Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Alex to Cairo with Detours

Farewell to the incongruities of Alex. McDonald’s Delivery Bikes at the Montazza

TRAVEL THERE: ROADSIDE DETRACTIONS

Our time in Egypt is coming to an end.  We are on our way back to Cairo from Alexandria.  We had a couple of detours, but made it in time to get on the boat for a family celebration.  Come along for the ride.

Alex to Cairo

After our visit to the archaeological sites in Carmous, we’d planned to take in another important historical contribution to Egypt’s culture.  The early introduction of Christianity to Egypt had an interesting by-product.  Egyptians eagerly embraced monotheism and added their own particular brand of devotion – monasticism.   Egyptian monastic aesthetes  led the the way in creating places for men and women to withdraw from the world and serve Jesus Christ.

That was the plan, but then there were the Good Friday massacres.  In response to these horrific bombings, the Roman Catholic pope was going to make a visit to Egypt – unprecedented in modern times.   This was good news for Christianity in Egypt, but it had some side effects.  One of them was the closing of the monasteries to outside visitors in the days leading up to the visit.

In true Egyptian fashion, we had to arrive at the gate of the monastery to find out they were closed, but it was a nice detour.  We got off the main road to travel through some rural areas and small towns on the way to the monastery.  It was the Muslim holy day and it was great to see all the white clad men in their caftans and turbans walking to their place of worship.  I rode along thinking about the juxtaposition of these two forms of worship.  Then we got to the gate and discovered what had seemed like such a tranquil setting was actually hiding the age old conflict between Christian and Muslim.

Our Potty Stop

So, we’d enjoyed the restroom facilities near Pompey’s Pillar.  I assumed I’d be able to visit the restroom again at the monastery, but we were turned away at the gate.  Religious differences aside, I needed a toilet.  Besides the obvious issue, I had another problem.  Women are supposed to wear long sleeves at the monastery and if they are wearing a skirt, it should be long and there should be no bare legs or feet.  In other words I was about to burn up.

Izzat didn’t seem real happy about finding a restroom for us to visit, but as always he assured us he would take care of our needs.  Did you ever see the movie Deliverance?  Well there was no river with wooded shores when we stopped at a roadside convenience store, but I could have sworn I heard the soundtrack playing – just not on the banjo.

I made short work of my wardrobe adjustments and potty stop.  Then I high-tailed it back to the car.  I think Bill and Izzat got some snacks, but I wasn’t going to waste any time.  Izzat was a perfect driver, but he was awful at finding restrooms.  I don’t think that was from a lack of trying, but a scarcity of facilities.  We’d had difficulty with this at both ends of the trip to Alexandria.

Cairo is up next and you’ll love The Pharaoh Cruise.  See you next week

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

While I Was Sleeping

TRAVEL HERE: VOOM DID NOT ZOOM

My first day at sea was ending, but Bill was unfortunately just getting started.  Not the best way to spend a cruise.

The Trading Day

Many people think that folks who trade stocks are sitting at their computers all day long, buying and selling, and there are traders who do that, but that’s not Bill.  He only makes a few trades a day, if any, at very specific times, mostly at the opening of the market.  What he does the rest of the day is research, testing systems and writing code.  In fact it’s what he does when the markets are closed that is the most important.

At the end of the day, when he knows whether it’s been a good day or a bad day, then Bill has to get ready for the next morning.  His systems will tell him whether there are any potential trades coming up, but he has to decide to whether to execute them or not.  He also has to be sure there is plenty of money in the accounts to make his purchases and he has to be very careful about his orders.  A careless click on the computer or the wrong wording in the order could cost him thousands.

Trading on the Boat

So, as I changed into my pajamas, Bill was firing up the computer to get ready for his morning trades.  Even sitting at his desk at home, this can take hours, according to what’s happening in the market.  On this particular Monday, the market had been taking a nosedive since the Friday before and Bill had both of his hands tied behind his back.  All he had was a laptop and a bad internet connection.  Usually he has multiple computers streaming information onto two huge screens and a rocket-face internet connection which he pays a premium for.

While our cabin was plenty big for sleeping, relaxing, grooming and changing clothes, it did not offer Bill  a perfect work space.  There was a desk-like area for putting on make-up, but it was not ideal for his purposes.  He was hyper-aware that he was just a few feet away from his sleeping wife, so he was trying to keep his movements and noises to a minimum.  He also had very poor internet connection and was suffering from the speed of the computer and the small screen.

Electricity everywhere and not a plug to plug into!

Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning he decided he might have more luck with all of it out in the public areas.  He’d find a comfy chair somewhere near an electrical outlet, prop his laptop on his lap and finish up his work.  What he found was that comfy chairs were easy to come by, but electrical outlets were not.  He tried a little bit of everything, but as soon as he would find something that might work, one of the other twelve people wandering around the ship after the bars closed would come sit next to him and do something distracting – like argue with their girlfriend or clip their toenails or listen to music so loudly that even though they were using headphones, Bill could hear it.

Eventually, he was able to discern there were no trades that had to made in the morning, but that was only half the battle.  He needed desperately to do some more research, but it just wasn’t going to happen.  He crawled in bed for an hour or two, but no sleep was to be had.

Come back next week for our day at sea.

 

 

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

No Vavoom in VOOM

TRAVEL THERE: GETTING CONNECTED

Royal Caribbean calls their internet service VOOM and it comes in two flavors – with and without streaming.  We call it FAIL in either flavor.

First Impressions Matter

After a disappointing Embarkation Buffet and Sail Away, we were getting worried about out cruise, but the boat was nice, our cabin was fine and we liked our cabin attendant.  All was not lost – yet.  We’d made a stab at having fun.  Now it was time to get down to business.  As I shared a few weeks ago, even though he’d tried to offload his business for the few days we’d be gone, it hadn’t worked and Bill was going to have to keep an eye on the market.  For that we’d need internet, so we made our way to Deck 5 to do a little business.

Literature I had read suggested there would be an internet cafe somewhere on the boat with free wi-fi.  There wasn’t.  Perhaps some of the ships have it, but not Vision of the Seas.  There were a few computers you could log onto and there was some limited internet access, but if you wanted to check your email forget about it.  Doing what Bill wanted to do would have been impossible.

Chasing VOOM

We went to the Customer Service Desk and they said we could just log-in and get internet ourselves or we could see the Internet Desk.  Since there were two different packages and he wasn’t sure which one he wanted, he went to the Internet Desk.  He also only wanted internet on two of the four days, not the balance of the cruise.

There was no attendant at the Internet Desk, so we cooled our wheels until they came back.  When she appeared, Bill really challenged her scripts.  Everybody is supposed to want internet for the whole cruise and she didn’t know what to think of Bill.  In the end, she also told him how to sign up online, because if she signed him up on his phone,he’d have to log out of the phone and then log back in on the laptop.  See when you sign up for internet you only get it for one person on one device – and they mean it.

So we dutifully went down to the room.  I finally started unpacking and Bill sat down to log in.  Soon I was unpacked and Bill was headed back out of the room, because what had sounded so reasonable at the Internet Desk didn’t work on the laptop in the room.  I stayed behind to finish unpacking and to start getting ready for the evening.

When he got back I could tell things did not go well.  The VOOM lady had offered to give him a refund when he told her how much trouble he was having.  I bet that was an interesting conversation.  She quickly got the message that a refund wasn’t going to cut the mustard and soon he was working his way up the food chain to find someone on board who could get him online.  They’d finally gotten him operational, but barely.  He was one unhappy cruiser.

Obviously, things were not going well on this cruise – and guess what!  The disappointments had only just begun.  Come back next week and we’ll go investigate a few other shortfalls.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

Embarking on Adventure

A Chilly Sail Away

TRAVEL HERE: EMBARKATION, LIFE BOAT DRILL & SAIL AWAY

Once we were aboard, the first thing we did was go to our room to drop off our stuff.  It was fine.  Plenty of storage, enough room not to trip over each other every moment and by some sort of miracle, more than enough hangers.  That hangers part was most amazing.  Then it was time to eat.

The Embarkation Buffet

Theoretically, this meal should be a showcase of all the good things to come.  This buffet gave us a preview of what to expect in the upcoming cruise – we just didn’t want to accept that reality.

Travel is a learning experience and I never learned about the embarkation buffet until I took the cruise with my bestie back in 2015.  She made sure we took advantage of the culinary offering and I was wowed.  Can you say seafood and lots of it?

The Embarkation Buffet on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas was just a mess.  Yes, we rolled in there at the last minute, but it looked as if no one on the staff had even looked at it for a few hours.  We wandered around and around and around looking but not finding anything that appealed to us.  We were hungry, no meal since breakfast, but it looked like they had just taken all the leftovers from the previous cruise and slapped them out on the buffet tables.  It was bad.

We picked up a few items that were the least bad of the bunch and tried to make a meal of it.  It was about 2:30 and the buffet was supposed to be over at 2:45.  Bill decided to go back for some bread and I went to check out the desserts.  We were too late.  Everything was gone.  At 2:35 Bill asked a member of the crew, “What time is the buffet over?”  The answer, “2:45.”  Obviously, not exactly.

Life Boat Drill & Sail Away

Next up was the Life Boat Drill and that was fairly painless.  Our SailPass Card had our location on it.  There was fantastic signage and helpful crew all the way along.  We stood on the deck a few minutes and then it was all over.  We wandered the boat a little, getting our bearings and then it was time for the Sail Away.

Bill loves the Sail Away.  Some of our favorite moments on cruises happen then.  Like when we sailed away from Budapest or Kauai or Miami.   This was not one of our favorites.

I’ve already mentioned how ugly Galveston’s port is and there is really nothing Royal Caribbean can do about that.  They really couldn’t help the weather either.  A little foggy and misty.  Lots of wind.  Sort of miserable actually, but we gave it a brave try.

However, they could do something about volume – as in the volume of the music.  Everywhere we went on deck was LOUD!  Someone needs to explain that louder is not better.  A poor singer is only made worse when you turn up the volume.  Bad weather does not disappear because you turn up the music.  This tendency to blast away everyone’s eardrums was not limited to the Sail Away.  It was one of my biggest complaints about the whole cruise.  If there was a microphone and a speaker, whatever was being amplified was too loud.

Perhaps we could have stood the weather if the music hadn’t been so loud or we could have put up with the loud music if the weather had been better, but we couldn’t tolerate both.

And then there was my glasses.  I was still traumatized from thinking I had lost my sunglasses in the embarkation madness.  Standing on deck fighting the wind as Bill looked over the railing, I decided to take a look at the day’s schedule to find a better place to enjoy the Sail Away, but first I needed my glasses.  I frantically started looking for them and soon I was telling Bill I had to go back to the room.  He asked what for and I said I needed my glasses.  As we stood there discussing it in less than pleasant tones, I realized my glasses were actually on my face.  You’ll notice I realized it, instead of the person who was looking at me.

That little crisis over, we headed inside for a better vantage point and found the Park Cafe.  I scored a Chocolate Chip Cookie and it was pretty good.  Bill got a cup of coffee and it wasn’t so good.  I had been trying to discover where one got one’s cup for the soda program since I got on board, but I wasn’t having much success.  The cup was supposed to be in our cabin, but just as I had run into on a past cruise – it wasn’t.  Finally, a female crew member, who was supposed to be selling the soda program, took pity on me and gave me one of the cups she had.  Finally, a little Diet Dr Pepper!

We eventually gave up on the Sail Away and then went to talk about wi-fi privileges.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

What Else to Order Before You Board a Cruise

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
Cruise Compass kept us up to date with what was happening on the boat

TRAVEL HERE: WI-FI, SHOWS AND MORE

We’ve looked at shore excursions, specialty dining and beverage plans.  If you’ve never cruised before you are already worn out.  If you are a cruiser, then you know this is just par for the course.  It takes a little time before you go, but it makes things much more seamless when you are on board – and I promise it’s easier to do the ordering than it is to explain the complexities of it.  So if you were about to give up on the idea of cruising, hang on, we’re almost through with the whole pre-boarding thing.

Different Things to Order on Different Boats

Except for the headaches associated with having to make the food and beverage decisions, this Royal Caribbean Cruise was pretty easy.  Before our Norwegian Cruise we had to schedule all the specialty dining and book times for the on board entertainment.  We also took advantage of their wine program, where you pre-selected and paid for your bottles of wine ahead of time.  On different ships you will have different opportunities.  This might be one of the reasons some people like to keep cruising on the same line.  Once they figure it all out, they don’t want to have to learn a new system.

One of the things I had a hard time figuring out was what shows would be available on this cruise.  I’m a lot happier when I have an idea of what to expect, but it was pretty much a blank page.  Had I actually known what they would be delivering, I might have jumped ship before I got there, but that’s for later.  For now I just encourage you to be thorough and read through all the material they send you.  It might look like fine print, but later you will be glad you did.

WI-FI

There are so many ways to deliver wi-fi that I couldn’t begin to do them justice.  On Viking wi-fi was included.  On Norweigan, the public areas had wi-fi.  When we sailed with Carnival I still had a flip phone, so I didn’t care.  On Royal Caribbean they have what they call VOOM and you pay for it.  They also say in some of their materials they have free wi-fi in designated areas on board and they might on some ships, but not Vision of the Seas.

VOOM comes in two flavors, wi-fi alone and with streaming.  You can also buy it in a combo package with your soda or beverage packages to get a few dollars of discount.  Bill and I discussed it thoroughly a week or so before the cruise and since he thought he had a plan for off-loading his work for a few days and I thought they’d have an internet cafe with free wi-fi we decided to forgo any wi-fi.  What could we miss in four days, right?

Well, we both figured wrong, so keep coming back, because eventually I’ll tell you the sad saga of VOOM, but next week we’ll head to Galveston.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Adult Beverage Packages

TRAVEL HERE: STEPPING UP FROM SODAS

Some people think everybody on a cruise is looking for a multi-day drinking binge.  To a certain extent, they have a point.  There are a whole lot of people drinking a whole lot of adult beverages on most cruises – and I think I know why.

Pay As You Go VS Drink Packages

I’m a wine with dinner person, but big ship cruising isn’t geared for that.  Glasses of wine hover at $10-12 – and who can drink just one?  The bottled wine choices are limited and while I can understand why, they certainly charge through the roof for what they have.  To make that even more challenging, I drink white and Bill drinks red.  He’s fine with a beer, but they’re around $8 and his favorite, Bud Light costs more, because for some reason all American beers cost more.  I consider beer to be wasted calories.  We have a bit of dilemma in this department.

On Norwegian they did have a wine program and I embraced it the same way I have the soda programs, but apparently the Royal Caribbean cruises target those people who want to drink mixed drinks – and a lot of them.  Margaritas, Mojitos, Pina Coladas and all their sisters and brothers are the beverages featured in the Adult Beverage Packages.  In fact wine drinkers can’t even get bottles of wine through the programs, they only get discounts.  So it’s not just my imagination that they discriminate against wine.

If you pay as you go on a cruise and you prefer beverages that aren’t on the free list, you can rack up a pretty penny pretty quickly

  • A a bottle of water while you work out
  • Breakfast with coffee and juices
  •  Mid-morning soda
  • A beer with your hamburger for lunch
  • Sitting at the pool in the afternoon a margarita or two & probably a bottle of water or two
  • Dinner a couple of glasses of wine
  • A Cocktail at the show.

Now, this would be a lot of drinking on a regular day, but you’re on a cruise, so you indulge yourself.  Do you have any idea what you have just spent?  The coffee and juices were free, but you have spent $4-12 on every other item.  You just spent $64 dollars and to add injury to insult they will add a 18% tip to your bill for each drink.  Your bill just went up to $75.52.

So, then you think you’ll look over the free beverages again, but remember you’re on a cruise.  You wish you could splurge a little,  so you  go back over the beverage wish list, wondering how much of it you would actually drink.  Somewhere along the way you must decide what works best for you.  The all-you-can drink beverage package is about $65 a day.  It includes mixed drinks, beers, wine by the glass and sodas.  You also get a hefty discount on bottles of wine.  I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting the package, so they can just order what they want when they want it without worrying about it.

But be careful, they still add something for tips.  They also only cover beverages up to a certain price point – twelve dollars on my latest cruise.  So if the drink of the day is $14 (and I saw some that were) you just got charged! A friend of mine said she and her husband used to get one adult beverage package and would just avoid ordering two drinks at once, but the cruise lines figured that trick out.  If one person in the cabin gets an adult beverage program, any other adults in the room are also charged for one.  They get you coming and going.

We decided to pay as we went.  The cruise line allowed us to bring two bottles of wine on board and there was no corkage fee.  For a four day cruise that was really all we needed, but guess who was drinking red wine.  Besides, I knew they would be serving free champagne at some of the events and I had the soda program to fill in.

We were fine, but I can imagine that if you splurge for the adult beverage package, then you want to be very sure that you take advantage of it.  Hence the boat sometimes feels like it is full of drunk people.

The big pool was the scene of several bacchanals.  We didn’t spend much time there, but a few times when we passed by, there were very drunk ladies parading around the dance floor, showing us more of themselves than we really wanted to see. Not sure why there’s never a stunning looker among the drunks, but we’ve found that to be true on virtually every cruise.  We also wandered into a bar late one evening to see an event that promised to be humorous, but the karaoke wasn’t quite over when we got there.  Talk about drunk people!

So that’s the skinny on beverages.  I’ll cover a few more pre-cruise choices you can make next week.

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Welcome to The Cecil Hotel

TRAVEL THERE: FADED GLORY ON THE SEA

Ah! Civilization!  Crystal chandeliers, beautiful draperies, crisp linen sheets, thick carpeting.  Welcome to Alexandria’s Cecil Hotel!

So Happy to be There

Izzat pulled up in front of a glorious edifice right next to the Mediterranean Sea and set our bags on the sidewalk.  A bellman appeared and ushered us through a revolving door and the obligatory security equipment.  My mind registered old style elegance in the lobby, but I’d had a long day and was just ready for a decent room.

After the usual front desk rigmarole they pointed us to one of those antique elevators encased in black rod iron.  We rode it to our floor and WOW!  It wasn’t the Fairmont, but to my eyes it was even better.  This was elegance the way it used to be and for my money, I like it that way.  Gorgeous furniture, elaborate urns, ubiquitous crystal chandeliers and a floor that only creaked a little bit.  As we strolled down the thick elegantly patterned  carpet we were impressed with the way the magnificent door to each room was recessed to create a small alcove.

Then we entered our room.  It was small, but so lovely that I didn’t even care.  Of course my first stop was the bathroom and there I found some comic relief.  In the mode of luxury hotels everywhere, the ends of the toilet paper had been folded into a point, but this one was a little off balance.   It was just what I needed.

Moving In

Since we’d be in Alex for several days, I went through the motions of unpacking what we’d need in the way of clothes and toiletries.  As I got us organized for the next few days, Bill was inspecting the room.  He discovered the balcony which overlooked a park and the sea.  He even found the ice bucket and then went on an expedition to locate the ice machine.

In my unpacking, I’d found the bottle of Bourbon my nephew had bestowed upon me and when Bill went for the ice, he also found a can of Coke Zero.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a drink quite so much!

The Breakfast Buffet

After a good night’s sleep I was up early and raring to get out to the museum.  The Cecil didn’t have a gym, but we’d be doing a lot of walking, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Once we were ready to attack the day, we headed downstairs to breakfast.  Yes, it was another buffet, but the space designated for the morning repast was a delight.  Black and white marble floors, large bouquets of fresh lilies, huge windows, antique iron chairs and marble topped tables.  What was there not to like?

I was sick to death of breakfast buffets, but the space was so pleasant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere.  I was also very excited about the day ahead.  The days of leisure were over and we were going to start in on my long list of museums.  I could not wait! Come back next week and join us on our way to the Library of Alexandria.

 

Accommodations, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Your Personal Travel Advisor

TRAVEL TALK: I’VE GIVEN MYSELF A PROMOTION

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but Monday is devoted to a recent cruise, on Wednesdays I’m still covering Egypt and on Friday’s I share my Spot On Images post.  So what’s a girl who just attended a travel show supposed to do?  I decided if I squeaked this in here you wouldn’t mind too much.  Anyway, I’ve promoted myself from Random Travel Blogger to Personal Travel Adviser and I thought I’d tell you why.

The Travel Pros

I have a lot of respect for pros in the travel industry, but at a recent Travel & Adventure Show in Dallas, I learned I didn’t have quite enough respect for myself.  I’m not Samantha Brown.  I’m not even Josh Garcia. However, I might be more valuable to you than both of those travel pros.  While travel pros can give you some great information, they do not necessarily give you the best advice.  Let me give you an example.

Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor

“Call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the MOD.” (That’s Manager On Duty for the rest of us.)  This is the advice Peter Greenberg gave to us.  He assured us this was the best way to score cheap hotel rates.

During the Q&A, the first guy to the mic challenged this advice.  He told of a call he’d made to a Las Vegas resort and the result had been just short of being laughed off the phone.  The MOD wasn’t going to be rude to a potential guest, but he wasn’t going to upgrade him to the presidential suite or comp a couple of days either.  Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor has reason to expect that sort of treatment, but you and me and the guy at the mic?  Not so much.  Mr. Greenbers response?  Mumbling into the microphone about starting a conversation and moving to the next question.

Can a call to the MOD make a difference?  Absolutely.  Bill called the MOD at Egypt’s Mena House and negotiated an outstanding rate, but he had a reason to call.  Since he had an expired Egyptian passport, there was a chance he’d qualify for the resident rate.  Some hotels will, some won’t.  My charming husband called up and pumped the guy for information about the hotel, things he genuinely wanted to know, but he didn’t start with ‘give me a discount’.  Along the way he explained how much his travel-blogging wife wanted to stay there and lamented the good old days when his expired passport used to get him a reduced rate.  Before the call had ended, Bill had booked two nights at $75 a night.

So Mr. Greenberg was right about the advice, but he’d failed to share the conversation part and that had caused the guy at the mic to endure some unnecessary embarrassment.  I’ll give Mr. Greenberg a break.  He only has so much time to share his information and convince you to become a fan. I don’t have to squeeze everything I have to tell you into 30-45 minutes.  I dribble it out in 750-1000 word bites, but I’ve got nothing but time, so I can thoroughly explain exactly what I mean when I give you my opinion.

Back to the MOD thing – there could be any number of reasons to give him/her a call and see what happens.  If you’re a really patient person with a lot of time on your hands, then I recommend it heartily, but most of us just don’t have the time, the patience or the personality to charm the MOD.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and discovered the rate they offered didn’t even beat Expedia.  And that’s why I can give you better travel advice than the guy at the travel show.  I still face all the same challenges you do.

I’m More Like You Than I Am Them

One of the reasons you need to be a little suspect of travel pros is that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tourist.  They had to give up being a tourist to become a pro, but sometimes when they are giving advice to tourists, they forget about the pure joy of travel.  They behave as if you get points for avoiding an expense.  Unnecessary expenses, sure, like taking a cab for a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, instead of paying $79 to the resort for shared transfers.  You bet I’m taking the cab, but what’s their beef with balconies?

The new trend among travel pros is balcony bashing.  They whisper about interior cabins as if it wasn’t clear to anyone, even novices, that inside cabins are less expensive.  That’s not exactly a travel secret.  Can’t afford a balcony?  OK, but don’t let that keep you home.  By the same token, if a balcony sounds good and you can afford it, get it. Travel is not some kind of financial acuity exam.  In fact, the easiest way to ruin a vacation is to grieve over every penny you spend.  Have a budget, stay in it and then enjoy the heck out of yourself.

So, here I am, your personal travel adviser.  You either know me personally or you’ve come to trust what I say because you’ve been reading my blog for awhile.  You should at least know you can trust me more than an anonymous review on a travel site and since this latest travel show I attended, I know you can trust me more than the pros.

I plan to take my new position very seriously, so let me know how I can help you with your travel quandaries.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Personalizing Your Cruise’s Foodie Experience

Just one of many desserts

TRAVEL HERE: MORE OPTIONS THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT

Last week I shared what we chose to add on to our cheapie cruise, which in the end almost doubled the cheap price that had convinced us to book the cruise, but even at twice the price, cruising is a travel bargain.  We only booked the bare minimum.  Here’s a sampling of what you can get.

Dining Aboard a Cruise Ship

Food is one of the big components of a cruise.  All cruises have three meals a day and all the grazing you can stand available in some format.  The bigger the ship, the more choices you will have.

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas has the Windjammer Buffet available at most hours.  If you wanted to, you could spend your days in there, eat as much as you wanted.  The Aquarius Dining Room has formal seating and you order from a menu.  It’s not open for as many hours as the buffet, but you can get three meals a day there.  There was also a small short order cafe open pretty much all the time, called the Park Cafe off the Solarium.  Eating at these venues will not cost you a dime.  You can order whatever you want (Well, almost whatever you want.  We’ll cover this later!) and as much of it as you want, without engaging your pocketbook.

Quite frankly, the formal dining room experience is one of my favorite parts of any cruise.  I’m just not a buffet girl.  I like to be waited on and I like my food best when it is served in fine china on linen table cloths.  In addition, the dining room is where you make your cruise buddies on most ships.  You come in from a busy day and share experiences with a group of people you may never see again in your life, but for a week they are the best friends you’ve got.  So far, we’ve always been lucky in our table mates.

Specialty Dining

Early in my cruising career, the choices listed above were all the choices you had on board.  It was just the way it was. Then cruise lines discovered the formal dining room was the very thing which kept some people off a cruise ship.  These potential passengers didn’t want to be forced to make a choice between a casual buffet and dressing for dinner.  They wanted other options.  The cruise lines also found out these potential passengers would be willing to pay extra for said options.  Specialty dining was born.

We did not opt for specialty dining on this cruise.  We had an eye on the budget and the cruise was only four nights.  When a cruise is longer, having some variety in your evenings is a plus.  Besides the specialty dining was a sushi place, a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant – nothing very exciting.  On Norwegian there had been a charcuterie, French food and a restaurant with a Cirque de Soleil type show.  It made sense to do some exploring and we were traveling with our own cruise buddies.

At first, Bill thought he wanted specialty dining on this cruise, but like me, he wasn’t thrilled by any of the options.  We figured steak and some sort of pasta would be on the menu every night in the formal dining room and while we eat sushi from time to time, it’s not one of our favorites.  Besides, this was supposed to be a cheapie cruise.  Why pay for something that is adequately provided for free?

I did do a thorough evaluation of the offerings and the pricing was interesting.  You could enjoy one of the specialty restaurants on one evening for $35-$45 per person.  The more specialty dining you did, the more the price went down per meal, but of course, the total price tag went up.  If you got the premiere specialty dining package you could go to the specialty restaurants for lunch and dinner everyday and the meals came out to almost nothing.  The price included deluxe beverage packages with all the soda and alcoholic beverages you wanted, as well as discounted bottles of wine.  I was very tempted to push for that package, but then I realized I’d be adding hundreds of dollars to our costs for something that was provided free in the dining room.

The whole issue of beverages took the decision making to a whole new level.  Let’s talk about that next week.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Welcome to Dahab Paradise Resort

TRAVEL THERE: A SECOND LOOK AT DAHAB

Okay, this is where I confess that there is actually nothing wrong with the Dahab Paradise Resort.  The real problem was my attitude.  I still say we had no business heading off into a desert the US State Department warned us to avoid, but if we were going to be there anyway, this was a nice place to go.

The Bare Necessities

The Dahab Paradise is a lovely resort, but not in the traditional American five-star sense.  You’re not going to find stationary in your desk drawer or a terry robe in the closet (what closet?).  However, you will find very nice people in a very attractive facility.  The open air lobby looks out on the gorgeous pool.  Beyond the pool is the Red Sea.  Your room will be clean.  Our balcony was a small piece of heaven.  The furnishings are very appropriate for a hotel in the Sinai Desert.  They had a definite Bedouin charm.  In other words, if you’re going to Dahab, stay here.

There’s a very nice open air restaurant not far from the pool.  We had a fine dinner there and the breakfast was spectacular – especially if you are Egyptian or like Egyptian foods.  Personally I love pita, feta and olives for breakfast.  They will even fix up whatever eggs you want, but I’m not very eggy.

Now the bathroom facilities are minimal.  Don’t drink the water and only one of you will be able to be in there at a time.  I couldn’t face the shower and hubby wasn’t crazy about it, but it was functional.

Hanging by the Pool

The Dahab Paradise pool is out of this world.  It looks beautiful and our family had a great time in it.  There are plenty of chaise lounges and umbrellas for those of us who prefer to stay out of the water.  It’s so gorgeous that it’s a little surreal to think, “Here I am in the Sinai Desert and right over there, about 30 miles away is Saudi Arabia.”  The only real problem is the radical Islamist who cause so much trouble are probably even closer.

Once I was over my pout I was thrilled to discover my coloring cards and colored pencils had done their trick.  My grandnephew climbed up into my lap after his dip in the pool and I thought my heart was going to burst.  Even my grandniece, who is a little more stand-offish behaved as though I was on her team.  Of course, we’d be heading back to Cairo the next day and then parting ways until our next chance to get together.

Drinks in the Conversation Pit

After everyone was out of the pool we went back to our rooms to get freshened up, but soon we were back outside for the sunset.  The hotel has a great sunken conversation pit on the grounds with a wonderful firepit.  My nephew Shady moved to the head of the class with a bottle of bourbon.  All these guys are scotch drinkers and I’m not.  So, time after time the rest of the crew would be sharing a nice buzz and I’d be sober as a judge.  This time Shady showed up with a bottle of bourbon and gifted it to me.  Thank you Shady!

Awhile later they let us know dinner was served and we enjoyed a delicious moonlit meal.  That’s one of the picture postcards from the trip seared into my mind, but no one thought to take a picture.  The time in the conversation pit and around the dinner table under the stars were moments words don’t do justice and even a thousand words would not have been able to aptly describe it.   

Next up we’re headed back to Cairo after a quiet morning at Dahab Paradise.  Come back next week to read about that.