“…We packed up the dog and whatever we could load into the car and headed to Florida…and everything was perfect. I started blogging more. I had been blogging quite a bit up north, but just didn’t have the time to put into it. I had started doing things for Google. For Google+, I was an early adopter and a power user in Philadelphia, and they rewarded me by putting me on a follow list with Emeril Lagasse, Martha Stewart, Anthony Bourdain, Rachael Ray; so here were all these huge chefs, and me!”
At this point, Chef Dennis was not a travel blogger but rather a food blogger who travelled with a live show. That was about to change in a big way. I asked, “How did you become a travel blogger?”
“I’ve been called the accidental travel blogger. My career as a travel blogger began in 2017 when I was asked to apply for a stay at an oceanfront motel that was looking for bloggers. I was a food blogger not a travel blogger; nevertheless I applied, and they asked me to visit. I was picked, and was given a not-so-great room on the third floor; it was a little old, twin beds. However, they had just installed these nine foot floor-to-ceiling sliding glass balcony doors facing the ocean. So I just stood there overlooking the beach, looking out at the ocean. At that point I decided, I could be a travel blogger!”
“…The Viking cruise on the Forsetti was along the Danube. And when I say the Viking cruise was magical—the wonderful aspects of my first brand ambassadorship started even before the cruise. First off, I asked them what they wanted me to do. They said, have a good time! There was no expectation of social media posts—although I did posts anyway. We boarded and they told us we upgraded you to a suite, we hope you don’t mind! And we couldn’t pay for anything either; even all of our excursions were taken care of. The trip was amazing; we made some really good friends. The hotel manager would sit and chat with us, the cruise director was wonderful. We made a number of lasting friendships.”
So began Chef Dennis’ brand ambassadorship with Viking, as well as similar relationships with several other luxury cruises lines. He told me, “With that initial relationship where nothing was expected of me, that started a series of opportunities that have enabled me to cruise all over the world. After getting started with Viking, I went to work learning how to be a better travel blogger and how to become an asset to the brands I worked with.”
As a brand ambassador, Ask Chef Dennis has been fortunate to sail some exotic itineraries on incredible cruise ships. For Viking, Chef Dennis cruised Viking Danube Waltz river cruise June 2017; Viking Bordeaux Chateaux & Wines river cruise July 2018; on Viking Portugal River of Gold river cruise. On European Waterways, Chef Dennis went on a Northern Burgundy Barge Cruise on La Belle Époque in 2018.
In 2019 Chef Dennis continued his impressive foray into small ship luxury cruising with Crosi Europe, sailing a Barge Cruise on the Seine in August on the MS Deborah. In December Chef Dennis and Lisa brought in the New Year on a UnCruise Sea of Cortez on the Endeavour.
Read the full story of how Chef Dennis transitioned from chef, to food blogger, to travel blogger, to luxury cruise influencer, in Ask Chef Dennis, Cruisers Like You and Me…Sort Of, Cruising Interrupted
I asked Judi to talk about how she gravitated away from big mainstream cruise ships to her predilection for smaller vessels. “Somewhere along the line we discovered Pandaw Cruises. We went on a Pandaw Cruise in Myanmar. It was our first small-ship cruise—it had 16 people on it. And that’s when we absolutely fell in love with small vessels. We loved it. It sailed a short stretch of the Irrawaddy River between Mandalay and Bagan in Myanmar. We landed in Yangon, Myanmar, and then flew to where we were going to board the vessel. Our first sight of that boat, the Pandaw Kalaw—it was so simple, a two-deck river boat. And the crew, and an onboard guide who accompanied us on our adventures off the ship at each stop was so welcoming, so genuine, we knew that we were going to be looked after well. It was just wonderful how they ran everything. Two excursions a day; if you wanted to stay on the ship to relax and read you could, but if you wanted to leave you could get off the ship twice a day. The adventures that we shared were into the smallest remote villages along the Irrawaddy. It was such a memorable experience.”
So small ship cruising seemed to appeal to Judi right away. I asked her how soon after the Kalaw did she do another small vessel. “Immediately; we got off that and then we took our kids, as well as two of our friends on the exact same itinerary with Pandaw the following year. And then we went back with the kids only and we did Vietnam and Cambodia with Pandaw.” Judi’s first three small ship cruises, done in succession, were with Pandaw. A new passion was born. Judi has essentially done almost exclusively small ship cruising since, ranging from very small ships barely holding double digits of passengers, to the 100 passenger Akademik Sergey Vavilov, a former Russian scientific vessel converted to an expedition ship to Antarctica, and up to luxury ships like Crystal Serenity which holds about 1000 passengers. By the way, of Judi’s many small-ship cruising lasting memories is a less than wonderful one an otherwise wonderful cruise on the Vavilov, operated by One Ocean Expeditions. “I really enjoyed the Vavilov; the cruise was fabulous, everything was first-class; seeing Antarctica, spending time with the penguins, learning as much as we did was a tremendous opportunity. I will add probably one of the most memorable—maybe not in a good way—was crossing the Drake Passage. It was rough, it was crazy, and my husband gets seasick in a bathtub,” Judi laughs.
Yet Lawrence loves to cruise. “He loves to cruise. He knows there is a price to be paid, but he is prepared to do it. I asked him if he would be willing to go back to Antarctica and he said, ‘I’d go in a heartbeat.’ He considers crossing the Drake a rite of passage.” That actually wasn’t Judi’s first experience crossing Drake’s Passage. She had done so prior to becoming a small-ship cruising aficionado on a cruise on Celebrity Infinity. That cruise on the Infinity—wonderful as it was—as compared to Judi’s small ship experience starkly depicts the contrast between big ship versus small ship cruising. “It is very different whether you go on a small or big ship—no less beautiful, but different. Our first cruise to Antarctica was in 2013. It was a wonderful experience. Celebrity Infinity departed from Buenos Aires and took us down through Argentina, Venezuela, a stop in Ushuai, and then into Antarctica. But we were sitting on the deck on a big cruise ship. Because the Infinity was larger, we could not get off the ship and explore. We crossed the passage, we went into the Antarctic Circle, and we saw all of these other people on Zodiacs and small vessels, and then going to land and hiking. Lawrence and I looked at each other and both said, ‘We have to do that. We need to come back here and do that.’ We knew we wanted to come back and do it in a more adventurous and immersive style. So in four long years, we did.”
Read the entire chapter, Traveling Judi, Cruisers Just Like You and Me...Sort Of, Cruising Interrupted