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Cruising on the New Norwegian Bliss

May 14, 2018

Embarkation day was here and upon arriving at the Port of Miami to begin my cruise to Los Angeles which would take me through the Panama Canal I had my first glimpse of the newest ship built for Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) the Norwegian Bliss. It is an impressive ship. Having been told boarding would begin at Noon my idea was to get a head start arriving at 11:15 only to find many others had the same idea. Considering all the people who would board that day, not only passengers but hundreds of visitors who were invited to take a look at the new ship before she set sail, all went really fast. Credit has to go to NCL staff. Only forty-five minutes after stepping out of my Uber and being met by a porter from the ship who took my luggage I was in my stateroom.

(Photo by: Peter Rosenstein)

It was only on February 17th of this year that the Bliss was floated out from the covered building dock at the Meyer Werft. After a transatlantic cruise and a couple of days in the Caribbean those of us boarding in Miami were the third group to experience all this ship had to offer. 

While the stateroom is small it is well planned. As a writer the first thing I noticed was there was no chair at the desk where I would put my laptop, rather only a small hassock. My room steward Derrick came to welcome me on board, introduce himself, and ask if all was ok. Turned out he had a great suggestion which was to use one of the chairs on my small balcony and he offered to remove the hassock from the cabin as there was no place for it once the chair was inside. His ingenuity was greatly appreciated. Friends who are traveling with me boarded shortly after and we made our way to the Garden Café, one of the apparently dozens of places to eat onboard. It offered a huge buffet with endless displays of very appetizing, and many very fattening, food. It was soon apparent we weren’t the only ones hungry and again crew came to our rescue and suggested we take our full plates one deck down to the Observation Lounge to eat. The Observation Lounge is one of the most impressive rooms I have ever seen on a ship. I was to learn a little bit more about it from the Hotel Director Jovo Sekulovic who I would meet the following afternoon. 

The travel agent who booked my cruise, Scott Moster, was already on board. He had been recommended by the friends traveling with me. He is incredibly nice and professional. He is from Houston and has a one-person business called My Lux Cruise. From the moment we boarded he and his husband were working hard to make the cruise great. They have a large suite in what is called The Haven, the most elegant part of the ship. His stateroom has a big balcony at the bow of the ship on deck 18. He invited us to a sail-away party in his suite. It gave me the chance to see how the other half onboard live and they live well. Not that everyone on the Bliss won’t live well. Going into The Haven I was introduced to someone who said his name was Andy and who was holding the door open for a few of us. Seemed like a nice guy with a big smile and only later did I find out he was Andy Stuart, President and Chief Executive Officer, Norwegian Cruise Line. Would have been interesting to chat with him a moment. 

The Haven has its own sun decks, swimming pool, dining room and lounges for passengers lucky enough and rich enough to afford those staterooms. One of the reasons I am on this fifteen day cruise is that it will traverse the Panama Canal and Scott has promised to host another party the day we go through the canal. 

(Photo by: Peter Rosenstein)

After the party my friends and I headed to an event that had been listed on the information page in our staterooms. Like nearly all cruise lines these days NCL lists a daily event for members of the LGBTQ+ community. On the Bliss it was funny to see it listed as Friends of Dorothy, LGBT event. Friends of Dorothy was how these events were listed many years ago before anyone wanted to use the words gay or lesbian. A group of young guys on the ship had no idea what that phrase meant. Maybe it’s time to just list it as an LGBTQ+ happy hour. 

In future columns I will share more about all the various activities and amenities on the ship. But I was grateful that Hotel Director, Jovo Sekulovic, took a little time out of his first incredibly busy day at sea to sit down with me and chat about the ship and his work. He is the person whose job it is to ensure the 4200 guests onboard are happy and having a great time; and that the 1700 crew members are both happy and doing their jobs. He is a charming man with a tremendous amount of experience. He shared that he first worked at sea in 1991 as a young man and fell in love with it. Before he took this job on the new Bliss among other jobs he worked for a number of years on the Norwegian Escape. 

He also talked about the five years he managed a luxury resort hotel in Dubrovnik. He enjoyed it but kidded when he had the offer to go back to sea his wife told him all-in-all she and the family would see him more and get more of his attention if he was working for a cruise line than they did when he slept at home every night. As any manager of a resort hotel will tell you it is a twenty-four hour a day job without any real vacation. As Hotel Director on the ship he also has a 24 hour a day job but then with NCL he works four months and then is off for two. During those two he can totally focus on the family as he said it’s a pleasure not being attached to his phone and waiting for the constant calls requiring his attention. 

Most people on the ship may never meet Jovo formally, but without knowing it are seeing him constantly around the ship making sure everything is going well to ensure they enjoy their cruise. His office is behind the guest relations desk and I happened to chat with a couple a short time after my meeting Jovo who told me they had also met him when he personally helped them solve a small problem with their onboard ID cards. These cards serve as the key to everything including opening your stateroom door, ordering a drink, getting into the restaurants, and proof of who you are when getting on and off the ship for any excursion you might be taking at the stops the ship will make as we head to Los Angeles.  They were clearly impressed that Jovo took the time to personally help them and ensure their cruise got off to a great start. 

Walking around the ship investigating all its many nooks and crannies I took the opportunity to chat with many members of the crew.  They have all been very professional and always shared a smile. As on every cruise I have taken the crew is from many different countries and speak many different native languages. But I think it is a tribute to Jovo who has clearly managed to instill a great esprit de corps in his crew on this ship in the short time it has been in the water. As an aside the NCL public relations department could take a hint from Jovo and the crew on the Bliss as to what it means to be helpful.  

Hopefully you will continue to follow my blog as I share my experiences on the Bliss as we make our way to Los Angeles where we are scheduled to arrive the morning of May 25th. 

 


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Washington National Opera BravO Curtain UP! Bash

May 9, 2018

The Washington National Opera (WNO) is making a big effort to attract younger patrons to the opera. The effort is called BravO. It is an exciting program targeted to students and young professionals between the ages of 18 and 40. Supporters of BravO make the claim, and I think they are right, that “BravO is DC's premier young professional arts-lover program, welcoming those who are interested in opera to connect with each other, WNO, and the productions.” The have a Facebook page anyone can follow announcing a number of upcoming special events.

 

  Raquel Gonzalez, Chaz’men Williams-Ali (Photo by: Courtesy of BravO) Raquel Gonzalez, Chaz’men Williams-Ali

Scott Vincent Andrews, a cheerleader for the Washington National Opera and a member of the BravO executive board said “These are boom times for opera fans in our city, particularly young professionals. WNO offerings for our demographic are richer, more affordable, and more dynamic than ever before.”

 

BravO standard membership is open to everyone free of charge but there are some very reasonable membership categories including BravO Plus at $60 a year and BravO Prime at $120 which entitle you to participate in a wide range of exclusive events, activities, and performances that promote the art form and help develop the next generation of opera fans. But all members whether they pay or not gain access to steeply discounted tickets for opera performances all season long.

Rexford Tester, Jeffrey Mack (Photo by: Courtesy of BravO) Rexford Tester, Jeffrey Mack

There is a perception young people aren’t into opera yet BravO says their approximately 3,000-strong membership suggests otherwise. BravO first began in 2013 as an informal group of younger opera lovers committed to the future of the arts in our nation’s capital. Over a short time they have matured into a legally recognized arm of the Kennedy Center’s Washington National Opera (WNO), serving as an official WNO outlet for young professionals across the region and an advisory body to the WNO Board of Directors and Executive Director.

 

 In the past year alone, in addition to receiving complimentary champagne at select performances, BravO members have been welcomed at private recitals, exclusive backstage tours, invitation-only happy hours, and meet-and-greets with operatic superstars and rising stars alike.

Jim Flahive, Michael Sherman (Photo by: Courtesy of BravO) Jim Flahive, Michael Sherman

 

A great way to socialize and find about more about BravO would be to attend their June 2nd, annual black-tie bash called Curtain Up!  All opera fans 21 and over, there will be alcohol, are invited. Curtain Up! is a celebration of the upcoming 2018-19 opera season hosted at the historic Arts Club of Washington. Along with the open bar there will be performances by Washington National Opera’s Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, passed hors d’oeuvres and a full buffet prepared by the Arts Club’s in-house chef. General admission is $99 per person, but a limited number of early bird passes will be available for $89. More information about how to get your tickets to this amazing event can be found at WNOBravOBash.  Curtain Up! is distinct from the WNO Opera Gala, another mainstay of the Washington, DC cultural calendar, which is also open to all BravO members at special rates. 

If you haven’t seen opera before this is your chance and if you are a young opera buff becoming a member of BravO will be a great way to meet other young opera aficionados.


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'Waiting for Godot': The Acting is Brilliant

April 26, 2018

I am sure many like me might think twice before going to see Samuel Beckett's play, Waiting for Godot at the Shakespeare Theatre. After all, if you have read Beckett you know the story about the meaning of life is quite depressing and many have come away after reading it saying “OK, so what?”

Aaron Monaghan (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Aaron Monaghan

But I strongly suggest you get over any trepidation you have and go to the theater. This production by the Druid Theatre Company of Ireland is truly a work of art. As Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre, has said about Beckett “He showed an entire generation of writers how to make every word count, every pause, every repetition, every bit of physical business; and this cast does Beckett proud. They keep you riveted for the entire play, laughing at their antics even when you may be thinking about the story and wondering “they don’t know what life means either, so what?” 

The actors in the Druid Company have managed to get every nuance right. You laugh with them and feel for them and are amazed by their acting talent throughout. 

When you enter the theater Gogo/Estragon is sitting on a rock totally still and stays that way through the announcements to turn off your cell phones etc. The play begins and he remains still but even in his stillness and then as he tries to remove his boots without any luck you can’t help but be mesmerized. Aaron Monaghan plays the part to perfection with every movement and every word once he starts talking. When Vladimir played by Marty Rea comes upon him in the barren setting, where the entire play is set, the first word is spoken. Rea makes every move count and he plays for most of the laughs. The two other main characters in the play, and they are in both the first and second act, are Garrett Lombard as Lucky and Rory Nolan as Pozzo. Lombard, who is the slave/Lucky has a scene where he demonstrates he can think and it is so brilliant it makes the audience gasp. It is a monologue that seems not to end and you don’t want it too. All the actors use physical acting to make their points and do it so well you actually wait for a move to be repeated over and over and they don’t disappoint because they do the great moves over and over. 

Marty Rea (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Marty Rea

The young actor who plays Boy the night I saw the play is Malcolm Fuller and he is wonderful. In his small role in both scenes where he tells Vladimir and Estragon that Godot will not be there this evening but surely tomorrow he gets you to focus on him. Garry Hynes the director does justice to his actors and Francis O’Connor deserves kudos for the great set and costume design as does James Ingalls for the lighting. Because there is so much importance given to the physical movements in this play Nick Winston who is the Movement Director deserves mention as well for a great job. 

Again for those who know Beckett and think why should I see this production, the answer again is simple: the acting is brilliant and you will have a good night at the theater. Tickets can be ordered at the Shakespeare Theatre box office or online. 


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