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Killing Fields A Chilling Experience

S-21-10PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — It’s hard to imagine this place was a prison, until you experience its contents. Once, it was a school. Then came the Khmer Rouge. Classrooms became cells and torture chambers. Fencing installed for the safety of students was replaced by electrified barbed wire to keep “prisoners” from escaping. In its lifetime, this collection of five buildings has had three names. Tuol Svay Pray High School…then S-21 (Security Prison 21)…and today the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the first two words mean “Hill [of] Strychnine.”

We’d been prepared for this venture, as much as you can be prepared for seeing tiny skulls, shocking and graphic photographs and confined spaces that strain the bounds of humanity. One of the owners of AmaWaterways, Kristin Karst, is a perpetually happy person who goes everywhere with her customers. She tells us she’s taking a pass on this shore excursion from the new AmaDara.

Chum Mey copy“I have been there before,” she says. “Once is enough.”

She is right.

What happened here in the late ‘70s is indefensible. All prisoners were photographed — many photographs of the victims are part of the museum today — and interrogated while being tortured. They were forced to name family members and close associates, who then became part of the cycle of torture and ultimate death.

We are told there were nine survivors. Some reports say the number may have been as many as 12. Of thousands…between 17,000 and 20,000. Whatever the number, they survived because they had skills useful to the Khmer Rouge. Three are still alive. Two are here, Chum Mey (right) and Bou Meng, selling books that tell their stories and to warn future generations. They remain the public faces of this sad part of human history.

S-21 was one of 150 Cambodian prisons where these evil deeds were committed. Neighbourhood buildings were places soldiers raped prisoners. Those who didn’t die in the prison were taken to The Killing Fields, which today is an historical site about 30 minutes from S-21. 

It’s just as moving as the prison, but less gut-wrenching, perhaps because of the initial shock. There are more skulls — “They find more all the time,” says our guide, “but they S-21-6have enough.” There are mass graves. The monsoons each year continue to unearth more evidence of what happened, more fragments of clothing, more human remains.

There are 127 such burial sites in Cambodia.

How can something so sad be so compelling? How can people like us suggest to people like you that going there is a good idea because, as “shore excursions” go, these are obviously not pleasant experiences? But they serve a purpose. They are “Cambodia.” They aren’t Disneyland.

As the survivors say, preserving this part of history may prevent its recurrence. It’s also a testament to the Cambodian people, who live in peace and with forgiveness for what happened. And charging entrance fees to the museums is one small way to contribute to the economy of this impoverished land of now 15 million people.

It is worth the trip.

But once is enough.

In the news…

• Carnival Corporation committed to 2020 sustainability goals
• Vancouver launches underwater listening device to protect whales
• Tropical Storm Erika no threat (yet) to ports of Dominica

Today at portsandbows.com: Major changes to the Queen Mary 2


Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
January 3, 2016
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.ncl.com

Friday File: All Cruisers On Deck

In case you think a pool deck is a pool deck is a pool deck…well, it’s not true. Cruise aficionados who spend a lot of time soaking up the rays or jumping into pools large and small — or both — believe part of the appeal of a cruise ship is its pool deck. While we’re neither sun worshippers nor avid swimmers, we always take pictures of the pool deck because, well, we never know when we’ll need them for a day like today…

1-Allure

This was when Allure of the Seas was showing its pool deck to North Americans for the first time, in Fort Lauderdale.

2-Diadema

You’d probably never use “Italian” to describe this rather modest pool area, but it’s the Costa Diadema and very Italian.

Epic pool

“Unique” has always applied to the Norwegian Epic, and you won’t likely see this kind of artwork in another cruise deck pool.

AmaDara pool deck

On river ships, the pool area is usually secondary and frequently unpopulated, as it usually is on AmaWaterways’ new AmaDara.

5-Ecstasy

“Busy” is always a good descriptor for a Carnival ship’s pool deck, and that was certainly the case on the Carnival Ecstasy.

6-Reflection

A “peaceful” area on the Celebrity Reflection enhanced by huge artwork on the walls of a ship know for its artistic impressions.

7-Riviera
On the Oceania Riviera, the upper deck is tasteful and understated, with a pool meant for dipping more than swimming.

In the news…

• Mobile, Alabama negotiating to be Carnival homeport for first time since 2011
• Amber Cove port on schedule to open October 6 in Dominican Republic
• Danube, Elbe low water levels still a challenge for river cruisers in Europe

Today at portsandbows.com: Bermuda more popular with Carnival


Carnival Sensation
4 nights
November 1, 2015
Port Canaveral (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $229
Cost per day: $57
www.carnival.com

Friday File: Always Five O’clock On Ships

We have no problems with spending time at bars on cruise ships — it’s just something we’ve never done a lot. So today’s glimpse of some of the facades and ways that cruise lines try to encourage passengers to visit their “neighborhood” bar, or one of them, is hardly the work of experts. It’s just some of the bars that we thought looked interesting, for any of a number of reasons…

Allure-moving bar

The Rising Tide on Allure of the Seas is an elevator of sorts, moving three floors up and down at one end of the ship’s promenade.

Epic - OSheehans

On the Norwegian Epic, there’s an Ice Bar that’s very cool but we found O’Sheehan’s more comfortable in more ways than one.

Carnival Ecstasy

This could be any bar but it happens to be an eagle’s nest view of a bar on the Carnival Ecstasy — it shall be nameless here.

Riviera

Then there's just a bar that looks nice, and classy…which is what Oceania tries to do on all its ships, in this case the tasteful Riviera.

Cruise ship Celebrity Reflection

On the Celebrity Reflection, the innovative Molecular Bar is where you “participate in Mixology 101” and learn new concoctions.

Quantum-Robotic

If you’re into bar conversation, it’s minimal from Quantum of the Seas robots, who needn’t worry about translation with their ship now in Asia.

Carnival Freedom

Carnival’s signature places to imbibe, here on the Freedom, and on some ships there’s a pub, a bar and beer with the RedFrog brand.

In the news…

• Holland America, Dancing With Stars to split after January 10 cruise
• No more fireworks shows on Norwegian ships Breakaway, Getaway
• Crystal Cruises owner considering buying into Lloyd Werft Shipyard

Today at portsandbows.com: New port on the River Thames in London

Caribbean Princess
7 nights
November 15, 2015
Houston (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize
Inside: $469
Cost per day: $67
www.princess.com

Friday File: Women Of The Sea

This week, Kate McCue was chosen to become the first American woman to captain a cruise ship for one of the mainstream lines. Next month, she’ll slide behind the wheel (or joystick) of the Celebrity Summit to break yet another gender barrier. That is the ultimate position for a woman on a cruise ship, of course, and women on ships everywhere are celebrating the occasion. Here are female crew members we’ve met, some of them even firsts…

Epic-Julia Koravcova-1st

On the bridge of the Norwegian Epic, Slovakia’s Julia Koravcova was the First Officer, and that was almost five years ago.

RC-Margaret Aitchison

Margaret Aitchison, from Canada, one of those indispensable executives who was key to everything on Allure of the Seas.

PR-Lisa Ball

Lisa Ball, an Englishwoman and the first female cruise director (toughest job on a ship) we’ve seen, on the Crown Princess.

CB-Ingrid Falavera

From the Celebrity Eclipse, the first woman we encountered to work as a sommelier, Ingrid Falavera from the Philippines.

CA-Ana Klacinski-

Carnival’s Ana Klacinski was in charge of Camp Ocean, the Seuss at Sea kids’ area first expanded on the Freedom.

RC-Barbara Florek-1st

Barbara Florek, who calls Poland home, was Allure's Second Officer when we were on the ship's bridge last summer.

In the news…

Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas to have 10-story water slide called Abyss
• New all-inclusive packages on 11 itineraries in the Tropics for Windstar Cruises
• Upgrades to Disney Magic to include Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for 3-to-12-year-olds

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in airline seat design…ouch!

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
September 14, 2015
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $189
Cost per day: $47
www.carnival.com

Allure of the Seas…More Alluring?

When we heard that Allure of the Seas was going in to be refurbished, our initial reaction was: What could be better?

It is a rite of passage that cruise ships are refurbished every five years or so, even when they’re the biggest and arguably best of all mainstream ships. Until Harmony of the Seas arrives next spring, Allure will retain its big-ship status by about 100 passengers and by about 1,700 tons. It’s a title that has been Allure’s (on a technicality over Oasis of the Seas) since it arrived late in 2010.

The new and refreshed Allure is in Marseille today, early in its first Mediterranean season of weekly round-trips from both Barcelona and Rome, which means passengers can embark in either place. What are Europeans enjoying that North Americans haven’t yet seen, and won’t until Allure returns in November?

Izumi, a wonderful Japanese restaurant that cooked your dinner on a “hot rock” at the table, is now called Izumi Hibachi & Sushi and is fully Japanese cuisine. No mention has Izumi-hot rockbeen made if the hot rock (left) made the cut, but it was cool…proving something hot can be cool.

Sabor Taquieria & Tequila Bar is new. Hopefully, Europeans crave Mexican food as much as North Americans do.

In additiuon to new and upscale shops like kate spade new york and Michael Kors, there are 10 new suites (two Royal, six Grande, two Royal Family) and the Coastal Kitchen with its California-inspired cuisine is exclusively theirs. Does that mean mostly Californians book suites? The suite people also have a new lounge and new sun deck, so a part of the ship has clearly become more exclusive.

Funny…we thought it was already exclusive, just by being Allure of the Seas.

In the news…

• Major cruise lines assessing need to hire lifeguards on ships
• Australia cracks 'magic million' cruise passengers for first time
• Norwegian changes policy on passengers' taking food to rooms

Today at portsandbows.com: Cunard's three Queens 'dance' on the Mersey

Royal Caribbean Splendour of the Seas
7 nights
November 14, 2015
Venice (return): Kotor, Corfu, Athens, Crete, Argostoli
Inside: $588
Cost per day: $84
www.royalcaribbean.com

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