September 29, 2022

The Good Deeds of Cruise Lines

The captain on the bridge of a cruise ship scans the horizon with hi-powered binoculars.

Bad news sells, but the good deeds performed by cruise ships are just as newsworthy. Top of this list are rescues at sea.

It’s an age-old tradition to help fellow mariners in distress. Hence, whenever officers on the bridge of a cruise ship receive a distress call, they promptly respond. In one month alone three Holland America Line ships performed rescue operations.

The first was conducted by the ms Zuiderdam after departing from Fort Lauderdale on a round-trip Panama Canal cruise. In the middle of its first night at sea, the ship answered a distress call from a Bahamian inter-island vessel with eight crewmembers aboard. The vessel was sinking and ms Zuiderdam, about 15 miles away, promptly altered course. Less than an hour later the stranded mariners were safely aboard the cruise ship and disembarked a day later when the ship pulled into Oranjestad, Aruba.

Meanwhile, a sailing yacht ran aground in Antarctica and its stranded crewmembers, from the Arctowski Polish research station on King George Island, radioed for help. Holland America’s ms Zaandam came to their aid and took them to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The bridge of a modern cruise ship contains high-tech equipment, but the act of aiding fellow mariners is as ancient as seafaring itself.

The third rescue took place approximately 250 miles off the coast of Maui when the pilot of a single-engine Cirrus SR22 ditched his disabled aircraft into the ocean. He was at the midway point of a solo flight from California to Maui when he realized a malfunctioning fuel system was preventing the transfer of fuel into his aircraft’s main tanks. This meant he would lose engine power before reaching Kahului Airport on Maui and out of range of Coast Guard rescue helicopters. Fortunately ms Veendam was in the area. So, with 20 minutes of fuel left, the pilot headed toward the cruise ship’s position.

Dramatic video footage taken from a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 shows the small plane deploying its airframe parachute system upon reaching the cruise ship. The aircraft initially pitched nose-down toward the water before leveling off and landing on its belly. As ocean swells swamped the aircraft’s right wing, the uninjured pilot quickly scrambled out the other side into an inflatable life raft. He paddled away from the sinking aircraft as it flipped over in the waves. Within minutes he was picked up by a lifeboat launched from ms Veendam. The ship was on a round-trip Hawaiian Islands cruise from San Diego and it proceeded to Lahaina, where the grateful pilot disembarked.

In addition to rescues at sea, cruise ships perform other roles, such as collecting weather data. The weather reports of meteorologists, based on data from satellites and ground stations, are greatly enhanced by the first-hand weather observations provided by cruise ships as they travel the world’s oceans. These observations also contribute to climatological data collected by the World Weather Information Service.

There is much to keep guests entertained on a cruise ship, but the observant passenger will appreciate that the highly trained officers on the bridge are always keeping a close watch on the horizon.

Travel’s Comeback Kid

Friendly and professional service is a welcome feature of shipboard dining.

Cruise ships have always been the gold standard for cleanliness, so it was ironic they should gain such negative prominence at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The cruise industry has faced public health challenges in the past, such as the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, past infectious outbreaks pale in comparison to the current global crisis.

The response from the cruise lines has been thorough and science driven as they strive to make their ships as safe as possible. Working closely with the Center for Disease Control, the major cruise companies have upgraded their ships’ ventilation and air filtration systems, and introduced an array of new health and safety measures. These include robust testing and tracking of cases, vaccinating all crewmembers, and the pre-boarding screening of all passengers.

Another welcome development, designed to lessen congestion and accommodate physical distancing at the cruise terminals, is the assigning of staggered boarding times. Once on board, guests are encouraged to practice frequent hand washing and make use of hand sanitizers installed throughout the public areas. All areas of the ship, including staterooms, are regularly cleaned with disinfectants proven to kill the coronavirus.

 

Ship waiters mug with young passenger.

The ship’s medical center, staffed with doctors and nurses, is equipped with COVID-19 tests and treatments. No other segment of the travel industry is required to conduct the same level of testing and tracking of cases as do the cruise lines. And because this detailed information is diligently reported to the CDC and other public health administrations, the cruise industry is an easy target for media covering the pandemic.

Negative publicity aside, shipboard life offers us the human contact that is so often missing in our land-locked lives. The level of personal service provided by your stateroom steward, whom you promptly know by name, is what makes guests feel very much at home – but a home that is free of chores.

The biggest decision to be made during a day at sea on a cruise ship is whether to have dinner in the main dining room or book a table at one of the specialty restaurants. It’s nice to have options, but I still like traditional seating. I enjoy being served by the same dining room stewards each evening. To be greeted by name and a warm smile, and to learn a bit about the personal lives of the people serving you dinner, is just one of cruising’s many pleasures.

I also enjoy the spontaneity of shipboard life, such as taking an after-dinner stroll around the ship, pausing at various lounges to enjoy some live music or perhaps heading to the show lounge to take in whatever extravaganza is being staged that night.

It’s the congenial atmosphere found on a cruise ship that’s hard to replicate on land and is what many people have missed. Fortunately, cruising is staging a comeback. And like many a comeback act, the post-pandemic experience of traveling by cruise ship may be even better than ever.

The Unsinkable Cruise Advisor

Cruise agents are one of the best ways to start a vacation.

By Anne Vipond – It has always made sense to consult a cruise specialist when booking a cruise, especially for first-time cruisers. There is no extra cost for using the services of a cruise advisor because their fee is covered by the cruise line, and their firsthand knowledge is invaluable when navigating the array of choices. To choose the right fit from the range of itineraries and variety of ships has always been daunting. And now travellers must navigate the complex and confusing regulations dealing with the pandemic.

Much has changed since COVID-19 quickly spread around the world and brought cruise travel to a grinding halt. Cruisers became land-bound and empty ships lay at anchor, maintained by quarantined crew, while executives scrambled to keep their companies’ finances afloat. The last bulwark in this worldwide crisis was the cruise travel advisor, tirelessly dealing with cancellations, cruise credits and re-bookings on behalf of their clients.

Celebrity Summit – a mid-sized premium ship – awaits returning passengers in Barbados.

Now, as we cautiously emerge from this worldwide pandemic, it is to those indispensable travel advisors many of us will turn for updates and advice. Most professional cruise advisors are affiliated with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – an independent marketing and educational organization. CLIA’s training courses provide travel agents the opportunity to earn professional certification and a high level of expertise in cruise travel.

Cruise ships come in a range of sizes and styles, from megaships designed for families seeking a fun-filled vacation to more sophisticated ships appealing to mature cruisers who appreciate the traditional aspects of shipboard life, such as fine dining and personalized service. Certified cruise agents can explain the differences and similarities between cruise lines, including their onboard atmosphere and activities. They can guide their clients through the maze of ship choices, cabin considerations and itineraries. Their expertise and insight is invaluable.

As the cruise lines roll out their itineraries for 2022 and 2023, bookings are strong due to pent-up demand. Cruisers have been deprived of their favorite form of travel and are eagerly looking forward to boarding a ship and enjoying the cruising life again. Meanwhile, those steadfast cruise advisors will keep us informed, updated and believing in brighter days ahead.

A couple enjoys the traditional promenade deck on Holland America Line’s Westerdam.

Caribbean Cruise runs into Covid-19 Port Closures

The 30,000 ton Sirena is s smaller ship carrying 688 passengers.

By Steve Blake

The cruise industry is reeling as a result of cancelations and port closures due to Covid-19 (coronavirus) issues. We had several cruises planned for the winter season and first ran into problems when our ship, the MS Westerdam, was denied entry to ports. That story has been told in my previous post. We arrived home from that cruise for a three-week interval before flying to Miami for a Caribbean cruise onboard Oceania’s MS Sirena. We did not expect problems because we left March 7, 2020, before the worldwide concern set in.

We arrived in Miami one day before our cruise was set to depart. Life appeared pretty normal in Miami. We shopped for food and wine and stayed overnight in a boutique hotel. Our Uber driver took us to the port the next morning to find our ship, the MS Sirena. Seven large cruise ships were in port and traffic was heavy. We could see lineups of happy passengers waiting to check-in for their cruises. We finally found our ship by itself at a different berth.

Check-in was easy but we could see stepped-up health checks. Our temperature was taken prior to being allowed to go upstairs to enter the registration hall. We were given an additional health questionnaire specifically dealing with the Covid-19. After completing the two forms, we went to a security post where we handed in the forms and were allowed into the registration hall. The rest of check-in was similar to other cruises.

After boarding the ship, we were aware of more thorough cleaning and disinfecting of the ship. However, it was not until a couple days into the cruise that the Captain told us that the ship was going to increase further the health and disinfecting protocols for the safety of passengers and crew. Things that were immediately noticed were increased vigilance on hand sanitizing. You could not enter a public room without a crewmember there reminding you to sanitize. Constant reminders to wash your hands were made throughout the day.

The dining room was not preset with dishes. Once you were seated, your table was set. You no longer had bread, butter, salt or pepper at your table. These would be brought to you as needed. All items in the buffet were served to you rather than helping yourself.

Plastic covers were placed over the elevator buttons to protect the internal wiring from the strong disinfectants being used. More staff were assigned to cleaning and disinfecting and would be seen constantly wiping down handrails and arms of seats. If you got up from your chair in the buffet to get food, your chair arms would be disinfected before you returned to your seat. With the closed environment of a cruise ship and how easy it is for colds and other viruses to spread, this should be the new normal.

We had two sea days before arriving at our first port in St. Barts. The seas were rough, sometimes as much as an 18-foot swell, and we had a strong headwind. The Captain informed us that we could not make St. Barts in time and that, unfortunately, we would be missing the island, spending another day at sea, and making our first port in Martinique.

Oceania’s Sirena at Martinique.

We arrived in Martinique and the following port of St. Lucia with no problems. The shore excursions went ahead and everyone enjoyed the charm of the islands. When we were in Martinique, we saw the first signs of trouble brewing. A Costa cruise ship was anchored offshore and we could not see any tender boats going to and from the ship. We were told there were a couple passengers with Covid-19 and the ship was waiting for a solution as it was being denied entry to the port.

After St. Lucia, the Captain came on the PA to tell us that as of March 13, 2020, Oceania had “voluntarily and temporarily paused cruise operations” due to Covid-19 issues. Ports had started to close to cruise ships. We were to cruise back to Miami where we would disembark. First we would make a “technical” stop on the island of Antigua to off-load the EU passengers who were no longer allowed to enter the USA. We would tie up in the port but nobody else was allowed off the ship. About three dozen passengers disembarked. The UK passengers were allowed to enter the USA for their flights home.

The next five days were spent at sea as we slowly made our way back to Miami. We missed the scheduled ports in Antigua, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas. Flying home was easy as the airports were very empty. We were asked general health questions before boarding flights and then upon arrival in Vancouver, were informed of the need to self-isolate for 14 days. The world is different today and we only hope that the problems resolve so the cruise industry can return to its former glory.

Windsor Castle, The Queen’s Weekend Retreat

The Long Walk in Windsor Great Park leads to Windsor Castle.


If you’re flying to London to embark on a cruise, consider taking a quick side-trip to Windsor Castle. Located just 10 miles west of Heathrow Airport, the historic market town of Windsor is famous for the fortress-like castle overshadowing its narrow, winding streets. Built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, with additions and renovations carried out by successive royal rulers, Windsor Castle is the largest and oldest occupied castle in the world. It is also where the Queen likes to spend her weekends.

A chap in morning dress strolls a street near Windsor Castle.


Windsor Castle’s Great Park was for centuries the private hunting ground of the monarch. Today, its thousands of acres of sweeping parkland, woodlands and gardens are open to the public, but those of adjacent Home Park are private. They contain the royal gardens of Frogmore Estate and it is here that Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have made secluded Frogmore Cottage their home – by permission of the Queen. The estate’s larger Frogmore House is where the couple’s official engagement photographs were taken. The unusual name of this royal country estate derives from the frogs that live in the area’s low-lying marshland.

Prince Harry and Meghan, a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, were wed within the walls of Windsor Castle at St. George’s Chapel – a stunning example of 14th-century Gothic architecture with its large windows and soaring pillars. St. George’s Chapel is open to the public (except Sundays, when services are held) as are the state apartments in Windsor Castle; tickets for admission to the castle and chapel can be purchased on-line at the Royal Collection Trust website (rct.uk/visit/Windsor-castle). Changing the Guard takes place at 11:00 a.m. most days except Sundays.

Inviting sidestreets wind through the historic market town of Windsor.

Travelling to Windsor Castle by train from London takes about an hour from Paddington Station, via Slough, and passengers disembark at Windsor & Eton Central Station, which is a short walk up to the castle.

Many of England’s past monarchs have been laid to rest on the grounds of Windsor Castle. St. George’s Chapel contains the tombs of 10 monarchs, including Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Queen Victoria and her beloved husband Prince Albert are entombed in the Royal Mausoleum on Frogmore Estate. Outside in the Royal Burial Grounds is the gravesite of the Duke of Windsor, who famously relinquished the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, whose grave is beside her husband’s. Scandal has often swirled around the British monarchy and the kerfuffle caused by Prince Harry’s desire to modify his royal role is the latest in a long legacy.

Seabourn’s Alaska Experience

Exploring the Inian Islands by Zodiac.


Expedition cruising has long been popular in Alaska. The intricate waterways of this vast coastal wilderness invite exploration by small ships and is a voyage that can really awaken your awareness of the natural world.

Dining is casual in the Colonnade on the Sojourn.


Should you be looking for both luxury and expedition-style cruising, Seabourn’s 450-passenger Sojourn offers the relaxed ambience of a private club and an expedition team of seasoned guides ready to take you wildlife viewing in Zodiacs and kayaks. The Sojourn follows a route less travelled, tracing narrow channels avoided by the larger ships and anchoring at remote wilderness locations. An excellent example is the Inian Islands in Icy Strait where we climbed into Zodiacs to take a close look at a sea lion rookery and a kelp-filled cove where sea otters congregate.

Seabourn Sojourn docked near Sitka.


After a few hours exposed to the elements, I was happy to return to the pampered warmth of the ship. Everywhere on board the staff were friendly and attentive, whether offering to carry my plate to a table during the buffet-style lunch in the Colonnade or escorting the ladies to their tables in the elegant Restaurant at dinnertime. Our room stewardess, a young woman from South Africa, was as cheerful as she was efficient, and the level of service throughout the ship lived up to Seabourn’s well-deserved reputation.

A couple shares a quiet moment near the bow of the Sojourn.


With one of the highest passenger space ratios in the cruise industry, the Sojourn had a wonderful sense of spaciousness, both in our balcony suite and throughout the public areas. One of our favorite spots was the Seabourn Square with its floor-to-ceiling windows, cappuccino bar, shelves of library books and overstuffed sofas where we could sip our coffee and have our pick of several daily newspapers from around the world.

The last afternoon of the cruise all guests were invited to the show lounge to watch a brief film shot during the course of our 12-day cruise. We relived the remarkable moments of our cruise, then applauded not only the expedition team gathered on the stage, but all of the ship’s crew – representing 52 nations – as they squeezed onto the stage. Conviviality is what sets cruising apart from other forms of travel and the friendliness on board the Sojourn made it hard to disembark when the ship docked in Vancouver the next morning.

SEABOURN SOJOURN: 32,000 tons, 450 passengers, 330 crew. Launched 2010.
For information on Alaska cruises or other destinations visit: Seabourn Alaska

Rain or Shine, Alaska is Spectacular

Seabourn Sojourn anchored in Endicott Arm.


Rain can spoil most vacations, but not a cruise to Alaska. The weather on my recent trip aboard Seabourn’s Sojourn was, in a word, wet – yet this didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the ship’s expedition staff. Embracing the elements, they guided small groups into the wilderness to experience firsthand the raw beauty of Alaska that no amount of rain can wash away.

With rain pelting down, the young woman piloting our Zodiac past sapphire-blue icebergs at the head of Endicott Arm gazed with happiness at the cascades of white water plunging down the sheer granite slopes of the fjord. “I know you probably don’t want to hear this,” she said, drawing our attention to the subtle colors and patterns of the glistening rock faces, “but it was such a dry summer, we really needed this rain.”

Sunset in Misty Fjords.


Our 12-day September cruise aboard the Sojourn was an opportunity to visit remote fjords and forested islands bypassed by the large ships, and to do so while enjoying the country-club conviviality of a 450-passenger luxury ship. The service was attentive but not stuffy and the atmosphere was friendly. One evening guests were encouraged to join a pre-dinner block party at which we mingled in the corridor outside our suites. It helped that the ship’s stewards served cocktails and the captain came along with a smile and handshakes.

Sea lion rookery near Alert Bay, British Columbia.


We called at an interesting array of ports, from attraction-filled Juneau and Ketchikan to less-visited ports such as Sitka, Wrangell and Prince Rupert. The ship’s route was similar to an expedition cruise, tracing narrow channels and anchoring in remote wilderness locations at which excursions by Zodiac, kayak and tour boat were offered to get a close look at sea lion rookeries and tidewater glaciers. While anchored in the pristine solitude of Rudyerd Bay, the ship became a base for waterborne excursions and floatplane rides over the scenic Misty Fjords.

The Seabourn Sojourn is a 30,000 ton luxury class ship.


Sea mammals and bird life abound along the Inside Passage and one of our best Zodiac excursions was to view humpback and killer whales in the waters near Alert Bay in British Columbia. Few things in life are more exhilarating than watching a whale surface as you drift nearby in an inflatable boat. And few things are more pleasurable than returning to the warm ambience of a luxury ship like the Sojourn to soak in a hot bath or ponder the dinner menu while sipping a glass of champagne. The weather can do what it wants.

Anne’s Tips for Cruising to Alaska

Anne Vipond gets close to her work on an iceberg in Tracy Arm.


The weather is unpredictable, so be prepared for anything, from warm sunny days to non-stop rain. The common advice is to dress in layers. Start with long pants and a light shirt, followed by a warm sweater, sweatshirt or fleece jacket, and topped with a rain slicker. A wide-brimmed hat is good for keeping both rain and sun off your face, and comfortable walking shoes are a must. When a ship draws close to a glacier the air can be very chilly, so a warm jacket and even a toque and gloves would be useful.

A good lens helps in getting great pictures in Alaska.


Viewing the rugged coastal scenery is a major incentive for cruising to Alaska and a balcony cabin maximizes your viewing opportunities. If you’re taking a one-way cruise between Vancouver and Seward or Whittier, keep in mind that the mainland mountain ranges will be best viewed from a starboard cabin if northbound, and a port cabin if southbound. If you’re taking a round-trip cruise from Vancouver or Seattle, it’s not critical which side of the ship your cabin is on. Also, regardless of whether you are on a one-way or round-trip cruise, once your ship pulls into a fjord for a close-up look at a glacier, the captain usually positions the ship first with one side facing the glacier, then turns the ship around so passengers on the other side can have a good look. Of course, any of the public decks at the bow are good places to view the scenery as is the uppermost deck where you can enjoy a 360-degree view.

Humpback whales in Alaska can usually be seen near Juneau and Glacier Bay in summer months.


I think some people assume they will see lots of marine mammals from the ship. But this is not a given, especially on the large ships. Fortunately, the selection of shore excursions offered in Alaska is amazing and many are designed to take viewers up close (but not too close) to specific species of wildlife. If, for example, seeing a humpback whale is apriority, I would highly recommend booking a whalewatching excursion out of Juneau, where humpback whales feed throughout the summer in nearby channels. Allen Marine Tours works with the cruise lines and offers half-day excursions on catamarans that are designed for stability and equipped with waterjets for speed and maneuverability. With deep roots in Alaska, the Allen family expanded its reach a few years ago with the launch of Alaskan Dream Cruises.

The unique itineraries offered by smaller expedition cruise companies operating in Alaska, will appeal to anyone with a sense of adventure and curiosity. Passengers are taken off the beaten path in vessels that can navigate narrow channels and anchor in remote coves where further exploring is done in Zodiac inflatables or sea kayaks for close-up views of marine life. Beach landings and activities ashore include rainforest hikes and visits to native villages to learn about Tlingit culture and art, such as the carving of totem poles.

Expedition cruising is thriving in Alaska, but even if you’re booked on a large ship the shore excursions offered include wilderness adventures such as canoeing, kayaking, hiking and rock climbing, not to mention helicopter rides to sled dog camps where you can take a turn at mushing across a glacier.

Small ships such as the Seabourn’s 450 passenger Sojourn let you get much closer to Alaskan scenery.


For the best of both worlds, a luxury cruise on Seabourn’s 450-passenger Sojourn provides not only spacious accommodations and impeccable service but an expedition-style itinerary that follows narrow, twisting channels and stops at unspoiled hideaways, such as the Inian Islands, where the ship’s expedition team leads shore excursions in Zodiacs and sea kayaks. Sea otters are abundant in the waters off this cluster of small islands in Icy Strait, as are Pacific white-sided dolphins, orcas and humpback whales.

It’s actually quite difficult to recommend one specific Alaska cruise over another, because it really depends on what style of travel a person is looking for. A multi-generational family might prefer a large ship for the variety of facilities on board, such as a playroom for children and age-appropriate activities for teens, whereas an active couple might be happier on an expedition-style cruise. One of my favorite choices for cruising to Alaska is Holland America Line, which has been taking passengers to Alaska since the 1970s. With their flag-blue hulls and “dam” names, these modern mid-sized ships are run by Dutch officers and retain traditional features from the Golden Era of ocean liners, including teak wrap-around promenade decks lined with steamer chairs. Princess Cruises is another premium line with decades of experience in Alaska and a network of luxury lodges for passengers who want to combine a land tour with their cruise.

Dealing with hurricane season in the Caribbean

A cruise through the Caribbean is usually tranquil.


Everyone in the Caribbean breathes a collective sigh of relief when the annual Atlantic hurricane season draws to a close at the end of November. Some years are worse than others for catastrophic storms and the path and intensity of these tropical cyclones is always unpredictable. However, the Caribbean is a vast sea, covering a million square miles, and in any given year only a few of its hundreds of islands are hit by a hurricane.

The islands can’t dodge bad weather but cruise ships can avoid approaching storms during hurricane season. In some cases a ship will completely bypass one port for another. One November our ship’s scheduled stop at St. Thomas was changed to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands due to damage the U.S. Virgin Islands had sustained from a recent hurricane. When we returned to the Caribbean a few months later, our ship call at St. Thomas revealed little evidence of the earlier storm and it was business as usual as we toured the tropical island and visited postcard-perfect beaches.

When disaster does strike during hurricane season, the cruise industry is one of the first to come to the aid of these small island nations, often delivering supplies and providing shelter and transportation in a storm’s immediate aftermath. Port facilities in the Caribbean have been built for hurricane resistance, so that ship piers and terminals can weather these storms.

The port of St. Maarten recovered quickly from Hurricane Irma.


The 2017 hurricane season was particularly devastating for several Caribbean destinations. While the other islands continued to receive visitors, the affected islands rebuilt and are once again open for business. St. Maarten’s recovery efforts began immediately and its cruise calls have returned to pre-hurricane numbers. The BVIs have also rebounded and are now receiving more cruise passengers than ever, as is Puerto Rico, which was hard hit by Hurricane Maria. St. Thomas and St. Croix have also been busy repairing and rebuilding in preparation for this winter’s cruise season.

Magens Bay on St. Thomas remains one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.


With its expansive size and diversity of destinations, the Caribbean is a resilient cruising area. All of the major cruise lines deploy ships to the region, especially during the winter months. With more than 60 different ports in 28 countries or territories to choose from, the selection of cruise itineraries is varied, exhaustive and competitively priced.

Hurricane seasons come and go, but the appeal of the Caribbean – the world’s largest market for cruise vacations – remains strong year after year.

Solving a problem like Maria

The lush grounds of the iconic Caribe Hilton in San Juan.


When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico in September 2017, the devastation resulted in thousands of lives lost and an infrastructure in ruins as communities struggled without power or running water. Emergency aid to this U.S. territory was slow in coming but Oxfam America stepped in to help, as did others. Among those who assisted with relief aid was Alex Cora, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico and is the manager of the 2018 world champion Boston Red Sox.
There are many reasons to visit the scenic island of Puerto Rico, including the opportunity to embark on a Caribbean cruise from the Spanish-founded port of San Juan. This vibrant city’s historic walled town – Old San Juan – contains one of the best-preserved fortresses in the Americas and its cobbled streets are lined with intriguing shops and restaurants.

When embarking on a cruise from San Juan, I always spend a few extra days there and my hotel of choice is often the Caribe Hilton. Situated at the edge of Old San Juan, on a peninsula with a secluded beach and lush gardens, this hotel resort opened in 1949 and was the first property operated by Hilton Hotels outside the continental U.S.

Famous guests at the hotel’s grand opening included Gloria Swanson and David Rockefeller, and the hotel became the setting for Hunter S. Thompson’s The Rum Diary. An early bartender is credited with inventing Puerto Rico’s official drink – the Pina Colada – when he served guests a new cocktail containing rum with coconut cream and pineapple juice.

On my most recent stay at the Caribe Hilton my drink of choice was champagne by the glass. While live salsa music pulsated through the open-air bar, my husband and I strolled outside to sip our drinks beneath the swaying palm trees that dot the manicured grounds.

Our mornings were spent visiting some of the city’s historic spots, including the massive El Morro fortress, and strolling along La Princesa – a waterfront promenade which winds past outdoor cafés and fountain-filled plazas. We would return to the hotel for relaxing afternoons spent poolside.

The hotel is completing a $100 million property-wide renovation and will reopen in time to celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2019. Its beach lost sand during Hurricane Maria but regained it a few months later during a storm tide.

As for Maria, the name has been retired from the rotating lists of the World Meteorological Organization due to the extensive damage and loss of life wreaked by this deadly storm. Maria will never again be used to name an Atlantic hurricane.