Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Let’s Go Shopping!

TRAVEL BUG TALES: SOMETHING I WAS GOOD AT

Three days into my tropical vacation I was finally excited about something.  We pooled our resources for a limo (one way only) and headed to Freeport.  I was happy to finally be on familiar ground.

We Hit the Sidewalk Shopping

Our limo dropped us off at a shopping area near the casino.  Each of us had a list of people to buy for and some cash to spend.  This one wanted a watch, someone else was looking for jewelry and I’d heard you could get good deals on porcelain and crystal.  My list really just consisted of Mom and Aunt Edie, so I took an interest in what everyone else was looking for and helped them in their search.

When it came to understanding what was a bargain among the luxury items we saw, my friend Debbie actually had a better grasp, but I was the one with a good sense of direction.  I was able to maneuver us around the shopping maze with ease.  We browsed around all morning and at the end of it, I was able to direct everyone back to the place they’d seen their favorite thing for the best price.  I got some Wedgewood pieces for Mom and Aunt Edie.  I was going to get my dad a golf cap from the resort.  That just about did it.

What’s for Lunch? 

We’d heard from somewhere that the best place for lunch was at the Freeport Princess snack bar.  Like the shopping area, the Princess was near the casino.  I have to confess that when I got there I wished we were staying there rather than out in the boonies.  This place was happening.  The clientele was very different from the families with 2.5 kids and the college students we had out at the Grand Bahama Hotel.

That’s where we made the love connection.  The guy in the solid yellow shirt and bell bottomed jeans was Michael and he was a hunk.  It was one of those across a crowded room sort of things.  He had a crew of friends and they sorted themselves out among my friends, but Michael and I had energy.

The guy in the white jeans and hat was the organizer of the group.  He pointed the conversation towards the guys coming out to see us on our end of the island.  Michael and I were happy to go along with whatever anybody else dreamed up as long as it meant our chance encounter would get an opportunity to develop into something.

It was nearing the time we’d arranged for our limo to return and pick us up.  The guys planned to borrow a car from somewhere and drive to our end of the island.  It seemed like a great plan.  After all the disappointments I’d endured so far, it seemed as if my vacation prospects were picking up.

There was giggly girl talk all the way back to the hotel.  While Michael and I had been an item from the get-go, the other connections were still pretty loose, so there was a whole lot of bargaining going on.  We all agreed on one thing, Michael was the hunk of the bunch and he was all about me.

We had dinner at the buffet and started watching for the guys.  Come back next week and see how that went.

ART, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Shopping, TRAVEL

Our First Day at Sea

Photo Won at the Art Auction

TRAVEL THERE: ENJOYING THE BOAT

There she is!  Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas.  On our day at sea, we explored many of her charms and suffered a few of her deficiencies.  Come along and see how it went.

Up & At ‘Em

First up, the gym!  I’m an early riser, so I take advantage of it to get in an hour on a stationary bike.  The gym on Vision of the Seas is nice, but quite small.  On this morning, pretty much every spot on the equipment was filled.

I got my hour in and headed back to the room via the the buffet.  I filled up my soda cup, got Bill some ice water and picked up a few pastries in case Mr. Bill was ravenous.

More Like Eggs Benedict Arnold

Breaking Our Fast

We enjoy the luxury of sit down service and convivial company, so we returned to the Aquarius Dining Room for our morning repast.  There is no assigned seating, so you get the luck of the draw in table mates. The luck of the draw in food was pretty marginal, especially their sorry excuse for Eggs Benedict.

We ended up at a table with a bunch of round dancers, who were nice, but only interested in their dancing, so we were relieved when a mother and her daughter arrived.  After a little chatting we discovered they’d been caught in all the flooding from Harvey and it was interesting to hear about their experiences.  They became our new cruise buddies and we enjoyed seeing them several other times during the week.

We went back to the room so Bill could wrangle with his computer and the market.  I took a shower and got ready for the day, in part by perusing the Cruise Compass and picking out the good stuff, like the Art Auction

My Free Gift

Champagne Art Auction

One of my favorite things at sea are the Park West art auctions. How can you lose if you’re spending your morning looking at art and hearing tidbits about artists and the art world, while you sip free champagne?  I’m probably not ever going to be bidding, but it’s relaxing, fun and interesting.  Bill doesn’t exactly feel the same way.  He’ll attend, probably more for the champagne than the art, but he sits there, giving me a running commentary on the dangers of buying art at sea, just in case I get the urge to lift my bidding card.

Were I to actually bid on something, it would be because I thought it was a pretty picture and I’d enjoy looking at it.  Occasionally I’ll say something complimentary about a painting and Bill reacts as if I’m considering purchasing a fake Mona Lisa and he demands to know which wall we’d hang it on.  It sort of takes the fun out of the dreaming, but I just shake my head in amusement and have another sip of champagne.

Beyond the champagne, there’s always a free gift of art.  This time a 7×7 seriolithograph by Yuval Wolfson.  If I had any space on our walls, I could frame it and hang it.  Instead it will end up in my scrapbook.  There was an extra bonus this time which will also find its way to my scrapbook.  To hold the audience’s attention, they also have drawings for Royal Caribbean chotkies, like t-shirts and water bottles.  To my amazement I won one of the drawings and I got two lovely 8×10 photos of the ship – one of which is shown above – and which will kick off my scrapbook of this adventure.

Winding Up the Day and Gearing Up for the Night

The auction lasted past the sit down lunch, so we were forced to go back to the Windjammer for a buffet lunch.  It was marginally better than the Embarkation Buffet, but that’s not saying much.

Usually we would have explored more of the boat, but on this trip, Bill had to keep an eye on the market, so we went back to our room.  I really can’t complain about the relaxation.  The room was comfortable, the sea was just outside our window and after catching up on my travel journal I did a little reading.

Come back next week and I’ll tell you about formal night.

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.

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

A Sweet Alexandrian Tradition

TRAVEL THERE: DELICES PASTISSERIE

After our five mile stroll from the Four Seasons to The Cecil, Mr. Bill was ready to get to our room and take a nap.  He suggested we forego whatever surprise I had in store, but I urged him to hang with me just a few minutes more.

Delighting Alex since 1922

Our balcony at The Cecil gave us a jaw dropping view of the Mediterranean Sea, but it also overlooked a lovely little park that filled the block next to the hotel.  In one of my visits to the balcony I’d spied people sitting along the sidewalk on the south side of the park, chatting over coffee and pastries.  Delices didn’t mean anything to me, but since they’d been around since 1922, I thought they must be doing something right.

With the front door to the hotel just steps away, I led Bill to my discovery and was he ever happy.  The pastry store fronts two different streets and inside is case after case after case of amazing looking pastries.  Bill’s desire for his nap disappeared completely as he wandered from case to case trying to decide which treat he would indulge in.  After narrowing it down to a few favorites, Bill gave me the final choice for something to share.  I chose the the chocolate treat above, of course.

Naptime

We took our treasure back to the hotel to enjoy and then Bill promptly went down for a nap.  I don’t do naps very well, so I used the time the way I usually did – updating my travel journal, catching up on social media (when there is wi-fi), doing a few crossword puzzles and reading.

It had been a long day for Mr. Bill.  Museums always tire him and the Bibliotheca Alexandrine had been a humdinger.  We’d had our stressful moments with the rogue hantoor driver and that wild taxi ride.  Then we’d walked five miles.  Quite a day!  Even though I don’t usually manage to take a nap, this time I eventually dozed off to sleep.

Late Night Stroll

When we woke up, we both wanted a little something to eat, but not a full meal.  Bill wanted ice cream and I reminded him Delices had ice cream.  We were out of that room in a flash!

I had on a snakeskin printed lounging set I’d gotten from my Aunt Edie.  It’s perfectly acceptable for wearing out in public, even though that’s not something I usually do.  I’ll wear it down to breakfast or perhaps put it on when I know we’re going to spend most of the day in the car on a long drive, but it’s not my go-to outfit for a stroll around a big city like Alexandria – especially when a peek outside tells me there are more people out and about than there had been during the day.  I  suggested I change clothes, but Bill insisted that all we were going to do was pop over to the pastry store.  I slid into a pair of canvas espadrilles and threw a windbreaker over my outfit.

Yes, we went right over to Delices.  Both of us got some ice cream.  Even though that’s not my usual snack, an ice cream cone sounded fun for our late night adventure. However, we did not immediately head back to the room.

Bill led me off down a side street full of action.  All the stores were open and the sidewalks were lined with pop-up vendors.  You could buy anything from toilet paper to an engagement ring along the street.  Crowds of natives wove between the stalls and the stores, laughing, talking and occasionally making a purchase.

I’d had a moment’s hesitation when Bill veered into the side street.  It was late.  I wasn’t dressed right.  I didn’t know if it was safe.  I could have made all kinds of excuses to scurry back to the hotel, but I’m glad we didn’t.  We got a look at the real Alex without any tourists (besides ourselves) in sight.

Water is a constant challenge in Egypt.  There’s the need to stay hydrated in the desert sun and heat, but you can’t drink anything out of the tap.  To meet this challenge every other store sells bottled water and on every block there’s a rickety wooden stand staffed by a burka-ed grandmother.  We opted for the grandmother every time that we could.  On our way back to the hotel we visited the grandmother we’d chosen to be our vendor in Alex.  We also bought a Coke Zero from her so we could enjoy a little of my nephew’s bourbon.

A sweet ending to an exciting day.  I’ll leave you with one final photo.  More museums are in store for next week.  Come back and visit me then.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

I Interrupt This Blog to Freak Out Over My Glasses

The sunglasses I left behind

TRAVEL HERE: YA GOTTA SEE IT TO ENJOY IT

My life is pretty busy.  Last year, before I went to Egypt, I really meant to get my eyes checked and update my lenses.  My sunglasses were so scratched up I could barely see out of them, but one thing led to another and I ended up with my beat up sunglasses on vacation.  That turned into a blessing, because I lost the sunglasses going through security in Sharm el Sheikh, but that was only the beginning of the saga.

Juggling My Glasses

While the part of me that is reasonable and practical was sad to lose my sunglasses, there was also a part that did a little happy dance.  The loss was unfortunate, because the frames were fairly new.  I’d worn my previous pair of prescription sunglasses for a long time with complete satisfaction.  I bought them in 2006 and just kept replacing the lenses, until I realized I had actually worn off all the decoration.

In 2015 I had my eyes checked and there was a new development.  Glasses and sunglasses weren’t enough.  I also needed computer glasses.  So, my regular glasses, a pair of wire frames I’d been dissatisfied with for a long time became my computer glasses and I bought new frames for my regular glasses and my sunglasses.

My new regular frames were great.  They were red Calvin Kleins and I felt snazzy in them.  The sunglasses were a fail.  They looked marvelous, but they just wouldn’t stay on.  The arms weren’t curved enough behind my ears, so they fell off all the time.  Hence the many scratches.  They’d bounced off every surface from the bottom of a dumpster to pavement.  So losing them gave me the opportunity to buy some new frames that would actually stay on my face.

My beloved Brightons!

Time to Upgrade

I really shopped around for sunglasses, because I have very sun-sensitive eyes.  I probably wear my sunglasses more than I wear the other two.  I wanted to find a pair I would love as much as I did the ones I’d purchased in 2006.  Then I found out Brighton sunglasses are prescription ready.  They are my favorite sunglasses in the world, but I hadn’t been able to wear them since 2006, when I had to start wearing prescription sunglasses.

Let me tell you something, optometry shops want you to buy frames.  They must mark them up about a 1000%.  All this second pair free stuff is a dead give away.  I didn’t realize how serious they were about this until I tried to get my new prescription filled at Costco.  Even though they charge you hundreds for your lenses, its the frames they care about.

The clerk did everything she could to discourage me from using my old frames.  I had to sign a waiver  releasing Costco from responsibility should the frames break and even then she couldn’t guarantee that wherever it was they sent them would fill the prescription.  I’d just have to do without my glasses for 10 days.

To add insult to injury, they wouldn’t fill my sunglasses prescription at all.  The frames had stones in them. Puh-leez!  Tough luck for me.  I walked in with three pairs of glasses to update, but only left behind one pair, because they wouldn’t do my sunglasses and having to wait 10 days while they sent them off meant I’d have to use my computer glasses for every day.  I wanted to just tell them no thanks, but Costco was the vendor my husband had approved and I was trying to cooperate.

Then I went to find someone who would fill a prescription in a pair of glasses with stones in them.  I don’t want to talk about how much it cost.  I am still traumatized!

The Agony Continues

Eventually I had new lenses in all my glasses and for a short while I was a happy camper, but it didn’t last long.  My beloved red Calvin Kleins fell apart.  I’d just spent a fortune getting all those prescriptions filled and I loved my red glasses, so first I went back to the people at NorthPark, where I’d bought the glasses originally, hoping they could repair them.  Too bad, so sad – they sent me to a jewelry repair place.  The jewelry repair place referred me on to a place in Richardson where they repaired glasses.  I don’t want to talk about how much it cost, but I was desperate.

I felt the same way when the darned things broke again.  So I went back to NorthPark place one more time, hoping that by some sort of magic I could special order a replacement pair – something I hadn’t asked about when I’d gone in hoping they could repair the glasses.  Finally, the glasses elves smiled on me.  I couldn’t get the red glasses, but they still had the same frames in black!  Yes, I had to pay for them, but they did give me a discount after I wailed to high heaven about their “second pair free” promotion.  It just seemed wrong that I’d been through such a painful series of glasses related issues and now they were going to charge me full price to replace the frames I’d originally bought from them.  As I wailed, I never admitted how glad I was that I was not going to have to start from scratch and get new lenses also.

What Now ?

So, I went on for several months more, juggling three pairs of glasses and wishing for the days when I could see without them.  I make do with the computer glasses around the house and keep the other glasses in my purse for use when I am away from home, but it still seems like I am continually looking for one pair or the other.

One day in December I was out running errands when I realized I had my computer glasses on my head.  I walked back to the car and put them there so I wouldn’t lose them – but of course, I did.  Back at home, after I’d changed my clothes I realized my glasses weren’t in the dish in my bathroom where I usually keep them.  So I went back to the car, but they weren’t there.  So I checked the pocket of the jacket I’d worn, but they weren’t there.  I scoured the entire downstairs over and over, thinking I might have set them down somewhere along the way without realizing it.  I checked my purse, the pocket of my jeans, anywhere I could think of that had even the remotest possibility of hiding the glasses.  In the days to come, I would tear up the whole house and go back to every location I visited while running errands.  The glasses had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Weeks later, for some forgotten reason, I wanted the old blow-dryer I used to use, which I keep shoved in a hidden corner of my closet.  Bill uses it sometimes to help build a fire on the grill, but that wasn’t the reason I went digging for it this particular time.  Whatever the reason, I found my computer glasses on the closet floor.  Of course, they were shoved so far back that I had missed them the other  3000 times I’d looked for them.

You may wonder why I’ve taken so much time to tell you of all my recent woes with my glasses, but I had to tell you or the next chapter in my travel tale would not have made any sense.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our embarkation on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas.

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, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Not So Cheap Cheapie Cruise

A Chilly Sail Away

TRAVEL HERE: EXTERIOR CABINS FROM $259

So Bill’s birthday was on the horizon and it was a significant number.  At dinner on a Sunday evening we discussed what to do about it and a short cheapie cruise out of Galveston seemed like just the thing.  We’d taken a Carnival Cruise out of Galveston a few years ago and had a great time.  We expected a repeat performance, with upgrades, but that’s not how it turned out.

A Quick Google

With very little ado I found a four day cruise on Royal Caribbean.  An exterior cabin was supposed to be $259.  That sounded good to Bill.  I’d warned him that Royal Caribbean had a la carte pricing and $259 was the starting point, not the final total.  He wanted a little time to think about it.  A little time turned into a day and Tuesday morning I contacted my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC,Inc.

We had a little back and forth, because initially she couldn’t find the deal.  Part of the problem was that we’d waited a couple of days.  The golden rule of travel bargains is grab it as soon as you find it, but Mr. Bill isn’t made that way.  He always sleeps on decisions.  In most cases that’s a good thing and it has saved our gravy more times than I can count, but it did put a dent in our $259 (per person based on double occupancy) exterior cabin.

By Tuesday, interior cabins began at $280 and it was only $67 more for one with an ocean view, so we made the leap for an exterior cabin.  We got it for $313 each, plus taxes ($123.62).  So far so good.  We were under $750 and we were on Royal Caribbean, a line we’d sailed before and loved.

Let the Nickel and Diming Begin!

Something all cruise lines do these days is offer online sites for personal cruise planning.  Once you’ve booked they will send you a link and you can start personalizing your cruise.  Everything from bed arrangements to special events can be arranged through your portal.  It’s great for booking shore excursions, specialty dining, beverage packages and entertainment.  You can also begin to understand what you can expect once you are on board.

Not everything on the portal will cost money, but a lot of it does.  My first concern is always shore excursions.  I compare what the independent shore excursion companies offer compared to what the boat offers.  If you book independently, be sure you are using a legitimate shore excursion company that guarantees you will be back on board in time for your cruise.  Read the fine print and check out comments.

According to what you are looking for you don’t even have to book a shore excursion.  The spa and other services on board are usually heavily discounted when the boat is in harbor.  Sometimes everything you want is within walking distance of the boat.  Shop around and do your research.

What I Did

I was dying to go to Chichen Itza, one of the top archaeological sites in the world, but this wasn’t my cruise.  Bill opted for Discover the Yucatan and Mayan Culture, which was offered by Royal Caribbean.   Our only port of call was Progresso, which is a bit of a backwater in the cruising industry, so independent providers didn’t really offer much.  With a 30% discount for booking before we boarded, the shore excursions were $63 a piece.  I also purchased a beverage plan, because I can’t live without caffeine and I don’t drink coffee.  Again the pre-boarding booking saved me 30% and I had a $25 on board credit from my travel agent (see why you use a travel agent) I got a $40 package for $15.  That brought our total up to $990.74 which is almost twice the advertised $259 person price would be.   

What a bargain cruising can actually be.  If you consider transportation, food, accommodations and entertainment, you can barely stay home for $123.75 per person per day – much less travel.  So we may whine about the price a little bit, but cruising really is a big bang for your traveling buck.   

So far so good.  How did this trip almost turn into a traveling disaster?  Come back next week and we’ll talk about it.

 

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

My Sharm-ing Shopping Opportunity

TRAVEL THERE: A MIDNIGHT TRIP TO THE LOCAL SOUK

Bokra is a word you hear frequently in Egypt.  It means tomorrow, but just like the Spanish word for tomorrow, manana, it also means ‘maybe tomorrow or maybe never.’  Since I’d been in Sharm I’d been promised a trip to the souk to do a little shopping and this was to be our last night in town.  As the clock ticked towards midnight, my anxiety grew, but I should have realized there was no need for worry.

THE SHOPPING

Mirette made good on her promise. It was well after 10 PM, but this was Egypt, so everything was still going strong. Maggie came along, because she still had some shopping to do, too.  The sisters headed off in one direction and I headed in another with Bill. Now that my mom is gone, souvenir buying is not as urgent, but I do like to pick up something for my bestie.

We wandered the shops but I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. I like pharaonic jewelry, but it’s no longer fashionable in Egypt. Most of the jewelry looked like pieces I could buy anywhere, lovely, but they didn’t seem representative to me. Then there would be the pharaonic section, with huge scarabs or an elaborately decorated eye, but that wasn’t what I was looking for either.  I wanted something that would be worn frequently with pride, but I also wanted it to have an Egyptian flavor.

At one of the few shops which was closed, I found a lovely piece in the window that was just what I wanted.  The shop was locked up tighter than a drum.  Some shops were sitting wide open with no one inside, but if you entered a nearby vendor would come to help you.  I looked around helplessly and complained about the shop being closed a little louder than I normally would, but I was hoping someone would hear me, and then come over to offer their services.

Mirette showed up just about then to see how we were doing and I pointed out the necklace.  Darling Mirette disappeared for a moment or two and before I knew it, there was the shop’s proprietor, opening his shop and apologizing for his absence.  I’m not sure what it took to get the man back to the shop.  Perhaps Mirette was a friend or the shopkeeper understood her husband Ayman’s influence.  Whatever it was, we were very grateful, because nothing else in the bazaar was anywhere as lovely as the necklace in the window.

Come to find out the beautiful hand-made piece was beyond reasonable. I’d picked out the necklace for my bestie, but wished for one for myself. However, the proprietor was also the craftsman and he had only made one. I can understand why, because the necklace consisted of many tiny talismans and intricate beadwork, which is why I couldn’t believe the price. It was truly a unique piece. I satisfied myself with a lovely lapis lazuli lotus pendant. Bill pointed out that I could have taken the elaborate necklace for myself and given Deb the lotus, but then that wouldn’t have been quite fair now, would it.

Maggie too, had found just what we needed and we headed back to Mirette’s house.  The young ones had been put to bed long ago by their grandparents and a group of neighbors had joined the family, sharing sheesha and laughing at one another’s stories.  Soon the shoppers were gathered around, relighting the hookah pipes and telling their own stories – in Arabic.

I hate being the party pooper, but it was far beyond my bed time and all the chatter in an unfamiliar language only made it worse.  We were traveling in the morning.  I had my bags ready, but I needed to sleep.  Mirette carried us back to the hotel and another day in Egypt ended.

ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

A Lazy Day Beside the Red Sea

TRAVEL THERE:  A LITTLE RELAXATION & A FEAST

When my husband first mentioned spending several days at the beach with his family, I was worried.  I don’t beach well.  About 20 minutes is all I can stand and that’s only if the wind isn’t blowing sand all over me.  I had visions of interminable days on end, chained to a chaise lounge, at the mercy of people who love the beach.  In reality, by the time I finally got a day to visit the beach, I was ready to enjoy it. 

POOL TIME

I may not see my grand nieces and nephews very often, but I’m no fool.  I bribe them with gifts and always have a little something up my sleeve. This trip that something was my coloring equipment.

A few years ago a friend gave me everything I needed to get hooked on adult coloring.  What she didn’t know was that I already loved to color, I just never seemed to have time for it.  Now I have a coloring book, coloring cards, coloring pencils and a great eraser that come out whenever I travel.  I like to color on the plane, but on this trip I also thought I could tempt the kids to color with me.  BINGO!

The Sharm Marriott has a great pool and when the family joined us there, I was already busy coloring.  Suddenly, I was the center of attention and they were eager to join me in a little coloring book action.  As they shared my pencils, their mom and I had the opportunity to chat.  It’s one of my favorite memories of the time in Egypt.

All good things must come to an end though and soon the nieces and nephews were on their way to Mirette’s house.  It was a time for sisters and cousins, so Bill and I stayed behind to enjoy the water a little more.  As I’d thought about our stay at the Marriott, one of things I’d looked forward to was a Margarita at the submerged pool bar, beneath a waterfall, but the bar didn’t open until late afternoon and I was never in the pool at that time, so I missed it.

BEACH TIME

Once the kids were gone, Bill wanted to move to the beach.  I was perfectly content to hang out at the pool until the bar opened, but it was his vacation too, so out to the sandy, sweaty beach I went.  After the allotted twenty minutes were over I begged to be released so I could wash my hair.  Reluctantly he agreed to let me go.

Now if you are a beach person, the Marriott was great.  Beautiful sand, gorgeous water, comfy lounges, rattan umbrellas, cabana boys delivering drinks – the whole nine yards.  I left Bill laying in the sun and retreated to the room.

THE FEAST

We were invited to Mirette’s home for dinner.  Her mother, Bill’s sister Mona, had been cooking all day.  What an absolute delight!  Mona is my favorite Egyptian chef.  She probably doesn’t realize she could charge me for her amazing macaroni and bechamel or her goulash (a sort of savory baklava) or her kufta or… so let’s not tell her!

She beamed as I dug in for seconds.  She’s well aware of the fact that I’m always counting my calories, so asking for seconds was a compliment of the highest order, but I supplemented the obvious with even more verbal exclamations of my complete bliss over her cooking.

Next was a little mid-night shopping trip, but you’ll have to come back next week for that.

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

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!