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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012 9 years ago

TWIS Travel: Savor the perfect cruise experience on Celebrity

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by: Matt Orr

After reading this, you will probably want to rush right out and take a cruise of your very own. If that's the case, Admiral Travel was our hook-up. They made sure we had upgraded rooms, onboard credits, champagne and VIP treatment. Contact them by calling 941-951-1801 or clicking here for their specials.

I'm plagued with misophonia disorder, which is sorta like this years restless leg syndrome.Diagnosis for misophonia is pretty easy, and you can test yourself by simply setting out a bowl of almonds, popcorn or any other "loud" food and wait for someone to eat. If you can hear chewing and have the sudden urge to beat the shit out of the innocent eater, you probably have misophonia, too.

Imagine my alarm when I boarded a flight to Barcelona, only to find Esther sitting behind me with bags (yes, bags) of celery. For nine hours, Esther ate celery and talked incessantly, like it was her job to make noise.

"Adele says you never listen," she said to her husband, "why don't you listen to me, Art?" The sad, beaten slump of a man muttered, "Nnnn ..." which sorta sounded like "huh" with less effort.  I was seconds from turning around, grabbing the back of my seat and opening my mouth as wide as it would go to scream my face off, but the Ambien chased by a vodka and soda kicked in. Just as I was falling asleep I heard a final statement from Esther: "Adele says the cruise boat we are going on is her favorite."WTF!? I, too, was on a plane heading to Barcelona and boarding a boat. Every single fear surrounding the Celebrity cruise I booked for my boyfriend Seth's 40th raced through my increasingly cloudy mind. The chewing/talking machine sitting behind me in row 12A was not only going to be on the same ship as me, but so would 3,000 other people just like her. My amygdala fired as I imagined the smells of cafeteria food while we waited in line at the Grande (spelled with an "e" intentionally) Buffet, our feet sticking to the floor as everyone around us chewed audibly.I turned to Seth and looked at him sadly.  We had saved our money, upgraded our room and pre-paid for the entire trip so we could celebrate a big milestone birthday with no debt at the end. I tried to look on the bright side ... nightly bridge games (sans pretzels) wouldn't be that bad, right? I literally had a few seconds before drifting to a punctual eight-hour sleep and was able to mutter to Seth, "Find out what ship they will be on before I wake up." (Side note: Seth later told me that when I looked at him sadly, I muttered something indecipherable with drool coming from my mouth and an iPod earbud dangling from my left ear before passing out).I woke up as we literally flew over our ship in the harbor.  It looked so shiny and pretty---

"Adele says celery has negative calories so you can lose weight by eating it ... you should eat more celery, Art" ... "Nnnnn ..."

"Pardon me," said Seth, "but I couldn't help but overhear that you're going on a cruise. Which one?"

"Carnival, are you on a cruise too?" said Jaws. Seth and I looked at each other, relieved, and then I turned to Art one final time. I saw him mouth the words "help me" with vacant eyes. I almost gave him a hug, but I simply smiled and turned away ... after all, we were on officially on vacation.I've never cruised because of the stereotypes associated with cruise lines, but I've since learned that each boat has a personality and clientele of its own. Oceania is awesome if you are comfortable with the median age being 65. Carnival is a party boat. Royal Caribbean is a family-friendly boat. And Celebrity is the boat that breaks the stereotype of cruising. It's not your least expensive boat, but it's not the priciest either. It attracts a traveler who likes an occasional break from total immersion travel, and it's also known as a "food cruise" boasting specialty restaurants galore and unique shore excusions.

Cruising is not about diving into a culture to discover all the hidden places in a given destination. It's a way of  getting the CliffsNotes version of a city and only unpacking once. Cruising is probably the easiest travel you could do, ever. In 12 days we saw seven countries. Everything was packaged in one price (about $150 a day per person) and included food, some booze, an upgrade to a top-floor room and entertainment.As we boarded the Celebrity Solstice we were handed a glass of champagne and guided to our room, where a butler asked if he could help us unpack -- as he handed us a plate of appetizers. On an excitement scale from one to ten, I was a 32  to have that plate-o-goodness, so you can just imagine my excitement when they came every single afternoon with herbal tea! Our butler (judge me if you must, but I got so used to saying that) greeted me immediately as "Lord Matt" (because rather then checking the box "Mr." when I signed up, I checked "Lord," which made me completely awesome to our new friends to come). Our room resided in the Suite section, which offers the best value for sure and this is why. You get:1) A butler who makes up your room twice a day and brings you just about anything you want, day or night.

2) A daily pillow menu to choose the exact firmness of your pillow.

3) A-damn-dorable animals made from towels every day.

4) This one is important: early debarkation at ports.  With 3,000 people trying to get off a boat at one time, it's nice to know you go first.

5) Priority spa treatments.

6) Your very own restaurant called Blu, which specializes in "clean cuisine." Unlike the main dining room (to which you also have access), Blu allows you to dine at any time you'd like and the food is marketed as healthier.

7) Here's the complete list of everything included in the suites.Living on a ship is wildly romantic. In fact, it's downright Titanic-esque. You don't have a cell phone, so you can't communicate with anyone unless they are standing in front of you---so by default you have a little microcosm of people looking at and talking to you and not texting. You dress up for dinner (which I actually really liked) and you're accessible only by being present at one of the 8 restaurants, 11 bars, casino, 3 pools, spa, rooftop garden, movie theater, shops, gym or theater.  It's just you, your traveling partner and 3,000 awesome new people you meet along the way.There's something about traveling that creates new friends. And I'm not talking about not namby-pamby friendships you can only find on land. NO! We met "we-are-stuck-on-a-giant-floating-playground-for-adults-so-let's-play-with-no-responsibilities" kind of friends. Our days together began with a quick workout in the killer gym (who am I kidding, I was hardly there), fresh coffee made by Sladjana Ivanovic (we're totally Facebook friends now) and a fresh crêpe from one of the boat's restaurants. Afterward we would meet up with with other new friends (the ones who actually went to the gym) and explore the given country du jour, then head back to the boat at our leisure. Once on the boat, we would shower and take a nap on the heated chairs in the Persian Garden (that's right---warming tiled chairs overlooking the water to nap in. "Deck"-a-dent) and finally catch a party on the rooftop of the boat. The top of the boat is a tremendous, beautiful yard with real grass and no fire ants to bite you. We played Bocce Ball and croquet or read books as the boat sailed to the next stop.Celebrity has a 1:2 staff-to-passenger ratio, and they specialize in making you feel like a rock star. No matter where you go, there's always a staffer who somehow remembers your name, looks you in the eye with a gigantic, "Good morning, Lord Matt," or "Lord Matt, I will be folding your towels into a monkey tonight. I hope you like it," and my personal favorite, "Lord Matt, it looks like you had fun tonight. Would you like room service?"  Never, ever, ever in my life have I ordered room service because I'm too cheap, but let me say this: If you meet new friends and one happens to be a sassy Brit accompanied by her full-of-life mother, they may talk you into sitting in the Molecular Bar way past your bedtime. Should that happen, room service is the best thing sailing on the seven seas.Room service on Celebrity goes pretty much like this. 1) You pick up the phone and hit the button marked "room service."  2) You tell the friendly person on the other line what you want and they somehow decipher your 3 a.m. requests. 3) They bring you everything you want for no extra money. Seriously, plates of food arrive at your door piping hot.The best part of room service is when your butler asks, "Would you like breakfast in bed, too?" At first I thought he was joking but he wasn't at all. I blankly looked at him and said "Nnnnn huh" (which is the intoxicated Matt's version of Art's "Nnnn" but with a little more effort), and the next morning more food arrived at our door. When the attendant saw me standing before him, bracing against the door in my inside-out underwear, belly swaying back and forth with the rhythm of the waves (I did say it was a food cruise), puffy face set with blood-shot eyes, he had a choice of wincing or making me feel like a rock star ... and he chose rock star.

"Good morning, Lord Matt! Welcome to Florence. You look fresh and ready to start the day!" He bounded in with danishes, coffee, eggs, toast, salmon, bagels and everything else I ordered. Within seconds the balcony table was set and as we pulled into the port, Seth and I had breakfast and aspirin. I swear I felt awesome in seconds.Aside from the ego-building room service, Celebrity is home to several speciality restaurants that range in caloric intake.Sure, I booked this ship partly because of the clean cuisine, thinking the boat would be just like eating at home. I'd go to the gym every day and eat at the low-cal restaurants, and the only sugar I'd touch would be a sugar rub in the spa.  The fact is that I was telling myself a lie. After one healthy meal on day one, I spent the rest of the time as if I were a piranha, open-mouthed and eating anything I could tear into. Gym, shmym. I forced myself to go four times at the very end of the cruise just to say I exerted energy.  Regardless, it's good to know you can eat healthy if you're into that kind of thing.Before leaving, I read online that Celebrity's state rooms were unbelievably well-planned for space. I thought of course they would say that, but let me be the first to say that for three days that's all everyone was talking about onboard. The rooms are crazy good, offering amenities from balconies to a sitting area to a full king-size bed.

Like I said before, cruising will never be a "let's-go-submerge-ourselves-into-a-new-culture" type of thing. It's more of a "I-want-to-skirt-through-countries-and-be-pampered" type of thing. The cost for 12 days, seven countries and zero effort is about $158 per person a day. Okay now, listen up and listen well---that's less then a Motel 6 in Manhattan. It includes food and entertainment, and every day there's a new country outside your window. If you add $700 you get unlimited booze, so you unpack once and there's no credit card bill at the end of the trip. I will take another cruise for sure. It's the most affordable way to see the most.

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