Monday, November 21, 2011

In what language is your souvenir shopping list?

Does the souvenir shopping list for your Mediterranean cruise looks something like this?
  1. Scarf from Spain for Aunt Alma
  2. Tie from Italy for hubby
  3. Silk blouse from France for me
  4. Postcards from everywhere
  5. Jeans to replace John's that he tore while hanging out with new friends in the teen lounge.
una cravatta in ItaliaSure, many people around the world know English.  But since you are visiting their countries, it's not good (nor polite) to assume they will.  Besides, a little bit of sincere attempts at the local language can go a long way in keeping you from appearing to be "one of those ugly Americans" who thinks everything in other countries should be like it is here at home. (Which begs the question.... "why travel?") 

In your case, you need a bufanda for Aunt Alma, a cravatta for your husband, chemisier en sole for you and pantalones vaqueros from Spain (or just plain ol' "jeans" if he's ripped them just before you dock in France or Italy) for your son. 

You'll still need to study clothing sizes in other countries as well as currencies (Euro in the three countries I've mentioned), but here's a bit of a "cheat-cheat" to help you with the names of various pieces of clothing.

Enjoy your shopping experience.  Consider any language, culture and currency challenges as part of the adventure! 

By the way, if you need to buy postcards to send home to your loved ones (and to your favorite travel agent), ask for postales in Spanish,cartoline in Italian and carte postales in French.  We'll be watching our mail! 

~ Connie

Monday, November 14, 2011

Should I Get a Balcony Cabin?

I’m writing from my balcony aboard Celebrity Cruises’ newest ship, Celebrity Silhouette. I was enjoying my novel when I looked out over the ocean and found my mind wandering to how much I was enjoying my balcony and the value of it to me. I wondered if I could share this experience with our readers. I’m going to give it a shot.

After boarding in Cape Liberty, we settled into the cabin and then went out to our balcony where we were greeted by a beautiful view of the Statue of Liberty in front of the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline.

Later that night, while getting ready for dinner, my longtime friend and cabin mate, Trish, pointed toward the balcony, saying, “Wow! Look at the bridge!” With our curtain open, the glass balcony door was allowing us to see a stunningly lit up bridge standing out from the blackness of the fall evening. We think it was the Verrazano Bridge.

After breakfast this morning I settled onto our balcony with a cup of coffee from the Oceanview CafĂ©, my latest knitting project from our church’s prayer shawl group and my book. As much as I love the ship, there’s something peaceful about spending bits of time out here. Since everyday life is busy with computers, phones, appointments and the sounds of the suburbs, listening to nothing other than the ship slicing through the ocean is the quiet whisper I’m looking for. And with my own little “private deck space,” it’s nothing to dress as I want and grab what I need for the short walk through the balcony door.

Considering we’re sailing off the cost of New Jersey in November, it’s surprisingly comfortable out here. I found that a beach towel found in the basket under the bed that also holds the life vests makes for just enough of a “blanket” around my shoulders to ward off the slight chill from the breeze.

Looking out, the line between the water and sky is so straight that I can understand why people once though the world was flat. My respect goes to those brave enough to have sailed the oceans centuries ago. Seeing this horizon and with the limited knowledge they then had regarding the shape of the earth, I fully understand why people were afraid they could sail off the end of the flat earth.

Like with the pain of childbirth, it’s easy for me to forget the extent of just how much I value having a balcony when I’m between cruises. Sure, if I was just in an inside or oceanview cabin, I’d spend little time other than sleeping and showering in my cabin. But this little piece of real estate is just short of heaven to me right now.

~ Connie
P.S.  Our travel consultants look forward to helping you book your cruise whether your preference and budget call for a balcony cabin, inside, oceanview or suite. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Dealing with Your Dirty Laundry

Because you have learned to pack lighter for your vacations, you had planned to wear these pants twice during your cruise. But…. oh no! You spilled your drink on your pants the first night wearing them.

Thankfully cruise ships offer laundry services!  Most ships offer valet laundry services (wash and press, press only, dry cleaning). Some also offer self-service “laundromats.”

Pricing to have a piece done isn't bad.  Here are some rates from the laundry service form I picked up when I sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas. “Pressing only” was half the cost of the “wash & press” or the “dry cleaning” costs. These prices are subject to change and our list isn’t as extensive as what was on RCCL’s form, but I thought it would give our blog followers an idea of costs.

Clothing Wash and PressDry Clean
Blouse or Skirt$4$4.50
Blouse (silk)$6
Dress (silk)$9.50
Scarf $2.75

Now, I'm not suggesting we spend our vacations in a self-serve laundry or wracking up a bill using a valet laundry service, but isn't it nice knowing there are options when you need something pressed, are trying to limit your packing or have an "oops!" while cruising?

~ Connie

P.S.  Here's a great packing tip.  Be sure to bring plastic bags.  Either reuse plastic shopping bags or bring gallon-sized Ziplock bags to bring home smelly socks, wet bathing suits, muddy shoes or anything else you'd rather not have touching the rest of the items in your suitcase.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Costumes, Masks, Food & Fun in the Caribbean ...... Carnival Time!

Who doesn't love a good carnival? But I'm not talking about the kind with the ferris wheel and cotton candy. Instead, I'm talking about the exciting carnivals in the Caribbean which have roots is long ago medieval Venice, Italy.
"Carnival" throughout the Caribbean region is a combination of religion, culture and tradition. Unlike Mardi Gras in New Orleans, not all islands associate Carnival with the period of Lent. But some things that are consistent among all of the islands is that the excitement always includes costumes, masks, music, food and parades. Concerts, elected kings and queens, and competitions are also typical.

Winter Carnivals are celebrated in St. Kitts, Aruba, Bahamas, Curacao, Aruba, Dominican Republic, Dominica, Cancun, St. Martin, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, and Trinidad & Tobago. In the spring, you'll find Carnival going on in Cayman Islands, Jamaica, St. Maarten, Bermuda and the Virgin Islands. Summer Carnivals take place in St. Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, Saba, Barbados and Anguilla. For specific schedules of when the local Carnival is occurring and the specific calendar of events, contact that island's tourist board which you can find online.

As you can imagine, there's a lot of excitement and fun if you travel to an island during Carnival whether you are cruising there or spending your vacation in the area. However, there is a downside, too. Because of the scope of the celebration, most locals participate in some way or enjoy as bystanders. You'll find that some stores and services will be closed which may adversely affect your trip. "Carnival" can run from a week all the way up to a month. There will be key days of celebrations which are the days you'll want to be there.... or to avoid, depending on what you are looking to do!

~ Connie

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cruise to Your Outdoor Theater

Growing up, we had a drive-in movie theater near our home. When young, my brother and I in our pajamas, along with our parents would park and watch the latest new movie out, often a Disney film. Pull into a parking spot, take a speaker off its pole and put it on your window. As teens, the trick was to pack the car tight with friends which often included trying to sneak someone in “free” in the trunk. (I didn’t say we were smart teens!)

Back then, cruise ships offered movie theaters for those who wanted to go watch a movie.

But time went by and the local drive-in property became a Two Guys department store and then a Bradlees followed by the Wal-Mart which now resides there.

Not long after many drive-ins closed, cruise lines felt that shipboard movie theaters were wasted space on ships. Shipboard theaters were converted for other uses and guests’ cabin televisions started carrying movies.

In a new twist over the past decade, some cruise lines started building huge outdoor movie screens reminiscent of those old drive-in theater screens on some of their ships. Princess Cruises started the trend with large outdoor screens able to show movies, major sporting events, concerts and more. Now following the trend on some of their fleet’s ships are Norwegian Cruise Line, Carnival Cruises, Costa, Disney Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.

If you are looking for added outdoor entertainment or you want to lay out on a deck chair to watch a movie while remembering drive-ins from your childhood, call 610-532-0989 and ask your consultant at Connie George Travel Associates to help you choose the right ship.

~ Connie

Monday, October 17, 2011

Travel... the stuff from which jokes are made

At a recent meeting of our Delaware County Toastmaster’s Club, member Bernie Selling had us laughing for a good five minutes about the subject of flying for his “humorous speech” assignment. Bernie agreed to my request to share excerpts from his speech with our readers. He explained that several of his jokes and phrases came from the internet and were then mixed with his own “observations and quirky insights” to create his speech. I hope that, even without his terrific voice inflections and gestures that come with hearing his speech, you’ll still enjoy this week's blog.  With my keyboard's tongue in cheek:

Do you remember how, when you were a child, traveling was so exciting, so much fun? Especially when you got to fly somewhere in an airplane? Man, how things have changed. Between TSA, long lines, baggage fees and whatnot, it really stinks.

Labor Day was a few weeks ago. My wife, son and I flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to visit my in-laws. Grand Rapids is a small city, and there not much to do there---but my wife likes to see her family every so often, so we go. My son says it’s boring. I say it’s a study in sensory deprivation.

We go to the Philly airport, and right away the ticket agent demands 75 bucks. This is so she’ll allow us to bring luggage on our trip, which is useful for people who like to change their underwear once in a while. After this shakedown, we go and visit our friends from TSA.

When we get to the security area, we get some fine and dandy news. On this day, the screeners are testing out one of those new optical disrobing machines. They won’t really install these in Philly until next year, but they want to make some trial runs first. We stand there and get scanned, because we’re obedient sheep and we always do what people tell us. After the scan, they tell my wife that she needs an enhanced pat down. Why? Because she’s wearing cargo pants. You know, the kind with all the big baggy pockets. It turns out, the scanners cannot see into baggy pockets. I guess they figure that’s okay, since pockets are probably the last place anyone would put sharp things--like pocket knives.

As I watch my wife getting patted down—in an enhanced manner--I’m reminded of an article I read a year earlier. It said that two thousand women had complained about excessive touching by TSA screeners. And a week after that article, THREE thousand men applied for jobs at TSA. Maybe they applied because they liked TSA’s new motto: “It’s our business to touch your business.”

After TSA is finished, we proceed to our gate. We go out the door, down the stairs, then we cross over some tarmac, then climb up the stepladder and stoop low to get into our little connector plane to Grand Rapids. Years ago, if you flew to a modest-sized city like Grand Rapids, you would probably fly in a Boeing 727 or maybe a DC-9, something that actually had jet engines. Now, they put you in these beat up old propeller planes. Our plane is a buzzy old gnat called an SBR-85. I think SBR is an acronym. I think it stands for “shoulda been retired.” We carefully proceed down the little plane’s narrow aisle and find our seats. As usual, I get to sit in the very last row.

After I buckle up, I look up and ….there I see Paul Bunyan’s great grandson squeezing into the plane. This guy is so immense, and the aisle is so cramped, that as he oozes down the aisle he is literally smearing his head along the ceiling. He gets about three rows ahead of me and sits down. As he sits, there’s this [crack], as his seat-back literally breaks and he slumps into the lap of the guy behind him. This is what happens when airlines use leftover aircraft from the Hindenburg era.

This results in a delay of 30 minutes while mechanics come in to remove the carcass of the collapsed seat and bolt in a new one. Or at least a less old one. Finally, with some creaking and groaning, the little plane that could climbs into the sky and we’re on our way.

The propellers are noisy, but our flight is really quite smooth. ….Our landing … is not. A pilot once told me that an airplane landing is basically a controlled midair collision with a -- planet.  Now I understand.

The plane—or what’s left of it--slowly rumbles to a stop. After the passengers start breathing again, we get up to leave the plane. The flight attendant and embarrassed young pilot stand up front, saying good bye and thanks for our business. I’m the last one off, except for this little old lady walking with a cane. As she’s about to deplane, she says to the pilot, ‘Sonny, would it be okay if I ask you a question?' Of course, Ma'am,' says the pilot. 'Which is it', the little old lady asks, 'Did we just land, or were we shot down?'

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rock & Roll All Nite

KISS frontman, Gene Simmons, is in the news for more than just the recent marriage to his longtime girlfriend, Shannon Tweed. This time, he’s in the travel news. With two performances and theme events, a boatload of people will be rockin’ and rollin’ all night long during the upcoming KISS Kruise on Carnival Destiny next week!

Bowzer meets Stacy and Barb from SOFT.
KISS is joining a continuing growing trend of celebrity singers and bands performing on cruise ships. Lynyrd Skynyrd has also played on Carnival. Taylor Swift, Rhianna and Bowzer (former lead singer with Sha Na Na) are among many who have performed for guests on Royal Caribbean. While James Taylor has thrilled fans on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, NCL’s guests have enjoyed the sultry pop sound of Sara McLachlan. Holland America has pleased American Idol fans by having Adam Lambert sing on one of their ships (pre-AI) as well as the Texas Tenors (post-AI).

How do you get to be on a cruise with your favorite performers? Some celebrities are on chartered “fan” cruises either alone (such as next week’s KISS Kruise) or with multiple celebrities typically in the same or similar genres of music. Other times a singer will be a headliner on a cruise. The best way to know is to follow your favorite performers on their websites, Facebook and Twitter. Or you can try “googling” your ship and sailing to see if anything comes up in the way of headliner news.

Rock on!