Cruise Holidays - Attheta Travel

I am proud to be certified by CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) as an Elite Cruise Counselor. The Cruise Counselor Certification Program is CLIA's most comprehensive training which requires agents to successfully complete a number of compulsory training courses and exams, attend cruise conferences, and conduct ship inspections. Anita Thompson, Attheta Travel

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

London/Paris Trip Report

 We were fortunate to arrange an anniversary trip for good friends from Seattle. He is a cruise lover, but his wife wanted the go to Europe! She won... They visited London and Paris on the Trafalgar tour. Enough said by me, here is the trip report from our friends, Ned & Caroline.  Thanks Caroline, for letting us post your journal!
 
 "The adventure began on Aug 25th as we left our house at around 10am and headed to the Seattle airport for departure at 130p.  We enjoyed a smooth flight to Chicago and waited to board a 9pm flight to London.  The excitement builds!  I am going to Europe!  Red eye flights are not a bad option here – the flight was “only” 7 hours but sleeping ate up most of that time.  And then – we landed at Heathrow! (actually on Sep 26) My first taste of Merry Olde England.  We were in the hands of Trafalgar tours. We were taken to our hotel, the Thistle Euston and checked into a comfortable but small room.  Upon hearing the noise from the maid’s station directly across the hall, we requested a room change and were moved to a more spacious room.  That first evening, we walked up to the nearby train/subway station which housed shops and restaurants and was packed!  On the walk back, we ate dinner at the hotel near ours. 

 Second day in London found us up early, partaking of the complimentary breakfast (very good each day) and off on a tour of London.  First photo op was an impressive memorial to Prince Albert (Queen Victoria’s husband) across from the London Opera House.  Along the drive, we saw Hyde Park and Kensington Palace (home of Princess Diana and soon to be Will, Kate and little George’s residence).  We drove around Trafalgar Square whose center attraction was a huge statue of Admiral Lord Nelson, a famous naval war hero.  We stopped at Westminster Abbey and from there we could also see Parliament (which I learned was once THE royal residence) and Big Ben.  Regretfully, we did not have time to tour the Abbey.  Across the street, we entered another very old church to use the facilities which was a Methodist church and was special because we are Methodists.  On to Buckingham Palace where regrettably, the changing of the guard did not occur that day.  We saw the famous balcony where the royal family greets the masses including after the weddings of Princess Diana and Prince Charles and Will and Kate. The grounds were lovely.  We then had lunch and decided to take a river cruise on the Thames which sailed by many famous structures. The dock was right below the London Eye (that immense “ferris wheel”).  We sailed under London Bridge (surprisingly very simple but very historical), a reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral, and then  - - the first view of the Tower of London!  The very seat of British history and the site of many political dramas.  Ahead of that stood Tower Bridge which many believe is London Bridge. 

 The morning of the third day our tour group was off to visit Windsor Castle.  This is the Queen’s preferred residence.  I expected it to be about the size of Buckingham – wrong!  It was immense!  Buildings and ramparts and towers all connected over sprawling acres having been added onto by several monarchs as castles generally were.  We toured the royal apartments there (no photos allowed – drat!) so opulent and St George’s chapel where many past monarchs are buried including Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, his only queen to bear him a son, Prince Albert and the Queen Mother to name a few.  There was a lovely village at the foot of the castle with many shops and restaurants.  On the way back, we passed by Elton John’s house.  Also through some of our “driving arounds” we went by Picadilly Circus, Ten Downing, and the theatre district.

 The fourth day we were on our own but I just had to visit the Tower of London – my most desired tour of the whole vacation.  First stop, however, was St Paul’s Cathedral – an immense church, ornately constructed by the famous architect Christopher Wren.  The highlight for me was a memorial to us “Yanks” for our help in WWII – quite touching.  Many famous people are buried here too though I can’t recall who right off hand.  Then, finally – the famous (or infamous) Tower of London!  Again, buildings, towers and ramparts.  The most famous tower being the White Tower, built by William the Conquerer in1066.  The Queen still has lodgings (private) here and there are many other historic royal apartments which regrettably I was not able to tour.  We did see the Crown Jewels (again no pics) and they were indescribable!  Not only crowns, but swords and other finery.  I can only imagine how many pounds the whole collection is worth.  Also, the famous tower green where enemies of the crown of higher nobility (most notably Queen Anne Boleyn) were executed by the more humane (?) method of beheading.  I also toured the first floor of the tower which housed male prisoners awaiting execution.  There were inscriptions left by many famous prisoners including Sir Walter Raleigh.  Ladies waiting quarters were where the Queen’s lodgings are now.  Monarchs for many years lodged in the Tower the night before their coronation and processed to Westminster Abbey for crowning. 


 Next day it was goodbye to London and hello Paris.  We boarded the Eurostar, a high speed train, at St Pancras station and sped off to Paris going UNDER the English Channel.  Upon arrival in Paris, we were again hosted by Trafalgar Tours and taken to our hotel La Concorde de Montparnasse.  Soon after, we attended a meet and greet then took off for a tour of Notre Dame.  Unfortunately, a very loud street performance was taking place right outside of the cathedral and we had trouble hearing our guide educate us about the many carvings and statues on the outside – they all told a story.  Inside the church was incredible.  Many gorgeous stained glass windows and statues commemorating saints and notable historical figures – my favorite being Joan of Arc.  Incredibly, a mass was taking place during our tour!  After a really good dinner and a little shopping, we were taken to board a tour boat to cruise the Seine.  We passed by many ornate bridges, more statues, the Louvre, the Conciergerie (a palace/prison; last stop for Marie Antoinette and many other French nobility during the French Revolution) and then – the Eiffel Tower lit up from base to top!  A real eye dazzler which at one point performed a twinkling light show. 

 Second day in Paris is a day that will live in infamy.  Our tour was to be of the second level of the Eiffel Tower where all of Paris could be splendidly viewed.  On the way, we skirted around La Place de la Concorde, formally La Place de Revolution where the main guillotine stood during the revolution and where many of the French aristocracy were executed, including Louis XVI and his queen Marie Antoinette.  Upon arrival at the Tower, I chickened out and did not progress to the 2nd level as planned.  The only one of our tour group not to do so.  After composing myself, I hoped for a 2nd chance but it was not to be.  Very important life lesson learned – never espouse cowardice no matter what and certainly not in as regards a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – life long regrets are no fun to live with.  On the ride back, we drove down the Champs Elysee (arguably the most expensive shopping district in the world) to the Arc de Triomphe around which are the dangest traffic lanes you’ve ever seen.  Back for a nap and later a most excellent Italian dinner at a sidewalk cafĂ© (very French).  I also did a little shopping that day, a Saturday, as we were told all the stores were closed on Sunday and found some of my must-haves – something for my daughter’s wedding!

 Third day in Paris brought along my favorite tour here.  A trip to the palace at Versailles.  This was built by Louis XIV, the sun king, who was very fond of himself and lavishly decorated the palace to reflect his great wealth and impress other crowned heads of Europe.  It was absolutely stunning and so opulent your eyes barely could drink it all in.  The highlight of the palace is the not-to-be-believed Hall of Mirrors. .Mirrors were extremely uncommon in the 17th century, outrageously expensive and Venice was the only place they were made.  But Louis had to have the finest and he hired Venetians to produce a staggering 357 mirrors!  The Hall was used primarily at first as an indoor strolling ground for Louis XIV but later for state events and dances.  The Treaty of Versailles was also signed here after WWI.  Many of the rooms were named after Roman/Greek gods and goddesses.  Marie Antoinette’s bed chamber is as she left it before being arrested and taken to Paris.  Very famous gardens lie behind the palace and require 18 gardeners to maintain.  Again, a very impressive sight with fountains and statues everywhere.  It’s hard to believe this area was once a swamp.  A negative side note – the very pricey perfume I purchased in the gift shop here was a bust.  The sample bottle was great – mine not so much.  So much for French parfum.  I think they got a little alcohol happy and as someone stated, I smelled like a French       _ _ _ _ _ fill in the blanks!     After a very quick put the feet up, we departed again that day for a visit to Montmartre, a very artsy and quaint area at the top of a steep hill.  Many famous artists lived and produced their art here.  Also at this location stands the famous Basilica of the Sacre C’oeur which we did not have time to tour inside.  We had dinner at a wonderful French restaurant that the tour company chose for us and then shopped at the many delightful shops lining the cobblestone streets.  Even though it was Sunday, these shops were open because Montmartre is actually a separate city from Paris. 
           
 Finally, the last day arrived and it was time to bid Paris adieu.  Security at Charles DeGaulle airport was very tight and boarding the plane took place on the tarmac.  The flight was sooo long – 10 hours!  Which brings me to my least favorite part of the entire vacation – re-entering the US in Dallas.  What a trick dog and pony show.  This is my home country, dang it – let me in!  Finally through all the security hoops and onto another 3 ½ hour flight to Seattle.  Whew! 


 In summary (to quote Bill and Ted) this was a most excellent adventure.  The trip of a lifetime that will be remembered forever!   I was proud of myself for keeping my adrenalin pumping and doing all I possibly could.  I am a lifelong history buff and history sprang to life on this trip.  What was only a dream before almost seems like a dream now though I have pictures to prove it was not."


Monday, September 23, 2013

Enjoy the Beauty of Astoria

During the past decade, Astoria, OR, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, has emerged as a delightful port of call on cruises of the Pacific Coast, as well as cruises that reposition ships from Alaska to warmer locations for the winter.

Astoria is at the far north end of Oregon’s gorgeous coastline of dramatic headlands, dotted with beaches, evergreens and lighthouses. You’re likely to be welcomed at the pier by music from a local band, setting a festive tone for your exploration of the area.

To discover the area’s maritime history, hop on the colorful Astoria Riverfront Trolley and ride to the Columbia River Maritime Museum. The trolley also glides along the bank of the Columbia River and passes beneath the graceful Astoria-Megler Bridge, which connects Oregon and Washington.

If you’re feeling thirsty, Astoria has several craft breweries ready to welcome you; or, visit the Flavel House Museum, a magnificent Queen Anne-style mansion, for a traditional afternoon tea. You could also take an excursion to the Willamette Valley, home to vineyards that produce some exceptional Oregon Pinot gris, Pinot noir and other varieties.

To see the only military site in the continental U.S. to be fired on during World War II, visit Fort Stevens. The Civil War-era fort, built to guard the mouth of the Columbia River, came under attack June 21-22, 1942, when a Japanese submarine fired 17 shells. (Fortunately, the only damage was to the fort’s baseball field.)

Cannon Beach is a popular excursion for photos of Haystack Rock and the Needles, a set of impressive basalt formations just off the beach. At low tide, the tide pools around Haystack Rock are full of starfish, sea anemone and other sea life.  Downtown Cannon Beach has charming galleries and shops to browse, as well as cafes and bistros where you can relax.

If you enjoy movie trivia, you’ll also be interested to know that a number of silver screen hits have been shot on location in Astoria. Scenery-rich Goonies (1985) truly took advantage of its surroundings when filming in Astoria. Other big name films include Short Circuit (1985), Kindergarten Cop (1990), and Free Willy (1992).

To explore cruise itineraries that include beautiful Astoria, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.


 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Spending Time in Seattle

Whether Seattle is your starting point for a cruise to Alaska or a stop on a cruise along the West Coast, it’s a city you’ll love to explore.

 Perched between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, the peaks of the Cascades and the Olympic Peninsula, Seattle is set in an area of stunning natural beauty. It’s often cloudy, but the locals will tell you it doesn’t rain all that much – and when it does, there’s sure to be an inviting coffee house nearby. The rain also feeds the city’s cloak of evergreens, the source of the nickname “Emerald City.”

Ships dock at the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal in downtown Seattle, or at Terminal 91, where you can catch a taxi to downtown’s attractions.

There’s a lot to see, including the Pike Place Market, America’s oldest continually operating farmer's market. In addition to the Fish Market, where fish are tossed through the air before being wrapped for customers, Pike Place features fruits and vegetables, handicrafts, collectibles and cut flowers.

Seattle’s music scene is captured in the Experience Music Project, an interactive museum housed in a building designed by Frank Gehry. There’s lots of music memorabilia, live performances, and the opportunity to create your own music in a state-of-the-art studio.

For a look at historic Seattle, visit Pioneer Square, the city’s first neighborhood, with cobblestone streets and landmark buildings like Smith Tower, which was for many years the tallest building on the West Coast. The original buildings of Pioneer Square were mostly destroyed by the Great Seattle Fire of 1889; in rebuilding, the streets were regraded one to two stories higher than before. Some original sidewalks and storefronts are still intact beneath the current streets, and you can tour this mysterious “Seattle Underground.”
 
The Space Needle, an observation tower built for the 1962 World’s Fair, is an irresistible attraction. The observation deck provides a 360-degree view of Seattle and its beautiful surroundings.

If you’re traveling with kids, visit the unusual Gas Works Park, fashioned from an old gasification plant on the shores of Lake Union. Many of the original buildings still stand, and some of the old equipment has been reconditioned and painted so that kids can climb on it.

For more ideas about things to do in Seattle before, after or during a cruise, talk with Anitya, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.
 
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Monday, September 9, 2013

Surprisingly Modern Trinidad


The island of Trinidad is quite different from its neighbors in the southern Caribbean. The island, about the size of Delaware, is an industrialized nation with an economy that rests securely on oil and natural gas production. Cruise ships dock in Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain, a regional center of business and finance complete with skyscrapers.

 
Venture into and beyond Port of Spain, and you can find the cultural mix and historic attractions that make Trinidad a fascinating cruise destination. Start with a short ride from the dock to the Queen’s Park Savannah, a lovely park ringed by the “Magnificent Seven,” a collection of historic mansions; the Royal Botanical Garden, with an amazing collection of exotic  plants; and the Emperor Valley Zoo, with everything from toucans to tortoises.

Trinidad is a bird-lover’s paradise, with more than 400 species. The Asa Wright Nature Center, a former plantation, is now a rainforest enclave that is home to toucans, cuckoos and parrots as well as an array of butterflies and reptiles. For the chance to see a scarlet ibis, as well as caimans and anteaters, visit the Caroni Bird Swamp.

Trinidad’s sister island of Tobago is known for its serene beaches, but getting there from Trinidad requires a five-hour round-trip ferry ride, which does not accommodate the schedule of most cruise ship calls. However, Trinidad’s Maracas Bay, an hour’s drive from Port of Spain, has a gorgeous, sandy beach lined with palm trees. For lunch, try a Bake ‘n’ Shark: a fry bread sandwich with grilled pieces of shark.

Still, you may want to spend your time on Trinidad enjoying the urban vibe of Port of Spain, with its incredible cultural diversity. Around the Queen’s Park Savannah, in the malls along Frederick Street or on Ariapita Street’s Restaurant Row, you’ll find a terrific mix of restaurants featuring authentic Trinidadian, Indian, Creole and Chinese food.

For a true souvenir of Trinidad, pick up a bottle of Angostura Bitters, which is distilled on the island from a very secret recipe of alcohol, herbs and spices.

To reserve your spot on a southern Caribbean cruise that calls on Trinidad, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.
 
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Monday, September 2, 2013

Cruise to Spicy Grenada

The rich volcanic soil of Grenada, the largest of the Grenadine Islands in the Southern Caribbean, is the basis of the island’s delicious spice industry. This “Island of Spice” produces nutmeg, allspice, clove, cinnamon, ginger, cocoa, bay leaves and mace. Visitors flock to the island’s spice estates, where there’s often a mouthwatering aroma in the air.

The production of nutmeg is a testament to the hardy spirit of Grenada, as more than 80 percent of the island’s nutmeg trees were destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Grenada’s southern position in the Caribbean keeps it out of the path of most hurricanes, but the powerful Ivan ended a 49-year hurricane-free stretch. Grenada’s nutmeg growers lost no time replanting their groves with new varieties intended to survive the next big storm.

There’s also much more to this island than its famous spice industry. The mountainous interior features the Grand Etang Forest Reserve, filled with lush foliage, glorious waterfalls, swimming holes and a serene crater lake. Around the reserve, you may also catch a glimpse of playful Mona monkeys or the rare Grenada dove, the island’s national bird.

Grenada’s Grand Anse Beach is two miles of soft, white sand, where you can swim, snorkel, dive or try your hand at kayaking or parasailing. More secluded beaches include Morne Rouge Beach, where the calm water is perfect for low-key swimming and snorkeling; and LaSagesse Beach, where a series of trails wind over the headlands.

Visitors love to snorkel at Moliniere Point, where a unique underwater sculpture garden attracts hard and soft corals, as well as tropical fish. If you would rather catch fish than watch them, take a half-day game fishing charter in search of marlin or sailfish.

Larger cruise ships dock at the Melville Street Cruise Terminal, right next to downtown St. George’s, the island’s capital. Smaller ships dock in the horseshoe-shaped Carenage harbor a short distance away. Enjoy browsing the shops and cafes, as well as the booths in Market Square. For postcard-worthy views, walk or catch a ride up to colonial-era Fort George or Fort Frederick.

Talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert about Southern Caribbean cruise itineraries that include Grenada; they are likely to include the wonderful islands of Aruba, Curacao and Dominica as well.
 
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