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Cruise Tour Guide — This 'Senor' is Best


It's easy to find a good tour guide when you buy a shore excursion from a cruise line. These are professionals at what they do, and if they didn't do it well they just wouldn't last.

Sometimes you just know when you've found one who is special.

That was Sandy Cuadrado to us.

The photo op above is Sandy (second from left) and three crew members from the Island Princess. The reason for the photo op is that Sandy was chosen Tour Guide of the Year in Cartagena by Princess passengers, for going above and beyond what was expected, and he was recognized when the Island Princess was in port.

Here's how part of his citation read: "Specifically, you were cited for your positive, friendly approach; knowledgeable and informative presentation; in essence, your mastery of the Moment of Truth, the instant a princess passenger…forms a first impression."

Sounds like Sandy to us.

We met him on the docks of a city we were visiting with some trepidation, like many cruise passengers who hear only about Colombian drug lords. We'd bought a shore excursion to visit a Spanish galleon, and he was the tour guide. When it ended, this enterprising and engaging man offered to take anyone interested on a quick tour of his city.

It was a no-brainer for us. We had planned to take a cab from the port, to wander around a part of a city we'd never seen. It would have cost more than going on Sandy's bus, and we'd have missed getting a real insight into Cartagena and Colombia.

And we'd have missed Sandy.

By the way, our cruise wasn't on Princess, it was a Celebrity cruise, on the Millennium. That speaks volumes about what all cruise passengers think of Senor Cuadrado.

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
June 29, 2012
Vancouver to Seward: Inside Passage, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

Celebrity Cruises and the Olympic Way


News item:

It's estimated that more than one-billion people will tune in for this year's Olympic Games in the host city of London, and Celebrity Cruises has arranged the rare opportunity for guests sailing on its modern luxury fleet to be among them.

Question: Does Jacques Rogge know about this?

Monsieur Rogge is the head of the International Olympic Committee, which stages the Games every two years and which is the protector of all things Olympic. The Olympic brand is sacred and must not be used to advertise "product" for "profit" without paying homage (also dollars) to the IOC.

This is the organization which took to the courts against a decades-old family business called Olympia Pizza. The IOC also warned news media at the last Summer Olympics about using the hallowed word in directing readers to a page of the online version of a newspaper "for more Olympic coverage."

We produced and wrote the official souvenir program for one Olympics and had to be cautious about calling it the Olympic Winter Games and not the Winter Olympic Games. Olympic must always come first, especially when it involves trademark revenue.

It's not a stretch to say that Celebrity will generate revenue by advertising Olympic coverage (sorry) for its passengers, "live" from London this summer. Seven sports and both opening and closing ceremonies will be live on all 10 Celebrity ships, and repeated on ships in the Caribbean, Alaska and Bermuda, because of the time change.

So it is safe to assume that Monsieur Rogge and the IOC know all about Celebrity's coverage and that somehow, either directly or through the satellite TV carrier, compensation is being made.

If a pizza restaurant is big enough to be fair game for copyright infringement, imagine what a target a cruise line is.

Norwegian Epic
7 nights
May 20, 2012
Barcelona (return): Naples, Rome, Florence, Cannes, Marseille
Inside:  $569
Cost per day: $81

Bridge Clearance Issue Growing


On many of our cruises, we inevitably wind up talking about ship size with people who work in the industry. One such discussion with a ship's captain led to the revelation (for us) that there's a bridge in Germany where captains have to wait for low tide to make sure their ship can clear the bridge deck…and they have to "step on it" to get under the bridge in time.

Now there's one close to home.

It's in Vancouver, where the majestic Lions Gate Bridge — built 75 years ago and designated as a National Historic Site seven years ago — is not high enough for the vertical growth in the cruise ship business.

A Vancouver Sun exclusive by reporters Brian Morton and Fiona Anderson revealed that the Celebrity Solstice will be going to Seattle — and not Vancouver — next spring because even at low tide there would only be about 10 feet of clearance. At high tide, there would be a collision.

Greg Wirtz, President of North West and Canada Cruise Association, told The Sun:

"There’s no question this could limit Vancouver’s ability to grow. Consistently, the industry is building bigger ships [and] this is a problem that’s been recently created as ships get bigger.”

Neither Wirtz nor Celebrity is saying the Solstice would have gone to Vancouver but for the bridge, but it's worth noting that this cruise line will have five ships of that size come October, with the arrival of the Reflection.

The bridge deck could be raised, at considerable cost, but it's hardly worth doing unless there is a commitment on the part of the big ships to sail to Alaska from Vancouver. And if the Alaska demand grows that much, there's a simpler solution for the cruise lines, one that Celebrity has already chosen.


Carnival Glory
5 nights
August 25, 2012
New York (return): Saint John, Halifax
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $90

A Bit of the Big Ships Out West


Somewhere in the Hawaiian Islands, the cruise ship called Rhapsody of the Seas is getting ready to introduce the Oasis-Allure look to cruisers on the West Coast of North America.

Since their arrivals from their European birthplaces in 2009 and 2010, respectively, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas have been confined to quarters…or confined to the waters of the Caribbean. The furthest west either of them has been is Cozumel.

Now, along comes Rhapsody.

The 15-year-old Vision Class ship is fresh from refurbishing. It's all part of Royal Caribbean's $300 million plan to make its ships more like the big (6,000-passenger) sisters of the fleet, and Rhapsody just emerged from its facelift, which was completed in Singapore. It headed east to Hawaii — everyone wants to go to Hawaii after a facelift — to sail around the islands for a few days, and next week it's heading for Vancouver.

After it arrives on May 10, Rhapsody will spent the summer showing off in Alaska, with Seattle as its home port, before returning to Hawaii (tough life) and eventually to Australia next winter.

What's the Oasis-Allure look?

In the case of Rhapsody, it includes:

• Dining options that reflect the success of the big ships: Giovanni's table, Izumi (Asian), Chef's Table, Chops Grille and Park Cafe, the casual bistro that's part of Central Park, but without the park

•  Flat-screen TVs in every stateroom, along with iPads to access schedules, make restaurant reservations and check accounts

• An atrium where cirque-style acrobats will entertain up to 1,400 guests at a time

• Wayfinder signage to help you find your way on the ship (may not be as necessary as it is on the Oasis and Allure) and a giant screen by the main pool

There's one thing about the big sisters, however, that the Rhapsody can't emulate.

Their size.

Holland America Veendam
7 nights
June 3, 2012
New York (return): Bermuda
Oceanview: $699
Cost per day: $100

Oceania: One Delicious Cruise Preview

A husband and wife from Houston write about (and take photos of) cruises, just like we do, so it will come as no surprise that we are friends. But we knew Harry and Joan Shattuck many, many years before any of us had been on a cruise ship, let alone written about one. Today, the fact that both couples do what we do is nothing more than coincidence.

The Shattucks have been at this longer than us so when they have something to say, we listen. What they have to say about sailing on an Oceania ship is pertinent, at least for us, because when its newest ship is launched early in May, we'll be on deck, reporting back to you.

In the words of our friends, Oceania is the "food-lovers' cruise line."

In our world of being lucky to enjoy the finest of food, and of knowing a little French, that makes this a creme de la creme preview.

"We have done almost 70 cruises, and we've never had better food on an across-the-board, consistent basis," says Harry. "There are 10 restaurants — and almost all are included in the cost of the cruise fare, a terrific bargain. Jacques Pepin oversees the culinary product [but not in person], and his first-ever namesake restaurant is on the Marina [and will also be on the Riviera]. Menus in Jacques and in the main dining room include several of Pepin's signature dishes."

This Jacques was on the Oceania Marina. In May, the Marina gets a new sister — the Riviera — and since these ships are carbon copies (or calorie copies), it's a safe assumption that we'll find what the Shattucks found.

More or less.

Among cruise lines, Oceania is considered "deluxe", and dining at most of its 10 restaurants is included with your fare. That includes Jacques, named after the famous French chef, who at 76 is Dean of Special Programs at the French Culinary Institute in New York.

Our advance party reports that Monsieur Pepin likes lobster.

"Within the complimentary restaurants, I counted 13 different lobster preparations every day, says Harry. "I had a steamed Maine lobster and caviar salad followed by lobster thermidor in Jacques; an avocado lobster salad and lobster pad thai in Asian-themed Red Ginger; lobster risotto and spicy lobster fra diavalo in Toscana, an Italian tratorria; and a pancetta-wrapped veal filet with a Bay lobster tail Oscar-style in the Polo Grill. Daily lunch menus at the poolside Waves Grill included a surf-and-turf sandwich combining Florida lobster medallions with sliced Black Angus filet mignon. Evening buffets in the Terrace Cafe offered unlimited lobster tails."

Over the years, we have been indebted to the Shattucks in many ways. Now we have another one…they've just whetted our appetities for the Oceania Riviera.

Photo courtesy Joan Shattuck

Holland America Zaandam
4 nights
October 23, 2012
Vancouver, Victoria, San Diego
Inside: $249
Cost per day: $62

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