In Search of Marco Polo

Venice, Italy
Posted by Omar Silingardi
January 25, 2011
With the grand St. Mark’s Basilica as a backdrop, my children raised fists full of kernels as though making an offering to the sky itself.
In Search of Marco Polo

Omar with kids, Marc and Serena, in Venice.

Marco Polo was just 17 years old when he first set off for a lifetime of adventure and exploration with his father and uncle. Polo departed his home town of Venice, Italy by ship and did not return for another 24 years.

I thought about this young explorer as I visited Venice with my own children, who were at the time 12 and 13 years old.  I did a little mental age progression as we went, trying to fit these babies, my children, into a form that could possibly be prepared for such a journey of a lifetime. Could the next five years turn one of my headphone-wearing, video game-playing, American “tweens” into a world-class explorer like Polo? It was hard to imagine.

Marco Polo was essentially what – or rather, who – brought us to Venice. My children studied the Italian explorer in school. Because I’m originally from Italy, they began to ask questions. What did I know about him, and was he as famous in Italy as he was here in the United States? Where is Venice, exactly, and why is it so well known? Their questions both amused and intrigued me, hitting as they did on a place and a piece of history of such great significance in my home country.

I began to see that a visit to Venice was in order. It wouldn’t be their first time in Italy, though; I’d taken them almost annually since they were babies. Read More

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The Most Wondrous Wall of All

Beijing, China
Posted by Emilio Mazzi
January 18, 2011
What followed was an adventure that literally immersed me in a world completely different from any to which I was accustomed.
The Most Wondrous Wall of All

The Great Wall of China dates back more than 2,000 years.

It may seem strange, but the travel experience that moved me the most happened not while I was doing my job – but while I was doing someone else’s.  Let me explain….

I arrived in Xingang, China, in late 1992, while working onboard the original Pacific Princess, the cruise ship you may remember as the original “Love Boat” from television. My position at the time was Food and Beverage Director, a role focused entirely on the galley and food preparation areas.

Our China itineraries have changed a bit, but back then we would arrive in the port of Xingang midway through a cruise and would escort passengers to Beijing for a two-day overland trip.

Hmm… here we were in one of the world’s most renowned destinations, and home to one of the most fascinating landmarks I could think of … so guess who was first in line to offer his services as an escort!   On small ships in those days the captain held sway on whether I could leave my post for this adventure and it was no easy task to convince him that my expertise was needed more in a city completely foreign to me than in the food and provision areas of the ship.  Oh, the power of persuasion! Read More

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All of the sudden, as I looked out the window onto the hillsides of Jerusalem, and listened to the sweet but sad song fill the air, it hit me that this was no ordinary vacation and Israel was not just another place to visit.
A “Homecoming” in a Country of Contrasts

My family in Jerusalem with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock in the background. From left: me, my daughter Amanda, wife Lisa and son Trevor.

I was born in England and have spent most of my adulthood in the United States.   However, if you grow up Jewish, as I have, Israel is also a part of your life, even though you may never have been there.  The religious, cultural, social and political importance of the country has been a topic often discussed and referenced whether in my religious school education, through observance of Jewish holidays and customs or just generally through cultural osmosis.  As a small example, Passover Seder and Yom Kippur services traditionally end with the participants saying “Next Year in Jerusalem,” as a hopeful wish of fulfilling the dream of visiting the capital city and as a reminder of the importance of the city and the country to the Jewish people.

Despite this, for some reason, I had never made any real effort to visit Israel, opting instead for more traditional vacations such as Europe or the Caribbean.  A recent opportunity to travel to Israel arose through a gracious invitation from close friends to celebrate the occasion of their daughter becoming a bat mitzvah in Jerusalem.  A bat mitzvah (or bar mitzvah for a male) is the most important milestone in the life of a young Jew.  The celebrant leads a service, culminating in the reading of the Torah (a parchment scroll written in Hebrew by hand that contains the Old Testament).  Upon fulfilling these tasks, the bar or bat mitzvah is considered part of the adult Jewish community and becomes responsible and accountable for their own actions.  Going to Israel for this reason, and having this service in Jerusalem, adds additional importance and sanctity to this important event. Read More

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My Grand Tour

Ancient Sites and Great Cities of the Mediterranean
Posted by Rob Roberts
January 4, 2011
Over the next few weeks, our team would explore in detail with local experts the treasures of these great cities and ancient sites, trying to see them through the eyes of our passengers.
My Grand Tour The Parthenon has attracted visitors to the Acropolis in Athens for centuries.

Sometimes our lives take the most curious of paths. I’m a farm boy from Iowa, yet in 1992 I found myself working onboard a Princess cruise ship as a master dive instructor, certifying our passengers in scuba diving. Me, teaching scuba diving in the Caribbean? How could life get any better, I thought? But it did.

I was promoted to the ship’s tour staff, and spent the next couple of years exploring parts of the world I had only dreamed of visiting. But one thing I never dreamed of was being asked to be part of the team that would take out our then new ship Grand Princess which was about to make history as the world’s biggest cruise ship at the time. And this ship with its pioneering design was going to spend its inaugural season in the Mediterranean. It was the largest ship that had ever sailed in this destination, and we were charged with working out the logistics of bringing her into these ports. No cruise line had ever done it before.

We understood the challenges before us – to create a well-organized experience that would enable the ship’s 2,600 passengers to have just as good an onshore experience as we’d been providing to those sailing aboard our smaller ships for years. It meant rediscovering history, and working closely with local experts to design an extensive range of intriguing options. So, off I went to Europe as part of the advance team. Goodbye coral reefs. Read More

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New Year’s Eve at the Edge of Time

Sydney, Australia
Posted by Steve Zadra
December 28, 2010
As lights clicked on, illuminating the bridge and the Opera House, suddenly I was looking right at the exact view I'd seen so often on TV.
New Year’s Eve at the Edge of Time The awesome New Year's Eve fireworks display Steve and his wife Tracy enjoyed in Sydney on December 31, 2002.

On the last day of 2002, I awoke in Sydney, Australia.  My wife and I had been hiking and snorkeling during our travels “Down Under,” and now we would cap off our adventures by attending one of the most famous parties in the world – the New Year’s Eve fireworks display in Sydney Harbor.  At the stroke of midnight during this iconic celebration, we would be among the earliest to ring in the new year as it gradually rolled across all 24 time zones.

Before Tracy and I got married we compared bucket lists. Being in Sydney for New Year’s Eve was on both of our lists, so we decided to make the experience part of our honeymoon.  We booked a cruise from Sydney to Auckland and spent ten days exploring the east coast of Australia prior to the voyage. We capped off our land journey in Sydney for the main event – New Year’s Eve.

We had the day to explore the city before the evening celebration, and we started with a tour of the Opera House, followed by a walk through the famed Royal Botanical Gardens. We were delighted to find such remarkable landmarks in such close proximity to Sydney Harbor, where the fireworks would go off that night. Read More

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Discovering the Hidden City of the Incas

Machu Picchu, Peru
Posted by Julie Benson
December 14, 2010
The sheer beauty of these terraced ruins took my breath away. Ringed by a crown of pointed mountain peaks and lush jungle, it was even more stunning than the photos I’d seen.
Discovering the Hidden City of the Incas Behind me is the extraordinary vista of Machu Picchu – the “lost city of the Incas,” hidden from the western world for over 400 years.

When I first laid eyes on the ancient citadel of Machu Picchu, I could only imagine what it must have been like for explorer Hiram Bingham on July 24, 1911. While trekking through a dense Peruvian jungle, he stumbled upon one of the greatest archeological finds of the 20th century. 

There before his eyes – and now before mine – was the most extraordinary sight. He had discovered what he believed to be the “lost city of the Incas,” which had been hidden from the Western world for the past 400 years. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle had grown over much of the mountaintop site, and few outsiders knew of its existence. 

By Bingham’s side was a young Peruvian boy who served as his guide to this hidden treasure. By my side was my husband — we had decided to visit Machu Picchu to celebrate our anniversary. 

The last stronghold of the mighty Incas, the largest civilization in pre-Columbian America, Machu Picchu was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 for good reason. Some call it one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

Traveling to Machu Picchu was an adventure in itself. Our first stop was Cuzco, Peru, the historic capitol of the Inca Empire and itself a UNESCO World Heritage site with its Baroque churches and palaces built over the ruins of an Inca city. Read More

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