Monday, November 28, 2011

Best of Cruise Line Entertainment

Best of Cruise Line Entertainment

Published November 28, 2011
There are really two different kinds of cruises:  those you to take to see exciting destinations and those where the ship is the destination. 
The “ship as the destination” has, in the last 10 years, gotten decidedly better. And entertainment, especially on the newest cruise ships, has reached a level where some ships are now alternatives to Las Vegas and New York. With attractions like the latest 3-D movies, lavish spectacles in specially built ice skating rinks and aqua theatres, along with hit Broadway shows like "Hairspray," it's easy to see how these are major attractions.
Disney Cruise Line 
Disney Cruise Line was the first to offer entertainment as the primary reason to take a cruise. Of course the line had a leg up on the competition; the exclusive rights to Disney movies, stage shows, characters and songs. Disney ships feature state-of-the-art theaters for live shows and 3-D movies. You can spend your entire cruise ensconced in the best of Disney. You will find Micky, Minnie, Donald and Goofy interacting with guests through shipboard “character experiences” throughout the cruise, but there’s far more. 
Stage productions also feature the popular Disney characters - such as original show “Villains Tonight” which debuted on the brand new Disney Dream last year. The all-original script includes many famous Disney villains like Captain Hook, Cruella De Vil, Ursula from the "Little Mermaid" and Scar from the "Lion King." The success of the Disney Cruise Line formula showed the other cruise lines something new. While cruise ships always had entertainment, entertainment had never been considered a money maker because they don’t charge for shows. But Disney was able to command much higher cruise fares than other cruise lines, proving that great onboard entertainment can make a difference. Of course, Disney had something other cruise lines did not have – the rights to popular characters and shows. 
Royal Caribbean Entertainment 
Last year Royal Caribbean aligned with DreamWorks, a major rival of Disney for animated movies. The line now also has 3-D movie theaters and “character experiences” with popular DreamWorks characters, such as Shrek, Kung Fu Panda and Puss ‘n Boots. The line also created new stage shows featuring these characters. 
But Royal Caribbean didn’t stop with DreamWorks characters. It was the first cruise line to acquire the rights to the book versions of certain hit Broadway shows like "Hairspray," "Chicago" and "Saturday Night Fever." But this is just the latest entertainment innovation for Royal Caribbean. The line started building ice skating rinks on its ships back in 1999, which most people just considered a new activity for cruisers. But the real payoff was the new “Ice Capades” style shows they created. Today these shows are excellent shipboard entertainment with Olympic-class skaters from around the world. 
The newest (largest ship in the world) Oasis-class ships added another proven entertainment genre. “AquaTheater” shows featuring water and aerial-based productions already proven popular in Las Vegas. The Oasis shows require the custom-built AquaTheater venue with 60-foot high dives, trampolines, underwater cameras and trapeze mechanisms. These shows resemble proven Vegas hits like “O” by Cirque D’ Soliel (a play on the French word “eau” for water) and “Le Reve,” a $100-million production at the new Wynn Hotel. The Oasis-class also has a new acrobatic stage show “Come Fly With Me,” using some of the performers from the AquaTheater shows. It features the flying stage-craft now in vogue in Vegas and on Broadway. These shows were created with a producer new to cruise ships, Suzanne Childers, who came with many of the people who worked on “Le Reve” in Las Vegas. Childers is now also working with Silversea Cruises. 
Norwegian Cruise Lines 
Norwegian aligned itself with Second City Comedy and the Nickelodeon Television a few years ago. When it brought out Norwegian Epic in 2010 it also added a proven New York and Vegas hit show “Blue Man Group.” This was the first cruise ship with a custom built theater for a specific show. The investment in entertainment paid off by making Norwegian Epic a very popular ship. Norwegian Epic also aligned with another successful Las Vegas production company “Legends in Concert” to create “Legends at Sea,” a series of “tribute shows” to popular artists. The ship changes the show every six months but so far the tributes include Cher, Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Britney Spears, Madonna and of course, Elvis. 
Norwegian didn’t just hire the tribute artists; the productions include the bands, singers and dancers. You don’t just get an “impersonator,” you get a nearly perfect recreation of each artist’s concert stage show with authentic choreography and music. The ship also features a show from Cirque Productions, a Florida-based company similar to Cirque D’ Soliel featuring acrobats, high wire, comedy and other modern circus themes. The key difference is that cruise lines are now finding proven entertainment from outside the cruise industry and bringing it onboard intact. It has become passé for a cruise line to hire writers, arrangers and choreographers and cast its own shows. “Cruise ship entertainment” has been replaced by real entertainment on cruise ships. 
Other Cruise Lines 
Cunard Line's three ships offer a very high caliber of more sophisticated entertainment featuring players from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London. The line presents original shows based on popular West End (London) musicals with casts as large as 30 players. The ships’ beautiful theaters include impeccable sight lines and box seats with champagne and sweets available. 
Carnival Cruise Line now features a comedy club on each ship with two different comedians doing two shows every night, plus a late-night adults only show. Carnival just hired comedian and talk show host George Lopez to serve as its “Director of Comedy.” Lopez will find the talent and lead the comedic direction for the comedy clubs throughout the fleet. 
Luxury cruise line refinement doesn’t always translate to the most impressive entertainment, but as noted, Silversea Cruises just hired Suzanne Childers (who did Royal Caribbean’s acrobatic shows) to remake its onboard revues. Crystal Cruises also has a reputation for surprisingly innovative stage shows for a luxury cruise line. Finally, the Great American Steamboat Company, slated to begin Mississippi River cruises next April, 2012, has already announced an impressive lineup of all-American artists to perform the first season; the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the Harry James Orchestra, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Platters, Bill Haley’s Comets and The New Orleans Jazz All-stars, among others. 
Paul Motter is the co-founder and editor of cruise travel guide.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Brand New Carnival Magic!

We were there for the welcome party, and what a party it was! Maroon 5 put on a concert on the pier, and we were treated to 24 hours on board so we could sample the amenities, food, and fun! here are some pictures from the brand new vessel..

adults only area, wraps around whole front of ship

heated chair in the spa

lots of semi private jacuzzis along the side

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More happy clients just returning from Ireland

We returned from a tour of Ireland on the 19th of this month ( The Folk & Pub Tour ).  The tour was wonderful and Ireland is absolutely beautiful.  The Irish people we met could not have been more helpful, courteous, and happy to see us, they are like Texans with an accent and CIE Tours did everything outlined in the tour catalog, and more.  Everything was perfect.
Which brings me to our tour guide, Patrick Pendergrast.  CIE is very fortunate to have a tour director like Patrick.  Extremely professional, great, dry sense of humor, on top of everything, and he must have a Master's in Irish history.  So knowledgeable in relating the history of Ireland and her people, but not in the sense you felt you were in a history class.
If all your tour directors are of the same ilk at Patrick, CIE has got to be one of the top touring companies in the business.  As Patrick was playing the CD of Mr. Stack asking for referrals, I was thinking that anyone I met who is thinking of going on a tour, I would steer in your direction, and to ask what tours Patrick is a assigned to.
While CIE had nothing to do with creating the beauty, and magic, that is Ireland and the Irish, we feel fortunate that we had someone like Patrick to present that gift of beauty and magic that is Ireland to us.
Trust the tone of this email conveys how delighted we are with CIE Tours.

                                                                 Joe & Barbara Crowley
                                                                     Blanco, Texas

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Great article on family cruising

How to Pick the Right Cruise For Your Family

Published November 14, 2011

The closest I ever got to a cruise in my childhood was the “Jungle Ride” at Disneyland. The guide had a shtick so clever it’s now Americana. The old exit joke was: “Like Dad said, the ride’s over so grab your stuff and get out.” 
Back then Disney had a theme park containing a cruise, now it has four cruise ships containing theme parks. Disney is not a cruise line just for kids-- it is a cruise line with a well-deserved reputation for family-oriented cruises. But other cruise ships can work just as well, depending on the ages and interests of your family members. As long as there is something for everyone, each can go his or her own way, but never go so far that you can’t regroup for dinner.
Onboard Children’s Programs 
I personally recommend the following newer and bigger ships for family cruises: All four Disney ships: Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas; Carnival Dream, Miracle or Breeze; NCL’s Norwegian Epic. 
All of these ships have kids’ programs separated by these age groups: 
Toddlers (6 to 36 months) 
Kids (4 to 10 years) 
Tweens (11 to 13 years) 
Teens (14 to 17 years)
These children’s programs are common on most cruise ships, but these newest and biggest ships have most comprehensive facilities for kids. Professional youth coordinators will entertain them from 8:00 am to midnight with video games, water slides, swimming pools, foosball, board games, puppet shows, karaoke, movies, nap time and more – all at no charge. They will have late-night slumber parties for the school-age kids, or you can even hire a private babysitter to stay with younger kids until well past midnight. 
The Best Ships for Your Family 
Although each cruise line I mention has activities for all ages, certain ship personalities will fit some age groups better than others. The youngest kids up to 12 will love any Disney ship - although every age group should enjoy Disney a lot. You will find more kids of all ages on Disney than any other cruise line. I recommend the new Disney Dream and Fantasy for the most appeal to all ages. Young kids will also love the 3-D movies plus ice skating and AquaTheater shows starring DreamWorks characters like Shrek and Puss ‘n Boots on the biggest Royal Caribbean ships, Oasis and Allure. But these ships also appeal to athletic teens -- with tennis, mini-golf, rock climbing, Flo-rider surfing and zip lining.  
Carnival’s Dream-class offers tweens and teens free onboard “social networking” computers and their own disco spaces with DJs for dancing. Carnival is the only line with no fuzzy TV or movie “character experiences” for the younger kids, however Carnival does carry a lot of kids of all ages and its activities are extensive.  
NCL’s Norwegian Epic is also an entertainment-centric ship that teens should enjoy with great comedy and rock music shows like Legends in Concert, Blue Man Group and Howl at the Moon. Teen musicians can even rent a Gibson guitar to play during the cruise (through headphones). Some NCL ships have fuzzy Nickelodeon characters for the younger kids, but they are not as ubiquitous as on Disney or Royal Caribbean. 
Just so you know; all staterooms are sold to sleep a specific number of people. You can’t bring a child onboard to sleep in the tub. There are a few different family configurations. Family suites that sleep up to six (or even more) people are most expensive. Many people book two cabins; a nice verandah for the parents and a separate, inside cabin for the kids. Adjoining cabins are available – but they book up early. Most cabins can accommodate a third person on a sofa-bed or a pull-down bed with a ladder. You can have the parents in one cabin with a toddler and put an older teen or grandma in another cabin with the younger kids. If you really want to save money, you can even find tiny inside cabins that fit up to four people. Many cruise lines run special offers where the 3rd and 4th people sail free. 
Common Courtesy for Cruising with Kids 
Some kids programs allow older kids to check themselves out. Make sure you know where your kids are at all times, especially after dark. Although they are far more relaxed these days, when cruise ships have dress codes kids are not exempt. No jeans or t-shirts in the dining rooms after dark. But you do not need to buy suit jackets or ties. Carnival allows each adult to bring a bottle of wine, and each guest can bring a 12-pack of soda. But that is the limit. You can buy unlimited “soda cards” for your kids on almost any cruise ship. Never allow toddlers in any pool or hot tub, especially in diapers. Never let any kids invade adult only areas. Unruly kids will not be disciplined by the ship, which means it is your responsibility to keep them in line. 
Money Saving and Practical Tips 
The cruises with the most kids sail during school vacations; summertime, spring break and the holidays. These are also the times when cruise prices tend to go higher. You can save by taking them out of school, but they may be the only kids on the cruise. Most programs will allow kids to join a sibling in another age group. If you have toddlers you may need a bathtub to wash them. Many staterooms only come with showers. Avoid activities where you pay a “per person” charge: Drive to the ship to avoid individual airfare. Rent a car in ports, hire a taxi or pre-arrange a group tour. 
Finally, the Caveats 
I recommend the larger, newer cruise ships for a reason. Smaller cruise lines like Holland America have kids programs, but on longer cruises there may be no kids onboard. It is also possible your kids won’t like the other kids onboard, but bigger ships have more diversity in activities and kids to meet. Single parents should bring permission slips from ex-spouses saying the child can leave the country. 
Older teens are somewhat odd ducks in the cruise world. There are no special programs for people 18 -20 years old. They can dance in the adult disco, but are not allowed to drink if leaving from the U.S. (International cruises have an 18-year age limit for drinking). If your 19-year old is a loner, a cruise may not be the best fit.
Paul Motter is the co-founder and editor of cruise travel guide.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Holiday gifts for travelers, from bags to gadgets

Great Article for travelers looking for some great Holiday gifts...

Many travelers have a favorite item or gadget they can't leave home without — the equivalent of a teddy bear for grown-ups. Maybe it's the GPS, or the inflatable neck pillow, or the Kindle, or the wheeled bag. At holiday time, as we struggle to come up with the perfect present for everyone on our list, it's worth considering which of our treasured travel bring-alongs might make a good gift for someone else.
Here are some favorites from folks who spend a lot of time away from home, as well as a look at a few new and interesting items from retailers that just might become tomorrow's must-haves.
Caroline Costello of recommends the Sittin' Bag, which she describes as "a wonderful gift for an older traveler or someone with an injury or disability." It's a carry-on-size rolling suitcase with a fold-out seat attached to the side. Costello says it "provides a convenient place to rest in long airport security lines or busy train stations," available at for $155.
"I love my XShot, an extender rod to take self-photos/video, which I do often on my portable video camera," says Robert Reid, U.S. Travel Editor for Lonely Planet. "Everytime I use it, I get comments. 'Hey what is THAT?' So it's an ice-breaker too." XShot —, $30 — is a telescopic rod that attaches to digital cameras or handheld video cameras, allowing the shooter to be in the frame without stretching an arm out or asking a stranger to take the picture.

Pauline Frommer, travel guidebook writer and founding editor of, says one of the "best travel gifts" she ever got was a Tumi plug adaptor that came from fellow travel writer and editor Adrien Glover. "It comes in a little black case and it has prongs that can be pushed in and out, so it works everywhere!" she said. "Really great when you're traveling to two parts of the world in one trip, as I did recently. I used one setting for Ireland and another one for Poland." The electric adaptor is $50 from and offers four different plug configurations in one unit, good for 150 countries for powering devices like MP3 players, digital cameras and mobile phones.
Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of, who spends about as much time on ships and planes as she does at home, is an unabashed fan of J. Peterman's Counterfeit Mailbag —, $349, leather. "There's plenty of room for my laptop, iPad and other assorted key items" and it can "easily fit everything I need for a long-haul flight," she said in an email from her latest destination, New Zealand.
George Hobica of identifies the popular Bose Quiet Comfort Noise-Cancelling headphones, $300,, as "the only gadget I can't live without ... drowns out screaming babies and screaming cell phone users."
Bags and gadgets are also among the items retailers are recommending this season. The "Pan Am" TV show has gotten a mixed reception, but whether or not you like the show, it's hard not to love the retro style of a blue and white Pan Am airline bag, $74, from also sells Smart Tubes, $19 for a set of two two-ounce containers in pretty pastel colors. They're the perfect solution for travelers who want to decant a small amount of a favorite liquid or gel product for hair or skin from a large bottle at home into a small portable container that meets Transportation Security Administration regulations for air travel. The light bulb-shaped containers are extremely well-designed, with a tight closing cap that prevents spills and offers a wide mouth for filling up as well as a small squeeze hole for dispensing.
Practical and stylish, Safe Skies Locks is selling TSA-approved luggage locks that turn any generic black bag on a luggage carousel into an instantly recognizable fashion statement. The locks come in a variety of patterns and colors, including zebra stripes, leopard spots, and colorful floral prints, $13-$15,
Here's a clever gift idea from the B&B industry: The Getaway Gift Card from, available for $25 to $1,000 and good at more than 4,000 B&Bs in the U.S. and Canada. The website promises that the card won't expire or reduce in value and has no blackout dates or hidden fees. It's free to customize the card with your own photo and is ideal as a last-minute gift that can be delivered instantly online via email or printed out at home for presentation in person. You can also have it shipped to the recipient for free. Now through Nov. 22, when you buy a gift card of $250 or more, you get an additional free $50 gift card with the promo code GCBELLS50 at checkout.
Flight 001, the fun and trendy travel retailer with stores in California, Chicago and New York as well as online at, offers a colorful variety of luggage, gadgets and many other travel goodies for the holidays in wide range of prices and styles, but one of its best offerings this season makes a great gift for travelers who vacation in wine country and like to bring home a bottle. The VinniBag, $30, is a reusable bag with inflatable air chambers designed to protect and insulate fragile items. Wine bottles are a perfect fit but the bag can accommodate many other shapes and sizes, and it's covered with transparent material for visual inspection without opening.
Anne Banas at says she's hoping Santa brings her a Solio Bolt charger. "I tried it out a couple of weeks ago," she said. "It's cute, seems to be well made, is compact and it works as described," and is eco-friendly, versatile and packable. The charger has an on-board battery and rotating solar panels, and it can juice up from the sun, a USB port or the wall to power your phone, MP3 player, e-reader, GPS or camera, $70 from
They're not solar-powered, but Duracell also has a variety of portable chargers — the Instant Charger, Powerhouse Charger and Pocket Charger — to provide hours of extra power when the battery runs out on an iPhone, BlackBerry or iPod. They connect via USB cords to the devices, and recharge via USB cord from a computer. They're compact, lightweight and starting at $20, may be cheaper than extra batteries for gadgets. They're also getting rave consumer reviews online from folks who are on the go all day or are facing long trips and dreading the prospect of an iPod or cell phone that's run out of juice.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

More Happy Clients!

"Dear Debby,
      Thanks so much for making our cruise Top Notch! We dined in the dining room of the best restaurant on the ship "Chops", had the best steak ever. Great! The spa treatment you gave me was also tops - fantastic!!
       We had a wonderful time - Jerry did the Boogie Board, ziplined, and I even ziplined also - Great Ship. We were on the 47th voyage - saw all the shows and had a great time - Airlines flights were good, and thanks for wheelchair assistance too! Great Time - Wonderful Thanks
Nancy & Jerry Bratz"