Monday, 28 November 2011

Going to Cairns on a Cruise

It was when I saw this signpost in Cairns, northern Queensland, that I realised how far our cruise had taken us from home. We spent a relaxed day in the heat of this tropical city, alternating between spending time in air-conditioned shops, galleries and the Museum, and sitting out having a picnic under shady trees on the Esplanade, making the most of the sea breezes.
The Esplanade Beach at Cairns
   For someone who has spent countless hours on New Zealand beaches while growing up, it was strange to think that the locals in Cairns can't swim in the sea at certain times of the year because of nasty stinging sea creatures. Instead, they have a man-made 'beach' on the Esplanade. This was a beautiful area with a huge natural looking swimming pool, large grassy areas shaded by trees, even imported sand to give the real 'beachy' atmosphere.
  Cairns is a popular port of call on the round Australia itineraries and cruises that go between Sydney, Australia, and Asia. Many of the ship's passengers did an excursion out to the Great Barrier Reef, although rough seas made the catamaran ride unpleasant for some. We were tempted to go on a seaplane flight out over the reef - maybe next time we visit the city.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Becoming a Princess Cruises Elite Passenger: the Benefits

How to become an Elite passenger
Staying loyal to one or two cruise lines has its advantages. The more cruises you go on, the more the rewards for being a past passenger increase.
   Berni Blair and her husband have recently returned from their 40th cruise. This was a 29-night voyage on 'Sea Princess' across the Pacific from San Francisco to Sydney, via Hawaii and Tahiti. Having completed more than 150 cruise nights with Princess, they qualified as 'Elite Members'.
   And Berni loved it! She said she felt special and pampered the whole time.
   So what are the benefits of being an Elite passenger with Princess?
  • You never have to queue - you get priority check-in, priority tender embarkation and priority disembarkation. No more waiting in lines with hundreds of other passengers.
  • You get $200 credit towards Internet Cafe time on voyages of more than 21 days.
  • You get complimentary laundry and dry cleaning services.
  • You get a free mini bar setup (one time only).
  • You get a plate of delicious canapes delivered to your stateroom before dinner.
  • You get a traditional afternoon tea.
  • You get 10% discount at the onboard shops.
  • You get complimentary wine tasting.
  • You get invited to members-only onboard events
Some of these benefits apply to Platinum members (6th -15th cruise or 50-149 cruise nights) also. But for Berni, it was the extras, such as never having to queue and using the complimentary laundry services, that go with being an Elite member that really made this cruise special.
   Already she's planning her next cruise!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Take a Hands-on Cooking Class at Sea

Get the apron and the recipes at a HAL cooking class 
On a cruise, one of the things I like doing is attending the cooking demonstrations. It's a chance to pick up some new recipes, learn some handy culinary tips and sample the dishes prepared by the chef. Sometimes it is fun to take things one step further and be part of a hands-on cooking class.
   On one Holland America Line cruise I did exactly that. The cost was $29 for a three hour lesson  in the Culinary Arts Centre, taken by the head chef of the Pinnacle Grill. There were 10 of us in the class, ready and eager to start cooking three dishes. Once we had all donned our aprons and collected our recipe cards, the chef explained what we would be making: Stuffed Turkey Roulade, Winter Squash Risotto and Pannatone Tiramisu. Yum! 
  The staff had pre-prepared some of the ingredients, such as roasting the squash and cutting the turkey breasts into slices. Now the chef divided up parts of the recipes between us so we were all chopping, peeling, and slicing. He was kept busy going around making sure that the risotto was being stirred the right way, that the stuffing for the turkey breasts was well combined, that the egg whites for the tiramisu were whisked to soft peaks.
   Then he got a bit creative with the dishes, adding ingredients that weren't written in the recipes - finely chopped rosemary in the risotto, a dollop of cream cheese in the turkey stuffing, spreading a thin layer of mustard on the turkey breasts. I had to keep putting my knife down to pick up my pen and write the extras down.
   The chef passed on some handy hints to us keen students. He showed us how to use just the one large knife, depending on how you held it, for all cutting, dispensing with the need for vegetable peelers or cleavers. His demo of dicing an onion was an eye opener for me. I couldn't believe how I had got to be this age without knowing how to cut one properly!
   Somehow or other, under his expert guidance, all the dishes came together beautifully at the right times and at last we were ready to 'plate up' the food.
  Then we adjourned to the Pinnacle Grill, the waiters brought our food to our tables, and we enjoyed a relaxed and delicious lunch. The woman who had been in charge of pouring the Amaretto liqueur onto the tiramisu had done her job very enthusiastically! I left the table feeling as if I was breathing fire!

Monday, 7 November 2011

'Tis the Season - for Travel Expo

Travel brochures galore - read and dream about cruises!
Have you noticed all the advertisements in the newspapers this last week or so for cheap travel deals? Flights, cruises and hotels are all discounted heavily for 'earlybird' buyers. It means that you pay this year, in November or December, to have a holiday in the 2012/2013 season.
   We went along to a Travel Expo on Saturday. There were video presentations every half-hour for cruises and expeditions and excursions in various countries. I particularly enjoyed the one on Greece and Turkey, which reminded me of the time I lived in Greece.
  Many of the stands were set up advertising cruises. There was such a variety: European and Russian river cruises, holidays on barges in France, river cruises in South East Asia and China, round the world voyages, Mediterranean and Pacific and Caribbean cruises. I was in my element! In fact, I collected so many brochures that someone asked me if I was setting up my own travel agency!
   It was also a chance to talk to interesting people who had been on many cruises. One man had worked on cruise ships for seven years as part of the entertainment staff. Another had been on 40 cruises. 
   Since we got home from the Travel Expo I've been immersed in brochures and websites checking out various cruise holidays and ships. There is a wealth of information about cruising, which is one of the fastest growing trends in the vacation industry. All the brochures have seductive photos of beautiful ships with beautiful people on board sailing in beautiful weather to beautiful destinations. How tempting they are!

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Spoilt for Choice - Princess Cruise Ships 'Down Under'

The Princess cruise line's logo
The 2012 and 2013 Southern Hemisphere cruise schedules are out now and here 'Down Under' we are spoilt for choice!
   Itineraries for Princess cruises include 14-day round New Zealand and across to Australia cruises; a circumnavigation of Australia; a Northern Australian Explorer from Sydney to Perth; even a special 11-day cruise to see the Solar Eclipse on November 14, 2012. There are also several cruises to some Pacific Islands to add in.
  Princess will have four ships sailing in the region - 'Diamond Princess', 'Sun Princess', 'Dawn Princess' and 'Sea Princess'. Their home ports are Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
   If you live in New Zealand, these cruises are an opportunity to 'escape' in luxury without the hassle and discomfort of long-distance flights. At the most, you'd fly for only three hours to get to an Australian port.
  We've been on 'Sapphire Princess', the sister ship to 'Diamond Princess', before and loved it. Now I've booked us a cruise on 'Sea Princess' to go on a South Pacific itinerary next February. Roll on 2012, I say!