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A Baseball Guy Who Loved To Cruise

It's on days like this that the lines of my life cross. A Hall of Fame baseball manager died on a cruise ship this weekend.

As an old (?) baseball writer, I was captivated by the news of Earl Weaver's sudden passing at the age of 82. As a cruise writer, I was struck by how it happened in his stateroom on the Celebrity Silhouette.

I never met Earl Weaver but felt like I knew him since first watching him as a "player-manager" — now that's dating yourself — in the minor leagues. He was in Aberdeen, South Dakota, and many of the players he managed there went on to become, like him, the nucleus of the best Baltimore Orioles teams in history.

His 17 seasons as a big-league manager were, besides successful (his Orioles were 528 games over .500), engaging. He was known for legendary disputes with umpires, colorful language with reporters and on his own radio show, and unyielding loyalty to the people who made him a major leaguer.

Life is often six degrees of separation, they say. Weaver apparently loved cruising. In addition to a love of baseball, that gave us something else in common. Okay, maybe that's much more than six degrees.

Years ago, we had a friend who went on to play for Weaver's Orioles before becoming a career bullpen coach (28 years) for the tempestuous native of St. Louis. Elrod Hendricks, who died seven years ago, made us feel like we knew Weaver, even though we didn't.

Today, so does the Celebrity Silhouette.

Photo credit: Keith Allison's photostream


Holland America Volendam
14 nights
March 4, 2013
Kobe, Nagasaki, Busan, Dalian, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong
Inside: $829
Cost per day: $59
www.hollandamerica.com

 

Belize it or not…Costa Maya

News item: Carnival has canceled 10 stops in Belize City because the Belizians have taken on so many ships that the tendering process (necessary) has created congestion. Instead of Belize, passengers on the Carnival Legend or the Glory will be taken to Costa Maya.

Okay, and the winner here is…

Not Carnival's passengers. 

Almost four years ago — before we started writing this blog — we went to Belize on the Norwegian Spirit. We eagerly anticipated the visit because our daughter had often been heard talking about going to Belize, which means she'd done more research on it than us. If you can make a judgment on an eight-hour stopover, it was everything she'd imagined it to be: pretty, friendly, accommodating, interesting, safe. The only thing wrong were the red ants at the butterfly garden…but that's another story.

Not Costa Maya. 

This is a Mexican port we have visited twice, the first time on the way to Belize. As much as we enjoy making lemonade out of lemons, so to speak, this is also a port that needs time to develop, even though it has been nearly six years since Hurricane Dean almost wiped this dot off the map. There's not a lot to do or see in the immediate area, unless you want to sit on the beach and drink beer. As a substitute port, to us it doesn't hold anything close to the appeal of Belize.

Not Carnival.

The cruise line loses on the public relations front with everyone. Passengers may be annoyed at the port substitution, especially if they've been to Costa Maya. Belizians from restaurant owners to street vendors to government bean counters will surely be annoyed at the risk of losing business they were counting on, no matter who's fault it is.

Not Belize. 

There are probably more Carnival ships going there than any other cruise line, to the extent that Carnival believed there was an agreement that no more than four ships would be there at a time, and that Carnival had first dibs on the parking spots in the harbor. So while Belize may — that's may — have more people visiting by crowding the harbor, the increase comes at the risk of alienating its largest cruise ally.

There was a 10 per cent decrease in cruise visitors in 2012. Local tourist officials are being grilled about dealing with the issue, to the point that a "Director of Cruise and Regional Initiatives" is being added to the Belize Tourism Board. The government is engaging potential investors in developing a "Cruise Tourism Village" berthing facility, otherwise known as a cruise ship terminal.

In the end, the buck stops in Belize.


Holland America Volendam
7 nights
May 1, 2013
Vancouver (return): Inside Passage, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71
www.hollandamerica.com

Scaling the heights of St. Thomas

 

A taxi driver in Miami asked where we were going on the Norwegian Epic.

"St. Martin, St. Thomas and Nassau."

"When you get to St. Thomas," he said, "go to the top of the mountain. You can see everything from there and they say they have the best banana daiquiris. Who knows if they're the best? But that's what they say."

Taxi drivers are often good sources of information. At least that's how we justified our trip to the top of the mountain in St. Thomas, one of five members of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We didn't know we would get to the mountain top, but he assured us it wasn't difficult…and he hadn't even met Brenda Percell.

Brenda, a kindred spirit of the Miami taxi driver because while she doesn't drive a cab she does drive a tour bus that seats 12, greeted us as we disembarked from the Epic. As tour guides go, she was friendly without being aggressive, which can make her stand out in cruise ports. She wanted our business, of course, and she cleverly pointed out that riding the nearby tram up the side of a hill cost $42 (for two) and her two-hour tour that included the mountain top was only eight dollars more.

Sold.

Brenda and her husband, Franko Pierre Louis, call their mom-and-pop business Fun Tours. This mom and pop, on the other hand, weren't necessarily looking for a fun tour…just the mountain top.

On the way up, Franko provided the commentary while Brenda drove. His history lesson included that the islands were bought from Denmark for $25 million in gold during World War I and kept from Germans, who wanted to take it in World War II because of its proximity to the Panama Canal. Franko pointed out real estate ranging from public housing for low-income residents to $5 million homes owned by the Sylvester Stallones of the world.

He gave us a population count — 52,00 for St. Thomas, 110,000 for the islands — and said there were two ways to St. John's, by ferry or by swimming. He showed us where Bill Clinton twice played golf (Mahogany Rock, losing both times) and introduced us to a man with a donkey named Monica at one of the stops along the way…there's either an infatuation with Clinton or he's a useful foil. Following a photo-op of Mavens Bay, where swimmers pay $4 to enjoy "one of the world's top ten beaches" came the mountain top.

Or the Mountain Top, using its proper capitalization.

It might be the souvenir mecca to top all souvenir meccas. Clearly, every tour bus in St. Thomas makes it a destination. it's huge, commercial but interesting, and worth the journey even if you don't buy anything. The views are spectacular, there's a souvenir for every imagination and, yes, there are banana daiquiris. They'll run you $8.95 and just the experience makes it a decent buy, even at 10:30 in the morning.

Tourists have less than half an hour to fit it all in, probably because parking spots for tour buses are at such a premium and the tour is all downhill after that, figuratively and literally, because anything else you're likely to want to see is in the capital, Charlotte Amalie — population of 19,000. In other words, tour buses not required.

The Fun Tour — and it was that — ends either in Charlotte Amalie or at the cruise ship terminal…your choice. We opted for the former, determined to climb the 99 steps to Blackbeard's Castle, another tourist attraction. The 99 steps are actually 102, not counting the 50 before you reach the starting point, and the 38 after you reach the base of the castle. It's one of two castles in the area (the other is Bluebeard's, apparently not much more than a hotel), and getting behind the gates of Blackbeard's costs $14. We're told the main reason for doing so is to take a photo looking down on St. Thomas, and we'd already had that opportunity from higher up, on the Mountain Top.

The Miami cab driver had it exactly right.


Holland America Volendam
17 nights
April 15, 2013
Kobe, Tokyo, Hakodate, Kushiro, Kodiak, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan, Inside Passage, Vancouver
Inside: $1,299
Cost per day: $76
www.hollandamerica.com
 

Upon Reflection, People are Special

Quite by accident — or by failure to follow directions — we enjoyed our most pleasant evening on the Celebrity Reflection in the company of a junior waiter, a waiter and a sommelier. This is typical for us. We make more friends among cruise ship staff than we do passengers, which means either we enjoy working class folks, or we're anti-social, or both.

This was in the main dining room on the ship, called Opus. We were supposed to arrive at the Deck 3 entrance as part of a group, but we mistakenly went to Deck 4 and were seated in the section manned by our three amigos, so in the end we formed our own group.

The most animated was the junior waiter, whose name is Paramanandham Jayakumar — Param for short — and not all junior waiters are so outgoing. He came to Reflection from the Millennium, a favorite ship of ours, and we ran down a list of people we both knew. Yes, staff people. Param (right) is from Mumbai, India, and two of the nicest cruise-ship people we have ever met are from Mumbai. No, they didn't know each other (only 12.5 million people live there).

The sommelier was Sandeep Naik (left), who's from Indonesia. If you're surprised that a sommelier is from Indonesia, don't be. There are many, and Celebrity specializes in having lots of sommeliers. Eloquent and wine-wise, Sandeep knew two other Celebrity sommeliers we'd enjoyed on the Eclipse, only one of whom was from Indonesia. Sandeep recommended a wonderful California cabernet to go with our dinner.

And don't think, just because there are specialty restaurants which charge extra on cruise ships that you're getting a second-rate meal in the dining room. One of us had decided on seafood until our waiter, Suparsa ("Call me Superstar") recommended beef tournedos from that evening's fare.

The beef tournedos — in fact, the entire dinner — was outstanding. Just like the people in our group.

Note: We're also covering the North American debut of the Reflection for our colleague Phil Reimer this week. You'll find more from the new ship at www.ports.andbows.com.


Holland America Volendam
14 nights
March 4, 2013
Kobe, Nagasaki, Busan, Dalian, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong
Inside: $799
Cost per day: $57
www.hollandamerica.com

New Ship 'Breezes' into Miami

 

The class of ’12 is almost complete. With the arrival of the Carnival Breeze in Miami yesterday, there's only one new ship left to make its debut this year (debut being an operative word, since a ship's arrival is incomplete until it has touched down in North America).

Yesterday, the Breeze was as much turkey as cruise ship. Do you think Carnival might have purposely timed its itinerary to climax on Thanksgiving Day?

Never miss a photo-op, right?

This is the "turkey with no name" and Carnival customers are competing in a contest to give it one between now and Saturday, a social media contest in which they use the hashtag #TurkeyOnDeck to try to win a $500 gift card.

The new ship has been sailing in Europe — without the 50-foot turkey that decorated its deck yesterday — since its first inaugural cruise in June. It's not the largest Carnival ship (its sister, the three-year-old Magic, carries about 900 more passengers) but it's the largest Carnival ship to set up shop in Florida.

When the Breeze sailed for the first time in June, it was Carnival's 24th ship. When it arrived in Florida, it was the 23rd member of the world's biggest cruise line…the Spirit has joined Carnival Australia, a different branch of the family tree which now appears to have a fleet of one. At any rate, the Spirit has been de-Carnivalized in North America ship counts.

The Breeze is the eight new ship of 2012. Five of them are familiar to North Americans — Disney's Fantasy (March), Oceania's Riviera (April), MSC's Divina (May) and Celebrity's Reflection are the others.

The Reflection completes the process when it arrives in Miami next week.

Presumably, without the turkey.


Holland America Volendam
7 nights
May 8, 2013
Vancouver (return): Tracy Arm, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, Ketchikan
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85
www.hollandamerica.com

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