Tag Archives: Cruising

Stateroom, Suite or Cabin?

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE WILL YOU LAY YOUR HEAD?

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

Keeping It Affordable

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

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

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

Taking It Outside

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Google Your Way to the Perfect Cruise

TRAVEL HERE: FINDING YOUR TRAVEL DREAMS ONLINE

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

Where Do You Want to Go?

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

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

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

When Do You Want to Go? 

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

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

What Itinerary Best Suits You?  

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

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

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

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A Lovely Afternoon in Passau

5p-oooTRAVEL THERE: GLADLY GUIDELESS IN GERMANY

After lunch Bill and I ventured into Passau on our own.  While we’d been frustrated by our guide’s demeanor during the morning, he had led us through a shopping area and shown us a nice riverside walkway.  Passau is no Vienna and we’d had lunch, so Bill was amenable to hoofing it around on our own.

 

A Marvelous Afternoon

While our morning tour had left a bad taste in our mouth, it had not besmirched the charming little town.  The first item on my agenda was to find some tokens for my friends.  A thorough search of the room did not turn up any of the darling gingerbread ornaments I bought in Cesky Krumlov, so I needed to get busy.  I wanted to get something for my Bible Study girls and then I had a couple of other friends for whom I wanted to buy something more substantial.

Ludwigstrasse

Ludwigstrasse

Passau has a significant pedestrian area with shops called Ludwigstrasse and nearby are a couple multistory of enclosed malls.  My patient husband wandered through all of these with me, hunting down the appropriate souvenirs – only I wasn’t finding much that I thought was appropriate.  Finally, we wandered into a knick-knack store and while most of the items were tacky bibelots   with the words “Passau, Germany” emblazoned on them, I found a shelf populated with charming ceramic cherubs molded into a variety of poses.  I’d found the trinkets I wanted for my Bible Study girls.

5p-ooo-3Strolling Along the River

I was still baffled about what to get for my best friend and my next door neighbor, who is truly the best next door neighbor in the world, but Mr. Bill was ready to roll.  We headed toward the river and were hugely rewarded.

The morning had been chilly in more ways than one.  Yes, our guide had been Mr. Rude, but the weather was overly crisp, also.  I’d layered up with a denim jacket and a wool cape, but had still been uncomfortable.  The afternoon weather was so glorious that we might have been in Dallas on one of its best days.

We discovered it was the first really warm day for Passau that spring and the whole town had turned out to enjoy the river.  Children tossed balls into the air.  Lovers ogled one another on shared blankets.  Giggly girls shared secrets strolling along the river.  Another girl sat on a stairway leading down to the river captivated by a book.  Beer drinking students toasted everyone that walked by.  It was like a movie set!

Once More to the Ludwigstrasse

Armed with a map the rude guide had provided, Bill and I maneuvered around the finger of land pointing to the confluence of the Inn, the Ilz and the Danube.  When we got back to the boat, Bill agreed to hit the Ludwigstrasse with me one more time.  I was in a tizzy.  I had to finish packing and dress for dinner soon, but I just didn’t want to head home without something for my friends.

As I bounced from storefront to storefront appalled at the pricing, Bill came to the rescue.  One of the clothing stores was having a bit of a sidewalk sale and Bill pointed it out.  I doubted anything would be affordable, even marked down, because all the prices I had seen were pretty steep.  Bill helped me figure out the exchange rate and the discount.  Suddenly, I was all smiles.  Not only had we found exactly what I’d love to get for Deb and Sherry, but I wasn’t going to break the bank!

It was a quiet night on board.  The evening happy hour was devoted to disembarking instructions.  Dinner was delicious, but sad.  We’d made wonderful friends and we didn’t know when we’d see them again.  Then there we had to be out early in the morning.  For all practical purposes, the cruise was over.

Come back next week and I’ll get you back to Dallas.  In the meantime, enjoy this video of our final stop.

 

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A Great Night of On-board Entertainment

Cruise buddy Deb hams it up with the talent

Cruise buddy, Deb, hams it up with the talent

TRAVEL THERE: RODGERS, HAMMERSTEIN AND MOZART

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did!

Back to Elegant Dining

I’d been disappointed by the over-hyped Taste of Austria dinner.  Visually, it had been lovely, but the culinary experience couldn’t beat what we’d already been enjoying.  Quality not quantity is my interest.

After my trot around Linz, we scurried back to the boat and I jumped into my evening attire.  This was the penultimate evening of the cruise and the captain was throwing a cocktail party.  That included a toast, which meant champagne would be served.  So I was janie-on-the spot in the lounge.  I didn’t want to miss any champagne.  The captain didn’t try to labor through another bout of English, thankfully.  Instead our cruise director translated for him.

After the toast, the lederhosen, dirndls and oom-pah-pah were gone from the dining room- much to our relief.  We waxed nostalgic about our service throughout the evening as if we’d been living on the boat for years, instead of a matter of days.  The Viking Daily had promised Mozart and the Sound of Music as our evenings entertainment and we wondered how that mixture would pan out.

A Salzburgian Romp

A troupe of singers appeared and offered a few tunes.  Their voices were wonderful and they wore authentic period costumes.  The evening started out very high-brow and then they began the audience participation part of the performance.  I was not surprised in the least that they chose Bill.  They always choose Bill.  I’m beginning to think he must be offering bribes.  Anyway,  here’s a few photos from his appearance.

That was fun, but the next part was even more wonderful.  They switched from classical to a classic, The Sound of Music.  I can’t say I was actually yearning for tunes from the Julie Andrews movie, but as soon as the first few bars of intro wafted through the lounge, I had tears in my eyes.  The singers merely zipped through the soundtrack, hitting the high points, which was lovely, but I secretly wanted more.  I wanted to be reminded of every frame of the movie and especially Edelweiss, which is on my personal top 10 (along with Leon Russell’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and  Gordon Lightfoot’s Rainy Day People.)  I’ve never streamed a movie to my phone, but it did cross my mind that evening.

The performers were real characters.  They were hamming it up with all the guests, so Bill wasn’t the only one to garner their attention.  He’s just the only one who entered the spotlight.  After the performers left, the tempo got much faster and the girls hit the dance floor.   I have a few more photos to share below.

The boat didn’t head towards our next destination until 10:30 and I’d entertained thoughts of taking another stroll onshore, but it didn’t happen.  If you let them, Viking will fill every moment of your day and that’s what happened on this particular day, except for the visit to the Mariendom.

Next up is Passau, Germany.  Come back next week and visit this lovely little town at the confluence of rivers.

 

 

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Checking Out the Czech Republic

Good Morning Linz

Good Morning Linz

TRAVEL THERE: SHORE EXCURSION TO CESKY KRUMLOV

The city of Linz provided our starting point for a bus trip to the Czech Republic.  I woke up to this lovely landscape, complete with Ferris wheel – a pleasant surprise.  Breakfast was early, because the bus boarded at 8:30.  Our cruise buddies were assigned to the same bus as we were.  I think one of them had done the legwork to see that this happened and I appreciated it, because it make the excursion a very special day.

First Things First

If you’re headed to Cesky Krumlov, don’t call it Cesky.  Cesky means something like ‘bend in the river’ and apparently the Czech Republic has a lot of crooked rivers, because there are a lot of Cesky Thises and Cesky Thats.  Perfectly fine to shorten it to Krumlov, because that’s unique.

Our Czech Guide

Our Czech Guide

Next up, we loved our guide – a young hip guy who grew up in Cesky Krumlov and loves his little city.  We were half in love with it too before we even arrived.

A funny part of the bus trip was the stop at a service station.  I was never quite clear why we did it – something about changing money, but we just stretched our legs and took a stroll around the convenience store.  It reminded me of a roadside stop in the Bahamas with Josay, the worst tour guide we’ve ever had.  All the tour buses stopped there, but it was certainly no Buc-ee’s.

Sneaking in the Back Door

One thing you’ll discover if you sail with Viking – they’ve got this cruising thing down pat.  I’ve cruised with a number of different lines, both river and ocean, and I never have seen anybody who has the logistics of things figured out so completely.  They park their boats in the best places, their tour buses are just steps away from the gangplank each morning and their guides are without a doubt the best-dressed and most professional of any I saw.

Cesky Krumlov certainly qualifies as a tourist trap.  By the time we hit the castle proper, there was a deluge of folks standing around listening to a guide.  I can only imagine the parking nightmare somewhere around that town, but Viking had it’s own parking lot somewhere on the garden end of the castle grounds, away from the nightmare.

Because of  Viking, we stepped off the bus and into a Renaissance garden.  Fountains danced, the sun was shining and I was a happy camper.  Our guide allowed us a few Kodak moments and then led us down the hill and through a back gate to the castle proper.  There we were treated to some of the most charming vistas of the day.

The Castle Proper

Cesky Krumlov Castle is a UNESCO site and they do a pretty good job of attaching their name to the best places in the world.  You may never have heard of the Lords of Krumlovs, but their castle grew into an architectural history lesson.  Rather than rush you through it, the way my tour did, I’ll invite you to come back next week, but in the meantime, enjoy this video of our day in Cesky Krumlov.

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Cesky Krumlov and the Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

TRAVEL THERE: SOME PLACES SEEM FURTHER AWAY THAN THEY ACTUALLY ARE

“Go” is an important word in my vocabulary.  Whatever the destination, I want to go.  I want to go to Tucumcari and Timbuktu.  I want to go on safari and I want to go shopping.  I want to go on a boat and in a plane.  However, I confess, given the option, I’ll go for the exotic every time.  Maybe not the inconvenient and uncomfortable, but exotic?  I’m all over it.

That’s how I ended up on a cruise visiting Budapest, Bratislava and Cesky Krumlov.  These aren’t cities the majority of American travelers visit, so they were ever so much more interesting to me.  I was particularly interested in Cesky Krumlov.

I Remember Czechoslovakia

Though there is nothing new under the sun, this old world has changed a lot since I was a kid.  I grew up thinking of gray-suited Soviet bureaucrats, each with a finger on the nuclear red button, as the bad guys.  Nowadays the bad guys wear turbans and are more likely to have dirty bombs than an ICBM.  I also grew up with a country named Czechoslovakia being mentioned on the nightly news.  That’s back when a guy in Poland, named Lech Wałęsa, was causing a lot of headaches for those guys with the red button.

In my twenties I was a regular visitor to West TX on Labor Day.  This charming little town, which is actually in Central TX, has a festival that celebrates all things Czech – especially kolaches and polka music. I crushed on one of the local folk dancers, lived from year to year with dreams of potato pancakes with brats and thought Brave Combo was one of the coolest bands ever.  (I’m over my crush, but I still love Brave Combo.  I still love the kolaches, too, but rarely allow myself the indulgence.)

When I first read Viking’s Danube Waltz itinerary, the inclusion of the Czech Republic gave me pause.  The last time I checked, the Danube didn’t visit Czechoslovakia  the Czech Republic.  Closer inspection revealed Cesky Krumlov would be reached by a bus trip from the dock in Linz.  That made more sense.

3l-x-6Other Viking Options

Perhaps exotic is not your thing.  If so, Viking has you covered.  If bus trips don’t do it for you, then cruisers are welcome to enjoy a walking tour in Linz.  I must warn you however,  if you take the walking tour, someone could get a picture of you on this obnoxious yellow tram.  I think it’s important for you to realize this.  The memory stick of photos we purchased on the cruise included a series of these tram pictures, some of them with close-ups.  Tourists beware!

If bus trips aren’t your problem, but you’ve never wandered around Austria, then there’s a shore excursion touring  the countryside around Linz and I would heartily recommend it.  Austria is gorgeous, especially when you get away from the big cities and wander the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches.  Having had the opportunity to do that, I knew I had to hit Cesky Krumlov.  On the other hand, having wandered the verdant farmlands dotted with small towns and onion-domed churches, it was very tempting to enjoy it again.

Let me tell you about the third option which was enjoyed by a number of my fellow cruisers.  I think they are crazy, but perhaps you’ll like their option.  We were on the boat with people who never never disembarked between the embarkation in Budapest and the final destination.  One of them was a delightful lady in a wheelchair and I got her.  She had no desire to maneuver her very cool motorized wheelchair through the streets of Europe, but she was so happy for her husband to have the opportunity.  She was petted and cooed over by the staff, and it was apparent she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

Welcome to Aqauvit Terrace!

But she wasn’t alone with the crew on the boat during the day and the rest of her tribe wasn’t wheelchair-bound.  They just didn’t like all that shore excursion stuff.  They were having the time of their lives.  They’d gaily wave adios to their disembarking traveling companions in the morning and I have no idea how they occupied themselves while we were gone, but come lunch time they had the best seats in the dining room all filled up.  If there were afternoon shore excursions, they’d repeat the fond farewell of the morning and when we came back in the evening, they staked out the Aquivit Terrace as their own.  Fat chance having a drink on the bow if you didn’t have friends among the these shore excursion dropouts.

So, let me urge you, if your significant other is just dying to go on a cruise and the thought of enduring days and days of shore excursions makes you a little crazy, so ahead and go on a cruise.  You can go on a cruise, never leave the boat, and still have a great time.  Your cruise-loving companion will love you for it.

Well, we didn’t quite get to Cesky Krumlov, so I guess you’ll just have to come back next week.  See you then!

 

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Going to the Chapel (and the Buffet)

3m-44TRAVEL THERE: THE CHAPEL AT MELK ABBEY

Pretty amazing, huh? Last week I told you about my recent visit to Melk Abbey and compared it to a unique experience I’d enjoyed during a previous visit.  While the rest of the abbey suffered from the absence of my original guide, you really don’t need a guide in the chapel.  Anywhere your eye lands is remarkable.

The Chapel of Baroqueness

Though I’d spent much of the previous day gawking at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, when it comes to over-the-top Baroqueness, the palace didn’t hold a candle to the Melk Abbey Chapel.  I could wax eloquent over the charms of the chapel, but I’ll just let a few photographs do the talking.

Back to the Boat

With all of our senses beaten to a bloody pulp of Baroque over-stimulation, we had a choice to make when we left the chapel.  We could either grab a bus back to the boat or stroll to the dock through the small town of Melk.  For once, Mr. Bill was the more adventurous.  I still hadn’t thawed out from our wait in the courtyard, so subjecting myself to more punishment seemed foolish.  I hot-footed it to the buses with the other elderly and handicapped people, because I was feeling very elderly and quite handicapped.

The first order of business was a very long, very hot shower.  Cocktail hour was approaching.  Bill strolled in just about the moment I was strolling out.  The cocktail hour was preceded by a presentation about other Viking cruises available.  Bill had no desire to be enticed into booking our next cruise, so I went and wished on my own.

taste-of-austria-9A Taste of Austria

As far as the crew was concerned, this was a big night.  Instead of our usual leisurely dinner, we were having an enormous buffet of Austrian treats.  Each table was tricked out with checkered tablecloths and racks of huge pretzels.   The chic sophistication of the dining room was subjected to an oom-pah-pah polka band, while our wait staff donned dirndls and lederhosen.

I can’t say I was a fan.  While most of the food was good, the pretzels were a disappointment (much too tough by my American standards) and brats are not my favorite things.  However, what they missed in culinary quality they made up in gourmand quantity.  I will give them these accolades, the effort at entertainment was remarkable and the local wines they served were outstanding.

Time for Bed

After dinner we were offered a dose of Mozart in the lounge, but the foodfest was such an ordeal that I can’t even remember whether we made it to the presentation or not.  If we did, I didn’t gain any new insights into the eccentric genius.  I do remember crawling into bed in utter exhaustion.

I’ll leave you with a summary video of our day in the Wachau Valley.  Come back next week and we’ll visit our next stop along the Danube.

 

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