Norovirus Hits a Small Number of Celebrity Summit Passengers in mid-Atlantic

An announcement was made yesterday warning people of the existence of illness aboard. It was followed by a letter from the Captain in each cabin last night stating that there have been “an elevated number of people onboard who experienced a gastrointestinal illness commonly known as a norovirus.”

No telling how many onboard the Summit are affected since the crew is quite tight lipped about the matter. However, 3 days ago there was an obvious attempt to prevent people from entering any dining venue until they had received a squirt of anti-bacterial gel. Throughout the cruise the crew had been stationed at the entrances to the dining rooms, but were not very insistent about the gel.

All self serve beverage stations have been closed or now are manned by crew. Salt and pepper shakers have been removed in most dining areas. All buffet items are now served by crew. See my article below on swine flu, which addresses cruise health issues. It is known to be a tricky situation because of the close living/dining/entertainment quarters of hundreds or thousands of people. I have long been an advocate of buffets aboard ships that are manned by crew only.

The Summit is offering complimentary consultations and treatment if a passenger becomes ill with a gastrointestinal illness. From the obvious extraordinary efforts to disinfect everything onboard, one could assume that the medical facility is quite busy.

Personal efforts to stay well aboard a ship are important. Washing your hands each time you enter your cabin, use a bathroom, before and after you eat and after visiting a venue where you contact surfaces that have been touched by many people such as elevator buttons, door handles, casino machines, etc. A demonstration of effective hand washing is shown on one of the ship’s television channels.

Damian de Lorenzis today said that “1% of passengers have been ill from the norovirus.” He went on to say that the CDC in the US would be notified, as per standard operating procedure. A skeptic might wonder why the ship is going to such extremes if only 20 people have become ill.

Agadir Morocco with a Berber Tour Guide

Our Berber guide in Morocco's Paradise Valley

Our Berber guide in Morocco's Paradise Valley

It couldn’t have been scripted better. Our day guide in Agadir was booked through Originally Morocco along with a driver and van for 4 of us. Upon our disembarkation from the Summit we spotted our name on the windshield of a fairly new van with our guide standing next to it. Our guide was straight out of central casting. He is a Berber from a village in mid Morocco, a graduate of the University in Agadir, a licensed tour guide and was decked out in full Berber regalia complete with turban. Talking about picture opportunities throughout the day! Idris Ouarmassi, our guide, speaks perfect English right down to the idioms. He had never met or guided Americans before.

We headed off to Paradise Valley in the High Atlas Mountains, which is arid, rocky and scarcely populated. The dry river bed in the base of the valley is full of palm trees and a few clear to the bottom pools. Idris took us hiking in a few spots, one of which netted us a visit to a small mud and rock house where the owner treated us to mint tea and snacks. It would have never happened if we had been on our own or on a cruise excursion. It was one of those travel moments that causes me to pack again and again.

The turnaround point of our day was in Immouzer, a distant village with a nice hotel and a killer view overlooking the High Atlas Mountains. The farthest point visible was about 50 kilometers. Lunch was bistilla or a choice of other enticing entrees and fabulously delicious on the terrace with the view.

Photo opps of the day were remarkable. The mountain landscape, the picturesque valleys, the people along the way and our guide filled our compact flash cards with plenty of material for a slide show. We certainly were tantalized enough to wish for a more comprehensive tour of Morocco, which we would trust to the capable people at Originally Morroco and Idris Ouarmassi.

Alhambra in Grenada Spain

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Rarely is a cruise ship shore excursion a relative bargain. After doing way too much work to find an independent day trip from our port of call, Malaga, and finding them all to be at least $100 more than the 9 hour trip offered by Celebrity, we bit the bullet and booked it. There is something really distasteful to us about following a guide with a canned tour complete with corny jokes. However, sometimes it does make sense.

The brand new motorcoach hit the highway in Malaga and got us to Alhambra in less than 2 hours. The lunch for about 180 of us was a 5 course meal complete with wine, sherry and entertainment. The food was great local fare and the service was terrific.

Alhambra is pretty much jaw dropping, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built by the Moors starting in the 1200s during their 800 year dominance in the area, it has an Arabic architectural style that is ornate and a marvel for the time. As an avid amateur travel photographer it is a challenge to capture the beauty of the complex.

Alhambra is the 2nd most visited site in Spain. Only the Prado in Madrid eclipses it. If your travels take you to the coast of Spain, I would highly recommend that you detour whatever plans you have to include Alhambra. The historical significance is evident when seeing the structures. Once the Moors were banished from the area by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, there was a distinct change in use and construction on the site.

If you are determined to visit as many UNESCO World Heritage sites as possible, Alhambra would be a great site to put near the top of your list.

Seasickness Remedies

Poor guy! Our web designer was being treated by his girlfriend to a cruise, which was sailing right into the path of a tropical storm. Not only that, but the storm was likely to be upgraded to a hurricane by the time the ship got near the Bahamas. The kicker is his tendency to get seasick. Oh no. Spending time with the porcelain throne on a cruise ship is simply miserable.Bonine

Do all the usual things: stock up on Bonine, try Seabands, buy some ginger tea, take along some candied ginger, stay in the middle of the ship at all times if you feel queasy and head for the onboard clinic for a shot as a last resort. He was lucky that they had an inside cabin meaning there would be a little less rolling motion to feel. I also advised him to have room service deliver food first thing in the morning and constantly keep some food in his stomach, which always helps me.

This is an issue that is old and never resolved for some travelers. Just remember to book your cabin on a middle deck in the middle of the ship forward to aft. It does help.

Our web designer came back with a great report of calm seas and no seasickness. Jeremy had a great time as a result!

Celebrity Cruises Handles Gluten Free Diet

I am an avowed foodie. No question about it. Almost the first thing that comes to mind when I describe a vacation is the most memorable meal. Here is the problem: I am now on a gluten free, dairy free diet.Gluten_free.jpg

Upon boarding the Celebrity Summit this week in Barcelona, I approached one of the assistant maitre‘ds and asked about the lunch buffet. He offered to walk the buffet line with me to assure that I would know what was dairy and gluten free. It was my first inkling that Celebrity understands the nature of special diets and isn’t intimidated by them. At dinner our waiter made certain that everything that I ordered would be prepared according to my needs.

Here is the essence of the level of care and service that Celebrity provides: the dining room maitre’d brought me the menu for the next evening, told me to choose whatever I wanted and assured me my choices would be made to order – gluten and dairy free. Indeed they were and I have been accommodated in a royal fashion every evening. I am impressed.

Easy Jet is Tough on Carry-on Baggage Sizes

Read the fine print. EasyJet has stringent restrictions on carry-ons. Unlike other airlines who usually allow a personal item such as a computer bag or handbag plus a carry-on suitcase, easyJet only allows one carry-on. The size is very restrictive, as I remember, 50 cm x 40 cm x 20 cm. We were very careful to measure our one allowed piece so weren’t at risk of being charged extra300px-easyjet_logo.

The not-very-pleasant easyJet personnel in the waiting room at Charles de Gaulle in Paris pushed the baggage measuring rack around the room and made passengers with suspect pieces place them in the device. Mind you we had all checked in at the easyJet desk, where their personnel had already scoped our carry-ons. The couple next to us had a small suitcase with wheels extending past the allowed dimensions. They had paid for priority boarding but were sent out of security, back to check-in, had to pay 22 euros and go through security again only to join the general boarding process.

Don’t think you will escape scrutiny or be able to sneak an extra centimeter past easyJet personnel. They are obviously trained to cut no slack for anyone.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday Shopping

Black Friday

What is it about Black Friday that causes us to spend, spend, spend? The bargains, of course. The online deals abound and in some cases are more readily available than in the brick and mortar stores. Furthermore there are a lot of free shipping deals. Who wants to get up at 3 a.m. to wait in line? Not me.

The avid traveler on your shopping list will love you if you buy them a holiday gift that makes their travel easier and more comfortable. How about a netbook? We are leaving today for Europe. I bought my husband a netbook as an early dell-netbook-inspron-miniChristmas gift so that he can take it along. He is thrilled with the convenience and size.

There isn’t an avid traveler around that doesn’t love to read about their destinations. Part of the fun of any trip is the planning for most of us. Who doesn’t like to know about the airport Spinner suitcase samsonitebus in Barcelona that takes you within a block of your hotel and saves you 25 Euros? Lonely Planet books tend to have a lot of that type of useful information.

One of my discoveries last year was the spinner type suitcase. I sing its praises to anyone that will listen. It saves my bad back on a trip because it reduces the strain. Furthermore my carry on spinner rolls down the aisles of planes so easily that you wonder why anyone with carry ons would use any other type of suitcase. Treat your avid traveler with one. They will love you for it.

Shop early, shop online, save money and aggravation!

Technorati Claim

Finally there is some action on my Technorati “application.” It has taken weeks. If you aren’t familiar with Technorati, it is a type of search engine for blogs that is quite critical for credibility within the blogging world. Here you go Technorati: ZTJ286PS9JND. Now please make it happen! Thanks!

Onboard Credit for Buying Cruise Line Stock

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Always trying to maximize my credits and discounts in travel, the purchase of about 100 shares of cruise line stock to receive online credit is a win-win situation. Because of our upcoming transatlantic cruise on the Celebrity Summit (watch here for blog reports on the cruise – great itinerary and great ship) we purchased 100 shares of parent company Royal Caribbean’s stock. It was trading for a little over $19 that day. We purchased it online from Scottrade and only paid $7 for the trade. Notification to Celebrity required a fax and a phone call – easy. Because our cruise is 14 days, we have received an onboard credit of $250. Here’s the real kicker: we made $110 on the stock!

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This is also available from Carnival Corporation and applies to their family of ships, including Carnival, Holland America, Seabourn, Princess, P & O, Costa and Cunard. A couple of years ago we made a purchase of their stock and received a $250 onboard credit from them.

The onboard credit amount is determined by the length of your cruise. Go to the corporate site of the parent company and look for investor relations/shareholder benefit. Don’t miss this easy opportunity for a freebie. Maybe you will make money on the stock trade like us as well!

Marriott Weekend Deal

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Still available from Marriott until December 13, is a deal almost too good to be true. Stay at over 300 Marriott properties either a Friday or Saturday night and receive a $100 Marriott Bonus Bucks coupon good for a two night weekend stay between 1/1/10 and 3/31/10 plus a $50 coupon good for $10 off each day on up to a 5 day rental from Hertz good now until 3/31/10.

We just booked a stay at the Chicago Marriott Suites Deerfield for $89 and will receive both coupons. Better yet, we have a $50 Marriott Bonus Bucks coupon that we can deduct from our two night stay with the net result of $149 after taxes. Why stay home?