The Crown Princess, Caesars Palace Super Spa, Bellagio, Mirage, Four Seasons

 The Bold & Beautiful Crown Princess

 My husband Richard and I did a  two-day look-see on the bold and beautiful 113,000 ton, 3,000-passengerCrown Princess--the newest jewel of the  growing fleet (15) of Princess Cruises. I loved it. The 40-year-old cruise line sailed outside the reef with customer-friendly innovations and design changes that make cruising on the ship a pure delight. One of  my favorite adds is The Sanctuary--an adult retreat high up on the deck 17 where pax are pampered by stewards with chill towels, Evian atomizers, food and fare. You can even book a massage in a private cabana, take sunset Yoga classes, plotz on plush chaises (some built for two) and zone out with MP3 Players and piped in music. And what's great in the contemporary era of nickle and diming, use of the Sanctuary is free at least for now. A Princess spokesperson said they may have to charge a fee in the future to control the crowds of passengers who flock there for peace and quiet.  While she may be super sized, the designers did an outstanding job hiding her girth by creating dozens of cozy nooks and crannies where you can stop for a cocktail, snack or reading time. Other  touches I like about the Crown include the fitness center which sports ample treadmills and my favorite EFX ellipticals along with all the necessities to keep you in shape. There are effective exercise classes (body conditioning, circuit training, aerovics, Yoga, Pilates, Kick Boxing (with fees for some) as well as an outdoor jogging track. The adjacent Asian style Lotus Spa provides a serene environment for salubrious treatments described as "ancient therapies and rituals from the Far East."  The extensive spa menu covers every body part. My only complaint is the tiny locker room where they seemed to forgot to include benches to sit on while doffing clothing, and the plastic chairs in the stream room emit an unpleasant scent.

Up on the 122,000 square foot Deck: Lots of space, long inviting pools perfect  for lap swiming, lots of chaises, space and activities to enjoy (or not). Princess is proud of its "Movies Under the Stars" theaters with Led screens and 69,000 watt sound system. Problem is if you happen to go for a swim in the pool where the screen hangs high up the sound can be ear piercing. At night popcorn is served and guests are provided with blankets for cool nights.

Dine Around:  Like most contemporary ships, the Crown not only sports several dining venues where you can eat when you want and with whom you'd like, each of the three maining dining rooms offer "anytime" dining so no longer do you have to wait to eat if you're hungry early, or dine before your appetite is fready.  Alternative restaurants have added charges like the Crown Grill steakhouse ($25 pp)Vines and Sabatini's ($20 each). But it's well worth it as these eateries dish out the best fare. The International Cafe stays open around the clock to fuel hungry seafarers, a pizza and ice cream bar is also available as well as 24-hour room service.
And speaking of food, the company also offers a Junior Chef at Sea program where tots learn to cook.  Not only can youngsters master culinary arts they can look good at the same time with the Teen Makeover program sponsored by the spa for boys and girls.

Show Biz: Princess has always been known for it's production shows and the Crown continues the trend with a several new offerings in the dynamite theater.  Sometimes the talent is lacking, but still entertaining.

Assorted Extras: Wi Fi offered throughout the ship for computer fanatics. Head spinning diversions available all day from morning power walks to bingo and beyond. Some innovative options include scrapbooking@sea; spelling bees, big screen games and get this Tie the Knot at Sea. The latter includes lots of bells and whistles (champagne, live music, candlelight dinner, photos, canvas print, wedding cake,video and more for a mere $1,800 plus $450 registration and license fee. 

Plusses: Lots of staterooms with balconies which now boast upscaled furnishings. Supersized casino. Helpful crew especially cabin and dining room staff. Lots of bars (but pricey drinks in most).

Itinerary:  Brooklyn to Caribbean  (9-day voyages); San Juan to Caribbean 7-day).

Rating: Based on the category of cruising I give the Crown five stars *****. To find out more go to the website for more info: www.princess.com.

 

 

Ah the new ship Pride of Hawaii, while it doesn't pass the marvy muster of  any Silversea or Crystal Cruises vessel, it is an ideal way to explore the magical  Hawaiian Islands. I only spent two days on board. It was ample time to get a feel for the product, which is basically good and perfect for seafarers who can't afford the aforementioned luxury lines, which only do Hawaii occasionall anyway. This one does it year around along with her NCL mates, Pride of Aloha and Pride of America.   Photos of a mini suite  and the ship in LA were shot by my good friend and ace photographer/writer Harry Basch. Thank you Harry.

The Pride of Hawaii is the sister ship of t Norwegian Jewel She sports an especially lavish spa--that costs $15 to use daily or $70 a week, but it's well worth it, although this savvy seafarer still feels it's nickel and diming and it should be free. Anyhow the mega-shipr will be cruising the Hawaiian Islands on a steady basis and if you haven't been, jump on board, it's a swell way to initiate yourself to life in paradise. She joins thePride ofAloha and Pride of America on the same itineraries,however this one's a real gem.  The crew proved exceptional and the food far superior to the chow I sampled on her two other Norwegian Cruise Lines sailing mates. I never got  to the dining room since we ate in two alternative dining venues, and both were great. Went to the production show and while typical cruise fare, it was well staged and entertaining.  There's lots to do on board like throwing hoops on the basketball court, jogging, working out in the fully-stocked fitness center, swimming in two big pools--there's even a water slide into one of the pools. The company calls its product, "Free style Cruising" which allows passengers more personal choices than most ships. You can dine when and where you want (within posted hours of operation of course). This is most unusual for large ships. NCL was actually thefirst cruise company to offer this civilized cruise style.  I love the on board spaciousnes and the tasteful decor replicating  Hawaii. My cabin is called a "mini suite" but is more like a large stateroom. It has a private balcony, vanity, hair dryer, coffee maker, large closet and plenty of drawers and a bathroom with separate tub and shower.  My cabin stewardess Amy is a delight. It's a shame I'm only on for two nights. I'll just have to book one of the seven dayers around the islands. If only I could afford to book a Garden Villa. This 4,390 square foot, multi-room luxury accommodation has such creature comforts as a hot tub, private sun bathing area, state of the art Bose entertainment system, espresso/cappuccino maker, three bedrooms, many TVs,  and to make it all run smoothly, a butler. Sound good? Get ready to shell out about $13,000 a person for a week of nautical bliss. Hey what are you saving it for? Aloha!              

.On Board The Queen Mary--  a three night voyage on the bodacious Queen Mary2, the largest ship in the world, proved great, except for embarkation which, due to a computer glitch (according to a company rep, anyway) took over an hour. Once we got in our stateroom 11106 on deck 11 and unpacked things picked up.  I was a little disappointed that the cabin wasn't larger anddidn't have a bathtub or a walk-in closet. But hey it was only for three nights and there is so much happening onboard we were hardly inside. Our cabindid have a private balcony, which is a must for me.  Herewith a few tidy tidbits about the QM2:

Great things about her: 

 1. The stylish old world decor, artwork and ambiance. There is actually a large wall hanging withcarved images of American traditions like baseball and hidden among the lot is Homer Simpson, no kidding. 

2.  The Todd English Restaurant.  This is what ship's now call "alternative dining venues" for you which you pay extra. In this case it's $30 per person.  And it's well worth it. The food was quite good. English, for the uninitiated is a famous chef who owns 17 restaurants spread aroundthe country in Boston, New York, Las Vegas and Seattle.

3.  The Canyon Ranch Spa--brought to the ship by the folks who run the popular health resorts in Tucson and the Berkshires. All 20,000 square feet of it with it's large therapy pool, Jacuzzi, various stylized saunas (Finnish, inhalation) and steam and of course salubrious treatments like facials, exotic and traditional massages, body scrubs,  hand, foot and hair care and gt this, they even offer teeth whitening.  Bad news is for the largest cruise ship in the world the steam is  not onlyone of the smallest in the world it's coed and seatsabout 4 to 6 thin people at a time, and there is a $29 charge to use the facility unless you're getting a treatment. Talk about nickle and diming. The fitness center is well equipped but again they actually charge you for head phones, this is a first.

Plusses: Great Crew.  8000 volume library with 8,000; kennel for furry pets that comes with fleece blankets, toys, beds, logo coats and pooper scoopers, healthy gourmet cookies baked daily.  The daily luncheon buffet is a several cuts above other mega ships. Of the1007 staterooms on board  86 percent provide outside views and 71 percent sport balconies. There's a large number of cozy and attractive bars and lounges in which to enjoy a drink and companionship. Fun casino. of the gourmet dining rooms, which I hear are far superior to the Brittania where the rest of us ate during this voyage. Synopsis:  She has a wonderful classic look that brings to mind the golden age of cruising. Her dining rooms are gorgeous. Showsare good to excellent. If you don't mind walking miles up and down long hallways, or up 13 decks (there are elevators of course but for the sake of your bod it's bestto hoof it), and 2000 fellow passengers, then you'll enjoy this ship.  Interested? Call a travel agent, call 800-7CUNARD, or go online to www.cunard.com.

Las Vegas Baby: Stopping at Caesars Palace 

Just returned from three fabulous nights at  Caesars Palace (spent much of the day relaxing in the fantastic pool above). There's also an ultra private European-style pool where gals can go topless, drinks are poured, special towels provided and more at what  I call it the "Whale" pool because high rollers sunbathe there with their "nieces".  Debbie Munch, vice president of media relations, put us up in a humongus room in the 949 room Augustus Tower. Our suite-like accommodation proved sublime with a large marble bathroom with tub and shower, two sinks and all the necessities. The bedroom area comes with a king size bed, desk, dining area, flat screen TV, floor to ceiling windows with an awesome view and plenty of space to move around. Caesars offers three tiers of VIP lounges depending on how much you're good for at the slots and tables. ou gamble the more you drinks, snacks, continental breakfasts and a nice lounging.  The highlight was a leisurely dinner at Guy Savoy, which I've asked my foodie better half,  to write the review which appears below, savor the moment......Guy Savoy photos by Brian Leatart

The world of dining at Guy Savoy according to Richard J. Pietschmann, writer extrordinaire and equally extraordinary spouse....

 

“Look,” said super star French chef Guy Savoy, “the Eiffel Tower.” He pointed out the window, that secret smile of the French barely moving his lips, and looked. We looked. Sure enough, the famous Parisian landmark rose nearby.

 Except we weren't’t in his flagship Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris, the one with three Michelin stars, or in any of his other four Paris restaurants. Hey, we weren’t even in Paris. It was Las Vegas, in Caesars Palace. That was the scaled down version of the Eiffel at the Paris Hotel and Casino across the Strip. It is a jape that the playful, bearded chef no doubt will make often at his brand new Restaurant Guy Savoy Las Vegas, which opened in mid-May as his first endeavor outside Paris. Why Las Vegas when offers have poured in from hopeful partners around theworld? It is said, for instance, that the deals dangled include tantalizing ones proffered by the famously free spending gastronomes known to populate Tokyo’s tonier neighborhoods.

 

Well, the burgeoning Vegas haute cuisine dining scene is certainly one reason. A healthy percentage of the world’s top chefs have succumbed to the high-roller charms of the city in the last few years. The whales who patronize the off-limits-to-commoners gambling regions at Caesars will be unfazed when confronted with the prices staring back at them from the RestaurantGuy Savoy Las Vegas menu—a $290 per person Menu Prestige, $80 Blue Fin tuna tartare, $140 roasted veal chop (although that’s for two people), and $22 desserts.

 

But the deal maker turned out to be Savoy’s suave son, Franck, and Franck’s remarkably gracious wife, Laura. When Caesars Palace came calling, the couple tipped the odds in its favor when they told papa they would love to work in Las Vegas. Alors, dad said, Vegas it is. Or something like that, if Franck and Laura would agree to run the front of the house.

One afternoon before dining there I was caught in shorts and t-shirt gawking in wonder at the menu outside and looking like the geekiest tourist through the vertical glass slits in the heavy doors by a lovely young woman obviously arriving for work. She paused, smiled, and asked if I had any questions. “Uh, no,” I brilliantly replied. She smiled again, and went in. Later, of course, it turned out that she was Laura Savoy. Worse,she remembered me.

 

Now that I’ve told you all about Guy Savoy without mentioning the food or the décor, let me say it’s amazing on all counts. It’s the kind of place that has a bread pairing for courses (the chestnut bread is remarkable, but so are the others), surprises before and between courses, and a way with recipes that makes the final result straightforward in taste though complex in execution. Remarkably, this is not fussy food, though it is inventive and interesting. Nothing is as it seems, yet taste is everything. We had the tuna tartare and “Peas All Around” for starters, Savoy’s signature Crispy Sea Bass and Escalope of Wild Salmon for the mains.

 

It is one of the tragedies of my gustatory career that I passed on the cheese trolley, but I had heard that Savoy loved desserts—the Menu Prestige that night included two, upping the usual count of courses to 11. We shared a chocolate Ganache that transformed the standard dessert into something entirely new, and then sat back to wait for the dessert trolley, stacked with choices. Let me simply say that you have never tasted prunes like this.

 

This is a grand restaurant, the décor up to the cuisine in every way. There are just 75 chairs in various rooms, views of the Strip, soaring ceilings, a wall of wine bottles, a champagne lounge with a new-age fireplace, and an outdoor patio for cigars and cognac. This last is where Robin Leachof “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” renown had installed himself and where the chef himself was enjoying a Vegas-big stogie with friends. And of course, a view of the Eiffel Tower.

Well it happened, Caesars has joined the spa generation. As of October guests can unwind and be pampered at Qua Baths & Spa. Look for Roman baths, an Arcatic ice room, crystal body art, and a greatly expanded fitness center. The swank , 50,000 square foot oasis will offer what Caesars calls "Social Spa-ing" a unique concept which will define once I've sampled the waters.  There's also a Men's Only Zone , thre pools, a waterfall, frain showers and more. So keep coming back for updates.

 

Guess the Bellagio's Spa will finally have some competition. However the hotel's 65,000 square foot sanctuary does provide unadulaterated bliss with some ofa the best treatments in this town or anywhere. I did a head to toe beginning with an Ashiatsu massage where the therapist hangs from the ceiling and pummels you with her well-manicured feet, absolute heaven! Also did a Watsu--a water based therapy where you are massage, stretched and led around a warm pool by an able bodied therapist until you melt into a relaxed pulp. From there they led me to a facialist who peformed miracles on my desert dry skin. The grand finale was one of the best manicure/pedicures I've ever had.  The facility itself is a knock out and the staff are all gems. They also offer group pamper parties perfect for brides and their attendants; couples packages--ideal for newlyweds, old marrieds or just plain lovers.  Prices are steep but well worth the splurge. Call: 702-693-8080 to book your treatments in advance as they sell out fast there. Tellthem Patti sent you.

We also went over tot he Mirage to sample Stack, a new steakhouse that is tres chic and trendy.  It gets its name because they stack stuff like the breads and such. The unique interior design of  sculpted dark wood room feels like you're dining inside a chocolate layer cake. Had a Kobe beef burger and it was divin--tasty, cooked to perfection and accompanied by yummy fries. Richard did a porterhousethat melted in the mouth. We shared a plate of spinach, mmmmm, and Caesar salad. Washed down with wines by the glass Chardonnay to start, Pinot to finish.   It's pricey butreally worth the splurge (not as expensive as Guy Savoy however). 

Another night we dined al fresco at the Four Seasons Verandahrestaurant. It was a balmy night and we enjoyed a light breeze as we sipped fine wines and ate branzino (moi) and seabass (Richard). We started with carpaccios and salads and ended with mini ice cream bars dipped in luscious chocolate.

TRAVELERS TIPS  Gourmet Station  creates assorted menus such as Parisian, Fusion, Cajun, Tuscan to ship direct to you special coolera.You simply heat and serve (directions are included). They even throw in a candle, coffee, napkins and little surprises. You can have food delivered to home, office, hotel or anywhere in the cuntry just by goig online to www.gourmetstation.com or calling 888/944.9747.  I ordered Fusion cuisine for tonight and will let you know how it turned out. Well the meal was yummy. It arrived late afternoon and all we had to do was put the entrees (poached salmon and short ribs) in a preheated 400 degree oven for about a half hour.  While we waited we enjoyed the spicy Thai soups. The short ribs turned out the best. They meat was soft and tender and fell off the bone. The salmon was fine, but I wouldn't order it again. The Asian flat bread they included came out crispy and tasty and the cheese cake was superb, They even included coffee  which was dark and rich like we like it.   It was certainly an elegant experience and I'll definitely do it again. In I'm thinking about sending it out as gifts to friends and relatives. Who wouldn't want a pre-prepared meal sent to their home.

 

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