We're Off!

Feature editor Nancy Claus and her daughter Jess Giles, off on their 12-day cruise of the Mediterranean.



We’re Off!

 

On our way to JFK airport Wednesday afternoon, we heard the ominous news that thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes were on their way. And sure enough, after an hour delay on the tarmac, we found them, taking off through the clouds with lightning crackling all around and enough turbulence to open overhead bins (and scare the bejesus out of me), But once we climbed above the storm, it was smooth soaring all though the night.

 

The sun just beginning to rise as we neared Paris, about 6 a.m. But that was at 35,000 feet. When we landed, Jess and I stepped out of the plane into a dismal scene, cold rain whipping our faces: foreign airport, foreign language, construction all around, and an already tight connection made tighter by our late departure from New York. How to even find the next terminal, let alone our gate, in less than 30 minutes?

 

There, at the bottom of the rickety metal stairs stood our knight in neon rain gear with a sign reading “Venice.” He herded all the Venice-bound passengers into a van, zipped us around baggage carts, buses, and trucks across the bustling tarmac and escorted us up through customs and the security checks. Getting ready to reclaim my carry ons, with our gate in sight, this mini van-driving suburban mom was pulled aside and patted down for weapons or God knows what other contraband by a matronly guard (and I mean that in the prison matron sense). With minutes to spare, we made our connection.

 

  

(Our Home for the next 12 days)

 

The Emerald Princess is the newest jewel in the Princess crown, an enormous resort of a ship that can accommodate more than 3,000 passengers. There’s a spa, gym, nine-hole putting course, golf simulator, five pools, jogging track, and court sports—all to help keep off the pounds while at sea. 

 

 

Which is a good idea, since you can really eat here 24/7. There are three main dining rooms (one with traditional seatings, two with anytime seating), a Caribbean café, and two specialty restaurants, Sabatini’s for Italian and the Crown Grill for steaks and chops. Need a snack? There’s an outdoor hamburger and hot dog grill, pizzeria, and ice cream bar along with an extensive buffet and bistro, plus round-the-clock room service.

 

 

Once we take a nap, we’ll be off to explore the ship and then off to explore Venice.

 

Day 1: Venice

 

The book I’m reading on this trip (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert—that I highly recommend, by the way) describes Venice as “a wonderful city in which to die a slow and alcoholic death.” I chalk that up to the fact that she visited in a rainy November, not a spectacular, sunny May. Just sitting on our balcony overlooking the city, listening to the bells from the scores of churches in Venice tolling, Jess and I were entranced.

 

On the agenda tonight: a sunset gondola ride. Each sleek black gondola seats four passengers, but since we were just the two of us, we were lucky enough to ride alone with the musicians who were serenading the whole flotilla that night. We were handed a bottle of Prosecco as we climbed aboard and settled onto the tasseled velvet cushions.

 

 

It doesn’t get much better than this, I thought, sipping sparkly wine with my oldest daughter as we glide through small back canals crossed by scores of stone bridges with a handsome Italian singing Volare and Santa Lucia and other classics to us.

 

 

 

After our ride, we amble over to St. Marks Square, past booths selling Venetian masks, Murano glass trinkets, and men’s shorts and aprons with anatomically correct (and some anatomically enhanced) depictions of The David. Sacrilege! Back in the ally ways there were lots of hawkers selling knock-of handbags. One I noticed looked exactly like a “Gucci” I bought off the street in Manhattan a few years ago—only difference was the label: now “Prada.”

 

  

(St. Mark’s Basilica)  

 

(St. Mark’s Square at night)

 

Day 2: Southern Italy

 

we visited the glass factory on the island of Murano, the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and had another gondola ride, this time near the Grand Canal for a completely different view of the city.

 

(Murano with the Dolomites in the background)

 

(Artisans at work in a glass factory on Murano Island, famous for its glass since the 13th century when glass factories were moved there to protect Venice from fires.)

 

 

(Church of San Giorgio Maggiore designed by Andrea Palladio. The neoclassical façade is red and white marble; the simple interior boasts two of the painter Tintoretto’s greatest works: "The Last Supper" and "The Gathering of the Manna.")

 

Day 3: At Sea

 

And on the third day, we rested. So well that I slept right through my 9 am yoga class. When I finally roused Jess at the crack of noon, we had a late breakfast and then retreated to The Sanctuary, an adults-only retreat on the 16th deck, where you can bask in sun or sea breezes in the shade or even indulge in a massage in one of the cabanas. It’s worth the $10 surcharge if you’re not into the pool party/bar with fruity umbrella garnished drinks scene, which I am not. Downstairs is the Lotus Spa, where we both had excellent massages (mine with hot stones, Jess’s with a ginger and lime salt scrub). Afterwards, Jess put in an hour on the elliptical machine (bless her heart) overlooking the sea. I put in an hour writing this blog.

 

(One of five pools on the ship.)

 

(Private cabana in The Sanctuary for massages by the sea)

 

(The Thermal Suite in the Lotus Spa has heated stone loungers, a tropical rain forest shower, aromatic room, mint and steam saunas, and a mint fog shower.)

 

While I’m happily typing away, at 5 o’clock, like clockwork, yummy treats arrive unbidden. Today’s offering: chocolate covered strawberries. (I really should be joining Jess on the elliptical machines.) The meals here have been excellent; last night we dined at the Crown Grill, one of the ship’s specialty restaurants which requires reservations and a surcharge. Perfectly grilled steaks, smothered in mushrooms, and with all the steak-house fixin’s: creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus.

 

Tonight is formal night and we are dining at the Chef’s Table with executive chef Michele Cozzoli. We’ll have champagne and hors d’oeuvres right in the galley during the madness of rush hour, then a multi-course tasting menu in the dining room. (Maybe I shouldn’t have had those strawberries!)

 

 

(It’s easier to work out with a view like this)


 

The Escape Claus(e) is an occasional blog by Westchester Magazine Features editor and travel writer Nancy Claus. Join her for the next few weeks as she boards the brand spanking new Emerald Princess on a 12-day tour of the Mediterranean where she will be exploring the ruins of Ephesus and Pompeii, cruising the Amalfi coast, bargain hunting in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, riding a gondola at sunset in Venice, and experiencing some of the  world’s greatest art masterpieces in Rome, Florence, and Athens.