Showing posts with label Celebrity Solstice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Celebrity Solstice. Show all posts

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Cruising: Going Behind the Scenes “By Invitation Only”

Several times last fall upon returning to our cabin during those long, lazy days at sea (a favorite feature of repositioning cruises) we would find a small envelope in the holder at our door.

“You are invited. . .”  began the note tucked inside it.

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Savoring one of those 'days at sea'

Those unexpected invitations were how we found ourselves among randomly convened small groups of fellow passengers at some on-board event or some ‘behind the scenes’ place.

A regular part of these gatherings were the speculations about why we had been invited. There was never an apparent common denominator: some guests were long-time loyal cruisers, some were on their first voyage, others were staying in suites, some celebrating special occasions and many were like us, simply cruise enthusiasts with several cruises in our travel history.

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The normally off-limits heli-pad cocktail party
One of the most interesting of those events was a Sail Away Cocktail Party held on the normally-off-limits heli-pad at the bow of the ship.  The event, lasting about an hour, was held just before we sailed from Lahaina, Maui for the South Pacific, as that forward location would have been far too windy once the ship began moving.

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The heli-pad as seen from the bridge

Another invitation took us to the bridge for a quick tour with an even smaller group of fellow passengers.  Invitations, passports and handbags were checked before we stepped past the security door into the bridge.
The photo of the heli-pad above, I took from the bridge and the photos of the bridge below, I took from the heli-pad.

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The bridge and officers in it as seen from the heli-pad many stories below it

While on the bridge, we were allowed to take photos of and ask questions about this high-tech computerized center.  (The old ship’s wheels of yore now serve as wall displays (this one in a Maui hotel) and the new version comes with a cushioned driver’s seat.

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Navigational tools have changed

Our visit was brief but not rushed – and there was  time for a photo with the ship’s Master (captain). As we exited the bridge, another small group was waiting to enter.

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The TravelnWrite Scout and Scribe post with our ship's Master

[One interesting thing about cruising -- and the above photo illustrates it well -- are the steps taken to prevent the spread of germs, particularly Norovirus, (should there be any lurking on the ship).  At all gatherings – cocktail parties, meet the officer parties, or  tours like this – guests and crew were discouraged from shaking hands or making any body contact  – you’ll notice we all were abiding by those rules.]

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My place setting at the Captain's Table

We told you in earlier posts about dining at The Captain’s Table, which is also a ‘by invitation only’ event.  Again, each time we’ve been fortunate enough to be invited, we’ve  found a mix of travel and cruise enthusiasts – all most interesting conversationalists – but who shared no other ‘common denominator’ to which the invitation could be linked.  (Thank goodness, I remembered Miss Manner’s rule: eat from the outside – what a set of flatware!)

SilhouettePt12012 251Just like airlines, cruise lines have customer loyalty programs. On Celebrity, the line we’ve sailed most often in recent years, it is called “Captain’s Club”.

The more cruises you take on the same cruise line the more ‘rewards’ you receive. . .like invitations to afternoon cocktail parties for returning guests. There you sip champagne, nibble appetizers and mingle with the ship’s officers with entertainment provided.

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Celebrity's Captain's Club offered entertainment at the afternoon cocktail party

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These events are also ‘by invitation only’ and on most cruise lines, the invitations to such events begin with your second voyage.

These festive gatherings also draw hundreds of returning guests.

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Solstice-class ship's theatre

The ‘by invitation only’ events often include behind-the-scenes tours that take guests back stage to see the behind the scenes workings in the enormously large  theatre or through the galley to see the precision movements required of the kitchen staff who serves thousands three times (and more) during the day.

SilhouettePt12012 225That’s it for today’s tale.  Photos used in this post were taken on three recent Celebrity cruises.

If you have cruised have you also received those unexpected invitations? If so, where did they take you?

We are heading out:  It won’t be long before we are off to Greece for another adventure going ‘where the winds blow us’ and – if the techno gods and travel gods synchronize -- we will begin reporting from Greece soon.  Hope you’ll come along with us.

If you are a first-time visitor: Welcome! Come back soon! Receive posts regularly in your inbox by adding your email in the box to the right.  You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at TravelnWrite.

And, as always thanks for the time you spend with us. We wish you safe and satisfying travels~
Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Travelers Sandbox
Travel Photo Discovery – Mondays

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sail Away Sunday–See the World (for a lot less!)

Another rain-drenched Sunday morning in the Seattle area has us dreaming of sun-drenched far-away places. . .the South Pacific. . .a luxury cruise ship. . .ahh, (sigh) yes, that’s where we’d be today.

And we are – in a manner of speaking – thanks to a feature article I wrote that appears in today’s Seattle Times Travel Section.

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Tahiti's Black Sand Beaches were as spectacular as the views from them

There’s no better time than now to start shopping for some great cruise deals. I  tell you where to look for them in the package of articles about repositioning cruises I wrote for the Seattle Times today.

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Pape'ete our first port of call as seen from our Celebrity Solstice ship

There are exotic ports of call to be discovered inexpensively from the ease and comfort of a cruise ship on what the industry calls a repositioning cruise; when ships are moved from one part of the world to another for a new season of sailing. 

That was the type of cruise we took last fall on the Celebrity Solstice, a cruise that introduced us to French Polynesia, New Zealand and Australia. (In fact the reverse of that cruise, 18 days, is only $2,400 per person on one of the sites I list in the article.)

Solstice2013BFuji 329As part of the package I wrote I’ve provided a list of great money-saving web sites to use when booking (or researching) a cruise.

And a list --that’s designed to tempt  those in the Pacific Northwest in particular -- of some great repositioning cruises – ranging from overnighters to 30+ days that will arrive and in the fall, depart from Seattle or Vancouver, British Columbia

Click this link to the story at Seattle Times Travelthere are great deals out there just waiting to be booked! 

Happy Travels! And a big welcome to our new followers and subscribers – and thanks to you all for the time you spend with us.

We are off to do some winter storm watching on the Washington Coast – how about you? Off exploring this week?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Finding Greek Treasures in the South Pacific

Okay, so no one in their right mind, would think twice about taking a South Pacific cruise, right?

Well, we did. 

Of course we've always wanted to visit Sydney and Auckland and French Polynesia, but the problem with committing to heading that direction meant we wouldn’t be going anywhere near our favorite destination: Greece.

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At least our Celebrity ship had a tie to Greece: it was founded in 1988 by the Greek-based Chandris Group and merged in 1997 with Royal Caribbean. That “X” you see on the ship is Greek for “chi” – the Chandris Group.

But little did we know at the time that the Travel Gods out there had a bit of serendipity up their sleeves and we were in for some very special Greek surprises:

It turned out that our ship’s Master (the Captain) and the Staff Captain (Second in Command) and the Chief Engineer (the VIP in keeping the ship running) were all from Greece.

Let’s Start at The Beginning. . .

This story actually began two years ago when we met the Staff Captain, Panagiotis Kiousis, (‘Captain Panos’ ), aboard the Celebrity Solstice as we sailed to Europe on the ship’s transatlantic crossing. . .

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We met at one of those big ‘meet and greet’the ship's officers cocktail parties and had a brief conversation about the island of Spetses; a place we had visited and from where Captain Kiousis hails. During that visit I took the photo above of him and The Scout

He subsequently invited us to be among the 9 – 10 guests at the Captain’s Table he was to host later in the cruise - we planned to continue our Greece discussions then.

Unfortunately on the night of the dinner a work slowdown by port workers in Malaga, Spain kept all the top ranking officers on shore while the nine of us who’d been invited to the Captain’s table met with our substitute host.  He was a wonderful fellow but not Captain Panos. . .who we didn't see again on that cruise.

Fast Forward to last fall on the South Pacific. . .

We were delighted to learn that ‘our’ Staff Captain "Panos' Kiousis was an officer on our cruise ship. And we were flabbergasted when we reintroduced ourselves at this cruise’s ‘meet and greet’ cocktail party and  he remembered us, even recalling me taking the photo above.

Because of the many sea days we had, we suggested that perhaps we meet for coffee and finally have that talk about Greece.  He suggested we dine together and talk about Greece. 

The Captain’s Table. . .

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The evening spent with Captain Panos was the highlight of the cruise.  We told stories about our travels in Greece; he told stories about living in Greece. We talked of his family – the wife and children who live in America and his siblings and parents who live in Greece. He told us of his travels and we told him of ours. It was a special evening. And unlike the previous time, we’ve exchanged contact information and have stayed in touch. 

And the Other Captain’s Table. . .

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I think word was out that there were a couple of Greece fans on board because a few days later we were invited to join the ship’s Master, Captain Yannis Berdos at the Captain’s Table on the final formal night of the cruise.

SolsticePt22013 222Captain Berdos makes his home in Piraeus, Greece when not sailing the world at the helm of a Celebrity ship.  During that dinner we talked with him about that bustling port city and our experiences there as well as the island of Poros – a favorite of ours --  the island from where his father and his wife come.

The old saying, “It’s a small world after all” seemed to have held  true for us on this cruise.  And it made us realize once again why it is so important to be open to new adventures; you never know what surprises they might have in store for you.

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And one of these days we hope to dine with Captain Panos again . . . in some small taverna on the waterfront in Greece. We will sip some wine and visit long into the night. . .talking about Greece, of course, and reminiscing about our friendship that began far away aboard a cruise ship! And if not, who knows, we might sail another sea together!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Pape’ete, Tahiti: A Morning at Le Marche

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we aren’t fans of cruise ship organized tours.  We’ve taken a few but prefer to ‘do our homework’ prior to a trip and set out to explore a port of call on our own. 

That is why our first stop in Pape'ete, Tahiti was its "Le Marche". We'd arrived on an early morning in October, the first of three stops in French Polynesia on board the Celebrity Solstice. 

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Shortly after docking, we set off on foot to find the town’s public market, Le Marche, as part of our own walking tour; one that filled our morning hours. The afternoon was spent on a bus tour – that we booked independently on shore – and we rounded out our day with a fabulous meal on shore before returning for our 9 p.m. departure. (the dinner I told you about a few weeks ago.)

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We wandered the market’s aisles first north and south, then east and west; upstairs and downstairs. There was no doubt, it was a 'real' market for locals – not one filled with tourist trinkets and souvenirs as evidenced by the products for sale.

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From vegetables. . .

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To fruit. . .

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And fish. . .the market was alive with color and smells.  It was just the first of many sensory overloads we were to experience in the South Pacific.

But the sight that made my heart skip a beat, was the overwhelming flower displays. . .those tropical stems that can cost $10 or more each back home in the States. . .

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The towering bouquets above could be had for 2,500 French Polynesian Francs, about $29US.

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Fragrant, colorful bursts. . .

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Flowers, flowers everywhere. . .including halos for the hair.  Again, this wasn’t just for tourists (although a few halos were later spotted on ladies from the ship).  One of the prettiest sights in these tropical islands were the flowers being worn in the hair of local ladies – young and old.

We have more Tahitian tales for you and those will come in future posts.  Remember that local tour I told you we booked on our own?  Well this was the vehicle in which we rode. . .but that story is also for another time. . .

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If You Go:
Le Marche is said to be the island's oldest surviving institution. It is located in the heart of the city, a few short blocks from the port.  It is open Monday to Saturday 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sundays until 9 a.m. (a busy time there when families stock up for their Sunday meals).

We are linking up today at Budget Travelers Sandbox for Travel Photo Thursday 
and with Travel Photo Discovery on Monday
and Sweet Shot Tuesday 
If you like our travels and want to see more photos, start following us on Instagram.
And please don't forget to come back here - soon!
Until then ~ Happy Travels ~ Joel and Jackie

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

South Pacific: A Tender Tale

DSCF0123We think of them as ‘life boats’ during that – thankfully brief, but necessary – drill at the beginning of each cruise.

The safety drill, for you non-cruisers, is that time when passengers gather at their ‘muster stations’ near those small looking craft that dangling like bright orange ornaments from the side of the ship.

Then crew members review with us the steps to be used in the event of an emergency evacuation. We are assigned a specific life boat and that is the one we will head for in the event it should become necessary.

Those bright orange bobbles are actually called the ship’s ‘tenders’ and in a less serious vein are used to transport passengers to and from ships into ports-of-call where either the ship is too large to navigate the harbor, or too large to fit the dock or in some cases, or when there are just too many cruise ships already there (Alaska, in the summer months).

Bay of Islands, New Zealand
We love riding the tiny tenders that bob and bounce up close to the side of the ship as passengers line up for the short rides to and from shore. 

Somehow that tiny looking deck that hangs above the water seems a bit bigger when you are using it, but it does take a bit of balance sometimes to get from it to the tender and back (thank goodness, staff members grab you by the arm to make sure accidents don’t happen.)



We’ve come to so enjoy this mode of transfer, that we keep our fingers crossed that we will be among the first on-board so that we can climb up the ladder and sit on the roof of the tender as we bobble our way to and from a dock.


And while not all cruise ships can accommodate differently-abled passengers, we’ve noticed that on our last couple sailings on the solstice-class Celebrity ships, the portable dock at the side of the ship was equipped so that those with mobility issues could use the tender (but it is always wise to check in advance of booking a cruise). There were no access accommodations for the rooftop seats.


Riding atop a tender we got a close up view of our ship and the surrounding beauty of the island of  Mo’orea.


Maybe we enjoy this part of cruising because it affords us a different perspective on the places we visit and maybe it is because while we are ‘sightseeing’ the crew members are taking the navigation of this short boat trip as seriously as they do the entire cruise.


Sometimes on repositioning cruises, the weather, like the cruise is in shoulder season – it is sometimes too cold to sit on the roof but that’s fine because there are good views from some inside seats as well.  (They close this hatch before taking off – I just got the photo before they did.)


And so our 'tender’ tale from the South Pacific comes to a close.

Thanks for sailing with us today and we hope you’ll be back soon!  You can receive posts in you inbox by signing up on our homepage, TravelnWrite. Or follow along on BlogLovin or Networked Blogs – or become our newest Google Friend and Follower and add your photo to the page as well.

We are linking up with:
Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday
Noel Morata’s Travel Photo Discovery on Monday

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

That Unforgettable Taste of Tahiti

Our favorite cruises are those in which the ship arrives early into a port and leaves late. . .you can experience much in a 12-hour time period. We had such a stop in Pape’ete, Tahiti and it afforded us a real taste of the town:


Our evening at Place Vaiete Roulottes – in the shadow of our cruise ship -- may have been one of the best experiences we had while sailing across the Pacific Ocean en route to Sydney, Australia from Honolulu last fall.


Place Vaiete Roulottes, is the most amazing collection of mobile food trucks and food stalls we’ve ever experienced (yes, even better than Portland, Oregon for you Northwest foodie fans out there). Roulotte is French for caravan – and what a culinary caravan circled up to serve an array of dishes. 

A couple dozen chefs rolled in as the sun dipped below the horizon (about 6 p.m.) and the once empty lot, known as Vaiete Square, near the cruise ship dock came to life as colorful tables, chairs and plastic stools stretched in every direction.


It was an aromatherapy treatment for foodies as smells from grills mixed with the pungent smells of spicy stir fry and the sweet scents of crepes.


We circled the area several times before we could get focused on just what we would eat – think children in a candy store – because that was what we were as we strolled, our heads swiveling back and forth, competing with each other to find the next temptation.


Even after we had selected the place where we would dine I couldn’t sit still and  had to watch my dinner being hand made by this culinary artist.


While The Scout dined on Steak Frites, I ate those delightful stuffed morsels you see on the right side of the above photo.  We could have been tempted to eat more, to sample the many more flavors that were seducing us with their scents – but it would have been, sadly, shear gluttony.


Now there are probably some of you reading this thinking, “But was it safe to eat at those places?” and the answer is a resounding, ‘YES!’  They are all licensed and everything was as spotlessly clean as it appears in this photo. (Sadly, we watched many fellow cruisers who walked past this culinary haven as they returned to the ship to ‘eat on board’ because they weren’t up to the adventure or they wanted to get that meal that came with the price of the cruise ticket.)

The food was so good and inexpensive that we could have eaten there every night for a week (or longer) and never have tired of it. It is one reason, we agreed, to put a return to Tahiti on our ‘bucket list’.


Should you find yourself in Tahiti – don’t miss this experience.  Do remember to bring cash – they don’t take credit cards.


The Food Fest on shore was still going strong as we pulled away from the dock at 9 p.m.  And they say that often times music plays on weekend nights – we were so on sensor overload that I can’t recall whether we heard music or not. . .I’ll have to ask The Scout what he remembers beyond the food. . .

That is it for today.  We thank you for the time you’ve spent with us and hope you will be back soon to share in our tips and tales.

We are linking up with:
Nancie McKinnon’s Budget Travelers Sandbox Travel Photo Thursday
Marcia Mayne’s Inside Journey’s Foodie Tuesday
Kent Weakley’s Sweet Shot Tuesday


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