Category Archives: Our Cruise Stories

Open House Sale Coming Soon

by Don McCann

We are very excited about our upcoming Open House Sale on Saturday, February 1.  Why be excited?  Well, it is always a treat for us to bring together our clients with some of our favorite cruise line representatives.  Nothing beats personal contact and most people really enjoy being able to meet and chat with some one from these lines.  They can tell you what is new, what itineraries have changed, or have been added, AND what specials we have to offer!  We’ve worked with these people for a very long time and we are fortunate to have them in our office to meet with our clients (both long-time and new clients).

If you are in the Dallas Ft.Worth area, we hope you will join us, along with Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Viking Cruises on Saturday, February 1, 2014 from 11am to 2pm in our office at 14464 Midway Road, Dallas 75244.

< more details, click here >

Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Viking River

Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Viking River

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Filed under Celebrity Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Our events, Princess Cruises, River Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Viking Cruises, Viking River Cruises

Azamara Journey, the Adriatic and the Amalfi Coast, September 21, 2013

by Alice Burkhart

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Alice in Fiskardo, Celphalonia, Greece
(see more photos at the bottom of this post)

My cruise aboard the Azamara Journey was “AzAmazing.” The cruise line’s motto is “You will love where we take you;” and, I truly did. The voyage from Venice to Rome touched the ancient shores of the Adriatic Sea with distinctive shore excursions which immersed you into the countryside as well. The size of the Journey allows her to go beyond the traditional large seaports to smaller, lesser-known ports. Our itinerary included beautiful Opatija, Croatia, once the resort of Viennese aristocrats, and the medieval walled city of Kotor, Montenegro, which is perfectly hidden in a maze of fjords. The tiny, pastel-painted port of Fiskardo, Celphalonia, which could be a sister to Bermuda and a mecca for day sailors, was a lovely respite for enjoying the day. When we visited Sicily, we were anchored at the base of Mt. Etna conveniently located to the hilltop resort of Taormina instead of being docked in the large port of Messina which is miles away.

Dubrovnik on Azamara

Dubrovnik

Azamara offers longer stays in ports, more overnights, and night touring in their voyages. Our INCLUDED night touring was in St. Ignatius Square in the walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia. It was an evening of music and dance presented by the word-renown Lindjo Folklore ensemble with samplings of Croatian food and wine. The walls of the buildings were even decked in neon lighting. It was truly an incredible evening that could have doubled for a Hollywood set. Our overnight stay was in Sorrento, Italy, perched on the rugged hills of the Amalfi Coast. Who doesn’t love the charm of that romantic town and to have two days there was a gift!

The Azamara onboard experience equals a fine boutique hotel where service reigns and friendliness is genuine. You immediately get the feeling that the staff is a caring onboard family who treats you as a guest in their home rather than a passenger. The cuisine was always a delight and the two Specialty restaurants went beyond being “special” in creative presentation and delectable food pairings.

Voyages on Azamara not only include exceptional European sites but just about everything else. There is no extra charge for select spirits and international beers, boutique wines, sodas, bottled water, coffees and your gratuities are complimentary.

So go beyond the traditional large ports and sail the up-market Azamara Club Cruises. You will love where they take you!

Montenegro on Azamara

enroute to Kotor, Montenegro

Mt Etna

Mt Etna

Amalfi on Azamara

Amalfi Coast, Italy

Colosseum on Azamara

Colosseum in Rome

 

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Filed under Azamara Club Cruises, European Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories

That New Ship Smell

by Don McCann

On Sunday I’ll be boarding the Royal Princess for a 2-night agent preview cruise.  Although it began sailings in June of this year, next week will mark the ship’s U.S. debut and (just like a car) I think it will still have a bit of ‘that new ship smell’ which is so exciting!

Provided the onboard wi-fi cooperates, I hope to post some photos and thoughts as I explore this innovative new ship.  Some of the points of particular interest will be the Sea Walk (not for those with height issues!), the Bellagio-style pool fountains on the top deck, and the expanded Piazza.  I’m also hoping to see the new ‘Deluxe Balcony’ category as this is a first for Princess.

So stayed tuned for more on Royal Princess next week, the largest Princess ship ever!

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Filed under New Ship, Our Cruise Stories, Princess Cruises, Royal Princess, Sea Walk

We’re Published!

by Don McCann

What is it about seeing your name in print that kind of gives you maybe just a little tingle?!  Come on, admit it, you know what I mean.  Well, leading Dallas wedding blogger, Emilie DesJardins, recently published an interview with me about honeymoon Cruiseship private balcony honeymoon couplecruises.  It’s always great to share expertise on our favorite topic, cruises, and it was flattering to be asked; we appreciate the opportunity.  Take a look: Honeymoon cruises: An option with many possibilities

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Filed under Dallas honeymoon blog, honeymoon blog, Honeymoon cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Uncategorized

Sweet Ratings

by Don McCann

My wife recently received a gift card for Godiva, so we set out for a trip to the mall to make our selections.  Talk about a kid in a candy store, how fun is it to gaze over all of those chocolate pieces of heaven and get to select some for ‘free’?!  Anyway, after some careful consideration, we made our selections (she allowed me to share in the decision making process).  As we exited the store, it occurred to me that any chocolate is a treat, but somehow they seem ‘rated’ and this reminded me of my own profession in the cruise business.

We’re frequently asked to ‘rate’ the different cruise lines and it occurs to me that one parent company embodies a similar rating scenario as some chocolates!  Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited is the parent to three familiar cruise lines.  First, you have the Hershey’s of the cruise industry – Royal Caribbean International; very popular, available to literally everyone, and always a treat.  Then there is the sister line, Celebrity Cruises, or I’d say the Dove of this group; widely available, well known, but just a bit more special and a ‘step up’.  Lastly, the boutique segment – Azamara Club Cruises or the Godiva of this family; definitely a special treat, a little more expensive, but well worth it, and something to savor!

OK, so maybe it’s a bit odd to make such analogies, but such enjoyable delights being compared make perfect sense to me; what do YOU think?!

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Filed under Azamara Club Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Royal Caribbean

Calendar Check

by Bill Edwards

2015!!! You’ve got to be kidding!  Try to get someone to book a cruise for 2015 when we’re barely through the first half of 2013?

Well, our Viking Cruise sales representative – you know the line

Downton Abbey aka Highclere Castle

Downton Abbey aka Highclere Castle

known for their river cruises and for advertising on the show we can’t wait to start again, YES, “Downton Abbey” – stopped by today to remind us that their ocean cruises start in 2015 AND they are already selling quite well!   Taking their mostly inclusive concept (i.e. soft drinks/wine/beer included with lunch and dinner PLUS a guided excursion in each port of call, FREE wi-fi, and port charges/government fees included) to ocean cruises is a “slam-dunk” in my book.   All the ocean cruisers that have fallen in love with river cruising’s

Viking Star

new for 2015: Viking Star

simplicity and value now have a no nonsense, easy to budget for, destination-oriented alternative on the oceans.  And with a little over 900 guests it will still be a fairly intimate atmosphere when compared to a ship of 2500 passengers!  So get your calendars out and give us a call if you’re thinking about Europe 2015!  And if you’re not, then perhaps you should!

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Filed under European Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Viking Cruises

J D Power Goes “Cruising”

by Don McCann

For the first time, J D Power & Associates has published a report on major cruise lines and guest satisfaction.  Disney Cruise LineDisney Cruise Line ranked highest with a score of 871 from a possible 1000.  My first reaction was “well they outta rank high for what they charge”.  Then I realized that this simply reinforces what we have told our clients for years, “Disney is noticeably higher than others, but we have never had anyone come back and say that they felt it was overpriced; in other words: they deliver”.  Nice to see that a respected firm like J D Power agrees!

(by the way, Royal Caribbean and Holland America came in second and third, respectively)

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Filed under Disney Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Our Cruise Stories, Royal Caribbean

Christmas in June

by Don McCann

We often host client presentations, which our business calls “Cruise Nights”.  Last week, we had a cruise night called “Christmas in June” featuring Viking River Cruises and their Christmas Market cruises in Europe.    This event was great fun to plan and easy to decide how to decorate.  However, the most enthusiastic of our planners was my daughter, Rachel, who just moved back from Germany, after having lived there for 3 1/2 years.   While there, she LOVED the various Christmas Markets and she had TONS of ideas for our event.  Not only did she bring in some of her market purchases, but she baked authentic heart-shaped gingerbread cookies with ‘Merry Christmas’ in German, French, and Hungarian, as well as some cookies with the Viking River logo, AND she agreed to be one of our guest speakers!

Vikings great 3minute video was an effective visual introduction to the Christmas Markets, then Rachel added her personal experiences about the Markets, with some wonderful “show ‘n tell” items.  Next up, our local Viking River Representative, Carolyn Szekeres, did a great presentation on the cruises themselves and the fantastic new river ships the line is adding.  All in all, it was perhaps our most fun, and certainly our most festive, cruise night yet!

If you were not able to join us, take a look at some of the photos (click on each to enlarge):

Brats & cheese with pretzel bread

Brats & cheese with pretzel bread

Christmas in June lights and seating

Christmas in June lights at Cruise Escapes

 

Carolyn Szekeres of Viking Cruises

Carolyn Szekeres of Viking Cruises

Christmas in June CE staff

Cruise Escapes staff at one of our Market ‘stalls’ with Viking cookies!

 

Have any Christmas Market stories, or photos you’d care to share? – We’d love your reply!

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Filed under Christmas Markets River Cruise, European River Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Our events, Viking River Cruises

Freestyle Dining on Norwegian Breakaway

by Don McCann

In my recent post on the new Norwegian Breakaway I mentioned the dining would be featured in a separate blog.  Perhaps the easiest way to explain the need for this is that the Breakaway is all about the dining!  Yes, the ship has Norwegian’s signature entertainment of excellent quality and, yes, it has a great sports deck with a wonderful water park, but (for someone like me), it’s all about the dining.  Norwegian Cruise Line introduced “Freestyle Cruising” several years ago and one of the primary pillars of this program is the unstructured dining.  They felt that the traditional ‘early sitting & late sitting’ assigned dining times did not fit with the concept of a vacation and that you should be able to decide what time you wish to dine.  So they introduced Freestyle Dining where you not only have the option of choosing what time you will dine, but also where you will dine, as well.  They still have the traditional ‘main dining room’ with a continental menu, but great specialty dining options such as Italian, a Steakhouse, french Bistro, etc.  Several of these are all included in your cruise fare, but some have an additional surcharge and that does not seem to deter their popularity (many book up all their tables on virtually every sailing).

(click on images below to enlarge)

Norwegian Breakaway Manhattan Dining Room

Manhattan Dining Room

Onboard Breakaway I found the food to be of very good quality in both the included options as well as in the specialty additional charge venues.  The main dining room, Manhattan, it has a large dance floor in the center of the two level room so it has a decided supper club feel and is one of the most impressive I’ve seen on any ship.  Our table was just around the corner from the live orchestra, so this was perfect for me – great music, but not close enough to be too loud.  The impressive menu choices are presented in a tall menu with a the Empire State Building on the cover, so the Manhattan theme is carried out effectively and tastefully.  The same menu choices are also offered in both “Taste” and “Savor”, two smaller dining options which have a more intimate feel; a very nice idea in that you can dine in what feels like a “specialty” venue, but there is no additional charge.

Norwegian Breakaway Moderno

Moderno Churrascaria

During our short two night agent preview cruise, we were able to get reservations to sample two of the ship’s most unique specialty dining choices:  Moderno (churrascaria) and Teppanyaki.  Moderno features the same experience as it’s landbased counterparts with a great salad bar and roving gouchos serving you almost any cut of deliciously seasoned meats of which you can think!  The woven placemats set the stage right from the moment you are seated that this will be a unique dining experience and what followed was as great as expected and then some.

Norwegian Breakaway Teppanyaki

Teppanyaki

If you are not quite sure what Teppanyaki is, then simply think “Benihana”.  Here we were seated with four others around a large grill area where the master Asian chef not only creates a wonderful meal, but provides an impressive culinary show in the process.  Choices are decidedly Asian, but include both steak & lobster, as well as a tofu option which someone at our table ordered and loved.  All of the food is so freshly prepared that is outstanding, but it’s the entire experience of the entertainment mixed with the social aspect that really makes this a dining event.

Norwegian Breakaway Cagneys

Cagney’s Steakhouse

Other dining choices include Cagney’s Steakhouse, LeBistro (for French cuisine with great Paris artwork and even a ‘sidewalk’ dining option), O’Sheehan’s Irish Pub, LaCucina Italian, Shanghai’s Noodle Bar, and Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zakarian.  Some of these even feature the choice of dining al fresco at The Waterfront, an exciting possibility to dine on deck overlooking the ocean!  Whether you elect to dine at a complimentary dining location, or splurge a little and pay for the specialty venues, the choices for dining on Norwegian Breakaway are almost endless during your 7-day cruise.

Waterfront on Norwegian Breakaway

Waterfront

Norwegian Breakaway sails year-round from New York, calling on Bermuda in the summer and Caribbean in the winter.  Her brand new twin sister, Norwegian Getaway, will be introduced early in 2014 and she will sail year-round from Miami to the Caribbean.

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Cruise Ship Dining, New Ship, Norwegian Breakaway, Our Cruise Stories

Norwegian Breakaway

by Don McCann

Norwegian Breakaway in NYC

Norwegian Breakaway with her Peter Max New York themed hull

Ah, that new ship smell which hits you when you first step onboard a brand new ship!  OK, so maybe it’s not the same as a new car, but you get the idea.  As I mentioned previously, it’s always exciting to see a new ship; any new shipNorwegian Breakaway offers it’s company’s brand distinction of ‘Freestyle Cruising’, which means a host of options.  Most notable is with the dining.  This ship offers 27 dining venues and all are ‘Freestyle’, meaning that none are assigned to you.  Also of note are the charges; 11 of the 27 are included in your fare (no extra charge), but the rest have an additional charge (click here for complete dining guide).  The dining is such a major part of this cruise that I’ll do a separate post on that later. The myriad of dining choices is nearly rivaled by the selection of entertainment venues, as well.  In fact, one place even combines the two with the Spiegel Tent which is a sort of dinner show with a Cirque Dreams show taking place overhead during your dinner (yes, this is at an extra charge).  There is, of course the main show lounge, Breakaway Theater, for big productions.  Rock of Ages is currently being featured and Ihave to say I found this a very ‘interesting’ selection for a large, mainstream cruise ship.  It’s billed as edgy, or adult, but will surely catch many off guard with it’s use of risqué dress with sexual overtones and several ‘F bombs’ dropped during the dialogue.  Regardless, I guess with Freestyle you

Norwegian Breakaway Fat Cat's Jazz & Blues Club

Fat Cat’s Jazz & Blues Club

are free to approve, or simply venture elsewhere.  Moving along, there are other great options such as Fat Cat’s for jazz & blues, Headliners for comedy, disco in Bliss, or a great outdoor option at Spice H2O for the cool set (or those who want to at least try to feel ‘cool’).  Of course there is the usual cruise ship inclusions of the casino and a host of great bars, too.

When it comes to accommodations, I have to say that our standard balcony cabin was more spacious than many I’ve seen.  There was a full-size sofa, good storage space, and a very nice sized bathroom.  It was interesting that there was no chair in the cabin.  There was a dual purpose ottoman for sitting at the dresser which also had a fitted hard top cover to use as a side table and it opened up for storage inside.  Clever and practical, but a simple chair with back support would be preferred by most folks, I think.  As for other accommodations, there are many choices, with the most notable

The Haven on Norwegian Breakaway

The Haven private pool deck

being The Haven.  This is an Norwegian trademark and functions as a cruise within a cruise.  The Haven are suites and deluxe cabins in their own private access area, located forward on the top of the ship.  Here you’ll find your own private pool area, private lounge area, private dining room, and private deck all for Haven guests only.  It has great snob appeal and is honestly a great appeal to non-snobs, too!  Their concept is to cater to those who would want a deluxe more intimate experience (think Seabourn, or Silversea), but would appreciate the amenities of a large ship, such as multiple entertainment options and facilities for kids (The Haven is perfect for grandparents bringing on the whole family for an inter generational cruise experience). Another Norwegian exclusive for accommodations is the Studio.  Here they have built a good number of single occupancy cabins for solo travelers who don’t want to pay the usual high single supplement in a standard cabin.  These cabins are cozy, but very well designed and even have their own lounge area where you can mix & mingle if you so desire.  This makes such good sense and I think they’ve done very well so far (this is the second Norwegian ship with Studio cabins).

So enough factoids.  Did I like the ship?  Yes!  Norwegian Breakaway has great facilities and really seems to ‘flow’ well to me.  It’s very large, but does not really ‘feel’ all that large.  Most areas have a very open design and this seems to bring it all together, rather than being chopped up into multiple locations as on some ships.  Most of the décor is quite pleasant and not ‘in your face’ like you may find elsewhere on other ships.  The only ‘over the top’ feature is the huge waterpark and ropes course on the back of the top deck, but then that’s just another example of having something for everyone!  Overall, I found it all much more appealing than my last Norwegian experience a few years ago.  They have different management now and have honestly been trying to upgrade their product and make improvements the last few years and it shows.  This is good for us to see as we’ll have a Norwegian ship sailing from Houston starting next year.  While it won’t be a brand new one like the Breakaway, it will have the Norwegian Freestyle trademarks and facilities so we’ll look forward to this new option for our Texas clients! In the meantime, the Norwegian Breakaway is sailing from New York to Bermuda this summer and will offer itineraries to the Bahamas & Florida from New York in the winter.  In early 2014, she’ll be joined by a twin sister, Norwegian Getaway, which will be based in Miami for year-round sailings to the Eastern Caribbean.

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Filed under New Ship, Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Cruise Line, Our Cruise Stories