Tag: cruise

Travel St. Maarten (and St. Martin!)

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St. Maarten Harbor

Travel St. Maarten and St. Martin: 2 Cultures, One Island

Travel St. Maarten for the best of both worlds! If you ever wanted to visit two European cultures without having to fly to the European continent – you’re in luck! Hop on a cruise ship or plane heading to St. Maarten/St. Martin and you can visit the only place in the world where the Netherlands borders France! St. Maarten/St. Martin is divided by two nationalities and cultures, approximately 60% French and 40% Dutch. Unlike many other Caribbean islands that were former colonies now turned independent, this Caribbean paradise is different. St. Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic. Therefore, tour St. Maarten for these two jurisdictions sharing the same island paradise.

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Warm welcomes!

A Caribbean Paradise

Travel St. Maarten for sunny skies, bright jewel-toned sailboats, lush green mini-mountains, and pristine beaches… Also, there are many remnants of colonial muscle-flexing, like old forts, standing down. This is an inviting place. Plentiful pirates (in costume!) will have you dreaming of the days of buried treasure and seafaring adventure… without the danger! St. Maarten has been hit hard over the years by hurricanes, but the resourceful and resilient people here have worked hard to recover and restore their beautiful island after the damage. It was rewarding to be able to visit this place that locals take great pride in, and do business with them to help play a role, albeit small, in helping boost their economy after the hardships they have endured in recent years. St. Maarten’s people are the real treasure here, not the buried treasures, or those looted by the pirates of old!

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Boat tour

Explore on a Boat Tour

The best way to travel St. Maarten is to see both sides, French and Dutch. And the best way to do that is to take a boat tour. You can catch one in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side, that will take you all the way around to the French section. After my boat tour, I took a bus ride to Marigot, on the French side, for a closer look at faraway France’s quaint colonial charms!

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Eglise Saint Martin de Tours church, Marigot

Chatting with the Locals

While I’ve received some disagreeable reactions from locals in France making my best attempt to communicate in the local language, the people of Marigot were pleasantly surprised and impressed with my, admittedly broken, French! There is something infinitely satisfying about being able to converse with locals in their own tongue – it’s another element of immersion that fully envelops you in the travel experience. Regrettably, I didn’t know any Dutch yet (note to self: bucket list!)

Marigot’s French Heritage

The cultural immersion doesn’t stop at sights and sounds, however. If you long for the tantalizing tastes and sweet scents of the continent, you can find them right here too. Stroll into a cafe in Marigot for cafe au lait and croissant to savor while you watch the tide roll in by sunset… it’s the best of both worlds!

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National pride on the French side

Travel St. Maarten Today!

If you romanticize about Caribbean pirate culture, breathtaking beaches, and a laid-back life of nautical wonders, or the charms of Europe right in your back yard (if you live on the North American continent), then this may be just the place for you! So travel St. Maarten today!

You can view my full tour of St. Maarten/St. Martin, here!:

And for more exciting destinations weekly, subscribe to my YouTube Channel!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube Channel

Cruising to St. Maarten? Check out my review of the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise ship here!:

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review!

Tour Nassau Bahamas!

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Old, abandoned lighthouse

Tour Nassau, Bahamas for Nautical Fun!

When you tour Nassau, Bahamas, one of the first things you notice are the tourist crowds. Because it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Caribbean. But then you realize – this is for very good reason! Here crystal clear waters shimmer in the sunlight among a skyline of boat masts. And your toughest decision may be: sun bathing in satisfying soft sands, or wading in wonderfully warm waters? But besides the endless sunshine, bountiful beaches, and cool Caribbean vibe, the historical architecture and underwater adventures are well worth reveling in! The old and new captured by the rusty, whitewashed abandoned lighthouse facing the ultra-modern seashell pink towers of Atlantis Resort epitomize this island paradise. It’s sentimentally historic while forward-thinking.

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Historic old town

Nassau Old Town

A stroll through Nassau’s old town delights with vibrant pastel colors, colonial classical design, and a boisterously beachy vibe. Additionally, service is always delivered with a smile. It’s said that greater exposure to sunshine can lead to greatly improved mood and outlook. And judging by the optimism ever-present among the locals here I believe it! The heavy hordes of tourists, while a common sight year-round in this tropical paradise, do not diminish the charm of this lively city!

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Parliament building

Fort Fincastle

After a visit to the historic colonial buildings in town, the short trip to Fort Fincastle offers another perspective. This tenacious fort was built in 1793. Yet it’s still standing proud, reminding us that multiple colonial powers would have liked to have a piece of this paradise. Once you visit, you will wish you had one too! Cannons can’t keep you away as you invade these limestone walls. This place marks one of your own greatest victories in history – your amazing and unforgettable Nassau vacation!

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Tour Fort Fincastle

SeaWorld Explorer Submarine

Perhaps one of the greatest pleasures of all in Nassau, however, is not by land. It’s by sea! So board the SeaWorld Explorer submarine. Dive the depths. Be amazed by the dizzying variety of boldly colored fish and exotically shaped coral occupying the brilliant aqua depths below. While “wildlife” type tours can be extremely hit-or-miss (and, unfortunately, more often than not “miss”) there is no shortage of sea life to be seen from this submarine! Enter another world entirely as it is the people who inhabit the “fish tank” here, surrounded by a whirlwind of fascinating and fanciful fish!

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Views from the SeaWorld Explorer submarine

Atlantis Casino and Resort

Of course, the most popular tourist attraction of all in Nassau may be Atlantis. This may be a positive or negative for you depending on your perspective on travel. But there’s no denying it is a massive and impressive structure. Resembling a castle, it invites you in to be “king or queen” for a day getting the VIP treatment in the casino, or being lavished in hedonism among its spectacular pools, waterfalls, and other luxurious surroundings. Wherever you go in Nassau, your memories are sure to be priceless!

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The coral colored towers of Atlantis

Tour Nassau, Bahamas More!

You can view my video tour of Nassau, Bahamas here!:

Considering visiting Nassau on a cruise ship? Check out my blog tour and review of the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship here:

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review!

There’s so much to see and do in Nassau! I find the most efficient way to tackle your itinerary here is with a high-quality tour. Viator provides excellent tours around the world, and Nassau is no exception:

Find and book Nassau tours and activities on Viator.com. Book ahead to save time and money!

Thanks for reading!

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Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship!

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Oasis of the Seas

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

The Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas cruise ship is among the most majestic on the Royal Caribbean fleet. It launched in 2008, and has an occupancy of 6,296 maximum. This colossal vessel holds 16 passenger decks. So the Oasis of the Seas is really a city on the sea! And a voyage upon her many decks is an exciting treat indeed!

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The Atrium

A Different Kind of Ship

The Oasis has a very different layout than many of the mega-ships I’ve traveled on before. A signature design for this class of Royal Caribbean ship is a cut-out middle, interior as well as exterior balcony cabins, and “neighborhoods.” The neighborhoods are a variety of unique “destination” locations around the ship. Oasis of the Seas’ “Atrium” does not resemble those of most of the ships I’ve experienced before, either. Because in this case, it’s a long hallway filled with shops, restaurants, and much more beyond passenger services desks, rather being one centralized room in the middle of the ship.

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Lido Deck

The Lido Deck

The Lido Deck is expansive, and there are multiple pools and jacuzzis as well as an adults-specific deck under glass. Unfortunately I got very hot in there, because it starts to feel like a greenhouse or sauna in there when it’s a hot day outside! I prefer the breeze of the open decks, which is no problem. Fortunately, the Oasis hosts a multitude of decks facing both the ocean on the outside of the ship and the neighborhood lobbies on the inside of the ship!

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Central Park

Central Park

Central Park is one of the neighborhoods on the ship, replete with trees, plants, cobblestones, and relaxing benches. Many of the interior balconies have views over this delightfully green section of the ship. A classical quartet played here regularly in the evenings while I was here. I don’t know what I liked better – the relaxing music or the pleasant garden-like atmosphere. This outdoor park element is particular to Royal Caribbean, and I haven’t encountered it on any other cruise lines. I was reminded first hand that this area is not only wide open to the fresh air, sunshine, and stars, but to the rain as well! It’s something to keep in mind: check the weather report each morning!

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The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk

The Boardwalk is reminiscent of the historic and iconic Boardwalk at Atlantic City, New Jersey. It’s complete with a Johnny Rockets diner, Zoltar fortune telling machine, arcade booths, boardwalk food, and an operational merry-go-round. There are also interior balconies facing the Boardwalk, as well as a massive water-based stage at the back of the ship, complete with beach loungers for the seating area!

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Ice Show

Spectacular Shows

Entertainment is abundant aboard the Oasis, and “go big or go home” never seemed a more fitting description than aboard this ship! Unique stages include the ice rink – a stage for ice shows by night and available for guests to ice skate on by day. Olympic skaters perform spectacular stunts, and I was thrilled and amazed for every minute of it! This is another feature that I’ve found to be unique to Royal Caribbean – I haven’t encountered an ice rink on any other lines.

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Water Stage

Unique Stages

The other unique “stage” on this ship is the water stage, on the Boardwalk. Here Olympic divers perform death defying feats, complimented by synchronized swimming and other aquatic performances. With a backdrop of cotton-candy clouds by day and sparkling stars at night, the atmosphere is intoxicating. Oasis’ water stage is outdoors under the sun (or moon!) and the seating consists of splendidly colorful beach chairs. Whether you’re attending an ice skating show or a water show, book reservations EARLY! It is possible to get in line to take the place of no shows, but you’ll have a LOT of company if you do this. To be sure you get a seat you’ll need to be towards the front of the line.

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Balcony Cabin

Beautiful Balcony Cabins

I had a balcony cabin and found it to be plenty roomy, comfortable, and pleasingly decorated. I opted for the Oceanview, because I can’t get enough of the beauty of the open sea. But how great it was to have three balcony cabin view options at booking! Because there are so many balconies on this ship, I found them to be a better value than on some of the other ships I’ve sailed on. Interior balcony bookings come with perks like complimentary dinner at a specialty restaurant. And it’s important to bear in mind these balconies will also come with less privacy!

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More of the Atrium

Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas Cruise Ship Review

I greatly enjoyed my experience aboard the Oasis of the Seas. The ship is spectacular, well-maintained, and beautifully designed. It offers a dizzying array of great entertainment, fun activities, and diverse areas to dine, party, and relax. On the downside, I did not find it to be a particularly solo-traveler friendly ship – every time I entered the main dining room and asked for a table for one I was made to feel like Steve Martin in “The Lonely Guy” when a huge spotlight appears over his head and everyone stares at him like he’s psycho or something… And with no good promotion for the drink package on this cruise line I ended up drinking more than my fair share of ice water with lime. But all-in-all I had a fantastic time choosing neighborhoods to suit my mood, reveling in effervescent entertainment, and soaking in the sun on this special ship!

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Larger than Life!

For More Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas

Tour Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas more! You can view a full video tour of the entire ship here!:

I visited St. Thomas on my Oasis of the Seas cruise. You can check out the article on St. Thomas here:

St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Perfectly Paradisiacal!

And for more travel all around the world, check out the Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube channel!:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC91pXs3Ydbrw5Uc3EFSkO5Q?view_as=subscriber

Tour St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands!

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Spectacular Panoramic Views

Tour St. Thomas for Pleasure, Peace, Paradise

Tour St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, for the epitome of paradise. This island wonderland in the Caribbean, and United States territory, is a playground of crystal clear waters dotted by lush, jade islands, all viewable from an endless supply of scenic mountain overlooks – each one more spectacular than the last! So you can basque in the beams of sunshine, be refreshed in the surf of the ocean, and inhale the essence of intoxicating Yellow Trumpetbush and Frangipani flowers as you explore the wonders of St. Thomas!

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Magen’s Bay Beach

Magen’s Bay Beach

Magen’s Bay Beach consistently ranks in the world’s top ten for beaches. With spectacular views, sand the consistency of baking powder, water so clear you can see your feet – and so warm it feels like bathwater… lounging out here will leave you feeling super spoiled while the sun soaks you in warmth amidst the sea-salt scented breezes. Clearly, it’s the perfect place to relax… and escape! The beach carries on for a mile, and there is also over six acres of arboretum, coconut groves, and mangrove preserves. In summary, It’s an amazing place to get lost in the natural beauty of the Caribbean.

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Pirate Castles!

Danish Colonial Architecture

The United States purchased St. Thomas from Denmark in 1917 for the unbeatable bargain of $25 million in gold, or, what would be the equivalent of $489 million today. This transaction allowed the island to remain free from adversarial hands and boost Denmark’s coffers during the hefty expenses of World War I fighting. Because of St. Thomas’ Danish heritage, much of the old Danish colonial architecture remains in the capital of Charlotte Amalie. Overall, it is indubitably charming. And equally endearing are the Blackbeard and Bluebeard castles near the harbor and believed to be from the eighteenth century! If you ever wanted to know how the pirate half lives – now’s your chance!

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Charming Colonial Danish Architecture

Panoramic Paradise

St. Thomas is a varied landscape of crystal clear waters, island formations big and small, and mountains and hilltops boasting amazing views of the expanse below.  As a result, It is truly one of the greatest jewels in the string of islands adorning the Caribbean! If you still have time for shopping in Charlotte Amalie, I highly recommend seeking out the paintings and photography by local artists in the AH Riise outdoor mall. The locals’ sources of inspiration are numerous, and talent enviable! Thus, St. Thomas local art is my favorite souvenir to leave this beautiful place with. There are many other boutique shops in the area to shop until you drop, all conveniently accepting the U.S. Dollar!

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More to Tour, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Undoubtedly, when you tour St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, you can NEVER get enough! So come and explore some more, with my video tour of St. Thomas here!:

Finally, there are many nearby Caribbean islands that are also well worth a visit! So I hope you’ll check out my post on Nassau here!:

Tour Nassau Bahamas!

And for more exciting travel around the world, visit the Ultimate Travel Adventures YouTube channel, so you can get your travel fix today!:

Ultimate Travel Adventures on YouTube

I hope you enjoyed the chance to tour St. Thomas today! Importantly, thank you for reading!

Alaska’s Inside Passage: Mysterious Beauty and Pristine Wilderness!

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Some trees appear to float on air in the mist

During the Norwegian Bliss cruise ship’s Alaska itinerary, the trip through the Inside Passage’s wonderful wilderness is a breathtaking highlight. It is a surreal world of icebergs, weightlessly wafting puffy clouds of mist, placid green-hued waters (so tinted due to sediment from the glaciers), and endless armies of pine trees descending mountains alongside strings of waterfalls that lay like whimsical ribbons on the landscape.

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Waterfall “ribbons”

The journey is slow, as the ship greatly reduces speed through this area, both for safety (icebergs abound), and because this is not a path of travel or means to an end, it is a destination in and of itself. There was one time on the cruise it seemed like everyone else was on their balcony too (I know because I was out there all the time when not at port!) and this was it, the clicking of photos being snapped the only sound echoing in this peaceful paradise.

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Calm waters melt into the soft outlines of mist

With the waters so calm and the mist so surreal in its softness, at times the outline between the two is only a faint one. The icebergs peeking through the serene waters and hunter green humps of land peering through the billowy mists breach the illusion and tell you where the outline begins.

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Thick rows of fog striping the sky

The thickness of the fog completely obscures the land behind it at times, as if keeping the secret of a great surprise it could reveal at any moment… and does. It stripes the sky in rows… and dissipates rapidly only to form again, a playful shapeshifter.

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Where does the water begin?

The inside passage is like an alien world in its mysterious beauty and pristine wilderness. While the Bliss did not continue all the way to Sawyer Glacier as planned for safety’s sake (amid the thick fog and weather conditions), I was completely satiated after seeing the spectacular wonder of wilderness that is the Inside Passage, and would later see other glaciers in Skagway.

My video tours of Alaska’s Inside Passage and the Norwegian Bliss may be found here!:

Inside Passage:

Norwegian Bliss:

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The Beautiful, Bold, and Breathtaking Brand New Norwegian Bliss Cruise Ship!

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The Norwegian Bliss

The Norwegian Bliss cruise ship sailed its maiden cruise this past spring, and I had the opportunity to sail on the Bliss in August on Norwegian’s Alaska itinerary out of Seattle, Washington. A spectacular experience on a spectacular ship!

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The Bliss docked in Victoria, B.C., Canada

The Bliss has 19 decks, and a 4,990 occupancy rate (double occupancy!) It holds a crew of 1,700. As impressive as the stats on this ship are, they cannot prepare you for the experience of witnessing this beautiful, breathtaking behemoth in person! The artwork on the hull is titled “Cruising with the Whales” and was created by renowned marine artist Wyland.

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Spectacular chandelier in one of the main lobbies

The interior design of the Bliss makes it as magnificent as the exterior! The decor is elegant, grandiose, and best of all, clever and creative. I felt spoiled on eye candy at every moment on the Bliss.

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Savor complimentary dining room

The Bliss is abundant with options for dining, including many complimentary and specialty choices. The decor in the dining rooms is upscale and trendy; I felt like a VIP no matter where I dined, whether there was a charge or not. Service was always prompt, courteous, and friendly, and the meals were a delight to my palate!

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Sugarcane Mojito Bar – my favorite hangout on the ship

In addition to dining outlets there are many bars on the Bliss, often tastefully themed. I was especially partial to the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, where the decor was classic Havana and there were a myriad of different flavors of Mojito, all delicious, to choose from. It was a great place to relax, enjoy the views of the ocean, and meet fellow passengers while enjoying some of the best drinks I’ve ever tasted!

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Balcony cabin on the Bliss

The balcony cabin was spacious, comfortable, and delightfully decorated. The mattress was dreamy, and I appreciated the many options for storage and abundance of electrical outlets. I never felt cramped in the bathroom, either. These were very pleasant surroundings for my stay on the sea!

The entertainment was outstanding on the Bliss, including the Tony-award-winning “Jersey Boys” show, “Havana!” a Cuban music and cultural extravaganza,  and the New Orleans speakeasy inspired “Happy Hour Prohibition” musical. I was enthralled and moved by all three shows. And of course, there is plenty more nightlife to come post-show in the exciting nightclubs!

The Bliss has ample amenities, even including a go-kart track on the top deck, laser tag, and the wildest water park slides I’ve ever witnessed on a cruise ship. And if all that wasn’t enough, the spectacular views of Alaska’s Inside Passage from up on deck or the privacy of your balcony – priceless!

I would recommend the Bliss cruise ship to anyone with absolutely zero hesitation. To this day, it is in my opinion the greatest cruise ship I have ever had the pleasure to sail on. I experienced no issues or problems whatsoever at any point during the cruise, either.

I have posted a full video tour of the Bliss, including a first-person view from inside the go karts, here!:

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Harmonious Helsinki, Finland!

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Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki was the next stop on my cruise through the Baltic Sea on Norwegian Breakaway. Probably the most recognizable sight in Helsinki, and the top priority for many visitors, is the neoclassical, multi-domed Helsinki Cathedral in Market Square. This landmark serves as a gathering point for Fins to congregate and socialize on its massive steps. Perched high, it stands as a beacon to be recognized throughout the city, inviting all to partake in its pleasures.

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Neoclassical Architecture around Market Square

Neoclassical architecture is prevalent in Market Square. Usually a vast, open square, it was replete with military tanks during this visit, which I was hastily advised was temporary and in celebration of a patriotic event. Well thank goodness for that!

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Sibelius Monument: Organ Pipes Portion

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Sibelius Monument: Likeness Portion

Designed in honor of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, the Sibelius Monument is a symphony for the eyes. It was introduced in 1967, and is housed in Sibelius Park, a wonderland of natural beauty, and a perfect example of the Finnish ideal of people living harmoniously with their natural surroundings. Witnessing the locals frolicking in park settings like this, it is clear the Fins treasure the natural beauty that surrounds them. The monument has two separate parts: one resembling an organ and another with Sibelius’ likeness. Sibelius’ head rests contentedly upon the rocks, drawing the natural beauty of the rocks into the sculpture, man one with nature.

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Rock Church: Exterior

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Rock Church: Interior

Temppeliaukio Church, also known as “Rock Church,” provides another fine example of the Fins connectedness with the natural world. Constructed into solid rock and with a giant skylight to flood the pews in sunlight, it is a testament to the wondrous quality of nature. The rock provides incredible acoustics for the music, which you don’t need to attend a service to delight in.

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Uspenski Cathedral

In stark contrast, Uspenski Cathedral is a more elaborate and exotic Eastern Orthodox Church. This church showcases the Russian architectural influence in the city. Russian Emperor Alexander II is commemorated within, who reigned over the Grand Duchy of Finland in the 1800s. Throughout the city there are remnants of Finland’s Russian-culture swayed past.

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Modern Helsinki

 

Today Helsinki has a shortage of housing and modern structures are springing up all around. The buildings shown above are near the Port, where many more buildings illustrating futuristic zeal are currently under construction.

You can view my video tour of Helsinki here!:

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Brilliant Berlin: City of Contrasts and the Vital Lessons of History

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Checkpoint Charlie

Aboard the Norwegian Breakaway’s Baltic Sea cruise, the first stop (after embarkation point at Copenhagen) is Warnemunde, the gateway to Berlin for cruise ships. However, it’s no small feat to get to Berlin from there – as a 2 hour train ride each way is required. Fortunately, the trip is well worth it! Be prepared for a very long but exciting day if you decide to make the trip!

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Holocaust Memorial with Reichstag in the Background

The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most compelling sites in Berlin. I was fascinated by the positioning of the Holocaust Memorial in relation to the Reichstag building. The official name for the Holocaust Memorial is the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” but this name is controversial given the fact that Jews were not the only population of people sent to concentration camps or the gas chambers. As someone with Polish ancestry I can appreciate the spirit of this controversy and will refer to it as the Holocaust Memorial here. The memorial encompasses 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights lined up in rows. It is a sombre sight, in many ways resembling a cemetery, but one where the departed are nameless and without individual identity, perhaps a metaphor for the way that those who died in the Holocaust were perceived by their executioners. It is movingly fitting that the Reichstag stands tall in the background – its giant glass dome a metaphor for the new transparency that would be imposed on German leadership for the people. It is the Parliament building, where the general population can advance up through the dome and have an overview of the political proceedings below. Like many landmarks in Berlin, these places and their design serve as reminders never to repeat the mistakes of history.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Church

Another stunning reminder is the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, standing crippled next to its modern reconstruction. It stands testament against the perils and destructive forces of war, at once eerie and beautiful, a deeply moving sight to behold.

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Checkpoint Charlie “soldiers”

Checkpoint Charlie is yet another reminder of the possible consequences of war – of people divided, of people deprived. This was the gateway through the Berlin Wall, passing through which was a dream for many that would never come true. Despite the fact that it is a highly touristy photo opportunity, it is still well worth the visit for its historical significance and the chance to reflect on the lessons of the past.

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Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall is an impressive span of eclectic art, much of it promoting freedom and celebrating human resilience and will. Given that the wall previously represented oppression, this is a fitting message for the former East German area of modern Germany.

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TV Tower

The Fernseheturm, or TV tower is the tallest structure in Germany. It towers over the city of Berlin, in the heart of the former East Germany, like a giant exclamation point amid the capitalist bastion of Alexanderplatz, abound with corporate skyscrapers and an abundance of retail shops. The irony is inspiring!

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Brandenburg Gate

No visit to Berlin is complete without a visit to the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of Berlin. Originally commissioned by Prussian King Frederick William II and completed in 1791, it was here that the ceremony to celebrate the reunification of Germany post-Cold War took place. It aptly represents the span of German history and resilience of the German people.

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Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace, completed in 1713, is the largest palace in Germany. It serves as Berlin’s best answer to the baroque style of architecture so prevalent in many of the historic structures throughout Germany. Here in Berlin, this baroque style fascinatingly stands in such sharp contrast to the brash and minimalist Socialist Classicism architecture of the former East Germany that you can still find in other neighborhoods of Berlin.

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Bebelplatz

Bebelplatz is the site of the State Opera, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, and university buildings. The greatest draw to Bebelplatz, however, is that it was the location of the Nazi Book Burning in 1933, where approximately 20,000 books were burned by the Nazi Students’ League and Hitler Youth following a speech given by Joseph Goebbels. A memorial of empty bookcases can be viewed beneath a glass panel on the ground.

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Lunch featuring German specialties

Berlin’s a big city to explore, and what better way to refuel your resources mid-visit than a delicious lunch of German specialties? This plate of Sauerkraut, German potatoes, sausage, pork, and tasty meat patty can really give you the energy boost you need to embark on such an adventure!

Berlin is a fascinating city of contrast and the vital lessons of history. You can view my tour here:

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Breakaway to the Baltic: Norwegian Breakaway Cruise through the Baltic Sea

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Norwegian Breakaway: Canvas for Artist Peter Max

The Norwegian Breakaway can hold a capacity of 3,963 passengers (double occupancy), 1,657 crew members, and launched in 2013. It is one of the larger ships on the NCL fleet. I sailed on the Breakaway through the Baltic Sea in May-June, featuring the destinations of Copenhagen, Denmark (embarkation port); Berlin, Germany; Tallinn, Estonia, St. Petersburg, Russia (overnight stop); Helsinki, Finland; and Stockholm, Sweden.

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Trendy Studio Cabin on the Breakaway

I booked a studio cabin for the trip, which, as you can see from the photo, was somewhat cramped but comprehensive, classy cabin. With the studio cabin category, NCL inspires solo travelers to feel like VIPs, through locked door access to the studio cabin hallways (think: velvet rope), a studio lounge with a specialty coffee machine and other amenities, and a dedicated solo travelers’ concierge that arranges meet ups like group dinners, entertainment, and activities for those craving some companionship for others in the same “boat…” Being an introvert myself and someone who tends to stay very busy during a cruise I opted out of these gatherings, but was pleased to see that such an effort was being made to accommodate solo travelers paying a premium to book passage alone.

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Ice Bar, Norwegian Breakaway

The Breakaway has spent much time sailing out of New York City, and this association with New York is heavily apparent in the decor of the ship. One example would be the Ice Bar (photo above,) which features images of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, and Empire State Building. I found this to be an oddity, since I tend to associate the concept of an “ice bar” with Scandinavia, not New York. The Spice H20 outdoor lounge features images of a Rockaway Beach in Queens. Artist Peter Max’s signature Statue of Liberty image proudly graces the front of the ship, and more. Perhaps a reader will “get it” and leave a comment, but I couldn’t grasp the motivation behind featuring New York so profoundly in the ship’s decor. If you are from New York taking a vacation on a cruise ship, isn’t New York probably the last thing you want to look at? Or wouldn’t you want to “breakaway” from the Big Apple?

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Lido Deck, Norwegian Breakaway

The Lido Deck is expansive and features a water park boasting enormous water slides! Also available are a rock climbing wall, basketball court, ropes course, mini golf, and more. Due to lower Spring temperatures in the Baltic, the Lido was not heavily trafficked on this particular itinerary.

nightclub

Bliss Nightclub, Norwegian Breakaway

The Breakaway is almost daunting in its sheer size, but once you get your bearings there are many options for dining and entertainment. Aboard you will find multiple theaters, nightclubs, and restaurants (both complimentary and specialty.) The Breakaway has some of the finest entertainment I have experienced on a cruise ship, including a Cirque du Soleil show, wine tasting musical, and ballroom dancing show all of which I found to be outstanding – a quality comparable to Las Vegas shows. Be prepared to pay extra for some of the shows.

le bistro

Le Bistro, a Specialty Dining Venue on Norwegian Breakaway

Public areas of the ship are extremely clean, luxurious, inviting, and well-maintained. Typical of Norwegian’s style, the decor is modern and trendy. The ship is kept in immaculate condition – I found no signs of wear-and-tear or rust.

chandalier

Lobby Chandelier Spanning Three Floors, Norwegian Breakaway

The Breakaway Baltic Cruise features a 9-day itinerary, which I found to be far more satisfying than the typical 7-day itinerary. At this time of the year, the Baltic area is experiencing the “White Nights” effect, where it only gets dark for a couple of hours out of each 24 hour day (in the winter, the effect is the opposite, with limited time of sunlight.)

3am sky

White Nights: Moon in a Bright Sky at 3:00am

I highly recommend the Norwegian Breakaway, whether you choose to embark on the Baltic Itinerary in the Summer or a Winter itinerary closer to home! You can view a full tour here!:

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Solo Cruising: a Contradictory Experience

cabin

Studio Cabin on Norwegian Breakaway

Having completed my first solo cruise, I gained some insight on the experience I wanted to share for those of you who may be considering it. I sailed on the Norwegian Breakaway on a Baltic Sea cruise (follow-up blog posts to come!), and tried out one of the “studio” cabins available for booking only to solo cruisers. Norwegian is making an effort to cater to solo travelers, and it shows. The cabin itself was the first sign that I was in for a contradictory cruising experience. On the one hand, the cabin was very small and cramped compared to other Norwegian cruise ship cabins I’ve stayed in, and only interior studio cabins are available. On the other hand, the cabin and hallways were spruced up to give the impression that the studio cabin cruisers were being spoiled with special treatment. It almost felt like a posh, elite nightclub navigating the halls. The hallway to my cabin was behind a locked door (think: velvet rope!) which required a studio room key to pass. Once in the hallway, I was greeted to trendy neon lights. The leather accents in the cabin were a very nice touch, and the room felt luxurious, albeit small.

To further delight studio guests, a studio lounge was available on board, accessible only through the locked door aforementioned. Within were a TV monitor, ample seating, a bar, and (best of all) a coffee station with a machine serving premium coffees (think cappuccino, latte, mocha, etc.) for free. Given the fact that the coffee shop on Norwegian ships charge for specialty coffees, which are also NOT included in their unlimited beverage package, and the fact that I’m quite the coffee addict, this was a huge boon. It was a decent alternative to cafe specialty coffee, and light worlds better than the default complimentary coffee served on board, which I am convinced is intentionally bad to nudge you to pay for premium!

ship3

Norwegian Breakaway at port in Talinn, Estonia

Along with the studio cabin and studio lounge, you also have access to a solo travelers “concierge” who plans meet ups for any solo travelers who are interested. This includes getting into shows, arranging to dine with others in the group in the main dining rooms, and social gatherings in the studio lounge and elsewhere. I felt this feature was highly overrated – but I can see the benefit for certain people. Between the fact that I’m an introvert and the fact that I tend to keep myself extremely busy on cruise ships (leaving the ship at every port, thermal suite passes, lots of shows and concerts, deck time, etc.) the meet ups were not really conducive to my preferred shipboard “lifestyle.” However, I can definitely imagine an extroverted person who likes to relax and socialize more would enjoy this tremendously. One downside that I think would be a negative to anyone, if it is common, was that the ratio of women to men was very lopsided, at least on my particular sailing, at the initial meeting to get acquainted. One man showed up, and the rest were women. I would have felt more comfortable in a more balanced group (the man seemed to be quite thrilled with the discrepancy, though!)

The solo cruising experience is contradictory in other ways. On the one hand, it feels very comfortable to be alone on the cruise because there are so many distractions from your “alone-ness.” Going to shows and concerts, going on excursions, and doing things around the ship it is very easy to keep busy and not even notice you’re alone. And some things can be very much enjoyed alone – like the peacefulness and rejuvenation of lounging out on a quiet deck reflecting on your travel experiences or just resting. Cruise ship passengers, I have found, also seem to be some of the friendliest people around, so if you want interaction it’s not hard to find. At the bars, in the lounges, on deck, and on the excursions people are usually eager to chat it up with fellow passengers, if you are so inclined.

On the other hand, there are times when traveling alone on a cruise can be very awkward. For instance… dinner time. Being seated at a table alone can be challenging to feel comfortable with. Even as an introvert, I found myself going for a more casual dining venue than the fancier dining atmosphere in the main dining rooms. It felt more natural and less forced. I can’t help but think about the Steve Martin movie where he walks into a restaurant, tells the hostess he’s dining alone, and suddenly a huge spotlight shines on him and the whole room turns around to stare! Of course the ultimate in avoiding this problem is either to order room service, go to the buffet where things are REALLY casual, or bring a buffet plate back to the cabin. Or, avoid the whole conundrum by participating in the solo traveler meet ups. I was more comfortable doing my own thing on my own time.

If you’re debating whether to go on a solo cruise, I advise go for it! The pros highly outweigh the cons, and frankly it’s the funnest way to “spend time with yourself” that I can think of! While I enjoy sharing the experience with someone special more than I do going it alone, I would definitely not hesitate to book a solo cruise again, and I was impressed with the way Norwegian provided for and pampered solo passengers.

You can view my tour of the Norwegian Breakaway, including solo cabin and solo travelers’ lounge here!:

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