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Theme Cruises You May Not Believe 

Let’s call if the extreme of theme. That’s not the name of a new musical group or TV reality show, it’s just a way of identifying what’s coming up in the way of, ah, unusual cruises this winter.

Here’s a quick look at three upcoming theme cruises:

The Meow Meow Cruise

This one’s for cat lovers, but not cats. On the Carnival Paradise next April 21, passengers who are cat lovers (or cat lovers who are passengers) will gather to participate in feline-meow-meow-cruise2themed activities while cruising from Tampa to Cozumel, and back. Suggestions for activities are “You scratch mine and I’ll scratch yours” and “Isn’t a perfect place for a flea market?”

The Walking Dead Cruise

This three-night cruise from Miami to the Bahamas on the Norwegian Pearl in January is for zombies. Every family has theme. Yes, ours does, too. It appeals to fans of the hit TV series because they’ll have a chance to hang with Daryl and Carl and Beth and Sasha and Tyreese…and if those names aren’t familiar to you, welcome to the club. Their fans have lots of money — an inside cabin is $750, or $250 a night — and it’s sold out.

2016 Red Sox Fan Cruise

Also in January, this one on the Celebrity Reflection, although it’s a Caribbean cruise — also from Miami — that Boston baseball fans could be on this week, since they have nothing better to do during the baseball playoffs. Among the ex-players on the Reflection will be Luis Tiant and Jim Rice, although Dustin Pedroia and Big Papi would have been better, since they actually won with the Red Sox.

In the news…

• Carnival latest to name its new "air program" — Fly2Fun
• Royal Caribbean: 90 departures, 20 per cent increase in Australia
• Norwegian guests on new TV series 'Dream Quest With Evette Rios'

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas
16 nights
November 19, 2015
Barcelona, Cadiz, Lisbon, Funchal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo
Inside: $697
Cost per day: $43

Angkor Wat: Compelling In Cambodia

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — We’d only walked a few hundred yards into Angkor Wat, the city of temples that everybody visiting Cambodia makes a point of seeing, when we were approached by a young man who wanted to sell us a book. There aren’t many street vendors in this city, but there are some, so this was our lucky day.

“Only twenty dollars,” he said.

We negotiated, because that’s what you do in countries like Cambodia. It’s a game, we’re Angkor Wat-3told. We bought the book for ten bucks. As he walked away in pursuit of his next client, we looked inside the front cover and discovered the book was 12 years old.

Oh well, if nothing about Angkor Wat had changed in 900 years, what could have changed in the last 12?

While it’s all so old, it’s new to first-time tourists. It’s also intimidating. There’s no place like it, although in India the government is building a quasi-replica after seeing how many tourists this one attracts. Only the devout students of architecture and/or history would Angkor Wat-7make the trek to Cambodia just to see Angkor Wat but anybody who happens to be here would feel compelled to see what the fuss was about, since it’s the country’s No. 1 tourist attraction.

We happen to be here because we’re en route to taking our first river cruise, on the AmaDara, the new AmaWaterways ship making its first trip south on the Mekong River from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Because we’re here, Angkor Wat becomes a must.

What is it?

We’ve visited old temples in many places and even to our uneducated eyes, this is unique. It’s Templeland, which means — like Disneyland — you have to consider a three-day pass Angkor Wat-8that costs $40. Since we only have two days, we opt for the one-day pass of $20. For that, you get a taste of Angkor Wat, a 200-square tract of land in the Cambodian countryside that has more temples than even a marathoner could see in 72 hours.

It opens at 5:30 every morning, 365 days a year, and many people go that early to catch the sunrise behind the signature temple, called (surprise, surprise) Angkor Wat. Estimating Angkor Wat-2the size of crowds is impossible but it’s safe to say there are many, many thousands of visitors every day. Many of those are first-timers, like us.

The main temple is a healthy walk from the entrance, made healthier if you climb its 47 steps to the third (top) level. But since most of us only go this way once, who’s going to stay at the bottom?

You will see paths leading off to the surrounding forest…the one we took introduced us to young monks that we playfully called Little Monkees, plus some interesting buildings that Angkor Wat-6couldn’t rival the temples, plus some peace and quiet. You will also likely see elephants at work, giving tourists rides. And, unfortunately, you will see fellow tourists who don’t respect the “rules” of solitude, of removing hats in the temples, of covering shoulders and knees, and of leaving their luggage at home.

Cambodian officials tolerate the offenders.

“If you don’t come,” said one, “I don’t have a job.”

The photos of this and other temples tell you more about them than our words can. What we can tell you is that the preferred mode of travel, in our opinion, is by tuk-tuk. The Angkor Wat-4Cambodian version of the taxi will take you to the park (or city) from Siem Reap (about seven miles away), and from one temple to the next, in some cases a mile or more apart.

Our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Nary, spoke passable English but not enough to be a tour guide. Each temple has people who do that, for a fee of course, but we didn’t feel inclined, since we were there for more of an overview than for specific facts about temples.

Besides, for that, we had our book.

In the news…

• Costa Luminosa to kick off Panama Canal cruise season October 3
• Grammy Award winner Gregory Porter on Queen Mary 2 in October
• MSC raises $4.5 million for UNICEF with 'Get On Board For Children'

Today at portsandbows.com: What's happening with Silversea in  2017

Norwegian Escape
10 nights
October 29, 2015
London to Miami
Inside: $649
Cost per day: $64

Norwegian Gratuities Claim Change

In all our cruises, the attention of crew members has been such that we’ve never felt inclined to protest paying the accepted daily gratuities charged to our account. We’ve seen passengers who have, because they felt attention from room stewards or waiters was below the accepted standard.

As you know, daily gratuities are about $12 per person, per day.

The process for removing gratuities from your account is done at the Guest Relations Desk before disembarking.

Now, Norwegian is making it less likely you’ll do that.

Passengers on Norwegian ships will only be able to recover the “daily service charge” by contacting Guest Relations Services after they’ve returned home. The cruise line isn’t saying so, but passengers who have debated this charge as they disembark are usually in for a long, er…conversation, which doesn’t help preventing line-ups in the ship’s lobby.

Less likely to make a claim?

Really, are you going to feel more inclined to start making phone calls to track down Guest Relations once you’re back home?

In the news…

• Anthem of the Seas latest Royalk Caribbean ship to get Dreamworks
• Celebrity adding interactive events to its '18 shows in 18 months'
• Steel cutting begins for the Bliss, Norwegian's new ship in 2017

Today at portsandbows.com: Travel furor over airline fuel surcharges

Emerald Princess
14 nights
April 2, 2016
Fort Lauderdale, Ponta Delgada, Lisbon, Bilbao, Paris, London
Inside: $1,199
Cost per day: $85

Lion Eyes Part Of New Ship’s Custom

Lion danceEverybody who’s interested in cruises knows that the playing ocean, as opposed to the playing field, is shifting in the direction of Asia. More cruises, more ships, even more cruise lines are re-locating.

With the shift come new customs.

The traditions that come with new ships include a bottle of champagne, a hull and a godmother. She smashes the bubbly against the bow and, voila, the ship has good luck. Most times, there is no evidence that it doesn’t work.

Will that tradition be honored in Asia?

Maybe not.

The keel for the new Princess ship, due in 2017 and destined for China, was laid in Italy last week. The character on the left was part of the occasion and, just like the ship, he has no name yet. He does come with good luck, according to Chinese traditions, and he likes to dance. Admittedly, this was not the christening ceremony that will inevitably come when or before the ship hits the water.

But for a ship going to China, it was an important occasion.

“The lion dance has been part of the Chinese culture for thousands of years and is Keel Layingperformed on various auspicious occasions and celebrations,” said Cherry Wang, country director of Carnival China. “According to traditional Chinese belief, the lion signifies courage, wisdom and good fortune and brings happiness, longevity and good luck. We believe this special ceremony will bring prosperity and good fortune to Princess Cruises and our guests.”

Another part of this ceremony is to paint the lion’s eyes. She and Anthony Kaufman, Senior Vice-President of Asia Operations for Princess, were given the brushes. Painting the eyes awakens its spirit and blesses the lion.

Like we said…new locations, new ships, new customs.

In the news…

• Problems in Greece could impact on 11,000 jobs cruises bring
• Costa, Airitalia to collaborate on "fly and cruise" with 100,000 seats
• Princess latest cruise line to bring beverage packages to ships in Australia

Today at portsandbows.com: 'Only On Carnival' Tours

Royal Princess
15 nights
September 6, 2015
London, Rotterdam, Paris, Vigo, Lisbon, Ponta Delgada, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $999
Cost per day: $66

The Death Of A Sea Salesman

The Orator of the Seas is silent. John Maxtone-Graham, who entertained cruisers with ship stories on whatever line would hire him, died of old age last week. He was 85.

We met him once, on the Celebrity Eclipse. It was both our good fortuneand our misfortune … to have met him at all, and to have met him only once. He was a delightful speaker who captivated us enough during his lecture in the ship’s theater that we wanted to interview him.

Off the stage, he was just as delightful.

We are among hundreds, perhaps thousands, who met this delightful man. Many of us have one of his books, signed with a personal message, because that’s what he did. He Maxtone-Grahamwrote 30 books, maybe more. It seemed that his first was his favorite, The Only Way To Cross (1972), perhaps because of all things cruising that he was passionate about, nothing compared to being on a ship crossing the ocean. He refused to call them cruises because they weren’t, they were “crossings,” and the fewer stops the better.

“Ships were meant to be at sea,” he said. “Draw a line from A to B. That's what cruise ships were for, to carry immigrants from A to B.”

He was born in New Jersey, lived in New York and spoke with a British accent, having been raised on both sides of the Atlantic by his Scottish father and American mother. A former stage manager on Broadway, he graduated from Brown, served with the Marines in Korea, worked on Broadway as a stage manager and became an author, lecturer and maritime historian.

He became a writer by accident when asked to author a book about ships that cross the ocean, a trip he first made at the age of six months. His two sons became writers, one for The Simpsons, the other for Beavis and Butthead.

Maxtone-Graham’s books – more eloquent than the works of his offspring — will be his legacy, but to us he was more captivating and spell-binding as an orator.

“I play it like a piano,” he said. “I know what works and what doesn't work”

Some people went on ships if they knew Maxtone-Graham be speaking. We didn’t. We just lucked out. He was 81 at the time, and it was appropriate that the Eclipse was “crossing” from Miami to Southampton. It was his kind of cruise, although there probably wasn’t a cruise that wasn’t.

He was often asked to name his favourite ship.

“The one I’m on,” he would say.

We thought it was ironic that his passing came during the height of Cunard’s 175th anniversary celebrations. Morever, he died as the Queen Mary 2 was “crossing” the Atlantic in a recreation of the famous cruise line’s first Transatlantic voyage, on July 4, 1840. It would have been even more ironic if he’d been able to be on the ship this month…if he’d passed away on board…if they’d buried him at sea.

From our one meeting, we think John Maxtone-Graham would’ve found that a fitting crossing to the after-life, for the Orator of the Seas.

In the news…

• Keel laying ceremony for new Princess ship going to China in 2017
• Spain's cruise visitors January to May up 6 per cent over last year
• NTSB looking for flight-seeing accounts from Alaska passengers

Today at portsandbows.com: Oceania's new early-booking promotion

Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas
14 nights
October 9, 2015
Barcelona, Crete, Ashdod, Suez Canal (cruising), Petra, Dubai
Inside: $533
Cost per day: $38

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