Archive for the 'Cruise & Travel Tips' Category

Our Quick Visit to Cuba

posted by Wayne
December 22, 2017

Cuba’s classic cars are everywhere

Rachelle and Wayne couldn’t resist one of Royal Caribbean’s Going, Going, Gone sales.  A four night cruise, with a full 12 hours in Cuba was only $349 for an ocean view room.

After a very leisurely sail from Miami to Havana, a distance of 99 miles, El Morro greeted us at the crack of dawn on the third day of the cruise.  As we crept slowly toward our pier, we felt like we were entering the “Twilight Zone”.  Roads along the shore side hosted US built cars from the 30s, 40s and 50s.  Beautiful buildings came into view, many in poor condition after nearly 60 years of communist rule.  We couldn’t wait to see more of this living museum.

Hemingway’s Study at Finca la Vigia




When traveling to Cuba, you can’t simply get off the ship as you would in most ports.  We had to take an excursion through Royal Caribbean thanks to new regulations promulgated by our government.  Since one of Wayne’s favorite books is “The Old Man and the Sea”, we elected to take an excursion related to Ernest Hemingway.  Our Cuban guide was excellent but the tour itself was just “OK”.  Our friends who traveled with us took an Arts and Culture tour which they loved although they noted that there was a lot of walking.  Folks with mobility issues should only take tours that involve motor transport.  The streets in colorful Old Havana are either cobblestone or are in rough shape.

Our 1956 Crown Victoria and Driver

Once we completed the tour, our visa requirements were met so we were free to roam as we pleased.  We negotiated a ride from the proud owner of a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria (stick shift) to take us to Jaimanitas on the outskirts of Havana where Cuban architect Jose Fuster constructed a dreamlike streetscape inspired by the works of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudy (Sagrada Familia in Barcelona).

Main entrance to Fusterlandia








Many people ask us whether we felt safe.  The answer is a clear “yes”.  We walked through the crowded narrow streets of Old Havana totally at ease.  We found the people to be exceptionally friendly although we must note that there are many new “entrepreneurs” selling food and various trinkets.  They are not aggressive and a simple “no thank you” will suffice to get them to move on.

We ate lunch at a local waterfront restaurant (excellent food, so-so beer) and were serenaded by three fairly elderly male singers with musical instruments.  They were not allowed in the restaurant so they played outside with a clear plastic sheet separating us.  Three Cuban songs, including Guantanamera, charmed us into giving them a few dollars which they very much appreciated.

Other than traffic police, there were few police and we saw no soldiers.  However, when getting off the ship and going through Cuban customs, we felt uneasy.  The Cuban officials bordered on rude.

The money situation is slightly complicated and would be boring to read but if you intend to travel to Cuba, we will review it with you.

Right now Cuba is not for everyone.  You must take a tour or cruise and engage in cultural or educational tourism.  While Cuba has beautiful beaches, you’re not likely to sit on one sipping a daiquiri or Cuba Libra (both invented in Cuba).  If you are a curious person, this should be on your future travel list.  You’ll close your eyes and wake up in the 1950s.



More Car Photos From Our Trip





The Jones Act has been in the news because of the hurricanes and the need to get supplies into hurricane ravaged US territories.  It was enacted in 1920 and was designed to protect the American Merchant Marine which would be needed in time of war.  Its basic tenant is that in order to carry goods or passengers between US ports, a ship must have the hull of the ship built in the US and at least 75% of its crew must be US citizens.  During the ongoing emergency at St Thomas, St Johns and Puerto Rico, there are too few US flagged ships available to move supplies to these territories.  Therefore the Jones Act was temporarily suspended.

How does the Jones Act affect the cruise industry and its customers?

There are a number of cruise lines whose ships ply US rivers who meet the Jones Act requirements.  The most well known is the American Queen.

However, most of the large cruise ships were built in Europe and are flagged in small countries that have low tax rates.  They cannot carry passengers between US ports without stopping at a foreign port.  There is one large cruise ship that meets the Jones act provisions.  It is NCL’s Pride of America. Its hull was built in the U.S. It’s flagged in the US and carries an American crew.   It’s based in Hawaii has weekly cruises in the Hawaiian Islands.

It is the only large cruise ship that can do this itinerary and therefore it is no competition.  NCL has the only 7 day cruise in the Hawaiian Islands.

How does the lack of competition affect price?

We compared a Balcony stateroom on a 7 day cruise around Hawaii with an NCL 7 day cruise to the Western Caribbean on the Norwegian Getaway.  Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Carnival, Princess and others provide stiff competition on this itinerary.

The lowest priced balcony on the March 3rd 2018 sailing of the Pride of America from Honolulu is $2599 per person while the lowest priced balcony on the March 4th Norwegian Getaway is $1179, less than half the price of the Pride of America.

Itineraries are also affected by the Jones Act.  For example, for a round trip Alaska cruise from Seattle, one of the ports must be in Canada.

You can go to Hawaii on a cruise line other than Norwegian Cruise Line.  However, the ship will stop in Ensenada or Vancouver on its way to or from the West Coast of the United States and it will be an 11 or 12 night cruise with a lot of days at sea..

Are there benefits to the Jones Act?

Yes, crews receive higher wages and working conditions are better and safer.  Also, there are stricter environmental requirements for US flagged ships.

When NCL initiated Hawaii cruises on the Pride of America, they hired young Americans as waiters and room stewards and guess what happened?  Passengers complained bitterly about the quality of service.  It seems that the young Americans pictured themselves as laying out on deck during the day and partying at night with a smidgen of work here and there.

NCL had to build a facility in Maryland to train American staff in the art of service.  They are now able to weed out the party people before they board the Pride and service is now very good.

Photo Contest August 11, 2017 – Venice

posted by Wayne
August 19, 2017

Contest Photo – Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal

We were thrilled with the response to last week’s photo contest which asked for the name of the bridge and body of water shown in the contest photo (photo on right).  The correct responses to this two part question were Rialto Bridge (or Ponte Rialto) and Grand Canal.  The Grand Canal is the body of water that snakes through the center of Venice and is equal to a city’s main street.  The ornate and picturesque Rialto Bridge is at the heart of Venice.

More views of the grand canal

More views of the grand canal












We (Wayne and Rachelle) were in Venice for 3 days where we boarded the Celebrity Constellation for a 9 night cruise in the Adriatic Sea.  The cruise ended in Rome (Civitavecchia) where we spent another 3 days.

Gondola passing under a small bridge

Small waterway













Until you have actually experienced Venice, it is hard to conceptualize a city whose walkways and bridges are interwoven with waterways and whose “main street” is a grand canal.  Our hotel, just a 5 minute walk from St Mark’s Square, was located on a small waterway frequented by serenading gondoliers.  As picturesque as the gondolas are from afar, a close inspection reveals superb maintenance and great attention to design detail.

Gondolas up close

Gondola up close











In Venice, there are basically 2 different modes of water transportation:  water taxis and water buses.  Water taxis are private, point-to-point hires just as a land taxi would be.  They will take you right to your door if requested. Water buses, like land buses, run on a schedule and have multiple lines and designated stops.  Depending on the line, they can be pretty crowded.



ACTV “bus” line

Alilaguna “bus” line












Congratulations to Pat Horne of Edison, NJ, whose name was randomly drawn from those who responded correctly. Pat will receive a $25 credit towards a trip booked through Just Cruises Plus.


Romance in St Mark’s Square


Call us to help you plan your next vacation which includes Venice!

Royal Caribbean’s New Price Program

posted by Wayne
June 23, 2017

Are you a Royal Caribbean Fan?  If yes, you must read this.

Beginning July 1st, Royal Caribbean will offer an additional discount if you are willing to forego your deposit if you cancel  your cruise.  However, all is not lost.  If you cancel and rebook another date with Royal Caribbean, your deposit less $100 per person will be moved to the new date. This new program will take effect on July 1st.

The key information, that is, how much you can save by taking the no refund route, will not be available until July 1st.

Harmony of the Seas Inaugural Photos

posted by Wayne
November 17, 2016
Harmony of the Seas docked in Nassau

Harmony of the Seas docked in Nassau

Jonathan just returned from the Harmony of the Seas’ inaugural sailing!  He describes this new Oasis class ship as “amazing” and says “you have to see it to believe it”!   The Harmony, Royal Caribbean’s 3rd ship in the Oasis class, will be doing 7-night East and West Caribbean itineraries from Fort Lauderdale.

Call or email us to plan your next vacation on this magnificent new ship!


Harmony of the Seas has a bionic bar like the one found on the Anthem of the Seas

Harmony of the Seas is the first of the  Oasis class ships to host bionic bartenders.

Harmony's Pool Deck

Harmony of the Seas pool deck.








Harmony of the Seas has two 10-story slides overlooking Boardwalk

Harmony of the Seas has two 10-story slides overlooking Boardwalk!

Photo Contest September 10, 2016 – Amalfi

posted by Wayne
September 17, 2016
Contest Photo - Amalfi

Contest Photo – Amalfi

We were surprised at how many people identified Amalfi in our photo contest.  We can’t seem to stump our well-traveled friends!  The winner of the contest is Chuck Diefenderfer of Jekyll Island, GA, whose name was randomly selected from the 27 correct responses.

Amalfi's town squre

Amalfi’s town squre









Amalfi's Cathedral

Amalfi’s Cathedral



Amalfi was one of the very picturesque ports on our 7 day cruise along the Amalfi Coast aboard the Star Flyer, a real sailing ship.

It is a prime tourist port with lots of shops and restaurants.  It has a rich history dating back to the 6th century.  It’s most well known attraction is the Cathedral of Amalfi with works by Michelangelo and Bernini.  In Amalfi, we had some of the best olives that we’ve ever tasted at a local restaurant — and they were free.

Amalfi is a good jumping off point for Ravello, a popular spot along the Amalfi coast.  One can take a bus to Ravello from Amalfi, but beware of traffic during summer months!

On our trip, we also visited the “picture postcard” island of Lipari, one of 7 small islands of the Aeolian archipelago.  We opted for the only excursion offered by the ship, a motorcoach tour of the island which offered us many opportunities to take wonderful photos from high in the hills.  We also stopped at “Marisa”s Place where we sampled Malvasia, the local wine, as well as many flavors of delicious cookies.

It would be inaccurate to classify Messina as a picturesque port.  While we found that Messina itself has little to offer, an excursion to Taormina is a must from this port.  The town is perched on a terrace overlooking the sea so we got wonderful photos.  The highlight is the Grecian theater famous for its size and acoustic qualities.  It is still used for open air performances.

View from the hills of Lipari

View from the hills of Lipari


Entering Taormina’s main street

View of Mt. Etna from Taormina

View of Mt. Etna from Taormina












Looking down a street in Pompeii

Looking down a street in Pompeii















Sorrento is another port, beautiful on its own, where one can enjoy shopping and restaurants.  However, the main attractions are nearby and you will have difficult choices.  We chose to visit Pompeii, buried by the  eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.  You will walk the streets of Pompeii and visit wealthy patrician homes just as they looked almost 2000 years ago.

Herculaneum is another (smaller) city destroyed by the eruption that buried Pompeii.  Folks who went there told us that it was a great experience.  Workers are still excavating the town.

The third choice for Sorrento  is the famed Capri.  Those who chose this tour  raved about the beauty of Capri and they said a highlight was a visit to the Blue Grotto.  You need to get to Capri by boat so you should be aware that it can be a rough trip.  However, the waters were quite calm for the folks who visited Capri from our ship.

Picturesque Ponza Waterfront

Picturesque Ponza Waterfront

The final port on our itinerary was the picturesque fishing village of Ponza which, according to legend was the home of Circe who seduced Uslysses.  This port was teeming with vacationing locals.  While in Ponza, you could easily take a local boat to one of the beaches, take a different boat to visit Ponza’s grottos or simply walk through the town.  We ate lunch at a restaurant overlooking the tiny harbor where two Star Clipper ships were anchored – our Star Flyer and the larger Royal Clipper.

Call for more info about the Amalfi Coast.  This was one of our favorite destinations!




Photo Contest – February 19, 2016

posted by Wayne
February 28, 2016
Contest Photo - Eetcafe The Paddock in Aruba

Contest Photo – Eetcafe The Paddock in Aruba

Only five people out of a total of 22 responses correctly identified the location of the photo submitted by Joe Baum.  The winner of the drawing is Paul Crager of Philadelphia, PA who will receive a $25 gift card.  The photo is of a restaurant called Eetcafe The Paddock located in Aruba.  While we’ve never eaten there and cannot give an opinion of the restaurant, we highly recommend Aruba, the “A” in the ABC islands.  You’ll find picturesque beaches (Eagle Beach is very wide with fine powdery sand), friendly people and great shopping in this Dutch island.  You can visit in the fall since hurricanes are rare this far south in the Caribbean.  You are less than 20 miles from South America when in Aruba.

Hoiberg Mountain

Hoiberg Mountain




We have included several other great photos taken by Joe on his visit to Aruba.  We especially like the one of Hooiberg mountain, the major landmark of Aruba.  Natural Bridge was another landmark until it collapsed in 2005.

Coral Princess Docked in Aruba

Coral Princess Docked in Aruba



Aruba's colorful port

Aruba’s colorful port

Natural Bridge - Aruba

Natural Bridge – Aruba (bridge collapsed in 2005)



The Answer is Cuba

posted by Wayne
January 23, 2016
Street in Havana - photo from Globus Journeys collectoin

Street in Havana – photo from Globus Journeys collection

We were looking for the word “Cuba” in your response to our question “Guess why Royal Caribbean brought her (Empress of the Seas) back?“. It’s one of the worst kept secrets that Royal Caribbean is bringing back the Empress of the Seas for cruises from Miami to Cuba. After all, could they let Carnival have Cuba by themselves?  Fathom Impact Travel, a Carnival subsidiary, has already announced cruises to Cuba beginning in May of this year. Globus has also begun a Cuba program and has created a few different land itineraries.

Royal Caribbean hasn’t announced dates nor have they officially admitted that the Empress of the Seas will be sailing to Cuba. However, it would be bizarre to bring back a relatively small 27 year old ship for Caribbean cruises when they have the stunning Allure and Oasis of the Seas already serving the Caribbean with much success.

Want to be among the first to visit this beautiful but slightly dilapidated island? You should know a few things.

1. You will go as a traveler, not a tourist. A traveler interacts with the inhabitants; a tourist rides a bus and sees the sights.

2. Don’t expect to go to a beach and sip Cuba Libres. This is still not allowed. You will have direct contact with Cuban people in person-to-person cultural exchanges.

3. It won’t be cheap. Expect to pay around $2000 per person for an oceanview stateroom plus taxes plus $150 for a Cuban visa.

4. Buy euros. Fidel charges more to exchange US dollars.

Do we think a trip to Cuba at this point is worth it?  You bet!  Cuba is the world’s biggest car museum.  Cars from the fifties and sixties are common in Cuba. The food is fantastic, the art is amazing and you will become immersed in the sounds of son (Cuba’s popular music).

Still want to be among the first in more than a half century to visit this up and coming jewel of the Caribbean?

Email us and we will contact you when Royal Caribbean makes an announcement.  Or, if you’d like to consider a “people-to-people” cultural exchange through Globus, we can help you with that, too (tours through April and part of May are already sold out).

Forty-seven people mentioned “Cuba” in their responses. The winner of the drawing is Sue Bass of Levittown, PA. She will receive a $25 gift card.

While we wait for Cuba:

The Empress of the Seas has some very low priced cruises on 4 (Bahamas) or 5 (Western Caribbean) night cruise beginning in April.

Normandy and Paris – Part 3

posted by Wayne
November 13, 2015
Giverny - Waterlilies

Real water lilies at Giverny

After three nights at the Count’s “castle” we continued to follow the route that my uncle took in his fight across France during WWII.  After visiting several towns devastated in the war, we deviated from the route to get to our next B & B in the town of Giverny, the home of Claude Monet where he created his most famous works.  Monet was one of the founders of the Impressionist movement; in fact, the name “impressionist” came from one of his paintings named Impression, Sunrise. The highlight of the town of Giverny is Monet’s gardens where his Water Lilies series was painted. But that is not all that that Giverny area has to offer.

Les Andelys




Les Andelys is nearby. From the hill overlooking it, Les Andelys appears to be a toy town or fairyland. Les Andelys is actually two towns, hence the word “Les”. We walked along the meandering Seine River where the Tapestry 2 Avalon riverboat, happened to be docked. Rachelle was invited aboard for a visit and was very impressed with the upscale public spaces and staterooms.

Château Gaillard

Château Gaillard




The Château Gaillard, a (partially ruined) fortress built by Richard the Lionhearted in the 12th century, is the most dramatic sight on the Seine River (I think even more than the Eiffel Tower). It took only one year to build this enormous structure.

Avalon Tapestry docked in Les Andelys

Avalon Tapestry II docked in Les Andelys





Our next stop in the Giverny areas was one of the most beautiful villages in France, La Roche-Guyon. It’s imposing castle, named after the town, was the headquarters of the German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox”. Rommel committed suicide after the failed attempt on Hitler’s life.

Sondrine's library / music room

Sandrine’s library / music room




Our hostess at our Giverny Bed & Breakfast was a lovely French woman who spoke perfect English. She was neither a count nor a colonel and her modest, eclectically furnished house was completely different from our first two chateaus. However, it was no less comfortable and Sandrine, our hostess, was warm and charming. We must say that we hit a grand slam with our Normandy Bed & Breakfasts. Each was different but each was fantastic in terms of food, hosts and comfort and location.

My Uncle was initially buried in Villeneuve sur Auvers Cemetery.



After two very pleasant nights, we headed toward Paris. But first, we visited the cemetery where my uncle was buried after he was killed. His body was brought back to the US and the cemetery is now farmland but there is a memorial with his name on a plaque.

Our next installment in this series will focus on our stay in Paris.

Normandy and Paris – Part 2

posted by Wayne
October 24, 2015
Town Church in St. Mere Eglise

Town church in St. Mere Eglise – click for close-up of Private Steel’s effigy

After spending 3 terrific nights with Colonel Ed and his wife, Sharon, we headed for our next bed and breakfast.   But first, we stopped in the town of Saint Mere Eglise, one of the first towns freed from the Germans in WWII.  There is a church in the town square where paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division landed in error due to foul weather.  Many paratroopers were killed and captured in the square.  One paratrooper got hung up on one of the steeples of the church and pretended to be dead.  He witnessed the carnage below and was captured by the Germans but later escaped.  To this day, an effigy of Private John Steele hangs from the steeple.

Our second B&B was referred to as a "castle"

Our second B&B was referred to as a “castle”





Our next B&B was in a château owned and operated by a real French Count. When we arrived, he immediately began speaking French to us. With our feeble and rusty high school French, we gave a few answers which seemed to please him. From then on, he spoke nearly perfect English. He ”joked” that he was testing us.

Our 2nd B&B's foyer

The Count’s B&B’s foyer



The chateau was enormous and we had a huge room with a separate dressing room and a very large and modern bathroom. Paintings of the count’s ancestors hung on the walls and French Provincial furniture graced the room.  The Count was a font of tales.  He told us about the time when he was a child and his father was arrested by Germans in the foyer of the château when it was taken over for the use of Wehrmacht officers.  The family had to live in the stables during the German occupation.

His father was a member of the French Resistance and the Count had some harrowing war stories.

The Count ensures fresh flowers are always at the foot of George Mick’s grave



The Count takes care of the grave of an American soldier killed in WWII and buried in the Brittany American Cemetery in St. James, France.  He prepared a beautiful bouquet of flowers from his garden for us to take to the cemetery and place on the grave.

According to the Count, the château is haunted. Our friend, John had a close encounter with the ghost.

Cows along the road are a common sight

Cows along the road are a common sight





We continued to visit the Norman towns and villages where my uncle fought with the 3rd Armored Division until he was killed in action near Paris.  Most of the towns were pretty much destroyed during the war but have been completely rebuilt.  Normandy is largely farm country with apple orchards, corn fields and lots of cows. R oads are two lane with very little traffic.

Riding through a typical Norman village



We made a planned diversion to Mont Saint-Michel, the second most visited site in France (the Eiffel Tower is number 1). It is an active Benedictine abbey located on an islet. The original church structure was completed in 1144 and more structures were added in the 13th century. At low tide, one can walk about 600 meters from the mainland to the islet. However, unless you have a guide, this is not recommended because there are areas of quicksand. People have lost their lives when they got stuck in the quicksand and the tide came in. The tide difference between high and low tide can be as much as 45 feet and it comes in real fast. We did it the easy way. We parked our rental car in the main parking lot and took a shuttle bus on the recently completed bridge to a point very close to the massive structure.

Mont Saint-Michel

Mont Saint-Michel at low tide


We’ll post more about our trip to Normandy & Paris in a few weeks. Stay tuned!