Category Archives: Accommodations

where we’ve stayed

Stateroom, Suite or Cabin?

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE WILL YOU LAY YOUR HEAD?

How tight is your budget?  How particular are you about your personal space?  Are you claustrophobic, acrophobic or prone to sea-sickness?  These are the kinds of questions you have to ask yourself as you consider what kind of accommodations will best suit your cruise experience. 

Keeping It Affordable

Are you all about economy? Check out interior cabins on the lower decks. That’s the most economical part of the ship. Don’t plan on spending much time in your cabin though. It will have the basics, but it will be tight and you might find yourself wishing for a little sunshine. And here’s another tip. If you’re afraid of seasickness, try to get a cabin mid-ship.

For our first cruise, we had an interior cabin and yes it was tight, but we had a great time.  Not only was it our first cruise, it was our honeymoon.  Tight quarters added to the romance, but it was pretty spartan.  The tiny pedestal sink had no counters and no drawers, but I managed to brush my teeth and apply eyeliner as needed.

But that’s me.  I’m not the luxuriating in my cabin sort of person.  If you are someone who needs to see the sun when you wake up or navigating tight quarters puts you in a bad mood, then don’t save so much money you are miserable every moment you are in your cabin.  If you are really looking forward to some private time on the ship, then you should also look elsewhere.  In an inside cabin you will barely have room to walk around your bed.

Taking It Outside

If you can’t stand the thought of a windowless week, but still want some economy, look for an exterior cabin. At the very least you will get a porthole.  Some some lines have huge picture windows in the exterior cabins. We’ve had these accommodations, too.

A porthole graced our first outside room.  To be honest with you, that small spot of sunshine was not the best part of the upgrade.  Suddenly we had more space.  That’s what made the extra dollars worth it.  With a little more space the ship can start throwing in exciting extras like counters, storage and perhaps someplace to sit besides the bed.

Our next outside room was actually on a river cruise and instead of a porthole, one wall of the cabin was a huge picture window.  That’s been one of my favorite cruise experiences.  It was a treat to open the curtains and watch the banks of the Nile pass by.  The space was light-filled, airy and even roomy.  That cruise is what turned us on to river cruising and we have become solid fans.

But back to ocean-going ships.  These outside rooms can come in a wide variety and what’s there makes all the difference.  Usually there are pictures or drawing of the room online, but that’s still only going to give you a hint of what to expect.  For instance, on a Carnival cruise, we were in the last room on a hallway and our huge window faced where we had been, rather than where we were going.  None of my research told me how much we’d enjoy that window.  We loved looking out at the wake of the ship and if my memory serves me right, we could actually open the window a bit for fresh sea air – something that  big picture window did not allow.

Interior and exterior cabins are the easiest ways to watch your cruise dollars, but if economy is not your first concern, then have you ever got a world of opportunity to relax in.  Come back next week and we’ll take it to the balcony.

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How to Google Your Way to the Perfect Cruise

TRAVEL HERE: FINDING YOUR TRAVEL DREAMS ONLINE

So, last week I shared a few secrets I’d learned about Google and how knowing those things can give you a better experience if you decide to shop online for a cruise.  Most of those suggestions were pretty basic, but their primary focus was what to avoid.  This week you’ll learn more about what to do.

Where Do You Want to Go?

And don’t say I don’t know!  I love to travel and in theory, I would pretty much get on any cruise ship going anywhere.  In practice, I’ve only been on one cruise for every decade that I’ve lived.  I’m doing everything I can to raise the ratio of cruises to years, but the point is this, don’t hesitate over where to start.  Close you eyes and point at a map.  Dreaming is free!

If you’re curious about Bali, then start your research there.  Before you actually book a cruise, you may be taking a 3 day cruise to nowhere out of Miami, not Bali, but you’re just practicing!  The first thing you need to know is what cruise lines go to where you want to visit.  As you research Bali, you will start discover things that will help when you start narrowing down your real search.

I hope my next cruise is to the Mediterranean.  When I Google “Mediterranean Cruises,” I quickly discover there are at least 12 cruise lines with itineraries in the Mediterranean and that’s just on the first page of results.  If I’m just shopping, then why not start clicking.  Don’t think of this as work.  Think of it as organized day dreaming. Get comfy and maybe get a glass of wine.

When Do You Want to Go? 

At this point, your research can take you in several directions, but if you have a specific time for your cruise in mind, then go with that.  I want my next cruise to be on my 25th wedding anniversary, which is in May of 2019.  If I Google, “Mediterranean Cruises May 2019,” the number of cruise lines goes down significantly and I start seeing sites like Expedia, Cruise Critic and various cruise lines.  Start sampling all of these sites.  Some will draw you in and you will find you’re still on the site an hour later.  Others will just look like a list of prices or you won’t like the font – so just skip these.

One of the tricks of saving money on a cruise is to be flexible about your dates.  If I demand to be at a certain place on a certain day for my anniversary cruise, then my choices will at least be limited and I may find no cruise ship will be where I want on the day I want to be there.  So keep your mind open about a date.  You want to narrow the choices down to a reasonable number, but not be stuck with only one choice.

What Itinerary Best Suits You?  

This is very subjective.  Many factors play into choosing an itinerary.  What cities do you want to see?  Do you want to spend some time at sea, enjoying your ship?  Would you like to spend a few days at the beginning and/or end of the cruise in a particular city?  Do you want to visit cities with museums and historical sites or do you prefer one beach party after another?  How many days do you want to cruise?

My husband and I are in this phase of our search for the 2019 cruise.  He’s leaning towards the Western Mediterranean with stops in places like Monte Carlo, St. Tropez and Portofino.  I’m more interested in the Eastern Mediterranean with beautiful Venice and Croatia, Montenegro and perhaps a bit of Greece.  However, we know we want something in the 8-10 day range, so this helps us narrow the search a little more.

By now you should be enjoying the process of shopping for your cruise.  If this all sounds like too much work, just call your travel agent.  They’ll ask you all the questions and help you find a cruise you will love, but you’ll have to trust them.  Doing your own research ensures you’ll love your cruise.  Come back next week and we’ll talk about what kind of room you want.

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Travel Show Treats

TRAVEL HERE: VACATIONS START HERE

Remember when they tried to tell us travel agents were going to disappear, because everyone was going to shop for their travel online.  Well, go ahead and shop, but when it gets time to buy, call your travel agent.  They haven’t gone anywhere and they still book the greater majority of travel.  Besides that, they are free and that’s my price.  My travel agency is CTC  and my travel agent is Sandra Rubio.  Let me tell you about their recent travel show.

What I Didn’t Know

I’ve traveled a lot in my life, but it would be impossible to know everything about the travel industry, because things change all the time.  The the more you know, quite frankly, the better you will travel.  Most of the things I heard at CTC’s travel expo I already knew, but as always, I picked up little tidbits.  Some things help me get better value for my travel dollar.  Others introduce me to exciting new opportunities.

Here’s some of the new tidbits I can picked up this time:

  • BOOK CRUISES EARLY and the more you care about when, where, what boat and what cabin, the earlier you need to book.  2019 is already filling up and some of the best things in 2020 are already gone.  And the industry is very, very serious about this.
  • Yes, you can get short cruises.  Used to be the norm was 14-21 days, but that doesn’t work for Boomers or Millennials and that’s who’s driving the industry now.  There are lots of short 4-5 day cruises leaving American ports and 8-10 day cruises all over the world.
  • Say good-bye to losing your boarding card.  Royal Caribbean will be giving you a watch programmed with all your essentials.  Another line is working on a piece of jewelry that can be worn in several ways that will hold you essential info – not just your beverage program, but how you like your martinis!  Thank RFID technology.
  • Being single is becoming less of problem.  Remember those Boomers and Millennials who are driving the industry?  Well, most of them are single and even if they are not, some of them prefer traveling alone.  The travel industry has listened!  There’s an emerging market of single bookings available.  Price quoted double occupancy is still the norm, but you’re no longer required to make friends with a stranger or put up with your crazy cousin to afford traveling alone.  You’ll still have to do your homework, for now.  There are limited choices, but watch for this to pick up momentum.  For now, check out Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Cunard.
  • Get a passport!  Changes are coming.  Security and documentation for travel, even domestic travel, is quickly getting more and more demanding.  While for the time being you can still enjoy closed loop cruising or domestic flights without a passport, the clock is ticking.  They’ve got things in the works that will make flight documentation so cumbersome that you’ll want a passport – even if you’re just flying from Dallas to San Antonio for a long weekend.  And by the way, 13 airports in our world now have bio-metric security measures.  Expect it on your travels soon.
  • Thank Millennials for  community spaces in your hotel.  Have you noticed business centers have moved to the front of the hotel?  There was a time when finding the business center to check your email or send a fax (Ha! remember faxes?) meant wandering into the bowels of your hotel and you’d be very alone when you got there.  If you’ve visited a new hotel or a newly renovated one, then you’ve probably noticed bright, comfortable workspaces near the entrance.  These inviting communal spaces, the snack/wine bar and other property amenities are there to lure Millennials.  Since so many of them are self-employed, tele-commuting from home or working in other alternative spaces, they crave getting out of the four walls of their hotel room.  They want places to meet with their clients without taking them back to their room or going to Starbucks.  Their demand is our gain.  Not only is there a more attractive place to check your email, chances are there will be an inviting buzz in the lobby around 5 o’clock, the workout room will not be a grungy place where old gym equipment goes to die and who knows, there might even be grill on the patio!
  • All the new fees are not a product of your imagination – get used to it.  It started with the airlines, but it didn’t stop there.  First, it was baggage fees and box lunches.  Now, there’s fee for having an assigned seat or legroom.   Who knows when they’ll figure out how to charge you a fee for the air you breathe!  But that’s not the worst part.  The hotels, resorts, car rental agencies, tour operators, etc., etc. etc. of the world observed what the airline industry did and now you’ll find they are adding fees to their tab, too.  Tickets represent only 71% of airline revenue and with Spirit Airlines, that goes down to 60% – everything else is fees.  Hotels took in $2.7 Billion (with a B!) during a recent year and the number is just beginning to climb.  Bottom line, that online price is just the beginning.  Another reason to get to know your local travel agent!
  • New ships coming!  Cruising just gets more popular everyday.  Ninety-seven new cruise ships are scheduled to be launched from 2017-2025.  Yes, some of them are huge, like Royal Caribbean’s Oasis class, but smaller ships are wildly popular, too.  Ritz Carlton will be launching 298-passenger yachts. Emerald,a river cruising enterprise, is about to enter the small ocean-going ship market.  Celebrity is about to launch a new ship concept with The Edge.  Viking is churning out longships and small ocean-going ships as fast as it can.

That should be enough to tempt you off your sofa (even with all the fees).  So come on out and choose a vacation.  You’ll be glad you did.  Tell them Jane sent you!

 

 

 

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I’ll Take a Pool With My Suite

Ready for Water Sports

TRAVEL THERE: HONEYMOON LUXURY

Day Two in Sharm el Sheik was pool day, but we didn’t just wander out to the pool at the Marriott.  It was a nice pool with a waterfall and a swim-up bar, but something even better was waiting for us.  The honeymooners had invited us to their suite at The Baron Resort and it had its own pool.  The suite, not the resort.

Meet in the Lobby

Eleven thirty was the call time for Day Two.  I was up plenty early and hit the gym for an hour on their stationary bike.  Bill joined me for the usual breakfast buffet, which took a little longer than I realized it would.  For once I was not ready at the appointed time and Mr. Bill showed signs of anxiety.  I sent him to the lobby and told him to make sure no one left without me.  HA!  I’ve been spending time around these guys for a long time.  There was no way they were going to be ready to leave at the appointed time.  I mean really!  Did you read about the wedding reception?  I was in the lobby within five minutes of Bill’s frustrated departure from our room – just in time for an hour of waiting for our transportation to show up.  It was a good hour though.  I inspected the boat someone bought for my tiny grand-nephew at the mall the evening before.  I had some lovely time to visit with my older grand-nephews who caught me up with their high-school/college-focused lives.  I also had a great conversation with my niece Maggie.  So, I didn’t sweat the wait.

The Baron Hotel

When our vehicle arrived, we piled in and headed back in the direction of the airport.  Taking a turn, we went down a long drive with desert on both sides and eventually entered an area under development.  I say that loosely.  It looked as if someone had started a luxury condo/townhouse complex at some point and then changed their mind.  As we drove along seeing building after building after building of abandoned construction I thought of the abandoned corniche (boardwalk) and wished better for Egypt and Sharm el Sheik.  We passed so many empty buildings in the almost derelict construction sites that I became concerned we weren’t headed in the right direction, but finally The Baron was in sight.

As soon as we drove up we knew it had been worth the drive.  We followed our newlywed groom up the elevator and through the halls to what seemed like the back of beyond.  He opened the double doors on an amazing suite and then stood back to get our reaction.  There wasn’t one for awhile, because we were stunned!  And so let the fun begin!

It was a marvelous day made a little extra special by the taste of luxury – but the day wasn’t over!  Ayman had scheduled a Bedouin Dinner for our evening activity.  Come back next week and we’ll head out into the desert.

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Charming Sharm

Off to the Desert

TRAVEL THERE: ADVENTURE PACKED DAYS

In Sharm el Sheik I took off my Museum Girl hat and embraced the Egyptian way to vacation.  As far as I’ve been able to discern, there’s not a single museum in the area.  It’s completely given over to entertainment venues and various sports rentals, from scuba gear to dune-buggies.  I can’t give you any real travel hints, because my nephew Ayman planned and booked everything.  I’d just show up in the lobby at whatever time I was told to be there and climb into whatever vehicle had been provided for our transportation.  

A Tiny Drip of Disappointment

View at the Sharm Marriot

The moment I arrived in Sharm I was ready to hit the Boardwalk and Corniche.  Some of my fondest memories of my previous visit were created there.  Each night we’d stroll along a thriving beach scene.  On one side was the beach and on the other was a line-up of amazing entertainment provided by various hotels.  At one venue you’d see a magician, next would be a belly dancer, then a singer, then a cultural variety show, then a comedian, then haunting music by a band of natives, then – well you get the picture.  And food – oh my goodness!  Each restaurant was bustling and at each one the cuisine tasted better than the one before.  I so wanted to re-live those nights of romance and excitement.

When we arrived at our hotel, the one we’d stayed at previously for old times sake, Bill was ready for a nap.  I unpacked our bags and set up the room for our stay.  Then I visited our balcony and enjoyed the view.  We were right by the pool and beyond the pool was the Red Sea.  Along with his nap, Bill was expecting a call from the family to give us the scoop on the evening’s entertainment.

Trying to make the best of a sad situation and really bad hair!

Finally, Bill woke up and initiated the call himself, because I was about to explode.  We’d be joining the rest of the crowd a little later, but first we’d have dinner on the Boardwalk.  The Arab Spring might have improved Egypt’s political situation, releasing them from the tyrannical Mubarek, but it also destroyed Sharm El Sheik.  What had once been a thriving international hot spot was transformed into a ghost town of empty restaurants with an occasional entertainer playing to an empty room. It broke my heart.  The lesser of the pathetic evils seemed to be an Italian joint, but it was bad service and bad food to go with my bad hair!

Let the Fun Begin

Heart-broken we returned to the hotel and went to the hotel portico at the assigned time.  My niece Mirette and her husband Ayman appeared in two different cars and whisked us away to enjoy the night – ladies in one car, guys in another.  Her intentions were good and she took us to a glamorous beach-side restaurant which proved there was some life in Sharm, even if the Corniche had died a brutal death.  Unfortunately, the wait was hours long and there was really no place to wait, so we climbed back in to the car to execute Plan B.

I can’t go on without telling you one very funny thing.  Public transportation and Uber are the way my grand-nephews negotiate the town of Sharm.  When we arrived with Mirette, there were her sons waiting for us.  When we moved on to Plan B, the boys wanted a lift.  They’d gotten themselves to restaurant, but the nearest public transportation was several blocks away and they didn’t want to wait for Uber.  So, since the car was full, Mirette opens up the trunk and they climbed in.

  I had a moment of jealously for this simpler way of life.  I used to live like that.  Cramming a vanload of people into a car, riding in the back of a pick-up truck, sneaking people into the drive-in in the trunk.  That was back in the days when you could legally drive with a cold one in your beverage holder.  That evening we giggled all the way to the bus stop, enjoying the simple pleasure of riding along with passengers in the trunk. Nowadays, America is so safe and politically correct that a simple moment’s pleasure has to be weighed against jail time.

The night was far from over.  Just about the time this Museum Girl is ready for bed, my nieces and nephews are just starting to enjoy the evening.  So come back next week and see where we headed after this.

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Observed at the Breakfast Buffet

The Mena House

Waiting for Izzat

TRAVEL THERE: MORNING AT THE MENA HOUSE

After the wedding, four of us went to the Mena House, while everyone else went to Sharm el Shiek, a beach town on the Red Sea.    Our nephew and his friend had headed to Sharm as I repacked our luggage the night before and Izzat would be picking us up to take us to the airport.  I regretted leaving the Mena House.  There was so much more of it I wanted to enjoy.  I wanted to laze around the gorgeous pool, enjoy my patio and continue to eat marvelous meals.  We had one more meal to enjoy at their remarkable buffet.

Breakfast at the Mena House

I won’t bore you with the details of yet another breakfast buffet.  I actually got tired of them while I was there.  Morning after morning each hotel had a massive spread of food and I had to walk the not-so-fine line between satisfying my hunger and becoming a practicing gourmand.  I will share an odd situation I observed, however.  On our first morning at the Mena House, Bill remarked on a woman who had piled a plate high with carbs.  He assumed she was gathering her own breakfast and in his opinion she needed to modify her diet.  On the second morning, she was back and I watched her, because I doubted anyone could actually eat the mound of pastries she had gathered up.

Come to find out, she wasn’t serving herself at all.  She gathered up several plates heaping with food on a table and had a bus boy deliver it to her room for her on a large tray.  Of course, I’m wondering all kinds of things, like why doesn’t her family just come down and get their own food, but most of all I felt sorry for her.  I even speculated that her husband was one of the towel wearing pilgrims I’d seen at the airport and wondered if his pilgrim status kept him from making the trip to the buffet.  Whatever the reason, she didn’t have the demeanor of someone who was enjoying their role.  She seemed huddled and secretive.  Her posture suggested she expected to be berated for her performance.  I realize I was imposing my own western ideas on her, but it was not the fact that she was performing this task for her family that bothered me, it was how burdensome the job seemed to be.

I’ve filled a tray at a breakfast buffet for Bill before and taken it back to the room.  It wasn’t a mound of pastries, but I certainly didn’t mind doing it.  I even enjoyed it, smiling as I thought of ways to make the meal more attractive.  When we’re at a buffet together we take turns serving each other.  Each of us will fill our own plate and then if we head back for beverage refills or to get a missed condiment, we always check to see if the other needs something.  Sometimes when we go back for the refill we’ll spot an item that we think the other must have missed and carry it back for their enjoyment.

My silent observation at the Mena caused me to watch for similar situations in the other places we traveled.  I did not see an exact replication of the circumstances with the huddled woman, but I did see echoes of it.  In Sharm I would see tables full of men loudly enjoying their breakfasts.  On the table were large stacks of pastries like the one prepared by the woman in Giza.  Meanwhile the women scurried around preparing individual plates for the men and for the children. Over several mornings I watched one woman and I don’t think she ever got the chance to eat.

I’m all about different strokes for different folks, but one thing really bugged me and it was those huge mounds of pastries.  Each plate seemed to have about 20 pastries carefully stacked on it and there were several plates scattered on the tables.  When the families would leave the table it seemed as if all 20 pastries were still there.  I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to those mounds of pastries.  American hygiene would demand they be thrown away, but I saw so much poverty and want through out the country that I couldn’t help but wish these gorgeous tidbits were in some way passed on to people who needed them.  I couldn’t help but think that they might be taken to the kitchen for recycling on the buffet – so I pretty much stayed away from the pastries.

The red one is mine and the silver one is Bills. Farewell Mena House!

Farewell Mena House

From the buffet we made our way to the lobby and settled our bill.  Our luggage was already waiting for us.  Before long, Izzat pulled under the portico and our next adventure began – and once again it was at the airport!  Come back next week and laugh with me about Egyptian security measures.

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The Marvelous Mena House

TRAVEL THERE: AN AMAZING HOTEL

I was predisposed to love the Mena House.  I’d been hearing about it for years and it sounded like my kind of place.  It had historical significance and it was a luxury hotel Bill’s place of birth would make affordable.  Let me tell you about it.

Arriving in Style

 I will admit there is something posh about being delivered to your hotel by a private driver and car.  We pulled up to the security gate to be sniffed by dogs, checked by metal detectors and generally gone over with a fine tooth comb, but our driver handled it all while Bill and I marveled at the Pyramids looming over us.  I thought we’d have a view of them.  I didn’t realize we’d be next door.

The lobby was opulent and we were treated like dignitaries.  Being treated like dignitaries takes a little longer than just being tourists, but it was kind of fun.  We were whisked to our room on a golf cart by a servile employee of the hotel and escorted around our new digs as if they rooms of the old palace, instead of the very comfortable modern room we’d reserved.

A Delicious Meal

Our next stop was lunch.  We wandered across the grounds and found a nice patio restaurant which served food all day long.  The prices were reasonable, the service was attentive and the food was amazing.  The travel gods were shining on us.

A Free Historical Tour

As we lazed about enjoying the view our nephew Steven and his friend John arrived.  They’d fallen for the 8:30 sight-seeing tour I’d rejected.  While they regretted waking up early, they were very happy with their day.  We decided to meet up again soon and see the free historical tour of the hotel I’d seen advertised in the lobby.  The parade of celebrities who have stayed at the Mena House is pretty interesting, but not anything compared to the amount of history that has occurred since it was built in the 1800’s as a lodge for royalty.

The Rest of the Stay

The only problem we had with our stay at the Mena House is that it was too short.  We loved hanging out in our room and enjoying the patio with the great view of the pyramids.  We loved wandering around the hotel and grounds, photographing all the beauty both natural and man-planned.  The service was amazing.  The food was great – whether we were enjoying the free breakfast buffet, having lunch with a view or enjoying a Middle Eastern feast at the Khan il Khalili restaurant (named after the famous Cairo bazaar).

I have a fantasy of returning to Giza some day to see the wonderful museum being built to replace the Cairo Museum and the Mena House would be the perfect place to stay – but I doubt I could ever get Mr. Bill back to Egypt.  The place he has fond memories of growing up in doesn’t exist anymore.

If you’re still hungry for more about the Mena House, watch this video.  If you want to know about visiting the Pyramids, then come back next week.

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