Blogs > News-Herald Food and Travel

Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Continental vs USAirways

Last week's trip took me south to Fort Lauderdale on Continental with a return o Cleveland via Charlotte on USAirways, giving me a good opportunity to see the two airlines' different ways of doing business.

Both now charge $15 to check the first bag. I packed for carryon and since I had a nonstop flight from Cleveland on Continental, opted to handle my own bags on the Florida bound trip. It was morning and a small meal of cereal, a banana and muffin was served, along with coffee and juice, still free of charge.

I knew I would be boarding two separate flights on the return trip, however, and didn't want to have to wrestle my bag into two different overhead compartments. At 5 foot 3, I am somewhat vertically challenged and flight attendants aren't always willing to help.

On Sunday, I wanted to hang out on board the Solstice for a couple of hours since my return flight didn't leave until 2:55 p.m. But I was told everyone had to be off the ship by 9 a.m. so it could be readied for that day's arriving passengers. Shuttle buses to both Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports awaited at the ship's Port Everglades terminal as passengers disembarked.

I attempted to get on an earlier USairways flight but was told that everything was booked and overbooked. A sign informed me that the airline would not accept bags until two hours before the flight.

When I finally was able to check the bag , I was afraid I might be charged the $15 fee twice for each leg of the trip. But I paid once and my bag was checked all the way through to Cleveland. I was a little concerned that the bag might not make my second flight, which left Charlotte just 45 minutes after the flight from Fort Lauderdale arrived.

Fort Lauderdale Airport is impressive in the way it handles thousands of passengers on a Sunday - the day cruise ships arrive and depart at nearby Port Everglades. Many cruise passengers are elderly and a fair number are in wheelchairs, which complicates the security process. But my impression was that the necessary procedures are completed with grace and efficiency by both the TSA and the passengers.

Once on board my flight I discovered USAirways charges for everything. Coffee is $1, bottled water and soft drinks are $2, and beer and wine cost $7. There was no food offered, although I noticed several passengers brought sandwiches purchased in the terminal. In order to lighten the load and save on fuel, USAirways has eliminated beverage carts. Flight attendants bustled up and down the aisles during both flights, refilling coffee cups. Refills apparently are free.

Diswmbarking both flights was a super slow process since it seemed as if everyone carried their bags onboard to avoid the fee. When i got to my gate in Charlotee, the Cleveland-bound flight had begun to board.

Everything went as it was supposed to and my bag arrived when I did, although I was $15 poorer for having checked it.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

solstice launch

Fort Lauderdale International Airport is ideally located for cruise connections. Clip-board bearing cruise line representatives holding paddles with the names of the ships in port meet passengers at baggage claim, herding them to motorcoaches that carry them and their luggage to the ships.

Port Everglades is just beyond the airport and the huge floating hotels can be seen even before you're off the airport property. In less than 10 minutes passengers are boarding their ships. Half of the twelve terminals have been rehabbed in the past year and the one serving for check in and security by Celebrity is like a huge hotel lobby. The writers and travel agents on my bus craned our necks when we spotted the ship marked by the large X. That's Celebrity's trademark. We were headed toward the Solstice, a whole new class of ship for the line and the first of what will be three new ships in coming years

My stateroom on Deck 8 is large and well appointed with a veranda beyond a wall of windows draped in two layers of fabric... one transparent and traced with a design of swirls that cast the prettiest tracery of shadows in the room when the sun shines through.

As often happens when I am away from home, one of the first people I meet in a new place is a Clevelander. In this case, it was Dave Molyneaux, former PD travel editor and one of the writers to accept that paper's first offer of a buyout as it reduced its staff. There are about 100 journalists aboard.

At the ship's naming ceremony, shortly after we boarded, we were treated to a display of the special effects possible in the Solstice Theater. CEO Richard Fain and Godmother Sharon Smith were piped to the stage by a dozen bagpipers after which a quartet of French horn players emerged from below on a large round platform that raised to stage level.

An animated violinist clad in sparkling black played as an aerialist performed from a hoop high above the audience. We were seated on several levels, including a wraparound balcony, that put us almost at eye level with the aerialist, drawing us personally into the show. Several other breathtaking aerial displays gave me the impression that the talented performers at the popular Cirque du Soleil shows are going to sea.

Professor Sharon Smith, a noted marine biologist, is the first-ever scientist to serve as godmother by christening a ship. Fain introduced her as a perfect match for the Solstice since she's "beautiful, tough and smart." She's also ideal because she's devoted her life to understanding the seas and its creatures and the Solstice has in place cutting edge technology to reduce its carbon footprint on the earth.

Smith, twice a cancer survivor, was moved to tears when she spoke about the cruise line's partnership with United Way to raise money so that women without the means to afford it will be able to have life-saving mammograms.

Over dinner is one of the ship's four specialty restaurants, Silk Harvest, I met a pair of Tampa TV guys from the Fox 8 affiliate in Tampa. They were with a representative from that city's stunning Florida Aquarium and had been on this coast to do a piece about the Neptune Memorial Reef, an underwater cemetery three miles off Key Biscayne.

I am fascinated and can't wait to learn more.

Friday, November 14, 2008

cold to tropics flying

Leaving cold weather for tropical climes takes some planning, especially when going with carryon to avoid the checked bag fee. It also takes planning on the return leg if you don't want to step ankle deep into icy slush while wearing sandals on freshly tanned feet.

This trip I'm headed for is a 36 hour or so cruise aboard a brand new ship as the Celebrity Solstice seeks to gives its staff and facilities a brief test run and get some publicity along the way. Since I board Friday afternoon in Fort Lauderdale and leave the ship Sunday morning there's not much sense in letting myself be tempted to go all out on the wardrobe. I have the additional challenge of traveling with my laptop and camera gear so I really do have to be sensible. And no way am I going to pay the checked bag charge of $15 additional ... which comes out of my pocket even if I AM on the job.

Cruising usually is a great chance to go all out with the glad rags, because unless you're one of the lucky ones with tickets to next month's gala Candlelight Ball at Kirtland Country Club you probably don't have as many dress-to-the-nines opportunities as you did a decade ago.

So I'm dressed in layers with my scoop neck top on underneath, a black silk turtle neck on top of that, my capri length exercise tights with everything topped by a cute 2 piece outfit I bought on some tropical island and rarely have a chance to wear. In my bag are an assortment of filmy tops and my good black silky Chico's traveling pants. They wash out quickly, dry in an hour and are rarely left behind when I pack.

The down side to my planning quickly became apparent when I stepped outdoors this morning to load my bag in the car. It was WARM, the snow was gone, and despite the forecast no rain was falling. I quickly rolled up my great Gortex raincoat (another item I rarely leave home without )and packed it in my bag.

I began to feel overheated while waiting at the gate to board and kept my fingers crossed that the aircraft would be cool. I know I've been on many flights that are super cool so I make a habit of wrapping my laptop in one of my favorite shawls so it does double duty as a cushion and to be available in case no blankets are on hand. I'm flying Continental, which in my opinion is pretty cognizant of comfort issues, but you never know.

When the gate agent made early boarding available for "those who need extra time" I stepped up . "I'm short," I told her. "I'll need help getting my bag in the overhead bin. Does that count?" It obviously did, because I quickly stepped aboard a very warm aircraft to be greeted by a flight attendant who was about 5 foot inch or two shorter than I am.

But I'm off

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

cruising on new ship

This weekend I'll be cruising to nowhere aboard the new Celebrity Solstice from Fort Lauderdale. It's a chance for press and others to have a firsthand look at this new ship with its half acre of lawn on its 15th deck and its on board glassblower from the Corning Museum. The new ship begins its 7 day sailings of the eastern Caribbean Nov. 23.

Now that autumn leaves topped with a layer of snow have covered my lawn it will be a nice opportunity to sit on the ship's lawn patio, do a little lawn bowling and try my hand on a three-hole putting course. Florida weather is usually pretty nice this time of year

I just hope the remnants of Hurricane Paloma, which pounded the Cayman Islands earlier this week, haven't come to Florida to meet us.

The Solstice is a big ship with a capacity of 2800 passengers. A full 85 percent of its staterooms have verandas. It's the first of the Solstice class ships with the Celebrity Equinox to follow this August and the Celebrity Eclipse ready for launch in 2010. I'm told the entire ship is wi-fi enabled, so Ill have my handy computer with me to tell you all about it. Let me know your questions — about this ship or cruising in general and I'll have answers for you. There will be lots of folks on board to help me with the answers, so please fire away.

Celebrity has always been known for its excellent food so it's no surprise to find that This ship has 10 dining venues, including an onboard creperie and a gelateria for those tasty Italian ices. Four specialty restaurants will require reservations and entail a surcharge. Get more information at