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

So Much in Rome, So Little Time

Visions of Rome

TRAVEL THERE: BUCKLE UP EXCURSIONS AHEAD

I rarely get the vacation I dream up in my head.  That’s disappointing, because I have such a lovely time up there in my own gray matter, but I usually enjoy what I end up with.  Here’s how the planning for Rome went.

When in Rome or Not

When you sail out of Rome, the port is actually Civitavecchia and it’s not exactly convenient.  It’s not all that far away from the airport, but it’s in the opposite direction from the city of Rome from the airport.  Initially, I had hoped we’d stay in Rome for a few days before the trip.  I planned and planned and re-planned it with the help of Sandra Rubio at CTC Travel.  We worked out a pretty nice itinerary for and outstanding price, but it was still outside the budget of time and of money.

So, I thought the second best option would be a combo of airport transfer with a bit of sightseeing, but it was dicey.  You had to factor in the bus trip from the airport to the city and then from the city to the boat.  After all that was taken in consideration, we would have only have a few hours to see one of the most important cities in the world.  I told myself something was better than nothing, purchased the transfer/excursion package and started investigating what we would see.

They took a whole lot more words to do it, but basically it was a loop around the Colosseum in the bus with a short photo opportunity and then a short stop at the Vatican.  We would have had to stroll several blocks to and from the bus at the Vatican, so at best, we’d barely have time to gawk at St. Peter’s Square and get back to the bus.

Still, the buildings right around the Square have some pretty amazing stuff.  The church holding the Pieta fronts on the Square and the Sistine Chapel is not far away.  Only this is the Vatican.  As soon as they open, huge lines form and you wait hours to get your few moments of grandeur.

I did more research.  There were skip-the-lines tickets you could buy.  Not exactly cheap, but not out of the realm of possibility either.  What put them out of my reach is that they are timed tickets and no one anywhere could tell me what time I would be at the Vatican.  Easy to read in the publications about the shore excursions was the notice that they reserved the right to switch the order of the tour based on crowds.

I was trying to make it all work in my head.  I applied my favorite travel mantra – ‘seeing something is better than ‘seeing nothing,’ but I came to realize I was fooling myself.  I would arrive exhausted from extensive air travel and board a bus.  I’d gaze at some of the most famous architecture in the world and not even be able to get a decent picture of it.  Worst of all, I’d be mere feet away from the Pieta and not even get a glimpse.

Then I thought about arriving at the boat in the afternoon – exhausted even further by the sightseeing and fighting all the last minute crowds every embarkation entails when you board at the end of the day.  We’d miss the Concierge Embarkation Luncheon for sure and I’d miss out on the only opportunity I would have to unpack.  Once I envisioned living out of our suitcases the whole trip, the uber-quick visit to the Vatican didn’t sound quite so good.

So, I cancelled the transfer/excursion and opted for the transfer only package.  I’d see Rome someday, but it wouldn’t be on this trip.  Come back next week and we’ll discuss a few more shore excursions.

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.

DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Let’s Go Gown Shopping

Wedding Toast 25 Years Ago
The First Time Around

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT DO YOU WEAR FOR A VOW RENEWAL

From the day we decided to go on this cruise and have a vow renewal ceremony, the thing my friend Deb seemed the most excited about was shopping for my gown.  That’s not that big of a surprise.  We love shopping and we don’t even need a reason to do it, but this was somewhat of an occasion.

Setting My Expectations

While Bill thought I should probably wear a lace sundress I’ve had in my closet for several years, Deb and I were determined I would have a proper gown for the big day.  She started asking early on what I wanted and I actually had no idea.  I did run on to several photos that had a sort of flapper feel to them that I liked.

I’d done the big , heavily-beaded satin gown with long sleeves the first time around.  I was looking for something more simple, more mature and perhaps a little sexier.  What I didn’t want was strapless, with a sweetheart neckline.  I’d seen one too many of those on Say Yes to the Dress.

During our discussions about this singular article of clothing, Deb warned me that I’d need to spend about $5000.  I knew that wasn’t happening.  My original wedding dress had been a sample I found at a consignment store and it had only cost me a few hundred dollars.  I’d seen it elsewhere for several thousand, but that’s not what I’d paid for it.  I didn’t see why the renewal gown should cost more than the wedding gown – even with inflation.

The top dollar I had in my mind was $500 and it would have had to be some kind of gown for me to pay that much, but that was my ceiling.  Deb thought I was in for an education.

Shopping Day

The first place we visited on a slightly dreary February day was David’s Bridal.  I actually didn’t see anything I wanted to try on in the regular stock.  Over on the clearance rack I found two likely suspects.  One I adored and I adored the price tag even more, but I wasn’t going to end our shopping fun quite so quickly.  If it was meant to be, then it would be there when I came back to get it.

We spent the day going all over the place, but I actually only found one other gown that even competed with that downright bargain I’d seen at David’s Bridal.  We went to special occasion dress stores, bridal salons, a designer outlet, consignment stores and even a few department stores, but nada.  With the field narrowed down it was time for Bill’s input.  People are aghast that I have no problem allowing him to see the dress.  He picked out the first one and it worked out OK, so why wouldn’t he do the same for the vow renewal.

Two Choices

The David Bridal dress would be best described as old Hollywood.  Halter styled in ivory chiffon with a great big bow at the neckline – you’ve seen Marilyn Monroe in dresses like it.  I found the other dress at Terry Costa and it was more Aubrey Hepburn than Marilyn Monroe.  Demure, with a high-neck, lace bodice and chiffon skirt, it was in white.  I couldn’t lose.

In neither of my stores was I going to get the Kleinfield’s treatment.  Bill and I visited David’s first.  He had the requisite tears, but he wanted to see the other dress, too.  There was no comparison.  He couldn’t wait to get back to David’s.

Remember my $500 budget?  Well subtract $375 from that, because when I’m telling you I got a bargain, I mean it.  What?  You want to see it? Well, just because I let the groom see it doesn’t mean you get a peek at it before the big day.  Come back next week and we’ll talk about shore excursions.

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.

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

Trying to Pretend We’re Having Fun

Celebrity Edge Brochure
My Cruise Planning Bible

TRAVEL THERE:  PRESSURE COOKER PLANNING

With 18 months to plan our Anniversary Cruise on Celebrity’s new Edge, it would seem that everything should have been smooth sailing, but as I shared last week, almost from the day we booked to the day we left, life was just one big crisis after another.  So, what cruise planning did I manage.  I’ll tell you.

Plodding Through the Planning

In late August, I decided I absolutely had to start thinking about the cruise.  Deb was in her new house and even though Bill was all tied up remodeling our rent house, surely we could start thinking about the cruise. I got on the Celebrity Cruise Line website and started studying everything they had there about our dining choices and the shore excursions.  Excitement abounded while I looked at all the options, but Bill wasn’t as thrilled about it when I tried to share the news.  I understood why, but it still made me sad.

The next time I got around to thinking about the cruise was late September and the first thing I discovered was that much of the research I had done in August was null and void, because all the pricing had changed.  I emailed my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC Travel.  She was glad to hear from me, because since we’d booked the cruise I’d been fairly invisible, but come to find out, the shore excursion pricing I’d been looking at was based on a special they’d been running.  Not much she could do about that.  The special was over.

Because we knew the cruise was going to cost so much, we’d already decided to keep a low travel profile for the year, but as I began to actually plan the cruise, I knew this event was going to take up more than two years of travel budget – more like 3 to 5 years – and all the while, we’re bleeding money on the house we were trying to sell.  Still, I had to start making some decisions.  If we were going to have a vow renewal ceremony, Sandra encouraged me to go ahead and book it.  I got over that hump in October.

The next hurdle was considering pre and post trip excursions, so we’d know when to book the air.  I planned the trip 14 ways.  I priced it out with the Celebrity pre and post trip excursions.  I even had Sandra price out DIY pre and post shore excursions.  After all that research, we finally decided to just do the cruise and splurge on the best short excursions during the trip.  I was ready to book our airfare on January 7th, exactly the number of days ahead all the travel bloggers say you are supposed to book international air.

“Obstructed Views”

We got air hundreds of dollars less than the cruise company was offering it and I had just started to relax.  Things were shaping up for our trip in spite of what was happening with the stupid real estate problem.  And that’s when I got an email from my Sandra with the words “obstructed views” in it.  It’s a darn good thing we’d booked non-refundable air, because had we not done that, just days before, chances are we would have cancelled the cruise.  It was just too much.  There had been too many complications about the cruise and in our lives.  Obstructed balconies made me want to stay home.

So what did we do?  Come back next week and I’ll let you know.

 

DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Then Life Happened

Just One of Many Surprises

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I WAS OUT MAKING OTHER PLANS

When we booked our cabin for the Anniversary Cruise, eighteen months yawned between the booking and the going.  I was giddy with excitement, but I also knew a whole lot would be happening during that time.  Let’s look at some highlights.

Going About My Business

The first thing that captured my attention during the 18 months was my bestie’s move.  Deborah was downsizing.  I was spending Saturdays at her house, working towards staging the home by packing up the excess.  Then we got it on the market and it was quickly sold, but then we had to pack the rest of it and find her a place to live.

Along the way, Bill and I went to Club Med Punta Cana.  The blogs on that adventure start hereThen we bought a new car.  It hadn’t really been on our radar, but then my car starting acting up, so we got me a new one.  In early July, we’d had the car one, maybe two, days.  We were enjoying a glass of wine of our patio when a call came in from the tenant at one of our houses.  He was just letting us know he’d moved out.  MOVED OUT?  He’d just renewed the lease.

Life as I knew it ended that day!  “We’d better go over there,” I said.  I didn’t want to.  The house in question had once been my parents’ house.  A recent visit to it had made me reluctant to allow that renewal, but Bill said with the way the rental market was, it made the most sense.  If it had been bad with them in it, I was scared of what it would be like after they skipped their lease.

Even though it was late in the evening, we hopped in the new car and drove over there.  It was every bit as bad as I dreaded and actually quite a bit worse.  The picture shows me the next day trying to find the house under the debris the tenants had left.  If I told you all the details It would turn your stomach and I would just start crying again, so let’s just say the next few months of our lives were devoted to the disaster of getting the house ready to sell.

Bill taking aerials for our business.

An Overabundance of Real Estate

So, in 2018, we had an overabundance of real estate issues in our life.  Bill and I are co-owners of a real estate photography company, so we already have a preoccupation with real estate.  Then I helped my bestie through the sale of her home, her packing, her search for a new home and her move into it.  More Real Estate.  And as if that were not enough, now Bill was spending every minute he wasn’t out photographing houses acting as general contractor for the major overhaul we had to do on our investment property.  Yeah – we were sort of over the whole thing.

To say the remodel was a great trial would be a massive understatement.  I could go on for hours about how tough it was for my husband and by extension me, but I won’t.  We moved Deb in August and finally, come October, our investment property was ready to go on the market, but the bottom had completely fallen out of the market.  The week before, things were fine, maybe not hot, but fine.  The week we went on the market, things came to a screeching halt.

For the next four months, our life was devoted to selling the house.  We spent every weekend there holding open houses, bleeding money on staging, utilities and lawn services.  During this period we did go on a free trip to Cancun (read about that starting with this blog.)  It had to be free, because we were spending our money and time on the money pit that was supposed to be an investment.

Then we got an offer and thought our troubles were over.  We joyfully negotiated a contract, but a few weeks later we were back on the market.  The buyers were taking that whole Buyers Market thing way too serious and thought we’d do virtually anything to get the house sold.  We were desperate, but not that desperate.  The house went back on the market, but this time, we were soon back under contract.  That deal wasn’t much prettier, but at least they were more polite about it.  We lived through the contract and the deal was funded on April 24th.

The house closed just six weeks before the cruise and you would think joy would have sung out through all the land, but my husband and I were so beat up from the whole real estate debacle that we had a hard time celebrating.  I’d like to tell you things got better, but we had phones blow up, glasses break and leaks in our own house when it rained – the fates seemed stacked against us.

There were quick moments of excitement, but they didn’t last very long.  We were so stressed out, we even argued over the words we were going to use in our vows.  This was not the way I had envisioned things.  Come back next week and I’ll get back to the cruise.

 

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

A Year of Antiscipation

Cruise Buddies

TRAVEL THERE: I HAD MORE TO DO THAN WAIT

Excuse my sabbatical from blogging.  I came back from my cruise more than overwhelmed.  I came back, got to work and haven’t looked up since, until today.  Let the cruise blogging begin!

If you’re thinking of cruising, a shift has occurred in the last few years.  After of decades of saving the best deals for last, the cruise lines finally learned they’d been training their passengers to wait until the last minute to book their sailings.  So, a major shift has occurred.  The earlier you book, the better the deal – or at least that’s what they tell you.  Sure, there will always be last minute deals, but you might not like what you get.

I just checked.  To get a room in the same category I first booked, I wouldn’t save a penny if I’d waited until now.  The good news would be that I wouldn’t be spending anymore.  However, chances are, I wouldn’t have gotten the same room, but on a smaller cruise ship, there’s the chance I wouldn’t be going at all.  So what did I do with that 15 months I had before the cruise?  Well, I’ll share some it with you.

Come Cruise with Me

My first consideration in this had been to let our family members know what we were planning and invite them along.  I notified them months before we ever settled on a cruise line.  As we considered our options, we paid serious attention to which cruises would work best with the potentially interested family members.  All that was for naught.  In the end, not a single niece, nephew, sister or cousin joined us.  Once I knew which cruise we’d be on and that there’d be no group deal, I sent out an invitation to virtually ever one on our buddy list.  Several friends had talked a good game when the cruise was mere speculation, but when it came time to book a cabin, most wandered away, some without a word, some with ‘maybe later’ and a few with stated regrets.

In truth, I’d hoped for a heftier guest list.  This whole thing had come out of my desire to stand before our friends and family and renew our marriage vows.  Moving the ceremony from our backyard to the deck of a cruise ship had emptied the party chairs of all but the most faithful and oh, what faithful friends those were.  Let me introduce you to our crew.

The first to sign up, as I’ve already told you, were Jim and Melanie.  What delightful souls they are!  Had they not stepped up and bought their fare the moment we told them which ship, I might be telling you a different tale today.  I will be forever grateful for their encouragement that day.  As a Christian I’ve learned that God often speaks through circumstances.  The message that day was loud and clear.  Come on, book your cruise.  If Jim and Melanie are there, you don’t need anyone else.

But I knew there would be someone else coming along.  From the time I first mentioned the idea of a vow renewal, my bestie, Deb, had planned to be there – backyard, boat deck or the back of beyond.  Deb is always there for me.  When we announced our choice, she was in the middle of a huge life crisis, but life crisis be damned, Deb was going to be there.

And then there’s Viktoriya.  I’ve never had children of my own, but God has filled my life with wonderful people, who mean as much or more to me, as anyone who is actually a member of my family.  Viktoriya is one of those people.  She was literally a lost soul when we met in a class at UTD and I have observed her grow into an amazing woman.  She graciously gives me some credit for the journey she has made, but it has been God that made all the difference.

Then Life Happened 

When Bill first turned my attention away from a backyard ceremony to a cruise, I envisioned the fun we’d have, poring over the ship’s brochure, selecting our shore excursions and choosing our dining venues.  He’d even promised that would be part of the package if I’d do things his way.  Well then, life happened.  Come back next week and I will tell you about that.

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

If This is Wednesday, We’re in Monte Carlo

Celebrity's Newest Ship - The EdgeTRAVEL THERE: GOING TO THE EDGE WITH CELEBRITY

To say Bill’s choice won would not be exactly correct.  We talked though all the options and in the end, it made the most sense.  It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but looking at the ship and the itinerary, I certainly didn’t lose.  And there had been no arguments.  Not even differences of opinion, just a realization that given our options, Celebrity’s Edge was the choice for us.

Horses Before Carts

When we decided to cruise on The Edge, the ship didn’t even exist.  Oh, they were in the process of building it, but we were taking a leap of faith.  On Saturday, March 24, 2018 I sent an email to my travel agent, Sandra Rubio of CTC travel that we’d chosen The Edge’s June 15, 2019 cruise, out of Rome.  The ship would have her maiden voyage in December 2018.  I thought the next step would be the red tape involved with setting up an official “group” with Celebrity.  That meant a selection of rooms would be set aside for us and I’d have some time to recruit people to fill up the rooms.  It might even mean that we’d get a free room ourselves, but even if we didn’t there were a lot of other perks with being a group.

Only that’s not what happened.  Someone at Celebrity made an executive decision.  There would be no “groups” on The Edge – at least not during our cruise.  So, no free room for us or room discounts for our fellow travelers or any of the other perks that come with having a group would ever be ours.  It was just a case of, “We’re going, do you want to join us.”  I wasn’t surprised.  I wouldn’t know what to do if things ever just went my way.

Then I got an email from Jim Bagley.  Jim is the husband of my friend Melanie.  She was my roommate at SFA and we’ve stayed close friends all these years.  Oh, we’re not the talk-to-you-every-day type of close friends.  I don’t have any of those, because I’m not that sort of person.  Even my bestie and I go days without so much as a text.  With Melanie, there have been years where our only correspondence has been Christmas cards.  However, get us together and you’d think we’d been connected at the hip since birth.  Jim and Melanie had booked their cabin.

I have to admit.  Bill and I were still wringing our hands over the loss of our group.  Was Celebrity still the best choice?  Would the Viking cruise be a better deal for us?  Jim’s email defined our dilemma and tightened our focus.  Were we going on The Edge or not?  We took another look at The Edge brochure and called Sandra to book our own cabin. We were going on a cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary.

That Was Then, This Is Now

I promise to share every single detail along the way with you.  If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know I won’t be able to resist it.  However, today I’m in Monte Carlo.  Yesterday, was our Vow Renewal Ceremony.  This morning we’ll be able to take it slow.  It’s a long day at this port of call, but we plan to sleep late and enjoy a sit-down breakfast.  Perhaps we’ll lounge by the pool or stroll around onshore.  At 4 PM we’re joining the CEO of Celebrity Cruises for a Wine Tasting at the Monte Carlo Yacht Club.  (Yeah, I know.  I’m still pinching myself.)  Then we’ll take a special after-hours tour of the Prince’s Palace.  After the tour, some brave souls will be dining with her up on the Magic Carpet, but alas, I can’t imagine enjoying an open air dinner up in the air.  I can’t even endure a wimpy zipline at a Texas roadside attraction.

Next week, I’ll be back home. I’ll pick up this tale up with the giddy moment we got our cabin confirmation and share a few of the disasters we’ve suffered on our way to The Anniversary Cruise.  Please join me.  We’re gonna have fun!

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

The Twenty-Fifth

The Trip of a Lifetime?

TRAVEL THERE: PLANNING A VACATION TO REMEMBER

I have a very pleasant difficulty.  I’ve had so many wonderful vacations that “the trip of a lifetime” barely has any meaning for me.  Each has been a “trip of a lifetime” in one way or another.  It began with my mom.  That lady knew how to plan a vacation.  I will never forget the American Heritage tour we took that included Washington D.C., Monticello, Mount Vernon, Williamsburg and Lincoln landmarks.  Before I met Bill I had a remarkable trip to England, a visit to Paris and a wonderful tour of Bavaria.  Since Bill came along we have had one memorable trip after another, both in the United States and abroad. Hawaii? Yes!  Caribbean? Yes!  Europe? Yes!  I never thought I’d see the Pyramids and now I have been twice.  So what were we supposed to do to mark a special milestone?

An Anniversary Cruise?

Letting go of the backyard vow renewal ceremony, surrounded by friends and family and solemnized by my pastor, was tough, but it wasn’t just my anniversary, it was Bill’s too.  So I started recreating my vision.  Exchanging the Phoenician for a Back East ramble and my two decade diamond for a pond-side home had both been good decisions.  Third time is the charm, right?

Bill and I daydreamed about the possibilities on our patio as summer became fall.  We’d always wanted to cruise the Mediterranean, but the cost had always scared us away.  We began to understand this splurge was the perfect choice for our Anniversary Cruise, but the Mediterranean is a big place.  What ports of call, what cruise line and which ship would we chose.  We had time, but it was a big decision.

As the year rolled to an end, I realized my favorite travel agency would be having their annual travel show in January.  Since one of the important things about this cruise would be the people who went with us, I spent several days sending out emails to all my friends and family explaining what we were planning, hoping they’d join us on the adventure.  Unfortunately, we were in no position to treat our friends and family to this cruise, so not only would they have to find the time to join us, they’d also need to find the funds.  Our responses ranged from, “Gee, we appreciate you thinking of us, but no,” to “Try and stop me from coming.”  In the middle were a whole lot of maybes.  There were also many, many unanswered emails.  Welcome to the Third Millennial!

My very own travel library

Days of Discovery

On a bright January day, bestie, hubby and I took in CTC’s annual travel show.  I got several bags full of dreams, but my husband only saw one ship.  I did my due diligence, unaware that Bill had already decided what we were going to do.  At that point, he didn’t realize it either.

I was torn between two choices.  I’d always dreamed of enjoying the luxury of an all suite ship, but since our Danube Waltz adventure on the Viking Tor, I’d been craving one of their ocean cruises.  Bill suggested I take a look at the new ship Celebrity was building, the Edge, and he was also interested in a Sailing Yacht Cruise.  I spent a long afternoon in Sandra Rubio’s office as she explored the various choices we were considering.  Then I spent days comparing the prices of the various cruises with the experiences we’d enjoy.

A few things were clear.  Te price of the all-suite luxury cruises would prohibit most of the other people from joining us.  The Sailing Yachts would offer us an amazing ceremony, but the ship we were most interested in would be getting an overhaul in 2019.  Taking the Viking cruise would mean no possibility of my grandnieces and nephews joining us.  The Edge was interesting and would accommodate the kids, but it was at the bottom of my list.

I’ve already let the cat out of the bag, Bill’s choice won the day – but did he choose the Yacht experience or the Edge?  Come back next week!  I’ll spill the beans!