Hot on the Forums: Remember Old-Fashioned Cruise Ship Fun?

October 10, 2014 | By | 2 Comments

Carnival Festivale Postcard from 1992 - photo courtesy of pghsteelerfan/Cruise Critic Forums

Broadway musicals, ice skating shows and performances by world-famous names such as the Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil have become an established, and almost expected, part of cruise ship extravaganzas.

Turn back the clock, however, and things were once very different, with passengers topping the bill by making a spectacle of themselves. A superb thread started on the Carnival forum by Cruise Critic member hattack made me wonder if entertainment at sea has almost become too slick for its own good.

Sophisticates will dismiss passenger talent shows as cheap entertainment – and today’s PC, as well as health and safety, brigades would be up in arms about past pastimes such as ladies’ lovely legs contests, men’s hairy chest competitions, trapshooting on deck and drinking contests.  But there’s something charming about the simplicity of these bygone onboard amusement, say some of our readers.

Read on to continue down memory lane.

    Live from…Thomson Majesty, Post Refurb

    October 9, 2014 | By | No Comments

    Thomson Majesty - photo by Jamey Bergman

    I’m onboard Thomson Majesty, the most recent addition to the Thomson Cruises fleet, as well as one of the most popular ships on the Cruise Critic website.

    In spite of being the line’s newest ship, the 1,462-passenger Majesty is a veteran vessel, having sailed for Norwegian Cruise Line and Louis Cruises before being picked up by Thomson on a charter in 2012.

    In early 2014, Majesty added 24 balconies on the ship’s eighth deck, and enclosed a dining space at the aft of the 10th deck that had formerly been open air. It’s a refurbishment plan that Thomson has carried out on multiple ships.

    The result? In the new balcony rooms, the effect is seamless. With the balconies tacked on, the cabins – which were on the small size to begin with – gain some much needed space. Only a ship designer would be able to tell that such extensive remodeling had been done at all.

    Read on for the full tour.

      Steal of the Week: Double Upgrades on Azamara

      October 9, 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: Azamara Club Cruises is offering double upgrades (free upgrades of two cabin categories) when you book a 2015/16 sailing now through December 14, 2014.
      WHAT WE LOVE: Most of the time when a cruise line offers a complimentary upgrade as part of a promotion, you’re paying for one cabin and getting the very next cabin class — inside to an outside, for example. What makes Azamara’s offer exciting is that you can pay for the lowest cabin category and sail in a balcony — all you have to do is book by December 14. Another perk is the variety of 2015 and 2016 voyages available and included in the promotion: 79 sailings traversing Europe, the Mediterranean, Asia, the Middle East, the West Indies and the South Pacific. With such a wealth of itineraries and the time to consider them, this is the promotion to jump on if you’re considering a cruise with the line. Amenities such as gratuities; select spirits, beer and wine; soft drinks and specialty coffees; and self-service laundry are included on Azamara voyages.
      WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: Although we’re nearing the end of the year, this promotion applies strictly to 2015 and 2016 sailings — depending on the itinerary you want, some of these sailings are nearly two years from now, and the earliest is in June, eight months away. While you have time to book, planning so far in advance can be tricky at times; make sure you have travel insurance in case something comes up. While Azamara is considered mainstream, it’s a slightly more upscale brand and you will pay more for those inclusions.
      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.

        Countdown to Quantum: Chef Michael Schwartz Takes on Big Role

        October 8, 2014 | By | No Comments

        James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Schwartz - photo courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

        Michael Schwartz is a James Beard Award-winning chef of international renown. Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, his Miami-based flagship restaurant that focuses on fresh, locally sourced food, is packed pretty much every day of the week, filled with diners who love sharing plates of items like kimchi, crispy hominy and deviled eggs. 

        Now, foodies and nonfoodies alike will be able to sample some of his creations on Royal Caribbean’s new ship, Quantum of the Seas, which debuts in November. Schwartz is serving as the culinary experience advisor for Quantum of the Seas and fleetmate Anthem of the Seas, which debuts in spring 2015. He’s also worked with the line to create Michael’s Genuine Pub, an American gastropub that passengers will find on both ships.

        Read on to learn more about Michael’s new role!

          Wanderlust Wednesday: Sky’s the Limit

          October 8, 2014 | By | No Comments

          Sky's the Limit - photo courtesy of marcyn/Cruise Critic Forums

          Every Wednesday, we’ll be taking you on a journey around the world to some of the most interesting places our members have trekked, swum or merely witnessed from afar while cruising.

          Whether these photos inspire you to plan a relaxing escape or walk on the wild side, we hope they ignite your senses and give you ideas for your next cruising adventure. If you have a photo you’d love to share, send it to us at photos@cruisecritic.com or post it in our member photo gallery.

          When cruise ships call in Maui, Haleakala National Park is one of the island’s more popular visitor spots. Meaning "House of Sun," Haleakala is also known as the East Maui volcano and is home to the Haleakala Crater — which is believed to have been the home to the grandmother of the demigod Maui in Hawaiian folklore. A trip to Haleakala not only makes for a great adventure (like hiking, as shown in this photo submitted by Cruise Critic member marcyn), but also some of the most unbeatable views on the island.

          Find interesting places to visit based on region.
          Everything you need to know about planning a cruise.
          Explore Trip Reports of unique itineraries.

            What Do You Love About Cruising?

            October 7, 2014 | By | 13 Comments

            Couple enjoying the view from the ship - photo courtesy of Brocreative/Shutterstock

            For those who haven’t wandered over to the Cruise Critic message boards, you’ll find them a wonderful place, with all facets of human life represented (for good and ill). Informative, self-regulating, kind, often humorous and frequently bizarre, the threads are so numerous that — for the first-timer — the boards can seem somewhat daunting.

            If you are wondering where to jump in, here’s a wonderful way to start: A thread I found on the Celebrity Cruises forum called "Positive Things You Love on a Cruise Ship," started by member AquaWater. To me, the theme – and the responses – encapsulate the spirit of the boards.

            She writes, simply: "Let’s share things we like about the cruises." Her list includes " Many choices on lunch buffet. Gym with windows. Live music."

            Five pages later and members are still adding things they love.

            Here’s a (small) selection:

            From Bailey & Sophie: "That ‘bing’ sound when you put your seapass card in for the first time."

            From CaptDave: "The moment on Day 1 when all the luggage has arrived."

            From Mummble, who wrote her Top 5: "What a great thread! Everything about a cruise is fabulous! ….

            5. Watching the endless ocean
            4. Being rocked to sleep
            3. Being unplugged. Unless the emergency is big enough to call the ship, I won’t hear about it.
            2. The sheer pleasure of no responsibilities, no chores, no ‘real’ world.
            1. The quality time with loved ones. Typically cruise vacations are just my husband and I – an amazing time to focus on each other and us. However, my last two cruises have been with my in-laws and then my family. Those trips became really precious."

            One of the amusing facets of threads is the usually inadvertent spelling mistake, such as this one by 4cats4mem=, who writes: "I like sitting on my balcony while at sea retching the fresh sea air."

            Which made us – and hulamoon – chuckle: "Dana…I have a feeling retching may not have been your sea air experience!! My autocorrect has been in overdrive maybe yours is too. Lol."

            Final word from jancy who finishes her long list of cruising positives with this:

            "What is there not to love about cruising!?"

            Well, we couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

            What do you love about cruising? Let us know in the comments!

              Member Review of the Week: A 30-Something’s Take on a Uniworld European River Cruise

              October 7, 2014 | By | No Comments

              Uniworld's River Ambassador. Photo courtesy of Uniworld.

              Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, and showcase one as the Member Review of the Week. In the spotlight this week is Cruise Critic member ewizabeff’s recent cruise along the Danube River on Uniworld’s River Ambassador.

              Overall Impression: In search of something new, 30-somethings ewizabeff and her husband took a chance on a European river cruise, fully expecting to be the youngest passengers on Uniworld’s upscale vessel. And while they were, the cruise proved age was irrelevant when it came to the onboard experience. In the words of ewizabeff, Uniworld just gained two lifelong customers.

              Onboard Highlight: Prior to sailing, the foodie couple planned to dine offshore often. But Uniworld’s local specialty options kept them onboard for all but one of their meals.

              Port Highlight: “Vienna as the Viennese do” and the Danube bike trip – both ‘choice’ tours but still included in the cruise fare – were favorites.

              Don’t Miss: Seeking port recommendations from the cruise manager/director. Ewizabeff and her husband found the tips very useful for enjoying an authentic experience in Bavaria, Germany.

              Watch Out For: Although ewizabeff and her husband weren’t too fazed by being younger than everyone else, consider the age demographic before booking and decide if it will affect your experience.

              More: Read ewizabeff’s full review for more details about the ship’s dining options, service and their cabin, as well as the itinerary.

              For their efforts, ewizabeff, Jaxflboy, drj78, pick15 and Poopdeck90210 receive Cruise Critic logo items.

              Read more reviews or write your own cruise review

                Just Back From… A Pacific Northwest River Cruise: 6 Surprises

                October 6, 2014 | By | 3 Comments

                American Empress --photo by Carolyn Spencer Brown

                The delights of the Pacific Northwest extend beyond marquee cities like Seattle and Portland. This region is in the midst of a heady resurgence as a cruise destination along the Snake and Columbia rivers, thanks to the introduction this year of American Queen Steamboat Company’s newly refurbished American Empress. (Other lines, such as Lindblad Expeditions and Un-Cruise Adventures, also ply these waterways.)

                I spent last week on American Empress. American Queen’s one-week itineraries typically run one-way, between Portland and Spokane, with stops to see places like the gorgeous and yet desolate Hell’s Canyon (straddling Idaho and Washington); the Red Mountain American Viticultural Area, known as a great producer of wines; the Columbia Gorge Recreation area – home to the famed Multnomah Falls – and the quirky, artsy city of Astoria.

                I was reasonably well-prepared to embrace the region’s storied history of the Lewis & Clark Expedition (and heartily recommend you read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage or any other chronicles before you leave home). Yet I found so many fantastic surprises along the way. Here are six of my favorites.

                Read on for highlights from my Hell’s Canyon Expedition

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