THE WEEKLY STANDARD is a Conservative publication to which we’ve subscribed for several years. Among its editors are Fred Barnes and William Kristol who we’ve regularly enjoyed on Fox News.
The Weekly Standard sponsors an annual cruise so the faithful can gather with like minded individuals to hear presentations on politics and the state of the nation.
We went on a similar cruise sponsored by National Review Magazine (founded by William F. Buckley) in 1996, so we knew what to expect.
I’ve divided this travelogue into three parts. Part one will deal with the travel and the ship; part two will deal with our itinerary; and part three will be a review of the on-board Weekly Standard program. Obviously, you can read only those portions interesting you.
JUST THE FACTS: The Weekly Standard Cruise left Ft. Lauderdale on Sunday, March 23rd and returned to the same port 7 days later. We flew on Delta Airlines into Ft. Lauderdale on Saturday, the day before the cruise left port and spent the night at the Embassy Suites on 17th St. near the port.
Our ship, the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, was a new ship to us. The itinerary included Princess Cay in the Bahamas; San Juan, Puerto Rico; St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands; and Grand Turk Island in the British West Indies before returning to Ft. Lauderdale.
DELTA AIRLINES: Several years ago we acquired an American Express Platinum Card in order to use the miles we earned on any of a dozen airlines. In addition, the Platinum Card has a special feature giving you a free Business Class seat on any flight, on the selected airlines, for every seat you purchase at the regular fare. It sounded good at the time.
We dutifully charged most of our bills to the American Express card for a couple of years in order to build up miles. A year or so after we started this program we received a notice that if we converted our miles to Delta miles we would get a 20% bonus. At the time we planned a trip to Britain for a British Isles Cruise and wanted to fly on Virgin Airlines listed by Delta as a “Travel Partner,” so we converted 100,000 points to Delta to gain 120,000 miles, enough to upgrade to business class for the two of us on Virgin.
A few days later, waiting for the transaction to register, I called Virgin to book our flights only to be told that Virgin was no longer a Delta “Travel Partner.” Bummer!!!
I called Delta to reverse the transaction of miles from American Express only to be told that all transfers were final and if I had only told them at the time that I intended to use Virgin they would have informed me that the “Travel Partnership” had been cancelled.
So, we traveled to London using our United miles to upgrade. But, now we had 120,000 miles on Delta’s books. When the Weekly Standard Cruise came to our attention, we realized we could use our Delta Miles to obtain free tickets and use up our unintentional cache of miles.
There’s an airport in Ft. Lauderdale but no direct flights from LAX on any airline. Delta serves that airport, but, you have to go through Atlanta to get there. We booked the flight. A solution, right?
Not so fast!!
When we arrived at LAX we discovered a huge long line at the Delta Counter. We braved the line for the better part of an hour and finally reached a ticket agent to check our bags.
Our main bag went on the scale and the agent informed us it was overweight and we’d have to pay an additional $80 to ship it. Having no choice, we paid the money.
On a positive note, if you have the American Express Platinum card you are allowed to use the Airport Club of the Airline you are using, so we were welcomed into the “Delta Crown Room.” That’s the good news. The bad news was, there was no place to sit.
We stayed a few minutes and then went to the gate, only to find people sitting and laying on the floor. We often book an aisle and a window seat in the same row hoping, if the flight isn’t full, there won’t be anyone between us and we can spread out.
What we didn’t count on, and had forgotten completely, was it was the beginning of Easter Week (now known as “Spring Break,” but not in our house). I’m sure you’ve heard about Ft. Lauderdale during that period. The plane was full of people with screaming small children and young people yelling at one another across the plane. There were no empty seats, needless to say, and Delta has the least leg room of any plane I’ve been on.
By the time we reached Ft. Lauderdale, several hours late and exhausted, it was pouring down rain.
On the return flight we took a cab from the ship to the airport, and again, it was pouring down rain. We decided this time to check our bags at curbside. The guy who checked our bag said, “Your bag is overweight, but, I can’t bring myself to charge you, it’s only three pounds over.” He didn’t charge us for the overweight and I gave him a healthy tip.
Here’s the problem, we had exactly the same stuff in the bag on the way back that we had going. In fact we’d bought a couple of tee shirts, meaning the most we could have been overweight on the outbound flight was a couple of pounds. If the agent had told us how much, it would have been easy to remove an item or two and put it in our carry on bag to avoid the $80 charge. They never said a word.
Of, course, the flights home had screaming children, unruly teenagers no empty seats and no leg room.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ll never fly Delta again until I get my $80 back.
And here’s a tip for you, never travel during Easter Vacation or Spring Break either.
EMBASSY SUITES: By the time we got to the Embassy Suites in Ft. Lauderdale we were tired and frustrated. We’d planned to walk across the street to Outback Steakhouse for dinner, but, we were too late and we would have walked in the pouring rain. So, we went to our room – spacious, clean, and comfortable- and began to unwind. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant and enjoyed surprisingly good pasta. The full breakfast the following morning was excellent too, so, by the time we were ready to leave we had forgotten all about our problems with Delta.
I only have one suggestion - if you make a reservation at Embassy Suites in Ft. Lauderdale, or any one of several other hotels near the port, they will offer you an increased rate of $20 per room to deliver you to the port. The problem is that you have to wait for the van at a time convenient for the hotel and, if you take a cab, the fare is only $14. So, our advice is take a cab to the ship from either hotel or airport, it will be cheaper than the transportation offered by either the hotel or the cruise line and it’ll be at your convenience, not theirs.
REGENT SEVEN SEAS MARINER: Our favorite cruise lines are Crystal and Oceania, not surprisingly it’s our habit to compare all cruise lines to our favorites.
The Mariner is a smaller ship than any Crystal ship and is a bit smaller than Oceania. Here are the things that we thought set it apart from the others:
- Dress on board is “Country Club Casual” meaning you never have to wear a tie and there are no formal nights. It’s a guy thing!
- All liquor except special wine is included in the fare. If you have a suite, as we did, a bottle of your favorite liquor will be sitting in your room and will be replenished if you use it up. The mini-bar is stocked at no charge and all drinks you order in the bars are included in the fare. At each meal they serve two wines at no charge, one white and one red. You
will not be charged for those. Only if you order a bottle from the wine list
will a charge show up on your stateroom bill.
- All restaurants are “Open Seating,” meaning you don’t need to show up at an allotted time. On most cruise lines you have to select “Early Seating” or “Late Seating” and you’re stuck with the same dinner companions for the rest of the trip. The regular dining room is not bad, but, it wasn’t up to the food quality of either Crystal or Oceania in our opinion. There is a “Lido” deck, as on all cruises, that serves an excellent buffet for breakfast and lunch, and a specialty buffet for dinner. Over all felt the food service was a “tad” below that of our other favorite ships.
- There are two specialty restaurants, “Signatures,” serving Continental cuisine and an Asian restaurant. Reservations are required. If there are only two of you, you’ll only be able to eat in each once. But, each couple is allowed to make a reservation for four, so if you make friends on the cruise each of you can make a reservation and you can eat there twice. We loved Signatures and suggest you eat there as often as you can.
- The entertainment is about average for ships of this size, but there is music in every bar, often excellent and fun.
- The Computer Room is easy to use and is not expensive for either Internet or photos. The library is beautiful, dark wood and huge, offering DVDs (which you can show in your room) and a great assortment of books. The best computer resources and library we’ve seen on any ship.
WOULD WE GO AGAIN ON SEVEN SEAS? You bet!!
PRINCESS CAY was supposed to be our first Port of Call. It’s a small island in the Bahamas privately owned by Princess Cruises. Unfortunately bad weather that greeted us in Ft. Lauderdale was still with us when we reached the Bahamas, so, the Captain elected to by-pass the port.
Because there is no dock at Princess Cay, we would have been required to anchor in the bay and “tender in” using the ship’s lifeboats. The rough weather made the use of lifeboats risky.
The plan for the day had been an on shore Barbecue and Beach Party, there were no scheduled side trips, so as far as we were concerned this was the least desirable port on the trip. We weren’t broken hearted.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO was our second port. Patricia had been there before, but, I hadn’t, so we decided to participate in the “Shore Excursion” entitled “Old San Juan and Bacardi Distillery.”
Americans invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. As a result of our victory it became an American territory. Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States in 1917. Now a “Commonwealth,” Puerto Ricans elect their own governor and legislature, but still have no representation in Congress or a vote for President. Over the years there have been several referendums aimed at independence or statehood, and the majority has always favored a continuation of the Commonwealth status.
San Juan is 1,000 miles from Miami, but, only 500 miles from Caracas. Hugo Chavez is doing his best to stir up trouble in the neighborhood.
BACARDI: The Bacardi family began making rum in Cuba in the mid-19th Century. The company grew to be the most successful Rum manufacturer in the world and dominated the market until Fidel Castro led the revolution that turned Cuba into a Communist state. The Bacardi distillery and all its property was confiscated by Castro and Bacardi family members escaped to Puerto Rico with all of their wealth left behind.
Naturally, the Cubans failed in their attempt to duplicate the Bacardi success while the new Bacardi Company in San Juan soon grew to regain their world domination of the drink. Today, we were told, more than 80% of the world’s rum is produced by Bacardi.
We were given a tour of the grounds and the historical museum, then had a “rum-tasting.” Rum is made by fermenting sugar cane, which abounds on the island. Lately they have begun to produce “flavored” rum and we tried the Apple Flavor. Mixed with lime juice it was a very special drink, but, I haven’t been able to buy the product from my local liquor store. I understand you can find it on line.
OLD SAN JUAN: We then visited Fort San Cristobal where the Spanish Soldiers were garrisoned during the war. It has a spectacular view of the Harbor and the City.
We then went Plaza de Armas, the Central Plaza of the old city where we shopped before returning to the ship.
There are about 4 Million people in Puerto Rico and about half of them live in San Juan or one of its suburbs. I was surprised at what a modern city it is and it’s beautiful. I guess everything I knew about Puerto Rico I learned from “West Side Story.”
ST THOMAS, U. S. VIRGIN ISLANDS: Here is where you want to shop! A “Free Port” in nearly every sense, you can buy things in St. Thomas free of Duty, Sales Tax, all Federal Taxes and, as an American territory, you won’t lose anything in the way of exchange because all prices are in Dollars.
Here’s an example: A carton of Cigarettes at your local super market will set you back $50 or more, if you still haven’t given up smoking. At the “Duty Free” store at LAX a carton will cost $33. In St. Thomas, it’s $18.75. But be aware that you’ll still have to declare items you purchased and will probably owe “duty” over the current $800 per person exemption when you pass through customs back home.
If you want to buy perfume, liquor, jewelry, electronics or just about any other imported goods, St. Thomas will be your port. If you are looking for something specific make a note of the item’s price back home and then compare it when you get there.
One piece of advice, if you plan to spend more than you usually do, notify your credit card company before you leave home that you’re going to be on vacation, otherwise you may get hung up with the credit card approval.
We were only in St. Thomas for a few hours, so we never got out of the shopping area, but, we understand the Virgin Islands are truly a tropical paradise.
GRAND TURK ISLAND, BRITISH WEST INDIES: There really isn’t much here, but, it’s lovely. While we were there the sun was shining brightly, then a single cloud came over, we had a light rain for half an hour and then the cloud went away. It reminded me of Kauai.
There’s a little shopping area near the dock offering an odd mix of local craft sellers and U. S. chain stores. Prices are all in British pounds, so you’ll get hammered on the exchange rate. My advice is if you come here first, wait for St. Thomas.
There is also a Jimmy Buffett Margaritaville restaurant right on the beach, a common sight in Florida. We were surprised to find it here, but learned that the chain has 3 restaurants in the Caribbean. It has lots of beach chairs so you can soak up the sun and get blitzed on Margaritas. We sat indoors and ordered “Buffalo Wings” and beer. Afterwards we realized this was the only meal we ate off the ship on the whole trip.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD PROGRAM: All of the daytime hours except in port or at meal time, were filled with programs presented by Weekly Standard Editors and writers, along with their specially invited guests.
Our principal presenters were Editor Bill Kristol, who appears weekly on Fox News Sunday on the Fox Network and Executive Editor Fred Barnes who appears regularly on the Fox News Channel in the popular “Beltway Boys” Program. The Weekly Standard is owned by News Corporation, which also owns Fox. This may account for their many appearances on that network.
Guests included: Terry Eastland, Publisher; Richard Starr, Deputy Editor; John Podhoretz Editor of Commentary Magazine; Mike Murphy, Media Consultant; Ted Olson former Solicitor General of the United States; and Christian Lowe, Managing Editor of Military.com.
TED OLSON: Our most distinguished guest was Ted Olson, former Solicitor General of the United States. Olson’s first wife Barbara was on American Flight 77 hijacked on 9-ll and flown into the Pentagon. Ted told a heart breaking version of the event. Barbara used her cell phone to call him and tell him they’d been hijacked. He was forced to tell her that two planes had already been flown into the World Trade Center. They prayed together and talked right up until the end. Barbara was a Television Commentator on Fox News and was on her way to tape a segment to be aired on “Politically Incorrect” with Bill Maher. Barbara had just finished her second book, “The Final Days: The Last, Desperate Abuses of Power by the Clinton White House” which was published posthumously.
Ted Olson is best remembered as the lawyer representing the Republicans in challenging the Florida recount after the 2000 election. He was, of course, on the winning side of that issue, but, his association with it prevented him from being nominated as a Supreme Court Justice during the Bush years. The Democrats vowed that his nomination would be filibustered until “Hell Freezes Over.”
We were privileged to sit at the dinner table with Ted and his new wife Lady (Yes, that’s really her name.) A native of the Louisville area, Lady and Ted were married in 2006 and are a very warm and friendly couple.
Ted was associated with the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher of Los Angeles which also produced a former Attorney General, William French Smith. Ted and I had a mutual acquaintance, Guy Claire, a Gibson Dunn attorney who served on the Board of Trustees when I was at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. Ted shared many anecdotes about Guy and his days in Southern California.
His program, one of the most enlightening, was about the Electoral College and the major events in history which shaped it. One of those major events was the Bush/Gore election of 2000. While the “Florida Recount” controversy has become a Democrat rallying cry, Olson pointed out that the first US Supreme Court decision, canceling the Florida Court’s decision requiring a recount in just 3 counties, was overturned by a vote of 7-2 not 5-4 as portrayed later in the press. Another important fact to remember is that a complete recount of the state’s ballots by the major American newspapers showed that Bush did indeed have the most votes.
BILL KRISTOL: The son of Irving Kristol, felt by many to be the “Father of the Neo-Con Movement,” Bill began his political career as Chief of Staff for Education Secretary Bill Bennett during the Regan Administration and then as Chief of Staff for Vice President Dan Quayle during the first Bush Presidency. Bill is associated with numerous Republican and Conservative “Think Tanks” and the last year appeared regularly on the Editorial Pages of the New York Times. He also teaches a class at his Alma Mater, Harvard, in the Kennedy School of Government.
Kristol co-founded the Weekly Standard in 1994.
In our opinion, the most brilliant Conservative, now that William F. Buckley has passed away, Bill Kristol appeared on several panel discussions on this cruise, the first of which featured Messers Kristol, Barnes and Murphy.
At the time, March of 2008, the Democrats had not yet given Barrack Obama their Presidential nomination. They told a number of stories about various candidates, including a joke attributed to Mitt Romney:
A married couple in their 50’s are walking on the beach and discover a Genie’s lamp. They rub the lamp and out pops a Genie who offers each of them one wish. The wife asks for expensive jewelry and ZAP it appears to adorn her. The husband says, “I’d like a wife who is 30 years younger than me” and, ZAP, he is 80 years old.
They also told about Bono, leader of the rock band U-2, being invited to the White House. Bono told a Bush aide he was surprised President Bush even knew who he was. The Aide said when asked about Bono, the President immediately said, “Yeah, he’s the guy who was married to Cher.”
Kristol pointed out that the 2008 election is the first ever to pit two Senators against each other and the first in 50 years without an incumbent in the race.
FRED BARNES is Executive Editor of the Weekly Standard. He and Mort Kondracke star on the popular “Beltway Boys” political commentary show on the Fox News Channel. His media career has included 10 years as Senior Editor and White House Correspondent for the New Republic, covering the White House and Supreme Court for the Washington Star and serving as political correspondent for the Baltimore Sun.
He appears regularly on Britt Hume’s evening news and is a familiar “Talking Head” expert on politics for Fox.
In his first panel on our cruise, he said, “2008 looks like the Democrats’ year.” They’re certain to maintain majorities in both House and Senate and threaten the Republicans with the possibility of a “Veto Proof Majority.”
The panel seemed to feel that McCain had a chance against either Clinton or Obama, but, the debates could be critical. Barnes pointed out that McCain is the oldest non-incumbent candidate and Obama is the least experienced ever to gain nomination.
During the week we had a chance to meet all the speakers. When I met Fred and told him I was from Sierra Madre, he asked what day our Weekly Standard arrived in the mail. I told him we usually receive it on Friday or Saturday several days later than it should arrive. I also told him our post office in Sierra Madre is well known for its friendly staff, but not its prompt service. I know there are only two subscribers to Weekly Standard in our Zip Code, because it’s quite common for me to receive both copies, or for the other guy to get both copies. When it happens we hand deliver the misdirected copy to the proper subscriber.
Later when we had our photos taken with the panelists I suggested to Fred that he autograph my photo, “To my best friend in Zip Code 91024.”
TERRY EASTLAND is the Publisher of the Weekly Standard. He also has had an illustrious career in journalism as Publisher of the American Spectator and Editor of Forbes MediaCritic. He served in the Reagan Administration as the Justice Department’s Director of Public Affairs and he’s written 7 books.
Our first night on the ship we were to have Terry at our table, but, the choppy waters put him a bit “under the weather.” So we were joined by Terry’s wife, Jill, who is a delightful person and has a much stronger constitution than her husband.
In our Wednesday session each speaker took a different topic and Terry spoke about Race and Religion as it relates to the current Presidential Campaign. He indicated that he felt the state of race relations in the United States is currently good, as witness to the fact that the favorite in the presidential race is an African American. “Government should be colorblind,” he said. However, there are a number of “Affirmative Action” initiatives on state ballots and these will probably keep the topic on the “Front Burner.”
RICHARD STARR is the Deputy Editor and has been with the magazine since its first issue in 1995. He previously worked for the Washington Times and the American Spectator. Last year he contributed to the book “Why I turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys.”
Richard is responsible for my favorite section of the magazine, “Scrapbook” composed each week of commentary on current events, often puncturing the hot air balloon of the “mainstream” media. I told Richard how much I liked his work. He said he doesn’t have a by-line in the Scrapbook section to keep down the number of “Death Threats.”
During the panel presentation, Richard talked about today’s military comparing it to the one at the time Jimmy Carter reinstated the Draft. Today’s soldiers are motivated by love of country, and a desire to do something about terrorism. Richard said when he joined the military during the Carter era, he was given a questionnaire which asked, among other things, why he had decided to join. Included were options like: “To see the world;” “to get an education,” etc. “To serve my country.” was not an option.
JOHN PODHORETZ is one of the original founders, of the Weekly Standard. He’s written for many publications including Time Magazine, U. S. News and World Report and the Washington Times. He also served President Ronald Reagan as a Speech Writer.
He has written several books including the New York Times best seller, “Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President while Driving Liberals Insane” which he read aloud for the Audio version of the book. I told him I listen to books on tape on my daily commute and had listened to him reading Bush Country. I told him I enjoyed it. He was pleased and became my “buddy” the rest of the trip. Once, we both took advantage of a Black Jack Dealer in the Ship Casino who was having a bad night.
A man of immense talent and great good humor, John writes the weekly Movie Reviews for the Weekly Standard. For his solo session he talked about his choices for the best all time movies. The funniest, he said, was “Airplane.” Patricia and I certainly wouldn’t disagree, we’ve seen it numerous times and it never fails to crack us up.
His list of “Best Movies of All Time” contained many old favorites including “Citizen Kane,” “All About Eve”, “Casablanca”, “Singing in the Rain” and his all time favorite, “The Godfather.” But, it also contained some surprises including two foreign films: “The Lives of Others” (German) and “the Leopard” (Italy). Then there were (surprise, surprise) “Monsters Inc” the fairly recent animated film from Pixar and “Steamboat Bill,” an early Buster Keaton film.
He gave his 5 personal favorites: “Airplane”, “Breakfast at Tiffanys”, “Philadelphia Story”, “Groundhog Day” and “Giant”. He gave some special “Conservative” awards:
Best Euthanasia Movie: “Million Dollar Baby”
Best CIA movie: “The In-Laws”
Best Capitalist Movies: “Big” and “Working Girl”
John’s session was, we agreed, the most fun of any we heard.
MIKE MURPHY: Mike’s session was a close second for “Most Fun.” He’s a Political Media Consultant that Fortune Magazine called a “Media Master.” He’s handled strategy and advertising for 26 senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns including Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Lamar Alexander and Christie Todd Whitman.
He’s appeared regularly as an analyst on NBC (Meet the Press), NPR (All things Considered), ABC (Nightline), CNN, MSNBC and PBS.
Bill Kristol interviewed Mike for one of our sessions where he discussed two of his most famous campaigns: the Re-election campaign of George H.W. Bush and the original recall campaign that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger Governor of California.
He told of an important New Hampshire Republican politician who wanted to photograph President Bush with his cow. It became a farce, but, the President handled it with aplomb.
He told, with a perfect imitation of “Arnie’s” voice and accent, of how the
Governor-to-be wanted to blow up a car as a campaign stunt. He was finally dissuaded and they ultimately got the same shock value by dropping a car from a crane poised 30 feet off the ground and the fire department didn’t have to be alerted.
We look forward to seeing Mike on TV soon.
CHRISTIAN LOWE is Managing Editor of Military.com a website aimed at active and retired military. He’s covered the Iraq war in detail and in January of this year (2008) was embedded with both Army and Marine units for a month.
While many members of the press were “embedded” during the first part of the war, you haven’t seen press coverage of what’s going on there since America started winning.
Christian showed photographs of our young Soldiers and Marines helping the Iraqi people back to a normal life. It was very inspirational.
He was assigned to our table on our first night and we were very impressed with his knowledge and dedication to our fighting forces. Check out his website. www.military.com
NEW FRIENDS: One great thing about a cruise like this one, focused on a single issue, is you have an opportunity to gain like-minded new friends. We’ve been exchanging emails since we returned home and many of us are planning to go on next year’s Weekly Standard Cruise slated for the Mediterranean.
Barry and Marsha Lacy who divide their time between Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and Atlanta Georgia. Barry is a retired UPS executive.
Dick and Pidge Amann who divide their time between Florida and Maine. Dick is retired military.
John and Ann Coil of Santa Ana, California. Ann is the head of a career consulting firm.
THE WEEKLY STANDARD: We loved our cruise with the staff and guests of the Weekly Standard. If you’d like to subscribe to the magazine or just to check it out, we invite you to their website at www.weeklystandard.com. Just tell them that Fred’s best friend in zip code 91024 sent you.