Our Tips and Trips
The following is an outline intended to help you discover River Cruising. Please ask your favorite Breton Travel professional advisor for more details that are best for you.
The hottest travel experience in 2015 and 2016 is River Cruising. Americans are flocking to Europe, Vietnam, Russia, Egypt, China as well as exotic Myanmar to enjoy this travel option. Why have we seen such an interest in this type of travel . We are more aware of this due to the remarkable marketing and advertising that has been received in our homes via mail, television and email.
The idea of traveling through an area without changing hotels or packing and unpacking is very appealing to us. Add the inclusion of great food and services and everyday having a cultural tour included, makes it even better.
There is a River Cruise for everyone. The following is a general idea of how to choose the right cruise for you. Find what is most important to you;
- Cabin with a balcony
- Suite accommodations
- Basic accommodations
- Size of cabin
- Butler services with room services
- All inclusive, including tipping, all drinks, daily options
- Basic cruise with meals, some drinks and daily tour included
- Biking options
- Included off boat special events
- Daily shore options
- Different levels of walking tours
- Cultural Experiences
- Foods and wines or beers
- Location –The following is only a sample of a few options in Europe.
- Rhine River with the historic castles and easy add-on short land adventures in places like Switzerland, Germany or Amsterdam.
- Danube River that offers an introduction to grand historic cities like Budapest, Vienna, Nuremberg in addition to small medieval villages. Addition land options include Prague.
- France offers great options. Paris is included in either option of going north to the Normandy beaches area or south to the French Riviera area. Add extra time in Paris.
- Time of year for Europe cruises
- Spring or fall when fewer travelers are in each location from April-May or Oct.
- Mid-summer for warm sunny days to travel.
- End of Nov through Dec is a great opportunity to visit the Christmas Markets while enjoying a river cruise.
Other areas of the world may have shorter seasons
- Family river cruising for all generations is new to the industry and very exciting. Even Disney is offering special dates for family river cruising. Other companies also have special dates set aside for family cruising. This is recommended for eight year old and above. As young as 4 year olds are accepted on some cruises.
There is a great river cruise experience for everyone. Please allow us the opportunity to find the right one for you.
Let us tell you about the following River Cruises;
Scenic River Cruise
I dedicate this to all who travel to Italy with a passion for experiencing a new culture, history, art, wines, fine dining, sightseeing, adventure and unique accommodations and location.
Before you go, know..
A few Italian words will take you through Italy like a pro.
In the Italian culture it is important to greet people in stores,
restaurants and market places. A smile and a pleasant greeting
will make a great first impression.
Buongiorno = Good day – used morning and afternoon
Buonasera = Good evening – used in the evening
Prego = You are welcome – try to respond with this when someone bids you Buongiorno or
Grazia = Thank you (much like Spanish)
Scusi = Excuse me
Ciao = Hello or Good-bye of a friend using their name-
like Ciao Maria
This is normally used with a name or sometimes
Just as we say “Good-Bye Good-Bye” they say
Money - One of my clients gave me a good suggestion-
that couples should carry different credit cards just in case one is lost or stolen. ATM machines are everywhere (well almost everywhere)
Many of my clients use them on a regular basis in Europe, others
prefer to carry additional US dollars in a money belt. Travelers checks are seen less and less and may not be accepted everywhere, but banks and larger stores still accept them. Take a few personal checks. You will be surprised at the places that will take a check. Purchase some Euros before you leave the US. You will need money right away for taxi, tipping and small purchases. In Grand Rapids you can walk into the Fifth Third Bank on the corner of 44th and Patterson and purchase Euros. If your bank is Fifth Third, this is a good choice, but may be pricey if you are not a bank member.
Always call ahead to verify the charges for exchanging dollars for Euros. Your own local bank will also order Euros for you. The location that I also use is in the international airports.
You will find a currency exchange booth selling currency for anywhere in the world. All sellers of Euros make money on the sale of currency one way or the other. Either they charge a fee for the exchange or the rate or exchange is a little higher because it included the extra money. Another place that I use to exchange money is in hotels and if you are in the Plaza by the Trevi Fountain in Rome, the hotel Fountaina usually has a good rate. Please don’t spend all your time looking for best rate; you have more important adventures to participate in than Euro searching. The worst rate that I have seen is in the Rome airport.
Security of passports, credit cards, travelers checks and money You will hear me say over and over again “wear a money belt”
The best are the light mesh, with a light waist belt and zipper pocket. If the zipper pocket has a little plastic lining, all the better.
You can purchase these in most luggage stores, some book stores, airports or in Grand Rapids in the Woodland Mall. Many of your hotels will have a room safe and can be trusted, but I like to have things with me and a money belt meets that need.
Make a copy of your passport and put the copy in your luggage or anywhere separate from your real passport. If you lose your passport this will not get you back into the US, but it will help you reduce the time of getting proper papers from the US Consulate. It is also a good idea to give me your passport information so I can record it in your personal travel record.
Before leaving the US contact each provider of your credit card and bank card and let them know you will be using your card in Europe. In the case of your ATM card, verify that it will be usable in Europe. Also ask what, if anything, they are charging for the currency conversion or the number of times you use it. Know what your daily withdrawal limit is for your ATM card.
Airline, Airport, Security, Luggage- go figure – these change everyday. Please talk to me about the latest situations or browse our website for the latest information.
Day Tours – If we have not completed your daily tour selection you may see many good ideas and make reservations by visiting the sightseeing section of our website.
Rome – This exciting ancient metropolitan city has so much to offer that one visit is never enough.
Getting around Rome – Walking is the very best way to experience every moment of your journey, however when time is limited or you just want to go somewhere more quickly, you do have choices.
The bus system is very good and you can buy a bus ticket at the little news stands along the street. When you get on the bus there
is a machine for you to insert your ticket. They also have a metro system that stops at the main points in the city. If you use this option, purchase a day or multiple day pass at the metro station and insert it in the turn style machine on your first entrance to the metro. On each time after this you don’t need to go through the turnstile, just walk through the open gate. Don’t be worried if they ask to see your pass while you are on the platform, sometimes they do a random check. This is an area where pickpockets seem to work. Keep an eye on everything. Pickpockets are everywhere in Europe. Italy seems to have more than their share. I have never known of anyone getting mugged (as you might be in New York).
Don’t have anything in back pockets, and ladies if you must carry a purse, put it under your arm and have another hand on it. If you put money in your front pocket and you are in a close crowed area or you just sense something is just not right, put your hand in your pocket.
To take a taxi from one area to another is often a good idea. There are taxi stands along the street. Look for the signs on the poles along the street. You cannot hail a taxi, you must go to a taxi stand and the next taxi available will stop for you. I have had some success in hailing a taxi, but I had to just about jump in front of him and he was not happy with me when he stopped. Only use a taxi that is metered and always ask the cost before you ride. The Italians seldom tip a taxi driver, however a 5% tip is always appreciated.
A good night walk is from the Spanish Steps to the Trevi Fountain down the Via Corso or to the Piazza Navona, where the artists can be found. There is a special magic to Rome at night with the fountains lit. Most of shops are open until 7pm.
For a full list of very good day tours including the Coliseum and Vatican see the Sightseeing section of our website.
Tipping –About 10% in restaurants is ok for tipping. In many places they include a service fee (tip).
If this is the case your server gets very little of this, so leave an additional small amount if the services are good. Luggage handling should be taken care of with a tip. Tour guides do expect 3 Euros for short tours or full day guide is 5 euros per person. Tour bus driver are tipped 3 euros per day per person. Much of their income is from tips.
Public Restrooms (Toilettes)- Many have a small dish for tips or a person at the door, or even someone selling toilet paper. Have a few coins in your pocket for this. However remember that 1 euro is a coin, so watch what you leave. It is also a good idea to have a few tissues with you just in case…
Have a few tissues in your pocket for possible use in restrooms.
Hotels in Italy- Due to the age of most of the buildings, your hotel room may be too large or really, really small. In hotels the rooms are not all the same size. You should expect clean and neat rooms, but please be understanding of size and décor. Some will be wonderful old European décor and others will be plain and simple.
This is all part of the enjoyment of being in a different culture.
At each hotel ask for a street map from the front desk and ask them
to mark their hotel on the map for you. I also recommend that you take business card from the front desk (if they have one). If I have provided you with the hotel business card, please have it with you. This is a big help if you want to ask directions or to show to a taxi driver. Even if the person speaks some English, you may not pronounce the name clearly enough for them.
Contact your Italy specialist at Breton Village Travel for planning your escorted or personal custom tour.
Watch for later additions of Lou’s Clues for other areas and cities.
- BE FLEXIBLE for the best Bargains
- Communicate with your travel agent what (type of travel), where (destination), when (what time of year), and how (what is the budget you are most comfortable with). Each of these important bits of information helps assure you of receiving the travel expertise you expect and deserve. It is even better when you receive above and beyond what you expect, and our goal is to provide great lasting memories plus those above and beyond experiences.
- When new travel products are introduced often there are GREAT prices.
Book as early as possible for new cruise ships, new resorts, new flight schedules.
Keep in mind that NEW and reduced prices may mean that everything is not perfect yet; but if you are understanding, these can be great savings and wonderful experiences.
Example: Disney resort in Hawaii – This will open for reservation August 1st
New Cruise Ship- Royal Caribbean Allure
Change in ownership All Inclusive Resort – Rivera Maya
- Register with your travel agent at Breton Travel to receive emails sent by our agency. Ann from Breton Travel sends out very valuable travel tips and notes. In addition, our select travel suppliers send weekly emails of their best values. We NEVER allow our email lists to be used by anyone that is not represented By Breton Travel.
In 2009 Ann gave away a 3 day Mexico vacation to a lucky winner of a drawing exclusive for our email recipients.
- Travel in less traveled seasons or for fewer travel days
Alaska in late April, early May or Sep
Caribbean or Mexico in July or Nov, December (except Holidays), January
Last Minute Deals - Check the Apple Vacations Tab for great Deals
Europe Fall or Winter
Example: Christmas Market River Cruises 2 for 1 air and cruise
- Take airline flights with unique schedules or different airports.
International travel – change airports en route such as; New York or London
Long layover in London and change of airport is required
Domestic travel – “red-eye” flight from West coast or LasVegas, early morning flights with connections can be less.
Be flexible by a day to two and ask an agent to locate lowest fares.
- Some Tour operators give a discount for full payment when making a reservation or being a past passenger.
Uniworld Egypt River Cruise and Tour
- If you and your friends enjoy traveling together, invite others and ask your travel agent about groups of 10 to 16 traveler discounts. By assisting your agent with such groups you may receive greatly reduced cost or you can choose to share the discount with all travelers.
- Be patient and be decisive when needed. If you have a reasonable budget and you have communicated the information to your agent, check back with your agent once a week. Be ready to make your deposit when the right arrangements are available.
Example: Apple Vacations change their specials every Sunday
Include insurance that will allow reducing your cost if lower prices come later.
- Travel in luxury at ordinary pricing. If deluxe or luxury travel is your preference there are many good values for you. Specials from the leading deluxe and luxury travel providers offer 2 for 1 or free airfare or past passenger specials and again those off-season good deals.
Example: October New England cruise on Cunard Queen Mary 2 starting at $595 plus taxes/fees
- Don’t confuse “Value” with “Cheap”. A Value is when you receive goods and services that are to your liking and enjoyment at a reasonable cost to you. Cheap on the other hand is when you pay less for something that may not relate to satisfaction or quality. On the other hand, one person’s “Cheap” may be someone else’s “Value”. This is where the real value of a good travel agent comes into play. They can help you find the “Value” that is best for you and your lifestyle.
Some sales are very time sensitive; Example 3 days only Holland America – fares start at only $499 plus taxes and fees for a 7 day Caribbean cruise with several dates to chose from. Even better, some have free or greatly reduced rates for 3rd and 4th person in the cabin.
All of the above examples may or may not be available at the time of your request. We will do our best to provide the best value for your request. We reserve the right to correct any errors or omissions in this document.
ASK YOUR BRETON TRAVEL AGENT HOW TO MAKE YOUR CRUISE MORE INCLUSIVE
Start your Amalfi Coast experience by staying in Sorrento as your base if you only have a few days. To get to Sorrento from Rome you can take the fast train to Naples. You will need to take the local train to Sorrento by purchasing tickets at the Naples train station. Ask for directions to the ticket booth of the train to Sorrento. It is located downstairs. We can also arrange a private transfer from Naples train station to your hotel. As the local train stops very often and can be crowded, you may want the private transfer or take a taxi from Naples train station to your hotel. As with all taxi service be sure to negotiate the full rate before getting into the taxi.
Enjoy the best of Sorrento and go to the Tasso Square area in the historic part of Sorrento. This is the place to try Lemongello. Some of the stores give samples. Visit the small shops that make handcrafted wood inlaid products. These craftsmen are some of the best in the world. The market area is very interesting and has much to offer. The very best Pizza in all of Italy is made in Sorrento at Aurora Pizzaria. Eat your pizza as the locals do with a little olive oil on top and don’t forget to consider something from their antipasto buffet. This Pizzeria is located in the Tasso Square.
Another fun thing to do is the go the Tarantella show. It is not the best entertainment that you have seen but is interesting and can be fun to see the 17th-century Neapolitan folk dance that looks very much like the Spanish Castanet dance that you see in Spain.
For more adventuresome travelers take the SITA bus (check the schedules) to Ravello enjoy all the great vistas along the way. Then take a bus to back to Amalfi, then back to Positano, see Positano on foot and take a ferry back to Sorrento from Positano at days end. Know the ferry schedule ahead so you do not miss it. It is fairly easy to just take the bus and ferry back. I think it is effortless and so memorable. The only downside to this is if the buses are very busy or in bad weather the boats may not be going. Be sure and get a seat on the right-hand side of the bus when leaving Sorrento if possible, for the best view. Each of the towns I am recommending here are walking villages. The farthest away is Ravello, but this is my favorite small village with great restaurants and the very best views. As you enter the village, turn left and walk all the way to the end of the road ending in gardens that just seem to hang over the cliffs of the Amalfi coast. If you have the time this is also a wonderful place to overnight and perhaps treat yourself to a summer evening concert. There are also some hiking trails in this area.
Refer to http://wikitravel.org/en/Ravello for additional information- summer concerts also
For a nice 1 day private tour of the Amalfi coast hirer a car and driver or taxi. Rick Steves recommends Monetti taxi service and they are located in Sorrento. The following is their website. http://www.monettitaxi17.it/English.htm. Breton Village Travel can also make arrangements for you.
Another great one day trip from Sorrento is to take the train to Pompeii which is very easy to do. When you get off the train in Pompeii just follow the signs and people to the entrance which is only a couple of blocks away. I do recommend that you join a group for a guided tour. There are plenty of guides waiting by the ticket booth. The official guides all have ID cards on, so you will know them. After the tour if you want to stay a little longer on your own it is just fine, take your time and absorb the history and culture of this town that was destroyed by a Volcano in 79AD.
One more day trip from Sorrento is to Capri and Blue Grotto. While this is a lovely trip if you have the time, I wouldn’t do this over the Amalfi coast trip. The highspeed ferry leaves from Sorrento on a regular schedule. Again, check the local schedule to plan when to go and when to come back. After arriving at the port in Capri I would recommend taking the local bus to AntiCapri and then the chairlift to the top of the island. If you like to hike a bit, take one of the trails and walk back down, or take a bottle of wine and cheese and just sit and enjoy the view. Don’t miss going to the village of Capri by either taking the vehicular from the port or the local bus from AntiCapri. The rich and famous people watching is the best here. Window shopping is equally as interesting. Many travelers have heard of the Blue Grotto. While it may be a little overrated, the experience of taking a short boat ride around the island to the entrance and then in rowboats entering the caves is nice. Once in the cave, the sight is remarkable, everything is blue. Watch your time on the island the last ferry back to the mainland leaves early evening depending on the time of year you are visiting.
Refer to www.amalficoastweb.com for bus and ferry schedules
I hope the following 2 websites help http://www.costadiamalfi.it/english/timetable_ferries.htm http://www.coopsantandrea.com/index_en.asp
Breton Village Travel participated in the launching of the Oasis of the Seas, the largest and most revolutionary cruise ship ever built. On November 21st, Breton Village Travel owner John Lovell, manager Lou Lint, and agent Linda DuShane cruised out of Miami on the special preview, inaugural sailing of the Oasis of the Seas.
At three football fields long, the Oasis is larger than any ship afloat by about twenty percent. However, the design is so well thought out that you don’t feel overwhelmed by its size or your fellow passengers. The ship is a floating town divided into themed neighborhoods. The Boardwalk is a great family area with a carousel, ice cream parlor, Johnny Rockets, and a seafood shack. The serene Central Park neighborhood with live trees and plants is open to the sky. One of the favorite locations is the small Park Café with indoor and outdoor seating where they prepare made to order salads, custom-made bagels and the world’s best beef sandwich on freshly baked rolls. The most frequented area is the Promenade which hosts everything from costumed parades to nighttime dancing in the street parties, shopping, bars and even a cupcake shop. A great neighborhood for adults is the Sanctuary- a haven of absolute quiet, comfort and light foods. This peaceful outdoor deck area is sheltered by floor to ceiling glass walls.
From relaxation to high activity Oasis of the Seas has it all. Activities include rock climbing, flow rider, zip lining, basketball, miniature golf, table tennis and many more. Entertainment includes water show, ice show, Broadway style productions, comedy club, jazz area, dance club, Casino, and many lounges. The small bar that levitates from the Promenade to Central Park allows you to enjoy the view while sipping a glass of champagne. Not to be missed are the great spa and gym facilities that include a boxing ring and all of the latest workout equipment and programs.
An abundance of choices is the best way to describe the dining options. There are several pay-for specialty restaurants and food locations, but your cruise includes dinning in the main dining room and buffet along with the smaller locations serving everything from pizza to made to order salads. The Oasis of the Seas offers excellent dining options
Most of the cabins are balconies either facing inside or outside the ship. While small, they are very efficient in design and the bedding is luxurious. For those of you who would like more comfort in cabins, you should consider a suite category. There are several different styles and prices to choose from. Your travel agent will help you select the right cabin for you and your family.
The Oasis of the Seas is truly amazing, awesome and revolutionary. The world’s newest and biggest cruise ship is a destination in itself for a spectacular holiday at sea.
I just returned from a wonderful vacation on Avalon Waterways. I was able to go on a European river cruise that was a trip different from any I have done in the past. We flew into Budapest and spent 2 days exploring that fascinating eastern European city. It was an interesting mix of today’s world with that of a medieval town. Once we boarded the boat, we left for a scenic trip along the Danube. The great thing about river cruising is that the boat usually stops near the center of town to allow easy access to either explore on your own, or take one of the offered excursions. Since the boat is considered full at 170 passengers, there is plenty of opportunity to get to know your fellow cruisers. I also learned that the Danube operates with the help of many locks along the way. After the boat docked in Nuremburg, we traveled to Prague to spend 3 days before flying home. If this sounds like a trip you would like to experience, I would love to be able to talk to you about river cruising.
Arriving at the pier you are impressed with all the shiny balconies and the size of this new ship.
As you enter the ship you are struck by the soft colors and grand atrium with its spiral stair case and class with lights from the top to the bottom. On the lower public deck is one of my favorite areas where there is light entertainment most of the day, and the Galata shop, a bar and the very best pastries , sandwiches and salad shop. We ate one of our dinners at the The Grill Seafood and Stake House. This has very good food and good selection. The chef came by and he said he has been with Princess 40 years, and of course he is from Italy. We ate in the main dinning room the next evening and it was really good also.
When we did our site inspection of the rooms, one of the agents used the term "compact". That is a good description of the suites as well as the cabins. We did note that unlike other Princess ships a mini suite does not have a larger balcony. The rooms are also in soft colors and very comfortable.
Another favorite area is the Sanctuary and also the new Retreat. The Retreat is the adult pool, quit area. This area is included in the cruise cost, however there are a couple of cabanas the you can rent by the pool. The Sanctuary is an are that you need to pay extra for. It has butler service, spa cabanas, sunning chairs and cabanas. In contrast is the main pool are that is fun and lots of actives along with their huge screen for movies. Even during a very sunny the you can see it so clear. Activities include skeet simulator, golf, table tennis, volley ball, basket ball and a game room. The smaller lounges around the ship are all very nice and are from library comfort style to very modern moos scape look. The even have a TV theater area where the play games. The main show theater is different than most cruise ships, in that, it looks like a movie theater and is two decks high. As with all the ship the sounds, lighting and techs are really advanced over other ships.
The "sky walk" is not for those who are bothered by heights , but great for the rest of us. It is a short walk on a glass like see through floor. You look right down on one of the outside lounge ares and over the ocean. It really is a wired feeling the first time you do it. It is a beautiful ship with a nice staff.
Our travel agency is all about helping people creating great memories. Well, when we recommend Beaches Resort in the Turks and Caicos we really deliver on our objective.
As you approach the islands you look out the airplane window to see one of the most beautiful sights in the Caribbean. White sand beaches, clear waters to turquoise waters leading to deeper blue waters. The first time you see this view will blow your mind away.
Only 15 minutes from the airport and you are on the resort. Once you arrive you will not want to leave, nor will you have any reason to want to leave. Everything is provided right at your resort for the whole family. We were traveling with two families one of my husband and myself in our 60’s and our son’s family of his wife and their two younger children, one 4 and one 15-year-old.
The biggest hit with the four-year-old was the water park area for little ones and the pool just for his size people. This pool is not hidden away from everything, it is part of the larger pool so the whole family can be together and enjoy the swim-up bar, kiddie pool and floating around on a pool floaties or just relaxing by the pool. They also have Sesame Street Characters who walk through the resort from time to time and the kids really like them. There is a great young children’s program that includes the Sesame Characters.
The 15-year-old was very happy with the water toys. He learned how to sail a Hobie cat, went snorkeling on the snorkeling boat, and used the kayaks and water bikes. In the evening he could go to the teen-only club or to the Xbox room or the sports room. He also enjoyed along with his father the water surf rider and drifting on the lazy river as well as the water slide. His father was also very happy that all of these things are included in the cost of their trip and he didn’t have to pay for anything as they used them.
We were all very pleased with the food and the service. The service quality is very noticeable, especially with the working people that you see walking around the resort. They never pass you without a smile and a friendly hello. If you ask for something they do anything to help you even if it clearly is not part of their normal job. With something like 15 dining options, you can always find something that you will really love to eat. For the children, it was the Pizza served in two locations at the resort and it was really really good. Our daughter-in-law and I really liked the restaurants down by the beach that overlooked the ocean and had white glove service.
Like many things in life, you will pay more for this Beaches experience than some of your other vacations. However no matter where you stay on this resort you can use the full resort and all the restaurants, pools, toys and water park, sports area, Xbox, all meals, food anytime, drinks of any kind.
When you check out of the resort you could really not have any additional costs.
Beaches does have special sales pricing from time to time. Recently they have been running some 50% and 65% specials. If you have any questions, call me or your favorite Breton Travel agent.
Call your favorite travel experience specialist at Breton Travel to book your next Sandals or Beaches Vacation.
More than once we were told, “If you want to see China today visit Beijing, if you want to see ancient China visit Xian and if you want to see China of the future visit Shanghai.”
Our second stop was Xian in central China. Xian was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world when China dominated the silk trade, and it is best known as the home of over 8,000 Terra Cotta Warriors. Unbelievably, each soldier has a different face. The life-sized Warriors and Horses guard the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor China in the second century. I was surprised to learn that NONE of the statues were found intact. When they were accidentally discovered by local farmers, Xian, a university town, had no archeologists; now it is a world center for archeology. There are other known burial sites awaiting excavation until they develop the necessary technology to preserve the archeological treasure troves. We viewed several additional burial sites with amazing armies of smaller warriors that you rarely hear about.
We also visited one of the most famous and impressive Buddhist temples in the world, the Wild Goose Pagoda. Then we wove our way through the maze-like market streets to Xian’s Islamic Mosque. It was like visiting a foreign country within a foreign country. Amidst all these impressive cultural attractions, one of our favorite China memories was the foot massage “ceremony” in the grand ballroom of the Shangri-La Hotel where we sipped tea and nibbled nuts and dried fruit while our entire tour group was given “synchronized” massages. Talk about luxury!
Our final China stop was Shanghai- China of the future on steroids. You can still visit Old Town, the Yu Garden and the “water village” of Zhujiajiao which are old and quaint and charming; but that is not the essence of Shanghai. Shanghai is big, modern, young, prosperous and growing so fast you can practically see it changing in front of your eyes. According to our tour guide, Shanghai has grown from a provincial city into an international metropolis on a par with New York and Paris in just ten years. Over 300 of the world's top 500 enterprises have opened branches in Shanghai. The skyline of Shanghai is like looking at something in a futuristic movie. I have never seen so many outstanding skyscrapers at once. We went to the top of the Park Hyatt Hotel for a drink and view of the city at night, but we were so high above the clouds we couldn’t see and had to come down to the 93rd floor for our sightseeing.
Shanghai has a modern metro system, but truthfully taxis are so reasonable you might want to check with your hotel front desk to see which will be easier. But like Lou told you, don’t venture out on your own without your destinations written in Chinese and English. We were disappointed that we left too early in the morning to take the bullet train to the very modern airport.
Shanghai is a city I definitely want to visit again; three days were not enough for me. My favorite attractions were Xin Tian Di, several blocks of pedestrian streets full of charming cafes, restaurants and clubs, the Shanghai Museum with its famous bronzes, and the truly amazing Shanghai Acrobat Show which I had mistakenly thought would be too touristy. Shanghai is preparing for a spectacular world's fair next year, Expo 2010. The world famous shopping street the Bund was all torn up and being redone in preparation for the big event. The Expo site is at the waterfront on both sides of the Huangpu River. The Expo will “explore the full potential of urban life in the 21st century.” This would be a great time to visit China!
If you want to see the rickshaw, bang-bang-stick man, bicycle riding China, you better hurry.
Ann and I arrived in Beijing China at a very modern large new airport. We had heard about the government concern about people entering who may be ill. As you pass through the immigration and customs area you also pass through what looks like a security gate, but it really is taking your temperature. You hardly notice it but they verify every person entering the country. You have to be impressed with how quickly you are through their entrance process if you have all your paperwork in order.
The best advice I can give every traveler to China is talk to the person at the front desk in your hotel and request a list of the places you want to visit on your own, written in English and Chinese. While most people in the hotels do speak English and most street signs are in Chinese and English, most of the people on the street don’t speak English and it is very rare that a taxi driver understands any English. With your handy list and a card from your hotel also in English and Chinese, you are free to
go everywhere on your list and be able to get back to your hotel. The other advice I would like to share with potential China travelers is to travel with the highest quality tour company you can afford.
This once-in-a-lifetime trip can be less than you may expect if you are in hotels that are not convenient or if the food doesn’t agree with you. Ladies, it is true, you do need to take tissues for possible use in the bathrooms. Speaking of bathrooms… in almost every location there are what we call foot print restrooms. Many locations do have our style of toilet but you may need to look for them in the handicap bathroom stall. Before you go make a list/chart of what the current exchange is, such as
100 Yuan is $15 US so you will know that 300 Yuan is $45 or a taxi of 40 Yuan is $6. This little list will make it so much easier when you are there.
I had always seen on TV the Beijing with thousands of people on bicycles. All of this changed when
this country was exposed to the Olympics. They now have 1000 new cars a day on their highways. The changes are continuing at such a pace that if you want to see the old China that you have in your mind, you must go soon. Beijing is a major world city in transition. For those of us who love history Beijing has much to offer- the intriguing Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and Confucius’ Palace and of course the not far away Great Wall of China. The size of the Forbidden City is amazing, and it is interesting to learn about the thousands who lived there in the service of one Emperor and all the protocol and symbols involved. On tours you learn important details such as the number of little ceramic characters sitting on the edge of the roof line indicate the importance of the building.
Our first night we walked a few blocks from our very centrally located hotel to a pedestrian shopping street and the most unusual nightly food market you have ever seen. For two or three city blocks little booths sell “foods”. Anything you can imagine will be deep fried for you. One kind vendor poked a SNAKE on a stick in my direction saying, “Lady I cook for you?” Most of the children were walking around with beautiful crystallized fruit on a stick like a kabob dipped in a sugar glaze. Others had small
dishes boiled “delicacies” consisting of the insides of an animal that probably should have been thrown away.
The Great Wall of China is worth the whole trip and should never be missed. There are several places to go to see the Great Wall. Luckily for us we were traveling with Abercrombie and Kent, one of the finest luxury operators, and they took us to part of the Wall not visited by most tourists. It was a bit of a drive, and when we arrived we had to walk (as with all trips to the Great Wall) what seems like straight up hill on a cobble path between many vendor booths selling all kinds of tourist items. Of course I stopped and bought a tee shirt that says something about “I climbed the Wall”. Ann was smarter than the rest of us and hired a rickshaw to take her up to the lift. The lift is a gondola that takes you up the last and very steepest portion of the trip to the top. Once you arrive, you are impressed with view of the near by mountains (they are not real high, more like our Smoky Mountains, but without as many trees). As you look both ways, you see how the Great Wall twists and curves along the mountain tops for as far as you can see. Later we learned that the twists and turns were by design because the original builders believed evil spirits could only travel in straight lines. It was built by different groups without any real single design and later put together to make one wall that spanned China for about 4,000 miles. Of all the places I have visited around the world, this was one of the most extraordinary things I have ever experienced.
On our trip we also took a 3 day Yangzi River Cruise through the Three Gorges. Unlike European river cruise boats these boats are six levels high and much larger. Most of them look pretty rough on the outside. Because of runoff, the water in the river during the summer is very brown, they call it the chocolate season, and it seems to have lot debris floating by. When you arrive at the river to board your boat, it can be very confusing as the buses can’t drive right up to the entrance area. You need to make your way through about a crowded block, then you enter a large platform that lowers to the river level and then you walk along the port docks to your boat. The cabins on these vessels can be much larger than normal cruise boats of any kind. The food and service are excellent. You will see some very new cities along the shore as beneath your boat are the original towns that were flooded to damn this river to protect the area from huge floods. The people in these old towns were moved to these new cities or to one quarter acre of farm land. At one point we left the main river and took small sampan like boats with boatmen using poles and paddles to move us down a smaller river. The views on this cruise are beautiful. We learned that while we think of China as being very large with many forests, in reality they have very few trees. It is against the law to cut down any tree in China because there was no reforestation until Mao started a program. There is green ground cover, but very few big trees.
Again I encourage you to travel soon if you have China on your list of places to visit as it is changing quickly and you may enjoy the feel of old China. We also are seeing very good airline deals going to China and dollar to Yuan is very good at the time of writing this report.
Please read Ann’s trip report for the rest of our trip to China. Ask us about our shopping trip in China.
Lou, Lynne, Hope and I (Ann) just returned Sunday from the inaugural voyage of the Norwegian Epic. We are very eager to let you know our impressions. NCL is touting the Epic as the "next generation of cruising," and it lives up to all the hype. I want to share just a few of the Epic's ground-breaking features:
All outside cabins have balconies
Single cabins/ NO single supplement
Villa Suites accessible only by private elevator with exclusive pool, sundeck, gym and concierge lounge, restaurant & bar
21 dinning options- 10 included in your cruise at no extra cost
The biggest casino I have ever seen at sea
An Ice Bar (one of only 14 in the world) where everything is made of ice (It is 17 degrees and you wear special parkas and gloves inside. It's a hoot; we did it!)
Heaps of Entertainment at no extra cost! Here are just a few examples
- Blue Man Group
- Second City
- Cirque Dreams- a Cirque du Soleil dinner theater
- Fat Cat's a Jazz/Blues Club
- Nickelodeon with Sponge Bob Square Pants and a lot of other characters I didn't recognize-but the kids sure did!
A water park with 3 amazing slides including a giant bowl slide. Lou was going to do it but she chickened out.
The largest spa at sea and a world class fitness center
A climbing wall AND a rappelling wall
PLUS LOTS, LOTS MORE!
We were only on the ship for two nights, so I just scratched the surface of the good times to be had aboard the Norwegian Epic.
Lou and I just returned from a 12 day Black Seas Discovery cruise with Avalon River Cruises. We embarked in Budapest, Hungry and disembarked near Bucharest, Romania. This was my fifth river cruise, but my first with Avalon. We were very pleased with our modern and up-to-the-minute ship, the Tranquility. The crew went out of their way to make the cruise memorable for its 150 passengers. We were extremely impressed with the efficient way the cruise director re-accommodated a large group of passengers whose flight was canceled. The dining was notable for both the quality of the food and the friendly and gracious service. At dinner, complimentary wines of the region were offered to the diners.
Our two favorite cities are Budapest and Bucharest. This was our second visit to Budapest, and there is so much to see and experience that we still haven’t managed to “do” the whole city. You must do a river cruise after dark because Budapest is probably the most beautifully illuminated city I have experienced. The Intercontinental Hotel where Avalon had us stay for our two-day pre-stay was perfectly located on the Danube for sightseeing. We ended our cruise in Bucharest, Romania the site of our included post-stay. Between the two World Wars, Bucharest was known as the “Paris of the East” and you can still see why. The economy is in rough shape and you can still see the disfigurement of the communist era, but the city has “good bones” and is preparing itself to welcome tourists. We had a delightful stay in Bucharest and wished we had more time there. We also especially enjoyed Pace, Hungary and Belgrade, Serbia. All-in-all, the itinerary was eye-opening; it was interesting to see how these former communist nations are faring.
We can highly recommend Avalon River Cruises to our clients. The ships are well appointed and the service is personalized and gracious. River cruising is my new favorite way to travel. As interesting as this itinerary was, we would probably not suggest it for most first-time river cruisers. This cruise is perfect for clients interested in post-WWII countries behind the Iron Curtain and those running out of the river to cruise. You would most likely wish to begin river cruising along the Rhine, Main and Danube from Amsterdam to Budapest, the Rhine between Amsterdam and Basal, or rivers of France. Remember that the Christmas Markets offered between Thanksgiving and Christmas are great fun. Lou and I have done two-holiday sailings and loved them.
Lou Lint, CTC and Ann Kurek
PS After the cruise, I visited my son in Germany for a week, and we toured the Romantic Road in the Franken region. If you are looking for “fairy tale”Europe, I found it. One charming village or small city after another with a castle or schloss, an old church or two, part of a medieval city wall, and a town square with outdoor cafes. All set in the beautiful valley of the Tauber River. If you are bikers, there is a bike trail that runs the distance.
We just returned from a fantastic cruise on the Azamara Journey and want to share our excitement with you. Azamara’s ships are small enough to sail right into the heart of less touristy destinations yet large enough to deliver an unforgettable cruise. The leisurely itineraries make your experience a rich one.
Like a casually elegant boutique hotel, the Journey is traditional with a warm & friendly twist. Award winning cuisine makes dining a special event yet comfortably relaxed and unpretentious. Fresh flowers and fruit, warm canapés served in your room before dinner, super thick towels and luxurious European bedding make your cabin warm and inviting. Azamara provides a wide variety of enjoyable entertainment and enrichment activities to share with your well-traveled fellow voyagers.
I was very glad I was given the opportunity to see St Lucia & the Sandals resorts there. It’s been about 9 years since I’ve stayed at Sandals so this was a great way to get updated not only on the St Lucia properties, but all Sandals and Beaches resorts.
St Lucia is a difficult little island to get to. Once we made it to the island after a delayed flight, missed connection, 5 hour layover, and cranky custom’s guy, I knew it was worth the trip. I also learned the value of having a good traveling companion. With the right person you can have fun and laugh no matter what obstacles you incur along the way.
We stayed at the Sandals Grande St. Lucian. We were not in concierge level rooms. When I asked room service what cat we were in I believe they said it was Honeymoon Grande Lux Oceanfront. The rooms were big and very nice. The bed was huge, and had the netting all around it. Very romantic. Even though it wasn’t a full concierge room, it did have a fridge and bar.
We had training the first day we were there to become Sandals Certified. We received detailed training and updates on all Sandals and Beaches resorts. The Sandal’s Grande had 7 restaurants. The food was excellent at each one I was able to eat in. Since I did partake in eating everything and more I also used the gym while I was at the resort. The gym had all the up to date machines and was open 24/7 so no matter what time you wanted to work out you could. The staff was very attentive no matter what department they worked in. You needed anything they were there for you. The grounds were beautiful and although on the map it looks like a large resort, it didn’t feel that way.
Next was the Sandal Halcyon I was pleasantly surprised by this resort. All the rooms were very nice and the resort is much smaller but has a very nice feel to it. Some of the rooms you can walk out and in a few short feet be on the beach. We ate lunch and dinner at this resort and both were very good. Again a pleasant surprise for this resort which is older, but very popular with repeat clientele.
Lastly we toured the Regency. WOW this is an awesome resort with all the bells and whistles. The rooms are very spread out throughout the resort. Some with views of the ocean from the cliffs. Others with views of the gardens and pools. There is a golf course on site. Large resort with lots of hills and walking so that should be kept in mind when booking this resort. But for the couple that wants it all. This resort has it.
All in all I was very happy to have had the opportunity to see all these resorts and the island of St Lucia. I learned a lot and will be able to sell the destination and resorts with confidence.
Our search for new hotels and travel options began in Paris. We stayed on the left bank in the St Germain des Pres area near the Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame is located. Many small hotels which are privately owned belong to the Best Western association and are good choices in Paris. We stayed at the small simple hotel Best Western De L’Univers which has a very helpful staff. Rooms are very small, as are many rooms in Europe, but very clean and neat. They also do have a larger, very nice room category that would be great for someone who wants something more upscale. This area allows you to feel like you are in the Paris that you see in pictures or in your mind, with little cafés along the street, small shops and people walking in the streets enjoying life. If you like to walk, you can walk to the quaint island of Ile St-Louis and on to Notre Dame. The subway, or Metro, is nearby and local buses are just around the corner. I always recommend the Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour for first time visitors. Our hotel recommended a great restaurant in the area the “Roger la Grenouille” or the frog. The specialty is frog legs (yum).
Near the Louvre in Paris there is a new hotel/apartment that is very nice and will be on our “Top Recommend” list. This is the Paris Louvre Citidines which just opened their first 5 star properties. All accommodations are very nice suites with a little kitchen area which includes a small washing machine. Many have small balconies as a bonus. These rooms are more for couples than families, however.
Hotel Theresa is a nice boutique hotel choice near the Opera House. This is on a quiet little street and is clean and neat with a friendly staff.
With all the many museums in Paris you can visit, may I suggest that you don’t miss the l’Orangerie. You can visit this museum in an hour or longer if you get the head sets and listen to the great descriptions of the paintings found here. The famous Monet’s “Water Lilies” are interesting on one level, but visit the rest of the museum on the lower level to see wonderful post-impressionist and impressionist art.
At the head of my list of not-to-be-missed in Paris is the busy “Painters Square” near the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur in Montmartre. Artists want to draw your picture, but you can also watch painters at work or purchase local art at a reasonable cost. Most days there are also some street entertainers in the area.
Another fun visit is to one of the 24 “Passages” which are found around the city. These architecturally interesting “streets” are like very early shopping malls.
For our transportation to and from the hotel we used Paris Lux Shuttle Service which is very good and we will recommend to our clients. They are reasonable in cost and very dependable.
EasyJet provided their services just as advertised. It is an inexpensive way to fly from one of the major airports in Paris to Pisa Italy. We chose to fly to Pisa on our way to Florence for cost savings. From the Pisa airport you have a choice of taking the bus which is very easy and great if you have luggage that you don’t want to lift on and off the trains. Both the train and bus are right out the front door of this small airport. It takes about an hour either way to get to Florence. Flying into this airport is good for people going to Florence, anywhere in Tuscany, Cinque Terre, or renting are car and driving anywhere in Italy. Delta also has a non-stop flight from New York into this airport.
Florence is easy walking town. You can visit most major sites in 1 or 2 days. Not to be missed is the Lorenzo Market and food market. The best Gelato is found in the Signora Square. We chose to take the hop-on hop-off bus tour which cannot go through the old town, but it is good for the areas around Florence. This is nice but you have to be patient as it takes a little time to get to the interesting areas. We stayed at the De LaVilla Hotel which has a great location and very comfortable rooms. I recommend the superior room which is large and lovely. You can walk to all the important locations from this hotel. The staff is a little of a mix of very helpful and kind to non-interested and cold.
Tuscany is the magical place that everyone wants to visit, with good reason; the views are beautiful and quintessential Italy. We had the great pleasure of staying in one of our “Top Recommend” hotel/villa/farms, Castello La Leccia
As we approached, we looked up at the top of a hill and asked our driver what was the beautiful little midieval looking villa or town. He replied that is your hotel/farm, Castello La Leccia. We were so excited and even more so when we arrived. This is a family working farm of vineyards and olive trees along with up-scale accommodations in the family villa. The villa’s accommodations of only 12 rooms, along with a small chapel, a working winery with a couple of small out buildings, make up this lovely place. The exterior is that of a medieval village with beautiful gardens and a majestic staircase from the villa to a swimming pool. Once you enter the villa, the reception area and rooms are very modern with the highest technology very evident. In wonderful contrast is the 2nd floor of the villa that has maintained the elegance of a fine villa of bygone days. Here you can relax with grand views of the Tuscan valleys, read a book in the library, or have a glass of their fine wine and just relax. The owner, who is very pleasant, is pleased to share his winery experience and wine tasting with guests. The restaurant service and food is very good and those preparing the meals love to see you enjoying their choices.
We chose to use the services of Tuscany in Tours for driving and sightseeing as well as visiting hotels. They also provide shore excursion services. The service is wonderful. Our driver/guide was Massimo, who speaks perfect English and knows everything about Tuscany. He takes our clients to the small out of the way wineries and hill towns in addition to the well know tourist areas. We did take time to go to Siena to see one of my not-to-be-missed, the Duomo and piazza in Siena. The Duomo is another one of those short, not more than an hour visits. You can enjoy fine art and interesting architecture. If you visit, don’t miss the library and use the head phones found around the areas within the church for helpful explanations and descriptions. Because Tuscany in Tours has special licensing to drive us right to the Duomo or Square it was very easy and saved a lot of walking.
While we did visit a few hotels that we were not as impressed with, the following are some that we can recommend. Borgo San Luigi is a very nice choice for those that would enjoy the old world Tuscany feel of a property with several different accommodation choices. The staff is very nice here and some of the rooms have wonderful patios and nice sitting area in your room. Another recommended property very near San Gimignano is Villa San Pado which also has a really nice spa. The best choice for rooms is in the older section set in beautiful gardens with very interesting classic Italian rooms. The restaurant here is large and very good. Other nearby interesting towns are Certaldo and Voltera. If clients are driving and want a small, very basic family run hotel, Le Renaie is a nice choice. Another nice surprise was the Fattoria Voltrona which is a simple property with very basic rooms, but many things to do on the property including horseback riding. The staff is very nice and friendly here. This property, like many others, does not have air-conditioning.
We also visited and had lunch at the very impressive Castel Monastero luxury resort which includes the 2 star Michelin restaurant of Chef Gordon Ramsey. This is old world luxury with great dining and wonderful spa. If travelers want a special up-scale experience in a former medieval monastery this is a great choice. “WOW,” is the word that comes to mind as you walk around this resort for those with discriminating taste.
All of these hotels/farms/resorts are in the general area of Chianti Tuscany near either San Gimignano or Siena.
From Pisa we took the Ryan air flight to Barcelona; well almost to Barcelona. The flight is listed as Pisa to Girona (Barcelona) (GRO). In fact, it is about 1 hr 15min to 1 ½ hours from Barcelona. Taxi from here is about 150euro, and I do not recommend the taxi from here. However, I do recommend taking the bus that goes from the airport to the city center.
In Barcelona we boarded our cruise ship the Azamara Quest for a very nice cruise of the French Rivera with stop in Provence. Please refer to Cheryl Blanchard’s very good report of this cruise line and ship. I find this Azamara cruise ship to be a good choice for people who want a more boutique feel and more inclusions such as tipping and drinks without the expense of the all-suites ships. Azamara is also featuring late night departures and overnight stay which allow you more destination immersion. I was very pleasant to be able to sleep in a little and still fully experience each port-of-call. I enjoyed all the stops, but San Tropez was my favorite port, and my favorite shore excursion was to St Paul DeVence, a beautiful medieval walled town with one art shop after another. I put both of these places on my places not-to- be- missed list. Cannes is just as you have always heard, one fabulous designer shop after another and everyone watching for the rich and famous along the beach boardwalk.
I arrived in Barcelona on the day prior to my cruise for one night stay at the Avenida Palace. The hotel is an older boutique hotel with a location close to La Rambla. It has a European atmosphere and is lovely inside. There is a doorman to call cabs. The staff was helpful and was able to sell discounted Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tickets. A bus stop is located very close to the hotel and the bus is a wonderful way to see the city with three different routes.
Upon arrival at the ship, checking is handled very efficiently and we were soon on board. Since the cabins were not ready, we went to Windows Café for their buffet lunch, which has a lot of variety and is very good. They have a beautiful back deck, where it is lovely to eat and enjoy the views.
We had dinner in Discoveries Dining Room and the food and the service were excellent. The meals there were always wonderful and they included a delicious healthy choice every evening. There are two specialty restaurants with a surcharge to dine there. One of them is seafood and the other is a steak restaurant, and they require reservations. Both offer a memorable dining experience.
Azamara has begun offering a more inclusive cruise, with complimentary standard alcoholic drinks & wine, and tips included in the cost of the cruise. They also offer one special evening with every cruise that is unique to that specific port. With our cruise, we were able to watch our captain participate in the ancient sport of water jousting following a parade through the town, and regional wine and delicacies shared with local residents after the event. It was great fun.
Azamara is also focusing on destinations, with longer stays in ports and at least one overnight per cruise. This leaves more time to experience the ports, even into the evening hours. This also allowed us to sleep in a little and still have plenty of time to savor each port of call. They have trademarked this concept “Destination Immersion” to describe their cruises. Because the ship is much smaller than most other cruise ships, it is able to dock in smaller, unique ports and closer to the center of things. The shore excursions are well led by knowledgeable guides and very interesting itineraries.
All in all, my Azamara cruise was a very positive experience; I will definitely recommend this cruise line to clients.