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Cruise Prompts Costa Rica Re-visit

Playa Potrero-2

One of the nice things about cruising is that when you stop in a country for the first time, it gives you a sense of whether you might like to go back. A taster, as it were.

Graven&TeaganIt happened to us with Costa Rica.

While cruising on the Norwegian Sun, we first visited Costa Rica when the ship made a port stop at Puntarenas, on the Gulf of Nicola and about 60 miles due west of San Jose (the capital). While our visit was typically short — cruise stops seldom exceed eight hours — we made a mental note that this was a country we’d like to see again.

Last week, we did….but we’d be lying if we didn’t admit a little coaxing from a cute 4-year-old granddaughter had something to do with it, too.

We went to a part of the country (Playa Potrero, whose residents include our two new best friends, Walter and Graven), to a place unlikely to ever see a cruise ship, unless it’s with high-powered binoculars as one passes in the waters of the Pacific. It’s beach country, in the north-west area known as Guanacaste. If you’ve never heard of Playa Tamarindo and Playa Coco and Playa Grande, get ready to…judging by the number of expats who have already discovered it.

While Costa Rica typically has — like most tropical countries — a rainy season, this part of the country does not. Well, okay, it gets Version 2less rain. In the winter (December to May), it gets almost no rain. In fact, the green landscape turns brown and locals call it a desert, and not because of its sandy beaches.

It’s a long drive from San Jose or Puntarenas. Mind you, sometimes it’s a long drive from village to village in this welcoming tourist destination. You get there by flying to Liberia (not that one!) and driving for roughly an hour. A growing number of airlines now include Liberia on flight schedules.

However, with our passion for boating, we needed more than beaches.

That’s where Walter and Graven come into the picture. They were co-captains of our “ship” — probably an 18-foot skiff that took us (our family of five) snorkeling. Since we’d never gone snorkeling from a cruise ship, it was a welcome alternative as experiences go, but not nearly as welcoming as Walter (the pineapple man), Graven (sharing a thumbs-up) and assorted full-time residents who reap the benefits of the tourist industry.

Without the Norwegian Sun, we may never have met.

Version 2

In the news…

• Tiffany’s boutique opens in Central Park on Oasis of the Seas
• Crystal Symphony makes maiden call at Santo Domingo
• TV’s Jeff Corwin on Panama Canal cruise with Windstar

Today at portsandbows.comArles, Avignon get A’s in France


Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
9 nights
December 10, 2015
Tampa (return): Key West, St. Maarten, San Juan, Labadee
Oceanview: $739
Cost per day: $82
www.royalcaribbean.com

The Grinch Now A Cruise Character

The Grinch is going to have ample time to steal Christmas on Carnival ships next month, and guess what? It won’t happen, because it never has.

The Dr. Seuss villain will appear on all Carnival cruises in December. He’ll be trying to keep Christmas from happening, and stealing Christmas items from crew members on all the Grinch Bookships because, well, that’s how The Grinch made his name.

What started out as a moral attack on the commercialization of Christmas in a kids’ book that was written 58 years ago became two movies (1966 and 2000), and one of the most famous of many famous books written by Theodor Geisel, or Dr. Seuss.

In the original story, The Grinch took Christmas-themed items from the people of the fictional Whoville. On the ships, he’ll pop up here and there in Seussville (among other places), wearing his green “Santy Claus” costume and trying to be “cuddly as a cactus” and “charming as an eel.”

He’ll be playfully disruptive, in the words of Carnival’s people, and the kids on board will try to drive him crazy by making Grinch-themed Christmas ornaments and painting Grinch-like faces. In short, they’ll be trying to turn him into a Christmas figure, which is what happened in print in 1958.

In this age of political correctness and destroying traditions that offend the vocal minority, Carnival is turning Christmas on board into what Christmas has always been on shore.

A celebration…and a time to change — as The Grinch did when he became the guest of honor at Christmas dinner in Whoville.

In the news…

• CDC awards ninth straight perfect score for Holland America Eurodam
• Crystal Cruises purchases Boeing 777 to join Dreamliner in Crystal Air
• Not a single ship exceeded emission standard in Victoria during 2015

Today at portsandbows.com: River cruising in Burgundy


Carnival Sensation
3 nights
January 14, 2016
Port Canaveral (return): Nassau
Inside: $179
Cost per day: $59
www.carnival.com

Princess Cruising With Cat Greenleaf

Maybe we’ve been living under a rock, but we’d never heard of Cat Greenleaf. Or maybe it’s because in the morning our TV station of choice is CNN, not NBC. Or maybe it’s just because we don’t live in New York, or go to the Emmys.

So finding out something about Cat Greenleaf was…interesting.

Our motivation was that Princess Cruises is sharing — with anybody who cares to watch — a series of videos with the host of Talk Stoop, an Emmy Award-winning interview show with more than 12 million viewers, or more than live in New York City, her home. The videos are about the first cruise for her family: husband Mike, two small boys and mother-in-law (aka, babysitter).

There are 20 of them — don’t be intimidated, they’re short — and they’re well-done, because Princess always seems to do things well…or even better. They highlight all the good things about what first-time cruisers (and sometimes long-time cruisers) experience Cat Greenleaf-2in booking, sailing, enjoying and leaving a ship. It’s not clear which Princess ship this television celebrity was on, but it was the Regal Princess, which carries “5,000 people” — 3,500 plus crew.

That Princess came up with the idea is impressive. 

This is a multi-racial, two-parents-who-work family with a career-driven life that’s too busy to escape on a week-long cruise. Or has been. Sound familiar? There are many such families these days, so Princess is tapping into a large segment of what is already a large segment — first-time cruisers. We can assume, because this was a promotion for the cruise line, that this busy family didn’t pay for the cruise and that, in return, Princess got exactly what it wants the rest of us to see.

For people who have cruised a lot, a couple of things were intriguing. Who knew that a ship like this has 300 routers positioned in all corners to accommodate Wi-Fi? Did Cat Greenleaf really hurt her foot, necessitating a trip to the ship’s doctor and an opportunity to talk about the “hospitals” at sea? And how did she manage to wander through the kitchen without wearing one of those antiseptic white coats the rest of us have worn on kitchen visits?

But the concept is clever, to say the least, and Princess did a service not just for its brand but for the entire industry with this first-person, one-person videos to let the rest of the world in on why cruising is the vacation choice of millions. Plus, it’s good for Cat Greenleaf far beyond a happy cruise experience, because now she has more people who know of her and Talk Stoop.

At least two.

In the news…

• Anthem of the Seas makes Martinique port call amid joy, sorrow, silence
• Celebrity Exclipse to return to Southampton for seventh straight summer
• Top-selling romance book authors on Princess Valentine's Day cruise

Today at portsandbows.com: Carnival and craft beer


Celebrity Equinox
14 nights
April 15, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Seville, Malaga, Alicante, Barcelona
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $64
www.celebritycruises.com

Norwegian, The Frank Del Rio Way

Frank Del RioWhen Frank Del Rio became CEO of the company that owns Norwegian Cruise Line, everybody who has seen him in action knew there would be more action to see. Outgoing, perhaps even flamboyant, gregarious and entertaining, he seems to stand still for nothing unless it’s for the next idea to pop into his head…within minutes, or seconds.

This week, engaging reporters on the new Norwegian Escape, here’s what Del Rio revealed to Cruise Critic’s Brittany Chrusciel…

• Every older ship will go into dry dock in 2016 and 2017, except the Jewel, which is already scheduled for 2018. By our count, that’s nine refurbishing in two years, 10 if Pride of America is part of the deal. Del Rio wants the older ships to become more popular, like the 16-year-old Regent Seven Seas Navigator is for one of his other cruise lines.

• Norwegian will start the migration towards smoke-free casinos, and the Escape will be first to become 50 per cent smoke-free. The last four Norwegian ships launched — the Epic (2010), Breakaway (2013), Getaway (2014) and Escape — have all fielded complaints about “drifting smoke” from the casinos.

Escape• Complimentary dining in the new Jimmy Buffett restaurant, Margaritaville At Sea, may be short-lived. There were long line-ups once the Escape arrived in “Jimmy Country” and when something is that popular it’s only a matter of time until it becomes an additional revenue stream. As an aside, as people who have waited in line to get into several  Margaritavilles, we get it.

What Del Rio is doing, since replacing Kevin Sheehan at the helm, is turning Norwegian into a cruise line that turns more heads.

There’s every indication that he knows exactly how to do it.

In the news…

• Viking orders two more ocean ships — fledgling fleet to be six strong by 2020
• Harmony of the Seas to combine attributes of Oasis and Quantum Class ships
• 'Tangled The Musical' world premiere on Disney Magic in Miami
• MSC Divina arrives in Florida to begin year-round cruises to Caribbean

Today at portsandbows.com: Guess where Liberty of the Seas is going?


Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
7 nights
January 30, 2016
Tampa (return): Key West, Belize, Costa Maya, Cozumel 
Inside: $560
Cost per day: $90
www.royalcaribbean.com

‘Greased Lightning’ Coming To Harmony

Olivia Newton-JohnWhen you go to see Olivia Newton-John perform, as we did last week, there’s some baggage that comes with it. Friends and relatives who are less enlightened will say — or at least infer — that you’re living in the past. One was astounded that you passed up watching the World Series to see a 67-year-old “has-been” sing songs from another century. Some may even keep their distance, for fear of being tarred with the nostalgia brush.

We didn’t care. We loved Olivia’s show and, unless our hearing is going, she sounded as good as the last time we saw her 33 years ago.

Furthermore, we love Grease. One of us has seen it so many times she’s lost count. Her husband has to admit it’s a classic, too. What’s not to love?

In the movie, Olivia Newton-John plays Sandy Olsson. John Travolta plays Danny Zuko. If you don’t already know that, you’re probably not interested in knowing that Sandy and HarmonyDanny are going to be performing Grease on Royal Caribbean’s third (and next) Oasis Class ship, when Harmony of the Seas is launched next year.

That means they’ll be singing Greased Lightning, Summer Nights and Beauty School Dropout together, just like Olivia and one of her back-up singers (no Travolta, but very good) did last week in Las Vegas.

On Harmony of the Seas, Grease will be the main theater entertainment.

As it should be.

In the news…

• Norwegian Escape christened by 'Godfather' Pitbull in Miami
• MSC, Cirque du Soleil in long-term partnership for Meraviglia Class ship shows
• Star Princess ends successful cruise season for Canada's Victoria Harbour

Today at portsandbows.com: Anthem of the Seas — Part Two


Carnival Dream
7 nights
January 31, 2016
New Orleans (return): Roatan, Belize, Cozumel  
Inside: $419
Cost per day: $59
www.carnival.com

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