Monday, February 22, 2010

Monday Morning Melon Madness 2/22/10

What a week it was last week. My youngest son Pod was home from college for a few days. He was on Mardi Gras break. I had never heard of such, but when you go to school in Louisiana they have their own holidays. We also celebrated my wife’s birthday and my oldest son Pea's birthday as well. When they have a birthday I always get older. It was awesome having everyone in the same house for a few days. The US Olympic team has done well so far and it has made for some interesting TV viewing. The business has been a little wacko this week. The waves are still rolling in during "Wave Season". I have never seen so many specials and deals. It is just crazy! This is the year to pull the trigger on a cruise. I have been attending webinars, social networking, researching River Cruises and brainstorming ideas for potential group travel. My brain is on fire! One good thing about being in the travel business is that every cruise line and tour company that I work with offer training on all of their products. I attend 3 to 6 training sessions every week so I can stay on top on my "A Game" as your travel resource expert. Test me out sometime. I bet you will be impressed. Let's get this journey started off with a Melon Madness. Since the sun shining, why not some summer fruit? Here we go! Start with 1 1/2 cups seeded and chopped watermelon; 1 1/2 cups seeded and chopped honeydew melon, Juice of 2 limes, 1 cup of vanilla nonfat yogurt and 1 cup of ice cubes. Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into your favorite melon madness glass and enjoy! It’s really not too bad. I will make this again for sure. Day 3 on the Norwegian Pearl starts off with a early trot, I mean fast walk around deck 7. This will give me time to get my mind right for our first port of call. I have never been to Samana before and was pretty excited to step on her soil. Samana, Dominican Republic is a destination for nature lovers and adventures with green mountains, long beaches and turquoise waters. Samana is the largest city on the peninsula otherwise known as Santa Barbara de Samana and is a port town that overlooks the country's largest bay, Bahia de Samana. The town was destroyed by fire in 1946 but was rebuilt to include resorts, hotels, bars and restaurants. Some of the things that you can do in Samana are visit Playa Rincon, considered one of the best beaches in the country. You can also take a walk on the "Bridge to Nowhere". If you are feeling really adventurous you can take a trip to Cayo Levantado or Bacardi Island where they used to film the famous 1970's Bacardi Rum commercials. We are not getting off the ship until 10:00 AM, so I have plenty of time to go eat breakfast. I meet Pea, Pod and my wife at Summer Palace for a little sit down breakfast. I had such good luck with the smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, bagel and prune juice on day 2 that I ordered it again. Don't ask me why I am ordering prune juice, but in one of the travel tips for cruisers that I read, it said that two glasses of prune juice during breakfast aids your digestion. I guess it is your morning jump start before you take advantage of all of your food options during the cruise. We are tendered in Samana. If you do not know what tendered is it means the ship is anchored off shore because there is no natural port or it is too shallow to dock. You will be taken ashore by smaller boats. At 10:00 we head down to deck 4 and catch or tender to Samana. We are going on our own in Samana and do not have a planned excursion. The music is playing and the local dancers are strutting. This is a grand welcome! We hooked up with some other family members and hired a local driver named Carlos to take us around and show us the sights. It made it nice that my sister-in-law could talk the language and negotiated a great rate for us. Our first stop was at a cigar shop. Pea and Pod got to turn green as they tried their first Dominican cigar. It was pretty funny watching them try to puff on a cigar. It made for some pretty cool pictures. Our next stop was going to be a small waterfall. We drove through a section of town that did not look very safe and lots of people in the streets. Our driver told us that most people in Samana are very poor and have nothing, not even running water. I was a little scared, but was still excited about seeing a county that I have never been. Our driver pulls off the side of the road and our driver says follow me as we make our way through children and locals down this trail in the woods. Ok, where are we going? As we started down the trail there were some street vendors selling local beverages so we grabbed a few beers and started on our way. We crossed several streams and after about 15 minutes we arrive at a beautiful waterfall. It was really cool. We took several pictures and headed back to our van for our next attraction. We told our driver that we wanted to go to a beach and hang out for a while. We make our way back through town and down some crooked roads as we make our way to Coconut Beach. There were several other vans there and looked like it was a good mix of tourist and locals. Carlos walks us down to an area that is less crowded and he has some chairs setup for us. There are several vendors around trying to sell their goods and for the most part they are not too annoying. Carlos has friends who have a small restaurant close by and they offer us beer and pina coladas served in pineapples all topped off with rum. We found out that they had some lobsters and snapper that they had just caught and they offered to grill them for us. There was a cost for this but it was very minimal. This is what I was wanting, but had no clue I would find this in Samana. While we waited on our lobster’s we got to watch my wife get her hair braided. It took multiple pina coladas with several top offs of rum, but she did it and she looked awesome. Pod bought a hat made from banana leaves and when he put it on he looked like the Statue of Liberty and Gilligan. Pea bought some tiki man for good luck. They set a table up in front of us as we take in the tropical waters. Grilled lobster, snapper, plantains and rice is all served beach style. Wow was this amazing and I am stuffed. Tropical fun in the sun! This has really been a great day in Samana. We make our way back to the pier to catch our tender back to the Pearl. Words of advice, if you visit Samana, don’t buy a hat made of banana leaves as it will be confiscated at the check point. It gave us some great photo opportunities and it did not cost that much. It was a legit hat though! We are now back on the Pearl and head to the pool for some sunning and a few tropical drinks. Relaxing at its finest! After a few fruity rum drinks the hunger urge sets in. A little snack won't hurt since we are not eating at La Cucina until 8:30. I make my way to the Garden Cafe and make me an international cheese plate with figs, dates and a French baguette! I think figs and dates are in the same family as the prune as they as well aid with digestion. At least that is what my cruise tip book told me. Ok, I think I need to go take a walk before dinner. I know there are still areas on the Pearl that I have not seen yet. Taking a cruise is awesome! I am super stoked about dinner tonight. We have elected to eat at La Cucina. There is a $10 charge per person for this specialty restaurant. When you take a cruise you do not have to pay to eat at the main dining rooms or the buffets. The specialty restaurants give you a choice for something different and there is a small charge. They were able to accommodate our group of 15 at one table. This was nice as most of the specialty restaurants cannot seat that large of a group. My dinner started off with beef capriccio topped off with shaved parmesan cheese and fried calamari. Then it moved to cheese tortellini with an alfredo sauce and osso bucco served with creamy parmesan polenta. I'm heaven! Oh my, did I mention that the red wine was flowing as well. Cappuccino and Tiramisu finished off one heck of a meal. The wait staff and restaurant management were so attentive to our every need and truly made our experience so worthwhile. We missed the comedy show Sharkbait, but we were able to make it too the Spinnaker Lounge and groove with Roots Link as they paid tribute to Motown. This has been an incredible day, I am dog tired and I can't wait to lay in my heavenly bed. I was somewhat concerned when I first saw Samana and she does have some rough edges that need to be smoothed out. I truly enjoyed my time in Samana. Over time I feel that that NCL will pump some dollars into the local economy and everything will be alright. Tomorrow we will be in St. Thomas. I am looking forward to see what day 4 brings us on our amazing journey. I truly appreciate all of you who are reading and following. Please leave me a comment sometime so I know who is reading. I would be honored if you share this with a friend or even followed me. Hang on for day 4 as we visit St. Thomas. Until we unite again remember to always love your Travel Agent. He needs lots of love! Remember that my services, research and recommendations are always No Charge! Keep your Cruisitude in check and most important is to Travel Your Way!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Morning French Kiss 2/8/10

This is going to be a crazy week! The Saints won and are the new Americas's Team! Who Dat? I am very proud for the entire state of Louisiana. Football is over and I need to find a new addiction. NASCAR starts back up, the Olympics are starting and the ultimate day of love ends our week. Watching the Daytona 500, the Olympics and sharing a romantic dinner with a loved one! What could be better? The business could be busier and with this being "Wave Season" I am confident that my ripples will turn into the high seas. All kidding aside! If you have ever wanted to take a cruise or you are a veteran cruiser, now is the time to be making your bookings for 2010 and 2011. All of the cruise lines are offering something spectacular during "Wave Season" I bet you will find something to your liking! Plus a cruise makes a great Valentine's gift. As always our journey starts off with liquid refreshment and in honor of Valentine’s Day we are going to start off with a French Kiss! I remember those days! HaHa! Who is ready or a French Kiss? Here we go! Take 1 1/2 ounces of Orange-Infused Vodka, 1 1/2 ounces of White Crème de Cacao, Grated Orange Zest and a sprinkle of Cocoa Powder. Pour the Vodka and White Crème de Cacao into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake briskly until the shaker is frosted. Strain into a martini glass, add a White Chocolate Hersey's Kiss and sprinkle zest and/or cocoa powder on top. There you have it! The French Kiss! Day 2 on the Norwegian Pearl starts off like everyday should when I am at home but does not for some reason. Why does it take a vacation to get up and go exercise? It has got to be all of the food that you eat on a cruise ship. I hit the gym around 7:00 AM and it was all most full. My exerciser of choice was a stationary bike and I hit her up for 13 1/2 miles in one hour. When I got off that thing I could hardly walk. It was like I had cramps in both legs. I need to exercise on a regular basis, not just special occasions. Today is a sea day. What does that mean? It means that we will not be in a port and will be cruising all day. The main dining rooms stay open longer for breakfast on sea days. Today, breakfast would start at the Summer Palace on deck 6. When I cruise I like to get waited on for breakfast and dinner. I save the buffets for lunch, snacks and late night food. Coffee, prune juice, smoked salmon with cream cheese and capers all served with a toasted bagel. The smoked salmon was awesome. Pea my oldest son had these amazing waffles with this warm banana compote. It was really good. Breakfast is over and now I have choices. The Norwegian Pearl has many to choose from. Look at the selection! Trivia, Yoga, Rock Climbing, Bowling, Swimming, Gaming Lessons, Poker Tournament, Sushi & Sake Demonstration, Nintendo Wii, Slot Tournament, Synchronized Swimming, Pub Crawl, Line Dancing, Basketball Tournament, Soccer Tournament, Martini Tasting, Bingo, Pilates, Beer Tasting and the list goes on. These are just some of your options during the day besides lying by the pool reading a book with your favorite fruity rum drink. I set out to explore this amazing ship so my head could stop spinning with my choices. I started out at the casino so I could get my casino card and the very generous casino coupon booklet. It had free pull, a free play, but a $10 chip and get $20 along with several other incentives for casino play. I made my way to the Stardust Theater to see what it looked like. You can enter the theater from deck 5, 6 and 7. Most of the Broadway and Vegas like shows will be performed here. I had better get up to deck 12 so I can spend some time with the family at the pool. The pools are broken up in an adult only and a kid friendly one. There is even a water slide! After a little time in the sun it is time grab some goodies form the Garden Cafe. Here we go again! Now I am dealing with food choices. You name it they have it. They had salads, pizzas, soups, breads, cheeses, sushi, burgers, brats, pastas, Chinese, sandwiches and desserts of many different nationalities. These are just a few of your choices. I decided to keep it simple and have pizza and sushi! I know two extremes, but two of my favorites. Now I am really stuffed. I need to walk some of this lunch off. I am headed off to go look at all of the paintings that they have setup to look at before the art auctions and even might sneak in a glass of champagne. The rest of the afternoon will be spent catching some rays at the pool and play some ping pong with Pea and Pod. Then it was time for Pea & Pod to put their big boy pants on and climb a wall. The Pearl has a rock climbing wall that soars further than I care to look up and they thought they could climb it. Pod went first on the most difficult one and got about half way up and down he came. He then attempted the medium one and made it to the top. Pea started off with the difficult one as well and after 5 minutes and only half way up called it quits. I called it nuts! As the afternoon starts to wind down my food senses are starting to get excited! We are celebrating my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary tonight. We decided that tonight was the night to get dressed up and celebrate. On NCL you never have to get dressed up if you do not want to. That is what Freestyle Cruising is all about, but we decided to for this special night. We are going to eat at Cagney's tonight. This is one of the specialty restaurants and there is a $25 per person charge to eat a Cagney's Steakhouse, but in our case because we were traveling as a group it was one of our amenities. If you are traveling as a group, make sure you call your travel agent and have them block group space for your group. The cruise lines all offer amenities for groups. You will be amazed what we can do for you. Sorry about that. I needed to explain the amenities part. I have been looking forward to eating at Cagney's Steakhouse. Before dinner we had been invited to the Captain's cocktail party. It was very cool getting to meet the Captain, but no shaking hands. I thought it was sorta weird and I understand the germ thing. We had 15 people, so we had to sit at two separate table’s right next to each other. After a few glasses of wine and many toasts to my parents on their incredible longevity of their marriage, it was time to order. The really cool thing about eating on a cruise ship is even though it is off of a menu you can order as many items as you want. If you can't decide between two appetizers then order them both. If you can't decide on two entrees then order them both. I think you get the picture. I started off with a jumbo shrimp cocktail. The shrimp were huge! Then it was off to a couple of crab cakes and the Cagney's chopped salad. Are we full yet? Nope, it is entree time. I ordered the 10 oz fillet and fries with truffle oil and parmesan cheese. I wish you could see the big smile on my face! Dessert consisted of a cheese plate with three cheeses drizzled with honey. A few more glasses of wine and a glass of champagne and I have just experienced food perfection. It was just a perfect evening to celebrate with my family and my parents. I am really full! The evening continues to the Stardust Theater for the comedy show and would end at the casino playing blackjack with Pea, Pod and my dad. It really has been an awesome night and my very comfortable bed is calling my name. Tomorrow we will be in Samana, Dominican Republic for day 3 of our journey. I am not sure what to expect in Samana, but we are looking forward to visiting her tomorrow. I truly appreciate all of you who are reading and following. Please leave me a comment sometime so I know who is reading. I would be honored if you share this with a friend. Hang on for day 3 as we visit Samana, Dominican Republic. Until we unite again remember to always love your Travel Agent. He needs lots of love! Keep your Cruisitude in check and most important is to Travel Your Way!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Monday Morning Bon Voyage 2/1/10

The New Year is here and it is time to hit the road or high seas and journey out into this awesome world! I took some time away from my travel blog and I am ready to kick her in gear and have some fun. Since I am in the travel business we get to provide vacations that will provide memories that will last a lifetime. I had the honor of putting one of those trips together for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary and what a blast it is going to be. Before I get into the details, I thought we would take a look at what this thing called “Wave Season” is all about. It is the busiest cruise booking time of the year! Between January and March, tens of thousands of Americans a day will lock in their voyages for the rest of the year. This is your time to book the best itineraries, the best stateroom locations, and the best rates. There are so many awesome deals right now. It is probably cold in your world right now, so get out of the cold and get your cruise booked and start dreaming about how much fun it is going to be. I bet it will warm you up pretty quick! I always like to start my journeys off with a unique liquid libation and today’s journey will start off with a Bon Voyage! Are you ready for it? You start with one shot of Gin, one shot of Tequila, one dash of Lemon Juice and one dash Blue Curacao. Add the shot of Tequila and shot of Gin over ice in your favorite Souvenir Icicle glass. Then mix a dash of Lemon Juice and dash of Blue Curacao. Stir lightly and set sail. Best when drank with a straw. As I stated earlier, I was in charge of putting together a journey that would bring family and friends together to celebrate my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. We chose the Norwegian Pearl as our floating home as we toured the Caribbean. With 12 unique restaurants, 24 hour room service, 11 exciting bars, bowling alleys, rock climbing wall, casino and awesome entertainment, why would you not choose the Norwegian Pearl? Our group would consist of 15 people. One good thing about taking out group space is that you also lock in amenity points. Everyone in our group would get $125 on board credit, a bottle of wine and dinner for 2 at a specialty restaurant on top of great stateroom rates. Pea & Pod would be traveling with my wife and I as well. We were not sure on Pod until the last minute. We were not sure if his football team would be in a bowl game or not. I bought trip insurance and it would have covered him if he could not have made it. This would be my first experience with NCL and I could not wait to experience Freestyle Cruising! As a travel agent I spend a lot of time educating myself on any and everything related to travel. NCL has one on the best Universities for travel agents and I am proud to say that I am Freestyle Certified with a Silver Shield with NCLU. Ok enough of that stuff let the journey begin. My journey would begin with a flight from San Antonio to Miami very, very early in the morning. A word of advice is to make sure you allow yourself enough time to get to your departure port and I would highly recommend that you arrive the night before. The ship will not wait for you if you are late. We arrived in Miami at 10:45 AM and hooked up with some other family members who were on the same flight. From the Miami airport it was $24 flat rate for a cab to the Miami Cruise Terminals. I thought it was reasonable with four of us in the cab. It was like clockwork. Within an hour of arriving at the Cruise Terminals all 15 of us arriving from many different places were now all together. To see the excitement in my parent eyes is where my memories start. Luggage is checked in outside and it time to get checked in and get on this awesome looking ship. I wanted to do something a little special for my parents and with the help of Terri Burke at Cruise Planners Home Office I was able to get my parents set up with VIP status. I was able to tag along so I could experience this as well. Thanks again Terri! They have a VIP lounge set up as you first walk in the terminal and this is where you get your photo taken for security. Your credit card is swiped for on board charges and they give you a Freestyle card for your stateroom and to use throughout the ship so you do not have to carry cash or credit cards while you are on board. We meet the Karan Arora the head of Concierge. He would take us to the Pearl and was very kind to our family. As soon as you go through security you are handed a glass of champagne or orange juice and your journey starts. We boarded the Pearl around 12:30 and staterooms would not be ready until 2:00. This would give us plenty of time to wander around and check things out. I am impressed already. Eventually everyone made it up to the pool area and we ordered a couple of buckets of beer and gathered up some food from the Garden Café and Topsiders Grill. I had some sushi, different chesses, chicken wrap and some veggies. I am starting light so I can bring on the heavy stuff later. Get ready to gain some weight. There are way too many choices. What a beautiful day in Miami with the sun shining, hanging with family and a cold beer in my hand. This is Just Awesome! Around 2:00 we head out to find our stateroom. We were staying in #9528 in a balcony stateroom. When I first made our booking we were in an inside stateroom, but with a good travel agent they will continue to monitor the pricing for their client and if the pricing falls will move their client into a better stateroom. This was the same case for two others in our group, so it worked out well. We had four adults in our stateroom and it was a little cramped at times, but we did not stay in the room except at night. Around 3:00 we start getting our life jackets ready. Before the ship sets sail everyone has to participate in the Muster Drill or some call it a Life Boat Drill. At 3:30 we make our way to the theater and they show us how to put on the life jackets. It is pretty funny watching everyone do this. Life jackets are put back up and off to Deck 12 for our 4:00 departure. With our drinks in hand the Pearl start’s her journey with the horns blowing. Let the fun begin! With a group of 15 it is hard to all eat together, but this would be one of those nights that we would as we were also celebrating my dad’s 70th Birthday! I have a little time to explore the public areas before dinner, so I can get my bearings for the remainder of our journey. Tonight we are going to eat dinner at The Summer Palace. This is one of the two main dining rooms you can eat at. We were seated at two table’s right next to each other. The good thing about Freestyle Dining is you can show up at whenever you want. You might have to wait for 10 minutes, but it sure is nice to not have to eat at a set time. I am the wild one when it comes to food in the family. On a cruise ship you can order several different things so you can try a little of whatever tickles you’re fancy. I ordered a couple of appetizers, salad, some really good strawberry soup, cheese tortellini, and dessert. I consider myself now stuffed! The dining staff came out and sang Happy Birthday to my dad and it was very nice! Our evening would continue to the Stardust Theater for the South Beach Rave show. The day had started early so this would be it for the night. I know I am a wimp. Live a little will you? Day 2 will be a sea day, so I will have even more time to wander and learn about this truly remarble ship. I truly appreciate all of you who are reading and following. Please leave me a comment sometime so I know who is reading. I would be honored if you share this with a friend. Hang on for day 2 on the Norwegian Pearl. Until we unite again remember to always love your Travel Agent. He needs lots of love. Keep your Cruisitude in check and most important is to Travel Your Way!