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
Thursday, February 27, 2014
This shared message was written by our customer after a river cruise in November on the Viking Spirit from Paris. As you will read, she was very pleased with her river cruise. Jeanine, thanks for sharing your thoughts about your trip!
Just want to thank you for helping with our trip - it was just wonderful! Everything was perfect and we would highly recommend Viking to anyone!
Our flight on Delta from Sea-Amsterdam-Paris was very smooth. The nonstop from Paris to Seattle was very smooth also. Granted it was an 11 hour flight, but knowing that we didn't have to get off and change planes was very nice. They fed us many times and we watched about 4 movies!
The car service you arranged at Paris was an excellent idea. We picked up our luggage, walked out of baggage claim and there he was! Simple and easy!
The hotel was okay, but I wouldn't recommend it - it's more of a business hotel. Not charming at all, but it was nice to be at the hotel where Viking is situated as the Seine River was too high because of recent rains so the boat had to stay in Conflans. We wouldn't have known this if there wasn't a Viking representative at the hotel! We opted to take a cab to Conflans instead of waiting for the bus. Sure glad we did as it was only about a 45 mins cab ride - we arrived about Noon, our cabin was ready, we had lunch, was unpacked and were already out walking the time the bus showed up.
Where do I start about how wonderful Viking is? Might be easier if I list all the pluses (there are no negatives). They are very much like Vantage, but just a little classier.
1. Cabins are very nice, the bed and pillows were super comfy - we slept very well! Our cabin had a huge picture window which opened! We spent a lot of time just relaxing, reading and watching the world go by from our room! Bottled water was provided in the cabin and our cabin person (Loretta) was excellent! Every night there was a towel animal and a special note from her, even one wishing us a Happy Anniversary!
2. The Hotel Manager, Oliver, was very nice and personable - and was always around chatting with everyone.
3. The Cruise Director, Annika, was one of the best I have ever met! I don't know when she slept because she was always around socializing and providing information. She was super nice, made us all feel important and kept us informed of everything! Everything ran smoothly! The front desk was staffed 24 hours with the best people!
4. Food was excellent and the staff amazing! At our first dinner, every lady received a red rose! Such a nice touch! For breakfast, they had a nice buffet or you could order off the menu (or do both!). They even served breakfast on the last morning, even a lite breakfast for one couple who had to be off the boat by 5:30 am. Lunch was the same - nice salad bar and good menu. Dinner was menu only with lots of choices, or you could always have steak, chicken or salmon. I had salmon two nights and it was excellent! I heard that the steak was also very good.
5. The day of our Normandy Tour, it was an all day trip and very cold. Upon arriving back at the boat, they had hot towels and hot chocolate waiting for us as we boarded! Once again, a simply thing, but so appreciated! They also provided bottled water every time there was a shore excursion.
This was the most fun, relaxing and well organized trip we have ever taken. We will take Viking again! So, if you get any information on a Holland or Italy boat cruise on Viking, let me know!
Thanks again for all your help - it was greatly appreciated and you made our 30th wedding anniversary trip a huge success!
Dick and Jeanine
Monday, February 24, 2014
In 1873, the fictional adventurer Phineas Fogg managed to go “Around the World in 80 Days” by ship, train, elephant, and even wind-powered sled. Today, he could simply book a world cruise. Of course, world cruises usually last 90 to 120 days, so Fogg might not have made his deadline; but, the cruise would have allowed him to relax, unwind and enjoy a more leisurely look at exotic cultures without worry about making his next connection.
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A variety of cruise lines offer world cruises. Cunard Line offers grand and elegant world cruises; Crystal Cruises provides another luxury option. For a luxury small-ship experience, check out the world cruises from Silversea and Seabourn. In addition, Princess Cruises, Holland America and Costa Cruises offer world cruises on comfortable midsize ships.
With lengthy itineraries, world cruises tend to offer a mix of major ports and those outside the usual cruise routes. For example, Cunard’s 2014 world cruise on the Queen Elizabeth calls on ports like Pago Pago, American Samoa; Australia’s Whitsunday Islands; Puntarenas, Costa Rica; and Colombo, Sri Lanka.
If you’re considering a world cruise, think about:
The number of days at sea. Because world cruises move between continents, they tend to include many days at sea. Some guests like having this time to enjoy the ship; others can become anxious to get to the next port.
What to pack. Sailing the world for three or four months requires clothes for a variety of weather conditions and special activities. Your Cruise Holidays expert can tell you how many formal, semiformal and casual nights are planned, as well as what type of weather to prepare for.
Sailing with the same people for an extended period. A world cruise provides time to form lasting friendships with fellow cruisers; but, some shipmates are bound to get on your nerves. If you need to get away, explain that you have a book you long to finish or that you simply need some quiet time.
If you’re not able to take all the vacation time that a full world cruise requires, you can book a segment. For example, a 24-day segment of Princess Cruises’ world voyage from Sydney stops in Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, India and the United Arab Emirates. Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert, can give you more options.
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Thursday, February 20, 2014
In its 2014 Cruise Trends survey, Cruise Holidays International asked its experts across the U.S. and Canada about their clients’ top reasons for booking a particular cruise. For the fourth consecutive year, cruise itinerary was the top consideration, followed by price.
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Fortunately, cruising is always a terrific vacation value. Everything you need is included in the cruise fare (some optional items, such as spa treatments and shore excursions, are usually available at an extra cost). But, some cruise destinations provide even better-than-expected value; and, you may be surprised to know that these include some of the most popular regions for cruising.
In its survey, Cruise Holidays also asked its experts which regions they expect to present the best values during 2014. The top answer is one of the world’s most popular cruise destinations: the Caribbean.
The Caribbean actually has three distinctive areas for cruising: the diverse islands of the Eastern Caribbean; the coastline of Mexico, Belize and Honduras in the Western Caribbean; and the European-flavored islands of the Southern Caribbean. Each offers turquoise waters, soft sand beaches and fun cultural attractions.
The second and third top regions for cruise values are European, both deep water cruises and river cruises. Deep water cruises will take you to great cities on the Mediterranean (Barcelona, Naples, Athens and more); or, the capital cities on the North and Baltic Seas (Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm and beyond). River cruises along the Danube, Rhine and Moselle, to name a few, will take you to wonderful interior cities and towns.
Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, in fourth place, deliver value with some of the most spectacular scenery on earth, abundant wildlife in the water and on shore, and plenty of fun when you step off the ship.
And, in fifth place, trans-Atlantic cruises provide lots of time to relax and enjoy the amenities of the ship, we well as the chance to experience a different culture at each end: for example, sail from Miami to Barcelona, or Southampton (outside of London) to New York.
There are more places – such as Asia and Mexico’s Pacific Coast – that don’t appear in the top five, but also provide excellent value. To discuss all of your options for a high-value 2014 cruise, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Prior to the beginning of our cruise from Buenos Aires to Santiago, we had several surprises. As you might expect, not all surprises are pleasant…
Our first surprise was the currency exchange rate. We try to enter a country with a limited amount of local currency. We don’t want to look for an ATM or money changer when we are tired and jet lagged. While waiting for our flight to Buenos Aires from Houston, I exchanged dollars for Argentine Pesos. After the commission, we received about 5.5 pesos to the dollar, while the standard exchange rate is 6.5 pesos to the dollar. Not a good start, but we had pesos in our pocket.
While on the bus from the airport in Buenos Aires to our hotel, we were told the official rate is 6.5 pesos to 1 dollar, but many merchants and street traders will give you a much higher rate for dollars. This fluctuation in value appears to be caused by a high rate of inflation – the US dollar is in demand! The first day in Argentina, we were offered an exchange rate of 8 to 1. With this better exchange rate, we discovered it was much better to pay dollars with for our purchases. If we paid using our credit card, we got the official exchange rate. If we paid in cash, we could get an exchange rate as high as 10 pesos to 1 dollar! As you might imagine, we went thru much of our cash… After we left Argentina, we read the government deflated the peso by 15%. Not sure what that has done to the unofficial exchange rate. Based upon our experience, it was better to use American dollars than credit cards or pesos.
The standard electrical voltage in Argentina, is 220 volts, but many of the electrical outlets appear to be the same shape as found in the US – your plugs will fit these outlets. However, you might have a nasty surprise when you burned out your electronic gear. Some of these conventional outlets were marked 220, but not all. We were fortunate that most of our power consuming gear would work on 110 or 220 so it was not an issue, just a mild surprise.
Tour of Buenos Aires
Not sure what I expected while visiting Buenos Aires, but I believe we didn’t get to see much of what the city offered. The highlights of our two day visit to Buenos Aires was visiting the La Boca neighborhood (birthplace of the Tango), going to a Tango show, visiting the tomb of Eva Peron, visiting a church, and driving thru the city. I don’t know what I was expecting, but we had hoped to see more of what the city of 3 million residents has to offer. Maybe on our next trip to Buenos Aires…
What can we say about the weather, except it was sunny and warm – what a great place to spend January! Since we were in the middle of a large city, we didn’t feel comfortable wearing shorts, but wore casual pants and shirts. During our stay in Buenos Aires, the daytime temperatures were in the low 80 degrees.
Food & Drink
We enjoyed our dining experience during our short stay. The wine was excellent – and reasonably priced. Our meals were good, but I was surprised by the taste of the beef. In the US, our beef is grain fed, but in Argentina, the beef is grass fed prior to going to market. I believe this makes a difference in the taste and the marbling of the meat. However, we didn’t lose any weight during our stay…
We stayed at the InterContinental Hotel in Buenos Aires. It was the nicest hotel of the four we visited during our trip around South America. Per our guide, we were to have coffee and breakfast in the hotel at 5AM (prior to our departure for Iguazu Falls). However, what we found was a box breakfast for everyone and two medium carafes of coffee. Can you imagine how long two pots of coffee lasted when it was shared by 40 sleepy tourists? We are not sure where the disconnect happened, but we don’t consider a cold cheese sandwich and a bottle of water as a suitable breakfast. We finally got a cup of coffee at the airport on our way to the falls.
Cruise Ship Terminal
In Buenos Aires, all cruise ships use the same dock facilities as freighters. Therefore, we couldn’t walk around the docks – we were bussed everywhere. Since all the cruise lines use the same port authority building, the slow boarding procedure becomes a major disappointment to those trying to board a ship for a cruise.
The day we boarded the Celebrity Infinity, there were five cruise ships in port. The process was to clear security, check in with the cruise line, go outside and wait for a shuttle that took us to our ship. The shuttle took us back out to major streets to a difference entrance to the pier. We didn’t get to our ship until 7PM. The problem was not with Celebrity, but with the Buenos Aires port authority. They need to find a better way to get passengers to the ships. Our ship stayed in port overnight, but the next day, we didn’t get off the ship for more exploring in Buenos Aires. We didn’t want to experience the hassle of leaving/entering the cruise pier terminal again. It’s a working port…
Some minor disappointments, but we had a GREAT trip! We still need to write about our surprise with our international roaming plan on our mobile phone …
Monday, February 10, 2014
The cruise industry’s 2014 calendar includes the launches of exciting new ships for deep water cruises and river cruises. Built with the latest technologies for safety, security, stability and environmental protection, these ships also offer new features for passengers’ comfort and enjoyment.
In its 2014 Cruise Trends survey, Cruise Holidays International asked its experts across the U.S. and Canada which is the most-anticipated new ship for 2014. The overwhelming choice was Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas.
While this ship won’t launch until November, it’s been open for booking since May 2013. With unique features like a skydiving simulator, a glass capsule that rises 300 feet above the water for wonderful 360-degree views, and virtual balconies that bring outdoor visuals to inside staterooms, it’s no wonder the ship accounts for nearly 20% of all Cruise Holidays cruise bookings looking into 2015. Quantum of the Seas will sail from Cape Liberty (Bayonne), N.J., to the Bahamas, Eastern Caribbean and Southern Caribbean.
Viking Cruises is ready to meet the growing demand for European river cruises with 14 new ships set to launch this year. By the end of 2014, Viking will have introduced 30 new ships in a three-year period, the most rapid fleet expansion ever seen in the cruise industry.
The award-winning design of AmaWaterways’ AmaPrima will be repeated in two new ships in 2014, the AmaReina and the AmaSonata. Guests will enjoy a choice of dining venues, a pool and swim-up bar, and a fleet of bicycles for riding along Europe’s scenic riverside bike trails.
When Uniworld launches the S.S. Catherine in April, it will be one of the river cruise line’s largest ships, ready to welcome 159 passengers to elegantly furnished staterooms. The luxury ship will be perfectly suited to sailing the rivers of France.
The Regal Princess from Princess Cruises will debut in May, a month earlier than originally planned. Special features include a dramatic, glass-bottomed SeaWalk that extends more than 28 feet over the water. This ship will sail six- and seven-day itineraries between Athens and Venice.
In addition, watch for the new river cruise ships Poetry II, Illumination and Impression from Avalon Waterways; the ms Inspire and ms Savor from Tauck River Cruises; and the deep water ship Norwegian Getaway from Norwegian Cruise Lines.
To pick the new ship you’d like to experience this year, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.
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Monday, February 3, 2014
To tour Europe’s interior in a comfortable, relaxing way, more travelers are choosing river cruises. And, thanks to Cruise Holidays’ 2014 Cruise Trends Survey, we know the five European cities that river cruisers are visiting most often:
To select a cruise that will take you along the rivers of Europe in style, talk with Anita, your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert.
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Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The museums are full of masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh; charming buildings line the historic canals and city squares, and cozy cafes are everywhere. Cruises from Amsterdam venture down the Rhine, Main and Danube Rivers, some as far as Budapest. During the height of tulip season, round-trip cruises from Amsterdam focus on the region’s gorgeous tulip fields.
Budapest, Hungary. Buda, on the west bank of the Danube, and Pest, on the east, were separate cities until 1873. Pest’s tree-lined avenues include Andrássy út, a world heritage site that begins at Heroes’ Square. The Castle District of Buda is full of medieval and baroque architecture, including Buda Castle, first occupied in 1265. Week-long cruises of the Danube and 14-day cruises of the Danube, Main and Rhine sail from Budapest.
Paris, France. There’s so much to see, including the graceful Eiffel Tower, the Latin Quarter, Sacre-Coeur, Notre Dame, Place de la Bastille and the Arc de Triomphe. After sightseeing, treat yourself at a café and watch fashionable Parisians go by; or visit the Louvre, the world’s most-visited art museum. Paris is part of a variety of itineraries that sail along the Seine and the Rhone.
Basel, Switzerland. Positioned where the Rhine borders Switzerland, France and Germany, Basel is a crossroads of Europe. Its historical importance is evidenced castles, the remains of a Roman colony, and the Basel Münster, a Catholic cathedral turned Protestant church. Additional sights include the richly decorated Rathaus (city hall) and the Spalentor, the gateway to Old Town Basel.
Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremburg castle towers over the city, much of which was rebuilt after bombing during World War II. Nazi Party rally grounds from the 1930s are now a memorial, with a museum in the unfinished Congress Hall. Nuremberg’s toymaking tradition is celebrated at the Nuremberg Toy Museum, which has toys dating from the Middle Ages. The city is included on many itineraries along the Main and Danube.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
This past weekend, we returned from our cruise around Cape Horn in South America. The cruise was only 14 days, but we escaped from the cold for almost four weeks. It was a great trip! During the trip, we were able to mark off three of our “bucket list” items: Iguazu Falls, Cape Horn/Patagonia, and Machu Picchu!
Within the next few weeks, we expect to write more details about our trip and some of the unexpected experiences along the way. That’s what makes travelling fun, the unexpected experiences… You are correct, some are good and others are not so good…
Wait until we write about our experience exchanging dollars for Argentina currency.
Since Iquazu Falls is on the border of Brazil and Argentina, you can stay at a hotel in either country. However, If you stay at a hotel in Brazil, you need a visa. From the US, the Brazilian visa is difficult to obtain and it’s expensive. If you stay at a hotel in Argentina, you need to pay the “reciprocity fee” and carry the documentation to prove it. While at the falls, you can visit both sides, but you will need both the Brazilian visa and the Argentine Reciprocity Fee document.
Since our cruise was to start in Buenos Aires, we stayed at the hotel on the Argentina side of the falls. You can see more of the falls and walk more of the trails, but we were told the best overall view of the falls was from the Brazilian side.
Visit either side of Iguazu Falls, it’s really a trip of a lifetime! When we were there, the skies were mostly clear, but the breeze blew the water vapor on all the trails and catwalks. Take a poncho or raincoat. Forget about an umbrella!
While you are there, you can take a river boat ride under the falls. Well, the guide didn’t stay under the falls, but I cannot imagine getting that wet unless we were directly under the waterfall. He said it would be the equivalent of being doused with 10 buckets of water. Somewhere, I lost count… I understand many in our party enjoyed the experience. It’s one way to beat the tropical heat.
When you walk the trails around the national park, you can expect to see Coati, the local version of a raccoon. They are not like the ones we have in the US, they have a long snoot and big teeth. They will steal food and bite if they feel threatened. Don’t go near the mothers! While in the park, we saw one Coati steal someone’s lunch. The hungry owner chased the critter, but he should be thankful he didn’t catch it…
There is a Sheraton Hotel inside the national park on the Argentina side, but it is almost always fully booked. Our hotel was about 20 miles away and we took the tour bus. Our three day trip to the falls was part of our pre-cruise package with Celebrity Cruises. The national park opens about 8AM, but if you stay at the Sheraton, you can see the falls from the hotel property and walk the grounds – you can visit the falls early in the morning for great photos.