Six Cruise Line Bartenders Mix It Up in Battle for the Best

September 9, 2014 | By | No Comments

Breath of Fresh Air, Served by Ioana Luncean

For bartenders, shaking is part of the job.

Usually, it’s the drinks they’re shaking.

On Friday night, though, nerves had six cruise ship bartenders trembling. The talented mixologists were contending for the best bartender crown in the finals of the Bacardi Cruise Competition, an event that highlighted the top bartenders from a field of more than 1,000. Five contestants were chosen by a judging panel, which culled the group from 25 semifinalists. Cruise Critic members chose the sixth, Vera Restarovic, who tends bar on Carnival Conquest.

I was lucky enough to serve as one of four judges, evaluating the bartenders on areas including drink taste and name, inspiration, storytelling, knowledge of the products and creativity. (Yes, I know, I’m fortunate in my job.)

Cruise Critic's Colleen McDaniel Graces the Judges' Table of the Bacardi Cruise Competition
Read on for highlights from the event.

    Member Review of the Week: Memories on the Danube

    September 9, 2014 | By | No Comments

    City with bride over river at sunset
    Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, one of which is showcased as the Member Review of the Week. In the spotlight this week is Cruise Critic member pwright‘s recent cruise on the Danube River aboard Viking Delling.
    Overall Impression: For some, not knowing what to expect on a trip makes the prelude more exciting. Leading up to their Romantic Danube Viking cruise, pwright and her husband questioned inviting another couple to join them, but the excitement and anticipation paved the way for what ended up being the “best vacation ever.”
    Read on for highlights, tips and more.

      Just Back From…Norwegian Jewel: Hits and Misses

      September 8, 2014 | By | 3 Comments

      Fyzz Cabaret Lounge & Bar
      Norwegian Jewel, the first of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Jewel-class ships and dating back to 2005, is an oldie but a goody in the fleet. During the ship’s last dry dock (in May 2014), Norwegian took the time to add some popular elements from its newest ships – Breakaway and Getaway – to Norwegian Jewel. The two main additions are O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill, which actually debuted on Epic, and the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, which until now was only available on Norwegian Getaway.
      The line also took time during the dry dock to move – and completely redo – the Brazilian steakhouse Moderno Churrascaria, bring its photo gallery into the 21st century and put in digital signage throughout the ship.
      But while the shiny new amenities leave the dated elements behind, the redo creates a bit of a split personality for Norwegian Jewel. Here’s what we think works — and what still needs to be fixed.
      *O’Sheehan’s. From the first time I experienced this eatery on Norwegian Epic and on subsequent visits on Breakaway and Jewel, O’Sheehan’s stands as one of the line’s best free food stops. The bar and grill is open 24-hours a day, making it the perfect place to grab a casual breakfast, lunch or dinner. And, other than on embarkation day, we never waited to be seated. The menu is the same every day, with three special entrees — spare ribs, fried chicken and prime rib – rotating each night. One thing we miss in this iteration of the restaurant are the games — the darts, billiards and air hockey — that can also make O’Sheehan’s a great place to hang out on Epic, Breakaway and Getaway.
      Read on for the full list of hits and misses.

        Where in the World is Cruise Critic?

        September 8, 2014 | By | 1 Comment

        Erica Silverstein, Colleen McDaniel, Adam Coulter and Chris Gray Faust on map
        Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, traveling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations. Here’s where we are this week.
        (Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)
        Ship: Disney Dream
        Where: We depart Port Canaveral for a three-night cruise to Nassau and Castaway Cay.
        Who: Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor
        Why There? It’s Halloween! On Disney, the holiday season starts in September with two months of Halloween cruises. We’re going to watch spooky movies poolside and join costumed characters at a “Mouse-querade Party.” I’m also going to put Disney’s baby amenities to the test by traveling with my six-month-old on her very first cruise.
        We Can’t Wait: I toured Disney Dream when it was half-baked at the shipyard, so I’m excited to finally ride the AquaDuck, check out the effects at Animator’s Palate and try out adults-only venues like Palo. It’s actually my first Disney cruise ever, so I will be participating wholeheartedly in Pirate Night and attending all the production shows (that is, unless I get Mickey’d out. I prefer Pixar to princesses, so we’ll see whether I catch the Disney spirit or spend the cruise hiding from oversized rodents). On the destination side, I’ve heard great things about Disney’s private island of Castaway Cay. I just hope that departing the day after Hurricane Day (September 10 — the busiest storm day each year) doesn’t keep me away from this much-anticipated port stop.
        Village in Switzerland with bridge over river
        Ship: Viking Mani
        Where: Departing from Basel, Switzerland, and sailing the Rhine River to Amsterdam
        Who: Colleen McDaniel, Managing Editor
        Why There? Viking is building river ships at an astounding pace, and Mani is one of the line’s famous longships. I’ll be checking out the unique features that make the longships special, like the famous Aquavit Terrace for alfresco dining and beautiful sun deck.
        We Can’t Wait: While I’ve sailed other river cruises, this will be my first Viking experience. I’m really looking forward to sailing with the line that has so boldly taken on the European river market. In addition to its reputation for building stellar longships, Viking creates unique shore excursion experiences that are designed to take you a bit off the beaten path. While I’ve visited several of these ports in Germany, France and the Netherlands previously, I’m excited to see how the Viking shore excursions change my experience. It’s also a great opportunity to familiarize myself with a cruise line that appeals and markets heavily to the North American cruise market. I can’t wait to share photos with our Cruise Critic readers
        Cruise passengers watching a movie at night on top deck of ship
        Ship: Regal Princess
        Where: Livorno (Pisa), Italy
        Who: Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor
        Why There? Cruise Critic’s U.K. team haven’t sampled the sister to Royal Princess yet – but we’ve heard some excellent reports from our U.S. coworkers. Plus, the Princess team is very keen for us to try out the spa onboard from a male perspective. So I’ll be enjoying a hot stones spa treatment, a (much-needed) shave and a haircut — and reporting back with a before-and-after special.
        We Can’t Wait: Having spent the night on Royal Princess, seen the (probably best not mentioned again) TV show recently shown here in the U.K., and heard so much about Regal, I’ve wanted to sample its charms myself. Plus, there is the opportunity to get that all-important selfie at the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
        Town in Iceland by the ocean with red and white church
        Where: Iceland (Reykjavik and Akureyri)
        Who: Chris Gray Faust, Destinations Editor
        Why There? Its active volcanoes notwithstanding, Iceland has been appearing on more ship itineraries in recent years, particularly in Akureyri, the country’s second-largest city. Located in Iceland’s north, Akureyri draws summer stops from Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, and Holland America , as well as Azamara, MSC, Costa, Oceania, Silversea and Cunard. We’ll be checking out what sort of things you can do in this remotely rugged part of the world.

        We Can’t Wait: Ever heard of a little show called “Game of Thrones?” The scenes north of the Wall are filmed in northern Iceland, and show-related tours are now available in Akureyri. We hope to get in some whale watching, horseback riding – and a few dips in the area’s thermal springs.

          Observed Onboard: Cruising Gluten Free

          September 5, 2014 | By | 5 Comments

          Gluten Free Pasta
          With so many people watching their gluten intake these days, cruise ships have responded. As I found out this week on my Alaska cruise on Norwegian Jewel, it’s actually easy to do – providing you have a heck of a lot more will-power than I do.
          First, a little about me. This June, I was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. Because I do not have celiac, a far more serious autoimmune disease, I can consume gluten without any major consequences, other than a drag on my daily well-being. Since my diagnosis, I have been mostly gluten free; after two months, it’s even gotten easier to ignore bagels, cupcakes and French toast. So when my cruise date arrived, I figured I could learn how to sail gluten free.
          I forgot how weak my willpower can be.
          Read on for more.

            Hot on the Forums: 9 Tips for First-Time Cruisers

            September 5, 2014 | By | 2 Comments

            It’s your first cruise, and you’re setting sail with all the gadgets and gizmos of our digital age – phone, camera, tablet and so forth – and then in your cabin, you find there’s nowhere to plug in all the chargers. It’s just one of the many things that you only find out when you’re onboard – and by then, it’s too late.
            So who can you turn to for “in the know” tips? Look no further than the seafaring stalwarts among Cruise Critic members.
            We discovered some great suggestions in a newly re-launched thread from member ekco, who says: “If you are in an inside cabin, switch the TV to onboard camera and leave it on all night. That way when you wake up, you’ll know if it’s daylight.”
            Good advice is pretty universal, and ekco’s request produced plenty of response from others. We’ve put together an arbitrary list, in no particular order, from Cruise Critic members grannypopsTiggertastic, kruzseeka, and Cymro1953.
            Here are five (but there are lots more):
            1. Take a copy of the cruise news every time you go ashore, just in case you get lost or something worse. It has information such as the ship’s departure time, telephone number and the local agent’s number. The first day’s copy has a picture of the ship on it, so you can wave the picture in front of non-English speaking taxi drivers, so they know you need to get to the port, without you having to imitate a ship. (Editor’s note: That could be interesting.)

            Read on to find out the Top 5 tips!

              Just Back From….Norwegian Breakaway: Vegas at Sea?

              September 4, 2014 | By | 10 Comments

              Deck on Norwegian Breakaway
              For a long time, cruise industry executives have maintained that their competition for passengers is not other cruise lines. What cruise travel is up against, we’ve heard over and over, is the massive casino resorts of Las Vegas and the theme parks of Orlando.
              Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas certainly qualify as sea-going theme parks, with their neighborhoods, carousel, zip-lining and alfresco cafes in Central Park. And my recent weeklong cruise on Norwegian Breakaway felt like a trip to Vegas — sans sand.
              The most startling aspect of the week was that this traditional-minded cruise traveler, who appreciates serene environments, the occasional formal night, and no lines, had a blast on Breakaway.
              Like Vegas, the resort — er, ship — was always humming. It has the most varied selection of entertainment and restaurants we’ve seen on a cruise ship. The Ropes Course, complete with a gangplank so you can look down at the sea from your 16th deck perch, was a big hit. The fee-extra Vibe Beach Club felt like a Vegas enclave.
              Did I occasionally yearn for a more quiet, more laid-back environment? Sure. And as with any Vegas resort, there’s always some place to tuck yourself away — but you have to work at finding it.
              Here are our hits and misses from Norwegian Breakaway.
              *Freestyle Dining. Norwegian Cruise Line has long been a pioneer of the dine-where-you-want, when-you-want way of cruising (in fact, the line was the first to introduce the then-wildly unusual concept of an alternative restaurant on its ships; anyone know which one it is? It’s still in operation throughout the Norwegian fleet). At Cruise Critic we’ve long praised the line for the variety of restaurants, which range from a sushi bar and O’Sheehans to the ultra-luxe Ocean Blue for seafood and the Brazilian-inspired Moderno Churascarria for meat lovers. Until recently, however, the jury’s been way out on the…
              Lobster roll served at the Ocean Blue on the Waterfront, Norwegian Breakaway
              *Food Quality. Here’s the thing: It’s improved so, so much! Norwegian’s made a big point of investing more money in the quality of its food and its shows. The cuisine was traditionally delicious, whether it was in the $15 La Cucina, the $9.75 lobster roll at Ocean Blue on the Waterfront or the $3 red velvet cupcake at Carlo’s. On the fee-free side, we discovered fantastic fruit pies at Uptown Grill, delicious fried chicken at Taste and Savor, chicken wings at O’Sheehans Pub, and sushi made-while-you-wait at The Garden Café.

              Read on to find out more.

                Steal of the Week: Cruises from $28/Night

                September 4, 2014 | By | No Comments

                piggy bank cruising
                Everyone is looking for the deal of the century. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Check the Lido Deck each week to get the scoop on our favorite deals — then grab the phone and pack your bags.
                THE DEAL: Royal Caribbean‘s Labor Day Savings Event is offering some of the cheapest cruises we’ve ever seen, through September 7. A last-minute, four-night Bahamas cruise starts from $109 per person.
                WHAT WE LOVE: Hands-down some of the lowest cruise fares we’ve ever seen, Royal Caribbean’s Labor Day Savings Event is slashing prices up to 20 percent and creating ridiculously cheap cruises in the process. Sail a range of four-night itineraries in the Bahamas (from Miami or Port Canaveral) from $109 per person (not per night!). To break that down, you’re paying less than $30 per person, per night for your cruise vacation. Longer itineraries in the Mediterranean are available for more standard prices — $1,499 per person for an outside cabin on a seven-night Greek Isles and Turkey cruise. Even Canada and New England cruises are available (and during peak season for these sailings) from $77 per night.
                WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: To snag that bargain basement sailing to the Bahamas, you will have to book by Sunday and er, sail by Monday. But the last-minute cruises aren’t the only offers on the table; select October and November sailings are available to a range of destinations. Many of the inside cabins are already booked or not available, so higher cabin categories may be the only options for certain sailings. With all the recent announcements of flashy new robot bars and bumper cars, many distinguish Royal as the innovative, activity-laden cruise line, but there are still some older ships in the fleet lacking many of the bells and whistles cruisers have come to expect from their other ships. The ships sailing many of these discounted itineraries are some of the oldest in the fleet.
                HOW TO BOOK IT: For all the nitty-gritty on this deal (including that pesky fine print), click here.
                Compare flight prices with our sister site TripAdvisor’s meta-search tool.
                Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got ‘em listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
                Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.
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