Saturday, March 23, 2013

My latest escorted group - Quilt Cruise

I enjoy organizing group cruises and escorting them to their destinations. Obviously, I don't escort every group, as I'm pretty sure I'm not invited on honeymoons, family reunions, etc. But, for those groups that require onboard management, I enjoy meeting all of the guests that I've worked with for several months and being on hand to make sure that everything goes smoothly for everyone involved.
This group was a quilting cruise (I do alot of these every year). The cruise was a 9 night Eastern Caribbean cruise, departing from Baltimore. Since my daughter was out of school for Spring Break, I brought her along to assist me, which meant I saw her a couple of times a day and she made many new friends. But, I always enjoy visiting our departure cities a day or two prior to each cruise and with Washington DC so close by, we thought it would be great to head over for the day.
It was cold and windy in the city, but we pushed on through and did as much as we could in the few short hours we were there. We visited the Holocaust Museum and were lucky enough to receive tickets to view the Special Exhibit which took us on a journey through the years of the Holocaust. It was a very emotional experience and I would recommend it to everyone who is able to visit the area.

Rachel signed a pledge to always stand up for the rights of those who are looked down upon. She said this was the highlight of her day in DC. But, we weren't done yet. We visited the Museum of American History where we enjoyed seeing mementos of past Presidents, movies, etc. We enjoyed our lunch there more than ever before - maybe because our 2 salads and sodas were $26.00. We wanted to finish every last bite. After this, we walked past the Washington Monument, past the Reflecting Pool to the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Wall and then up to the White House. We wanted to see the front of it, since everyone sees the back. Then, on to the train to head back to Baltimore. We sat up and watched movies in our hotel and enjoyed relaxing.

The work begins! Boarding our ship with all of our boxes of supplies and goodies for our cruise guests is always an adventure as we wait to make sure everything arrives in one piece, which it did. We then caught up with Scott, our machine provider, who set up all of the machines and taped down extension cords. We busied ourselves setting up water bottles, tote bags and agendas for everyone.

With all of the machines set up, the room was ready for these ladies and one man to start their quilting classes. Our fabulous teachers, Christine and Susan, were a lot of fun and it was fun seeing the project they had designed specifically for this cruise. We spent the first 2 days at sea in the quilting room where the projects went from large pieces of fabric to strips, circles and eventually parts of a quilted piece. We looked forward at this point to seeing the finished product.

Our first group cocktail party was a lot of fun. Everyone enjoyed all they could drink in an hour and just had a good time visiting and talking with those they already knew as well as new friends they had made during the first 2 days of quilting classes. We had a few toasts to everyone enjoying the week.
Our first port of call was to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Because of some rough seas, our ship was about 2 hours late getting into port, so we arrived at 5pm. The ship had cancelled all of its tours, but because I rarely book ship tours, I had booked all of my groups tours through my own company. They were very surprised and happy when their tours were still operating and their tour guides were waiting for them happily at the port. Rachel, Scott and I headed out to do a quick walking tour of the area. Unfortunately, the forts were already closed for the day, but we walked around the streets and just had a good night exploring. Rachel tried a Piragua (shaved ice) and even met a friend from home who happened to be in Puerto Rico with his family on a Spring Break vacation - small world!

They who quilt together, stay together. We love it when our quilting classes include husbands and wives. It's so fun to see how they work together and complement one another. These two just were so friendly and nice and it was a lot of fun getting to know them.

Our second stop was St. Thomas. Rachel and I, along with 3 others in our group, did a snorkeling tour. We boarded our beautiful yacht with Captain Mike and the first mate, a girl (can't remember her name). We sailed out towards Turtle Cove, where we received a briefing of snorkeling and how to act around the turtles. We then were in the water and off to see what we could find. We only found one sea turtle on the bottom, eating sea grass. He came up for air one time and so we got to see him up close. Others in our group saw 3 or 4 turtles (lucky). We also saw many beautiful fish as well as coral. We even could see many huge conch shells lying on the bottom (about 20-30 feet down).

Rachel, Me and 3 others in our group as we get ready to leave Turtle Cove.

This is our Captain, 1st mate and Rachel
2 of our guests from the cruise - such nice people

Our 3rd port was Samana, Dominican Republic. We had to tender into this city. There is really nothing to do in this port city unless you take a tour. We decided to do a Ziplining tour. We took a bus up into the hills (about a 30 minute ride), where we were able to view a bit of the region. It's beautiful country once you get out of the downtown area, where the poverty is unimaginable and sad. Upon arrival at the Ziplining area, we were fitted with our gear and given a quick briefing of how to slow down, speed up, and stop. Then, it was off to begin our adventure.

This is Rachel on one of the lines. We did a total of 10 zips, some very long and steep. We screamed, laughed, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we went along.

Just before leaving Samana, Rachel attracted 3 4-legged friends. They were loving the attention she provided them. I joked that as she was talking to them, that they didn't speak English.

Back on the ship, Rachel was named Captain of her team in a tournament of Pool Volleyball (Officers vs Guests). The Guests beat the Officers in 2 games, and her team was awarded the Gold medals. She had a great time and everyone on the ship knew her (she was involved in everything).

Our final port of call was in Labadee, Haiti. This was a private area leased by Royal Caribbean. We were looking forward to our day on the beach and after taking a ride on the "Conch Train", we immediately set out to find our beach chairs and enjoy the sun and water. Mother Nature had other plans as we experienced several showers - some just a drizzle, others a bit of a downpour. We still managed to enjoy it as much as we could. We then headed over to lunch on the island, a BBQ lunch put on by Royal Caribbean. After lunch, the wind was really picking up, so we decided to head back to the ship and relax.

We headed for the Jacuzzi and really enjoyed the hot water soaking us for about a half hour. We even ran into one of our guests reading and having a nice nap, until he sensed Rachel photo bombing him. We then headed back to our room for a shower and to get dressed for dinner.

Our t-shirts say it all. We all wore our shirts for a group photo taken by the Royal Caribbean photographers, which were for sale the next day. There were about 50 of us in this group, so we took up quite a bit of the Centrum staircase. The picture came out great.

Rachel reminded us all week that her birthday was coming up, so on the last night, we asked them to sing Happy Birthday (in 12 days) to her. She loved it and was excited to be the center of attention.

This is Rachel and I on our formal night. We loved dressing up, especially since Rachel will soon be off to college and we won't have many opportunities to do things like this again, at least for awhile.
I love escorting my groups and enjoy getting to know people from all over the country, and even the world. You know the phrase from the movie, Field of Dreams - if you build it, they will come? My motto is - if you bring them, I will build it! I'm just looking for my next adventure! Will it be with you? If you have a group that would be interested in a cruise or land vacation, I am here to help.
Michelle Jackson, Cruise Holidays
Personal Cruise and Land Vacation Expert

Saturday, March 2, 2013

River Cruising - a new way to Explore!

A better way to explore!
River cruising is, quite simply, the best way to travel through many of the world's most fascinating places. Comfortable, convenient and safe, it offers a greater variety of destinations than you could not encounter any other way - and lets you get in-depth exposure to the culture and history of each region. Both experienced and first time travelers have discovered the joys of river cruising, making it the fastest growing segment of the cruising industry.
The new "cool" in cruising
AKA "Boutique Cruising"
Our River Cruising Partners
Ama Waterways
Avalon (Globus Family)

A More Intimate Experience
Because River ships are designed to accommodate between 150 and 300 guests, it is easy to make new friends, share a drink with the couple you met on the day's tour, or dine with interesting people in the open seating restaurant. And you can forget about waiting in long lines.
Imagine! stepping off your floating hotel into town/cities like Amsterdam, Budapest, Cairo or Beijing. Enjoy the local culture and history by exploring on your own or taking one of the included walking tours with an English speaking guide.
  • A river cruise brings you to the heart of the destination
  • Historic cities and towns like Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna and Moscow
  • Exotic destinations throughout Europe, Russia, Asia, Egypt & Africa to name a few
  • Local culture and history within a stones throw
Cultural Enrichment
  • Onboard presentations and demonstrations tha tentertain as well as inform
  • Evening entertainment, local or onboard musicians
  • Immersive shore excursions - included with English speaking guides
  • Optional (extra cost) excursions available
  • Most river cruises now have personal head-sets for excursions
  • Some River cruises also offer bicycles for your pleasure in port
New Scenery - All Day, Every Day
Enjoy breathtaking scenery from just about everywhere on the ship - in the bar, restaurant or lounge (all with panoramic views), on the sun deck with fresh air or from the privacy of your stateroom. And, river cruise vessels keep moving, so you see new vistas and explore new destinations throughout the day, every day. River cruises often travel at night, so you can wake up in an exciting new place each morning, with no effort on your part.
Experienced travelers agree that a European river cruise is one of the most enjoyable and hassle-free ways to explore Europe's castles, cathedrals and picturesque villages. And with River Cruising, your opportunities to discover the very best these destinations have to offer are endless. Travel along the famous rivers of Europe with a Rhine and Danube river cruise and discover fascinating history and authentic experiences with comprehensive sightseeing plus your own exploration. It's a simple way to travel and you're in the middle of the action, not seeing it from afar. Plus there's plenty of time to unwind. Think of this as your own personal journey of discovery through Europe.
The Mekong River winds its way from the Tibetan plateaus of China's Yunnan province, through the rainforests, plains and rice fields of 5 Southeast Asian countries before meeting the South China Sea. In terms of length, it's the 12th largest river in the world, but in terms of historic, cultural and ecological richness - the Mekong has no equal. The sagas of ancient empires, colonial powers and modern conflicts have unfolded along her banks. And, through it all, the Mekong remains first and foremost a lifeline. Temples, trade routes and fishing villages in the river's path are today untouched by time, just as the way of life they represent. And nowhere are the river's riches more apparent than in the neighboring - but distinct countries of Vietnam and Cambodia.
"Egypt is the gift of the Nile." So wrote the Greek scholar, Herodotus. From the cities to rural villages, where life goes on as it did thousands of years ago, a cruise along the Nile is like watching 5,000 years of culture unfold before your eyes. Marvel at the contrasts as you sail past simple villages surrounded by luxuriant palm groves, fertile plantations, romantic desert hills, lush oases, modern cities and ancient colonnaded temples and pyramids.
With its incredible natural beauty, fascinating wildlife and diverse cultures, this continent is becoming an increasingly popular destination among North American travelers.
  • Easy embarkation/disembarkation
  • Unpack only once
  • Children are not encouraged/no children's programs onboard
  • Transfers on arrival and departure included with supplier's air
  • Intimate ships
  • Spacious staterooms, most with French balconies or windows that open
  • English speaking crew
  • English speaking tour guides
  • Gratuities may be prepaid or paid at the end of the cruise
  • Classic, gourmet cuisine - regional specialties and American fare
Spring and fall are the most popular times to travel due to the pleasant weather. Summer can be quite warm and also the regions are more crowded.
River cruises are perfect for group travel. Seniors, music and art groups, garden or bridge clubs, church groups, Alumni and Wine afficionados would love River cruising.
As always, I am here to assist you with planning, organizing and managing your next adventure...why not make it a River Cruise?
Imagine...Oh the places you can go!
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