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Killing Fields A Chilling Experience

S-21-10PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — It’s hard to imagine this place was a prison, until you experience its contents. Once, it was a school. Then came the Khmer Rouge. Classrooms became cells and torture chambers. Fencing installed for the safety of students was replaced by electrified barbed wire to keep “prisoners” from escaping. In its lifetime, this collection of five buildings has had three names. Tuol Svay Pray High School…then S-21 (Security Prison 21)…and today the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the first two words mean “Hill [of] Strychnine.”

We’d been prepared for this venture, as much as you can be prepared for seeing tiny skulls, shocking and graphic photographs and confined spaces that strain the bounds of humanity. One of the owners of AmaWaterways, Kristin Karst, is a perpetually happy person who goes everywhere with her customers. She tells us she’s taking a pass on this shore excursion from the new AmaDara.

Chum Mey copy“I have been there before,” she says. “Once is enough.”

She is right.

What happened here in the late ‘70s is indefensible. All prisoners were photographed — many photographs of the victims are part of the museum today — and interrogated while being tortured. They were forced to name family members and close associates, who then became part of the cycle of torture and ultimate death.

We are told there were nine survivors. Some reports say the number may have been as many as 12. Of thousands…between 17,000 and 20,000. Whatever the number, they survived because they had skills useful to the Khmer Rouge. Three are still alive. Two are here, Chum Mey (right) and Bou Meng, selling books that tell their stories and to warn future generations. They remain the public faces of this sad part of human history.

S-21 was one of 150 Cambodian prisons where these evil deeds were committed. Neighbourhood buildings were places soldiers raped prisoners. Those who didn’t die in the prison were taken to The Killing Fields, which today is an historical site about 30 minutes from S-21. 

It’s just as moving as the prison, but less gut-wrenching, perhaps because of the initial shock. There are more skulls — “They find more all the time,” says our guide, “but they S-21-6have enough.” There are mass graves. The monsoons each year continue to unearth more evidence of what happened, more fragments of clothing, more human remains.

There are 127 such burial sites in Cambodia.

How can something so sad be so compelling? How can people like us suggest to people like you that going there is a good idea because, as “shore excursions” go, these are obviously not pleasant experiences? But they serve a purpose. They are “Cambodia.” They aren’t Disneyland.

As the survivors say, preserving this part of history may prevent its recurrence. It’s also a testament to the Cambodian people, who live in peace and with forgiveness for what happened. And charging entrance fees to the museums is one small way to contribute to the economy of this impoverished land of now 15 million people.

It is worth the trip.

But once is enough.

In the news…

• Carnival Corporation committed to 2020 sustainability goals
• Vancouver launches underwater listening device to protect whales
• Tropical Storm Erika no threat (yet) to ports of Dominica

Today at portsandbows.com: Major changes to the Queen Mary 2

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
January 3, 2016
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Friday File: Norwegian’s Hulls Of A Show

They weren’t always so, well, outlandish. But the more unusual they became, the more the hull art on Norwegian’s ships started to look like a competition where the next one had to be more jaw-dropping or eye-catching than the last. That brings us to the Norwegian Escape, the 14th and newest ship in the fleet, come October 25. Below is the hull art applied this month to the ship’s bow — on both sides — from artist Guy Harvey, followed by the more for your perusal and assessment (the eight ships here are arranged chronologically, from newest to oldest)…

S693_Escape_Guy Harvey_Artwork-Shooting_2015_07_28

Thumbs-up from the artist, accompanied by Norwegian President Andy Stuart at the shipyard where the Escape is being finished.


The Getaway is Miami’s ship, a connection that well-known Cuban-American artist David La Batard painted in his impressionistic style.


In 2013, famous New York artist Peter Max was commissioned to dress up the Breakaway, unmistakably New York’s ship.


When the Epic arrived in 2010, its hull art was decidedly non-descript, which its critics (we are not among them) say is appropriate.


While it might take some imagination to figure out the ship’s name by its art, the Gem in 2007 was the flagship, status that lasted three years.


Cruising exclusively around Hawaii, Pride of America sports all the trappings of flag-waving as the world’s only U.S.-registered cruise ship.


One of three ships in the fleet that didn’t have hull at birth, the Sun was decorated in its bright colors in 2004, three years after its maiden cruise.


This is where it all began, with the new Norwegian Dawn in 2004, when she was christened in Manhattan by actress Kim Cattrall.

In the news…

• Norwegian Cruise Holdings signs unprecedented 15-year lease with Port of Seattle
• No changes yet in Mariner of the Seas departure from Tianjin port after explosions
• Cruise Lines International Association President/CEO resigns after five weeks

Today at portsandbows.com: First Carnival readings of new Seuss book

Costa Mediterranea
7 nights
November 13, 2015
Venice (return): Trieste, Split, Kotor, Argostoli, Corfu, Dubrovnik
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $79

Alaska Adventure A Lesson For Fear

ATV-1ALASKA — As she climbed onto the ATV, she wondered if her arthritic hands would allow her to complete an hour-long trip through the bush without crashing, or at least without more than the usual pain. She’d experienced this type of fear before, like being afraid of heights and climbing into a helicopter to see the Norwegian fjords and later a fixed-wing aircraft to land on North America’s highest peak, Mount McKinley. Being unable to swim, she jumped on and off a a 27-foot boat that had to be tied to the bollards while she and her husband — the boat’s only occupants — negotiated 64 locks on the Midi Canal, in southern France.

Fear was not new to her. Only its type.

“I don’t even drive to the grocery store,” she told the guide, whose name was Terry. “How can I drive an ATV?”

Terry was re-assuring.

“You’ll do fine,” he said. “We’ve had lots worse than you.”

To err on the safe side, Brian put her second in the line of six vehicles on the Black Bear ATV Adventure for passengers of the Star Princess. If she was at the back, he explained, we might lose her. Better she set the pace, even if it was slower than that of her colleagues.

The ride from the McKinley Princess Lodge to the “bush” and the preparatory and necessary orientation did little to re-assure her. Nothing would, until she started guiding “her” ATV along narrow paths, over exposed roots and between trees which looked doorways that were too tight.

But she did it.

It was a terrific shore excursion, she said. There were no black bears, except what was left of one on Terry’s ATV, a prop he happily needed to justify the name of the event. There ATV-4was a loaded gun on his belt, in case an unfriendly black bear showed up, but in the four years he’d been doing this he’d never had to draw it, let alone pull the trigger.

There was lots to see in the wilderness. 

Chaga, widely and wildly rumored to be a cure for cancers, growing out of the birchbark on many trees. The Susitna River, peacefully flowing through its sandy banks in a land where ATV-5nature is often not peaceful. Nuggets on the river beds, ranging from sandstones to jade…real jade, Terry said. Rougher roads than we’d ever seen, almost impossible to drive anything on — “almost” being the operative word.

ATV-3In the end, it was another “overcoming fear” moment. Another one she could share with her granddaughter, who had to write a paper at school about overcoming her own fears, which were far different, yet much the same. She told her grandmother’s story — not the ATV one, the McKinley one — as an example of how it’s okay to be afraid, and oh-so-satisfying to beat it.

Overcoming fear.

That’s what going to Alaska can do for you. If you’re on a Princess cruise that includes land tours before this summer season ends, do it. Ask for Terry.

And what’s next for this woman of adventure? Would you believe tunnels once used by the Viet Cong, near Saigon?

There’s no stopping her now.

In the news…

• Enhanced Internet, social media packages fleet-wide for Carnival
• Crystal Cruises to launch two 70-suite river yachts in March 2017
• Carnival donation of $2.5 million to preserve coral reefs in Caribbean

Today at portsandbows.com: AmaSerena officially joins AmaWaterways fleet

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
January 24, 2016
New Orleans (return): Cozumel, Roatan, Belize, Costa Maya
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

Game Changer For Cruise Pricing?

Celebrity Cruises, which always puts its fleet in the water, is now sticking in its toe.

All-inclusive cruising?

That’s what Celebrity is calling its latest pricing strategy. Actually, it’s calling the promotion Go!Big, Go!Better, Go!Best and, while it’s a mouthful, it is more effective than its predecessor…123Go!

What Celebrity’s doing is disposing of cruise-only pricing for all oceanview rooms, balcony cabins and suites. Instead, everything is bundled, the new industry catch-word, as our colleague Phil Reimer pointed out the other day at Ports and Bows. River-cruise lines have ventured deeper into all-inclusive waters than any of their ocean rivals.

That’s where the toe comes in for Celebrity.

Buy a cruise with Celebrity and you will be either a Go!Big customer, a Go!Better customer or a Go!Best customer. The difference is what you wish to have included: a classic beverage package, free gratuities, unlimited Internet or a $150 per-person spending credit. They’re all pretty good extras, though not exactly all-inclusivity and you get one with Go!Big, two with Go!Bigger…you get the idea.

The pricing will be built into the increased fares, of course, and give cruisers a flashback to way things used to be when “everything” was included. If it works, Celebrity is likely to increase the number of extras until things like shore excursions are also included. If it works, others in ocean cruising will surely follow suit.

And that’s how we’ll know if it worked.

In the news…

• Holland America suspends flightseeing with Alaska company after crash
• Norwegian's parent company opening new office in Australia

• No impact port changes — yet — from Greece economic woes

Today at portsandbows.com: Denali National Park for all

Norwegian Dawn
7 nights
November 28, 2015
Boston (return): Bermuda
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Picking A Cruise By Shore Savings


Two years ago, the U.S. and Canadian dollars were at par. According to yesterday’s exchange rates, $1.00 U.S. was worth $1.22 Canadian. That kind of gap usually means an exodus of tourists in the direction of better deals, and apparently that’s what is happening in conjunction with Alaska cruises originating in Vancouver.

According to a report by Canada’s national broadcaster, CBC, the falling Canadian dollar is encouraging more Americans to cruise out of Vancouver this summer…perhaps combining a cruise with a Canadian vacation. The report estimates that 70 per cent of passengers boarding ships bound for Alaska in the Port of Vancouver are Americans.

It’s not so much that cruises are better deals — Americans booking cruises from Vancouver pay in U.S. dollars — as it is that everything else around the departure and return is a deal. Hotels, restaurants, tours, taxis…the whole enchilada.

The number of cruise visitors this year is expected to be about 800,000, on par with last year. That’s from 227 visits on 32 cruise ships. However, tourism analysts say Americans are likely to stay longer before or after the cruise, and spend more because of the currency bargains.

This foreign currency concept is foreign to us. Everybody likes a deal but our choices in picking a cruise would be more inclined to focus on whether the cruise is a deal, not whether the hotel before leaving was.

What about you?

In the news…

• Costa Deliziosa to sail from Fort Lauderdale starting in December
• Norwegian Dawn passengers anticipating compensation for delay
• Luxury cruise market expecting 53 per cent jump by 2018
• Azamara launches ‘Cruise Global, Eat Local’ dining program

Today at portsandbows.comA $90-million terminal upgrade for Quebec

Royal Caribbean Adventure of the Seas
7 nights
September 20, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Croix, St. Maarten, Antigua, St. Lucia
Inside: $489
Cost per day: $69

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