Europe…the sane, the insane, the glorious!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014 14:09 | Filled in Uncategorized
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Well, it finally arrived. We had booked this trip over 2 years ago, and kept thinking about how far away it was, when suddenly, it was here. We made our lists, checked them twice, repeated I don’t know how many times, and headed to the airport. To save time and money we opted for the shuttle service to take us to the airport and back. Uh oh…bad vibes. The driver wasn’t familiar with the vouchers we had purchased from AAA, so valuable time was wasted as he tried to figure it all out. Finally, someone in dispatch said it was good. Oh joy…on our way….with several stops along the way. We got to the airport, checked in, and headed to our gate. Since the plane hadn’t arrived yet, we waited (not so patiently) for our boarding. Finally it arrived, disgorged all the people arriving, cleaned up, and we were boarded. Once on board I got the chance to check out the aircraft. It was an Airbus A-330-300, 2 class (business and economy) and they had JUST added Economy plus…a bit more leg room, a bit more seat pitch. It was almost a cattle flight, in that most of the seats were occupied. It became the longest flight in history!! The seats do not go back far enough, there isn’t enough leg room, and no matter how you configure yourself, there is no way to become comfortable. One “good” thing that occurred, we arrived in Zurich 1 hour earlier than scheduled. We headed out for our connecting flight, waited for it to start the boarding process, and mayhem ensued! Everyone felt that they just HAD to be the first….on the bus, on the stairs, in the aisle, in their seat. Yet, for a much smaller aircraft (max 90) it was considerable more comfortable. It was a 4 engine jet, similar to the BAC series, and you almost got the feeling, as it raced down the runway, it was going,” I think I can, I think I can…” then leaping into the air. After a short 90 minute flight we arrived in Prague where we were met by our Viking host, led to our waiting limo, and “whisked” to our hotel, the Prague Old Town Marriott. This is a wonderful hotel, right on the edge of Old Town and New Town, with a Metro stop and several tram stops within a block. Our room overlooked a small courtyard, so it was nice and quiet. We had made reservations for our restaurant prior to leaving the states, so I gathered our maps, our reservations, and headed out. Having no idea of how long it would take, and it being “rush hour” I allowed for a bit longer. We got off at the correct tram stop, found our way along the street, finally arriving at the restaurant 45 minutes early. We went in, and I apologized for being so early….not a problem, our table was waiting for us. Talk about great food! We had pig’s knuckle, roast duck, and the required beer to wash it down with. There was so much food, we absolutely could not finish it all! We tried, believe me! We left very happy campers, and headed to the tram stop to return to our hotel. When we arrived, the first order of the day was to crash, since we had a tour scheduled for in the morning. We got up, had a very nice breakfast (included) and met our tour guide, an athletic Czech who had 2 speeds…fast, and faster. Everything was, “it’s just a short distance from your hotel”. Well, we walked from our hotel, zig-zaging our way through Old Town, across the Charles Bridge, where we met up with our motor coach. We motored up the hill to the castle, and started walking again, then down the castle steps to our waiting bus. We arrived back at our hotel around 1:30, again beat, cold, and still had another tour scheduled for that evening. We took a nap, then headed out for our second tour. What a difference!! Niki, our tour guide, was a young (early 30’s) Finn who had married his Czech girlfriend. As luck would have it, the other couples failed to show, so we had a private trip with him, doing several pubs with various Czech foods (beer snacks) as well as various types of beers. It included all trams and Metros, so by the time it was over, we had gone several places, using all the various modes of transportation, getting completely filled with the great food (and beer!) Niki made absolutely sure we were comfortable heading out on the metro back to our hotel, and we parted. We got back around 11:30, so lights out for the next day. Friday was our shopping day, and boy did Barb find things to buy! We were able to find Faith & Tim some great things, and Barb got her garnet necklace she wanted. That evening, we headed out for another foray to find a restaurant. I had the hotel book us reservations, and we headed out on the trams again, this time going in the opposite direction to the end of the line. We backtracked 1/2 block to the restaurant, they were delighted to see us, and again we had a delicious meal. This time I had the roast duck, and Barb had a beef and vegetable gravy dish that was, in her words, to die for. Again, served with the beer. We both felt that the prices we paid were well under what we could have spent, and the food and ambiance was just great. Saturday morning we got up to take the motor coach to Nuremberg where we were to meet our ship, the Viking Longboat HLIN (pronounced lean). We arrive after an uneventful 4 hour ride (the “highlight” being a rest stop on the autobahn with a … [wait for it] McDonald’s!!)We were hoping to get in some sightseeing, but the last shuttle bus stopped at 4:30, it was now 5:00, and we still had to get settled in.
Saturday morning came in at a glorious 40 degrees or so, cloudy, grey, and damp. We piled onto the buses and headed to see the sights around the city, ending up at the Christmas Market. Although they are nice, in the case of the Danube cities, they are a bit of a letdown. The markets are smallish, and a lot is of the same items. Yes, made in Germany, but mostly mass produced. Ah…but the gluwein!!!!! Each city has a Christmas Market gluwein and mug. You purchase the wine, and it’s served in a mug with the name of the city, the year, with a deposit of roughly 2 Euros…to be returned with the return of the mug. (We have a collection of 12 mugs.) After returning to the ship we set sail through the Main-Danube Canal, a series of locks that raise the ship from (roughly) sea level to over 1500 feet, and back down to join the Danube. As was stated, after the first lock or two, its no longer ‘WOW’ but, “Oh, another one”. We arrived in Regensburg, Germany the next morning, tied up, and took our walking tour of the city, then were cut loose to explore on our own. Again, Christmas Market time, more gluwein, more shopping, then back to the ship for dinner and sailing. We left early evening and sailed through the night, with our next stop in Passau, Germany. This city is at the confluence of 3 rivers, and flooding is a major problem. The last “big” flood was in 1580’s, yet the flood of 2013 was only a few inches lower. Awesome! More gluwein, more shopping, on to Vienna, Austria. From here we sailed during the day to see the castles (and ruins) and it’s really an awesome sight Castles…..the original toll booth! Vienna is really a pretty city, with enough culture to satisfy everyone. We didn’t opt for the optional excursion to go to a concert, but everyone who went raved about it. Here I was able to take a tour into the city with the Chef and visit the Fresh Market. Stall after stall of fresh fish, meats, vegetables, as well as candy, small eateries, and myriads of items I can’t even imagine what their use is. I purchased some dried fruit called physalis, which is a yellow fruit roughly the size of a grape, when eaten fresh it has a slightly sweet/tart flavor, and a texture similar to a grainy apple. When dried, it looks like a large golden raisin, has the texture of a fig, and has 4 distinct flavors, sour, sweet, bitter, and earthy, in that order, and very quickly. It was here I was able to purchase my Chef’s Knife, a beautiful well balanced piece of work that should last me for the rest of my life. We spent the night here, then in the morning set sail for our final stop, Budapest, Hungary. This is a beautiful city, with the most striking piece of architectural wonder, the Parliament Building, especially when illuminated at night. Our biggest “problem” with the cruise was the weather (or lack thereof). It was cold, grey, and damp. The sun only came out once, and that was in Budapest, and only for a few hours. Saturday, when we left, it was raining. Now the fun began! We were scheduled to depart the ship at 6:30a.m. for a 9:00 flight. We arrived at the airport, there was a Viking rep there to assist us, and we checked in and started our wait for the flight. We had an opportunity to pick up a few more items at the duty free shops, then it was time to get on board.
Aircraft in Europe are smaller than what we are used to here stateside. Our plane from Budapest to Dusseldorf only carried 60+ passengers, and their rules about carry on are totally different as well. Carry on there, means, you take it to the plane, they put it on a baggage cart, put it in the belly, then unload the belly, put it back on the cart, THEN allow passengers to disembark. As a result, our connection time of 45 minutes was seriously compromised, and we had less than 30 minutes to get from a non-controlled (local) area to a secure (international) area. Oh joy! Well, we made it, but not without some frantic moments! Because of serious headwinds, we arrived in Newark, N.J. about 45 minutes late. Although I’ve heard some people like going through Newark, for us is was a real pain. Passport control was overly crowded (3 agents open for U.S. Citizens, 6 agents open for visitors), and both lines snaking around, and around, and around, and around, and…yeah, you get the idea. After clearing there, we had to go back through the TSA position to get to our flight to Florida. Again, TSA is a real pain-in-the-ass! Priority position was the only one we were allowed into (the others were at a standstill…only 3 positions open) to service the entire air wing. What should have taken 30 minutes (at most) took well over 1 hour.
The cities. Prague was wonderful! We had the chance to really see the area, and it was by no means complete. To really see the city you would need at least a week! The one thing I got was the “feel” of the city. Pictures are fine, but to get the feel, one needs to look past the fancy monuments, gorgeous statues and buildings, and pay attention to the ebb and flow of the area. The food and the beer are excellent, and you can easily make friends at one of the pubs.Nuremberg, Germany has history galore, some good, some not good. They have embraced the fact Germany failed to see Hitler for what he was, and have taken steps to get across the message. Uncomfortable? Sometimes, but absolutely necessary. Very sobering. Regensburg, Germany. Here’s a nice Medieval Town that has embraced the past eras, where workmanship and pride of achievement is paramount. Lots to see and do. Passau, Germany. The confluence of 3 major rivers, it’s subject to flooding. Right on the river, it’s easily accessible from the ship to town, and the action. Plenty of shops, including Simon’s, the origin of the gingerbread. Only sold during Advent, with the original recipe (3 ingredients…flour, honey, spices). It’s biggest draw is it’s chocolates. Vienna, Austria. Although right on the river, you need to take the Metro to reach the best areas. Here you can find a mix of modern and Gothic, tastefully existing together. Mozart is found on virtually every block, either named in some building, pictured as the name of the store, or as candy treats (that are excellent, by the way!) Budapest, Hungary. Right on the river, it’s easily accessible from the ship. Buda is on one side of the river, Pest is on the other. The Parliament Building is absolutely stunning, both during the day, and especially in the evening, when it’s all lit up. The entire city is beautiful, and well worth an additional visit just to see it all.
So, let’s recap. The river cruise is different than an ocean cruise. Some of the biggest differences are the size of the rooms, the size of the ships, the “lack” of fancy entertainment venues, just to name a few. Our room, a mid priced “French Balcony” was listed at 135 square feet. (Carnival, for comparison, is 185 square feet) Passenger capacity on the river boat is near 180 passengers, vs. over 2000 for most ocean ships. Because of the lower number, it’s possible to really get to meet the entire crew, and even visit the various areas. Entertainment is either brought onboard (local talent, from Opera/musical groups) to folk dancers, to food prep specialties, or optional excursions to similar venues in town. The biggest “problem” in my own view is the cost and agonizing pain of flying over the ocean. The airlines have taken the attitude that it’s much more valuable they carry 10 – 20 more passengers than to have some semblance of comfort. The seats are crammed in and have virtually no ability to recline to anything resembling comfort. Upgrading to “Premium Economy” is one option, but can be costly. Still, it’s a valuable option. Business Class, or even First Class, is out of reach of most people. We would love to do this type of cruise again, on a different river, different time of year, but because of the cost of flights, and the lack of comfort, not in the foreseeable future.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014 11:59 | Filled in Uncategorized

Well, as all things flow like the tide, we missed getting the repositioning cruise coming up in March of 2015. There is still room on board, but I just cannot justify the cost of a balcony just to watch the water go by. As a result, I went in search of someplace else. I lucked out! There is a cruise sailing out of Norfolk, Va. in October of 2015, going to Bermuda! Well, Barb loves Bermuda, and the price was good, so I booked us for there. One thing that will bear watching, the cruise is a “onesie”, in that it is (and will be) the only cruise for that cruise line going to Bermuda, either in 2015, or for that matter, 2014. It will be interesting to see if they decide to go in 2016. Well…here’s an update. Carnival SUNSHINE will be sailing from Port Canaveral one week earlier, 2 days at sea, 3 days in Bermuda, and 2 days at sea. It’s also an 8 night cruise, as well as more expensive. They also announced that the PRIDE will sail to Bermuda out of Baltimore when she returns, but the general feeling is that there isn’t enough time to get to see or do anything. One other nice thing. The cruise will spend a full three days docked. Most other ships claim three days, but when you check their itineraries, you discover the ship arrives mid to late afternoon of the first day, and departs noon or mid afternoon of the third day. This cruise we dock early in the morning of day one, and depart late afternoon day three. Hopefully, this time, we will get to see all those other places we missed on our last trip. We have posted on the cruise lines web site a “roll call” message, and it looks like there are a few of us who book early, then chaff at the bit, hoping the days would go by quicker. Well, here is more to see what’s going on. We have the trip insurance paid for, so now all that’s left is the payments to get the cruise paid off. Still no price changes, but it’s early yet. October and the CLIA annual sale will be coming up, and in November the traditional Military Appreciation benefits will be (hopefully) added. These are normally found as OBC’s, but the cruise must be paid in full to get them, although that is not always the case. I’ll be adding to this as time goes on. Hopefully that will occupy some of the time.
For those who have never been to Bermuda, it’s nice to know a bit of the lay of the land, so to speak. Bermuda is a chain of islands, the larger of which are tied together by bridges. The Somerset Bridge is world famous as being the smallest drawbridge in the world, the span being in the 18″ range. Since Bermuda is comprised of coral outcroppings, the waters around the island can be very tricky to navigate, and getting into Hamilton, or St. Georges, or even Kings Wharf, requires outstanding seamanship. The channels currently cut into the coral were done many years ago, before the megaships were being built. As a result, Hamilton and St. Georges have become pretty well bypassed for the majority of cruise ships, they simply cannot get to the docks safely. There is talk of doing additional dredging and blasting for a new channel, but it’s being relegated to turf wars, since the ecology would suffer, and destroy the bay, and thus the beauty of the island.St. Georges is even in a worse situation, since they also get battered by winds that would make docking a difficult feat with the larger ships. This leaves Kings Wharf to accommodate the larger ships, and there is only room for two ships at a time. Any other ship shows up, they must tender in, and that in itself causes additional problems, since the docks are subject to open water roughness, and there is no really safe way to load or unload tenders.
Bermuda, being a British Commonwealth, does not rely on the tourist trade in a similar manner as the Caribbean islands. Going into a store and expecting to haggle prices is frowned upon, and will garner no results. Also, dress code for

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walking or riding around is more sedate. Bermuda shorts, nice polo, are acceptable, running around in short shorts and bra type top are not. Since cars are not available to tourists, the scooter and moped are the basic mode of transportation, with a large number of people using the bus and ferry system. Taxi’s are available, but very expensive. Transportation passes can be purchased at the government kiosks, with the price varying depending on number of days purchased. If you use them more than twice or more per day, they are well worth it, otherwise get a ticket per ride. Again, the fare is dependent on the length of the ride, and goes by zone. One of the more pressing problems is finding a bus or ferry to return back to the ship late in the evening. Hamilton is just a hop across the bay, but if the ferry has stopped running, then the only way to get back to the ship is via taxi, a very expensive option. As I sit here typing, I see that the fare has gone up even more, and the rate is now over $500 with what appears to be no chance of it dropping. Oh well, Bermuda is well worth it! Another update….our cabin is now going for over $3000 for the both of us, so I’m glad we booked when we did. I guess there won’t be any OBC this cruise!!

How in the Hell can you afford all these cruises??

Sunday, February 9, 2014 20:00 | Filled in Uncategorized

This is a question I get asked almost weekly. I’m not filthy rich, I don’t have a whole lot of money to toss around, yet I’m able to take several cruises per year. So, you ask, how do you do it? Well, for me, it’s a fairly simple process. First, my wife and I try to agree on where we would like to go… whether it be the Caribbean, the West Coast, New England, or wherever hits our fancy. Next, we try to determine the best time of the year to do this. If we are looking at Canada and New England, we are pretty much limited to late summer or early Fall. The Caribbean is easy, anytime during the year. Once we have these parts figured out, we try to decide when, as in, this year, next year, or the year after that. Yes, we plan ahead, which is how we are able to do as we plan. As soon as the itineraries are announced for a specific area, we look to see if it’s something we want. If not, we look at alternates. If nothing still tickles our fancy, we hold off, or put searching on hold. Inevitably, something will come up, whether it be a repositioning cruise, or a series of deals that make sense. It may even be a situation where a cruise now may pay off later. Case in point. We completed a cruise in January, and the cruise line made an offer to assist us in paying for an additional cruise, provided it was taken in this year, and met other criteria. As a result, our next cruise comes in at around $20 per person per day. So, in terms of planning, the earlier you plan ahead of the cruise, the cheaper your price. Also, by booking early, you have the options of spreading out your payments, based on your terms, versus someone elses. By booking early, you can get what you want, and not be taking whatever is left. You can choose the best tours and get them out of the way before sailing. You can put money aside for tours, for on board expenses, and not be jammed up worrying about how you will pay for everything. More importantly, you will have everything thought out before you commit, thus avoiding the pitfall of booking something you really are not interested in. You will have had the opportunity to research the areas, and who knows, you may just find something that’s really interesting, whether it be food tastings, areas to visit, or places absolutely the must see/do, all because you had the time. Now, for this next cruise coming up, We received a message from Princess showing some very nice, inexpensive cruises. This cruise leaves from Houston going to Cozumel, Belize, and Isle of Roatan, Honduras. We were at the last two many years ago, so it will be interesting to see the changes that have occurred in the

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interim. One activity I’m very interested in exploring is there is a new rum in Roatan, as well as rum cakes, infusions, and rum sauces. They have several outlets, but I’m interested in going to the original location which, from what I understand, has an awesome view from their location. As in other countries, they do not ship outside the country, so any product must be purchased at their stores, with the understanding if you didn’t buy enough, then you won’t get any more unless you return. I certainly hope the taste is worth it, and I’m planning on bringing some back. Hopefully, this will be the last cruise before our winter trip, especially now that there’s a repositioning cruise on the horizon that really has piqued my interest. But that’s for a later discussion.

Ooooohhhhh….I feel sick!!!!!

Friday, January 31, 2014 11:10 | Filled in Uncategorized

It’s been all over the news lately….Royal Caribbean had to shorten their cruise from New Jersey because over 600 passengers got ill (reason to be determined, but Norovirus suspected), and now a Princess ship had to return early because almost 200 got ill on a cruise from Texas. So the question is, is cruising more prone to illness or sickness than any other type of vacation, or is this an aberration? Let’s put it into perspective. Last year (2013) over 21 MILLION passengers went on cruises (yes, MILLION) yet less than 1% got ill. That’s a pretty good record. In the same time frame, what about all the Norovirus “outbreaks” here at home? Unfortunately, there is no way to quantify it, simply because no one keeps records of those that got it at their childs pre-school, or sports arena, or while visiting relatives, either at home or in a medical facility, or any other locale. It’s kind of like everyone gets incensed about 600 people dying in an airplane crash, yet ignoring the 43,000 who die on the nations highways every year. The numbers are spread out, so there’s no outrage about how the auto industry, or the traffic departments, or the road construction fields or any other reason, that create mass hysteria or confusion. Yet, whenever a “sickness” breaks out on a cruise ship, the media is on it like flies to shit, and then our “wonderful” elected officials come out demanding this reform, or that reform, when in fact, it’s all a matter of personal health and choice. How many times have you seen people go into the bathroom, then leave, without washing? How many times have you then seen these same people go to a food area and handle food and utensils? Or, how many times have you gone out , and seen children go to a buffet area without parental presence, and handle the food? How many times have you seen people handling food rather than use the provided utensils? Let’s take it further. How many times have you done it yourself? Oh sure, businesses provide (sometimes) liquid disinfectant, like Purell, or similar. They even say to use it prior to handling food. Guess what? It’s not effective! Hand sanitizers will not kill viruses. The only way to control them is to wash, using hot water and soap. The hand sanitizer only kills some bacteria. Cruise lines, and businesses in general, have added to this misconception, saying to “wash” using these sanitizers. If nothing else, they are attempting to try and keep germs to a minimum, but doing the populace a dis-service in the process. So, the next time you feel inclined to not wash after an activity, remember, if you get sick, it’s not the fault of the establishment you visited, it’s you, and mostly you, that enabled the “bug” to affect you. Oh, and one last thing. When washing, wet the hands, hot water please, lather with soap, and start singing to yourself either “Happy Birthday” or the “ABC Song”. When finished, rinse well (again, with hot water), then wipe dry. When leaving the bathroom, either push the door open with your body, or, if it pulls inward, use a fresh paper towel to grab the handle, open, and immediately toss the towel in the trash. (remember, the other person probably didn’t wash)

Carnival CONQUEST, repositioning cruise San Juan to Miami

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 19:57 | Filled in Uncategorized

We booked this trip almost as soon as it became open, mostly because we wanted a specific room category. We booked a Cat 4J, way up high, forward, great room. We got confirmation from Carnival, and paid our deposit and then some. About 2 to 3 months later, Carnival informed us the room would be “under construction”, and we were offered several alternatives. Ok, fast forward to the sailing. We met several people on Carnival’s web site (Funville Forum) and agreed to meet prior to sailing in Old San Juan, and also on board. Lo and behold, one in our group booked at the last minute, and got the exact same room we had originally booked, but at a much higher price! How, and why, do you ask? Carnival “reconfigured” the categories, and the room was now listed as a 6G (from 4J) and the rate jumped several hundred dollars!!! While I understand the need for Carnival to maximize their bookings, in this case I feel they should have honored the booking, even if it meant telling us we had been upgraded, or, they should have “bitten the bullet” so to speak. As it is, it leaves a very bad taste in their customer service area. Conquest is a larger ship, and has many of the newer upgrades Carnival has implemented in recent years. The “best” is Guy’s Burgers, where you get burgers as conceived by Guy Fieri, Food Network Star. There is also the Blue Iguana, Red Frog Pub, and others. Red Frog beer is pretty good, but the burgers are absolutely great! The itinerary was San Juan to St. Kitts, to Dominica, to St. Maarten, Antigua, Grand Turks, with a final in Miami. St. Kitts is a nice island, and we (several of us) grabbed a cab for a tour of the island. We chose the Batik Factory, a beach,( We had a snorkeler in the group) the golf course (one member wanted a polo shirt from there) with a stop at a roadside place to buy some raw sugar cane, then back to the cruise port. All in all it was a good way to see the island. In Dominica we went on a river tubing excursion. The water was “cool” and we had a blast tubing down the river, with me going head over heels a cropper when I hit the rapids. Glad I was wearing the helmet!! The roads in Dominica leave much to be desired, and there is construction all over the island. St. Maarten I was able to fulfill one item on my bucket list. I was able to crew on a 12 meter racing yacht, in this case, the “Stars and Stripes” of America’s Cup fame. After completing the course, we went back to get some photos and shirts, then back to the ship. Antigua was a laid back, lets just see the city center area. I was able to get some of the rum I was looking for, without spending an arm and a leg. Pyrats Cask 1623 was at a reasonable $214, and no, it was too much for me! Grand Turks was our “beach day” with the afternoon spent at Jacks Shack, a very nice little bar about 500 yards down from the pier. Jack has his own web site, and if you go, remember to look at it, since he has a coupon for a free shot. Miami port was just as bad as we remembered it. Even with all the announcements, people refused to listen, and as a result, getting off the ship was an exercise in a slalom of legs and baggage, a wall of arms and bodies blocking the exit, and the ones who just felt that they were the

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most important ones there, cutting in front of everyone, then feigning innocence. (who, me?) Oh well, we eventually got off, headed to the train station, and boarded for our relaxing trip home. Amtrak is a really great way to go to or from the ports. In our case, Tampa to Ft. Lauderdale, or Miami, we leave the day before, get to our hotel, then head for the port with no rush. Coming home it’s also pretty good, departing Miami at 11:50 or so, departing Ft. Lauderdale around 12:30 or so, and getting back into Tampa around 5:00 or so. It makes for a relaxing trip, we can unwind, stretch out a bit, snooze if we want.

Nassau, and the food is fantastic!

Sunday, October 6, 2013 20:53 | Filled in Uncategorized

We have returned to Nassau and just got back. A three night cruise is nowhere near long enough, but for a weekend getaway, well, it’s ok. This trip I tried a new excursion company, and I’m very

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impressed! The company is Tru Bahamian Food Tours, and they have a definite winner here. First, a few qualifiers. One…. all bookings must be made in advance. Two….once booked, there is no refund. This is because when the tour is scheduled, they contact the various restaurants and eatery’s and set up the number of people coming, and the approximate time of arrival. The tour normally is set to start at 11:30 a.m. but can be changed, depending on when the first reservation is made. Let me try to explain. The tour is a walking tour visiting several places, generally around 7 or so. The tour lasts 3 hours, plus (it’s scheduled for 3 hours, but can run over by a bit, depending on walking time, etc.) The distance covered is between 1.2 and 1.5 miles. No wheelchairs can be accommodated, and if you are unable to walk up hill, or numerous stairs, then I would say do not go. Our ship didn’t arrive in Nassau until 12:00, so when we went to book, we discovered we were the first ones for that date, thus the start time was altered to fit the cruise ship arrival time. Great! The tour starts on a street corner (well mapped when you get your tickets) and everyone got there fairly on time. Introductions are made around, and there’s a briefing on how we will proceed, cautions to take, and to answer any questions that might arise. Then you take off walking. There are a number of places that are used. In our case, the first stop was a place called Bahamian Cookin’, where we got the most delicious conch fritters, and macaroni and cheese. No, not what you expect, but an outstanding mixture that is pure heaven. You learn about the origin of the place, meet the owner, and get to understand the décor, which includes the local lore and culture. From there we went to the Pepper Pot Grill and Juice Bar, a Jamaican establishment where we sampled jerk chicken, rice and peas, and a really good juice. Again, we learned about the influence the Jamaican culture had on the Bahamian culture, and learned the differences between dry and wet jerk seasoning. From there we had a nice climb to Graycliff Chocolatier, where cocoa is grown on the islands, harvested, and turned into the most amazing treats. We again picked up the history and culture of Graycliff Manor, and got to see the various culture changes it inspired. We then headed to Van Breugel’s Bistro and Bar, where we got a fabulous conch and cocoanut stew. Here we learned about the European influences to Bahamian culture. Next, we went to Pure Caribbean, a tea and spice shop that dealt with local art and herb culture. We learned about some of the spices that help to define the Island culture. Next, we went to the Athena Café and Bar, where we learned about the Greek influence starting around the 1920’s and 30’s. We finally ended up at the Tortuga Rum Cake Company, a fairly new company that specializes in rum, and cake. It ties in the rum industry that started way back when the islands were first cultivated for sugar cane. All in all, it’s a great tour, and depending on when you go, will depend on which eatery you will visit. After the excursion, I headed to a close grocery store, plunk dab in the middle of the tourist area. It caters to the locals, but carries a number of tourist items. My favorite, the spice section at the rear of the store. Here you can get isinglass, sorrel, gum Arabic, tamarind, various spices from the various islands, as well as a commercially available spice company from the U.S. (Badia). While headed to the ship, I went past a “duty free” liquor store, and picked up a bottle of Olde Nassau Dark Rum. Now, this is an interesting rum. The price is down in the “rotgut” price range, but it’s surprisingly smooth. Classy? No, but tasty? Yes! So, is Nassau a good place to try new foods? Based on this new tour company, I would have to say, an unqualified yes! If nothing else, you can use the experience to build on a sturdy foundation of island foods. (As Julia would say, “Bon Apetit”!)
I have had some inquiries as to how to contact the tour company. Their web site is and Allena & Murray are really great people. We will be back in Nassau sometime soon, and look forward to travelling with them again.

But….. But…… But…..!

Friday, May 17, 2013 14:26 | Filled in Uncategorized

I don’t know whether the full moon is in one of its locked cycles or not, but the crazies are out in droves lately. In the cruise scene, it seems to deal with special fares, cheapest rates, and getting screwed by the cruise lines. It also doesn’t seem to matter which one, either. “RCCL is screwing me, I’ll sail on Carnival next time!!” “Carnival is screwing me, I’ll cruise on Princess next time.” And the list goes on! The problem is, there are so many fares out there, with so many different restrictions, that people count on the sales person to give them the best deal. Right…that’s like going to a used car dealer, waving wads of cash, and saying “I want the best deal.” “Sure”, he says, “I always give the best deals”! So let’s look at a few, and some of the problems. The big one (at the moment) is Family and friends. You book the cruise, for $xxx dollars. The cruise line says it’s the best price. Well, for that particular promotion, it well may be. HOWEVER… (as the story goes) there are other programs and fares that may be better suited, or cheaper rates, or more in line with what the person wanted. It is NOT up to the cruise line, or travel agent, to volunteer some of these programs. If, for example, the person may qualify for a Military Rate, which also allows you to book some additional cabins for family at the same rate, (even though the other family members do not qualify for the military rate). Is it a good deal? The cancellation policy can be good, but other restrictions may also be imposed. How about a Past Guest rate. Is it better for you? Again, it totally depends; the rate may be initially higher, but you are elligible for free upgrades. Then, there’s the so called Early Saver rate. And here is where the majority of griping and bitching gets out of hand. You must book early, many times as soon as the fare becomes available, and will be available up until around 75 or 90 days prior to the cruise. You are guaranteed the lowest price, up until around 2 days prior to departure. Is it a good deal? Well, depending on the cruise line, the fare may have a non-refundable deposit, it may have severe penalties, and depending on when your payments are, you will get a reduced fare if it goes lower, or an OBC (on board credit) which can or cannot be refundable. People tend to look at the sign ..”Prices starting at…” and automatically feel that’s what they are getting. And, in many cases, that’s an attitude that presents itself when the price drops, and the cruiser suddenly discovers they do not qualify for the drop. What ends up happening is the scenarion where they lash out at the various cruise lines, they make asses of themselves going to the press, some even go to lawyers to sue, and it becomes one giant circus! The end result is the travelling public, which has to put up with the “Much Ado About Nothing” acting, and ultimately the higher rates because of costs to the industry. The bottom line is, when booking your trip, always, and I repeat, always, make sure you understand the ramifications of the fare you are booking, and the penalties that are associated with it. If the fare was acceptable and you feel it’s fair, then book it. Do not then piss and moan because it went down and you didn’t get the lower price. Do you go to your grocery store the week after buying groceries, and complain because the items you bought went on sale?

When the shit hits the fan!!

Monday, February 18, 2013 16:53 | Filled in Uncategorized

It’s been a few days now, since the Carnival TRIUMPH limped into Mobile, Al., ending a cruise that many have said was “the cruise from Hell”.  So I guess I feel it’s important to talk about the “other side” of cruising, that time when things go badly.  It’s probably unlikely that someone hasn’t heard about what happened, but a recap just might be in order.  The ship was on a 5 night cruise to Cozumel, and roughly 150 miles off the Mexican coast, the engine room had a fire.  The automatic systems kicked in, and the fire was put out, with no injury to crew or passengers.  However, it knocked out all power to the ship, and it became a floating island, subject to the actions of the sea and wind.  Initially it was decided to have the ship towed to Progresso, Mexico, but when the tugs got to the ship, it had drifted over 90 miles, and it was decided that due to the wind and currents it would be safer, and quicker, to tow the ship to Mobile, Alabama.  Now, let me interject here. Why not go to Galveston, or New Orleans, which are active Carnival ports?  In the case of Gallveston, the wind and currents precluded that, and New Orleans was out because of the lengthy and narrow river, plus all the river traffic would have to be considered.  (the normal time up the river is almost 8 hours under the conditions of no power, and against the current.) So now the ship is being towed to Mobile, and conditions start to deteriorate.  Sister ships from other Carnival ports come to assist, bringing food and water, then leaving to continue on their own itineraries.  Why not transfeer people?  Who would be selected?  How would they get transferred? Why didn’t they stay?  All logistical questions, not the least of which would take several pages to describe here.  Needless to say, they assisted to the best of their ability, and the tugs and the Coast Guard handled the rest.  Since there was no power, or very limited, normal functions had to be curtailed.  The ship must be visible, so external lighting had to be protected.  That meant that only emergency lighting was available for the interior of the ship.  Since the sewage system is hydraulic and electric, it also was down, with only a few working toilets.  The crew advized people how to cope, yet reports have surfaced where people just did what they pleased.  This is what caused some of the terrible odor and waste found in the rooms and halls.  Since the air conditioning system was out, cabins got very stuffy and hot, so people who had inside rooms, as well as oceanview (but no balcony) wer opting for space outside, either on the Lido Deck and higher, or on the Promenade.  As the ship progressed further north and east, the temperature started to drop, thus now warm clothing was needed.  Food lines got long, and many people became food hoarders.  This is what started the “we only had onion sandwiches” mantra.  Simply put, those at the front of the line started to take everything they could lay their hands on, and those at the end had no selections. Is this an oversimplification? Yes, because I was not on the ship, but I do have access to many of the passenger comments.  Ok, now for the media.  News is an amazing thing.  You can report accurately, or you can sensationalize.  Unfortunately, sensational news sells, so for every person who said yes, it was bad, but we were able to do, there were many who embellished their plight, and claimed that the cruise line was out to screw them.  Considering that Carnival not only refunded their cruise, and gave them a certificate for another cruise, plus paid for any additional expenses such as airline penalty fees, hotel charges, and then added an additional $500 cash, they went over and above anything they were required to do.  How many times have people been bottled up at airports, and the airline giving free flights, coupons for free flights, monetary reimbursement, etc?  Not many.  It’s simply all spelled out in the contract that you sign when you travel.  And here again, is another point.  People claim they have no rights under the contract, that, in efffect, it’s being signed under duress.  Well, the airline contract you sign for every flight gives you even less protection, and yet people fully accept it, and it is also one of those that you sign just by agreeing to fly.  So, what options do you have?  For one, accept that there are times that things happen.  Nothing you do to prepare can make a difference, other than you will at least be prepared to roll with the punches. Flashlight? Probably a pretty good idea. Good attitude? Excellent idea, because if you go with the feeling that you will have a good time, regardless, then you can probably handle whatever is thrown at you.  Has this made me more concerned with cruising?  Not in the slightest. I realize this is a rare occurance, and will likely not happen again for a very long time.  Can it happen again? Yes, and I hope that if I happen to be there when it happens, I will be awaiting any and all things happening with an open mind.

How do I know this is for me?

Friday, February 8, 2013 4:33 | Filled in Uncategorized

Ok, it’s been a few weeks now, and I guess it’s probably time to see how all this ties together. Probably one of the big questions is, how do I know this is for me? How do I get the best bang for the buck? Well, there are no guarantees, however, there are several things you can do to make your trip as enjoyable as possible. I guess the first important item is to choose the correct cruise line for your tastes. Going on a cruiseline that advertizes a

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party atmosphere, and you are not a party animal, is potentially a disaster in waiting. So, number ONE…choose the cruise line that fits your

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needs. After selecting the cruise line, you are going to want an area on teh ship that is the best for you. Some people want space in the bow, others the stern, others want to be as high as possible, others don’t care. The least amount of motion will be in the mid-ship area, and on the lower decks. The further away from the center point, the more motion will be felt. Most ships are large enough to have limited motion, but wave action can and does affect some passengers, so room location should be a big consideration. This brings us to the third item, and that is, use a travel agent. Yes, you can book your cruise direct with the cruise line, or you can use an online booking agent, but a qualified and reliable travel agent can guide you and assist in finding the best deals. Let’s go for number four..choose the correct time of year. Spring break will result in quite a few younger passengers, and a general party atmosphere. In the Caribbean, June through November is hurricane season. Holidays are in many cases much higher than the weeks before and after the holiday. Number five, it’s better to plan ahead. Not only will you get a better choice of cabins, you will have longer to pay off the balance. It will also give you the opportunity to look at potential land excursions. No matter what you do, always ask for OBC (on board credit). You may not get it, but then again, you just might! When paying, use your credit card benefits. This may be points towards future rewards, or interest free for a set number of months. Regardless, you will come out ahead in most cases. Last, but by no means least, always purchase trip insurance. You may be in great health now, but when you get ready to leave, an accident, illness, family emergency, or multitude of other problems will put your cruise in jeopardy if you don’t have the insurance. Cost is miniscule compared to the cost of the cruise.( Don’t forget the cost of getting to and from the cruise, hotel and meals enroute, lost luggage, etc) So there we have it, nine things to consider when you are deciding to go on a cruise. Whether your trip is three night, or 7 night, or longer, the above will help you keep your hard earned money where it will give you the most bang for your buck.

Picking a cruise

Sunday, January 27, 2013 18:56 | Filled in Uncategorized

After going on several cruises, I began to wonder, just what makes you decide to take cruise A versus cruise B? I thought I’d use our next cruise as a study in selection. The first item I looked at was seeing a cruise advertized, in the media as a “repositioning” cruise. The ship was Carnival DESTINY, going from Florida to Venice, then go into dry dock to emerge as SUNSHINE. I liked the itinerary, it added a few ports I wanted to visit, and the price was right where I wanted, in fact, it was even less than I expected. I called our daughter and son-in-law to see if they would like to go, along with our grandchildren. Bottom line, they couldn’t take the time, or the length of the trip. Well, I was till interrested in going, so I researched further as to the ports we would be visiting, and costs for everything. Since the ship was going into drydock for upgrading, I would have to figure out a way to return home. That ended up being the deal breaker, as the cost of flying home was more than double the cost of the cruise. Well, that’s a bummer! But, in the middle of researching the cruise, I ran across another one that was also doing a repositioning cruise, the Carnival CONQUEST, sailing from San Juan to Miami. It also had even more of the ports I wanted to visit, plus it was considerably closer, so the air fare prices would be less. Ok, everything go so far, except, it’s a little over one year away. Well, book it anyway, because the price and itinerary is where

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I feel it is best. I’m glad, because the cruise is booked, but sad, because it’s so far away. So, still perusing the sites, I come across a ship sailing from Ft. Lauderdale to Bermuda. Hmmm…price is good, (not great) but there’s some space still available, especially in the caragory I’m interested in. I did some further research, and contacted my Travel Agent. She , Thankfully, was able to get us a room at an even better price, and the sailing is right

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where we want to be, mid point between our last cruise, and our repositioning cruise. It is coming up soon, and as soon as I return, I will be giving out the do’s and don’t , and whether it’s for cruisers like me. In the meantime, I guess I’ll just muddle on through, visiting travel sites, reading travel magazines, and generally having a great time dreaming.