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!
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!
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!
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
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelo
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.
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.
On August 4, 2014, my husband and I embarked on a Mediterranean cruise from Rome aboard the Celebrity Reflection, but not before spending three nights in this great city. In that short amount of time, we experienced the Vatican Museums, St. Peter's Basilica, the Sistine Chapel, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, great food, more great churches, the best hotel ever, and more. My narrative (including many photos) of those days begins here and continues in my personal blog, "Seven Sea Journeys - a Travel Journal". I hope you enjoy it!
It was nearly the end of July and the first of August and time to embark on another annual summer vacation. As cruising has become our getaway of choice, we chose an 11-night cruise to the warm waters of the Mediterranean, where we would spend time on shore immersing ourselves in ancient history, architectural ruins and gelato! Our cruise would begin in Rome, so it only made sense to spend a few days prior in this magnificent city ...
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In 2013, David and I were blessed with another year of amazing travel firsts - first time to Alaska, first time to San Francisco, first time to the Grand Canyon, first time in a tiny 6-seater plane, and other notable moments of first glimpses. New and different sights and opportunities always produce an abundance of fresh stories and photos to share. Here, in no particular order, are our top 10 most memorable travel experiences of 2013, followed by photos I took:
Flightseeing in Ketchikan, Alaska. While aboard the Grand Princess on an Alaska cruise, we spent a large stack of bills on this privately-booked floatplane flight to see bears in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, the bears did not come out to play with us, but the ride was exciting nevertheless, landing and takeoff smooth as silk, and the view from the sky was beautiful. My initial fear of taking off in a tiny plane was replaced by sheer excitement, and the ride was worth every precious penny we paid.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona. The thought of cold and snow at the South Rim made me really hesitant about visiting the Grand Canyon in February. However, I was so glad we did. Thankfully, the forecasted major snowstorm, which threatened to create a traveling mess, never materialized. Instead, we were left with a fine layer of fresh powder and sun. The effects of natural light and snow-layered rims of the canyon enhanced the beauty and splendor of this natural wonder. As we drove and stopped for photos at several points along the rim trail, I lost count of the number of “Ahhhh” moments where words could never describe what lay before my eyes. The quiet solitude of the canyon in winter was a gift, making me wonder why anyone would want to fight the heat and crowds in summer.
Cathedral Rock Hike in Sedona, Arizona. On our drive back from the Grand Canyon to Phoenix for our flight home, we stopped for a night in Sedona. The drive through the winding, mountainous roads blessed us with some of the most beautiful snow-covered vistas we’d ever seen, and as we drove closer to Sedona and caught our first glimpse of grand red rocks, the scene took our breath away. As with the Grand Canyon, the light layer of snow against backdrop of red proved to enhance the beauty of these majestic rock formations. We are not the adventurous or active sort, but we managed to hike our old, tired legs a short way up the trail in the lightly falling snow toward the grandest of the red rocks, Cathedral Rock. Our hiking shoes were caked with red mud, but it was well worth the experience.
Glacier Bay, Alaska. This is what we came to Alaska for and why we chose a cruise with Glacier Bay as part of the itinerary. We were blessed with a gorgeous, sunny day when we sailed in, and as she ship slowly guided past the great ice, we marveled at the majestic splendor of the glaciers and mountains reflected in the calm, blue water of the Bay.
Muir Woods, California. A visit to the stately redwoods of Muir Woods National Monument was part of a post-cruise day tour of Sausalito and Marin County. Although the sections of the park were crowded with noisy tourists, there was plenty of opportunity for quiet tranquility on the walk through this forest of old, beautiful redwoods. The towering, majestic trees were simply stunning and I couldn’t help but feel small and inconsequential next to such natural beauty.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco. We had several opportunities to see the bridge, both on a pre-cruise city tour when we stopped for the obligatory photo ops and again on a post-cruise tour when we traveled over the bridge to explore the Marin County area and Muir Woods. It seemed that the bridge appeared different each time we gazed at it. At times the bridge was barely visible in the foggy mist, other times it was shrouded in clouds. On our final day in San Francisco, the fog lifted and a blue, sunny sky revealed the bridge in all its glory. But perhaps the most dramatic Golden Gate Bridge moment was gliding beneath the bridge aboard the Grand Princess on our way out of the Bay to Alaska. You could almost hear a collective sigh as the bridge approached then disappeared above us, and the applause that followed by all the cruisers on deck said it all.
Dim Sum in Chinatown, San Francisco. Chinatown in this amazing city is a huge area of kitschy souvenir shops mixed in with authentic Chinese art, sculptures, crafts and other unique wares. There is a never-ending feeling of hustle and bustle here, and it was nice to stop at a small restaurant along the way for dim sum – good, inexpensive appetizers and tea to hold us over until dinner time while resting our weary feet.
Alcatraz, San Francisco. I’d always been curious about this old prison since seeing Burt Lancaster as the Birdman of Alcatraz, and I wasn’t disappointed. A steep hike up to the prison from the pier was well worth the informative self-audio tour. Listening to the voices of former inmates tell of their time behind bars, stories of attempted escapes, the famous criminals imprisoned here, and what life was like at the prison made for a very interesting – and a little bit haunting - experience.
Whale Watching & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari, Juneau Alaska. This was a 5-hour ship-sponsored excursion while aboard the Grand Princess on an inside passage cruise from San Francisco. Unlike many large group shore excursions, this one was refreshingly different. We were part of a small group of 12 other shutterbugs, both experienced and point-and-shoot type of travelers, and were led on a nature hike at Mendenall Glacier followed by an amazing small boat ride to search for whales. This tour did not disappoint. We saw amazing whale activity, enjoyed breathtaking views of Mendenhall Glacier, experienced beautiful plant and animal life, and learned some helpful photo tips along the way.
Japanese Hot Rock at Izumi, Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. My daughter, with whom I traveled on a cruise to Canada aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas, is an avid fan of Japanese food. So it was only natural we had to try Izumi, the newly-added Japanese restaurant to the ship’s roster of onboard eateries. I decided to be adventurous and try grilling my own dinner right at our table, all by myself, with just a 550-degree blazing hot rock, some steak, vegetables and a spatula. Like the waiter said, if it came out bad, I had only myself to blame. Not much of a griller at home, and steak not being my specialty, I was a little intimidated. However, it turned out to be lots of fun and the highlight of my onboard dining experience.
As the holiday season approaches each year, I wonder aloud to those who will listen: Wouldn’t it be great to combine two of my most favorite things in the world: Christmas and a cruise vacation. From the moment I picked up a copy of John Grisham’s “Skipping Christmas,” at the library, I knew that book was written with specifically me in mind. If you haven’t read the book, or seen its weaker film version (“Christmas with the Kranks”), the story is about a couple that decides one year to forego Christmas altogether and plan a cruise. Ultimately, the whole plan goes up the chimney when their daughter decides to come for a visit over the holidays.
Don’t think for a minute that this intriguing idea hasn’t crossed my mind a few times. I certainly don’t mean to ban decorations and all other holiday things from our midst, as the fictional family had in mind. I greatly enjoy gift giving, holiday music and Christmas decorations, the tree and celebrations with the family. We simply would be absent from the festivities for a week or so in the days surrounding Christmas – the busiest time for meal planning, cooking, baking and clean-up. What if we were to just skip all that and sail away on a cruise ship to a warm, tropical place, where there were no dirty dishes to clean and beds to make? Now that’s what I call a gift!
My husband has always been the traditionalist in our marriage. He believes in family and traditions – the ones we have grown up with and the ones we’vd created for ourselves. Not that I don’t believe in these things. I most certainly do. It is, after all, all about the family. But it still won’t stop me from dreaming about doing something a little different.
I imagine my husband and I having a fun little debate: “Home for the Holidays vs. A Christmas Cruise.” With some key points and arguments, I imagine it would go something like this:
Him: I don’t want to spend my entire school vacation week away from home.
Me: I thought that’s why they called it “vacation” – so you could go away and leave all the work behind.
Him: What about the tree and all the decorations?
Me: Our tree has gone from a rambling 6-foot spruce to 4-foot table twig, and the decorations come out right after Thanksgiving and stay up long past Christmas. The boughs of holly and dancing Santas will still be here when we get home. Besides, wouldn’t it be fun to see a cruise ship decked out in holiday splendor?
Him: My idea of Christmas is spending a relaxing night in front of the fire with Christmas music flowing from the stereo.
Me: No one likes holiday music more than me, keeping it going well into January. Load Mannheim Steamroller and Jazzy Wonderland up on your iPhone, and you’re good to go! Just think, honey - instead of experiencing chestnuts roasting on an open fire, we’ll be two lovebirds roasting in the Caribbean sun - or, better yet, chilling under a shady palm tree!
Him: What about the turkey, ham and mashed potatoes?
Me: I spend the entire Christmas day in the kitchen while you’re lounging in the recliner with your eggnog and newspaper in front of the fire, playing with whatever new electronic gadget Santa left under the tree. I say give me a break, and let’s have someone else cook us a four-course meal and clean up afterwards.
A White Christmas
Him: It won't feel like Christmas without snow.
Me: Even though we live in New England, I can barely count on one hand the number of times we’ve had snow on Christmas in the past 36 years of marriage. Lots of people all over the world celebrate Christmas in warm, tropical places - without a flake. Snow is cold, slippery, a pain to shovel and leads to heart attacks and broken bones. A cruise is pure relaxation and good for the soul.
Gift Giving and Tradition
Him: We need to be home for our traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family gift giving and gatherings.
Me: Our gifts to each other will be the cruise, and we’ll give our gifts to the family when we get back. That way, we’ll have a Christmas after Christmas. Besides, as every devout Christian will tell you, Christmas begins on Christmas Day and doesn’t officially end until the 6th of January; hence, the 12 days of Christmas.
The Religious Meaning
Him: I won't think of missing church services on Christmas Eve.
Me: Did you know that cruise ships have religious services? Yes, they do. So you can celebrate the birth of Christ at sea. Besides, you fall asleep and snore in church.
Him: What about the kids? What will they do?
Her: Let’s see … our oldest has her husband, baby and her own new traditions to begin, and the younger two offspring will get together for Chinese food, video gaming, watch movies, sleep late and miss the holiday anyway. And if they do decide to wake up and partake in some festivities, there are plenty of relatives in a 5-mile radius who would be more than happy to share some holiday joy.
Baby's First Christmas
Him: We have a grandchild now, and it will be his very first Christmas. Why would you want to go away and miss this momentous event?
Me: OK. Good point. No argument there.
So who wins this debate? I do, of course.
Are we cruising this Christmas? Absolutely not! Christmas with our grandson on his very first Christmas trumps a cruise any day!
My dream Christmas at sea will just have to wait until next year's lively debate.
Photo Credit: MSC Cruises USA
Think yours was the cruise from hell? Here are some REAL signs you're on a really bad cruise:
1. Upon embarkation, you hear a computer voice calmly announcing that “this ship will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3 ….”
2. The Captain’s name is Jack Sparrow, and he wants to know, “Where’s all the rum gone?”
3. The Atrium resembles a waiting room, with a sofa, folding chairs, and a coffee table containing a copy of “The World’s Biggest Cruise Ship Disasters Ever”.
4. “Stewart”, you’re cabin attendant, greets you on the first day, happily announces he’s going on vacation, and hands you a bucket and a sponge.
5. That “size-of-a-closet” inside cabin you booked (against the advice of your travel agent) is just that - an actual closet.
6. Your cabin is semi-private, and the bathroom is shared with the cabin next door.
7. On a visit to the bridge, “re-CALC-ulating” is repeatedly heard from the ship’s GPS.
8. The crewmembers are all wearing life jackets.
9. It’s Day 3 of a 4-night cruise, and you still haven’t left port.
10. Each passenger boarding the tender boat to go ashore is handed a pair of oars.
11. Tonight’s “Surf and Turf” dining selection is Tuna Helper and Spam in a Can.
12. Your dining room seat cushion also serves as your flotation device.
13. The only song the band knows is “There’s Got to Be a Morning After” (remember the original Poseidon Adventure?)
14. All the towel animals look like the Grim Reaper.
15. There are sharks swimming circles in the pool.
16. The end of the water slide is positioned off the side of the ship.
17. The lido deck is occupied by chair hogs – the live, curly tailed, 4-legged animal kind.
18. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is the doctor on call.
19. The ship needs a jump-start at every port.
20. The chief engineer is overheard mumbling something about a “bucket ‘o bolts”.
My daughter and I just returned from a cruise from New England and Canada aboard the Brilliance of the Seas - or should I say from just Canada, since I already live in New England, and it seems strange to say I returned from a place in which I already live. I thought I would share a few amusing personal cruise episodes, things that my kids fondly refer to as "mom moments." People of a certain age prefer to call them “senior moments”.
I've always been a little clumsy and absent minded, but generally I'd say these missteps, mispronunciations, misreads, mistakes, brain freezes and blunders have increased with each new gray hair and wrinkle that appears. I think it started when I was about 40, when I decided to try eyeglasses with progressive lenses. I must have tripped over a hundred things just trying to get acclimated. Since then, I always blame the eyeglasses for every mom moment – or senior moment that comes my way.
I could write a book, but here are just a few "mom moments" from our most recent cruise.
The Elevator. So it would figure that on the first day just after embarkation, I would press the button for the elevator when the thing was already there beckoning in front of me with its doors wide open. Must be my glasses, I said aloud. My daughter immediately jotted this down as #1 in her notebook of mom's cruise moments.
Caution: Wet Floor. Most people watch where they're walking. Not me. I was looking around the Windjammer, admiring the room and figuring out which buffet food station to begin my grazing, and WHAM! I walked right into one of those tall, yellow cones in the middle of the floor marked in big black letters, "Caution: Wet Floor". Why they needed to place it there I don’t know. The floor wasn’t wet. Fortunately, just the cone fell over – and not me. The only thing that was bruised was my dignity. There could only be one possible explanation - must be my glasses.
The Jock. This wasn't a blunder of any kind, but just an unfortunate situation that adversely affected the rest of my cruise experience - and eyeglasses had nothing to do with it. I decided I was going to continue my daily at-home exercise regimen of 25 minutes on an exercise bike here in the ship's fitness center. I got on the bike, set the machine on automatic, set the tension to "it's so easy an ape could do it" and off I pedaled. I had a nice conversation with trainer, Six-Pack Steve, about workouts in general and how biking keeps my knee arthritis in check. OK, Steve wasn't his name, but the six-pack abs reference definitely fit. I finished my 25 minutes, left the gym and went about my day, returning to the room for a catnap before dinner. I woke up, and my knee had blown up like a balloon and I couldn't straighten it or bend it. I quickly raided my first aid bag, called for some ice, filled my handy Ziploc bags, and iced up the knee and limped off to dinner. With the help of some Jacuzzi time in the morning, some ice at night, a bottle of Advil and one of those stretchy knee braces, I was able to make my way around the ship and even in port, but just a lot slower. So ended my well-intentioned shipboard fitness plan.
I had never cruised at any time other than summer, and was not accustomed to so many older people. Make no mistake - I counted myself among them on this cruise, and by day 2, and I was beginning to feel and appear like the oldest of the old, folks ambling about the ship with canes and walkers. In other words, I fit right in.
As a side note, I was worried that 26-year-old daughter Jenn would feel out of place with this crowd. In fact, one gentleman, while waiting for the elevator, asked her “What’s a young thing like you doing on this ship?” To the contrary, she was very flattered being the youngest at the table every night. She wound up being the go-to person for advice on movies, science fiction, Facebook and the Internet.
The Juggling Act: Get me a job on a cruise ship, because I can juggle! Too lazy to wait for an elevator, I was making my way down a flight of stairs one afternoon with two cups of coffee and a plate of pastry. Hey, it was only one flight and my bum knee could certainly make the trip. The only problem was I had only two hands - the plate in one and the two cups - one on top of the other - in the other hand. No hand left to hold onto the rail. I was doing great until my heel caught on a step, and sent my cups wobbling back and forth and my hand sliding around feverishly in order to compensate. Had to be the eyeglasses. In the end, I saved the coffee and my wits. Better yet, I didn't fall.
Look Before Crossing. Something happened to me after I double-fractured my ankle on another vacation seven years ago. That's right - I was as clumsy then as I am now. I am a magnet for mishaps. Memories of a double ankle fracture on Cape Cod as well as a trip and fall, landing face first on a sidewalk in Savannah, Georgia, make stepping off sidewalks and traversing a street equivalent to walking on eggs. I don't want to risk breaking another ankle, nor do I want to fall down in the street and get run over. So, of course, there I was shopping with my daughter in Portland, Maine, last week, and while one side of my brain is concentrating on my footwork in navigating the sidewalk, the other side has failed to inform me of the approaching car. My daughter grabbed my arm and stopped me in my tracks. As I said before, it must be the eyeglasses.
Three things I have learned from this cruise: (1) Get the knee fixed. (2) I can't be trusted to travel alone, and (3) Lose the glasses and look into contact lenses.
For details of our cruise, read my review: Boston to New England/Canada Aboard Brilliance, Oct. 6, 2013
When I told my husband I would be cruising without him come October, he was less than enthused. We have enjoyed seven previous journeys at sea together, one being with Carnival, another on Norwegian, and the rest with Princess. I was itching to try another line, not because I disliked the other three, but simply because I want to say that I’ve sailed every major cruise line, at least once.
David and I discovered cruising fairly late in life, at age 47. Why we waited so long to sail away on a ship at sea remains a mystery, but embarking on our first cruise for our 25th anniversary got us completely hooked. I spent countless hours over a 14-month span preparing for that first cruise - and the same is true for each one that followed.
Has the excitement and anticipation dimmed over the years with each new booking? Not in the least. The only thing that has changed is the number of bookings I have in the pipeline. What was once the excitement and joy of booking one new cruise immediately after disembarking the last has now become booking three or four. My family says I'm obsessed, but I don't see it that way. I just love to be on the ocean and see it as an opportunity to try new experiences - new ships and new itineraries. No longer am I content to restrict my vacation time to the same week every summer to in order to work around a spouse’s school schedule.
To quench my unending thirst for new cruises and to reaffirm my status as a cruise “junkie”, I began researching some other options and liked what I found. For instance, just up the road in Boston, Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas would be doing fall foliage runs up the coast through New England and Canada. I was super excited - it would be a new itinerary for me. Despite living in the Northeast my entire life, I had never been to any of the places on the schedule - Portland, Bar Harbor, Halifax and Saint John.
Neither had I yet sailed Royal Caribbean, a line I've always wanted to try, but my husband always vetoed because "it's just not Princess." Well, I thought to myself, David will be busy with school when this cruise is set to sail, so here is my big chance to stray. Yeah, he'll object and otherwise put up a fuss over my going without him, but hey, he'll get over it.
Next, I needed to find someone to join me. I don’t fancy the idea of traveling solo, and even if I did, I am not prepared to pay an obscene single supplement. So I started going through my meager list of family and friends and soon discovered it wasn’t easy to find someone with money to spare who wasn’t committed to work or babies. There was only one logical choice: our daughter, Jenn, who still had some vacation time coming. She jumped at the chance to take a week off from her hectic job in tech support, and I knew she would be a great travel companion, too - easy going, quiet and she doesn’t whine!
I immediately blocked off a week from work and booked the cruise. Even better, as luck would have it, I qualified for a senior discount - another first for me. On one hand, I was dismayed that I would ever be considered "old", but on the other hand, I was grateful for the savings.
Not willing to stop there, I continued my search for another cruise in the not-too-distant future. I had been badgering my husband for years about cruising during school break, but he would always protest, preferring to be home catching up on reading, TV watching or - more often than not - school work. What kind of vacation is that, I ask!
Lo and behold, my email reveals that Princess, for the first time ever, will be sailing short 4 and 5 day cruises out of Fort Lauderdale, and wouldn't you know - one of them falls during April break! Surely, he will come around this time. After all, it's Princess, his favorite cruise line. Well, I was right. Not that it didn't take a little convincing, but he was on board with the idea pretty quickly. Before he had a chance to change his mind, I went immediately to the computer and booked our 5-day Caribbean cruise on the Ruby Princess scheduled to sail during April break.
For what has become our annual summer cruise, my search for the new and different in 2014 resumed. We’ve been talking about the Mediterranean for a number of years, but when it came time to book, we’d always end up somewhere else on the map. Finally, it’s settled. Next August, we are jumping the Princess ship and climbing aboard yet another – this time, Celebrity. Once again, for David, it was not an easy sell to choose Celebrity over Princess, but the price was right, the promo was one we couldn't refuse, and both were really enraptured with the brochure depicting all the fun we would have aboard the very beautiful Celebrity Reflection visiting Italy and Greece.
I can't wait to see what new cruise adventures await us in our retirement years ... some day. Maybe a transatlantic cruise? A repositioning cruise? A dirt-cheap last minute cruise only someone with a flexible schedule could possibly consider?
The possibilities are endless, so stay tuned!
A cruise to Alaska isn’t about standing at the railing watching the scenery. Don’t get me wrong; you’ll see some amazing scenery from the deck of a cruise ship – wildlife, panoramic vistas and glaciers. No, to really experience Alaska, you’ll need to get off the ship and venture out into the wild and commune with nature.
My husband came up with the idea first – a flightseeing trip to see black bears in their natural habitat. I’d seen pictures - tiny planes that fly relatively low and land on water.
The pessimist in me (or “negative nanny” as the hubby affectionately calls me) immediately came to surface, as I thought to myself … are these little winged vehicles safe? Is our will up to date? Is our insurance going to cover if the plane goes down? What if the plane breaks down and we miss the ship? What if the weather’s bad? Will I be able to get my arthritic knees up the ladder into the seat? Will my beefy husband fit? You can see where I was going with this. I found the idea a little unsettling, to say the least.
When I am presented with any potentially new experience, I turn to my best friend, Google. I immediately opened up the iPad and began researching small Alaska floatplanes, the best companies, and the best places to see bears from Ketchikan, one of our ports of call. The more I read, the more I liked the idea. “Hey, this could be fun!” I tried to convince my skeptical side.
My search revealed several well-recommended flight companies, so I began making some calls. Two viewing locations for bears in Ketchikan were recommended – Anan Creek or Traitor’s Cove. Both involved a half-mile trail through rainforest to a viewing platform overlooking a creek. Traitor’s Cove provided a guide to the viewing area. Anan Creek did not – once the plane landed, you were on your own, alone, at the mercy of any bear encountered along the trail. Since our comfort level regarding meeting any large 4-legged wildlife in the woods is pretty low, we opted for the safety and reassurance of a guide and Traitor’s Cove.
The next consideration was price. Like many tours involving travel to locations in the Alaskan wilderness, a flightseeing trip would mean expenditure of a small fortune. Geez, I thought. I could buy another cruise for that money - a short one – but a cruise nonetheless. But, hey, this is Alaska. A ride on a small plane would be an adventure well worth the price. After reading some very positive travel reviews, we finally settled on a small family aviation business. Run by a young couple with two very cute kids (according to website photos anyway), Dad was the pilot and Mom ran the office, and they owned just two planes. Mom was very kind and friendly on the phone, patiently answered all my questions, took my credit card deposit, and we were good to go!
I had read stories of bad Alaska weather – rain, cold and thick fog – conditions that could possibly hinder the view from the plane, or preventing the plane from even taking off, for that matter. As luck would have it, we were blessed with a perfect day for our flight from Ketchikan, with no rain in the forecast.
I won’t lie, though … I was really nervous. My stomach was doing flips, and I ate very little that morning. We were picked up as scheduled on the dock, driven to the DeHavilland Beaver 6-passenger floatplane, shown a brief safety video while we all settled our account, and led to the plane, along with our 4 other flight mates.
Now, remember when I mentioned the family owned two planes? Well, as we’re walking to the plane, Mom apologizes for running a little late – that one plane had to go rescue some passengers stranded by their other plane that had developed a small mechanical problem out on a Misty Fiords run. After registering the look of alarm on my face, she assured us that all was fine with the plane sitting in the water in front of us. Dear, God – I thought – I hope you’re right.
It was time to board, and pilot Dad assigned us our seats. David and I were seated side by side in the row behind the pilot. It was a little tricky maneuvering up the ladder and in and out of the seats, but the pilot was happy to assist, and I am happy to report that we all fit just fine.
Once the engine started and we began to take off, my worries melted away, replaced by excitement, and I felt perfectly at ease. Take off was very smooth, and we hardly felt a thing.
Even better was the view. In a six-seat small plan like this, everyone has a window with a view, and we gazed in wonder at the mountains in the distance and the beauty of the islands and forestry below.
After about 20 minutes of breathtaking scenery, with pilot Dad narrating into our headsets as we flew, we landed effortlessly at the dock. A guide greeted us and brought us for a short walk to the van that would drive us into the rain forest.
Close to the van was a small outhouse, and I was reminded of a YouTube video I recently watched showing a woman held captive for some time by a curious bear pacing outside the door of the outhouse she was using at another bear viewing location. I really had to go, and I prayed that wouldn’t be me. Thankfully, no bears came calling.
After a short ride in the van and some preliminary instruction in the event of an encounter with a bear on the trail, we hiked along the half-mile dirt path, marveling at the quiet solitude and beauty of the lush rainforest, with our guide pointing out some exquisite plant life along the way.
As it turns out, we didn’t run into any bears in our pathway, but we did find some fresh bear poop (yes, you could even see the red berries he had recently eaten!) indicating to us that one may have been recently nearby.
A walk in the woods is not complete without a photo op. Ours would be a scenic overlook from a bridge, with two people fishing nearby to provide prospective.
We finally reached an observation deck overlooking a creek, where we all had our eyes peeled to the running water below in the hopes of seeing a bear or two come and feast on spawning salmon.
We quietly waited and waited – for anything … a bear, a porcupine, a moose – something to start our cameras rolling. Other than a few salmon in the running water in the creek below, there was no sign of life – at least none that we could see with the naked eye. Finally, just when we began to give up hope of seeing any animal life, two bald eagles flew low overhead through the trees, landed and posed for pictures. These two majestic birds flew around, landed here and there, and otherwise kept us entertained for the rest of the time at the creek.
Come to find out, the recent spell of unseasonably warm, dry, sunny weather in the area - while great for the tourists - had not been so good for bear sightings. The water levels in the streams were low, with far fewer salmon running, resulting in fewer bears showing up for dinner.
In the end, no bears were seen on this trip. The only photograph showing evidence of bears at Traitor’s Cove was a detailed picture of bear poop! Although we were disappointed that the bears did not come out to play that day, we thoroughly enjoyed the ride!
And as a bonus, upon flying back into port, we got a great photo of our ship.
See more photos from our flightseeing excursion in my Web Album
This was it, the reason for our cruise to Alaska - to see glaciers before they melt. We were aboard the Grand Princess, on a 11-day cruise which left San Francisco on July 29, 2013.
The Captain told us the previous day that the best place to initially observe the glaciers would be port side, and a naturalist from Glacier Bay National Park would be on board to narrate about our wondrous surroundings.
We reached Glacier Bay about 6:00 a.m., and as the morning wore on, the skies became sunnier and the water bluer than we could have imagined, setting up what would become one of the most breathtaking visual displays of nature that we've ever seen.
We woke up early, grabbed our cameras and binoculars, donned a couple of warm layers and headed up top, where we could get a good panoramic vista. There were already a few hardy souls up there when we arrived, wrapped in blankets sitting in chairs by the railing. This looked like a good idea, so we did the same. I won't lie. It was freezing up there on deck! It wasn't long before we ran back to the cabin for another layer or two. We purchased a nice hot Irish coffee from the nearby cart to warm our insides and hunkered down bundled up in our chairs as the ship slowly glided through the bay.
My new high-powered binoculars did not fail me as I scoped the waters for wildlife and calving glaciers. I spotted a few sea lions swimming by and a few whale spouts in the distance, and I heard from others that a moose was seen swimming from one shore to another. As beautiful as the hills of Ireland and Scotland were on our cruise last summer, they were no match for the beauty of these snow-covered rugged peaks, mountains, inlets, majestic glaciers and crystal-clear waters. The mix of clouds, sun, shadows and mist lay over the glaciers and mountains in such a way that they sometimes appeared to be magnificent works of art.
As the ship made its way through the bay, we marveled at the splendor of it all, including two glaciers - Margerie Glacier and then John Hopkins Glacier - and were lucky enough to witness calving at Marjerie. One especially large chunk of ice starting from the top of the glacier came down crashing into the sea below and, fortunately, was captured on video by my husband. I had gone inside to warm up and, of course, missed the whole big calving event, but we are so lucky to have it on record!
Our day in Glacier Bay truly exceeded our expectations. It was humbling to stand in the presence of some of nature's finest wonders, I and hope to some day return again for another glimpse.
This is just a taste of what we experienced on our recent Alaska cruise. For the full report, READ MY FULL REVIEW.
Check out my "Best of Alaska" Photos
July 26, 2013 ~ The day finally arrived!
Our long-awaited weekend in San Francisco was about to begin, followed by a 10-night round-trip cruise aboard the Grand Princess to Alaska's inside passage, with stops at Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan and Victoria, Canada. The icing on the cake would be beautiful Glacier Bay! Once again, David and I would be joined by my brother, Norm and wife, Dana.
We found them to be great cruise buddies last summer sailing around the British Isles - their very first cruise - and we invited them along again on this Alaska cruise. Packing for Alaska was a challenge, as we needed to be prepared for cold, hot, rain, sun and everything in between. The luggage weighed in a few pounds shy of the limit, so we were good to go.
David is a fan of warm tropical destinations, and every time I raised the subject of Alaska, he resisted, saying that Alaska cruises were for old, retired people. While I don't consider ourselves to be knocking on the door of the retirement home just yet, we are creeping close to that age and, frankly, I would like to enjoy the Alaska outdoors before I'm in a wheelchair! David was still reluctant, and it was my job to make him a believer. Three days in San Francisco and a repeat cruise aboard our first-ever cruise ship were the bones I threw to him, and he finally bit.
Our adventure started off with just one slight glitch. It was 5:00 a.m.; we were packed, ready and.... waiting. Waiting for the pricey but ever-so-convenient transport we hired to take us to Logan. A call to the company revealed a mix-up in the times. It seems that when I changed our 5:30 a.m. pickup time to 5:00 a.m., they forgot to inform the driver. It was all good, though. The driver arrived within 20 minutes, we were finally on our way, and arrived exactly two hours ahead of the flight. As it turns out, Virgin America at Logan had the shortest check-in I've ever seen. We literally walked in the terminal, stepped up to the desk to check in, took a short few steps to the security check point, and made our way around the corner to the gate waiting area. No lines, no waiting!
Our 6.5-hour non-stop flight went smoothly, and our driver, Mike, of Pleasant Limo, met us on arrival. For a very reasonable rate, he greeted us in baggage claim holding a sign with our name. He was friendly and polite, and drove us safely to our hotel. Best of all, he was on time!
We chose the Tuscan Inn and Fisherman's Wharf area of San Francisco for a 3-night pre-cruise stay.
Summer prices for hotels in this area are steep, but with my magic fingers, an iPad and a Hotwire App, I was able to find a lower rate - still pricey, but lower than anything else in that neighborhood. Upon arrival, the friendly desk staff warmly welcomed us. The lobby is nicely decorated, and the complimentary wine reception held at 5:00 p.m. for all guests was a nice touch.
The room was a wee bit smaller than what I expected, but it was clean and cozy, with a very comfy queen bed. I liked the fact that the windows were dressed in white shutters rather than drapes, which added a feeling of space. The room was located inside, facing a quiet courtyard of plants and greenery, - something to consider if you don't like street noise. Complimentary morning coffee was available every morning in the lobby, and breakfast, lunch and dinner were served at the adjacent Pescatore restaurant.
We had drinks at Pescatore on the day of our arrival, and the crab cake I ordered was very good. However, breakfast the next morning was another story. While my raisin cinnamon French toast was good, my husband's eggs were overlooked, my sister-in-law's were runny, and the cream was bad, turning our cups of coffee into something that looked pretty ugly. A second attempt at coffee with fresh cream failed, so we gave up on the cup 'o Joe. That was our first and last meal at Pescatore.
We spent the rest of the day checking out Fisherman's Wharf, and had dinner outside at Alioto's. We had a covered patio table with an overhead heater, which came in handy on this cold, cloudy and blustery day in San Francisco. We found the seafood to be okay, but not nearly as good as what's found here in New England. It certainly was, however, a great place to rest and people watch.
One of the coolest things we saw was the vintage antique arcade. What a blast to the past! We thoroughly enjoyed the ride down memory lane to all the old animated coin-operated figures and games. "Laughing Sal", which I had only seen in movies, was especially a hoot!
By the time we finished, it was only 7:00 pm and the Wharf was hopping. Since our body clocks were still on East Coast time, we were all exhausted and went back to the hotel to rest up for another day.
This is just a taste of what we experienced on our recent Alaska cruise. For the full report, READ MY FULL REVIEW.
Check out my "Best of Alaska" Photos
San Francisco, Alaska and Grand Princess, here we come!
I am getting a jump on reviewing this trip - our 2013 summer vacation - less than two days before departure. Tomorrow, I'll be busy double-checking and triple-checking my CruiseCrazies packing list to make sure I have everything covered and probably will be too exhausted to do much of anything else, let alone write.
The idea - and I'm probably over my head on this one - is to write a day-by-day review of our experiences along the way - sort of a "Live From" report. As with most good intentions, however, things don't always turn out as planned. Much will depend, of course, on internet connection, cooperation from my iPad, free time and my level of exhaustion after a day of sightseeing. If my pen runs dry or I am just having too much fun to write, don't despair. You can count on a full trip review when I return!
After months of preparation, excitement and anticipation, the day is nearly here. Our bags are nearly packed - or I should say OVER-packed - and we have to endure just one more day of work before finally escaping life's daily routine. Come early Friday morning, my brother and his wife will greet us with their cheery smiles, our hired car will scoop us up well before the New England sun rises, and promptly transport the four of us to Boston to await our non-stop flight to San Francisco.
This is a first visit for all of us to San Francisco, and we are eager to experience as much as we can in the three days we have before boarding the Grand Princess. I understand that the city is alive with the America's Cup races, and being summer, I expect the streets will be bustling. Our home base for three nights will be the Best Western Tuscan Inn. Originally booked directly with the hotel using a 30% AAA discount, I later discovered an even lower rate through Hotwire, and being one who never passes up a deal, I canceled and re-booked our two rooms, saving us a few bucks - which we will blow later on the ship. Hey, it's vacation!
My well-planned itinerary - which all in our party will follow because I tell them to - includes a 4-hour city tour with a local guide and an evening visit to Alcatraz, tickets for which were purchased the day they opened for sale. It's a good thing, too, because a week later they were gone. The rest we will make up as we go along. Armed with our mini city guide and advice from friends and acquaintances, I am sure we will have no trouble filling our time with all sorts of city splendor. Marin County, Muir Woods and Sausalito will be explored later with another local guide when we return from the cruise.
Stay tuned ...
I am so excited, I am beside myself! Our new lightweight luggage has arrived and sits in my living room waiting to be filled with an endless variety of stuff befitting a 10-day Alaskan cruise. As I look at the assortment of wheeled bags in an array of sizes, I realize I went a little overboard in buying 7 pieces. What the heck was I thinking? I needed only a couple of replacements. But, hey - the old stuff was getting - well - old, so why not replace it all, I rationalized to myself. The kids will get the hand-me-down stuff currently stored in the basement. If they don’t want it, I’ll simply donate it.
Armed with my CruiseCrazies packing list, I have begun a list of things I need to purchase. For starters, I have grown weary of laminating my own cruise luggage tags that the cruise lines are too cheap to provide, so I have ordered plastic tags for this purpose. New luggage requires new ID tags in bright, bold colors, complete with blazingly bold duct tape to match, for easy identification in the endless ocean of bags at disembarkation. I am not keen on messing up my pretty new luggage with tape which will eventually peel off and thus look ugly, but my husband wants every step taken to assure a clean get-away when departing the terminal. So be it.
I so want to become a frugal, efficient cruise traveler and pack sparingly. Realistically, however, this will probably not happen – at least this time around. Being my first time to Alaska, my head is already swimming with multi-season items we need to pack. We have been watching videos of people who have cruised to Alaska. Images of people huddled in coats, hats, gloves, scarves and blankets outside on deck viewing glaciers and whales. Really? In August? Is it that cold in Alaska waters? How much winter clothing do I need to retrieve from the attic? I have been following the weather throughout the inside passage and tracking cruise ships along the way, hoping to get a feel for what to expect in the way of climate. However, the unusually warm weather experienced in the region over the last several weeks leaves me even more bewildered. I expect I'll need to pack for any sort of weather that comes our way.
My husband has mentioned checking two 25” suitcases - his and hers - and this from a man who usually packs two days of clothing for a 7-day cruise. I was hoping for one bag to check between the two of us and a carry on each. Correction – make that just one carry on for clothing. My husband’s carry on bag will no doubt be solely used for a vast array of camera gear to quench his thirst for all things phototography.
I have researched and written articles recently about slimming down and simplifying the packing process, but none of it has prepared me for the task that lay ahead.
So, I turn to you, my cruising friends who have packed for an Alaskan cruise. Please share your Alaska cruise packing secrets!
At last the day has arrived! No, this is not the day when we embark the Grand Princess in San Francisco bound for Alaskan waters, nor is it time to pack our bags and fly to the “City by the Bay” for three days of pre-cruise sight-seeing. But it is a time of equally enthusiastic celebration. It’s the day we do the “document dance”, also sometimes referred to as the "happy dance"!
Confused? Just ask any avid cruiser who has ever been part of an on-line cruise community. The “document dance” is one of those idiosyncrasies found on cruise forums and blogs and a term fondly used by cruise fanatics everywhere to describe the joy one gets from knowing their cruise documents are ready for processing.
These days, agents or cruise lines seldom mail or hand-deliver your cruise documents. Rather, documents now come in the form of E-docs to be downloaded and printed in the comfort of your own home. Whether my documents come in paper form or cyber form makes no difference to me. I can dance either way!
Today, we received a personal email from Captain Lawes, our fearless skipper who will guide us along on our journey ship through Alaska’s inside passage to Glacier Bay. The fact that every other soon-to-be guest received the exact same captain’s message wasn’t going to burst my bubble, either. I immediately clicked on the attached link, and there was the commander’s smiling and welcoming face bidding greetings from the bridge of the Grand Princess. With excitement beyond anyone’s comprehension, I immediately went to that wonderful place called “My Princess” at Princess.com and clicked on the “Cruise Personalizer” where my booking summary was prominently displayed in all its wonderful glory.
As my eyes glazed over and drifted around the page to be sure that everything was in perfect order – that all forms were completed (check√), “Whale Watch & Mendenhall Glacier Photo Safari” excursion properly booked (check√), cabin selection (check√), dining choice (check√), etcetera…etcetera, my eyes stopped and stared at a link with just two precious words: “Boarding Pass”. This could only mean one thing – my cruise documents were ready to print! Sure enough, I clicked on the link, and there they were – those phrases that every cruiser longs for - “Print Boarding Pass, Print Luggage Tag” – indicating that our cruise is no longer a distant date on a calendar and, in fact, is just eight weeks away. Hallelujah! Start the music and let the document dancing commence!
As we still have 60 days to go before our cruise, I have not yet actually printed the documents, but just knowing they are there makes me happy.
Now – on to the packing list!
Photo Credit: alwaysbelieveblog.com
While I was recently perusing the labels of my vast collection of faux leather photo albums, I came across one identified as “Mexico 1990”. As I opened the cover and began viewing the photos, the first thing that struck me was how young and attractive my husband and I were 22 years ago. How time changes us! The second thing that sprung to mind was our encounter with a bat. Not the baseball kind, but the other kind - that nocturnal creature that flies in the night and inspires the likes of Dracula and Batman.
This trip to Mexico in June of 1990 was just one of the many music education conferences my husband has attended over the last 35 years, and I was more than happy to go along for the ride. Unlike other group events typically held in big American cities with first-class hotel accommodations, our home for a week was a large athletic campus used for Olympic training in 1968.
From what I can tell, the location was a town called Tlayacapan, about an hour and a half from Mexico City. Why this location was chosen for a convention I’ll never know, but it was highly popular with the local people of Mexico City looking for an escape to the country. It was basically a summer camp.
The building we were housed in was a dorm of sorts.
My memory of the room we occupied is vague, but the photos tell me it was a small, unattractive room with primitive furnishings, no décor to speak of, two single beds and no AC. In looking at the photo, why we didn’t just pack up and go find a real hotel remains a mystery. The room wasn’t just unattractive. It was plain ugly – and dirty.
I’m glad to say our standards in accommodations are much higher these days!
There was a single window in the room, open and screened, and we noticed several good-sized holes in the screen. Some time during our first evening, we were awakened by a noise and noticed the outline of a small winged creature flying around the darkened room. Our original thought was that a bird found it’s way through the hole in the screen, but after flipping on the light switch, we discovered it was not a bird. It was a bat! It wasn’t very big, but it was there. I can’t remember if it was moving or just “hanging” out, but the sight of a bat was more than enough to send me screaming from the room and my husband out to the hallway to fetch a staff member for some assistance. Of course, the gentleman we found spoke only Spanish, and after a game of really bad charades, he was able to determine the problem. He came into the room, took a look, left and returned a few moments later with a long-handled broom. A broom? Well, apparently, this is the pest elimination method used in this part of the world. In all the chaos, we did not remember to get photos or video, which is a darn shame. It would have made for some great entertainment. The guy was running all around the room on a wild chase, swinging his broom in a feverish frenzy, attempting to beat the poor creature to death. I don’t remember if he killed it or just mortally wounded it, but that was the last we saw of the bat.
As I made my way through the pages of the photo album, I was reminded of other sights we experienced in Mexico. On a walk through town, we saw sidewalk vendors selling all manner of clothing, household goods, fruits, vegetables and raw chickens – surrounded by buzzing flies! Poverty was alive and present in this town, as well, but so were beautiful old churches, architectural ruins and a culture totally new to us.
A page of the photo album also revealed a stunning botanical garden we visited on an excursion outside of town with lots of green palms, a variety of birds and waterfalls.
The highlight of the trip took place on our final day in Mexico. Our group was transported on a wild bus ride up the side of a winding mountain road to the picturesque town of Taxco, famous for silver.
If this were a vacation I had planned on my own, and not a group trip planned by someone else, I would have had a touring plan in hand. Since we had no such strategy, we simply roamed the charming cobblestone streets, learned how to barter with the local shops, and explored this beautiful hillside town with its ornate churches, white washed houses and red-tile roofs.
Later that evening, we dined at a local restaurant and had a rousing time, complete with margaritas, brightly decorated sombreros and a mariachi band.
We flew home the next day with our own pair of sombreros, a pair of small straw hats for the kids, a beautiful Mexican blanket, wonderful memories - and a bad case of Montezuma’s revenge, leaving us both ill for the following week.
I closed the photo album, glad to have had another glimpse at all we experienced that week in Mexico – the good, the bad and the ugly!
These days, when it comes to travel, I am a planner. I don’t like surprises. So in order to make an informed decision, every vacation begins with consuming every review and article on every cruise ship and destination, reserving hotels and tours months in advance, and creating a spreadsheet itinerary containing every detail of the trip, reduced to a handy pocket-size guide to refer to when the need arises. I used to create a huge binder with obscene amounts of paper, but thankfully with the advent of iPhone, iPad and Dropbox, I am no longer an environmental hog. I drive my family nuts with the hours I spend making travel decisions. Just ask them. They would probably call it an obsession. I call it enthusiasm.
However, I wasn’t always this organized.
As a child growing up in the 60’s, I was part of a family that did not travel often. My dad’s idea of a vacation was waking up his wife and four children early one morning, telling us to get up, get dressed and pack a bag – we’re going on a road trip. With excitement and eager anticipation, my siblings and I would pack our stuff and jump into the old Chevy - no seat belts required. The old Chevy didn't even have seat belts. Our impromptu vacation would consist of two or three days to a destination within an easy drive, the scenery of which most often consisted of mountains and trees. Dad was not a city guy. That meant either the Berkshires of northwestern Massachusetts, the Green Mountains of Vermont or, on one occasion, upstate New York. We would drive all day, making a couple of pit stops along the way, and reach our destination late in the day. By that time, Dad had enough of driving and was ready to settle into a room for the night. Yeah, right! Try finding a roadside motel vacancy in a popular destination in the middle of summer without a reservation. I don’t know if it was just my family or if it was the way everybody traveled in those days, but there was no plan. No reservations, no itinerary, no spreadsheet. There was only a map. We vacationed the only way Dad knew … by the seat of our pants.
I particularly recall one such summer vacation. Dad was driving us further than we’d ever been – Penn Dutch country. We arrived in Amish country sometime around sunset, looking for a roadside motel with a vacancy. As we drove down the 2-lane highway, the no-vacancy signs glared at us, as if to say , “ha-ha, serves you right, idiots, for not calling ahead.” My brothers and I got very quiet, our choruses of “Ten Bottles of Beer on the Wall” replaced by fear and humiliation that we’d be sleeping in the car that night. Dad finally pulled into a sold-out motel and asked the proprietor where we might be able to locate a room around town. The man, with the most pitiful look he could muster, sent us to a local farm. Yes, that’s right … a farm – complete with tall cornfields, silo and maybe some farm animals. The details remain sketchy. The farm was owned by a nice elderly couple, most likely accustomed to taking in strays like us. I do remember my mom’s displeasure at staying the night in a stranger’s house. Not my dad, though. Being an avid gardener and lover of all things that come out of the ground, he was in his element.
My husband and I recreated our own by-the-seat-of-our-pants travel moment one summer early in our marriage. While on a drive through New Hampshire, we found ourselves lost in the woods of nearby Maine on a dark night, in search of a place to sleep. We finally found it – a roadside shack in the middle of nowhere, reminiscent of The Bates Motel. I clearly expected to see Anthony Perkins with that absurd grin waiting for us behind the counter or maybe those hillbillies from Deliverance with their dueling banjos. I don’t remember much about the room, but three words come to mind: “ugly”, “scary” and “dirty”. I would not have been the least bit surprised to find a family of squirrels living under the bed. Did we stay? Yes, but I think I kept my coat on the entire night and stayed clear of the shower.
Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of setting out on a vacation without knowing where I am going to lay my head for the night. Although our preferences in accommodations have changed, much preferring the Hampton Inn instead of the Do-Drop Inn, even inexpensive roadside motels do have their place in vacation travel. All that is required is a little homework and some toleration for the basics. Advanced planning goes a long way in ensuring a great vacation with few surprises.
What about you? Should you plan ahead or travel by the seat of your pants? The choice is yours. Just remember the following rule if you happen upon a roadside motel some dark night in the middle of nowhere:
If the guy behind the counter goes by the name Norman Bates, and he says he needs to go check with his mother to find out if a room is available, run away – fast!
The Grand Princess ... our floating paradise for 10 days this summer ... has now been repositioned to it's new home port of San Francisco for it's spring and summer itineraries. It would be so cool to drive there to meet our ship. However, let's be realistic. We live on the East Coast. Since a leisurely cross-country drive to the ship is quite out of the question, we'll have to fly.
We have two choices - book our preferred flights on our own, independently, or choose a cruise air package with the cruise line.
At one time, this was a no-brainer. Book our own flights, and we can choose our own seats and otherwise have complete control, most likely at a lower fare. The cruise lines, on the other hand, would traditionally buy seats in bulk very early on, according to their needs, and the airline would assign the tickets 30 days out. Being the one in the family who meticulously maps out each and every vacation detail well in advance, knowing the details of our flight details only mere weeks before we leave causes my heart to race wildly and my blood pressure to skyrocket. That's just way too much uncertainty for me.
Now, however, cruise lines are becoming more in tune with the needs and preferences of the picky passenger and have re-worked their air & sea programs. Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, for example, offer the Choice Air program, while Princess Cruises makes their EZ Air available to their clients. Generally speaking, when you book your cruise and include one of these air add-ons, you have the ability to choose from one of their selected flight times. Likewise, for more money (in most cases), you can choose a cancel-any-time flight, if you think your plans might change.
In fact, cruise lines recently have been offering attractive package deals which include discounted or free air packages to lure customers. One disadvantage, nevertheless, to cruise air is the noticeable absence of non-stop flights among the choices, an important feature for some travelers. On the other hand, if you have booked your cruise on short notice and are having trouble finding a flight this late in the game, a cruise air package could be your ticket to the ship, perhaps at no greater cost than it would be if you could find a flight on your own. The other nice advantage to cruise air is that your transfers and luggage handling are included in the deal, making for a convenient, carefree trip to the ship.
Even with cruise air packages however, lengthy airline delays can result in literally missing the boat. A common misconception is that when your airline ticket is purchased through the cruise line that they are responsible for getting you to your ship. While the cruise line will work closely with airlines to re-route passengers to the original or next port of call in case of a disruption, it is ultimately the job of the airline to see you to your ship, most likely at the expense of the passenger. This is where travel insurance can be your friend.
Three steps to assure a smooth flight to your awaiting cruise ship:
1) Compare cruise air vs. independent air.
Begin monitoring air prices for your cruise several months before your cruise. Calculate the cost and convenience of flights available, as well as cancellation policies and fees, both for for independently flights and those with the cruise line.
2) Consider flying in at least a day before your cruise.
Not only will arriving early to your city of embarkation lessen the chances of missing your ship due to flight cancelations or delays, but it will also give you the opportunity to reach your ship in a calm, rested state of mind, instead of all frazzled and disoriented. What's more? You will have the opportunity to extend your vacation by spending some time exploring the port city. After all, they will appreciate your hard-earned money, too!
3) Purchase Travel Insurance!
If you encounter added out-of-pocket expenses for flight delays or changes, you will be very grateful. Insurance, including “trip delay” coverage pays for itself if you encounter any of these problems.
So what have we decided? In the case of our flight to San Francisco, we booked well in advance and found reasonable non-stop flights from Boston. Since that time, Princess has tempted us with a discounted air promotion, but not tempting enough to beat our less expensive, non-stop flights.
One way or another, you'll reach your ship. All you need to do is a little homework.