Posted by: gardner310 | September 1, 2011

Let Life Sing!

I was blindsided today by something and needed a lift in my spirits so I decided to find some of my flower photos I have taken around the world and put them together into something happy. I know where each of them was taken and it brought back happy thoughts. Travel photos don’t always have to be buildings and sites. I hope you enjoy the results and it brings a smile to your day.

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Posted by: gardner310 | March 30, 2011

Being Green

I haven’t been very good at keeping up this blog since we went to sea on Holland America as cruise consultants. I am posting more on Living In An Inside Cabin, I fear, and also tend to use Facebook for photos. Anyway, I was sent this information by ASTA (American Society of Travel Agents) and thought it was good advice for all of us. Hope you can take a point or two and use it.

Road Trip Season Coming – Check Your Tires and Other Ways to Save Gas

As road trips beckon remember to check your tires. When tires are not inflated to the pounds per square inch (PSI) rating recommended by manufacturers, they are less “round” and require more energy to begin moving and to maintain speed. Tires that are underinflated by 10 PSI rob cars of about 1.3 miles per gallon.

Make sure you have a tire gauge and check your car’s tires monthly. The proper PSI should be listed in your car’s manual or the information will come with your new tires. Under-inflated tires contribute to pollution and increased fuel costs, so keep them pumped up.

Also, tests looking at A/C On & Windows Up vs. A/C Off & Windows Down have found that the cost is about the same. Air conditioning does use more fuel but the friction of an open window will also use more fuel. The only time having windows down is more efficient is when you are driving very slowly to minimize friction.

Other ways to save gas include:

– Eliminate drag – Even a ribbon tied to your antenna can cause drag. Consumer Report found you could save 6 MPG an hour by ridding your car of items creating drag.

– Avoid Aggressive Driving – Can cost extra fuel and you will often find at a stoplight that all those you passed catch up very quickly.

– Use Cruise Control – Effective way to save gas for longer trips.

– Avoid Excessive Idling – It is very costly to idle. If you are stopping for more than a minute do not idle just turn the car off.

– Drive Slower – If you’re going over 55 miles per hour, slowing down increases fuel efficiency. Consumer Reports found that slowing down from 75 MPH to 65 MPH resulted in a 5 mile per gallon performance increase. Slowing down from 75 MPH to 55 MPH saved 10 miles per gallon.

Green Your Spring

Spring is coming and it’s a great time to make a few changes and plan a greener lifestyle.

– Use cost-saving non-chemical cleaners for your spring cleaning:
• Glass: Mix 1/4 cup vinegar with 1 quart of water in a spray bottle. Spray on glass and wipe clean with old newspaper or a lint-free cloth.
• Countertops and bathroom tile: Mix 2 parts vinegar and 1 part baking soda with 4 parts water. Apply with a sponge, scour, and wipe away.
• Toilet bowl cleaner: Sprinkle a toilet brush with baking soda and scrub away! Occasionally disinfect your toilet by scrubbing with borax instead. Wipe the outside of the toilet clean with straight vinegar.
• Disinfectant: Mix 2 teaspoons borax, 4 tablespoons vinegar, 3 cups hot water, and 1/4 teaspoon liquid castile soap. Wipe on with dampened cloth or use a spray bottle. Wipe clean.
• Mold and mildew: Wipe with straight vinegar.
• Air freshener: Sprinkle essential oil on a cotton ball, and stash it in a corner of the room.

– Go on a green spring trip:
• Rent a hybrid for a greener road trip and save on gas.
• Buy carbon offsets for your flight.
• Take a biking road trip.
• Spend your spring break on a voluntourism trip.

– De-clutter your home the green way. Find new homes for your unneeded stuff:
• Give to a friend or neighbor.
• Donate to a local thrift store or charitable organization.
• Offer on Freecycle or Craigslist.

Posted by: gardner310 | August 19, 2010

Paris, 2010

Paris, 2010

On my way to a Uniworld river cruise to Normandy I spent the first 2 days in Paris and I have to say I like the city as much as I ever have. We had 2 lovely days to wander around which I did with abandon. I met my friend, Sue, at the Hilton Arc de Triomphe on Friday morning. Located on rue de Courcelles, the hotel is on the right bank not too far from the Arc. This puts it outside the tourist area, which is not all bad. The room was nice, if not a bit small but we were on the concierge floor so we had access to the lounge that provided breakfast, snacks and wine/champagne in the evening. Trust me, we truly got our money’s worth.

We headed out to do some hotel inspections but got sidetracked at Printemps where the entire store was on soldes (sale). What fun that was. Sue is a power shopper but I held my own, got to find the exact earrings for which I went searching. Once we finally got out of there, I broke off to get to my hotel inspections on the left bank. I have a new camera so this was as much a photo safari as an inspection trip. I spent a good deal of time sitting in the Tuileries just watching the people and taking photos. I am learning at 60 that I don’t have to keep moving every minute. I looked like any other French person there just enjoying the sun. In the summer there is a small carnival in the gardens with a huge Ferris wheel, so there were hundreds of people everywhere enjoying the weather.

Finally got to the west bank and the Recamier and Relais Christine. Both are lovely and well located, small and service based. The rain held me up and I will confess I got a bit lost trying to find the Relais Christine so added a few kilometres to my walk.

The evening started well on the executive floor with several glasses of champagne. I toasted my dad, who would have been 88 last Friday. I miss him a lot. After that we wandered down the street to a lovely local bistro.

Day 2
Sue went off to the store and I headed off to visit a few more hotels before meeting at Notre Dame. I ended up on a side trip to Sacre Coeur since it was close to one of the hotels. Unfortunately, it was quite hazy and cloudy so the normal magnificent views were not so magnificent. I tried using my long lens but even that didn’t produce anything interesting. Got my exercise walking up all those steps to the church, though. I got to Notre Dame before Sue and was able to get some good shots of the gargoyles that I like. Sue and I sat in the café across from Saint Chapelle, shared a cheese plate and felt very Parisian. We separated again, me for one other hotel, the Hotel Colbert and to visit Saint Chapelle. Again the clouds made the stained glass windows quite dark and they are also renovating but this was my first inside visit to the chapel and it definitely makes an impression. Amazing windows, a definite must see.

From there I was going to the Moufftard Market but learned it was too late by the time I got out of Saint Chapelle. So plan B was to go to the Musee Rodin and photograph the gardens. I strolled through the busy left bank, past all the bistros and shops and what luck! I found a gelato shop so my afternoon was complete. It is the simple things in life that make us smile.

The Rodin was a good walk to the west but I found it by 5pm and gratefully the sun was out. An hour passed too quickly while I was walking the gardens and taking pictures. I ended up sitting on a bench by le Penseur (the Thinker), thinking. It’s the first time I got thrown out of a museum. A lovely Mademoiselle came by to tell me the museum was closing and it was 6pm. Time stops and the world disappears while you are enjoying the work of August Rodin and the present day gardener. This was a find for me, never having been here before but I will surely return. I decided to walk back to the Hilton and that was probably a little more exercise than I needed because it took me about an hour because, of course, I had to take photos along the way.

Our evening plans were to head to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up and then to dinner. We decided to take a river cruise so at 9:20pm we hopped on one from Bateaux Parisienne. As a photographer, it was not a good choice because there was no open deck. Everyone was seated under cover so your views were restricted. Next time it will be a Bateaux Mouche boat where is nothing in your way from the top deck. Other than that it was a delightful hour on the river and we could see Paris lighting up for the night. As we headed back toward the Tower, the lights came on so I took about a zillion photos, most of which really did not come out very well between the dark and the shaking that comes from a boat. But I am happy with a couple of them and from what I understand from the real photographers, that’s about the best you can do.

We walked down the Champs Elysees watching them get ready for the arrival of the Tour de France in the morning. Then up George V to our restaurant recommended to me by foodie friend Daniel Ng. The Relais de l’Entrecote was a treat. They only serve steak and fries so the only decisions are
1.How do you want your steak cooked
2. What dessert would you like?

Of course, there is always a choice of what to drink but we tried the house wine, Relais de l’Entrecote and it was quite fine with our meal. It is darling place on Rue de Marbeuf that the locals love. There are no reservations so you just wait in line. The beauty of a simple menu is that the tables turn over quite frequently so you only wait about 20 minutes. There is plenty of food. The steak was cooked to order and with the frites, salade and the best chocolate ice cream I ever ate, so we were two happy campers on our walk home. My dad used to say at times like these, “I wonder what the poor people are doing?” I am a very lucky person to be able to travel and have these experiences for which I am very grateful.

Posted by: gardner310 | July 15, 2010

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Posted by: gardner310 | April 5, 2010

Beaches of Scilly

From The Explorateur

When you think UK, beaches somehow don’t pop up first in one’s mind, but if you’ve been to the British Isles you’ll know that there’s plenty of mystical beauty in those northern waters. The Isles of Scilly are perhaps some of the most beautiful, and provide a gorgeous capstone to an otherwise active visit to England, and the St. Mary’s Hall Hotel provides the perfect respite.

This elegant, petite townhouse charms at first sight and makes you very aware that you’ve arrived in a little slice of island paradise. There’s no loud noise, no neon lights, no intrusive tourist attractions. Rather, what you’ll find here are stunning beaches, amazing eateries, special marine adventures, unusual crafts, and genuine people.

The hotel is the essence of Scilly itself, taking great care to respect and never compromise the beauty of the nature that surrounds them. They grow as much of their own food as possible, think ethically and buy locally, recycle frequently, and take time and resources to invest in their staff which ensures guests always have a truly authentic, personalized experience. Rooms are island-chic and extremely comfortable, and carefully adorned with fresh linens, sumptuous beds, coffee, tea, chocolate and lovely bath products.

Easy to reach by boat from Penzance, or small plane from various points in the UK. See you in Scilly!

Posted by: gardner310 | February 9, 2010

Weddings at Sea

I am stealing this article because it has a wealth of information for anyone thinking about a wedding at sea.  Thanks to Carolyn and Erica.  Being a bit biased toward Holland America which is not mentioned, I can say that they do a nice job on their weddings as well, especially if you would like to marry on Half Moon Cay in the wedding chapel.  Beautiful spot.  Hope these details help with some decisions.  You can call me for assistance in booking the wedding and the guests.
There’s good news for couples who want to get married in a beautiful location without the hassle of planning a formal, sit-down dinner for 300 of their closest friends. Many cruise lines now offer a variety of services to help you plan a shipboard or shoreside ceremony, which, of course, will be combined with a romantic cruise honeymoon.Planning a cruise wedding can be as easy as making one call. Just dial and — poof — in-house wedding coordinators will begin arranging the ceremony, menu, cake, flowers and music. Some will even help you to obtain wedding licenses or provide invitations. And it’s easy to let them handle all the extras — from tuxedo rental to hair and spa appointments.An onboard wedding can be a great value, as well. Prices start at about $1,100 (the sky’s the limit), on top of the cost of the cruise. Typically, onboard weddings are held in a ship’s chapel (if one exists), a lounge, the library or a boardroom. While the members of the wedding couple must be passengers on the cruise, most lines with full-service packages include an option for land-side guests to come onboard for a couple of hours.

Married folks can also get in on the fun with onboard vow-renewal ceremonies — a perfect way to celebrate on your anniversary trip.

Weddings and vow renewals at sea can, indeed, be the ultimate in romance. But, before you book your cabin, remember these tips:

If you want to get married at sea by the captain, you’re limited to only a handful of cruise lines, due to legal limitations that are based on ships’ countries of registry. New to the “can officiate” list are Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, whose ships are now registered in Malta. Princess Cruises‘ captains are also able to marry couples at sea; its ships are registered to Bermuda.

Note: Disney Cruise Line captains can lead wedding ceremonies onboard or at Castaway Cay. However, the actual “legal” marriage (and paperwork signing) must occur in the cruise terminal before the ship sets sail — not terribly romantic.

For the most part, it’s the big-ship, mass-market cruise lines that have embraced full-service weddings. Some, such as luxury operators Crystal Cruises and Cunard, don’t allow onboard weddings. Others — mostly in the high-priced, luxury category, like Seabourn — don’t have a problem with your wedding or vow renewal plans, but it’s strictly a do-it-yourself deal.

Weddings have become so popular on some ships that Carnival and Royal Caribbean both levy surcharges for certain times of the year.

Cruise-ship weddings may not be for everyone. If you’ve always dreamed of picking out each flower yourself or getting married in your hometown in front of 300 people, you may not be happy with this simple approach. And, getting married legally while at sea is complicated, so plan to have your ceremony on the ship while it is in port.

Weddings in ports of call can be fabulous, but what happens if the ship has to cancel the call? Consider very carefully ports that require ships to tender; Grand Cayman, for instance, can be a highly unpredictable site, as winds often hamper tender operations, causing cruise ships to skip stops at the island. For the same reason, we do not recommend planning a shoreside wedding at a Caribbean locale during hurricane season.

And while many brides start planning their dream nuptials a year to a year-and-a-half in advance, don’t jump the gun by planning land-based, post-cruise celebrations too early. Couples have been bumped from their wedding cruises — due to full-ship charters after they booked — forcing them to reschedule everything.

Check out our picks for the best cruise options for weddings.

Princess Cruises

Why? Princess is a prime choice because, of all the lines offering shipboard wedding options, it offers the best combination of features, services and facilities. Princess’ Weddings at Sea packages are available on all ships, but only Caribbean Princess, Crown Crown Princess, Coral Princess, Diamond Princess, Emerald Princess, Golden Princess, Grand Princess, Grand Princess, Sapphire Princess, Sapphire Princess and Ruby Princess have dedicated wedding chapels.

Package Details: Princess offers three wedding packages. The “Tie the Knot at Sea” package, for $1,800 plus a $450 license fee, includes use of the onboard wedding chapel, a candlelit ceremony officiated by the captain, use of a wedding coordinator, live music, two floral arrangements, rose bouquet for the bride, groom’s boutonniere, the services of a photographer and a selection of prints, wedding cake, Champagne and two keepsake flutes, and a keepsake wedding certificate. The “Tie the Knot Harborside” package — ranging from $1,300 to $2,000, plus licensing fees up to $500, based on destination — includes priority check-in and boarding for the couple and guests, onboard wedding ceremony performed by a non-denominational officiant, wedding coordinator, recorded music, silk floral arrangements, bouquet and boutonniere, photographer and one included print, wedding cake, Champagne, and a keepsake certificate. The “Tie the Knot Ashore” package — ranging from $1,800 to $2,200, plus licensing fees up to $500, based on destination — includes a beach or garden ceremony, transportation for the couple, officiant, wedding coordinator, bouquet and boutonniere, photographer and one included print, cake for two, Champagne, and a keepsake certificate. Receptions, photography packages, and enhanced ceremony options are available at extra cost.

Coolest Quirk: Not only can your ceremony be conducted at sea by the captain, but the line has also installed state-of-the-art technology that allows you to broadcast the ceremony live, via Web cam, to friends and family on land. Some Princess captains are pretty romantic; on one particular cruise over Valentine’s Day, the captain casually announced he’d conduct vow renewals for anyone who wanted them, and about a half-dozen couples showed up.

Vow Renewals: Princess’ “Renewal of Vows” package costs $205 per couple and includes a group ceremony, an orchid bouquet and boutonniere, a commemorative certificate signed by the captain, a bottle of Champagne, two souvenir Champagne glasses and a framed photo of the ceremony. The “Deluxe Renewal of Vows” package, at $485, adds a few extra amenities, such as breakfast in bed and a 30-minute spa visit.

Celebrity Cruises/Azamara Club Cruises

Why? Until recently, the only North American line that was able to host at-sea weddings, officiated by its captains, was Princess, whose ships are registered to Bermuda. Celebrity created new options for engaged cruisers when it re-registered its ships in Malta (except for Expedition), where new regulations permit legal marriages at sea. Azamara’s two ships are registered in Malta, as well.

Package Details: Celebrity and Azamara put brides and grooms in touch with “The Wedding Experience,” a wedding planning organization that handles weddings onboard cruise ships (as well as destination weddings). Packages begin at $2,500 and include the captain-led ceremony, an event coordinator’s services, live music, photography services (photographs sold separately), cake a bouquets and boutonnieres. Weddings can take place in an indoor location or outside on deck. For an additional fee, Celebrity passengers can also arrange shoreside weddings.

Coolest Quirk: Couples also get some romantic extras, such as chocolate-covered strawberries, bottles of Champagne, Champagne flutes, fresh floral arrangements in their staterooms and rose petals on their beds on their wedding nights.

Caveat: Licensing and regulatory fees are not included, and the number of wedding ceremonies performed on each sailing is based on the captains’ availability. Azamara and Celebrity recommend that couples book their wedding packages in advance to allow time for the processing of marriage licenses and legal documents; all legal documentation must be completed and submitted no later than 10 weeks prior to sailing.

Vow Renewals: Both Celebrity and Azamara offer vow-renewal packages. The “Aisle to Isle” option — at $475 — includes the services of a precruise event manager, an official, recorded music, Champagne and cake for two, a certificate, a rose and matching boutonniere and one hour of photography services (photos sold separately). The $650 “True Love Knot Renewal” throws in some photos (including one signed by the captain), Champagne flutes, an upgrade to a bouquet and breakfast for two delivered to the stateroom.

Disney Cruise Line

Why? It’s a fun and quirky choice — particularly for second-wedding folks who have young kids — and Disney offers a low-stress, low-hassle package.

Package Details: Disney’s “Cruise Collection” wedding package is available on all cruises out of Florida. Packages start at $2,500 and include a Florida marriage license, bridal bouquet and boutonniere, the services of a wedding official, a solo musician (typically a pianist), Champagne toast, two-tier wedding cake with keepsake topper, a special wedding gift and Disney wedding certificate, $100 onboard credit for the wedding couple, in-cabin Champagne and strawberries, and dinner for two at Palo, the alternative restaurant on Disney Magic and Disney Wonder. The assistance of a wedding coordinator in planning the wedding is also included.

Coolest Quirk: Dress-steaming is included in the package price. We love it, too, that you can opt for a ceremony on Castaway Cay, Disney’s private island. (But remember our advice about hurricane season.)

Caveat: Beyond the cake and Champagne, Disney’s wedding package does not include a reception or other services for wedding guests, though an appetizer/open bar reception is available at an additional cost. You can invite additional guests to your wedding ceremony, but events with more than eight guests need to request special permission and incur an extra cost. Note that, if the couple is married onboard, the captain or a ship officer will preside over the ceremony. But, the legal marriage must take place on embarkation day, while the ship while is still docked in Florida. If the marriage occurs on Castaway Cay, it’s performed by a Bahamian official, but the couple will be legally married before the ship departs.

Vow Renewals: A renewal of vows package is available for $1,500 per couple for an onboard ceremony or $2,500 on Castaway Cay. It includes all the amenities of the wedding package, except the marriage license.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Why? Carnival Spirit, Carnival Pride, Carnival Legend and Carnival Miracle have onboard chapels, though you can buy Carnival’s wedding packages on any of the ships in the fleet.

Package Details: Carnival offers three wedding packages. The “Just for the Bride & Groom” package starts at $1,195 and includes an official civil ceremony with a bouquet for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom, a Champagne toast with keepsake flutes, a wedding cake with cake topper, prerecorded wedding music, a decorated bridal aisle and a photographer (prints are extra). The “Welcome Aboard” package costs $1,635 and includes all the aforementioned amenities, plus a cocktail hour with an open bar and hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, a traditional two-tiered wedding cake and coffee service. The “Deluxe Romance” package starts at $1,795 and includes all of the above, plus a 90-minute reception and an ice carving. Prices for packages and marriage licenses — which are extra — vary, based on the port in which the ceremonies are performed. Videography services, live music and tuxedo rental are also additional. Shoreside packages are available in certain ports, such as Key West, San Juan, Grand Cayman and Barbados.

Caveats: Plan ahead, if possible; weddings are available only when in port (including embarkation ports), and there’s a maximum of three allowed per day. Additional surcharges apply for certain months — May and June, in particular — as well as holidays.

Vow Renewals: Carnival offers vow renewals, starting from $385, including a shipboard ceremony performed by the captain, a Champagne toast, flowers, wedding cake, photography services and recorded music; up to eight guests are permitted. A deluxe package, starting at $735, adds a one-hour reception with an open bar and hot and cold canapes; it allows up to 20 guests.

Norwegian Cruise Line

Why? NCL offers a vast array of options, which can turn basic packages into full-blown extravaganzas. And their newer, designed-for-Freestyle vessels — such as Norwegian Gem, Norwegian Pearl, Norwegian Jewel, Norwegian Sun, Norwegian Spirit, Norwegian Star, Norwegian Dawn, Norwegian Sky, Norwegian Jade and Pride of America — feature a wide range of restaurants with easily available romantic dining for two.

Package Details: NCL offers two basic packages — “Onboard Aisles” for shipboard weddings and “On Shore Aisles” for those held on land. Both packages are available in a wide range of ports — including, but not limited to, embarkation ports — in the U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico, Europe, the Caribbean and Bermuda.

“Onboard Aisles” starts at $1,850 per couple. The package includes priority embarkation for the couple and their guests (if the wedding is on embarkation day); snacks and refreshments in the couple’s stateroom upon embarkation; a ceremony, conducted by a local, civil official; prerecorded music; a wedding coordinator; a basic bouquet, and matching boutonniere with one bloom; professional photography service for one hour; one 8 x 10 photo; a personalized slideshow to view and order photographs and gifts; a wedding cake; one bottle of private-label Champagne; and a keepsake certificate.

“On Shore Aisles” packages start from $2,450 for picturesque weddings in Florence, Rome, Venice or in a colonial chapel in New Orleans. The package includes the same amenities as “Onboard Aisles,” except for the priority boarding and in-cabin snacks. It also includes private taxi transportation for the bride and groom to the wedding location in port.

Marriage licenses are extra in all cases, and prices vary depending on local authorities.

In addition to the basic packages, there is a huge range of a la carte options, including spa and beauty services (not available on embarkation day), flowers (including custom orders), live music, photography and videography, transportation to and from the ship or wedding location, tuxedo rentals, and a wide variety of wedding receptions — from cold hors d’oeuvres with an open bar at $29 per adult to a full, sit-down luncheon at $48.

Caveat: An extra wedding coordinator, at $150, is required for every 25 guests above the first 25.

Vow Renewals: The “Affirmation Aisles” vow renewal package starts from $550 and includes the same amenities as the “Onboard Aisles” package.

Royal Caribbean International

Why? Royal Caribbean’s program rivals NCL’s in terms of variety, with one extra plus: its coordinators will also arrange shoreside ceremonies at various ports of call. Royal Caribbean is also the first line to offer adventurous shipboard and destination weddings through its sub-program, Explorer Weddings. Best ships to aim for are part of Royal Caribbean’s Freedom-class series, which includes Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas and Independence of the Seas.

Package Details: There are three levels of Royal romance. The “Shipboard Duet Package,” starting at about $1,995, is the most basic and includes an onboard ceremony, photography, recorded music, a bouquet and boutonniere, chocolate-covered strawberries and Champagne. The “Shipboard Harmony Package,” from $2,295, allows for a few more extras, including a Champagne breakfast in bed and nicer flowers in the bride’s bouquet. The third option is a shoreside wedding. With prices starting at $2,295 (but varying more widely, based on the shoreside wedding site), this package includes roundtrip transportation to the ceremony site, an onshore ceremony (typically on a beach or in a garden), wedding official and coordinator, bridal bouquet and groom’s boutonniere, certificate, wedding cake, sparkling wine and the services of a photographer.

Receptions are not included in the price of the ceremony, but several options are available. They include a formal wedding lunch at $48 per person, a buffet with bar service for $48 or hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and bar service for $32. There’s a 25-person minimum for the lunch or buffet and a minimum of 16 and maximum of 50 guests for hors d’oeuvres. Other add-ons include entertainment, cake and ice carvings.

Booking an Explorer Wedding adds an adventure component by combining exotic-destination cruises with themed weddings or vow renewals. Swap nuptials, for example, on the FlowRider (on Freedom, Liberty or Independence of the Seas), the ice-skating rink, rock-climbing wall or ship’s golf course — or on top of an Alaskan glacier, in a rainforest, mid-air in a hot-air balloon or in a medieval castle. Packages include the wedding ceremony and official, wedding coordinator, ceremony music, a bouquet and boutonniere, sparkling wine, chocolate-covered strawberries, a keepsake Explorer Weddings marriage certificate and use of a photographer. Onboard Explorer Weddings start at $300, plus the cost of one of the traditional onboard wedding packages. Shoreside Explorer Wedding packages start at $2,595.

Coolest Quirk: The aforementioned shoreside ceremonies, which run the gamut from the simply scenic (a beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico) and the funky (a winery in Santorini, Greece) to the exotic (a ceremony atop a glacier in Juneau, Alaska).

Caveats: Watch out for a la carte charges that can add up. For instance, couples that want to plan a Royal Romance wedding less than 45 days from sailing pay an extra $250 late fee. You’ll pay $150 for a wedding coordinator if you have an onboard reception, and wedding parties of more than 25 guests require an additional wedding coordinator for another $150. Weddings on Voyager-class, Freedom-class and Oasis-class ships (which have chapels) have become so popular that there is also a $100 surcharge for shipboard wedding ceremonies on those vessels (Voyager of the Seas, Explorer of the Seas, Adventure of the Seas, Navigator of the Seas, Mariner of the Seas, Freedom of the Seas, Liberty of the Seas, Independence of the Seas and Oasis of the Seas). Beyond that, an additional $100 surcharge applies to weddings and vow renewals scheduled in May, June, September or October. Holidays — such as New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve — are subject to a $200 surcharge.

Vow Renewals: The “Royal Encore Shipboard Vow Renewal” package, $595, includes a shipboard ceremony performed by your ship’s Cruise Program Administrator, recorded ceremony music, bouquet and boutonniere, keepsake certificate, chocolate-covered strawberries, sparkling wine and use of a photographer. The “Labadee Shoreside Vow Renewal” package, $695, includes a ceremony on secluded Dragon’s Point Beach on Royal Caribbean’s private island, as well as the aforementioned sparkling wine, strawberries, flowers and certificate.

P&O Cruises

Why? P&O’s ships have different clientele — and knowing who you’re sailing with definitely comes in handy when planning an event as important as your wedding. Arcadia and Artemis are child-free (nobody under 16 allowed onboard), while Aurora, Oceana, Oriana and Ventura do allow children.

Package Details: Beginning at £699, the “Weddings at Sea” package includes the ceremony venue, ceremony conducted by the ship’s captain, floral arrangements for the ceremony, music, certificate, Champagne, a professional photographer to capture the big day, an onboard wedding coordinator, invitations and thank you notes. Brides and grooms receive VIP treatment, starting with a bottle of champagne, flowers and fresh fruit, delivered to their cabins on embarkation day. Licensing fees will cost an additional £249. Other services — like the cake, wedding album, Champagne breakfast in bed, reception parties/dinner, videography and spa and salon services — are not included, and pricing is available upon request.

Coolest Quirk: You can book a shore excursion — like a gondola ride in Venice or snorkeling in the Caribbean — to personalize your day. (Keep in mind, though, that the cruise line cannot guarantee your request.)

Vow Renewals: For £250 per couple, the “Vow Renewal” package includes a ceremony conducted by the captain, an iced celebration cake, a bouquet for the “bride,” a matching buttonhole for the “groom,” Champagne and a professional photographer during the ceremony. Gifts given to the couple are two Champagne flutes, a silver-plated frame, a portrait photo of your choice and a certificate signed by the captain.

–by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief. Updated by Erica Silverstein, Senior Editor

Posted by: gardner310 | December 10, 2009

Captivating Cabo (Mexico)

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
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Some photos of my trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for a meeting of the ASTA Chapter presidents.  Wonderful destination, beautiful beaches, good food and lots to do.

Posted by: gardner310 | November 27, 2009

Visiting Yet Another Cruise Ship

It has been a long time since I cruised as a passenger and I decided to take advantage of this opportunity.  I am with a group of friends on the MSC Poesia sailing from Ft. Lauderdale to Jamaica and Grand Cayman.

My friend, Eileen, and I flew down Monday and stayed at the Ramada Cruise and Port.  I have to say that other than being well away from any restaurants and shopping it is very nice hotel.  The staff was pleasant, the room was clean and spacious, new bathrooms, a lovely pool area, free buffet breakfast and free airport and ship transfers.  I would book any client into there for the one pre-cruise night.  If I were staying longer, I would move closer to Los Olas or the beach.

We did take a cab to Los Olas Boulevard shopping and enjoy the boutiques and a cute al fresco restaurant for a glass of wine.

MSC Poesia

The ship is beautiful.  It is a year old but we are on its inaugural North American sailing.  MSC is an Italian owned company and they are one of the fastest growing, having added a ship a year since 2001.  The crew is multi-national, European and now Indonesian.  I felt right at home and got to practice my Indonesian.

Mirrored Cabin

We have a balcony cabin 11049 and it is a decent size, with interactive TV.  I could order room service, make spa appointments, and rent movies.  Didn’t do any of those things, though because we spent little time in our cabin.  There is a HUGE mirror at the end of the bed that opens up the room but it is a little scary in the morning when you sit up and see what you look like.  They have dispensers for soap and shampoo in the shower but no lotion (word of warning).

Lunch view

The pool deck has two pools with a hot tub area and 3 bars.  The buffet dining and the spa are on the same deck.  The spa is gorgeous, Balinese in style.  The gym is adequate with treadmills, elliptical and the usual weight machines and free weights.  They do need to put in a water fountain or water cooler though.

Two of my favorite areas are the Zebra Bar and the wine Bar.  One is great fun with Everything done in zebra; the other is very elegant with marble counters and leather furniture.

Wine Bar

We had a meet the people day in Ocho Rios, Jamaica today.  We did some jewelry shopping and had such a good time with the sales people we left as friends.  One owner and I discovered that we knew one of the Holland America captains in common which resulted in an excellent discount.  Thanks, Bobby.  From there we wandered down the street into the Market Place.  We were kindly escorted by Morris, one of the merchants.  This aspect of Jamaican shopping has not changed in 30 years.   The mall moves with you!  We wandered in the market place meeting the merchants and inspecting their handicrafts, some of which are spectacular.  Between Morris, Angela and Mary we had some great laughs and learned about how their economy is doing.  This particular market place is a couple of blocks from the port and the passengers are not venturing past those on the cruise corner, which are not owned by Jamaicans.  These small merchants are really struggling and they are the real people of Jamaica.  We, as tourists, should be more mindful of where we leave our money.

Morris, Our Guide to the Market

I asked Mary for a recommendation for good local food for lunch.  She said her favorite lace was just across the street in a shopping center.  I said great, what is the name of the restaurant and she My Favorite Place.  Sure enough that is the name of the restaurant and it is a tiny little place where for $10 we got beers, curried goat, home-style chicken, pumpkin rice and rice with peas.  Excellent food and a fun experience.

Grand Cayman turned into a forced march to the beach.  We did a little shopping in town but for liquor and rum cake.  Enjoyed the beach for a couple of hours and then back to the ship.

Grand Cayman Beach

The last day at sea was a bit cloudy but warm so had some time outside at the pool enjoying the entertainment.  The entertainment staff really works hard all day and night.  Richard, the director, was multi-talented and multi-lingual as well.  They had line dancing, aerobics, yoga and games on the pool deck each afternoon.  Even if you did not participate, it was good fun watching.

Our evenings consisted of eating in the dining room with our friends, visiting the casino, catching the shows and karaoke.  All in all it was a very pleasant 5 days sailing with friends.

If you are considering the MSC Poesia you  need to be aware that although it is sailing in North America, it is a distinctly European ship.  The staff speaks English on a widely varying level so be patient.  The dining room service needs to be stepped up a bit.  It was better at the end of the 5 days but still needs some work.  The dinner menu is not as extensive as on other cruise lines, although they had some interesting choices.  The wireless service is spotty and slow, not always available in the cabin even with an ethernet cable.  Bring a cable with you to avoid renting one from the ship.

It is a beautiful ship, as stated, and you will enjoy it as long as you know what to expect.

Sunset from Balcony

Posted by: gardner310 | November 23, 2009

Top 10 Travel Essentials You Can Find in the Trash

Just found this article on The Independent Traveler and loved it so thought I would share.  I have been packing a lot lately and these tips are just great.
Last Updated: 11/16/09

Travel supply stores have made a fortune selling things you can get for free. A number of items you might typically throw away, from old towels to empty yogurt containers, make excellent replacements for expensive specialty travel products. Trash — yes, trash — can help you organize your suitcase, stay clean on the road, protect your valuables and more. Plus, finding something to do with your garbage other than tossing it in the bin is an excellent way to go green. Recycle, outsmart the travel supply companies and save some cash by getting creative with your trash.

Bubble Wrap
To protect packed bottles from breakage, travel supply companies sell items like WineSkin, a protective sleeve that retails for $9.85 from Magellan’s. WineSkin is bubble wrap in the shape of a wine bottle that cushions your merlot and cabernet. Here’s how to make your own: Put a bottle of wine on that sheet of bubble wrap that has been hanging around in your closet. Fold over the bubble wrap so it covers the wine. Cut the wrap to fit the wine, and staple the side and bottom (leave an opening at the top). You’ve just saved $9.85.

Sheet/Bedding Casing
Most comforters, sheets and pillow cases are sold in sturdy, rectangular, clear plastic casings. These casings, which are quite durable and usually have a zipper, closely resemble “packing cubes,” zippered containers that help travelers organize luggage. In fact, they’re pretty much the exact same product. You can save a Jackson by saving your sheet casings: a Rick Steves Packing Cube 3-Set retails for $19.95 on I actually prefer using plastic sheet casings to retail packing cubes, which are usually opaque, because the clear casings allow me to easily find my belongings.

Free Samples
Ever notice how the rows of travel-sized toiletries at your local drug store resemble free samples? The only difference is travel-sized bottles aren’t free. They can cost upwards of $4 a piece, and those costs really add up if you purchase a handful of travel-sized items. Instead, stock up on free samples. I’m willing to bet you have a number of sample-sized toiletries sitting in your bathroom cabinets that are fated for the trash can. If you don’t have free samples sitting around, it’s easy to score some. A number of product Web sites offer free product samples available through the mail, and sites like and Free Samples Blog will show you how to get them. Keep in mind most companies require you to submit your e-mail address and other contact information in order to obtain a free sample. Be sure to uncheck the “Yes I’d like to receive product news and offerings” box if you want to stay spam free, and don’t enter your contact information on a company Web site without reading (and feeling comfortable with) that company’s privacy policy.

Old Towels
At home I reuse my old towels untold times; they’re good for dusting, cleaning up messes, lining animal beds and much more. On the road, my old towels take on new and exciting roles as disposable airline seat covers (disposable seat covers retail for $14.85 from Magellan’s and look very much like large towels), airplane seat cushions (just fold it a few times) and suitcase padding (wrap it around your breakables). Got more ideas? Share them on our boards!

Old Pillowcase
Commandeer your teenage son’s drool-soaked SpongeBob SquarePants pillow case — it’s time he advance to more sophisticated bedding anyway. But don’t throw it out! Travel supply stores sell similar sacks and pouches for $10 or more. Use that ratty pillow case as a dirty laundry bag (secure the top with a rubber band or tie it with something stringy if you want some closure), a shoe bag or a disposable just-in-case-this-spills bag to protect your liquid-filled bottles and tubes.

Paper Shoes
If your local nail salon gives you a pair of paper shoes with your pedicure, don’t toss ’em the moment you exit the salon. Air travelers must remove their shoes and walk barefoot (yuck!) through the airport security checkpoint … unless they have disposable paper shoes. According to the TSA Web site, “Disposable booties or slippers may be worn through the checkpoint to help protect your feet, but they must be disposed of prior to leaving the screening area.” You can purchase disposable shoes from companies like Airport Booties ($10 plus $4.95 shipping for a pack of 10 pair) or Ekosteps ($19.95 for a pack of four pair). Or you can snag a free pair of TSA-approved disposable shoes while treating your feet to some pampering before your next getaway.

Old Wallet
If you go through a new wallet every year or two, hang on to the worn-out wallet and use it as a decoy when you’re traveling. Keep most of your money in a second “real” wallet or money belt, and then put some small bills and perhaps even an expired credit card or two in the dummy wallet. If you run into thieves in a foreign land, throw the criminals your dummy wallet and make a quick getaway.

Egg Carton Tray
A half-dozen egg carton tray makes an amazing travel jewelry box. It doesn’t appear enticing to thieves, it has segregated compartments to keep your necklaces from getting tangled and, best of all, it’s free. For an even fancier jewelry box, allow your child or pet to decorate the carton. The plastic container in which wet wipes are sold also makes a handy jewelry box, sans separate compartments.

Duct Tape is the ultimate fix-all travel item. Nylons are a close second. You can use old nylons to tie up a broken suitcase, to tie around your luggage for easy identification in baggage claim, as a laundry line in your bathroom or to use for washing delicate items (instead of a mesh bag). Keep your old soap scraps, stuff them in an out-of-use stocking and you have a free exfoliating soap scrubber to use in the shower!

Yogurt Container
Browsing on travel supply Web sites, I came across the innovative “Tie Caddy” ($6.49 on, which keeps packed ties wrinkle free. There’s also the “Scarf Caddy” for ladies. Both products are clear tubes filled with a “patented winding mechanism” that curls scarves and ties into neat rolls. While empty yogurt containers don’t have an inner winding mechanism, they work fine as a scarf- or tie-protector if you don’t mind taking the time (it took me about 60 seconds) to roll the thing up yourself. Make sure you clean out the yogurt container before you stick your husband’s tie in there (unless he’s been acting like a jerk lately).

Posted by: gardner310 | November 6, 2009

Travel Packing Advice

Packing seems to be a stress item that goes along with any vacation.  We all want to be sure we have everything we think we may need.  With the airline weight/piece restrictions and extra fees they now charge, packing becomes an even bigger issue.   I know I hate paying fees but I also hate worrying about whether there will be enough bin space on the plane by the time I board.  Carrying on also restricts the sizes of toiletries you can pack.

There is a lot of advice out there on how to pack and what to pack.  There is a web site called that offers good ideas on a packing list and types of bags.  The link below is from TravelSmith, a retailer who sells clothes and accessories for traveling.  What is great about it is has actual diagrams to go along with each step.  You may or may not have your own system that works for you but take a look at this and you may pick up a few good ideas.  I am the queen of packing light but this list gave some good suggestions on placements in the suitcase that I will try on the next trip.

travel packing advice – wrinkle-free packing advice – TravelSmith

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