Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Ship within a Ship

Charlie and I and our friends, the Bohans, embarked on a new adventure.  MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) is the second largest shipping (cargo and passenger) company in the world.  Most people in the U.S. have never heard of them, and their presence in this market is very small, with one ship, the MSC Divina, sailing in the Caribbean.  However, they have numerous ships in Europe. 
Because we had never experienced MSC, we decided to take a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Divina this week.  The Divina is quite a large ship, holding over 4,000 passengers.  I must preface this by saying that we have sailed on ships with as many as 6,000 passengers and as few as 400.  However, MSC has the concept of a “ship within a ship”.  We much prefer a smaller ship.  They are more intimate and the staff gets to know you and your likes and dislikes quickly.  This “ship within a ship” is called the Yacht Club.  Norwegian Cruise Lines also has The Haven on some of their ships that is the same concept. 

We chose to upgrade to the Yacht Club on this sailing.  I have to confess that I couldn’t imagine that there would be much difference in the service in the Yacht Club and the rest of the ship, but believe me, the difference is huge.  Our stateroom was not much larger (approximately 200 sq. ft.) than the deluxe balcony cabins with the exception that we have a full size bathtub, and a walk-in closet with plenty of drawer and storage space.  There is also additional storage on shelves that are behind doors.
When we arrived at the ship on Saturday, we checked in at the area for Yacht Club guests.  There we were met by Kamil, the chief butler.  Did I mention that each stateroom and suite in the Yacht Club has its own butler? Kamil had one of his butlers escort us to the Yacht Club embarkation desk inside the terminal.  This very elegant room had a hostess who checked us in.  Time elapsed – 10 minutes.  No waiting in lines, no feeling of being herded, just a pleasant experience.  While our documents were being processed, we were offered our drink of choice, a cool place to sit and another butler who escorted us to our staterooms. Total time from when we arrived at the port until we were in our staterooms – 15 minutes.  Our luggage was also checked in at the outdoor area and was in our cabin when we returned from lunch. Our butler would have been happy to unpack for us had we wanted him to do so.

Access to the Yacht Club is by your stateroom key.  With less than 200 people in this area, the staterooms are all on two decks. This is truly a ship-within-a-ship.  We had our own concierge area, our own library, our own dining room (Le Muse) an indoor lounge and bar (the Top Sail Lounge), our own pool area and hot tubs, our private entrance to the Aurea Spa, our own outdoor dining venue and bar (the One Pool Bar) and so much more.  It truly has the feel of a private yacht.  Breakfast and lunch is served each morning in any of these lounges or restaurants.  There are wonderful canapes and snacks all day in the Top Sail and One Pool Bar.  And, ALL of your beverages are included in the Yacht Club area, including spirits, specialty coffees, sparkling and bottled waters, and a mini-bar in the refrigerator in your stateroom. Fresh fruit is replenished in your stateroom daily.  

This ship is extremely beautiful with Swarovski crystals embedded in the staircases in the main atrium area as well as in the Yacht Club stairway between the two decks. The beauty of being in the Yacht Club is that you have the other amenities of a large ship, like incredible shows, the casino, the shopping area, the other dining venues and pool areas, etc., but the exclusivity of the small ship if you prefer a quiet and peaceful setting. 

If you are looking for a true European experience, MSC is for you.  There were more Brits, Germans, and Italians, and Aussies onboard than U.S. citizens.  Did we mind?  Not at all.  All announcements are made in Italian, German, Spanish, French and English, so you must be prepared for longer than usual announcements.  However, these are few and far between, unlike so many cruise lines that have announcements being made all day long.

The Aurea Spa is beautiful and has reasonably priced spa services.  Both of us had Balinese massages and came back rested and refreshed.  I also had a body scrub exfolliant treatment and massage, as well as an incredible facial.  Now, if only there was a treatment to help me lose 30 pounds, I would be in Heaven. 

This ship alternates Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries and will reposition to the Mediterranean after spring of 2015.  There are some incredible bargains on this ship, but if you can afford the upgrade to the Yacht Club, it will be worth every penny you spend. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gaspe, Quebec, Canada

October 16, 2013
I remember studying about the Gaspe Peninsula in elementary school.  Today, we visited there.  This is a very rugged part of Canada, which includes a section of the International Appalachian Trail.  Yes, that’s the same Appalachian Trail that runs through Tennessee.  The peninsula extends into the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.  There are high cliffs and mountains that border the area.  This is also a prime spot to see migrating whales and beautiful landscapes.  We didn’t see any whales today because most of them have already started their migration south into warmer waters.

This area is devoted to fishing, agriculture and forestry.  However, because of the number of tourists to the area, it is moving toward the tourism and service industries. 
We chose to stay in the little city of Gaspe today, rather than take a shore excursion to Perce, about an hour across the peninsula.  All of the shore excursions were by school buses, and we just weren’t up to riding that distance on that type of bus.  Had we gone, however, we would have seen the northeast tip where Forillon National Parks, the first national park in Quebec, is located, and is home to seals and moose. 

Just strolling the main street of Gaspe was like visiting Skagway, Alaska.  Very few shops, a number of restaurants, a Tim Horton’s (Canada’s version of Starbucks), and very friendly people who wanted us to enjoy their little piece of North America.
Tomorrow and Friday are sea days before we arrive back in Bayonne, NJ, on Saturday morning and return home from a much needed vacation.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Quebec City - Day 2

Quebec City, Quebec

It’s cold and rainy today, and looks very much like autumn in Quebec City.  We will wait awhile and possibly leave the ship later in the day.  This itinerary keeps us here two full days.
Here’s some things you may not know about the city.
·         It was settled by Samuel de Champlain in 1608 at a narrow part of the majestic St. Lawrence River.
·         It was the first permanent French settlement in the New World
·         As “the” place to trade lumber and fur, it soon became a prosperous commercial port.
·         Things weren’t always settled though, and the 18th century brought disputes between the French and the British and later the Americans

Given the province’s French heritage(which is unique among the Canadian provinces), there is an ongoing debate in Canada regarding the unique status of Quebec and its people.  Currently, the population is divided – some support the idea of full sovereignty; some with a sovereignty-association with the rest of Canada; some are satisfied with the status quo and want their province to remain within a united Canadian federation. 
This is a beautiful area of Canada.  We depart late this afternoon and will have another day at sea before arriving at Gaspe.  More then.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Quebec City, Quebec

October 13, 2013
Fall has definitely come to Quebec City!!  We arrived early this morning, and the Hotel Frontenac was lit and beautiful.  The trees are in full color, and everything in Quebec City is decorated with beautiful pumpkins and Fall decorations.

Quebec City, Quebec, is the New France.  Very European in charm and character, this was the first French city in North America, and is 400 years old. The historic town sits atop a bluff overlooking both the St. Charles and St. Lawrence rivers.  About 95% of the people of Quebec speak French as their primary language, but most speak English as well.
Our tour this morning took us to the Joan of Arc memorial, the Hotel Frontenac, Place D’Armes, and the Basilica of Notre Dame.  This Upper Town area has spectacular views of the St. Lawrence River.
We also went through the Lower Town and saw the Place Royale and the restored Quartier du Petit-Champlain.  There is a “funicular” which connects these two sections of Quebec City.  A funicular is a cable car/incline type people mover. 

We drove out to St. Anne de Beapre, a beautiful Catholic Basilica.  St. Anne has become one of the most important Catholic sites in North America, and is known as a place of miraculous healing, and there were two walls holding dozens of crutches and canes and walkers.  The cathedral is built in the Gothic style and has over 200 stained glass windows.  Mass was being held when we arrived, so we could only go into the back of the Basilica. 
We also stopped at Montmorency Falls, a beautiful waterfall that is actually higher than Niagara Falls. 

It’s been our coolest day yet, and after being out most of the day, we are now back onboard to rest for awhile.  We will be in Quebec City again tomorrow, which is Canadian Thanksgiving.  Our guide told us that all of the shops and restaurants would be open tomorrow, so we plan to go back into the Old Town for a little shopping.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables

October 11, 2013
This morning, we arrived in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.  Charlottetown was named for King George’s wife, and Prince Edward was his son.  Again, the weather has been on our side, as we awoke to bright blue skies.  As the day progressed and we traveled to the north side of the island, it became a bit overcast, but cleared as we returned to Charlottetown.

The people here are extremely friendly.  Our guide asked if anyone was from the U.S., and then mentioned that she would be bringing a group to Nashville in November over Thanksgiving.  Of course, we had to let her know that we lived there.  She was so knowledgeable about the island and everything about Anne of Green Gables.
William and Kate honeymooned on PEI and stayed at the Lieutenant Governor’s house.  We saw Founders’ Hall, Canada’s birthplace pavilion, and travelled to the North Shore, famous for its red cliffs, PEI National Park, Cavendish Beach and the Anne of Green Gables House (the old fame site that inspired Lucy Maud Montgomery’s first novel, Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908). 

Because I loved this book as a child and had just read it again before coming on this trip, it meant even more to me to see the setting that inspired the book.  The description of the house, barn, Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Woods were exactly as L.M. Montgomery had written. 
We are finally seeing some fall foliage, and today’s nip in the air let us know that we are definitely getting further and further north.  We set sail shortly for Quebec City. Tomorrow is a sea day, and after five days in port, we are looking forward to a day for relaxing, reading and enjoying the ship. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sydney, Nova Scotia

October 10, 2013
So, just where is the world’s largest fiddle (roughly 50 feet tall and weighing around 10 tons)
 located? It’s sitting dockside in Sydney, Nova Scotia, the quaint little port city where we are docked today.  We arrived in Sydney around 9:30 am Atlantic time.  It was cool and crisp, but again, we have bright blue skies and a little wind.  We were greeted by a Scottish piper when we left the ship.   This is a tiny little town, and we were able to walk about a half-mile from the ship into the downtown area. 

The people of Sydney hail from around the world, and are a mix of over 50 nationalities from Scotland and Africa to Eastern Europe. 
Cape Breton’s is the largest community in Sydney.  This is the general location of where our ship is docked.  Victoria Park now sits at the site of the original British garrison which was established in 1785.  We stopped in a little Irish pub for a light lunch and did a little shopping in the downtown district. 

One local boy made it big here when he invented the telephone – Alexander Graham Bell.  The city has also had famous hockey players (this is Canada, after all).  
We came back to the ship to rest and relax this afternoon before having dinner tonight in Normandie, one of the specialty restaurants on the Celebrity Summit.  Our ship sails late this afternoon, and then we set sail for Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Oh, Canada! A Day in Halifax

October 9, 2013
We crossed the U.S. border into Canada during the middle of the night.  Today we were in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Halifax is located on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia.  It is a very metropolitan city, is the capital of Nova Scotia, and is known as the “City of Trees”. 

Halifax is home to many museums, historic sights and beautiful gardens.  The Halifax Citadel, the Old Town Clock, City Hall, Province House and St. Paul’s Anglican Church are among the many sites we saw on the double decker bus that we took around the city this morning.
The Maritime Museum of the Atlantic features several Titantic exhibits that demonstrate the role Halifax played in the disaster.  As the closest major port to where the Titanic sank, Halifax played a significant role in the recovery and burial of its victims.  Once the magnitude of the disaster had become apparent, White Star Line dispatched three ships from Halifax to aid in the recovery operation.  There were 306 bodies recovered, 116 of these were buried at sea.  About 150 Titanic victims are laid to rest in three Halifax cemeteries, most at Fairview Lawn.  When we were here a few years ago, a hurricane had preceded us and the cemetery was closed to visitors.  Debris and trees were down and strewn everywhere. 

This afternoon, we took a tour out to Peggy’s Cove, the highlight of visiting Halifax.  The impressive rock formations are hundreds of millions of years old, left by eroding glaciers.  Their natural beauty is enhanced with a huge stone carving by William DeGarthe, which is a tribute to the people of Peggy’s Cove, a working fishing village.

It was a beautiful day in Halifax today with the temperature hovering around the 60° mark, but sunny and little wind.  We are soon to set sail to Sydney, Nova Scotia.  More tomorrow.