Air travel issues promote travel by rail and ship

Air travel issuesAs security concerns, luggage problems, fuel surcharges, crowded airports and high prices for air travel continue, some travelers are choosing other ways to get where they want to go. Rather than stay home or cancel travel plans, many travelers are looking at train or bus transportation or cruise vacations at a port they can drive to rather than flying.

Amtrak reports business is good. February marked 16 consecutive months of ridership growth and was the best February on record with 1,099,010 passengers.

“The ridership increase shows the continued popularity of rail travel and the need for continued investment in passenger rail service” said Amtrak President and CEO Joe Boardman.

Instead of booking a flight, standing in security lines at the airport, running to catch a connecting flight, then getting to the hotel at their destination, a growing number of travelers are choosing a cruise vacation.

The all-inclusive nature of a cruise combined with easy access by car, rail or bus to local home-ports spread around the U.S. is allowing travelers to skip the airport, hotel and/or rental car altogether.”Even as economies around the world are experiencing financial woes, industry statistics indicate just under 11 million people enjoyed a vacation at sea last year. It could be because one price covers just about everything compared to land vacations where travelers are faced with added expenses such as hotel rooms, valet parking, transportation, buying tickets for entertainment and restaurant expenses.” says Rebecca Kelley from

She has a point. Once paid, the price of a cruise booking represents is an average of between 70 and 85% of the total vacation cost, that price when vacation is over and you are back home paying the bills.

such as cash to spend in the ship’s casino or ashore, on-board services like spa treatments, shore excursions, alcoholic beverages or gift shop purchases make up the difference. But with $0 for airfare, $0 for hotels and $0 for food, those three items alone can add up fast and make a cruise vacation a bargain. If not a bargain, at least you know how much the total price will be before vacation, not after when the credit card bills come tumbling in.

On the ease-of-travel scale, air travel issues have travelers scrambling for flights when increasingly more frequent schedule disruptions occur, while cruise passengers who can drive to the port could care less. Even with the high price of gas, driving is often the most economical way to go. Still, it is hard to drive from New York to London so flying may be inevitable. One way, anyway. Many travelers are flying to or from Europe from the U.S. then sailing back.

Called either TransAtlantic sailings like those done on Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 or Repositioning Cruises that many lines do, a ship sails one-way to or from Europe. Queen Mary 2 does it all the time, others make the crossing seasonally and often include ports of call along the way.

If you have the time to take 6 to 14 days on a ship instead of 6 or 14 hours (with disruptions) in the air, sailing can be a great way to go.

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Ten cruise ship shows you don’t want to miss

cruise ship shows

Entertainment on the high seas has taken a turn for the better in recent years and cruise ship shows are changing. Cruise lines are adding more options than ever before. The old days of a 70’s Vegas-style revue and bingo as standard fare are quickly coming to a close as cruise lines roll out new productions. A recent USA Today poll voted Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic as the top ship for entertainment. Other ships, from different lines, are turning out some great productions too as an at-sea evolution of entertainment options continues.Cirque Dreams and Dinner
On the top of any list has to be Norwegian Epic’s Cirque Dreams and Dinner show, arguably one of the best shows at sea. The two-hour set-meal show in the round has set the bar high for entertainment on any cruise line, if not on land as well. The food part, while good, was secondary to the audience-participation show for which video and flash photography were not allowed and that ban strictly enforced. While the company that produced this show is not connected with Cirque du Soliel, comparing the two is appropriate and accurate; the show blows your socks off, over and over again… but two feet away from you.

Blue Man Group
Also on Norwegian Epic, Blue Man Group combines music, comedy and multimedia theatrics in a shortened version of the off-Broadway production that started in 1991. If you have never seen a Blue Man Group performance then to say “silly”, “gross” or “disgusting” would probably turn you off. If you have had the pleasure, you know those things work with this amazingly zany production that leaves you thinking “How did they do that?” more often than not.

Royal Caribbean brought a shortened, 90-minute version of the Broadway musical to sea in 2009 on board then the largest cruise ship in the world, Oasis of the Seas. The show takes us back to 1960’s Baltimore, where the 50’s are out and change is in the air. Heroine, Tracy Turnblad, has a passion for dancing, and wins a spot on the local TV dance program, “The Corny Collins Show.” On a three year run with an option for one more, the Tony ward winning musical has all the high-energy numbers and is offered several times during a seven-night cruise. Savy booked passengers book seats in advance on Royal Caribean’s website to insure admission.

Chicago:The Musical
Also on Royal Caribbean, this Broadway musical made it’s at-sea debut on new Allure of the Seas in the ship’s 1300-set Amber Theater. Set in prohibition-era Chicago and based on actual crimes from the era this one is a satire packed full of singing, dancing, glamor and glitz. Also available for booking in advance of sailing,

OceanAria Aqua Show
Royal Caribbean brings an ancient underwater civilization to life from the deep below the new ship’s AquaTheater. Dancers soar above the crowd as performers execute stunning high dives into the theater’s deep pool, all while colorful back-lit fountains provide a synchronized backdrop of mist, rain, and streams.

Punchliner Comedy Clubs
Carnival Cruise Lines goes fleet-wide with this concept on all ships by year’s end. Located in the ship’s aft lounge, each Punchliner Comedy Club will offer guests loads of laughs with five 35-minute shows on multiple nights during each voyage, with at least two comedians performing each night. The two early-evening shows offer fun for the whole family while the later performances will feature adult-oriented comedy. Guests can also get rockin on a Carnival cruise with superstar Karaoke.

The Golden Mickeys
In addition to deck-side AquaDuck onboard roller coaster, Disney Cruise Line’s new Disney Dream features this 50-minute live musical show, a tribute to the musical heritage of Walt Disney. Set up like a real awards show, red carpet interviews are conducted with audience members prior to the show then Disney fans get a full dose of just about every Disney character on the roster. First introduced on Disney Wonder in 2004, this is an updated, re-energized version, sure to please anyone so hooked on Disney stuff that they took the cruise in the first place.

Disney’s Believe
Also on new Disney Dream, “Believe” is a a love story between a father and daughter with a bring-along-the-Kleenex Disney-style message. Along the lines of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, “Believe” was a joint effort with Broadway director Gordon Greenberg, choreographer Patti Columbo and writer Kirsten Childs, as well as Disney’s creative team. The quick-moving show involves a father who overlooks his daughters birthday and the Genie from Aladdin who takes him through a series of shorts from classic Disney films aimed at transforming him to someone who believes in the magic of love.

Yes, they still do have production shows made especially for cruise ships. Carnival Cruise Line’s “Vroom” is one of the best featuring highly choreographed rock standards with an array of special effects. Showing ships including Carnival Splendor, just back from repairs after last year’s onboard fire knocked her out of service, this one gets rave reviews.

The only ship at sea with a planetarium, Cunard line’s Queen Mary 2 features three shows in a partnership with the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium. Harrison Ford narrates “Search for Life” in collaboration with NASA that explores the role of water as one of the necessities for life as we know it. “Cosmic Collisions” narrated by Robert Redford, launches passengers on a trip through space and time to explore the cosmic collisions and hypersonic impacts that drive evolution of the universe. “Passport to the Universe”, narrated by Tom Hanks, reveals the wonders of the universe on an exhilarating flight into the Orion Nebula, deep into intergalactic space.

Photo courtesy Blue Man Group

Two Cunard Queens cruise to Long Beach

Two queens coming to long beach

Not quite as cool as when Cunard Line ocean liners Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria, met in New York last month for the first time, two of the famed Cunard trio, Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria will cruise to Long Beach Harbor on March 3rd. Significant is the celebration of a milestone: the upcoming 75th anniversary of Queen Mary’s maiden voyage from Southampton, England on May 27, 1936.

“After the spectacular Cunard Royal Rendezvous in New York with our three modern Queens back in January, it is quite fitting that we continue the grand celebration on the West Coast,” said Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line. “Queen Mary is an important part of our history and legacy and what better way to salute her than with a visit from Queen Victoria to celebrate the completion of her debut Americas season.”

Two queens coming to Long Beach is just one event in a long history of notable sailings.During Cunard’s 171-year history, the Queen Mary epitomized the golden age of ocean travel and served as a Cunard liner for more than 30 years. Additionally, she served as a troopship during World War II and a Royal Mail Ship, under contract with the British Royal Mail service.

Queen Mary’s influence lives on today as a hotel, museum and tourist attraction in Long Beach, California.

Princess chefs cruise to top honors at annual Baccardi competition

Princess chefs top honorsMuch is said about the fabulous food and dining options on major cruise lines. Celebrity chefs lend their name to onboard cuisine adding trendy offerings for passengers to select while at sea. On occasion, everyday working members of the cruise industry excel and rise to top their peers in regional and world-wide competitions. Princess Cruises announced this week the award of top honors in the prestigious Bacardi Bartender and Chef Cruise Competition.

“We’re tremendously proud of both chefs for demonstrating such culinary excellence,” said Jan Swartz, Princess Cruises executive vice president. “It’s always a great honor to be singled out from one’s peers and receive industry acknowledgment of the creativity that enhances our passengers’ experience. We congratulate them on this achievement.”

%Gallery-116985%Pacific Princess Executive Chef Antonio Cortese received top honors in the “Heart Healthy” category for his Red Snapper Mojito, while Coral Princess Sous Chef Abelardo Alvarez won the “Vegetarian” category with his Deep Fried Sushi with Bacardi Wasabi Emulsion and Spicy Kimchi.

The Bacardi Bartender & Chef Cruise Competition, an international event open to all bartenders and chefs in the cruise and ferry industry, requires bartenders and chefs to create original recipes using Bacardi products. The goals of the competition are to “support the cruise industry and its talented artisans, recognize innovation onboard the world’s best cruise and ferry lines, and foster a path for staff to further their trade expertise”.

Other winners include top chef Emerlito Lago of the Phillipines from Cunard Line for his Baccardi Rum Touched Maine Lobster Tail, Noxeke Thanduxolo of France from Royal Caribbean International for his Baccardi Rum Poached Crayfish with Cucumber Cheese Roulade and Kuppakkattu Bulakris Nair Ajayakumar from Italy representing Carnival Cruise Lines with is Martini and Rossi Braised Basa Fillet with Tomato, Chili and Fennel. A complete list of winners and their recipes can be found at

On the bartender side of the competition, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival Cruise Lines and Viking Line took top honors with an assortment of cocktails with Assistant Bar Manager Chris Chudley from Royal Caribbean International winning top honors for his Bombay Sapphire winner in the gin category named “Elderphine”.

Photos courtesy Baccardi Competition

There will be three Queens in New York today

Three queens in new york“Yeah so what?” one might ask. These three queens, Cunard Line ocean liners Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth, and Queen Victoria, will all meet up in New York today for the first time.

The line’s flagship, Queen Mary 2 will arrive and dock at Red Hook, Brooklyn. The Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth will sail up the Hudson and dock at the Passenger Ship Terminal in Manhattan.

“In January, 2008, Cunard Line’s first Rendezvous of their three Queens took place. It was quite exciting as it was the first time Cunard had three ships with Queen in the name and all three were together.” said cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron CEO, adding “It was the last time for many to see Queen Elizabeth 2, as she would depart the fleet later that year.”

The Queen Victoria and the Queen Elizabeth will have sailed in from Europe, doing what Cunard calls a “tandem crossing” where the ships sail side by side.

All three were expected to be passing under the Verrazzano bridge about 6:00 am today then spend a day in port before sailing by the Statue of Liberty to enjoy a fireworks salute to the famous ships before sailing off around 6:40 Eastern time.

“This time, Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria meet the brand new Queen Elizabeth amid fanfare fit for royalty. New Yorkers love these types of events and what’s bigger than three Queens passing by the Statue of Liberty amid a gala fireworks show? QE2 had a very special place in New Yorker’s hearts as the ship made countless visits during her 39 years in service.” said Chiron.

We can watch live via the Queen Mary 2’s onboard web cam right now.

Image courtesy Cunard Line