2020-01-23-Viking Sea-southern Caribbean · Key Blogs

Viking Ocean Cruise – Caribbean calling

Red-eye behind us, my travel companion Jerry and I connected for the second leg from Philadelphia to San Juan, PR aboard American Airlines flight 1496.

It was nip & tuck as I had to sprint from gate c5 to a20 across what is a maze at PHL airport. AND wouldn’t you know it – a mechanical has us still sitting on the plane at the gate.

On arrival in San Juan, we caught an Uber (note tha Lyft is not operational here) and made it to old town to board our ship for the week- the Viking Sea.

(See picture above – courtesy of Jerry’s window seat. Viking Sea is the smallest ship on the left).

Stay tuned for more on the ship and experience over the coming days. With our red-eye flights, we called it an early night.

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New Decade – New Luggage

2020 has arrived and with it a new decade of adventure and discovery!

2019 ended for me with 134,526 miles flown, 3 continents visited, and 9 different cruise ships sailed.  That is why I took a bit of a holiday break from blogging and enjoyed quality time with family and friends at home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

img_3861With half of January over, I am definitely itching to hit the road and embark on new adventures this spring. To celebrate the new decade, I sprung for new luggage after my loyal companion REI suitcase lost its wheels on my last adventure aboard Azamara Pursuit.

After lots of research and feedback from friends and colleagues, I chose two different sizes of AWAY luggage.  The smaller is a US carry on and the larger one is their Middle-sized one.  Both have built in dividers, solid hard-shell casing and a life-time warranty.

Know that this is not an advertisement for AWAY nor are they sponsoring this blog or anything like that.  I chose them for their reputation, quality and ultra-light weight.  Among the many colors, I picked dark blue not by choice but due to the fact that this was all that was left in matching colors from the holiday rush. Over time, as these pieces get used, I will update you on my satisfaction with them.

2020-Spring Travel plansFrom the map above, you can see that my travel early 2020 schedule will take me to the Southern Caribbean (next week on Viking Ocean), to the Bahamas in February (on Regent Seven Seas), then off to Austria for the Virtuoso Symposium Conference.  To top it all off, late March/early April I will board the brand new Celebrity Apex in Southampton and then train from Amsterdam to Germany to join the the naming ceremony for river ship Avalon View.  The View will then end her festivities in Budapest before I fly back to home.

Follow me along as I embark on another decade of travel and discoveries around the world. I am ready to go…are you?

2019-11-30-South America aboard Azamara Pursuit

Azamara Cruise – a day in Buenos Aires

A peaceful overnight sailing from Punta Del Este brought us to the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.

We all grabbed our bags and gathered outside the terminal for a day of discovery with our local hosts Abercrombie & Kent.

Our first stop – and a colorful at that – was the Barraccas neighborhood where immigrants first settled in the 1890s to 1920s. Home to the blue and yellow Boxa Juniors soccer team. The stadium in this neighborhood is the most attended arena in the world selling out twice a week for argentine league games.

From there, we travelled back downtown for a brunch at tge legendary Four Seasons hotel. We were met by the director of sales and tge GM of the property with open arms and a healthy mimosa.

From there, we toured this stunning hotel which offers both contemporary tower rooms and 9 special palace rooms in the French inspired mansion adjacent.

A fantastic Adobo (grilled) lunch with the best dulce di leche crepes yet rounded out our short but memorable stay. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Four Seasons without a heart-warming surprise in the form of opera singer Belén Mc Kinley whom performed two favorites from the ALW musical Evita.

How to top this? Was the question floating in my mind. Fortunately, we travelled with A&K which meant our journey continued in style aboard our comfy luxury bus with extended legroom to the Palermo and Recoleta neighborhoods for some retail therapy with local leather goods. Judging by the bags that returned aboard with smiling participants, it was exactly what was needed.

Our last sightseeing stop was the cemetery where argentine legend Evita Peron’ remains are laid to rest. The above images show her crypt surrounded by her brother and sister-in-law.

To relax and refresh before our long flights home, tge 2nd Virtuoso property in town – the Park Hyatt – hosted us with refreshments and a spectacular buffet of pastries freshly prepared by the hotel’ executive pastry chef.

Not only was it a feast for the eyes, each bite was mouthwatering.

At last, every trip must come to an end. By 730pm we were all checking in for our flights home. Safe flights to all and stay tuned for my next adventure coming up after the holidays.

2019-11-30-South America aboard Azamara Pursuit

Azamara Cruise – cooking class in Punta Del Este

A short cruise overnight got us to the summer resort town of Punta Del Este with its white sandy beaches and rugged coastline.

Our group boarded a private coach for a scenic drive along the river and Atlantic Ocean tips that form the unique setting for this resort town complete with stunning homes and hotels to admire.

45 minutes later we arrived at the winery complex at Narbona where we learned to prepare the perfect embers for grilling meats and veggies. This 1920 building complex of gardens, rooms, and a hacienda-like courtyard offered our group lots of opportunities to mix and mingle and pick up valuable cooking skills.

The highlights were the queso fundido (flame grilled provolone cheese) and the chimichurri recipe – until desert arrived which blew it all out of the water.

Dulce di leche crepes with vanilla ice cream – The Nirvana of deserts!

In other words, I added a new food tourism destination to my list that I will return to.

2019-11-30-South America aboard Azamara Pursuit

Azamara Cruise – Montevideo

Our two days at sea ended with Azamara Pursuit’ pulling into the Montevideo harbor in Uruguay. The group disembarked for a bicycle trip and hosted lunch courtesy of Virtuoso.

Uruguay is the birth place of the steak house movement with a ratio of 3 heads of cattle per inhabitant and a world leading per capita consumption of 220lbs of beef consumed annually.

Tge photos above show the wood fired grill at El Palenque in the harbor market hall where we are a grill lunch.

To round out our experience in town, Azamara hosted a private evening carnival show at the Solis Theatre – South America’ oldest opera house built in 1898. It he show was fantastic and brought to life tge uniquely Uruguayan mix of Spanish and African heritage.

As we returned back on board, Cruise director and Broadway Star Amanda Paulson entertained the guests with a live solo performance of classic Italian music – What a treat!

Montevideo was definitely AzAmazing!

2019-11-30-South America aboard Azamara Pursuit

Azamara Cruise – unknown French Cars

A life-long follower of the French car maker Renault, even I was stumped by the models I encountered in Uruguay.

This ultra-compact 4-door was originally developed for the Indian market and found its way to South America, presumably for pricing reasons.

In fact, the bulk of vehicles we saw in Brazil and Uruguay so far were sub-compact Renault, Peugeot and Fist models not sold in Western Europe or the North American market.

Ever heard of a Renault Oroch? Unfortunate name aside, this was a brand new discovery for me and I learned that this is the Dacia Duster-based budget pickup trucklet for developing markets.

Want one of these “beauties” in your driveway? You’ll have to move to South America. Personally, I doubt either model is worth it though.

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Azamara Cruise- two days at sea

While I am still not entirely sure where the idea of a “White Party” aboard cruise ships originated from, our sail away evening bash leaving Santos was amazing.

Awesome music tailored to the audience, a fantastic buffet of international cuisine, and spectacular decorations on the pool deck made it a night to remember.

A lovely hosted specialty dinner at Prine-C steakhouse aboard rounded out my birthday which happened to have Fallon on a sea day – complete with afternoon matinee of Mamma Mia here we go again (my favorite movie) and a DJ collage on the dance floor of ABBA Gold.

Despite rather rough seas, everyone of the 684 guests aboard loved the two days at sea for relaxation and enrichment (Spa, lectures, Trivia games and more).

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Azamara Cruise – Santos & Tupi-Garani native tribe

After a rather rocky night across the southern Atlantic, we approached the harbor of Santos (Brazilian football star Pele’s home-town). Pictures show you the approach and docking.

We then gathered as a group for a great excursion courtesy of supplier Bedsonline/TravelBound. Our day consisted of a community give-back with a native Indian tribe.

We visited the rural Rio Silvera area where we met with the Tupi-Guarani tribe for a cultural exchange. We practiced bow and arrow shooting, tasting of their local produce and much more.

Dishes consisted of heart of palm, cassava root, sweet potatoes and pineapple. Overall, the tribe is self-sufficient with local fruits and vegetables as well as chickens and Wilde game hunted as needed.

Our visit included a wonderful exchange of with the Elder’ daughter whom is the only one in the tribe that speaks Portuguese. We learned for example how the tribal structure works, how males and females are raised and educated and how they preserve traditions in a changing world. It was a fascinating experience that touched us all.

The event was rounded out with a lovely local lunch of grilled fish and a stew of chicken, rice and cassava coated banana. Simply delicious!

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Azamara Cruise – highlights of Rio

Long and quiet nights of solid rest are a rarity these days for many of us. Our arrival day presented such an opportunity with an early dinner before heading off to bed.

It refreshed everyone enough to tackle a day of exploration in Rio courtesy of #urbanadventures.

First order of business was a visit to the Brazilian Landmark of Christ the Redeemer. Unfortunately for us, the funicular that takes millions of visitors up and down the mountain every year broke. That many a lengthy bus ride to the visitor center and queuing up for the National Park shuttle.

Once on top of the mountain, the views were magnificent and they made us all forget the wait. The first image is of Lori Goldspiel, Kelly Ross (both from Azamara) and myself being redeemed, so to speak. The remaining images are the views of the city of Rio below. From the north with Maracanã, to the west with Copacabana beach to the south with Ipanema beach.

Down hill, we stoped in the Santa Teresa neighborhood for pao de queis (cheese puffs) made from Tapioca flour. To wash it all down, we were treated to açaí sorbet and a caipirinha a short while later. Recall the yellow trans? They are modeled after Rio’s big sister city Lisbon. All of this area is super-charming and a must to discover. Read about our last stop in my next blog.

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Azamara Cruise – pilgrimage to Maracanã

No visit to Rio would be complete without a pilgrimage to the “stadium of stadiums” – the legendary home of Brazilian Footbol commonly referred to as Maracanã.

Built for the 1950 World Cup,
Maracanã, officially called Estádio Mário Filho, was built to serve as the flagship venue. It was meant to become the biggest football stadium in the world with 179,000 capacity.It is estimated that 200,000 watched the 1950 Final in the stands.

Complete renovation for the 2014 World Cup saw the installation of seats and a reduction to 79,000 capacity. Despite the reduced capacity, Brazil was favored to play the final here. Alas, a humiliating 7 to 1 defeat against Germany in the semifinals, Brazil’s Maracana curse continued.

The stadium witnessed the Argentina – Germany game that ended 0-1 in the European‘ favor.