About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Epic Dining

While sailing the Norwegian Epic I had the opportunity to dine in several of the dining venues, with mixed results.

Taste is the more casual of the two main dining rooms.  I had lunch and dinner here with mixed experiences.  I found the staff to be friendly here, but they were hit and miss on the service.  Some servers were very good and on top of things, others would forget to bring things you had asked for.  I did eat with someone who had special dietary requirements and found that the head waitress (or whatever their title is) did try to meet that request.  But I didn't find they were as aggressive about it as they could have been.

Manhattan Room
Manhattan Room is the formal main dining room.  I ate one dinner here.  The staff was very good and quite attentive.

I believe both main dining rooms had the same menu everyday with base items on it.  Then everyday they would have a few special items offered that were local to the region we were in.

Cagney's Steak House has a $25 up charge and from what I can tell offers better choices and cuts of meat as well as also offering Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail.  The food and the service here were better then the main dining rooms, but it was also pretty quite in the restaurant.  I think this is a good choice for the steak lovers out there.  There was also a Moderno Churrascaria a Brazilian meatfest! One of those places where they bring around different types of meat.  I did not eat here, but I heard good things from those who did.

Shanghai's Chinese Restaurant was a disappointment at $15.  I would compare this to a better Chinese restaurant you can find in many places throughout the US.  Except that it had the worst fried rice I've ever had, it was sticky and flavorless.

Teppanyaki at $25 this was similar to going to any other Hibachi place in the US and for a similar price.  But, like every other Hibachi place it was fun experience with good food.  And they had really good green martini's.  I wish I remember the name of it, but I had too many!

O'Sheehans Neighborhood Bar and Grill offers breakfast and then regular food for the rest of the day.  This is a nice spot for a quicker breakfast (without going through a buffet).  They offered a quick breakfast or you could get breakfast to order.  In the afternoon and evening they had a Irish Pub menu - burgers, fish and chips, meatloaf, chicken pot pie...  This was a nice casual place to eat, but after 2 or 3 meals the menu got boring.

The Garden Cafe on the pool deck was, in my experience, above average compared to other shipboard buffets for lunch and dinner.  I rarely encountered a line here, and found a wide variety of food options.  But they had the BEST pretzel breadsticks, I miss those!

I covered the Spiegel Tent Cirque Dreams in a previous post.  I believe they had just changed the menu there and I thought the food was good, but you really go to see Cirque Dreams and not for the food.

Sorry, but I did not get to eat at the French restaurant, the Italian restaurant, noodle place or the sushi place.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Friday, November 25, 2011

Guest Post: Las Vegas, NV

This is a guest post from a Shane at NationalRVParks.com about affordable Las Vegas!

 A trip to Las Vegas can be a great travel bargain.  It is a city where one can get a lot for a little as my recent trip with my family can attest.  This city is a favorite destination of ours because it is easy to travel upscale for wholesale.  Affordable opulence is how I refer to these visits to our desert mecca.
Aria at Night

In September of 2011, my family of four left Providence and flew non-stop to Las Vegas on Southwest Airlines for the price of one ticket which was less than $300.  Three tickets were gratis because of frequent flyer points garnered from a easy to accumulate Southwest credit card rewards program. Our hotel of choice for this trip was Aria Resort and Casino a property of the MGMMirage corporation.  This hotel is only 2 years old and it is centrally located on the famous Las Vegas Strip.  The cost of each room was a paltry $79 per night.  This price was secured by an internet offer received when I joined their player's club.

The Aria hotel houses over three thousand rooms and suites.  It is a visually stunning property. It looms majestically over the south strip.  It is part of a collection of properties called City Center. City Center includes the Cosmopolitan Hotel, The Vdara Hotel, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, along with private condos and an upscale shopping district called Crystals.  Our room was furnished with an over sized King bed with a view overlooking the strip.  The room also included two televisions,  draperies, central lighting, all controlled by an easy to use remote controlled room unit. We just pressed a button and the television tuned in to one of a hundred channels, the lights rose and dimmed, and the draperies opened and closed all at will.  All for $79 per night.  This is why we love Vegas

The pools, yes there are four pools on this property, are spacious and are meticulously maintained by an attentive staff.  The Las Vegas sun is extremely hot so, needless to say, a lot of sunscreen was applied.  We continually waded into the crystal clear water which provided ample relief from the sweltering sun.  There is also a fitness center which we visited daily. It had all the latest workout equipment and a personal trainer at your disposal.

Our daily routine consisted of a sumptuous breakfast at Aria's sterling buffet.  This is a buffet where for $13 one can dive into a true gourmet experience. It included a cook-to-order omelet station, home made pastries, every breakfast meat you can imagine, even rib-eye steaks along with too many other items to describe adequately. Every choice was fresh and plentiful.  Our servers were attentive and prompt.  Coffee, espresso, latte, and juices were always delivered with a smile.

After waddling out of the buffet, it was pool time. It was best to get there early to ensure a prime spot near our favorite pool's edge.  It was easier to take a dip when it got too hot.  The morning was better for us because of the crowd and the heat. 

Next, we were off to the fitness center to burn off a few of the morning's massive caloric intake. Did I mention that the fitness center supplied headphones, fluffy towels, an array of fruit, and the most refreshing lemon infused ice-cold water I've ever tasted! Remember this was for $79 per night :).

After an afternoon shower in a bathroom that was spa-like, it was off to explore the various hotels on the strip which are a show in themselves. Every hotel is a different sensory experience.  The Bellagio has its fountains, the Mirage has its volcano, the MGM its lions, Treasure Island has its pirate show.  We also visited the Venetian Hotel and Casino complex.  This is the largest hotel in the world with over 7000 rooms and suites. Nothing in Vegas is understated or subtle, but that is its allure for us. 

Each evening was occupied by trying to decide in which gourmet chef's restaurant to dine. Emeril Lagasse, Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, Kerry Simon, Bobby Flay, Marc LoRusso, just to name a few, own and operate restaurants in this city which has become a foodie's paradise.  We  particularly enjoyed  a restaurant called Botero located in Steve Wynn's property, Encore.  We came to know Chef Marc LoRusso because of our frequent visits and he always takes care of us. Let me mention that this chef is a James Beard award winner and his dishes are inventive and delectable . We dined there for a combination of my wife's birthday and  our anniversary.  The frozen chocolate ganache candy bar and marshmallow filled doughnuts for dessert were absolutely "life altering". 

A lounge show at the Palms on a Monday night at 10:30 is always a must for us. Tickets for a group of world class musicians  called Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns, a group voted the "best band in Las Vegas" numerous times, are only $7.  Another great Las Vegas bargain.  These guys jam every Monday night. They get together to play tunes that speak to them, because most of them are musicians for headline strip entertainers like Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Tom Jones, Bette Midler, and others.  Monday nights are their time to kick back and do their own thing.. The result is musical magic. 

My family always has a great time in Las Vegas and you can too. Just be flexible with your travel dates, and join the player's club at the different properties.  You can go upscale for wholesale too!

Bio: My name is Shane McCormick. I am the owner of NationalRVParks.com. I'm in my late 20's and I enjoy travel. I write about my various travel experiences.  I offer tips and hints about my travel destinations. 
Shane recently interviewed me for his own blog, if you want to find out more about me:http://nationalrvparks.com/interview-with-christine-maier-of-the-traveling-giraffe/

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Photos on the Norwegian Epic

The Norwegian Epic is the first ship I sailed on that uses facial recognition for photographs and; Wow, what a difference it makes!

When you board the ship they take your photo, like they do for most ships these days.  After that whenever you take a photo the photo software uses facial recognition to identify you in photos.  And it does a great job at it!

The photo area of the ship has triangular pillars with a binder for each cabin, photos are placed in your binder.  No more searching through walls of people in the same photo setting as you.

Ok, there was a wall of photos where they weren't able to identify someone, but it was a small wall and I know that every photo I took ended up in my binder.

They do also scan room cards when going to the professional photographers, which I'm sure does help the process, but the mobile photographers did not do this.  That is what made this so amazing.

In addition to the binders they also have computer screens where you can view and order your photos.  If there is a bad photo, you can say that it's not you and it magically goes away.  You just have to be careful that you don't do that to a good photo, I'm not sure if there is a way to get it back. You can also order prints through the computers.

From what I hear the Disney Dream may have similar technology, I hope it does.  It's really fantastic and makes the photo buying experience soooo much better on cruise ships!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Clothing Recommendation

How does pick pocket proof pants sound?  FABULOUS!  There is a new company called Clothing Arts that has created pick pocket proof pants and shorts!

I have not tried these pants, though I did see them in person, they look pretty cool and it's a great concept. The pockets have zippers and buttons on them, making it a complete pain in the butt for a pick pocketer to steal from you!  All without bothering to wear a money belt. They also used a good quality fabric that will allow you to wash out stains and also keep the pants looking good when you wear them everyday for a month on a trip, or longer.

Like I said, I haven't tried these; but, I think for anyone who is traveling a lot, visiting big cities, and is afraid to lose their passport these pants/shorts are worth considering.

My biggest problem with these pants?  They don't have woman's, yet.  When asked about that the company replied, "we're a small company."  To me that means that they would like to design them, but that they haven't had time and resources yet.  I'm hopeful!

No, I'm not getting paid for this, I just like to help support a promising new company.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I was interviewed!

This week I did an interview for another blogger.  If you're interested in learning a little bit more about me and why I travel, then please check it out.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NCL Epic Passengers

This recent cruise being my first cruise traveling by myself I found that I met so many more people then I had expected.  And, WOW, they were interesting!

The first woman I met on the cruise ship who really stuck out was staying in a Spa Cabin.  You might wonder how I knew this?  Well, I took a tour of the spa and she was on my tour.  She kept loudly saying to the person travling with her, "with this band we can come in here any time, the other passengers aren't allowed in here."  She was referring to a small black band that identified her as a spa cabin passenger.  FYI, any passenger can buy this band for sea days or the duration of the trip.

While on an excursion I met a gentleman who was traveling by himself, I would say he was about 40 years old, he was staying in a Villa, by himself.  I'm told that the villas start at $10,000 on this cruise.  Incase you are wondering what he does for a living that he can afford a villa, he owns some bars in New Orleans.  He was a nice guy once he got talking, but getting him to talk took some time.  I suspect he's a closet wacko with good social skills when he wants to use them.

Then there was the man who told a story about how he had to deposit over $10,000 cash to a bank.  Whenever you deposit $10,000 cash into a bank you had to fill out a federal form regarding the transaciton.  This man didn't think anyone actually read the form so he wrote how he was using the money to buy drugs from Columbia.  Apparently they do read the forms and he was visited by the DEA. 

I met two girls who were traveling by themselves, it turns out that they were sorority sisters, just from different colleges.  In a strange twist, one of the girls works across the street from me.

Then there was Mr. and Mrs. Polo, they actually looked like a lovely couple.  But they were both wearing Polo shirts, the kind with big giant polo players on them.  Being alone, I made up great stories about how they worked for Ralph Lauren and Polo. Maybe I should have talked to them, maybe they could have given me some Polo clothing.

One thing I did notice as a general theme was that many of the passengers (except for the Europeans) seemed like they were Europe rookies.  They were extra paranoid about safety.  I guess I was like that when I first went to Europe, wearing my money pouch under my pants everywhere I went. First timers are fun, they see things so much differently, it's nice to be reminded on where you came from.

It was an interesting cruise and it reminded me of why I love to travel, all the great and intersting people you meet.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

Blog Recommendations

Today I thought I would recommend some Frequent Flyer Blogs.  These are all blogs by frequent flyers on how to rack up frequent flyer miles and how to use those miles.  What have learned from these blogs?

First and most important is that you can earn miles with a different airline then you're actually flying because of partnerships and alliances. Example - You have miles with American Airlines but now you're going to fly British Airways, enter your AA # when booking and your miles will be credited to your American account.

Going with the previous point, you do not need to fly to keep your frequent flyer account active.  These programs generally only require positive activity in your FF account to keep it active.  You can earn these miles in many different ways, the easiest is to go to their shipping porthole before making a purchase through another website, normally for the same price you would have paid if you just pulled up the site on your own.

You don't have to be a frequent flyer to get lots of miles, there are a lot of different ways to earn miles that don't involve flying or spending money.

While the difference in price in flying Economy vs Business/First Class is steep, it's quite marginal when using miles.  If you've ever dreamed of flying Business/First Class you can hope for an upgrade (unlikely), or use miles.

Mommy Points - http://boardingarea.com/blogs/mommypoints/

Frugal Travel Guy - http://www.frugaltravelguy.com/

The Points Guy - http://thepointsguy.com/

Unroad Warrior - http://boardingarea.com/blogs/unroadwarrior/

View From the Wing - http://boardingarea.com/blogs/viewfromthewing/

Anything that I didn't mention at http://boardingarea.com 

Good Luck!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

More Epic Entertainment

In my last post I spoke about the entertainment on the EPIC, as in the shows.  In this post I'll cover the daytime entertainment.

Pools - There are two main pool areas on this ship.  I didn't spend much time in the main pool area, I found the music was often too loud and I found the pools were designed more for children then adults.  I think there were 4 hot tubs, but I'm not positive.  This area was adjacent to the buffet, so it had free drinks - tea, milk, water, iced tea.

I spent most of my time in Spice H2O, the adult pool area.  While there was normally music playing, it was at a reasonable volume.  The pool was small and at night it actually converted into a dance floor (the floor of the pool would go up and down, fancy technology I hear).  There were 2 hot tubs on each corner of the area with great views out the back of the ship.  There was also a small buffet in this area, but there were no drink offerings other then paid drinks at the bar.

I did spend some time on a top sun deck in the front of the ship, these areas do not have music, nor do they seem to have many kids.

The ship does have a topless deck and a "freestyle" deck.  I did not visit either, but I did hear through the grapevine that people do go completely nude on the "freestyle" deck.

There is also an area called Posh.  I may have the story wrong, but I thought this was either part of or included in the villa complex.  However, you could also pay around $100 for access during the cruise.  My understanding is that there was better chairs and better bar service.  I know one person who used this and enjoy it.

Slides - There were 3 slides on this ship, the main yellow one, a purple one and a green one.  I did not go in the purple or the green ones because they had cold water and it was already cold that day!  I did go in the big main yellow one, which some people have called a toilet bowl like slide.  This slide had warm water, yea! and you rode down it on a round float.  You have to get your float at the bottom of the slide so don't climb the stairs until you have your float!  Initially you go down a typical water slide shoot and then you end up in the "toilet bowl" and you go around 3 times before you get sucked down the final portion of the slide.  This slide was a lot of fun, though the 3 times in the toilet bowl might have been a little too much.  There were a lot of adults on line for the toilet bowl slide, it was that much fun!  I'm sure if there were a lot of children on the cruise or warmer out the line would have been crazy, it was long enough as it was.

Rock Climbing - The EPIC has a rock climbing and rappelling wall between the main pool area and Spice H2O.   I've only done rock climbing once, but it was only a few months before and I climbed all the basic and intermediate walls.  I decided to stick with the easy section on the ship.  The wall was shorter, but it wasn't EASY.  For someone who has never rock climbed before, this would be a tough wall and I doubt they would make it to the top.  But for beginner rock climber it would be a challenge.  I never made it back to the rock climbing to try another wall though.  But it was fun and a nice break for the day, especially if it's not a hot day.  You do not need to bring your own shoes for this, but you need socks.  You will also need to sign and electronic waiver before climbing.

Nickelodeon - Being an adult I didn't truly partake in the Nickelodeon events.  There was a breakfast a couple mornings on the ship and then there were meet and greets a few afternoons.  I did stop by one of the meet and greets.  I was hoping to get a picture with Spongebob for my nephew, but they only had Dora characters that day.  If you can't do the special Nickelodeon cruise they have, the breakfasts and the meet and greets are a nice treat for your little (or big) Nickelodeon fans.  The only thing I would have preferred is if they said who was going to be at the meet and greets.

Ice Bar - The ship has a Svedka Ice Bar, the first at sea!  There is an additional charge for this venue, $20 on my sailing which includes 2 drinks.  I had been in an Ice Bar in Stockholm, which I thought was better then this bar, but since this was on a cruise ship, it's kinda cooler!  When you go you get a silver poncho style coat and gloves.  After you dress up a photographer will take pictures and then you go in.  I think you're allowed in for 40 minutes, but I'm not sure many people make it the full 40 minutes, it is cold in there!  I was wearing a dress (not recommended) and socks.  Inside the bar there is a ice bar, ha ha, 2 or 3 ice benches and 2 ice sculptures, one was a bear and I think the other was a viking, maybe.  Most of the ice surfaces had a covering on them, plastic on the bar and a furry thing on the benches.


Bowling - The ship had 2 sets of lanes for bowling.  I only saw the one in O'Sheehans used once or twice.  They had neon lights and offered shoe rental.  On a more relaxing cruise this might have been a fun option.

Watch Sale - I'm not sure if a watch sale is actual entertainment, but this somehow felt a bit like it.  They offer like 60% off watches and people act like they're giving them away.  It was actually a bit frightening. I tried to look and thought about getting a watch, but the lines were so long and the people were acting like animals so I passed on the watch.  I recommend watching people at the watch and buy a watch somewhere else.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Travel Tip - Safety, as in the pin

Here's your travel tip - safety pins.

I know a lot of people are very concerned about the safety of purses and backpacks and camera bags when traveling.  There is an easy and cheap solution to this - saftey pins.

Just use the safety pin to close up the zipper on your purse, backpack, camera bag, murse, man bag, etc.

It's cheap, still allows you easy access to your bag and makes a thief look elsewhere for a target - struggle with a safety pin and risk getting caught or find some other unsuspecting victim????

As an extra added bonus you can use your safety pin if your zipper breaks, button falls off, or any other wardrobe malfunction.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Epic Entertainment

Yes, I know the name of this post is cheesy, when you name a ship Epic, you ask for it!

When Norwegian launched the Norwegian Epic the entertainment obviously had to match the name, it had to be epic and I thought they did an excellent job!

I'll start with my only complaint and get it over with.  With so many people on the ship you had to make advanced reservations (pre-boarding or on the first night) for many of the shows if you wanted to guarantee to get in.  However, if you couldn't get a reservation there was usually a standby line, which I hear got everyone in.  This system, while reducing the chaos at these shows, took a lot of the spontaneity out of the cruise entertainment.

On the first night of the cruise I went to see Cirque Dreams.  This is not a Cirque du Soleil show, but its the same type of performance: acrobatics, music, clowns, and in this case - audience participation. I'm not a huge fan of this type of show.  I enjoy it, but I also get a bored after about 45 minutes.  The nice thing about Cirque Dreams is that it's a dinner show so you have a little distraction from the show which helped prevent the boredum from setting in.

Cirque Dreams takes place in a Spiegel Tent, whatever that is, the setting is like a theatre in round.  It has two floors and the seats upstairs are cheaper (there is an additional fee for this dinner and show), I also thought they were better as there are fewer sight line issues and you're not picked for audience participation.  You do need to show up early to get seating, which is especially important if you get the premium seating on the main floor - if you come late you'll end up in the back of the room and you'll miss what is going on in the air during the show.  The food was good, very tasty.  I don't remember what they served, though I know it was a new menu for my cruise, but there was a sampling of different appetizers, main courses and desserts.

Blue Man Group's Theatre
I would recommend Cirque Dreams to anyone who likes Cirque du Soleil types of shows and to anyone who has considered seeing a show like this.  You can't beat the price ($20 or $30) on this cruise to find out if you do enjoy it. 

Next up is Blue Man Group, I had not seen this before and I enjoyed the show.  I'll admit I didn't get the plot of the show, but there were lots of cute and goofy things to keep me entertained.  I know this show isn't loved by all, but for the price (included in your cruise), it's certainly worth seeing.  I hear it's pretty similar to the shows done in the US; however, they do have audience participation.  Consider yourself warned.

Steven Sorrentino as Sonny and Cher
Steven Sorrentino is a Vegas comedian who was on our ship for the summer.  Tickets to his show were particularly hard to get.  I enjoyed his show, I laughed a lot.  His "victims" ranged from the Marx Brothers to famous people in the 1970's so I would say his audience would primarily be for the 40+ crowd from the US.  I know the British didn't get most of his jokes.
There were quite a few things that I did not see - some Spanish Ballet, which I heard was very good.  A puppet show, which I heard you couldn't see the puppets unless you were in the front.  Legends In Concert, which I heard mixed reviews of.  The Second City was not on our ship, they took off for the summer.  I was disappointed by this, they were on my cruise in Hawaii and were very good.

There was a Beatles band, I thought they were very good, but the crowd didn't seem to get into it so the experience wasn't great.

But my favorite entertainment was Howl At the Moon where their motto is "it isn't how well you sing, but how loud."  In case you're wondering it's dueling pianos.  One of the nice things is that there are 3 people so they rotate their breaks and the show never stops!  Maybe I'm a cheesy 35 year old, but I loved just hanging out and singing along.   They took requests and often made funny and entertaining renditions of songs and other times they just did a nice ballad.  Good times!