Friday, February 9, 2007

A tantalizing taste from Holland America

This week I got a tantalizing taste (literally) of a Holland America Line cruise to the southern Caribbean -- which would have been perfect except that the ship, the ms Noordam, never left the dock in freezing cold New York City. But it was planned that way. Along with some other travel writers from the area, I was invited to sample some of the ship's cuisine during the midday layover between cruises; when I arrived, at 10:30 a.m., passengers were disembarking from the cruise that just ended, and when I (reluctantly) left the ship at 2:30 p.m., a new group of passengers were arriving for the 10-day cruise that would leave later that afternoon.

Much of the four hours I was on the ship were devoted to eating. First we were treated to a demonstration in the ship's Culinary Arts Center, where two visiting chefs showed us how to whip up Juniper Breeze cocktails and delightful appetizers like Asian-spiced tuna ceviche and black tea-smoked scallops with espresso jelly. (Similar demonstrations are available on this and other Holland America cruises -- they've even built special kitchens for that purpose.)

We then adjourned for lunch in the ship's Pinnacle Grill, where we enjoyed the appetizers named above, as well as spinach salads, rack of lamb, and rich desserts.

And yes, it is tough being a travel writer -- at least having to leave a cruise ship right before it sets sail for warm Caribbean climes.

But it did remind me just how easy it is for many Americans to find a cruise port near home these days. For example, if you live in or near New York, as I do, you don't have to fly to Miami or some other southern port to embark on a Caribbean cruise -- you can just hop on the ms Noordam, which sails from here to the southern or eastern Caribbean from October till April.

The U.S. now offers at least 20 cruise-ship ports from the East Coast to the West and all along its southern perimeter, from Boston, Bayonne, and Baltimore to Gulfport, Mobile, New Orleans, Galveston, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, and points between.

When you start planning your next cruise, keep that in mind -- your nearest embarkation port may be only a short drive from home. And despite the cost of gas and parking, that may be a much cheaper and more hassle-free way of getting to your ship than flying.

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