The Plank on Norwegian Breakaway

Walking the Plank

I had heard all the hype about The Plank on the Breakaway and wasn’t sure that it was something that I would be interested in doing. My fear of heights and my awful balance inspire little confidence. Nevertheless, I donned my safety harness and climbed the stairs and reached the first platform of the ropes course. I had originally thought that I could simply get in a line to walk The Plank. That is not the case at all; I would have to do the ropes course to reach The Plank.  Standing on the first circular platform where I had a choice of several routes to take to reach The Plank, I surveyed the situation looking for the most direct route to the Plank. I looked at the deck below the narrow beams; looked toward The Plank and judged what it would take to get there and immediately and gingerly backed off the platform to the top of the stairs and with as much determination and confidence that I had when I climbed the stairs descended with great agility.

Zipline on the Norwegian Breakaway

Zipline on the Norwegian Breakaway

Watching others would be enough for me. I jokingly asked if I could do the mini-ropes course for little kids, but my request was denied. Watching others would be enough for me. My sister bravely completed the ropes course and walked The Plank. I don’t know what it is about that course, but her photo sure indicates that it turned a grandmother into a kid again.

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Baltimore Beyond the Port

In the excitement of boarding a ship and starting a long-awaited cruise, we often go directly to the port without exploring the city where the port is located. Just think of what you are missing. The next time you cruise, add an extra day either before or after your cruise to see what the port city is all about.

Inner Harbor credti: Visit Baltimore

Baltimore played a significant role in the War of 1812 and throughout American history. Besides its historic roots, it also boasts museums, art galleries, great restaurants and breweries. Isn’t it about time you took in a few hours in Baltimore? My recent tour of Baltimore found me intrigued by the sheer variety of attractions in the city. I will share the list of some of my favorites that you might consider the next time you sail from Baltimore. This is not a comprehensive list, so be sure to check Visit Baltimore for more ideas.

Attractions

  • So maybe I am old, but when did pinball machines quietly disappear? With the advent of video games of course. But if you long for the pinball experience, head over to the recently opened National Pinball Museum where not only will you learn about the history of this machine, but you will also get a chance to play on the machines.

    At the National Pinball Museum

    This is very addictive, so be sure to keep an eye on the time so you don’t miss the ship.

  • Head out to Fort McHenry and learn all about the War of 1812. The fort played a role in inspiring Francis Scott Key to write his famous poem, which later became the verses of our National Anthem. The tune on the other hand is based on the melody of an old English drinking song.

    Fort McHenry

  • While still feeling patriotic, visit the Flag House and get to know the woman who sewed the flag that Francis Scott Key saw through the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air.
  • For a look at art by the masses, the American Visionary Art Museum is the place to be.

    Bus at the American Visionary Museum

  • Walk around the distinctive Baltimore’s distinctive neighborhoods – Fell’s Point, Federal Hill, the Inner Harbor and Little Italy- to name a few.

Fell’s Point Streetscape

Food

There is something for every palate in Baltimore, even for those whose can’t pass up a deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The following are restaurants where I have personally eaten. All except the last two are in Fell’s Point. Do a dine around like I did and sample a dish or two from each restaurant. All of the eating will get you prepared for your cruise.

Ze Mean Bean – Focusing on Slavic food, Ze Mean Bean is the place to find a tasty pierogi along with other Eastern European specialties.
The Point – American food with soups, salads, sandwiches and small plates.
Hungry Andy’s – Definitely not your ordinary takeaway, fast food restaurant. Andy’s has a good selection of burgers, fries, pit beef and barbeque.
One-Eyed Mike’s – Where else would you find a bottle of Grand Marnier with your name on it? At One-Eyed Mike’s, of course. In addition to its Grand Marnier Club, One-Eyed Mike’s serves a variety of good food in an old creaky building with a great patio area.
Todd Conner’s – Once was enough for me to try the deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the late night menu at this establishment. Their twist on the pb&j is substituting a White Russian for the milk. Todd Conner’s offers other less eccentric items on their daytime menus.

Outside of Fell’s Point, Lebanese Taverna in Harbor East was a real treat for somebody who grew up eating a lot of Mideastern dishes. I highly recommend it.

Chazz, also in the Harbor East area, presents Italian food in friendly surroundings. The cocktails here added to the experience as did being able to watch the pizza making process.

Next time you think of skipping a city just to get the the port; reconsider and get a taste of the city. There is definitely more to Baltimore than its port.

*Unfortunately, the port is not convenient to the attractions in the city, so planning your visit will take some careful thought, but it will be worth it.

Sail Away

The Poesia People

It’s no secret that MSC does not have a large presence in North America. Just ask anybody what they think of MSC and they may not even know that it is one of the largest shipping companies in the world. Of course, they also have an extensive fleet of cruise ships, but the majority of those sail outside of North America.

Public space on the MSC Poesia


Being a European based company, MSC cruises do have a continental flair. In fact, North Americans are often the minority on these ships. But don’t let that dissuade you from giving it a try. Then again, xenophobes should take note and find a ship with a predominantly North American passenger base.

I enjoyed hearing foreign languages on this ship and met interesting people from all over the world. Some of my fellow passengers complained about the many languages used on the ship especially the announcements; but honestly, there were very few announcements. If you are open-minded and tolerate the perceived idiosyncrasies of those from different cultures, you might want to give the Poesia a try. Remember that she sails from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean so it is simple for North Americans to board, so there is a good mix of both Americans and Europeans, if that is your preference. I have not yet experienced the European product, so can’t comment on that from personal experience, but have heard that there are some differences, one being the predominance of European passengers.

I think it is time to try another ship in the MSC fleet.

Sail Away.

MSC Metamorphosis

My cynicism about the MSC brand transformed into enthusiasm. How things had changed from the previous cruise on the Lirica. Like the Lirica, the Poesia is a beautiful ship befitting a vessel with such a beautiful name. And speaking of the name, it is an Italian word meaning poetry. As a student of Italian in college, I cringed when I heard the pronunciation of the ship’s name both on the bus to the port and while waiting in the hotel lobby for my room and listening to shuttle bus announcements. One would think that if they offered services to the ship that they would know the proper pronunciation of the ship, but alas, that was not the case. I may have missed my shuttle had I listened for the ship’s name. Poesia pronounced similar to Portia. Please listen to this for the correct pronunciation of the ship; Italian after all is considered one of the most beautiful languages and might be the closest to poesia that one can get.

Just like the Lirica, the Poesia is indeed a beautiful ship. Signora Aponte, the owner’s wife, plays a major role in selection of fabrics, furniture and design details. Spots like the Zebra lounge, which has the potential of being a gaudy and splashy are tastefully executed so as not to create an offensive atmosphere. In fact, the decor throughout the ship is pleasing in its understated elegance.

Teatro Carlo Felice

Prejudiced by my penchant for the color purple, one of my favorite venues as far as decor is the Teatro Carlo Felice, the large theatre where a variety of uncommon performances occur. In fact, the majority of the shows last for just 35 minutes, however, they are packed with excitement and the unexpected. MSC presentations remain unliked those of other ships. The shorter, but intense shows hold the audience captive. Personally I enjoy the abbreviated performance length.

Pre-dinner opera duet

It isn’t only the entertainment in the main theatre that impresses, but also the acts around the ship in the smaller venues. The tenor and soprano singing in the atrium drew regular SRO crowds enthralled by this genre of vocal performance. That’s something you don’t find on many other ships. What I didn’t ever see on this ship was a comedian and since the passengers speak many different languages it seems like a wise decision since much humor is based on double entendres or colloquialisms that might be lost in translation. And speaking of the variety of passengers, I will address that in the next installment.

Sail Away

One More Chance for MSC

msc

Several years ago we sailed on the MSC Lirica. Although we enjoyed the cruise, the experience was less than stellar. Not being ones to rule out anything based on one experience, we decided to sail with MSC another time.

We had read recent positive comments about MSC and decided it was time to see if things had changed. Change is good and MSC has done a good job of catering to the North American market.

I interviewed Rick Sasso, the CEO of MSC in America and asked him what he would tell those who cruised with MSC several years ago and weren’t impressed. He wants those people to return and see the improvements.

Always the cynic, I was not sure that there would be changes, but the biggest difference I saw was the change in attitude of the crew and the officers, who verged on surly on our prior MSC cruise. The change was obvious from the minute I boarded the ship. I always check to see that other passengers are treated equally well and found that this new service attitude is pervasive throughout the ship. I have not regretted choosing the MSC Poesia for this cruise and suggest that anybody who may have marked MSC off their list to reconsider.

The next few posts will offer some insights into this cruise line. I hope you will add it to your list if you haven’t tried the line yet and that you would give the cruise line another chance if you have sailed with them before.

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Costa Concordia Tragedy

The unfortunate tragedy that struck the Costa Concordia is a grim reminder that emergency situations can occur anywhere and at any time. One of the preparations that passengers partake of is the muster drill. Just like the fire drills you attended at school, these drills give instructions on the procedures for guests in case of an emergency. Some passengers do anything to avoid the muster drill; others attend, but are only there physically and still others take the drill seriously. In fact, I have attended muster drills where the crew took this event lightly, standing and joking with their fellow crew members or the passengers.

I have often wondered how passengers would follow instructions in case of a real emergency as the muster drill hardly replicates the emotional state of a real life or death situation.

Next time you are at your muster drill, pay attention. Find the nearest staircase to your stateroom and take note of it. Some people even count the number of doors to the staircase or nearest exit.

For a quick review of a typical safety explanation, take a look at the following Carnival safety film.

Sail Away

New NCL Gem Menus

Click on the menu tab above to take a look at a few of the menus from the main dining room and from Blue Lagoon. Specialty restaurant menu samples are listed under the Norwegian Dawn.

Sail Away.

Norwegian Dawn Overview

In general, our sailing on the Norwegian Dawn was a splendid experience. We felt connected with the staff and crew, who went out of their ways to make our experience on this ship a pleasant and memorable one.

There were a few things that we could pick at, especially the condition of the chairs in the relaxation area of the spa. I never expect to experience anything that is in worse condition than my house.

Where's the upholsterer?

Although this ship had undergone a recent drydock, it seems that one item that was forgotten was the upholstery on the chairs in the relaxation area. Come on Norwegian. Do you need a woman to check out the condition of the furniture onboard? The condition of these chairs did not entice me to splurge on the spa package where I might enjoy a relaxing time watching the world go by.

Other than the worn chairs in the relaxation area, I can’t think of any other negative. My bed did slide, but I found it more entertaining than annoying, but it was noticeable. I thought that I should be looking for a spot where I could insert a quarter for more action.

In 2012, the sailing season from Boston to Bermuda has been shortened. The last cruise of the year will depart on September 14. After that the Dawn will sail a Canada and New England itinerary.

Sail Away

Norwegian Dawn Review 2011 Casino

Casino
Grace the casino manager is a real gem. She helped with our slot pull and went out of her way to speak with us every time that she saw us in the casino. I don’t think that was due to the donation that we made to the casino. In fact, we felt so welcome in the casino that it made losing less painful. We found the slots rather tight, but it is a casino after all and they wouldn’t be in business if everybody won. Our clothes reeked of smoke after our visits there.

casino

Casino

We are small-time gamblers so getting an extra free $25 of slot play is appealing to us. We took advantage of the coupon that is offered at Slot Play Coupons.(Be sure you select the ship that you will be sailing on.) With this coupon, we paid $25 to get $50 of slot play. We were at first hesitant to do this not being sure if it were a legitimate offer. But, we spoke with several other cruisers who had used it, so decided to try it. It was a simple matter to take our coupon to the Dawn casino service desk and get the $50 added to our Casinos at Sea card.

To use this, print out your coupon, go to the casino and sign up for Casinos at Sea and the amount will be added to your card. Keep in mind that you will need to spend whatever amount you originally put into the slot machine. So, if you are thinking of playing at more than one slot machine, be sure to add a lower amount than the value of your card. We will be taking advantage of this offer on our upcoming Gem cruise.
This coupon is only good for NCL cruises (it is good at certain land-based casinos as well) and it is good for a year. You can only use a coupon once every 14 days on your particular ship, so don’t even think of purchasing one for every day that you will be onboard. But both you and your cabin mate can purchase a coupon. Good luck!!!

Looking for another way to increase your betting dollar? Go to the Bon Voyage gifts at NCL and find Triple Play Coupons as well as a slot play coupon. What could be better than having more money to lose? I didn’t do too well on the Dawn and made a nice donation to the casino, but ran into a lady who was going to play a 25 cent machine. She put $100 into the machine and hit the double bet. She panicked when she realized that she was not at a 25 cent machine, but rather at a $25 machine!!!!!! As luck would have it, her double bet won her $2500! Most of us would have simply lost $50, but it goes to show that you never know with the slots. I hope to announce one day that I hit it big – not too likely at the penny machines that I usually play.

As a big fan of the penny machines, I did notice that there seemed to be fewer penny machines and many had more lines for betting. Some had so many lines that the penny machine became a dollar machine. A little bit of searching led me to a few machines with fewer lines, although I often had to wait to use those machines.

Sail Away