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.

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.

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.

 

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

Beverage Packages on Cruises

TRAVEL HERE: WETTING YOUR WHISTLE

Beverages on a cruise can be a challenge if you have a specific taste you crave.  However, there are plenty of free and inexpensive solutions, too.

Let’s Start with What’s Free

If you don’t drink alcohol and you’re not addicted to sodas ( like someone who will remain unnamed, but does write for this blog) then you need not read any further.  You can get all the tea, coffee, juice, lemonade, milk etc. etc. etc. that you want on a boat.  You’ll have to drink tap water, because bottled water comes at $4 each, but otherwise you’re golden.

With a little craftiness you can manage to get a few glasses of complimentary champagne or a free sample of rum.  You might even score a bottle of water or two on a shore excursions.  You just have to watch the daily schedule and go where the treats are – but you will never ever for any reason get a free soda.

Back in my early cruising, wine with dinner was included and sodas were free.  Obviously, that was a long time ago.  The wine at dinner wasn’t the greatest wine in the world, but I’m no connoisseurI can talk wine all day long and love to attend tastings, but in reality I’m quite happy with a glass of pinot grigio from a box.  Wine with dinner is part of the reason we like all-inclusive cruise lines like Viking, but outside of that, wine with dinner is not included and neither are sodas.  Most cruise lines will allow you to bring a couple of bottles of wine on board, but be careful, some still charge a corkage fee.

Getting My Soda Fix

I’m not really addicted to soda.  When I need to lose weight I restrict myself from having it, as a sort of carrot.  “When you get down to your goal you can have a Diet Dr Pepper,” I tell myself, but while I’m not drinking it, I’m not really suffering.  No headaches.  No cravings.  I just happen to like Diet Dr Pepper – several a day as a matter of fact.

However, cruising is supposed to be about having fun and indulging yourself a little bit.  Being restricted from sodas detracts from the pleasure for me.  The kicker is that a soda is $4.  FOUR DOLLARS. Actually $4 plus 18% for tips.  Were I to get charged almost $5 every time I had a soda, my husband would not be happy with me.

Enter the soda package.  For $8 a day you can have all the soda you want and at that price someone else in this household can get a sip from time to time.  You also get a nice thermal cup to carry around all over the place.  And here’s a bonus for Mr. Bill.  While I love wine, margaritas and rum drinks with little umbrellas in them, if I have a soda package I’m perfectly happy to have another cup of caffeine.  So that $8 goes a long way.

Now if you’d like a glass of wine with dinner, a margarita by the pool or a cold one as you enjoy your day in the sun, beware!  We’ll talk about that next week!

 

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, 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.

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.