Once again the extraordinary Armenian Heritage Cruise (AHC) sailed from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Jan. 9-17, 2016. Armenians from all over the world boarded the beautiful Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas cruise ship. Around 800 guests from 16 countries and 29 states within the United States experienced an unforgettable week of special events in Armenian style. This was a week to leave the hustle and bustle of life behind to enjoy a week filled with beautiful sites, cultural programs, new people, music and dances, good food, and fun in a profoundly unique Armenian way.
Each guest received an AHC tote bag and card holder as a gift from the Armenian Cultural Association of America (ACAA) and Travel Group International. All guests were given a special AHC cabin key card, which granted each guest entry into all of the Armenian activities on the ship for the week.
We were honored to have onboard His Eminence Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan, Prelate of the Eastern USA Prelacy. The archbishop conducted Armenian morning services on the ship.
For those guests who needed a little help on the dance floor, Margo Kaftajian taught Armenian dances like the “Shourch Bar,” “Tamzara,” “Haleh,” and many others. Guests could register for the Backgammon and Belote Tournaments under the direction of Antranik Boudakian. Armenian singles enjoyed the wonderful social gatherings, dances, and the disco parties each night into the late hours. There was a special table set up for Armenian Heritage Tour 2016 with Maro Asatoorian, the ACAA liaison, for a fully escorted tour to Armenia and Karabagh from Sept. 9-23, 2016. The ACAA Hospitality Desk was open daily to assist passengers. With so many activities, it can be difficult to decide what to do—the Armenian Heritage Cruise XIX had something for everyone.
The days we were at sea were spent poolside enjoying the beautiful tropical weather. Some participated in the many activities aboard the ship or relaxed in their luxurious staterooms. Of course, our week was not complete without the enjoyment of dancing to the rhythm of Armenian music, featuring Elie Berberian and his band from Montreal, and the All Star Armenian Traditional Band with Richard Berberian, Mal Barsamian, Steve Vosbikian, Jim Kzirian, and Chris Marashlian.
The first night, at the Welcome Reception, Maria Tavitian and Margo Kaftajian welcomed all of the guests and introduced the “AHC Ambassadors” who were responsible for the different functions and highlighted the week’s activities.
Wednesday evening there was an Armenian Heritage Cruise Cocktail Party sponsored by Travel Group International and the ACAA Armenian Heritage Cruise. That evening the wonderful chefs of the “Navigator of the Seas” offered an optional Armenian menu during dinner. Wine was served compliments of the ACAA and Travel Group International.
Early Friday morning, Barbara Haroutunian and her committee organized the Armenian Festival Day Pool Party. Prizes were awarded for the best Armenian tri-color outfit, in red, blue, and orange. Along with face painting, Kaftajian’s dance class encouraged everyone to get on the dance floor and dance. This has become an annual event, and people came prepared with original design outfits to compete in the contest. Following the formal program, the dance floor exploded as guests danced and listened to the All-Star Armenian Traditional Band, which was later joined by Ellie Berberian as special guest.
Our destinations were Labadee, Haiti, Royal Caribbean’s private island, where we spent the day swimming at a beautiful beach and enjoyed a delicious barbeque provided by Royal Caribbean. Next stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico, a popular cruise port in the Caribbean where there is the old and new city with picturesque fountains, beautiful squares, and a historical fort that enchanted everyone.
On the third day we arrived at the island of St. Kitts, where the stores and houses are painted every color of the rainbow, with great scenery and beautiful pink sandy beaches. This island became a favorite for everyone.
Each day there were speakers and programs about relevant Armenian subjects:
The Ani Dance Ensemble from Montreal, Canada, under the artistic direction of Eva Airapetian, with its beautiful Armenian costumes and perfect Armenian folk dance routines brought thunderous cheers from an appreciative audience.
Dr. John Bilezikian, a faculty member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University, returned again to discuss osteoporosis in Armenia.
Maro Matosian, founder and executive director of the Women’s Support Center in Armenia, gave a presentation on the status of women in Armenia, the inequality between the sexes, and the comprehensive services available to victims of domestic violence.
Dr. Antranig Kasbarian led a discussion on “Armenia at 25: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.”
Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan presented “The 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.”
Vehanoush Tekian led a discussion on “Secrets of the Armenian Alphabet: Hidden Meanings and Messages.”
Elie Berberian sang everyone’s favorite patriotic songs.
The Knights and Daughters of Vartan hosted a presentation by Robert Barsam and Sona Manuelian regarding the fraternal organization, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.
The ARS held a reception and presentation.
The Armenian Business Networking Hour allowed networking with other Armenians on the ship.
And Seta Ghazarian gave a talk on “Armenian Lighthouse Charitable Foundation: Working to help Abused Women in Armenia.” The foundation has become a beacon of hope for women, children, the elderly, and families who are struggling.
The Armenian Heritage Cruise has become a respected and prestigious program. The ACAA is a registered Armenian 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation; donations are tax deductible and primarily assist cultural activities, research on Armenian topics, and grants to Armenian newspapers, publications, internships, the depository guardian of the original governmental archives of the first Armenian Republic of 1918, and other historic Armenian national documents.
From all over the United States, dedicated individuals have volunteered to work on this fabulous event. Each area of the United States, Canada, and Europe are represented. There is no other event in the world that brings Armenians together for seven full days of fellowship and camaraderie. We put aside our political and religious differences and come together as Armenians to support one nation, one people, and one purpose: a Free and Independent Armenia. We look forward to seeing you on Armenian Heritage Cruise XX, setting sail from Jan. 20-29, 2017, with all new ports visiting Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.
There will also be one day spent at Royal Caribbean’s private island of Labadee, Haiti. Our featured singers for dancing pleasure will be Kevork Artinian, Harout Hagopian, Harout Khatchoyan, Joseph Krikorian, and from London, England, comedian Kev Orkian. Enjoy the unique experience of a lifetime on “the Armenian original cruise,” where the Armenian spirit comes alive on the Caribbean Sea. The famous composer and arranger Antranik Mouradian will also perform, bringing with him Salbi Mailyan, Armen Oganesyan, and Harout Hagopian—an extraordinary group that will dazzle the Armenian Heritage Cruise guests.
For reservations or for more information about Armenian Heritage Cruise XX, celebrating our 20th anniversary, call Travel Group International at (866) 447-0750.
Comments from a Few Pleased Passengers
“Hamazkayin gave us a chance to travel and perform and AHC invited our group for a second time and gave us a chance to meet new people and create ties with so many, all in one trip. Laughs, memories, and unforgettable moments… We are so grateful, for it allows us to grow as individuals, dancers, and Armenians. Thank you for inviting us and making us feel so special. We love the AHC!”
Ani Dance Group
“My hats off to the AHC committee members. This is my first cruise and I am so happy I came. I made new friends and established relationships for life. The programs and dances were very good, but the camaraderie with my brothers and sisters is priceless. This is very important to keep our people together. Getze Armenian Heritage Cruise!”
“AHC is the best cruise we have ever been on. I met a close friend after 40 years, a cousin after 45 years, and an elementary school classmate after 55 years. The best thing that we can say about the AHC is that we can’t say anything negative about this cruise.”
Movses and Osana Hovsepian
“Although I have just returned from the ‘Hye Seas,’ I am still on a high from the Armenian Heritage Cruise, starting in Fort Lauderdale and cruising to many islands and visiting famous beaches. To top it off, there were daily Armenian sessions presented on the ship. The enjoyment was contagious, as fellow brothers and sisters from all over the world came together sharing their stories, history, and pride in their Armenian ancestry, heritage, religion, and culture. A trip to remember, to treasure, and we are making plans for the Armenian Heritage Cruise XX.”
Lily Ring Balian
Los Angeles, Calif.
“The Armenian spirit permeates throughout every activity on the AHC. The strong feeling of camaraderie attracts Armenians from all over the world. Besides all the ports and sightseeing opportunities, the social, medical, and cultural presentations added an educational component to this beautiful trip. One week on the Armenian Heritage Cruise not only strengthens the Armenian spirit in each guest, but also makes a great social contribution by bringing the Armenian Diaspora together and shaping its future, incorporating its role towards our homeland. We congratulate all the organizers and thank them sincerely for this very successful trip.”
Osep and Nadya Sarafian
Farmington Hills, Mich.
“This is the first time my husband and I have been on the AHC. We came because it was highly recommended by our cousins from Los Angeles. My expectations were met and went beyond. From the very beginning we felt welcome by all the Armenians on board. The programs were outstanding. We are only sorry that we did not come on this cruise earlier. We appreciate all the hard work and effort of the AHC committee. I hope every Armenian will experience this wonderful cruise.”
Artin and Maral Abajian