ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

A Member of the Press

Jane Sadek goes to the Dallas Art Fair
A Gallery at the Dallas Art Fair

TRAVEL HERE: A BLOGGER IN MEDIA HEAVEN

While the rest of the world gets rich and famous with social media, I blog on in anonymity – at least for the most part.  I’m famous among my real life friends and on Facebook among my followers, but beyond that it does me little good.  However, anyone driven to write, the way I am, needs a place to express themselves, so I blog on.  However, from time to time my blogging does get me a few perks.  That happened last week.

Dallas Art Fair

If you’ve been paying attention, then you know this is my third post about 2019’s Dallas Art Fair.  If not, some details about the main event are here and I also attended an introductory event I described on Monday. Last Thursday morning I reported to the FIG (Fashion Industry Gallery) for the Opening Press Conference. There among other media types, I perused the event’s art offerings and listened to a series of speeches by the designated dignitaries.

One of my favorite parts of the day was wandering around the space with a tag identifying me as “MEDIA.”  My thoughts about the media are not always congratulatory, but it’s nice when a lowly blogger like me can be of service.

Getting There

It meant skipping an MLS meeting, but I felt that was a small price to pay to attend the event as media.  Deciding what to wear was a bit of a challenge.  I’d been disappointed in my fellow females’ fashion choices the evening before, but encouraged by the men’s sartorial offerings, I pulled out a recent purchase, a long blouse from one of my favorite designers, to pair with leggings and some lacy wedge sandals.

My next challenge was making my way from my almost-rural home in Heath through the morning traffic to Downtown Dallas.  That went better than I anticipated, but my hope of parking in the DMA parking lot was dashed.  They don’t allow public parking until 10.  I parked in the First Baptist lot, so all I had to do was cross the street to The Fashion Industry Gallery at 1807 Ross Avenue.

I was not completely ignorant of the FIG’s existence and I knew it was in close proximity to the DMA, I just had no idea it was right there, nestled between the DMA and the Fairmont.  The most prominent feature on the building where I crossed the street was a restaurant.  My first guess at a possible entry was a false lead, but I saw someone who looked like they knew where they were going, so I followed.  Voila, I had arrived.

I have a sneaky feeling that anyone with chutzpah and a knowledge of the event could have gotten a media pass.  I saw them selling tickets at one kiosk, so I went up to the next one, where the lady asked, “Media?”  I said, “Jane Sadek, local blogger.”  She handed me my anonymous media pass, but it was the key to a weekend of art, so I was glad to get it –  in spite of the casual offering underlining I was certainly no VIP.

Dallas Art Fair
Shoe Art at Dallas Art Fair

Inside the Galleries

Then came the pay off for missing the meeting, fighting the traffic and searching out a parking spot – I was in. I had about a half hour before the press conference would begin, so I wandered through the galleries.  I’m never sure what to expect from Contemporary Art, but I was happy to discover most of what was exhibited was at least interesting.  I found a little of everything, from robots to hand woven rugs.  I also found craftsmanship.  These weren’t just ideas thrown together for their shock factor.  These were works of love, executed with skill and attention to detail.  To me, that’s art.

Satisfied the exhibit was worth part of my weekend, I planned to return with fellow art lovers in tow.  It was time to make my way to the press conference – which, by the way, was 10 minutes late.  Someone had overlooked tagging the first piece of art in the gallery which would provide the backdrop behind the podium.

Shoes at Dallas Art Fair
More shoe art!

As I surveyed the room I realized the female sector of the population had resumed their domination of the fashion scene, in contrast to the previous evening’s disappointing turn out.  Now, the guys were back to boring and the women were strutting their stuff.  I giggled a bit to myself over the “Dallas in Spring” vibe.  One woman in a fringed-wool, hounds-tooth micro-miniskirt, paired with turtleneck sweater, teetered over high rise booties.  She chatted up a friend in a frilly sundresses over suede boots.  A pair of Asian women, speaking a language I didn’t recognize, wore voluminous layers I couldn’t quite identify above comfortable walking shoes.  Then the denim skirt with the shell anklet over Adidas joined them.  I couldn’t resit taking a few pictures to respond to the rod iron shoes I’d seen in a gallery on the floor above.

A series of dignitaries made speeches at the podium, that’s when I learned I’d seen something cooler than I even realized the evening before. The whole thing is dedicated to the idea of pop-ups and a permanent home for the Dallas Art Fair.  With that kind of synergy, I bet it will be a very interesting spot, so put River Bend on you list of things to check out.

On the evening before, I’d wondered about the significance of choosing 214 as the name of a gallery.  It certainly wasn’t the suite number.  Like the characters in The Purloined Letter, I’d overlooked the obvious – it’s the Dallas area code.  Apparently in international art circles it is a familiar number, one to be proud of.  That cheered me.

Then I was momentarily taken back to my previous disappointment with idea-over-craft art.  As they announced the pieces which the DMA would purchase from the Fair, among the others was an odd, idea-driven installation which I’d seen at 214.  To me it looked like a room which was being set up for a presentation of some kind, but the workers weren’t finished.  Instead various tripods filled the space and the walls had random video showing on the screens.   I peered through the glass plates attached to the tripods, but nothing was gorgeous.

I shook off my disappointment and congratulated the artist in my head for capturing the curator’s attention.  Everyone doesn’t have to like something for it to be art.  Thankfully, the DMA had purse-strings long enough to wrap around other pieces and many of them were enchanting, even to me.

So, I hope you made it to the event.  Thanks to the Dallas Art Fair for expanding my horizons and giving me the opportunity to share the Fair with my friends.

Architecture, ART, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Museums, Music, Performing Arts, Real Estate Photographry, Shopping, TRAVEL

Rewind to River Bend

River Bend in the Dallas Design district
The new River Bend development in the Dallas Design District. Image from Cultural Counsel

TRAVEL HERE: NEW DESIGN DISTRICT DESTINATION

So, on Friday, I begged you to go to the Dallas Art Fair.  I hope you did.  It certainly loomed large in our weekend.  However, the Fair’s Opening Press Conference was actually Chapter Two. Chapter One played out on Wednesday evening.  Come along and I’ll tell you all about it.

Out of the Loop

The Dallas Art Fair just had its 11th event and somehow I was completely out of the loop for the first 10. I’ve been busy, but I thought I was paying better attention than that.

However, I love me some Dallas and I take the drive over the I-30 Bridge quite frequently, usually headed down to the Dallas Arts District.  My membership in the Dallas Museum of Art has never wavered.  I keep my eye out for Nasher events.  So, I’m not sure how I became so disconnected with an event like the Dallas Art Fair.

Back in the Loop

While I may not be as plugged in as I used to be, as a regional blogger, some organizations do keep me in the loop.  The DMA, the Perot, Preservation Dallas and the Arboretum all have me on speed dial, figuratively speaking.  So, when I got an email from the Cultural Counsel inviting me to an artsy thing in the Design District, it wasn’t exactly a surprise.  I checked my calendar and then invited the hubby along.

Happy on All Counts

As principals  of a real estate photography company, we are always interested in new construction and new developments.  We arrived at River Bend eager to find out exactly what was going on in this new addition to the Dallas Design District.  At first glance it was comparable to other business/retail spaces all over the Metroplex.  The invitation had mentioned “Late Night Gallery Openings, Clare Woods Book Signing, and SOLUNA Performance.”  Galleries we understood, but the rest had to be discovered.

The invitation had not mentioned comestibles at all, but a happy Art Fair associate greeted us and pointed us towards the serving lines.  Gladly the choices were not limited to cheese cubes and bad chardonnay.  Bill tried a local brewery offering from a series of kegs (I’m dieting again, so I was going to wait for the promised mineral water) and then we headed to the buffet line.  Caterers were whipping out chicken and pork street tacos, shrimp tostadas and corn-on-the-cob.  I loved it all, but that probably had a lot to do with the avocado crema.  Bill wasn’t as crazy about the entrees.  He doesn’t do avocado and I’m guessing the other offerings were a poor substitute, but he loved the corn.  I’d recommend the caterers, but I never found out who they were.

Next stop was a door with a large sign advertising Soluna, the musical portion of Dallas’s Art Month, sponsored by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.  I was there to get a bottle of Topo Chico Mineral Water.  The space was devoted to the evening’s audio entertainment, an “Icelandic musician” with “signature trolls”.  The music wafted out of the performance space and I could tell it was a little out there for me.  Bill ducked his head in and his main complaint was the overuse of volume.

Continuing down the way we visited a couple of gallery spaces. One only had a few pieces and the other seemed more actively devoted to the consumption of Modelo than the presentation of art.  It was time to head back in the other direction and see what we could find.

On our way back to the center of things, we focused on the ceramic murals of the exterior walls.  A book signing by the murals’ artist was part of the evening’s offerings.  Bill wasn’t fond of the mosaics, but I was more pleasantly effected by the thematic river vistas.  Returning past the trolls, we happened upon some more gallery space and these spaces seemed to be more serious about the art portion of the event.

Our final stop was the 214 space, which serves as a gallery and as the offices for the Dallas Art Fair.  Well-fed and having consumed as much as we could understand concerning the art offerings, we headed home.  The next morning, I’d learn more about what I’d been looking at.

A Few Observations

I would be the first to admit that my taste in art leans toward the figurative and peters out some time shortly after the Impressionists. I find many things to like about contemporary artists who continue the figurative and classical traditions in art, however I have not given up completely on the non-figurative and alternate genres.  I’m still trying, even if I don’t find myself enchanted. So, I’m not a good person to critique the art we saw that evening.

The people watching was spectacular.  I was happy to observe jeans and yoga pants were not the dominating fashion statement.  In fact, the gentlemen, rather than the ladies, were setting the bar.  Socks were so last century for these guys and  all the pants were tight and short.

Winning the award for tightest and shortest were those who wore cuffed pedal pushers. I have no idea of the proper name for these short trousers.  We ladies used to call them capri pants, back in the day.  But trend-setting short pants weren’t all I noticed. The top halves of these guys were also trendy.  Those with longer pants had a sort of khaki/safari vibe to them.  My favorite item on the men was a white straw trilby with a florescent orange band.

The women just did not measure up. They seemed more interested in volume than style, like a pair of harem pants in a loud plaid.  Other versions of comfort were apparent.  The crispest female fashion icon was a sweet young thing in black leather short shorts.  Her long legs were shod in high-heeled platforms with an interesting collection of straps.  Her other clothing and accessories were black and gold.  Her hair was a slick black bob.  Kudos to her for appearing to care whether anyone looked at her or not.  The rest of the women certainly didn’t indicate whether they cared one way or the other.

Wednesday, we’ll head back to Cancun, then Friday I’ll chat about the press conference.  Come back to visit!

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL

A Few Final Points

TRAVEL THERE: CLUB MED PUNTA CANA IS WAITING

Here’s a few things I didn’t have a place for in other posts about Club Med Punta Cana.  I hope they’ll help you decide you need to go there and visit.  If so, call my friends at CTC Travel.

Dinner A La Carte

You never have to face down a buffet at Punta Cana unless you want to or unless you didn’t get your Indigo reservations in soon enough.  Indigo reservations can only be made in person at the restaurant on the day you want to eat there.  They start taking reservations at 9 AM and if you wait too long, you either won’t get the time you want or you won’t get in at all.

We celebrated our anniversary by having dinner at Indigo.  It was a lovely meal, but Bill made better choices than I did.  He had some kind of whole fish and he says it was one of the most amazing meals he’s ever had.  I had some Dominican shrimp in a plantain bowl.  Good, but not one of the most amazing meals I’ve ever had.  Here’s a few pics from Indigo and that meal.

 Another Dinner Choice

With so much free food and drink available, we didn’t see much reason to spend money that way, but there was one opportunity to do just that.  It was called La Cava.  On the patios of Samana and Hispanolo (for dinner only) there was a section set aside for La Cava guests.  You become a La Cava guest when you purchase wine, whiskey or cigars from La Cava and enjoy them with a meal.  If we’d been there longer, we might have considered it, but we did just fine with the included comestibles.

Shopping

There were a few shops at the resort and they had lovely things – but there were no bargains.  Not a single one.  Especially not on larimar, a semi-precious gemstone found only in the Dominican Republic.  The cheapest larimar I found at the resort was a pair of earrings with a tiny piece of larimar hanging from each stud.  The price was $80 and if someone had brought it to me, I would have thought it was some cheap trinket they got for about 5.  So none of my friends got larimar.

At the resort, everything is priced in Dominican pesos and while everyone can tell you how much that is in euros, they are not so good with dollars.  That made shopping quite challenging.  It also almost caused Bill a heart attack when he saw a receipt with a bottom line of 4210.

45

Several years back, Club Med celebrated its 45th anniversary by printing up lots of T-shirts and other items with the number 45.  The items sold like hot cakes  So, when their 50th came, encouraged by the sales of the 45 items, they printed up lots of 50 merchandise.  However, the 50 merchandise was a bust.  They almost had to give it away to get rid of it. but while everyone was rejecting the 50th anniversary merchandise, they were still requesting items with 45 on it.  You’ll see the 45 logo all over the resort on everything from t-shirts and bikinis to flip flops and beach bags.  Vintage 45 items are a status symbol.  We spent a lot of time speculating on the ubiquitous logo and as we asked around, trying to solve the mystery, we discovered there were almost as many answers as their were t-shirts.  Some Americans thought it was for Trump – NOT!  Some French people claimed it was the number of a popular soccer player.  I asked the Chief of the Village and he gave me this skinny.  So, in case you ever go to a Club Med resort and wonder, well here’s the answer.

Farewell to Punta Cana

I think that about covers it.  You should have everything you need to enjoy a resort vacation with Club Med – and I heartily suggest you give it a try.  I’m probably the only person on the face of the earth that wouldn’t think it was the best vacation ever, but my best vacations are devoted to satisfying my inner Museum Girl.

Would we ever return to Club Med Punta Cana?  If we were the sort to repeat destinations, then there is no reason we would not.  It is a beautiful resort with great food and a lot of fun things to do.  We just rarely return to someplace we’ve already been.

So will we ever do Club Med again?  It is certainly a possibility, but we’d probably only go for three nights, not five.  We had a great time, but while Bill is more active at sports than I am, neither of us prefer sports for days on end.  I can see us doing it before or after a vacation devoted to all my museums, palaces and historic sites or just getting away for a few day.

Winning the fabulous door prize from CTC Travel certainly gave us a new favorite possibility on our wish list, but we’ve already got the next trip planned.  I’m just not ready to tell you about it yet.  Right now, as I finish up this post it is June, shortly after our Club Med vacation, I have no idea what I’ll be offering up next week on Travel Talk, but please come back.  I promise it will be fun!

Attractions, DESTINATIONS, International, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

Let’s Go Shopping!

TRAVEL BUG TALES: SOMETHING I WAS GOOD AT

Three days into my tropical vacation I was finally excited about something.  We pooled our resources for a limo (one way only) and headed to Freeport.  I was happy to finally be on familiar ground.

We Hit the Sidewalk Shopping

Our limo dropped us off at a shopping area near the casino.  Each of us had a list of people to buy for and some cash to spend.  This one wanted a watch, someone else was looking for jewelry and I’d heard you could get good deals on porcelain and crystal.  My list really just consisted of Mom and Aunt Edie, so I took an interest in what everyone else was looking for and helped them in their search.

When it came to understanding what was a bargain among the luxury items we saw, my friend Debbie actually had a better grasp, but I was the one with a good sense of direction.  I was able to maneuver us around the shopping maze with ease.  We browsed around all morning and at the end of it, I was able to direct everyone back to the place they’d seen their favorite thing for the best price.  I got some Wedgewood pieces for Mom and Aunt Edie.  I was going to get my dad a golf cap from the resort.  That just about did it.

What’s for Lunch? 

We’d heard from somewhere that the best place for lunch was at the Freeport Princess snack bar.  Like the shopping area, the Princess was near the casino.  I have to confess that when I got there I wished we were staying there rather than out in the boonies.  This place was happening.  The clientele was very different from the families with 2.5 kids and the college students we had out at the Grand Bahama Hotel.

That’s where we made the love connection.  The guy in the solid yellow shirt and bell bottomed jeans was Michael and he was a hunk.  It was one of those across a crowded room sort of things.  He had a crew of friends and they sorted themselves out among my friends, but Michael and I had energy.

The guy in the white jeans and hat was the organizer of the group.  He pointed the conversation towards the guys coming out to see us on our end of the island.  Michael and I were happy to go along with whatever anybody else dreamed up as long as it meant our chance encounter would get an opportunity to develop into something.

It was nearing the time we’d arranged for our limo to return and pick us up.  The guys planned to borrow a car from somewhere and drive to our end of the island.  It seemed like a great plan.  After all the disappointments I’d endured so far, it seemed as if my vacation prospects were picking up.

There was giggly girl talk all the way back to the hotel.  While Michael and I had been an item from the get-go, the other connections were still pretty loose, so there was a whole lot of bargaining going on.  We all agreed on one thing, Michael was the hunk of the bunch and he was all about me.

We had dinner at the buffet and started watching for the guys.  Come back next week and see how that went.

Accommodations, Cruising, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

No Vavoom in VOOM

TRAVEL THERE: GETTING CONNECTED

Royal Caribbean calls their internet service VOOM and it comes in two flavors – with and without streaming.  We call it FAIL in either flavor.

First Impressions Matter

After a disappointing Embarkation Buffet and Sail Away, we were getting worried about out cruise, but the boat was nice, our cabin was fine and we liked our cabin attendant.  All was not lost – yet.  We’d made a stab at having fun.  Now it was time to get down to business.  As I shared a few weeks ago, even though he’d tried to offload his business for the few days we’d be gone, it hadn’t worked and Bill was going to have to keep an eye on the market.  For that we’d need internet, so we made our way to Deck 5 to do a little business.

Literature I had read suggested there would be an internet cafe somewhere on the boat with free wi-fi.  There wasn’t.  Perhaps some of the ships have it, but not Vision of the Seas.  There were a few computers you could log onto and there was some limited internet access, but if you wanted to check your email forget about it.  Doing what Bill wanted to do would have been impossible.

Chasing VOOM

We went to the Customer Service Desk and they said we could just log-in and get internet ourselves or we could see the Internet Desk.  Since there were two different packages and he wasn’t sure which one he wanted, he went to the Internet Desk.  He also only wanted internet on two of the four days, not the balance of the cruise.

There was no attendant at the Internet Desk, so we cooled our wheels until they came back.  When she appeared, Bill really challenged her scripts.  Everybody is supposed to want internet for the whole cruise and she didn’t know what to think of Bill.  In the end, she also told him how to sign up online, because if she signed him up on his phone,he’d have to log out of the phone and then log back in on the laptop.  See when you sign up for internet you only get it for one person on one device – and they mean it.

So we dutifully went down to the room.  I finally started unpacking and Bill sat down to log in.  Soon I was unpacked and Bill was headed back out of the room, because what had sounded so reasonable at the Internet Desk didn’t work on the laptop in the room.  I stayed behind to finish unpacking and to start getting ready for the evening.

When he got back I could tell things did not go well.  The VOOM lady had offered to give him a refund when he told her how much trouble he was having.  I bet that was an interesting conversation.  She quickly got the message that a refund wasn’t going to cut the mustard and soon he was working his way up the food chain to find someone on board who could get him online.  They’d finally gotten him operational, but barely.  He was one unhappy cruiser.

Obviously, things were not going well on this cruise – and guess what!  The disappointments had only just begun.  Come back next week and we’ll go investigate a few other shortfalls.

Cruising, DESTINATIONS, DFW Metroplex, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL

I Interrupt This Blog to Freak Out Over My Glasses

The sunglasses I left behind

TRAVEL HERE: YA GOTTA SEE IT TO ENJOY IT

My life is pretty busy.  Last year, before I went to Egypt, I really meant to get my eyes checked and update my lenses.  My sunglasses were so scratched up I could barely see out of them, but one thing led to another and I ended up with my beat up sunglasses on vacation.  That turned into a blessing, because I lost the sunglasses going through security in Sharm el Sheikh, but that was only the beginning of the saga.

Juggling My Glasses

While the part of me that is reasonable and practical was sad to lose my sunglasses, there was also a part that did a little happy dance.  The loss was unfortunate, because the frames were fairly new.  I’d worn my previous pair of prescription sunglasses for a long time with complete satisfaction.  I bought them in 2006 and just kept replacing the lenses, until I realized I had actually worn off all the decoration.

In 2015 I had my eyes checked and there was a new development.  Glasses and sunglasses weren’t enough.  I also needed computer glasses.  So, my regular glasses, a pair of wire frames I’d been dissatisfied with for a long time became my computer glasses and I bought new frames for my regular glasses and my sunglasses.

My new regular frames were great.  They were red Calvin Kleins and I felt snazzy in them.  The sunglasses were a fail.  They looked marvelous, but they just wouldn’t stay on.  The arms weren’t curved enough behind my ears, so they fell off all the time.  Hence the many scratches.  They’d bounced off every surface from the bottom of a dumpster to pavement.  So losing them gave me the opportunity to buy some new frames that would actually stay on my face.

My beloved Brightons!

Time to Upgrade

I really shopped around for sunglasses, because I have very sun-sensitive eyes.  I probably wear my sunglasses more than I wear the other two.  I wanted to find a pair I would love as much as I did the ones I’d purchased in 2006.  Then I found out Brighton sunglasses are prescription ready.  They are my favorite sunglasses in the world, but I hadn’t been able to wear them since 2006, when I had to start wearing prescription sunglasses.

Let me tell you something, optometry shops want you to buy frames.  They must mark them up about a 1000%.  All this second pair free stuff is a dead give away.  I didn’t realize how serious they were about this until I tried to get my new prescription filled at Costco.  Even though they charge you hundreds for your lenses, its the frames they care about.

The clerk did everything she could to discourage me from using my old frames.  I had to sign a waiver  releasing Costco from responsibility should the frames break and even then she couldn’t guarantee that wherever it was they sent them would fill the prescription.  I’d just have to do without my glasses for 10 days.

To add insult to injury, they wouldn’t fill my sunglasses prescription at all.  The frames had stones in them. Puh-leez!  Tough luck for me.  I walked in with three pairs of glasses to update, but only left behind one pair, because they wouldn’t do my sunglasses and having to wait 10 days while they sent them off meant I’d have to use my computer glasses for every day.  I wanted to just tell them no thanks, but Costco was the vendor my husband had approved and I was trying to cooperate.

Then I went to find someone who would fill a prescription in a pair of glasses with stones in them.  I don’t want to talk about how much it cost.  I am still traumatized!

The Agony Continues

Eventually I had new lenses in all my glasses and for a short while I was a happy camper, but it didn’t last long.  My beloved red Calvin Kleins fell apart.  I’d just spent a fortune getting all those prescriptions filled and I loved my red glasses, so first I went back to the people at NorthPark, where I’d bought the glasses originally, hoping they could repair them.  Too bad, so sad – they sent me to a jewelry repair place.  The jewelry repair place referred me on to a place in Richardson where they repaired glasses.  I don’t want to talk about how much it cost, but I was desperate.

I felt the same way when the darned things broke again.  So I went back to NorthPark place one more time, hoping that by some sort of magic I could special order a replacement pair – something I hadn’t asked about when I’d gone in hoping they could repair the glasses.  Finally, the glasses elves smiled on me.  I couldn’t get the red glasses, but they still had the same frames in black!  Yes, I had to pay for them, but they did give me a discount after I wailed to high heaven about their “second pair free” promotion.  It just seemed wrong that I’d been through such a painful series of glasses related issues and now they were going to charge me full price to replace the frames I’d originally bought from them.  As I wailed, I never admitted how glad I was that I was not going to have to start from scratch and get new lenses also.

What Now ?

So, I went on for several months more, juggling three pairs of glasses and wishing for the days when I could see without them.  I make do with the computer glasses around the house and keep the other glasses in my purse for use when I am away from home, but it still seems like I am continually looking for one pair or the other.

One day in December I was out running errands when I realized I had my computer glasses on my head.  I walked back to the car and put them there so I wouldn’t lose them – but of course, I did.  Back at home, after I’d changed my clothes I realized my glasses weren’t in the dish in my bathroom where I usually keep them.  So I went back to the car, but they weren’t there.  So I checked the pocket of the jacket I’d worn, but they weren’t there.  I scoured the entire downstairs over and over, thinking I might have set them down somewhere along the way without realizing it.  I checked my purse, the pocket of my jeans, anywhere I could think of that had even the remotest possibility of hiding the glasses.  In the days to come, I would tear up the whole house and go back to every location I visited while running errands.  The glasses had disappeared off the face of the earth.

Weeks later, for some forgotten reason, I wanted the old blow-dryer I used to use, which I keep shoved in a hidden corner of my closet.  Bill uses it sometimes to help build a fire on the grill, but that wasn’t the reason I went digging for it this particular time.  Whatever the reason, I found my computer glasses on the closet floor.  Of course, they were shoved so far back that I had missed them the other  3000 times I’d looked for them.

You may wonder why I’ve taken so much time to tell you of all my recent woes with my glasses, but I had to tell you or the next chapter in my travel tale would not have made any sense.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about our embarkation on Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas.

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

What Else to Order Before You Board a Cruise

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
Cruise Compass kept us up to date with what was happening on the boat

TRAVEL HERE: WI-FI, SHOWS AND MORE

We’ve looked at shore excursions, specialty dining and beverage plans.  If you’ve never cruised before you are already worn out.  If you are a cruiser, then you know this is just par for the course.  It takes a little time before you go, but it makes things much more seamless when you are on board – and I promise it’s easier to do the ordering than it is to explain the complexities of it.  So if you were about to give up on the idea of cruising, hang on, we’re almost through with the whole pre-boarding thing.

Different Things to Order on Different Boats

Except for the headaches associated with having to make the food and beverage decisions, this Royal Caribbean Cruise was pretty easy.  Before our Norwegian Cruise we had to schedule all the specialty dining and book times for the on board entertainment.  We also took advantage of their wine program, where you pre-selected and paid for your bottles of wine ahead of time.  On different ships you will have different opportunities.  This might be one of the reasons some people like to keep cruising on the same line.  Once they figure it all out, they don’t want to have to learn a new system.

One of the things I had a hard time figuring out was what shows would be available on this cruise.  I’m a lot happier when I have an idea of what to expect, but it was pretty much a blank page.  Had I actually known what they would be delivering, I might have jumped ship before I got there, but that’s for later.  For now I just encourage you to be thorough and read through all the material they send you.  It might look like fine print, but later you will be glad you did.

WI-FI

There are so many ways to deliver wi-fi that I couldn’t begin to do them justice.  On Viking wi-fi was included.  On Norweigan, the public areas had wi-fi.  When we sailed with Carnival I still had a flip phone, so I didn’t care.  On Royal Caribbean they have what they call VOOM and you pay for it.  They also say in some of their materials they have free wi-fi in designated areas on board and they might on some ships, but not Vision of the Seas.

VOOM comes in two flavors, wi-fi alone and with streaming.  You can also buy it in a combo package with your soda or beverage packages to get a few dollars of discount.  Bill and I discussed it thoroughly a week or so before the cruise and since he thought he had a plan for off-loading his work for a few days and I thought they’d have an internet cafe with free wi-fi we decided to forgo any wi-fi.  What could we miss in four days, right?

Well, we both figured wrong, so keep coming back, because eventually I’ll tell you the sad saga of VOOM, but next week we’ll head to Galveston.

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

Personalizing Your Cruise’s Foodie Experience

Just one of many desserts

TRAVEL HERE: MORE OPTIONS THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT

Last week I shared what we chose to add on to our cheapie cruise, which in the end almost doubled the cheap price that had convinced us to book the cruise, but even at twice the price, cruising is a travel bargain.  We only booked the bare minimum.  Here’s a sampling of what you can get.

Dining Aboard a Cruise Ship

Food is one of the big components of a cruise.  All cruises have three meals a day and all the grazing you can stand available in some format.  The bigger the ship, the more choices you will have.

Royal Caribbean’s Vision of the Seas has the Windjammer Buffet available at most hours.  If you wanted to, you could spend your days in there, eat as much as you wanted.  The Aquarius Dining Room has formal seating and you order from a menu.  It’s not open for as many hours as the buffet, but you can get three meals a day there.  There was also a small short order cafe open pretty much all the time, called the Park Cafe off the Solarium.  Eating at these venues will not cost you a dime.  You can order whatever you want (Well, almost whatever you want.  We’ll cover this later!) and as much of it as you want, without engaging your pocketbook.

Quite frankly, the formal dining room experience is one of my favorite parts of any cruise.  I’m just not a buffet girl.  I like to be waited on and I like my food best when it is served in fine china on linen table cloths.  In addition, the dining room is where you make your cruise buddies on most ships.  You come in from a busy day and share experiences with a group of people you may never see again in your life, but for a week they are the best friends you’ve got.  So far, we’ve always been lucky in our table mates.

Specialty Dining

Early in my cruising career, the choices listed above were all the choices you had on board.  It was just the way it was. Then cruise lines discovered the formal dining room was the very thing which kept some people off a cruise ship.  These potential passengers didn’t want to be forced to make a choice between a casual buffet and dressing for dinner.  They wanted other options.  The cruise lines also found out these potential passengers would be willing to pay extra for said options.  Specialty dining was born.

We did not opt for specialty dining on this cruise.  We had an eye on the budget and the cruise was only four nights.  When a cruise is longer, having some variety in your evenings is a plus.  Besides the specialty dining was a sushi place, a steakhouse and an Italian restaurant – nothing very exciting.  On Norwegian there had been a charcuterie, French food and a restaurant with a Cirque de Soleil type show.  It made sense to do some exploring and we were traveling with our own cruise buddies.

At first, Bill thought he wanted specialty dining on this cruise, but like me, he wasn’t thrilled by any of the options.  We figured steak and some sort of pasta would be on the menu every night in the formal dining room and while we eat sushi from time to time, it’s not one of our favorites.  Besides, this was supposed to be a cheapie cruise.  Why pay for something that is adequately provided for free?

I did do a thorough evaluation of the offerings and the pricing was interesting.  You could enjoy one of the specialty restaurants on one evening for $35-$45 per person.  The more specialty dining you did, the more the price went down per meal, but of course, the total price tag went up.  If you got the premiere specialty dining package you could go to the specialty restaurants for lunch and dinner everyday and the meals came out to almost nothing.  The price included deluxe beverage packages with all the soda and alcoholic beverages you wanted, as well as discounted bottles of wine.  I was very tempted to push for that package, but then I realized I’d be adding hundreds of dollars to our costs for something that was provided free in the dining room.

The whole issue of beverages took the decision making to a whole new level.  Let’s talk about that next week.

ART, Attractions, Decorative Arts, DESTINATIONS, International, Shopping, TRAVEL

My Sharm-ing Shopping Opportunity

TRAVEL THERE: A MIDNIGHT TRIP TO THE LOCAL SOUK

Bokra is a word you hear frequently in Egypt.  It means tomorrow, but just like the Spanish word for tomorrow, manana, it also means ‘maybe tomorrow or maybe never.’  Since I’d been in Sharm I’d been promised a trip to the souk to do a little shopping and this was to be our last night in town.  As the clock ticked towards midnight, my anxiety grew, but I should have realized there was no need for worry.

THE SHOPPING

Mirette made good on her promise. It was well after 10 PM, but this was Egypt, so everything was still going strong. Maggie came along, because she still had some shopping to do, too.  The sisters headed off in one direction and I headed in another with Bill. Now that my mom is gone, souvenir buying is not as urgent, but I do like to pick up something for my bestie.

We wandered the shops but I couldn’t find exactly what I wanted. I like pharaonic jewelry, but it’s no longer fashionable in Egypt. Most of the jewelry looked like pieces I could buy anywhere, lovely, but they didn’t seem representative to me. Then there would be the pharaonic section, with huge scarabs or an elaborately decorated eye, but that wasn’t what I was looking for either.  I wanted something that would be worn frequently with pride, but I also wanted it to have an Egyptian flavor.

At one of the few shops which was closed, I found a lovely piece in the window that was just what I wanted.  The shop was locked up tighter than a drum.  Some shops were sitting wide open with no one inside, but if you entered a nearby vendor would come to help you.  I looked around helplessly and complained about the shop being closed a little louder than I normally would, but I was hoping someone would hear me, and then come over to offer their services.

Mirette showed up just about then to see how we were doing and I pointed out the necklace.  Darling Mirette disappeared for a moment or two and before I knew it, there was the shop’s proprietor, opening his shop and apologizing for his absence.  I’m not sure what it took to get the man back to the shop.  Perhaps Mirette was a friend or the shopkeeper understood her husband Ayman’s influence.  Whatever it was, we were very grateful, because nothing else in the bazaar was anywhere as lovely as the necklace in the window.

Come to find out the beautiful hand-made piece was beyond reasonable. I’d picked out the necklace for my bestie, but wished for one for myself. However, the proprietor was also the craftsman and he had only made one. I can understand why, because the necklace consisted of many tiny talismans and intricate beadwork, which is why I couldn’t believe the price. It was truly a unique piece. I satisfied myself with a lovely lapis lazuli lotus pendant. Bill pointed out that I could have taken the elaborate necklace for myself and given Deb the lotus, but then that wouldn’t have been quite fair now, would it.

Maggie too, had found just what we needed and we headed back to Mirette’s house.  The young ones had been put to bed long ago by their grandparents and a group of neighbors had joined the family, sharing sheesha and laughing at one another’s stories.  Soon the shoppers were gathered around, relighting the hookah pipes and telling their own stories – in Arabic.

I hate being the party pooper, but it was far beyond my bed time and all the chatter in an unfamiliar language only made it worse.  We were traveling in the morning.  I had my bags ready, but I needed to sleep.  Mirette carried us back to the hotel and another day in Egypt ended.

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

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.