Crazy Lundi* Gras

If you read yesterday’s post you know that we sailed into New Orleans after coming up the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico. We arrived on Sunday night but Kathleen and I decided to stay on board, mostly because I wanted to be up very early to do my usual early morning photo walk. Kathleen (and others in our party) were a little concerned with my safety walking around what is supposed to be one of the craziest cities in the world during their craziest festival. To be honest, I was a little worried as well.

My first early morning photo walk

While I have photo walked before dawn in many, many cities around the world (from Amsterdam to Victoria) without any problem at all, as I left our stateroom on Monday, Kathleen said, “That camera isn’t worth dying for.” YIKES! I hadn’t even thought that way until then. But I am happy to say that not one single time did I even feel the slightest bit threatened and that was all probably because Mardi Gras was going on. Even at 5:30 am, there was a heavy police presence just about everywhere in the city. I felt totally safe and since we were in New Orleans for three nights, I was able to get in two wonderful early morning photo walks. Here’s my pics from my early morning walk (with captions of course).

One quick thing about my photography. If you are looking at this page in an e-mail, please click the link and go to the web on a computer or a tablet before you look at the photos. They just aren’t anywhere nearly as good when you see them tiny or in an e-mail where they have been condensed to fit. If you are on a tablet or computer and you see the grouping below, you can click on the first photo and it will open in a larger window that you can then click or type on the right or left arrows (onscreen or on your keyboard) to scroll through. That’s the best way to view them. Make an old photographer happy and check them out that way…please.

Midday touring with our group

After I finished taking my early morning photo walk I headed back to the ship to shower, change, grab some breakfast and then we (myself, Kathleen and our friends Bob, Judy, David and Mickie) headed out to tour New Orleans for a few hours. Originally we were just going to walk around and look at the sites but I had sat down for breakfast in the buffet with a very nice couple who were going to take the Hop On/Hop Off (HoHo) bus and had a brochure they let me look at. That sounded even better to me than just walking around willy-nilly.

We found the bus outside Harrah’s Casino (where we were told, they don’t do gambling—which is illegal in Louisiana—they do gaming 🤔) and after a short wait we…hopped on. The bus had 19 stops all over the city and we had a great guide to start with. In fact all three guides we had that day were excellent. They knew their stuff and you could hear them clearly—those are the qualities of a great guide. The busses were comfortable but at the end of the day I had two huge quibbles with the bus company. First, they told us when we boarded that because of the Mardi Gras parades that evening that it would be a shortened day for them. Usually they would run the busses until 5:30 pm but because of the parades, they would be stopping at 3:30 pm. Now I totally get that but what I don’t get is them still charging full price for a reduced day. The trip is a little spendy already ($39 per person) but to have it cut by 2 hours should have triggered some kind of discount, don’t you think?

The other thing I wish they had done better was put more busses on the street for what is probably their busiest day of the year (they don’t operate on Mardi Gras itself). We found ourselves waiting way too long for busses after 1:00 pm when we only had a short time to get on and finish the entire loop. Both those things taken into account, I would recommend the tour because as we have found in many other cities where we have done these kind of tours, these HoHo busses are a great way to get a quick overview of the city and find out a little about the history and current events.

We rode the bus through uptown, the Garden District, past Storyville (the birthplace of jazz) and back around to the French Quarter, where we hopped off so we could get our first bite of famous New Orleans tourist food—the beignets at Cafe Du Monde, a city landmark. The line to get in and sit down for beignets was about a mile long but the takeout line was much shorter so we opted for that and within about 10 minutes we were scarfing down our beignets. If you have never had a beignet, it’s a square donut without a hole, that is COVERED with powdered sugar. For the takeout window, they just pour about a cup of powdered sugar in a bag, toss in three very hot beignets and you shake them like crazy to spread the sugar around. This is NOT food for those that don’t like or can’t eat sugar. And it’s not something I would eat anyplace else in the world. My doctor (and dentist) would shoot me. But WOW! They were so delicious.

I should note that by this time we had picked up two fellow travelers who were part of our Cruise Critic Roll Call group, Melody and Les from Colorado Springs. Bob and Judy had decided to continue on with the HoHo bus tour and skip the beignets (they have a lot more will power than I do) so Melody and Les were a welcome addition to the group. After our beignet snack I led the group down past St. Louis Cathedral to Bourbon Street so they could see some of what I had seen before dawn. There were two huge differences between my pre-dawn walk and this one (around noon). One, the streets were CLEAN! Amazingly so. Nothing like the incredible amounts of trash I had seen that morning. Secondly, the streets and the balconies above them were now full of people. Those on the street were hollering up to those on the balconies to throw them beads.

In case you are unaware, beads are the currency of Mardi Gras. Beads and other things you can wear around your neck are thrown from the balconies of Bourbon Street, from the floats in the parades and from just about everywhere else. When I had walked these streets in the early morning, it was hard not to step on thousands of discarded strings of colorful, plastic beads. Beads aren’t the only things they throw. There are tiny frisbees, lighted necklaces, light-up wands, beer cups and when they are done throwing everything in them, they throw the bags that used to be full of all that stuff. Coming back from Bourbon Street or any of the parades it is not surprising to see people with hundreds of strings of beads around their necks.

On our few blocks walk down Bourbon Street, Kathleen and the rest of the folks in our party caught their first beads thrown from a very fun group of yodelers on a balcony (see  them in my pics below). Between that and doing some shopping we spent about an hour walking in the French Quarter before standing in line for far too long to get on another HoHo bus. This bus took us out of the Quarter through Treme and downtown and finally back to Harrah’s where we disembarked and headed back to the ship for (I was hoping) a nap 😜. Below are the pics from this foray into the craziness that is Lundi Gras and the rest of our HoHo bus ride.

If you want more info about the Hard Rock Hotel collapse (above), click here.

Evening walk with Mike to see King Rex and some parades

After heading back to the ship, we grabbed a quick burger, fries and a beer (the only thing open for lunch by then) at the Mast Grille before going back to our stateroom for me to download pics and Kathleen to collapse. Later on (around 5:30) I went to meet our friend Mike to head out to do some evening exploring and picture taking.

*One of the things I did not know about Mardi Gras before doing pre-trip research was that the day before Mardi Gras (which literally means Shrove Tuesday) there is an entirely different festival going on down by the river called Lundi Gras. And the big highlight of Lundi Gras is the arrival (by train) of the king of Mardi Gras, King Rex. At 6:00 pm, they back a train into the area near Lundi Gras, the King (with trumpeters and a Grand Vizier) comes out onto the train platform and greets his adoring fans. Then he is escorted to the Lundi Gras stage where he is met by the actual mayor of New Orleans who reads a proclamation that states that the mayor relinquishes control of the city until midnight on Mardi Gras to King Rex and until then, it’s party, party, PARTY (like it hasn’t been before)!

Just a side note: I was always under the impression that Mardi Gras was just the day before Ash Wednesday when in actuality is starts with the first parade on January 6th (the feast of the Epiphany) and lasts until Mardi Gras day itself. During that time there are more than 75 parades all over Louisiana. I was shocked. You can already see next year’s schedule by clicking here.

So after Mike and I took pics and movies at the welcoming of King Rex, we met up with a friend of Mike’s (a native of New Orleans) also named Mike and his wife Cindy and two of their friends who told us a whole lot about Mardi Gras and their city on the way to the Krewe of Orpheus parade. They were awesome and gracious hosts of their city which they are clearly very proud of. Mike is part of the Krewe (the groups who put on the parades) of Bacchus and their parade had been the night before. After about an hour of shooting pics of the parade, I was just about done so I thanked them for their hospitality and left them (and our Mike) to watch the balance of the parade while I headed back to the ship to be ready for the actual day of Mardi Gras the next morning. Below are the pics from our evening foray into the crazy Lundi Gras streets of New Orleans.

One last thing I learned from Mike’s friends Mike and Cindy: All of Mardi Gras is totally self-funded by the Krewes who put on the parades. They raise money all year long to do the parades and to contribute to charity. They even pay the city back for the cost of security and policing. Really impressive and a real boost for the city.

I had one of the best nights of my life at Mardi Gras. —Cenk Uygur

Thoughts about coronavirus (Covid-19)

Panic2Yesterday I had an e-mail exchange with a good friend about the coronavirus (Covid-19) situation. He was a little worried about it because of all the current news coming down about cruise ships. Not necessarily about the cruise we are both going on next week, but for the long run. Believe me, I have heard some of the same things from other friends who cruise. Plus being someone who sells cruises and is going to be boarding a cruise ship a week from Friday, I have been hearing a lot lately. To those people who are worried and asking why I still want to cruise, here are some things to think about:

  • The quarantined ships we see in the news predominately sail in Asian markets and the cruises on those ships are being sold and marketed primarily to Asians.
  • There are a few Westerners who take those cruises because that is when they can cruise but our news media knows that we relate better to people who look like us, so they cover people from US, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. This makes it look like there are bunch of Westerners on board when there are actually very few. The fact that pretty much every news item I have seen on television is the same woman from the Princess ship who has been diagnosed with coronavirus.
  • The ships with problems originally sailed and visited Chinese ports before anyone knew there was a coronavirus (Covid-19). That’s why we are seeing so many people on that Princess ship that have contracted the virus. You should note that there have been no other ships with that number of cases. That’s because there is a 14 day incubation period and it is barely 14 days since this all started.
  • Driving to an appointment this morning and listening to news radio, there was a spokesman from the CDC who stated that all current US cases were either someone who had been in China in the last three weeks or was closely related (spouses and children at this point) and living with someone who came back from China in that time frame..

So I am still going on my cruise next week. We did receive an e-mail from the cruise line saying that they would be doing some extra screening when we boarded but friends boarded that same ship yesterday and they let us know that the only “extra screening” they received was asking them if they had traveled in China within the last month. That works for me.

I tend to stay with the panic. I embrace the panic. —Larry David

 

Lamenting learning loss

LearningYou have to love a headline that is also an alliteration. But there’s an explanation below. (Warning, this isn’t really a travel post—big announcement on that below—but more of a quick personal thing.)

When the year started I did what I always do—set some goals. It’s a yearly ritual. Some are always the same, like exercising every day, others change. For instance, I always have the goal of losing weight (don’t we all have that one 😀) but this year I decided to change that one and just do “eat healthier” which meant cutting out red meat and switching to a predominately plant-based diet. And doing my usual Dryuary (not drinking in January). It worked. We are eating a lot healthier. Tonight when our older kids come for dinner will be the first red meat I have since December 30 (except for one of Mason’s mini-corndogs). I had other goals as well that had to do with work, travel, etc. Still working on all of them.

But the one that I totally missed was learning. One my goals for the last five years that I have failed miserably at is setting up a day each week that I can schedule (and stick to) for learning. I am supposed to be semi-retired after all—I should be able to do this. Usually that learning has to do with one of three things that I dearly love: travel, photography and cooking. This year I am also taking up videography so that I can better document our travels, especially in the Galapagos this summer.

Kathleen got me a GoPro Hero8 for my birthday and I am ashamed to say that it took me until yesterday to even look at it with videos running and books open. And I still have a ways to go before I will feel comfortable shooting and editing videos. Sadly, I have scheduled at least five full days to watch videos and read books to learn how to use this new camera but had to put each and every one of them aside because of work or personal things getting in the way.

I also feel bad that I haven’t been shooting pictures this year. Haven’t take a single shot with my Nikon since sometime in October that wasn’t pictures of family (mostly grandkids) and that’s just not me. I even did this after I took a photo class with the incredible Scott Kelby in late November. One of Scott’s tenets is practice, practice, practice shooting pictures. I just haven’t been doing that. Part of this I blame on the weather. We have had measurable rainfall every single day since November 30th until today. We are WATERLOGGED and that just doesn’t lend itself to taking a camera out shooting. Plus, I have taken photos of just about everything there is in Redmond.

Banner five dogs celebrating carnival, halloween, new year wearing pirate hat, blue wig, red mask, cape and doctor costume. Isolated on white background..But good news (here’s the travel stuff)! We are leaving a week from tomorrow for a two week vacation in Florida, New Orleans and the Caribbean. This is our first big trip of what will be a year of memorable travel. We fly on Monday the 17th to Tampa (with two of our best buddies, Bob and Judy) and then spend three nights in Sarasota, a city I have been to but Kathleen hasn’t. After Sarasota we head south to Boynton Beach to meet up with another close friend, Mike. Regular readers may remember him as we stayed at his place for three days in October when we cruised on Allure of the Seas.

Then comes the highlight of the trip when we (along with Mike, Bob, Judy and other friends) board the Celebrity Cruiseline ship Reflection (the same ship we sailed to Iceland last June) to sail to New Orleans where we will be moored at the Julia Street Cruise Terminal for three full days during…Mardi Gras. Yes, we know it will be a zoo, but we can’t wait! After Mardi Gras we sail down to Grand Cayman (where we will tour some really cool caves) and then to Cozumel, Mexico where we will practice our snorkeling. We want to kind of know what we are doing when we go to the Galapagos in August so I can snorkel with the penguins and sea lions. By the time we get there, I need to really know that GoPro so I can take it and shoot underwater. Hopefully all of this will take place in beautiful (AND WARM) weather.

For me this trip means non-stop photography. I have been planning my New Orleans photo walks for weeks. And the same in Sarasota as well. So watch this page for daily reports on our travel. I will try to not be verbose (since I will be traveling with my #1 reader who says I can be verbose that shouldn’t be too much of a problem) and stick to some great photos and an overview of the trip.

Hopefully when I get back, I will be able to schedule that one day each week when I can just learn. Can’t wait.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. —Mahatma Gandhi

Why do people expect this?

Confused Man.Just finished this and realized that one of my most loyal readers will say I am being verbose and on this subject, I plead guilty. I’m just trying to understand this one thing that frustrates me no end—always has.

I need to write about something I have never understood. People asking or worse, expecting, travel agents to give them money or something else of value for booking their travel for them. Travel agents already work for clients for free.

This last week I received an e-mail from a very nice person asking me about a cruise. She had waited until the last minute (a Viking Ocean cruise this summer—these are usually sold out a year in advance) and wanted me to see if I could find her a stateroom—that maybe there was a cancellation. She did give me the exact date of the cruise and exactly the kind of stateroom she wanted, which I appreciated.

I called Viking and spent about an hour on the phone with them while the excellent customer service rep tried to find me the exact stateroom she was looking for on a sold-out ship. He was able to find a stateroom in the same category she wanted but before he could grab it, another of their customer service reps grabbed it for a client who had money in hand. Boo! We almost had it. But my agent did promise to check that cruise on a regular basis between now and when it sailed in July and let me know if there were any cancellations. The last date for people to cancel with a full refund was approaching and often if staterooms are going to open up, that’s when they will do it.

I got back to the client and told her everything that had happened and that we would continue looking. She was very appreciative and I told her that I would contact her if anything came open. In the meantime she promised to send me all her passenger info so I could be ready to book it if they called, so we didn’t lose it again. Sounded good to me.

But the next morning there was an e-mail from her asking me, Jim, to clarify/confirm: You do offer the Viking-allowed OBC, correct?” I wasn’t sure what she meant by that so I asked her to clarify. She got back to me with this: “Viking is strict with its agents, as I’m sure you know, limiting how much “rebate” they are allowed to give to their clients.  The most above-board thing that agents tend to do is give OBC up to the limit Viking allows – which varies by voyage.  Some agents also do provide additional $$ in the form of cash rebates, but that is not technically allowed under Viking’s policy, and the agents who do it are (obviously) paying it out of their own proceeds.  So, I never expect or ask for any cash rebate, since it’s technically against Viking’s policy.  I’m content to stick with the maximum OBC per voyage (it’s based on length of voyage.)”

Well I had heard about Viking’s OBC rules but I had never looked into this policy because I don’t believe in giving clients cash or on-board credit back. In the travel industry, this is a standard practice that I have never understood. Some of my best friends go looking for it and that saddens me as well.

At our agency, we make 38% of the 15% commission that pretty much every cruise line pays. The other 62% of the 15% the cruise line pays goes to our franchise owner for him to run the business. That means on every $1000 dollars of travel I handle, I get $57. So if you buy a $10K cruise I get $570.

That would be great but most cruises we sell are around $3-4000. And the cruise lines have this nice little thing called NCF (non-commisionable funds) which are parts of the cost of the cruise that we don’t make commission on. We also don’t get commission on taxes and port fees which can be a significant cost as well. (Last year I had a $1500 cruise that had almost $1000 of NCF and port fees on it). I think I made $30 on that one. Took me a bunch of time because the client was a first time cruiser. On those, I might make $100 if I am lucky (after expenses). Any OBC you get from us that is not directly from Viking (or any other cruise line) comes out of my pocket. If I give every client back even $100 OBC, I end up averaging less than $100 per cruise booked. Since from initial contact to the client returning from their trip, I spend about 20-30 hours working for that client, that means I make $4 to $5 an hour.

So why do I do this? Because I love travel, I love cruising, I love helping people plan travel and in general I like doing all of that really well. And luckily for my bride and I we have enough money coming in to let us do that. (I have another business that helps).

Before we started doing this, we used a travel agent (who is still a close friend) for more than 20 years and I never once asked her for anything off on a cruise or any OBC. She would always send a bottle of wine, a fruit plate or some flowers to our stateroom, she would give us cool Disney stuff to give to our grandkids and once passed on an Azamara bathrobe, but I never expected anything from her other than the superb service and knowledge she brought to our traveling. I knew that any OBC came right out of her pocket and that she did great work for us. She took care of us.

There are lots of online agencies that will give you almost half their commission back. I know of one that on a Viking cruise they will normally give $1000 OBC if you book a suite. But those agents are employees making close to minimum wage. Most have never taken a cruise let alone traveled outside the country. If they research a cruise for you, they are getting paid whether you buy it or not. If you get into trouble while traveling, good luck trying to get a hold of a particular agent for changes or problems. You just get to explain your entire problem again. And if you are on your trip, can you call that agent on their cell phone for help? I doubt it. My clients can…and I could call my old agent.

I do have a question for all of you as you look for a TA that will give you OBC. When you go to a doctor, dentist, lawyer, etc. in order to avail yourself of their expertise, do you ask them for a rebate?  If you sell something or provide a service,  or when you do whatever it is that you do for one of your customers or clients, do they ask you to give them money back? I wish I had thought of this when my I had my rotator cuff surgery a few years back. I should have asked my surgeon for some of the $20K that surgery was worth. (That sounds pretty ridiculous, right?) Why do people do this with travel agents. I just don’t understand.

My clients use my services because we have travelled extensively and I can make recommendations on cruises, staterooms, tours, restaurants and hotels. Your primary goal of using an agent should be the same reason I did for 20+ years of traveling. Because when things go wrong, she was there. When things went bad with a flight at Heathrow and she found us seats home or when we wanted to book a “cheap cruise” on a cruise line I now never recommend, she told us that we wouldn’t like the cruise line we had chosen (we went anyway) and she was right—we hated it but she never said “I told you so.” I do the same thing for my clients.

Lastly, I love doing things for my clients but I want the things I do to be more than “money they are expecting.” I like sending clients wine or getting them a dinner at a speciality restaurant. But I do that as a special gift so they will enjoy the cruise even more. I truly believe when you don’t expect something, you like it even more.

So if you can explain to me why this goes on, please do.

If you accept the expectations of others, especially negative ones, then you never will change the outcome. —Michael Jordan

Connections Anxiety

Word anxiety composed of anxious worried stressed faces of men and womenThis happened today on our Cruise Critic Roll Call for our February Celebrity Reflection cruise to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It was a question from one of our fellow cruisers about what happens if…

This was our fellow cruisers original question:

“I’m sure some of very well cruised folks here can help with a couple of questions. We fly in the day before the cruise from London and I can’t help but worry that we might have a delayed flight. If we missed the ship (heaven forbid) would Celebrity help us with a flight to New Orleans if we are not booked cruise air?  I don’t mean financially, just practically. The other query is on lost luggage.

Last time we flew into Miami we arrived, bags didn’t. Fortunately we were not cruising and the bags were delivered a few days later to our hotel. So, if history repeats itself and we sail off into the sunset and our bags are still flying the Atlantic, will it be Celebrity or British Air (BA) who have to get the bags to the ship. Ok, so I’m being a drama queen but I do like a plan B in place.”

I was on this like jam on bread. This is my kind of thing. Helping people who travel. So I thought I would share this with everyone even though I know that some of my readers who are on the cruise with us (you know who you are) have already read it. Below is my response. If you cruise or fly and are worried about this kind of thing, pay heed.

My response

Since you didn’t book air with Celebrity (cruisers call Celebrity X—it’s on the side of their ships and dates back to their Greek heritage), you are going to be on your own getting to New Orleans. X won’t book your flight, or assist with transfers. But if you do contact them if you are late, they will assist you with where to go in New Orleans to board the ship and how to do it. As to your bags, if they don’t arrive in time, it is BA’s responsibility to get them to you in New Orleans, not Celebrity’s.

You already did the smart thing by coming in a day early. That said, I do understand about the luggage as BA probably has few flights to MIA so it won’t show up until the next day unlike if you were flying from NYC or Chicago where the airline might have a flight to Miami or FLL every few hours. The best thing you can do to avoid lost luggage is to get to the airport EARLY! Otherwise there is very little you can do other than go carry-on only which I have NEVER understood how anyone can do, especially on a cruise. (One extra pair of shoes for me takes up almost an entire carry-on. 😂 ) One suggestion would be to pack three days of clothing in your carry-ons so if your luggage is delayed, you have some clothing. Also, if you are each bringing one checked bag, don’t forget to cross pack so that if one bag is delayed you both have something to wear. And of course, NEVER pack anything you HAVE-TO-HAVE (prescriptions, etc) in your checked bag.

We will keep our fingers crossed for you. Hope this helps.

The REST of the story

I should add that later they (and others) responded (we had quite the discussion) and it turns out the couple who asked the original question can’t affect their bags by getting to the airport earlier as they are flying into Heathrow (LHR) from a regional airport. It also came to light that they only have one hour and thirty-five minutes to change planes.

If you have ever been to Heathrow you know that is VERY problematic. I won’t change planes at LHR with less than three full hours. If you have never flown through LHR (we have a bunch of times) there are five terminals and domestic and intra-Europe flights usually come in at Terminals 1 through 4 while international flights leave out of Terminal 5. Transiting from one terminal to the other means going out of security, riding a bus and then going back through security. When we flew from Seattle to Edinburgh last May, it took us almost 90 minutes to go from our Terminal 5 arrival gate to our Terminal 3 departure gate for our flight from LHR to Edinburgh. And that was a very smooth transition at a pretty good time of day.

Of course all this comes back around to why you need a good travel agent. A good, well-traveled agent knows these kinds of things. Especially if you are a new traveler or someone who doesn’t travel that much. Plus, this applies to any travel, not just those of us who cruise.

I hate flying, airports and the whole rigmarole – queuing up, security and lost luggage.—Johnny Vegas

 

Coming soon…in 2020. A HUGE year!

Happy New Year!

Just want to say that I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions. What I do believe in is New Year’s goal setting. So I have been doing mine this past week and things are looking good. Of course like everyone else I know—I would love to lose weight. And I have a continuing goal of learning new things. I want to be a better photographer, a better cook and to get better with technology. And I have to find a way to deal with logins and passwords 😜. They are my nemesis.

But the one goal both Kathleen and I have this  year is to TRAVEL! To lots of places. If you have been following this blog during 2019 you will know that we lost two of our beloved Martini Mates. After losing Carol and Sandra, Kathleen and I decided that we should not put off some of the travel we kept saying we would do…someday. So far this year we have the following planned:

New Orleans collageLate February/Early March—Sarasota, Florida and a Celebrity cruise to New Orleans for Mardi Gras

One of the few major cities we have not been to in the US is New Orleans. We were looking for a way to go there and spend a few days and see the city. When we heard about this cruise we thought, what a great way to see it. Then we heard that it was going during Mardi Gras. After our experience going to Edinburgh during the Fringe and Military Tattoo we thought AWESOME!

Just so you don’t think that we are nuts to go to New Orleans on a cruise ship, we are there for almost three full days, docked right downtown just blocks from the Mardi Gras parades. And yes, we fully realize that there will be crazy crowds and it will make it hard to get into restaurants but anytime we want to, we can head back to the ship and get away from it all. Besides New Orleans and Mardi Gras we also get two other ports, a cruise and we are going with a bunch of friends.

Pre-cruise we are going to Sarasota, Florida with our buddies Bob and Judy. The cruise is only 11 nights so we could not see just flying all the way to Florida for just those 12 days. Since we had been to the Keys a few years back pre-cruise we were looking for someplace else to explore. About five years ago I spent three days in Sarasota teaching a workshop and I was really impressed so we decided to go there first, then rent a car and drive down to the Fort Lauderdale area the day before the cruise. We will stay with our awesome buddy Mike pre-cruise and then he is coming with us on the cruise as well.

Holland America cruise ship Koningsdam in HelsinkiLate April—Pacific Coastal cruise from San Diego to Vancouver, BC on Holland America’s Koningsdam

You may remember that our good friend Seth Wayne (the guy who I did all the radio shows with). Well, he has left KOMO television and radio and taken a position with Holland America Cruises as their new Director of Communications/Brand Ambassador. In that new job he will be doing a lot cruising and this is one of the ones he will be on so we thought, why not run down to Southern California, see my brother and his wonderful bride (who is now RETIRED) and then sail to Vancouver and take the train home from there.

Besides the fact that we will be onboard with Seth, this will be a learning cruise for us as Koningsdam is an entirely new class of ships that we have never been on so we will love that part. It’s only a four night cruise but it should be a lot of fun. And I forgot to tell you all the exciting new ports we will visit between San Diego and Vancouver, BC. That’s because there aren’t any. On those four nights, we only stop once—in Seattle. LOL

The Galapagos Islands letter conceptLate July/Early August—Quito, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

10B_ZODIAC-OPEN-WATER_4948_v4This is the BIG trip of 2020! We are flying down to Southern Cal again to see my brother and his bride for a few days before we fly Copa Air through Panama City to Quito. We are there for two nights before we fly out to the Galapagos Islands and board Celebrity’s tiny (only 100 passengers) ship, Flora. On Flora we will sail around the islands for seven full days, only getting off on Zodiacs with naturalists as our guides. I have started following Marvi Cordova on Instagram. She works on board Flora and take the MOST AMAZING PHOTOS of the ship and of the wildlife on the islands. If you want to see what we will be seeing and what I will be posting to this blog, check out her gorgeous photos.

EclipseLate September—Pacific Coastal cruise on Celebrity Eclipse with Bob and Judy

We are always looking for a chance to get away and a chance to get on a cruise ship. When it leaves from Vancouver or Seattle, that is really a big plus because we don’t have to fly anywhere. And we are always looking for a reason to sail with Bob and Judy. This five night cruise does stop in a few places—like Astoria, Oregon, Seattle and Victoria. But since we don’t have to fly at all, this one will give Bob and I a chance to get our tuxedos out of mothballs and formal around a little bit. We like that kind of thing. 😀

Early December—Our first river cruise on Viking to see the European Christmas Markets

This is one we have been planning for quite awhile. You have to if you want to sail with Viking because they do sell out quickly and early. We are going with our traveling buddies my brother Steve and his bride Jamie. Jamie’s brother and sister-in-law are also coming along.

We start with three nights before the cruise in Prague, then we join the boat (and it is a boat because it is small enough to go ON a ship) in Nuremberg, Germany where we will visit our first Christmas Market, the oldest of them all. Then it’s on to Regenburg and Passau Germany, Krems and Vienna Austria and finally we finish in Budapest, Hungary. We spend two nights after the cruise in Budapest and then we are deciding where to go next because we will NOT fly all the way to Europe for less than two weeks. It just isn’t worth it to us to go that far and spend that much on airfare and then stay for less than that. We are still debating between three days in Paris or three days in Lisbon.

We would love to have anyone out there who wants to, to come and join us on any of these trips. You can make your own arrangements or call your favorite travel agents (that would be us, right). We promise lots of FUN!

So that’s it! It’s quite the year and I am sure that in between these major trips we will fit a few smaller ones like a hockey excursion to Chilliwack, BC or a wine sojourn to the east side of the mountains. You know us, we hate sleeping in our own beds.

Wherever you go, go with all your heart.—Confucius

 

 

The BEST and worst of travel in our 2019

Seasons Greetings to all! I have been working on this post for a few days now and I thought I would try and get it online before the new year. I am starting the actual post  on December 22 but probably won’t finish it today as we are headed to our Christmas tradition this afternoon—Seattle Men’s Chorus. The concert isn’t until tonight but we always get a hotel room downtown, go out to dinner and then hit the show—it’s our holiday tradition. We have done this now for more than 10 years. If you live near Seattle (or even if you don’t) you should get here around Christmas to see the Chorus.

Picking this up again on December 27. Looks like I will finally get it online tomorrow, the 28th. We had a super Christmas and we hope you did as well. Spent Christmas Eve with our adult kids here at our place and Christmas Day with my daughter, son-in-law and my grandkids. First time I have spent Christmas with my daughter in 20+ years. Long story.

But enough about now, let’s look at last year. Here they are, the best and worst of our travel year in 2019.

Best of Travel-2019

  • Best dinner companions—Our grandkids, Mason and Maylee on our Alaska cruise on Ovation of the Seas. Can’t begin to tell you how great it was to introduce our grandkids to cruising. In all likelihood, they won’t go on another cruise for quite a while…unless we take them. But every night (except one) we sat next to them in the dining room and had their undivided attention and they had ours. We kid that Kathleen’s arm was bruised from Maylee poking her and saying, “Grandma K, Grandma K, Grandma K”. That’s not only funny but pretty much a true story. I loved getting Mason to try new foods like escargot. He is not the most adventurous amongst us but by the end of the week he had moved totally to the adult menu and had escargot two more times.

  • Best cruise—Reflection from Dublin to Iceland and back. We had the best time on not only this cruise but on the almost two weeks that preceded it. From our four days in Edinburgh, to our week with Paul and Gail in Yorkshire, to our 11 night cruise from Dublin to Irish ports and to incredible Iceland, it was outstanding. We were thrilled that after the disappointments of our New England cruise in October 2018, Celebrity cruises came back big time with this one on Reflection.

  • BirkirBest tour guide you can hire that we used in 2019—Birkir Mar in Reykjavik. We found Birkir on Tours By Locals. If you need a guide in Reykjavik, let me know and I will get you Birkir’s info. He was outstanding.
  • Best tour guides you can’t hire that took great care of us this year—Our long-time Martini Mates, Paul and Gail who took us everywhere in Yorkshire and the Lake District of England. We have never had so much fun and toured some many places in one short week. It was the best part of our awesome almost-a-month trip in June. We would do the whole thing again in an instant…but sorry, you can’t. They only do tours for their close, personal friends. We are so glad they are ours.

  • Most incredible child we spent time with that was not our grandchild—Paul and Gail’s granddaughter Jemimah. This girl can write stories and then act them. She can even get her grandparents to play parts in them. Quite the accomplishment for one so young. Meeting her (after hearing so much about her) was a true highlight.
  • Best storyteller—Frank (Dobby the House Elf?) at Stirling Castle in Scotland. When we were in Edinburgh we took a bus tour north to see the Kelpies and Stirling Castle where were led on the castle tour by Frank (who we think looks like Dobby the House Elf from the Harry Potter books) and it was OUTSTANDING! If you are in Edinburgh, the Kelpies and this castle are well worth the trip. But ask if you can wait to take the tour with Frank, it will be worth the wait.

  • Biggest travel surprise—how much we liked the floating behemoth, Allure of the Seas on our FAM cruise in October. We were certain we would hate the BIG ships. Just didn’t think that cruising with 5,998 other people would work out that well, but it did. Royal Caribbean has figured it out on these BIG ships. Too bad they haven’t yet on some of their others.

  • Akureyri-072Best meal on a trip—lunch at the Porch on Reflection—amazing seafood. If you sail on Celebrity’s Reflection or Silhouette, you have to try The Porch. It’s a little outdoor specialty restaurant on the side of the Lawn Deck. just to the right of the Lawn Club Grille facing forward. The seafood is amazing and you can eat as much as you want. They have a seafood tower that includes so much shellfish you won’t believe it. It’s almost worth taking a cruise just to eat there. We are going back in February and can’t wait. Of course having the gang above with us made it that much more fun.
  • Best sangria we have ever had—during lunch at the Porch on Reflection. Maybe the food wasn’t that good 😂 (it was!) and it was just the Sangria talking but this was DELICIOUS and memorable! And they just kept it coming—so BEWARE! It sneaks up on you. Can’t wait to go back and get more of this as well.
  • Best video blog about a place we were goingThe Broonford’s video blog about Edinburgh. If you go to Edinburgh without seeing Tony’s YouTube videos, you are nuts. We learned so much from him before we went and we are still watching them sometimes because Tony is just a hoot. I wish he had them for every city we want to visit.
  • Best travel experience—climbing Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh before dawn. One of the experiences I learned from Tony on The Broonford’s video blog was that a great thing to do in Edinburgh was to climb the mountain/hill known as Arthur’s Seat. Alright, at just under 900 feet, it’s really not a mountain but it does tower over downtown Edinburgh and to an average guy like me, it feels like a mountain. Hopefully you all know by now how much I love getting up before dawn (way before dawn) and going out to take photos. Especially when we are on trips. So I set a goal to climb Arthur’s Seat after hearing Tony Broonford talk about it. It was cold! It was windy! REALLY WINDY! And I had injured my knee just a few weeks before so I was wearing a brace…and shorts, but I did it! And I have some amazing pics as well. I would do it again in a minute.

  • Best cruise on a ship we hated—Ovation of the Seas to Alaska with our grandkids and their parents. Ovation just doesn’t understand Alaska yet. And they don’t understand taking 5,000 American to Alaska as opposed to sailing around in Asia with nothing but Asians on board. It’s an entirely different experience and last summer, this ship’s first in the Alaska market, they failed. Sold out, but failed. But the cruise was AWESOME for us because of the company we kept. Having the grandkids with us for an entire week was wonderful.
  • image0Best reunion—spending three days with our friend and fellow Martini Mate Mike at his place in Boynton Beach. We had not seen Mike since his wonderful bride and our dear friend (another of our Martini Mates) Carol had passed away earlier in the year. Although we have had some political differences in the past few years, we have been able to see past those and stay friends. When we decided to take the Allure cruise we e-mailed and asked if we could stay with him pre-cruise. Thankfully he said yes and we had three great days running around the Boynton Beach area with him (not to mention a bunch of great meals at some outstanding restaurants). We can’t wait to see him again when we spend one night pre-cruise with him in February and then he joins us on that cruise.

Worst of Travel-2019

  • IMG_1627Most disappointing evening: Going to a Mariner Spring Training game in March in Arizona and freezing so bad we had to leave after the third inning. I can still feel that wind blow. In Arizona! In March! Are you kidding me?
  • Biggest travel screw-up I did—booking a jeep ride in Sedona for the day after we we supposed to leave. We did get our money back but we missed the jeep ride. Then got stuck in traffic on our way to a horrid dinner. I knew being able to book the exact time we wanted to take the tour was too good to be true when I only did it online about three hours before the tour. I should have known better. I will next time. And we won’t travel again without dinner reservations. That’s about the only time we ever argue on trips—when we haven’t planned in advance. I know that some of you will think this ruins spontaneity, but we can always cancel plans if something else comes along but that night in Sedona, the restaurants were PACKED and we ended up in a place I would never have eaten in if we had planned it. (BTW: If you go to Sedona, plan a lot of extra time to drive to dinner. Around 4:00 pm, the traffic goes from bad to stopped.)
  • Getting the flu on Allure of the Seas, a cold at Paul and Gail’s and having a bad knee for all of it. After our Allure of the Seas trip, someone at our travel agency where we work remarked  that they wouldn’t cruise with us because I was always getting sick. And this year it felt like that really happened. The worst was the Allure version of the flu. At least four members of our Allure travel agent class came down with it and two had to be hospitalized. Thank goodness, that wasn’t me. It did seem like I caught everything when we traveled this year but I think that is because I am no longer spending a lot of time in schools (for my real job) and I don’t get exposed to as many germs until I travel.

Saddest experiences of 2019

  • Worst cruise ship we sailed on—Ovation of the Seas. They just don’t get it. See above under Best Cruise on a ship we hated.
  • Losing four traveling friends this year.
    • We lost two of our Martini Mates who passed way too soon. Carol and Sandra will be so missed. Our Martini Mates have been reduced by three (including our beloved Jude in 2014) in the last five years and much to our trepidation and consternation, they were all women. What’s up with that? Our travels will never be the same without these wonderful friends.
    • We also lost two of our closest friends who we had traveled many, many places with since 2016, who just stopped talking to us, blocked us on social media and cancelled future travel plans with us and we still don’t know why. We miss them but have no clue what we did to make them do that.

Try celebrating the best and not the worst. —Rob Manuel

 

On the radio…again…for the last time

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Well, Seth and I have recorded our last Adventures Await radio show. And you don’t have to wait to hear it. It’s at the bottom of this page. And since I recorded the show on my iPhone, there are no commercials, weather or newscasts. We just talk for about 25 minutes about travel (funny that an hour radio show without commercials, weather, newscasts and traffic is only around 25 minutes).

First, an explanation about why this is our last show together. That’s because on the morning KOMO-TV news today Seth announced he was leaving KOMO. That’s sad for us who watch him every day. One of my favorite thing is to carry on texting conversations with Seth while he is on the air in the morning. I know that if I send him a text, he will read it on the next commercial break. And I know that he is probably only going to be getting texts from me because it’s 4:30 am and I am riding my indoor bike. We have had many early morning conversations like this.

Seth is leaving KOMO to become the Director of Communications for Holland America Cruise Line (HAL). In that role he will be cruising…A LOT! But he says we can still text to stay in touch but I won’t know if he’s available like I do now between weather updates because I won’t be able to see him on TV 😀. But we (Kathleen and I) are thrilled for him. I will certainly miss seeing him and doing the show with him.

Our last show was super. It was my fifth time on the show and Seth let me choose the topic so I said let’s do the Top 5 Things we have talked about on the first four shows I have joined him on the radio. You will have to listen to the show to find out what they are but suffice it to say, it’s not anything you haven’t heard he…or I mention before.

By the way, if you would rather hear it with all the music, weather, news and commercials, etc. you can do that on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 pm on KOMO radio AM 1000 here in Seattle or on KOMO Radio 1000 on Tune-in online.

Here’s the show—there are three shows on the page. The latest one is at the bottom of the list: CLICK HERE! I can’t tell you how much I have enjoyed doing these shows with Seth. He is a good friend, one of our favorite people and maybe the only person who loves talking about travel as much as I do.

A man’s friendships are one of the best measures of his worth.—Charles Darwin

Just a friendly reminder-get insured!

Screen Shot 2019-11-30 at 8.58.00 AMThought I would put up this post-Thanksgiving note to remind all my traveling friends why it is so important to get travel insurance when you travel. Take a second and read this story (that you may have seen already, as it got a LOT of press) about a couple who were being “held prisoner” by a hospital in Mexico, then close the window and come back here. If you haven’t read this before, you should know that the couple eventually got to go home, thanks to the coverage on Good Morning America (GMA). Actor/Director Tyler Perry saw the story and paid their hospital bill.

If you don’t know Tyler Perry or think you could get coverage on GMA you should definitely make sure you have travel insurance when you travel. I can’t believe the number of  people who think that travel insurance is only for those who might have to cancel their trip and want to be reimbursed. I have had clients tell me that “We can afford to lose the money on this trip if we can’t go.” But travel insurance covers so much more.

For instance, a good travel insurance policy should cover the following:

  • Trip Interruption (example: covers you if your flight gets cancelled or rerouted).
  • Trip Delay (example: your plane is grounded due to weather and you miss your cruise—they will get you to your ship).
  • Missed Connection Baggage & Personal Effects Baggage Delay
  • Emergency Medical & Dental Expenses (this one is the biggie, especially if you are over 65 and from the USA).
  • Emergency Evacuation & Repatriation (they will fly you home if you are sick or injured).
  • Accidental Death & Dismemberment
  • Travel Assistance & Concierge Services (The best companies provide this—for instance, they will help you find a good doctor in another country).

The biggest of these benefits are the Emergency Medical and Dental. As the couple in the story found out, costs for medical treatment can vary drastically in other countries and on cruise ships where a doctor visit and an aspirin can run over $100. If the folks who were rescued by Tyler Perry had travel insurance, they would have contacted their insurance company who would have made arrangements for payment with the hospital and everything would have been just fine. But they didn’t.

BIG MESSAGE—in bold so my friends who are US citizens and over 65 all see it: If you are sick or injured outside the USA, Medicare will NOT pay your medical bills. You are on your own. I had an 86 year old client going on a horse tour in Israel who didn’t get travel insurance???

I watch for these kind of stories and I am building a long list of them for the next time a friend or client tells me, “We never get travel insurance. We will be fine.” Well they might not be. I am sure the couple in the story didn’t think they would finish their vacation with 14 nights in a Mexican hospital. And the people who tell me they “never buy travel insurance” may not have Tyler Perry to bail them out.

Traveling anywhere in the world involves some risk. You could always opt to spend your life cowering under your bed. —Joe Haldeman

My perfect vacation

Sometimes you might wonder where I get my ideas. I am a walker. Each week I try and take at least two walks of more than six miles and while I am walking (takes me about two hours), I am thinking about what I want to write. On my last walk, this came to me. It is dedicated to all my readers who don’t or haven’t taken a cruise and don’t understand why anyone would cruise.

The Perfect Vacation Day

Imagine the following vacation day. It is my idea of a perfect vacation day. It’s not the day we fly in from somewhere, it’s just a typical day in the middle of a vacation. Maybe we are in NYC, Amsterdam or Barcelona.

Somewhere between 6:30 and 7:00 I wake up. Kathleen is still sleeping so I dress quietly in the dark and sneak out of our hotel room to go work out at the the fully-equipped gym in the hotel. Lots of bikes, weights, treadmills as well as fitness classes I could take. (I know some of my readers are thinking I am nuts, but I said this was MY perfect vacation day.) After I finish my workout I head back to our hotel room where Kathleen has risen and gotten ready for our day. I quickly do the same and we are off to breakfast.

For breakfast we have a bunch of choices. We can just go and get a latte and a piece of pastry, we can go to the hotel breakfast buffet or we can go to the hotel’s sit down restaurant and be served pretty much whatever we want. They have a fairly extensive menu. The food is good and we probably eat too much.

Then it is off to see the sites. We might walk around the city, we might take a tour—probably a food tour since we love those—or we might decide that we have had enough touring and just go and sit by the hotel pool (OK, not likely for us) or in a nice spot in the lobby area and read or I could write another post or work on processing photos from previous day tours or we could play a game with new friends we made the night before at dinner. Maybe Kathleen would head to the spa for a manicure. You never know.

If we decided to leave the hotel, around lunchtime we might find a quaint little restaurant in the town or city we are in and have lunch. We have done this many times before. We have found an awesome crêpes place in Eze, France, a wonderful Italian trattoria in Sienna, Italy and a brewery with spruce-tip beer and fantastic chili in Skagway, Alaska. But if we decided to stay at the hotel that day, we have the same choices as breakfast—the hotel buffet or a sit down restaurant. Or there is a really great burger place and maybe a few more spots to choose from. All are priced well and we eat for next to nothing.

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After lunch it’s more touring or more relaxing depending on what we decided to do. Around 4:00 pm if we are touring we decide to head back to the hotel and get ready for cocktails and dinner. Since we love to meet people, we change and head out to a hotel bar or maybe one nearby. The hotel has more than 10 different lounges and we are certain we will find something we like in one of them. When we are sipping and nibbling, we meet some folks from another state or another country. We are feeling great because we are all on vacation so we strike up a conversation. We find out about their travels and they find out about ours. We discuss their grandkids and swap photos. We talk about our kids and they tell us about theirs. We never talk politics or religion. Too dangerous.

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An hour or so later we head off to dinner. All those same options are open to us again (hotel buffet, sit down restaurant and lots of other slightly more expensive choices) and we choose the sit down restaurant. Because we have been there the night before (and maybe the night before that) the waiter knows us by name. He knows what we like to drink and it is already at the table.

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The menu is pretty good and we can have a full, three course meal. In fact if we want a four course meal or a five course meal, the waiter says he will be happy to bring us anything else on the menu we like. One night I am decadent and order both the shrimp cocktail and the escargot. We meet other people seated near us and talk and again discuss the same type of topics, sharing our lives. Over the years as we have traveled from hotel to hotel we have met lots of people this way. Many have become life-long friends. When it comes time to order the dessert, I ask the waiter if he can bring us one of every dessert on the menu and let us try everything with our new friends. He says, “Of  course sir,” and is back in a flash with something for everyone to try. He also tells us that if we like one particular dessert, he can bring us an entire one for ourselves.

Then it’s off to a show. We might see a show as good as one we have seen on Broadway, a Cirque de Soleil style performance, a jazz quartet or maybe just a comedian who cracks us up. But no matter what, the hotels lets us see these shows for free.

After the show we wander over to that lounge for a drink and to watch some of our new friends who are ballroom dancing. They finish and join us for a drink and then we all head off to our rooms in the hotel where a full turn-down service has been performed just like in any other five-star hotel. There’s a mint on our pillows and we are beat after our long but rewarding day. We are quickly asleep.

The next morning we wake up and open the drapes out to our hotel balcony and we are shocked (not really) to find that somehow our hotel has magically been transported to another of our favorite cities and we get to do the entire day all over again with new experiences and new places to see. We are a little sad because we had a few more things we wanted to do in the city we were in yesterday so we plan to come back and stay longer.

Here’s my favorite part of all this. If everything is perfect, our total cost for this vacation at this magical hotel is less than $250 day for both of us. Depending on the time of year (if we can travel off-season) it might be less. Remember I said this was my fantasy that I thought of while walking. But see, it really isn’t a fantasy. We have taken this same trip 28 times already and we plan to take it whole bunch more. This is a cruise and our hotel just happens to move most of the nights we are onboard while we are enjoying those shows and then sleeping.

That’s why we cruise. You should try it. If you are reading this, you probably already have but feel free to show this to all your friends who think you are crazy to cruise. Then tell them to join you on your next one.

I learned a long time ago that trying to micromanage the perfect vacation is always a disaster. That leads to terrible times.—Anthony Bourdain