Thursday, June 29, 2023

NCL's Viva inaugural offers classic ports, artful design, dining delights


Norwegian Cruise Lines is known for its flashy artwork and distinctive designs on the ship. 
Here, NCL's Getaway is photographed on a recent trans-Atlantic cruise from Orlando to Lisbon. 
The new NCL Viva has an artful design, too, in blues and aquas conjuring ocean waves. 


Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
leave Orlando recently on a trans-Atlantic
NCL cruise to Lisbon aboard the Getaway.
They're excited to be on Viva's inaugural.

a fan of cruising and follow "cruise news," you know about the newest Norwegian Cruise Lines ship, Viva. 
She's making quite a splash, at 142,500 gross tons and a length of 965 feet, about a fifth of a mile. She's a luxurious floating resort, the latest NCL "Prima Class" vessel. Viva boasts a staggering selection of activities and entertainment, from an array of musical options to a global offering of restaurants, elegantly designed areas to relax and unwind, and a thoughtful itinerary of favorite cities and less visited ports. 
NCL's Viva offers an Infinity Beach area with inviting places
to relax, swim, read, enjoy a beverage and watch the water.

OUR RECENT crossing on NCL's Getaway previewed the offerings we'll enjoy on Viva. We booked the inaugural over a year ago when we heard of it from a fellow cruise enthusiast.  Special events are planned for Viva's first passengers. Joining us to salute the ship will be Viva godparent Luis Fonsi, five-time Latin Grammy-winning singer. We're excited about this Labor Day cruise because we'll visit favorite cities like Naples and Venice as well as cities not often visited: Syracusa, Koper, and Zadar.  
ON OUR Atlantic crossing earlier this month, we lazed about our Deck 10 balcony, enjoyed first-rate entertainment including Latin dance and a Broadway show, and strolled deck 8 with its lovely indoor and outdoor dining and relaxing spaces. 
Find dining and decadent desserts are
part of the allure of an NCL cruise.
 Viva's welcoming design follows suit with this novelty, also on deck 8. Features include the Oceanwalk glass bridge, infinity pools and an inviting space called "Infinity Beach." With its floating resort motif, a firepit and dining options await at Indulge Outdoor Lounge and Indulge Food Hall, billed as an "upscale open-air marketplace."
 As on our Getaway, NCL prides itself in a range of dining options, several centering in Viva's Ocean Boulevard seaside restaurants. The beautifully designed outdoor promenade is a 44,000 square foot walkway wrapping around the ship. Besides enticing dining options, the area boasts a three-story speedway and pulse-pounding slides for the daring. 
CRUISE LINES vie for "over the top" offerings, new ways to attract the world's growing cruise clientele.  Style, luxury and innovation are the bywords. Wealthy cruisers look for a high staff-to-passenger ratio to increase their service.
Dining can be a classy affair on the new Viva,
with elegant tables and views of the ocean.

NCL    attracts these high-end cruises in the way the liners of yore did.

NCL offers quiet, relaxing places to unwind,
here Getaway's Vibe Beach Club on deck 17.
 Viva sports a Vibe, too, for guests 18 and older.

 While Cunard's classic ocean liners offered first-class areas exclusive to "deep pocket" travelers, NCL ships have a separate "ultimate luxury" area called The Haven. It's the equivalent of Cunard's "Queen's Class" travel, a separate area for travelers who expect the best in luxury cruising. On Norwegian vessels, including the new Viva, the Haven includes personal concierge and butler service, luxurious suite accommodations and many amenities. Haven guests enjoy a private sundeck with its own infinity pool, hot tub, sauna and cold room, lovely lounging areas, a private restaurant and exclusive bars.
Top entertainment awaits on Viva, as on Getaway, with
Broadway caliber shows, such as "Million Dollar Quartet." 
A range of entertainment includes ethnic bands, piano, vocal
duos, comedy, game shows and specialty acts including magic. 

OUR GETAWAY general manager, Mario Markovic, noted that Haven usually quickly sells out but that all NCL guests have access to fine dining options and ship entertainment. Guests in inside cabins save money by utilizing handsomely designed public spaces. NCL cares about environmental impact, and Viva's Metropolitan Bar is Norwegian's sustainably-focused bar. 
Because dining is a big attraction for cruisers of all budgets, myriad options await on Viva, including the Mediterranean-inspired Palomar, traditional hibachi-style Hasuki, gourmet French fare in Le Bistro, a contemporary sushi house Nama and American fare in Surfside Cafe and Grill. Specialty restaurants cost a bit extra, but some visits are often included in the fare. It's worth it to augment the fine dining available to all cruisers.

NCL WAS AMONG the first line to offer "freestyle cruising" where guests dine when and with whom they choose. The globe-trotting line cruises Alaska, Bermuda, Australia and New Zealand, Hawaii, Bahamas, Europe, Mexico, the Caribbean and more in options ranging from world cruises to weekend getaways. NCL transits the Panama Canal and offers a popular week-long Hawaiian itinerary on Pride of America. Watch for specials at

Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Bruce Keller aboard
a vintage caboose on Dunedin Railways in New Zealand.
A mutual love of trains takes them on many fun trips.

UP NEXT: Train, train, train. Wherever we go in the world, we look for an opportunity to travel by train. Trains get us "up close" to enjoy the countryside, historic sites, rivers, peaks, fields, animal life and gardens. We see how people live in a relaxing and colorful way, and at a slower pace than air travel affords. We "look" without the strain of driving a car, and get a leisurely feel for a new city, state or country.  All aboard trains in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Europe, Japan and San Francisco, where our nephew James is our knowledgeable guide, a youthful aficionado of train travel. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for  a fresh spin on travel, nature, the arts, family and more:

Thursday, June 22, 2023

History, culture, food, fun await on a 'Super Raft' ride up Kona coast

Smiles abound in the Body Glove "Super Raft Tour" along the historical Kona Coast.
We had our eye out for dolphins, whales and other boats, while we learned of Hawaii's
fascinating history from a trained scholar. We had a fabulous sunset a bit later.


A skilled historian and storyteller gives history to adventure
seekers aboard Body Glove's Super Raft, a fun expedition.



YOU'LL  FEEL as if you're almost flying as you glide over the waves along the fabled Kona Coat, on Ocean Adventures Body Glove Super Raft.

We'd experienced the outfit's lovely catamaran a time or two -- always fun and relaxing -- but she's in dry dock awaiting the next season right now. So we booked the company's "super raft" for a lovely sunset dinner cruise. Besides combining history with beautiful scenery, it featured a poke bowl as tasty as any we've had in many years of sampling the island's fabulous ahi tuna.

body glove THE BEAUTIFUL Kona coast came alive for our group of 15 nature and history enthusiasts as we zipped at 35 mph, leaving Kailua-Kona and traveling up the coast to historic bays and inlets. Our stops included  Kealakekua Bay, where on Valentine's Day, 1779, Captain James Cook died at the hands of an incensed crowd during his third Pacific voyage. Historians tell us he likely had it coming.
A Kona coast rainbow is a spectacular sight.

We learned that he and his entourage were initially greeted as gods. The indigenous people welcomed him and his men for several weeks of feasting, frolicking with the women, enjoying island pleasures. When he left the bay on his ships "Resolution'' and ''Discovery,'' he returned a few days later seeking repair for one of the vessels. Returning to the Big Island this time, his welcome was less enthusiastic. When Hawaiians supposedly took one of his longboats, he made a huge mistake.  He decided to take dramatic revenge and hold ransom Kalaniʻōpuʻu, the ruling chief (aliʻi nui).  The highly regarded chief reigned over the entire island of Hawaii and was a popular ruler. The decision to hold royalty in exchange for a small longboat was the fatal error of Cook's final voyage, and led to his death.

Setting out from the dock, one enjoys seeing
locals on the water. In season, dolphins
and sometimes whales are also spotted.

A delicious poke bowl is
served during a peaceful
sunset aboard the raft.
THE STORY was expressively told at the site of Cook's demise by Body Glove's animated on-board cultural expert, who spoke at several picturesque stops along the way to the island's most famous bay. 

The company is well known on the islands and
The Body Glove "Super Raft" awaits at the harbor in
Kailua-Kona, where it takes passengers on several fun rides.

Body Glove has garnered raves from customers and outdoor enthusiasts, water sports aficionados and critics.  It offers a variety of experiences from snorkel and dinner cruises, and in whale season -- December to March -- one of the highest ranked humpback expeditions, where we've also seen spinner dolphins, pilot whales, sperm whales, manta rays and more.
Body Glove is also "nature and culture conscious" and travels with trained naturalists and Hawaiian history experts, a real plus.; 800 551-8911

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers are exploring
the seven seas on NCL vessels, here last week on a
trans-Atlantic crossing from Orlando to Lisbon. 

 UP NEXT: Our travelers pay homage to their Scandinavian roots-(Keller's mother was 100 per cent Swedish and Cookie's maternal grandfather was 100 per cent Norwegian.) They've logged 133 cruises, recently on Norwegian Cruise Line's Bliss and Getaway. They've booked passage on NCL's new Viva,  one of the most lavishly appointed vessels afloat and the latest in NCL's Prima Class. Godparent for Viva is singer Luis Fonsi, five-time Latin Grammy-winning singer. Cookie and Keller are excited to be on board for the Viva inaugural, remembering to explore, learn and live. Catch them weekly for a fresh spin on travel, the arts, nature, family and more:





Thursday, June 15, 2023

Kualoa Ranch operation offers many ways to learn, have fun in nature

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers take a pause for a selfie, framed by the
skeleton of a dinosaur on the beautiful "Jurassic Park" backdrop at Kualoa Ranch, on Oahu. 



Keller, Cookie and their fabulous guide on Kualoa Ranch.  


PUT YOURSELF on set. You're right there in Jurassic Park, escaping growling dinosaurs, running for your life to your get-away jeep. Phew. Made it. A  quick escape, close call. You're safe for now.

Well, perhaps that's a bit more dramatic than what actually happens at Kualoa Ranch's picturesque Jurassic Valley. But you truly get a feel for the making of this Steven Speilberg hit film.

All aboard a Kualoa bus to tour movie sets.
We spent a lovely afternoon when we visited one of the places the movie was made, at Kualoa Ranch on the island of Oahu.

THE RANCH is a kind of rural Disneyland, located northeast of Honolulu on a verdant valley which provides an appealing environment for a working cattle ranch and enough tours to keep you busy for several days. Kualoa is a 4,000-acre private nature reserve, ranch and popular tourist attraction. As one of the world's prime filming location, it spreads out on prime land on the windward coast of the island, just 24 miles from Honolulu,
Movie fans from around the world enjoy the chance to
walk around Kualoa Ranch's "Jurassic Park" where many
hit films and TV shows have been filmed.
The beautiful ranch is home to some famous movie and television sites but offers much more than movie making entertainment.
The tour we chose is one of eight various and diverse offerings. Others focus on a leisurely horseback ride through fields,a zip line over the valleys, a boat trip to a private hideaway and more.
You can even exercise your green thumb and plant a tree, one of many ecologically hip offerings at this pretty and progressive place.
Our movie tour didn't disappoint, and several of our fellow participants had signed on for a second tour.
Hard to beat the setting for movies, TV
shows in this beautiful valley on Oahu.

A family from San Jose had enjoyed  a jungle expedition earlier. Friends from New Jersey enjoyed a pleasant horseback ride with their teen-age kids. A young honeymoon couple from Japan was still smiling after a zip line jaunt, soaring through the canopy. They were coming back the next day for a raptor tour.
WE'LL TAKE a jeep excursion or a mountain bike ride next time.
The "best of Kualoa Ranch" tour combines a jungle expedition by jeep in a rain forest, a farm trolley tour, and a look at filming locations we enjoyed. A buffet lunch and informal talk explores the state's history and culture for those wishing a deeper look at the island's rich heritage.
It's wise to choose 2 or more options to make a full day of it since the drive, although beautiful, is a good 40 minutes from Honolulu.
Keller climbs aboard one of the jeeps used in filming
"Jurassic Park." The studio left several remnants behind.

We're movie tour junkies, and this one is great fix for "on location" fans. The eye-popping setting is named  “Jurassic Valley” and beside that famous film, the ranch provided backdrop for other big box office hits, including "King Kong," and TV's popular "Hawaii Five-0," plus new trending treasure-hunt movies including "Finding Ohana" (which means finding family.)
 THE CLIENTELE comes from all over the world, much as tourism to Hawaii does. Australians are in abundance; we met several adventuresome Aussies on our tour.
As a working cattle ranch, a tour through
the terrain includes a chance to come face
 to face with cattle, such as this prize bull.
A bonus to our day was a stroll through the photo gallery of Hawaiian notables, and a stop at "Kualoa Grown Market," a lovely little store with meats, vegetables and tropical flowers grown in the ranch's award-winning and diversified agricultural operation. A team of 45 staff grow, cultivate, and raise food for Hawaii's residents and visitors. This inventive operation includes 60 crops, an array of the state's world famous tropical flowers, plus beef, pork, shrimp, oysters, and lamb. We bought delicious teriyaki beef which we prepared with the ranch's vegetables for a fabulous meal in our condo. The ranch also offers two gorgeous venues for weddings, corporate events, celebrations.
Highly recommended for a fun time for family, couples or singles looking to meet like minded folks. Tours average from $58 to $150.

Get ready for a wild ride on the Big Island of Hawaii, with a Body Glove tour, full of information and insights from a scholarly but lively narrator. We prepared for the beauty of a Hawaiian sunset while enjoying a glass of wine and a scenic, narrated ride to some of Hawaii's most stunning bays along the tropical South Kona coast. We stopped at Kealakekua Bay, home to a spectacular coral reef, where our guide described Captain Cook's visit and pointed out the nearby lush Kona coffee coast area. Besides its historical significance, the area holds many archeological and historical sites. We enjoyed an ahi supper while experiencing the beauty of the Hawaiian sunset while enjoying a scenic ride to one of the most stunning bays in the world on our 41ft super-raft.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Fun circle tour offers Oahu's splendors, views, food, sacred sights

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers enjoy one of many splendid views on a day-long
circle tour of Oahu, which takes tourists around the island with many interesting stops.


Oahu's much visited Byodo-In Temple
is part of the tour and one of its most
popular stops. Take time to ring the gong. 


IF YOU'VE been to Honolulu but haven't headed north for to circle this lovely island of Oahu, you're missing something varied, fun and wonderfully educational.

So book a ticket back to Oahu, -- or pull up a chair for a whirlwind armchair tour of this intriguing island, with E Noa's entertaining and user friendly Circle Island tour and one of its most popular guides, Jacob, who likes to be called Humu.

Shrimp tempura is
served, tasty and local.

From the moment you're picked up in the morning at your hotel, to the tasty  lunch -- prepared with seafood harvested at nearby shrimp farms -- to the end of a rewarding day when you're dropped back at your hotel, you'll learn, relax, enjoy and want to return. 

Humu enlightens guests on his
engaging tour with a pointers on
places and natural history.

WE WERE up early to meet our bus, which arrived on time at Hilton Waikoloa Village where we were staying.  Other convenient pick-up and drop-off spots are at various other Waikiki hotels, a nice feature. Then our delightful sightseeing tour was underway with a spirited, heartfelt narration as we zipped out of town -- with a drive up Waikiki Beach. Humu pointed out major brand-name shops, historic hotels before he paused so we could admire the statue of famed Olympian and surf king Duke Kahanamoku. Surf fans festoon the much loved international legend with floral leis and we had time for a quick look, then away we went.

Famous surfer Duke
Kahanamoku is
remembered in a
bronze on Waikiki.

A break from the bus drive comes with a walk through
beautiful Waimea Valley's park to a lovely waterfall.
We drove onward up toward Diamond Head, past high-end neighborhoods and some of the world's best known surf spots. Each stop was accompanied by Humu's eloquent commentary, and music -- some of it live, provided by our versatile driver-guide and his ukulele. (He even devised a fun game where last one on the bus at each stop had to dance a hulu to his ukulele!) His top-ranked sightseeing tour features a pleasant blend of Oahu's sights, nature, history, art, local lore and commentary. The island's natural wonders, favorite foods, cultural sites, surfing spots and shopping experiences are all explored.  
"Local color" is provided in a stop at Waikiki.
AMONG OUR favorite stops was the 20 minutes we spent at Pali Lookout, with time to admire the ocean below and take photos. We also delighted in the architecture and landscaping at Byodo-In Temple where we visited the sanctuary, strolled the grounds and lit remembrance candles. This elegant place is a smaller-scale replica of the 950-year-old Byodo-in Temple, a United Nations World Heritage Site in Uji, Japan.
BATHROOM BREAKS were incorporated into the day, much appreciated. Again, thoughtful Humu's choreography was well timed and courteous.
We hiked to a waterfall in beautiful Waimea Valley, and for lunch at a popular cafe, enjoyed shrimp fixed to order and harvested from a nearby local farm.

This lovely rooster and his hen friend might be
among the sights you'll enjoy on the day tour.

ON THE WAY to the waterfall, we again had time for refreshments, then wandered through an impressive botanical garden, admiring nicely marked flora from Hawaii's vast repertoire of flowers, trees, ferns and orchids.

We've traveled with this well organized company for several years and guides such as Humu, Kimo and Mike give great personality, individuality and depth to the day. Their personal anecdotes and asides really make each trip and these guides are among the best we've had in decades of global touring.

Several of the guides are from three and even four-generation tour guide families and they know the islands like no one else does -- the neighborhoods, nuances, small off-the-beaten-track eateries and street art that might go unnoticed.
Bathing beauties are part of the charm and
photo opportunities on the E Noa tour.

Most of the guides are of native Hawaiian ancestry so that's a plus, too.
THE SHRIMP LUNCH was a perfect mid-day break in a day of perfect day of touring, learning and relaxing. Shrimp farming is huge in Hawaii and we ordered that from a choice of several enticing preparations. Others enjoyed chicken, but the shrimp was hard to beat.  A vegetarian offering is also part of the day, all included in the fare.

E Noa offers wonderful tours. From Pearl Harbor, a moving day trip, to its entertaining trolley ride options, check out this well established and highly rated outfit, a star in Hawaii's burgeoning tourist industry.

Keller and Cookie enjoy a movie tour at Kualoa Ranch.
UP NEXT: We're in a Hawaii frame of mind with a culture cruise on the Big Island via a luxury raft in the Body Glove fleet. Come along to special coves and bays with insights from a noted historian and a chance to learn something you may not  have known about Captain Cook. And we're heading north on Oahu for a visit to Kualoa Ranch, 4,000 acres of beautiful land, where dozens of famous films have been shot. Rememberto explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, performance and the arts, family, food, and more:

Thursday, June 1, 2023

Worldwide, we celebrate PRIDE month with hope, understanding


The famous Sydney Opera House is aglow with "Pride" colors, a proud rainbow celebrating
Australia's strong support of the progress toward inclusion, tolerance and embrace of all people.

PRIDE month encourages professionalism, respect, integrity, diversity and excellence


 LGBT Pride Month is celebrated worldwide.
It stands for 
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
 Transgender Pride Month, celebrated annually
 in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots.

LET US WELCOME JUNE and the celebration of Gay Pride worldwide. The acronym, PRIDE, was adopted by University of California San Francisco Medical Center and is now a part of our vernacular. It stands for professionalism, respect, integrity, diversity and excellence. Amen.
As a heterosexual woman with gay friends around the globe, I celebrate PRIDE month and the hope, progress and understanding it symbolizes.

Cookie takes wing
for PRIDE month.

Keller is ready to fly
for PRIDE's message.

Growing up in Montana in the 1950s, it didn't then occur to me that several of my most remarkable teachers were likely closeted gays. They either lived alone or with "roommates," and were unable to show their affection for one another in public in those days. How difficult it must have been.
When "Bruce the First" and I married in 1970, one of our two best men, now passed away, was gay. Roger lived in San Francisco during his college years and frequented the famous "gay baths."  When he returned to his native Montana, as a brilliant university professor, he led a quiet, mostly solitary life. Another dear friend  
Elizabeth Taylor addressed Congress and raised
millions for AIDS awareness and research.
--photo courtesy AMFAR 

often met his longtime partner on weekends in another state and his choice of a mate was never discussed although everyone knew. Again, how sad for all.
LIVING IN THE world of theater and the arts, 
Elizabeth Taylor and Rock
Hudson in a promotion
photo from "Giant."

--photo courtesy Warner Bros
I am reminded of what ardent AIDS awareness advocate Elizabeth Taylor said to eulogize her longtime friend and fellow actor Rock Hudson when he died in 1985 of complications from  AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). "Without the gay community, there would be no Broadway, no Hollywood," Taylor said. She raised millions to find a cure for the disease while raising awareness. With emotion, she addressed a standing ovation Oscars crowd shortly after Hudson died at age 59. She believed: "There is no gay agenda; it's a human agenda. Why shouldn't gay people be able to live as open and freely as everybody else? What it comes down to, ultimately, is love. How can anything bad come out of love? The bad stuff comes out of mistrust, misunderstanding and, God knows, from hate and from ignorance."
Sydney, Australia's streets are decked with
posters, ads, promotions for PRIDE month.

SHE WOULD, I believe, be comforted now by increasing public acceptance and the openness and honesty of my gay and lesbian friends around the world. Most are in their 40s, 50s and 60s now.  One gay couple is in their 70s, living in England. Another lives in Idaho. Both couples are world travelers as are a lesbian couple in Colorado. How hard this fight has been -- and how rich must be the rewards to finally be able to walk hand in hand, share a hug at a party or reception, book a room on a ship or hotel without fear of judgment or criticism.

Phil Johnson and Omri Schein in "Withering
Heights," a hysterical spoof of the classic,
at one of San Diego's best and most
adventurous theaters, Diversionary. 



WE LOVE theater, and are grateful for such a lively mix of fine productions here in San Diego and nearby Palm Springs.  Diversionary Theatre is a favorite venue. This third oldest LGBTQ theater in the country produces quality work in a relaxed, welcoming environment. Bravo, Diversionary. Keep the good work coming. "Head Over Heels" musical is next up, and Diversionary's Clark Cabaret offers a pleasant environment to relax with a friend and a beverage before or after a first-rate show.
Emcee Anita Rose opens
a hit drag show at Oscar's
in Palm Springs.

We never miss a drag show, in Las Vegas or Palm Springs, where Oscar's showcases world class female impersonators, live music and great food. 
Diversionary Theatre in San Diego produces
first-rate theater and offers a welcoming
showcase and environment for thinking theater buffs.

Millions will show their PRIDE
this month around the world.
THE PRIDE movement celebrates its 53rd year -- after its beginning in 1970, a year after the Stonewall Inn Riots in New York. As we mark this important turning point, I look forward to more peaceful marches when friends can express themselves and their sexuality freely. Such celebrations encourage continuing gay awareness and public understanding. We can't have enough of that.
SO IT is with joy that I join millions to celebrate LGBTQ and Pride. I'll continue to do my bit to to help achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) humans.
And, on a humorous note: In 1997, my husband Billy and I toured the Amazon on a small boat with only a dozen staterooms. We'd tried to book the only stateroom with a queen-sized bed. It was unavailable so we settled for a room with two twins. Later, after dinner, our new friends, a fun lesbian couple from Colorado, invited us to their stateroom for a nightcap. Guess who had the only queen sized bed on the boat?
For more information or to connect: 

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers on a circle
tour of the island of Oahu, a full, rewarding day with E Noa

If you have a day to explore the wonders of Oahu, try E Noa's Majestic Circle Tour which gives a spectacular, compact view of the island with lots of extras and pleasures. From lush Waimea Valley to Dole Plantation, the stunning coastline, macadamia nuts, coffee, shrimp and a beautiful Buddhist temple, it's all possible in a single full but relaxing and informative day. We take you to explore in stylish comfort, remembering to explore, learn an live. Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel and the arts, performance, nature, family, food and more: