.An excerpt from my novel 'Cruise Quarters'

An excerpt from my novel 'Cruise Quarters'

When people sat down at Sarah Seldon’s blackjack game, they always wanted to talk about The Book. “Should I double down? Should I hit? Dealer, I know you’re a gambler; you could let me win if you wanted to. What does the book say?” She had never read this book, this mythical Bible for gamblers. The truth is there are 2256 books, each teaching its own foolproof winning system. But Sarah had been in the casino business long enough to think with a gambler’s mind. Gamblers knew they could follow all the rules of basic strategy, utilize money management and still lose if they weren’t dealt the right cards. The allure and curse of gambling was that there were no sure things. In the end it all came down to luck; gamblers prayed that Lady Luck would show up and that she would stick around for awhile.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

THE TOP TEN REASONS TO WORK ON A CRUISE SHIP



Before I wrote Cruise Quarters I wondered would people find my story interesting, after all it was just a story about two average people traveling around the world on a very big ship. But since the publication I have received so many e-mails from readers who obviously love to cruise or in some cases are just looking for love and what most of them say is, “I wish that I could do something like you did - just run away to sea.” So in this article I will give you my top ten reasons for working on a cruise ship.

Just before I decided to join cruise ships I was working as a systems analyst in Boston. I was commuting on Route 128 America’s technology highway.
Through rain, fog and snow, constantly in fear of crashing my compact into the rear of a tractor trailer, every day felt like a suicide mission. The rest of the time I was stuck in an office with the same twenty people, claustrophobia slowly settling in. I dated a lot, some of the candidates hailed from the finest institutions our country has to offer. I was dating more but enjoying it less, dates seemed more like job interviews.

But I always felt like I was missing out on something, the Germans have a word for it torschlusskpanik, literally the feeling that you are missing the boat. Then a friend who was working on a cruise ship came through town and while she was joining a ship in New Zealand, I had a four hour drive to Albany on my itinerary. Four months later I had cajoled and pleaded my way into a job on the Star Princess. My first port was beautiful Saint Martin where the sea glistened a deep shade of aquamarine. I always say that was the day my life went from black and white to Technicolor.

RAY AND I ENJOYING A DAY OFF IN THE CARRIBEAN
The point of my digression is this I was in my thirties when I changed my life but it is never too late to go for it. On the ships I worked as a blackjack dealer but there are many other jobs on a cruise ship. Are you a nurse or a doctor? All ships need one of those. Do you work with children? There is always a need for someone to coordinate children’s activities, are you good with accounting? The purser’s staff keeps track of passenger’s accounts and shipboard expenditures. Retail experiences on your resume? All cruise ships have shops. There are so many opportunities to work on a cruise ship and with a little research you just might find your niche.

  1. You will completely change your life.  Living on a cruise ship is like moving to a new country where the captain is the king. You will make new friends, travel to new places and most of all your life will be filled with new adventures. During my five years on ships I made friendships that still last to this day and I visited every continent on the globe except Antarctica.

  1. You live on a waterfront mansion and the best part is - it moves. Wherever you live on a ship you are only a few minutes away from a gorgeous ocean view. I never got tired of sitting on deck and watching the world go by. Sail-away from Venice is one of the most beautiful sights in the world and I had a front row seat every ten days.

  1. Every day the ship goes to beautiful ports because, ships don’t travel to ugly places. This means every day you get to wake up in a beautiful European city or a tropical island.

  1. Not only do you visit beautiful places, you get to come back every seven to ten days. If you spend a season in the Mediterranean your cruise might start in Barcelona and go to Venice with lots of great ports in between. Then it starts in Venice and returns to Barcelona, by the end of the season you feel like you know these ports and start feeling more like a local than a tourist.

  1. You don’t have to pay any rent; your room and board are taken care of by the cruise lines. As a dealer we had a great gig on the ships we were allowed to eat at any of the buffets, so every day I feasted. Imagine not having to write that rent check every month.

  1. There is no commute, that was the icing on the cake for me. For five years I would wake up each day and decide do I want to take the elevator to work or walk up the stairs. Now who wouldn’t like a commute like that?

  1. It is a great place to save money for all the reasons I have mentioned, free room and board. And I didn’t have to buy a car which meant no car payments. I know you are thinking that sight-seeing can be expensive but if you work on a ship you can always volunteer to help the tour guide by joining the tours and keeping an eye on the passengers. I left ships with the money to start a new life in Palm Springs.

  1. Another perk of ship life is meeting people from all over the world. The crew of a cruise ship is like a mini United Nations with crew members from across the globe all working together to meet the passengers every need. In my casino alone we had staff from Australia, Scotland, America and Canada, and since that time many Eastern Europeans have joined the casino staffs on many ships.

  1. Crew life is fun, although many of the crew work very hard, imagine being a waiter and you are expected to serve three meals, two buffets and a tea-time. So to let off a little steam there is a crew bar where all the crew meets for camaraderie and fun. We have so many crew activities; we danced under the stars, had a pizza party for Venice sail-away and played trivia. There was also crew talent show which just gave the Brits an excuse to dress in drag.

  1. You just might fall in love. For me that was the highlight of my time at sea. I left with a very special souvenir my husband Ray. He was from Scotland and I would have never met him if I hadn’t run away to sea. We met when we both worked on the Star Princess, my lucky ship, and were married four months later. In fact, I know so many couples that met on cruise ships and many ended up married. The majority I am happy to report are very happy.  Though there are no guarantees it just might happen to you and there is no better way to change your life than to fall in love.

So for all of you that have that feeling of torschlusskpanik, I just want you to know that you can change your life. Now hiring practices vary but there are big cruise lines like Carnival, to small lines like the exclusive Silver Seas. There are European lines, there are ships all over the world and in the last ten years river cruises like AMA have become popular, but I am sure that with a little work you can find out if cruise ships are a fit for you.

                                                                    Happy sails to you!

Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"She would be happy to Skype with any book club reading Cruise Quarters. Contact her at ray92262@yahoo.com.or read more blog posts at carabertoia.blogspot.com

Below is the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

GET A GLIMPSE BELOW DECKS OF A LUXURY YACHT ON BRAVO



Ever since I was very young I always wanted to run away to sea. I was born in Charleston, S.C. and love the ocean. I did finally join a cruise ship as a croupier and everywhere we sailed to, there were yachts. At the Cannes Film festival there were gorgeous yachts filled with beautiful Europeans. In the Caribbean the yachts moored in secluded coves too small for cruise ships. I was always curious what would it be like to be part of the crew on a private yacht.

Now I have my answer. Bravo has recently debuted a reality show about the crew on a private yacht. In the pilot the show sailed out of Saint Martin which holds a special place in my heart because my future husband and I had our first date there. It is a beautiful island divided into a Dutch side filled with duty free shops and a French side filled with fantastic restaurants.  We both worked on a cruise ship and the best part of a cruise ship is that you have much more time off than the crew of a private yacht. They work with fifteen other crew members we worked with over six hundred.

THE CREW OF BELOW DECKS ABOVE DECKS
In the show the crew is on call twenty four hours a day.  The officers are trained professionals, but most of the cast is a group of attractive people doing essentially service and maintenance jobs; you won’t need your college degree here. But since the pay is all in tips and room and board is included what a great place to save up money to pay off those loans. The cost of the cruise can run up to $100,000 a week, and the average tip is between 10 to 15%v of the cost, so tips for each crew member averages around $1,000 a week. That being said some of the guests are very difficult, the chef has to change his menu on a guest’s whim, and the stewards might have to not only unpack but iron all the passengers’ clothes. You would think they would go on vacation to relax but to type ‘A’ personalities making demands and finding fault are part of a good vacation. Since most people bring their friends it is also a way to try to impress your mates with your importance. It really does show how hard the work is and that you have to have nerves of steel, to handle out of line comments such as ‘how great your tits are’.

Now since this is a reality show, the focus is definitely on bad behavior. I often wonder do these people have parents? On their one day off a week it is all about getting pissed and hooking up. It was like that on a cruise ship we even had a crew bar but we had some time off everyday, so when we got to port our major focus was sight seeing - and then getting pissed. As for shipboard romances, I am all for them I met my husband when we both worked on a cruise ship, and with no commute to work, or bills to pay for rent or food, it was a wonderful experience, a vacation from the real world. We computed everything in ships time, a week at sea is like a month on land for a new romance.

The crew has their issues, Sam hates Adrienne her boss because she is very demanding. CJ is upset because the captain keeps telling him to put his shirt back on. I can tell you if Sam was on a cruise ship she would have been booted of before the week was over for insolence. On a cruise ship an officer is to be obeyed.

This show will be interesting for anyone who loves to cruise. The setting is beautiful and there are facts to be gleaned between the cat-fights. The crew works hard and parties hard, but the work is the main focus for any crew. I just wish the show was more focused on the mechanics of the cruise world but alas the show is on Bravo not the Discovery Channel. I left cruise ships with wonderful memories and a Scottish husband, and thought not everyone can be that lucky I am sure the crew of Below Decks will cherish this experience for the rest of their lives.

Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"She would be happy to Skype with any book club reading Cruise Quarters. Contact her at ray92262@yahoo.com.

Below is the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships


Thursday, May 9, 2013

THERE IS SO MUCH CHARM TO BE FOUND AT THE ROSE BOWL FLEA MARKET IN PASADENA, CA



When most people think about the Rose Bowl they think about the national college football championship game played on New Years Day but for many folks in Southern California the Rose Bowl is the home of one of the best flea markets in the country. I had heard about this flea market for years but somehow I never got the chance to go, but last Sunday I made the trek. The Rose Bowl flea market is held on the second Sunday of every month in Pasadena, Ca. a beautiful idyllic town filled with beautifully landscaped lawns, storybook houses and a charming old fashioned main street, filled with shops and restaurants. Just north of Los Angeles it is a short 90 minute drive from my hone in Palm Springs.

We left at about noon and when we got to Foothill Boulevard the surprisingly residential neighborhood where the stadium is, the police were turning all the cars back, "Too crowded," they said. We tried driving to another entrance, same story, the problem was the narrow roads couldn't handle all the traffic congestion. "Let's just go back to the other entrance, it seemed closer and maybe we can find parking on the street" said my husband. To make a long story short when we got back the cops were gone and we drove right up to the stadium and parked on the grass. So if the same thing happens to you just go grab a cup of coffee, let the traffic thin out and go back a little later.

The flea market is vast; vendor booths completely surround the stadium. There is a new section filled with all the typical things you will find at your local flea market but what the main Rose Bowl area delivers on is antiques, vintage clothes and Hollywood memorabilia. Whether it is clothes, furniture, memorabilia or jewelry the Rose Bowl took me back to a time when most things were made in America - and made to last. Everywhere I turned I found products form my teenage years, before I had a credit card, a time where I saved up for every purchase and every thing I bought was special.

My husband collects record albums, and we were able to snag a rare Beatles Magical Mystery Tour with the 24 page booklet inside intact. In fact, I have never seen so many record albums for sale. Thank god for the albums, searching for bargains kept Ray well occupied. He keeps telling me that vinyl is making a comeback, and I am beginning to believe him. The record vendors told us that most of their customers are in their twenties.

My husband's father was a watchmaker and jeweler and on a trip to Scotland Ray had taken one of his mothers old charm bracelet and filled it with charms as a surprise for me. I loved that bracelet and was devastated when it was stolen from my house with the rest of my jewelry. I loved the way the charms clinked together when I raised my arms. When we passed by a booth packed with jewelry a charm bracelet encircled with hearts caught my eye. I picked it up glanced quickly at the charms and declared "I have to have this." Well after a bit of haggling, because we all know that is one of the pleasures of a flea market, the bracelet was mine.


Walking away, purchase on arm I began to exam the charms; there was a cable car from San Francisco that actually turned on its platform. We've been there I said to Ray, next I found a donkey charm from Big Bear Lake, that is right up the road from us a great place to escape the summer heat. Ironically a charm of a bear and her cub were from Yellowstone and a cow skull from Jackson Hole. "Ray, look charms from Wyoming". We had driven there a few years ago. "We have been to so many of the same places. It's like someone collected all of these memories and gave them to us."

But the charm that touched us the most, was a shamrock designed in the shape of a stop sign that read, "I'll never stop loving you." For the next few hours all we could wonder about was who had given her this charm. Had he ever stopped loving her, had they been married, how long had it taken her to collect all these charms? Had she bought them in a jewelry store, were they presents from loved ones, or had she collected them over a lifetime? How had this bracelet ended up at the flea market? Had it been stolen or pawned or just sold by a relative that had no use for an old fashioned sterling silver charm bracelet?

We stayed at the flea market until it closed at four, our backpack stuffed with albums and nick knacks. When we returned home we shined up the bracelet. Every time I wear it I still wonder about the previous owner, I wish she knew how much it means to me. But that is the great gift of buying something old; it comes with a story and memories. Now it is my turn to add to the story.

Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"She would be happy to Skype with any book club reading Cruise Quarters. Contact her at ray92262@yahoo.com.

Below is the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A DAY AT THE BEACH IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, THAT MEANS SWIMSUIT SEASON IS HERE AGAIN


What is normal these days? They sell a mixture that contains 15% pink slime and they call it lean ground beef, they put high fructose corn syrup in canned tomato soup, and when you fly on a plane you have to pay to check your baggage. These things happen and gradually we just accept them. And now in clothing sizes who the hell knows what the new Normal is?

I was dragging my husband with me shopping the other day. If he doesn’t like something I wear he lets me know it, so I decided he should go with me while I picked an outfit out, to bypass the insult. We were wandering around the department store where I was trying to find some new t-shirts. Well that might seem easy enough but I wanted a shirt that you couldn’t see through, that you could wash and that came past my belly button so that the top of my ass wouldn’t show every time I bent down.

My sweet husband picked up a t-shirt and held it up for me, “I like this it must be about your size.”

Bless his heart he had picked up a small. “A small are you kidding, have you looked at that shirt.” He held it up and I would have sworn it wouldn’t fit a young child but I looked around and we were in the women’s department.

“Well how about this one,” he reached for a medium.

“A medium, who do you think I am, Paris Hilton?’

“What do you mean - you aren’t a medium?”

“A medium, I hate to break it to you but for the last five years I have been an extra large, not a large but an extra large, and god forbid I ever throw it in the dryer.” I grabbed an extra large shirt and held it up to me.

I could see his confusion. I am 5”5’ and weigh 135 pounds on a good day, 137 on a bad one. A weight that shouldn’t be considered extra large. A weight that wasn’t considered extra large ten years ago. A weight that is a little below normal on the height and weight charts. A weight that I worked damn hard to get to in the last two years. I have lost weight but the funny thing is the more weight I lose the bigger my clothing size. I know there is something funny going on.

I am convinced that all the clothing manufacturers got together and said. Hey, how can we make the American woman feel even worse about herself? We can resize all her clothes. We will base all our measurements on a thirteen year old girl. And since everything is manufactured abroad the manufacturers can send anything over here slap any old size on it and save on materials! It doesn’t mean that the clothes will be cheaper. I keep hoping that since everything is made in China this is only a translation problem and XL really means Extra Lucky.
The perfect fit, a Grecian Slender Suit!
                                                            

But if you won't tell anyone I will let you in on a little secret. I don't dread buying a bathing suit. Would you like to know how you will never again have to stand under those unforgiving fluorescent lights in a retail store fitting room? One of the happiest days of my year is when The Lands' End swimsuit catalog arrives. For the last ten years I have ordered all my bathing suits through the internet. I choose a size larger than my own a 12 instead of a 10, and god bless, besides a great selection they even have long waisted swimsuits.

No, I don't have any affiliation with the company, and I am not getting a free swimsuit. But if they happen upon this blog and they are feeling generous I would love a Slender Suit, holds you in at all the right places, in the Sweetheart or Grecian style in that pretty rose color I saw in the catalog.

In the meantime, we the American consumer will grit our teeth and swallow a Zanax every time we have to go to the mall. It just means that if we find anything that fits we will wear it until the seams dissolve. I don't think it is as bad in Britain when my husband and I go to Scotland to visit his family I always go to Frazer's to  buy clothes because I seem to wear an average size there. As for gifts I never give anyone clothes anymore, I don’t want my friends to unwrap something labeled XL and get insulted.

Yes, our destruction is complete; the sexy, curvy American woman has been replaced by a botoxed, bleached, anorexic model. So I give up and surrender and wait for the day when I become an extra, extra large or extra, extra lucky.

Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"

Below is the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships



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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

THE PALM SPRINGS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2013


I love travel, movies and I am lucky because my hometown is the home of the Palm Springs International Film Festival. So for the last few years I have taken advantage of this by having a staycation here and I spend the week binging out on movies and feasting at our great restaurants. Our film festival was started 24 years ago by Sonny Bono the mayor at that time. Over the years it has grown into a star studded event screening 180 movies from 68 countries in 13 days drawing Hollywood and international celebrities.

For many years I skipped the pre-gala star gazing in front of the Convention Center but after last year when Brad Pitt and George Clooney both showed up I decided that maybe I should really get into the spirit. So on a sunny January day we arrived six hours early to save space for on the grass directly in front of where the limos would pull up. I thought I was early but many of the fans arrived at four in the morning ready to wait for that special autograph. The guys in front of me were pros, they had notebooks filled with star pictures.
A great photo my cousin Bobby took of Bradley Cooper

My cousin got took this shot of Ben Affleck signing a picture of - Ben Afleck. Little did we know that his film Argo would win the Academy Award for Best Picture. All day we waited and then just after the sun went down the limos began to arrive, and Naomi Watts, Sallie Fields, Bradley Cooper, Ang Lee and so many others it was hard to keep track of them all. I would like to think of myself as immune to celebrity but when Richard Gere's famous white mane showed up I did feel a little starstruck.
Another great photo of Ben Affleck autographing a photo of himself.

The celebrities are great but the real stars of the show are the movies. It is hard to pick from the best the world has to offer but I study my Desert Sun Festival at a Glance, trying to find movies that will make me laugh, make me cry but most of all take me to a far away place. I would like to share my top 5 films with you so that you can come along on my journey.

1. Every year I hope that we will pick the audience favorite but we never had. This year when we saw The Sapphires at Palm Springs High School I thought maybe this is the year. It is a great movie about an Aboriginal girl group from Australia that entertain American troops in Vietnam. It stars Chis O'Dowd best known for Bridesmaids. It is the kind of movie that comes along and tells the story of a people's struggle with humor. It was the fan favorite at Palm Springs film festival and I predict it will be your favorite too.
The Sapphires shaking their stuff in Veitnam

2. We went to Prague in December and I thought it was a beautiful city, so when I saw that In the Shadow was set in Prague I immediately bought tickets. It is about a time after the war when the Soviets were asserting their control over the Czech people. It follows one honest cop investigating a jewel heist. It is a hard boiled realistic thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

3. It is great to see an Israeli movie that is not about war or the troubles; The World Is Funny takes you to Tiberias, a pretty town set on the Dead Sea. It intertwines the tale of a fractured family, story telling and a famous Israeli comedy troop. It made me laugh and it made me cry and it showed me how the people in Israel lived their everyday lives.

4. A movie about a sex scandal in Sweden in the 1970's caught my eye. Our take on Sweden is that it is so permissive, that it had to be something. Well just like in America the politicians get caught with their pants down only this time it is with under age girls. The title, Call Girl, says it all. The movie centered on a prostitution ring in Stockholm. It not only transported you to another country but also another time, when sex, drugs and rock and roll were all the rage. Like many movies at the festival the director Mikael Marcimain was present and talked to us after the screening. A few hours later we were thrilled to see him at the bar at Workshop Kitchen, a great place to go for hand mixed drinks. That is the great thing about Palm Springs, it is such a small place that you never know who you will run into to.

5. My last movie was the most disturbing of the festival but probably the most honest. It followed the life of a Romany girl in a Hungarian village for a single day. The Romany people have suffered a spate of hate crimes, but prejudice follows them in everything they do. Just the Wind is the winner of the Amnesty International Film Prize and it is also the closest look you will ever have of the Romany community in Europe.

Here are some links to some of my other blogs about the movies:
Click here for My Top Ten Romantic Movies from the Hopeful Romantic
Click here for Casino Movies that Get it Right
Click here for Books to Movies at the Palm Springs International Film Festival

And Hollywood if you are looking for a novel based on a real life love story set in many far away places please check out my story, Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. 

About the author:
Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"

Please check out her most popular posts to find more blogs about cruising.

Below are the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships



Thursday, January 31, 2013

THE TOP TEN REASONS TO TRAVEL AROUND EUROPE ON A RIVER CRUISE



I was born in Charleston, South Carolina, a very old town on the east coast of The United States. My earliest memories are of my father driving all the kids to the beach at Sullivans Isle so that my mom could clean the house in peace. I loved standing at the edge of the shore and daydreaming about what lay on the other side of the very big ocean. Show me the child of six and I will show you the woman. Those days at the shore left me with wanderlust and freckles.

I love to travel, especially by boat, being on the water is my vision of being in heaven. So when I grew up it was no great surprise to anyone that I went to work on a cruise ship. I even wrote about my adventures in Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. I have worked on some really big ships, and I loved it but then one day I heard about European River Cruises. I know river cruises have been around for a while but it seems like they have just taken off in the last ten years. In fact, the company that we cruised with, AMA River Cruises has only been around for 10 years, and they have already doubled the size or their fleet. One cruise in and I am a convert and now I would like to share with you my top ten reasons for traveling around Europe on a very long boat.

1. The scenery, Europe is gorgeous; the countryside is laced with beautiful forests, architectural gems and turreted castles sitting high on the hills. We booked a French balcony; most of the rooms on the ship were in this category. It meant that the cabin had floor to ceiling windows, which were perfect for river views. Our favorite thing was to wake up around six in the morning, open the curtains, and lie in bed watching the world go by on the river as the sun rose in the sky. It doesn't' end there, all day long wherever you are on the ship, you always have wonderful views of the shore which is always in sight and the traffic on the river to entertain you.
Watching the world go by from the comfort of the lounge

2. The river system is incredible. We traveled down the Danube passing through the Main-Danube Canal. The canal is 171 km/106miles long. This canal allows traffic to pass between the North Sea and the black sea. The canal has a total of 16 locks, each about 625 feet long, 40 feet wide and up to 81 feet deep. It is thrilling to watch as you are lowered into a lock and see that the ship is only inches away from the wall, or passing under bridges just inches above the ship. If you love the Panama Canal you will be amazed by this canal.

3. River cruising is so smooth. If I hadn't occasionally heard the sound of the engines I wouldn't even have known that the ship was moving. We traveled in winter, no matter what the weather, it was like we were gliding on the water.

4. It is intimate. The ship held only 180 passengers at full capacity. The crew staff were always available to help you. There were no lines for anything. The ship was new, and very cozy.
Me at the window catching some rays

5. You don't have to spend all your time working out how to travel from place to place. When I traveled by train so much of my time was spent figuring out the train schedules and I ended up spending many nights on trains and buses lugging heavy suitcases. The last time I went from Vienna to Budapest by train I was exhausted before I even arrived. This time I watched us sail in. I was refreshed, ready for a new adventure.

6. You only have to pack your bags once. When you visit a lot of countries in Europe by car or train, you always seem to be packing. Inevitably you leave a few things behind. But on a river cruise you unpack at the beginning of the cruise and pack the night before you go home no matter how many countries you visit. Even though the room on the ship wasn't huge it had been so well designed that there was plenty of storage for all our clothes and even our suitcases. We went with a couple who had only tried bus trips before and they said that this was a much more relaxing experience.

7. Almost everything is included. If you look at the cost of a river cruise as compared to a bus tour or a regular cruise it might seem expensive but when you break it down it is a bargain. On our ship all the tours were included. There were a few optional excursions available but I felt that the included tours were enough. All our meals were included even beer and wine at dinner. If any of you have ever traveled to Europe you know that restaurants can be very expensive.

8. The food was wonderful. Breakfast was a buffet with side dishes like eggs benedict cooked to order. I especially loved the array of breads and pastries. My favorite meal was lunch, local specialties were featured and the chef would cook pasta to order, and it was wonderful the way only pasta cooked in Europe is. Dinner also included local specialties, and so much great seafood, such as halibut which, is quite expensive in America. Wonderful salmon was available every day. But the bonus we most enjoyed was the local beer and wine that were included. It was great to sample all that the countries we visited had to offer.

9. Because you are on a smaller ship traveling down a river and not on the ocean you can visit small intimate ports. We especially loved the medieval city of Regensburg in Germany. It was so convenient. We just walked off the ship and the tour would begin. It was winter time and the romantic Christmas market at the Thurn and Taxis Palace was bustling. It was great to be able to explore the city on our own with only a short walk back to the ship.
Christmas Market in Vienna

10. Some of the tour options were quite inventive. We cooked Hungarian Goulash at the Hotel Sofitel in Budapest. It was a great experience and we got some tips on cooking with paprika. It wasn't just a demonstration we chopped and fried and even tasted our own creation served with heavy crusted bread. We left with aprons and tea towels, and we all agreed it was the best tour. Our AMA cruise manager told us that they are always looking for way to improve and make our experience more enjoyable.

There is something luxurious about traveling on a cruise ship whether it be an ocean cruise or river cruise. From the crystal chandeliers to the polished brass stair railing, ships exude elegance. It is great that as cruisers we have more options all the time. I am sold on river cruises, the next time I plan to travel in tulip time.  Maybe I'll see you there.

About the author:
Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"

Please check out her most popular posts to find more blogs about cruising.

Below are the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships


Thursday, January 3, 2013

THE FUTURE IS HERE AND IT JUST MIGHT BE SLAB CITY



Have you ever thought of just chucking it all in, walking away from the routine of everyday life? Well I know a place thousands of people escape to every year. The name is Slab City and if you have ever wondered what a post apocalyptic world would look like this is probably the closest you will find.

Even though Slab City is less than two hours from my house I had never been there, but one day a friend from Vegas came to visit and that was the only one place he wanted to see. We drove past the splendid decay of the Salton Sea, a huge slowly dying lake in Southern California which ends mere miles from the Mexican border. 

When we reached the small town of Niland we took a left and traveled three miles to the remnants of the World War II-era Camp Dunlamp Naval Reservation. It is on that deserted base that thousands of snowbirds descend every year, rent free to spend their winters. A few hardy souls live there year round although in the summer temperatures routinely break the century mark.

Religion always features prominently in a post-apocalyptic scenario and the first thing that greets you as you enter this community is Salvation Mountain. Started in the eighties Leonard Knight a self-proclaimed Christian built a colorful mountain out of adobe clay and donated paint. His recurring theme was, Love is everywhere at Salvation Mountain. Climb to the top and feel the love around you. Although Leonard is now deceased the work continues.
FIND LOVE IN THE DESERT AT SALVATION MOUNTAIN

Travel down the road past the community center, a library and an open-air nightclub - The Range. Pass fields filled with RV's, where some of the 47% have found their place due to economic limitations and the rest of the population just want to be left alone to do as they please.

But for me the most interesting place can be found just north of The Range. It is an experimental community using predominantly recycled, re-purposed or discarded materials to create incredible works of art. The day we came the inhabitants were happy to give us a tour of the art, the living quarters and shared their plans for the future. They plan to make their community self sustaining. We made a donation and were rewarded with the coolest T-shirt ever. Although Charles Russell, the founder of East Jesus, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his mid-40's he left a legacy and a community that is expanding and pays tribute to his vision. And if you visit bring a book to donate to the library, the nights are long in the desert.
FREEDOM AHEAD SLAB CITY

So if you would like to visit America's version of the back of beyond, a place closely resembling the world of Mad Max without the violence, just take a trip to Slab City, I know I will be back.

About the author:
Cara Bertoia is the author of Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships. Her novel is really a travelogue, a narrative, a romance, a self-help manual for gambling and cruising, and a real-life story all rolled into one funny, obsessive, and entertaining story of two people whose separate life journeys meet at a crossroads. Kindle Fire Dept. says, "This novel is a gem that is nothing short of a vacation in a book!"

Below is the links to Cruise Quarters - A Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships