on a four-day cruise. It turned out to be an amazing stumble, and here’s one of the reasons why…

Somehow we wound up in the cellar — a genuine cellar — that allegedly houses the third-largest private wine collection in the world. It’s owned by Enrico Garzaroli, who also owns the hotel — or did — that he bought in 1973. It’s a hotel that’s only had four owners, the German whitefirst of them a pirate named Captain John Graysmith, whose presence clearly had something to do with its name.

That was more than three and a half CENTURIES ago.

It’s important to remember that we just walked in off the street. There was no arranged tour, no greasing the palm of a concierge, no introductions by somebody in high places because we didn’t know anybody in high places in the Bahamas, or anywhere else for that matter.

It was simply our good fortune to wind up in the presence of the cellar master, Sudhir Varot Kangath, and that he was kind enough to show us the corks, as they say. One of them was sealing the wine in a bottle of 1727 Bremen Ratskeller Rudesheimer Apostelwein, a German white that hasn’t been tasted in 46 years. When it was last tasted, the wine passed the test and today that bottle is worth an estimated $200,000.

The entire cellar has been valued at $20 million.

In it, you can arrange for private dining, for $1,000, at a long rectangular table at which the likes of Sir Winston Churchill, Jay Z, Aristotle Onassis and Lebron James have dined. We didn’t ask if that was $1,000 per person…we just assumed that it was. And when we combed through the dusty racks that supported these dusty treasures, it wasn’t like we had to keep our distance. The wines were RIGHT THERE.

On one wall there are maybe 100 bottles that Sudhir calls the "Million Dollar Rack" because that's the total value of bottles worth $5,000 to $25,000 each. According to him, his boss sells "four or five" of them a year. We did spot a 1900 Chateau Lafite, a case of 1982 Bordeaux that is in "high demand", and a couple of Barolos from the '50s. They are all carefully catalogued, of course, and there are cameras everywhere in case any visitors dared.

On the other hand, most visitors would just feel lucky to SEE something that unique.

Like we did.

Today at portsandbows.com: Scrubbers and emission controls

 

Norwegian Getaway
7 nights
January 24, 2015
Miami (return): St. MaartenSt. ThomasNassau 
Inside: $469
Cost per day: $67
www.ncl.com

From The Eye Of A Hurricane…Help

Our resident expert on all things Mexico is Barbra Bishop of Mexpeditions, a travel agency that specializes in everywhere (and everything) south of the border. The other day she was telling us a story about Cabo San Lucas and last month’s Hurricane Odile (below).

The short version is that during the worst of the hurricane, visitors to a Los Cabos hotel were being comforted by workers who themselves had lost (almost) everything, yet Hurricane Odilewouldn’t desert their customers. Impressed beyond words, the tourists banded together — after returning to their homes — and began raising funds to help their Mexican “friends.”

Natural disasters do that. People always want to help.

On Saturday, the Star Princess stopped at Cabo San Lucas. The first cruise ship to respond was loaded with bottled water, paper products, milk and other supplies to help the area’s locals who lost so much.

Yesterday came the Carnival Miracle, whose name was not changed to suit the situation. More bottled water, canned food, diapers, personal items for the Mexican people.

In the aftermath of the Category 3 hurricane that killed 15 people, causing $224 million in damage and leaving an estimated 30,000 tourists stranded in the Baja Peninsula’s southern tip, one of the airlines that flew to the rescue was Alaska. People had to be airlifted. Planes that flew in were empty of passengers, and full of supplies.

Maybe the cruise lines felt obliged to help because the Mexican people in such dire straits are the same ones who make cruise passenger visits so enjoyable. Maybe they do it because it’s good PR. Maybe airlines do it for the same reason.

What matters, however, is that they help.

And now comes the sobering news that cruise ships and airplanes are not the area’s only visitors this week. Hurricane Simon, originally expected to be no more than a tropical Cabo San Lucasstorm, is bearing down on the Baja. It’s expected to make landfall tomorrow, probably somewhere north of Cabo San Lucas.

Will the cruise lines and airlines step up again? Or will it be the tourists who turn the tables and help those who help them?

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise news you can use

Golden Princess
3 nights
October 27, 2014
Los Angeles (return): Ensenada
Inside: $149
Cost per day: $49
www.princess.com

The Hotel That's A Cruise Ship

 

One of our daughters-in-law, who knows something about the hotel business, tipped us off about a rather unique place to stay. Lots of cruise ships are called hotels…this is a hotel that’s a cruise ship and, yes, there is a difference.

It’s in South Korea. Our daughter-in-law (Kim) found the “Sun Cruise Resort & Yacht” while surfing…the web, that is. She found a site named SlipTalk on which there are posted some fabulous, amazing pictures of this resort. It’s worth checking out.

Back to the hotel-ship.

It’s in a city called Gangneung (or Jeongdongjin), on the coast of South Korea, due east of Seoul. Make that, above a city, because this cruise ship sits on the top of a cliff where you can reputedly have “the best view of the sunrise/sunset in Korea.” The hotel is surely the best-kept secret in the cruise community — maybe because it’s outside competition.

It’s been around for 12 years. Accommodation in its 211 rooms is “luxurious.” It has both condominiums and hotel-style rooms. The “ship” is 165 meters long and 45 meters high, and weighs 30,000 tons. For comparison, it would be slightly smaller than a ship like the Ocean Princess.

And here’s the best part: If our research is accurate, the price of accommodation starts at 80,000 wan, which sounds like a lot until you convert it and discover that’s about $75.

The next-best part: You can’t get seasick.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons: parhessiastest

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Caribbean Princess
5 nights
December 13, 2014
Fort Lauderdale (return): Cozumel, Costa Maya
Inside: $299
Cost per day: $59
www.princess.com

Florida Hotel That Doesn't Live Up To Its Name

Okay, maybe it is better to arrive in your port of departure the DAY before your ship leaves. That's our mantra, but sometimes we deviate from it — all for good reason — as we did this month en route to boarding the Allure of the Seas.

We paid for our deviation, big-time.

Flying from the west, and facing excessive air fares, we took the old red-eye and landed in Fort Lauderdale just after 5 a.m. With the time change, that's 2 a.m. body time, and we had decided to give our bods the endurance test of surviving until we boarded the ship about 12 hours later.

However, after landing and feeling the way we were, a better option seemed to find a bed reasonably close to both the airport and the cruise terminal. In Fort Lauderdale, that's relatively easy to do because they're almost in the same neighborhood.

We found a hotel called Sleep Inn that had shuttles to both. The room price was good: $70 plus tax — hey, we only needed the room for six hours. The shuttle was late, the hotel wasn't exactly close to either the airport or the cruise terminal, and by the time we peeled back the covers  it was 7 a.m.

Okay, five hours' sleep.

At 8:30, the maid was banging on the door, wanting in to clean the room. We told her, approximately, to go away. At 9:15, we were awakened by the key rapping sharply against the door. We decided to call the front desk to complain, or at least interrupt her routine, which would be infinitely better than having her interrupt ours. Oh, did we mention that the room phone was dead?

Back to sleep. Again.

Until 10:25, when the return of the maid was greeted with an even angrier response from within. Then again, at 11:55…since it was almost time to get up and dressed, this time we did.

You may have noticed the name of the hotel: Sleep Inn.

Bad name, because "sleeping in" isn't allowed.

Next time, we'll book a room in advance, without "maid service." 

Or arrive a day early.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Space-Ships picture more Scenic than ever

Carnival Imagination
4 nights
September 7, 2014
Long Beach (return): Catalina IslandEnsenada
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $67
www.carnival.com

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