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One Deck Chair…Why Not Four?

There’s an old joke about a man who’s sprawled across three loungers on the deck of a cruise ship. He is warned by the crew that he must move or risk being “arrested” by the cruise cops. The man lays there looking up in silence.

Finally. the removal squad is called. Again, the man is warned. Again, he is silent.

Deck chairs“Okay, buddy, what’s your name?”

“Charlie.”

“Where are you from, Charlie?”

“The top deck.”

At least Charlie had a reason for taking up three deck chairs. Often that’s not the case on cruise ships. Often, PWCs (Passengers Without Class) take ownership of several chairs at a time and leave others looking for a place to suntan.

Full disclosure: We’re not really from the deck-chair crowd so from a personal standpoint this doesn’t usually upset us. However, we’ve talked to many people who are understandably distressed when they can’t find a place to sit amidst empty chairs “belonging” to somebody else.

Friends told us of an incident on the Celebrity Reflection. This is not a problem on one ship nor one cruise line…it’s something crew members have to deal with and not alienate the people who pay their salaries.

On the Reflection, a man had four chairs that were unoccupied. Our friends were with another couple. When they first asked, he ignored them. Finally, they said:

“You’re not supposed to take chairs you aren’t using?”

“What’s it to you?” he replied.

Begrudgingly and eventually, he gave up only two of his unoccupied-but-reserved chairs. He admitted to nothing, not even bad manners. They didn’t know his name, but it wasn’t Charlie.

Charlie wasn’t rude.

Today at portsandbows.com: October start for Amber Cove

Norwegian Pearl
7 nights
May 17, 2015
Seattle (return): Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay National Park, Ketchikan, Victoria
Inside: $529
Cost per day: $75
www.ncl.com

Cruise Food's Ever-Changing World

Food has always been challenging for cruise lines, which have developed an amazing ability to handle just about everything. In the early days of cruising, the challenge was to make sure the customers didn’t refer to “cruise ship food” the way patients refer to “hospital food.”

From those pre-historic culinary times, you can now dine in restaurants that are often the equal of the finest of fine dining in big cities, and that’s become pretty much industry-wide.

But there are always glitches.

Today’s world includes more food allergies than ever before, and cruise lines have to cope. It doesn’t matter what makes the customer unhappy with their food so, while the onus is always on the person who is allergic, cruise lines want happy, satisfied clients. A big one these days is gluten…or more specifically, no gluten.

A couple of decades ago, it sounded like a word lifted from a German dictionary. Today, grocery stores have sections of gluten-free food. Restaurants in growing numbers serve gluten-free food — and that means food that has not so much as touched anything containing gluten. The reaction can be devastating for the sufferer.

We’ve started to notice more and more gluten-free items on cruise-ship menus, in part because we have a granddaughter with Celiac disease. It’s the old story, isn’t it? You don’t pay attention to things like this until it touches you.

The same goes for cruise lines. Years ago, they probably would have thought gluten might be from a German dictionary, too.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Celebrity Reflection
7 nights
December 13, 2014
Miami (return): San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.celebritycruises.com

A Quantum Leap In Cruising

 

Earlier this year, for the first time, we boarded one of the two “biggest cruise ships in the world” and, other than size, the lasting impression that Allure of the Seas had on us was this one:

What could be better?

Different, yes. Classier, maybe. Cozier, definitely. But better?

Well, here comes better. The word from Germany yesterday is that Quantum of the Seas, the next generation of Royal Caribbean ships, is going to be better. While it’s premature, of course, the early reports from cruise writers on the scene — including Phil Reimer of Ports and Bows — is that Quantum of the Seas is taking the industry into uncharted waters.

Royal Caribbean is calling this a “Smart ship” (as in smartphone) because in an age when cruise ships are always trying to one-up each other, Quantum has an impressive list of firsts.

For example:

• You will generate your own cruise documents, scan your own photo and pretty much check yourself in. Time: 10 minutes, “sidewalk to ship.”

• Wearing “Dick Tracy” watches (how old are you?), you will never get lost on the ship and you will open your stateroom with your watch. The technology is called RFID, and if you didn’t know that’s Radio Frequency Identification, you’re not as far into the 21st century as you thought…kind of like us.

• You will drink martinis and other cocktails, if you drink martinis and other cocktails, made by a robot.

• You will be able to play XBox, assuming that’s your thing, with other gamers…anywhere in the world, from a “SeaPod” in the “SeaPlex.”

There’s more but, all kidding aside, have you ever been able to do any of those things when going on a cruise?

Today at portsandbows.com: Phil Reimer’s spin on Quantum

Celebrity Reflection
7 nights
November 15, 2014
Miami (return): San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten
Inside $569
Cost per day: $81
www.celebritycruises.com

The Captain's 'Norwegian' wife

They met on a cruise ship, as many captains and their mates for life do. She was from Trinidad and Tobago. He was from Norway. Not exactly the blueprint for a match made in heaven…or even the Western Hemisphere.

"Sorry if I'm getting carried away," says Captain Tore Grimstad, whose ship is Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, "but she is special."

He wasn't talking about his ship, which is special. He was talking about his wife, Lisa.

"She is as Norwegian as anyone — she speaks such beautiful Norwegian, even a dialect that I have, that people when they see her and have spoken to her on the telephone, you see the chin drop to the chest," he laughs, which he does a lot. "They say to her: 'You don't look like one of us…but you speak like a local!'"

They have been married 17 years now and their 15-year-old daughter, Anna, is being raised on the island as her father was. It's near Alesund, in western Norway, and is Capt. Torecalled Gurskoy/Hareid-Landet…actually two islands linked by a recently constructed underground tunnel. She and her mom have the man of the house at home every 10 weeks, for two and a half months between his Allure assignments.

Sometimes, they get to sail with him.

Sailing on another Royal Caribbean ship, Sovereign of the Seas, is where this trans-oceanic romance began. Tore was Chief Officer, Lisa worked in housekeeping. He took her home to Norway, then left on a contract at sea.

"I left her there and when came home four months later, I was blown away with all the words she knew, and the phrases," he says with pride. "She is musical. She's just good with languages. She already spoke a few languages from Trinidad. English is the mother tongue. A bit of Spanish….a bit of what they call gibberish…Creole, Patois. When she came to Norway, she immediately applied for work….got a job as a scaffolder in a shipyard. That little woman, she is amazing…climbing on the scaffolding on the outside the ships. She's a bit petite, so they sent her down in tanks to clean the inside so she was thrown right in there and nobody spoke English. She just had to learn Norwegian."

Language and scaffolding are only two of the things his wife learned in Norway. Her husband explains:

"They told her the scaffolding was to diminish but they needed truck drivers. So here she was, pregnant and driving a huge truck!"

Lisa took five years off after Anna's birth but today she still works in a shipyard.

"Now she's dealing a lot with customer sales and service," he says, "but she made a lot of sacrifices."

On the 10-week periods when they're together, the Grimstads spend a lot of time outdoors.

""I'm a dinosaur," he laughs. "I love to hike in nature…backpack…and when we say camping in the wilderness, it's real. Even midwinter, it's slightly cold but we do it."

Typical, you might say, for a Norwegian. For Lisa, that's nothing new.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Christening the AmaSonata

Celebrity Reflection
15 nights
October 17, 2014
RomeFunchalSt. KittsSt. MaartenLabadeeMiami
Inside $849
Cost per day: $56
www.celebritycruises.com

Cruise Port — San Pedro, Accessible And Unique

This week, we're featuring ports you may find on your cruise itinerary, to give you a snapshot of what it's like, what ships usually go there and what some of the options are once you get off the ship. Today it's San Pedro, California.

If you're driving to San Pedro, parking can be an issue. We've boarded ships there after parking in the adjoining lot ($12 a day) and after leaving our car with friends who live nearby (free, but you'll probably take them for lunch).

This port is about 20 miles south of Los Angeles on Interstate 110 — although sometimes Los Angeles is 20 miles from Los Angeles — so there are plenty ofSan Pedrotransportation options and no shortage of things to do, depending on how much time you have. 

Here's one: Stay at the Westin Los Angeles at LAX and you can park free for a week. If you're flying into L.A., there are several shuttle possibilities, usually for San Pedro-5 copyabout $15 per person.

At your departure point, it's easy to find things to fill your time. If you have a short stay before boarding a ship, there's a free shuttle that runs every day a ship is in port, through downtown San Pedro, which of course has shops and multi-cultural restaurants and tourist points. At this time of year, at least for another couple of weeks, there are whale-watching opportunities with priced at $15-$20 for two to three hours on the water.

It's not far to many museums, beaches and "Old San Pedro" is almost walking distance from the cruise ship…Fisherman's Wharf is not much farther.

Sometimes we've scheduled our arrival at a cruise port to be as close to departure time as possible, but that means missing the boat — so to speak — for an interesting visit to a unique area like San Pedro.

There are several cruise lines using that port but Princess and Norwegian are the two that regularly have ships leaving from San Pedro.

Today at portsandbows.com: Cognac is more than an apertif

Celebrity Reflection
7 nights
April 12, 2014
Miami (return): San JuanSt. ThomasSt. Maarten
Inside: $429
Cost per day: $61
www.celebritycruises.com

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