Former Vistafjord to become floating luxury hotel

The former Saga Ruby will now be a floating hotel in Myanmar.

Long-time cruisers will remember the Norwegian Vistafjord, considered one of the most luxurious cruise ships afloat at her 1970s debut. In the 1980s the Norwegian America Line was bought by Cunard, and in the 1990s the ship was renamed as the Coronia. In 2004, the ship was sold to Saga Cruises as the Saga Ruby.

Now she’s moving to Myanmar (the former Burma), where she will become a luxury hotel, according to Dania Beach, Fla.-based QPS Ventures, the brokerage arm of Nautical Ventures Group. The 561-passenger ship, which sold for $14 million, will be refurbished and used as a stationary luxury hotel, according to a QPS statement.


Maine in winter? Let them eat pie!

Pies on Parade, Rockland, Maine 2014

Fruit tarts at Capt. Lindsey House

The bell rings, one of the Berry Manor Pie Mom calls for the raising of the forks, and the call comes out. “Let’s eat some pie!” And off we go onto a calorie-laden three-hour forage for crust and filling, 40 flavors in all, at 27 bed-and-breakfasts, galleries, shops that on regular days serve up spa treatments and gourmet olive oils and yarns.

Though this is the 10th annual Pies on Parade festival in

Downtown Rockland, it is our first romp through a glorious feast of tarts, pies, quiches, pizzas, pastry shells and cobblers in just about every sweet and savory combination imaginable. pecan, raspberry, blueberry, cinnamon, pumpkin,

Pies  on Parade, Rockland, Maine, 2014

Savory pie with balsamic vinegar at Fiore.

artichoke and spinach, goat cheese, roasted turkey, bacon and apple, seafood, lemon meringue. Cornish lamb with rhubarb chutney. Shepherd’s pie. Even blue barky pup-pies for the canine set. And of course, this being Maine, whoopie pies.

Though the Berry Manor moms, Capt. Lindsey’s Ken and Ellen Barnes, and Bobby Flay-nemesis Lynn Archer posed tough competition, our favorites came from the Artspace cooperative, where five artists turned their talents to a yummy pair of pastries, one made from apple, sausage and cheese, and the other of apricot and almonds — Yum! — serving up 50 pies in all.

Pies on Parade, Rockland, Maine 2014

At Rheal Spa

The pie parade is a fundraiser for the local food pantry. This year’s event was a sell-out, with more than 600 buying the $25 tickets, and a not-a-prayer waiting list.

Yeah, I can hear you thinking. But really, is this reason enough to leave your home in warm-and-sunny Miami for wicked cold (that would be 18 too-cold-to-snow degrees) in Midcoast Maine?

Really, once you pull on long johns, jeans, and four layers of arctic wear and down courtesy of L.L. Bean, Icebreaker and Uniglo, it’s not bad.

If you REALLY want cold, come up the weekend after the Super Bowl for the annual National Toboggan Championships. (The year we went, it was so cold that even the Flaming Hot Menopausal Mamas sledding team members huddled by the bonfire and hid out in the Chowder Competition tent.)

For that, you definitely need to fortify yourself with a hearty breakfast at Home Kitchen Cafe and dinner at Shepherd’s Pie, our favorite local restaurants. Or heck, you could just burrow in front of the fireplace at the Camden Harbour Inn and sip a Winter’s Wrath at Natalie’s restaurant and bar. A couple of cocktails, and you won’t care about what’s happening outside.

Celebrating winter in midcoast Maine (near Rockland and Camden, by Penobscot Bay):

Pies on Parade, Rockland, Maine 2014

Pies on Parade

  • Pies on Parade: Last Sunday each January in Rockland; 2015 date is Jan. 25. Tickets go on sale the day after Thanksgiving and cost $25; proceeds go to the Area Interfaith Outreach food pantry.
  • Winterfest Carnival: Ice-carving, snow games and snowboard and ski competitions are part of the fun at this annual week-long event, this year beginning Feb. 1.
  • National Toboggan Championships, Feb. 7-9, 2014: The culmination of Winterfest held annually the week after Super Bowl, this three-day celebration of athleticism and insanity features costumes, tailgate parties and teams from around the globe and benefits the Camden Snow Bowl, the local public slope.
  • Camden Conference, Feb. 21-23, 2014: This annual conference focusing on world events offers a more intellectual approach to winter. This year’s topic: the global politics of food and water.
  • Smelt fishing: Several camps rent out shacks complete with a wood-burning stove and electric lights so you can the fish in the hole. Experienced anglers suggest asking for a flat-top stove and bringing a skillet so you can fry the fish soon as you snag them. Well-known camps include Baker’s Smelt Camps, Worthing Camps  and Jim’s Camps
  • Maine Restaurant Week, March 1-10, 2014: Fine restaurants around the state offer prix fixe meals. Midcoast faves include Natalies and  Hartstone Inn
Midcoast Maine information:


Book 21 days out for best airfares

In the old pre-recession, pre-last-minute-sale days, airlines offered their best fares for tickets booked in advance. Those days — sadly — are back with a vengeance.

Most airlines will tell you they require a 14-day advance purchase on their sale fares. With a heartier economy and less competition in the skies, I’m finding that after the 21-day mark, fares go up substantially.

On American, prices can jump as much as 30 percent on that magic day between the 21-day advance and the 20-day advance. And the prices go up again at the 14-day mark.

Another change for AA fliers: The “free hold for 24 hours” function used to hold the price until 11 p.m. the next day. Now that function is “up to” 24 hours…which means after a much briefer period you can find that your great fare has skyrocketed. Beware.

Traveling this spring? Look for deals now

You’re just ambling back to work after the holidays, and you’re still sorting through your December bills. Buying a ticket for a spring trip to Europe or a summer cruise isn’t really on your radar.

And that’s exactly why airlines and cruise lines usually announce fare sales just after the holidays. Bookings typically slow as we all trudge back to work and try to keep those New Year’s resolutions about financial caution.

This year’s airfare sales may be delayed until after the current Arctic vortex clears. (Marketing dollars aren’t terribly effective when the airwaves are splattered with images of stranded air travelers.)
But cruise lines are already offering deals. (January and early February are their ‘wave’ period, when cruise companies try to jump start spring and summer bookings. For instance, passengers who book between January 6 and 8 on Norwegian‘s European summer cruises qualify for a $200 onboard credit and a stateroom upgrade. Celebrityis offering passengers who book Alaska cruises by Jan. 28 their choice of one of three upgrades: a $300 onboard spending credit, free gratuities or a free beverage package including wine and spirits.

When the airfare deals do kick in, they will likely be for tickets to Europe with traveling beginning before April 1 and tickets to frigid destinations.Those looking to escape the chill with a Florida trip may find deals are few. Still, if your toes are turning blue and your nose has frostbite, it might be worth the price to get someplace warm