ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Libraries, Museums, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Don’t Bother Asking the Librarian

The Library of Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: LOST AT THE BIBLIOTHECA ALEXANDRINA

So Rom the Rogue Hantoor Driver dropped us off at the Library of Alexandria.  We knew we were there, because the unique curved roof is unmistakable.  What we didn’t know was how to get inside.

A Little Signage Please

We thought we were standing in front of the Library.  Huge plate glass windows allowed us to look in, but nothing told us we needed to go around to the other side.  We did eventually find our way to the front, but that was even more confusing.

The world was lined up at a building over to the side of the Library, but nothing suggested the crowd was headed into the library itself.  Remember, I may not read or understand Arabic, but Bill does and we stood there at the curb reading every sign we could see and watching the people to figure out what they were doing.

Through trial and error (and an exasperated guard) we found out we had to join the crowd and check pretty much everything on our persons, except the clothes on our back at the place with the crowd.  Then we got the secret sauce to entering the library.  Once inside there are all kinds of signs directing you to the various stacks of books over many floors, but nothing seemed to direct us to the free museums we were there to enjoy.  Now they have great signage to the museum that has a pricey entry fee, but I wanted the free stuff.  

We even asked people for directions and they’d point vaguely in a direction which wouldn’t help at all or they’d give us very detailed directions to something that wasn’t what I wanted to see.  We were literally about to give up and walk out when I decided to see if there was any wi-fi.  Rest assured there was no signage to suggest they did, I just thought it made sense for them to have it.

VOILA!  There was wi-fi, but the first thing it told me was the exhibit I had been asking about for the last hour was closed for restoration.  It also sent me down a staircase I’d been down several times before and directed me to what seemed like a dead end.  We’d been there at least four other times.  We decided to give the dead end a try and suddenly we were in free exhibit heaven.

How to Get There

So, if you ever go to Alexandria, here’s what you do.  First, find the front of the building.  It will be on the opposite side from the part facing the beach.  Go get in the huge line at the building next to the Library.  At the counter,  hand them everything not actually connected to you and pay them whatever they want.  Move quickly during this process so you can follow the person who was in line in front of you or you won’t find the entrance.

Once in the foyer, look for a stairwell on the right side.  Go down to the next floor.  Right in front of you will be the museum you can pay to go into, but turn to your left instead.  Go to the end of the hall and turn to the right, even though it looks like you are entering a warren of offices.  If you walk down the hall past the offices, you will suddenly find yourself in a treasure trove of exhibits.  

The pictures above are all of the library proper, which you enter through many doors all along the back of the foyer.  I do recommend you take some time wandering around.  We happened upon several interesting exhibits that way, which weren’t even listed in the cornucopia of materials I’d been studying for weeks before the trip.  It’s also the only way to seem the amazing architecture of the place.  But if you want to see the free museums, follow the instructions above.

I’m all out of words today, but come back next week and I’ll share some of the marvelous things we found down in the guts of the library.

Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Gardens, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Rom & the Hantoor Tour

TRAVEL THERE: ALEX OVERTURE VIA HORSE & BUGGY

Stepping out of The Cecil on our way to the famous Library of Alexandria, we met Rom. He was waiting at the curb to offer us the services of his horse and carriage, which they call hantoor in Egypt.  The day was gorgeous – just right for taking a ride in an open buggy.  To my delight Bill was able to make a good deal with him and soon we were gliding around the streets of Alex as the horse’s hooves clip-clopped along.  

First to Fort Qaitby

Since the hotel was situated pretty much in the middle of most everything we wanted to see, we had planned on walking to most of the attractions on my list.  However, there were a few I wasn’t sure we could make it to on foot.  Fort Qaitby was one of them.  Located on a small peninsula near the ancient site of the Pharos Lighthouse, Fort Qaitby was the end of the line for Alex’s Corniche, the beautiful sandy crescent of beach along the Mediterranean.

Since the Fort was 2-3 miles away, it wasn’t that we couldn’t walk there, I was just concerned about taking the time to do so when there were so many other things I wanted to see.  Rom seated us in his buggy and took off for the fort.  This is a big time tourist locale, so there was a shopping opportunity and also a small museum inside the old English fort.  I was tempted to go in, because I love all museums, but with the Library of Alexandria calling for me, I managed to drag myself away.

We’d seen everything I was interested in seeing in just a few minutes, but then we stumbled onto a group of fishermen throwing their lines into the sea from a rocky beach on the other side of the Corniche.  Bill was fascinated.  Alex used to be a place he came on vacation and the coastal activities, like fishing and eating at fish restaurants were one of his favorite memories.  I reined in my urgency to get to the library and relished Bill’s childlike delight in the fishermen, the birds, curious cats and crashing waves.  Here’s a few pictures from our time near the fort.

Too Much of a Good Thing

After the Fort, Rom drove through a whole lot more of the rest of the city than we actually wanted to see.  It started out pretty well.  We were in the downtown area, where we got out and took pictures along the Corniche.  We saw Kom al-Dikka, some Roman ruins I’d wanted to visit, but knew we wouldn’t have much time for.  It was a great overview of the city.

Then we got into some of the residential areas and that wasn’t quite so pretty.  Alex is a city whose time has past.  While there are a few areas where there are new developments and hotels, most of it is old, peeling and falling apart.  There’s plenty of beautiful historic areas to enjoy also.  However, once you get off the main drags, things get a little scary.  The charm is completely worn off and the residents look at you with narrowed eyes, as if to say, “What in the hell are you doing here?”

We finally convinced Rom we’d seen all we needed to see.  He clicked his tongue and slapped the reins, heading towards the Library.  With the exception of the run down residential area, it had been a wonderful morning, but unfortunately, the ghetto was not the only ugly thing we were going to see that day.  When we arrived at the Library, Mr. Nice Guy Rom turned into somebody else.  He hit Bill up for a lot more money than we’d agreed to pay him for the tour.  A small disagreement erupted.  Bill paid the amount he’d agreed to and walked away, leaving a very angry Rom.  Apparently we had not committed too serious of an infraction.  We saw him later in the day and he greeted us like we were his long lost friends.

That’s all for today.  Come back next week and visit the library with us! In the meantime, enjoy some of the sites we saw on our tour.

 

 

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Adult Beverage Packages

TRAVEL HERE: STEPPING UP FROM SODAS

Some people think everybody on a cruise is looking for a multi-day drinking binge.  To a certain extent, they have a point.  There are a whole lot of people drinking a whole lot of adult beverages on most cruises – and I think I know why.

Pay As You Go VS Drink Packages

I’m a wine with dinner person, but big ship cruising isn’t geared for that.  Glasses of wine hover at $10-12 – and who can drink just one?  The bottled wine choices are limited and while I can understand why, they certainly charge through the roof for what they have.  To make that even more challenging, I drink white and Bill drinks red.  He’s fine with a beer, but they’re around $8 and his favorite, Bud Light costs more, because for some reason all American beers cost more.  I consider beer to be wasted calories.  We have a bit of dilemma in this department.

On Norwegian they did have a wine program and I embraced it the same way I have the soda programs, but apparently the Royal Caribbean cruises target those people who want to drink mixed drinks – and a lot of them.  Margaritas, Mojitos, Pina Coladas and all their sisters and brothers are the beverages featured in the Adult Beverage Packages.  In fact wine drinkers can’t even get bottles of wine through the programs, they only get discounts.  So it’s not just my imagination that they discriminate against wine.

If you pay as you go on a cruise and you prefer beverages that aren’t on the free list, you can rack up a pretty penny pretty quickly

  • A a bottle of water while you work out
  • Breakfast with coffee and juices
  •  Mid-morning soda
  • A beer with your hamburger for lunch
  • Sitting at the pool in the afternoon a margarita or two & probably a bottle of water or two
  • Dinner a couple of glasses of wine
  • A Cocktail at the show.

Now, this would be a lot of drinking on a regular day, but you’re on a cruise, so you indulge yourself.  Do you have any idea what you have just spent?  The coffee and juices were free, but you have spent $4-12 on every other item.  You just spent $64 dollars and to add injury to insult they will add a 18% tip to your bill for each drink.  Your bill just went up to $75.52.

So, then you think you’ll look over the free beverages again, but remember you’re on a cruise.  You wish you could splurge a little,  so you  go back over the beverage wish list, wondering how much of it you would actually drink.  Somewhere along the way you must decide what works best for you.  The all-you-can drink beverage package is about $65 a day.  It includes mixed drinks, beers, wine by the glass and sodas.  You also get a hefty discount on bottles of wine.  I wouldn’t blame anyone for getting the package, so they can just order what they want when they want it without worrying about it.

But be careful, they still add something for tips.  They also only cover beverages up to a certain price point – twelve dollars on my latest cruise.  So if the drink of the day is $14 (and I saw some that were) you just got charged! A friend of mine said she and her husband used to get one adult beverage package and would just avoid ordering two drinks at once, but the cruise lines figured that trick out.  If one person in the cabin gets an adult beverage program, any other adults in the room are also charged for one.  They get you coming and going.

We decided to pay as we went.  The cruise line allowed us to bring two bottles of wine on board and there was no corkage fee.  For a four day cruise that was really all we needed, but guess who was drinking red wine.  Besides, I knew they would be serving free champagne at some of the events and I had the soda program to fill in.

We were fine, but I can imagine that if you splurge for the adult beverage package, then you want to be very sure that you take advantage of it.  Hence the boat sometimes feels like it is full of drunk people.

The big pool was the scene of several bacchanals.  We didn’t spend much time there, but a few times when we passed by, there were very drunk ladies parading around the dance floor, showing us more of themselves than we really wanted to see. Not sure why there’s never a stunning looker among the drunks, but we’ve found that to be true on virtually every cruise.  We also wandered into a bar late one evening to see an event that promised to be humorous, but the karaoke wasn’t quite over when we got there.  Talk about drunk people!

So that’s the skinny on beverages.  I’ll cover a few more pre-cruise choices you can make next week.

Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Welcome to The Cecil Hotel

TRAVEL THERE: FADED GLORY ON THE SEA

Ah! Civilization!  Crystal chandeliers, beautiful draperies, crisp linen sheets, thick carpeting.  Welcome to Alexandria’s Cecil Hotel!

So Happy to be There

Izzat pulled up in front of a glorious edifice right next to the Mediterranean Sea and set our bags on the sidewalk.  A bellman appeared and ushered us through a revolving door and the obligatory security equipment.  My mind registered old style elegance in the lobby, but I’d had a long day and was just ready for a decent room.

After the usual front desk rigmarole they pointed us to one of those antique elevators encased in black rod iron.  We rode it to our floor and WOW!  It wasn’t the Fairmont, but to my eyes it was even better.  This was elegance the way it used to be and for my money, I like it that way.  Gorgeous furniture, elaborate urns, ubiquitous crystal chandeliers and a floor that only creaked a little bit.  As we strolled down the thick elegantly patterned  carpet we were impressed with the way the magnificent door to each room was recessed to create a small alcove.

Then we entered our room.  It was small, but so lovely that I didn’t even care.  Of course my first stop was the bathroom and there I found some comic relief.  In the mode of luxury hotels everywhere, the ends of the toilet paper had been folded into a point, but this one was a little off balance.   It was just what I needed.

Moving In

Since we’d be in Alex for several days, I went through the motions of unpacking what we’d need in the way of clothes and toiletries.  As I got us organized for the next few days, Bill was inspecting the room.  He discovered the balcony which overlooked a park and the sea.  He even found the ice bucket and then went on an expedition to locate the ice machine.

In my unpacking, I’d found the bottle of Bourbon my nephew had bestowed upon me and when Bill went for the ice, he also found a can of Coke Zero.  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a drink quite so much!

The Breakfast Buffet

After a good night’s sleep I was up early and raring to get out to the museum.  The Cecil didn’t have a gym, but we’d be doing a lot of walking, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Once we were ready to attack the day, we headed downstairs to breakfast.  Yes, it was another buffet, but the space designated for the morning repast was a delight.  Black and white marble floors, large bouquets of fresh lilies, huge windows, antique iron chairs and marble topped tables.  What was there not to like?

I was sick to death of breakfast buffets, but the space was so pleasant that I was able to enjoy the atmosphere.  I was also very excited about the day ahead.  The days of leisure were over and we were going to start in on my long list of museums.  I could not wait! Come back next week and join us on our way to the Library of Alexandria.

 

DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

Dahab to Cairo to Alexandria

TRAVEL THERE: TRANSITIONING TO ALEXANDRIA

So it’s morning in Dahab and I was on my balcony enjoying the glorious weather and view.  Down in the pool the younger set was catching a few more splashes.  It was idyllic, but I was still glad that we’d soon be heading to territories the US State Department was happier for me to be visiting.

The Back of the Bus & Beyond

When the time came to head back, I was once again sent to the back of the bus, but I was over my pout.  Soon we were going through multiple security checks at the Sharm el Sheikh airport and somewhere along the way I lost my prescription sunglasses.  For then on, Bill had to share his shades with me.

The flight was not anywhere as entertaining as the carnival-like ride to Sharm had been.  At the Cairo airport our car and driver was waiting to take us to Alexandria, so we said our good-byes at the airport.  Maggie, Shady and their kids would be flying on to the US before we returned to Cairo, but the bride and groom would be flying back to the US with us.

On to Alex

By the time we made it out of Cairo, evening was setting in.  We needed a potty break and something to eat, so our driver stopped at a Burger King.  The burgers were fine.  The water in the restrooms was turned off and toilet paper was scarce.  That made things quite challenging, but soon we were back on the road.  As soon as we left the gas station we entered the desert and there was nothing to see.  Falling asleep had not been in my plans, but that’s what I did.

It seemed as if we’d just left the Burger King a few minutes before when we came to a stop.  I opened my eyes to chaos – a traffic jam, Egyptian style.  We were on the outskirts of Alex and were hemmed in on every side.  In Egypt, lanes are only a suggestion, so at first glance it seemed we’d be there all night.  Our driver showed no signs of distress.  He edged towards the truck ahead of us and it seemed to me as if he was going to drive under it, but instead we started changing lanes and were soon exiting the highway.

This sounds as if it should have been good news, but suddenly I felt as if I was in the chase scene of a Steven Segal movie.  The landscape around us was all industrial.  The exit turned out to be one of those spaghetti bowls where several roads come together.  We went around and around, over and under, around and around, and then we doubled back a time or two.  Suddenly we came to a road block of stacked hay bales, but like the lanes, our driver treated it as a suggestion rather than a detour.

I confess, I was a little nervous.  After he drove up over the edge of the barricade he did some more around and around, over and under, and some doubling back.  I really liked and trusted him, but we were in a third world country and the US State Department would not have approved the route.

Eventually, we were back on what looked like a normal highway and shortly after that we were in Alex.  Museum Girl was thrilled.  Come back next week for our visit to Alexandria.

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

Your Personal Travel Advisor

TRAVEL TALK: I’VE GIVEN MYSELF A PROMOTION

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and I don’t usually post on Tuesdays, but Monday is devoted to a recent cruise, on Wednesdays I’m still covering Egypt and on Friday’s I share my Spot On Images post.  So what’s a girl who just attended a travel show supposed to do?  I decided if I squeaked this in here you wouldn’t mind too much.  Anyway, I’ve promoted myself from Random Travel Blogger to Personal Travel Adviser and I thought I’d tell you why.

The Travel Pros

I have a lot of respect for pros in the travel industry, but at a recent Travel & Adventure Show in Dallas, I learned I didn’t have quite enough respect for myself.  I’m not Samantha Brown.  I’m not even Josh Garcia. However, I might be more valuable to you than both of those travel pros.  While travel pros can give you some great information, they do not necessarily give you the best advice.  Let me give you an example.

Emmy Award-winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor

“Call the hotel directly and ask to speak to the MOD.” (That’s Manager On Duty for the rest of us.)  This is the advice Peter Greenberg gave to us.  He assured us this was the best way to score cheap hotel rates.

During the Q&A, the first guy to the mic challenged this advice.  He told of a call he’d made to a Las Vegas resort and the result had been just short of being laughed off the phone.  The MOD wasn’t going to be rude to a potential guest, but he wasn’t going to upgrade him to the presidential suite or comp a couple of days either.  Peter Greenberg, Emmy Award-Winning Investigative Reporter & CBS News Travel Editor has reason to expect that sort of treatment, but you and me and the guy at the mic?  Not so much.  Mr. Greenbers response?  Mumbling into the microphone about starting a conversation and moving to the next question.

Can a call to the MOD make a difference?  Absolutely.  Bill called the MOD at Egypt’s Mena House and negotiated an outstanding rate, but he had a reason to call.  Since he had an expired Egyptian passport, there was a chance he’d qualify for the resident rate.  Some hotels will, some won’t.  My charming husband called up and pumped the guy for information about the hotel, things he genuinely wanted to know, but he didn’t start with ‘give me a discount’.  Along the way he explained how much his travel-blogging wife wanted to stay there and lamented the good old days when his expired passport used to get him a reduced rate.  Before the call had ended, Bill had booked two nights at $75 a night.

So Mr. Greenberg was right about the advice, but he’d failed to share the conversation part and that had caused the guy at the mic to endure some unnecessary embarrassment.  I’ll give Mr. Greenberg a break.  He only has so much time to share his information and convince you to become a fan. I don’t have to squeeze everything I have to tell you into 30-45 minutes.  I dribble it out in 750-1000 word bites, but I’ve got nothing but time, so I can thoroughly explain exactly what I mean when I give you my opinion.

Back to the MOD thing – there could be any number of reasons to give him/her a call and see what happens.  If you’re a really patient person with a lot of time on your hands, then I recommend it heartily, but most of us just don’t have the time, the patience or the personality to charm the MOD.  I’ve tried it a couple of times and discovered the rate they offered didn’t even beat Expedia.  And that’s why I can give you better travel advice than the guy at the travel show.  I still face all the same challenges you do.

I’m More Like You Than I Am Them

One of the reasons you need to be a little suspect of travel pros is that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a tourist.  They had to give up being a tourist to become a pro, but sometimes when they are giving advice to tourists, they forget about the pure joy of travel.  They behave as if you get points for avoiding an expense.  Unnecessary expenses, sure, like taking a cab for a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport, instead of paying $79 to the resort for shared transfers.  You bet I’m taking the cab, but what’s their beef with balconies?

The new trend among travel pros is balcony bashing.  They whisper about interior cabins as if it wasn’t clear to anyone, even novices, that inside cabins are less expensive.  That’s not exactly a travel secret.  Can’t afford a balcony?  OK, but don’t let that keep you home.  By the same token, if a balcony sounds good and you can afford it, get it. Travel is not some kind of financial acuity exam.  In fact, the easiest way to ruin a vacation is to grieve over every penny you spend.  Have a budget, stay in it and then enjoy the heck out of yourself.

So, here I am, your personal travel adviser.  You either know me personally or you’ve come to trust what I say because you’ve been reading my blog for awhile.  You should at least know you can trust me more than an anonymous review on a travel site and since this latest travel show I attended, I know you can trust me more than the pros.

I plan to take my new position very seriously, so let me know how I can help you with your travel quandaries.

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

Welcome to Dahab Paradise Resort

TRAVEL THERE: A SECOND LOOK AT DAHAB

Okay, this is where I confess that there is actually nothing wrong with the Dahab Paradise Resort.  The real problem was my attitude.  I still say we had no business heading off into a desert the US State Department warned us to avoid, but if we were going to be there anyway, this was a nice place to go.

The Bare Necessities

The Dahab Paradise is a lovely resort, but not in the traditional American five-star sense.  You’re not going to find stationary in your desk drawer or a terry robe in the closet (what closet?).  However, you will find very nice people in a very attractive facility.  The open air lobby looks out on the gorgeous pool.  Beyond the pool is the Red Sea.  Your room will be clean.  Our balcony was a small piece of heaven.  The furnishings are very appropriate for a hotel in the Sinai Desert.  They had a definite Bedouin charm.  In other words, if you’re going to Dahab, stay here.

There’s a very nice open air restaurant not far from the pool.  We had a fine dinner there and the breakfast was spectacular – especially if you are Egyptian or like Egyptian foods.  Personally I love pita, feta and olives for breakfast.  They will even fix up whatever eggs you want, but I’m not very eggy.

Now the bathroom facilities are minimal.  Don’t drink the water and only one of you will be able to be in there at a time.  I couldn’t face the shower and hubby wasn’t crazy about it, but it was functional.

Hanging by the Pool

The Dahab Paradise pool is out of this world.  It looks beautiful and our family had a great time in it.  There are plenty of chaise lounges and umbrellas for those of us who prefer to stay out of the water.  It’s so gorgeous that it’s a little surreal to think, “Here I am in the Sinai Desert and right over there, about 30 miles away is Saudi Arabia.”  The only real problem is the radical Islamist who cause so much trouble are probably even closer.

Once I was over my pout I was thrilled to discover my coloring cards and colored pencils had done their trick.  My grandnephew climbed up into my lap after his dip in the pool and I thought my heart was going to burst.  Even my grandniece, who is a little more stand-offish behaved as though I was on her team.  Of course, we’d be heading back to Cairo the next day and then parting ways until our next chance to get together.

Drinks in the Conversation Pit

After everyone was out of the pool we went back to our rooms to get freshened up, but soon we were back outside for the sunset.  The hotel has a great sunken conversation pit on the grounds with a wonderful firepit.  My nephew Shady moved to the head of the class with a bottle of bourbon.  All these guys are scotch drinkers and I’m not.  So, time after time the rest of the crew would be sharing a nice buzz and I’d be sober as a judge.  This time Shady showed up with a bottle of bourbon and gifted it to me.  Thank you Shady!

Awhile later they let us know dinner was served and we enjoyed a delicious moonlit meal.  That’s one of the picture postcards from the trip seared into my mind, but no one thought to take a picture.  The time in the conversation pit and around the dinner table under the stars were moments words don’t do justice and even a thousand words would not have been able to aptly describe it.   

Next up we’re headed back to Cairo after a quiet morning at Dahab Paradise.  Come back next week to read about that.

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

The Not So Cheap Cheapie Cruise

A Chilly Sail Away

TRAVEL HERE: EXTERIOR CABINS FROM $259

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

A Quick Google

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

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

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

Let the Nickel and Diming Begin!

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

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

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

What I Did

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

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

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

 

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, TRAVEL

My Ugly American Moment

TRAVEL THERE: WHERE ARE MY RUBY SLIPPERS WHEN I NEED THEM?

So, I’m in Dahab and I’m not happy about it.  I usually try to make the best of any situation, but for once, I just wasn’t.  I was being an ugly American.

Welcome to Dahab Paradise

All the way from Sharm I had tried to convince myself that Dahab Paradise wasn’t going to be as bad as I thought and the initial impression made me feel a little better. Then we went to the room. It had a big balcony and a lot of charm, but it was tiny and didn’t exactly have the basic comforts of home. Let’s not talk about the bath. It was clean, but that’s all it had to recommend it. I was trying to decide which emotion was strongest – frustration, anger or fear.

In the few moments it took to make an inspection of the minuscule space, Bill fell on the bed and went to sleep.  He claims he was merely exhausted, but I think his emotional radar warned him trouble was brewing.  Interrupting one of his naps is a really bad choice, so I tried going to the balcony.  Gale force winds drove me back inside.

There was no place to sit inside the room, except the bed and Bill was taking his half in the middle. I thought of going out, but I couldn’t decide what I would do. The wind made sitting by the pool a non-starter and there hadn’t been any sign of a bar in the small lobby. Besides, I had no idea where Bill had put the key.  While I was quite angry with him, I didn’t want any of the Bedouins or radical Islamist the State Department had warned me about to come in and steal him away. 

So, I sat on a small corner of the bed and tried to entertain myself. I caught up in my travel journal, read a book and worked some crossword puzzles. This was some kind of nap he was taking.

Part of my problem was that I was getting very hungry, but since I didn’t have my head screwed on right, I didn’t recognize it as a rapidly declining sugar level complicated by dehydration.  I just sat there getting angrier and angrier. By the time Bill woke up I was in a full pout and he didn’t even do me the courtesy of acknowledging it.

Re-joining the Human Race

The wind had died down a little bit and a trip to the balcony revealed everyone was at the pool. I followed Bill down to join them and finally someone noticed I was pouting. I think it was the groom. After some gentle ribbing about my demeanor, I realized I needed to straighten up.  I wasn’t happy to be there, but I’m not the kind who wants to ruin it for everyone else.

I also realized I was hungry, so Bill ordered some food.  After a few bites, the world seemed to be a tiny bit better.  Since I am writing this blog, it’s obvious that we were not attacked by Bedouins, radical Islamist or even your run of the mill thieves while we visited Dahab, but that was part of the problem.

Bill is the luckiest person alive. He lives on the edge of the envelope with aplomb. He’s never suffers any of the minor irritations in life that I do.  I should just trust his luck and count it as my own, but that’s hard to do on a consistent basis.

I have no luck.  You can be sure if there is any small print involved, it will bite me in the worst way.  If there’s traffic, I’ll be late.  I’m the one that loses my glasses, has wrecks and gets speeding tickets.  I show up for things on the wrong day at the wrong time.  I was sure if I headed off into the desert in spite of the State Departments warning I would become a casualty, but I forgot I was with Bill.

I’m thankful Bill’s luck protects me in all kinds of situations, but I have to admit I also resent it from time to time.  On the trip to Dahab, I thought it would serve Bill right if we were held captive in the desert for ransom.  Intellectually, I realized this would be a really bad thing, but I wasn’t doing reasonable very well that day.  Thankfully I’m usually better at it.  Come back next week when I’m over my pout and find out about the good things at Dahab Paradise.

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

Off to Dahab

TRAVEL THERE: A RELUCTANT TRAVELER

One day as we were planning the trip to Egypt, Bill tried to sell me on Dahab.  There’s a certain tone Bill gets when he’s trying to convince me of something he knows I won’t like.  That’s the tone he used when he showed me gorgeous pictures of a resort in the town of Dahab.  I could tell right away that something was fishy.

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  There was a time when Dahab would have been a mystery.  The proffered photo of an elegant resort would have been all I had to go on, but now we have the internet.  I could find the same lovely picture of the Dahab Paradise Resort as Bill was showing me, but I could also find a map, which proved that Dahab was way out in the desert.  The only thing Dahab was famous for was a Bedouin Festival that died after two years of trying.  There was nothing else to recommend going there.

To make matters worse, the US State Department was aggressive in their insistence that Americans had no business whatsoever in Egypt, especially in a beach resort like Sharm el Sheihk and most especially anywhere in the desert beyond Sharm.  Fly to and from Sharm and do not go into the desert, their website warned in several different ways.  In other words, Dahab was not some place they would recommend for my touring pleasure.

From the get-go, I suggested that if everyone else wanted to go to Dahab, then they certainly should, but I could stay safely tucked away in the Sharm Marriott, with or without Bill.  That just wasn’t going to fly.  Even though I kept singing the same song up until the very moment we turned in the key to our room in Sharm, Bill wasn’t budging. By then, the awful Good Friday bombing had happened and the US State department was even more serious about their warnings, but my pleas were falling on deaf ears.

Climb Aboard & Leave the Driving to Us

Things didn’t get better.  I was told to ride in the last few seats of the bus, just in case we were stopped.  Not only was the US State Department worried about my well-being, so was Egypt.  If Americans were headed into the desert, a police presence was required, but it had been decided, that since everyone else was an Egyptian, either past or present, (or in the case of my grand niece and nephew looked like they were Egyptian), we could get by without the escort.  So I sat in the back of the bus and was told to keep my hat and my shades on.  I complied, but I was furious with Bill.

The hour long trip into the desert was without incident, but as we pulled into town I felt like I was in a movie.  You know the kind I mean.  Someone has disappeared and some idiot goes to the last place they were seen, a godforsaken wide place in the road that you shouldn’t approach without a full squadron of Navy Seals.  No one can be seen anywhere in the streets, but you know your hero or heroine is about three frames from a gun fight or a kidnapping.  Yep, that’s Dahab.

Thankfully we rolled through the center of town without stopping, passed through a residential area and finally arrived at the resort.  For the most part, the pictures on the website had been very accurate.  It seemed like a really nice spot – it just wasn’t a spot I wanted to be anywhere near.

Things didn’t magically get better.  For the next hour or so I was beyond miserable.  I couldn’t even put a finger on all the reasons I was unhappy, but I was most definitely not thrilled to be there.  Come back next week and I will make a full confession.