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Posts tagged: cruising

Travel: Transatlantic cruising on the Queen Mary 2

    Our crossing. Such an elegant phrase. Even today, in an age of mass travel, it perfectly captures the tradition of boarding a big luxurious ocean liner and sailing across the Atlantic. Before we catapulted from one continent to another, we crossed. And the phrase still brings to mind the golden age of travel, of movie stars and royalty transiting in comfort and style, of ordinary men and women sailing toward new lives. 

 

    I just made my first crossing from New York to Southampton aboard the Cunard flagship the Queen Mary 2, and I’m afraid it has forever changed the way I will look at travel. I’m not sure I can go back to the hurry-wait-hurry circus of modern air travel without a deep longing to sail again.

 

    When we walked up the gangplank onto the beautiful ship and settled into our stateroom, the experience was nothing like most trips overseas. Security was tight but it was unobtrusive and gentle. The soft strains of classical music soothed us and we joined the other guests on the top deck to toast the Statue of Liberty as we sailed out of the harbor.

 

    During the sailing the first thing we discovered, as we were surrounded by art, beautiful architecture and an understated but sophisticated decor, was that the greatest luxury was time. Every minute belonged to us. We woke without an alarm and went to bed when we felt like it.   

   

    Truly relaxed for the first time in months, our days, unbroken by ports of call, were spent walking the promenade deck, listening to the speakers brought on board or watching the afternoon movie. There was even an onboard planetarium. A planetarium.

 

    At night there was more music, more theater, more movies.

 

    Another luxury was space. We weren’t fighting for legroom in a crowded plane. We had room to roam and breathe. Every day we discovered another quiet corner, another comfortable chair in front of a window. We spent hours in the library, located at the front of the ship, surrounded by thousands of books in rows of glass-front shelves, we browsed titles, and caught up on our reading.

 

    We hadn’t known it when we booked our trip, but director Wes Anderson was also on board, accompanied by some of the actors that regularly appear in his movies. Tilda Swinton, Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman joined Anderson on stage each afternoon to talk about one of his movies and then screen it for us. I can’t imagine having that kind of opportunity anywhere else. When not in the theater they were passengers like us, strolling the promenade deck, taking photos of the sunset, sipping tea in the lounge.

 

    There was a time when travel was graceful and calm, but today that kind of experience is heartbreakingly uncommon. It is rare to find yourself in a situation where the journey is the experience. Or, at the very least, as much a part of the experience as the destination. But that’s exactly what we had on our time on the Queen Mary 2.

 

    We didn’t just take a trip. We weren’t catapulted across the sea. We crossed and it was grand.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Magazine features Eastern Washington highlights

When I was asked to write the Eastern Washington feature for last month's Alaska Airlines Magazine's annual Washington section, I was given only one note: Show us what you like best.

I wish all assignments were that easy. I ran out of space long before I ran out of words to describe this beautiful part of the state

I opened with one of my favorite things to do: standing on a pedestrian bridge over the Spokane River watching Spokane, the state's second-largest city, wake up and come to life on a summer day. I wrote about the beautiful Palouse, the wine and arts culture in Walla Walla and the magnificent landscape of the Columbia River. I crisscrossed the region from the Tri-Cities to the Colville National Forest.

 I got a lot of emails from local flyers who'd seen the piece. If you'd like to read it, you can access the annual Alaska Airlines Washington State feature here.  The Eastern Washington feature begins on page 38

Travel: Sail for a Song with Carnival Live

(Photo: Martina McBride performs on the Carnival Ecstasy.)  

 

 

   A few days away from work, escaping the usual family obligations and the routine of the daily grind, can quickly recharge our emotional batteries. There’s no better way to get some much-needed time with your spouse or special someone, or just kick back with a group of girlfriends. 

 

   But organizing that kind of escape can be tricky. Hotels are pricey. Restaurants fill up. Throw in tickets to a concert or show and you’ll make a big dent in the budget. That little escape starts turning into a big headache.

 

   That’s what makes Carnival Cruise Lines' “Carnival Live” concert series so brilliant. 

Launched in April and running through mid-December of this year,  the series brings 49 shows with 15 acts —Jennifer Hudson, Foreigner, LeAnn Rimes, and Lady Antebellum, to name a few— to the Western Caribbean, the Bahamas and Baja Mexico.

 

   The shows are held in the ship’s show lounge and tickets are dramatically less than most arena seats - $20 to $40 for a regular seat and $100 to $150 for VIP tickets which include a meet-and-greet with the band or artist, a complimentary photo and priority seating in the first three rows. 

 

   The Carnival Live series simplifies getting away and makes it all a bargain. Instead of searching for a hotel, making a reservation in a busy restaurant and then buying concert tickets at a premium price, all you have to do is book your cruise, buy a ticket to the show, and settle in.

 

   I experienced the new Carnival Live concept with a four-day cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, on the Carnival Ecstasy. After a day in Cozumel, country music superstar Martina McBride came aboard and performed in the Blue Sapphire Lounge for an enthusiastic audience of around 800.

 

   It was a fantastic show, intimate and personal. McBride performed selections from her new album as well as the songs that made her a star, and fans were on their feet dancing to their favorites. 

It was a great show and a fantastic way to see McBride perform. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house and after the show it was an easy stroll to my stateroom a few decks away.

   

   No taxi needed.

 

Looking Ahead

 

While a Caribbean cruise is always a good idea, for those of us in the Northwest, the November cruise to Baja, Mexico, on the Carnival Imagination with Jewel, could make for a perfect girlfriend getaway. A group of four can share a suite for around $450 per person, it’s a relatively short flight, Jewel puts on a great show and, especially that time of year, you get the bonus of a few days under the sun. 

 

Details:

More information about the Carnival Live Concert Series 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel journalist. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Cruise: Fedoras and Flying Fish

 

    We’d spent the day on an island off the coast of Cozumel, lying in the sun, walking the beach, sipping drinks— all the kinds of things you do on that kind of vacation— until the water taxi arrived in the late afternoon to take us back to our ship, the Carnival Sunshine. 

    Sitting on the top deck of the boat, I stretched my arm along the rail, rested my chin on my arm and gazed out at the ocean.

    The wind cooled my face as we sped across the surface of the water, rising and falling with the waves, and I was content to sit there looking out on the water, sweeping the horizon, hoping to see something. Just…something. 

    This is a habit I’ve had since I was a child, scanning the trees or the forest or the riverbanks for some quick glimpse of what I might otherwise miss, always with the feeling that there is something interesting there and, if I can be still and quiet, I might be rewarded.

    The charm worked this time because at that moment, right beside me, a flying fish broke the surface of the water and sailed over the waves. The late afternoon sun gilded the fish’s wings with gold and I could hear the Hummingbird sound of its flight.

    Immediately, everything dropped away. I no longer heard the music or the laughter of the people on the boat.  I kept my eyes on the beautiful golden thing moving so swiftly and improbably beside me. I didn’t move or make a sound as the fish sailed over the surface for 30 seconds or so before dipping back down into the sea and disappearing. 

    It was a splendid, shining, moment and it was all mine.

    Oh, I know flying fish aren’t rare, but the thing is, I’d never seen one before. I’ve read about flying fish and seen them on nature shows, but before that moment I’d never actually seen one fly. So, in that way, it was a gift. And a reminder.

    I sometimes wonder how often, when we’re engaged in the silliest of human activities—like, say, singing “Red, Red, Wine” on a boat speeding back to a cruise ship, or jogging down a wooded trail with our eyes trained only on the trail ahead and our ears filled with canned music; when we are engaged being disengaged, some beautiful wild creature appears, yet remains invisible to all but the lucky few. I suspect it is frequent thing. The fox trotting swift and low along the railroad track, the owl blinking down from a tree in the park just before sunset, the deer grazing in the meadow before silently disappearing into the woods, are all there if we see them, invisible if we do not. 

    These birds and animals share our world, our streets and neighborhoods, but most of the time they are like shooting stars, only spotted when we happen to turn our eyes to the right place at the right time.

     I turned backed to the crowd, back to the girls in fedoras dancing on the deck, back to the laughter and the music, with a secret: that singular moments don’t have to be big. Sometimes, if we’re open, if we are watching, they come to us on unlikely wings and a brief flash of gold. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Travel: Five Ways to Find the Perfect Cruise

   For every person who loves to cruise, there is another who can’t imagine boarding a big ship with several thousand others and taking to the high seas.

   If you fall into the latter category, you might be pleasantly surprised by the way cruising isn’t always what you imagine. From privacy to culture to premium dining, there’s more to the experience than midnight buffets and shuffleboard.

    Here are five ways modern cruising might surprise you:

 

 

You can find your happy place: If you’re on a budget (and most of us are) it’s still possible to recreate certain elements of a luxury experience on even the most budget-minded cruise. It’s all about where you spend. Instead of going for the cheapest possible cabin—usually an interior room deep in the ship—and spending your time and money with the crowd at the bar or party deck, rethink your strategy. Instead, put your money toward a balcony room and economize in other ways. Room service aboard ship is almost always available 24-hours and at no extra charge. That means—especially on a particularly scenic cruise—you can tune out the crowd on the upper decks and savor the view and the solitude from your own private space. (Note: Be sure to check the ship’s smoking policy. Some lines allow smoking on the ship’s balconies.)

 

Books, books and more books: If the weather’s iffy or you’re on an at-sea day, on the right ship you don’t have to stay in your room or a search for a chair in a crowded lounge to spend some time with with a good book. Some Holland America ships come with honest-to-goodness libraries. I cruised from Quebec City to Boston on the ms Veendam and the library became my hangout. I found a book by a favorite author and checked it out with the help of a real live librarian. Every minute we weren’t on a port excursion or watching the coastline from our stateroom, my husband and I could be found on either end of a cushy sofa or tucked into big comfy chairs in the large library. Outfitted with wraparound shelves filled with everything from mysteries to reference books and computer terminals with access to the New York Times photo archive, the library also had big tables for games and puzzles and was a magnet for families and people of all ages.

 

An intimate dinner for two: The long lines and hungry crowds in the dining room are part of the cruise ship cliche. Fortunately most cruise lines have introduced specialty dining. I love Carnival’s Fahrenheit 555 steak house restaurants. For $35 per person you choose from an extensive menu, including prime cuts of meat, for a date-night meal worth remembering. And you certainly can’t beat the view. 

 

No bells and whistles. If slot machines and blackjack tables are not your thing, and just walking through the noisy, smoky shipboard casino space—usually in the very center of the ship—annoys you, consider taking a Disney cruise. Disney took the space most other lines dedicate to casinos and adults games and put it to good use as an extensive “kid zone” with state-of-the-art security. This is a real bonus for families, but quite a few savvy travelers—from honeymooners to boomers to singles—sail with Disney. The cruise line’s unbeatable customer service and attention to detail make it a great way to travel at any age.

 

Cruising can make you smarter: The Cunard name is synonymous with elegance and culture. And with the introduction of its speaker series in the mid 1970s, Cunard set the standard for at-sea enrichment. With speakers running the gamut from John Cleese to P.D.James to Bill Bryson to Jimmy Carter, symphony performances and an onboard planetarium, you’ll not only be entertained, you might come home a little smarter than you were when you left. 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” (available at Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park

   There was a soft summer rain falling, but that didn’t keep people away. Tucked under umbrellas, wrapped in raincoats, the crowd—locals and tourists like me—strolled through the main gate of Vigeland Sculpture Park near the center of Oslo, Norway. We all moved down the wide path and across the bridge lined with carved figures. Without the harsh glare of sunlight, the the rain seemed to soften and illuminate the sculptures, adding warm life to cold metal and stone. 

 

   Oslo’s Vigeland Sculpture Park is unlike any other; it showcases the work of only one man—Gustave Vigeland. In 1921 Vigeland, already an established artist, made an agreement with the city of Oslo. In return for a home and studio at Frogner Park, Vigeland would create a park built around the bulk of his work and it would forever belong to the city. 

 

    For 20 years, the last two decades of his life, Vigeland lived and worked there, creating more than 200 projects for the park. The work includes the impressive entrance, impressive two-dimensional iron gates, a bronze fountain with a tableau of the circle of life. The pinnacle is a five-story monolith of the bodies of men, women and children—more than 120 figures—carved from a single column of solid granite. 

 

    The bridge leading from the entrance to the crest of the hill is lined with more than 50 bronze figures, including the famous ”Sinnataggen” a furious toddler in captured in full tantrum. The figure of the angry baby has become the park’s signature and his left hand shines from the constant touching and rubbing of visitors.

 

  The theme of the garden is life and all its stages. Vigeland’s figures show mankind from birth to death and the sculptures are arranged in groups along a series of pathways.    

 

  Gustave Vigeland’s figures, especially those in granite, are massive, but there is a striking delicacy to each piece. Especially in the rain. I found myself circling them, looking deeply at the expressions on each face, at the language of each body. Taking one photo after another, trying to capture what the artist had expressed.

 

    The true magic of Vigeland Sculpture Park is the way the sculptor imbued granite and bronze with human emotion. His figures carry the joy, anguish, fear and desire of life. They draw you in and stay with you after you leave. 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard each week on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons and blogs about antiques and collectibles at Treasure Hunting. She can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Cruise Away the Winter Blues on Carnival Sunshine

    Slogging through a cold, dark, winter in the Northwest, it’s easy to find yourself starved for a little fun in the sun. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to join the U. S. inaugural sailing of the Carnival Sunshine out of the Port of New Orleans in November.

 

    The Carnival Sunshine was first launched in 1996 as the Carnival Destiny. At that the time it was the world’s largest cruise liner. After a massive and complete makeover in 2013, with a price tag of $155 million, the reborn liner spent a summer in Europe before moving to its new home port in The Crescent City. 

 

    After a day exploring New Orleans, with most of that time spent at the WWII Museum, we boarded the ship and headed down the Mississippi River toward the Gulf of Mexico. For the next 7 days we cruised the Caribbean sea, stopping at Grand Cayman Island and Cozumel before returning back to New Orleans.

 

    These days, with a teenager and a 2-year-old grandchild around, I’m thinking more and more about multigenerational travel. I made sure I got a good look at all the new options for families. The Waterworks water park is the largest in the fleet and it’s the place to be when the sun is hot and shining. The top-deck SportSquare with ropes course, ball courts, mini golf and a jogging track is a great place for families to spend some quality time together and there are Informal activities like poolside “Dive in Movies” under the gigantic LED screen TV. Children’s programs include Camp Carnival children’s program  for ages 2-11, Circle C  for ages 12-14 and Club O2 for teens 15-17.

 

    As expected there were plenty of grownup entertainment options, including well-produced musical extravaganzas, family-friendly and interactive “Hasbro: The Game Show” and the “Punchliner Comedy Club Presented by George Lopez,” but to be honest we spent most of our free time on one of the three levels of the adults-only “Serenity Deck” with paperback books and the occasional paper umbrella drink. Located away from the noisy and popular party deck, the Serenity Deck offers plenty of padded lounge chairs, private clamshell cabana chairs and even queen-size hammocks for snoozing. (There is no charge to access the Serenity Deck, but drinks are extra. )

 

    On the whole, the cruise from New Orleans was a great way to escape the dreary weather in Spokane and get another shot of Vitamin D before spring returns. And, of course, it’s always fun to visit New Orleans.

    

    Here’s a breakdown of pros and cont:

 

 

Pros: You can’t beat Carnival’s value. It’s possible to fly to New Orleans and then spend a week cruising in the sun for less than you might spend on a week shivering at the Oregon Coast or even a long weekend in Seattle for a show or concert. The variety of food on board is impressive and Carnival continues to expand options from premium dining at the “Fahrenheit 555” steak house, to specialty dining at “Cucina del Capitano” and “JiJi’s Asian Kitchen” to free burgers and fries at Guy Fieri’s “Guy’s Burger Joint”. Carnival Sunshine staterooms are attractive, comfortable and offer plenty of storage. 

 

Cons: My only real complaint about any Carnival Cruise is the number of smokers on board. Smoking is limited to the casino and certain decks but is allowed on private balconies. Once or twice we abandoned our balcony chairs because a neighbor’s smoke was drifting our way.

 

 

For more information about the Carnival Sunshine cruises out of New Orleans, contact your travel agent or go to www.carnival.com   You can find Cheryl-Anne’s Instagram photos of the cruise at instagram.com/camillsap

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

Travel: Slip a Gift Card in a Traveler’s Stocking

    Sometimes the best gift is one that can be opened during the holidays but used later in the new year, sometimes again and again. A gift card, for example. 

    Travel, both domestic and international, can be expensive, even for the thriftiest of us. If you have a traveler on your list this holiday season, consider giving gift cards that can be used to fund a travel experience or make any trip easer and more affordable. 

 

Here are some gift card suggestions for travelers of all ages:

 

Give the Green Mermaid: Most larger airports have at least one Starbucks, so chances are there’ll be one around when you or your traveler wants a cup of coffee on the fly.  It’s always nice to be able to stop for a latte or any of the coffee-to-go products sold at the stores without having to fork over the cash. 

 

Drug Store Dash: No matter how carefully one packs, there are bound to be a few things that are left behind or needed unexpectedly: BandAids for blistered heels, cold medicine to fight off airplane germs or prescription replacements or refills. Having a gift card from a national chain like Walgreen’s or CVS, stores that seem to be on every corner of bigger cities across the U.S., could come in handy for one of those little inconveniences or occasional emergencies.

 

There’s an App for That:  Travel apps are constantly evolving with new options popping up almost over night. Most tech-savvy travelers are always on the lookout for the next big thing. An iTunes gift card keeps them up to date with the latest photo-editing, navigating or social media app. Of course, they can use it to buy tunes, as well.

 

Pre-paid Plastic: Slip an American Express or Visa gift card in someone’s stocking if you want to make their holiday. Traveling with cash is risky and traveler’s checks are all but obsolete. Pre-paid plastic goes anywhere and is always appreciated.

 

Let ‘em Fly:  With an Airline gift card you can help someone take the trip of their dreams or get home for some family time.

 

Phone Home: Most of us depend on our smart phones when we travel but phones can be lost or damaged. That’s when a pre-paid calling card can come in handy.

 

Get a Room: Most major hotel chains offer gift cards that can be used for rooms or (subject to terms and availability) a room upgrade. 

 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Visit New Orleans’ WWII Museum Before Your Cruise

    I hadn’t been in New Orleans for a long time, but the mystique is still true; the city is one you don’t forget. A lot has changed over time and after the devastating hurricane in 2005, but as I walked, taking in familiar sights, the distinctive architecture, the soft Southern voices and the sounds of jazz and Zydeco music, I knew exactly where I was. 

    I’d flown down to cover the maiden U. S. voyage of the Carnival Sunshine, sailing from the Port of New Orleans, and my husband was with me. We had a day to explore the city before the cruise began and we made a quick tour of the French Quarter and the waterfront, before heading up Magazine street to the New Orleans destination we’d really come to see: The World War II Museum.

    I spent a week last summer touring the countryside of the Normandy region of France, and I’d visited most of the D-Day landing sites and museums. Since my return, I haven’t been able to shake the experience. The scope and stories of the profoundly life-changing experiences of the survivors, and the sheer number of lives lost, is, even 70 years later, overwhelming. I was anxious to see how the WWII Museum’s D-Day exhibit captured that time in history.

    But first, before we explored anything indoors, we had another, more personal, monument to see. When the museum opened in 2000 my husband’s family purchased a commemorative brick to honor their father who served in the Marines and was stationed in the South Pacific during WWII. My husband, with one of our daughters, had visited the brick once before, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but I hadn’t seen it. 

    With the help of a map supplied by museum staff, we found my father-in-law’s engraved brick on the walkway near the entrance of the museum. My husband brushed away a few fallen leaves and I took his photo with it. We stood there for a few more minutes without saying anything, both of us lost in our own thoughts of someone we’d loved. 

    My father-in-law died in 2009 and he never got to see the small monument his children placed at the museum to honor him. But he knew it was there and I think it pleased him.

    For the next week, cruising around the Caribbean, soaking up as much sun as possible before going back to the cold, already snowy, Northwest, my mind kept going back to the red brick carved with my father-in-law’s name and the torpedo bomber squadron to which he’d been assigned. 

    I’m glad we’d dedicated most of our free time in New Orleans to visiting the museum. The D-Day exhibit was moving and comprehensive and captured the true horror of the battles of the war. And it gave us a chance to revisit a personal history, to stop and take a moment to remember a kind and gentle man.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard each week Spokane Public Radio. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

Travel news: “Dancing with the Stars:At Sea” Alaska cruises from Seattle

    When Holland America Line launched “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” in 2013, the dance-themed cruises, featuring up-close-and-personal access to the performers and celebrities of the long running ABC show, were an immediate hit. The cruise program was so popular it will return in 2014. 

 

 

    While all 15 of Holland America’s ships will include some elements of “Dancing With the Stars” programming, with free dance lessons from the ship’s dance professionals and a dance-off competition to compete for a chance to be one of the 15 ship champions to sail on the 2014 Champions Caribbean cruise, the good news for Northwest “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” fans is that four of the six special 2014 theme cruises featuring dancers and celebrities from the popular show will be 7-day Alaska cruises sailing out of Seattle, WA and Vancouver, B.C.  

 

 

    The ms Zuiderdam will sail June 14 and June 21 from Vancouver, BC.

 

    The ms Westerdam will sail from Seattle, WA., on July 26 and Aug. 2,

 

    These “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” theme cruises will feature special performances, dance lessons with the ship’s professional dancers and meet-and-greet and photo opportunities with the celebs. At this time, DWTS dancers scheduled to sail on all six theme cruises are professional dancers Tristan MacManus and Kym Johnson, with television personality Carson Kressley and actress Sabrina Bryan.

 

    The Dec 6, 2014 Champions Cruise will bring the 15 winning guests (one from each ship) from the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” competitions currently being held on all ships in the Holland America fleet through Oct. 22, 2014, for a final dance competition and the chance to be named Holland America Line’s “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” Champion. 

 

 

For more information about Holland America “Dancing with the Stars at Sea” cruises go to www.hollandamerica.com or contact your travel agent.

Note: I was on the “Dancing with the Stars: At Sea” cruise on the ms Veendam last spring, sailing from Quebec City to Boston.  You can read about that voyage here.

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Holland America takes you Dancing With The Stars at Sea

   I think most of us harbor a secret belief that at the right time, with the right partner,  in the right place, with the right music, in the right costume and with a few good lessons, we could Tango like a pro.

   That’s the appeal of shows like Dancing with the Stars. He did it. She did it. If they can make it, we could make it. We just need a chance.

   This year, with its Dancing with the Stars at Sea theme cruises, Holland America Line is giving dance-loving passengers that chance. During select cruises, passengers get more than just a cruise. DWTS fans can take lessons from the ship’s professional dancers, watch the show’s celebrities perform, have a photo made with their favorites dancers during special events, participate in a Q&A session with the celebrities and even compete for a chance to perform onstage at the grand finale.

   To participate in the ship’s Dancing With the Stars At Sea competition, passengers attend free onboard dance classes where they learn steps taught by the ship’s dancers. At the end of each class, participants perform the routines they learned and are scored by the three judges. The winners are paired with a professional and go on to the final performance on the last night of the cruise. At the finale, each of the winning dance class contestants perform with their partner for the DWTS celebrity judges. The judges offer comments and score the performance and a cruise champion is declared.
   

   At the end of the season, judges will select a winner from each of the eligible Dancing with the Stars at Sea cruises. The 15 winners will get a free cruise and a chance to compete at the final competition for the DWTS at Sea trophy. Not bad.

   In June, my husband and I took a Dancing with the Stars at Sea cruise from Quebec City to Boston on the ms Veendam. Joey Fatone, Mark Ballas, Shawn Johnson and Chelsie Hightower were the stars on board.

   At each performance, the theater was packed. At the special passenger Q&A session with the DWTS celebrities it was fascinating to listen to the comments and questions. These were people who didn’t just watch Dancing with the Stars, they were involved. They’d followed every season and had more than a few things to say about the dancers, their costumes, specific personalities and some of the judges’ decisions. They'd booked the cruise specifically because the dancers were there and they were thrilled to get a chance to ask interact. Some, like a man sitting in front of me, just wanted to make a statement. 

   “I don’t have a question. I just wanted to say Dancing with the Stars is the one thing my wife and I watch together,” he said. “And I get ‘points’ for watching it!”  The crowd laughed but I noticed other men nodding their heads.

   As always, there was good food, a luxurious spa, onboard movies, plenty of time to do absolutely nothing and interesting ports to explore along the way—all the things that make cruising a wonderful way to rest and relax as you travel. The DWTS theme just added to the fun.

   We all came away with great photos and wonderful memories but some got even more than that. They got a chance to step into the spotlight and dance like a star.

For more information about Holland America “Dancing with the Stars at Sea” cruises go to www.hollandamerica.com

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

  

Travel: Four Good Reasons to Consider a Family Cruise

   The family vacation season is almost here. Soon, the kids will be out of school and families will set out to spend some time together and see a few things along the way. There’s nothing wrong with the traditional road trip (‘Don’t make me pull this car over!) but more and more families are opting for cruise vacations. Here are a few reasons to consider taking your family on a cruise adventure:

Save money, see more: Traveling with a family adds up. Flights, hotels, meals and all the other expected—and unexpected—expenses can take a toll on the budget. The beauty of cruising is all those expenses are bundled. Many cruise packages—often deeply discounted—include airfare or car rental and, of course, lodging and meals are all part of the deal. A cruise can be the most economical way to see a destination or part of the world. (Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case for single cruisers but more lines are offering single cabins or designated single supplement-free itineraries.)

Time together, time apart: Think about it. Your meals are prepared, the housekeeping is done while you’re out at the pool and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world is right in view. All that’s expected of you is to relax and enjoy the ride. Of course, there are times when too much togetherness can be tough on families. That’s the time to take advantage of the ship’s amenities. Let the kids spend some time in the designated children’s center and enjoy a few hours at the ‘adults only’ deck and pool option. Book a date-night dinner at the ship’s premium dining restaurant. There is an additional charge for these meals but the food and wine options are usually topnotch.

Peace and Quiet: Is it really possible to find quiet moments while trapped in a floating hotel with thousands of other people? Absolutely. When choosing a stateroom, a balcony is almost always worth the extra cost; it gives you a private view and a place to get away from the crowd. If your travel budget is tight, put your money toward a small piece of personal cruise-ship real estate and forgo expensive pool-side cocktails and soft drinks.

Let the World Come to You: Travel, even for those of us who love it, has become a complex and frequently expensive proposition. Airfares are high, highways are crowded, gas is expensive and navigating crowded and sometimes unfriendly airports can elevate stress. Just getting from one place to another can be exhausting. But the beauty of cruising is that once you board you can relax and enjoy your vacation while all the details are taken care of by someone else.The ship gets you from one port to another, excursions are organized and arranged for you, room service is almost always complimentary and transportation to and from the airport is a snap. Tip: Work with a travel agent to help you find the perfect fit for your family budget.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
  

Travel: Sail Away From Winter



   We weren’t even on the ship when the party started. I was still making my way through the embarkation process, listening to piped-in dance music and having a welcome photo made when the 70s dance anthem, I Will Survive filled the air.

   Almost immediately, one of the Carnival Cruise Line employees joined in (Is it even possible to listen to Gloria Gaynor sing that song and not sing along?) In the next moment a group of women, all traveling together on the 8-day Caribbean Cruise, turned the corner and someone in the group started singing with the attendant.
Another woman, then another, joined and soon they were all standing side by side, arms linked, belting out

“Oh no, not I
I will survive
As long as I know how to love
I know I’ll stay alive…”


   The song ended. In minutes we were crossing the gangplank and stepping on board the brand new Carnival Breeze and I realized I was still smiling.

   It was an excellent way to start the trip.

   Even on a ship as big and busy as the Breeze, with more than 4,000 passengers of all ages and another 1,300 crew, I saw the girlfriend group once or twice— all dressed up on “elegant” nights or gathered in a circle of deck chairs, chattering and laughing—and each time they looked like they were having the time of their lives. I asked and they told me they were from Chicago and like those of us who live in the Northwest, they were already tired of slogging through wintery gray skies and cold winds.  They’d been counting the days until they could turn their back on winter and spend a week sailing to the Caribbean with nothing to do but sit in the sun, a glass of something tall and cool in hand.

   Winter has its pleasures, of course—skiing, sledding, hot chocolate and marshmallows—but for the most part it is a season that requires us to bow and surrender or, once in a while, escape. That’s what I was looking for. While the Windy City ladies were partying, I planted myself on a deck chair, my husband beside me, and simply soaked up the Vitamin D, hoping to store enough sunshine to see me through until spring.

   I figured out pretty quickly that the Carnival approach is to pack up the party and hit the waves. All you have to do is relax.

   And always, right overhead, shining down on the ship, there is the star of the party and the secret to surviving the greyest days of winter in this part of the world: that big hot Caribbean sun.

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer based in Spokane, Washington. She is the author of 'Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons' and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com
       

    

  

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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