Destinations - Articles - Cruises

  • Adriatic Adventure
  • Allure of the Seas
  • An "Epic" Adventure
  • At Home With Minoso and Oliva
  • Carnival Dream Inaugural Event
  • Celebrity Reflection, Eastern Caribbean
  • Celebrity Silhouette
  • Costa Victoria
  • Cruise to Alaska
  • Cruise The Panama Canal
  • Uniworld River Cruise to Normandy
  • Difference between a river cruise and a cruise aboard an ocean liner?
  • Mediterranean Cruise
  • Norwegian Breakaway Inaugural
  • Norwegian Getaway Inaugural
  • Quantum of the Seas Inaugural
  • Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Voyage
  • Regal Princess Cruise to Scandinavia and Russia
  • River Cruise, Douro Valley, Portugal
  • Singapore, Indonesia, Australia on Paul Gauguin
  • Southern Caribbean / Presidents' Week Adventure

Adriatic Adventure Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

The appeal of the journey is to visit destinations not often found on cruise itineraries - those located along the Adriatic Sea.

The adventure begins in Venice, Italy about a 9-hour nonstop flight from JFK. Our ship, the Celebrity Silhouette, docks overnight, but first-time visitors to Venice should spend at least two nights at a hotel along the Grand Canal, to fully experience this majestic city.

Sailing in or out of the port of Venice is a storybook come to life. The huge ocean liner is greeted by smaller vessels. Speedboats sail along the ship's side, and people wave. Gondolas and St. Mark's Square are visible. It's a picture-taking opportunity not to be missed.

Day 3:

Koper, Slovenia. Where in the world is Slovenia? Well, it was once part of Yugoslavia, as was Croatia and Montenegro, other ports of call on this journey. We tour the capital city of Ljubljana. A river runs through the area. It's a quaint and pretty town with lots of open air markets.

Day 4: Ravanna, Italy - No baloney, from this port, we visit the medieval city of Bologna, about an hour's drive away. Buildings that are centuries old, still stand; yet controversy lingers. The Basilica di San Petronio contains a painting depicting Dante's hell. A monster is devouring two humans, and the name "Mohammed" appears in the painting. Our guide explains that some of the Muslim population considers this offensive, and that the church receives threats. But his interpretation is that the name was popular at the time, and represents the common people.

We walk through markets, reminiscent of yesteryear, where meat and cheese hang from the ceilings. I learn that the finest Parmesan Ruggiero is made here, and that you can tell it's authentic because the cheese's name is written on the rind in dots. A second class cheese contains the name, but not the dots. Any cheese that has the name scratched out on the rind is third rate, considered a "mistake". It is this cheese that is sent to the U.S., we are told. Our tour includes a typical Bolognese lunch - a generous platter of salami, mortadella, capicola, provolone, Parmesan Ruggiero, Proscuitto bread, a bottle of red wine and two bottles of mineral water, one with gas and one without. The second course is a lasagna dish - the pasta ultra light and green; meat in between the layers. There is very little tomato sauce; instead, it is a white cream sauce. Dessert is a trio of sweets, espresso, and homemade nutty liquor, typical of the region.

Day 5: Split, Croatia

The ship tenders. We tour the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Trogir, a lovely, seaside town. I am always intrigued by ruins, so we tour Salona, an ancient excavation site where there are remains of temples, baths, and other structures. It is still being uncovered, so we are allowed to get real close, touching the smooth marble of some of the pieces. Later, we walk around Split, a bustling port, with lots of cafes, shops, and ferry service to other islands that we do not have time to visit on this trip.

Day 6: Dubrovnik, Croatia

I had heard Dubrovnik was beautiful, but never expected the Dalmatian coast to rival the Amalfi coast. Views are breath-taking. At a winery, we sample excellent Croatian wine and cordials of every flavor - fig, lemon, peach, cherry, orange. We enjoy fresh fruit, cheese, and olive oil in the village of Orasac. In the town of Ston, there are inconceivable medieval walls, built high into the mountains - defensive walls used to protect the valuable commodity of salt. We view how salt is collected, and how it dries in the sun.

Later, it's on to the Old Town, where people walk the defensive walls of this famous area. It is something to see as ancient structures are juxtaposed with modern shops.

We are told the tie was invented in Croatia when women gave their colorful scarves to men who went to war. The men tied them around their necks, and when the King of France fancied the look, the concept of wearing ties was born. As a result, many scarves and ties are sold here, and are popular souvenirs. A high-end shop is called Croata, and is recognizable because the letter "A" is a graphic of a tie.

Day 6: Kotor, Montenegro.

If it doesn't sound familiar, it's probably because it's only been fully independent since 2006. When it separated from Yugoslavia, it was part of Serbia. We absorb the views from our balcony stateroom - massive mountains along the water, so lovely, the image is surreal. At the seaside town of Budva, we drive by the Splendid Hotel. Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger slept here at the presidential suite for about 1700 euros per night, breakfast included, says the guide. We pass a tiny island, St. Stephen's, which is now a hotel complex for the wealthy. Montenegro has plans to be the next Monte Carlo, we are told. In the afternoon, we walk around Kotor, where medieval structures contain cafes and shops. A small museum features a five-bladed weapon that women would hide behind their dainty fans.

Day 7: Bari, Italy

I am excited because one of my uncles grew up here. It's always a thrill to stand in a destination you've heard about since childhood. We're off to the town of Trani where there is a Church of St. Nicholas the Pilgrim who died at age 18. We tour Bari, where there is a Church of St. Nicholas, patron saint of children, sailors, and fishermen. The latter St. Nicholas came from Turkey. I recognize stories our guide shares about him. This is the second-most visited church in Italy, she says, a wealthy one that dates back to 1087. Euros have been placed at just about every statue. The ceilings are beautifully decorated with intricate colorful paintings about adventures of the sea. We walk up and down ancient steps, through crypts. Supposedly, miracles happen each December 6th, with St Nicholas' bones taking on water, here at the church. The bones are displayed, and people kneel and pray by them.

I am surprised to come across the names Stephen and Nicholas so often during this journey. They happen to be the names of both of my sons. In Slovenia, there was also a Church of St. Nicholas, and in Bologna, I toured the Church of St. Stefano. For centuries, churches were the gathering spots of communities, so European tours always include visits. While I often say I have seen enough churches to last a lifetime, the one today was interesting.

The weather is incredibly hot so just about all the stores in Bari are closed. There's usually shopping galore when a ship is in port, but here in Bari, it's still "old world." People stick to the tradition of closing stores in the afternoon. We do find a small pizzeria that is open, and order a pie. The crust is very thin, the ingredients very fresh.

Day 8: Sea Day

Finally, a day to sit by the pool and soak up some sunshine. The Adriatic has been especially calm the entire trip; no whitecaps. Today, I am mesmerized as the only ripples on the water are the small ones created by our ship, and because they are the same color blue as the ocean, they look like small creases. I watch them unfold. Otherwise, there is nothing by flat calmness as far as the eye can see. I have never seen the ocean so serene.

One of my favorite places aboard the Silhouette is Cafe al Bacio, where high-quality teas, cappuccinos, and gelato drinks are served. This trip we discover a Forte iced tea, especially refreshing, after long days of touring in stifling European heat. It brews in a small, clear pitcher that sits snugly atop a matching large ice-filled pitcher. On the same tray, is a tall glass, filled with ice. When the tea brews, you pour it into the large pitcher, and just the right amount of ice melts so you have a pitcher of iced tea. Dispense into your glass, as desired. Who knew iced tea could be such a delicious production.

I spend the bulk of the day poolside, reading the book, The Story of San Michele, which I purchased because our upcoming tour of Capri takes us to the Villa of San Michele. The book captures my interest, detailing life about the island, providing insight into the destination.

Day 9 - Valletta, Malta

Many cruise ships, including this one, are registered in Valletta, Malta, yet few sail to Malta. Today, we are here. It's a big port town that has seen lots of fighting. A tremendous ancient-looking walled structure is visible around a good part of the city. Throughout this voyage I have gained a greater understanding of the way medieval towns were designed - how people entered through a seemingly hole in a wall, secured by a heavy door. Behind that door is the town. In medieval times, this door would be shut, to keep out those who arrived via ship, looking to do harm. Sometimes these structures would be surrounded by a moat, making it all the more difficult for pirates to enter. On today's tour, we learn that if pirates did manage to make it past the door, they would be trapped in the immediate area, surrounded by armed guards, nowhere to run. Yet, behind this point, were second and third areas, also designed to trap, cannons aimed. The craftsmanship behind all of this is mind-boggling - and still stands today. Our tour includes a harbor cruise where we see magnificent walls that protect the city.

The feast of St. Lawrence is being celebrated. Colorful banners and huge statues decorate the streets. It's raining confetti from the rooftops. Everything is covered in it - including the inside of my camera bag and my hair. There's singing in the square, and young people have covered themselves with shaving cream, confetti sticking to every part of them.

On our own, we take an outdoor elevator (1 euro), which takes us up into the heart of Valletta where the views from the city are beautiful. There are lots of shops. We find Caffe Cordina, established 1837, and enjoy a bilberry pastry (Interestingly, bilberries are mentioned in the book, The Story of San Michele). We also have ice cream which is always so creamy and fresh throughout Europe.

Aboard the ship, it's dinner at Tuscan Grill, one of the specialty restaurants. The meal is excellent, and the panoramic view provides a great way to bid farewell to this charming city.

Day 10 - Catania, Sicily

We climb Mt. Etna, an active volcano that geologists check daily. While photographing the craters, we are encouraged to pick up black and red lava rocks to take home as souvenirs. One shop has created a shrine, claiming a miracle. Lava, flowing down the mountain, had cracked its window, and suddenly halted. The store remains intact, and prospers as this unique attraction. Food and wine that are grown in lava soil are said to be extraordinary, and are for sale everywhere. We enjoy a cannoli - the shell is ultra crisp; the filling wonderfully creamy.

Our tour moves on to a beautiful family-owned winery. As we stand on a mountain, overlooking lush vineyards that are movie-set perfect, a friendly young woman explains the history. From a distance, we hear an unusual sound. We look below and sheep are being herded, another surreal moment. We are taken to the cellars where there are massive oak barrels of wine, and the smell beckons. In the past, people died, crawling up into those huge barrels, in an effort to clean them. Today, modern technology handles these details.

Upstairs, a buffet awaits - the ripest tomatoes, homemade bread and olive oil, egg and spinach bites, cheese, and quality olives for which this area is noted. We sample white and red wines, and the Italian people are so generous, pouring liberally, refilling, as desired. The family introduces their 10-month old baby. The atmosphere is like dining with extended family members on a Sunday afternoon.

Day 11 - Naples, Italy

The birthplace of my grandparents. My grandmother sailed from the port of Naples to America, by herself, when she was 18 years old.

We are up bright and early to go to the Island of Capri, a 50-minute ferry ride from the port. There, a mini bus navigates narrow and winding roads to Anacapri, where we tour the Villa of San Michele. I am happy to see what has been so vividly described in the book - the exquisite ocean views of the Bay of Naples, Mt. Vesuvius in the background; the Egyptian Sphinx, standing guard over it all. I have a greater appreciation of everything I am seeing, connecting it all in my mind. The remains of 777 steps that the mail carrier climbed to deliver mail still stand. These steps were once the only way to up to Anacapri. We shop at stores where Limoncello is created, sampling the liquor and sweets made from the fruit. I buy candy and lemon soap. Lemons are enormous throughout Southern Italy, and lemonade-type drinks abound. Another popular item: A customized pair of sandals, created in less than an hour. There are leather sandal straps of every color and style. You select what you wish. I watch as one shoemaker works diligently on a tourist's sandals. She asks him to pose for a photo, and he is happy to pause and oblige, taking pride in his craft as well as the fanfare. She gives him a kiss on the cheek. Capri is a shopper's paradise, with many high-priced designer shops sprinkled among the souvenir stores. We have lunch at a restaurant that offers a magnificent view, and feast on a salad of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, pasta, and pizza that's made in a traditional brick oven. The oven is surrounded by colorful tile, and I photograph the pizza-maker in action.

Day 12 - Rome, Italy

Our ship docks in Civitavecchia. A post-stay in Rome is highly recommended for those who have never been here. We take the hour and 10 minute transfer from the ship to Rome to fly home. At the airport, a store sells Parmesan Ruggiero. I notice the rind has dots, so I buy it.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Salona, Croatia
Salona, Croatia

Allure of the Seas Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

We see it from the sky! As the plane approaches the Ft. Lauderdale airport, one cruise ship sticks out from among the many others at the Port Everglades Pier -- Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas -- the largest cruise ship in the world.

For a ship this size, embarkation was a breeze. We were on board by 11:30 am, and walking

the promenade, an area with an array of stores and attractions. "I thought I was in a mall," was how Morty, one of the friends traveling with our group, described it -- lots of wide space, and something to see at every turn.

We would learn that this promenade is a great gathering spot. During the course of the cruise, two parades marched through this area; events were held here; and from the top level, a globe would open to reveal a staircase from which entertainers would be showcased. A fancy car remained parked here for picture-posing, and the Rising Tide Bar - a kind of glass-enclosed elevator in which guests can enjoy cocktails -- begins its journey to other decks from this location.

The Allure of the Seas is noted for its incredible shows and its numerous food venues. Making reservations on line, in advance, is a must, as when you're on a ship this big, things tend to book up fast. I put together a schedule of shows and dinners for our group, months in advance, so we wouldn't miss a thing!

We started with dinner at the Mexican Fiesta, a specialty restaurant with lots of singing, dancing, and dishes served family style. It was great fun. The men received Mexican hats, and the women wore light-up necklaces. In between courses, we were encouraged to enter crazy contests and participate in dance trains around the restaurant. It was one way to get everyone in the party spirit.

Then we moved on to see our first show: "Chicago." It was a good first night.

We had another memorable meal at Giovanni's where the eggplant parmesan was a favorite.

For lunch, I often enjoyed what's called the "healthy" buffet - Solarium, Deck 15 -- where there seemed to be more gourmet options than at the regular buffet. There were also a number of shrimp options - my kind of food. Strawberry flavored water and mango flavored water were nice touches.

The staterooms on this ship are located in neighborhoods. Some of us stayed in the Boardwalk area, a lively place on the same deck as Johnny Rockets, a merry-go-round, hot dog stand, and The Aqua Theater, to name some of the fun. One thing to be aware of when reserving a cabin is that there are ocean view balconies and balconies that overlook the Boardwalk area. We had ocean view ones which I recommend. While it can be fun to overlook the busy Boardwalk area, you will also be privy to the sounds of music and special attractions, which may or may not be exactly what you had in mind.

Another area, Central Park, is lined with shops, restaurants, and benches, including a fun café where the bagels and lox are popular for breakfast. You can get them topped with temptings such as apricot cream cheese, arugula, and fresh tomato. Enjoy them, eating at the tables and chairs in the "park." There are ocean view balconies on this deck as well as balconies that overlook the "park." While this area may be a bit quieter than the Boardwalk, there's still nothing like an ocean view. After all, that's what cruising is all about.

If you're adventurous, zip line across the ship! If you're not, just watch everyone else do it.

The spa is tremendous, and I indulged in a treatment that involved mud, a lime scrub, and tropical rain showers. When I left, my skin was very soft.

The headliner show featured an Elton John impersonator. He was so good, I left feeling like I had seen an Elton John concert.

The OceanAria Show at the Aqua Theater is an amazing display of trapeze artists, divers, and incredible athletics, all taking place in or around the water.

Also not to be missed is the ice show. I smiled with delight from start to finish. Who would ever imagine there would one day be an ice show on a Caribbean cruise ship.

Speaking of ice, while in St. Thomas, I visited a new attraction -- Magic Ice. The owner came all the way from Norway to start this unique ice gallery and ice bar in the Caribbean, which had only opened a month prior. We were supplied with warm hooded coats, gloves, and leg warmers, to walk through a large area featuring ice sculptures. A drink at the ice bar and souvenir glass were included.

In sunny St. Maartin, we went yacht-racing on sail boats that have actually competed in the America's Cup race. Each person is assigned a job. I was hoping to swab the deck so I would stay out of everyone's way. Instead, I was given the job of "navigator." Somehow, we survived. We were happy to have cousin Ron on our team, as he has Coast Guard experience. It's all in good fun, as we are really all in the safe hands of an experienced captain and crew. Some of the jobs do require some muscle. But then, you may get picked to be the bartender. This involves distributing drinks from the cooler.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

The Allure of the Seas
Allure of the Seas

An "Epic" Adventure Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

My journey aboard the second largest cruise ship in the world, the NCL Epic
August 7 - 14, 2010


The NCL Epic fills two voids in the industry: 1) There are shows so appealing, people wait in line to see them; and 2) Solo travelers are welcomed and encouraged to sail. They have state rooms designed just for them, and a "living room" where they can meet and mingle.

ENTERTAINMENT: No question about it, The Epic has the best nightlife at sea. You'd pay top dollar in NYC and Vegas to see "Blue Man Group" and "Legends In Concert". Here, there's no additional charge. Reservations are a must. On other nights at sea, enjoy music at the Fat Cats Blues Club; laugh with performers from the famous Second City; participate in the zaniness of 'Howl with the Moon," and dance nightly at Spice H20, on Deck 15.

There's a piano player at the Martini Bar, musicians in the Atrium, and at other bars throughout the ship. Check out the daily movies shown on the mega screen in the Atrium on Deck 5 -- the biggest screen I have ever seen and could only imagine. When movies are not playing, tranquil snapshots from around the globe are featured, and one can become mesmerized by gazing at the beauty. At other times, this huge screen become a giant Nintendo Wii game. It can be viewed from Deck 6 while you drink and eat at O'Sheehan's, the 24-hour Irish pub.

Spend $15 - $25, and be entertained at the Cirque Dinner Show, where acrobats "fly" from the ceiling. It's a show reminiscent of ones seen in Paris. Opt to go bowling; check out the lounges; or gamble in the largest casino at sea. Slot machines are spread throughout Deck 7.

I had to travel to Stockholm, Sweden to experience an Ice Bar. The Epic has the only Ice Bar at Sea, a must. The seats, the bar, the sculptures, the glasses from which you drink -- all made of ice. For $20 you get two of the coldest vodka drinks in the world. Nonalcoholic drinks are also available. You're provided with a warm, hooded coat and gloves upon entrance.

There's basketball, paddle ball, ice skating, ping pong, rock climbing, interactive Nickelodeon shows, and a tremendous slide by the pool with lots of huge curves and dips, for those who dare.

FOOD: There are 21 different dining options on board, and although I didn't personally count every one of them, I'm not sure if that figure includes the daily chicken wings, fresh fruit, cheese, and small sandwiches I saw by the casino every night. Basically, there's food in every nook and corner. The two main dining rooms are Taste and The Manhattan Room. I preferred the latter because it's a "supper club," where a live band played "Big Band" music, and there was dancing. It's an elegant, sophisticated, setting. Taste, the other main dining room, seemed to be the more informal of the two. They both have the same set menu, traditional fare, such as steak, salmon, and chicken, available all the time. Each night a new entrée, appetizer, salad, and dessert is featured.

There's 24-hour eats at O'Sheehan's, the Irish pub, named after one of NCL's officers. Breakfast is served all the time, as are burgers, mozzarella sticks, corned beef sandwiches, salads, baskets of fries, and many other favorites, all at no cost.

The buffet is behind the main pool, on Deck 15, and the best part is that it's designed so there's no long lines, even for a ship with about 4,000 hungry people. It has everything. Be sure to check out the side buffet stations after 5 p.m. when you can indulge in fresh chocolate or fruit-filled crepes, topped with a mound of real whipped cream. Go all out and add a scoop of ice cream, also available for no additional fee, and it's not limited to soft serve cones. There's plenty of hard ice cream, including varieties such as Rocky Road, Butter Pecan, sherbets, and yogurts. Nuts, chips, and toppings abound.

During the day, the adults only Spice H20 pool, located in back of Deck 15, has its own small salad bar, a convenient option for those who just want a quick bite, and don't want to deal with the pitter, patter, and splatter of children. At night, this pool, beneath a giant, outdoor movie screen, becomes a dance floor, and there's a spectacular light show on the screen above. You can sometimes see yourself up there on this big board, too. Tons of fun.

Other food venues include NCL's traditional steakhouse, Cagney's; Teppanyaki, Japanese; the Chinese Noodle Bar; Churrascaria, Brazilian; LaCucina Italian, and more.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE BATHROOMS AND THE STATEROOMS: You may have heard the buzz about the bathrooms: A "capsule"-enclosed toilet; a second "capsule"-enclosed shower, with frosted glass doors that are a bit "peek-a-boo". Not a problem if you're in an intimate relationship, but what about families and friends? Relax, while it's not the ideal setup, there is a curtain that separates the area from the rest of the room. It does, however, take a bit of planning to use the shower. In between the two "capsules" is the floor in front of the entrance to the cabin, and this area becomes your "dressing room". Hooks are outside the shower 'capsule," but everyone I chatted with, who had this type of room configuration, also used the handle of the cabin door as an extra hook. It's a big unusual, but it's manageable.

The sink in our balcony stateroom was located outside this bathroom area, and can more accurately be described as a "water fountain," as it's not too deep. NCL went with an ultra modern design, and while it's beautiful, it may not be practical. Some of the balcony rooms are also narrow, which doesn't leave much space for walking or suitcase maneuvering. It's important to know that not all staterooms have this same narrow design. I did peek into some of the deluxe balconies that had different configurations and were wider. Again, it's all manageable. Of course, the villas on the top decks are spacious and gorgeous beyond words. They also have their own pool and private eating areas.

I loved the Studios, designed for solo travelers. Although they are small, space is used wisely. The best part is that there's a common living room where you can meet and mingle with other solo travelers. Meeting times were published in the daily activity sheet, and people made plans from there. The living room has its own bar, snacks, and coffee machine. It was the only place on the ship with complimentary cappuccino. Although my understanding was that this area was supposed to be for those in the studios only, no special key was needed to enter, so on our sailing, at least, it was open to all. This may change.

THE INSIDE SCOOP: While it's a mega ship, getting around was relatively easy. Most of the action takes places on decks 5, 6, and 7, and of course, on deck 15, where the pool is. Maps are conveniently located throughout the ship, and they are interactive. For example, you can press a button, and it will tell you where your stateroom is, and how to get there. Note that color-coding is also used. The blue side of the ship means you are closer to the odd-numbered staterooms. If you are seeing orange, you are on the even side.

The technology on board is incredible. You can track your reservations, excursions, and expenses on the television screen in your cabin. You don't have to enter any data -- it's all done automatically. The treadmill is high-tech, too. You can opt to have a "virtual trainer" as you run. The gym and spa area is tremendous. I was on the treadmill every day, and never had to wait for a machine.

It is imperative to make reservations for the shows in advance. The smart thing to do is to book on line when you register your passport information and print out your boarding passes.

I have only touched upon a portion of what this ship offers. You need to see it for yourself. Are you ready for an "Epic" Adventure? Contact me today.

I sailed August 7 - 14, 2010 when the ship was about four weeks old, and this article is meant to provide a broad overview of that particular sailing.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


At Home With Minoso and Oliva Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

For information on how to sail with baseball legends, contact Camille. 917-562-4410

M.S.C. Opera, February 2006:

Minnie Minoso may have missed getting into the Hall of Fame, but he scored a grand slam with us aboard a recent MSC Opera baseball cruise.

We spent the week "at home" with Minoso; and with Tony Oliva, batting champion and Rookie of the Year 1964; Stan Bahnsen, former Yankee pitcher and 1968 Rookie of the Year; Darrell Evans, slugger who was on base when Hank Aaron beat Babe Ruth's homeroom record; Bill Russell, the Dodger who later became their manager; and Dave Campbell, ESPN broadcaster.

While cruising the Caribbean, we attended activities that included question and answer sessions, an interactive pitching clinic, a base running conference, and Storytelling Time during which players revealed some secrets the tabloids and Jim Bouton missed.

Like when the then-single Bahnsen found a young woman with a suitcase waiting for him beside his car. He had to break the news that it wasn't he who had written to her for months, suggesting that they get together. It was an unfunny prank put in motion by some of his less scrupulous teammates.

Or the time Oliva was caught in the shower when he was supposed to be at bat as the Designated Hitter. Hey, these new rules were confusing. He thought he had been the Pinch Hitter.

At the autograph session, players signed baseballs as well as photographs taken by the ship's photographer. Not only are these great remembrances, they are likely to increase in value which is a lot more than can be said about the usual T-shirt souvenirs.

While all the events were fun, nothing beat simple pleasures like getting in a few words with Russell while waiting for the dining room to open, or running on the treadmill beside Evans.

Our cabin was only doors away from Oliva's room so we would bump into him in the corridor, and recognizing us, he'd greet us with, "How you doin' today?"

We also seemed to be on the same exercise schedule as Oliva as we'd see him in the ship's fitness room, too. Perhaps this is one reason why we found Oliva to be the friendliest and most down-to-earth player of the bunch. He enjoyed talking with fellow cruisers, without pretense, a sharp contrast with so many of today's players who don't want to bothered with fans.

Oliva and Minoso shared stories about their humble roots. Both men were born in Cuba, and played ball as kids. When Oliva was "discovered," he thought he would play in the United States for about six months, then go back to Cuba. "If they told me I would never return, I wouldn't have signed on," he said.

As it turned out, The Bay of Pigs is responsible for keeping him here. Oliva said he wasn't picked up by a professional team immediately, and was supposed to return home. But he couldn't be sent back to Cuba, so he ended up joining the Minnesota Twins.

Minoso's story was similar. He grew up on a farm, without electricity. In 1949, he was offered $30,000 to play ball. "I had never seen a $100 bill in my life," he said. But it wasn't about the money. Both he and Oliva said they never imagined they would become professional players. They simply loved to play baseball.

How refreshing to hear these two professional players express their appreciation to our country and to their fans. It renewed my interest in the sport.

There were laughs, too, as Russell and Evans liked to trade banter, frequently knocking the other's performance. As the cruise progressed, we felt comfortable joining the act. When my friend, Howie, told Evans that Russell, who apparently spent a few games warming the bench, had "more splinters in his butt, than Woody Woodpecker," Evans roared. "I'll have to remember to tell him that," he said.

Howie and I laughed all week about how we had felt the wrath of Bahnsen. It started on the first night when our table mate mentioned that she had received an invitation to a cocktail party to meet the players. She was headed there right after dinner, and it was suggested that we join her. We did. We were there only a few minutes, mingling with the players and this small group of insiders, when Bahnsen (we had no idea who he was at the time) said he couldn't find our names on the guest list.

"This is a private party," he said. We were promptly sent back to the bleachers.

There was much reminiscing about how the game had changed. Oliva noted that, "There are not too many inside pitches these days," because umpires warn pitchers so multi-million players are protected. He laughed and said in the old days, players, "used to take out insurance before facing guys like Nolan Ryan who pitched 130 mph. They knew if they got hit by one of those guys, they'd get hurt."

Campbell talked about stealing bases, and said you "wouldn't dare take a lead off of second base" when players like Johnny Bench and Steve Yaeger were on the field. "Those guys would chop your head off," he said. The best base runners are not necessarily those who are the fastest, he said, but those who "anticipate and think."

They talked about the importance of team work and the need to respect all players. While the outstanding hitters get the glory, Evans said, "Defense is a big part of the game. It's not emphasized enough." Yet, it's vital to a team's success.

I was somewhat reluctant to attend the pitching session as I feared public humiliation, and perhaps some embarrassing heat from Bahnsen. It didn't help that the kids went first, and some of them were 3 for 3. Surprisingly, I managed to get one pitch over home plate, but I still felt the sting from striking out with Bahnsen at the cocktail party.

The cruise wasn't all about baseball, of course. We ate, lounged by the pool, played Bingo, ate some more, and saw some of the best shows I've seen in 20 cruises. We visited the ports of Puerto Rico, St. Maartin, and the Dominican Republic.

At the latter, we stumbled across a baseball field, and I took photos of enthusiastic young people at bat. Perhaps I got a shot of the next big player, as our tour guide told us kids are taught, "You either get a college education, or you learn to play baseball."

MSC plans additional baseball cruises, and Bahnsen organizes the events, recruiting players to attend. I confessed to one of his handlers that I've been in love with Tom Seaver since I was 11 years old, and when was he sailing? I was thrilled to learn he is expected to join a future cruise.

Players such as Ralph Kiner, Amos Otis, Bert Campaneris, and Ron Swoboda were on recent sailings. Vita Blue and Tommy Davis are two of the six players expected to be aboard an April 22 cruise.

As past participants, we're now on Bahnsen's mailing list. We'll be informed of future baseball cruises, and can expect an invitation to the next private cocktail party with the players. If you send me an e-mail, I'll let you know when it is, but it would be an "error" to attend without an invite as Bahnsen will throw you right out the game.

Tips: Bring your own baseballs. They were selling on board for $25 each. If you have any baseball cards or photos, bring these as well. A group photo of all players was sold on board for $20.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Carnival Dream Inaugural Event Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

So I was invited to a "christening" last night.

But there was no baby.

Instead, a 130,000-ton ship, the Carnival Dream, was welcomed into the world of cruising, and I was privileged to be among the first to be aboard this gorgeous mega-ship.

Rather than cracking a bottle of champagne against the hull, the ship's godmother, Marcia Gay Harden, swung a bat signed by A-Rod, and confetti exploded from a larger-than-life size bottle of champagne. The festivities were in full swing.

As Carnival says, "You won't have any trouble remembering this Dream." What a way to vacation. The ship is gorgeous, and the spectacular 11-deck atrium, with music, drinks, and entertainment pulsing throughout the ship, is this baby's heartbeat. Italian marble, polished copper, and glistening mirrored panels adorn this wide open space, which means you can be part of the excitement, from just about any level.

I'm usually no fan of ship shows, but the production aboard the Dream is no typical Broadway-tune act. Instead, it's an urban, vibrant, hip, loud, nonstop jumpin', NYC-city, action-packed piece of excitement. I loved it, and from the crowd's standing ovation reaction, so did everyone else. When was the last time you saw that on a cruise ship?

But the fun had only begun. There were two different comedians performing in the ship's comedy club, designed to look just like a club you might find in New York or LA, but much more spacious and comfortable. On this night, there were four different shows. Talk about choices; but even this is only skimming the surface. Throughout the day, the outdoor Seaside Theatre provided entertainment such as a Pink Floyd Laser Show, a Welcome Aboard Laser Show, movies, and concerts featuring performers such as Ray Charles, James Taylor, Tina Turner, and Pavarotti.

Interactive activities such as Laser Tag, sing-alongs, and audience participation events abounded. The Caliente Dance Club was jumpin' with multicolored lights beneath the floor and LED displays creating an atmosphere that was mesmerizing. This ship holds 3,646-passengers, and there's truly something for everyone.

Wait until the kids see the water slide. I'd be afraid to fly through this multi-winding extravaganza! But no doubt, the kids will be thrilled. Carnival says it's the longest waterslide at sea -- more than 300 feet, down four decks. Wow!

The choices for dinner are just as extravagant. I enjoyed a scrumptious dinner of shrimp cocktail, Greek salad, lobster tail and shrimp. For dessert, it was Carnival's signature molten chocolate cake with ice cream and cappuccino. But there was everything you can imagine, and my tablemates and I devoured every drop. As is the trend with all cruises, dining choices abound. If you don't want to eat a big sit-down meal, grab some sushi at the sushi bar, enjoy a fabulous buffet, snack on sandwiches, pizza, an Italian pasta bar, gourmet ice cream, gourmet coffee, and more. It's all there.

Staterooms are spacious, contain flat-screen televisions, and ample closet space. Some of the new deluxe ocean-view staterooms feature cabins with two bathrooms. A limited number of these can accommodate families of five, something that many passengers want, and Carnival has delivered. Beds are very comfortable. There's nightly turndown service, and you'll be greeted each evening by a friendly towel creature and a piece of chocolate. What a wonderful way to end the day.

While we were honored to christen the Dream in New York City, our time with her in our neighborhood was short-lived. The Dream sails from Port Canaveral, Florida, to the Caribbean. For itineraries, dates, and more information about this fascinating new ship, visit www.carnival.com. Then, call us to book your cruise adventure. Don't miss the boat!

Those who attended the inaugural received Carnival souvenir blankets and pillows. I'm already dreaming about my next nights aboard the Dream.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Celebrity Reflection, Eastern Caribbean - Presidents' Week 2015 Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

As our ship pulls into the port of San Juan, a dolphin rises from the ocean to greet us.

It may be brutally cold in New York, but it's eternal summer aboard our annual Presidents' Week cruise. This year we sail the Celebration Reflection to the Eastern Caribbean, enjoying perks such as free booze the whole cruise, shipboard credit, and specialty dining, combined with the luxuries of Concierge and Aqua Class balcony staterooms.

On-board entertainment includes trapeze artists, contortionists, comedians, and very talented Beatles' impersonators who call themselves, "The Fab Four." But the real star is the sun, and lounging poolside beneath it, thaws our winter-weary bones.

As we have been to these Caribbean ports many times, I arrange some new experiences for us. In St. Thomas, a guided walking tour with an historian of Taphus Tours brings to life the 350-year history of Charlotte Amalie. Our guide is the architect of the famous Three Queens statue, erected to honor the women who played an important role in the island's history. Lunch at a local restaurant, shopping time, and transportation to and from the pier is included in the price.

In San Juan I meet with the manager of the beautiful La Concha Hotel in Condado to check out the latest rooms and venues. The area always reminds me of a miniature Las Vegas, as it features one hotel after the next, each with casinos. Restaurants and bars are sprinkled among them. But there's no desert here. Instead, stunning ocean views assure us we are in a tropical paradise.

In St. Martin, I spend the day at the brand new Riu Palace on the French side of the island. The rooms overlook the property's lush gardens. The infinity pool allures, as does the hue of blue sapphire ocean. I have long been a fan of Riu Palace Resorts, and most have the same design, but here the building units remain true to the setup of the Radisson, the resort previously located on these grounds. It's all very boutique-like with just under 250 rooms, complimentary Wi-Fi included.

One of the highlights of the week is being invited to the private St. Martin sail away party on the helicopter launch pad aboard the ship, an area normally off limits to guests. We mingle with officers and fellow passengers as the ocean unfolds before us.

Celebrity serves lobster tail twice in the main dining room, one time more than it usually does, a real treat. We also dine at four specialty restaurants, each with a steep cover charge, but the cost is covered, in part, by our shipboard credit:

Murano - my favorite. This small venue offers French food and impeccable service. Meals are prepared table side. And yes, I eat lobster here for a third time this week.

The Lawn Grill - This outdoor venue at the top of the ship is lots of fun. For starters, you can make your own pizza, tossing it into the air beside the expert. Guests get to watch and cheer for you. I take on the task, creating a delicious pesto pie, cooked crisp and light, thanks to the pizza maker who over sees the cooking process. Steaks, chops, and fish are grilled here, and you can mix and match what you like.

Tuscan Grill - Italian fare. At one time it offered a huge, help-yourself antipasto buffet - all before you even got to look at the menu. That's what I was expecting, so it was a bit disappointing to discover that wasn't the situation, at least not on this sailing.

Quisine - Start with an iPad, and press the photos of the items you would like to try. It's a fun feast of small plates, but some aren't so small. It's the presentation that makes it unique. Spring rolls bounce from actual springs, and chocolate covered strawberries are on long sticks, protruding from imaginary gardens.

While on board, most of us booked same time, next year. I always ask: Why shovel snow when you can shovel sand?

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Sail away part on the helicopter launch pad
aboard the Celebrity Reflection

Celebrity Silhouette Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Celebrity Cruise Line describes itself in two words: "modern luxury."

It's an accurate description. The Silhouette is a beauty - ultra modern decor, stunning artwork, and a level of sophistication and service that's intuitive, rather than intrusive.

When you board, you're not sold a drink - you are provided with a drink, setting the tone for an experience reminiscent of the time when it was understood that cruising was about the journey, not the destination.

I can't remember the last cruise I was on where high-end chocolates were at your disposal, for the taking. But here, at one of my favorite spots aboard the Silhouette - the Cafe al Bacio - you can enjoy gourmet chocolates, each wrapped in a piece of cellophane, presented and labeled - dark cocoa, almond, honey, and framboise. There are cappuccinos for purchase (but they are included when you have the beverage package), and take it from this Starbucks' fan, these specialty coffee drinks - both hot and cold - are masterpieces that taste as mouth-wateringly delicious as they look. One of the options includes a scoop of chocolate gelato, bathing in espresso, presented in a clear martini glass. Or, enjoy Forte tea, served in a teapot, green leaf peeking from the top of the pot. Sitting here, chatting with fellow passengers about everything and anything, defines the art of cruising.

When it's 5 pm, head to the Molecular Bar, an experience not to be missed. Drinks are exquisite works of art, created with fresh fruit and herbs by a master mixologist. Many are served, topped with liquid nitrogen so they are presented while smoking, a picture-taking opportunity, during which everyone passing by the bar, wants "one of those." (see photo below). There are so many drinks, both on and off the menu, that are served smoking, each more intriguing than the next, that you'll want to sample them all. I tried many - and am glad I have a 12-day Adriatic sailing on the horizon aboard this same ship - so I can try the rest. My two favorites so far - the Cazarita, a margarita-like drink, topped with guava-chipotle foam, fresh salt-infused herbs wrapped round the rim; and a fresh apple martini, with its sheet of ice for a top coat, after the nitrogen disappears. The more adventuresome may prefer ginger-infused mojitos; fresh watermelon, cut into chunks before your eyes, and muddled with top-shelf spirits; 20-year-old Scotch martinis; and the award-winning "Coming Up Roses," with fresh rose petals. Each drink is a burst of natural flavors, making these concoctions filling and refreshing.

Another hotspot is the martini bar, with its refrigerator-frosty bar top, that keeps drinks icy cold. For Etch-a-Sketch type fun, join fellow travelers and write messages on the icy bar top.

For the beer drinkers, Michael's Club serves about 70 beers from around the globe, and has its own beer sommelier.

There are a number of specialty restaurants, and we were a group of 8, dining at Murano. We had a table the size and style of the type you see in the movies, inside our own private alcove. It was a 3-hour feast, during which entrees like lobster and Dover sole, were prepared table-side. Yes, you could say we did a bit of eating and drinking this cruise.

Food in the main dining room was also excellent, and the buffet contained everything, including ice cream, where we were free to help ourselves to toppings such as m and m's, m and m's with peanuts, jelly beans, and more - even without the ice cream.

There's something about cruising - steel band playing Bob Marley tunes telling you not to worry; the ocean stretched out ahead; the massive ship, not even a pinhead on the sea - that puts everything in perspective, providing you with the opportunity to regenerate and renew. I love it.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Photo I took of one of the incredible drinks at the Molecular Bar:
drink at Molecule Bar

Costa Victoria Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Costa Victoria, February 2002:

My 16-year-old daughter and I just recently returned from a Presidents' Day Cruise aboard the Victoria. Although I've sailed on about a dozen cruises, this was my first one aboard Costa. I knew very little about the ship, except for what I had briefly read on websites. We chose Costa because it had space available at the last minute, and the Dominican Republic port was one we hadn't yet visited. We were pleasantly surprised with the experience.

I was very satisfied with the daily homemade pasta, fresh baked bread, salads, and desserts. Daily lunch buffets didn't offer huge selections, but I was content to make a meal of the salads, fresh fruits, breads, and desserts. Among the notable surprises, regarding the food: shrimp was offered several times on the menu: cocktail-style, on salads, and on spaghetti, with mussels and clams. At the sit-down breakfast, cappuccino was served, but patrons had to purchase it at other times. It's European style -- heavy on the foam; no whipped cream. During 4 p.m. tea time, there's a huge selection of loose tea. Guests select from among a variety of flavors, and a server scoops the choices into tea sleeves. Try a different one every day. I can still smell the scent of the honey tea as approached the area. It was so relaxing -- and delicious.

The animation staff aboard the ship was quite good. Several -- like Rafael -- were so enthusiastic about entertaining and involving guests, there's no doubt they enjoy their work. When the staff is this enthusiastic, it's contagious, and this made the ship a lot of fun. One of the events was an Italian Street Fair. This was unique and enjoyable. We played games like Pizza Tossing, and won small prizes.

Granted, we were just delighted to soak up the sun when New York City was buried in 24 feet of snow, but I brought a ton of reading material with me, and didn't get to make much of a dent. This is because I was too busy participating in activities. My daughter received a free "makeover," having been selected to appear on stage, "before" and "after." She also won the Miss Teen Costa Contest. She is extremely outgoing, and made lots of friends, as she always does on cruises. This was a school holiday, so there were a number of teachers and youngsters on board. Many guests were from Europe, and I enjoyed the ambiance. In particular, I chatted with a number of people from London who also had a school holiday.

The spa area is gorgeous, and I enjoyed relaxing there. Regarding the spa treatments, I purchased a facial and massage "Spa Tester" combination for $99, a package recommended by the people at the spa. My appointment was for a sea day -- a Thursday. The very next day, the spa offered the same package for $70. When I complained, I was told there was nothing that could be done. This certainly doesn't seem fair, but you might consider planning your "Spa Tester" for the Friday before the cruise ends. Also, we attended the spa lectures, and received discount coupons. Some were for $10 off various treatments.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Cruise to Alaska Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Dear Teacher,

Like you, I work in education which means I have summers off with full pay and time to travel!

Every year my traveling companion generously allows me to chose our vacation destination, but after he suffered a severe sunburn in Key West two years ago and he sweated buckets while we toured the Mayan ruins in the jungles of Mexico in 110-degree heat last summer, his one request for this year's vacation was: "Let's go somewhere cold!"

Kiddingly, he said, "I want to go to Alaska and stay in an igloo!"

So when I read about a half-fare cruise to Alaska, this sounded ideal. We would be staying on a luxury cruise liner -- not an igloo -- but the temperatures in Alaska were expected to be in the 60's and 70's, which was a lot cooler than the Sahara Desert where I longed to visit. We booked the trip.

Getting there was NOT half the fun. First we flew to Detroit, Michigan where we made a connection to Seattle, Washington, and finally on to Anchorage, Alaska, where cruise personnel met us at the airport to inform us that (surprise!) we had to endure a 3-hour bus ride to Seward where our ship was docked.

Before stepping on the ship, we had traveled for 19 hours! But, teacher, I used my time wisely. I got to read three Shakespeare plays for the independent research course I was taking, watched the movie, "Heavyweights," ate airline food, and still had to panic with other passengers who were pondering if our numerous plane delays would cause us to miss the ship. (Next time I know to arrive early and enjoy a land stay in Alaska before the cruise).

Of course, my companion complained that I had spent "too much damn time" with my head in a book. So what else was new? On one of our planes he was thrilled to have the middle seat, sandwiched between me taking notes on Shakespeare, and a twenty something-year-old who was taking notes from a book on how to be a more assertive woman.

As it turned out, the ship, scheduled to sail at 9 p.m., had delayed taking off, waiting for about 70 of us to arrive from the east coast. We finally stepped on board the ship, exhausted and starving, at 10:30 p.m., Alaska time, 2:30 a.m. New York time.

Alaska was beautiful, teacher, and the trip was educational, too. In the port of Valdez (pronounced Valdeez) we toured the Alaska Pipeline, and I was surprised to learn that in just 10 more years, there will be no oil left. Then the pipeline, which cost about $9.4 billion dollars to put together, must be completely taken apart and the area "returned to nature," our tour guide told us. As 25% of American's oil comes from the pipeline, I'm wondering what will happen when the well is dry.

We also visited the port of Skagway, a gold-rush town with a population of 714. Believe it or not, there are no house addresses in Skagway. Our tour guide told us that people say they live "in the blue house across the street from the green church."

They don't seem to be too concerned about overcrowded schools or budget cuts in Skagway. Four students graduated from the one high school last June -- and the school received a federal grant of $6 million, our tour guide told us. But before you pack your bags, teacher, keep in mind that you'll have to travel two hours if you want to go to a movie theater, pay $4.64 for a gallon of milk, and endure only 6 hours of sunlight in the winter.

In Juneau, Alaska's capital, our ship docked in the ocean and we took a "tender" to shore. At the dock we saw workers packaging cartons of huge salmon. It was cold and rainy in Juneau, so we kept warm by drinking at the Red Dog Saloon with some of the waiters from our ship.

The last port we saw was Ketchican, one of the rainiest cities in the world. Our tour came complete with umbrellas, and what they call "window defoggers," but we call paper towels. A sign in the city says, "If you can't see the top of the mountain, it must be raining. If you can see the top of the mountain, it will be raining soon."

Ketchican is also the Totem Pole Capital of the World, and we visited a native Indian village. I touched a totem pole with an inscription that read, "money will pass through your hands within 24 hours." I figured they meant money would leave my hands, but the next day I won $225 playing Bingo on the ship.

As we traveled along the ocean, teacher, we sailed along side mountains that looked like they were sending smoke signals, but the mountains were actually stretching through the clouds. We also sailed by giant glaciers and it felt so strange to look through my camcorder's viewfinder and read a July date while I froze taking pictures of huge chunks of blue ice floating all around use.

I've cruised before, teacher, and this ship was not as luxurious as other cruise ships I've been on. We had to change our cabin because the air conditioning was broken and there was no ventilation in our airtight compartment. In the new cabin, we discovered a butter knife and some cardboard were holding the bed together, the toilet didn't flush properly, and as we were on the Bridge Deck, whenever the ship blew a stack of smoke, the room smelled like something was burning.

The food was not what I expected. Of course, we didn't starve. There was breakfast, soup time, lunch, tea time, cocktail time, dinner, and the midnight buffet. It was the qualify of the food that was disappointing. For example, I looked forward to dining on lobster tail, but on the one day when lobster was on the menu, our 30-year-old waiter warned us that the lobster was "just slightly older" than he was. I ordered it anyway as did several others at our table, and every one of us sent it back.

As for the entertainment on board, tired of hearing the Fox Trot, I once shouted at the band: "Don't you guys know how to play The Twist?" The youngest member of the band just laughed. The Fox Trot continued.

Fortunately, our trip home did not take as long as our arrival. The ship docked in Vancouver, Canada where they put us on a 3 1/2 hour bus ride, this time to Seattle, Washington. At Seattle, we boarded a plane to Pittsburgh. There we caught another plane to LaGuardia. Again, teacher, I used my time wisely. I got to read the cliff notes from all the Shakespeare plays I read on the way over.

We left Alaska on a day when it was 40-something degrees and arrived in New York the Saturday it was 103 degrees. Summer was back.

But it was a good thing I went on the cruise when I did, teacher. The next Saturday, as the ship was sailing along the exact route I had just been on, it caught fire. All the passengers and crew had to abandon ship in the middle of the ocean. Maybe you saw it on television. Luckily, no one was hurt.

And that's how I spent my summer vacation.

Update: I hope this article suggests that while not every aspect of every vacation is "perfect," the overall experience can still be a good one.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Cruise The Panama Canal Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Cruise the Panama Canal aboard Holland America's Rotterdam. (Written in 2002; some information about this cruise has changed since then).

My 17-year-old daughter and I went on the 10-day Panama Canal cruise aboard the Rotterdam in April. I've been on 14 cruises; three this year, and my experience aboard the Rotterdam was the best since the days of caviar every day aboard the Oceanic (some 30 years ago).

The efficient staff went out of its way for us. For example, personnel remembered our favorite cappuccino drinks (which are FREE, unlike on other ships that nickel and dime you to death). They remembered that we enjoy cheese as an appetizer, rather than dessert, and had it waiting for us at the dinner table -- even when we changed tables. They made it a point to learn our names -- and remember them.

When my eyeglasses broke on a sea day, the staff got needle and thread and fixed them for me. We sat with the ship's doctor and his family for dinner, and they were gracious, friendly, wonderful people. We had a ball with them.

The cabins are tremendous for a cruise ship, even at the lower decks. This is because the Rotterdam sails around the world. There's plenty of closet space. Some cabins even have bathtubs! The ship is immaculate.

The Panama Canal was breathtaking -- an experience to treasure for a lifetime. The highlight was sailing through the canal at 5 a.m. aboard the ship, watching the sun rise. I got some beautiful photos. We also toured the Costa Rica rainforest and rode a train from one end of Panama to the next. This itinerary also included a stop in Aruba.

The lunch buffet was so big, we never once bothered to go to the sitdown lunch. It contained everything imaginable -- besides a variety of different hot foods every day, there was a sandwich area where we could get any type of bread and filling we desired, and a pasta station where fresh pasta was cooked every day. For dessert, there were four different cordials to top off ice cream -- or add to the cappuccinos - all free.

We were always told that Holland America was noted for its "older" crowd, yet my 17-year-old agreed it was one of the best cruise she's had ever been on. It's for people who appreciate cruising as a learning and growing experience. There were lectures on board about the building of the Canal which provided insight and added to the adventure.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Uniworld River Cruise to Normandy Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Many believe Normandy refers to the beaches where so many soldiers lost their lives during World War ll. Actually, Normandy encompasses an area of Northern France, and on a Uniworld River cruise to this destination, you can tour the landing beaches and beyond, connecting history and reality.

We toured the beaches of Sword, Juno, Gold, and Omaha, where the largest sea invasion in history took place. The mission started when the allies brought seventeen battle ships and deliberately blew them up, to create the foundation of a port. One hundred and fifteen football-sized cement blocks were towed across the channel, to create this port, the size of Dover. Remnants of these cement blocks remain in the rough waters of Sword Beach. Bunkers are also in the region, which we explored, guns still intact. Only a year ago, a resident discovered a helmet while tending to backyard gardening.

A tall abstract sculpture, with razor-like imagery sits on Omaha beach, commemorating the many who lost their lives here. It's designed to create a feel for the strong, soaring lives, which were cut down far too soon.

We visited the cemetery which is maintained by the United States government. Each of us was provided with a fresh flower to place on a soldier's grave. I walked deep amid the endless rows of single white crosses, thinking that the graves further away from the main area might not get as many flowers. I passed by each cross, reading the names inscribed, not sure where to lay my rose. When I saw the name of a fellow New Yorker, private John E. Carroll, it seemed like the right spot.

Our journey also took us to Rouen, to see the site where Joan of Arc, and many others, were burned at the stake. An incredibly modern church, so uniquely designed, is dedicated to her, sitting right in the middle of the town square, next to a tiny merry-go-round and across the street from France's oldest inn. Some say the church is designed to look like a medieval dragon. I have seen enough European churches to last a lifetime, but this was something different. I grew up reading stories about Joan of Arc, and it's so enlightening to experience places I once only read about in books.

In Les Andelys, located 60 miles from Paris, we climbed a huge hill to see the remains of Richard the Lionheart's castle. The sweeping views overlooked the beautiful Seine River, and our Uniworld ship.

Life on board a Uniworld cruise is a 5-star luxury experience. The ship sailed from Paris, through French towns along the Seine, so culinary expectations were high, and Uniworld delivered - French pastries, croissants, rich chocolate, homemade ice cream, French cheeses and wines, fresh vegetables, and mouthwatering breads. Ooohlala.

Options were plentiful, and the chef was right there, among the guests, asking if needs were being met. Lunch one afternoon included a raw seafood extravaganza of shrimp and oyster; mussels cooked in wine sauce; French fries; and the chef himself serving - and insisting everyone try - his homemade, piping hot cauliflower soup. It was delicious, and as Normandy is a cool, windy destination, it was most welcome. Breakfast was an endless array, including belgium waffles with the thickest chocolate fudge sauce you can imagine, and fresh whipped cream. Wine was served with lunch and dinner. Coffee, tea, and cappuccino were available throughout the day.

There were only 67 guests aboard my sailing. Half were part of a group of lawyers, judges, and doctors from Australia; the rest were Americans, all well-traveled professionals. On this journey, I traveled by myself; but I never felt alone. One of the great pleasures of traveling is the people you meet along the way, and when you venture out into the world sans a companion, opportunity often knocks for you to meet many. Whiling away the hours, chatting with fellow guests in the lounge, defines the art of river cruising.

After every tour, staff members were at the gangway, welcoming our return with beverages and damp cloths. The Captain was often there, greeting us, mingling among the guests. On two nights, I was privileged to sit at the Captain's table for dinner, a formality that many of the large cruise ships no longer practice.

Our voyage took us to Honfleur, a fishing village, laden with quaint shops and restaurants.

We also toured the Palace of Versailles and gardens, home to King Louie the fourteenth and Marie Antoinette. It was crowded with tourists, and it was here I learned that the term "voila" can be to the French what "yada, yada, yada" is to New Yorkers. It was when our tour guide said, "We had tickets for 11:15, but we were late, so they told me they couldn't accommodate us, but I smiled....and voila, we are here."

The cruise started and ended in Paris, making it possible to spend days before or after the cruise, enjoying famous sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arch of Triumph, or reveling in people-watching from a French cafe.

On Saturday night I attended the famous Moulin Rouge theater, located in Montmarte. The fast-paced show - a series of skits - features acrobats, comedy, and the can-can dancers. The dinner show included three courses, half a bottle of wine, and a glass of champagne. We were squeezed at a small, crowded table - but such is life at a Paris cabaret, where people from all over the world come to hear the music play. Voila.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Omaha Beach
Omaha Beach

What's the difference between a river cruise and a cruise aboard an ocean liner? Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Lots! Make sure you know before you go.

.. Destinations -- On a river cruise, you'll see small port towns that you won't be able to visit when you travel aboard an ocean liner. That's because these small port towns simply can't accommodate huge ships. So if you've been to many of the big port stops, this is an opportunity to explore some unique cities and town which are just beautiful.

Activities -- You probably won't find Broadway-type shows, comedians, or a casino aboard most river cruises. Still, this may be just fine, as you might be exhausted from touring all day long. Sight-seeing is comprehensive. Right after breakfast, you'll probably be on your first tour of the day. Then, it may be back to the ship for lunch, followed by more touring. When you're back again, it's time to get ready for dinner. You may wish to get a good night's sleep before starting all over again the next day. Still there will probably be a musician in the lounge, if you'd like a nightcap before bed.

. Getting Around -- Bring your sneakers. If you're touring Europe, there's always a lot of walking. Some tours are right in the town where you dock. Other times, a tour bus may pick you up. Sometimes, the ship sails to the next port, while you're off touring -- and the tour bus takes you to the ship at the end of the day! River cruising is an ideal way to travel for those who want to explore a number of destinations, without the bother of packing and unpacking.

. Food -- Don't expect as many options as on the big ships. There might be choices such as vegetarian, chicken, meat, or pasta. Food comes from the local towns, so there's lots of fresh fare. On the AMA Waterways cruise I was on, we were offered several choices for dinner, and there was a table of local cheeses as well. For lunch, a buffet-style salad bar was available daily, and items could also be ordered from a menu. Breakfast featured an array of items, buffet-style, including made-to-order eggs. There were also a handful of menu options, such as oatmeal.

. Freebies -- River cruising may look more expensive, but when comparing the costs, remember this: On a river cruise, daily, extensive tours are almost always included in the price you pay upfront. Think of how much you pay for tours after a week-long cruise on an ocean liner, then compare costs. Many river cruises include local beer and wine with dinner every night. Again, think of your bar bill, then compare costs. Bottled water was in our room everyday, no charge, as was our own computer, complete with complimentary Internet access. That's a substantial savings.

. Embarkation -- If you're visiting Europe, you'll probably arrive early in the morning, be picked up by the cruise line at the airport, and brought to the lounge of the ship. But your stateroom may not be ready until the afternoon, so don't plan to take a nap. Make the most of your time touring the city of embarkation. Pack so you won't be burdened by huge carry-on bags. Wear comfortable shoes, and leave large suitcases with the cruise line, so you can explore on your own.

Age range -- Generally speaking, river cruising attracts a middle-aged to older crowd. Take the kiddies somewhere else.

Fun Facts:

-- In Amsterdam, there were so many river cruises in port, we got to walk through other ships to board our vessel. It's called, "right of passage," and it's one way to get to see some of the other ships out there.

-- We had a "French Balcony" stateroom. That's a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door, with a rail, that opens up, so you can feel the fresh air, and see the world...but there is no outdoor seating area, as the name may imply. Interestingly, because of the passages these river cruises take, as you travel, your balcony stateroom may sometimes provide you with a view of a solid wall.

-- On the other hand, you will also travel close to the pier. So close, people can be standing right in front of your floor-to-ceiling French balcony. Keep this in mind when you open the curtains first thing in the morning.

To book your cruise, contact "Commodore" Camille.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Mediterranean Cruise Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Cruisin' is the best way to see the world!

I just returned from a Mediterranean cruise aboard the Ruby Princess.

The summer's adventure started in Rome where we spent two nights touring independently, via the hop-on, hop-off bus. It ended in Venice, where we stayed two nights at the Bauer, enjoying a magnificent breakfast on the patio each morning, overlooking the canal, absorbing the sights and sounds of gondolas, water taxis, and storybook views. In between, we cruised for 12 nights, to ports in Italy, Monte Carlo, and many of the Greek Islands. The weather throughout the trip was hot, sunny, and cloud-free.

In Rome, we stayed at the Cicerone, a smart move for many reasons. This was a hotel Princess used for their pre-cruise tours, and although I made our own arrangements for less money, we still had access to the Princess hospitality desk. As a result, we were able to catch the transfer to the ship here, and enjoyed "advance check-in" to the ship. The hotel is located about a 20-minute walk from the Vatican, where we picked up the hop-on bus each day. Shopping and restaurants surround the area.

What's striking about Rome is that it so clean. Not a stray piece of paper, despite outdoor cafes and crowds. A beautiful city. We explored all the famous spots of Rome -- the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Spanish Steps, the Roman Forum, and much more. The food in Italy was incredible. We enjoyed the creamiest ice cream at a lovely little shop by the Trevi Fountain. For dinner, we discovered a wonderful restaurant on the Via Veneto, where we ate spaghetti covered with the most tender white clams you can imagine, and fried calamari of the caliber that you can only find in Europe. I had time to shop for a pair of buttery-leather sandals and thick bars of soap made in Tuscany before catching the transfer to the pier.

On our first night aboard the ship, I won a free back and neck massage for attending an event at the ship's spa. Insiders' tip: Always attend the giveaway sessions on every cruise, especially the ones that take place on the first day. Many people don't know about them, or are too busy doing other things. Therefore, the odds are in your favor.

Our first stop aboard the ship was Monte Carlo, and I purposely chose this itinerary to re-visit this destination where yachts and Porsches are the norm. There's nothing like having breakfast on the balcony of your stateroom while enjoying a view that's all sky, mountains, and crystal blue water. Monte Carlo is an amazing place, and because the south of France is a mere stone-throw away, we also toured Nice. I could be very happy living at either destination forever, where the only decision some people seem to make is whether to indulge in a chocolate croissant or a "pot of chocolate." I had both, and devoured every drop.

The next day we were on a horse and carriage ride, through the vineyards of Tuscany, on a wine-tasting tour. The wine in Europe is the best -- it's also a great buy. Two good-quality bottles for 10 euros -- around $15, and we are allowed to bring them on board the ship.

On to Naples, home of my grandparents. We toured the Amalfi Coast, again enjoying breath-taking views that are among the best in the world. We stopped at Sorrento where we saw pasta in every color of the rainbow. Some were multi-colored pieces of art. The highlight was lunch at the Grand Hotel Tritone in Praiano, at a restaurant located high atop the mountains. We indulged in homemade lasagna, chicken parm, wine, and good conversation with fellow shipmates, fantasizing about how we all planned to return to stay at this hotel, with its marble floors, priceless view, and pool that appeared to be built right into the mountain. I have all the contact information.

Amalfi is known for its lemoncello, produced from lemons the size of melons. Again, what a buy, despite our unfavorable conversion rate. As a chocoholic, I especially enjoyed the chocolate lemoncello. Just incredible.

One of my favorite parts of any cruise is a sea day so I can partake in all the ship's activities. I am happy to report I am still the undefeated hula-hoop queen, having secured my title, once again, aboard this sailing, earning a bottle of champagne. I discovered a number of perks on board this European cruise that were not offered when I sailed the Ruby to the Caribbean: ice cream by the pool was complimentary every day; all the desserts at the International Cafe were complimentary, except for the gelato; the sushi and tapas at the wine bar were gratis. Some of the cheese seemed to be of European quality.

When I turned my Blackberry on at our next port of call -- Santorini, Greece -- the date read October 2002, and none of my emails were showing up. It was like an episode from the Twilight Zone. Also, my eyeglasses had broken the night before, so I was experiencing a technical and visual meltdown. No trip is flawless, but things always have a way of working out. While touring Santorini, I stumbled across an eyeglass store, and purchased a gorgeous pair of designer frames for about 1/2 the price I would have paid here. My new glasses were ready in an hour, and they were beautiful. I figured out how to change the date on my Blackberry, and while the old emails weren't showing up, new ones were coming in. Life looked "normal" again.

Santorini is an island that is the remains of a volcano. The only way up is via cable car; on a donkey's back; or by climbing an endless array of steps, in scorching heat, along side the donkey trail. Insider's tip: Take the cable car. We met several people who were injured during the climb. The steps were very slippery, and laden with donkey deposits. Some passengers were in casts the rest of the cruise. Another tip: Always purchase travel insurance.

Kusadasi, Turkey was the next destination; my second visit to this exotic place. I was so impressed with the ancient ruins of Ephesus the first time, that I arranged for a private tour this time. We had our own mini-bus, with our names on it, and our own guide. While the other tourists were listening to a sales pitch from the carpet guy, we were enjoying a more extensive tour. My agency can make these arrangements for you as well.

Later, we shopped the bazaars, and had fun negotiating the best buys for pashminas, scarves, and an endless array of merchandise. There are always good buys in Turkey. We enjoyed treats known as "Turkish delights," especially the ones that are a cross between a marshmallow and taffy, wrapped around chocolate or cherry flavors, and rolled in coconut. Insider's Tip: Buy the boxed ones to bring home as gifts, but be sure to visit the store that makes the fresh ones. They are far superior to the boxed, but purchase only what you can eat in a few days, because like all things fresh and delicious, they don't last forever.

Next stop: Mykenos, Greece. We walked along the area known as "Little Venice" where the ocean is so close to the restaurants, people actually get splashed while eating. We lingered over frappes, a coffee enjoyed throughout Greece, and saw people climb right on to the rocks, from their tables at the restaurants, and drop into the ocean.

When we arrived in Pireaus, Greece, I skipped the tour of Athens because I had already spent considerable time there. Instead, I explored the port area, a place I had not been. We found an out-of-the-way bakery where the locals shop, and enjoyed crisp, delicious baklava, bursting with nuts. Closer to the tourist area, I came across a woman wearing a Yankees' baseball cap. She was from Holland, and had purchased the hat there. There's a bit of New York everywhere in the world.

In Katakolon, Greece, we toured the ruins in Olympia, the site where the ancient Olympics were held, and where Zeus, god of the Olympics, was worshipped. Some tourists ran the track that still exists today. I merely put my foot on the starting line, as it was about 100 degrees in the shade, and the track was in the sun. During ancient times, women were forbidden to go to the Olympics. Death was the punishment. Men entered naked, showing off their athletic forms.

Our last stop in Greece was Corfu, where we attended a cooking class, and were served Uzo and wine at about 9:50 a.m. We noted that it was really about 5 p.m., New York time, so it was okay to drink up. This was a big eating day. Besides this Greek feast, it was Formal Night aboard the ship. As past guests of Princess, we were invited to a special cocktail party. A lobster dinner was being served in the dining room that night. I feared I would have to exit the ship, wearing only a Princess bathrobe.

A highlight of this cruise was that famous marine life artist, Wyland, was on board, mingling with guests, throughout the trip. We witnessed an industry first by seeing him paint a masterpiece at the bottom of the Ruby Princess Neptune Pool. His stateroom was located exactly two decks below ours, and we would often see him on the balcony, snapping photos.

Our massive vessel made a grand entrance through the canals of Venice, receiving a warm welcome, as we were greeted by dozens of speedboats and ships, all excited about our arrival. We docked overnight in Venice, allowing guests time to get out and explore this beautiful city.

We disembarked the next day, with suitcases full of clean clothes, as one of the perks of being an "elite" member of Princess is complimentary laundry service throughout the ship. I could have easily sailed for another 12 days, but the good news was that our vacation wasn't over yet. We had two nights at the Bauer Hotel to look forward to.

We purchased the transfer from Princess, a smart move, because they made arrangements for our luggage to be sent directly to the hotel. We simply hopped on a smaller boat, with other guests, to make our way over to the main part of Venice, and we walked from there to our hotel, a nice little walk, across several bridges. Insider's Tip: Take the transfer option, if it is offered. Here's why: A common sight throughout Venice is people dragging their luggage up and down steps across the many bridges that connect the city, through the streets of Venice, in unbearable heat, to get to their hotels. You better be packing light or in great shape to manage this feat.

While in Venice, we listened to live music being played at St. Marc's Square every night, and enjoyed a serenaded gondola ride. Once again, I was happy I had booked the gondola ride in advance, via my agency, as the price of a gondola ride in Italy can be expensive.

The Bauer Hotel is in a great location, just a short walk from St. Marc's, and is considered one of the best hotels in Venice. The lobby is magnificent, as is the breakfast which has everything you could imagine, including champagne. The best part is that you can dine outdoors, overlooking all the excitement taking place along the Grand Canal. Our "superior" room was still a bit small, as is the situation with many European hotels. Still, my Insider's Tip is to stay at a hotel in the vicinity of St. Marc's Square. Here's why: Hotels in this area may be a bit more expensive, but you can walk to most of the tourist attractions. As it can be expensive to take a water taxi, you probably won't save much money in the long run, and nothing beats the convenience of being where the action is.

It cost us $150 to take a water taxi from our hotel to the airport to return home, a big expense. But unless you're very young, traveling with a tote bag, or perhaps a body builder looking for an incredible workout, it's worth every penny. Consider it another adventure. How many people can say they've sail across the canals of Venice in a speedboat?

If you are interested in taking a Mediterranean cruise, touring a Venice, Rome, staying at the Grand Hotel Tritone, Bauer, Cicorone, or any of the other destinations or tours mentioned in this article, please contact me to make arrangements.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes.  Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Norwegian Breakaway Inaugural Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

I was over the moon - literally and figuratively - to have been aboard the inaugural of the Norwegian Breakaway, where the hull of the ship is designed with Peter Max's distinctive astrological artwork.

New Yorkers, our ship has come in. It's hip and it's happening. I loved the gritty "Rock of Ages" Broadway production. Some say it's too edgy for a cruise ship show. I say this is New York's Broadway, baby. "Mary Poppins" plays elsewhere.

This ship's got New York attitude. I did kicks with the Rockettes - the ship's godmothers -- and dined at Geoffrey Zakarian's Ocean Blue restaurant. I met the Iron Chef himself as well as Buddy the Cake Boss whose incredible cakes and pastries are aboard. Then I ate a surf and turf dinner at the Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy show where acrobats thrilled the audience.

You can also grab a hot dog from the Sabrett cart; walk the plank of the pool; slide through tunnels galore; climb the rock wall and ropes.

Like New York, this ship has night life: Howl with the Moon, dueling piano bar; Headliner's comedy cellar; a Jazz club; the "Burn the Floor" Latin dance show; even an Ice Bar. The Tina Turner tribute rocks the boat.

Pack your 80s attire, so you'll be "in vogue" for the party at Spice H2O outdoor club. Dance while a giant screen provides a light show. Afterwards, there's live fireworks.

New Yorkers love to dine - and they want variety. There are 27 different restaurants on board. Eleven require no additional cover charge, including The Manhattan Room, a supper club, that features a live band and nightly dancing. Other venues include Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, French, Italian, American, seafood, a raw bar, and sushi. There's 24-hours of buffalo wings and bar bites at O'Sheehan's Irish Pub. And, this ship has introduced outdoor gourmet dining along the Waterfront, so you can catch those dazzling sunsets at sea.

Talk about glorious sights - when you sail from New York, you'll pass the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and you'll cruise beneath the magnificent Verrazano Bridge.

"Journey" to Bermuda where you'll spend three days docked on the island. Then, you'll cruise back to the Big Apple, so you can hop the subway home. If you live in New York, where this ships sails each week, there's no need to pay for air, so splurge by staying in a luxurious Haven suite, where you can enjoy concierge service, an intimate pool and hot tub, private dining, priority boarding, and more.

Single? Join the party. There are studios for one - and you can meet and mingle with other solo travelers in a separate area designed for this purpose.

Norwegian has thought of it all. Looking ahead, the Breakaway will be sail to the Bahamas and Florida, as well as do a couple of longer sailings from New York to numerous Caribbean Islands.

Who's ready to rock with me?

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Norwegian Breakaway

Norwegian Getaway Inaugural Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

There are few things more exciting than sailing aboard a new cruise ship - and what an honor it was to be invited to the inaugural of the Norwegian Getaway!

It was an opportunity to explore a fabulous new ship, and to mingle with top Norwegian executives, all on board for the celebration.

The Getaway shares many of the same features of its sister ship, the Breakaway, but rather than duplicating the Breakaway's New York theme, the Getaway capitalizes on what makes its home port of Miami unique, offering some Latino flair. One of the bars is called the Sugarcane Mojito, with cocktails such as the Coco Mojito and a few spicy concoctions.

All Norwegian ships have distinguished hulls, and this one is of a colorful mermaid, hair flowing and ruby-red lips. The figure was painted by artist Lebo, whom I met on board.

What is called The Manhattan Room on the Breakaway is called The Tropicana Room on the Getaway. It's still the same wonderful supper club, with live music nightly, one of the dining venues offered at no charge. But don't expect to see the Manhattan skyline décor - instead there's Miami panache.

Another unique feature is The Grammy Experience. This venue contains original clothing from Grammy Award winning artists such as The Jackson Five. Actual Grammy Awards are displayed. You can stroll through the exhibit at any time. In the evening, a Grammy-Award winner performs live. Nestor Torres, jazz flautist, performed when I was there.

As on the Breakaway, Buddy the "Cake Boss," has a shop, and was on board promoting his delicious goods - but it will cost you extra to taste them, as nothing he sells is included in the cruise fare. (Psst...He was spotted playing the casino tables, too). "Iron Chef" Geoffrey Zakarian lends his name to the Ocean Blue restaurant. You'll have to pay to dine there as well.

Of the 27 restaurants on board, about eleven are offered at no additional cover charge, including O'Sheehan's Irish Pub, noted for its sizzling chicken wings. It's always lively at this hot spot, which wraps around the atrium, the place where much of the ship's activities take place. You can enjoy cocktails and bar bites, without missing a thing. The pub is open 24 hours, in case you simply must have a chicken wing at 4 am.

Like the Breakaway, the Getaway has outdoor gourmet dining along the Waterfront, so you can catch those dazzling sunsets at sea. That's what cruising is all about.

Nobody does nightlife like Norwegian. It has, by far, the best shows to "catch" at sea. Don't miss the live production of "Legally Blonde." There's a comedy show; "Howl with the Moon" dueling piano bar; casino; disco; "Burn the Floor" Latin dance show; bar and music venues throughout the ship. No stale, been-there-seen-that productions anywhere, and all these are included in the fare. A dinner and magic show is offered at The Illusionarium, for a fee.

Don't miss the nightly parties at Spice H2O outdoor beach club where you can dance under the stars, against the backdrop of a huge screen that features a laser light show. Although it was too cold for this on the inaugural - my balcony was covered with snow- it was my favorite place to be at night on the Breakaway. Live fireworks are featured on each sailing.

Should it all get too hot to handle, cool things down at the Ice Bar where drinks are served in glasses made of ice, atop a bar made of ice. Sit on the sculptured ice throne. Yes, it's cold in there. You will be provided with gloves and a warm hooded poncho. There is a charge to get inside. Still, it's a lot cheaper than traveling to Stockholm where ice bars are all the rage.

You can walk the plank of the pool; slide through tunnels galore; and climb the rock wall and ropes. There are lots of activities for families, including a Nickelodeon Pajama Jam. Pack your p.j.'s.

Get away from the crowds by splurging on luxurious cabins in the Haven suites, where you'll have access to concierge service, an intimate pool and hot tub, priority boarding, and priceless perks like a private bar and dining where the food is as grand as the cabin.

If you're single, get ready to mingle. There are studios for one - but you are never alone because you'll have access to a private lounge where other solo travelers gather. A white board lists activities, should you wish to participate. No pressure. It's all "free-style" cruising. You do what you want, when you want. That's cruising "like a Norwegian."

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

with artist, Lebo, aboard the Getaway.
With Lebo On Getaway

Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas Inaugural Share on Facebook

By Camille Pepe Sperrazza

On this ship you get to view the sea from a new angle - the sky.

First, there's The North Star, a Ferris-wheel type car that climbs 300 feet above sea level so your view of the ocean reaches new heights. Then, if you're more adventurous, experience what it's like to fly by venturing into iFly, a skydiving simulator. The action takes place within an enclosed glass vessel, where a steady stream of air keeps you afloat.

Royal Caribbean, always known for its action-packed cruising style, also brings us the new Seaplex, an indoor sports center where you can ride bumper cars or go roller-skating. Royal's famous rock climbing wall and FlowRider are aboard Quantum too.

There's plenty for those who enjoy the traditional elements of cruising - shows like "Mama Mia!" and a unique space called Two70, that comes to life at night with digital scenery. Another big attraction: Watching the robotic bartenders make everyone drinks. I heard it's even more fun when they miss the cups.

For foodies, the Grande restaurant offers lobster on the menu every night, while Chic provides the fare of Asia. Both are complimentary venues, as is the American Icon Grill and several others dining options. Wonderland, a pay restaurant, is a magical dining room where food is seemingly suspended in mid-air.

Some of the suite staterooms are magnificent duplexes that overlook the ocean. Interior cabins contain a wall with a screen, offering a digital view of the sea.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

View from The North Star.
View from The North Star

Queen Mary 2 Transatlantic Voyage Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Don't call her a cruise ship. She's an "ocean liner."

The Queen Mary 2 makes regular voyages from Brooklyn to Europe, crossing the Atlantic, in style and luxury. Passengers have 7 days to dine on lavish meals, chat with passengers from all over the world, attend lectures, balls, planetarium shows, the theater, the Canyon Ranch spa, movies, exercise classes, book signings, and indulge in afternoon tea while a full orchestra plays in the background. Dancing is permitted and encouraged.

I was privileged to experience this legendary journey, as it was the final piece of my "Cunard Certified Expert" education. This means that I have taken many courses, many tests, a final exam, and experienced a "working vacation" aboard the ship, making me highly trained and qualified to book and prepare you for a Cunard adventure.

The ride across the Atlantic was among the smoothest sailings I've ever experienced. I didn't even feel the ship move; yet, the Queen Mary 2 is one of the fastest ships at sea. I learned that it can go backwards faster than most ships can move forward. The heavy hull is designed to glide across the ocean.

Many passengers opt to take the crossing, stay in Europe for an extended period of time, and then sail back weeks or months later. Costs can be somewhat comparable to airfare, and rather than a few hours of being cramped in the same seat, you can sail across the ocean, move about freely, enjoying every moment, just as the celebrities of yesteryear did. Bring all the baggage you can carry for no extra fee, and if you have a pet you don't want to leave behind, the Queen Mary 2 is the only ship that has a kennel on board.

The excitement begins when you leave New York, sailing by the Statue of Liberty, and viewing the fabulous New York skyline. Be sure to be out on the open deck when the ship passes beneath the Verrazano Bridge. For a few breath-taking moments, it doesn't look as if this huge ocean liner will clear the underpass. The poolside band encouraged us to scream, all part of the fun and excitement. It makes for some great picture-taking, too.

What do you do on a cruise ship for 7 days when there are no port stops? Everything! There was so much going on every day, there wasn't enough time to do it all. Cunard is known for its lectures. Dr. Ruth Westheimer and author PD James were among the guest speakers on my sailing, as was a maritime historian, and literary critic Peter Kemp. The ship's Captain also gave a talk, sharing humorous tales of life at sea.

Queen Mary 2 has a beautiful theater, Illuminations, which serves as its lecture hall, is the only planetarium at sea, and is a movie theater in the evening. I enjoyed each planetarium show, and went "to the movies" each night. Musical production shows were featured in the Royal Court Theater every evening. I especially enjoyed the matinee performances by the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. They performed "Hobson's Choice" and Shakespeare's classic, "Taming of the Shrew".

The Golden Lion Pub is a fun hangout where you can have a pub lunch. There's a set menu that includes fish and chips, but there was a new item offered each day, too, so dining there always presented a new option. I had Fisherman's Pie one afternoon, which featured a variety of fish in a casserole dish, covered with a whipped, crisp potato topping. The pub has a big bar, lots of music, and there were interactive games led by the cruise director throughout the day. I loved beating my traveling companion in a daily game of darts there.

Sir Samuels is another fun spot, with a full bar. But if you're a late riser, you can grab a pastry and a cup of cappuccino here, too. In the afternoon, light lunches such as shrimp sandwiches and quiches are served. Later, you can enjoy a selection of cheeses with a drink.

Three "balls" were held in the Queen's Room, the largest ballroom at sea -- a Big Band Ball; a Black and White Ball; and an Ascot Ball. Some people go all out, dressing in gowns and tuxedos that reflect the spirit of traditional cruising. But if that's not your cup of tea, there's G32, a nightclub where I danced until 3:30 a.m. one evening, with newfound friends. (Full disclosure: We had to turn the clocks ahead an hour each night, for five nights, and this was at the end of the voyage, so it was really about 10:30 p.m. NY time). The music alternated between a d.j. and a live band. Both were great at keeping everyone moving on the dance floor.

Dining can take a huge amount of time -- if you wish to partake in making it an event. I enjoyed a Chef's Galley Dinner one evening, an intimate gathering of 20 people. Here, the chef demonstrated the preparation of each course, which was then presented to guests for consumption. At the end of the several-course meal, he came around to each table, to ask if there were any questions, and to chat. A souvenir menu, with the recipes, was provided to each guest There was no extra charge for this unique experience. Reservations were required, and had to be made during certain morning hours only.

Another evening I enjoyed a scrumptious Asian Dinner, at the Lotus Restaurant, yet another special venue of several courses, which required reservations. Each day there were a variety of dining settings available, providing "something different" for those who wanted a break from their traditional 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. seating times in the main dining room.

For people who preferred not to dress up for dinner, the King's Court buffet provided an array of options. I noticed there were times when you could request a grilled steak or tuna, prepared as you like it, which is quite unusual for buffet dining. The buffet is sectioned into four restaurants, and is spread out on Deck 7, a great advantage because there's little line-waiting. The afternoon buffets were magnificent. Besides the hot food, salad bars, deli corner, pasta station, and other regular options, one afternoon featured a sushi extravaganza; another a chocolate buffet. The only pay restaurant aboard the Queen Mary 2 was Todd English. Those who stay in high-end cabins aboard the ship, get to dine in their own private dining rooms where every attention to detail is provided.

Seven days at sea means time for pampering at the famous Canyon Ranch Spa. I purchased three day passes for $75. This gave me access to the wet and dry sauna, aromatherapy room, foot bath, therapeutic pool, and a lovely lounge with a floor-to- ceiling view of the ocean, a perfect place to read, unwind, and chat with other guests. I received a fourth day at the spa, when I purchased a massage, as anyone who booked a treatment was allowed to spend that day enjoying the facilities.

During the course of our journey, the Captain of the Queen Mary 2 made plans to meet four men in the row boat, Artemis Investments, who were attempting to get into the World Book of Records by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. Incredibly, this rendezvous took place in the middle of the ocean, in thick fog. Guests were out on deck, cheering them on. We sailed in fog so thick throughout the voyage, you had to wonder how people made it across the ocean without the navigation systems of today. Never mind looking to stars for guidance. You couldn't see the stars. One of the ship's officers gave a lecture in an effort to provide some answers. By the way, the Captain never uttered the word, "fog." He stated the initials only -- "F.O.G.," explaining, when asked, that this was a tradition at sea. Pronouncing the word is said to bring bad luck.

The Queen Mary 2 is affordable. As with all cruise lines, pricing depends upon the type of cabin you wish to purchase. Besides transatlantic voyages, the Queen Mary 2 does Caribbean sailings, European sailings, and even 4-5 day sailings out of New York. Itineraries can be explored at the website, www.cunard.com. Then, contact me, a Cunard Certified Expert, so I can book your exciting adventure.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza


Regal Princess cruise to Scandinavia and Russia, June 2, 2015 Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Copenhagen, Denmark

When sailing from Copenhagen, a pre-cruise stay is an opportunity not to be missed. This cosmopolitan city is home to Tivoli Gardens, one of the world's oldest amusement parks, said to have inspired Walt Disney to create Disney World. Cruise the canals. Say hello to The Little Mermaid. View the fanfare of the Changing of the Guards' Ceremony in front of the Royal Palace. Linger at the coffee shops, enjoying delicious Danish pastry and open sandwiches called smorrebrod.

I love to stay at the ultra-modern Island Copenhagen Hotel, located along the water front, adjacent to a mall, and about a 20-minute walk from the city center. You can eat economically by shopping at the grocery store inside the mall, and then feasting on your hotel's private balcony, overlooking water, boats, and a mesmerizing skyline. The sun shines brightly until late in the evening so there's plenty of daylight to take in the sights, and stroll the main avenues where there are old churches and shops galore. The city is known for its support of green energy so watch out for bicyclists that fly by. Don't be surprised by the array of bikes stored throughout the streets, many of which are left unsecured by their owners.

Oslo, Norway

Our first cruise stop. The city is safe and easy to get around, so we venture on our own, taking Tram #12 to Vigeland Sculpture Park where one of the towering monuments is often used to symbolize the city. This modern park is a beauty, featuring magnificent sculptures, including the famous "Crying Baby." It is a great place to spend an hour or two, and admission is free.

From there, we take Tram #12 to The National Gallery Museum to see Edvard Munch's famous painting, "The Scream". We are allowed to get real close to it, studying the haunting image as there are no crowds. A number of Munch's other famous works are here too, as are paintings by Picasso and Paul Gauguin. It is a new experience to be able to pose right next to these multi-million dollar works of art, snapping as many photos as we like. Only in Munch's room are no pictures allowed.

We walk to The Nobel Prize Museum, the best part being the darkened room with small lights that pay tribute to the award-winners. We read the plaques for Barack Obama, Al Gore, Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, and others. Across the street is City Hall where the actual awards are distributed. The Grand Hotel, which we stumble upon during our walk, is where the banquet takes place. These are all a stroll away from the ship, as are shops and restaurants, including a Hard Rock Cafe.

Sailing from Norway en route to Sweden, there's beautiful scenery to be viewed for hours. It remains bright and sunny until late evening - advantageous for everything but sleep.

Gothenburg, Sweden

This is Scandinavia's largest port. A ship tour takes us for an overview of the city and a cruise along the canal in the rain. There isn't all that much to see, especially while wearing the provided yellow poncho with the hood up. The rainy, cold weather doesn't lend to the city's attractiveness. The large statue of Poseidon seems to be the highlight and we all wonder why the grounds in front of it are so sticky. Our guide tells us students celebrate the end of the semester by throwing champagne all over themselves and the statue.

As we walk, my adult son says every time he looks fast at one of the other passengers, he thinks it's me. Her family says they have made the same mistake a few times. She is from Quebec, we are about the same weight and height, but it's probably the hair style. My "twin" and I pose for photos.

Warnemunde, Germany

We take the ship tour to Berlin that starts with a 2-hour train ride to see the Sachenhausen Memorial and Museum, once a concentration work camp. Many political prisoners, "Bible researchers" (clergy), and homosexuals were brought here. All had to wear orange triangles, the symbol of this particular camp. A black dot above the triangle meant you were a political prisoner who worked against the Nazis and had no desire to be released. Guards were told they could do whatever they wanted with these people. A green dot above the triangle was reserved for counterfeiters. They were printers put to work by the Germans to forge documents and print money, in particular the valuable British pound as the Germans wanted to bring down England's economy. These prisoners were treated a bit better.

We view areas where people were hanged. We learn about an instrument that looks like the scale used at a doctor's office to measure height. Thousands of Russian soldiers were asked to stand here, assuming the same. Instead, they were executed from behind by Germans in the next room who aimed at the napes of their necks through a small hole in the wall and an incision in the device.

We see the remains of bunkers, toilets, and two fountains in a small room where hundreds of people were expected to wash at once and use the handful of toilets twice a day for a short period of time. They froze to death, standing naked, until every person was accounted for during morning roll call. We pass the "Neutral Zone." Any prisoner walking here was shot instantly by guards in watchtowers. Some stepped here on purpose to escape their living hell. Others chose to touch the electricity-charged barbed wire around the walls. We walk to the "shoe testing area," a path of different surfaces where prisoners were forced to walk, jump, run, and stand all day in boots too small or too large, while wearing heavy backpacks, so Germans could determine the best soles for soldiers. Torture and experimentation went on at the camp. Cremation ovens remain. Of course it is all horrifying. But it is history that needs to be told.

We travel by bus to Berlin for lunch at the 5-star Westin Grand Hotel. A whirlwind tour of Berlin includes seeing remnants of the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, and Hitler's Bunker, now a Holocaust museum. Berlin has changed since my last visit. No longer are pieces of The Wall scattered throughout the city, which we could touch and pose by, each scribbled with colorful graffiti and artwork. Instead, smaller pieces are behind ropes or glass, and only at museum or historic stops. I still see bullet holes in some of the buildings, but our guide never mentions them. By the Brandenburg Gate, the balcony of the Hotel Adlon is pointed out as the place where Michael Jackson dangled one of his children. A 3-hour train ride takes us back to the ship.

That evening I am selected to participate in the show, "Holly-would". It is captured on film, and expected to play in cabins fleetwide for a long time to come, so if you sail on any of Princess' 18 ships, go to "Princess-live-Hollywould" and you may see me on your television set.

Sea Day

A day to relax and enjoy all the ship's activities like chocolate tastings, cooking demonstrations, and more game shows. It is our first formal night, so passengers are invited to the atrium on desks 5, 6, and 7 to participate in filling the hundreds of champagne glasses stacked to form a tower. Pouring from the top, champagne flows down, filling the glasses, creating a champagne waterfall. There's champagne for everyone.

As this is Princess' 50th anniversary, the line has teamed with Norman Love to make signature chocolate desserts. Tonight, 1500 chocolate pops are distributed in the atrium. To also mark the anniversary, there are about 100 episodes of "The Love Boat" television series playing on demand in staterooms. It is so much fun to watch this series which introduced cruising to the masses. Many superstars made guest appearances on the show each week, contributing to the growth of the industry. Each time we sail from port, a musician on the Lido Deck plays the first few notes of "The Love Boat" theme song, stirring wonderful memories.

Tallinn, Estonia

We walk about 20 minutes to get to the city center, a quaint area with an old-world feel. There are people dressed in costume selling nuts covered with a coating being churned in front of us. The smell entices, so we buy some. Small stalls carry beautiful floral bouquets that are shockingly inexpensive. Amber jewelry and accessories are everywhere. Linen scarves and wool attire are all the rage. Although I had promised myself I wouldn't bring home another scarf, I buy one - and some wool slippers and other lovely items.

St. Petersburg, Russia

Visiting Russia requires a visa, but passengers who book the ship's tours don't have to worry as visas are included. Still, we must line up and go through a security point that involves carrying our own passports and having them stamped. We do so, and surprisingly, there's no Princess representative on the other side to direct us to our tour bus. We ask a few people for assistance, and no one can help us. We turn, and it's the wrong direction. A Japanese tour guide tells us we have to go to the other side. As we make our way there, a passenger steps off the sidewalk and into the street. A uniformed Russian barks and motions that the passenger is to immediately return to the sidewalk. It is a bit intimidating, and the soldier seems to sense this, so he suddenly smiles, easing the tension a bit.

Our 6:30 am tour takes us to gold-filled palaces, churches, and yet another canal cruise. Shops provide generous Russian vodka samples, and it is the best I have ever tasted; deliciously smooth. We visit the Hermitage, one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. There are 3 million exhibits. Our guide says if we spend just 50 seconds at each, it will take us three years to view them all. We see paintings that include Rembrandt's "The Prodigal Son," and make it to the Egyptian Room where there are artifacts and a mummy. We see the largest vase in the world, made from jasper, all carved from one piece of stone. It weighs 19 tons.

Lunch is at a former palace, now a restaurant. While the food is lackluster, the Russian vodka and champagne are very appealing. There's interactive singing and dancing; the highlight of the tour. Although the ship overnights in port, our visa doesn't allow us to disembark at night. Princess brings a local Russian folklore show on board the ship which is fun.

St. Petersburg, Russia

Day 2 takes us out to the suburbs for a walking tour of Peterhof Palace with its massive grounds. This extraordinary, gold-filled palace is called "the Versailles of Russia". St. Isaac's and The Church of Spilled Blood (also called Church of Resurrection) are among other stops. Like yesterday, lunch is nothing special, but the vodka sure is. Each time we visit a church, museum, or palace, we have to stop at "The Cloak Room" to drop off our coats and bags which doesn't seem to be very time-efficient. Likewise, it doesn't seem necessary to go through passport control again this morning when our ship is docked overnight right outside this secure area.

At the end of our two super long days of touring "The Best of St. Petersburg," I have seen only churches and palaces, and prior to this trip, I had seen enough to last two lifetimes. Instead, I would have liked to have gained insight into ordinary life here in Russia, but no such tour exists, and our visa doesn't allow us to venture on our own. A Princess staff member tells me he took the world's longest escalator ride - 2 1/2 minutes - down to a train station located behind two walls. It is designed this way to survive nuclear attacks, he says. Now that I would like to see.

Helsinki, Finland

it is Helsinki Day, and we are in Helsinki. We explore independently, taking the #9 tram to the city center, and stopping at one of Finland's notable Christmas shops. We walk to beautiful Esplanade Park, alive with music and people celebrating the holiday. There, we catch a tour bus that takes us for an overview of the city. One of the main attractions is Rock Church, also called Temppeliaukio Church, built through solid rock. Besides functioning as a place of worship, it is a popular venue for concerts because of the acoustics and natural light. The other must-see is the Sibelius Monument, an abstract array of pipes where we pose for photos.

Before heading back to the pier, we run into Scandinavia's biggest department store -- Stockmann's -- for a look around. I guess you could say it is the Macy's of Scandinavia. The tram we need to take back to the ship is near the store, but because of holiday traffic, we wait half an hour, and it still hasn't shown up. We try for a taxi, but they are all occupied too. Fortunately, I spot the Princess shuttle bus in town that takes us back to the ship for 7 euros per person.

There's still a few minutes to spare for shopping at the pier so I buy wool hand warmers and an adorable elf ornament with a zippered pocket, all hand-crafted by the woman at the stand. But I regret not purchasing the most gorgeous hooded fur-trimmed wrap I have ever seen, for 100 euros. The handful of these fabulously tailored items were being admired by many. That night I see a woman wearing one on the ship, and it is stunning.

It is our second formal night so it's lobster for dinner. I am invited to a private cocktail reception for platinum and elite guests, the first and only one of the entire cruise. A net with hundreds of balloons hangs over the ship's three-level atrium today. They are to be released on to the dance floor at about 11:15 pm, another way Princess marks its 50th anniversary. As we have had consecutive early morning all-day tours, walked for countless miles, experienced time changes, and never-ending daylight, it is a challenge to keep our eyes open that "late," but we make it.

Stockholm, Sweden The ship was supposed to dock in the outskirts of the city, but last night the captain announced weather conditions would be conducive to cruising directly into Stockholm. It is the first time the Regal Princess will visit, so a Swiss band is at the pier playing music as we sail into the city, and there are hundreds of passengers on their balconies and in public areas at 7 am to view the fanfare.

The weather is the warmest it is been the entire trip; no need to wear a jacket. We buy a Princess shuttle ticket that takes us to the city center; from there we walk to the Ice Bar, located at the Nordic Hotel. When I visited the first time, it was one of the few ice bars in the world. Now there are many, including some on cruise ships and a huge one in St. Thomas. But this - an original - is built with the same ice used to create Sweden's famous Ice Hotel. We put on the provided ponchos and head for the bar where we are served vodka drinks in glasses carved from solid ice. The bar and benches - all blocks of ice - were covered only with animal skin throws last time I was here. Now there are plastic bench cushions, making it easier to sit, but taking away some of the ambiance. It's still a novelty, and a great photo opportunity.

As we sail from Sweden, we pass many of the country's small islands, viewing vacation homes, boats, and breathtaking scenery for hours.

Evening entertainment on the ship has been several cuts above the usual song and dance routines. Favorites include Beetlemania, a hypnotist/mind reader, and a singer who sounds just like Bobby Darin.

Sea Day

The last day of any cruise is always bittersweet. Can't we stay at least another week to enjoy the ship? European cruises are fabulous - and very busy. I would like a few more days to cruise the ocean.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Oslo, Norway.
Oslo, Norway

River Cruise, Douro Valley, Portugal Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Uniworld River Cruise aboard Queen Isabel to Douro Valley - April 2014

Ideal for those with a passion for wine and port, this cruise takes passengers through Portugal and Spain - Port Country - one of the oldest wine regions in the world.

Day 1: Board an international flight and arrive the next day. The ship docks in Porto, so I connect through Madrid for the short one-hour flight. It is also possible to connect through London, and if you prefer to fly on larger planes, that's something to consider because the plane from Madrid to Porto is small.

Day 2: Everything is included on this river cruise - all drinks, tours, tips, and transfers. A Uniworld representative meets me at the airport with the news that one of the locks along the Douro River in Porto is not working. These locks allow the vessel to be raised or lowered so it can make its way along the river. Because of this glitch in the system, our tour must start in Lamego, a 2-hour drive from the airport. I wait for other passengers' flights to arrive - there are 5 of us - and we head to the ship. It is like we have our own private yacht all morning as the majority of the 86 passengers sailing this week are not here. They are on Uniworld's 3-day pre-cruise tour of Lisbon and are scheduled to arrive later. The bar is open, the sun is shining, and there are plates of gourmet cheese, fresh fruit, and sandwiches for us.

Day 3: The lock is still not fixed, so our schedule is adjusted. In the morning, we tour Lamego, visiting Mary of Remedi church where a statue is said to bring miracles. People of the parish take turns creating handmade clothing for it. Then it's a stop at a quaint shop where we sample sparkling wine, local cheese, and ham.

On a river cruise, touring is intense - but the schedule almost always allows for lunch aboard the ship, so after that "snack," it's lunch time. A different local wine is served at each meal and so far all are wonderful. It's always open seating, so guests have the opportunity to make new friends. I am traveling solo this time, but as this is a "no single supplement" sailing, there are other people traveling alone, and the intimacy of river cruising makes it easy to meet people. The afternoon tour is to Guimaraes, a Medieval town that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. We see the castle of the first king of Portugal and walk the medieval streets.

Day 4: The ship remains docked, and to make up for lost time, there are three tours. First thing in the morning, we visit the Sandeman wine estate, noted for its port, and it is delicious. The winery is beautiful, too - sprawling vineyards surrounding the mountains, overlooking the Douro River. The bus climbs high up the mountain, along winding roads, and we all hold our breath as it makes turns, half hanging over the cliffs. The tour guide greets us dressed in a black coat and black sombrero, bringing to life the company's mascot. The facility is very modern, a bit surprising considering the rural surroundings.

At the Douro Museum, a lecturer provides an overview of the Douro Valley. The soil is comprised of pulverized stones. Roots are deep, and despite the mountainous terrain, somehow find the water from the river as the growers are not permitted to irrigate. I like to learn, but I guess it's not for everybody. I chuckle when overhear one of the passengers, in a deep Southern accent say, "I'm not goin' to the lecture; that's for sure. I get enough of that at home."

In the afternoon we're off to Mateus Palace and gardens. It is recognizable as the castle featured on bottles of Mateus Rose wine, but the Portuguese do not pronounce the name as we do. The gardens of the castle are sculptured into lovely designs, and tended by volunteers.

A "surprise" stop takes us to a local village and a tiny bakery where we are greeted by the enthusiastic owner; a man playing an accordion; and the baker who dances while balancing a bottle of port on her head. There is port, cheese, and fresh-baked bread, hot from the coal oven. The bakery seems humble, in the middle of nowhere, but the owner joins us on the bus, and we are soon at the wine estate of Quinta da Avessada that has been owned by his family for six generations. A reception awaits us in the huge backyard, overlooking mountains and vineyards. There are sausage sandwiches, snacks, and more port. We have plenty of time to linger before we are brought on a tour of the winery, another incredibly modern facility, so unexpected here on the hilltops. The wine tasting cellar is beautiful, and the owner, passionate about his trade, eagerly shares stories, pouring Moscatel (made from one grape) and port ( made from three different types of grapes), making toasts after each tasting. His enthusiasm is contagious; we laugh and join the fun. Eventually we are led to a huge dining area,surrounded by floor-to-ceiling glass etched with the winery's name, that overlooks the mountains. We feast on a homemade meal and desserts like wine-soaked pears and creamy flan. The wine, port, and grappa flow. There's music, dancing, and at one point, a conga line. The owner encourages it all, and seems to be enjoying it as much as the guests. A flat screen television displays revolving photos of the winery, making the setting so ultra sophisticated, it is like being at Tavern on the Green in New York City - but we are high on a mountain top, and Central Park doesn't have grass this green.

Day 5: The ship sails! We are finally cruising this morning, surrounded by stunning mountainous views. I have a seat at the front of the ship as we make our way through one of the locks. It appears as if we suddenly face a concrete wall beneath the river. It takes around half an hour to slowly raise the ship, with the assistance of pullies, and we are at sea level again.

Later, we visit Castelo Rodrigo, an historic village of Portugal. The small church of the same name contains a tiny statue of St. Sebastian. Rub its head to find a husband for you or a friend. There is a small shop selling local jewelry and pocketbooks made of cork. Portugal is the biggest producer of cork in the world.

Day 6: We spend the day in Salamanca, Spain and visit Salamanca University, the country's oldest college. Then it's tapas at Plaza Mayor Square, and a flamenco show at the Almeida Palace Hotel. Storks are common in this area, and we spot one in its huge nest on top of a cathedral. But the most intriguing part of the day - that everyone seems to be buzzing about - are the mirror-covered rest rooms of the hotel. Inside the stall, we could look to the side and see ourselves reflected numerous times, not necessarily at an angle one wants to see at all. It's like being in a mirrored funhouse.

Tomorrow we are sailing all day, so tonight the lounge is lively, and many of us are twisting the night away.

Day 7: It's a beautiful day sailing the Douro. This morning I am upfront as we pass through a lock that takes us to a lower level. Local people come to watch, and we are so close to them, one man chats with the crew as we descend. Apparently there are no security concerns here. What a site as the wall of the lock rolls opens, revealing the river before us. But as it does, overflow from the part of the river above us creates a small waterfall and we have to leave our prime seats or get soaked.

The Captain allows guests to join him in the control room today. I get to sit in the Captain's chair and pose for a photo.

At dinner vintage bottles of 1987 Calem port are opened for us, with great fanfare. We watch as a metal tong-like instrument is heated. The waiter then applies this to the neck of the bottle, twisting it so the glass snaps. It is a clean break that allows the port to be poured without removing the cork. It is probably the best port we have had yet. Our table is especially lively tonight, and we enjoy many laughs. We tell the musician on board we want to dance again, and he accommodates us. Maybe it's the port, but this time a few men join the fun.

Day 8: We finally make it to Porto, and it's bustling compared to where we've been, a very scenic city, with old houses, and beautiful bridges along the river. By sheer chance, I notice a sign with the name Gustavo Eiffel, and realize that one of these bridges, which does resemble the Eiffel Tower, was designed by him.

It's port-tasting in the morning at the Ferreira Winery, and this is more like the type of winery I expected to see this trip - the entrance is cave-like and dark, with lots of wine barrels.

There are little shops along the river, with handmade crafts. One woman makes unique scarves from colorful cloth. They are cut into strands so that the scarf can be braided or twisted, and wrapped around the neck in various ways. Each has a unique ornament that holds a loop the scarf can be pulled through. I love them and buy three as well as some leather jewelry.

A walking tour takes us to the Livaria Lello book store. Out guide tells us it is the third most beautiful book store in the world and that J.K. Rowling used to write here. I have no idea where she gets this information, but it is an old- fashioned shop, with beautiful wood carvings. Later, we take the funicular - a cable railway that runs down the mountain. The drops are as steep as a on roller coaster, but the car makes it's way down slowly, so there's no funny feeling in the stomach.

It's an early early evening for most guests as we disembark in the morning. I exchange emails weigh several people and we plan to stay in touch.

Day 9: The story is supposed to end, but my flight to Madrid is canceled. The only availability is on TAP to Newark tomorrow so I am sent to a Holiday Inn by the airport in Porto for the night. Two other women from the ship are in the same position as I am so we stick together.

Day 10: There was never supposed to be a Day 10 - and there was almost a Day 11. Two hours into our new flight - while we are flying over the Atlantic - the captain announces technical difficulties which necessitates us flying two hours back to land. This time we land in Lisbon, wait for another plane, and eventually make it to Newark.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today. .

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Douro River Valley, Portugal:
River Cruise, Douro Valley, Portugal

Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia plus Paul Gauguin cruise Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Singapore Pre-Cruise Stay

Day 1:  We arrive in Singapore after a nonstop flight from JFK to Japan - 12 hours - and then another 7-hour flight here, about 22 hours of travel time. A car picks us up at 1 am, and we check into the St. Regis Singapore. It looks like a palace, with its marble floors and spacious, stunning decor. I am excited to be on the other side of the world.

Breakfast includes everything imaginable - omelets, sushi, fried rice, dumplings, cheeses, exotic fruit, duck, pancakes, French toast, baked beans, potatoes, noodle soup, and much more. The signature dish is the lobster and shrimp omelet, sprinkled with caviar. I try gelatin-like white cubes, presented inside a martini glass, which the chef says is coconut and has medicinal benefits. It is tasty, as are the croissants - some filled with chocolate - the pastry so incredibly flakey and crisp, only in Paris have I found them this good.

The St. Regis is located by Orchard Road, known for its shops, restaurants, and hotels. We visit the Hilton, the Four Seasons, and the Hard Rock Cafe. There seems to be a Starbucks on every corner. There are numerous malls, a lot of them built underground, and we get sticker shock when we see designer names selling for exorbitant prices. Singapore is a thriving, cosmopolitan city. We are told everyone works, begging is not allowed, and there is no homeless. It is a first-world country, the third wealthiest, with an air force stationed in Perth, Australia, says a guide. There is very little crime, and violence is extremely rare. The people speak English fluently, and are very welcoming. Service is impeccable. We walk through the city, among skyscrapers and unique architecture, juxtaposed by lush greenery and palm trees, so there is a tropical ambience. Singapore plants this greenery to be environmentally conscious. Streets are sparkling clean, as are cars, all the latest models.

I meet with the manager of the Shangri-La Hotel, inspecting the vast premises of the lovely resort. In the evening, we are picked up at the St. Regis for our tour of Chinatown that includes dinner. One of the highlights is riding a trishaw - a carriage for two, connected to a bicycle that is peddled by a driver. We race through the streets, amid traffic, a bit exciting and terrifying at once. The driver drops us off by the harbor where we board a bumboat for a ride along the river, absorbing Singapore at night. We view the Merlion, the city's symbol, water gushing from its mouth. Singapore means "lion city," and this is the most notable of the city's three Merlion statues.

Day 2:  We ride The Flyer - the second largest Ferris wheel in the world. The whole skyline can be viewed from here. Then we meet with the manager of the iconic Raffles Hotel where rooms start at about $1400 per night. Suites run about $10,000 per night. The hotel resembles a plantation with its palm-like ceiling fans and sprawling white property. We have High Tea at the renowned Tiffin Room, a formal affair that dates back to the 1800s. Then it’s on to the hotel's Long Bar, where the famous Singapore Sling was invented. I was warned the drink might be sweet, but I enjoy it. After imbibing the original, I try a Summer Sling, but it doesn't beat the original recipe. It is a tradition at the Long Bar to be given a sack of shelled nuts, and the empties pile on the floor.

Singapore celebrates its 49th anniversary as an independent nation next week, and today is practice for the main event. Soldiers are marching, and streets are closed so we have to take the subway. It is immaculate, quite different from New York.

One of Singapore's newest hotels is the Sands Bay Marina, a massive skyscraper of three towers connected across the roof with a structure that looks like a boat. We go to the top to check out the view, and are privy to colorful fireworks that are being launched, in preparation of next week's celebration. As the fireworks explode, a man next drops to his knees to propose to his girlfriend. She says yes and her friends appear from the wings to participate in the excitement.

Day 3:  I pre-arranged every aspect of our stay, deliberately leaving this morning free, not knowing if we be totally jet-lagged by now, in dire need of sleep. But this is not the case, so I am off to St. Regis' gorgeous spa - wet and dry saunas, whirlpools, and heated lounge chairs. The wet sauna clears my sinuses and my ears unpop. I didn't even know they were popped. Late afternoon, we take a cable car to Sentosa, an island filled with so many recreational activities, it would take days to see them all. There is a Resorts World casino, Universal Studios, Hard Rock hotel, restaurants, and the biggest Merlion statue in Singapore. We go to the world's largest aquarium, walking through clear tunnels surrounded by swimming fish above, below, and at all sides, so it seems like we are part of this massive tank. One fish looks like it has the happiest face. Another is a seahorse with wings like the floral plants of the sea. At night there's a most spectacular laser light show at an outdoor theater on the beach, a stunning arrangement of color and art told through story that surpasses all our expectations.

Day 4:  On our last day in Singapore, we tour Asia's largest bird park - Jurong - which includes penguins, a surprise considering how hot it is here. Then we head to the harbor for our 2-week cruise through Indonesia and Australia, our wonderful stay in Singapore coming to a close...but more adventure ahead. (See cruises - Singapore, Indonesia, and Australia).

Paul Gauguin cruise - August 4 - 18, 2014

We enjoyed a 4-night stay in Singapore (See article under "Singapore"). Now it is time to say hello to our cruise ship - Paul Gauguin - the same one that treated us so well when we cruised through Tahiti, Bora Bora, and French Polynesia two years ago. This one-of-a-kind journey takes us to some of the most remote parts of the planet.

We see some familiar faces on board - cruise director Michael, a transplanted New Yorker, now traveling the world via sea, and Elmo, the head bartender, who always had a Manhattan ready for us last cruise. Captain Toni Mirkovic remains at the helm. The grandchildren of artist Paul Gauguin himself are on this sailing, as is Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hay, who lectures on climate change. I talk at length with another lecturer, artist Nona, swapping life stories, two strangers humbled by our modest beginnings, now aboard a luxury liner heading to Indonesia. Neither of us could have ever imagined it. This is what cruising is all about - talking with people, learning, discovering. It is very much introspective.

On our first night we are invited to join the cruise director for dinner. Tonight a former Brooklyn gal and her husband invite us to join them. We cross the equator, and passengers who experience this rite of passage for the first time participate in an initiation ceremony that includes kissing a dead fish, wearing marinara sauce, and being baptized with a bucket of water. The ship's captain dresses as King Neptune for the occasion, a bit of a whimsical experience for a ship on which there is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. The rite dates back at least 400 years, and is practiced by the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Royal Navy, and others to mark when a mariner transforms from a Pollywog - a person who has not crossed the equator - to a Shellback, a trusted son or daughter of Neptune.

Late afternoon and throughout the evening, the ocean is rocky. Many are sick, but I am among the few riding the waves.

Java, Indonesia (Semarang) - When I saw the movie, "Krakatoa East of Java" decades ago, I couldn't imagine I would one day be here. I am still astounded. The port area is a lot more industrialized than expected. We are on a tour bus, being led by a police escort, siren blasting, on a 2-hour ride en route to the Borobudur Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The bus weaves through traffic coming at us from all sides and all directions. There appears to be no right side of the road. Open trucks, packed with people standing upright, fly by. A motorcycle speeds along carrying a woman holding an infant. We squeeze through space that has everyone holding their breaths. At one point, I ride shotgun to get a firsthand view of what can best be described as total chaos. Along the way, we spot water buffalo and workers toiling in rice fields. We make a stop at a coffee shop where we get to taste the java in Java. It is strong. We are welcomed with tea, fried bananas, and other fried snacks. The toilet at what is presumably one of the better coffee shops doesn't appear to have a modern flushing system. A rusty handle spins round, offering no action. A basin next to the bowl is filled to the brim with water and a scoop is provided. Is it supposed to be for hand washing or toilet flushing?

Bali - A limousine picks us up at the pier to take us to the St. Regis where we will spend the day. The driver opens a picnic basket and hands us cold washcloths, bottled water, and two round ring boxes, each containing a gourmet chocolate. As we ride through the gates of paradise, I am presented with a white flower. This resort is mesmerizing - 9 acres of incredible beauty. There must be about 100 black stone bowls in the lobby, each filled with different flowers in an array of colors. They are changed daily. The breakfast is world-renowned. The lobster omelet bathes in the most delicious bisque, the lobster's head adorned on the top. There is dim sum, pastries, and fruit of every kind. Another table contains a pot of broth, surrounded by bowls of ingredients - noodles, scallions, chicken, and spices I cannot identify. An attendant adds to the broth whatever you request. Servers come around with smoothies of fresh fruit. Tea is served through strainers of fresh leaves.

We meet the managers who provide us with a tour, and a room for the day. Some villas have direct access to the beach and contain separate quarters for a butler to live on the premises with guests. Even the lead category rooms are stunning, the bathrooms larger than some New York apartments. There are ponds with fish, tiled pools, luxurious cabanas, lush greenery, waterfalls, and a massive outdoor stone pot which is lit nightly, during a fire dance ritual. It is a shame we can't be here to see it. At the beach, a hotel worker covers our lounge chairs and pillows with plush towels. Another brings a tray of cold wash cloths and bottled water. Yet another comes around, offering to clean guests' sunglasses. So this is how the one percent lives.

Komodo Island - There are 17,508 islands in Indonesia, and we are on Komodo, inhabited by about 2,000 people and just as many Komodo dragons. These creatures, found only in these parts, can smell blood five miles away, can outrun humans, climb, dig, and swim. If you get bitten by one of these, they secrete so many toxins, odds are, you're done. Yet, here we are, trekking through this national park solely to see them, guides with long sticks, to protect us. We also have to watch for poisonous snakes which we are told are everywhere, offering new insight into the phrase, "pick your poison". Would it be less lethal to be bitten by a snake or a Komodo? I notice a serum bottle in a case carried by one of the rangers. We walk in groups, following each other, stepping on a path of broken coral, seashells, pulverized leaves, dry soil, and downed branches, in blistering heat, searching for signs of the "monsters." Fallen, decaying trees are everywhere, and someone says it looks like we are on Skull Island.

Our first "find" is a small, flying lizard. Not quite what we expected, but we see it flutter its wings, and are told this is the only place they exist. We move onward, and the first large creatures we come across are deer. There are many, and they are huge, wandering through the dry field. One is perfectly still as a giant crow pick ticks from its back. It is by a small puddle of water, which the guide calls the watering hole, where we spot five Komodos. The largest one is about 10 feet long and 175 pounds. They appear to be very lazy, watching us photograph them, without moving. When one does rise, someone in our group runs a bit, and is told by the guide to stop. But the Komodo doesn't seem interested in pursuing us. They only feed six to eight times per year, and fortunately for us, it isn't feeding season, although the ranger does tell us that two children were recently killed by the dragons and a ranger was bitten. The villagers built a huge fence in an effort to protect themselves from their co-inhabitants, but the Komodos can climb it. We don't get to see this part of the island, and make it back to the ship without incident. Not even a Dengue fever mosquito bite.

Cruising to Australia - Sea days are often the best part of cruising, and this itinerary has plenty of them. But a small ship like this - 190 passengers and a staff of 200 - doesn't offer the entertainment of larger vessels, so days are spent relaxing, often poolside, staring at the wonder of the ocean, reading, writing, and enjoying stunning sunsets, hoping to catch the elusive Green Flash, a rare occurrence that may be seen at sunset when there is an unobstructed view of the horizon. A ship at sea is one of the best places to observe it, but conditions have to be right. Each evening passengers gather at the back of the ship, hoping for a glimpse. The Internet connection is very poor so there is little communication with home, leaving lots of opportunity to make new friends. We chat with the ship's executive housekeeper, Thomas. Originally from Germany, he has been living in Indonesia for years now, so he offers insight into the culture. In the evening, we dine with Nona and Carol, the ship's main lecturer, a Gauguin expert. Both attended college in New York so we have some common ground. One of the day's highlights is an exotic fruit tasting that includes snake fruit, so named for its snake-like skin. The fruit itself is white and tastes a bit bland. There is also a bright pink passion fruit.

Darwin, Australia - We're on poisonous snake patrol again - this time in the Australian outback - walking along a dusty path covered with crushed leaves. We're also eyeing countless fruit bats hovering in the trees above us. Fortunately, it's dry season so we can cross crocodile hazards off the watch list. We're at Litchfield National Park, home of the giant terminate mounds, some 12-feet tall. Terminates make these elaborate structures and live inside them, protecting themselves from the elements of the outback. If mounds like this existed at home, they would run a bulldozer over them. Here, they are tourist attractions. Some of the smaller ones, row after row, in a barren field, resemble tombstones. I spot one that looks like an outline of the Blessed Mother. Will it be made into a shrine?

Sea days - Two more sea days until we hit land and an Internet connection. The weather here is a bit cooler and breezy so sitting poolside is difficult. We have dinner with Thomas, enjoying pleasant conversation.

Thursday Island - Who ever heard of this place? It was once called Waiben which means "catfish". Today it is the commercial center of the Torres Strait Islands. The land belongs to Australia, but in the 1970's Papua New Guinea wanted to claim it, insisting it was within its borders. During World War 11, Thursday Island was used as a military base for Australian and U.S. troops. We see cannons that remain there, and the burial place of Japanese pearl shell divers. The pearling industry was once very big here. Our guide tells us houses are in demand, the most basic selling for $700,000 Australian dollars which seems exorbitant for such a desolate place. At the pier, we see a woman fishing with two young children. A huge silver fish is caught, and the boy, about 10, kills it before our eyes, expertly using a tremendous knife. Later, the girl, about 5, picks up this same knife and uses it like a pen to scribble in the fish blood.

In the evening we are invited to a private bridge tour, and get to spend time with the captain, pilot, and other professionals on the bridge as we make our way through the narrow Albany passage, privy to the best view on the ship.

Post-Cruise Stay in Cairns, Australia:

Cairns, Australia Day 1 - Our extraordinary two-week cruise ends here, at the gateway to The Great Barrier Reef. We have a one-bedroom suite, with executive lounge privileges, at the gorgeous Shangri-La Hotel at the marina. Our huge balcony overlooks the harbor, which is lined with countless boats, and this panorama view continues into the living room, bedroom, and bathroom. We spend the afternoon walking the Boardwalk and exploring the town. Everyone is so pleasant, and many call us "mates".

I pre-planned all our tours and the first is the Cairns Tropical Night Zoo and Australian barbecue where there's interactive fun, singing, dancing, food, unlimited wine and beer as well as close-ups with some animals, unique to this part of the world. I get to hold a Koala and pose for a photo with it. Later, a kangaroo eats right out of my hand. We watch them jump around their habitat and everyone is awed by how friendly and adorable they are, coming right up to us for the grain we're provided with. Fortunately, they know not to bite my hand off when the grain is gone.

Day 2 - The Great Barrier Reef and Green Island. About 2,900 reefs make up the area known as The Great Barrier Reef which is so distinct, it can be seen from space. We are on a pontoon at the Norman Reef, best described as a docking station in the ocean, accessible by a tour boat. Some people are snorkeling off the side of the pontoon; others are diving. Lunch is being served; there's a sundeck above, and when you climb down one stairwell, there are underwater views of divers and huge fish. You can even board a helicopter for a look at the reef from the sky. We head to the semi-sub where we are submerged beneath the ocean in the comfort of a vessel, still privy to the huge coral reef structures. Some look like their own planets. Others are called "brain coral" because they resemble the organ. Purple feather-like structures wave past us, and colorful fish nibble at the reef. At one point a turtle swims by.

Earlier, we spent two hours on Green Island, also part of the Great Barrier Reef. We expect it to be desolate, but it has gift shops, snack bars, a pool, and even a hotel. The small beach is barren except for a few sunbathers, and the ocean is beautiful shades of clear white and blue. The water is so transparent, coral can be seen from its surface. We make our way through the small rainforest on the island, along a modern Boardwalk, pausing to read signs explaining how the island evolved over thousands of years. We had prepared for a day of wet adventure as many Australians had warned us the boat ride out to the island and the pontoon could be rough, but this is not the case at all. The boat that transports us is larger than anticipated, and fully enclosed, a pleasant ride with cake, coffee, cheese, and crackers provided. The weather is cold and breezy so I wear a hooded sweatshirt on top of my bathing suit. I should have worn long pants.

Day 3 - Our last day in Cairns is spent at Hartley's Crocodile Park where we see several crocodile shows, snakes, koalas, and get to feed and interact with the friendliest kangaroos and wallabies. Later we drive through Palm Cove, a lovely resort area, and have dinner at a restaurant that serves giant barbecued spare ribs.

Day 4 - We have 30 hours of travel time: Cairns to Sidney; Sidney to Los Angeles; Los Angeles to New York. On the Sidney to Los Angeles, leg actress Linda Grey and actor Patrick Duffy are on our flight.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza

Bali, Indonesia. Lobby of the St. Regis Hotel

Southern Caribbean Cruise/Presidents' Week Adventure Share on Facebook

by Camille Pepe Sperrazza

This week I'm shoveling snow. But last week I was shoveling sand.

We're back from our annual Presidents' Week group cruise, a life-saver that thaws the bones, providing us with strength to endure the rest of winter.

We traveled to San Juan for a pre-cruise Saturday night stay -- and San Juan was jumpin'! At the Marriott, we enjoyed mojitos on the beach, a buffet of fresh seafood (not farm-fed), and live music in the lobby. We left old man winter behind, and were in 94-degree sunshine immediately. Even the slot machines were singing.

On Sunday, Valentine's Day, we boarded the Caribbean Princess for our seven-night trip that included stops at St. Thomas, Grenada, Dominica, Bonaire, and Aruba. Among the highlights were the private tours I arranged to Grenada and Dominica where we explored the rainforests and waterfalls. In Grenada, our guide plucked cocoa from a tree, cut open the shell, and sampled chocolate directly from the fruit. It was bitter, as chocolate has to go through a process before it turns to the flavor that this chocoholic adores.

In Dominica, after cooling off beneath the water falls, we drank fresh coconut juice, right from the fruit. Then, our talented host carved a spoon out of the shell, so we could scoop out the soft pulp. You can't get this in New York!

In Bonaire, some of us went diving and snorkeling, while others enjoyed sitting on the beach, gazing at the clearest water imaginable.

St. Thomas is a shopping haven, where you can make purchases that are duty-free and tax-free.

When we stopped in Aruba, I spent the day at the Renaissance Hotel and Casino, establishing a personal relationship with the manager who promises to take care of everyone I send. This resort is gorgeous. Located in the heart of everything, it is surrounded by stores, restaurants, and nightlife, all within walking distance. The resort itself is huge, with everything you can imagine. There is part for adults, and another section for families. There are two casinos, pools, pool bars, and a strip of beach, right in the immediate resort. Even more exciting: a boat pulls right into the lobby of the hotel every 15 minutes, to pick you up and whisk you away to their private beach, a 10-minute boat ride across fabulous blue water. There you'll find flamingos, colorful lizards, fish, beach chairs, a bar, a restaurant, diving and water activities, and an area where you can get massages. It can be an all-inclusive experience or pay-as-you-go. Your choice.

Of course, cruising the Caribbean is always fabulous. On the ship, we enjoyed wine tastings, gourmet meals, Broadway-style shows, a hypnotist, tropical deck parties, poolside fun, and so much more. Our group amenities included $50 shipboard credit, tote bags, t-shirts, lip balm, pens, photos, cappuccinos and cocktails. Every member of our group deposited for next Presidents' Week while still on board!

It's your choice: Spend next Presidents' Week shoveling snow or shoveling sand.

For more information or to book a trip, contact "Commodore" Camille today.

This article was accurate when it was written, but everything in life changes. Enjoy the journey!

Copyright: Camille Pepe Sperrazza