Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Big Ceremony

TRAVEL THERE: PLANNING A VOW RENEWAL ON CELEBRITY EDGE

Another important bit of our planning involved the 25th Anniversary Vow Renewal.  For me, this was one of the more frustrating parts of the cruise preparation.  As you may know I am a bit of a perfectionist and perfectionists like to know what is going to happen.  Good luck with that if you want to have a ceremony on a cruise line.

Very Nice Ladies

My travel agent at CTC kept nudging me to get my vow renewal ceremony reserved, so I did that back in October, eight months previous to our June sailing date.  Celebrity has several kinds of ceremony packages, of all sorts: onshore, on board, engagements, weddings and vow renewals.  With a vow renewal there are two basic packages, True Love Knot and Aisle to Isle.  The primary difference between the two was that the True Love Knot is performed by the Captain.  For a couple of hundred dollars less, you get the Cruise Director.

Since even in October, long before I booked the shore excursions, I could tell we were going to spend a whole lot of money, I knew the husband-groom would be a lot happier if I settled for Aisle to Isle Package.  I tried getting online and doing my registration, but like many times I was online with Celebrity, it was not exactly a smooth process.  Sandra, my travel agent, had sent me a contact phone number and when the website was not cooperating, I decided to go ahead and call.

No one could be nicer than the wedding consultants at Celebrity.  They were almost more excited than me about my ceremony and they were willing to bend over backwards to see that I got what I wanted.  Unfortunately, as I will explain later, this sense of cooperation did not extend to my shipboard ceremony contact, but that’s another story for another day.

A Taste of the Future

Let me warn you of this.  When you plan a shipboard ceremony, absolutely nothing will be written in stone.  They treat you like a queen and they are nice as they can be, but I wanted to know when and where my ceremony would be.  The closest they could get to an answer was that it would be on the one day we were at sea, but that was about it.

Let me warn you of another thing, at least about Celebrity, they really, really, really want you to have your ceremony in the middle of the afternoon in an empty dining room.  Now this is not something they tell you when you first call up, but the on board staff made it abundantly clear that I was not business as usual.

The Progression of the Ceremony

Remember my stateroom with the obstructed views.  Well, I had specifically chosen that cabin with my ceremony in mind.  I envisioned my ceremony in the beautiful gardens of Eden with a view of the sea spread before us.  I would get Eden and I would get the sea, but not in any way as I anticipated.

The Edge was a brand new ship, not even completed when I was making my ceremony reservations, and apparently I was the very first person who requested Eden as a venue.  The nice ladies registered my request, but let me know there were no guarantees.

So then, a few months later I was talking to the Celebrity sales rep at a CTC party.  He agreed Eden would be beautiful, but he was all about the Rooftop Garden.  Still, I stuck with Eden until the obstructed views incident, then I moved my first choice to the Rooftop Garden.

And that’s how things remained until a few weeks before the cruise.  According to the website I would get confirmation of my wedding venue and time 10 days before my cruise, only that never happened, even though I made several attempts to get verification.  I admit, I was getting frantic.  I had all the pertinent information on the Celebrity Weddings website and you can rest assured that I had printed it all out, just in case, but no one was making me feel any better.

Finally, the day before we left, I got some really awful email threatening that my ceremony could be cancelled if I didn’t confirm the information.  Now somewhere in the email it mentioned that you could confirm the information via email, but the very official looking letter that was attached mentioned nothing of the sort.  You either had to do it online or send a fax.  Well, I don’t have a fax machine and online, not surprisingly, was not working.

Since I don’t have a fax machine I went online and had a very hysterical 15 minutes trying to make the confirmation thing work – it never did.  I confess, I wrote a very snarky email to the nice ladies and I also complained about the fact that I was leaving town the next day and I knew neither the time or location of my ceremony.

But fighting for my venue was just part of the fun.  Come back next week and we’ll talk hair and make-up.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Promise of Palma

Palma de Mallorca
Planning for Palma

TRAVEL THERE: PLANNING THE FINAL ACTIVITY

Palma de Mallorca – a soupcon of Spain before heading home.  The main thing I knew about Mallorca was that it had pearls.  Would I love some?  Of course!  Was I actually going to buy any?  Probably not!  So what do you do on Mallorca?

What I Wanted

Since I didn’t have any idea of what Mallorca was really all about, I was eager to find out what Celebrity Cruise Lines offered.  Then I read about a flamenco performance.  I adore flamenco.  The guitar, the castanets, the mournful voices, the gorgeous frilled dresses.  I’ve read all the books that tell me there is no way I will truly understand flamenco or bullfighting, but that’s OK, because even with my very limited knowledge of this art of dance, I find it fascinating.

There were a couple of other options that sounded interesting – a Tapas Walking Tasting Tour, a botanical garden tour and a castle tour.  The castle tour sounded amazing.  They would have costumed actors living out the castle’s days of glory.  There would be some sort of equestrian demonstration and a shopping opportunity for native crafts.  The excursion would be topped off with a feast.  Now that’s a shore excursion.

What I Considered

Though the castle tour sounded great, it was also pricey.  The Naples and Florence tours had already taken a chunk out of my budget – not to mention the vow renewal ceremony.  Another top tier shore excursion might get me in hot water.  Besides, it was a castle thing, which reeked of a historical, museum-type experience.  My friends might not be as excited about that as I would be and their pocketbooks might also be straining.

A garden was always a good thing in my book.  They rank very high in my interests.  With both Deb and Bill I’ve visited a whole bunch of them.  A little research told me that while it was a garden, I’d seen many, many gardens which were superior. In fact, we’d be visiting the Boboli on this trip and it would for sure put this garden to shame.  No, the garden wasn’t the right choice.

The Tapas Tour sounded pretty good, but this was a cruise and we’d have more food staring us down than we’d be able to consume. And walking?  Would everyone be totally walked out by this juncture in the trip.

What I Booked

When I reasoned out the Flamenco show was the very best thing, I realized just how happy that had made me.  There had really been no competition.  While I always want to do a little of everything, flamenco was much to be preferred over everything else – and besides, dance was one of Deb’s very favorite things and she would love to see it.

So we booked the Flamenco Show, but it didn’t stay booked.  Someone somewhere in Celebrity Cruise world decided to cancel this shore excursion.  I tried to find out why, thinking perhaps it might be worth booking our own excursion, but a little research told me the flamenco show had gone the way of all tourist traps and Celebrity was probably saving me from myself.

None of my reservations about the garden or the castle had changed, so that left the Tapas Tour.  Food, wine, walking…what could go wrong?  We booked the walking tour.

While booking, I went ahead and signed up for a tour/transfer in our Debarkation city, Barcelona – another city like Rome that I was dying to see – Las Ramblas, the Cathedral, so many wonderful memories to make.  However, like a tour of Rome it was a pipe dream.  We cancelled Rome because the schedule was just too tight and in the end we had to cancel the Barcelona tour also and for the same reason.  With an international flight leaving at two, we’d have to be to the airport before twelve and that was too soon to be on the tour.

Seven ports of call, seven shore excursions.  Two cancelled, two changed.  Now I was running out of things to plan.  come back next week and we’ll talk about the vow renewal ceremony.

Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Marvelous Monte Carlo

Yacht in Monaco Harbor
Welcome to Monte Carlo

TRAVEL THERE: LUXURY ON STEROIDS

Princess Grace of Monaco, Prince Rainer, Yachting, Wealth, Grandeur, Bond James Bond, the Casino, the French Rivera…we all know what Monte Carlo stands for.  Where else in the world would the list of shore excursions include top of the line Ferrari with race car driver – for a few thousand dollars?

What I Wanted

Monte Carlo is a pretty small place.  I envisioned stepping off the boat and strolling around the city with the help of some map.  In my dreams I would often change companions.  One time Bill and I would stroll the street hand in hand.  Another time I would envision Deb and I gleefully remarking on the excessive wealth – and not without a tinge of jealousy.  In my dreams, I never saw all six of us stomping around trying to figure out what we were seeing.

We would be at the port from early until late and it would be the morning after our vow renewal, so I could imagine Bill and I sleeping late, then visiting the city in the afternoon.  I hoped we’d scoot back to the boat and get all gussied up for an actual visit to the casino – not just the tourist part – but inside, just like James Bond. Maybe we’d be that couple who showed up in the last few minutes before the anchor was lifted.  The anxious crew would be searching the horizon for our silhouettes and when they realized we were coming they’d be angry that we’d waited so long – but only for a few moments, because when they identified us as the 25th Anniversary couple and saw the love we had for one another, there would be smiles all around.

What I Booked

Because the cash register just kept ringing, I thought Monaco might be the right place to see without an official guided tour.  After all, most everything was withing in a one mile radius.  Mr. Bill, on the other hand, wanted a guide.  That seemed to suit everyone, so we booked a bus tour of the French Rivera.

I still had hopes of coming back to the boat afterwards and dressing to the nines for a visit to the casino, but shortly before cruising, a new opportunity presented itself.  The CEO of Celebrity Cruise Lines was coming on our cruise on The Edge.  She’d arranged for a wine tasting at the Monte Carlo Yacht Club (Yes, THE Monte Carlo Yacht Club, I didn’t stutter) and an after-hours, special access tour of the Prince’s Palace.

I’d never been all that excited about the bus tour.  The town of Eze seemed to be the best part of it, but we’d only have 45 minutes there.  The Yacht Club was just too much to resist – regardless of the outrageous price for four hours of entertainment.  And there was still a chance I’d get that peek at the Casino. Perfect!

We cancelled the bus tour and booked the Yacht Club.  For me, the palace was laginappe.  I was just imagining all the ways I could slip “the Monte Carlo Yacht Club” into my sentences after I got home.  Did I get to the Casino?  You’ll find out.  For now, come back next week and we’ll plan towards Cannes.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Naples Excursion Planning

The Isle of Capri
The Isle of Capri

TRAVEL THERE: NOT DOING UNTO OTHERS AS I WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO ME

Naples is a lovely city.  A traditional bus tour of the city with various stops would be a lovely way to spend the day.  However, besides just being a lovely city, Naples is the gateway city for so may lovely attraction.  Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Positano, the Isle of Capri!  How does one choose which Celebrity Shore Excursion to enjoy?

What I Wanted

If I had done exactly as I wanted to, I would have hired a private guide and spent the day taking in Pompeii and Herculaneum.  It would be hot, it would have been crowded and I would have been walking all day long.  I would have also been in heaven.

Two cities from ancient history preserved for posterity by an extraordinary volcanic eruption, lovingly researched and restored over centuries.  If I had to choose between the two cities, I would have opted for Herculeneum.  Pompeii is the most famous, an entire city frozen in time, but Herculaneum had been a sort of ancient Riviera-type playground for the rich and famous.  The frescoes and tile floors were supposed to be out of this world.

What I Considered

I’m not crazy.  I know if you drag a bunch of people around to a bunch of places they don’t care about and wear them out at the first port of call, you are not going to be the most popular person on a cruise.  I needed something a little more engaging to transition my group into the swing of things.

What I really needed was a sort of overview of the whole thing.  I checked into the cost of a personal guide for the day, but in order to have sufficient space in the vehicle for all six of us, along with a driver and/or guide, was prohibitive.

What I Booked

Hoping to kick things off with a bang, I decided on something that didn’t have a very exciting title, but promised a wide variety of activities – sort a something for everyone smorgasbord.  Capri, Sorrento, Pompeii didn’t grab me right off, but then I read on – jet foil to Capri, funicular ride, lunch in Florence and guided tour of Pompeii!  First day planned.

Booking Nightmare

This is where the booking problem came in.  I told you several blogs back that when I first looked at shore excursions, they were one price, but had gone up significantly a month later.  I was new to Celebrity as a cruiser, so I had not antisciapted the  shore excursion sale, but the Bagley’s had cruised with them many times.  They let me know when the next promotion came along – 20% off all shore excursions.  It was booking day.

Booking day lasted all day and into the next as I tried to guide everyone onto the same excursion at the same time.  In the end, we were all going to the same excursion, but Jim and Melanie had been forced into another time for it.  Not an auspicious way to start, but the hunt was on.

Frustrations be damned, we were booking excursions.  Come back next week and let’s explore the opportunities in Florence.

 

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

All Ashore Who Are Going Ashore

Isle of Capri Tourists
Cruisers on a Shore Excursion on the Isle of Capri

TRAVEL THERE: BOOKING OUR SHORE EXCURSIONS

For some people, cruising is all about the boat.  The more days at sea they have, the happier they are.  For me, it’s all about the ports of call and shopping for shore excursions is one of my favorite activities.  The cruise and air were booked.  Our ceremony was scheduled and I had a dress.  We’d been talking shore excursions for a while and now it was time to book them.

Group Unfriendly

As much as I love travel, I have never had a yearning to be a travel agent.  I love researching museums and shopping for hotels, but booking everything makes me crazy, even when it is just for Bill and I.  Doing it for anyone else would drive me mad.  How Sandra Rubio at CTC Travel puts up with me and the rest of her travelers, I have no idea.  I think I’d quit after one day at it.

Initially, all this folderol was supposed to be easier, because we were going to book things as a group.  Only our friends at Celebrity Cruise lines decided to disallow groups on this cruise.  Then to make matters worse, our friends the Bagley’s went ahead and booked their cruise with their own agent before I’d even told them who my agent was.

Hello Celebrity!  Not everybody that is traveling together books together and you should not make it so difficult to schedule excursions and dinners together.  The problem plagued us throughout the process, but never was it more frustrating than when we were trying to book the shore excursions.

Deb, Bill and I were easy.  I just booked us online and Deb wrote me a check.  Viktorya was up in New York.  She hadn’t bothered to go online and figure out the process, so she was booking everything through Sandra.  Meanwhile, Jim was working out of town somewhere, trying to put in a full day’s work while I bombarded him with emails.  Even if I had wanted to book the Bagley’s stuff and just let them pay me back, the Celebrity site wouldn’t let me, because we weren’t on the same booking and that’s why I was pretty mad at Celebrity.  Yes, it was fairly stressful. 

Choosing the Excursions

Now, I’d been shopping excursions since August and had quickly identified the ones I wanted, but I was also aware of the fact that I had a group of people who might not appreciate my penchant for spending my days wandering through the museums and historic houses of the world.  Deb would go wherever I wanted to and love everything we did, but my husband, for one, would only tolerate so much museum stuff, so I had to balance museum time with other adventures.

I’m also a little more adventurous than Mr. Bill. My favorite day of our Danube Waltz cruise was a day on our own in Vienna.  I’ll just say Mr. Bill didn’t feel the same way.  He finds guideless wanderings in foreign countries a little nerve-wracking.  It’s one thing to get lost in an American city and something else completely to not have a clue in say, Florence, and not know the language.

Budget was a consideration also.  One of the things we loved about river cruising was that shore excursions were included.  That way, you don’t have to hear the cash register in your head ring out each time you choose an adventure.  And may I just say the Celebrity adventures were pricey – at least the ones we picked out.

So come back next week and I’ll tell you how it went.

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

Welcome to Concierge Class

Celebrity Edge
Celebrity Edge

TRAVEL THERE: THE SECOND MOST EXCITING DAY OF MY CRUISE

I’ve already told you about the most exciting day of my cruise.  That’s when Jim and Melanie told me they had already booked their cabin.  It was because we hadn’t and staterooms were filling fast.  By the end of the day, we had our Deluxe Ocean View Staterooom 1B with Veranda #5578.  The second most exciting day was when they assigned me to Concierge Class.

Concierge Class

I may never know exactly what happened with Celebrity, but I’m guessing my upgrade to Concierge Class had more to do with CTC Travel than it did with my social media footprint.  One day I was going to have to pay $100 per person not to look through an over-sized porthole and the next I had a free upgrade to Concierge Class.  I tell everybody, all the time, DO NOT take a cruise without a travel agent.  Let my upgrade to Concierge Class stand as evidence of my reasons.

I’m going to tell you a little secret though.  It wasn’t that big of a deal.  The Celebrity brochure promised “from the moment your Concierge greets you for priority check-in” I would be in for a treat.  Only there was no Concierge to greet me and no one had any idea of where to go for my priority check-in.  That wasn’t really a big deal, because I had the Celebrity App, which actually was a big deal and check-in was such a breeze that it might have well as been priority check-in with a Concierge.

My only interaction with said Concierge was a telephone call I got from him each day, where he’d give me the weather report for the next day (often inaccurate) and tell me the HOUR, yes the one hour, that he would be available the next day.  It was never an hour that I would actually be available to talk to him.  I was hoping said Concierge would help us out with dinner reservations, because we had found it particularly difficult to book shore excursions together, since the Bagley’s  had booked with another travel agent.  My brochure had assured me my “own dedicated Concierge” would be just steps away.  HA!  He was over the river and through the woods from our room, if he actually existed at all.  We stood in line with everyone else to square away our dinner reservations and I’ll just say it didn’t go well.

Other Amenities

But there was supposed be even more treats to come – like a destination seminar. Never a word about that on board.  We were also supposed to “open our door to a beautiful array of fresh fruit and a chilled bottle of Blanc de Blancs.”  Yeah, that was an exaggeration, too.  The local Celebrity sales rep, who I’ve gotten to know through CTC, did send us some hors d’oeuvres, some flowers and a bottle of pinot noir.  CTC gifted us with some chocolate-covered strawberries.  But fruit from the Concierge? Nope.

We did get a bottle of champagne, but it was quite a challenge.  On the first day, I told our room steward to go ahead and deliver it, because we had a frig and I could keep it cold.  As it turned out, we got it on the last day, not chilled, to bring home in our suitcase.  Not exactly as advertised.

They also promised afternoon delicacies, which they did deliver every afternoon.  We’d come in after an all day shore excursion and voila, we’d have a four-sectioned, covered plate waiting for us.  In each section would be a tiny sample of something odd.  We could rarely tell exactly what it was, which was better than the days that we could.  For instance, one day there was a teeny tiny little shrimp tooth-picked to a piece of bread.  Only our covered plate was not on ice or refrigerated and we had no idea how long it had been sitting there.  I’ve had food poisoning from seafood – no thank you very much.  One thing I never need more of on a cruise is food.

There was a pillow menu, but the pillows on the bed suited me fine and I wasn’t going to chase down any others.  The promised Hansgrohe massaging shower head was quite nice, however.  No complaints there and I’m not even the showering sort.  There was also a Welcome Luncheon for Concierge Class passengers which kept us from rubbing elbows with the likes of those who were staying in the Deluxe Ocean View Staterooom 1B with Veranda I’d first been assigned to and it was quite nice, but I’ll save the details about that until embarkation.

I guess I’ve fussed a little about about the short-comings of Concierge Class, but before they write about it in the brochure, they ought to do a little fact-checking.  I loved my stateroom, but the not the mostly unavailable Concierge, his destination seminar, fresh fruit, chilled bottle and daily delicacies.  As it was, I’d gotten a free upgrade, so who was I to complain.

Getting upgraded to Concierge Class proved to be more exciting than actually being in Concierge Class, and that’s too bad.  However, we’re getting closer to our departure, so come back next week and let’s talk about the gown for my vow renewal.

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

It Wasn’t Their Fault

TRAVEL THERE: WHEN YOUR CRUISE LINE SAYS OOOOPS

I want to begin this post by saying I love Sandra Rubio and CTC Travel.  They have been more than good to me.  They get all my lavish dreams and help me balance them with my frugal husband’s concerns.  They have wonderful travel events.  They treat me like a star, even though my travel is small beans in comparison to some of their clients.  When I get all flustered and frustrated, Sandra is a rock.  I’m about to complain, but I want you to know I’m not complaining about Sandra or CTC.  In fact, they saved the cruise!

Obstructed View

I wasn’t exactly sure what Celebrity meant when I read “obstructed view” in an email from my travel agent.  I’m actually a pretty easy-going traveller.  Some people think obstructed view means that if you stand on your tiptoes and hold your head just right, then a tiny corner of the balcony above you can be seen.  That’s not me.

Then I saw they were talking about and they were 100% right.  I was going to have an obstructed view.  It was like a porthole view, not a veranda view.  I’d booked my cabin 18 months ahead and NOW, after I’d already booked my non-refundable air they were telling me about an obstructed view.

I’d booked the cabin especially, to be close to Eden, because I saw that as a sort of gathering spot for all of us who were traveling together.  Then when we booked the vow renewal ceremony, I’d requested for it to be in Eden for all kinds of reasons.  I was emotionally married to this Deluxe Ocean View State Room w/ Veranda 1B and now it was flawed!  You might say I was even a little hysterical.

I’m a reasonable person and while I wasn’t crazy about the fact that a mistake had been made, I was willing to get over myself and change cabins.  But guess what, after they had made the mistake of allowing me to book a deluxe veranda cabin, which was actually an obstructed view mess, they were ONLY going to charge me a $100 fee PER PERSON to transfer our reservation to another cabin.  Oh and if the cabin was in a higher category, then I’d have to pay for the upgrade also.  I could live with that, but $100 per person for their mistake was just a little more than I was ready to fork over.

My Little Russian Powder Keg

If I was a little hysterical, then you might also say my friend Viktoriya was Mount Vesuvius.  She wanted heads to roll.  To be honest, I kind of wanted a few heads to roll also, but I didn’t want those heads to be on the shoulders of anyone at CTC Travel.  I told Viktoriya to dial it way back.  I also told her the first thing we should do was pray, especially before we started lopping off heads.

What I most felt like doing was going somewhere to mourn, but if I didn’t do something and quickly, things would get ugly.  While I’m certainly not a travel celebrity, I have been travel blogging for a decade now.  I have thousands of followers on social media and hundreds of thousands of people see my Travel Advisor reviews.  In fact, I’m one of the Top Twenty reviewers in Dallas.  While Bill has tried to get a few upgrades with that information over the years, I do my best to downplay it.  I don’t want to be feel beholden to anyone and feel like I have to say anything nice, especially if I don’t feel there was anything nice to say.  I also don’t want anyone to think I’m just saying something nice because I was compensated for it.

For once, I was changing my policy.  It’s one thing to tell some housewife in Heath that she’s looking at the Mediterranean through a big circle.  It’s another to know that hundreds of thousands of people will hear how you ripped off someone celebrating their 25th Wedding Anniversary on your cruise ship.  I can tell you one thing, those hundreds of thousands Travel Advisor people might not have cared and maybe even my 2,000 some odd Twitter followers might not have either, but let me tell you, my 500 plus Facebook friends would care and they were going to hear all about it.

I wrote a very apologetic email to Sandra, but I did give her all my social media stats (including a copy of one of the emails Travel Advisor sends me regularly about my status in the Top Twenty) so she’d have some ammunition to use with Celebrity.  I assured her I didn’t blame her, but that I expected a different cabin and I wasn’t going to be paying $100 per person for it.  In fact, I suggested an upgrade was probably in order.

I’ve already told you that Sandra saved the day, but come back next week and find out what she did for us.