Posted by: travellerlynne | June 22, 2014

Upcoming Groups!!!

GROUP AVAILABILITY!!! 

 

Here is a list of groups I have:   Call now for best pricing.

 

April 9, 2015                       AMACello River Cruise                              7 night Enchanting Rhine 2 nights Lucerne and 2 Nights Zurich

 

November 15, 2015           Freedom of the Seas (U.S. pricing)      7 night Eastern Caribbean           

 

September 24, 2015         Liberty of the Seas (U.S. pricing)           9 night Canada and New England cruise

 

February 25, 2015            Celebrity Solstice                                        17 Night Australia’s Top End Cruise

 

February 26, 2015            Explorer of the Seas                                  9 night South Caribbean Adventure Cruise

 

May 9, 2015                        Oasis of the Seas                            7 night Western Caribbean

 

May 16, 2015                     Oasis of the Seas                                        7 night Eastern Caribbean

 Email marilynfraser@cruiseshipcenters.com  for more information!!!

 

Posted by: travellerlynne | April 13, 2014

NEW GROUP PRICING FOR OASIS OF THE SEAS – MAY 2015

I have some great pricing for the Oasis of the Seas for 2 sailing in May 2015. Lock your pricing in now – it won’t stay long. There is also a $50 OBC available.

Email me at: Marilynfraser@cruiseshipcenters.com for more information.

Posted by: travellerlynne | October 14, 2012

Jewel of the Sea – Baltics – August 7-19/12

We were lucky enough to cruise on the Jewel of the Seas out of Harwich, England in August.  Our goal on this cruise was Russia.  All the other stops were just gravy on a long anticipated cruise.

We flew on Air Canada, which for a change wasn’t too bad.  I had used air miles for the flights but I did have to pay taxes.  Taxes from Toronto are ridiculously high.  Sometime as much as the flight itself and sometimes even more.  That’s why I generally prefer to fly from Buffalo.

I had booked a private transfer to drive us to Harwich.  I had met another couple from California online who were flying in within an hour of our flight so we hooked up for the transfer.  It made the cost much more reasonable.  There is a train from Liverpool Street that will take you directly to Harwich  and right along side the ship.  However, since this was the middle of the Olympics and I have a bad wrist, we decided not to try the train.  Any other time we are in England we always use the train for transport.

We arrived a day early as we always do, so I had booked us into a very nice bed and breakfast.  There were no hotel rooms available in Harwich so we stayed in a little town by the name of Clacton-on-Sea.  Since our room was on the second floor, we were able to leave our big suitcases on the main floor in the front room.  They were completely safe.  The room was small but very comfortable.

We were just a half block from the seashore so we took a walk.  The gardens along there are lovely.  You can see the town has been hit by the poor economy as there were a lot of places (hotels, stores etc.) closed and this was in the middle of summer.  It’s a very pretty and quaint place so I hope it gets back on its feet once the economy over there picks up.

When our friends arrived, we walked around the corner to get some dinner even though it was raining.  What’s a little rain when you’re on vacation.  We had fish and chips but it left something to be desired.  Breakfast at the B&B the next morning was fabulous!!!

We had ordered a cab to pick all four of us up in the morning.  While the mileage as the crow flies, isn’t far, it’s a roundabout way for a cab.  It took about 45 minutes.  Cost of the cab was pre-set at 35 pounds.  I’m afraid our driver got a little confused once we reached Harwich and had to ask for direction.  Not a problem though.  We got to drive through Harwich, which is a pretty little town.   We saw the hotel our transfer companions had stayed.  They told us later there was really no place to eat around there.  I think we go the better end of that deal.

Our arrival was well-timed,  Our luggage was taken directly from the cab so we only had our hand luggage.  We walked in, lined up, and within 5 minutes were heading into check-in. This had to be the easiest check in we’ve ever had.  We are Diamond plus therefore there was a separate check in behind a small wall.  It was done very quickly and we were told to head right on the ship.  We had been given a red card to show on the ramp up and that was our ticket to boarding immediately.  I noticed the enforced that rule as well.  Those that tried to board without the red card were turned back.  (And some were not particularly happy about that.)

Radiance class is probably my favourite class of ship.  There is a lot of glass which give a lot of light and space.  My favourite two spots – the Concierge Lounge and the  Solarium area.  I’m not big on the pool but I do enjoy the hot tub.

The Jewel has yet to receive its revitalization but it certainly didn’t show.  I felt the ship was in excellent condition.  The service and staff were excellent although the food in the dining room certainly left something to be desired.  We didn’t eat there too often choosing to either go to the Windjammer or Chops.  We also used room service on many mornings.  The weather was excellent almost the whole journey so we were able to have breakfast on our balcony.

The staterooms have ample space.  We had more closet and cupboard space than needed.  Our cases fitted nicely under the bed.

We visited the concierge lounge each evening for our pre-dinner drinks.  It was never too crowded, however it is a bit disappointing to see they now allow children during the cocktail hour.  Complaints from suite guests caused these changes.  C’est la vie.  At least there were very few children on this particular cruise that had access to the lounge.

Our main purpose of this cruise, besides enjoying the ship, was the two days in St. Petersburg.  However, we did enjoy all the countries we visited.  We visited, Sweden, Estonia, Denmark and Finland.  We didn’t do much by way of tours as we were saving our energy for Russia.  We did use either a hop on hop off bus or walked wherever we could.  If we were able to go again, we would spend more time at the various ports.

Our piece de resistance – St. Petersburg – prior to leaving I had booked us a semi-private two day tour with TJ Tours.  There were twelve people on the tour.  So glad we didn’t take a ships tour.  We saw so much more than they did.

Prior to leaving, TJ’s had sent us instructions on disembarking along with our tickets.  You cannot just get off a ship in Russia and wander around.  You must have a visa.  We were lucky in that TJ’s had a blanket visa that covered all of us.  To disembark we required our ticket, passport and a form we had to complete for the Russian authorities.  We were instructed not to talk to the immigration people, not even to smile at them.  They didn’t crack a smile – nothing – just banged the counter if you were fast enough (and I wasn’t because I accidentally dropped my passport.)

Our guide and driver were waiting on the other side.  We were taken to a 16 passenger very clean mini van.  From there we headed out for a long day of sight-seeing. We had a guide and a driver. The guide spoke excellent English. The driver not so much but that was OK as the guide was the only one who had to speak.

This is the itinerary I received: Other than some things were not necessarily in the order given, everything on this list was supplied as well as a stop at the Synagogue which I had requested.

The lunches supplied on each day were delicious and the little restaurants well worth visiting.

Two day “All St Petersburg Highlights” 2012.

You will have a great opportunity to visit all famous highlights of St Petersburg:

• An early entrance to the Hermitage
• A guided tour of Catherine palace with the Amber room
• A walk along Fountain Park in Petergof
• A guided tour of St Isaac’s cathedral
• A guided tour of Spilt Blood church

• A guided tour of Peter and Paul fortress
• A guided tour of Yusupov palace
• A boat trip along the rivers and canals,
• A hydrofoil back to the city from Petergof.

During this two day program you will get to know:
• The history of St Petersburg and its founder Peter the Great
• The Romanovs dynasty (facts and anecdotes)
• St Petersburg as the cultural capital of Russia and Soviet Union
• St Petersburg – city of 3 revolutions
• Soviet Regime: Lenin and Stalin
• Gorbachev: “the father” of the Perestroika
• Modern life in Russia and St Petersburg: housing, educational system, health care system, family life – don’t hesitate to ask any questions

During exciting touring days you will be offered two traditional Russian lunches in the local restaurants/cafes.

The tour covers the most of St Petersburg for a very reasonable price and it is limited to 16 people.
We organize this tour from most of the ships arriving at our city
(please contact us for more details)

The price of the tour is 300 US dollars per person

Note please, this tour is not suitable for any mobility restricted traveler.

All St.Petersburg Highlights tour

Day 1,
7.30-8am Meeting by the ship. City tour in St Petersburg
10:00-10.30am Travel to Petergof by hydrofoil
10.30-12.00pm guided tour of the Fountain Park and Upper gardens
12.00-1.00pm Traditional Russian lunch
1.00-2.00 pm Travel to Tsars’ Village
2.00-3:30pm Inside guided tour of Catherine Palace with the Amber Room
3.30-4.30pm-Driving back to the city. Visit to the subway station
4.30-5:00pm Inside guided tour of St Isaac cathedral
5.30-6.00 Inside guided tour of the Church on Spilt Blood
6.30pm Return to the ship or evening optional program
Day 2,
8am Meeting by the ship
8:30-9:30am Boat Ride along the rivers and canals with a glass of Champaign
9:45-12:00am Inside guided tour of the Hermitage Museum (Early entrance, before official opening hours)
12:30-1:15pm Traditional Russian lunch
1.30-2.30 pm Inside guided tour of St Peter and Paul fortress/Cathedral. Payment for the tour. Shopping
3.00-4.30pm Inside guided tour of Yusupov palace
5 pm Return to the ship

Price includes:
• Admission fees to all museums in the program as well as the cost of hydrofoil ride and a boat trip along rivers and canals
• services of a friendly, and a highly professional guide for 2 days
• Driver’s services for 2 days (Comfortable (Mercedes) mini van with A/C)
• Photo and video permissions at the museums (except Yusupov Palace, camera pass is 5$ p.p, video pass is 12$ per person)
• All port fees
• the cost of blanket visa,
• all local taxes
• Cost of traditional Russian lunches
• Bottled water for each day
• Ear phones sets for the group from 10 people

If you would like to have a private All Highlights tour, the cost of the tour is below:

Number of people in the group 2 4 6 8 10 12 – 16

Price per person in USD
( with included lunches) 650 450 370 345 310 300

Price per person in USD (without lunches included) 610 410 330 305 270 260

Please note:

• The tour includes two lunches that will be in a local cafes or restaurants. You will be served 3 course typical Russian menu.
Please let us know if you have any food restrictions

• If hydrofoil ride cancelled due to the unfavorable weather conditions it is not refunded: we use our van instead to get to/from Petergof

If anyone wants a contact email for TJ’s just let me know, I can’t emphasize enough how well our tour went and how much we enjoyed it.

*******Much more to come***********

Posted by: travellerlynne | August 31, 2012

Radiance of the Seas – Hawaii to Vancouver – April/May 2012

We flew Toronto – Honolulu where we stayed a few days prior to boarding the ship.  We had been to Hawaii a few years before therefore we decided that 3 days would be more than enough.  We stayed in the Waikiki area.  It is lovely and we did enjoy it, but if we were to go again we wouldn’t stay in Waikiki Beach again.  It is a very long street of very cosmopolitan stores – no different that New York, LA or any other big U.S. city.  And it is very expensive so be prepared.

I had booked a transfer service prior to leaving.  The were truly a disappointment.  They weren’t at the airport when we arrived.  I had to phone them.  They turned up about 20 minutes later.  We had a time agreement to pick us up at the hotel to take us to the ship.  After waiting a half hour, I finally called him (again).  After some humming and hawing he said he was sending someone else for us.  We waited another 10 minutes at which time I phoned him back and basically told him to stuff it – we would take a cab.  Certainly would never recommend this company -

We were not particularly happy with the hotel we stayed in – Pacific Beach, and wouldn’t recommend it.  I had to ask for a room change as they put us right behind an elevator which we heard all night long.  They moved us the next day after some discussion with a manager.  They charge to use the safe and there is a charge for the internet in the rooms.

A had bought a 3 day pass for one of the hop on hop off buses that circle the island.  It took us up to Diamond Head and the mouth of the crater.  The charge to get into th crater is $1 which is no problem at all.

We were using this advance time to adjust before boarding the Radiance so we primarily wandered the beach and main streets.

The cab dropped us off at the port about 11:30.  There was quite a line-up.  The way they handle the baggage was very different from any other port we’ve been to.  You handle your own luggage as you snake along the line until you come to the small room where you throw it on the conveyor belt to the ship yourself.  The porters only help you if they see you struggling.  As I said, very different.

However, once we boarded everything was OK.  We had lunch in the Windjammer and were able to get into our cabins earlier than expected.  We took a look at the new additions on the Radiance.  One side of the Windjammer secondary area has been turned into Izumi’s and the other side into Rosa’s Cantina.  Portofino’s has been replaced by Giovanni’s.  I must admit I preferred Portofino’s.

Chop’s is still Chop’s and we still love it.  We ate there 4 nights.  If it hadn’t cost $30 each, we would have eaten there more.

I had bought the dining package prior to leaving home.  That gave us Izumi’s, Giovanni’s, Chops and Samba’s Grill.  We also had our D+ coupon which gave us a BOGO coupon to be used the first night.  We used it in Chops of course.  We had also booked into the Mystery Dinner (which I’m told is no longer being offered.)  It was held in Giovanni’s.  It was hilarious.  The meal was delicious and the acting troupe were – well hilarious.

They have added the Park Cafe where you are able to have fresh salads made to order.  This has been set up inside the Solarium. Not as nice as on the Allure but OK.

The Boardwalk Dog House was a disappointment.  It has been set up just outside the Windjammer and we were never able to get a “HOT” hot dog.  We only ate in the Main Dining room twice for dinner and once for lunch.  It was OK but we found the food in the Windjammer better.  I must say, that has never happened before.

We visited the islands enjoying them immensely.  If we were to go back to Hawaii we would definitely stay on one of the islands rather than Honolulu.

Our cabin had plenty of room.  We after we had unpacked, we still had a lot of space to store more had we have had anymore than we did.

The Solarium is our favourite spot for soaking in the hot tub.  I’m not big on the pool but my DH enjoys it.

The weather held up fairly well as we were sailing back to Vancouver.  Everything went fine until we hit rain.  With the changes made to the ship, the Seaview Cafe has been renovated and made larger.  It is now Samba’s Grill.  As I found out very painfully, some of the changes they have made are not good for the cruiser on a rainy evening.  We had reservations.  We had to go up the elevator and across the very wet deck.  When we entered, the waiter greeted me with a wrap, which was very helpful since I was cold by then.

We started dinner and it was delicious – at least as much as I had.  To use the facilities, one has to go outside into the rain and across the slippery deck past the children’s play area.  Too far when having to go outside – way too far.

On my return, I walked back into the restaurant, took a few steps on the carpet only to step with wet and slippery shoes onto the only square of tile in that restaurant.  I went done like a rock. Before I go on, I want to point out that when they made the changes and expanded this restaurant, they took out a staircase right outside the door that could be used to go down to the Windjammer.  That would have been much safer than having to walk across the wet deck.

I was “lucky” in that there were three first responder sfrom Winnipeg – two |EMS and one fireman, in the restaurant that evening and they were at my side in seconds.  They were very helpful is ordering ice for my wrist and checking me out.  They didn’t think my wrist was broken, but it was.

The medical staff was very quick to respond.  I was taken to the medical facilities where I met one of the two doctors onboard.  She was extremely kind and very competent.  She ordered x-rays immediately.  They showed a break and some other damage.  Because of the swelling, she couldn’t set it that night.  She gave me meds and said to come back the next morning so she could set it.  Without going into piles of details, we returned the next morning, she put me out and set my wrist.

I have to say, the medical facilities are excellent.  Very clean with a knowledgeable staff who were very good to me and my husband.  I certainly  didn’t want to see the medical area this way.

Even with the pain, we enjoyed this cruise.  We probably wouldn’t it again because this was the second time for us, albeit not on the same ship.  There are so many places in the world we would like to go I don’t think we’ll have time to return to Hawaii for a third time.

Posted by: travellerlynne | May 5, 2011

Uniworld – River Duchess – April 24 – May 3, 2011

We returned on Tuesday, May 3,  from our first river cruise.  It was called Tulips and Windmills and sailed from Antwerp to Amsterdam.  We were on the River Duchess by Uniworld.  One of the first things I would like to point out – River Cruises are not for children.  There are no programs and no children’s area.  Children would be bored to death for a variety of reasons.

We flew out of Toronto on KLM.  We had been able to upgrade to Business Class at a nominal fee when checking in.  That made for a good flight!!!  Lots of room – so important on a long flight.  We landed in Amsterdam but as we were heading to Wales for a few days, immediately picked up a flight to Manchester.  Once in Manchester, we were able to take the train from airport directly to Llandudno, Wales.  Rather an easy procedure.

The weather was perfect for the first few days.  We stayed at the St. George’s Hotel in Llandudno.  Beautiful hotel.  Rooms were very nice and breakfast was included.   Of course the best part of being in Llandudno was seeing some of my family whom I hadn’t seen for over 12 years.  But that is another story.

Llandudno is a beautiful town on the seashore.  We spent 2.5 days there and would do it again.  There is a lot to see and do in the area.  The pier is great.  You walk out quite some distance.  There were children’s rides, little food places and you could just sit out there.  The tides are quite big there from the north sea so it’s interesting to watch at various times of the day. I just didn’t allow us enough time there.

On Friday, we took a late train back to Manchester airport.  We stayed at the Radisson Bleu at the airport.  We had stayed there previously – probably about 4 or 5 years ago.  It’s a tired hotel and needs some work.  We wanted to get something to eat about 9:30 but the whole restaurant area was closed.  They told us to use room service.  When we looked at the prices we decided to forgo the food – prices were far too high.  $20 for a hamburger was ridiculous.  Not a hotel I would recommend unless you really are just going to sleep and head for your plane in the morning.

We had a 10:30 am flight to Brussels on Brussels Air.  Repacking to get down to 40 pounds was a bit of a chore but we managed.  We had decided to spend one night in Brussels before going over to Antwerp on Sunday.  Brussels is a beautiful city. 

After checking into the hotel, we just wandered around the corner to the center of town.  The town square is gorgeous.  All those beautiful buildings.  Lots of eateries where you can get anything you want.  You can eat inside or outside, but outside is better for people watching.  All the eateries were very crowded and, in the end we had to go inside one to get our dinner.  We would rather have sat outside, but …….. nothing we could do about it.

The hotel we stayed at, Royal Windsor Grand Place was a great disappointment.  So much so, in fact, I will be sending a letter of complaint.   When we arrived it was hot.  The air conditioning in the hotel was not working.  The front desk told us they were working on it and it would be fixed sometime that day.  As it turns out, it had not been working for several days and they were not working on it at all.  Had we known that, we certainly would have cancelled and gone to another hotel.  As it was our choices were – close the window and not sleep because of the heat or leave the window (unscreened) open and listen to the screaming, horns honking and all sundry noises all night.  Needless to say, we did not get any sleep.  (I did get a response to my letter of complaint.  There was an apology and offer of upgrade with all their amenities next time we are in Brussels.  As we hope to return, I will accept that.)

However, before leaving Brussels we went back to the square for waffles the next morning.  Nothing like a Belgium waffle to start your day.

As we were only a block from the rail station, we decided to take a quick walk over there to see about a train the next day to take us to Antwerp.  We were able to buy our tickets and get the schedule so we knew when we would have to leave.  We were able to spend the morning in Brussels and caught a train at 11:30 am.  We were in Antwerp in less than  a hour.

I had no expectations when we arrived never having been on a river boat before.  We were amused from the beginning.   We were pulling our luggage along when we met the captain.  He told us to leave it and they would take care of it.  He took it onboard. 

Uniworld has a very casual atmosphere about it.  When we boarded, we were just handed our room keys asked for our passports and sent on our way.  We were told we could deal with our onboard account later.  They actually meant on the second to last day.  They didn’t want a credit card.  Our passports were returned to us the next day. 

The cabins are smaller than a “regular” cruise ship.  They did tell us we were only allowed to bring one regular and one carry-on size luggage.  Not a problem though as that is all we normally take these days.  With being charged on planes for luggage one learns to lighten the load.

There was sufficient closet space and our bags stored nicely under the beds.  We were on deck 3.  Personally, after taking this cruise, I would not take a cabin on deck 2 or deck 1.  Far too close to the water and the one night when we were crossing an extremely large lake, the water splashed up on the windows enough to bother me.  I don’t like being close to the water.  Riverboats are basically low in the water and very long.

On deck 4 (top passenger deck) the dining room is at the back then the cabins.  At the half way mark you go down half a deck where the reception is and straight ahead to the lounge.  There is also a small library which has two computers.  Internet is free (it was very much hit and miss – more miss than hit.)  You have to remember there are only two computers so you do have to share.  For those who carry their own computers, you can set up in the library or go down to the coffee-room on deck 2 and set up there.

Deck 3 is where we were.  There are 24 cabins per deck.  Deck 2 is below and then deck 1.   All really seem to be half decks from each other.  On deck 2 there is a small coffee area where coffee, tea, iced tea and cookies are always available.  There is also a shop (very expensive) and a work out room with equipment on this level.

There is a top-level with a small room that I believe allows smoking.  It is glass enclosed and is a nice place to sit and read.   Also on that level is an outdoor area where you can play shuffleboard and just sit and enjoy.  We were really only able to do that for the first couple of days as the weather cooled and it started to get windy but it was still lovely there.  They had dinner served on that deck for 16 people one evening.  They had intended it for three evenings but it turned far too chilly.

Our cabin, while small, was adequate.  The bedding is quite nice – the bed itself rather hard.  We had a half picture window so we were able to see out quite nicely.  As I have already said, I would not want to stay on either deck 2 or deck 1 as they are too close to the water to suit me.  There was a small nightstand on either side of the bed.  There is a small table under the window and a small fitted table at the end of the window area. 

Closets were OK.  There were 2 that took hanging clothes and four drawers – this was sufficient for us.   The bathroom – well – a bit of a challenge.  The shower was just fine – lots of room and water was excellent.  The rest of the room – rather tight.  When you get out of the shower you rather have to open the bathroom door to dry off and move around or you’re going to be thumping yourself.  It was OK and we managed fine but for some people, it could be an issue.

There was a TV but it wasn’t particularly good.  A little thing set high up on a shelf above the closet.  We like to watch the news and it did get CNN (Europe) and BBC.  We were also able to watch the Royal Wedding.  They do run a different  movie every day on one channel.

Breakfast and lunch are buffet and each served over two hours.  Breakfast is normally 7 – 9 with lunch being anywhere from 12 to 1 running to 2 or 2:30.  Breakfast does have an omlette bar where you can get fried eggs as well.  There is a toaster so you can make your own hot toast.  (I hate cold toast.)  The buffet also has a variety of breakfast foods, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, fruit, potatoes of one kind or another, breads, muffins etc.  Certainly a good veriety to chose from. 

In the afternoon, 4 pm to 5 pm they serve tea in the lounge.  The bar is open, and they serve a light lunch of finger sandwiches, soup, desserts, fruits tea and coffee.  Great if you missed lunch or just want a little snack to hold you over til dinner. 

During some evenings, after dinner, there is local entertainment in the lounge.  We had a group of retired seafarers who sang a lot of “ditties” – sort of sailor songs from over the years.  We had some local dancers in costume one night.  They were all wonderful and a lot of fun to watch and listen to.

We usually turned in early, but if you want to get off the ship and take a walk, there is nothing stopping you.  There are some lovely towns and we never felt concerned about anything. 

There was one rough patch as

More to follow……

Posted by: travellerlynne | March 7, 2011

Allure of the Seas – just returned – Feb. 27 – March 6/11

I  returned from the Allure last night.  It was a beautiful ship so I can tell you, you are in for a treat.  These ships are just like no other.  I have been on almost 40 cruises and nothing compares. I booked all of the shows we wanted to see in advance and found it was the best thing to do.  They do have note via a hand-held computer system that will let them know who has and who hasn’t booked.  The entertainment on the Allure was the best I had ever seen.  I know it would  shows that are different than on the Oasis but I would expect the same caliber of show.  My sister-in-law was with me.  She regularly attended plays in Toronto and New York and agrees with me that these shows are as good as anything you would find in either of those cities.There were a lot of wonderful dining venues.  My favourite is Chops.  Make sure you go to Central Park where there are several to choose from.For the best view be sure to go to the Viking Crown Lounge on the 17th deck for a drink.  It has a gorgeous view.  These ships have so much to see and do, it is difficult to get everything done in just seven days. We did the best we could but I know we didn’t see it all.Borelo’s and the Schooner bars are excellent.  Don’t forget the Rising Tide Bar which we thoroughly enjoyed.  This one takes you from deck 5 to deck 8 while you are enjoying a drink. 
Now that I have actually been on this ship, I would recommend everyone sail on it at least once. On that note, I do have a group available for January 2012. Take a look at the excellent pricing.

 This ship is designed for families with children.  They have a wonderful children’s program from babies to tots to teens.  There is so much to do for the kids I can’t imagine a child getting bored.  We had a balcony overlooking Central Park which we found suited us.  We were able to people watch, read and enjoy our breakfast on our balcony.

 There are also balconies overlooking the Boardwalk but I would advise, it can be noisy back there.  The noise does tend to quieten down by 11 PM and the balconies overlooking the Boardwalk are excellent for watching the water shows and other functions that go on at the back of the ship.  

Posted by: travellerlynne | March 7, 2011

Celebrity Equinox – Dec. 6 – 17/10

I am getting behind in my postings. 

My husband and I sailed on the Equinox as I had a Seminar to attend.  Like it’s sister ship, the Solstice it is a gorgeous ship.  But again, we thought the food was lacking in the Main Dining Room.  We had no trouble with starter, soup and salad – but after that it was lacking.  I’m going to have to find out why.

Our cabin was good.  We were in a balcony. 

I will post more and pics later.

Posted by: travellerlynne | January 5, 2011

Azamara Journey – November report

 ****When everything is settled in Egypt, I would recommend this cruise or any cruise for that matter that will take you to Egypt and Israel. 

Left Toronto on time.  After checking in at the new  terminal we were able to use the Maple Leaf Lounge of Air Canada as we were flying first class.  What a way to get spoilt.  Beautiful area – free bar of anything you wanted, food, snacks, comfy chairs.  Going back with the masses to economy is going to be a real chore. (In case anyone doesn’t realize it, I’m just kidding.)  Because we arrived early, we zipped though the security in 2 minutes – nothing like I was expecting.

The plane was excellent.  In business class you get a pod in which you can stretch right out more like a bed.   The food was typical of airlines.  It was supposed to be chef designed but it was ABSOLUTELY  no different from any other airline food we have eaten before – yucky.

The Frankfurt airport is terrible.  We Had to get off the plane on the tarmac into an extremely crowded airport shuttle bus and be taken to the terminal.  There we went through Eu immigration which was very quick and easy.  Once we found where we had to go to catch our second flight we had to go through security a second time. 

We asked directions to the first class lounge.  Following those directions we headed there only to find it was closed for renovations.  We were sent to the Sports Bar which was nothing more than a half walled whatever you want to call it where you could pick up  a paper cup of coffee a couple of stand up tables to drink it.  A couple of kitchen type chairs on the outside were to sit.  Just awful.  We walked down to the gate which was then changed for the second time and finally ended up at the end of the game. 

The second plane was definitely not much for first class.  Instead of 3 across there were 2 seats only.  We were fed using proper silverware rather than plastic – not much else different.  We were not offered a drink either.

So, overseas flights great – internal flights not so good.  Our luggage was first out – all of it – the check-in clerk in Toronto had put priority tags on it when we checked in.  Another perk of business class.

I had ordered a driver to meet us at the airport on our arrival in Athens.  He was right on time.  He took our luggage immediately and led us to his cab.  He packed it away nicely and we were on our way into Athens.  The driver was excellent, his English excellent.  He gave us some information on the way into the city.  The traffic is unbelievably bad.  It took about 45 – 60 minutes to arrive at the Plaka Hotel where we had a 2 night reservation.  The hotel is quite adequate.  Very clean and the bed is comfortable.  The shower leaves a bit to be desired as too much water ends up on the floor.  There was a small balcony.  We were extremely tired the first night but we did take the time to go up to the roof Bar for a drink.  The scenery is gorgeous.  We could look directly at the Acropolis which is lit up in the evening.  Beautiful site.  We called it an early night as we were suffering from jet lag.  However, I could not really sleep as the room was terribly hot.  Finally, around 5 I fell asleep.

We finally got up around 8 am, showered and readied ourselves for the day.  The hotel supplied a breakfast buffet as part of the package. It was OK – juices, toasts, canned fruit, cold cuts, scrambled eggs, coffee. 

We had looked out the balcony and noticed everyone was wearing winter clothes, coats etc.  We figured we should be wearing at least sweaters which lasted about 10 minutes before we realized we were way too warm.  We took a turn through a flea market area and returned to the hotel to ditch the sweaters.  Greece does not get the winters we do so I suppose 68 degrees to cold to them.  We wandered around the Plaka area for awhile grabbed a pastry and coke and sat in a square to watch the teeming humanity.  There are 3.5 million people in Athens and another 2 million in the burbs.  During the tourist season they are visited by 2.5 million visitors.

We decided we would do better if we jumped on the Hop on Hop Off bus.  The cost is 18 euros each.  A bit pricey but to be expected I guess.  As we were driving around we did notice a group of police in full riot gear running down some steps.  What we did not know at that time a couple of bombs had been sent to some embassies in Athens.  We only found out later that evening when watching the news on TV.  We had also commented on the numbers of both police and army on the streets.  Now I understand.

When we were driving in from the airport I asked our driver about picking us up at the hotel to take us to the ship.  He said he could not himself but made a couple of phone calls and said we would we picked up.  As it turns out, he did pick us up himself and not only that, we were now 4 and he took it all in stride.  He put 4 people’s luggage into his little cab and 4 of us into the cab and without any hesitation at all took us all to the port.  I cannot recommend this man more.  His prices were better than any other we had been given and his service was impeccable.

 When we arrived at the ship check in was smooth – we filled out the health questionnaire and  on to priority check in which was quick.  Of course I would not give my cc at that point as I explained we do not want RCL to convert our charges to  Canadian dollars.   From there we moved over to security,  not realizing there were more than one ship waiting to go through it.  There were some very rude pushy people and I was almost regretting the cruise at that point.  Once we got through security the rude pushy people veered off to the right and I realized they were heading for the Costa ship.  Thank goodness.

We turned to our left and walked only a short distance when we saw the Azamara Journey.  It is a small ship but beautiful.  We strolled onboard.  There were no crowds, no pushing just warm welcoming staff as we boarded.

We wandered the ship for a while.  As we had been on the Tahitian Princess previously we knew what to expect as to size etc.  I really do like the smaller ships better.  We had lunch in the buffet, then found out way to our cabin.  We found the cabin to be quite adequate with enough room and storage to do us.  The flat screen TV was definitely a plus.  First time we’ve had one.  We usually do get a balcony so we can enjoy our breakfast and just sitting outside.  There were dressing gowns hanging ready of use.  The towels were in excellent condition, soft and fluffy. 

One of the nicest things, I could reach into the mini-fridge and grab a pop not having to worry about the nickel and diming starting.  There was a large bottle of water sitting on the desk.  There was no charge for that either.

The absolute best thing about Azamara is the lack of extra charges.  Wine by the glass was available at lunch and dinner as was pop and speciality coffees  included.  Gratuities were also included. 

One of the best things about this particular cruise was the people we met.  We are not big on using cruise lines tours therefore whenever possible I book privately.  This cruise was no different.  I had booked a private tour through http://www.guidedtoursisrael.com/ for the Israel component of our cruise.  I therefore was looking for at least another couple to share the cost with us.  As it happened we had two couples who were travelling together share with us.  We were extremely lucky with this as both couples were extremely nice and we had a wonderful time with them, both on and off the ship. 

Our first stop was Mykonos, Greece.  As this was our second time and, as it was already off-season, we only left the ship long enough to take a walk around the beach area and have an ice-cream.  A large number of the shops were closed therefore there wasn’t a lot to do.  I know some of the passengers took another ferry over to Delphi where I’m told they had a great time exploring the ruins. 

Our next stop was Rhodes.  We hadn’t been there before.  We enjoyed it but probably not as much as we would have had we not been so looking forward to our stops in Israel and Egypt.

Our next stop was my personal favourite – Israel.  The ship was to stay two days in Israel.  As stated earlier, I had hired a guide who picked us up at the port and after a day of touring dropped us back off at the ship and picked us up again the next day for our second day of touring.

As there were six of us on the tour we found it much more informative and were able to have the tour more personally designed than had we taken a ships tour which normally consists of about 40 or more people.

We were picked up in a van with a driver/guide who was extremely knowledgable and was able to show us so much while providing a running commentary.  In no particular order we covered pretty well everything from the Sea of Galilee near where we had lunch on a kibbutz to the wailing wall to Bethlehem.  We were not able to go into Tel Aviv as time just wouldn’t allow it.

To be honest, I’m not sure I’m doing this in the order we travelled but it really doesn’t matter.  I’m sure my readers will understand.

We drove out to the Sea of Galilee.  What a beautiful site.  As we drove our guide pointed out we were travelling along the Golan Heights where the Syrians used to fire down on the Israelis until the Israelis finally drove them back.  There is no climbing the beautiful hills though as there are still mines there. We then headed for lunch at a kibbutz – for those who don’t know a kibbutz is similar to a co-operative farm. 

Bethlehem was a  special treat at least to me.  As it is in the Palestinian territories our guide had made arrangements for us to cross through the border and be met on the other side by a Christian Palestinian to do that part of our tour.  It was a bit disconcerting to go through the no-man’s land of the barrier between the two was well worth it.  Both guides were very concerned for our safety and while one stood on one side watching us cross with a phone at his ear talking to the other guide who was waiting for us on the other side to be sure we all crossed safely.

This is where a private tour wins hands down over a ship/bus tour.  When we arrived at the church in Bethlehem, the line up was at least 2 hours long and probably longer.  Although we had to “tip” we were able to by-pass the line and go in immediately.  Saved hours of our time which allowed us to visit more places.

After a quick stop at a souvenir shop we headed back to the border where once again our guide handed us off to our Israeli guide.  We made sure we gave a gratuity to both our guide and driver on the Palestinian side. 

We continued on our way with our guide.  He took us up to the Mount of Olives where he explained why the graves were where they were and the hierarchy even in death.

The highlight of my day was our visit to the wailing wall in the walled city of Jerusalem.  It is in two sections, one for the men and one for the women.  What surprised me the most – way more women than men.  Women were sitting, it appears they sit there for hours reading the bible.  I had no idea of this before we went.

We walked through a lot of alleys with many shops to work our way in and out of the wailing wall area.  I stopped in a small shop as were going thru to buy a minora.   The alleyways are probably a bit intimidating – very glad we had our guide with us.

After two days in Israel, we sailed over to Egypt.  We were 2 days there.  We booked a private tour with http://www.nileblueexcursions.com/. They picked us up at the ship, we toured all day and then went to the Meni House Oberoi Hotel for the night. The picked us up there the next day, we toured again and then they drove us back to the ship.

That was the bare bones. A bit about what we discovered in Egypt. Cairo is a city of 20 million people with another 5 million entering every day. There are no traffic lights and, although there are stop signs they appear to be a suggestion rather than an order. A 2 lane road with markings are usually used as a 3 or 4 lane road. Hence, I would never suggest driving in Egypt.

The tour company worked with us to take us wherever we wanted to go. We did a mosque, the pyramids where we saw the light show in the evening and the next morning went back to. (I rode a camel – I highly recommend it). He took us to the Egyptian Museum were we saw King Tut’s artifacts in addition to everything else, we drove down to Memphis. We also took a falluja ride on the Nile.

Just a note about the mosque: our guide took us in and asked us to take off our shoes.  Of course we did then sat in a circle while he explained a bit about his religion. I did find it interesting and again, something I would recommend as part of any tour. 

We were given a very skilled driver and a guide whose knowledge was excellent and English was perfect. They will design your tour to suit.

As for pricing, there were 6 of us and the price we paid included the hotel and lunch as well as entries into everything except the cost of the camel ride.

Also, you need to have a lot of U.S. dollars. They want a “dollah” to use the facilities, although our guide would always give us a coin when needed. There are all sorts of vendors wherever you do.  They are constantly trying to sell you their wares for a “dollah”.  We did buy a few trinkets.  When we were at the pyramids we were surrounded by a numbr of teens.  We were a bit concerned and I asked our guide if there was a problem.  He said they just wanted their picture take with us and to practice their English.  We were happy to oblige.

While In Egypt I have to say – don’t eat anything that isn’t cooked.  Don’t have ice.  The standards there are just different than ours and it’s easy to have a stomach problem.  We had taken a sandwich and some fruit along with water from the ship.  I would always suggest this.  For breakfast the next morning we ate at the buffet in the hotel and it was excellent.  The hotel itself was gorgeous.  There were guards on the gate and if you didn’t belong you didn’t get it.  We felt perfectly safe.  The room – I’ve never had such a beautiful room.  Absolutely huge with the most comfortable bed.   

On the second day we went to Memphis.  Very interesting but rather small site with artifacts outside.  I don’t know how well thing will hold up with the pollution or how long they will last.  We went back to Cairo so David and I (the others chickened out) could have our camel ride.  Very interesting!!!!

I am so glad I did this, as scared as I was getting on the creature.  I have to recommend it to anyone who goes to Egypt – make sure you give it a try.   It’s something you”ll only get to do once.
 
Returning to the ship was a treat – she says sarcastically.  The 2.5 hour drive is a long one at the end of the day.  Thank goodness we had such a competent driver.  It was dark by the time we reached Alexandria.  Our driver took us through the back alleys to return to the ship and I must say, it did make me nervous.  Once we reached the dock area, the driver and guide had to leave us.  They apparently are not allowed into the restricted area.  We walked from this point back to the ship.  There is a large port area with a lot of empty shops.  It looked rather new so I’m not sure if they were waiting for renters or if there was/is an issue with security.
 
While Egypt has some cleanliness issues, I would never try to discourage anyone from visiting.  You have to be careful and be willing to overlook how dirty some of the areas are and be super careful with the food.  As long as you don’t eat any dairy, raw vegetables or drink any water you should be alright.
 
 Our next two days were spent at sea.  It was nice to have a rest after four very hectic days.  It gave us an opportunity to explore the ship more.   We were invited to brunch with an officer who, it turned out, was the Human Resource Manager.  We had an extremely pleasant time with this informative lady.  The brunch was outstanding!!   Everything from shrimp to eggs Benedict.  Delicious. 
 
We met our new friends for dinner in the Prime C Steakhouse one evening.  The food was excellent.  We had also had dinner in Aquilina Dining Room on our first evening.    There is just no where on that ship we did not enjoy the food.
 
We spent a couple of days at sea enjoying the ship.  Even though it is a small ship of 640 passengers, it is a wonderful ship to enjoy. 
 
Our last stop was an overnight in Sorrento.  Our original plans for a private tour did not happen.  We weren’t unhappy about that but that was for personal reasons.  We had found we had hit it off with those who took the Israeli tour with us and they invited us to join them on their private tour to Naples.  We were happy to do so.  The guide picked us up at the ship and away we went.  He took us to Herculaneum Archaeological Ruins in Naples.  This was definitely new to us.  It was extremely interesting and not crowded.  We have been to Pompeii on a previous cruise and hadn’t wanted to return but this was great and extremely interesting.            

Our guide took us to a restaurant for pizza.  It was OK but the others were disappointed somewhat as they had wanted to go to a particular place but we were taken to where the guide wanted to go.  From there he dropped us off at the train station – he did walk in with us so we would get the right track.  I think this part came as a surprise to everyone as we had expected to be taken back to the ship.  Nevertheless, it worked.  It was called a train but actually was a subway.  He had said it was only a few stops – it was 22.  When we arrived we found our way over to the area the ship was in but the shuttles weren’t operating and we had to walk down steps that were not very good.  One of our party twisted her ankle on the way down.  I do feel if our guide had returned us to the ship this would not have happened.

The next day we shuttled back up to the town.  Sorrento is a gorgeous little village.  We wandered up and down the little streets, I did a bit of shopping and we headed back to the ship.

Our last stop, where we disembarked, was Civitavecchia which is the port for Rome.  The Rome airport is about an hour from the port.  Since we were staying overnight and the cost of a cab  is extremely expensive in Rome, I decided to hire a guide for the day.  Once again I was lucky enough to hook up with another couple who were from Texas and hadn’t been to Rome before to share costs.  The driver/guide picked us up at the ship at 8 am, drive us into Rome where  we covered a lot of sites, including the collusieum and Trevi Fountain among them.  We could have done with another full day just to see the Vatican.  We  had been there before but still wanted to see it again.  There just isn’t enough time in half a day.  Our guide took us to a restaurant of his choice for lunch.  It was fantastic!!!  And the price was excellent.  From there he dropped us off at the Vatican Museum to see the Sisten Chapel.  I’m afraid we rushed as we wanted to get over to the Vatican as well and it is quite a walk to get around.  We were only able to spend an hour or so in the Vatican.  The line ups are huge as you have to go through security prior to entering and that takes quite a bit of time. 

We were lucky as we had been to Rome before but for the other couple I wish it could have been longer.  I would always suggest two days in Rome with one dedicated to the Vatican.

All four of us were staying at the same hotel out by the airport so our driver/guide dropped us off there.  The hotel was excellent but the food not so good and very expensive.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the evening.  We had an early flight back to Frankfurt/Toronto the next day, therefore calling  it a night early.

I would recommend this cruise to anyone.  We say so much in the couple of weeks between Greece, Israel, Egypt and Italy.  I would just like to have spent more time in Israel Egypt and Italy.  Hopefully one day we can get back there. 

I will also say, the people we met on this cruise were some of the nicest we have ever met and would cruise with them again in a minute.  (You all know who you are.)

Posted by: travellerlynne | October 16, 2010

Azamara Journey – November 3, 2010

In just a few short days we will be leaving for Greece.  We will spend a day or two there then board the beautiful Azamara Journey for what will be for us, a journey of a life time.

We will be visiting Mykonos and Crete in Greece.  From there we will head to Israel – the one place in the world I have always wanted to visit.  We will spend a couple of days there.  I have already made arrangements with a tour company to pick up 6 of us for a day tour then back to the ship. They will pick up up again the next day where we will once again be able to tour other parts of Israel.

From Israel we will sail to Egypt where once again we will be going a group of 4, with us making 6, to tour this beautiful country.  On this tour we will spend the night in Cairo where will be see the light and sound show over the pyramids. 

After a day at sea we will port it Italy where we will once again have a tour operator pick us up. 

Once we debark in Rome I have made arrangements to be picked up and taken for a tour of the highlights of Rome, which will include the Vatican.  Our tour driver will drop us off at our hotel which is near the airport where we will rest for the night and fly out the following morning.

If possible, I will post while on the ship.  If not possible I will post the highlights from our cruise on our return.

Posted by: travellerlynne | June 5, 2010

Celebrity Solstice

We sailed on the Solstice May 23-30/10 Western Caribbean.  Now this is a beautiful ship.  I would recommend her highly with one exception – the food in the main dining room was very lacking and the guest services staff errors.

But from the beginning – we arrived in Fort Lauderdale on May 22.  We stayed at the Comfort Inn which I would not recommend.  The first room the put us in was worn.  When we went to leave for dinner we discovered the door wouldn’t lock.  I went to the front desk to see about being moved.  They gave me a song and dance about how to reset the lock.  I returned to the room and tried but it was just not going to lock.  My DH headed down to the desk next.  They told him the would send maintenance.  He told them that wasn’t good enough and we wanted to be moved.  We slepped our luggage to the second floor exactly above where we were originally and at least the door locked. 

The room was not as worn looking but wow the bathroom was tiny.  You could barely get the door closed.  Certainly not on my recommendation list.

The next day we arrived at the ship around 11 am.  We didn’t have luggage tags as I will not go to the bother of  making my own.  That really isn’t a problem as the porters have them anyway.  We completed the tags, added them to our checked luggage and headed into to check-in.  We did not have to wait at all.  With the size of pier 18, which was built for the Oasis and Allure there were plenty of check in stations.  We had to fill the forms in regards to recent illnesses, were given our Seapass cards and headed up. 

As we were D+ with RCL it makes us Elite with Celebrity.  When we showed our cards we were sent to the escalator on the right.  It really didn’t make the least amount of difference as once we were at the top we joined the same line as everyone else and boarded the ship.  Time from drop off to walking on-board, 10 minutes.

With it being so early of course the cabins were not ready.  We were going to the buffet but discovered Bistro on five instead.  For $5.00 per person there is a rather extensive menu of lighter lunches from soup, salad, Panini sandwiches and crepes.  It was excellent.  We also had lunch there on our last day onboard.  I would highly recommend it.

We were able to enter our cabins earlier than expected.  Of course inspection of the space is always first.  Lots of room in the bathroom with the set of cupboards down one side as well as the small but adequate counter top.  The shower had a rounded door which was sure a lot better than the shower curtains.  The foot bar for shaving your legs is a nice perk.  The towels left some to be desired.  Not what you would care threadbare, but not soft and comfy.

The closet was adequate.  We had no problem hanging everything that needed to be hung – just a couple of hangers short.  There are two small shelves under the safe which were excellent for storing shoes.  The suitcases fit quite nicely under the bed.  There was a flat screened TV, not that one is one the ship to watch TV.  There where some cupboards under the little desk but could have done with a couple more.  There is a fridge as well but it throws off so much heat it actually warms up whatever you have in the drawers – if you like warm socks at night you will definitely have them.

There was a lot of available seating at the pool.  I can’t say that there wasn’t a chair available at any time we looked.  Solstice also has some double loungers around the pool that give the illusion of being under a curtain.  There was lots of shade to be had.  Even on the deck above the pool one side had covering.

The food – what a difference between the main dining room and the specialty dining areas.  We were on second seating, something we never as a rule do, and don’t like.  We found the food lacking in many areas.  It was always lukewarm at best but mostly cold.  There were not many choices especially in the entrees.  There was never a regular roast of beef.  Most of the entrees had fancy names and little substance.  We found we were eating from the alternative menu, which was disappointing.  The bread was great.

However, for alternative dining, we had lunch in Bistro on 5 twice.  It was excellent.  Well worth the $5 charge.   They have soup, salads, panini sandwiches and various crepes – all of which are delicious.  You can have as much/many as you want.  Highly recommend.

For our first night we ate in Silk Harvest.  We were served a variety of finger foods from Asia.  It was very good but not something we would do a second time.  Recommend.

Now the best – Murano.  Perfect in every way.  Service was outstanding.  Food was to die for.  If you only go to one specialty on the Solstice class this would be the one.  For our main entree we had lobster.  Perfect.  Can’t recommend this one highly enough. Extra charge was $30 per person – so worth every penny.

The buffet – just adequate.  We were able to find something for breakfast and lunch but it was lackluster.  The best was the omelets – I did enjoy them.  We tried going at 6:30 one evening for dinner.  It was terrible.  No choice and what there was, was absolutely stone  cold.  We ended up just leaving – not worth the time it took us to walk in the room.  Certainly not recommended for dinner.

I’m not keen on the layout of the casino and shops.  The casino is in the middle with the shops along the side.  I guess they are trying to entice the cruisers to either spend their money in the shops or at the casino in two easy steps.

The ship had noro-virus during the week.  It must have hit the staff hard as we saw the salon staff working the buffet.  They were very careful and certainly trying hard to contain the virus.  All foods were undercover and the passengers were not allowed to touch anything – there was staff to hand out everything including a glass of water.  The condiments had been removed from the tables and only packets of sugar, salt and pepper were available from the staff.  Cleaning was going on constantly.  (I really wish people would learn to wash their hands – it’s such a small thing to do.) 

We stopped first in Grand Caymen. There were three Carnival ships in as well so it made it rather crowded. We’ve been there many times prior so we just got off the ship and went for a walk.  It’s very clean.  We did a bit of shopping and headed back to the ship.

Next was Cozumel, a stop that could be cancelled as far as I’m concerned.  We debarked the ship and took a walk up to the tourist area.  We walked out of there to the main street.  We walked about 2 blocks, turned around and returned to the ship.  Mexico just does not appeal to us.  Of course the problems we ran into in PV a few years ago has really soured us on Mexico.   We picked up a couple of trinkets and returned to the ship where we enjoyed the rest of the day at the pool.

From there we sailed to Costa Maya which again really had little to offer.  A pool/bar surrounded by some little shops being guarded by Mexican military with big rifles.  Did not exactly make for good feelings so once again, back to enjoy the ship.

(more to follow)

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