Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Fashion Choices for the Big Day

Best Man Shopping

TRAVEL THERE: GETTING THE RIGHT LOOK

In the final weeks before the Anniversary Cruise, while Bill and I were still “discussing”what the service would be, I had a lot of other work to do concerning the ceremony.  Here’s what was going on.

Everyone Else’s Ceremony Garb

After I found my dress, a few weekends later we went shopping again and found Deb’s Like we did with mine, we found a downright dirty bargain!  We sent a picture of her dress and mine to the rest of the ladies and asked them to find something blue to wear on the big day.  I was trying to be a low maintenance bride.

I also told Jim that Bill would be wearing a tux.  In fact, Bill still fit into the tux he wore to the wedding 25 years ago.  I told Jim he could wear anything that he wanted to, as long as it was dark, because I knew he wasn’t big on suits.  This picture was from one of his shopping trips.  I loved it, but he ended up with a black suit.

That resolved the ceremony wardrobe issues, but there were still  things to do.

The Hair Thing

I was somewhat nervous about my hair.  I’d left it long for a year, even though I was ready to go short again, so I could have a fabulous updo.  I was anxious about a stranger on the Celebrity Edge having a go at my hair for such an important event.  I chatted about it with Loree every time I went in for my regular appointment.  At first, I thought I wanted something with braids.  She was all for adding fake braids, but no, I wanted to use my own hair.  That’s why I’d grown it.

Then I found my dress, which was very old Hollywood, and the braids were out.  So Deb and I went to Sam Moon’s where I bought a pair of gorgeous hair ornaments, not sure which would do the job.  Loree sent me to Pinterest to find my do, but I confess I am Pinterest-challenged and I don’t speak hair very well.  Loree said my choices were all over the place and she couldn’t get a read on what I actually wanted. Still she gave it a go based on what we’d discussed.

The result was gorgeous, as you can see.  It would do, but I still had not captured it exactly, which is why I wanted a trial run.  Loree is marvelous with cut and color.  I won’t let anyone else touch it, but I hadn’t been able to communicate what I wanted.  I needed to find more supporting material.

I bought a hair magazine and picked out a do or two.  I had the Pinterest old Hollywood dos on my phone.  I found pictures of what I definitely didn’t want it to look like, just to be clear.  I took along both hair ornaments and several other pictures including this one, hoping the stranger might get what I couldn’t communicate to Loree.  I just hoped I wouldn’t end up with a very expensive mess on my head.  

Deb and I in our dresses

The Dress Alteration

When I bought my dress, I filled it up a little more than I wanted to, but the only real problem was a little tightness right across the top of my thighs and support hose seemed to do the trick.  However, like any bride-to-be, I wanted to lose a little weight for the pictures.  I went on a diet and I did a lot more than lose a little weight at the top of my thighs.  I went down by at least a dress size and in some areas it was more than that.

After I had bought my dress, I tested the local alterations lady with a bunch of things I needed to have fixed.  She did an amazing job on some difficult work, so I asked her about altering my dress.  “Bring it X number of days before the ceremony,” she said.  I went home and marked off the requested days on my calendar, using my departure date, rather than my ceremony date as the target.  I added in a few extra days, for good measure.

On the appointed day I went to the shop and the tailor had a melt down.  She had formal gowns she was working on all over her shop, but she acted as if my wedding dress was some sacred cow she could not touch.  Hadn’t I asked her specifically if she did wedding gowns on my previous visit?  After some cajoling, she allowed me to try on the dress and show it to her.

Then she said it looked fine already.  I grabbed up the inches of extra fabric in the bodice and said, “I don’t think so.” I explained that I also wanted to bustle the dress after the ceremony and needed the appropriate hooks.  She showed me the loop on the inside of the dress.  Why didn’t this lady want my money?

In the end, I had more luck with the tailor than I seemed to be having with my husband over the vows.  She charged me at least twice what I thought it should be, but it was too late to go looking for someone else.

There were other arrangements I needed to make.  We’ll talk about those next time.

TRAVEL

To Vow or Not to Vow

TRAVEL THERE: THE STRAW THAT ALMOST BROKE THE CAMEL’S BACK

When visions clash, titans fall.  I’ve shared just how tense things were around our house the year before our cruise.  When the time came to plan the actual words of the renewal ceremony, visions clashed.  It was almost as if my husband of 25 years and I no longer shared a common language.

My Vision

As I’ve said, my first vision of our vow renewal was a simple ceremony on the shore of our pond, officiated by my pastor and attended by all my friends and family.  That obviously didn’t happen.  As we planned the new and improved version of our ceremony, I hoped very much to include my husband’s preferences in the event.

“Do you want to use the standard vows or write your own?”  I asked out of courtesy, because he didn’t seem all that excited about the ceremony anyway.  When he wanted to write his own vows you could have blown me over with a feather.  “So what about the rest of the ceremony?”  A conversation ensued, wherein I suggested we use the script of the ceremony from our actual wedding with our newly minted vows plugged into the appropriate places.  He agreed in theory, but was concerned about the length of the ceremony.  I agreed that we didn’t want all the folderol of a high church Episcopal service, but told him I would put something together with blanks for his vows.

Doing My Homework

The next task was a difficult one.  On their website, Celebrity has the outline of the service, some of the specific words they normally used and blanks for you to change them to what you want.  However, this is one of those forms that you can’t just cut and paste and when you print it doesn’t actually look like the online form.  I couldn’t figure out how to edit the resulting document, either.  It was a PDF – look but don’t change.

I also found the Episcopal order of service like we had at our wedding.  It had it’s own challenges.  They have about three forms of the service on the same page, all mixed together.  You can print it out, but you have to skip around all over the place to figure it out.

I spent considerable time trying to figure out how to make the Celebrity online form mesh with the Episcopal service document.  In time, I decided to just cut and paste pieces and parts off the Episcopal service and fill them into the blanks of the Celebrity document.

All this didn’t happen over a couple of hours.  I worked on it on and off for weeks, then finally spent most of a couple of days putting it all together and writing my vows.  Then I still had to sit down with scissors and pieces of paper to put together a document that reflected what the actual service would be.

Not His Vision

Mr. Bill was not happy when I presented him with the document on which I had worked so hard.  He wanted two things right away.  Number one, an online editable version of the document.  I tried to explain just what that entailed, but he just didn’t grasp the complexity of what I’d been dealing with.  Number two, he wanted to see my vows.  I’d left them off, because I wanted his vows to come from his heart, not from mine or as a reflection of mine.

(INSERT MARITAL ARGUMENT THAT LASTED FOR WEEKS)

I’m not saying we were actively arguing for weeks about it.  I’m just saying we came to an impasse and it hung like a rain cloud over us for what seemed like weeks and weeks and weeks.  All the while, I was looking anxiously at the deadlines on the Celebrity wedding website and dreading ever mentioning the vows to him again in my life.

Most wives will not be surprised that, in the end, I laboriously re-typed the entire service onto a completely new document which included my vows and emailed it to him.  Was he happy then?  No!  He didn’t like the formal language of the service and out of two pages of ceremony, he pointed to one sentence I absolutely had to cut out and it just happened to be the one thing I wanted to say, even if I said nothing else.

I was flabbergasted.  Had we not agreed to use our original ceremony as the basis of the renewal ceremony?  And what on Earth could be wrong with me saying, “Yes, willingly and with joy I renew this commitment to my beloved..”

(INSERT YET ANOTHER MARITAL ARGUMENT OF SIGNIFICANT MEASURE.)

In the end, I got my ceremony, but he gave it to me begrudgingly, which sort of negated my desire to say I was doing anything “willingly and with joy.”  I suddenly envied a friend of mine down the street.  Her husband had planned a tropical vacation with vow renewal all by himself as a surprise.  I was sort of beginning to wonder whether Bill and I both would actually go on the cruise together, much less have a vow renewal ceremony.

But it’s always darkest before the dawn, right?  The cruise was merely weeks away now.  What would happen next?

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL

Aisle to Isle Vow Renewal Package

Romantic Location Onboard?

TRAVEL THERE: WHAT’S INCLUDED AND WHAT’S NOT

Celebrity’s Aisle to Isle Vow Renewal Ceremony is $595, or perhaps I should say starts at $595.  I guess I knew it would cost something and $595 is a bargain compared to what a typical wedding costs, but still it was a bit ouchy for me.

What’s Included

This is what Celebrity includes in their Aisle to Isle Vow Renewal Ceremony:

  • Pre-sailing event manager
  • Romantic location onboard the ship
  • Shipboard ceremony officiate
  • Recorded ceremony music
  • Ivory flowers for couple^
  • One hour of photography service – Photos not included, but may be purchased separately**
  • Specialty cake for two^^
  • Commemorative vow renewal certificate

What That Means

Pre-sailing event manager – this is the nice ladies you talk to at Celebrity when you call the wedding department.  I am sure some people may call and harass these ladies on a daily basis, perhaps for a year or more.  I had one phone conversation with them and exchanged a handful of notes back and forth on their wedding site.  I liked them.  They were nice and very thorough.  I’m not sure why, but there is a bit of a disconnect between them and the on board staff.  I’d covered the details of the day ad nauseum with these ladies, but the on board staff merely had the briefest of outlines.  I felt like a lot got lost between the cracks and it made me a little crazy.

Romantic Location Onboard the Ship –  yes, but good luck knowing exactly where on the ship the ceremony will be or what time you’ll have it.  I might recommend just going with an afternoon wedding in an empty dining room.  They really like those.

Shipboard Ceremony Officiate – it was the Cruise Director.  He was an absolute delight.  He did the ceremony exactly the way I wanted it.  He even cried!

Recorded Ceremony Music – Check!  They have several canned songs or you can provide whatever you want.  If you provide your own, there are some rules about how and when these have to be available to the crew.  We opted for canned, because their choices included exactly what we wanted.  I also had special music, but my bestie is an opera singer and she preferred to do the song a capella, so I didn’t have to do anything.

Ivory Flowers for the Couple –  “Ceremony flowers consist of bouquet and boutonniere, two small bouquets or two boutonnieres. Flowers may be substituted or enhanced based on availability,” according to the website.  It took me a while to wrap my mind around that, but then I figured out the variety was based on serving both heterosexual and same sex marriages.   This got a little pricey.  Since my friends had ponied up and paid to come on this cruise, the least I could do was provide ceremony flowers.  The translation for “bouquet” is one rose with ribbon.  I paid extra to have a six rose bouquet and had a one rose “bouquet” for each bridesmaid.  We also added a boutonniere for the best man, in addition to the one provided for the groom.  These little touches weren’t the most expensive thing for the ceremony, but they added up faster than I realized.

One hour of photography service – Photos not included, but may be purchased separately** – Get out your wallets.  Cruise ship management knows that if they take photos, we will buy.  Why else would they spend so much money on those photo opportunities with studio backgrounds, special lighting and professional photographers? I really didn’t want a photographer.  Bill is allergic to paying for pictures on a cruise.  I knew immediately the mere presence of the photographer would put him on edge.  However, the photographer is mandatory.  The resulting photos were GORGEOUS and their price was OUTRAGEOUS – as in $3500!  My vow renewal was almost null and void when Bill heard that.  We did buy some pictures, but it was in the three digit department, not the four digit and even then, everybody pitched in so I could have what I wanted.  Thanks guys!

Bottle of champagne – One bottle of champagne isn’t quite enough for six people.  I ordered an extra bottle which was $50, because I wanted lots of champagne drinking going on.  Only they didn’t deliver the bottle to the ceremony.  We got it at dinner, but I was disappointed.  Not exactly what I had in mind.  The champagne is OK, but in the grocery store you’d pay about $11 for it.  You could bring your own champagne, but then they’d charge you a corkage fee.  Just be aware, booze costs a lot on a cruise.

Specialty Cake for Six

Specialty Cake for Two – Celebrity is all about this little specialty cake.  Their photographers are all geared up to take those cake cutting and feeding pictures, but there was no way I wanted that to be a part of the ceremony.  However, like the photographer, you are going to get a cake.  So, I paid to up-size it for six instead of two.  I also requested it be delivered to our dinner venue for dessert, rather than cutting it after the ceremony.  My pre-sailing event manager was devastated.  My onboard coordinator was devastated.  My photographer was devastated.  Probably the team serving dinner was devastated.  That’s OK, I was the bride and I got what I wanted.

Commemorative vow renewal certificate – Yes and it was nice.  It will be great in my scrapbook.

So that’s what you get.  Let’s talk about the actual ceremony next time.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Hair & Make-up for the Big Day

TRAVEL THERE: LOOKING GOOD FOR MY SHIPBOARD VOW RENEWAL CEREMONY

We all have our priorities and I confess, one of mine is how I look.  I know I don’t have super-model good looks, but like to make the best of what I have, especially for special occasions and a Shipboard 25th Anniversary Vow Renewal on the Mediterranean Sea is a pretty special occasion.  All it takes is money.

My Girls

There were a lot of things I was excited about when it came to my cruise, but one I was particularly excited about was spending days on end with my girls.  Deb, Melanie and Viktoriya are so dear to me.  Most of all I was looking forward to spending salon time with them on the day of our ceremony and I was right to do so.  It was some of the best moments of the whole cruise.

Make-up was easy.  BAM $75 per person.  Yep, that’s expensive for a little mascara and blush, but you’re paying for the experience, right?  Believe me, it was worth every penny.  We looked marvelous and we had a blast getting that way.

My Hair

Hair was not so easy, primarily because my hair was its own problem, all by itself.  I’d decided to grow it out a few years before.  By the time I booked the cruise, I was firmly convinced long hair was not for me, because my hair is somewhere on the cusp between wavy and curly, which, when it’s long, translates to frizzy with the least provocation  Still, I really, really wanted to have an updo for my vow ceremony, so I fought my hair one more year just for that moment.

To complicate matters, Celebrity has all these different categories of things:  Upstyle, Blow Dry & Style, Shampoo & Style and Bride’s Day Hair.  What’s more, each of these choices was divided into categories based on length and there was no guide to let you exactly where each category began and ended.  My hair was down past my shoulders, but that was nothing compared to someone with waist length hair.  Was I paying the same thing as them or did I qualify as medium?

Then there was another problem.  I would get my hair cut and colored the day before I left, but by the day of the ceremony I’d be wishing for clean hair. However, I was informed I should not wash my hair within the 24 hours before they were to give me my updo.  Since 24 hours before my hair appointment I would be on a 10.5 hour tour of Capri and Pompei, I would have had to wash my hair on Embarkation Day.  Washing my hair on Embarkation Day potentially meant frizzy hair for our first night’s dinner AND the 10.5 hour shore excursion.  Did I mention I was vain?  I opted for dirty hair for my ceremony – don’t tell anyone.

Still that didn’t answer whether I wanted an Upstyle or Bride’s Day Hair.  It would make sense that I wanted the Bride’s Day Hair, which was $35 more than a mere Upstyle, but no one anywhere could tell me exactly what I got for my extra $35 – plus, that would mean the mandatory 18% service charge would also be more.  They got their extra $35 and I still don’t know what for.  In the big picture, $35 was nothing, but it still eats at me that I paid extra for virtually nothing the others didn’t get with their more economical Upstyle.  Live and learn!

Like everything on board a ship, there are always more ways to spend your money.  Sure that fare includes a place to stay, lots of food to eat and a lot of entertainment, but even though all of this is covered, they still find so many ways to stick their hands in your pockets.  Let’s talk about that next week.

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

Considering Cannes

The Beach at Nice, France
The French Rivera

TRAVEL THERE: DAY TWO ON THE FABULOUS RIVERA

Confession first!  I was of two minds about Cannes.  A part of me thought it might be a good day to just take it easy, to do nothing, to hang out on the boat, to go to the beach.  This was only a 7 day cruise and we were hitting 7 ports.  There was only 1 day at sea and that was going to be our vow renewal, so not much in the way of relaxing offered.  At the same time, Cannes had the most intriguing and most affordable shore excursions on the Celebrity cruise.  What would we do?

What I Wanted

As is often the case, I wanted a clone.  The clone would go visit all the places on the possibilities list.  I‘d spend the day on the beach and then my clone could tell me all about it after my facial in the spa.  There was a relaxing little trip to Provence Lavender fields and rustic little town squares.  Another trip offered an industrial view of the perfumeries in the area.  One seemed more like a perfume shopping trip.

And I was serious about the beach day.  I was exhausted just planning this whirlwind tour of the Mediterranean.  I knew we’d be interested in a break come Day 6.

What I Considered

Then I thought about the day we visited Atlantis, a resort in the Bahamas, on another cruise.  It was one of those DIY tours.  Atlantis is the biggest thing there, but it wasn’t at the port and once we got there we stomped all over the place without gaining access to the places I really wanted to go.  It was a fun day overall and we got some great pictures, but it wasn’t a complete success.

As to Cannes, I couldn’t find out exactly how one got from the boat to the beach and if the beach was accessible or we’d have to be associated with some hotel.  Sometimes the most relaxing thing you can do is just go with the flow.  My thoughts flowed to a bus trip which would take us around the French Rivera.

What I Booked 

Cap d’Antibes, Cote de Azur and Nice.  You hear them in the movies and read about them in books.  Cannes is all about the Film Festival and celebrities.  The others seem to float out of the Jazz Age and tempt you out of the every day.  So I booked the bus trip.  After the flurry of booking was over to get the shore excursion specials which were to be short-lived, I almost thought I might have made a mistake.  The bus trip Bill wanted in Monaco seemed to overlap in Nice with the Cannes bus trip, but some voice inside me warned me to leave well enough alone.

Good thing that voice.  When we changed the Monaco bus trip for the Monte Carlo Yacht Club event, it created a need to see something of the French Rivera than the cruise port cities.  The selection was perfection itself.  Want to know why?  Well then you have to keep coming back.  Next week we’ll plan our visit to Palma de Mallorca.

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.

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.