Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Top Cruise Stories of 2011

                It’s been a good year for cruising:  the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) estimates a total passenger count of about 16 million aboard its 25 member cruise lines in 2011, up from 15 million last year.  And, most ships have been sailing at 100% occupancy.
                According to CLIA’s research, one of the things that motivates people to take a cruise – in addition to value for their money and positive past cruise experiences – is their interest in new ships.  Disney Cruise Line launched a highly anticipated new ship this year, its first in more than a decade.  The Disney Dream has a terrific watercoaster called the AquaDuck, redesigned kids’ clubs, and more space dedicated to teens and the electronic games they love.  For adults, a new French restaurant, Remy, has received excellent reviews.
                Oceania Cruises introduced the Marina, which carries up to 1,258 passengers, making it about twice as large as the line’s other ships.  Standard staterooms offer numerous amenities and gorgeous marble baths with separate showers and tubs.  But, if you want jaw-droppingly spectacular accommodations, book a 2,500-square-foot Owner’s Suite, which features views out both the port and starboard sides of the ship.
                The Celebrity Silhouette joined Celebrity Cruises’ popular Solstice class of ships, with some new features in and around the Lawn Club.  At the Lawn Club Grill, passengers can select a cut of meat and grill it themselves with assistance from the Silhouette’s chefs.  Eight cabana-style alcoves around the Lawn Club offer a relaxing spot for up to four people each.  And, a new Art Studio at the entrance to the Lawn Club is used for demonstrations and classes in painting, drawing and mixology.
                While these new ships cruise the oceans of the world, 2011 also saw growing interest in river cruising, especially along European and Asian rivers such as the Danube, the Rhine, the Volga, the Yangtze and the Mekong.  River cruise ships are designed to be able to dock in the historic heart of cities and towns not reachable by ocean cruise ships.  And, the design of river cruise ships is evolving to provide an even better experience for guests.  Some ships scheduled to debut during the next few years promise larger staterooms with full-size balconies, allowing guests to enjoy every moment of the ever-changing scenery along the river banks.
                For the latest up-to-date travel information, visit Your Cruise Lady at  For more information on experiencing the value and fun of cruising in 2012, whether on an ocean or a river, talk with your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.
Michelle Jackson
Cruise Holidays – Maricopa
Phone:  (210 ) 858-6399

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas in Barcelona

One of my most favorite cruises was to the Mediterranean two years ago, beginning in Barcelona.  What a great city.  I enjoyed Barcelona so much that when I saw this article entitled, A Catalan Christmas, I couldn't wait to share part of it.  Maybe one day I will visit again, over Christmas.

A Catalan Christmas
IT was the Christmas season in Barcelona, but inside the city hall, a 14th-century palace, a scene from “the Arabian Nights” was playing out. Palm trees and satin cushions had turned the Gothic patio into a desert tent, complete with incense and Middle Eastern music. Pages, clad in pantaloons and velvet-trimmed turbans, led each child to the Moorish throne of the Royal Mailman and the bulging satchel he would use to convey their petitions to the Three Kings. Yes, those Three Kings: the magi in the manger with the frankincense and myrrh. Here in the Mediterranean, the North Pole and the jolly guy in the fur-trimmed suit don’t make much cultural sense. And you have to admit that there’s a certain biblical logic to having the Kings rather than Santa bear gifts.
Like so many things in life — soccer, sex, pigs’ feet with snails — Christmas is better in Barcelona. Not for the Catalans the tinsel, the candy canes, the celebrity reindeer with his blinking nose. No, Christmas in Barcelona is an altogether sleeker affair, whimsical and exotic in equal measure. The lights lining the avenues are more artistic, the parades better choreographed, the cakes more elaborate and the exertions more athletic. (Witness the Christmas day group swim, when hundreds of Barcelonans launch themselves into the chilly Mediterranean.) It’s the time when Barcelona is more truly itself: the tourists are still here, but somehow it seems as if the city has reverted back to its rightful owners. Which means that at Christmastime, the balance between artistry and common sense that so deeply characterizes the Catalan soul is on fine display.
Arriving in Barcelona on Jan. 4, I felt as though I had stepped into a time warp, where the holidays, instead of having passed into recent memory, were still building steam. As in the rest of Spain, Christmas begins on the night of Dec. 24 and doesn’t end until Epiphany — called Reyes — on Jan. 6, when all the gifts arrive. Throughout those two weeks, children are released from school and work schedules are reduced, so, whatever the hour, the city center is alive with locals. There’s shopping to be done, of course, but most people engage in less commercial pursuits: a stroll down the elegant streets of the Eixample to admire the Gaudí-esque lights strung overhead; a stop at a stand in the Barri Gotic for a sack of chestnuts; a visit to a church, whether the soaring Sagrada Familia with its newly completed interior or the bare Santa Maria del Mar in the Born, for a holiday concert.
Canelones are quintessential Christmas food in Catalonia, and I had been told that the only place to eat them was in someone’s home. Fina Navarro, the Fonda’s manager and wife of the chef Carles Gaig, explained: “Traditionally, you eat them on St. Stephen’s Day,” Dec. 26, she said. “Your grandmother would have made a big pot of escudella for Christmas Day,” she added, referring to a chickpea and meat stew, “and she would use the leftover meat to stuff the canelones.” It was hard to imagine even a grandmother making a better version: the tender meat encased in pasta tubes and topped with a creamy béchamel was deeply flavorful but surprisingly light.
The next day, I had a date at the crèche in Sant Jaume Square in the center of Barcelona. In recent years, the Christmas tree, like Santa Claus, has made inroads into Spanish holiday culture. But the Spanish still reserve most of their adornment impulses for Nativity scenes. The one in the square was huge — a diorama, really — with bucolic scenes of peasants leading donkeys and hauling hay. 
Barcelona celebrates the arrival of the Three Kings with the pomp of a state visit, and by the time I arrived on the afternoon of Jan. 5, the waterfront was a mob scene. The mayor was there, waiting anxiously on his receiving platform as a tall-masted ship sailed into the harbor. The kings — Gaspar with a flowing white beard and with layers of fur draped over his shoulders; red-haired Melchior with his soaring crown; and dark-skinned Baltasar with his turban — disembarked amid a scrum of paparazzi. After a few speeches about peace on earth, they received the key to the city: one that, the mayor noted in this land of chimneyless apartments (another reason Santa would find it tough in Barcelona), would unlock the doors to every child’s house. A high-pitched roar went up as a mounted guard parted the crowd of thousands. Gaspar, Melchior and Baltasar made their way toward the fleet of Model T’s that would whisk them to the start of the cabalgata, or parade.
I raced along the waterfront and, turning left on the Via Laietana, grabbed a prime viewing spot. It was nearly dark, and the whole city, it seemed, had turned out, with families stuffed onto balconies, and a clutch of Sisters of Mercy passing the wait by snacking on sunflower seeds. A toddler in a bear hat made a break for the street; his parents snatched him back just as the red-coated guards on their black stallions approached. Behind them came floats, though the word hardly does justice to the magical creations processing up the street.
There were dancing angels with illuminated wings, and disco balls suspended from silvery sculptures that cast glittering shards of light on the street. Fantastical birdmen on stilts preceded a swaying dinosaurlike creature, and archers lowered their 15-foot-tall bows so that procrastinators could drop last-minute wish lists into the wire mailboxes attached there. Through it all, elaborately costumed revelers on the floats pelted the crowd with candy; one nun elbowed me out of the way in her quest to get a Starburst. Finally, the Kings themselves rode by, mounted on fine carriages, and behind them, a giant clock, reminding children it was time for bed.
For the rest of us, it was time for dinner. In Spain, what you eat at Christmas when you’re not eating truffle-stuffed turkey and the almond nougat called turrón, is shellfish.
When it was over, it was midnight. I wandered over to the Gran Via, the broad avenue that cuts across the city, to find it lighted festively and full of people happily perusing the offerings at a toy market. Barcelona apartments are small, making it difficult for parents to keep presents hidden until Reyes. So the sensible Catalans devised the very seny solution of holding a market late on the night before the holiday; you can tuck your kids into bed and go shopping without the little ones being any the wiser. Except for a candy stall or two — all oversize ruby lollipops and snaking lengths of lime taffy — the vendors were selling mostly plastic junk. But everyone seemed so pleased to be there that the place felt charming nonetheless. 
The next morning, I walked to Escribà, the city’s most famous bakery. It was early, but lines had already formed as people waited to buy the traditional roscón, a ring-shaped cake made from brioche, filled with marzipan or cream, and topped with candied fruit. Each one hides in its eggy innards a dried bean, said to bring good luck — as well as the obligation of paying for the cake — to the finder.
That morning, Christian Escribà himself was there, busily making and decorating one ring after the next. He estimated he would sell 3,000 roscones that day. As a saleswoman tied up each cake, she slipped a paper crown beneath the knot. “My father started adding the crown in 1960, as a way of distinguishing ours from everyone else’s,” Mr. Escribà said. I looked at the crown, which reminded me of things they used to hand out to kids at Burger King to serve essentially the same purpose: marketing, pure and simple. Then I looked at the exquisite cake, with its perfect ripples of cream and jewel-like fruits. Art and commerce, whimsy and pragmatism. Rather than a conundrum, I realized as I stepped into a city waking to one final day of celebration, this was balance. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rollin on a River - The American Queen Steamboat Company

The American Queen is Back on the Mississippi!

The American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built.  This beautiful boat ended service in 2008, but is now returning under new management in April 2012.  Onboard historians will provide information about each port she visits. 

The Great American Steamboat Company will offer 3-10 day theme sailings, such as:  Southern Culture, Spring Gardens, Fall Foliage, The Civil War and The Kentucky Derby.  Interesting and relevant shore trips will be available as well.

Fares begin at $995 per person for a 3-day trip, based on double occupancy.  This price includes accommodations, meals, either a one night pre or post hotel stay, entertainment and some shore excursions.

If you are interested in sailing the Mississippi on this beautiful luxury steamboat, please contact me at

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A weekend in Las Vegas

I recently was on a business trip, visiting owners of some businesses that are interested in future cruise groups. While this was technically a business trip, I was able to enjoy some free time in Las Vegas. Here is my summary of this experience:

I stayed at Fitzgeralds, which is off the strip, but on Fremont Street. What a great location and fun hotel. From the valet to the bell hop to the maids to the maintenance guys who fixed our TV quickly, everyone was friendly and eager to please.

I signed up for the Players Club and received $3 in slot play right off the bat. I was able to play on that for awhile, winning and losing. I also put my name in the drawing for a spin on the lucky wheel. Amazingly, I won that too - a $50 slot play. I basically played all day for free. What a fun day that was - playing with someone else's money. Oh, and if you're playing in the casino, the cocktail waitresses bring you free drinks (all you want) and accept a small tip in return. I saved a lot of money this way.

The Fremont Street Experience was very cool as well. On the hour, if you look up you can watch their light show, which was very fun. We walked all along the street, checking out the different bands and acts being performed, the show girls, the street performers, the many fun shops and food places. And if you look up, you can watch the zipliners going by. I saw more Elvis impersonators and Santas in that one night than I think I have seen my whole life. Very fun!

The food at Fitzgeralds was great. Due to our players club status, we didn't pay for any of our meals, other than the one morning we stopped at McDonalds for a sausage biscuit. The service in the restaurant was wonderful as well.

The highlight of the week was on Saturday night. We caught the Deuce (local bus) for $7 roundtrip, which took us all the way down the Strip. We got off at Bellagio's, watched the beautiful water show they perform every hour, then went across the street to the Paris Hotel. This is a very cool looking hotel. We found an authentic French bakery, where they made their own pizza - 2 huge slices and a drink for $10. Can't beat that.

After trying the slots in the Paris, we headed to the Theatre for the show we had been looking forward to all weekend - Barry Manilow. What a great show! He spent a little time talking about his childhood and the impact that his grandfather had on his musical career. He sang the old songs, some new songs, and of course, Christmas carols, including my favorite Christmas song - Because it's Christmas! We had a great time.

We headed back on the Deuce, meeting some really fun people on the bus, showing them the way to Fremont Street. We then spent some more time in the casino, winning, losing, drinking, etc.

Another thing we did this weekend which we got a few stares for, was sewing. We brought our sewing machines to our hotel room. I worked on a project for my son, cross-stitching, and finishing my quilt.

All in all, this was a nice weekend. I was able to accomplish many things - new business contacts, quilting, seeing a great show, and playing the games. I look forward to going again soon.

For those who have not been to Las Vegas in a while, you should go - it has changed quite a bit: new casinos and hotels, some are gone that I was used to seeing, the crowds are controlled much better with the new Monorail, and walkways over the busy streets. This is a fun place to visit and I can't wait to do it again.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Coming in 2012

It's the time of year when we naturally think of things new and old, so what better occasion is there to announce what the cruise lines have in store for us in 2012?

Below are some highlights of each ship launching in the next 16 months:

Oceania Cruises Riviera - April 24, 2012 - 1258 passengers
Six open-seating dining venues offer a variety of cuisines, from Italian to Asian Fusion, and from French to American Continental. More than 95% of accommodations boast private balconies and all have large, marble and granite bathroms, LCD flat-screen televisions and exclusive Tranquility beds. Other amenities on the Riviera include the Bon Appetit Culinary C?enter, offering cooking lessons with experienced chefs, and the Artist Loft, providing instructional courses in fine arts. Very few cabins remain on this ship's inaugural sailing.

Norwegian Breakaway - April 20, 2013 - 4000 passengers
As the newest member of an innovative fleet, this ship will incorporate the most popular elements of all of Norwegian's existing ships, as well as introduce some exciting new features. Staterooms will have a contemporary feel with clean, modern lines and a neutral palette with splashes of color. The extremely popular Studio stateroms from the Norwegian Epic, designed and priced with solo travelers in mind, will be featured, as well as an exclusive area called The Haen, a private enclave home to the most luxurious accommodations on the vessel, tucked away near the top of the ship.
Disney Fantasy - March 31, 2012 - 4000 passengers
In typical Disney style, this ship offers fun for the whole family. Kids will love meeting some of their favorite Disney characters onboard while participating in age-appropriate, supervised activities in the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab. 'Tweens and teens can chill out in spaces designed just for them.
When you're ready for some adult time, parents and grandparents can retreat to one of the kids-free areas of the ship such as the Cove Cafe, featuring coffee, cocktails and Internet access; the Quiet Cove pool; Palo or Remy, specialty restaurants; or meridian, a bar with indoor/outdoor seating. The inaugural sailing for this ship is nearly sold out.

Carnival Breeze - June 3, 2012 - 3690 passengers
The 4.5 star ship will feature the WaterWorks aqua park, the tranquil, kids-free Serenity area and extensive children's and teens' areas with activities for three age groups. Adults will enjoy the huge Cloud 9 spa, as well as the scenic whirlpools extending beyond the ship's beam.
Other new features include the laid-back RedFrog Pub home to Carnival's exclusive house brew, ThirstyFrog Red and Cucina del Capitano, a specialty restaurant featuring family-style Italian fare. Accommodation options include "cove" balcony staterooms located close to the waterline, deluxe oceanview staterooms featuring two bathrooms, and spa staterooms and suites with exclusive amenities and spa privileges.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Meet your cruise lady!

Hi everyone. The rest of the world seems to be going techno. I feel that I am pretty savvy technologically, but doing a travel blog is something I have just put off for a long time. I decided it's time to bite the bullet and just go for it. So, here's a little about me:

My name is Michelle Jackson. I am the owner of a Cruise Holidays franchise. I live in Maricopa, Arizona. I did not just buy my travel agency credentials off of the internet. I graduated from Murdock Travel School in Provo, Utah in 1988. After working as a travel agent for several years, I returned to college and earned my Bachelors degree in History as well as a teaching certificate in Secondary Education. I then taught Junior High and High School for approximately 6 years. It was then that I jumped at the opportunity to return to the travel industry and purchased my agency.

My business is home-based and I have clients all over the country and even in other countries. I love what I do. It is so fun helping others plan and create vacations for themselves, their families, friends, employees, etc. I work really hard to make sure my clients don't feel like a number, but instead I try to build a personal relationship with them. They know they can call me after hours, email me anytime of the day or night and I try to respond within only a couple of hours.

I provide a VIP service that many other travel agencies do not provide. This includes booking your flights, your hotels, transfers, cruises, land vacations, train tickets, show tickets, travel insurance, etc. I offer to do as much or as little as each client is in need of. When someone books their trip using me as their personal cruise and travel consultant, they find that I work with them to make sure all of the small details are taken care of.

I also specialize in group cruising. Some examples of groups I work with are: girlfriend getaways, wedding groups, anniversaries, family reunions, golfing groups, quilting groups, company conventions, health seminars, etc. If you can put together a group, I can almost always design a group cruise around this.

On a personal note, I have 5 children ranging in age from 21 to 7. I also have my sweet, but a little crazy, dog named Snickers. She's afraid of her shadow, but loves to cuddle with us. I love to travel and do as much as possible - I call it research. I have been to much of the United States including annual summer visits to Alaska; Mexico; Spain; France; Italy; Bahamas and many island nations in the Caribbean.

I hope through this blog to be able to provide important, current and helpful information about the travel industry, destinations, travel suppliers, etc. I welcome your comments and questions. You may also email me directly at My website is as well as