Getaway to the Caribbean from Port Tampa Bay
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It’s the Caribbean cruise season once more. Many cruise lines have repositioned all or some of their fleet to the islands in the sun. Many sailings leave out of Port of Miami or Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

However, another alternative that is becoming popular is Port Tampa Bay. Tampa is positioned on the western coast of Florida, around 40 miles west of Orlando.

PORT TAMPA BAY SAILINGS

Voyages making calls in the Western Caribbean islands, Eastern Mexico, Belize and/or Honduras are the most common itineraries for cruises from Tampa.

Alternatives include cruises to the Eastern Caribbean and the Southern Caribbean calling at the exotic islands of Aruba and Curacao.

This month, Holland America announced that the MS Oosterdam will make Tampa its winter home. Enhancements of nearly £300 million for renovations have been made for 1,964 passengers and a crew of 812, which includes new lounging, dining and entertainment venues and refreshed suites. The ship will offer a variety of cruise options, from seven day, fourteen day and twenty one day itineraries to the western and southern Caribbean.

Holland America Oosterdam

Image courtesy of Holland America Cruises

Port president and CEO stated during the MS Oosterdam first sailing out of Port Tampa Bay this past week, “For nearly 35 years, we have enjoyed a stellar relationship with Holland America Line, and it is gratifying to us that our cruise partners continue to show faith and enthusiasm in the strength our market. We look forward to many more years of sailings.”

However, Holland America is not the only major cruise line that sails out of Tampa Bay. The Carnival Pride and Carnival Paradise will offer a series of five to 14 day trips from Tampa, as will Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of The Seas and Rhapsody of The Seas. The other major cruise line to offer sailings out of Port Tampa Bay is NCL’s Norwegian Jade.

There are many advantages of sailing out of Tampa and this Port of departure is also a top destination in itself.

THINGS TO DO BEFORE OR AFTER YOUR CRUISE

Make it a true holiday experience by extending your cruise with a pre or post stay in the Tampa Bay area. The biggest and best are within driving distance. A quick few days in Tampa to relax and unwind before or after your cruise holiday really will enhance your holiday.

The biggest attraction is located in nearby Orlando, which is filled to the brim with exciting theme parks that will appeal to all members of the family. The most famous, of course, being Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

Having opened its doors in 1971, the complex contains four theme Parks, two water parks, thirty on-site Walt Disney World Resort Hotels, a sports complex and a shopping and entertainment centre amongst many other facilities.

Walt Disney Orlando

Nearby is Universal Studios Florida, where you can live in the movies by seeing some of their favourite films represented by exciting rides. There are two different theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure with the standout attraction of the parks being the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter which brings an amazingly detailed Harry Potter world to life.

If Orlando is not feasible, you can always head to Busch Gardens, the local theme park. Here, the 19th century African theme will make you feel at home while at the same time offering fun activities and adrenaline pumping rides such as the SheiKra, a 61 metre fall roller coaster with a 90 degree drop.

Dare you take the trip? Busch Gardens also has many animal habitats such as the Bird Gardens, an aviary with over 500 different species of tropical birds, a cheetah run and the Curiosity Caverns, which allows you to see nocturnal animals during the daytime.

ONLY ONE DAY TO SPARE TOURING?

Venture beyond the horizon of theme parks to other points of interest too. The city is very cosmopolitan with a number of museums. If time is limited, take the opportunity to experience some of the city’s top attractions. Port Tampa Bay offers easy access to some of Tampa’s most popular attractions with many even within walking distance.

The historic Ybor City, also known as the “Cigar Capital of the World” takes you back to a golden age. Walk amongst the peaceful 19th century style gardens and tour a typical 1800’s cigar worker’s home. The Ybor City Museum State Park contains temporary and permanent exhibits to conjure up what life was like in Ybor’s past.

Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo has more than 2,000 animals from Africa, Asia, Australia, North America and South America residing amongst 63-acres of lush habitats. This zoo is officially recognised by Florida as the top centre for wildlife conservation in the state.

Lowry Park Zoo

More entertaining education can be found in the Museum of Science & Industry. This museum contains the only IMAX Dome theatre in the state and makes learning a fun experience. The museum has many different exhibits such as the 3D Printing the Future exhibit, where you can learn how 3D Printing can lend a hand to the improvement of the world such as creating body prosthetics.

The Mission: Moonbase station is an area which speculates what the world will be like in 2070 on a possible moon base.

This extensive section is the crown jewel of the museum, offering interactive experiences of space travel.

Along Tampa’s scenic river bank walkway, sits The Tampa Museum of Art. The museum houses an extensive collection of 20th-century sculpture, paintings and Greek and Roman antiquities.

There are numerous white beaches dotting the coastlines of Florida’s Gulf Coast with warm and pristine waters.

Consider Port Tampa Bay as the departure point for a Caribbean Cruise

If seeking an escape of winter’s wrath, then choose a Caribbean cruise holiday departing from Port Tampa Bay. This modern and efficient port has more points of interest and is close to Tampa Airport. Numerous nonstop flight services from the UK makes it an easy journey.

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My recent Cruise Onboard ms Koningsdam
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ms Koningsdam

Holland America are one of the most famous cruise lines in the world. Their latest ship, the ms Koningsdam has fulfilled their elegant image with a casual vibe creating a truly unique cruising experience.

Having just been inaugurated in the past few months, the ms Koningsdam is truly worthy of the title of  flagship of the fleet. I’ve just got back from a 7 night cruise on the Norwegian fjords and it was an experience and ship I would not want to have missed.

CABINS

There are several types of cabins on the ship, consisting of Inside Staterooms, Family Ocean View, Verandas and Suites with Balconies. In my opinion the best type of cabin to try and get is a corner balcony cabin as it provides a truly stunning panoramic view while blocking you from intense winds and other weather conditions that occur in this region. I recommend that you request cabin no’s 8031 and 8032.

ms Koningsdam Inside Stateroom

These cabins offer more spacious areas when compared to the others in the Verandah category. I was most impressed with the high quality furnishings in the cabin as well as innovative storage areas.

A large flat screen TV dons the wall and offered a wide variety of films, news and some of my favourite shows too. The bed is a true king featuring luxurious cotton linens. There is also a sofa that opens up to a bed and a desk and chair.

The bathroom was absolutely impressive. Equipped with thick Egyptian cotton towels, Elemis Aromapure shampoos, conditioners, soaps and lotions are provided, along with a plush robe for all in the room.

I especially enjoyed the peppermint body gel, which gave an instant wake up under the super powered massage showerhead. It is adjustable to your personal liking from a mild blast of water to a super power surge. This was one ship, where I never worried about flooding the floor outside of the shower. It has been smartly designed to have a lip at the bottom elevated so it is nearly impossible for it to overflow.

ms Koningsdam veranda

DINING

One area that Holland America excels in is the quality and presentation of food. It is all fresh and carefully prepared with no preservations or economical substitutes.

I found the dining venues on the ship are no less exquisite. The main dining room is spacious and spans two decks. Food choices vary from day to day but the choices remain premium.

There are a wide variety of specialty restaurants, ranging from the French inspired seafood of Sel de Mer, to the family style Northern Italian delights of Canaletto to the Asian Fusion wonders of Tamarind. These fill up quickly and it is best to make reservations online prior to your voyage. I did indulge in all three and can honestly say that they were enjoyable not only to the palate but each was a feast for the eyes.

Even the Lido Market is high quality on this ship, blowing any other cruise buffet out of the water. The choices are grand, so sampling a bit of each makes for an interesting lunch. I must state that the rib steak was by far the best I have eaten from a buffet. It was so tender, juicy and tasty, that no knife was needed.

Near poolside, gourmet burgers and hot dogs and fresh cut fries are served for yet another choice in daytime dining. Pizza or a Reuben sandwich can be ordered in an area directly one floor up at the New York Deli.

There’s an Italian gelato bar near the pool offering so many freshly made flavours that it would be impossible to try them all in just a one week’s holiday.

For specialty coffees and teas, the Grand Dutch Cafe will suffice. Although there is a fee for the beverage, all sweets and appetizers are free of charge with your purchase.

ENTERTAINMENT

For those long days or evenings at sea, you are well covered for entertainment. The casino, located on Deck 3, has all of the typical gambling options such as slot machines, poker tables and roulette wheels.

Located on the same deck is the World Stage which plays hosts to different shows each day. The World Stage is an interesting concept as it includes visuals which surrounds the audience with a 270-degree LED screen. The visuals match the entertainment, making it a unique entertainment experience.

One evening, I watched some stunning footage from BBC Earth with the ship’s orchestra playing; the next day there was a digital magic act. Music is the theme of the ship and a variety of tastes are addressed in the other entertainment venues.

Billboard offers classic pop and contemporary hits as a piano lounge with 2 entertainers. BB King’s Lounge is the place for some soothing jazz, blues or R&B and the Lincoln Centre Stage lives up to its namesake by offering classical music in a traditional style with strings, piano and more.

ms Koningsdam Billboard

GREENHOUSE & SPA SALON

The spa is also located on the 10th deck and is a great way to unwind from all of the high intense tours I did in the ports of Norway. Aside from massages, facials and an invigorating Jacuzzi, the spa also offers cosmetic treatments plus hair styling and Shellac nail services. I indulged in a facial and I believe I knocked off ten years. My skin was so firm and alive.

The Spa Retreat is the place to lounge and get away from it all; featuring thermal pools, heated ceramic lounges and sauna/steam rooms. A week or day pass can be purchased for this retreat. If you are prone to getting off the ship and running about, then this is perfect to rewind and recharge the batteries.

Closing Thoughts

The opportunity to venture on the ms Koningsdam was not only a treat but an opportunity to experience a cruise ship that proves less is more. It is a cruise ship with a slower pace.

There may not be the glitz, rock climbing, water parks and non-stop action that are found on other mega-ships; but isn’t a holiday the perfect time to just sit back, take in the surroundings and reflect upon the nice things in life. I think the ms Koningsdam does just that.

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The Port of Patmos
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Patmos Island Greece

The cruise port of Patmos tends to be included as a port of call on a limited number of cruiseline itineraries that sail through the Greek Islands. Mega ships normally do not stop at this island which is a shame as it contains something for the history buff and beach lovers too.

The larger ships that do visit anchor in the bay and passengers are tendered into the port located in the town of Skala.

Most of the main attractions of Patmos are located 3 miles away in Chora. The village of Skala is an easy walk from the port. To reach Chora, there are public buses available which stop in Grikos and also Kambos.

There is a taxi rank outside of the port and this is the best way to travel on your own. Cruise ships do offer extensive tours to each or all of the main sites.

Patmos is perhaps best known for its religious heritage as, according to legend, this is where St. John wrote the famous book the Apocalypse. To this day, the book is shrouded in mystery and its contents are debated. Several major religious sites on the island attract thousands of pilgrimages each year.

Cave of Apocalypse

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cave of Apocalypse is perhaps the most visited site in Patmos. Located roughly halfway between the Port and Patmos Town, this cave at one time served as the home of Saint John during his exile from the Roman emperor Domitia.

It was also where he wrote The Book of Apocalypse, otherwise known as Revelations. Today, the cave is protected by a sanctuary and travelling down its dark passageway is an enlightening experience.

The Cave of the Apocalypse

The Folklore Museum

The Folklore Museum is located at the Simantiri Family mansion and is very extensive. The mansion was constructed in in 1625 and still retains its elegance. It is still inhabited to this day and, although the museum is small, it has enough to keep you intrigued.

Some of the items on display include statues of Russian religious icons, oil paintings, early photographs and even family heirlooms hailing from Odessa. Most of the items date back from the 14th to the 19th century and shows how opulent the Dodecanese Islands were.

Ecclesiastical Museum

Located nearby the Monastery of Saint John visitors should include the Ecclesiastical Museum of Patmos as part of their Patmos experience. Witness treasures of wonders in this museum by sacred relics and the entirety of the monastery’s treasury.

Some of the treasures contained within include valuable manuscripts, authentic items used in Holy Mass, ancient and the 11th century icon of Saint Nicholas which has its hand outstretched as if to bless passers by. There is also an extensive archive section dedicated to Byzantine era documents.

Monastery of Saint John

The most notable feature on the island is the Monastery of Saint John, which is visible from virtually all sides and is located at the top of the hill above Chora. Dating back to 1088, this monastery is a beauty to behold, not only in its creative Byzantine designs but also the treasures that are inside.

The monastery boasts riches such as marble floors, elaborate wood carvings and rich decorations. Located next to the monastery is an ancient library with almost 10 thousand religious documents.

Monastery of St John Patmos

The Beaches

There are several beaches on the island, all fantastic for swimming. Kámpos is ideal for families because of its shallow water plus there are many special facilities for aquatic sports such as paddleboats and canoes to rent. Water skiing adventures can be arranged too.

Psili Ammos offers a quieter experience as it can only be reached by boat. The precious stones of Lámpi are worth collecting for a memento, whilst Maráthi boasts crystal clear waters and a lovely sandy beach.

Meloï offers decent snorkeling opportunities and the Greeks love their grilled fresh fish which you can sample some at any of the beach restaurants here.

The following cruise lines will visit Patmos during the summer/autumn seasons in 2015 and 2016.

Azamara, Celestyal, Holland America, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Star Clippers and The Yachts of Seabourn.

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A Sneak Peek at Holland America’s ms Koningsdam
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ms Koningsdam

Debuting in 2016 the ms Koningsdam promises to be the most state of the art ship in Holland America’s fleet.

‘Koning’ translates from Dutch to “king” in English. The name also pays honour to the first king of the Netherlands, His Majesty King Willem-Alexander.

Stein Kruse, president and CEO of Holland America Line stated, “This new Pinnacle Class ship will be our largest, most contemporary vessel, and it was only fitting to give it a name that embodies great achievement for the future, while embracing timeless tradition.”

Holland America has a long and proud tradition within the Netherlands and all 15 ships in their fleet still fly under the Dutch flag. The new 2,650 passenger ship will be replacing ms Statendam and ms Ryndam.

DESIGNED TO STAND OUT

The ship will have the latest in accommodation and recreational activities but it is the design that will truly be revolutionary.

The ship will combine the aspects of contemporary styles with old world elegance. The interior is being designed by New York City’s leading hospitality designer Adam D. Tihany and designer and architect of Oslo, Bjorn Storbraaten.

Adam Tihany

Tihany has focused on the fluid curves and graceful lines of the ship, creating light filled areas with a natural flow. According to Tihany himself, his designs were based off of the “architecture of music”. This influence can be seen in the ship with the textures used as design and lighting features. The feeling of height is also exaggerated in order to give passengers a sense of freedom and emphasise the grandeur of the ship.

A good example of this would be in the Atrium. The atrium is three stories high and is flanked by a truly remarkable sculpture, depicting the synthesis of a string quartet. Space is used in order to create an interesting illusion, that no two viewpoints of the statue are the same from any point in the room.

ms Koningsdam atrium

The atrium is further enhanced by a prominently placed skylight and several soothing projections will also be shown to create a relaxing atmosphere. By day, the skylight displays soothing clouds rolling past and by night, beautiful stars will dot the skyline.

CABINS

Many categories of staterooms will be offered on the ms Koningsdam and all will include items such as woven cotton linen and 100% Egyptian towels.

A great example of the lavish accommodation available is the Neptune Suite with over 500 sq. feet and includes exclusive use of the Neptune Lounge plus the personal concierge service. The family ocean view stateroom accommodates four comfortably in 231 square feet of space.

neptune suite

More middle of the road balcony and inside cabins are impressive not only in their fine detailing and décor but functionality and size. There are cabins available for all pockets and tastes.

DINING

The modern features can be seen in the main dining room. Simply called ‘Dining Room’, it has been designed with a powerful theme with its Romanesque pillars and chic furniture. The stylish dining room allows passengers to watch the world go by with floor to ceiling windows while dining on international cuisine.

There are several dining venues, such as ‘Tamarind’, featuring menus created by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin with an emphasis on Southeast Asian, Chinese and Japanese food.

For all out elegance, head toThe Pinnacle Grill’. America’s Pacific Northwest cuisine of seafood and steak grilled to perfection amongst the finest china, glassware and linens. ‘Canaletto’ offers Italian fare and for those passengers wishing for some laidback dining al fresco there is ‘The Terrace Grill’.

Pinnacle Grill

ENTERTAINMENT VENUES

Step into the Queen’s Lounge for some world-class entertainment. Designed in an elegant manner that curves like a violin and features a large amount of wood, the curving design of the room mixed with the large amount of light transforms to dance club later on in the evening.

Place you best foot forward amongst the state-of-the-art sound and special LED lighting effects, rumoured to rival those in any of Europe’s large cities.

Koningsdam Queens Lounge

OTHER AMENITIES

The onboard facilities are extensive with something to appeal to everyone. There is a fitness centre and the Greenhouse Spa and Salon features some of the best wellness and beauty menus.

As with all Holland American ships, there are enrichment programs made to order especially for the palates of foodies. The Culinary Arts Centre, presented by Food & Wine magazine has been made available on all ships and will certainly be a hit onboard the ms Koningsdam.

Holland America calls it their “world class show kitchen at sea”, and passengers can take part in cooking classes and wine and beverage’ presentations. The chance to meet world renowned chefs is an added bonus.

ms Koningsdam will be taking to the seas in February 2016. After her maiden voyage she will depart from Rome (Civitavecchia Port) with 7-day sailings in the Med before she is scheduled to head to Rotterdam. She will spend the summer in the Baltic and Northern Europe region. More details on booking this grand new ship will be available soon.

Mock up Images courtesy of Holland America Cruises

Written by Veronica Shine

Cruise Lines and Their Halloween Offerings
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Halloween cruises banner

Halloween spells magic especially whilst onboard a ship. This yearly celebration is embedded into the folklore and superstitions of our ancestors. Over the years it has become much more intense than during the times of its origin. Each year this celebration seems to become bigger and bigger throughout the world.

In recent years, the cruise industry has started to take notice. With the ongoing challenge of creating new experiences for their passengers a Halloween cruise is undoubtedly going to appeal to many people with or without children.

Halloween’s History

Halloween is celebrated on the 31st of October and translates to ‘Hallows Eve’ with its origins being traced back to the Celts. This ancient festival day was known as ‘Samhain’ and celebrated in parts of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales.

The festival marked the official end of the summer’s harvest. The Celtic New Year began right after Samhain on the 1st of November.

Individual families would take the vegetables from the harvest, such as gourds, potatoes, and turnips and carve lanterns out of them to honour the dead. They took the lanterns to a sacred fire for assurances of keeping themselves safe from the wickedness of restless souls.

In the early 19th century, many of the Irish left their homelands during the potato famine and headed to the Americas. With them came their traditional carving skills to keep their heritage alive They discovered that pumpkins were more bountiful on the other side of the ocean than the produce previously utilised and were substituted for carving.

What can you Expect on a Halloween Cruise?

What can you expect on a Halloween themed cruise? It may be too late to book this year but next year is bound to be filled with just as many creative festivities as any Halloween celebration should be. Take a look below to see what some of the major cruise lines are offering.

Carnival Cruise Lines

Carnival has many activities planned for their Halloween cruises. All of the ships are due to get a seasonal makeover and children from the ages of 1 to 17 will have the chance to take part in both a scavenger hunt as well as a trick or treat.

For adults, there is a costume contest as well (although masks are forbidden) and a dance party in the nightclub. Classic horror films are due to be screened on TV and at the poolside movie screen. There will also be special gambling tournaments at the casino based on the theme as well as a pumpkin carving competition.

Disney Cruise Lines

It’s always a ‘Fun Holiday’ onboard a Disney cruise ship and Halloween is extra special. All ships in their fleet are going all out with their Halloween trends, from Disney villains swarming the ships to a “takeover” by a mysterious pirate, people of all ages will be thrilled by what Disney has planned.

A screening of Tim Burton’s classic film, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” will be shown. For adults, in the adults-only nighttime district, ghostly musicians will perform a “Creepy Cabaret” and Disney villains will hit the dance floor. Restaurant menus will also embrace creepiness with such items as spider cakes and a “Witch’s Brew.”

Holland America Lines

Get ready for Holland America’s costume contest. It’s the perfect time to be creative and outlandish in a costume that is sure to get you noticed. The crew will get creative too and will be involved in their own pumpkin carving contest. Who decides the best Jack-O-Lanterns onboard?

The passengers have the deciding vote. On the night of the 31st, there is an extraordinary dessert buffet planned, filled with not only scrumptious cakes but pastries and candy touching on the spirit of Halloween. Unlike other cruise lines, Holland America will continue their festivities on shore whilst in a port of call.

Norwegian Cruise Lines

Norwegian are offering a Halloween culinary experience for those that have a sweet tooth including both life sized and miniature pumpkins, candies and “spiders” that are made out of pecan and caramel.

There will also be a costume parade as well as a masquerade ball and a scavenger hunt. The Second City comedy troupe will put on a special Murder Mystery show. The ships will be decorated with spooky imagery and frightening décor to complete the transformation.

Princess Cruises

Princess Cruises promise a large variety of activities for a creepy and spooky Halloween celebration. Their ships will feature costume parades, theme nights and Halloween trivia games for the entire cruise.

Pumpkin carving lessons will help increase your skill to make your very own Jack-O-Lanterns. Even the onboard films and television are getting in on the fun: changing to a horror and spooky genre. Of course for children, special activities are planned exclusively for them including trick or treating for sweets while onboard the ship.

Royal Caribbean            

Both children and adults will be encouraged to dress up in costume for this trip, so don’t forget to pack your own. Apart from Halloween festivities such as Trick or Treating, Royal Caribbean also boasts a walkthrough haunted mansion .

Even the crew members will get in on the fun, dressing up for the occasion as ghouls and zombies. There will also be special and bizarre “contests” held such as screaming or howling at the moon.

Ghosts, ghouls and goblins have become a part the Halloween season with many cruise lines. Cruise passengers can expect all sorts of spooky celebrations and still have a holiday that visits several destinations.

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