This ship is and deserves an Ovation!

Yesterday we got a chance to see a new ship and it was really special for us because two weeks from yesterday, we will be sailing on her…with our grandkids and…their parents. Because of that we were totally into this tour. So far in our travel agent lifetime we have only toured two ships that we hadn’t been on before…or been on their sister ships. But we had never toured or sailed on this class of ship and we were worried that we might not like it. But all is AOK as we were totally impressed with Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas.

We boarded around 10:30 and I had an entire list of questions from the folks on our Cruise Critic roll call that needed to be answered. To start with, I want to state that Ovation is in awesome shape. The ship (which is only three years old) looked super, lunch was great and the food was excellent. 

Some general observations:

  • People were boarding at 10:30. That’s pretty early and it also means they got everyone off fairly quickly.
  • The buffet was SLAMMED every time we went by from 11:30 (when it opened) on. If you are cruising on this ship, try and find someplace else to eat when you first get on board. Pizza at Sorrento on Deck 4, Hot dogs at the Seaplex Doghouse on Deck 15, lunch at the Solarium Bistro on Deck 14 (if it isn’t reserved for a private party as it was when we were touring), sandwiches and salads at Cafe 270 on deck 5. One place that was completely empty was the Fish and Ships, a very cool Fish and Chips place on Deck 14. It doesn’t show on the deck plans they were passing out so that may be why it was empty.
  • We were really impressed that all the pools were open, with lifeguards at 11:00 am. Also, we were impressed that for those that have kids, they have life jackets/water wings for kids at both family pools.
  • The staterooms were really, really nice (so nice that I actually used “really, really.”) Lots of storage…much more than on any ship we have sailed on before including our favorite S-Class.
  • The ship was recently converted from serving the Asian market. The changes were fairly minor. They removed a high roller’s casino and turned it into a very nice music venue, they flipped a ramen restaurant and turned it into the aforementioned fish and chips restaurant. There were a few other changes we heard about but you certainly could not tell that they had been made.

If you would like to find out more, I have added captions to the pics below. And I will have a full report on Ovation after we finish our Alaska cruise on August 2.

Photos are below and are best viewed as a slide show. Just click on the first photo and then hit your right or left arrows.

I’ve had all that you could ask for. The fat lady has sung, and there’s a standing Ovation. —Flip Wilson

Traveling with your cell phone

Beautiful young business woman talking on mobile phone while staNote: this post is primarily for my readers who live in the USA. To the others, I hope it applies to you someday.

About two weeks ago (June 26), the New York Times ran an article about traveling with your cell phone called “A Comprehensive Guide to Taking Your Smartphone Abroad for Cheap.” In case you don’t have a subscription to the online NY Times, the basic conclusion of this article was:To cut to the chase: There is a cheap way, which involves a lot of work. Or there is an easier method that will most likely cost you a pretty penny.” And then less than one paragraph later, they said, “There’s an exception to this. If you are a T-Mobile subscriber, you get free international roaming in more than 200 countries without having to make changes to your account. And to that I said, “DUH!” 

I have been preaching to my friends, family and clients about the benefits of having T-Mobile as your cell phone provider if you travel internationally for quite some time. We have been T-Mobile subscribers since we left evil AT&T (why they are EVIL is an entirely other story but I don’t feel like crying right now, so it will have to wait for another time) in the autumn of 2014.  And I have to say that I am as happy with T-Mobile as I used to be with Apple (before Steve Jobs died).

I don’t want to make this a commercial for T-Mobile but if you haven’t heard me go on and on about T-Mobile, then we haven’t talked before, LOL! First, they have some great programs for people like us…seniors (They also have special programs for military, veterans and government workers). When it comes to their senior program, I am not sure what the current cost is, but when we signed up for it we got two lines with UNLIMITED fast data and phone service anywhere in the US for $60 a month (TOTAL) FOREVER! Yup, forever. Each and every month our cell phone bill is $60 (for both of us, not each). It never changes. And that includes taxes, fees, etc. Has been that way every month since we signed up. (If you buy a phone on installments, your bill will be higher and you can add to it in certain situations which I will mention below.)

Besides having a great and permanent price, there is another benefit to T-Mobile that applies to us because we travel. Free 2-G data pretty much everywhere in the world. And free calls and 4G LTE data in Canada and Mexico which we use a bunch when we go to Chilliwack. On our October trip to Québec, we had 4G LTE fast coverage on almost the entire trip. I will tell you that they will limit the 4G fast coverage in Canada to 5GB of data but that’s a ton. I did run out on the Québec trip, but that’s because I tried to stream a Seattle Seahawks game. But when I went over the 5GB, they just throttled me back to 3G which was fine for everything but streaming video.

In Europe and the rest of the world (more than 210 countries) you will have unlimited data at up to 128kbps, which is great for web browsing, e-mail, social media and occasional use of certain features like GPS/maps. On our Iceland trip, we had plenty of coverage in Scotland, England, Ireland and Iceland. On a previous trip to Europe in 2016, we spent almost a week in the Netherlands before we cruised and there we had 4G LTE the entire time. In fact the coverage in Amsterdam and Rotterdam was better than we have here at home. You should also know that making calls in foreign countries other than Canada and Mexico will cost you something. The cool thing is that as soon as you arrive in a country, you get a text from T-Mobile welcoming you to the new country you have just arrived in and telling you exactly what the rules are for usage in that country. For instance, when we arrived in Iceland, it said, “Welcome to Iceland. All texts and 2G data are free and part of your plan. If you wish to upgrade to faster data, please click here to see the cost. Phone calls are 25¢ per minute.” That was it. In other places, different rules but always a text to let us know. If you want to see how much it is going to cost (or if it is free) before you go, you can click here to go to their Travel Abroad page, put in the country you are going to and it will tell you if there is any cost and if so, how much that is.

By the way, I checked on upgrading my data speed in Iceland and it was $5 for a 24 hour day for 5GB of fast data. Not enough to stream a Netflix movie but I got to upload a few photos to this blog. And I should add that T-Mobile does a great job of letting me create a mobile hot spot to connect my Mac which in many cases (here at home) is faster than our Ethernet connection with Comcast. So if our Comcast internet goes out, we just start a mobile network with our unlimited data and we are good to go. Of course we make sure the phone is plugged into power since that really drains the battery.

Is that enough of a reason to switch? If you ever travel outside of the USA or you are over 55 or military or veterans and can get a lifetime guaranteed price, then yes! When we were with evil AT&T our monthly bill was NEVER the same. It changed every month. They always found something else to charge us for or some other fee or tax to add on to it. One time we uploaded a short (30 second) video from a cruise ship sitting in Victoria, BC’s harbor (we thought we were on the ship’s WiFi) and the bill from AT&T was in excess of $3500. T-Mobile rocks! If you travel, get them.

My cell phone is my best friend. It’s my lifeline to the outside world. —Carrie Underwood

Joy is a Joy

My last post was all about Cunard and I mentioned we were going to be doing our next visitation on  NCL’s (Norwegian Cruise Line) Joy. So last Saturday we joined three of our fellow agency buddies (Deborah, Ruth and Christa) and headed down to Seattle’s Pier 66 (where we met Candy, another of our team) for a tour of Norwegian’s Joy. We were met by NCL’s Business Development Manager (BDM) Angie West, who runs a great tour plus she’s a bunch of fun. I need to mention for comparisons sake, that Joy can hold up to 4,600+ cruisers and is by far (along with NCL’s Bliss) the largest ship we have ever been aboard. Yet at no time did I feel crowded. There were crowds but it was livable. In the next few months (between now and mid-October) we will visit and sail on two larger ships. That should be interesting.

We were escorted onboard almost immediately upon our arrival and started with a look at the high-end section of the ship, The Haven. After the Haven, where we saw suites and spa staterooms, we went on to visit typical verandah staterooms, outsides and insides. We even saw an unusual stateroom you can only find onboard Joy, a “Concierge Interior” which is almost a suite, but an inside. (See my pics for more about that.) Unlike Cunard where we never saw any accommodations, on Joy we got to see them all before getting about a half an hour by ourselves to take pics of public areas before lunch.

Then it was off to the Taste dining room for some lunch. (Joy has three main dining rooms, Taste, Savor and Manhattan) It was not quite as good as the meal we had on the NCL Bliss last year when we mistakenly were given the entire lunch menu to choose from, but we did have a choice of some pretty decent food. I found it far superior to the Cunard lunch from 10 days before. One highlight (and proof that NCL is pretty darn cool) was that at the end of lunch, our lovely server brought Christa a birthday cake. It turns out that Ruth had just mentioned it to them when we came in and they took it from there. That’s my kind of service. Travel agents on board for lunch get a birthday cake to share—well done NCL Joy.

After lunch we were given total freedom to tour the ship and take pics of everything we wanted…so I did. If you are at all interested, please watch these three sets of photos as a slide show and read the captions. We enjoyed our day a whole bunch and we have two more visitations coming up—one on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas in a week or so and then on Celebrity’s Solstice (a ship we know well) about a week after.

First set of slides are from The Haven, NCL’s ship within a ship. Very high end, very spendy.

The next set of staterooms are a typical verandah, a special Concierge Family Inside stateroom and a handicapped accessible outside. All pretty cool.

The last set is everything I took of the public areas. If you are a ship junkie like we are, you will enjoy them. We have never sailed on NCL but this ship and Bliss have made us want to try them out eventually. They are priced well but if you are going to sail NCL, you need to know up front that much of what they tell you is “free” actually comes with a charge. They are the cruise industry champions of add-on charges. With that said, they do a great job and our many clients who have sailed with them, have had a great time and many have gone back for more cruises.

Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home… it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it. —Chuck Palahniuk

We found Joy!

Visiting a Queen

This is a little belated but I had to get all the posts from our European trip out before I could cover this. Last Thursday (June 20) we were lucky enough to be able to go north to Vancouver, BC to tour Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. We have never sailed on a Cunard ship and this would be our first chance to go aboard what I consider to be the last outpost of traditional cruising (which I miss). We expected a very beautiful and classy ship and that is exactly what we got (check out my photos to see what I am talking about).

Our journey started on Wednesday when we headed north to Chilliwack to see our best buddies, Bob and Judy. If we are going to B.C., we go to the Wack first. We hadn’t seen Bob and Judy since before our European trip so we had a lot to talk about. Plus, they had found an outstanding new restaurant we wanted to try out. After a great time and a super breakfast, we were off to Surrey, where, to avoid the traffic, we parked our car and jumped on a very crowded Skytrain into Downtown Vancouver.

We arrived before 10:00 (when we needed to board) and the balance of the travel agents who were touring with the Cunard BDM (Business Development Manager) did too. Many of them had come up on a bus from Seattle early that morning. We had the option to do that as well but we would rather have seen Bob and Judy.

When we do ship visitations we usually have to go through the same security that we do when boarding a ship for a cruise. Pretty much what you have to go through to get on an airplane and clear the TSA. Once we were onboard we split into two groups and one went with the BDM and the other (ours) were escorted by the ship’s Future Cruise Salesperson who was a very nice German woman.

Some overall observations.

The Queen Elizabeth is one of three Cunard Ships. She was built in 2010 and her capacity is 2077 with two people in every stateroom and completely full, 2503. I am still not sure where they put them as the ship just does not look that big, either inside or out.

Unlike any other ship visitation we have ever done, we were not allowed to see a single stateroom. No suites, no verandahs, no outsides, no insides. That is just wrong. That’s a huge part of why we want to go onboard—to check out all aspects of the ship to advise clients. Sadly, Cunard chose not to let us see any of the staterooms.

The ship is gorgeous and VERY classically decorated in an Art Deco style. The wood everywhere is gorgeous. Lots of places to sit, relax and enjoy your friends and family. The classic beauty carries on in the crews’ uniforms, the chandeliers, the sconces and so much more. Everything is truly beautiful.

Not only is the ship a classic beauty but it is a much more traditional kind of cruising. Kind of like cruising in the past. There are still real formal nights (you don’t HAVE to dress up except in the dining rooms and the entertainment venues on those nights), a gorgeous ballroom with a full dance band, individual boxes in the theater that you can rent for $50 per show (comes with Champagne and snacks) and just an all around class those who like that kind of cruising will appreciate. They even still have dance hosts on board. If you aren’t familiar with dance hosts, those are single men who are employed by the cruise line to ballroom dance with the single ladies on board. They used to be rather common on many cruise lines (we had a dance host at our table on Celebrity Galaxy in 2005) but most other lines have discontinued them.

I should also add that they do have kind of a class system on board even though they don’t call it that. There are regular guests and then those in the Princess Grille and if you really spend some money, the Queen’s Grille. You eat in a better restaurant, have a different area to relax in and a few other perks.

The one thing we were a little surprised with was lunch. Having just come off Celebrity’s Reflection less than a week before, the lunch we were served was not in the same caliber as any meal we had eaten aboard Reflection. Yes, it was in the dining room and yes, it was fancy and the service as impeccable but the food was beyond bland. It was edible but totally boring. I expected better.

I am going to let you look at the pics to see more and if you have questions, please ask them in the comments and I promise to get back to you.

Summing up

If you love traditional, classical cruising then Cunard is for you! We would sail on the Queen Elizabeth or either of her two sister ships as we like that kind of cruising.

You’re dressed in a tuxedo, you wear a bow tie. A bow tie with a tuxedo is more formal than a straight tie with a tuxedo. —Bill Nye



Dublin on the way home

This is it. The last post of our more than three week 2019 trip to Europe. Yesterday I told you about our short and sweet visit to Cork and Cobh and the next morning found us sitting at the dock in Dublin. But unlike previous cruises, we did not have to get off the ship. Celebrity, in their great wisdom, had decided us to give us an overnight stay in Dublin before we had to disembark. So we arrived on Thursday the 13th at 7:00 am and didn’t have to leave the ship until 9:00 am on Friday the 14th.

This left us with an entire day to do something else in Dublin. This might have been really important to us if we had not just spent three full days in Dublin before the cruise but that all worked out since we were going to the Guinness Storehouse to celebrate Bob and Holly’s anniversary by taking part in the Guinness Connoisseur Tasting Experience.

If we hadn’t already known quite a lot about beer, this would have been a super learning activity but we had pretty much been schooled in beer by Kathleen’s daughter Michelle and her husband Brian who are level one cicerones (the beer equivalent of a sommelier). Since we pretty much had the beer facts down pat, it was a very fun way to spend two hours with friends and family and drink a sample of every beer that Guinness makes (six to be exact) plus learn to draw the perfect pint of Guinness (as we had learned about Beamish the day before in Cork). By the way, one thing we learned was that the Guinness Storehouse has been named one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. It’s a really slick presentation and very well done. If you are in Dublin, it’s worth the time and cost.

Once you have looked at the pics below, our trip is done. We have been home for more than a week now and if you missed the story of our flights coming home, you can read about that by clicking here. We hope you have enjoyed traveling with us and I plan on returning to posting about travel in general for the rest of June and most of July…right up until we cruise again, to Alaska on July 26th on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas with our kids and grandkids. Can’t wait.

In the meantime, since it’s summer, we are doing ship visitations and those deserve some posts as well. Last Thursday we went to Vancouver to tour Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, so you can watch for that one coming soon. This Saturday we are touring Norwegian Cruise Line’s Joy and I will get some info and photos from that one. Later in the month we will be on our old friend Solstice as well as Ovation. Watch for these.

My favorite food from my homeland is Guinness. My second choice in Guinness. My third choice – would have to be Guinness. —Peter O’Toole

Kind of cool Cork

When I was about five I had a great grandmother that we just called Grandma Kinney. She was my maternal grandmother’s mom and her claim to fame was being born in County Cork, Ireland. Three summers ago we visited Cork and did the usual stuff you do when you hit the port of Cobh. That would be going to Blarney Castle, the Blarney Woolen Mill, the epicurean village of Kinsale and a few minutes in downtown Cork. So this time we didn’t need to do that so we (us and our good friends Bob and Holly) wanted to head into Cork to the English Market. It’s a typical old-style English market and bills itself as the oldest English Market in the world—and it’s not even in England.

We got off the ship, got Steve, Jamie and family off on a tour van to Blarney and grabbed a cab (took a little while) and headed into Cork. Our cab driver dropped us off at the back door to the market, just down an alleyway to the market, past a really cool mural dedicated to everyone in the world…except George Bush (really—see the photos).

We wandered through the market (which was very nice and really cool) but much smaller than we expected. So when we were done we had only been in Cork for about 45 minutes (which was kind of ridiculous for a 25 euro cab ride) so we thought we should find something else to see. On the way in from Cobh (where the ship docked), our cab driver had recommended that we see Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the biggest church in Cork. It was pretty impressive (see the photos).

After we had seen the church, we all needed to use a rest room and Kathleen mentioned that in the last block she had seen Fordes pub and thought we could kill two birds with one stone, use their restroom and get a pint. It turned out to be a GREAT idea. Not only did they have really clean restrooms, they also had a super barman who told us the history of the bar (been in the same family for generations) and offered to teach us how to pull the perfect pint of Beamish. For the uninitiated, in the north of the republic of Ireland, Guinness is king but in Southern Ireland, Beamish is king. So now Bob and I both have certificates that we are certified to pull the perfect pint of Beamish (did you know that a Beamish must sit for a 117.5 seconds after the first pull to let the nitrogen bubbles settle?. Well I do.)

After a nice break and a pint, we took a taxi back to the ship and took a break while the others toured all over southern Ireland. The whole journey comes to an end in Dublin which I will show you a little more of tomorrow.