Drive Vacations Too Stressful? Try Senior Cruising

On our last cruise we were delighted to meet a number of first-time cruisers in their seventies and eighties.

When they heard we were travel photojournalists, they were more than willing to offer opinions and comments that helped form the foundation for this article, which we dedicate to them.

The perfect first cruise

We had not planned to write about senior cruising when we signed up for a 7-day cruise to the Western Caribbean on Holland America’s ms Oosterdam.

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However, a little coaxing from some enthusiastic golden-agers (like this amicable septuagenarian couple from Florida), had us agreeing that an article that provided insight for prospective elder cruisers was a pretty good idea.

It turned out that the group thought this was the ideal first cruise for seniors, and here are the reasons why:

Celebrated cruise line

Holland America Line (HAL) has long had the reputation of providing quality cruises at affordable prices.

‘Consistency’ and ‘dependability’ are important words in grandma and grandpa’s travel book, and HAL is uncompromising in its commitment to reliable service on all its 14 ships.

Comfortable ships

As a rule of thumb, the larger the ship, the longer it takes to board and disembark, but the smoother the ocean ride.

The Oosterdam, with less than 1,000 staterooms, is small enough for expedited disembarkation at ports of call, but large enough to allow her to ride rough seas comfortably – and that helps to greatly diminish the odds of becoming seasick.

Important Note: Should you ever become ill for any reason, there is a doctor on board every Holland America cruise ship, and gratefully, he/she is much closer than you will normally find medical assistance at a hotel or resort on land.

Looks count, and the décor of the Oosterdam is tasteful without being trendy. The color schemes are soothing and sophisticated.

Shipboard activities

On our cruise most passengers were 55+. Consequently, the on-board activities were geared to that audience.

Pool side hairy chest contests and madcap revelry are not de rigueur on Holland America.

Such activities are happily traded for quieter pools, interesting and educational talks on a myriad of subjects including ports of call, shopping, live entertainment, bingo, yoga, social imbibing, ritual noshing, and just plain relaxing.

There are also card games, movies, dance lessons, computer classes, art and wine auctions, culinary demonstrations, and exercise classes.

Pictured above is an active senior exercising at the pool.

Senior activities on a cruise ship are often centered around the practiced art of eating.

On the Oosterdam, the food is excellent, and the restaurants do not feel crowded, nor do the pools, casino, bars, wellness center, or any of the public spaces. We had 1,906 passengers on our voyage, and it never felt crowded.

On our third evening at sea, we ate at the Pinnacle Grill, one of the specialty restaurants aboard the Oosterdam. Super food, and a great place for a special celebration, or a quiet romantic interlude.

Great port facilities

Our cruise departed from the port of Tampa on the west coast of Florida. Any port in Florida is a good choice for a first cruise – the ports are easy to access by air from anywhere USA.

All airlines cater to the Florida tourist trade, so there are often good ticket deals to be had if you are diligent.

Once on the ground, all Florida ports are easily accessible by ground transportation from the airports.

Florida cruise terminals are often staffed with retired seniors living in Florida. They understand the special needs of vacationing seniors and can be very helpful to first-time cruisers.

The embarkation and debarkation processes at Florida’s cruise terminals are relatively fast – and it’s nice to know that after “check-in” there is a wonderful buffet luncheon awaiting every passenger that boards the ship.

Desirable itinerary

It’s hard not to like a Western Caribbean itinerary. Ours included Key West, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel, Mexico. All great places for tours, or just meandering about on your own.

Accommodating Crew

We always interview the Captains on our cruises. Above, Captain Michiel Willems opines that a friendly crew demeanor, and excellent customer service, are the top hospitality hallmarks of the Holland America Line.

Everywhere aboard the Oosterdam, the genial crew was eager to uphold the HAL tradition.

If you go

If you decide to look into Holland America, start with its website *here*. HAL can handle your entire travel plan, including air, or you can make your own travel arrangements. It’s up to you.

Should you think you are just too old to enjoy cruising, read our story about our nonagenarian friend “Julia.” She and her husband are passengers on the Holland America world cruise every year!

We encourage every senior that still wants to experience new adventures – take a cruise.

Happy travels.. and smooth sailing!

To learn more about HAL, and see additional pictures of the interiors of its ships, check out these other stories we have written about Holland America cruises.

A Christmas Cruise Aboard the Amsterdam

Vacationing Aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam

Exploring the Amenities Aboard a Holland America Ship

A final note: If you are worried about the rigors of going ashore at the various ports of call, there are many passengers that never leave the ship. We often stay aboard when we visit ports we have seen several times. It’s an excellent time to catch up on reading and emails, watch a movie, take a nap, and get ready for the next round of serial feasting!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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Visit Eastern Europe on a River Boat: Leave the Driving to Viking

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After writing scores of articles about ocean cruises, we decided to see what motivates vacationers to take European river cruises. We are glad we did.

So much to choose from

There are endless selections of river cruise itineraries on the internet, so we sought the guidance of three prominent river cruise companies in Europe – Amway, Uniworld, and Viking.

Viking River Cruises comes through

Viking River Cruises was most generous with their public relations department and customer service time, so we selected their 11-day Budapest to Bucharest cruise on the Danube.

Casting off

We boarded our Viking longship, the Jarl, in Budapest. We pulled away from the dock just after dark.

If you have seen the Viking commercials featured on shows like Downton Abbey on PBS, you know what the Hungarian Parliament Building looks like by day. The picture above, shows it at night – it is a spectacular sight!

Our itinerary

Our chosen itinerary would take us to five eastern European countries including Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.

This is the first story from our first river cruise experience.

Romania

Romania is a country steeped in mystery and shadowed folklore. Brahms Stoker never visited the country, but he borrowed from the harsh legend of Romania’s 15th century Prince Vlad Tepes of Transylvania to create his eerie and unforgettable character, Dracula.

Another famous (in Romania) real-life character was King Decebal. He was the last king of Dacia, an ancient land located in present day Romania. He is the subject of the historical curiosity in this story.

King Decebal

Decebal was a strong and popular leader who dared defy Rome and Emperor Trajan’s conquering legions. 

The thundering silence of Decebalus Rex

Decebal is immortalized in an enormous stone likeness of his solemn face gazing toward the far (now Serbia) shore of the Danube – the place where the Roman armies camped and prepared to attack – two thousand years ago.

After many years of struggle, the Romans finally crossed the Danube River and decimated the Dacian armies in circa 105 AD.

Surrounded by faceless generals of stone, Decebal’s ghostly visage stands alone to witness the final defeat that took his country, and eventually his life. He is fated to stare into the distance, and relive his humiliation, throughout time.

A giant undertaking

At 140 feet tall, the Decebalus Rex monument is the tallest rock structure in Europe. It is considerably taller than the more famous U.S. Mount Rushmore at 59 feet.

The stone monument appears ancient, but was actually just completed in 2004 after a difficult decade of site preparation and carving. The project was funded by a private Romanian citizen, Giuseppe Constantin Drăgan.

The Tabula Traiana

Just across the river on the Serbian side lies the Trajan Table. It is an ancient carved memorial at the Danube’s edge commissioned by the great Emperor Trajan to commemorate his victories over the Dacians in the first century.

Trajan considered the ending of the Dacian Wars to be one of his greatest triumphs; so important that Trajan had another monument constructed to commemorate the event – the famous Trajan’s Column in Rome.

Pressing forward

Our Viking river boat glides silently under the brooding face of Decebal and past the ancient Trajan Table, and on through the Kazan Gorge, one of the four narrow gorges that make up the legendary Iron Gate of the Danube. This is the most scenic part of a Danube river cruise.

Our next stop will be Bulgaria.

About our river cruise ship

The Jarl is one of the 60+ longships in the Viking river fleet. She’s a sleek 443 foot vessel with 95 comfortable water-view staterooms.

She has a crew of 50 and moves effortlessly and quietly through the water with a modern diesel/electric hybrid powerhouse.

Most of the Jarl’s staff is multi-lingual, and all are well trained in the nuances of excellent customer service.

On our cruise, the food was good and ample. The chef featured cuisine from the countries we visited. If you have a palate for paprika, you will be delighted.

River ship’s hierarchy

Aboard a river cruise ship, the Captain is responsible for the operation of the vessel and the safety of the passengers. Everything else is the responsibility of the Hotel Manager.

During our 11-day cruise, we changed our Captain once. Our Hotel Manager, the genial Franz Wusits, was with us the entire trip and kept the ship’s staff on their toes – everything ran smoothly.

We interviewed Franz in our Explorer Suite located at the back of the ship.

The suites aboard the Jarl are large, and well appointed without being trendy.

Franz’s “river stories,” will provide smiles in future articles about our Viking River Cruise. Stay tuned.

More to come

We will also write about several of our excellent bus excursions on the Danube trip, which by the way, are all included in the price of the cruise. A nice bonus to river cruising.

If you go

Viking River Cruises has an itinerary to please every taste. Check out their website at www.vikingrivercruises.com.

Viking made the arrangements for our flights to Budapest and back to the US from Bucharest. We appreciate the effort.

This will not be our last river cruise, and we highly recommend the experience.

As always, if you have questions, write us at the2writers@gmail.com

Happy travels!

“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© 2017 Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © 2017 Judy Bayliff

A Walking Tour of Dubrovnik: The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Established in the 7th century A.D., the ancient and scenic port city of Dubrovnik lies in the southernmost part of the Republic of Croatia, – almost directly across the Adriatic Sea from the “spur” in the boot of Italy. It is a beautiful city of colorful red-topped tile roofs and cobblestone streets, all of which looks very much like it did centuries ago.

The Pearl of the Adriatic

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Among the city’s many admirers was Lord Byron who called Dubrovnik, “the Pearl of the Adriatic.” A century later the famous playwright, George Bernard Shaw proclaimed, “If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik.” If you visit Dubrovnik, you will see that it is indeed worthy of high praise.

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To spend time in Dubrovnik is to feel the drama of a city tossed through time and finally settled in recent history as a place of peace and beauty.

Early Dubrovnik

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The years have put many unique stamps on Dubrovnik. The city may very well be the world’s first planned community. As early as 1272, there was a town diagram, and in the following two centuries, the avant-garde citizenry opened a pharmacy (still in operation), a home for the aged, a quarantine hospital, and an orphanage.

Libertas

Most extraordinarily, 74 years before Columbus discovered America, the aristocracy in Dubrovnik abolished slavery and slave trading. In honor of the visionary proclamation, they adopted a new flag that was seen throughout the trading routes of the world. Dubrovnik’s mighty fleet of merchant ships sailed under a white flag inscribed with the word Libertas (Latin for “freedom”)

The wall

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Dubrovnik is renowned throughout the world as the “ancient walled city.” The wall that surrounds the city was originally constructed in 900 A.D. – and was further fortified in the 15th century. The wall, which is a popular walking attraction from which all aspects of city life can be viewed, is 1.3 miles long, 10 feet thick along the sea, and 20 feet thick elsewhere. There are substantial fortifications on all four corners.

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A cruise-tour group rests at the ancient water cistern

Although some of the fanciful architecture dates back to the 7th century, most of the public buildings were rebuilt after a great earthquake killed 5000 residents, and leveled many dwellings in 1667.

A couple from Florida enjoying the ocean breeze on the wall

Florida cruisers enjoying the pleasant Adriatic breeze on the Dubrovnic wall

Old wars

In the succeeding centuries, Dubrovnik suffered bombardment by a Russian fleet, and conquests by Napoleon, the Nazis, and Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia. In 1973, the old city declared itself a demilitarized zone in hopes that it would never again be a casualty of war. Unfortunately, fate was not yet ready to bestow peace on Dubrovnik.

Recent conflicts

23-100_1936In 1991, Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia, and on October 1, 1991, under a mantle of dispute, Serbians of the Yugoslavian People’s Army laid siege to Dubrovnik. Once again, the ancient city with so many historical treasures was barraged as if it were a common piece of dirt, and the rest of the world stood by and watched. The attacks lasted until May 1992 when the Croatian Army liberated the city.

Most of the damage from the latest conflict has been repaired. The renewed city has taken its rightful place as the jewel of the Adriatic – complete with storybook architecture and picturesque twisted streets and alleys.

Bucket list

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We highly recommend Dubrovnik to photographers and tourists interested in antiquities, history, and architecture. The old city is a superb vacation site with an ideal climate and gracious and hospitable inhabitants – both to be enjoyed in a genuine fairytale setting.

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Click here for more information.

Happy travels!

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Cruising Through the Rainforest of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park

The “Other Down Under” destination of New Zealand is on the Bucket List of many Americans — and justly so. Problem is, New Zealand is a long way from anywhere U.S.A. Consequently, most tourists want to see as much as possible on their first visit. Our suggestion for an orientation trip to New Zealand – book a cruise.

The rationale

A cruise will visit several ports on the two islands of New Zealand, which is a great way to get a taste of the entire country – and all without packing and repacking. And, if you fancy an endless array of delicious gastronomical delights included in the price of your vacation, all the more reason to choose a cruise.

On our fourth trip to Australia and New Zealand we blocked out time for a voyage on one of our favorite ships, the Golden Princess.

There is not enough space in this brief article to adequately describe all the picturesque ports-of-call we visited in New Zealand, so let’s just concentrate on one very special destination…

Fiordland National Park

Established in 1952, New Zealand’s largest national park (3 million acres) was formed over the eons by gigantic glacial flows that gradually crushed and moved the earth into the sea leaving deep navigable canyons of water in the South Island coast.

The park fiords are lined with steep cliffs from which giant fingers of gushing water emerge to crash-dive into the sea below.

This park is extraordinary because of its almost incomprehensible size and unsurpassed isolation. Much of the flora and fauna found in the rainforests of the park are just as they were many thousands of years ago.

Entering the park

On the previous night, the ship’s captain alerted us that we would be entering the park at the break of day.

100_1572We woke about 5:30 and walked up to one of the observation decks just as the sun started to peek over the majestic mountains on our port side.

100_1596The sea was quiet, and there was a veil of still mist in the air.

100_1567At first we could only hear, but finally did see, our first waterfall. There were “oohs,” and “ahhs,” aplenty.

Watch for the bears

DSC02269We had a naturalist on board who narrated our passage through this otherworldly wilderness. He jokingly entreated the passengers to keep a keen eye out for bears along the nearby rocky shoreline (there are no bears in New Zealand). A fellow passenger retorted, “Bears hell, look out for dinosaurs.” It’s that kind of place.

100_1619At sunset we left the park for the open sea.

That evening at dinner, we joined a group of passengers celebrating the experience of spending a day cruising through time. None of us will soon forget the primitive beauty of Fiordland National Park.

If you go

The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the fiords, lakes, mountains, and rainforests of the Fiordland National Park. Check out their website here.

100_1629The next sailing with our exact itinerary on the Golden Princess will be January and March 2017, but you needn’t wait because Princess has other ships that cruise throughout New Zealand. Check out other dates and itineraries here.

Happy travels!

If you have an interest in cruising, the authors suggest reading their four other articles involving Princess Cruises and the Golden Princess.

A Table Rendezvous with Italy’s Chef Ottavio Bellesi on the Golden Princess

The Sweetest Suites for two on the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess

Princess Cruise Ship Rescues Canadian Yachtsman

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Steer The “African Queen” While On Your Drive Through the Florida Keys

As we travel, we check off places that are on our Bucket List. Being film buffs, many of the things on our list are related to movies we have seen over the years.

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05-08-25-25-86-IMG_1112We recently checked off another “to do” from our list by skippering the authentic “African Queen,” the boat made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the 1951 Academy Award Winning film of the same name.

07-1-2-011-011-164-IMG_8358The “Queen” is presently docked at a destination also made famous by Bogart in the Florida Keys, Key Largo

Finding the Queen

08-2-1-028-028-181-IMG_8375We happened upon the African Queen quite by accident. We were in the Keys doing research for articles about luxury resorts and “old Florida” accommodations. A list of those articles follows this story.

The Florida Keys are fun strips of coral sand islands connected by 42 bridges and the Overseas Highway, US 1. They stretch for about 120 miles south into the Atlantic Ocean below Miami, Florida.

The Keys are ripe with salty myths and legends, and stories of true adventures like the finding of millions of dollars in sunken treasure on the Atocha. There are also unusual stories like those about Ernest Hemingway’s house of many cats in Key West.

All the excitement in the Keys make them an apropos home for the iconic African Queen.

The Queen’s history

03-07-19-19-80-IMG_1105The Queen had an interesting past long before she came to the attention of John Houston who immediately wanted her for the movie he was directing in the Belgium Congo. She was perfect for the role of the African Queen – just beat up enough to look the part, and just seaworthy enough – to run long enough – to finish the movie.

The vessel was built in 1912 in Lytham, England, where she was named the Livingstone. Her first job was to carry cargo, hunters, and missionaries on Lake Albert and the Victoria Nile in east Africa.

Houston found her in 1951. She was sufficiently worn by then, and perfect for the material role of the African Queen in his epic adventure.

In 1968 the boat was moved from Africa to the United States by a San Francisco restaurateur. He planned to charter the famous boat to tourists.

The Queen changed hands again in 1970 when she was purchased for the price of her boatyard bill, and moved to Oregon where she was successfully chartered a few months out of the year. Finally, on to Florida for an attempt at year-round chartering – that failed.

In 1982 she was born again as a tourist attraction at the Holiday Inn in Key Largo. About that time, she also made her re-entry onto the global stage and toured around the world in ports such as Sydney, New York, and London.

The news of her re-emerging travel and popularity caught the eye of Kate Hepburn who was said to be “delighted” that the old Queen had been saved, yet again.

A new life

06-11-007-007-160-IMG_8354Finally, in 2012, on her centennial, the most recent revival of the African Queen was completed by a new operator Lance Holmquist. She needed a new boiler, her steel hull required fortification, and her engine needed rebuilding. The work was a labor of love for Lance, and the Queen now delights vintage boat and film buffs once again.

Our wish came true

04-09-24-24-85-IMG_1111We took the helm like Bogart and Hepburn and chugged the little 30-foot boat through the canals of Key Largo and out into the open ocean. This was high-exhilaration for two old movie buffs.

10-3-3-057-057-210-IMG_8404As we approached the Queen’s home-dock near the Holiday Inn, Lance gave us the final thrill when he let loose the Queen’s shrill steam whistle. There is no mistaking that sound heard so many times in many places over the last century.

12-20-095-095-248-IMG_8442Check off one more from the Bucket List!

If you go

For more information about tickets for the daily cruises on the African Queen located at Mile Marker 100 in Key Largo, look at the website here. www.africanqueenflkeys.com

Note: The African Queen is a true relic, and she wouldn’t be “authentic” if she was spit-polished. So, don’t wear your Sunday best if you plan to board her.

You will also benefit by checking out the general visitor information about visiting the Florida Keys at www.fla-keys.com

The Keys are full of luxurious and unique places to stay. Here are three stories to read about some we have visited.

Kona Kai Resort

Little Palm Island Resort

Cheeca Lodge and Spa

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Vintage black and white photo courtesy of United Artists

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

The Dining Delights at a Princess Chef’s Table

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09-13-053-26-IMG_3489Dining at a Chef’s Table should always be a titillating treat of tantalizing tastes. Traditionally, a Chef’s Table is located in the kitchen – where the guests can watch, and “ooh” and “ahh” as the Chef and his/her team work their culinary magic. That was not how it was at the Table of Chef Ottavio Bellesi aboard the Golden Princess – and here’s why.

From the beginning

49-02-IMG_0156Soon after boarding the Golden Princess in San Francisco, we had a meeting with the ship’s Maître d’ Hotel, Neville Saldanha, to discuss our dining preferences.

After learning that we were writing about the cruise, and knowing that food is always a popular subject with prospective passengers, Mr. Saldanha suggested that we make reservations for one of the two Chef’s Table events planned for the sailing. We quickly agreed, and a few days later our invitation was in our stateroom mailbox.

A dining we did go

On our assigned night, we gathered just outside the galley entrance with the four other lucky couples that would share our table. There we donned freshly laundered white lab coats and were led into the sparkling kitchen.

03-03-043-03-IMG_3455Our first stop was the sink, where each guest was required to wash his/her hands before proceeding into the galley’s inner sanctum.

05-07-047-16-IMG_3472After the salubrious ceremony, the Maître d’, Neville, introduced us to our grand host, Ottavio Bellesi, the Executive Chef of the Golden Princess. Together, they described how the evening would unfold.

18-26-013-032-IMG_4016First, a toast of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut to celebrate the event.

20-28-015-046-IMG_4030Then appetizers like Lobster Margarita with Avocado and Mango, and Fontina Cheese and Black Truffle Mini Quiche.

22-30-017-050-IMG_4034While noshing on our hors d’oeuvres, we will watch the artistic galley staff create ice carvings, and ingenious fruit and vegetable table settings.

12-19-006-008-IMG_3989Followed by a brief tour of the kitchen to look over the shoulders of the culinary crew preparing and plating the meals for the sitting dinner passengers.

24-35-024-076-IMG_4066All the above will culminate in a procession into the main dining room where our specially prepared, multi-course dinner will be served.

Chef led tour

13-20-007-011-IMG_3992Right on schedule, Chef Bellesi began to lead our walking tour of his vast stainless domain.

06-08-048-20-IMG_3479During our sparkling wine toasts, we realized THIS Chef’s Table was not to be like any other we had previously experienced. Not only would it be conducted by a great Italian Chef – but one who was also an extraordinary entertainer with a gift of contagious laughter.

Chef Bellesi’s cheerful laughter was so genuine, and totally disarming – that there was no escaping his charm. Within minutes, he had all of us wrapped around his little finger, and totally absorbed in his every word.

14-21-008-013-IMG_3994To make the situation even more hilarious, Neville, the Maître d’, was the perfect comic foil for Ottavio’s Italian-accented antics. He was Martin to the Chef’s Lewis, Abbott to his Costello, and Hardy to his Laurel. The ad hoc comedy team of Bellesi and Saldanha had us in stitches throughout the evening.

We learned and we laughed

32-53-066-36-P1000796Our two hosts exhibited a high-knowledge of food and wine. The chef added to the group’s understanding of the evolution of Italian cuisine from the basics of simple fresh ingredients to contemporary flavoring techniques.

Italian chefs often work with fewer ingredients and less elaborate preparations than others, making the quality of the ingredients of paramount importance. Chef Bellesi explained how the composition of Italian-style grand cuisine becomes richly enhanced when blended with traditional Italian techniques of “cucina casalinga,” or home cooking.

On to the table

25-36-026-084-IMG_4074A notable aspect of Italian dining is that the first course is frequently a filling dish like risotto or pasta. So it was at our table as we were presented succulent marinated poached Halibut atop a generous portion of Porcini Mushroom Risotto.

26-40-029-099-IMG_4091Soon after an Amalfi Lemon Sorbet…

28-45-031-104-IMG_4096came the Lobster Thermidor…

30-49-035-114-IMG_4106and a Filet Mignon Rossini, accompanied by a delectable truffled herbed Rack of Lamb, Mustard Hollandaise, Rosemary Jus and Lemon Butter Fondue, Roasted Parisienne Potatoes, and Sautéed fresh market Vegetables.

35-56-037-123-IMG_4115The above preceded Potted Stilton with Port Wine reduction and Walnut Bread, and all was finished-off with a delicate Marble Chocolate Semifreddo with a Raspberry soft center, topped off with a meaningful coffee and Chef Ottavio’s…

38-60-041-138-IMG_4131home made Biscotti & Amaretti. What an incredible feast!

Not an easy task

29-47-033-110-IMG_4102A Chef’s Table is an elaborate undertaking that puts a strain on a kitchen’s resources and staff. In restaurants, the event often takes place after the nightly kitchen rush.

10-16-056-42-IMG_3529In that regard, we found our lavish affair to be a testament to Chef Ottavio’s ability to create, organize, and coordinate the serving of our event – while his galley team was seamlessly providing superb service to the main body of 1,000+ passengers in the busy dining room around us. Amazing!

36-57-039-128-IMG_4120Abetted by many of his key staff, Chef Bellesi personally crafted our special Chef’s Table menu, and remained involved in the preparation and presentation of the feast from appetizer to desert.

34-55-036-118-IMG_4110Along with the ship’s Maître d’, the head Sommelier was there to describe the exactly paired wines that were selected for each of our courses.

31-52-067-34-P1000793At the end of our fabulous gourmet adventure, each participating couple received a hard-cover copy of, “Courses – A Culinary Journey,” autographed by Neville and Ottavio, along with a group picture – and the ladies departed with a rose. This was an affair to remember.

46-71-059-Chef WB-JBConsidering the investment in food, wine, supplies, and key staff time, we cannot fathom how Princess could make a profit on what each of the ten guests paid for the evening’s Epicurean enjoyment.

We rarely mention prices in our articles because prices change, but we found it amazing that our 3-hour gourmet spectacle cost us less than US $100 per person. Certainly, all the participants will talk about their bon vivant adventure with friends and family for years – and that may just be what Princess has in mind.

If you ever have an opportunity to participate in a Chef’s Table on a Princess Cruise ship – by all means, take it!  Seating is limited so apply early to avoid disappointment.

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39-65-079-38-P1000917And if the uber-funny pair of Bellesi and Saldanha should happen to be on your ship, absolutely do not miss their afternoon cooking demonstrations.

42-62-082-53-P1000933There is so much more to them than cooking.

For more information about Princess Cruises click here.

Happy travels and bon appetit!

Suggested reading regarding Princess Cruises by Wayne and Judy:

The Sweetest Suites for Two Aboard the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

Three Great Reasons to Book a Cruise Out of San Francisco 

Saved by a Princess on the Tasman Sea

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

Fly to Kona and Drive to the Luxurious Sheraton Kona Resort to Start Your Underwater Adventure

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Manta rays are amazing and curious creatures. People are fascinated by their opposing nature of ominous looks, and sweet dispositions.

Sheraton KonaThe Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii pays homage to these gentle giants by providing a viewing area for visitors at the resort’s Rays on the Bay restaurant.

05-22-110-IMG_9641From the restaurant’s lookout, the magnificent and mysterious creatures can be seen gliding in the night ocean far below.

03-20-108-IMG_9617Guests can also attend a complimentary lecture about the manta rays arranged through the resort’s front desk.

11-24-083-IMG_3752The resort can also organize a water adventure to view the manta rays up close from a local tour boat named the Hula Kai – an opportunity we eagerly welcomed.

Swimming with the manta rays

Like whales, manta rays eat plankton. The plankton are attracted to light and that is the secret to successful manta viewing from the Hula Kai. Our excursion went like this:

04-21-109-IMG_9621We boarded the nearby Hula Kai at sunset and moved just off shore of the Sheraton Kona.  We donned wetsuits, googles, and a snorkel provided by the concessionaire. We were given a quick course on manta watching, which is done from a horizontal position floating on one’s stomach and holding fast to a length of 3” diameter buoyant pipe – set out from the stern of the boat much like a floating rectangle.

08-15-IMG_3722Soon darkness was upon us, and the Hula Kai engaged underwater illumination used to attract plankton to the site. We entered the water by ladder and positioned ourselves around the floating pipe. We looked down into the clear bay water and breathed through our snorkels.

Our bodies were made buoyant by the wetsuits, so maintaining our balance was not difficult. It did not take long before the first of six manta rays appeared from out of the shadows – and the fun began.

01-12-IMG_6907Manta rays are big, but harmless to humans. They, like the whale, are filter feeders. Mantas are fish related to the shark, but have no bones, teeth, barbs, or stingers. However, they do have size – up to 2,000 pounds – which they use in a very good-natured way.

Manta rays are often given names by the crew of the Hula Kai. Each ray has distinctive “spots” that make identity possible.  The same rays tend to return for evening dining and playing with the snorkelers and divers.

For a period of about one-hour we watched these graceful giants do underwater summersaults just below us – performing like rolling acrobats with gray tops and white underbellies.

Although touching the mantas is not allowed, the creatures have no such restrictions. Frequently, one or more of the rays did a graceful roll just under a snorkeler and purposely pressed its sleek white underbelly along the length of the viewer’s body – an exciting encounter that will be remembered by anyone that experiences it.  The top of a ray feels like sandpaper, and the underside is as smooth as velvet.

Tempus fugit, so do it while you can

Sharkgroup1200For nature and adventure lovers, snorkeling with the manta rays in the back of the Hula Kai in Kailua, Kona is right up there with diving with the reef sharks in the Bahamas, and snorkeling or diving with the sting rays at Stingray City in the Caymans.

Click *here* to read our story and see pictures of the beautiful Sheraton Kona Resort on the Big Island, and *here* to check out the resort’s website. To read about all the services offered by the company that operates the Hula Kai Manta Snorkel, click *here.*

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff, shark picture by Wayne Bayliff, Manta Ray pictures courtesy of Sheraton Kona.

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We flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines