Archive for April 2011

Remembering Vinnie Ressa

April 20, 2011

The two year anniversary of Vinnie Ressa’s death just passed; doesn’t really seem like it was that long ago.  But I’m 60 years old, so I guess time does not pay much attention to whether you’re watching or not.  My Wife Susie and I were travelling when Vinnie died, so I missed the Wake and Funeral.  When I got home, there were several messages on my machine and emails to break the news.  I was sorry to have missed attending all the services.  Not only did I feel I should have been there, but I heard later that many people came who I would have liked to have seen.  Sometimes unhappy circumstances make for some really nice reconnecting.  I’m sure that was the case with Vinnie’s services.  He touched a lot of people.

 I particularly would have liked to see Vinnie’s family who, over the course of many years, always made me feel like family, too.  I love his Mom and Dad; two wonderful people.  I was asked to join them for Easter many years ago, and it was my first Italian Holiday meal. My folks had split up and being an only child, I was often alone on Holidays.  I was very grateful for the invitation and looking forward to the meal. A huge platter of homemade raviolis was brought out, and I ate like a caged animal. I noticed everyone else taking small portions, and I exclaimed “You call yourselves Italian? You’re hardly eating anything.” The Ressa family just smiled at me and winked at each other.  Being sharp as a marble, I did not catch on.  But soon enough, I realized an Italian Easter dinner has about a thousand courses.  The food just kept coming out; a turkey, a ham, more pasta, an antipasto.  Being a team player and a dyed-in-the-wool gourmand, I partook in every course, but the first course had pretty much done me in. I’ll never forget that meal, and how much I felt as if I was with my family.

Vinnie and I got to know each other in Weber, before I went away to Prep school. But we did not get friendly until I returned to public school at Schreiber, midway through junior year.  We hung in the same crowd all through Schreiber and remained friendly throughout and after college. But it was after college, during the five years I lived in Port before moving to Manhattan, Vinnie and I really became good friends.

I had returned from Florida to run my Father’s wine business because he had had heart problems.  Because of this, I was financially a little ahead of most of my friends and the first to have my own apartment. Seeing as most of my buddies were still living with their folks, my pad turned into the second coming of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.  There were always people coming at all hours, girls and guys, and Vinnie was a regular.  I used to cook a lot in those days, always cooking in quantity intending to fill the freezer. But little of the food ever got frozen.  I fed whoever came by at suppertime.  Hanging out at my place was the usual prelude to going out at night.  Vinnie used to call before he came, although he didn’t have to.   I remember one night I’d just gotten in from work in the City and the phone rang.  I answered, and it was Vinnie.

“Jud, where are you?” Vince inquired.  This was before the cell phone era, he had called my home telephone and I had answered.

“Vince, you called my house and I picked up.” I replied. “Where would you suppose I might be?”

“Oh yeah, right” Vinnie answered and then clammed up. It was not uncommon for Vinnie to call me and after the perfunctory greetings, say nothing.  I realize that conversation is not necessary if you’re comfortable with a friend’s company in person, but I’ve never understood extended silences on the telephone.  But Vinnie seemed to have no problems with it, so I brought it to a close.

“Vince, come on over if you want. I made a beef stew.” And I hung up.

Another evening I’d just gotten home and Vinnie’s huge old red car pulled up. He came up and I was just ready to eat so I made another plate.  As we’re eating, Vinnie showed me a paperback he was reading.  I still remember the name, a book called Shardik.  This book was around five inches thick and Vinnie was on around page 10.

“Jud, I’m reading this book and it is really pretty cool. It has all these animals in it; bears, eagles, lions, you name it. But there is one animal I’ve never heard of. It’s called a Leo-pard.” Vinnie said.

He pronounced Leo like a man’s first name, emphasis on the first syllable.  I knew without looking at the book that the animal in question was a leopard.

“Vinnie, that animal is not, perchance, a leopard, is it? I asked, knowing the answer.

You could see the realization dawn on Vinnie’s face followed by near panic.  All he needed to say was “of course, how silly of me.” It would have died then and there. But he chose a different tact.

“No, no, I would have known that. It’s spelled differently” Vince insisted.

I grabbed the book off the table, opened it to his bookmark, and there was leopard.

“There’s your goddamn LEO-pard, Vinnie” I said, my finger on the word.

“Jud, you‘ve got to promise not to tell anyone about this! Please!’ Vinnie asked beseechingly.

I told him of course, I wouldn’t tell anyone. And naturally, within 48 hours, everyone we knew had heard the Leo-pard story. My relationship with Vinnie had always been all about pulling each other chains, and this seemed a golden opportunity.  Not only did I tell the rest of our crew, but for the next almost thirty years, Vinnie received leopard photographs and illustrations from all over the world.  In my travels, I kept an eye out for leopard pictures and sent them to Vince. Photographs, pen and ink drawings, charcoal sketches, you name it. He got leopard mailings from Istanbul, Russia, Helsinki, French Polynesia, Dubrovnik etc. Never any message, just the pictures. I thought it was funny and thought he did, too.  I just learned a couple years ago that his Wife Suzie had asked what was with the leopard pictures, and Vinnie claimed to have no idea. He was ashamed of the story, and knowing I had caused him angst makes me feel bad.  I had spoken with him dozens of times over all those years, and he never told me. I wish he had. I would have stopped.

Vinnie was diligent in creating an easygoing, quick-to-laugh aura, but I knew him very well and do not believe that was the real Vinnie.  I think he was often less than happy in his own skin.  I saw the introspective side from time to time. Vinnie was a worrier, and very concerned with how others perceived him.  He was friendly with the hippies, the greasers, the jocks, the intellectuals and artists.  His persona changed according to his audience. Few people try to be everything to everybody, and fewer still succeed at that endeavor.  I think at times Vinnie, himself, wondered who he really was. To people like me, real friends, all Vinnie ever had to be was himself.  He was my friend because I liked him just how he was, not because I viewed him as some work in progress.

I miss Vinnie a great deal. After I’d moved to Manhattan, we existed in different worlds. We’d see each other at the reunions and things, and would always talk at length. In hindsight, I wish I had done more to keep current. But when someone isn’t in your daily life, he is not as relevant as when you see him every day. Not less important, just less relevant. I thought Vinnie was always going to be there. I was wrong and I miss my friend. I hope he’s at peace.

 

Advertisements

Pursing

April 16, 2011

Pursing is an activity that owes its existence to kids with creative, if warped inclinations and too much time on their hands.  The basic necessities required to go pursing are a ladies handbag, a fishing pole with line, a dimly lit suburban intersection and no interest in really doing anything remotely constructive.  The handbag, ideally, should be white.  Pursing hours commence with dusk, and continue through full darkness, so the handbag must be easily visible.  A black handbag would constitute a poor selection.  The intersection must have some traffic, but not too much. You could not effectively purse in Manhattan as there is way too much traffic and no place to hide.  Conversely, rural Kansas would be less than optimal as you might not see a car. A four-way intersection with at least two stop signs is very good.  Four stop signs are perfect.  The fishing line is tied to the handle of the purse, which is then placed in the center of the intersection.  Letting out line as you go, you find a comfortable hiding place about 40-50 yards away, and sit back to see what takes the bait.  Much like fishing, some patience is required.  Not everyone takes the bait.  Some people see an object in a place totally out of context, and proceed to not really see it.  You get the idea though, right?  Sounds like a fun pastime for grade-school kids and maybe immature junior high students.  Well, we were high school seniors. We drove to the selected site, stopping off to pick up beer on the way.  A mature lot were we.

It was a balmy Saturday August night in 1969.  My buddies Donny, Al, Doug, Joe and Vince had declared it a boy’s night out.  All of us were off to college in September, working at summer jobs; landscaping and the like.  We arranged to meet at Doug’s folk’s house, and discuss the evening’s nefarious plans.  I picked Al up, stopped for beer and went to Doug’s house.  The others were already there.  We decided on an intersection, and prepared to set out.  Al went over to greet Doug’s Grandma, Nana.  She was sitting in her usual rocking chair as Al approached.

“Ah, this weather’s awful isn’t it?  The rain’s been coming down in buckets!” Nana griped. The weather had, in fact, been beautiful, but Al went with the flow.

“Yeah, hope it keeps up” Al replied, nodding sagely.

“What the hell you mean ‘Hope it keeps up’ you silly bastard,” Nana frowned, turning in her rocker to look up at Al.

“If it keeps up” Al replied, “it won’t come down.”

“Smart alecks, the whole bunch of you. Wisenheimers” Nana said, her eyes narrowing.

“See you later, Nana” Al said waving, as we went out the door.  We had emptied Nana’s handbag and brought it to use as that evening’s “bait.”

We arrived at the chosen intersection minutes later, and set up shop.  The handbag was attached to the line on the pole, and placed in the intersection.  We retreated about forty yards and found a fine lair, blocked with shrubs and well-concealed, but affording a clear line of vision to the purse. And close enough to hear the dialogue between our potential targets. We all opened beers and settled in.

The first few cars that passed the handbag showed no interest. Maybe they smelled a trap. But it would not be long; people are innately curious.  Minutes later, a car came to the stop sign.  I recognized the car, and knew the guy driving it; a would-be tough guy greaseball named Ricky, out for a spin with his girlfriend.

“Hey, check that out!’ Ricky said to his babe. “Pick it up, maybe there’s cash in there.”

Ricky drove slowly up to the bag and his girl got out to retrieve the purse.  She had almost touched it when we gave the pole a slight pull. The bag moved several inches, and the girl recoiled in horror.

“Ricky, it moves!” she yelped, jumping back into the car.

“Oh for Christ sakes, Diane, how could it move?” Ricky sneered.

“Maybe some animal is in there, I don’t know. But it moved” Diane said, beginning to pout.

“There might be money in that purse; we have to look” Ricky insisted.

“Does money move?” Diane whined.

“Not by itself, no” Ricky conceded. “I’ll take care of this.”

Ricky swung the car in a circle through the intersection, coming back around with the purse on the driver’s side now.  Still in motion, he opened his door and leaned out for a flashy, moving rodeo grab. As his hand brushed the bag, we pulled hard on the pole and the bag skittered several feet. Ricky almost fell out of the car and jammed on the brakes.

“Holy Christ!” Ricky screamed. He slammed his door and the car roared off.

We were rolling around in the bushes, laughing, tapping each others beer cans in a toast.  But the fun was just starting.

A few minutes later, a middle-aged man came along on foot, walking a beautiful Yellow Lab.  He went straight up to the bag and picked it up.  The Lab was far more interested in the myriad scents on the nearby trees and paid the purse no mind.  The man whistled to the dog and set off up the street, the purse in hand, the pooch at his side.

“Whoa, you let the guy pick it up!” I said.

“No problem, we’ll let him run with the ball a little. Watch this!” said Donny, holding the pole.

As the man walked up the street humming, Donny gave the pole a savage jerk. The purse flew out of the guy’s hand , he emitted a high-pitched scream that sounded like a little girl and broke into a full-tilt boogie. The dog broke into a sprint as well, probably frightened more by his owner’s shriek than the purse. They disappeared up the street.

We were beside ourselves; what do you do for an encore? But the frivolity was short-lived. No sooner had we retrieved the purse, repositioned it and got into our cover than a cop car came by.  The Officer got out and went straight over to the purse, picking it up.  He discovered the fishing line and began to follow it, coming straight towards us.  We scattered, all except Joe.  Joe, the guy with 1600 SATs and a scholarship offer from MIT, climbed a tree directly above the fishing pole.  The policeman followed the line to the pole, looked around, and then looked above him. There was Joe up in the tree.

“Hey, what the hell are you doing up there?” the Cop yelled.

“Staaaaaarrrrrgazing” Joe replied.

“Get your ass down here now” the Cop ordered. Joe complied.

We could not hear what was said, but apparently Joe convinced the Cop he was sorry. His tone of voice and body language fit the bill. After warning Joe there would be trouble if he came back and found Joe there, the Cop returned to his car and left. We didn’t.

By this time, there had been a lot of beer consumed, and although we set up the purse again, less and less attention was being paid to the handbag.  We were just shooting the breeze and cracking each other up, when the line on the fishing pole began to whine loudly.  The line was being pulled out so fast we could not touch it.  While we were not watching, someone had picked up the purse, gotten back into his car and driven off;  guy in a little Datsun. I used my lighter to sever the line.

“That’s my Grandmother’s purse!” Doug yelled. “I have to get that back.”

Doug and I ran to my Firebird and we set off in hot pursuit.  The guy in the Datsun had been driving slowly along, but when I flashed my brights and drove up on his ass, he panicked. I can only imagine what was going through his mind. What had he stumbled upon?  A drug deal gone bad? Whatever his thoughts, what ensued was a chase scene reminiscent of Steve McQueen in ‘Bullitt’, minus San Francisco’s hills. The guy seemed to realize his little Datsun was not going to lose my Firebird, and he drove directly to the Police Station, jumped out and ran inside carrying the handbag.  He was just starting to give his story to the Cop at the desk when Doug and I charged in.  I shoved the guy hard, Doug took the purse, and we headed for the door.

“Stop right there. Now!” the Cop ordered.  We did.

We explained our story and the Cop was not amused. He had asked the man if he wanted to press charges and it came to light we were high school seniors in town.

“You must know my son, Wally” the man said. “He’s in your class.”

When he told us his last name, we did indeed know Wally. The man declined to press charges and Doug and I apologized.  Handshakes all around, the man left and the Cop read us the riot act for a few minutes and we were told we could go.

Outside, Doug said “I think I’m putting pursing on pause.”

“Yeah, we’ll give it a little break” I agreed. 

Nana got her handbag back, none the wiser for its absence.

Income-Generating Ideas for an Uncertain Market

April 7, 2011

I have not had a paycheck in two and a half years and am worth a lot more than I was when I was laid off.  Think about that.  No income for that time, but I have made a goodly sum of money and have not touched my principal.  It has only grown.  Granted, the stock market has smiled down on us.  That has been a huge help, but I have no confidence this will continue.   I cut corners on the little things in order to do the expensive things which, to me, make life worth living.  The following suggestions are good income-producers for any investor, but are primarily intended for those of us retired and living on a fixed-income.

Here are some ideas that have helped me.

ALPS Alerian MLP ETF – (AMLP) – Master Limited Partnerships own and operate pipelines to transport oil, natural gas and other commodities from one place to another.  The producer of the commodity pays the pipeline a fixed rate for access to the pipeline transport, and the fees do not fluctuate with the prices of the resource being moved.  MLP’s are set up to pay almost all their income to shareholders, much like a REIT, and as such, are subject to different taxation than ordinary investments.  If you own a single MLP, you must file a K-1 form rather than the usual 1099 income form.  AMLP seeks to get around this by creating a fund of MLPs, owning the top 10-20 MLP’s.  The yield is over 6%.

Utilities Select Sector SPDR (XLU) – This ETF gives you access to the top 30 or so Utilities in the country, companies like Con Edison. XLU is yielding 3.96% with an annual expense ratio of 0.20.  This is a fine investment for anyone long-term, but perfect for folks like us. All of the individual holdings are worth an investment on their own, and the yield may be higher, but you get them all here.  I own several of the holdings separately as well, including NuStar Energy (NS) yielding 6.30% , Xcel Energy (XEL) yielding 4.20% and Consolidated Edison (ED) yielding 4.80%.

Fidelity High Income Floating Rate Fund (FFRHX) –   A conservative play on bank loans with low costs and fine past performance.   Current yield is 3.45%.  When interest rates rise, bank loans get a boost.  This is a good play in the current environment.

Tobacco – Regardless of your personal feelings about tobacco, the industry continues to grow, particularly abroad.  Tobacco use among teenagers is increasing, as is the use of smokeless tobacco.  I own all four of the major tobacco companies and have for many years.  The tobacco lobby in Washington is among the strongest of any industry.  Altria (MO), the old Philip Morris, yields 5.90%.  Philip Morris International (PM) yields 3.90%.  Reynolds American (RAI) yields 5.90%.  Lorillard (LO) yields 5.50%.  Look at it this way; the customers are addicts, and they are not going away any more than crack addicts  abandon their dealers.  Tobacco use may make you a social pariah these days, and the product may kill you, but tobacco stocks can provide income to live.

Vanguard REIT Index (VGSIX) – You read every day about the horrendous state of the real estate industry.  Would it surprise you to know this fund is up 6.50% for 2011?  How about 24.20% for 2010 and 11.49 % for the last ten years?  Good property is always going to be a good investment, particularly Commercial real estate in big cities.  This fund yields 3.16% today with an expense ratio of 0.26%.  My favorite holding in the fund is Vornado Realty Trust (VNO) which I have owned since 1999.  In those eleven years, my return on Vornado is 127%.

GoldThere is no income here, but a great inflation hedge.  In times of uncertainty, with paper currencies losing credibility, people flock to hard assets.  I have only held gold for under two years, but have a 31% return.  I think if the market tanks, gold can reach $2000.00 an ounce.  I hold the SPDR Gold ETF (GLD), each share worth 1/10 of an ounce of gold.  The I Shares Gold Trust (IAU) gives you essentially the same thing, and the shares are much less expensive, probably worth about 1/100 of an ounce of gold.  Both hold strictly physical gold bullion.  I would only want 5% of my portfolio in gold and silver.  If you really think things are bleak, you could go to 10%.  I would not.  I like income.

Silver – Same deal as gold, but going up faster.  Silver, unlike gold, actually has industrial and commercial uses.  I have two silver holdings, both of which have been great performers. IShares Silver Trust (SLV) has returned 106% in around a year.  Silver Wheaton Corp. (SLW) has returned 163% in the same general time period.

Water I own two water utilities and have done well with both.  Middlesex Water (MSEX) is a water utility that has served PA, DE and NJ forever and yields 3.90%.  The need for water and thus water utilities is not going away anytime soon.  Connecticut Water Service (CTWS) has served that area since 1956 and yields 3.50%.

Money Market Funds – These instruments are yielding such a pittance that I only hold cash in them that I need to pay bills.  I keep the bulk of my cash in the Vanguard Short Term Investment Grade Corporate Bond Fund (VFSTX).  Should interest rates rise, you will feel some tremors here, but nothing like intermediate and long-term bonds.  VFSTX yields 1.78% with an expense ratio of 0.24%.  For people with $50,000.00 to invest, buy the Admiral Shares (VFSUX) yielding 1.89% with an expense ratio of 0.12%.  I’m willing to take on some risk in order to have my cash earn something.  VFSUX, for all practical purposes, is my money market fund.

T. Rowe Price Emerging Markets Bond Fund (PREMX) –   This fund yields 6.78% with an expense ratio of 0.97%.  I have owned this for almost ten years and have made 19%, between capital appreciation and reinvested dividends.  If emerging markets frighten you, don’t buy this one.

Mind you, all of these suggestions except FFRHX, PREMX, GLD, IAU and SLV are considered equities.  But they are very different from owning, for example, a large-cap growth fund.  Would you agree?

The Seabourn Legend

April 6, 2011

Embarkation

It does not take long to realize you are in for something very special when you board the Seabourn Legend.  We just completed our fourth voyage on the Legend and I have no question there will be more.  You walk up the gangway and enter the Reception area, where you are promptly handed a chilled flute of champagne. An attentive crew member has already insisted on carrying all your bags as he escorts you into the King Olaf Lounge for registration. You have two free hands and tell the young man that you’re perfectly capable of helping carry your own things. But he will not hear of it, so we proceed to the Lounge, your hands swinging free, the young crew member laden down like a camel. At registration, as in everything on Seabourn, there is no wait. Within minutes of entering the lounge, you are registered and your picture IDs and room card keys handed over to you.  The young man carrying your bags suggests you have a bite to eat before he brings you to your suite, so you hit the table with finger sandwiches, cookies, pastries and all kinds of beverages. Champagne, soft drinks, and iced tea are there on the table, while a strolling waiter serves rum punches from a tray.  When you are ready, and there is never any hurry, the young man brings you to your suite.

Suites

A short stroll down an ornate circular staircase brings you to your suite, an elegantly appointed oasis that you figure you will have no problems calling home. All Legend suites are ocean view, some with “balconies.” While the balcony suites allow you to open the windows and enjoy the sea breezes, the balconies are really more like French windows. There are no chairs, nor room to put one. Our suite has a large picture window, refrigerator, flat screen TV, CD and DVD players, walk in closet, and a marble appointed bathroom.  The suites have all the bells and whistles one could reasonably hope for.  The refrigerator is stocked with the beer, soft drinks, bottled water and mixers you had requested on your pre-cruise order form. Each suite is entitled to two liters of the alcohol of your choice and they will be dropped off in your suite the first evening. Of course, there is no charge for any of this, as it is all included in your fare.  Above the refrigerator is a glass cabinet with beautiful crystal glasses; champagne flutes, wine glasses, rocks glasses, etc.  It is almost a shame to pour a Diet Coke into this beautiful crystal, but I got over it.  Soon, there is a gentle tapping at the door, then shortly after, another.  The first is the arrival of your check-in luggage, faster than I’ve ever had it happen anywhere.  The second knock is your Cabin Stewardess who has come to introduce herself. She has brought fresh canapés to go with the iced champagne sitting in a bucket in your sitting room, along with a bowl of fresh fruit. She also has brought a tray of toiletries for you to select your soaps and shampoos. The soaps are L’Occitane, the other toiletries Moulton & Brown of London; very nice stuff.  Get a good look at your cabin girl, because chances are you will not see her in your cabin again. These girls are masters at seeing to every possible need you could possibly have and keeping the suite turned down, made up and spotless without ever actually being spotted in the suite. To say they are not intrusive is an understatement.  They are like ghosts; very competent ghosts. We take a few minutes to unpack and hang up our clothing and it is off to the top deck Sky Bar to meet our fellow passengers as we prepare to sail out of St. Thomas harbor.

Seabourn Passengers

The typical Seabourn passenger is successful, affluent, well-educated and well-travelled. Most of the people you speak with are returning guests like ourselves, and usually we know at least a few of the guests from previous cruises. Seabourn passengers are very loyal to the brand, so if you travel with Seabourn often enough, there are familiar faces and sometimes, old friends from prior voyages.  But this time, so far, we have not seen anyone we know.  But just as we are preparing to sail, a couple from Ohio comes out on deck who we had gotten to know and like very much on another cruise line several years ago.  We see each other, our jaws drop and a friendship rekindled.  That’s how it works on the smaller ships. It is a pretty small fraternity.  As we pull out to sea, my Wife Susie and I run down to the well-stocked library to pick out some books to read and head back to our suite for a short nap before showering for Dinner.

The Cuisine

Conde Nast Traveler’s latest Reader’s Poll named Seabourn Legend’s cuisine the best at sea. All the Seabourn vessels were rated at or near the top, but the Legend the very best.  Seabourn’s menu and recipes are created by famed Chef Charlie Palmer, and dining is a big reason we are aboard the Legend for the fourth time.  The food and service are sensational, and the servings modest enough that it is possible to try every course and leave the Dining Room content but not bloated.  While the Dining Room is consistently wonderful, try the reservations-required specialty Restaurant “2” at least once on your trip.  The theme changes every night. The night we were able to get a reservation, it was a French Bistro theme, and the meal was possibly the finest I have had at sea in 89 cruises.  A tip: put yourself on the waiting list for”2” every night.  The place is very small and difficult to get in. Most of the passengers seem to like the Veranda Restaurant for breakfast and lunch. You can eat inside or outside and enjoy the sea air. My Wife and I like to go to the Dining Room for both meals. At breakfast it is virtually empty, which suits me fine as I like to have my coffee and look at the paper in peace.  I was a morning person most of my life, but since retiring, I like to ease into the day.  The solitude of the Dining Room in the mornings accommodates this. For lunch, it is nice to get out of the sun for a few minutes and have a real meal. I do not like to eat hamburgers and other things I have at home when cruising, particularly on the Legend.  There is a culinary treat waiting around every corner; try things you don’t get at home.  One story occurs to me that exemplifies the Seabourn approach. One evening, the Chef came out of the Kitchen to go from table to table asking if everything was satisfactory.  My Wife Sue mentioned that the chocolate chip cookies that had been put out that day at Afternoon Tea were the best she had ever had.  The Chef did not ask our names or suite number, but every evening for the rest of the voyage, when we returned to our suite in the evening, there was a plate of chocolate chip cookies and two tall glasses of milk. That is how Seabourn does things.

Our Cruise

This voyage is a Caribbean sailing out of St. Thomas, calling on St. John, St. Barth’s, St. Maarten, Antigua, Jost Van Dyke, St. Kitts and Prickly Pear Island, which is off Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands, before returning to St. Thomas. We are beach and sun people, and Caribbean cruises have become our most frequent voyages due to the laid-back nature of the itinerary.  We have done more Caribbean cruises than I can count in our 89 cruises, and thus have seen just about every island most ships call upon.  This removes all the urgency about rushing off the ship in every port, since we’ve seen all the islands many times.  On European cruises, the pace was very different, as there were so many things we wanted to see ashore. But we have cruised extensively, and been all over the world, and the Caribbean seems to fit our current mindset. On this cruise, we did not even get off the ship in St. Maarten and St. John. We find lying on deck and taking dips in the pool while most of the other passengers are ashore to be very relaxing. And the Seabourn staff onboard takes very good care of you. As I stretch out on my chaise lounge, one waiter comes by with a refill of my favorite sunning libation, an Arnold Palmer (iced tea and lemonade).  Another comes by to spritz your baking body with a mist of cold spring water while offering a choice of sunscreens.  The Spa sends out a girl for complimentary Massage Moments on deck. The Water Sports Marina at the stern is opened up for sailing, kayaking and a swim in the ocean.  I awaken from a nap to find another waiter handing me a goblet of fabulous raspberry sorbet topped with a dash of champagne.  It is a rugged existence, but sometimes you have to take one for the team.

The Beach Barbecue

On all Seabourn cruises, there is a unique event scheduled which varies according to where in the World you happen to be.  On Mediterranean cruises, for instance, there is a private classical music concert among the ancient Roman ruins at Ephesus. On Caribbean sailings like ours, there is the Beach Barbecue featuring Caviar in the Surf held on Prickly Pear Island.  The Maitre’D and the restaurant staff, wearing their dress whites, go waist deep in the surf to serve caviar with all the trimmings and champagne from what appears to be a surfboard, or the body of a Sunfish.  The barbecue is not your usual beach fare, either. Served off porcelain Dinner plates with linen napkins and real silverware, you are treated to steaks, barbecued ribs, lobster tails, a whole sucking pig and a potpourri of salads, fruits and desserts.  Strolling waiters serve trays of beers, cocktails of all descriptions and soft drinks.  There is a banana boat and water skiing, as well as an outdoor massage salon and live music. It is quite a party and Prickly Pear has a lovely white sand beach for swimming.

Essential Facts

The Yachts of Seabourn is the Carnival Corporation’s entry in the ultra-luxury cruise category.  Before you think Carnival Cruise lines, understand it is the same parent company but a very different product. Carnival Corp. owns Seabourn, Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Carnival Cruises and Costa, as well as a host of lesser-known, fast-growing cruise lines all over the world.  As such, Carnival Corporation transports almost half of the world’s recreational cruise passengers. The Seabourn Legend and her two small sister ships, the Seabourn Pride and Seabourn Spirit sail all over the World, carrying 210 passengers and 200 crew. Seabourn has recently introduced three stunning new ships which carry 460 passengers and around 400 crew.  The Seabourn Odyssey and Sojourn are already in service, while the brand new Quest is due to make her maiden voyage in May, 2011.  If there is virtually any place on Earth you want to sail,  Seabourn can take you there in the lap of luxury. Well, maybe not anywhere.  I think Yemen, Libya and Somalia may have been given a “time out.” But take a moment, and do your research, as this is a must do travel experience. We think Seabourn is as good as cruising gets.