Monday, April 30, 2012

Nine Days Onboard The "Big E"

    June 2010, the cruise of the millennium, was THE BEST cruise ever.  I can’t stress it any  further than I have with my friends, family, and colleagues.  My brother and I sailed on board Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of The Seas.  I refer to her as “Big E”.  My brother and I sailed from Cape Liberty-Bayonne, NJ.  It was a nine day trip to Bermuda, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Puerto Rico.  At first I wanted to pack my Amtrak duffel bag, but my mom told my brother and I to pack the two purple suitcases.  I had no idea why she wanted us to pack them.  I couldn’t believe I was taking Barney The Suitcase.  I was getting worried that my colleagues at the cruise terminal, mainly the longshoremen, would laugh at me.  Some of my friends used to joke with me saying, “Hey, Dave my man...did anyone tell you that you pack like a girl?”  When traveling with a purple suitcase, I felt like I was on a crash course.  Luckily no one joked with me.  Phew! Instead, an even more favorable matter had arisen. I was doing guest check-in that Thursday.  I was going to at some point be checking in guests who might be at my dinner table during the cruise.  Throughout the afternoon, I was checking my Sea Pass card amongst guests I embarked, just hoping to come across a party that was going to be at my table.  None of the parties I checked in happened to be so.  At dinner later that night, I met this one family from Boston sitting at our table. The husband noticed me and said “Hey, weren’t you just in the terminal?”  You were checking people in today.  You were really moving.  Nice work!”  Life is more than just a fish bowl, huh folks?

    Two days later, we tied up at King’s Wharf, Bermuda.  My brother and I didn’t do all that much.  We took the ferry from King’s Wharf across the way to Hamilton.  We walked a few blocks in either direction.  While doing so, we walked into all of the stores.  We didn’t buy anything.  Both of us took a boat load of pictures.  It was a gorgeous day, with the temperature in the low eighties.  After walking around, taking pictures, and browsing through the stores, we headed back to the ferry.  Once back at King’s Wharf, we boarded the ship again.  We had lunch at the Windjammer Café, and then hung out at the Solarium pool.  Just as we were departing from King’s Wharf, I saw this huge squid swimming out from underneath the pier.  At dinner, one of our appetizers was fried calamari.  I asked the waiter, “Wendell, is this calamari from that squid we saw swimming near the pier?”  He said, “No, I’m afraid not, but that’s a good guess.”  Food for thought, I can’t imagine fast food in the dining room.  Ha-Ha!

    Two days later, we arrived at St. Maarten.  We tied up at the pier around noon.  I was hoping we were going to spend some time of our own at Maho Bay or Orient Bay.  We were presented with a surprise.  Our travel agent had arranged for us to be on a complimentary island highlights tour.  After eating lunch, we headed downstairs and we met our tour guide at the pier entrance.  We boarded our motor coach, and we were off.  We had visited St. Maarten before when we sailed on the Adventure of The Seas.  We sort of knew the places the tour guide was taking us.  We visited the town of Marigot, and nearly touched the Maho Bay area.  We then drove by famous Orient Bay, where a majority of the cruise passengers hang out while in port.  It’s most definitely on my to-do list when I cruise again.  We were then given each a post card with stamps already attached.  We all wrote to someone at home and handed them to our tour guide at the conclusion of the trip.  Before we knew it, we were back on board.  We hung out on our balcony, and did some people watching while we were at it.  Late at night, we pulled out of port and we were off once again.  St. Thomas, here we come!

    Early the next morning, we arrived in St. Thomas, USVI.  It was another beautiful day outside.  The temperature was in the mid-eighties.  My brother and I took the tram ride up to Paradise Point, to  take pictures and guzzle down a few drinks.  The Carnival Liberty was in port next to us.  St. Thomas, with ships in port, is a gorgeous sight.  Every time you look at postcards in St. Thomas, they all have ships in the picture.  It’s truly a sight to behold.  When we returned to the port area, we took a bus to the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef, right at the mouth of the harbor channel.  We stayed there a few times when we were little.  We had lunch by the pool.  Right in front of us, a little more than two hundred yards away, was our ship, the Explorer.  She looked like a gem, with the water sparkling all around her.  Next, we took the boat from Frenchman’s Reef to downtown Charlotte Amalie. 

    Hanging around downtown Charlotte Amalie was a ton of fun.  We shopped for booze, did some souvenir shopping, and then did the most adventurous thing of all.  We walked all the way back to the Havensight pier.  Half way there, we stopped at a coffee shop called “Bad Ass Coffee”.  There we helped ourselves to some iced coffee and kept walking until we arrived back at the ship.  By the time we arrived back at the pier, our calves were hard as a rock.  As we were walking on the pier toward the ship, one of the USVI’s famous youth steel drum bands was performing.  They were called “The Rising Stars”.  If you have ever heard these kids play, you don’t know what you’re missing.  They are absolutely superb, like real professionals.  We listened to them for a good half an hour.  Just as we arrived at door of the Explorer, one of the guest relations officers I knew was at the gangway.  I introduced my brother to him, and they shook hands.  After talking briefly, we got back on board.  Our day in St. Thomas was over.  Another visit to St. Thomas was in the books.    

    The following morning, we arrived at our final port-of-call, San Juan, PR.  Just as we tied up, we headed downstairs to the gangway.  We boarded our tour bus at the pier entrance.  We visited the Bacardi Rum Factory.  It wasn’t what I was expecting, but the rum was absolutely awesome.  We were all given two tickets, for two free drinks.  I thought, what the heck, and helped myself to two Screwdrivers.  Yummy!  First we watched a short film presentation on the history of the Bacardi company.  We were then taken on a mock up tour of how Bacardi’s charcoal fired rum is made.  Later we were then shown, step-by-step, how to make a Bacardi Mojito.  Immediately afterward, we walked through the gift shop.  My brother and I bought a package of mint seeds for our garden at home.  We also bought a few other souvenirs, including a canister of rum chocolates.  When we were done, we headed back to the bus to return to the ship.  It was two o’clock.  It was time to pull in the lines and head back out to sea, back to Bayonne.  The cruise was unfortunately nearing its end, but the fun was just about to heat up. 

    On our cruise on board the Explorer, I participated a lot of fun activities.  I even took a class on how to play Bridge.  That afternoon we departed San Juan, I participated in the event of all events...the “Men’s International Belly Flop Competition”. This event cannot be missed.  This event, I swear it, looked like a meat market and a happy hour combined.  Every last babe in a bikini onboard was at pool side soaking up every last ray available.  There were eight participants including myself signed up for the belly flop competition.  Each contestant had to make two jumps off a wooden jumping platform.  The first jump was judged on style and grace, and the second jump was judged on splash factor and PAIN.  I wore my patriotic swim suit for good luck.  I scored a 4.998 on the first jump...a near perfect score!  Half way to heaven!  The second jump was not too bad, a 4.534, but then I got eliminated. This one contestant decided to change the position of the jumping platform, from horizontal to vertical.  No one stopped him from doing so.  He scored a 5.12.  NO FAIR!!  Later on at dinner downstairs, one of the guests at the  table nearby bought me a beer for being the unofficial 1st place winner of the competition.  After the waiter poured the beer for me, I went over to this guest nearby and said, “Hey, thank you so much, I greatly appreciate it.”  This other guest said, “Dave, you got screwed up there.  That jump you made was a 6.  Here’s to next time, ok my man?”. We clinked glasses, and I once again shared with the guy and everyone at his table my thank you’s.  Even at my table, all of the adults including my brother were treating me to a bottle of beer.  How moving of an evening!  Agree?  

    The next day was the charity event, “Walk of Wishes”.  It was a six lap walk around the sun deck to benefit the Make A Wish Foundation.  During the event, I’m was walking my laps around the sun deck with over two hundred guests.  While we’re walking and making our way around the sun deck, I’m getting the hero’s welcome.  This one guest points me out and shouts, “Hey, it’s the belly flopper!  4.998 baby!"  Guests on both sides of the walking track were applauding me.  People on the sun deck were buying me beer that whole afternoon.  It must have been the black and blue marks on my chest, arms, and shoulders.  Do you know how painful belly flopping is?  It’s not too bad when jumping into chlorinated water, but with a salt water pool?  Yikes!  Belly flopping into salt water is like jumping off the roof of your house and landing on your backyard patio.  One of the gentlemen I met on the sun deck gave me advice for the next belly flop competition.  He told me to bring a crumby hat with me, a hat really worn out.  He said that I should have someone toss it over the pool and I would grab it as I make my landing.  He then gave me another hint of advice.  He then suggested that I should toss the hat in the pool, land in the water, and let the hat land on my head as I come up to the surface. He then said “You’ll be scoring more than free beer next time!”.  

    The final night on board, we went to the farewell show in the Palace Theater.  To start the show, a sneak preview of the “Cruise In Review” DVD was shown on a screen on stage.  At first, I saw myself at the “Dancing Under The Stars” party on pool deck.  Minutes later, came the footage from the belly flop competition.  The Royal Caribbean TV staff showed my jump not once, but four different times.  When my big jump was done, it was rewound three different times.  Half the theater was going crazy.  I never thought I would become that popular so quickly.  It must have been a blessing.

   The following day during disembarkation, I ran into some of the guys I met on pool deck.  Then, two young ladies just down the hallway from my cabin saw me on the pier.  I overheard one of them asking the other, “He works here?”.  With a smile on my face, I said, “Yes, I work here.”  Unfortunately, I never spoke with them again.  She was “the one that got away” as they say.  When my brother came through customs, I introduced him to my supervisor.  She asked my brother, “Did you guys have a good time?”  My brother answered, “Oh definitely.  David was hogging the camera the whole trip.”  There is one thing that still wears on my mind.  Will there be a cruise that will top that one?  Not anytime soon, but the belly flop stakes can’t be any higher. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

An Hour On Board The Celebrity Silhouette

    Cape Liberty Cruise Terminal, Bayonne, NJ: The April 22nd sailing came faster than I had imagined.  It was the day of the Celebrity Silhouette’s repositioning cruise back to Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy.  The ship was in the middle of the embarkation process.  A noreaster was threatening the area.  The rain was coming down.  Aside from the rain, it was extremely chilly out.  I felt really bad for the guests boarding the vessel.  They couldn’t enjoy the open areas of the ship due to the inclement weather.  Not every trip starts out the way you want it.  I’ve learned that lesson time and again in my role as a cruise line agent in the New York area.  I have my good days and I make the very best of the not so good days. 

    Despite the poor weather conditions, five of my colleagues and I had the opportunity to have lunch on board the Celebrity Silhouette.  At first, we had to wait for the ship’s security staff to clear us to board the vessel.  Once we got the all clear, we proceeded on board via the forward gangway.  We took the elevator up to deck 14, where the Oceanview Café is located.  The Oceanview Café is the Silhouette’s guest buffet.  Once we arrived on deck 14, we had to navigate our way through the public areas to get there.  While on our way to the Oceanview Café, we passed through the Aqua Spa.  All I could say was “WOW!”.  If you have ever been in the Solarium on a Royal Caribbean ship, the Aqua Spa is very much like it, but exceptionally spruced up.  The pool was enclosed, and the pool area was very relaxing.  All of the lounge chairs had fresh folded towels sitting on them.  At that moment, I just couldn’t help but say to myself, “One day, I am going to be on board this ship.  Lord, make it happen!”.  Right in the corner of the Aqua Spa was this hammock with a canopy draping over it.  I so wanted to drop myself onto it, but I didn’t want to ruin things for the guests.  Next we walked past the ship’s main pool.  The main pool was absolutely gorgeous.  If you want to see an environment where guests get pampered beyond their dreams, that is sure the place. 

    Lastly, we walked through the automatic sliding glass door into the Oceanview Café.  All I could say was “Whoa!  Somebody definitely better get me on this vessel.”  The buffet stations in the Oceanview Café were endless.  There was a roast beef carving station, a chicken carving station, a fruit buffet, a bread bar, and a massive salad bar which I thought I’d never see on a cruise ship.  I thought I was in heaven.  I went to the roast beef carving station, and the chef couldn’t have been friendlier.  He said to me, “Welcome aboard! One good slice for you, Mr. David.”.  I then said, “It looks awesome.  Can you cut me a second piece?”.  The chef said, “My pleasure, Mr. David. You enjoy your meal sir.”  From the roast beef station, I walked over to the fruit bar.  There I loaded my plate up with pineapple and honeydew melon chunks.  From there, I walked to the bread bar.  There were these pretzel baguettes.  I took one, and I went to the juice dispenser.  I decided to try something a little more exciting than Sprite, iced tea, or fruit punch.  I filled my glass with guava juice.  It tasted absolutely heavenly.  I sat out on the stern with two of my supervisors, with the wind and rain whipping about.  Despite the weather, we enjoyed the food on board.  The food was fantastic.  I wanted to go back for seconds, but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome.  Besides, I didn’t have a Sea Pass card.  As we left the Oceanview Café, I took some pictures of the buffet area to share via email.  I then took pictures of the ship’s library, the Aqua Spa, the Aqua Spa Café, and the main pool.  I so didn’t want to get off the ship.  After a memorable hour on board, it was time to step off the ship and return to my check-in duties.     

    With a bit of resistance, I managed to board the shuttle bus back to the terminal building.  I couldn’t help but reminisce about the on board environment I had just visited.  I have never been on board the Celebrity Solstice, Equinox, or Eclipse.  However, I can say for sure that the Silhouette is truly a palace. It is most definitely a ship I look forward to sailing on board for real.  Whether I plan to sail to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, I would most definitely sail on board the Celebrity Silhouette.  The staff was welcoming, the food was splendid, and the public areas were through-the-roof majestic.  There was most definitely a special flare in the air.  Never so quickly has one ship caught my eye like the Silhouette.  That one hour I spent on board her is one hour I will deeply treasure.  There is no doubt in my mind that very hour I spent on board will transpire into an unforgettable seven or twelve-day adventure in the near future.  I was left with the everlasting impression that a ship so elegant, paints the perfect picture of “A True Departure”.   

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Train Is "The Way To Go" To The Big Apple

    New York City is the place of work for thousands of Bergen County residents.  Residents of Hasbrouck Heights, Wood-Ridge, Carlstadt, East Rutherford, and Moonachie are often faced with the burden of sitting on New Jersey Transit’s buses every morning and evening, going to and from the Big Apple.  I’ve taken the bus to New York to work with the cruise ships.  There have been days where I had to run the length of ten blocks to meet my sign-in time.  Let me share with some valuable advice with you.  Taking the train into New York City is way faster than your computer booting.  The train is way faster than getting the office coffee machine to work.  More importantly, the train is way faster than the Broadway ticket lines at Time Square.  Theater goers, the train is way faster to get you into New York in time for that eight o’clock curtain.  The Bergen County and Pascack Valley train lines are minutes away. 

    The train is the easiest form of transportation to New York City.  Instead of waiting for a bus that might be stuck in traffic, or waiting for a bus that you might have missed, just head down to the Teterboro or Wood-Ridge station.  If you live in East Rutherford, Rutherford is your point of origin.  If you’re driving to the station, make sure you have a commuter’s permit in your window.  Your better option is to drive to Garfield’s Plauderville station on Outwater Lane.  The free lot is located on the east side of the station. 

    New Jersey Transit’s train stations have ticket vending machines.  They all operate 24-7, and accept both cash and all major credit cards.  The adult round-trip cost to New York’s Penn Station from Teterboro, Wood-Ridge, Rutherford, and Plauderville are as follows:

Teterboro/Wood-Ridge: $12.50
Rutherford: $10.50
Plauderville: $13.50

    Children and senior citizens get a good deal when they travel to New York.   *All NJ Transit train fares for children and senior citizens are one-way.  The fares are as follows:

Teterboro/Wood-Ridge: $2.75
Rutherford: $2.25
Plauderville: $3.00

    Traveling to New York City is very easy.  When your train arrives at Secaucus Junction, proceed upstairs to the Northeast Corridor Line.  Hold on to your train ticket.  You will need it to go through the turnstile in the upstairs concourse.  The track assignments for New York bound trains are subject to change, so double check the information board before proceeding to the platform.  There are plenty of digital displays showing what trains are departing on all of the tracks at a given time. In the morning, the waiting time is very short.  You never have to wait more than ten minutes for the next train. 
    Finally, your connecting train arrives.  Step aboard, and your next station stop is New York-Penn Station.  Penn Station is approximately twelve minutes away.  Your train will plunge into the tunnel under the Hudson River.  Upon arrival at Penn Station, there are plenty of signs showing you to the subways, Long Island Railroad trains, Amtrak’s departure area, Madison Square Garden, and all street exits.

    Aside from New York Penn Station, Hoboken is your other option.  Rather than changing trains in Secaucus, stay on board and continue to Hoboken Terminal. Hoboken Terminal is the beginning and ending point of the Pascack, Bergen County, and Main lines.  The fares to Hoboken Terminal are fairly reasonable.  The adult round-trip fares are as follows:

Teterboro/Wood-Ridge: $9.40
Rutherford: $8.00
Plauderville: $10.50

The children and senior citizen’s fares are as follows:

Teterboro/Wood-Ridge: $2.25
Rutherford: $1.75
Plauderville: $2.25

    Upon arrival in Hoboken, the signs for the PATH station are clearly marked.  The one-way fare to 33rd Street-Manhattan is $2.00.  Children at age five and under ride FREE.  If you have an MTA Metro Card, PATH honors them.  The approximate ride time to 33rd Street is twenty minutes.  If shopping is your favorite activity in New York, the Manhattan Mall is located right off the PATH exit.  One block north of the 33rd Street PATH exit is the famous Macy’s department store.     

    NJ Transit provides plenty of deals of all types.  For complete details on all restaurants, hotels, shows, and tourist attractions, visit and  click on “Deals And Discounts”.
    New York City is the Mecca of the tri-state’s commercial universe.  The entertainment, dining, and recreation choices are endless.  It’s where thousands from our area go to work.  It is the melting pot of the working, shopping, sports, and tourism world.  Everyone enjoys going to New York to experience it.  Whether you feel like going to a fine steakhouse, taking a Circle Line Ferry tour, or  going into to catch the Knicks, Rangers, or even a concert at Madison Square Garden, the train is “the way to go”.  Just catch that train from Teterboro, Wood-Ridge, Rutherford, or Plauderville and you are off to the Big Apple in no time.  You can set your watch to them!  New Jersey Transit’s trains are not just “the way to go”, they take you the “core” of it all.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Opa! My High School Trip To Greece

    It was April 1995.  Our Easter trip to Greece had finally arrived. It was my senior year. The long, long wait was over.  It was time to fly to Greece with my high school peers.  At least five seniors including myself were amongst the group.  We were accompanied by a swarm of sophomores and juniors.  A small brave group of freshmen managed to join the adventure.  Five teachers came along with us a chaperones, including the leader of the pack.  I couldn’t stop thinking about this trip.  Since November of that school year, the anticipation was growing.  The day finally arrived.  It was time to work our elbow “Greece”. 

    It was a cloudy Wednesday morning.  My dad dropped me off at school.  I had my suitcase in hand.  That morning, I was approached by a bunch of my peers.  They saw me walking in through the gym lobby.  When they saw me dragging my suitcase, one of them asked “Kriso, what’s up?  Running away from home?”.  I turned around and just said, “I heard you were coming with us too, but you were flying on FedEx.”  I knew how to take jokes from my peers, but I knew how to humor them back.  All day long, none of the guys in the group would stop talking about this trip.  Nobody!  The Italy trip was leaving the same day.  They were clamoring about what great pizza Italy has, while we were talking about the Aegean Sea cruise we were going on in addition to tripping over ruins.  At an all boys high school, there’s always that back and forth talk going on.  There was never a day no one bragged about big occasions. 

    When the half day was over, we all went home to get ready for the trip.  When we all returned back to the school, the bus was right there in the lot.  We took one of our school’s buses  to Kennedy Airport.  We packed our luggage in the back of the bus.  Gosh, it looked like an episode of “The Partridge Family”.  When we arrived at JFK, we unloaded our bags and headed inside.  We arrived at the airport a good three hours prior to our flight.  We checked in our bags at no other airline than Olympic Airways.  Let me tell you, it was really nice airline.  One of my teachers and I hung out for over an hour, checking out all of the duty-free stores in the terminal.  I do remember buying a toy commercial airliner in one of the stores.  I  played with it all trip long.  At the gate, we were playing cards, listening to our CD players, and catching up on our reading.  Finally, it was boarding time!

    When the boarding started, we were getting a little restless.  When our rows were finally called, a whole bunch of the guys went crazy.  What can you expect from an all boys high school!  When we got on board the plane, we made ourselves at home.  For a nine hour flight, we did what we could to make it happen.  If I could recall, we used every last blanket available on the plane.  At departure time, everyone was asleep.  We left the gate at five minutes of eleven.  Fifteen minutes later, we were on the runway.  Once airborne, I was out for the count.  Two hours later, it was time to eat.  I didn’t care for the pasta, but I ate the chocolate cake and chased it down with some coffee.  Once dinner was over, the movie came on.  They showed the film, “Junior”, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Devito.  I don’t remember much of the film at all.  So far, the flight was a piece of cake. 

    Unbelievably, morning came.  We were flying over the Swiss Alps.  The sky was clear, and I could see every patch of snow on the mountain tops.  It was so beautiful, you just have to imagine it.  I still have the slides.  Four more hours to go, and landing time!  During the flight, we were allowed to visit the flight deck.  I have never been to the flight deck while in flight.  It was really neat.  In those days prior to the events of 9/11, it was allowed.  The flight was a lot of fun.  The four remaining hours of flying time went by really fast.  Like we thought the moment would never come, we started our decent into the Athens area.  As we made our approach into Athens-Hellinikon Airport, I couldn’t believe how crystal blue the ocean was.  It was the Mediterranean Sea we were flying over.  I couldn’t get over how far we had flown in just one night.  You know what they say, “Time flies while having fun.”. 

    Touchdown!  We landed in Athens, Greece.  I had landed in another foreign country.  The year before, I traveled through six countries on a motor coach.  This time, we were in the middle of one of the most gorgeous countries in Europe.  Once off the plane, we boarded shuttle buses to the luggage claim and customs area.  Once out of customs, we were greeted by our tour leader.  We weren’t headed to our hotel just yet.  We had to wait for our traveling companions to arrive.  We had to wait for a girls high school group to arrive from Boston.  Even with them on our bus, we still slept.  We sat in traffic for over two hours.  The traffic in the inner-city area was unreal.  It seemed that everyone in the whole country drove to and from work.  The blanket of smog covering the city was unimaginable.  In some areas, it looked very light, and in other areas it was a shade of grayish black.  Culture shock indeed!

    Our hotel in Athens was very nice.  The view from the top floor was one to behold.  The Parthenon was right there, about three hundred yards away.  It was a beautiful afternoon.  We could still get a little whiff of the smog, but we got used to it in no time.  We didn’t unpack completely.  The next day, we were boarding our Aegean Sea cruise.  I couldn’t wait for that!  An hour later, we went downstairs for dinner.  While at dinner, our tour leader handed out our stateroom assignments.  A few hours later, we boarded our tour bus to attend the light and sound show at the Acropolis.  That was awesome!! On the cliff across from the Acropolis, we were given lawn chairs to sit on.  Boy, did I need that!  I was falling asleep all over again.  I stayed awake as much as I could, but I managed to stay up a good ninety percent of the way.  What an incredible show it was.  The recorded narration, along with the colored lighting effects, made it all look surreal.  By the show’s end, it was time to head back to the hotel and rest up for cruising time. 

    The following morning, it was time to head for the port of Piraeus, the busiest port in Greece.  While en route to the port, we were given a background on Greek terminology.  We were taught how to say, “Hello!”, “Thank you!”, “Good morning!”, and “Good night!”.  Other expressions followed during our half hour bus ride.  The trip was very educational.  I was truthfully taking it all in.  A short time later, we arrived at the port of Piraeus.  We sailed on Epirotiki Cruise Line.  Our ship was the Triton.  The ship was not the size of cruisers we all know of today, but it was really nice.  The cabins were very comfortable, the public areas on board were modern looking, and the onboard staff was very welcoming.  After getting settled in our cabins, it was time to put on our life jackets and head upstairs for the life boat drill.  I completely forgot what cabin I was in.  Was it V-11A, or VO-11A?  It took a member of the muster drill team to jog my memory.  Bingo, my cabin number came to mind!  Phew!  An hour later, it was cast off time.  Greek Isles, here we come!

    Sailing on the Aegean Sea was absolutely unforgettable.  The water was crystal blue.  At the time, my family and I had a vacation place on St. Croix.  I remember seeing the ocean right in the background outside our door.  I had never seen ocean water so blue.  The sun was shining right down on us while we were at sea.  The water had a shimmering look to it.  You can never find a more incredible view than that.  Back inside the ship, we sat down for lunch in the main dining room.  The food was excellent.  I don’t remember what I ordered, but it was truly fabulous.  Later on, the teachers were trying their luck in the casino.  I couldn’t go in there.  I was one month away from turning eighteen.  DARN!  Our leading teacher was already racking up his winnings, or so I heard.  I hung out with a bunch of my peers in one of the public lounges.  Since we were not going to be drinking any alcohol onboard, we took a vote on who was going to pay the cabin bill.  It worked out without a hitch.

    Late in the afternoon, we arrived at our first port-of-call, Mykonos.  Of all the ports of call, Mykonos was my favorite.  The tenders were little wooden boats with outboard motors.  On land, one of our teachers rented a 4x4 jeep.  Many of the roads were dirt, and really rough.  Many of the guys rented mopeds.  I couldn’t imagine how cheap the price was.  As it grew darker and darker, we drove to one end of the island nearest to where our ship was anchored.  The ships were all lit up.  It was so beautiful, they looked like a trio of necklaces twinkling in the dark.  There, from the cliff, we watched the sun set on one side of the island and the moon rising on the other.  To this day, I share that same moment with my former teachers, college professors, and anyone I have coffee with.  That moment is well-chiseled in my memory.  It’s just plain fun talking about it.  A short time later, it was time to head back on board the Triton.  Before midnight, the anchor was lifted and we were off to our next port-of-call, Rhodes.

    The next morning, we arrived in Rhodes.  It was absolutely gorgeous out.  We all had to pry ourselves out of bed after a long night of dancing in the ship’s lounge.  We boarded our tour bus on the pier and we were off to see the sights.  Our first stop was the Castle of the Crusaders.  What an incredible place it was!  I don’t remember much of it, but I do remember the image of Medusa painted in the floor in one of the castle’s wings.  We walked around the hallways of the castle and we were just impressed by how the place had stood the test of time.  It looked like the forces of nature never imposed a speck of wear or tear on it.  Back onboard the bus, we headed to another end of the island to visit the town of Lindos.  Together we walked to up to a watch castle on top of a hill.  Whoa! What a climb!  We had to climb steep stairwells, a steep foot trail, and then on cobble stone steps to get there.  I sure got my exercise!  The view from the castle was absolutely majestic.  You could see the whole Aegean Sea from atop the castle.  I can imagine the experience of the lookouts back in those days.  About those steep steps we had to climb to get to the was challenging going up, but it was sure fun going down.  As we were heading down the hill, we noticed a beach at the foot of the hill.  When we got to the bottom, we thought it would be best to walk off the muscle aches a bit.  Little did we know that the beach we were walking on turned out to be a nude beach.  One of our teachers said to us, “Guys, turn off the cameras before we go any further.”  Culture shock hit us once again.  There were young adults walking around, young kids walking around, and older people were there.  What was so shocking that it was April, and they were already at the beach.  In New Jersey, we don’t go to the beach until June.  Oh well, the Europeans love the beach anytime.  We then visited a pottery factory.  Pottery is a huge commodity in Greece, and a huge part of their culture.  I bought a small vase with fancy designs on it.  It sits inside the china cabinet in my dining room.  To this day, I take extra care of it.  Great memories do last forever.  

    Back aboard the Triton, we sat down to have tea on deck.  We all took an hour or so to catch some fresh air near the pool.  Before we knew it, we were off again.  Our next port-of-call was Kusadasi, Turkey.  It was a fun night on board.  I was so tired from all the sight seeing and walking, I hit the hay early.  My roommates didn’t come back until three o’clock in the morning.  Early the next morning, we arrived in Kusadasi.  We received our wake up call.  We dragged ourselves out of bed, washed up, got dressed, and we all met near the gangway.  We all looked like zombies.  We boarded our tour bus and we headed for our destination, Ephesus, the birthplace of the Virgin Mary.  We walked past a huge field of ruins, many of them symbolic.  Our tour guide showed us around, and explained to us some of the hidden patterns imprinted in the stepping stones.  Later on, we paid our respects to the home of the Virgin Mary.  It was decorated with statues, with candles all around.  We all entered and left quietly.  It was quite the place to be.  Once again, we boarded our bus and headed back to the port area.  There, we visited a rug manufacturer, and he treated us to hot cider.  He showed us an array of rugs of countless styles and designs.  They were all too expensive for any of us to buy, or to take home as luggage.  We were very appreciative of the demonstration, and we tipped him well for his presentation.

    We boarded the Triton once again, and we went upstairs for tea.  With everyone aboard, we were off again, en route to our final port-of-call, Patmos.  The ride to Patmos took four hours.  That afternoon, while everyone was minding their business, I went upstairs to take some pictures.  Boy was it cold and windy at sea!  My hands nearly stuck to the ship’s railings.  When I went back to my cabin, my hands were shaking.  After putting my camera away, I went upstairs to the lounge with the gang for tea.  I needed ten cups to knock out the chills.  A short time later, the announcement was made that we were tying up at the island of Patmos.  We went back to our cabins and got our cameras and stuff together.  Our tour bus was waiting outside the ship.  We visited a historic Greek orthodox church and monastery up on the hill.  It was so peaceful.  From the edge of the hill, we could see our ship.  It was so quiet, I wish northern New Jersey was the same.  Our tour guide took us around the church and showed us many priceless artifacts.  Some of the chandeliers hanging from the ceiling dated back hundreds of years.  Some of the statues dated back even further.  Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship.  Our cruise was nearing its end.  When we arrived back at the pier, it started to rain.  Not just rain, it was a torrential downpour.  Boy, did it come down!  We left Patmos while we were at dinner.  The torrential downpour had developed into a thunderstorm.  The waves got a bit choppy.  Our dining room chairs had casters on them.  Every time the ship rolled to either side, we would be rolling away from the table.  Later on, we were dancing in the lounge upstairs.  The rocking of the ship made it a bit challenging to keep our balance.  All in all, we were having a blast.  We were having a good time like no other, as if the cruise had another week left to it.  Of all the cruises I’ve been on, it was definitely one to remember for a long time.

    The following morning, we arrived back in Piraeus.  It was a gloomy morning.  We were all so physically spent from dancing the night before, none of us wanted to get up.  When I got up, I kindly knocked on the rest of the guys’ cabin doors.  Hey, when you’re a senior, you have “seniority” over the rest.  I even knocked on the teachers’ cabin doors.  They too had a blast the night before.  We ate breakfast together in the dining room before disembarking.  As we were leaving the vessel, we were all singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”.  When we boarded our tour bus to head back to the hotel, we all fell asleep again.  When we arrived back at the hotel, we were given a few hours to unwind and rest up.  Late in the day, we boarded our tour bus to visit the ruins at Sunion.  It looked like the Lincoln Memorial without a roof.  The view was absolutely incredible.  The Mediterranean Sea was less than three miles away.  The world looked so peaceful from where we were standing.  Throughout the remainder of the week, we visited the ruins at Delphi and Corinth.  We even visited the Corinth Canal.  We couldn’t believe how deep the canyon was, with the canal more than two hundred feet below us.  One of the guys asked out loud, “Why didn’t they think of taking us bungy jumping?”.  Good times, definitely!    
    One of the most fun activities during our trip was visiting those dinner and dance places known as tavernas.  They were so much fun.  We ate, sang along, danced, and every time the singers turned to us and said “Opa!”, we all responded loudly, “OPA!”.  We visited two tavernas, and we were shouting “Opa!” all week long.  As we all know, all good things have to come to an end.  The final night we were all very sad that the trip was drawing to a close.  I was graduating two months from then.  I knew it would be a while before I would be flying overseas again.  That evening, we packed our bags.  The next day, we boarded our bus for the airport.  During our two hour layover, we did some final duty-free shopping before boarding.  Finally, the boarding had begun.  We boarded the shuttle buses to go to our plane.  As I walked up the stairs, I took one last look around before going inside the plane.  A tear had dripped down my face as I began walking toward my seat.  Half an hour later, we were airborne en route back to New York. 

    On our way home, I could not believe the atmosphere on board.  There was another high school group flying home with us.  They were from Long Island.  They too were onboard the Triton with us.  It seemed that the plane became “The Love Boat”.  Everywhere I looked, the guys were chilling out with the girls from the Long Island group.  I met this one girl from that same group, and gave her my phone number.  We never spoke again after landing.  Later on in college, I met her brother.  Talk about it being a small world after all!  He was in the class below me.  It was a long flight home; nine hours and fifty minutes.  It didn’t bother me at all.  We already had a social club going on.  Around 4pm, we began our decent into Kennedy Airport.  We touched down a little past 4:30.  Just as we touched down, a few of the guys shouted “Opa!”.  Everyone else in our group followed suit.  For the remainder of the school year, “Opa!” became the official quote at  school.  It was an ugly and foggy afternoon in New York.  We came off the plane, and I then said, “Can we turn around and go back?”.  In the luggage claim area, we were all plain tired from the flight.  The luggage took forever to be unloaded.  One of the guys commented saying, “Who’s unloading the bags?  The one-armed guy from “The Fugitive”?”.  Culture shock, INDEED!  I plainly responded, “Hey, there’s no place like home.”.   

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My First Princess Cruise

    It was August 2008.  I had won the Freedom Travel Raffle at the parish where I was
volunteer teaching English As A Second Language.  The grand prize was five thousand dollars, including a twenty-five hundred dollar gift card to Liberty Travel.  It was time to put the winnings into action.  I decided on taking a Princess cruise out of Brooklyn to Bermuda and the Caribbean.  My parents drove my brother and I to the Brooklyn Red Hook Cruise Terminal.  Our ship was the Caribbean Princess, a beautiful vessel. We were on board in record time. There wasn’t much of a wait at the check-in area. We were on board in fifteen minutes.  Minutes later, we met our cabin steward, Larry. He was very welcoming, and told us he would get us anything anytime..including chocolates. Our balcony cabin was very nice and very spacious. Our cabin was on the starboard side, facing the Statue of Liberty.

    As soon as we finished unpacking our bags, we went up one deck to the buffet area for lunch. After that, we took ourselves on a tour of the ship. We scouted out the ship’s theater, the dining room, the casino, the outdoor movie screen, and the Skywalkers Nightclub. It is located in the stern overlooking the entire length of the ship. Around 4pm the crew began the life boat drill. When it concluded, we went back to the room and got our cameras.  At 5pm the lines were pulled in and we were off.  It was a beautiful afternoon leaving New York City. We passed under the Verrazano Bridge, and out into open ocean.  The sail away party on the pool deck was a lot of fun.  Later, we had dinner in the dining room.  The food was absolutely fantastic.  Every night on the cruise, whether in the dining room or at the buffet, the food was wonderful.  The food on any cruise ship is surely and dangerously addictive!

    On our first day at sea, we went to a demonstration called “The Art of Entertaining”. We learned how to entertain dinner and party guests “Princess style”.  The next day we docked in King’s Wharf, Bermuda.  My brother and I took the EZ Rider electric bike tour.  We saw a lot of the island by bike.  It was a real fun experience.  I had never gotten so much exercise in one afternoon.  We left Bermuda  late in the afternoon.  At sea, we attended a wine tasting, which was fabulous.  We got to taste an array of white and red wines, along with an assortment of fruits and cheeses.  A day and a half later, we docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  We took the tour of El Yunche Rainforest.  It was the most picturesque and the utmost peaceful part of the island.  There was nothing but trees, mist, and tiny waterfalls.  We heard absolutely nothing but those little coquis croaking in the background.  We left San Juan late in the evening and arrived at Crown Bay in St. Thomas the following morning. 

In St. Thomas, we did the On Deck sailboat race excursion. That was fun!  My brother hurt his thumb on board, but still managed to handle the lines.  It was fun to enjoy the sunshine and the splashing of the ocean in my face.  After that, we did a ton of shopping and headed back to the ship.  By late afternoon, we were off again.  We were off to our final port-of-call, Grand Turk.

    We arrived in Grand Turk the following afternoon.  There wasn’t that much to the area. My brother and I did some browsing in the stores, including Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville and Piranha Joe’s.  After browsing, we went to the beach.  The beach was very nice.  It was just one hundred yards from the ship.  After swimming in the ocean and reading a bit, we went back to the stores. We bought what we liked and headed back to the ship. We were then headed back home to Brooklyn.

    Two nights from arriving in New York, was the most fun night ever.  It was the night of the champagne waterfall party.  There were conga lines going on all three decks of the ship’s atrium.  The piano player, Bert Stratton, was doing his last show of the cruise.  He stole the show every night onboard.  Sadly, all of the fun died down, and before we knew it we were back in Brooklyn.  To tell you the truth, I found it very difficult to leave the ship that morning.  It was one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on.  It was a trip well worth the money.  I am definitely looking forward to sailing on Princess again soon.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

From The Real World To A Fantasy World: Amtrak Holds Your Ticket To An Unforgettable Disney Vacation (Published On

    Are you a die hard Disney fan?  How many times have you traveled to Walt Disney World in FL?  No matter how many times you go down to visit, you never seem to get enough of the place.  You never, ever want to leave.  There’s always something new added, or some special celebration going on.  The really big question I need to ask you is “Have you ever thought of taking the train to Walt Disney World?” If no, it is an incredible experience.  You’ll enjoy the train ride more than flying.  Amtrak is your Cinderella stage coach to the castle.    

    Taking the train to Walt Disney World is very easy.  It’s a lot less stressful than dealing with the security at the airports.  You can’t travel with gels and aerosols. Also, you have to pay to check in your luggage.  The train is the perfect solution to avoiding those troubles. Once you know when you’ll be staying in Walt Disney World, it’s time to make your train reservations.  Amtrak is a click or phone call away.  Amtrak is accessible on the internet at Amtrak’s toll free phone number is 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).  To let you in on a secret, there are two ways to take the train to Walt Disney World.  Here they are.

    I am a former Walt Disney World cast member.  I have been going to Walt Disney World for most of my existence, as opposed to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.  In these hard times with the craziness at airports, taking the train to Disney World provides you with the much needed time to relax.   Instead of the hassle of getting to Newark Airport, head on over to Newark Penn Station.  There are two trains to chose from when traveling to central Florida by train.  You can take the Silver Star or the Silver Meteor.  Both trains travel the same route to Miami and back.  The Silver Star departs late morning, while the Silver Meteor departs late in the afternoon.  The destination city you need to purchase tickets for is Kissimmee.  On the first leg of the route, the train will take you down the Northeast Corridor.  It is Amtrak’s main line between Boston and Washington DC.  The train will make station stops at Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore.  When you arrive in Washington DC, the train will change crew and engines.  Underway again, the train will pull through a tunnel under the north end of town and merge with the CSX main line.  The train then crosses over the Potomac River into Virginia, and will follow the CSX main line all the way down the eastern seaboard to Miami.  Along the way, you’ll be lucky to spot the infamous Tropicana juice train. The refrigerator cars are painted orange and white. So, keep your eyes “peeled”. 

    The next day, you arrive in Kissimmee.  Kissimmee is the station stop immediately following Orlando.  Kissimmee Station is located on East Dakin Avenue, and approximately twenty minutes from the Disney property.  If you are in need of courtesy transportation, there are a wide variety of choices of cab companies which operate in the central Florida area.  They are  prompt and show up at the time of a train’s arrival.  From there, they take you to your resort.  The fares are reasonable and ear-resistible. 

    Amtrak has a very convenient baggage check-in system.  The Silver Star and the Silver Meteor have baggage cars.  Amtrak offers checked baggage service at all major terminals.  If you choose to check in any luggage, be sure that your bags have identification tags attached to them.  All passengers must have a valid photo ID when checking in luggage.  To ensure a stress-free check-in process, you should arrive at Newark Penn Station approximately forty-five minutes to an hour to your train’s departure.  Amtrak is a bit lenient on the limit on carry-on and checked luggage.  You’re allowed up to two pieces of carry-on and up to three pieces of checked luggage.  If you think you over-packed, don’t stress.

    Taking the train to Walt Disney World is highly convenient.  Dealing with the airport delays and the luggage fees is no way for anyone to start a trip to visit Mickey and company.  When on board Amtrak’s long distance trains, the staff treats you with respect and with a tremendous level of respect.  From the moment you leave the New York area, you’re entitled to enjoy your vacation in absolute comfort.  While you and your family are enjoying the sunset on your southbound journey to Kissimmee, Amtrak has your ticket to a true fairy tale vacation.  You think Disney’s cast members do a superb job keeping you well entertained?  You will also be thanking the great people on board your train for “going the extra mile” to do the same.