Mother's Day: A Daughter's Love Letter, The Today Show, and Alaska Cruise On Holland America Line; 6/5 The Joy of Cruising Podcast
On this bonus episode of The Joy of Cruising Podcast, I am delighted to welcome Stephanie and her mom, Marineda. A few weeks ago I did a fun episode called The Godmother and referred to it as a modern-day fairy tale. Well, I just learned of another modern-day fairy tale—a sweet Mother's Day oriented tale that I would have found compelling in and of itself. What made it extra special for me was when I clicked on a Holland America Line blog post, I recognized in the accompanying photo of Stephanie and Marineda, that I knew Marineda from when we worked together in Florida where I lived for nine years. And, we are Facebook friends. When I read the post, some other considerations made me that much more interested in their story. First of all, Marineda and I both grew up in Brooklyn, and moved to Long Island, NY. The blog post discussed a Holland American Line Westerdam cruise to Alaska that Stephanie and her mom sailed. We recently did a podcast episode, Fire & Ice, which detailed our own cruise to Alaska in May so I couldn’t wait to compare and contrast Alaska experiences with them. Stephanie and Marineda’s Westerdam cruise was the result of a touching letter Stephanie sent to the NBC Today Show about her relationship with her mom in response to a Mother’s Day Brunch challenge. Perhaps most amazingly, I learned from the blog post that Marineda was 88—which means we worked together when Marineda was 85! I’d have never guessed that!
I am so appreciative they agreed to share such a beautiful story with the listeners of The Joy of Cruising Podcast.
The Joy of Cruising Podcast welcomes to this week's episode, Neil Gregory who kept, and continues to update a diary of his time working as a videographer on several ships for Princess Cruises. His story is real, raucous and laugh-out-loud funny! Cruise Ship Diaries was featured in the just released The Joy of Cruising Again amzn.to/3lAfyON
This podcast pertains to Neil’s first contract onboard Coral Princess.. After Coral Princess, Neil went on to the world cruise on Sun Princess and then contracts on Sapphire Princess, Diamond Princess, Crown Princess, Grand Princess, Emerald Princess, Dawn Princess, Royal Princess, and the Ocean Princess over the ensuing seven years.
I worked for Princess Cruises for seven years and they were some of the best experiences of my life. Every itinerary had its pros and cons as did every contract; the highs on certain days were immeasurable: from scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, to climbing the Great Wall of China, visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia and getting to walk across the Panama Canal. The lows could be working yourself to burnout for little pay, not getting along with the people you worked with or shared a cabin with and missing friends and family back home or ‘the real world’ as we called it in our cruise ship bubble—Neil Gregory, Cruise Ship Diaries
Cameo Rascale, Internationally Acclaimed Acrobatic, Comedy Juggling Act, Mon 5/29 The Joy of Cruising Podcast
“Hello, passionate cruisers! This is Paul, and on this bonus episode of The Joy of Cruising Podcast, I am delighted to welcome James and Rebecca, who are the embodiment of Cameo Rascale, internationally acclaimed circus variety act dazzling audiences across the globe! We experienced this dynamic husband and wife duo performing exciting acrobatics, mesmerising juggling and quick-witted comedy on our recent bucket list 16-day cruise from Hawaii to Alaska. On the second night of the cruise I saw that the headliner in the theater was a juggler. Jugglers are always a lot of fun, and if you listened to Episode 2 featuring Ilana of Life Well Cruise, you might recall Ilana being asked to toss the bowling pin to the juggler and she almost hit him in the head (the video of that is in the episodes’ show notes.) I thought perhaps this juggler was the same one. Well, this juggling act Cameo Rascale was unlike any I had ever seen. First of all, as mentioned it was a married couple. James did all the amazing things jugglers do, including juggling axes, knives, and bowling balls. But the acrobatics, dance, and humorous interplay with Rebecca added a unique dimension. We were spellbound, and laughing the entire show. And at the end of the show, I got excited when James mentioned they would be performing an entirely different show later in the cruise, which we made sure to get better seats for and had as much fun or more than the first performance. I am so appreciative they agreed to be on The Joy of Cruising Podcast. www.thejoyofcruisingpodcast.com
This week on The Joy of Cruising Podcast, I am delighted to welcome my friend Marcus Adams of the website Sparkx. Marcus is a 30-something leading UK-based blogger and travel writer who is passionate about cruising. Marcus is a sought-after cruise expert, and he writes for and contributes to several publications and websites in UK and the USA, such as Porthole Cruise Magazine, Huffington Post, The Telegraph, Daily Mail, and CNN. Marcus has also been a featured contributor for Cruise International Magazine, specializing in LGBTQ travel. I featured Marcus in The Joy of Cruising in a section called “Cruising’s Young and Restless” which focused on up-and-coming millennials making their mark in cruising. Marcus is still doing great things in cruising, and it is so good to chat with him again. There is an excerpt of that feature on this blog https://www.thejoyofcruising.net/blog/marcus-adams-cruisings-young-and-restless The Joy of Cruising Podcast. www.thejoyofcruisingpodcast.com
www.TheJoyOfCruisingPodcast.com Our Fire & Ice adventure began with a really long day of flights from the east coast to Honolulu so I can say that was the least positive aspect of the trip. Well, other than an Uber ride from hell. It would take too long to explain but let me just say it started with me having to use Apple Maps on my phone to direct the Uber driver to the airport. It got worse.
We had a day in Honolulu before boarding NCL Spirit, so we did a city tour and visited Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. What a solemn but informative experience that was. I knew USS Arizona sank in the attack—entombing over 900 servicemen—but I didn’t realize it was situated right below the memorial. In fact, inside the memorial was an opening into the water below and you could almost touch the hull of the Arizona. I asked a park ranger why the bodies were not recovered. He told me some were, but few could be identified, and a couple of the divers died in the process of trying to recover bodies. He told me the remaining 900 or so were instantly cremated from the force of the blast. By the way, on the photo below note the flag at the USS Arizona Memorial. It is at half-staff because one of the two remaining survivors of USS Arizona passed away recently, leaving a sole survivor of USS Arizona, Lou Conter, a 102-year-old Californian. The somber tour made me want to learn. Since getting home I’ve already re-watched Pearl Harbor, good but a little too romanticized for me, but my wife didn’t mind, and re-watched Tora Tora Tora.
That evening we dined on some coconut shrimp and poke, and picked up some malasadas, i.e., Hawaiian beignets stuffed with filling—our choice was coconut cream—for breakfast before we boarded the ship.
NCL Spirit is a small ship relative to today’s mega-ships, and with a build date of 1998 it is the oldest ship we have been on, but it appears to be virtually new because right before the Covid lockdown it had a $100 million bow to stern refurbishment. Alas, one thing a refurbishment can’t change is the size of the cabin and bathroom. Our oceanview cabin was well appointed with better storage than larger cabins I’ve been in, but it was tight overall, and the bathroom was the smallest I’ve ever been in. The only complaint I have about the cabin—that NCL could control—was the size of the flat-screen TV. It looked to be a 30 or 36-inch; I think they cheaped out on that. At least it showed some of the NBA playoffs even if I had to sit at the foot of the bed to cheer on my Lakers against Cheryl’s Warriors!
Our first stop after embarkation was Kona, on the west coast of the big island. We didn’t purchase any excursions for Kona, as we met up with a family friend, my daughter’s college roommate, Binti, and her son. Binti who relocated to Kona several years ago, took us on a brief tour and then we had lunch at Island Lava Java Kona, highly recommended if you ever cruise to Kona—you can see the ship from it.
Back on the ship that evening the entertainment got off to a rousing start with Cameo Rascale, a husband and wife juggling and acrobatics team. The husband did all the amazing things jugglers do, including juggling axes; but the acrobatics and dance with his wife added a unique dimension. Next week Monday 5/29, we will have a bonus episode featuring a conversation with Cameo Rascale.
A couple of nights later we were treated to a similarly amazing husband and wife team called Javi Cruz—a magician/illusionist act. For this show, we got seats right up front because I wanted to see if I could figure out any illusions. They were absolutely spellbinding and no, I did not come close to figuring anything out. A few years ago, we attended an illusionist show in Vegas that cost us $300, and without hesitation, I can say that this complimentary show on NCL Spirit was much better. I have reached out to Javi Cruz about appearing on The Joy of Cruising Podcast, so I have my fingers crossed. Would love to bring that conversation to our listeners.
Despite the great shows at the beginning of the cruise, we didn’t go to all the Spirit shows; some didn’t appeal to us. Others conflicted with the timing of the NBA playoffs—that is when they were broadcast; the ship's satellite schedule was unpredictable—you were just as likely to get hockey or rugby.
There was only one comedian, Micky D who was ok, who did two shows: a family-friendly one, and an adult-oriented show. We are avid stand-up comedy fans and I found that kind of paltry compared to cruise lines in the same market segment as NCL, like Royal Caribbean or Carnival. Comedy is a big draw in this segment. I cruised for 7-days on Carnival Mardi Gras last August and we were entertained by four comedians, each of whom did a family show and an adult show. With only six kids—I heard—on Spirit, I think NCL could have at least done a family show and two or more adult shows featuring different sets over 16 days.
To finish up on shows, the finale, on night 15, Elements, was a lighting, sound, costumes, and choreography spectacle—as good as any show I have seen on a cruise ship, except the aqua shows on Royal Caribbean Oasis-class ships, which just due to size of the venues is not a fair comparison. The focal point of Elements was Javi Cruz, the aforementioned illusionist act but it by no means was just a redux of their magic show. They were supported by dancers and aerialists that had to be every member of the entertainment staff. The show was breathtaking. It turns out Elements has been running for several years simultaneously on various NCL ships so contrary to my initial impression, it was not a show put together just for Javi Cruz. Wow, wow, wow!
Back to the itinerary, Day 3 of the cruise was Kauai, Hawaii’s oldest island, which is highlighted by Waimea Canyon, aka “the Grand Canyon” in the Pacific. There were so many great photo spots that we were exposed to between Hawaii and Alaska, but I think Waimea Canyon was the most picturesque. It was breathtaking and I urge you to check out the photos below.
Day 4 Spirit stopped in Maui, the 2nd largest of the Hawaiian Islands. Normally, the highlight of a stop in Maui is riding The Road to Hana. We chose to pass on it as the ship’s excursion would cost us over $900. If you visit Maui in the future, you can choose to do a non-cruise ship excursion for less than half that, but our ship didn’t port until 10 which was too late for the private tours. Or, if you are brave, you can do like my friends Nancy and Dale Houchens did on a previous cruise and save a lot of money—they rented a car and drove The Road to Hana themselves. I understand it is not a drive for the faint-hearted, i.e., me, but Dale did it. By the way, Nancy and Dale will be on the podcast in August to discuss their feature in The Joy of Cruising Again, “Living On Cruise Ships,” and I will ask them about their drive of The Road to Hana on the show. Instead, along with several other members of the Spirit’s Facebook group we hired a private tour of the island. The well-informed driver, a transplant from Colorado, drove us by Oprah’s compound, we went to an operating bee farm and visited a beach with giant Hawaiian turtles which at first appeared to be giant black rocks in the sand.
Day 5 was Hilo, home of the Volcanoes National Park which has two active volcanoes—Kilauea and Maura Loa. In addition to the main attraction, Kilauea volcano, a sight to behold, it was fascinating to see dozens of holes in the ground emitting steam, some of which you could walk right up to, with a metal banister to keep you from falling in and take photos right next to it. Cheryl had me stand by one for a photo…it took a little too long. She didn’t realize my back felt like it was being singed! We came to a set of buildings close to the Kilauea volcano. The buildings used to be a part of the tour, but the area was closed off by a chained gate. There was a sign on the gate that read: Why are these buildings closed? Under that question, the sign read: In 2018, the summit of Kilauea volcano experienced a major eruption that damaged these buildings. That really made me want to go check out those buildings! I guess they weren’t structurally sound.
The next six days we were at sea on our way to Alaska, and I suspect I gained about six pounds during those six days! We had made reservations at each of Spirit’s specialty restaurants during the sea days so let me talk about food on the ship in general. First, the not-so-good. Spirit’s buffet was small and uninspiring, so we rarely ate there. I can understand the small part, but for us, the selections and presentation just weren’t exciting. They did have tasty cookies, which was the only item we would stop by for regularly. Other complimentary choices included The Local, a 24-hour eatery where we typically ate breakfast, and occasional lunches and late-night snacks for burgers, Reuben’s, fish & chips, and the like. We enjoyed it a lot and the bar at The Local was my go-to. Another complimentary eatery was Silk, an Asian-inspired dinner spot that we enjoyed a couple of times, and of course, the main dining room (MDR), where we ate dinner regularly. We also ate lunch there regularly given the uninspiring buffet. Eating in the main dining room for lunch is something we rarely do, and I have to say I’m glad that was a habit we picked up on this cruise. In the main dining room, there is a little placard on each table that says, “Nobody does dine like NCL.” The first time I saw that, I thought that was pretty audacious on NCL’s part, but after many meals there for lunch and dinner I have to say that it was as good a main dining room as I have experienced—at least post-Covid lockdown. The consensus in the cruise community is that MDRs across most lines have suffered lower quality post-lockdown. The only con I had was that conspicuously missing from the MDR was lobster, and my cruise tradition, escargot!
We tried each of the specialty restaurants. Cagney’s Steakhouse was outstanding. I had filet mignon. Onda Italian restaurant was pretty good—the almost dinner plate-sized piece of veal seemed to be a waste of food—they could have given me half and I would not have complained. I looked at the plates of other diners and in my small sample size, no one ate all of the veal. That’s not meant as a complaint so much as an observation—it tasted quite good. Teppanyaki is always fun; our chef said he was half Japanese, half Filipino—a Jalapeño. Le Bistro was a French restaurant. It was mostly excellent, but I had an interesting ending to my meal. I like to try new foods on a cruise; that’s how I discovered escargot—which by the way was my appetizer at Le Bistro. I once tried frog legs for the first time on a cruise—and that was my last time. I decided to try Foie Gras on my filet—even paid an upcharge for it. Let’s just say it’s an acquired taste—and one I won’t be acquiring. I ate it all, perhaps I was waiting for that aha moment; more probably because I paid extra for it. While waiting for dessert I looked up Foie Gras on Wikipedia, wondering why it was considered such a delicacy. Why did I do that? (It turns out there’s a great deal of controversy regarding force-feeding ducks to fatten them up to produce foie Gras-which is duck liver.) Oh well, a good meal otherwise but now I felt like an animal abuser! All in all, the specialty restaurants on Spirit, were about on par with other lines, although well below the best I ever had--Eden and Le Voyage by Daniel Boulud, both on Celebrity Beyond.
Day 11 was the first port in Alaska, Icy Strait Point. We did not go on an excursion, choosing instead to ride the free gondola to a great spot where there was a lot of local jewelry and crafts created and sold by the Tlinklits—indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast—eateries, and great whale watching—and yes, we got a few photos of whales briefly emerging..
Day 12 presented one of the most interesting days of the cruise—and we never got off the ship. NCL Spirit visited Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, comprised of 3.3 million acres and over 1000 glaciers. A couple of Park Rangers boarded the ship—yes, they climbed aboard from their vessel by ladder. They happened to be married to each other. The wife provided ongoing commentary over the PA system from the Spirit’s top deck Spinnaker Observation Lounge. And then her husband provided an informative slide show in the main theater. It was particularly fascinating to see photos and hear stories of early 20th-century visitors to the area. And they told us about their upcoming camping and kayaking in the wilderness of the park, armed with lots of bear spray. Uh, nope.
Day 13 we stopped in Skagway, a small city in southeast Alaska. As a guest on other podcasts, I’ve been asked what’s my favorite excursion. Well, I’ve got a new response. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad also known as the “Scenic Railway of the World” where vintage locomotives transit the famously steep route used by prospectors during the gold rush. The scenic vistas were spectacular through the windows of the train but what was even better are the photos you were able to take by standing on a platform between the railroad cars. I was scared to death of dropping my iPhone, but I got some really nice photos below.
Day 14 was Juneau, the capital of Alaska. One of the best places to see a bald eagle and we saw several. Our excursion there was the Mendenhall Glacier and Salmon Bake. At Mendenhall Glacier, we walked a couple of trails that allowed us to have up-close views of the Glacier and nearby waterfalls. Then we were bussed nearby to eat salmon grilled over a wood fire and all the fixings: baked beans, cornbread, potatoes, ribs, clam chowder, blueberry cake and hot apple cider.
On day 15, our final stop was at Ketchikan, 90 miles north of British Columbia. We didn’t go on an excursion there, choosing to take the free shuttle into town. Very walkable and a very nice day. I saw some wearing short sleeves. It was in the 60’s. We chose to go to Annabelle’s Famous Keg and Chowder House for some King Crab and Dungeness Crab—and I’m glad we did because that’s where we ran into Cameo Rascale.
After a sea day, we embarked in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We had opted for a city tour as we weren’t scheduled to board for the long set of flights home until the evening. What a beautiful city.
Well, this was not so much a review per se, as our hopefully not-too-random reflections. I know a lot of us like grades and ratings so here you go:
Cruise ship amenities/activities/shows 8.5/10
Overall 9/10 I would not hesitate to choose the Fire & Ice Cruise!
Thank you for joining us today for this bonus episode. Please join us Monday 5/29, for the follow-up to the Fire & Ice episode, a conversation with Cameo Rascale.
We’ll see you on the ocean!