Sunday, August 7, 2016

Karla's balcony state room on cruise to Cuba



Karla is going to Cuba. Tour of the balcony state room 109 on the fathom Adonia cruise ship.





Saturday, August 6, 2016

American credit card use unauthorized in Cuba

Prior to all travel abroad, I always notify my credit card and ATM companies of my upcoming travel destinations and dates. As I attempted to notify them of my upcoming travel to Cuba, I discovered it is so unlawful to use American credit cards in Cuba, that such transactions are completely unauthorized by the bank. See a photo of message from one such financial institution, I received while attempting to update my profile.

Another great article about solo cruising

Here is a great article about solo Cruising that I could've written myself:




#CubaHereICome


 
 
This week, I found a fabulous last minute deal on the cruise line, fathom, which recently began sailing from Miami to Cuba.  "fathom" is a company that provides “a whole different kind of travel”, with cultural immersion experiences and even includes all of the shore excursions complete with walking tours, bus tours, lectures on Cuban history/culture, dance and Spanish classes, and lunches in 4 local restaurants. 

Tomorrow, (8-7-16) the fathom Adonia will cruise to Cuba for a week, where we will visit Havana, Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos on a "people to people" mission where we will have several opportunities to connect with families, schoolchildren, musicians, small business owners, restauranteurs, and a host of artists, entertainers, educators, and more We will even stay overnight stay in Havana, where I will experience some of its nightlife. 

fathom is a new subsidiary Cruise line of Carnival Cruise Lines that provides weeklong sailings every other week--alternating between The Dominican Republic and Cuba. According to fathom, "we will participate in an ongoing cultural exchange program that will give us a chance to interact with the Cuban people, one on one. We will build on the contributions of the travelers who have come before us." The "f" in fathom is not capitalized reflecting the humility embodied by their approach to interacting with members of the local culture and making a difference.

Interestingly, fathom is the first American cruise line that received approval from the US and Cuban governments for Travel to Cuba. Their first sailing to Cuba was just 3 months ago.  I am happy they will provide us with Cuban visas. Check out www.Fathom.org.

Importantly, I will be able to visit Cuba while it is still a Cuban city---from a bygone era.  As we all know, in no time, Cuba will resemble the rest of the cookie-cutter Western world replete with high-profile brand establishments such as McDonald's, Starbucks, Sunglass Hut, Gucci, Guess Jeans, Prada, and more, on every corner.

Cuba has been on my bucket list for a very long time and will make my 91st nation visited. 

When Christopher Columbus arrived there in 1492, he described it as, “the most beautiful land human eyes had ever seen”. I look forward to this experience to drive less than 30 minutes away to board a ship to finally visit Cuba, a uniquely beautiful country, rich in history.  

#CubaHereICome
 
 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Cuba will make my 91st nation visited!

Cuba will make my 91st nation visited!




I just booked a trip to Cuba that will leave in four days. I have been watching the prices for months and it decreased so dramatically (for this sailing), I could not resist this opportunity to finally visit Cuba, especially at such a great price! What's even better, is that I will be on a cruise with "fathom impact travel", a company that provides a whole different kind of travel, with cultural immersion experiences and even includes all of the shore excursions complete with walking tours, bus tours, and lunches in local restaurants.

fathom is a new subsidiary Cruise line of Carnival Cruise Lines that provides weeklong sailings every other week--alternating between The Dominican Republic and Cuba. According to fathom, "we will participate in an ongoing cultural exchange program that will give us a chance to interact with the Cuban people, one on one. We will build on the contributions of the travelers who have come before us." The "f" in fathom is not capitalized reflecting the humility embodied by their approach to interacting with members of the local culture and making a difference. The recently renovated, 700-passenger cruise ship, Adonia, was part of the renaissance fleet of ships that were eventually sold to Carnival, Oceania, and Azamara cruise lines.  Interestingly, fathom is the first American cruise line that received approval from the US and Cuban government's for Travel to Cuba. Their first history-making sailing to Cuba took place just two months ago, May 15, 2016.  I am happy they will provide us with Cuban visas. See www.fathom.org

For an incredibly low price, I will sail from Miami, (where I live), to Cuba (90 miles away) visit three cities, have access to multiple lectures about Cuban culture and history, enjoy multiple meals all included, have 4 lunches in Cuban cities, take dance and Spanish language classes, and will enjoy all entertainment on board the ship, all while not having to enter an airport or suffer from any jet lag. We will even experience an overnight stay in Havana, where I will experience some of its nightlife. Importantly I will be able to visit Cuba while it is still a Cuban city from a bygone era.  As we all know, in no time, Cuba will resemble the rest of the cookie-cutter Western world replete with high-profile brand establishments such as McDonald's, Starbucks, Sunglass Hut, Gucci, Guess Jeans, Prada, and more, on every corner. Coca-Cola does not even exist there. Cuba has been on my bucket list for a very long time and will make my 91st nation visited. 

The ship will depart from the port of Miami at 4:30 PM on Sunday, August 7. The first day we will spend at sea; the next two days in Havana where we will visit the old town, revolution museum, Batista's presidential office, Fidel Castro's yacht, cigar factories, Hemingway's former home, and more;  then we will visit the cities of Santiago de Cuba,  the country's second largest city--home to many of its famed musicians and artists and a UNESCO world heritage site; finally French-influenced coastal city of Cienfuegos, the center of Cuba's sugar, tobacco, and coffee trades.  I will experience all shore excursions with the same cohort that will be preassigned and dinner seating is open-seating. We will even take dance lessons in Havanna and after our walking tour, I plan to take a tour of the rest of the city, in a classic car from the 1940s.

I have already begun to brush up on my knowledge of Cuban culture and history with my collection and the books I checked out of the library today.

I look forward to this experience to drive less than 30 minutes away to board a ship to finally visit Cuba, a uniquely beautiful country, rich in history.

 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Boy was a wrong!


World cruise –Overall thoughts about taking a world cruise. (written 3 weeks after disembarking)

 

I am one of those people who although an avid cruiser, I always presumed I would be bored to tears on a world cruise (a 100-day journey that circumnavigates the globe). I especially thought I'd be bored with the ship, the staff, the food, the daily schedule of activities, the evening events, the shops, the production song and dance team, the music venues, my room, and especially the people.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Boy was a wrong!

 

Having had a taste of a world cruise, since I went on the first third of one, I can testify I was never bored with any of these elements; in fact, I miss being on the ship as it heads towards Hong Kong—the half way mark. Holland America is committed to providing as much variety as possible in all offerings including its entertainment; the food, the diversity of ports, the activities scheduled, and much more. 

 
 
 
 
 
 


I savored every aspect of the experience especially the sunrises and sunsets at sea, the sail-ins (sometimes, they opened the bow and provided breakfast and entertainment) and the sail-away parties (large fun gatherings where the waiters passed hors d'oeuvres and offered drink specials). I relished exploring all the ports, some on foot, some in small vehicles, some on local buses, some on hop on hop off buses, and I went to the tops of tall buildings in multiple cities.  The ports varied from tiny, rustic seaside villages with barely a paved road, to sprawling, modern cities such as Auckland and Sydney.

 

Overall: The scenery was spectacular, the people were really warm and welcoming, the service on a world cruise is outstanding, the variety of activities on the daily schedule was impressive, and they even hired six gentleman dance hosts to dance with us.

 


Here are some random facts, thoughts, statistics, and comments about my 2016 world cruise segment:

·         Holland America's Amsterdam 2016, Ft Lauderdale-Ft Lauderdale, world cruise made visits to 19 countries, and 40 ports of call, in Asia, North America, Australia, Europe, Central America, North Africa, The Middle East, and transited both the Panama Canal and Suez Canal.  There were overnight stays in such cities as Sydney Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai, UAE.

·         Most guests remained on board for the entire 115-day world cruise; 150 completed only the 36-day Florida to Sydney segment; a few more stayed on until Hong Kong; and a few others disembarked later (day 68) in Singapore.  The ship will return to Ft Lauderdale at the end of April.  It was very strange to be in an environment where you were constantly saying "I'm only on here for 36 nights."

·         The leading nationalities of guests were (in order) Americans (70%), Canadians, British, and other Europeans- followed by a few Asians, and Australians. Other demographics were (est.):

Ø  Retired couples (65%).

Ø  Solo travelers (20%) primarily aged 60+ women.

Ø  Others: solo men, families, under aged 60.

Ø  15% of adults are under 60.

Ø  Seasoned cruisers (at least one fifth have world cruised before and some recognized other guests from previous WCs).

Ø  There were a few who cruised for the first time, EVER. Imagine that!

Ø  15% have visible disabilities.

Ø  Many own more than 1 residence (some in more than one country.

Ø  There were even a few passengers in their 80's and 90's.  Dolly is 92 and St. Clair, who went parasailing, is 93. Both traveled alone.

·         In the main dining room, the menu never gets repeated the way it does typically every two weeks, on a regular cruise.

·         The service was outstanding reflecting their decision to hire the best of HAL talent! They were friendly, helpful, humble, clever, and happy! I was so impressed that various members of the staff, whom I had never met, even knew my name and called me by name whenever they saw me. I heard “Hi Ms. Karla” often.

·         The service was simply superb. There were so many little special touches. One example was (without our asking) they would offer glasses of water to us at different times during the day and evening, including to us ladies who were ballroom dancing with the gentleman dance hosts. They even refilled our glasses of water. I have never experienced that kind of attentiveness on a cruise, especially when offering something for free, like water, especially in a bar.

·         They gave us “World-Cruise-2016” themed gifts. Every once in a while, on our pillow at night, we found items such as a very nice canvas bag with sturdy strap, a business card holder, a travel journal, a novel written by one of the guest speakers (Paul Theroux), and more. And, that was just on the first segment!

·         There were at least 15 gala/formal nights (5 on our 36-day segment). Some had themes such as the black and silver ball, Valentines ball, bumper shoots and bowlers, Bollywood gala, all-white dinner, masked ball, Valley of the Kings gala, and more. Importantly, the main dining room and other parts of the ship were decorated beautifully for these festive events. Often, they held additional coordinated events in the Queen's lounge which were also quite convivial and included ballroom dancing to a live orchestra, and were attended by the captain and the other officers.

·         There were several themed parties and dinners including an Indonesian dinner, Great Barrier Reef dinner, Asian dinner, Raffles dinner, St. Patrick's Day themed dinner, Mardi Gras party and dinner, Super Bowl events, Polynesian barbecue, April fools costume contest, toga party, and more.

·         There was a grand voyage sail-away party, departure night, held in the pool area, with multiple food and beverage stations, hors d'oeuvres being passed, live music and occasionally dancing, and a meet and greet with the captain and his staff. It was fabulous!  It certainly set a positive tone for the 115-day adventure.

·         For several big sail-ins and during the Panama Canal and Suez Canal transits, they opened the bow and offered live entertainment and refreshments and snacks. It was really a nice touch.

·         There were 6 pleasant gentlemen dance hosts: Bob, Rob, Tom, Mark, Ray, and Freddie.  Every evening from 4:30 until after 11PM, they danced with us in the Ocean View Bar (ballroom dance-4 of them) and the Crowe’s Nest (ballroom and contemporary-2 of them).  The schedule rotated daily.  They also participated in the ballroom dance classes.  They rarely had a day off, were always pleasant, and they were graceful and patient dancers.  I learned and laughed a lot with my guys! They wore a tie and dinner jacket each night.  They were a real bonus for those of us ladies who love to dance---ballroom and freestyle.  I danced at least 200 dances!

·         I received towel animals every single night in my room. I love towel animals and as usual, took photos of each one.

·         Always at least two guest lecturers who stayed on a few days, then rotated off the ship.  Milt Keiles discussed the European new world and South Pacific trade routes, piracy, colonization, famous naval battles and more.  He lectures on a world cruise segment annually.  His wife, Joy, accompanies him.  He is a colorful character who joined us at dinner one night and we took the same small van tour in Tahiti together. George Stosur lectured on theories of the universe—the sea and stars. Alan Wright is a research astronomer who took us up to the top deck to describe the galaxies. Joseph Kess lectured on South Pacific history and culture.

·         Several nightly music venues including a violinist/piano duo, an interactive piano bar musician, orchestras, and a DJ.

·         Guest authors such as Paul Theroux, a prolific travel writer and author of the Mosquito Coast.

·         They showed movies and served free popcorn most days.

·         They provided classes and forums for lots of special interest groups including bridge players, knitters, veterans, geocachers, jewelry makers, all kinds of sports enthusiasts, dancers, a book club (they supplied the books), Sudoku classes, certified Microsoft Windows™ classes, Thai Chi, Qi Gong, line dancing, ballroom dancing, morning meditations, LGBT gatherings, fitness classes including Pilates, gaming (casino) classes including “Texas hold em’ tournament's etc., Bingo games, trivia contests throughout the day (2 main games), daily afternoon tea, Acupuncture classes, lectures, board game and mah-jongg players, watercolors classes, wine tastings, murder mystery dinners, scavenger hunts, star gazing sessions up on deck, shuffleboard tournaments, funny poolside contests and games, jewelry raffles and giveaways, sales on merchandise, a toga party, hoops tournaments, destination lectures, karaoke, WII bowling, and more.

·         There are a variety of spa treatments available, a full gym with state-of-the-art equipment and regular fitness classes, two hot tubs, and two swimming pools.

·         In the large sumptuous library (with real Dewey decimal system), they supplied daily crossword puzzles, trivia quizzes, and Sudoku puzzles.

·         Every day at 3PM, they served high tea in the 180°-ocean-view Crow’s Nest.

·         There were even regular, (and often daily) religious services conducted by a Catholic priest, a protestant minister, and a rabbi. For Ash Wednesday, guests were walking around with ashes on their foreheads.

·         There is an entire covered promenade deck (deck 3) that allows guests to take a walk with spectacular sea views and ocean sounds.  3.5 laps around equals one mile on the promenade deck.

·         Marie and Angeline, the two café baristas knew my order each morning.  They always gave service with a smile.

·         Gorgeous, mammoth fresh flower arrangements and stunning artwork adorns the ship.  I even took a guided tour from the award-winning florist-duo who described the process of ordering fresh flowers in major ports and crafting the most creative works of art.  Thereafter, I had a much greater appreciation for these “feasts for the eyes”!

·         Teams of Polynesian, Maori, and Aboriginal scholars and performers came onboard for several short stints (4-8 day) and served as instructors, performers, arts and crafts and dance teachers and more. I made beautiful shell necklaces and bracelets with the Polynesian instructors, poi balls with the Maori, and learned the history and culture of the didgeridoo, from the Aboriginal guests.

·         In the Main Dining Room, at Table 303, Yitno and Herve were excellent! In my room (2703) Toto and Putu very good stateroom attendants. (9/10). I loved the daily towel animals.

·         Sail-away celebrations in the aft pool area with the stunning expanse of the port and sea at our backs, were a fun gathering for us to take photographs and share the tales of our day.  Some of us were there for every sail-away party.

·         They seemed to run out of pineapple early on, even though we spent a lot of time visiting islands that specialize in pineapple production. I brought it to the attention of one of the senior crew members in the dining room. I discovered there was a secret stash. Thereafter, whenever she saw me, she would bring me a plate of fresh sliced pineapple. All I had to do was establish eye contact with her, and she brought me my favorite fruit. I felt very special!

·         The room service breakfast menu was a full menu complete with omelets, pancakes, hot meats, as well as the traditional continental fare of breads, cereals, juices, fruits, and more. As usual, I ordered room service breakfast most port days.

·         For each port of call, they gave us a wallet-sized card containing exchange rate chart, port contact info, and basic words in the local language.  This was a really helpful tool.

·         There was a pho (Vietnamese soup) cart at lunch in the lido daily. The waiter customized each soup order.  It was a favorite for many people.  It soon became my favorite lunch item!

·         There were only 7 kids on the first segment. Yet, there was full-time staff dedicated to entertaining them separately, in the children’s play zones. They even went on stage and performed with the Maori cultural troupe.

·         They won’t have big name VIPs like the Dali Lama on this cruise. The cruise director explored such VIP guests as the Dali Lama and Bill Clinton. Politics and religion are divisive, even though Desmond Tutu was aboard several years ago.  Billy Crystal was affordable costing $50K plus other fees, but every other word is the f bomb, so they nixed him.  Instead HAL’s CEO came aboard.  I heard Carol Leifer, the comedian, will be onboard, later.

·         We were on a winning trivia team that met every day at 11:45 and at 5 PM. We were diehards and usually placed first second or third. They gave away monopoly-like "Amsterdam dollars" that we redeemed for prizes at the end.

·         20% of the passengers were solo travelers. There were over 100 of us at the first solo traveler's gathering that first night. Many of us bonded and enjoyed other activities and meals together. There were definitely lots of stories.......

·         My favorite ports were Moorea, Auckland, New Zealand, and Melbourne and Sydney Australia. I enjoyed transiting the Panama Canal just as much as I did in 2012.  I enjoyed exploring all 14 ports, some on foot, some in small vehicles, some on local buses, some on hop on hop off buses, and we went to the tops of tall buildings in multiple cities.  I took walking tours, small van tours, pedicab tours, and big bus tours.

·         I met some interesting and introspective people; I also met some superficial and entitled people.  I imagine that is typical.


 




























 


Holland America cruise line regular offerings I like:

·         DVD players in the room with an expansive inventory of free movies for rentals.

·         State of the art cooking demonstration center.

·         Crunchy French fries.  The cookies.  Candied ginger and after-dinner mints service in the main dining room.

·         Bountiful library with a vast collection of books including a comprehensive reference section and an extensive collection of games with a variety of cozy seating, many with sea views. A full-time librarian is on staff. The café is right next-door.

·         180° window-view room overlooking the sea, on the top floor, in front of the ship.

·         Older ships have larger inside cabins, 180 ft.².

·         Cruise director leads some trivia games, so a smart, worldly, well-travelled person hosts the contests.

·         Free computer classes with a certified Microsoft Windows™ instructor.

 

I am happy I had the opportunity to enjoy one third of a world cruise. It was definitely an eye-opening experience.---A completely different subculture---Many of the folks take a world cruise every year and many of them have done one often. Some of them have done the world cruise on the Holland America Amsterdam every year for 5, 10, 15 years and more. Amazing, eh!  There is even one 92-year-old who everyone claims lives on the ship. She (Dolly) only gets off for a month or two each year. (I don't think they know how to get rid of her.)

 

I loved the sense of community, the sense of oneness among fellow cruisers. We played and laughed, life was lite. We enjoyed lots of beauty and a sense of wonder together. Everyone had their story, their flaws, their foibles, their aspirations etc. In many ways, we were kindred spirits.  After all, “we were all in the same boat”!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Would YOU consider a world cruise?

 

Karla in cruise withdrawal!!!

 































































Places Where I Have Traveled *=more than once

  • Tahiti Feb 2016
  • Cook Islands Feb 2016
  • New Zealand Feb 2016
  • Australia Feb 2016
  • French Polynesia Jan 2016
  • India
  • China
  • Brunei
  • Brazil*
  • Philippines
  • Morocco
  • North Borneo
  • Crete*
  • Ionian Islands*
  • Singapore
  • Egypt*
  • Hong Kong
  • Azores*
  • Norway
  • Dodecanese Islands (Rhodes)
  • Bosnia
  • Palestein
  • Croatia
  • Romania
  • Argentina
  • Ecuador
  • Tunisia
  • Corsica
  • Bulgaria
  • Columbia
  • Peru
  • Montenegro
  • Columbia
  • Chile*
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Uruguay
  • Jordan
  • Gibraltar
  • Turkey*
  • Russia*
  • Israel
  • Bermuda
  • Estonia*
  • Viet Nam
  • Finland*
  • Malta*
  • Thailand
  • Guatemala
  • Crete*
  • Jamaica*
  • Panama*
  • Grand Canyon
  • Indonesia
  • Scotland
  • Niagara Falls
  • Greece*
  • France* lived there
  • Japan*
  • Bilbao, Spain*
  • Canada*
  • Costa Rica
  • Bahamas*
  • Banff Hot Springs
  • Hawaii*
  • Italy*
  • Catalina Island
  • Luxembourg*
  • St Johns
  • St Marteen/St Martin
  • St Thomas
  • South Padre Island Texas
  • Mexico*
  • Vatican City*
  • Austria*
  • Denmark*
  • Monaco
  • Portugal*
  • Belgium*
  • Holland*
  • Ireland*
  • England*
  • Sweden*
  • Switzerland*
  • Spain*
  • Germany*

Events/Experiences

  • Pyramids at Giza
  • Western Wall-Jerusalem
  • Taj Mahal
  • Rode Camel in Tunisia
  • Transited Panama Canal Twice
  • Vaparreto # 1 in Venice
  • National Museum in Brunei
  • Drink at Raffles Hotel-Singapore
  • Fish Spa in Greece and Philippines
  • The Peak in Hong Kong
  • Pedicab Tour in Manilla Philippines
  • Climbed Great Wall of China
  • Chewed Gum in Singapore
  • Road Amalfi Coast, Italy
  • St Pat's Day Parade in Dublin
  • Sailed Kotor Bay
  • Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia
  • Smithsonian Museums-DC
  • Burj Kalifa in Dubai
  • Toured Ancient City of Petra, Jordan
  • Transited Suez Canal
  • Rio for Carnivale 2X
  • Cruised along Cinque Terre, Italy
  • Fish Spa in Corfu, Greece (teeny fish scrubbed my feet!)
  • Subway in Russia
  • Flash Mob (dance) on stage on several cruises
  • Visted 21 Countries on 5 long cruises in 2012
  • Ceviche in Peru
  • Cremation Service in Bali
  • Saw Lamas in Lima
  • Vasa Museum-Stockholm
  • Buddhist Monastery in Viet Nam
  • Drove Amalfi Coast
  • Queen Mary 2
  • Berlin Wall
  • Mummies In Cairo Museum
  • Jordan River; Sea of Galilee
  • Hot Air Balloon Ride Over Luxor at Sunrise
  • Transited the Pirate-Infested Gulf of Aden
  • Ski Dubai
  • Fellucca Ride on the Nile at Sunset
  • 16-day Europe/Transatlantic on Queen Victoria
  • Tahrir Square-Cairo
  • Toured Pompeii
  • In Fashion Show Aboard Queen Victoria
  • Rode Elephants in Thailand and India
  • 7-Country Baltic Cruise
  • Hermitage Museum
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • Transatlantic Crossing on QM2
  • Climbed Tikal in Guatemala
  • Mediterranean Cruise 6 countries
  • Audience with Swami in Rishikesh, India
  • Poetry Class in France
  • Kissed Blarney Stone
  • Pike's Fish Market in Seattle
  • Photo with Snake Charmer in India
  • Dacau near Munich
  • Hitchhiked from France to Scotland
  • Climbed Washington Monument in DC
  • Oktoberfest in Bavaria
  • Toured Panama Canal
  • Wine Country in France, California and many others
  • Guest of Placido Domingo in Chicago
  • The Alamo
  • United Nations
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Helicopter over Grand Canyon
  • Club Med in Cancun
  • Eurailpassed Twice Thru Europe
  • Hollywood
  • Albuquerque Hot-Air Balloon Festival
  • Rodeo in Dallas/Ft Worth
  • NCAA Playoffs in Charlotte and New Orleans
  • Cucchi Tunnels in Viet Nam
  • Grammys in New York
  • Paella in Spain
  • Rain Forest in Costa Rica
  • Xmas Tree Lighting Ceremony on 5th Avenue
  • Niagara Falls
  • Disney Land & Disney World
  • Voodoo Museum New Orleans
  • Cancun Jazz Festival
  • Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica
  • Las Vegas for Trade Shows
  • Key West for Hemmingway Festival
  • Art Classes in Louvre
  • Black Ski Summit in Vail and Colorado Springs
  • Texas State Fair
  • Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  • Italian Class in France
  • Nude Sunbathing in St Marteen
  • Danish Pastry in Denmark
  • Palace of Knossos Crete
  • Anne Frank House Amsterdam
  • Karaoke in Japan
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Lobster in Maine