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Packing Procrastination

It's Friday - my day off, meaning that I have three full days before the hubby and I fly to Ft. Lauderdale for a CruiseCrazies group cruise leaving for Panama on Tuesday. My packing/to-do list is printed, waiting for items to check off. However, in typical fashion, I am suffering from packing paralysis. I have a lot of loose ends to tie up, laundry to do, and bags to pack, and instead of starting this process, here I sit at the computer writing about it. My middle name begins with "P" - really. But instead of my real middle name, let's call it "Procrastination". My inability to focus on the task at hand involves several factors: #1: My husband came down with a mild case of pneumonia, now leaving us with a big Question Mark as to whether he'd be able to go. This started turning the wheels in my scattered brain - what if he can't go? Should I go without him? What if he goes, and he he has a re-bout, thousands of miles from home? How will the rest of the Crazies get along without me? (Very well, I suspect.) Immediately, all the negatives started to outweigh the positives, and after reciting them one by one, he's now convinced I don't want him to go, that if I proceed without him, I'll have less to worry about and, yes, have the whole mini suite to myself. Okay, while there may be a tiny grain of truth in those statements, I would feel really bad leaving without him.  Fortunately, after beginning a round of mega steroids and super strength antibiotics, and the green light from his doctor, he's feeling much better, and we're confident he'll make it to the plane - and the ship! So we're back to go! #2: The desktop computer, where I spend too much freaking time. I came here to pay some bills, and got sidetracked with Facebook, Instagram, email, messages and, my CruiseCrazies blog, of course. Before I know it, half of my day will be gone, and I'll have nothing to show for it.  #3: Find the stuff to pack. If I don't wash the clothes, I'll have nothing to pack. If I don't dig some warm weather clothing out of storage, I will have nothing to pack. If I don't pull out a piece of luggage, I won't pack.  #4: Over-packing vs. Under-packing. I want to pack light, but still have yet to manage this difficult feat. It looks easy on paper, but I always end up with clothing never worn at the end of the trip. My mind is full of "what-ifs" - what if it rains, what if it's cold, what if we're stranded somewhere? I just pack it all. In my "Tuesday Travel Tips" blog, I have told others on how to save room in your bags and pack efficiently. Yet, I have yet to take my own advice. #5: Last minute re-packing. This is the worst. I decide that the bag is too heavy, I want a different bag, I need to remove some things, and on and on. So, in essence, I pack twice. I think my procrastination comes from having taken too many trips. My mind tells me - Jan, you've done this a hundred times - you've got it down. Just throw things in a bag the night before, and you're good to go. It doesn't work that way, though, because I'm bound to forget something important - like my passport, without which I will go anywhere.  Now that I've listed my packing failures, it's time for action, the first step of which is to get off this computer. Soon we'll be on our way to Panama and the Caribbean on board the Coral Princess. Be back in two weeks, no doubt with lots of photos and travel tales to share!

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Cruise Dining: Try Multiple Entrees at Dinner

What better way to explore an assortment of culinary creations than dinner in the complimentary dining room. Nothing in the cruise contract indicates you’re limited to one appetizer, entree or dessert at dinner. Feel free to order multiple dishes. If you can’t decide between the chicken cordon blue or the beef Wellington, order both. Same goes for appetizers and desserts, too. If no entree is calling out to you, then choose a few appetizers to serve as your entree. Don’t think you can finish a second entree? Then share it with your table mate. I typically can’t eat more than one entree, but I do like to order an extra side to share with my husband. Ordering multiple menu items is the perfect way to try new dishes!

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New Year - New Un-Resolutions

It's a new year - March, already - and a belated Happy New Year! I hope everyone here at CruiseCrazies is in good health and has at least one cruise on the 2018 horizon!  I'd like to say I made resolutions for the new year, but that would be a lie because I never keep them. However, if I could put together a personal plan - an UN-resulotion, so to speak - it would involve three components: (1) cruise more, (2) cruise more and (3) cruise more ... oh, wait, that's the cruiser in me coming out, and I'm sure that's what we all here would resolve to do. What I meant to say was (1) ORGANIZE my time better, (2) BLOG more, and (3) CRUISE more, of course!  Let's start with the first - organize my time. I am a planner. I excel at travel planning. I keep a stellar household budget. My desk, for the most part, is neat - a place for everything and everything in it's place. What I CAN'T seem to get a grasp on is budgeting my time. I have ideas in my head, but I don't write anything down. So I start one project, then start another, and finally another, all without completing any. I'm a terrible multi-tasker. Even now, I have five desktop windows and ten tabs in my browser open because my thoughts jump from one idea to the next. I overthink some plans and totally blow off others. A-D-D? Who knows, maybe. I think it's just a time management issue. My plan for 2018 will be to actually keep a written list or schedule in a reliable place, which is clearly not my head. Next - I want to Blog more. I do love to write, and while I'm not a great writer by any stretch, I do write what I love. Whether due to writer's block, lack of interesting content, or disorganization as outlined above, my blogs - my two here on CruiseCrazies - and those elsewhere, have all been sadly neglected. I think that sometimes because I haven't been anywhere or done anything exciting, I simply have nothing to share. I do have ideas, though, about many things travel related - but, again, I don't write them down as I think of them. Therefore, my Blogging plan for 2018 will be to jot ideas down on paper or note them in my smartphone, and ultimately create some profound prose.  Third and last - CRUISE more! This is far easier said than down. First, I would have to quit my main job as an administrative assistant, and this is not yet possible because I need the money to - you guessed - CRUISE! However, my boss has been very forgiving of the 3-week vacation policy, now turning into 6 weeks or more, so I'll run with it. My husband's love of slot-playing - or should I say the amount of money he has "gifted" to the local casino - has resulted in some very cheap Norwegian cruises for us - once or twice a year. This has made a big advancement in my plan to cruise more - thank you, David! However, there are still oceans full of beautiful ships and so little time, and I would like to get a cabin on as many as I can before I die. For the first time in December, I cruised alone. I didn't have to wait for my husband's limited school-year schedule for that window of cruise opportunity. I just went without him - and I had a great time. So, my third and final plan for 2018 is to hop aboard a ship, alone if I have to, tell the boss I'm taking yet another week, and set sail when I want.  So, now that you are all witness to my personal plan, or my Un-Resolutions for 2018, let's see how I go. It's a little late for announcing new plans, three months into the year and all, but better late than never, right? Who knows, maybe by June, I'll post my belated "Best of" 2017 travel moments! Happy Cruising!    

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5 Etiquette Tips for Sharing a Cabin

I recently cruised on a seminar at sea and chose to share my cabin with a complete stranger to save money. As it turned out, we got along great, but it got me thinking - what if we weren’t compatible cabin mates? Most of the time, we share cabins with family or good friends. We know their habits and idiosyncrasies, compromises are made, and for better or worse, it usually works. But what if we’re spending a few days or a week with someone we don’t know? Here are a few tips to co-habitate peacefully. 1.  Divide and conquer. Equally share drawer, counter and closet space, and keep your stuff in your space. Not only will it keep you organized but prevent your cabinmate from re-packing up something of yours by mistake at the end of the cruise.  2.  Admit to snoring and early-to-bed or early-to-rise habits early on. Offer your mate a pair of earplugs if you are a snorer. If you like to wake up to the sun rising over the ocean, but your cabin mate likes blackout curtains, some compromises will need to be made. Learn to tiptoe and keep noise and light to a minimum when necessary. 3. Take turns recharging devices. I brought my charger - my roommate lost hers. The outlets were few and in an awkward location on our ship. We had one charger for all our electronics, but with some planning, we made it work. 4. Be aware of any perfume or aroma therapy scents and the effect they might have on your roommate. My roommate brought a supply of oils of various scents, which had my eyes watering and my head spinning. A carefully worded request to ease up on them worked, and there were no hard feelings. 5.  Bathroom etiquette. Avoid spreading your cosmetics all throughout the limited shelf space. A hanging cosmetic bag works wonders for me. I unfold it from my suitcase and hang it directly on the bath door hook. Speaking of the bathroom and sensitivity to smells, a squirt or two of Lysol will help minimize objectional smells. To take it further, you might want to agree to use a public restroom for the “big jobs”.    

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The 12 Days of Christmas - for Cruisers

One of the great benefits of my husband’s recent retirement is his enthusiasm about making me a homemade lunch each day, lovingly packed into my L.L. Bean lunch bag and accompanied by a yellow note containing a game, puzzle, quiz or some other “assignment” to pass away the lunch hour. Today’s note contained blank lines numbered 1 through 12, headed by the title, “Name the 12 Days of Christmas.” I am nobody’s poet and not the most creative girl in the world, but I decided to give it a shot with my own twisted lyrics, sung to the famous classic tune, “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  Please be kind ...

Ready, let's sing ... On the FIRST day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  A cruise on a tropical sea. On the SECOND day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the THIRD day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Three shore excursions, Two credit cards, and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the FOURTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the FIFTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Five pairs of shoes  — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the SIXTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the SEVENTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the EIGHTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Eight airline tickets,  Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the NINTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Nine frozen mudslides,  Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits - Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the TENTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Ten trashy novels, Nine frozen mudslides, Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the ELEVENTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Eleven margaritas, Ten trashy novels, Nine frozen mudslides, Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea. On the TWELFTH day of Christmas, my true love gave to me:  Twelve tubes of sunscreen, Eleven margaritas, Ten trashy novels, Nine frozen mudslides, Eight airline tickets, Seven travel buddies, Six sexy swimsuits — Five pairs of shoes — Four bingo cards, Three shore excursions, Two credit cards and A cruise on a tropical sea!
Happy Holidays!

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Airport Security Tips for Flyers with Knee/Hip Replacements

Travelers with knee, hip or other joint replacements have another reason to hate flying: airport security.  When being discharged from the hospital after a total knee replacement last December, one important piece of advice was missing from the pile of recovery plan papers I received from the staff - how to get through airport security without setting off the alarm and the resulting embarrassing pat-down, both of which has happened to me several times in the months since my surgery. A member of airport security in Boston finally offered me some helpful advice which I hope will assist other "bionic" travelers at the airport. There used to be a time when the doctor would give you a note to show at airport security informing them of your joint hardware. This is no longer the case, and in fact most physicians rarely bother to offer a note for security clearance, as the FAA no longer accepts this type of proof. Whether you have a note or even display your surgical scar to the security agent makes no difference. When you pass through the metal detector, the alarm will sound, and you will require a full and thorough pat-down. To avoid this, try the following tricks: If there is the option for a full body scanner, choose it, as it will be much easier. There is no need to announce your artificial joint to security personnel. While metal will still be detected, the scanner will clearly show that the metal is in the bone. If a full body scanner is not present, be sure to tell a security agent that you have joint hardware BEFORE going through the metal detector. You will still most likely have to undergo further screening, but less intrusively, with either wand or a quick frisk.

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How to Score Onboard Credit for Your Next Cruise

Do you ever wonder how some cruisers seem to get loads of shipboard credit to use for onboard purchases? For the benefit of you folks new to cruising, any added value in the form of cash for you to use on board your cruise - for things like beverages, shopping, drinks, shore excursions, the spa, and other for-fee extras - is known as on-board or shipboard credit. Some people get a lot of it, while others seem to get none. If you're looking to score maximum onboard credits for your next cruise, you just need to know where to look. Here are a half dozen tricks for finding free money for your cruise:   A Travel Agent. Don't expect an agent to fork over their whole commission to you in the form of credit so you can have a good time, but do expect them to know which cruise lines are offering some in the form of a promotion. The best way an agent can give you onboard credit is through a value-added offer (gifting you something rather than discounting your cruise), and many times this is done through group blocks the agent holds for the purpose of booking their clients. Either way, if you are dedicated and loyal to your travel agent, no doubt they will reward you.    Cruise Line Promotions. Cruise lines run deal after deal, and many of them come with a specific dollar amount of onboard credit, usually tied in with the number of days sailing or the category of cabin booked. The more money you are willing to pay for your cruise, the more credit you will receive.   Book Your Next Cruise While On Board Another. Most cruise lines have an on-board booking program, either a Future Cruise Desk or an entire office staffed by crew members whose job it is  to entice you into booking your next cruise with them. After all, this is what builds their loyal customer base. To do this, you would place a small deposit ($100 per person, in many cases) in a future cruise, and the cruise line will reward you with onboard credit, again, tied in with the number of days or category of cabin you intend on booking for your next cruise. In fact, you don't even have to decide right then and there. Instead, the cruise line will give you a year or two to think about it.   Refer a Friend. Many lines will reward you for bringing them business in the form of your friends and relatives who may be new to cruising - or a particular cruise line - and want to see what they've been missing.    Price Drops. This is hit or miss, but worth asking. If you find your cruise price dropped after final payment, the cruise line may issue you the difference in the form of onboard credit - or perhaps an upgrade.    Register a Complaint. Did you have a bad experience on your last cruise? If you had a serious issue with service or anything else related to your cruise, write a letter to the cruise line, explain what happened, and you may receive a letter of apology in return with a certificate for a discount on your next cruise or for shipboard credit. The amount would most likely depend on the severity of the complaint. Some assistance from a travel agent will help to assure your letter of complaint gets to the right people.   Not all onboard credit is combinable, meaning you may not be able to combine onboard credits received from a promotion with those received as a loyalty reward. But it never hurts to explore all the options.   Photo credit: Pixabay Free Web Photos  

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Make Your Rental Car Theft-Proof

Nothing says "tourist" like a rental car full of cameras, luggage, maps and tour books. Would-be thieves, in fact, can spot a tourist and his rental from a mile away. Here are a few tips to prevent you and your rental becoming a victim of theft: - Don't have anything of value in plain sight while occupying the car, and definitely hide any valuables in the trunk while parked. - Look and drive like a local. Avoid having maps, guides and other touristy info out in the open while driving and when parked. - Leave glove box open to show there is nothing of value stored inside. - Watch for snatchers at traffic lights - crooks who will reach inside your window and grab your purse or camera. Better yet, keep windows closed and doors locked when occupying the vehicle. - For SUVs or hatchbacks, use the rolling cover during the day to hide any valuables. At night, remove everything, leaving only the harmless stuff, and roll the cover back so thieves will know there's nothing of value worth stealing. Jan Neves CruiseCrazies Authorized Agent http://www.sevenseajourneys.com

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Use Your Cell Phone's Camera to Create a Visual Reminder of "All-Aboard" Time in Port

To avoid missing the boat in port, snap a photo of the "All-Aboard Time" before stepping off the ship to see the sights. It's a great visual reminder for the younger, care-free members of your party venturing out on their own. Plus, if you have a few too many shots in the local watering hole, you can refer to your cell phone camera if your brain becomes too muddled to remember what time you're supposed to be back on board.

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See the Northern Lights Next Spring

Have you ever seen the Northern Lights, a.k.a. Aurora Borealis? If not, then you'll have a greater chance of seeing them during 2016 or 2017 if you're heading toward the Arctic. With a forecast of heightened activity, you'll be able to view them from a wide variety of locations. For the best experience, visit during early spring, between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. Read the full article: Where to See the Northern Lights in 2016

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Enjoy a Hurricane Season Cruise with the Right Attitude

Now that summer has officially arrived, so has hurricane season in the Caribbean, lasting from June through November, affecting tourists and residents from the Southern Caribbean, and on north to the coast of Maine. Should that stop you from booking a Caribbean or New England cruise in late summer or fall? No, and here’s why. Caribbean cruise rates are never better than they are in fall, especially from late August through mid-December. Crowds diminish, the kids are back in school, and cruising is generally quieter. It’s an ideal time to cruise. Chances are slim that a hurricane will affect your plans. Cruise ships use the latest weather-tracking systems to steer around the path of storms. While you may encounter some rough seas, the crew will do a marvelous job of keeping you safe and the ship as steady as possible. If you are planning a Caribbean cruise in fall, you can take a few extra precautions to lessen the chance of weather-related mishaps. Arrive at your port a day or two ahead of your sail date, especially if you need to fly. While the cruise itself may not be an issue in a storm, getting to your ship on time could be. Weather delays and flight cancellations may leave you stranded at home. If a storm does come your way, keep in touch with your travel agent for the latest cruise line updates and advice. If you are cruising during hurricane season, keep an open mind and board your ship with the right attitude. If a hurricane messes with your vacation, the ship’s itinerary may change, and you may find yourself in ports you weren’t expecting. Go with the flow, and enjoy your cruise, wherever it may take you. Jan

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For a Quieter Cruising Experience, Cruise Off-Season

If your vacation time is flexible, consider yourself fortunate. You have the ability to choose to cruise when prices are lower and cruise ships are generally quieter. There will be far fewer children to compete with, and ship activities will be more enjoyable. In the Caribbean, for instance, the highest prices and larger crowds occur during mid summer, school breaks and Christmas week. By choosing a cruise in, say, early November, you'll save money and easily navigate the ports and biggest attractions with fewer crowds and more elbow room. For more on the subject of when to cruise where, see my article: Destinations and the Best Time to Cruise Them

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The Pros and Cons of Cruise/Air Packages

You’ll find that when you are about to reserve and make a deposit on your cruise, you will have the option of purchasing a round-trip air add-on from the cruise line. While an air/sea package might avoid the hassle of finding and booking your own air ticket, be aware of the pros and cons of these convenient add-ons. Pros: If you purchase the air/sea package, most likely your transfers between the airport and the ship will be included in the price. It’s the ultimate convenience. The cruise line will claim your luggage for you and carry it to the ship, and all you'll have to do is board the bus. If your flight is delayed, the cruise line will be aware of your delay and may be able to hold the ship for a few hours. If not, they will make every effort to get you to the first port to board the ship (not necessarily at the cruise line’s expense, however). Cons: While cruise air booking has improved in recent years with added ability to choose your own flights (though somewhat limited in airline and connections), some lines (Carnival and Norwegian, for instance) remain steadfast in choosing your flights for you and only making you aware of them just weeks before you cruise. Generally speaking, cruise/air tickets are consolidated – or bulk - tickets, purchased by the cruise lines months in advance, and carry strict rules different from published rates. Most likely, everything will go smoothly with your flight, but in the event your flights are delayed or canceled, re-ticketing or rescheduling may not result in the flights you desire. Arranging your own flights: If you decide to purchase your own tickets, you might be able to find a better deal, flying nonstop with an airline you prefer while earning frequent flyer miles. For instance, Southwest has awesome deals (and bags fly free!), and can only be booked through the airline directly. Enlist the help of a travel agent, especially if you booked your cruise through one. They may be able to find the exact flight you’re looking for at a great price. An agent can be particularly helpful with complicate itineraries, using some creative ways to get you from Point A to Point B that you would not have thought of yourself. Keep in mind the time of your ship’s departure. You’ll want to be on the first flight out of your home city, and preferably non-stop, to avoid any delay in getting to the ship. If at all possible, fly in at least a day before your cruise to allow for delays, mechanical failures or flight cancellations. Also remember that will have to find your own transportation to the cruise terminal and claim your luggage and carry it with you. For convenience, however, cruise lines offer cruise/air transfers for independent flyers. In some cases, depending on the distance from airport to cruise ship, cruise ship transfers are worth it. If, however, you’re flying to Miami for a cruise from the same city, a taxi is quick and cheap.

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Research Your Ports of Call in Advance

Your cruise ship will be visiting some exciting destinations, and it would be a terrible waste if you didn’t experience at least one of the best features about the island or city you’re docked at for a day or a few hours. I’ve talked to some cruisers who just prefer to “wing it” – disembark and just stroll around, hit the most popular beach or visit the local watering hole. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes it’s a good thing to take a chance and learn by accident. Still, it’s a great idea to learn the basics of the place you’ll get a glimpse of – the history, culture and the 5 best things to see. An organized tour – whether a ship excursion or local taxi guide – can be the best way to experience a place in the short amount of time allowed in a port of call, especially if you’re a first-time visitor. Perhaps the biggest reason for port research is learning about the transportation logistics. Some ports require a 1 or 2-hour drive to the nearest landmark, and you will want to get the lay of the land and learn how you’ll get from point A to point B. Figuring this out in advance of your trip will avoid loss of precious time seeing all you want to see. Sometimes, just a simple walk through a village or town not frequented by tourists will be all you need a get a feel for the local culture and customs. Either way, armed with knowledge of your port city, you’ll be an informed traveler and won’t have regrets later.

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How to Avoid Cruise and Travel Scams

If you’re skeptical about a postcard you received in the mail or phone call offering a free cruise or vacation, you have every right to be. While some are legitimate, many are not. At the very least, they will ask you to attend a high-pressure sales pitch for a product or ask for a substantial sum of money up front, presumably for taxes, fees, service charges or other hidden charges. A little detective work will usually let you know whether the travel provider is legitimate. Start by reading the fine print. Are there black-out dates or restrictions? Are there extra charges and fees involved? Check to see if the company is listed with the Better Business Bureau or perform a “Google” search to find out if there have been any complaints. Sites such as “rip-off report dot com” or “complaintsboard dot com” are good places to start. Never give out any private information or credit card details unless you initiate the transaction or you’re confident that the promotion is for real. If you decide to pay in advance for a trip, be sure you know what you are paying for and what happens if you change your mind – will you get your money back. If they can’t give you the details in writing before money is exchanged, then walk away. Everyone wants a free cruise or vacation, and the best offers are those in which you make the reservation yourself and not through a shady third party. For instance, casinos are famous for rewarding their high rollers with free cruises. The customer receives a voucher with instructions for making the reservation directly with the cruise line. It’s a very easy and uncomplicated process. The cruise line sends you a written confirmation, and you know exactly what transacted. If you decide to take advantage of one of the postcard promotions, however, always pay with a major credit card allowing you some protection in case things go very wrong. In buying into one of these travel schemes, just be forewarned that you could end up paying much more for that “free” cruise than if you had booked with a respectable travel agent. Photo credit: the lake news dot com

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My Top 10 Travel Moments of 2014

Another year has gone and it's time, once again, to lay out my annual Top 10 travel experiences of the year. Since the big summer trip for my husband and I this year was a Mediterranean cruise, many of the following favorites are destinations resulting from that 11-night sailing. Here are my top 10 favorites for 2014: #10) Flying First Class. On a selfish whim, I decided to splurge and upgrade our usual economy seats on Aer Lingus between Boston and Rome. Aer Lingus has a bidding system for first class upgrades, and since I find enormous pleasure in bidding for a good deal (Ebay, Priceline and so on), I thought, what the heck. We was paying a ridiculous amount for tiny seats with no leg room - why not pay a little more for a little luxury. Well, when all was said and done, it was an obscene amount we shelled out for a first-class upgrade. Was it worth it? In retrospect, probably not. At the time, however, when we were drinking free wine from real glasses, dining on “gourmet” airline food with real napkins, china and linen napkins, enjoying copious amounts of leg room and reclining all the way flat for sleeping, we said “Hell, yeah, this is TOTALLY worth it!” #9) Weekend Cruise aboard Disney Magic. A 3-night Martin Luther King Weekend cruise on a Disney cruise ship proved to me why Disney is a cut above the rest in terms of family cruising. From a “welcome aboard” fit for a queen to nighttime fireworks off the deck, the experience was truly magical - for young and old alike. #8) 9/11 Memorial: On a beautiful spring day, we rode Amtrak to New York City to spend a couple of nights seeing the sites. Though we have been to NYC numerous times before, one must-see on our list this time around was the 9/11 Memorial at the site of the newly designed World Trade Center. We paid our respects and reflected on the names etched in stone and the great human loss of that day in 2001. I commend those who created the concept and design for this solemn place with the reflecting pools and new “Freedom Tower” as a backdrop, for it was a peaceful and moving experience. #7) Wellfleet, Mass. This quaint, picturesque town along a stretch of Outer Cape Cod has been a favorite family summer getaway over the last 30 years. This year was extra special because we introduced our 1-year-old grandson to the wonders of bayside cottage life, as well as my brother and his wife. Spread out between two twin adorable bayside cottages, we enjoyed some precious family time among the dunes. It was so much fun, we’ve booked the same for summer 2015. #6) Amalfi Coast, Italy. We joined six other people from our cruise ship for a private excursion through the hills and winding roads along this beautiful stretch of coastline on the southern side of the Sorrentine Peninsula. We stopped at picturesque, artsy towns along the way - Positano, Ravello and Amalfi, and though we would have liked more time in just one town instead of only a brief time in three, we experienced some of the most amazing scenery of our port stops on the cruise. Ravello was an especially enjoyable respite from the crowds, as the big tour busses don’t include it on their itinerary. We’ve made a mental note to explore Ravello further the next time we return to Italy. #5) Hotel Albergo Del Senato, Rome: Hotels don't usually make my top 10 list, but this charming hotel is the exception. With a killer view overlooking the Pantheon and Piazza Della Rotonda, we could simply slide open the shutters, open the big windows, and take in the beauty and character of Rome before ever leaving our room. Our own Roman Holiday! #4) Santorini, Greece - A cruise excursion brought us by boat to an awaiting motorcoach for a ride to the beautiful village of Oia, the most beautiful and picturesque place in Santorini. Located on top of a massive cliff, visitors experience charming houses in narrow streets, blue-domed churches and a spectacular ocean view. With limited time in town, we immediately found ourselves at a seaside cafe and a table with an incredible view. Notably, Oia is also famous for the most fabulous sunsets. Timing from our cruise ship did not allow us to view the sunset from the island, but we enjoyed a gorgeous Santorini sunset from our cruise ship. #3) Ephesus, Turkey. I won't lie ... it was as hot as the guidebooks said it would be when we visited in August. Fortunately, we hired a private guide who picked us up at the cruise port in a large minivan and delivered us to the ruins of this ancient city in air conditioned comfort. Armed with bottles of water and umbrellas for shade, we made our way through the stone covered streets and barren landscape imagining what life was like in those times. We were introduced to the magnificent Library of Celcus, an ancient brothel, some very interesting public toilets, the theatre where St. Paul preached, and other age-old structural remains. #2) The Colosseum. To see the Hollywood version with Russell Crowe is indeed entertaining, but to see this enormous ancient amphitheater in person is simply spectacular. With a tour guide and small group, we were able to get a good history, think about the labor it took to build such a place, and close our eyes and imagine gladiator combat, wild animal fights, and the roar of the blood-thirsty crowd. In the movie, gladiator Maximus boldly shouts to the crowd, “are you not entertained?” We were indeed. #1) Sistine Chapel/Vatican Museums: No visit to Rome is complete, of course, without a tour of the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican Museums. To be in the presence of such famous frescos, tapestry and sculpture was humbling and made even more special with an early morning private tour of the Sistine Chapel before opening to the public. With a small group of 6 others and very few people in the Chapel, we could fully appreciate the magnificence of Michelangelo’s famous ceiling in this incredible place without the massive crowds that would appear later.

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Be Prepared for Anything with a Weather App

Before embarking on your next land or sea vacation, load a weather app to your smartphone or favorite electronic device. Set the app's preferences for each place you're visiting on your itinerary, whip out your smartphone and have a day, weekend or week's worth of weather forecasts at your fingertips. There are several good apps for weather, but my favorite two are "Yahoo Weather" and "Weather Bug". Well organized, pretty to look at, and very functional, these handy tools will assist you in packing, dressing and otherwise preparing for whatever Mother Nature has in store while on your trip. Photo credit: Yahoo Weather

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Don't Choose a Cabin Just Because It's the Cheapest

Agents and cruise lines love to promote their cruises, and their ads will boldly display a particular sailing with a "starting at" price - $199/pp, for instance. What you don't see until you investigate a little further is that the $199 cabin is the lead-in price, or the price of the cabin at the lowest category, which tend to be the least desirable in terms of location and size. The cheapest is also an interior cabin. Some people are quite happy with an inside cabin; they like sleeping in pitch-dark rooms and don't spend much time indoors to worry about small spaces. But if you're claustrophobic, need natural light and fresh air in your stateroom, or are squeezing four into a cabin and need room to move around, the lowest-category cabins might not be worth even the rock-bottom fare you see online. Be sure you know what you're getting. Ask your agent to or cruise rep for details as to the cabin's location, size and nearby noisy public areas which may interfere with sleep. Your agent will be more than happy to find you a great cabin specific to your needs at a price you can afford. The cabin may not be cheaper, but you'll be a lot happier in the end.

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Bringing the Kids? Two Cabins are Better Than One!

Are you bringing the kids on your cruise? You've got a few of choices for accommodations. You can all squeeze into a standard cabin for 4 (some ships allow 5 in a cabin). Another option is to book a more costly family-size cabin or suite for more elbow room. A better option, though, is to book two cabins. If the kids are young, book connecting cabins. If your kids are older (12 and up) consider booking two side-by-side cabins or, better yet, an oceanview or balcony cabin for yourselves and an inside cabin for the kids across the hall.You will need to book an adult in each, but once you're on board, you can reorganize yourselves any way you want. The interior cabin costs less, you'll get two bathrooms, the kids will have their own space - and so will you! Depending on category and pricing, you may actually save over the cost of a larger room. Even if you have to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra, it will be totally worth it - trust me! Whatever you decide, be sure to ask Guest Services for a spare key for the kids' stateroom so that you have easy access to their comings and goings at any time. One word of warning, though ... If you are planning on booking two adjoining cabins, side-by-side cabins or cabins across the hall from one another, book early, as they disappear fast. Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club

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09.11.2001 ~ A Remembrance

Thirteen years ago, today, our country - and the world - witnessed a horrific attack on our nation. In April 2014, my husband and I visited the 9/11 National Memorial & Museum in New York City. The Museum itself was not yet open to the public, but we were able to experience the Memorial, the Pools, the inscriptions of the names of all those who died on that horrible day, and the new Freedom Tower rising above the city as a tribute to that tragic day, as well as a symbol of hope for the future. To see several photos I took that day, please visit my newest travel blog, Sea Journeys and Shore Escapes. For more information about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, please visit the official website.

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