Monthly Archives: January 2015

Foodie Report for the Norwegian Star

You may recall an earlier post in which I claimed I’m not a foodie. In preparation for this post, I took a quiz to see just how un-foodie I was. You can take the same quiz here: http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Food/2012/0727/Are-you-a-real-foodie-Take-our-quiz. Imagine my surprise when I scored 80%! A score of 70% or higher qualified me as a definite foodie. Who knew? Frankly, I rocked all the French cooking questions because although I may not consider myself a foodie, I am definitely a francophile. Now that I can legitimately claim the title of foodie, I am presumptuous enough to give you a foodie report for the Norwegian Star.

With a capacity of 2348 passengers, the Star serves a lot of meals which obviously requires a huge amount of food. At embarkation we observed some of the provisions that would be loaded onto the ship to feed us for 14 days at sea.

Provisions to be transported onboard

Provisions to be transported onboard

The Star features 14 dining options, composed of two complimentary main dining rooms, the Versailles and the Aqua; the Market Cafe, which is a buffet; several other bars and cafes that serve food; and 8 specialty restaurants that charge an extra fee.

For breakfast, we opted for a made-to-order omelet and fresh fruit each morning in the Market Cafe after a workout in the fitness center or a walk on the promenade. I usually had egg whites only with every veggie. Yum! I loved sitting outside to enjoy the balmy temperatures in the morning.

Breakfast by the pool on the Norwegian Star

Breakfast by the pool on the Norwegian Star

For lunch, we enjoyed whatever they prepared on the pool deck or went back to the Market Cafe for a big salad and some protein.I enjoyed watching the chefs prepare dishes in mass quantities before our eyes. Since I’m gluten-free, I didn’t eat the pasta…

Seafood Pasta on the Norwegian Star

Seafood Pasta on the Norwegian Star

The first two evenings we ventured to the Versailles Main Dining Room which seats 491 guests. Frankly, we weren’t overly impressed with our service and although the dining room itself is gorgeous, it was noisy and distracting. The third evening we decided to try the other main dining room, the Aqua, which seats 334 guests in a bit more casual venue. We were so impressed that we had dinner there every night thereafter.

Versailles Main Dining Room, Norwegian Star

Lori and Jim at the Versailles

The main dining rooms feature the same menu with items that remain the same each night and “Tonight’s Signature Specialties” that change every evening.  There was plenty of variety and we had no trouble choosing a pleasing entrée along with starters and sumptuous desserts. Each entrée is paired with sides that complement the main dish but you can order additional items if you prefer. I usually opted for seafood while Jim chose beef or pork. I especially liked the portion control of the dishes that encourages some self-restraint. The service, presentation, and taste were especially good considering how many people they feed each evening.

We enjoyed our servers at the Aqua so much the first evening that we requested seating in their area every evening afterwards. Jessie is from the Philippines and Indra is from Indonesia.  They worked hard, and they were friendly, professional, and knowledgeable.

Our server, Jessie, on the Norwegian Star

Our server, Jessie, on the Norwegian Star

Our server, Indra, Norwegian Star

Our server, Indra, Norwegian Star

I love taking photos of food so I’m happy to share some of our meals with you. I wish I’d thought to photograph the menu each night so I could identify each dish as well. The names of the dishes are as appealing as the food, in my opinion.

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They say the average cruiser gains a pound a day. I say you can actually choose to live a healthier lifestyle on a cruise ship.  If you get some exercise each day and make sensible food choices among the plentiful offerings, you can come home without “extra baggage.”

 

 

Taken from events of November, 2014

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 3 Comments

If Everyone Liked It…

The first time we went on a cruise, my husband, Jim, says he had to be dragged kicking and screaming onto the ship and he had to be dragged kicking and screaming off the ship. He mistakenly thought he would hate it but now we’re experienced cruisers with 8 cruises under our belts including 2 Mediterranean cruises, 5 to the Caribbean, and most recently the transit through the Panama Canal on the Norwegian Star. Next on the docket is an Alaskan cruise scheduled for June, 2015.

Cruising offers several advantages. First, your transportation, accommodations, meals, and entertainment are all included in the package so there’s less to plan and arrange after selecting your cruise. There are plenty of cruise lines and itineraries to choose from so you’re likely to find the perfect cruise for you. In addition, you know what you’re getting for your money and the total cost upfront… unless you spend a lot onboard and don’t keep track. You can choose to do as much or as little as you like with lots of options for activities onboard and excursions in ports, or simply relaxing by the pool with a book in hand. A cruise allows you to sample various ports of call without longterm commitment. If you like a place, you can return in the future and if you don’t like it, you’re not stuck for the duration of your vacation. Finally, while traveling place to place, your belongings stay onboard in one place so you don’t have to pack up for the next stop.

There are several disadvantages as well. If you’re a misanthrope or just not a particularly sociable person, the proximity of 2400 other passengers and half again as many staff may be uncomfortable. If you suffer from motion sickness (I had it once) or any other illness, being on a ship confined to a tiny stateroom is definitely a nightmare. See my post entitled Quarantine on the Norwegian Star. Additionally, there isn’t much opportunity to spontaneously  change plans because you have no choice but to go where the cruise ship goes at the appointed time or they WILL leave you behind.  Finally, alcohol is very expensive onboard and although you can take your own wine, it carries high corking fees. Cruising isn’t for everyone but as a friend once said, “If everyone liked it, it would be too crowded for us.”

Each ship is different but all that I’ve seen have a Las Vegas vibe to them–a kind of gaudy, glitzy, glittery glamour. Personally, I prefer a more understated elegance but I’m sure the cruise lines have plenty of research to back up their style choices. The closest I’ve seen to my personal taste is the Hawaiian theme decor on the Norwegian Jade which, ironically, cruises the Mediterranean and not Hawaii.

Before we leave the ship at the end of our cruise through the Panama Canal, here is a last look at the Norwegian Star.

The Atrium on the Norwegian Star

The Atrium on the Norwegian Star

Mural in Stairwell

Mural in Stairwell

Deck chairs on the Promenade

Deck chairs on the Promenade

Promenade Deck

Promenade Deck

Red Lion Pub

Red Lion Pub

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Lori on deck for walking

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Pool area with water slide

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Lori and me in the hot tub

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Towel Art

An example of towel art that appeared every evening in our stateroom

Panama Canal Photo

Goodbye to Cruising the Norwegian Star

So tell me, have you cruised? What other advantages or disadvantages of cruising have you identified? Please share your thoughts.

Based on events from November, 2014

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

That’s Entertainment — Norwegian Star Style

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We usually take in the entertainment in the main theater every night while on a cruise ship. It’s not always great entertainment but it’s generally good enough entertainment and it doesn’t cost anything extra so why not? The night they had a hypnotist on the Norwegian Star, however, I said maybe we should skip it. I’ve been hypnotized several times so I just knew I’d end up on stage. Jim said, “Oh, come on, it’ll be fun” so I relented and off we went.

The hypnotist did his thing and sure enough, I was the first one selected and ended up center stage.

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Let me tell you about my experiences with hypnosis. I’ve laid down with my head on one chair, my feet on another with nothing in between, a person placed on top of me, and the hypnotist standing on top of both of us. That’s the most remarkable feat, but I’ve done plenty of silly things like acting as if the person next to me on stage smells really bad, etc. This time I was the last person on stage because the hypnotist told me I was stuck to the chair and although I needed a restroom badly, I couldn’t get up from the chair until either he or the cruise director shook my hand. So I squirmed and crossed my legs and asked the cruise director if I could leave but stayed stuck to my chair until he finally shook my hand at which time I left the stage.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, hypnosis is “a trance-like state in which you have heightened focus and concentration.”  That sounds benign, don’t you think? So, how does hypnosis feel, you ask? I feel totally in control; I believe I could leave the stage if I wanted; I feel relaxed and cooperative. I would never do anything I wouldn’t do ordinarily but I feel like it’s important to go along with the show so the hypnotist doesn’t look bad. In a later seminar, the hypnotist, TerranceB, confirmed that’s exactly how he feels when hypnotized. He said anyone can be hypnotized if they are willing and not fearful of it. While under hypnosis I am aware of what is happening and I remember everything afterward. I also feel refreshed after the experience and sleep incredibly well that night. I don’t know why I’m such a good subject but a therapist friend said I’m likely highly suggestible. Somehow, I’m not sure that sounds like a good thing.

Other entertainment in the Stardust Theater included a tribute act to Frankie Valley and the Four Seasons, an outstanding acrobatic aerial show, a lot of comedy acts including Second City, comedy with magic, a comedy juggler, (both of these last two were MUCH better than they sound), and several performances by the Norwegian Star Production Cast and Show Band. Photography isn’t allowed so I only have pictures of the theater and us.

Stardust Theater on the Norwegian Star

Stardust Theater on the Norwegian Star

Stardust Theater on the Norwegian Star, 2014

Stardust Theater on the Norwegian Star, 2014

There is also lots more entertainment, music, and dancing in lounges and bars throughout the ship until late into the night. I rarely make it past 10 p.m. so I missed most of that but I did make it a priority to dance a few nights.

Dancing in the Spinnaker Lounge

Dancing in the Spinnaker Lounge

We’re not big gamblers but the casino onboard any ship usually sees a lot of action. This ship actually struck me as having somewhat fewer gamblers than usual. I’ll play a few penny slots but I haven’t struck it rich yet.

Slots in the Casino

Slots in the Casino

There’s plenty of daytime entertainment all over the ship as well, including game shows, bingo, trivia, dance lessons, and more. The ice sculpting on the pool deck was fascinating to watch even though I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember the finished product.

Ice carving emonstration

Ice carving demonstration

My friend, Lori, and I went to a French wine tasting that was well worth the extra charge and the sommelier was very knowledgable and engaging. He was generous with his pours, too.

Wine tasting

Wine tasting

One of my favorite shows was the Norwegian Star Crew Show. Crew members from all over the ship displayed a variety of amazing talents. But the final act, Fountains, performed by the cruise director and his staff, was absolutely hilarious. Dressed in sheets to look like Greek performers, they spit streams of water all over each other and the stage as they imitated fountains in a very funny and creative show. Photographs were allowed and encouraged for this particular show.

Fountains

Fountains on the Norwegian Star

Truly, there are so many competing entertainment options while on a cruise ship that the challenge is to pick the ones that interest you most. Just be sure to check out what they have to offer. You’ll be glad you did.

 

Based on events of November, 2014

Categories: cruise, Uncategorized | Tags: , | 4 Comments

Fit for Travel in 2015

Happy_New_Year_2015

On New Year’s Eve, one of my Zumba instructors asked me when I was going to write a blog post about Zumba. My first thought was, “I do a travel blog, not an exercise blog” and my second thought was, “Why not?” I’ve attended Zumba classes while traveling in northern Wisconsin; St Louis, Missouri; Sarasota, Florida; on a cruise ship in the Caribbean; and even in Krakow, Poland where the instructor didn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak Polish but we both spoke Zumba which was good enough. It’s obviously travel-related for me. So, Brenda, this one’s for you.

When I’m at home, I go to Brenda’s class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings and to Nikki’s class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. It’s a fun way to get fit by dancing. You can go at your own pace and once you know the basic steps, you can go anywhere and feel comfortable joining the class.

Zumba with Brenda

Zumba with Brenda

Zumba Love

Zumba Love with Brenda

I’ve found Zumba classes all over the world while traveling, and if you want to find one near you, check out Zumba.com. The one below was in O’Fallon, Missouri at the YMCA.

Zumba at O'fallon Family YMCA, O'Fallon, MO

Zumba at O’fallon Family YMCA, O’Fallon, MO

When not going to Zumba, I still try to stay active wherever I go. There are lots of opportunities to move your body that enhance the travel experience and don’t feel like “working out.” So here are just a few suggestions I’d like to share.

First of all, we walk–a lot–wherever we travel. If a point of interest is within walking distance, we walk rather than ride. I admit it’s probably more about my budget travel goals than getting exercise but it’s also a healthier option. And sometimes you can’t get there unless you hike, like we did in Krakow, Poland. Michael took us to see Kościuszko Mound which involved a long hike through a forest and then when we got there we still had to climb the mound. But the view was totally worth it.

Krakow, Poland

Hiking in Krakow, Poland

Kościuszko Mound, Krakow, Poland

The trail circles the mound with no railings until you reach the summit at Kościuszko Mound, Krakow, Poland

Kościuszko Mound, Krakow, Poland

View from the summit of Kościuszko Mound, Karakow, Poland, April, 2011

Closer to home, you may recall my post from July 15, 2014 about the hike my husband and I took around Devil’s Tower, Wyoming or the July 22, 2014 post about hiking part of the Spokane River Centennial Trail with my girlfriends. If you don’t remember, that’s a shameless plug to check them out.

Devil's Tower, WY

Devil’s Tower, WY

Spokane River Centennial Trail

My friends hiking the Spokane River Centennial Trail, 2014

Another option is to ride a bike. Bike rentals are often inexpensive and add an experiential dimension to any trip. We rented bikes on several occasions in Belgrade, Serbia and Lucca, Italy which got us farther than we could have gone by walking but still enabled us to enjoy our surroundings at a leisurely pace.

Belgrade, Serbia

Biking to Ada Ciganlija, Belgrade, Serbia, Sept. 2010

Biking the ramparts in Lucca, Italy, 2013

Biking the ramparts in Lucca, Italy, 2013

Even hitting the links or the pool is fun, especially when entertaining children. Of course, you can’t take your golf game too seriously with children, which I think is a good thing.

Golfing at Winghaven Country Club, O'Fallon, MO

Golfing in Missouri

Pool at Winghaven Country Club, O'Fallon, MO

Pool Time

If you’re more adventurous, try snorkeling. Most rentals will give you instructions but it’s pretty easy especially if you’re near the shore and can stand up if you start to feel uncertain. It’s such a great way to enjoy tropical marine life in the Caribbean. The coral and the colorful, iridescent tropical fish look amazing when viewed from underwater.

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Snorkeling in the Caribbean

Still more water options include kayaking and paddle boarding, both of which are much easier than you may think.

Kayaking in Isla Mujeres

Kayaking at Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Paddle boarding in Florida

Paddle boarding in Florida

Cruise ships are notorious for weight gain among their passengers so to counteract this threat, I make an effort to do something active every day. We always explore the fitness center as soon as we board the ship so that we know what is available and where to go to find it. On every ship we’ve had weight machines, free weights, treadmills, and elliptical machines in the fitness center. They also offer classes that may include pilates, crossfit, Latin dancing, stretching, abdominal work outs and more. Some of the classes charge a fee, however.

Fitness Room on the Norwegian Star

Fitness Room on the Norwegian Star

We also like to play a little shuffleboard which probably doesn’t burn a lot of calories but at least we’re moving. Notice the walkers behind our friends on this deck, too.

Shuffle board

Shuffle board

Our last cruise on the Norwegian Star had a water slide and I even had a turn at that just for the fun of it.

Water slide on the Norwegian Star

Water slide on the Norwegian Star

There are really so many fun ways that support fitness while traveling that it’s not difficult to find something you’ll enjoy. If you really dislike any form of exercise, however, here’s a suggestion. I received a Fitbit Flex as a Christmas gift and it tracks every step you take, syncs with your computer, iPad or smart phone, and shows you the results. Health experts tell us we need to take 10,000 steps a day. With this on your wrist, you’ll see how many steps you’re taking all day long and find out whether you need to do a little more. I love it and you may, too.

Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Flex

Do you make any New Year’s resolutions? I usually try to think of a few ways to improve my health and fitness but not commit to anything that will likely result in failure. This year I’m resolving to take 10,000 steps each day. Fortunately, the Fitbit tells me that one hour of Zumba racks up over half of those steps each day and burns 300-500 calories.

Yes, that's me in the headband at a Zumba Pretty in Pink fundraiser against breast cancer

Yes, that’s me in the headband at a Zumba Pretty in Pink fundraiser against breast cancer

 

Brenda

Brenda between my friend and sweaty me (post workout)

“Ditch the Workout, Join the Party” as the Zumba slogan goes. I’ll look for you there!

Share how you stay fit while traveling and/or your fitness goals for 2015 in comments.

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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