Cunard Line: The World’s Most Exclusive Cruise Company

Cunard Line sets the standard for exceptional comfort, understated elegance, and over-the-top luxury. It boasts of three magnificent ships: the Queen Elizabeth 2, the Queen Victoria, and the Queen Mary 2, sitting 1,791 passengers, 2,014 passengers, and 2,620 passengers, respectively. Cunard Line has a host of undeniably luxurious ships but its reasonable premium-brand prices give it the edge over its top-shelf competitors.

The Queen Mary 2 of Cunard Line is the world’s biggest ocean liner. Moreover, it is the only ship where you can experience a transatlantic cruise any time of the year. Its rich legacy and opulence is evident in its accommodations, amenities, and restaurants. Its onboard planetarium will astound you as well as the on-board artwork that is worth more than $5 million.

The Queen Victoria mirrors the breathtaking splendour of the Cunard Line’s honoured history, which has been successfully fused with the contemporary ambience of a world-class cruise ship. It is big enough to let you indulge in the finer things in life but also cosy enough to make you appreciate the warmth and intimacy of the surroundings with other people.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 is a reflection of its sister ships in terms of old-fashioned grandeur and excellent service. Nevertheless, its decor and layout is a bit more chic modern, with Art Deco elements. It infuses a lighter ambience all throughout the luxurious public and private areas, making you feel relaxed.

This sophisticated ocean liner gives you the options to explore all the beautiful territories around the world. You can choose from a three-day cruise and a four-day getaway cruise to a 10-day transatlantic tour and a worldwide cruise of 102 days! Of course, Cunard’s itineraries offer moderate offerings that will match your needs, expectations, and budget.

Indulge in supreme luxury while travelling across the Mediterranean’s sunny coasts, the Caribbean’s lush islands, and the exotic territories of the Norwegian Fjords. Each morning is as glorious as the previous one because you can create fabulous memories as you sail across Central America, the Pacific Isles, the Arabian Peninsula, and other far-flung destinations.

While you are aboard, you will be treated with the White Star Service that Cunard Line is esteemed for. Have a sumptuous meal with your loved ones at a private balcony or engage in some retail therapy at exclusive boutiques. Waltz your way around the dance floor or hit the high-tech nightclubs if you want. Enjoy a private screening of your favourite movie or enjoy a leisurely afternoon in a whirlpool.

But there is more to Cunard Line than just leisure and entertainment. Take advantage of the Cunard Insights programme which offers a diverse range of activities and opportunities to widen your horizon and hone your skills. Join the thought-provoking literary discussions at the book club or just listen to the stellar jazz performances by students from the Juilliard School. Listen to a host of speakers from different professional fields or participate in stargazing on deck.

All these and more are what you can expect from Cunard Line. If you want to experience a sophisticated adventure and intellectually enriching travel around the world, there is no way to go than with the world’s most exclusive cruise company.

Review: Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas From Galveston

I had planned this cruise for seven months. A friend and I who had previously cruised with Carnival and Celebrity were eager to try Royal Caribbean after hearing so many positive things about the beauty of the ship, quality of food and service, etc. For the second time, I surprised my retired parents by taking them with us (the previous year I had surprised them with an Alaskan cruise which I will review later), and they were absolutely giddy with excitement when they found out that they would once again be traveling aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, which they claimed was their favorite ship of 13 other cruises they had taken. With the ship fresh out of dry dock for upgrades, were set to go to some brand-new destinations none of us had ever visited: Roatan Island, Honduras and Belize City. Expectations were high.

Then cruise time came. While I am not prepared to say that we had a BAD time on this cruise, I think it is fair to say that our expectations were a bit deflated, pretty much from the minute we arrived at the Port of Galveston. Allow me to take you through the high and low lights of life on the high seas aboard Navigator of the Seas.

The Highs

Our dining experience– Most definitely the best service we received on the ship was in the main Sapphire Dining Room, which is without a doubt the most gorgeous dining room I have seen on a cruise ship. Walking into the dining room is like entering a regal opera house complete with grand stair case and three levels of dining with windows on each side. Our two servers were extremely attentive, noting my step-mother’s preference of making her own ice tea with two glasses of ice, 2 tea bags and some hot water, which was waiting for her every night after night one. I could fault her for being a “tea snob,” but then I’d have to look at myself in the mirror with my Starbucks in hand turning my nose up at Folgers. All of us enjoyed the variety of meal choices and thought the food was of very high quality, with service running like clock work. It was truly a pleasure to dine each evening.

Here we are at dinner. I am the goof-ball in blue.

The Cabin– Inside cabin 7667 (Aft Port) was home sweet home for our week at sea. My parents were right next door in 7669. For an inside cabin, there was plenty of room to stow all of our stuff and have a completely clear space to move in. I would say the bed was a bit hard, but it’s all about your preference as my friend and traveling partner Jay (the guy in purple) said his was just right. Ample closet and drawer space allowed us to each have sufficient space to unpack. Our steward service was also top-notch, re-stocking and tidying up twice daily.

The ship– Navigator is definitely a beautiful ship. Of note is the Royal Promenade, a series of shops, restaurants and bars running aft to forward giving cruisers the feel of strolling down a cobblestone street while at sea. I recommend the Two Poets Pub for some nice ambiance and people-watching. The main atrium is gorgeous, and the various lounges and bars are designed with a very classy yet comfortable feel. The pool deck is also impressive, featuring two main pools flanked by several hot tubs, some of which are shaded. For the most part there are plenty of chairs both in and out of the shade, but if your cruise is full you had better get there early to snag one. We also thought the nightclub overlooking the pool deck with its floor-to-ceiling windows added a nice touch to the ship’s offerings. The ship’s casino is also pretty decent, but since smoking is allowed in there, you may come out smelling like an ash tray.

Overlooking the Royal Promenade

The Grand Atrium

Beverage Package–Three of us on this cruise had the premium package for $55 per day, but since my dad only drinks beer, we got him the basic package. At first glance, this package might seem a bit pricey (Royal Caribbean’s beverage packages are some of the most expensive at sea), but overall we got our money’s worth. What I especially liked was that basically nothing on the drink menu was off limits short of the super premium stuff. You could even opt for Grey Goose vodka at no extra charge. The flip side here is the bar service (see below).

Theatre Entertainment–If you ever find yourself on Navigator of the Seas, don’t miss the ice-skating show. It is fantastic and was much better than I thought it was going to be. We also enjoyed the Elton John impersonator, the bar flair show and the adult game show.

The Lows

Embarkation/Debarkation–The words fiasco, nightmare, eternity and disorganization come to mind for both. This was hands-down the WORST embarkation/debarkation process I have ever experienced, and my parents who had been on 13 previous cruises agreed. We should have expected this when Royal Caribbean sent us out an e-mail prior to the cruise instructing us to arrive at certain times based on the deck on which our cabin was located. As it happened, we had flown into Houston, and our transfer dropped us off right at the time we were supposed to be there, which was 12:30 p.m. We did not step foot on the ship until almost 2 p.m, as we were stuck two different lines, both of which were extremely slow-moving. This is definitely not the way you want to start your vacation, and very few smiles were to be found in the security and check-in lines. Mind you, I totally expect a bit of a wait checking in, but this was just ridiculous. I think the longest wait I have ever experienced prior to this was 30 minutes tops. I definitely expressed my dissatisfaction to the check-in lady.

Debarkation was practically just as bad. Since we had a driver waiting for us, we opted for the self check-out and were given a specific time and place to meet. We have done this on other cruises with minimal waiting, with customs officers boarding the ship to collect forms. In the past, we have basically just walked off the ship. Not this time. When we arrived at the appointed spot we then waited another good 45 minutes just to be allowed to disembark. Once off the ship, guess what? Another line, another 45 minutes to pass through customs. I ended up being a charged an additional wait fee by my driver, thanks to Royal Caribbean and the Port of Galveston.

Bottom line–I will never cruise from Galveston, Texas again as they clearly do not have the ability to handle the volume of people that cruise ships have. Basically, Royal Caribbean left a negative first impression and a negative last impression.

Service–Aside from our servers at dinner, service in the bars and lounges on this ship was average at best and certainly not what I am accustomed to on a cruise. While some bartenders were standouts, it generally took forever to get a drink and often you felt as if you were a bother to the bartender or server. The worst service was probably at the pool bar. Some might say that I am too demanding, but when I spend my hard-earned money on vacation I want decent service. Period. I didn’t really get it on this cruise. My parents also commented that “things just weren’t the same on this cruise” as their previous experience on Navigator of the Seas.

Kids, kids, kids– OK, I am probably going to get some eye-rolls for this, and maybe for some it wouldn’t be a negative, but there were just too many kids taking over the main pool area on this ship. As with anyplace else, parents are partially to blame here, allowing their little monsters to run amuck and splash others in the main pool, but I fault Royal Caribbean for not enforcing pool rules. On past cruises, kids weren’t even allowed in hot tubs, but they were in this one. Granted, there is an adults-only pool and hot tub, but the problem is that there isn’t any entertainment there (not that the entertainment at the main pool was anything to write home about).

We did not participate in any excursions on this cruise, so I can’t speak to their quality. We did hear various comments that the excursions were over-priced and not worth the money. One excursion was even over an hour late and had to be delivered to the ship by boat as it was departing Honduras.

The verdict–If I had to choose between Royal Caribbean and Carnival, I would probably go with Carnival based on past experiences. I am not totally closed to giving Royal Caribbean another chance, but they would have to completely WOW me to keep me coming back.

What to Expect Your First Time on a Cruise

A cruise is very different from any other type of vacation. If you’ve never been on one before, you’ll want to know what to expect and what to be prepared for. With a little knowledge on how to avoid hassles, a cruise can be the getaway of a lifetime.

The most important thing you should familiarize yourself with is every level of expenses. What is included with the basic charge and what isn’t. Some cruise lines will include free room service and other luxuries for free, so make sure you’re not missing out on anything. Also know what isn’t included, so you’ll know how much extra money to bring. All cruises have different policies so be sure to do your homework.

Another big thing to be ready for is sea sickness. This is especially true if you’ve never been on a ship before and don’t know whether or not you’re affected by sea sickness. There are many medicines for this and you can ask your doctor what would be best for you. One of the more popular options is a sea sickness pill, but one of the major side effects is drowsiness so be careful when you take it. Patches are also popular.

The weather will play a huge role in your cruise experience. This will depend entirely on where you cruise is chartered and what time of year it is. Most Caribbean cruises will be fairly warm year-round. Be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses. But a cruise to Alaska will be cool and sometimes downright cold. So pack accordingly.

Consider what kind of events you will be going to on the cruise when packing your clothing. Some cruises will have formal events, others won’t. You’ll want to know this in advance and be prepared for it.

Remember that cruise ships can be extremely crowded sometimes. Have designated times and locations where you and your group will meet-up later in the event that you get separated. Avoid areas that can become overcrowded easily, like elevators. Some cruise lines will have elevators that you can use to get from one level of the ship to another, but these are often so over-used that they take forever and should be saved for the older passengers.

Some cruise ships can be a pretty intense party experience, especially if you don’t have children in your group. Be sure to pace yourself when drinking. Getting drunk on a rocking ship can be a bad combo. Also, on the subject of drinking, be sure to check to see if your cruise line does automatic tips on the bill. Some cruises charge you a 15% tip automatically with alcoholic drinks, so don’t pay the tip twice by mistake.

Another important expense to note is phone calls. Your best option is to wrap up all your business, both professional and personal before you head off on your cruise, so you’ll have no need to call back and check-up on things very often. Cells phones will not work on some cruise lines. You will likely have a phone in your room, but it can actually cost up to fifteen dollars per minute to talk to someone back on land. If you must make phone calls, make them when the ship stops to make port.

When the cruise is over, have your things packed and ready to go at the specified time. The staff of cruise ships are typically very friendly, but they have to be insistent when it comes to departing guests. They need plenty of time to get the room ready for the next passengers and won’t want to wait on you. Get to bed early and try to avoid hangovers on your last night.

By planning ahead and knowing what’s available on your ship; you can assure that you and your family have the trip of lifetime.

Cruising the French Riviera on a Shoestring Budget: Cannes to Menton

When you find an area you like and you feel relaxed in, it’s hard to imagine moving on to explore further afield. The Iles de Lerins just off Cannes are one of those places. With so much to do – visit and attend a service in the monastery on Saint Honorat, sample the famous wine made by the monks from grapes grown on the island, climb the ancient tower for spectacular views over all the islands and across to Cannes, stroll along the tree-covered paths of each island, take a dip in a private cove, watch the boats coming and going, explore the fort on Sainte Marguerite where the man in the iron mask was locked up for many years, try some wild blackberries – it really is hard to leave! But the time will come, usually with a strong wind forecast or a big swell, and you’ll decide to move on. So here’s the east Riviera on a shoestring…

Best Value Marinas (prices based on a 15 metre sailing yacht)

  • Nice Port – reservations available by email, excellent shelter, friendly service, shower facilities, wifi, excellent provisions, daily market, restaurants surrounding the port and in the old town, beach clubs, easy access to the old town of Nice and further afield by bus and train, about £50 per night in peak season.
  • Villefranche-sur-Mer – reservations available by email and telephone, very helpful and friendy staff, excellent shelter, some provisions, lots of restaurants, pretty town with access to cliff walks, about £60 per night in peak season.
  • Port de Beaulieu – an excellent alternative to the exceptionally expensive port in St-Jean, reservations by email and telephone, helpful and friendly staff, excellent shelter, good provisions in town, easy access to trains to Monaco, buses to Eze, about £55 per night in peak season.
  • Fontvieille – although cheaper than Monaco Port, it is still expensive but one that provides excellent service and value for money. Explore Monaco and Monte Carlo on foot from the marina, enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Principality but know that you have a peaceful marina for the night. Very friendly and helpful staff, reservations available, heliport, roughly £80 per night in peak season.
  • Menton Old Port – very friendly and helpful, provisions in town, willing to help in bad weather although the visitor quay has poor shelter from the swell. Wifi, water and electricity all available for about £50 per night in peak season.

Safe Anchorages

  • Juan les Pins – known in its heyday for its hedonisitc tendencies, this lively town with beautiful beaches has long attracted the rich and famous. The whole bay between Cannes and Juan les Pins is the anchorage of choice for many huge superyachts but the more modest-sized yachts head to the east of the bay and tuck in under the Cap d’Antibes between the Hotel Eden Roc and the small Port du Crouton. You’ll hold well and will be very well sheltered from any wind and swell with east in it. You can leave the dinghy on the visitor quay at Port du Crouton and wander into the town for excellent provisions, restaurants and the Petit Train to Antibes.
  • Cap d’Antibes – a number of small anchorages provide pretty lunch stops but are not particularly well protected. Try Anse de l’Aregnt Faux on the southerly tip of the Cap, the bay off La Garoupe for beach clubs and beach restaurants and the large anchorage east of Antibes for lovely views of the old town.
  • Rade de Villefranche-sur-Mer – anchor at the head of the bay outside the yellow buoys, take care to stay out of the no anchor zone as there can be up to 3 cruise ships a day anchored here. Take the dinghy onto the town quay and tie up with the others. A lovely anchorage, very popular in the summer during the day, quiet at night, but you may need to make use of a stern anchor to keep the boat into the prevalent swell which comes straight in from the sea.
  • Anse de la Scaletta – tucked into the Cap Ferrat and well protected from anything with south in it, this shallow anchorage is another one of those places you can stay for days. Paloma Beach on the shore provides watersports in the day time and romantic summer beach-side evening meals. Easy dinghy access to the port of St-Jean for provisions and a variety of restaurants as well as access to the popular walk along the coast between Villefranche and Beaulieu.
  • Baie de Roquebrune – anchor in good holding under the town of Roquebrune. Good shelter from east but open to the sea swells from the south. Good walk up to the ancient town, stunning views across the riviera and sandy beach with good snorkelling.
  • Cap Martin – the east side of the Cap is a good anchorage for lunch and can be used in very settled weather for overnight stays. Sandy bottom with good holding although quite deep as restricted by protected swimming area.

Helpful Hints:

  • Stock up on provisions at the big supermarkets when you can as small town supermarkets can be extremely expensive. Local bakeries however are excellent value for morning croissants and afternoon pastries!
  • Keep your eye on the weather, check it every day on the radio and again with a local port as local winds can be missed by national forecasts.
  • Book ahead in bad weather. If bad weather is on the way, plan ahead and get yourself into a good harbour. Remember, the less pricey ones fill up first so make sure you’ve got your space.
  • Be safe in the sun. Always wear a hat and suncream and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated and energy levels up.

The French Riviera is truly beautiful all year round. Although the best weather is during the summer months, May and October can be the perfect time to cruise, with lower marina fees, quieter anchorages and warm sun.

The Cruising Kitty – Working As You Go

In my second phase as a first mate, I took a pretty big risk. When my husband, Jim, and I left San Diego harbor for points south, we had $250 in cash. That was the extent of our financial holdings.

Ciao Bella was well outfitted and provisioned. We were going into Mexico, and we planned to cruise very much on the cheap. No marinas, no shoreside restaurants, lots of fishing to feed ourselves. Sure, we knew that $250 wasn’t going to get us very far, but it would get us where we wanted to go, and we planned to work on the way to add to the coffers.

Actually, Jim planned to work. He was, and I assume still is, a master of anything mechanical or electrical. He had marinized and installed our Perkins 4-108 engine, had rewired the entire electrical system, installed our windlass, and done all sorts of amazing things to Ciao to get her ready for sea. We both figured that his skills would be easily marketable to other cruisers, and that our cruising funds would be regularly fed by his work on boats in the places we visited.

We were right. Jim kept busy through our whole three years of cruising in Latin America. He rebuilt alternators, troubleshot electronics, fixed air conditioners and engines, and sold or bartered all kinds of things. Ciao became something of a floating warehouse, and the cruising fleet got in the habit of checking with us when they needed parts or services. In Balboa, Panama, he was contracted by Panamanians to service the state-of-the-art electronics aboard their megayachts.

Though my skills tend more toward computer-related talents like writing and graphic design, I was able to add my bit to the finances. We had a sewing machine and rolls of boat canvas on board. I provided canvas services along the way, ranging from quick rip fixes to full on awnings. I even upholstered cushions for “outside seating” on one of the large yachts we encountered.

The bottom line is that we were never broke, and in fact, never had less than the $250 we started with.

Entrepreneurship on the waves is not at all uncommon. We met many folks who ran businesses from their boats in order to feed the cruising kitty. Most of them, like us, were providing mechanical/electronic services or were doing canvas work. We were in a location where there was a lack of shoreside businesses offering that sort of expertise, so the choice of métier was a good one.

This isn’t the only way to make money as you go. Other folks worked on land, either locally or back in the States, for some part of the year in order to remain solvent. One couple I knew in Mexico hailed from Alaska, where he ran a carpentry business that subcontracted to residential developers. With the Alaskan building season active only during the summer, this couple spent three or four of the hottest Baja months working in Alaska, then rejoined their boat for the rest of the year to enjoy the cruising life. Not a bad deal!

Know how in carpentry, mechanics, and electrical systems-especially as it relates to boats-can translate into work almost anywhere. Healthcare practitioners, particularly nurses, seem to be able to pick up work as they cruise domestic waters. When we made our passage down the ICW from the Chesapeake to Charleston, we met a couple, both emergency room nurses, who put into port from time to time to get contract work at local hospitals. In the Caribbean we met folks who were bartending, waitering, clerking, boat washing, word processing-all kinds of jobs that were easily gotten for short periods of time.

Filling the cruising kitty while you’re on the move is certainly doable. Having the right skills, the willingness to work, and an ear for opportunity will go a long way toward creating income. And once you’ve got what you need, you can set sail again!