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Friday File: Favorite Cruise Ships

We’ve often been asked: “What’s your favorite cruise ship?” It’s a question often asked of anybody who cruises a lot by people who cruise a little, or less. Our answer, one we borrowed from the late John Maxtone-Graham, is always the same: “The one we’re on.” That’s pretty much how we feel. When you love cruising, you rarely go on a cruise that you don’t enjoy. At the risk of sounding like Pollyannas, to us cruises are just varying degrees of good. Having said that, over the last six years, these are the six cruise ships we enjoyed the most, for a variety of reasons…


Norwegian Epic: Critics always trash it, but in two cruises we’ve found the complaints mostly trivial.


Allure of the Seas: It’s hard to believe anybody who is objective could find fault with this ship-that-has-it-all.


Coral Princess: In our world, she’s the queen of Alaska, with a feel we call “comfortable in every way.”


Costa Diadema: When you like all things Italian, as we do, you like the flagship of Italy’s main cruise line.


Celebrity Eclipse: When you spend six days at sea, you either love or hate a ship — we loved the Eclipse.


Norwegian Sun: This has everything to do with our longest cruise, 19 days, on a ship that became “home.”

In the news…

• Carrie Underwood joins Carnival Live!  in November to raise funds for vets
• Upcoming SS United States Conservancy announcement to save the ship
• Fog in Tampa once again causes chaos for Carnival Paradise, AidaVita

Today at portsandbows.com: What’s next for Princess Cruises

Carnival Fantasy
4 nights
April 25, 2016
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $59

Viator Guide A Memorable Man


His name is Kim. Just Kim. We are introduced on the banks of the Saigon River in Vietnam. We are on a Viator excursion and he is our guide. He is polite, informative and the antithesis of a rah-rah guide who tries to impress with his clever dialogue so that at the end of the day he’ll get a bigger tip.

For Kim — and his eight customers — the end of the day was nine hours later.

It began with an hour-long ride up (down?) the river, to the Cu Chi Tunnels for a fascinating look at the underground network and weaponry the Viet Cong used in winning the Vietnam War, 40 years ago. Throughout the two hours or so we spent at what is now a huge tourist attraction, Kim’s knowledge and opinions made the tour better than expected.

The day also included a first-ever (and possibly last) visit to a cricket farm, which included a snack that was optional from the farm’s owners, and a lunch (long after we’d digested the little creatures) at an authentic Vietnamese restaurant. Not that you’d expect to find anything but authentic Vietnamese restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, but this was so good we’ve been seeking the North American version ever since returning home.

Our day was nine hours and Kim’s has to be at least two more. When he told us he would become a father in a few months, our tip included a contribution for the daughter-to-be’s Kim Nguyenpiggy bank — he said it would be her first deposit. As we parted, we exchanged email addresses, something we often do when meeting somebody so likeable and personable. We discovered there was more to him than Kim — Kim Nguyen Dinh — and we resolved to stay in touch.

Fast forward…

Our first email went unanswered for almost two weeks. These things happen. Sometimes they’re never answered. When Kim responded, he was apologetic. His father had been suffering from liver cancer for almost a year (long before we met him) and the prognosis was not good. His next email brought the inevitable news. In December, another email announcing the arrival of Cecilia, or Gia Kha Han in Vietnamese.

For his family, it completed the cycle of life.

When you exchange emails with strangers from a land far away, it’s not always like this. But when it is like this, you learn that we’re really not that different, are we?

In the news…

• Launching in May, Harmony of the Seas to feature Dreamworks characters

Today at portsandbows.comFood spectacles for Princess crowd

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
March 13, 2016
Tampa (return): Key West, Banana Coast, Santo Tomas de Castilla, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Huggies Link For Disney Ships   


For 20 years, Disney and Kimberly-Clark have been in a relationship. Disney gave Kimberly-Clark — primarily a company of paper products — the right to use Disney characters to sell Kleenex, and Huggies diapers, among other things. Well, maybe “gave” is not the right verb but if you’ve seen Mickey and Minnie on your box of tissue papers or diapers, you get the idea.

After two decades, the relationship is entering a new phase. K-C is going to provide products wherever Disney has customers (like theme parks, cruise ships and probably movie sets). Disney is going to give Kimberly-Clark the right to re-brand its baby care centers — they’ll now be called Huggies Centers — on cruise ships and in theme parks, and to sell its products in the centers…once again, “license” might be the right verb.

K-C is also sponsoring Disney’s Junior Live on Stage performances wherever they’re held.

“It really seemed to make sense, as the relationship has evolved, to take the next step,” said a spokesperson from Kimberly-Clark. “It expanded the licensing agreement into an alliance.”

Doesn’t it sound a bit like being engaged for 20 years (licensing agreement) before getting married (alliance)?

Photo: David Roark/Disney photographer

In the news…

• Norwegian Getaway to cruise summer 2017 from Warnemunde, Germany
• Royal Caribbean, WWF (World Wildlife Fund) partner on ocean conservation
• Holland America’s new Koningsdam successfully completes sea trials

Today at portsandbows.comAmaWaterways ramps up excursions

Royal Caribbean Majesty of the Seas
4 nights
April 11, 2016
Miami (return): Nassau, CocoCay
Inside: $289
Cost per day: $72

Friday File: Caribbean Calling In Winter

In case the resident weather systems haven’t prompted you to look south — or anywhere — for a break from mid-winter, this is a good time to drool over some of the luscious, hot, picturesque, sandy, enticing places you can visit when you take a Caribbean cruise. And if that doesn’t tempt you to book one…well, maybe you’re just content to stay home and shovel!

Before departureIs there a more photographic rock formation than at Cabo San Lucas?

St. MaartenIt seems everybody has a boat in the popular port of St. Maarten

TulumGazing at the Gulf of Mexico from the Maya ruins of Tulum, Mexico

Cayman IslandsA watering hole called Paradise in the Grand Cayman Islands

Mahogany BayPrivacy is available at beautiful Mahogany Bay in Roatan, Honduras

CozumelThis pretty part of Cozumel is worth taking a drive to the north shore

In the news…

• Norwegian Edge: 2-year, $400-million refurbishing program for 9 ships
• Holland America’s new brand campaign called ‘Savour The Journey’
• Sea trials complete for Holland America’s new 2,650-passenger Koningsdam

Today at portsandbows.comRefurbishing the Carnival Inspiration

Holland America Maasdam
7 nights
April 19, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Ocho Rios, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78

Dental Advice For Cruise Passengers

 Last week was time for the nine-month dental check-up. The dentist is an engaging guy, lots of times funny and always producing at least one clever observation.

This time, it was about cruising.

“So you’re going on a cruise?” he said. “I went on a cruise once and I wasn’t worried about putting on weight. You know what the experts say?”

With a high-speed drill doing whatever high-speed drills do, response was impossible.

“They say — and ‘they’ are the experts in gaining weight — that’s it’s physiologically impossible to add more than two pounds in one week. It’s also physiologically impossible to lose more than two pounds in one week. Physiologically impossible!”

We’d heard his reasoning before and in the interim nothing had happened to us on a one-week cruise to refute his contention. In other words, weight gain for a week was two pounds, or less.

So as many avid cruisers prepare for an escape this winter, remember what our dentist says and don’t take any guilt into the dining room or buffet.

Who’s going to argue?

With dental fingers and tools in your mouth, who can?

In the news…

• Regent pouring $125 million into refurbishing Mariner, Navigator, Voyager
• Baby boy born three weeks early on board Cunard’s Queen Mary 2
• MSC  latest cruise line to skip ports in Turkey — indefinitely

Today at portsandbows.com: New treats from Holland America

Carnival Ecstasy
4 nights
Feb.1, 2016
Miami (return): Key West, Cozumel
Oceanview: $279
Cost per day: $69

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