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Norwegian Jewel: Good Morning America's Girls' Week Out
About the Virtual Cruise
Norwegian Jewel: Good Morning America's Girls' Week Out When was the last time you abandoned your normal responsibilities -- kids, job, house -- to head out on a jaunt with your best pal, just for a week? Norwegian Cruise Line and ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" teamed up to offer just such a getaway to some 300 lucky and quite worthy women, selected on the basis of essays they wrote about their special friendships.

The trip? Cruise Critic Contributor Susan Jaques hopped aboard Norwegian Jewel for the seven-night Western Caribbean voyage accompanied by her own best friend: her sister Ruth. Jaques will offer details about the camaraderie and experiences of her fellow pals, plus onboard events (such as fashion shows) and the escapades involved in broadcasting the show's live segments. Jaques will also provide details about her life in port -- at destinations such as Roatan, Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Great Stirrup Cay (NCL's private island) -- and onboard with a couple of wonderfully indulgent days at sea.

The "Good Morning America" aspect of the trip aside, what's still relevant about this virtual is that it chronicles the tales of a true gal pal's getaway -- one of the most popular reasons to take a trip today! Check it out (and enjoy brief celeb-spotting moments with GMA-ers while along the way).
Day 1: Embarkation in Miami, Super Bowl Sunday
Day 2: At Sea
Day 3: Roatan
Day 4: Grand Cayman
Day 5: Ocho Rios
Day 6: At Sea
Day 7: Great Stirrup Cay
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Day 1: Monday, Embarkation in Miami, Super Bowl Sunday
Embarkation in Miami, Super Bowl SundayBoarding the sparkling Norwegian Jewel in Miami, it was hard not to notice the 10 women sporting identical T-shirts emblazoned with the American flag and the captions: "These Colors Don't Run" and "U.S. Military Spouses." The group of mothers came together for support when their sons went off to war in Iraq, but tragically, three of the young men lost their lives.

Now they're among 300 women gathered in celebration of friendship, winners of ABC-TV's "Good Morning America's Girls' Week Out" essay contest. "Constant worry, tears and stress made life sometimes unbearable," Marine mother Rita Yost had written in her entry. "I had the support of my family at home, but if it weren't for these precious friendships that I formed with the other mothers I would never had gotten through it all."

Another group of girlfriends truly deserving this getaway are the amazing moms from Charlotte, North Carolina who I met at today's muster drill (pictured above). Each has adopted one or more children from Liberia, ages 4 to 17, orphaned during the country's long-running civil war. Their T-shirts read: "We left 57 kids at home with their Dads!" The adoptions started two years ago when a group of Liberian boys came to sing at their church. Their orphanage was destroyed, leaving the youngsters nowhere to go home to. "They bless our lives incredibly," says one of the moms, Lysa Terkeurst. "It's a sight to see a black hand holding a white hand walking to church. Our kids don't really see black and white anymore."

Around 5 p.m., the girlfriends -- including me and my own best friend, my sister Ruth -- waved goodbye to Miami as Norwegian Jewel set out for a seven-night cruise through the Western Mediterranean with stops at Roatan, Honduras; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and Great Stirrup Cay, NCL's own private island in the Bahamas. In addition to 10 restaurants onboard, offering fare that ranges from sushi to gnocchi, there is a fabulous Bar Central area that we're excited to try -- it features a martini bar, a Champagne and wine bar, and a beer and whisky pub. Like the rest of the gals onboard this week (beyond the 300 girlfriends who are part of "Girl's Week Out" the ship is filled with "regular" passengers) we're anticipating a few treatments at the ship's spa and some snorkeling outings in various ports of call. What's most important, of course, is a chance to kick back and catch up with each other -- without the distractions of our normal daily lives. We almost feel like teenagers again.

At sail away, beer was definitely the drink of choice in the Stardust Theatre as passengers gathered inside to watch the Super Bowl on a super-big movie-sized screen. On the pool deck, a reggae band quickly got the crowd forming a lively conga line. Among the celebrants was another winning group -- best friends who grew up together in Brownsville, Texas and who are now scattered around the U.S. "We live vicariously through one another," says Marisilda Elliott, who baby-sat for her dear friend Mary Jane Zamariripa when she underwent her first law school interview and has sung at several of her friends' weddings. "No matter how many friends we make, these are still my best friends."

We'll talk more tomorrow about some of the other great girlfriends on this getaway, including a Hodgkins survivor engaged to be married and her bridesmaids, a steel drum group, a group of former cheerleaders, and sorority sisters who helped a single mother graduate from college and law school. "They instill confidence in me when I am ready to throw in the towel," explains lawyer Shequitta Kelly about her sorority sisters. "They bring peace when the rest of the world is screaming at me."

Once the ship had sailed into the sunset, Ruth and I headed straight for the Bora Bora Spa, and as a result of its glorious views from the sauna and hot tub, we've decided that this tranquil oasis is just what we needed. We were helped greatly in this effort by our first massage -- of the hot rock variety -- that was so relaxing we asked the therapist to come back with us to Los Angeles! (Alas, she declined).

With so many dining options, we flipped a coin and landed very happily at Mama's Italian Kitchen. Despite our better judgment, after enjoying pasta, salad, soup and main dishes, we still had to try the Sicilian Cheesecake with Raspberry Puree and Tiramisu. The service was unusually attentive and the food molto bene. Good thing we're going snorkeling on Tuesday.

Tomorrow, "Good Morning America" will kick off its first live broadcast from the ship, with weatherman Mike Barz and special correspondent (and Oprah's best friend) Gayle King. The morning news show will air live from the ship each day through Friday, starting at 7 a.m. Among the highlights: a Victoria's Secret fashion show and a "Dancing with the Stars" contest. Until then....
  Day 2: At Sea

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