Training for Travel

Do you train for travel?

I do. The older I get, the more I feel the need to train before we take a trip. It’s something I highly recommend if you travel extensively like we do. It can really make your trip a whole bunch better, especially if your trip will involve more physical activity than you are used to.

I started thinking about this post today while I was out hiking/walking. Many of you know that I do a lot of walking. (More about that later that you can choose to ignore.) But today I switched into travel training mode. I bet you are thinking, “what’s the difference and why did you switch?”

The first difference is the shoes. Here at home when I walk every day I wear New Balance shoes designed for walking and running. They are a great shoe that I love and they look like typical athletic shoes. But on our upcoming Galapagos trip I won’t even bring those shoes. They are for walking city sidewalks, bike paths and maintained trails in parks. The Galapagos are all about hiking up hillsides, hiking on hardened lava and walking on beaches. So today I shifted from my regular walking shoes to hiking boots. I will try to wear them at least three times a week until we go later this month. I will also start wearing my Teva sandals just around town to get ready to wear those as well.

Which brings to my first point—if you are going to be doing more walking than you usually do, start walking a month or so before and get yourself up to the distances you will be walking on your trip on as close to the terrain type as you can get. Wear the shoes/boots/sandals you plan on walking in. Nothing ruins a trip involving walking like a blister on the first day or finding out you left the shoes you should have taken at home.

You need to do this even if you aren’t going to be climbing all over lava rocks. If you never walk on cobblestones and then you go on a cruise/trip that involves a day of walking on very hard surfaces, you will have problems if your feet, legs and back aren’t ready for those.

As I mentioned above, today I shifted to hiking boots and that also meant that I changed my route as well. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been avoiding a lot of the trails around here like the plague 😜 because there are far too many people. We have an excellent bunch of walking trails but they are just too crowded and many of the people walking on them these last few months have been maskless. So sometime in April of 2020 I switched my walking to mostly streets. With all the good trails, the sidewalks here get very little use.

But today I switched to a hiking trail with some actual elevation. It is also unpaved with some nice rocks and dirt to practice on. It won’t be like the lava and high hills I will see in the Galapagos but it will get me started training for those. I did this in 2019 when we went to Europe. I had set a goal of climbing Arthur’s Seat, the hill/mountain/crag that overlooks Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s a pretty long uphill for me since I am  used to walking on primarily flat streets and trails. So about a month before we left, I put on my hiking boots and started doing this same trail on a regular basis. It really helped as I was able to climb Arthur’s Seat at dawn and take some incredible pics…even with my knee in a brace.

We have also tried to do sleep training in the past. Notice I said tried. I have read about people who will stay up late or get up early to adjust their sleep schedule to their destination. That way they don’t lose one or two days at the start of a trip to just trying to stay awake. We tried to do this on the first few trips we took but since we have been able to fly business or first class we haven’t worried about it as much. When we fly to Europe now we love to take off in the early evening (like most non-stops do from Seattle), have dinner and then go to sleep. But that only works for me if I have a lie-flat seat like you get in international business or first class. (Ah, the joys of having a lot of miles.)

Of course part of our training for a big trip is to diet. I hate dieting but I know there is good chance I will gain weight on any kind of trip, so we try to cut back in the weeks before knowing we need to do that to even it off. But the physical training can help with that as well. Let me know in the comments if you do anything like this to get your body ready for the rigors of travel.

Bragging begins here so ignore it if you want to

Just a few quick words about something that I have been doing the last four years and an app recommendation to go with it. You all know (just by reading this post) that I have been walking…A LOT since this (the pandemic) all started. I was actually doing some long walks before it started but just once or twice a week. Since last March I have been walking pretty much six days a week alternating between four and six miles every other day.

How do I know how far I am going? Because I found this awesome FREE app from Under Armour (the fitness clothing company) called Map My…Walk (or Run, Bike Ride or anything else you want it to keep track of distance-wise). Everyday when I go out to walk, the app comes along with me on my phone or Apple Watch. I start it up when I leave the house and it tracks me as I walk. One of the things I love is that it measures how far I go by GPS tracking as opposed to steps. Since I am tall, I take longer steps than most people so if it measures steps (like most apps), I have to go further (for ME) to do the same distance. Here’s today’s walk at right.

The app also announces my miles to me as I am going. At the end of each mile the app says into my AirPods, “Distance—two miles, time—31 minutes, average pace—15. something minutes per mile (I do my best to stay under 16 minutes per mile), split pace (my last mile) 16 minutes per mile (went up a hill or stopped to take a pic). It is a great way for me to keep track of my pace and my distance.

One other thing that I love about the app is that it not only keeps track of how far I have walked today but once I am home, I can save my walk and it uploads to the Map My Walk website where I can access it whenever I want. That means I can go back and find out how many miles I have walked over a particular time. Here are my May walks.

Since the website shows me my distance and workouts/walks by month I decided to add up those months and see how far I had walked over two different measures of time. I wanted to know how far I had walked since I found the app in 2017 and how far I have walked since the pandemic started when I really started increasing my distance and the number of days I am walking. I have to say—it really surprised me. As of today, since March 3 (the day we came home from our Mardi Gras cruise that we mark as the start of Covid for us) I have walked 2,817 miles (that’s 4,533 kilometers for those of you in Canada 😀).

I started using the app in August of 2017. Since then I have walked 4,168 miles (again, that’s 6708 in Canadian). Did I mention that the app and all this tracking are FREE! Yup, it’s a free app available on the App Store but one I would gladly pay for. They do have an upgraded version you can pay for but I am very happy with the one I have.

The funny part about all this walking is that my dad used to walk like this. He did about 5 miles a day since he retired in his early 70s and we used to kid him that he just did it to get out of the house and away from our Mom for a few hours a day. And here I am doing the same thing…except I am doing it to keep myself sane and to eat like I want to. I tell Kathleen it gives her a chance to have her boyfriend come by 😜.

 

I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’

Muhammad Ali

Lunchtime…again. This time in Italy

It’s been a couple of weeks since our last installment of Jim & Kathleen’s Food Experiences. In case you forgot, I had promised a running bunch of posts on our best food experiences from our travel life. You can read about breakfast in Vancouver here or lunch in Barcelona here. For installment number three (this one will be all about the food) let’s travel to Pontone, Italy with the best tour guide in the known world, Marcello.

To set the stage we were sailing on Celebrity’s Galaxy on a 15 night cruise round trip from Rome that visited the usual Greek islands, Istanbul and even ventured into the Black Sea to stop in Romania and Ukraine. We were on our way back to Rome when we stopped for one last shore visit, in Naples. Pre-cruise we had contacted the “God of Shore Excursions” Mike Preisman who had recommended we contact one of his favorite tour guides, Marcello Maresca. He told us that Marcello was like no other tour guide. That if we let him pick us up in Naples and give us a tour of what he later called, “My Italy,” it would be a day well spent. Mike was right.

The amazing Marcello

We contacted Marcello (we’re still friends on FaceBook and I hear from him all the time) and luckily he was available on the day we were there. We told him that we were more interested in Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento than we were in Naples, so he got us set up.

He was there on time and we headed off in his van. As we drove out of Naples, Marcello proceeded to tell us his philosophy of touring. “If you want to shop, don’t tour with Marcello.  If you want to see ‘his’ Italy, the real Italy, tour with Marcello.” BTW: When I say we, there was Kathleen and I and four other friends we had met through our Cruise Critic roll call including Marybeth and Anne we have become friends with and cruised with in SE Asia.

We made stops on the way to lunch at lots of places where we saw incredible views, stopped in shops where only the Italians shopped and laughed at the other cruisers trying to navigate the Amalfi Coast in one of those huge busses. Oh, the places we could go that they couldn’t. Speaking of driving the Amalfi Coast, even though Marcello is the ultimate tour guide, he has this crazy habit of driving the coast road while looking back at us to talk. Scared the hell out of us but I guess he drives that road so much that he can do it blindfolded.

First stop was a tour through three villages surrounding Sorrento. These were towns that no one stops in because they don’t have the reputation that Sorrento has. But they show what Italian life is like now. I would tell you all of Marcello’s views of Italy today but it is best experienced firsthand from his mouth. So my advice? To see the real Italy and the real Amalfi coast, go to Naples and meet Marcello.

After driving the villages around Sorrento and then into Sorrento itself (where true to his word we saw a bunch of tourist trap shops) we headed down the Amalfi coast stopping whenever Marcello thought we could have great picture opportunities.

We did not stop in the tourist trap towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello but did stop on either side of them to take in the view and we drove through the multitude of tourist trap shops with goods from all over. The only semi-shopping stop we made was at an overlook outside of Positano where there was a fruit stand selling local fruit.

After we had driven through Ravello, Marcello announced that it was time to see the real Amalfi coast and we headed up into the hills to the village of Pontone. This village had not changed in more than 50 years. He told us we would have lunch in a wonderful outdoor restaurant where we would be the only patrons other than locals. A restaurant that grew all the food that they served, baked their own bread and everything was made to order.

After a quick tour around the village set high on a hillside we sat down to lunch. And “OH MY GOD, WHAT A LUNCH!” Those of you who know me, know how much I love Italian food. And I have to say without a doubt that this was the BEST Italian food I have had since my Italian grandmother passed away when I was a freshman in high school.

The meal started with an incredible antipasti. Bruschetta, zucchini squash blossoms and so much more. Check out the pictures above and make sure to click on one and watch the slideshow to see them in all their glory. Wonderful red and white house wines by the pitcherful were refilled every time we got near running out. Once we had gorged ourselves on the antipasti, out came the pasta. Three kinds. First a gnocchi that was wonderful, then a ravioli with cheese inside and cooked with arugala and finally a wonderful mixture of pasta shells, beans and pumpkin. We were in heaven. And a very full heaven by this point but wait, there was more. As if we had not had enough to eat on the cruise. Out came the desserts. On one plate we each had a piece of apple tart, a chestnut mousse and a incredible lemon dessert that was like lemon mousse and lemon pie combined. All this was accompanied by our choice of a melon liqueur, a fennel liqueur and our favorite (but not by much) lemoncello. It was wonderful. And this was lunch? What do they serve you for dinner?

The happy group just before we dug in. 45 minutes later we waddled back to the van to visit Pompeii.

After we had thoroughly gorged ourselves (did I already use that word? Gorged is the only word I can think of that describes how we felt), we were back on the road over the mountain to Piedmonte and then on to our tour of Pompeii.

To me, that’s what an incredible dining experience is all about. Awesome company, wonderful ambience and incredible food. We are hoping to go back there when we stop in Naples again in October 2022 and again see Marcello’s Italy.

People will travel anywhere for good food – it’s crazy. —Rene Redzepi

2020–well that sucked. But hope is around the corner.

Consider this my end of the year/start of the year post. This blog (I still hate that word) is two years old now and this will be my 160th post. I truly believe if this had been a normal year for us, I would easily have written more than 200 posts by now. But without being able to travel there just wasn’t that much to write about. I mean how many lists can you make?

What did we get to do? A quick look back at our year does include our February/March trip to Florida, our cruise from there to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and then on to Mexico so I guess I can’t say it was all bad.

What did we lose? We had to cancel our spring cruise from San Diego to Vancouver on HAL’s Konigsdam, our summer trip to the Galapagos and our European Christmas Market river cruise in December. By now we should have added at least another eight countries to the list of those we have visited and I would have had pictures to prove it.

What have we been doing since then? The same as so many of you. Ten months of mask wearing, ten months of social distancing, ten months of being at home. Too many friends gone. The last week of the year I actually had to buy three sympathy cards. I have probably bought at least 8 this year and that doesn’t even count the GoFundMes I have contributed to when friends have become ill or passed away.

But we did have a little fun. We did two short get-aways to AirBnBs in Washington. We did four days at the coast with the grandkids. We FaceTimed with them at least twice a week. We Zoomed, HousePartied and Teamed with friends. We changed travel agencies we represent (one of the smartest things we have ever done). We are working on our 19th jigsaw puzzle, we ate a ton of takeout, we drank some serious wine and cocktails (we are doing a dry January 😔) and we watched five years worth of streaming movies and TV (always looking for suggestions).

For me, one bright spot this year has been my photography. The quantity of travel photos may have been lacking but the quality was much improved (at least from my standpoint). I took the best photo I have ever taken, I started posting a daily photo on Instagram (and have done that every day for more than a year–follow me @jimbellomo13) and later started doing that on Facebook (JimBellomo) as well. I started selling my photos (had a little luck but hopefully the more I post, the better it will get) on SmugMug (JimBellomoPhotography). Check me out on those platforms. You can even see my Instagram feed at right.

It is both funny and sad that so many people were glad to see 2020 end thinking that there would be some great change…but let’s be honest folks. Here we are on the fourth of January and it still feels the same to me 😜. Maybe once the vaccine is in my arm and I am getting on an airplane to go someplace it will feel a lot better.

What’s coming in 2021? It is so important to us to have something to look forward to, so we are still booked for our Galapagos trip (June 30–fingers crossed), a week with our kids at the beach in August and almost a month in Europe in December including that Christmas Market river cruise we missed (we are hoping for stops pre-cruise in Lisbon and Amsterdam). And that’s just what we have planned as of today. We are sure that as soon as they open the border we will be off to Chilliwack or Point Roberts. Maybe a long weekend in Vancouver, one of our favorite cities. I am sure even more will come up once we have those two shots in our arms. We actually have travel friends who are getting their first shots this week—lucky bums.

Which brings me to…we hope you are safe, healthy, wearing a mask in public, social distancing, dreaming of travel, awaiting your injection and all the other good things that can happen to you this year. The first date we are particularly looking forward to is January 20…for obvious reasons.

And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been. —Rainer Maria Rilke

Now is the time…

close up of calendar and alarm clock on the green background, plThe other day while going down the rabbit hole that is YouTube,  I saw a video about cruising that had the title, “Seven reasons you should delay booking a 2021 cruise now.” Since I am kind of in the cruising industry and a total cruise lover, I decided I should watch it to see what those seven reasons were. So I did, and I was right, I disagreed with just about every one of them. The guy who does these videos is supposed to be a “cruise expert.” And granted, he is British, so he may have a slightly different set of circumstances but I had to respond in my own small way. So here are his seven reasons and my thoughts on each of them. If you are a cruiser (or even just a traveler), this might be of interest.

Reason 1: Who knows what cruise lines will survive into 2021

He thinks that some cruise lines may go under between now and next year. Possibly that is true. Hertz (I know, not a cruise line but a big travel company) declared bankruptcy yesterday and who knows what travel company will be next, but there is a cure for this particular situation—travel insurance. And not the cruise line’s travel insurance, but a policy from an independent travel insurance company like the one we do insurance with (TravelEx). If you purchase good travel insurance you will be insured if your travel provider experiences what is called “Financial Default.” That basically means, they go out of business or severely cut back service.

Reason 2: Itineraries will change

His point here is if you book for next year now, you may find that the cruise you booked for 2020, that got cancelled, may not have the same itinerary as it did when you originally booked it. I get this one but there is an easy solution. Before you make your final payment, look at the ports and if they don’t make you happy in 2021, move to 2022 or another cruise. Not a single cruise line that I know of is currently charging to move a cruise from one cruise to another. Yes, you may have a different set of perks or a higher or lower price but that’s just the way it goes. I rebooked a couple yesterday who had a 14-night New England cruise booked for next year on Celebrity. They were getting three free perks and $200 on board credit on their original 2020 cruise. We moved them to 2021 in the same stateroom on the same cruise and they lost one of their three free perks…but the price of the cruise was $1,000 per person less. So they lost an additional $300 OBC perk and picked up a very nice $2,000 off their cruise. I think that’s a great trade.

And let’s be honest, some cruises just will not change their itinerary. Alaska cruises for example. There are only so many ports in Alaska. If your cruise this year was supposed to go to Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, there is about a 90% chance they will go there again next year. Many others will be like that. Maybe more will change in Europe than here. Our next cruise should be taking us to the Galapagos this August but we feel we have about a 95% chance of being cancelled. If that happens, we can just about say with 100% certainty, that if we rebook for next year, we will have exactly the same itinerary.

Reason 3: Prices will fall

His assertion is that prices may fall between now and when you might sail in 2021. And maybe they will (but there are some GREAT bargains out there right now) but you can always rebook at the lower price. And to be honest, because so many cruisers can’t cruise right now but want to get back to cruising as soon as they can, ships are filling up as people rebook 2020 to 2021. So if you want to go next summer and not have to put off your next cruise to 2022, book now, hold your stateroom, rebook if you need to or if  better pricing comes along.

Reason 4: Onboard costs may rise

His reasoning here is that cruising may include a lot of social distancing onboard. And that means less people on a cruise, which means that gratuities will have to up. Great, want to make sure yours don’t—prepay your gratuities or get them as a booking perk. The same with beverage packages and specialty dining. If you like to do the things that cost money on a ship, plan now. All of the things you purchase in advance for a cruise are movable to another cruise. Just plan ahead if you think this may be something you will encounter. The same is true with shore excursions and private tours. Book them now with vendors that will refund them if you can’t go. Or book the cruise line shore excursions which are usually refundable up to 24 hours before the cruise.

He also points out that airfare to get you to the cruise might be much more expensive. While I have no clue if this will happen, there is an easy solution. Buy your air from the cruise line now. This week I booked three couples on a European Viking river cruise in September 21. They purchased their air to and from the cruise from Viking. The cost was $0.00. That’s right, on many of their 2021 cruises in Europe, Viking (and possibly others) are doing Free Air for a limited time. Given, that’s economy class air but it does get you a significant discount if you want to upgrade to business or first.

Reason 5: Cruising rules may change

Your temperature may be taken before you board, the buffet may be closed, if you are of a certain age, you may need a medical release or vaccination certificate from your doctor. All of these and more may happen but if you want to travel, you will do them. I have no problem bringing a medical release from my doctor or vaccination certificate. Probably won’t die if I have to have my temperature taken, not eat in a buffet (or be able to pick my own food up). Will you? Heck, if they develop a quick test for the virus before I get on, I am OK with taking test that as well. If it turns out I have a fever or test positive and they turn me away, that’s what travel insurance is for.

Reason 6: You run the risk of getting quarantined

This is true. His supposition is correct. But then, you could get quarantined or locked down at home…wait, I am locked down at home. But seriously, if ships are being locked down at the time you are scheduled to sail, don’t go. Rebook the cruise. Make that decision 90 days before you cruise when you have to make final payment, not now.

He also feels that you you should not book for 2021 because you might have to get the aforementioned pre-cruise certification from your personal doctor. So get one! If my doctor told me not to go, I wouldn’t go. Spending a few dollars and 20 minutes with my doctor is not that big a deal. I know that some people will say they don’t want to spend the extra money to see their doctor when they aren’t sick, but it always amazes me that people who will spend $10,000 on a cruise have a problem spending less than $100 for anything let alone a physician visit.

Reason 7: Your access to facilities and shows onboard might change

Of course they will. But why should that stop you from booking a cruise for next year. Again, book now, hold your spot. If you hear that you may not be able to do the things you want to do in 2021, then hold off and do them in 2022. But why stop yourself from booking in 2021 when you can make a change later on.

The bottom line as far as I am concerned, some final thoughts

Real cruisers, (people who cruise a lot and had or have cruises planned for 2020) are not going to stop cruising completely. In fact many of them (like us, our family and our friends) really can’t wait to go. Those people are cancelling their cruises and immediately rebooking them. Especially if they took the 125% Future Cruise Credit (FCC). This week the couples I rebooked on Viking for 2021 had their cruise and airfare completely paid for with their FCC and they have more than $1800 each left to spend. WOW! Prices were down that much, their airfare was free for next summer but wasn’t when they booked for this year and they have that extra twenty-five percent.

Another thing I am seeing is ships are filling up. We had clients who had a British Isles cruise cancelled in June and rebooked on a Panama Canal cruise with their FCC in 2021. They really wanted a particular stateroom category (aft spa stateroom) but they were already sold out. Many had been sold pre-Covid but still more were sold when 2020 was cancelled. They are hoping one of the others with that type of stateroom will cancel and they can get what they really want.

I guess the biggest take-away from this is: book your 2021 cruise now. Buy travel insurance. Have your travel agent (or do this yourself) monitor the pricing and rebook your cruise if it goes down. Prebook onboard expense items like gratuities, shore excursions, specialty dining, etc. Be prepared that things will be different. But above all, keep traveling, keep cruising. We already have a monster Mediterranean cruise booked for fall 2021 and we think we will have to move our Galapagos adventure to spring 2021. Who knows what will happen with our Christmas Market cruise in December…but if we miss that, we might move it to 2022…because we may be really busy in 2021…already.

Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning. —Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

 

 

ENOUGH ABOUT CRUISE SHIPS!

The mainstream media (and now the general populace as well as the US State Department) just tick me off. I have just about had it with these organizations and government entities  making cruise lines the major focus of all that is bad in the current Coronavirus (Covid-19) epidemic. Every single morning when we wake up we turn on the TV to check the news and the lead story is always—”Cruise ship gets quarantined!” or “State Dept. warns people to stay off cruise ships.” And I hear people saying things like, “Cruise ships are nothing but human petrie dishes.” As a cruiser and a travel professional, this drives me crazy. Here’s a typical story:Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 1.01.09 PM

So I started thinking what percentage of cruise ships have been affected. So far, (after doing numerous Google searches) there has been Covid-19 cases on two ships—both from the Princess line. I am not saying this is the fault of Princess Cruises, just that this happens when crew members change ships and some from the one ship that had an outbreak moved to the other. When  they moved, Covid-19 was not even a known problem at the time. That could happen at your job, your hospital, your kid’s school, etc.

There have been other ships that authorities have suspected carried passengers or crew that had the virus but having now gone back through numerous news reports I can only find confirmed cases on the original Diamond Princess that was quarantined in Japan and now the Grand Princess currently docked in Oakland. That’s two ships with a total of a little less than 9,000 total people (passengers and crew) on board. There were other ships mentioned in news articles. Some were even denied landing in ports. For instance, Holland America’s Westerdam was stopped from entering a number of ports in Asia during February but it turned out they had 0 cases on board. Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 1.02.54 PM

The most ridiculous thing to me about all of this is that this is a MINUSCULE percentage of cruise ships (as you can see from the screenshot below that I took from an Excel spreadsheet I just put together). I listed each cruise ship from the major English-speaking cruise lines. I left out those that predominately service just the European market like the Spanish-based Pullmanter (with four ships) or the German-based Mein Schiff/Tui (with three) or the small expedition lines like Ponant or National Geographic. But, just looking at the cruise lines that are considered mainstream in the USA, here is the breakdown.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 12.46.24 PM

Notice anything? Like the fact that there have been Covid-19 outbreaks on TWO ships and there are 227 cruise ships in the major companies fleets? (If you would like a copy of the Excel file which lists every ship from these lines and how many passengers and crew are on those ships, click here.)

Since all this started, I have been asking people I meet in everyday life how many cruise ships they think there are currently sailing the oceans of the world. They never get near the number 227. For instance, today I was at Kaiser’s Redmond clinic, the dentist, Trader Joe’s and Costco (where there was still a HUGE run on toilet paper 😆).

At each place I went, I got into a discussion about the Covid-19 virus (that’s all anyone is talking about anyway) and the fact that I was on a cruise ship last Monday morning. (One person hearing this actually took a step back when I told her that 🙄).  In each place after they reacted to my being on a cruise ship, I asked them, “how many cruise ships do you think are currently sailing?” Of the four people I asked today in person, most said something like, “60?” or “100?” Just to see what I would get in a quick online poll, I just texted every person in my text list that I am friends with or related to. Some of those are major cruisers, others have not cruised at all. Guesses were all over the map. A few went crazy and said 4,500 while most, when I limited them to English-speaking ocean cruise lines (no river cruising involved), said 150-300. One non-cruiser said 225 (well done).

In actuality there are (as you can see in the chart above) 227 ships that carry a little more than half a million passengers at any one time. When you add in the crew members on board those 227 ships the total number of people on cruise ships at any given moment is just under three quarters of a million. And of all those people, less than 200 have the Covid-19 virus. If I were a mathematician, I would give you a percentage. Maybe one of my readers will tell me what that is. I can say that if there are 227 cruise ships, and only two of them have proven to have Covid-19, then that’s around 2%, right?

The media loves to pick on cruise ships. They know that they get miles and miles of headlines by making it sound like if you go on a cruise ship, you are going to get sick and die. Cruise ships are a great target and easy to cover. I just wish they would stop. There are hundreds of thousands of people whose income relies on cruise ships. This is killing them. Would I take a cruise right now? Depends on the cruise. We have four more scheduled this year. We are planning on going on all of them as of now. Our next one is at the end of April. Should the Covid-19 panic still be going on, we may cancel that one. It’s not a biggie, just San Diego to Vancouver with a very good friend but rumors are swirling that Vancouver may not allow ships to go there…which is ridiculous, so we may decide to skip that one. In August we are scheduled to go to the Galapagos. If that cruise was this week, I would go in a minute.

Ok, I will get off my soapbox now. I am just tired of reading and hearing about this. And I should say that what really set me off on this topic today was seeing a subReddit last night where a guy said he just broke up with his girlfriend and was going to kill himself by going on a cruise and catching the Coronavirus. Give me a break!

So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic. —Martha Stewart

Grand Cayman Crystal Caves

_8101850I love alliterations so you got that one as a headline. Of course it also relates to where we spent our next port day. After two days at sea (relaxing and socializing) we arrived at the island nation of the Cayman Islands (this is where I keep all my off-shore bank accounts 😜). Specifically, we came ashore in tenders on Grand Cayman Island. But not the town of George Town which is where we were supposed to come ashore. The winds were too strong for Reflection to get us on to the tenders (For the non-cruisers, these are small boats that ferry us to shore when there is no ocean pier and the ship has to anchor offshore.) So we had to go to the opposite side of the island and tender into a much smaller port, nowhere near a town.

_8101861We did have plans on Grand Cayman and we were still able to do everything we had set up. Our buddy Mike (the god of shore excursions) had set up a small group trip to the Crystal Caves, a relatively new attraction on Grand Cayman. On the way off the ship (while on the tender) I got to take the photo above which shows The Reflection in her best light. Then we got to the tender dock and I shot her again with some island color in the foreground.

We were picked up by a taxi hired by the tour company and whisked away to the Caves. We were a little early so our driver gave us a free tour of some of the sites of Grand Cayman. One of the things we saw everywhere on Grand Cayman were tiny cemeteries everywhere. It was like every neighborhood had one of their own. In our short drive to the Caves we passed at least nine._8102059

We finally reached the Crystal Caves (a new attraction on Grand Cayman since 2016). It is a fascinating system of caves. There are three main caves and because there was a threat of rain that day, we were not able to visit one of them. We were able to visit the Roots Cave and The Lake Cave. I took more than 200 photos of the caves and if I showed you all of them, we would be here all day and you would get sick of caves. If you are interested in more, I will drop the balance on my Flickr feed that you can access at right.

After our outstanding Crystal Caves tour (it lasted about an hour or so) we taxied back to the pier and headed back to the ship. On the way I took a few more photos to kind of give those that have never been to Grand Cayman an idea of what the island looks like.

The mystery is what prompted men to leave caves, to come out of the womb of nature.—Stephen Gardiner

How we plan our travel

Travelling concept.Two men choosing place of vacation, exploring compromise on map, taking notes in notebookLately I have been doing a lot of planning for our upcoming trips. We are currently snowed in so that gives me time to catch up on a lot of things. Since I have been doing this I thought I would give you a little insight into how I plan travel.

First we decide where we want to go. Often this is spur of the moment. In the case of booking our next trip, our cruise on Celebrity’s Reflection to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, we decided to do this trip almost three years ago when we were onboard Celebrity Solstice sailing to Alaska with our Martini Mates. We booked it because we wanted to go to New Orleans (one of the few US cities on our list that we haven’t been to yet) and going during Mardi Gras is a big bonus. So we started planning this that long ago.

When we first book a cruise or decide we are going to go someplace, I make a list of everything I need to do for that trip. I will usually do this in my packing program (Packing Pro)  that has a place for tasks as well as packing lists. This includes booking the cruise and flights to get there. Then I get on my Mac and go the King County Library website and search for all the travel guides they have about that place. I place them on hold and they ship them to my local library.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 4.20.52 PMWhen I tell people I do this, they ask why don’t I just buy the books in paperback or Kindle editions? Because nothing gets out of date like a travel book. That’s why people like Rick Steves and Fodors, Blue Planet, Top Ten and Frommers do a new/update about most places every year. Hotels, restaurants, tour companies all open and close so why should I spend money to buy them when our library does a great job of keeping up. I have about six books on the Galapagos, Portugal, Budapest, Vienna and Prague in the house right now and all of them are 2018 and 2019 editions. If I like one a bunch and want to refer to it again and again, then I will buy it. Usually the Kindle edition because then I can have it on my phone when we are traveling.

About this time is when I do my preliminary research. I am looking for the best part of town to book pre and post cruise hotels (or in the case of a land trip, just hotels) as well as trying to find out if we want to rent a car or rely on public transportation and if we need restaurant reservations to get into the places we would love. I will usually get books from the aforementioned Rick Steves (great for restaurants and tours but he and I never agree about hotels), Frommers, Fodor, Lonely Planet, Top Ten and Eyewitness.

I won’t read every page in the books but I will peruse all of them to see what they mention as top destinations, lodging and restaurants. If a few mention the same places as being great, they usually are. At that point if I am going to do hotels, I then check with friends who I know have traveled to that place. My first stop is ALWAYS the website of our good friend Mike Preisman. Mike not only picks great places, he does a great job of giving you his opinion of them and has really great photos of them as well. I know from experience if Mike liked a hotel, I am going to like it and it will be a good value. And I can be sure his photos will show me what a hotel room really looks like.

After checking with friends, it’s time to book hotels or, in some places, AirBnBs. Before I do that, I will have looked at every actual hotel website as well. Then I have my travel agent do the booking 😜 (that would be me).

11 months before we travel (especially true for international travel) I start looking for airfare. We have been very lucky in that up to this point when we travel internationally we have been able to use miles/points to buy all our tickets since our first two trips. Getting those can be a challenge because there is less and less availability than there used to be. More people with more miles competing for the same seats. That means I start as early as I can. We are going to Europe for a river cruise in December and the hunt for air will start in early February. In case you don’t know this, 11 months is usually the earliest you can book a flight.

Another thing we have to decide before we book a flight is where do we want to go before we go where we want to go. I really did mean to type that. Many times we are taking a cruise but we may want to go someplace else first. For instance, last summer we were taking a cruise from Dublin to Iceland and back. But it was just an 11 day cruise and Europe is way too far to go and use our valuable miles to just take an 11 or 12 day vacation. Plus since we are semi-retired we can spend more time away from home. So as we planned this trip, we decided that instead of flying directly to Dublin, we would fly to Edinburgh, spend four days and then a train to York and six days with our Leeds buddies before we flew to Dublin for the cruise. We have to decide all that before we book air. Lots of research.

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 3.58.18 PMOnce the cruise is booked (if this trip involves a cruise) and the airfare purchased and hotels reserved, I start with the sites we want to see. We do a lot of research on those as well using notes I made from the books (Kathleen and I share notes on our Apple devices about our trips), websites (especially Mike’s)  and other recommendations on what to see. Then I create a Google map. I have done one for every major trip we have taken. I put our lodging on the map first and then all the places we want to see while there. I use a different layer for every city on the same trip. So for instance on our Mardi Gras trip we are going to Sarasota and Boynton Beach pre-cruise and then New Orleans, Costa Maya and Cozumel. So each of those places has its own layer with all the places we want to see. To get an idea of this, you can click here to see this one.

Once we have seen where everything is, we start planning our day…or I do. Kathleen seems to like where I decide to go and she does contribute places she wants to see if I have missed them.

IMG_2284All the way through this process I have been adding these to my TripCase app on my phone. You can find the one by clicking here. It keeps track of everything I book. Some of it automatically. For instance, when I buy my air, I just send the confirmation e-mail to TripCase and the schedule is automatically added. It places everything in one place for that trip and,  when we are traveling, everything is in once place and as long as I have synched it while we have internet access, I don’t need to have access again to get to all my info. One of my favorite Canadian readers told me about it and I can’t thank her enough. It has been awesome.

All this time, if we are going on a cruise, we are posting on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise trading info and getting suggestions about things to see and do and having people ask if we want to share tours and day trips.

At this point, we are just about ready to go. The only other thing I sometimes do (if we will be doing any driving) is stop by AAA and grab some actual paper maps (yes, I still use those—it gives me a better overview) of where we will be driving as well as put all the places we want to drive through into our Garmin GPS (yes, I still have one of those because I like it better than my phone).

I welcome your comments or questions on this process. I should add that we have lots of friends and relatives who travel with us who rely on us to plan the trips and we are happy to do so. The fact that I love doing this is one of the reasons I love being a travel agent. And I love planning travel for anyone and everyone.

My father’s plan was, we were going to grow up and travel the world.
—Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

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

 

 

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

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