Sunday, December 5, 2010

Back from Celebrity 'Constellation'

Back home after two weeks on board the beautiful cruise ship Celebrity Constellation and, with the suitcases now unpacked, I wanted to start posting a synopsis of the trip and acknowledging some of the people that made it such a terrific experience. This 14-day, 3,400-nautical-mile cruise made nine ports of call, including Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Kralendijk, Bonaire; Oranjestad, Aruba(seen here is Constellation from near the port area); Willemstad, Curacao; Castries, St. Lucia; Bridgetown, Barbados; St. George's, Grenada; St. John's, Antigua; and Phillipsburg, Dutch St. Maarten (to see synopsis of all these ports of call, go to Cruising the Southern Caribbean on the Celebrity 'Constellation').

I served as one of the “Beyond the Podium” speakers on board the vessel, where I gave presentations on “Blockade Running During the Civil War,” “The History of St. Maarten,” “The ABCs of the ABC Islands,” “Exploring the Bermuda Triangle,” and “Ghosthunting Florida.” The other speaker, Chicago lawyer Peter LaSorsa, gave great talks on both baseball and forensics.

Thanks to the great staff and crew who made this cruise possible, including cruise staff Rich Clesen, Mike Gibbons, and Mike Siebenthal, and all the terrific passengers who have taken the time to chat, drink, and otherwise interact with me and my wife Diane! Thanks also to the many passengers who took the time to come to my talks and chat or have a drink with me after them; good turnout and attendee interaction are what make a program like this a success and we had plenty of that.

People we especially enjoyed spending time with included our tablemates Helmut and Gaby Proske and Frank and Mel (seen here with us in a picture sent to me by Gaby), our drinking buddies Karel and Koen, cruise commentator Richard Wagner, art auctioneer Tommy Varzos, comedian Jason Chase, our waiters Carlos and Nixon (the picture below by Gaby is of Diane harassing them), and the sommelier chicks at Cellar Masters and the main dining room!

Very special thanks are also due to Charles and Teresa Baltzell from the Acupuncture center! I injured my foot a few days before we headed out for the cruise and was in a lot of pain my first day on stage and their treatments made the rest of the experience much more enjoyable for me, both because I could stand comfortably and was able to easily walk around our various ports of call. They are also both terrific people, with a great philosophy of life and a generous nature, and Diane and I were grateful for the time we were able to spend with them. We certainly hope to cross paths with them again one day in Texas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Varhola's Non-Fiction Books

A number of people on the most recent cruise on which I spoke, Celebrity Constellation, asked me about the various books I have written, chatted with me about them, etc. Following are the various non-fiction titles I have either authored or co-authored. For anyone who might be interested, most or all of these are available through online sites like Signed copies of some are also available through the retail site run by my own Skirmisher Publishing LLC and I have provided hotlinks back to them.

Everyday Life During the Civil War
Fire & Ice: The Korean War, 1950-53
Ghosthunting Maryland
Ghosthunting Virginia
Life in Civil War America
Shipwrecks & Lost Treasures: Great Lakes
Texas Confidential: Sex, Scandal, Murder & Mayhem in the Lone Star State
Armchair Reader: Civil War
D-Day: The Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944 (co-author)
Writer’s Complete Fantasy Reference (co-author)

Fort Lauderdale International Airport has Free Internet!

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA -- Always pleased to discover an airport that has a good free Internet connection! About half of them -- the best half -- seem to and Fort Lauderdale International Airport falls into that category.

Availability of free wi-fi is not usually the kind of thing that can be taken into consideration when making travel plans but, whenever travelers can, they should be sure to give positive or negative feedback about it! This is a good way to acknowledge the good airports that do offer this and might eventually start inducing some of the others to follow suit.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Varhola Cruise History

While sitting in our stateroom aboard our most recent cruise, on Celebrity Constellation, my wife Diane and I were trying to remember which cruises we had taken over the last 12 years and where they went. Maybe needless to say, it took us a little while to reconstruct this! She has a pretty good memory, however, and I think we did a pretty good job. Some of the entries might be missing ports or even inadvertently had incorrect ones added that we are remembering from other cruises, and not all sea days are reflected, but we are confident that it is pretty accurate overall …

August 1998: Royal Caribbean, Majesty of the Seas, seven day, western Caribbean (Fort Lauderdale/Miami; Labadie, Haiti; Kingston or Montego Bay, Jamaica; Georgetown, Grand Cayman; Cozumel, Mexico; private island, Bahamas; Fort Lauderdale/Miami). This was pretty typical of a "starter cruise" in terms of length, line, and itinerary.

January 2002: Royal Caribbean, Radiance of the Seas, seven day, southern Caribbean (San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; St. John’s, Antigua; Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; Bridgetown, Barbados; Castries, St. Lucia; San Juan, Puerto Rico).

December 2002: Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), Norway, seven day, eastern Caribbean Miami, Florida; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Phillipsburg, St. Maarten; maybe other ports … private island, Bahamas; Miami, Florida). My parents, Mike and Merrilea Varhola, accompanied us on this cruise. Launched as SS France in 1962, Norway was reminiscent of a classic ocean liner and, of all the ships I have been on, was my favorite. Sadly, she was badly damaged by a boiler explosion in 2003 and was eventually dismantled at an Indian scrapyard in 2008.

December 2004-January 2005: NCL, Norwegian Wind, 13 day, Hawaii & Kiribati (Oahu; Hilo or Kona Hawaii/Big Island; two ports in Maui; Kuai; two sea days directly south; Fanning Island, Kiribati; two sea days directly north; Hilo or Kona Hawaii/Big Island; Oahu).

September-October 2006: NCL, Norwegian Jewel, 13 day, Aegean, Adriatic, and eastern Mediterranean (Athens, Greece; Corfu, Greece; Olympia, Greece; Crete, Greece; Santorini, Greece; sea day; Alexandria, Egypt two days; Mykonos, Greece; sea day; Kuzadasi, Turkey; Istanbul, Turkey. Best itinerary ever! We did an excursion in every port except Corfu, including an overnight trip to Cairo while we were in Egypt. We also spent one night in Athens before the cruise and three nights in Istanbul at the end of it.

January 2007: Princess, Regal Princess, 10 day, Panama Canal (Acapulco, Mexico, to San Juan, Puerto Rico). This was the first cruise on which I served as the ship’s lecturer. This image is from one of the man-made lakes that are part of the Panama Canal and which our ship crossed during the cruise.

May 2007: Royal Caribbean, Empress of the Seas, seven day, Bermuda (Norfolk, Virginia, roundtrip).

c. October 2007: Azamara, Journey, seven day Bermuda, (roundtrip from Cape Liberty, New Jersey).

c. November 2007: Azamara, Journey, seven day, Bermuda (roundtrip from Cape Liberty, New Jersey). This one I did on my own after the cruise line asked me to stay on board and lecture for an additional week and Diane had to return to work! I spent a lot of the five days in Bermuda exploring the interior of the island, the highlight of which was a nine-mile hike along with historic Rail Trail (part of which, near one of the historic lighthouses toward the east end of the island, appears in this photo).

January 2008: Princess, Coral Princess, 10 day (?), Panama Canal (roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale). My details on this one are a little fuzzy because I took my daughter, Hayley, with me instead of my wife, who serves as my institutional memory. We took three excursions, including a horseback ride in the Costa Rican rainforest, a canoe trip to a native village in Panama, and a bus trip to a number of historic sites in Kingston, Jamaica (an image from the first of those excursions, of Hayley on her Costa Rican forest stallion, appears here).

September 2008: NCL, Norwegian Pearl (?), six day, New England & Canada (roundtrip from New York City/Manhattan). This one was different than the norm in that it took us north instead of south! We did not take any excursions but did independently explore all our ports of call, to include visits to a number of museums and at least one fort.

October-November 2008: Celebrity, Constellation, 11 day, southern Caribbean (Cape Liberty, New Jersey, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida).

November 20-December 4, 2010: Celebrity, Constellation, 14 day, southern Caribbean. This was our longest cruise to date and included three ports of call we had not yet visited, including Bonaire, Grenada, and Curacao (from which this picture was taken). No excursions but we are wishing we had taken one to a beach at some point early in the cruise.