Archive for November, 2013



By Sarah Phillips

St. Thomas

Until my first cruise, my only experience or expectations around cruise ships came from one place: Pirates of the Caribbean. I grew up with the Disney ride, and then loved the movie when it came out. I was sure every port we visited would be just like the places I saw in the movie.  You can probably imagine my surprise on my very first cruise when that wasn’t the case.

Several scenes for the movie were shot in California and Hawaii. However, some scenes were shot on location in the Caribbean. But the real Port Royal they talk about? It was in the mouth of Kingston Harbor in Jamaica until it was completely destroyed by earthquakes in 1692 and 1907 (not to mention fires, hurricanes and epidemics). And Tortuga? Well, you’re in luck there actually – it’s now known as the Cayman Islands.

Here are 5 Pirate Ports to check out:

St. Thomas. While St. Thomas wasn’t used in any Pirates filming, it does boast a pretty prolific Pirate history, including the feared pirates Blackbeard and Bluebeard. In the late 1600’s, Charlotte Amalie became a pirate’s refuge. Today, the Charlotte Amalie offers stunning views and many local tours to explore the history of this bustling port.

San Juan. If you’re looking for forts that long ago pirates might have tried attacking, this is your port. Any ship sailing into San Juan goes right by Castillo San Felipe del Morro, known as El Morro. San Juan is also home to the Castillo San Cristóbal fort. You can walk around this fort any day of the year (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter) and imagine the battles that might have taken place there. For more info on the forts, check out the National Parks Service site: http://www.nps.gov/saju/index.htm.

Dominica. The ‘nature island’ doesn’t boast forts, but instead features tropical rainforests and exotic beaches. Dominica is typically visited on Southern Caribbean routes and was featured in two Pirates movies. When pirates did sail the Caribbean, this island was a popular pirate destination for depositing treasures. In fact, rumor has it that a significant treasure was hidden in caves in 1567 and still hasn’t been found to this day.

St. Vincent. Since the real Port Royal was destroyed by acts of nature, filmmakers used Wallilabou Bay in St. Vincent as a stand-in for the famed city in the first movie. St. Vincent offers tons of natural beauty and exploration as it’s remained largely undeveloped for tourism. Many of the island’s landscape and beauty is reachable only by boat or foot and it also features one of the oldest Botanical gardens in the Western Hemisphere.

Bahamas. One of the most visited places in the Caribbean, the Bahamas did have a role in filming the movies and also a history of real life Pirates. Scenes were shot on Grand Bahama Island and Exuma. Nassau features an interactive pirate museum highlighting the golden age of piracy; it’s appropriate as Nassau was a favorite pirate destination.

Honorable mention goes to Castaway Cay. Owned by Disney, their private island paradise featured a very special draw: the Flying Dutchman, a ship used in two of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Which port do you think has the best pirate presence? Have you ever done any fantastic pirate tours during your travels?

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Oasis of the Seas






By Barry Vaudrin

For those cruise vacationers who have been on many cruises over the years, you might know some of these secrets of cruising, however; it’s my challenge here to come up with cruise secrets that avid cruisers may not be aware of.

1. Always seek out a Cruise Expert agency to book your cruise.

I have a few friends that regardless of my advice, continue to fall for the mistake of booking their cruise directly with the cruise line, or with a travel agency that doesn’t specialize in booking cruises.  Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with booking directly through the cruise line, it’s simply in your best interest to find a Cruise Expert agency, because they are aware of and granted by the cruise lines based on their booking volume, special perks, upgrades, discounts and amenities only offered to high volume cruise agencies.   You may get a great deal on your cruise booked directly with the cruise line, and it may even be the same price quoted by a cruise-only agency, but what you may not know, is that that same cruise booked through the cruise-only agency can offer a special amenities package that the cruise line does not offer.  You could save money.  You could get an upgrade, and you can receive unbiased advice from a cruise-only travel agency.  It does not cost anything extra to book through a cruise-only travel agency, and I think you will be pleased with the results the next time you plan to book a cruise.  Tap-in to the upgrades, discounts, special amenities and other nice surprises the next time you book a cruise with a cruise-only travel agency.

2. Order more than one entrée.

When you are onboard a wonderful cruise ship and dining in the main dining room, why limit yourself to only one entrée?  This is a little secret many don’t know, which is you can order multiple entrees if you see several option on the menu that appeal to you.  Go ahead, the next time you’re in the dining room, order two entrees, or two soups, or two desserts, you’re on vacation!

3. Book Shore Excursions online, before your cruise.

Many cruise lines now offer pre-booking shore excursions well before your cruise date.  You may not save money doing this, but here’s the key….if you wait to book your cruise once you board the ship, you may find that the best shore excursions are sold out.  Don’t find yourself in this situation, plan out which excursions you may like weeks or months before your cruise,  and secure your excursion tickets before they are sold out.

4. Use the showers and steam room in the spa.

The bathroom and shower in your stateroom may be very nice, but I have found that the showers in the spas sometimes have water-pressure.  Also, many of the spas have a steam room that is free to use in the men’s and women’s changing areas.  I love a nice steam to wake me up for the day.

5. Change-out bed linens and pillows.

Chances are you will find your bed and linens to be very comfortable, but if you discover you’re not entirely comfortable with your mattress, the linens or pillows, talk to your room steward and explain your concern, because often times there are special mattress-toppers, linens and pillows your steward can find to make your bed fit your comfort needs.

6. Never purchase bottled water onboard the ship.

I’m amazed when I see passengers spend their hard-earned cash on something like bottled water.  The modern cruise ships have incredibly high-tech water filtration systems onboard, so the water right out of the tap in your stateroom is going to be exceptionally purified and clean.  When you pack for your next cruise, buy a nice water / juice bottle and pack it in your luggage.  Fill your water / juice bottle using the sink in your stateroom.  One extra little trick I do, is bring several boxes or packets of your favorite Crystal Light or the new MioEnergy “liquid water enhancer” and flavor your water, add some ice to make it cold and ta ta…..you have a refreshing drink that doesn’t cost you a penny onboard the ship!

7. If you don’t like your table-mates?

It happens; sometimes you may get placed at a table with people who might not fit with your idea of good dinner companions.  At the entrance to the dinning room, ask to speak with the Restaurant Manager or Maître-d, and simply request to be place at another table.  You will be discreetly moved to another table.

8. Gratuities

Most cruise lines now offer automated gratuities to make it simpler to thank and tip the service crew that clean your stateroom and bring your food in the dinning room.  For those, however; who want to have more control of who receives a gratuity from you, and how much you give, you can visit the purser’s desk and ask for the automated gratuities to be removed from your end-of-cruise invoice.  Once this has been done, you can determine how much you want to tip certain people that have made your cruise an excellent experience.  This is a personal issue, and I often enjoy rewarding those who go the extra mile by personally handing them an envelope with my cash-gratuity inside.  The automated gratuity system is convenient for those who don’t know how much to tip, and who should receive a tip.  I like to tip the old-fashioned way, and personally hand that waiter, maitre d, or cabin steward my personal thanks with cash in an envelope.

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