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Can You Have Too Much Chocolate?

One thing that years and years (or decades and decades) of experience tells us about chocolate is this: You have to be careful.

The first time we were on a ship and there was a “chocolate night” at the end of the cruise, we’d been salivating for five days. Kids in the candy store had nothing on us. Mice in the cheese factory played second fiddle (who knew mice could fiddle?) to the resident chocoholics in whatever stateroom we were in that week.

And then something funny (ha-ha) happened.

It was TOO much chocolate.

So Princess Cruises, or its passengers, are hereby forewarned. There is too much of a Love creationsgood thing and, in our house, no food “thing” is better than chocolate.

While many cruise lines feature chocolate — duh, that’s a no-brainer — Princess is taking it a step further. Or a box further. An internationally acclaimed chocolatier and pastry designer we have never encountered in any of our choc-fests, Norman Love, has been hired to teach company chefs how to make chocolate his way. His way is creative, of course, which means it looks as good as it tastes, hard as that may be to swallow.

Or vice-versa.

Norman’s creations will surface when the new Regal Princess does, just weeks from now, and is billed as “Chocolate Journeys.” They will undoubtedly have a sea-going flavor to them, he will likely be on board for the introductions and by the end of 2015 Norman Loveall 18 Princess ships will be so ordained. Known in circles that we don’t visit as one of North America’s top ten chocolatiers, he takes pride in making people smile when they sink their teeth into one of his creations, because that’s what chocolate does to people.

It also makes them say things, in a recent survey, like preferring chocolate to sex (women only), craving chocolate (everyone) and wanting to receive it as a gift (also everyone, but women may be the only ones who admit it). The fact that his name “happens” to be Love probably means this partnership is going to grow because Princess is closing in on its 50th anniversary and may be naming a boat after him…oh wait, they already have, The Love Boat.

There will be at least eight “sweet experiences” when Princess and Love get it all together, from matching chocolates and alcohol to a spa treatment done the chocolate way…aroma, scrub, body mask, massage oil — the whole box.

Will it be TOO much?

Probably, for us. Then again, they had us at “chocolate.”

They always do.

Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
September 14, 2014
Galveston (return): Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Falmouth
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

It's About 'Gratuities' on Cruise Ships…

The problem with tipping is tipping. When does it start and when does it end. On cruise ships, sometimes you never know. On almost all cruises, you pay "gratuities" up front. End of story? Not necessarily.

On almost all cruises, there's the suggestion that you can tip room stewards, servers, bartenders, spa specialists…something a little extra if you think it's deserved. It's always nice to get permission to do that, but we've also been on cruises where it's more than a hint. Envelopes for you to leave for each of the people who served you — empty until you put something in them.

Princess Cruises just had a taste of how passengers feel about surprise tips, although it wasn't called that.

On the Regal Princess, reportedly without notice, a surcharge of $3 was added to all room service deliveries. A few earfuls later, the cruise line canceled the surcharge, telling one unhappy passenger it was a trial on the Regal Princess.

What do some of the other lines do?

Royal Caribbean and Norwegian add a fee if you order room service between midnight and 5 a.m., and Norwegian charges for pizza delivery.

Holland America's room service is complimentary, 24 hours.

So is Carnival's.

Passengers expect tipping to be covered once they pay gratuities up front. Gratuities are gratuities, right.

Unless you want to give something extra…

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
October 5, 2014
Galveston (return): RoatanBelizeCozumel
Inside: $453
Cost per day: $64

A Grand Ship Navigates An Upgrade

Navigator-1-Tenerife copyA dozen years ago she was the world's biggest cruise ship and yesterday the Navigator of the Seas emerged officially from dry dock, where the experts spent a month trying to make her look like the biggest ships of today.

They gave the Navigator a touch of Allure of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas, plus a taste of still-to-be-launched Quantum of the Seas, and sent her on her way in the hope that the people would like her.

What's not to like?

The Navigator was our introduction to Royal Caribbean ships and, frankly, we loved her. This is a ship that carries just over 3,000 passengers, which is mid-size by today's standards, and there are lots of passengers who are quite comfortable with that size. Now that Navigator's 12 years old, it was time to bring her into the second decade of the 21st century, which meant the following:

• The addition of the FlowRider, which gives passengers a chance to try surfing without having to worry about big waves, bigger sharks and drowning. In short, it simulates surfing.

• Dressing up 81 inside rooms to look like outside rooms, an apparition that will be even more apparent on the much bigger Quantum of the Seas, when it arrives in RC-Virtual StateroomNovember. In short, the "windows" on the inside rooms will simulate balconies, but walking onto virtual balconies is not recommended.

• An upgrade in dining. Because Navigator sails Western Caribbean cruises out of Galveston, at least for now, there's more than a touch of Mexico on board. Sabor is what the Mexican restaurant is called and there are dishes like Oaxacan Ceviche of Red Snapper and Roasted Corn Empanada, plus the usual assortment of burritos and tacos and quesadillas. Wash it down with beer or tequila, or both, and the experience must be a good one because Sabor comes with a $25 fee.

Beyond that, it's the typical upgrades. Better TVs. More restaurants like the big boys have. WiFi throughout the ship. A rock wall to climb, ice on which to skate and new shows to entertain you in the theater.

We'd say Navigator had a facelift but, to us, she never looked like she needed one.

Carnival Victory
5 nights
March 31, 2014
Miami (return): NassauHalf Moon CayGrand Turk
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $53

When A Ship Goes To The Super Bowl


Just when we thought it was time to give "cruising" and "Super Bowl" a rest…along comes this picture.

How could we not show you what a cruise ship looks like when it's turned into a hotel for a football game?

Every advertiser tries to get a piece of the football championship of the universe, and nobody does it better than the Bud people. They spend a ba-jillion dollars peddling beer and now they've connected with Norwegian, the cruise line that tries to be first in all things creative. 

At this point, none of us knows if the relationship is passionate enough to get Norwegian's Getaway onto a Bud Light commercial, but not likely since the ship just arrived in New York about the same time the teams playing in the Super Bowl arrived.

This work of art — people who already thought Norwegian ships were ugly will have a field day with this aberration — is called the Bud Light Hotel. It will be inhabited this weekend by football fans who want to be part of Super Bowl hoopla without freezing their tootsies.

It might be a one-shot deal, like two teams meeting in the big game for the first time, or it might be the start of an annual party on the Getaway. On the other hand, Norwegian will have a tough time getting the ship to next year's game.

It's in Phoenix.

Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas
7 nights
March 2, 2014
Galveston (return): FalmouthGrand CaymanCozumel
Inside: $560
Cost per day: $80

An Unlikely Home for Dean Bailey

Dean Bailey is from Great Britain, of Jamaican parents, lives in Hungary and spends his work days on the high seas in whatever country his Royal Caribbean ship is visiting. 

Home is Budapest, a city he once rejected as a place to live because of "cold weather' and "language."

So what took him to Budapest?

"A woman," he laughs.

The woman is Csilla Ali, who was born in Hungary, whom he met on a cruise ship in 1994 and who is the mother of their 10-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl. If Papa plans it properly, he can schedule his contracts to take ships around the worst of Eastern Europe's weather and he has become comfortable with the language. 

At least that's what he thinks.

"At first I thought that no one else speaks this language…maybe on Mars but nowhere else," he recalls. "Now my children speak Hungarian and I speak a little, which is of great amusement to them. In school, they study in English and Hungarian. My daughter — she thinks she's funny but she's really not — has my sense of humor. Occasionally she will speak to me in Hungarian and pretend she doesn't understand English…just so I'll speak Hungarian."

The language this personable hotel director speaks mostly is sports.

"I am nuts for sports," he says. "Any sport. I've probably seen every sports film that's ever been made. I play many, many sports."

And is a fan of many. Like his home "football" team, Birmingham City, which he says is "terrible, but they were in the Premiership for a fleeting moment two years ago and gave me hope." And the New York Knicks, because of Patrick Ewing, who was born in Jamaica and played 17 years in the NBA: "It broke my heart when Reggie Miller buried them in '95." And boxing, because of Colin McMillan, a British featherweight who briefly held the World Boxing Organization title. And baseball, because his understanding of its history was enhanced by a Navigator of the Seas theme cruise 11 years ago that featured Hall of Famers like Joe Morgan — "I didn't want that cruise to come to an end." And hockey, because of Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier and whatever teams they played for at the time.

"I follow players more than I follow teams," adds Bailey, who boxed, ran cross-country, played tennis and looks fit enough — after 20 years at sea — that he could still do all of them today.

Today his ambitions are modest.

"My only ambition in life is to be happy," he says. "I would throw money over the side of the ship and whatever came back I would save so maybe there will be something left over for my children. That makes me happy — as long as I do things that make me happy. There are four reasons why what I do makes me happy…the people, the people, the people and the people. Crew and guests."

And, of course, those special people who are the reason he lives in Budapest.

(Wayne Gretzky photo by Troy Parla)

Holland America Ryndam
7 nights
August 31, 2013
VeniceDubrovnik, Kotor, Corfu, Olympia, Nauplion. SantoriniAthens
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

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