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Gr-eight Day at Port Everglades


Good friends of ours (also travel writers) — Harry and Joan Shattuck — stepped off Holland America's Eurodam and into history last weekend in Fort Lauderdale. Stepping into history is always memorable, if nothing else.

The occasion was eight ships — including the mighty Oasis of the Seas — in a port at the same time. This will happen six times this cruise season at Port Everglades, but last weekend was the first time passengers on ships from the Carnival family were able to be processed getting on and off a ship simultaneously.

This was happening in four terminals, numbers 2, 19, 21 and 26. That's where an estimated 25 million cruise passengers from Carnival-brand ships will experience the upgrade over the next 15 years. This, in turn, is worth $500 million to the port. The $54-million renovation has been in the works, on time and under budget, for almost three years since Carnival and the county agreed on their respective commitments.

As much as it was historic for passengers to be getting on and off Carnival, Holland America and Princess ships at the same time, it brings the process in line with what has been happening at Terminal 18 for two years. That's where Oasis and Allure of the Seas passengers have been experience a similar process for two years…in a terminal built following an agreement between Royal Caribbean and the port.

On days like last Saturday, the modernization and ease of transport is appreciated when eight ships are in port. Incidentally, that will happen again next Saturday (December 1)…and four more times by next spring.

But nothing's quite like that historic first.

Oceania Riviera
10 nights
February 22, 2013
Miami (return): Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, Roatan, Santo Thomas de Castilla, Belize, Costa Maya
Balcony: $3,355
Cost per day: $335

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

Chef's Special a Special Chef

In our first epistle about the Director of Culinary Enrichment for Oceania Cruises, you discovered how a successful business person could walk away and tackle a lifestyle that's fun. Today you'll learn how and why she spends almost her whole life on cruise ships.

Chef Kathryn Kelly's connection to Oceania is Jacques Pepin, whose signature is on two cruise ships: the two-year-old Marina and the Riviera, which was launched earlier this year.

Having joined the faculty of the Culinary Institute of America, she promised the famous chef that when he presided over Oceania's Bon Appétit Culinary Center on the ships, she would teach in one or the other for two months.

That was more than two years ago. Until then, her connection to cruising was a 21-day trip to South America with her daughter when she graduated from college, and a week in the Mediterranean with her mother, who wanted to see where Princess Grace was buried (Monaco).

Both ships were Oceania.

"A friend said 'You're favorite hotel is the Ritz Carlton, and this is a floating Ritz Carlton," she chuckles.

What turned two months into two years was, simply, Oceania. This is the cruise line that focuses the most on cuisine, and not just in the on-board establishments that serve what cruise executives champion as "gourmet" dishes. Besides the restaurants that bear Pepin's name and menu input, Oceania ships sell space in the Culinary Centers for passengers who want to learn more about cooking.

But there's more to it than that.

"You can say we're going to do Moroccan cooking, and then we go to market in Morocco to buy the ingredients," explains Chef Kelly. "We go to a restaurant in Morocco and then come back and gave a class on the ship. It's a 12-hour tour — market for local produce, favorite place to eat, come back, cooking class. There's no corollary to that."

It's more than a unique shore excursion…it's more like the ultimate cooking experience.

"A brilliant idea," she exclaims, "and guests love it. They're on vacation. A lot of them are experienced travelers and they've been to some of these places four or five times, so for them it's 'show me something new.' They see the world through a culinary lens."

Kelly credits Bob Binder, Vice-Chairman of both Oceania and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, with the concept.

"This is his dream and his vision," she adds. "I remember once we were in a meeting and we agreed that if Cat Cora is the Godmother [of the Riviera] then Bob Binder is the Godfather of the Culinary Center. I asked the [Center's] architect if anybody else was doing this and he said no, because it's too expensive. He said in the next five years, we'd still be the only ones doing it. Every idea we've had, Oceania has said 'Let's do it.' I've run two publicly traded companies and I know how difficult it can be to get things done. It takes an enormous financial commitment."

Classes at the Culinary Center last an hour. In them, participants prepare (usually) three dishes at 12 cooking stations for two, under Chef Kelly's good-humored but pointed supervision. Because of the time frame, some raw preparation takes place before the class begins.

Every day she's at sea, Kelly teaches two classes.

"In general, people come in frightened, afraid to pick up a knife," says the Center's Executive Chef. "A woman will drop a man off and say 'Teach him to cook something…anything!' Those are the ones that have such a sense of accomplishment that they wind up taking a second and third class. I'm addicted to it and I want to make sure people learn something."

Meanwhile, back at the CIA, they're investigating if she's ever coming back…

"I don't know," she says. "It's my floating home and I'm having a ball!"

Carnival Ecstasy
5 nights
October 8, 2012
Port Canaveral (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau, Freeport
Inside: $239
Cost per day: $47

Kathryn Kelly a fascinating study

Having been fortunate to have met some fascinating people on cruise ships, we sometime feel compelled to tell you their story in more than one installment.

Such is the case with Kathryn Kelly.

To passengers on Oceania ships Marina and the new Riviera, and to people in the parent company, she is simply Chef Kelly. Her story is being told here in two parts…today, how she came to play a part in the culinary world, and on Monday, why she does what she does, which is help passengers learn how to cook at the Bon Appétit Culinary Center.

Yes, on a ship.

That part of her story began when a friend, the eminent pastry chef Dieter Schorner — who brought creme brulée to America — said he had an interesting opportunity: Float around the world cooking. Herr Schorner also said he was too old (in his 80s) and that she — at 56 — should do it.

By then, Chef Kelly had paid some dues, or at least earned some credits.

"My whole life," says the lifelong entrepreneur, "I always wanted to be a chef. In my 40s, I had sold my third — and last — company [mergers and acquisitions]. I took six months off. I watched a lot of Bette Davis movies, I walked on the beach and I adopted a dog. Then I had a call from a headhunter who said there was a Fortune 500 company on the West Coast looking for a CEO, and would I be interested. I'd been idle long enough that I would take a look but the minute I put on that suit and pantyhose and headed for the airport, there was no way. I went back home."

Following the obvious phone call, she made another one.

To the CIA…and that's not what you think it is. The Culinary Institute of America.

"I asked if I was too old to come to school, and they said if you can keep up, do it," recalls Chef Kelly. "I was living in Florida. I went to New York for 21 months. I have two Masters and a Doctorate, and cooking school was a helluva lot harder than any of them. I was studying for exams at 50 years old and when I graduated, it was the happiest day of my life."

Her story was impressive enough for the Wall Street Journal to carry a piece about her this summer, as an example of somebody who had made a career change late in her business life, and done it by choice.

"You know the movie Up In The Air, with George Clooney?" she asks. "It made me sad, not because it was a sad movie, but because it was me. I'd been in all those airports. And I had a therapist who told me 'You need to give yourself permission to do what makes you happy.' I knew in two seconds what would make me happy, and what was the worst that could happen? If I get there and find I don't want to be a chef, I quit."

That led her to Oceania, and the job that won't quit.

Monday: Find out why

Carnival Imagination
3 nights
December 7, 2012
Miami (return): Nassau
Inside:  $149
Cost per day: $49

La Spezia to be Popular Cruise Port


How do people who spend as much time as they can on cruise ships stumble of a new port?

Funny you should ask.

The port is La Spezia and, as you can probably tell from the sound, it's in Italy. Yes, we did stumble on what we now think is going to be a cruise port to watch. The reason this discovery was almost accidental is that, a few days after disembarking from the Oceania Riviera in Venice, we stayed on the train from Monterosso, the northern village in the famous Cinque Terre.

It makes a better story to say that we missed our stop and couldn't get off until La Spezia, but the truth is that we planned on going there.

We just didn't realize what an ideal cruise port La Spezia is.

During a five-kilometre walk along the Italian Riviera, we had spotted a cruise ship anchored offshore. It was Silversea's Silver Spirit and obviously it was running tenders to the shore…destinations could have been Portofino, or Santa Margherita, or Rapallo. While they're not close to the picturesque Cinque Terre, all could be disembarkation points for making your way south-east to Monterroso, as is Livorno, the most popular cruise port in the area.

Having visited all three these places (and passed through Livorno), we can volunteer the opinion that La Spezia is better.

Here's why:

In addition to being an interesting town or city to visit, like so many Italian towns and cities, La Spezia is the ideal place to launch a tour of Cinque Terre. The five villages — Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore — are walkable if the conditions are right, but for people like us the train is a better option. They run regularly and travelling from town to town takes minutes. Five minutes south (okay, south-east) of Cinque Terre is La Spezia.

So, picture this…

Your cruise ship anchors off the shore of La Spezia. After the short tender ride, you catch the train north to Cinque Terre. You spend the next several hours seeing some or all of the
towns, hopping on and off trains. You return to La Spezia (an all-day train ticket is about $20) and a few minutes later, you're back on the ship. From Livorno, figure on at least a two-hour trip to get to Cinque Terre.

Several cruise lines — Oceania, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Crystal, Azamara and Windstar — currently make the odd stop in La Spezia's waters. Three more — Disney, Holland America, Celebrity — will in 2013.

Civic officials in La Spezia want to build a cruise ship terminal. When that happens, this place figures to be as popular as Livorno.

Panorama photo by William Domenichini

Norwegian Jewel
15 nights
September 27, 2012
Los Angeles, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta, Huatulco, Puerto Chiapas, Puerto Quetzal, Puntarenas, Panama Canal, Cartagena, Miami
Inside: $1,099
Cost per day: $71

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