Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Monument Valley: “Awesome ~ Simply Awesome”

AWESOME – adjective – extremely impressive or daunting,
inspiring great admiration, apprehension or fear.

“Awesome!” responded the young telephone sales clerk when I placed an order for curtains.

“Will that be all?”  We said yes and the young waitress replied, “Awesome!”

Neither of those things were awesome.  But on our Southwest Road Trip we found something that  really was:

Awesome is the Monument Valley that stretched from Northwest Arizona up into Utah.

We revised our route north while in Arizona's “Valley of the Sun” (as the Phoenix area is known), after reading a travel article in the local paper. The area sounded too good to miss - and it was! 

We were barely 25 miles beyond Kayenta, a small ‘census designated place’ of about 6,000 people (not even a ‘town’) in the Navajo Indian Reservation, when we come over a rise in the road and were met with an ‘AWESOME!’ sight – the kind that gives you goose pimples and a shiver even on the warmest of days.

The Monument Valley from Highway 163
We were traveling a stretch of Highway163 that cuts through the vast, remote Monument Valley, a region of the Colorado Plateau famous for its clusters of vast sandstone buttes (the largest reaching skywards for 1,000 feet). This area is part of the 16 million acre Navajo Reservation. The number of outdoor hiking, rafting, horseback riding and camping opportunities are endless. 

There are even two hotels in this somewhat lonesome landscape – The View Hotel and Restaurant and the Monument Valley Trading Post, both just off Highway 163. One warns that because of the remote location, Wi-Fi might be a bit lacking in speed and quality.

Monument Valley straddles Arizona and Utah
The Anasazi, the Ancestral Puebloans, are believed to have settled in this region in 120 BCE; the cause of their disappearance is still being speculated upon by historians. Then came the Navajo culture centuries before the Spaniards arrived in 1581.

Monsoon season made a lush green carpet on the valley floor
The Navajo Visitor Center is about four miles from the highway. As Monument Valley is a part of the Navajo Tribal Park, there is an entry fee required for those who leave the highway and spend time exploring by jeep, hiking or horseback. All tours can be arranged in advance or at the Visitor Center. 
Entry fee is $20 per car with up to four occupants.  National Park passes don’t work here.

Mind-boggling in size and shape - the Monument Valley rock formations
We’d considered staying at one of those two hotels but our last minute itinerary change brought us here the Thursday prior to Labor Day weekend when rooms were scarce and the few that were still available cost many more hundreds of dollars than we wanted to pay. So our 'touring' was limited to the time we spent driving the highway through this wild, usually-sunbaked desert. However, as I told you earlier we traveled in early September at the end of the area's monsoon season which made for lush green landscapes.
Monument Valley - Arizona and Utah
In fact rain clouds skirted past and drizzled on us before we left the area.

A two-lane highway bisects the Monument Valley
Highway 163 is a two-lane roadway – it was nearly empty on this Thursday afternoon.

A mitten perhaps?
The land and monuments are considered sacred to the Navajo. There is something about this place - even just driving through it - that makes you understand why.

Monument Valley
While normally road construction delays are a source of frustration, we welcomed the one we encountered just as we were leaving the area.  It gave us a chance to get out of the car, feel the strong desert breeze that was pushing the rainclouds above us and get one final glance at that magical, no, make that, “Awesome!” place – Monument Valley!

A long and not so lonesome highway leads to Monument Valley
If you are planning a trip here in the near future check out the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park website as it is full of information about accommodations, and guides that have been approved by the Tribe for hire.

Up close and awesome!
Monument Valley is 146 miles from Moab, Utah or 380 from Salt Lake City, Utah, 395 miles from Las Vegas. Rent a car and set out on a road trip – it is one you won’t forget!

Our destination that day was Moab and its amazing Arches National Park - an area that turned out to be equally as 'awesome' as here. We'll tell you about it soon. And, as always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and hope that your travels are healthy and happy ones. 

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Utah to Greece ~ Taking Another Detour of sorts. . .

This has been the year of detours. Sometimes even the most well-thought-out itinerary needs an adjustment and sometimes so do blog posts.  I told you last week I’d be writing about our Southwest U.S. road trip this week and in a sense I am, but not quite from the perspective I had planned. . .because Wednesday morning everything changed. . .

I was up early sipping a cup of coffee and watching the morning sky lighten over the ski resort town of Park City, Utah, where we were in our second week of ‘timeshare life’ during our Southwestern road trip. Park City is a post-card perfect ski village about a half-hour outside Salt Lake City.

On this laid-back morning, I decided to check Facebook while I awaited The Scout’s emergence from slumber. . .

The first photo that came up in my feed was from Kalamata, Greece:

Kalamata, Greece
Kalamata. The big city just an hour from our place in the Mani region of the Greek Peloponnese.  The photo just didn’t compute. . .

I remembered reading a friend’s post the day before urging drivers to use caution on the roadways; it was raining -- a much needed rain but because it had been dry for so long – but she’d cautioned of slick roadways.  Not slick enough to cause that pileup though!

A car on the beach in Stoupa, The Mani
The next photos to scroll across my FB page were from the village Stoupa, much closer to our home, posted by the same friend, Maria Korma, who’d cautioned drivers the day before. Maria operates Mani Rental Cars in the village, and that red car above - we were to learn - was a new one in Maria’s fleet – just a week old. It had been parked on the street only hours before.  There were others:

Flood waters where the street should be
The morning calm in that Park City condo ended. Who could watch a sunrise in Utah when having visions of our Stone House on the Hill, its garden and/or grove being washed down the hillside?

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook and its feature, Messenger, I called my friend Sue who lives just down the valley from us in The Mani and we spoke face-to-face (at no cost, thank you, Facebook!) about what had happened.  By the time we talked – my early morning Wednesday and her late afternoon Wednesday – the storm had subsided and the clean up process had begun.

The aftermath - Stoupa
Sue and her family had made it through with little damage to their home and property. Still sounding a bit shaken though, from the ferociousness of the storm, she said Greek news was reporting roads blocked or destroyed, homes and businesses flooded. Some had lost crops; some had lost ages-old olive trees. Cars had been tossed and trashed by flood waters.

Divers were called in to locate cars in the bay
The storm that some are now calling the ‘100 year storm’ dumped 5.5 inches of rain in a single hour.  The Kalamata Airport closed; flights were cancelled. The Mayor of Kalamata was quoted as saying he’d never seen anything like it. Four people died as result of the storm that passed over our area as it moved northeast toward Thessoloniki.

Rallying to Recover

The communities went to work cleaning up streets, cars, homes, businesses and beaches.  The government declared five municipalities as being in a state of emergency and photos showed military troops and heavy equipment helping with the restoration and cleanup.  A call for volunteer help was issued in our area and the community responded.

Clean up efforts began immediately 

And the response from volunteers was immediate and enthusiastic. . .

Pantasi Beach, just below The Stone House on the Hill

Another view of Pantazi Beach
Back in Business

By Saturday, my friend Maria had posted the photos below saying that the sun was shining and tourists had returned to the beaches.  Recovery efforts had been swift at the beach-front town.

Stoupa - three days later
Beach-goers basked in sunshine
And the fate of the The Stone House on the Hill . .  .

Relief at seeing The Stone House on the Hill right where we'd left it
My friend Sue posted the photo above on FB a few hours after we talked on Wednesday to assure me our Stone House on the Hill and the four to its left were still in the same place they had been when we left last spring.

Many of you recall our friends Chuck and Marti from Kirkland who’d visited us last year had decided to move to our area this fall for a year’s ex pat adventures.  By a quirk of fate, their arrival brought them, their two cats and dog, to Stoupa late Wednesday evening. There they saw cars floating in the bay and recovery efforts underway. And they learned the road to their rental home had washed out.

The Road to the Stone House on the Hill - this was paved
After a night in town they moved to our Stone House on the Hill until they could get to their home. They reported we had water in the living room and curtains will need to go to the dry cleaners after we get back. They dried soaked things and mopped up the water.  The garden and grove – they tell us – look good, perhaps the olives look even better than they did when they visited last fall.

The road to our place was among those hard hit. . .it is bad, but so far (fingers-crossed that it gets no worse) we’ll be able to reach our house.

Sections of our road washed out
They were able to move to their home on Saturday, but are getting a different rental car – a 4-wheel drive) to navigate their road. You can see why from the photo below:

The 'road' to our friends' home is worse than ours
Obviously the photos in this post are not mine.  A huge thank you to Facebook (and real-life) friends, Maria Korma, Stavroula Nikoloudi, Chuck and Marti Bartlett, and Sue and Don Beattie and an unknown source (Kalamata car photo) for posting these photos of theirs on FB over the course of the last few days.

It won’t be long now before we are back in Greece but for the last couple of days, even as we  completed our road trip through the Southwestern U.S. our hearts and heads were with our many friends in The Mani. . .

And that’s why this week’s road trip tale took a bit of a detour!

As always, thanks for the time you spend with us each week. And another thank you to all who follow TravelnWrite on Facebook or who are FB friends and who have provided such an outpouring of support and concern for not only us, but the villagers and our friends in The Mani. It meant a lot to all of us ~ hugs to you all!

Linking up with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

South, then North by Northwest – An Autumn Road Trip

“To travel is to live”
- Hans Christian Andersen

It was time to travel.  We’d had the travel itch for days and the suitcases had been in various stages of packing for a few weeks. We’ve been in one place – our Pacific Northwest home – since early May – the bags unpacked and stowed away - an unusually long time to be anywhere for us. It was definitely time to hit the road.

[Sorry about the print size this week. Blogger and Surface don't mix well and makes travel n writing a bit frustrating when it refuses to enlarge the font size.}

A scene from Scottsdale, Arizona
We are kicking off the ‘travel season’ with a trip to the Southwestern United States – Arizona, Nevada and Utah. The road trip began following a flight to Phoenix, Arizona and a week spent living our ‘timeshare life’ there.

Not everyone thinks Arizona in August is the most desirable of destinations. It is still a summer sizzler and it is monsoon season in ‘The Valley of the Sun’ (as the greater Phoenix area is known). But we decided to take a chance on the weather.

An Arizona rabbit that thought he was hiding in the desert

Monsoon season in the desert has an average starting date of about July 7th and ends approximately September 13th. Our visit was near the end of the season which is determined by the number of days with an average dew point of 55 degrees or higher.

Storm clouds threatened but we avoided the Arizona monsoon

The monsoon is a thunderstorm that can sweep across the valley bringing heavy rain, wind and lightening. Flash floods often close roads. It can cause an event called a haboob, an enormous dust storm that can envelope the valley with dust and debris. An advisory handed out at check-in, warned that if a dust or rainstorm should happen while we were outside to move inside immediately. If we were on the road, we were to move well out of the way of traffic. 

How green the desert can be in monsoon season in Arizona

We made it through the week without experiencing a monsoon or haboob, but were excited to leave the desert’s penetrating heat behind us. Daytime temperatures reached  107F and that made outside activities somewhat limited. However, a travel bonus of the desert this time of year is the lush green desert scape that surrounds instead of the dusty barren brown carpet.

Sand dunes in northeastern Arizona

Of course that isn’t to say there weren’t places along our route that reminded us of Egypt’s pyramids (like the dunes in the photo above)  in Northeastern Arizona en route to Moab, Utah. Our ultimate Utah destination was Park City, a popular outdoors destination (home to the 2002 Winter Olympics Alpine and Snowboard events) southeast of Salt Lake City that sits high in the mountains - 7,500 feet elevation, in fact. In the winter skiers and snow enthusiasts flock here; mountain bikers and hikers the rest of the year.

Map picture
Beginning in Phoenix, AZ then Moab, Park City, UT, and Las Vegas, NV
“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”
- Lao Tzu

We’d not planned to visit Moab when we left the Northwest. Half way through our stay in Phoenix we read a newspaper article about Monument Valley and decided it was high time we see it. We cancelled our previously made hotel reservation, switched our route and headed northeast instead of northwest. And decided to spend two nights in Moab, just the other side of Monument Valley.

Mother Nature's canvass in northeastern Arizona

It took eight hours to drive from Phoenix to Moab; much of it on two-lane roads, punctuated with passing lanes every few miles. Elevations changed like a roller coaster, 4000 feet at Flagstaff, then 5,000 then 6,000 by the time we neared Sedona 30 minutes later. We passed or traveled through  towns named Kayenta, Tuba City and Cameron, the latter which proudly proclaimed itself, “Home of the WWII Navajo Code Talkers”.

Afoot and light-hearted
I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me.
    -- Walt Whitman

The desert landscape in Northern Arizona near the Utah border
The hours and miles passed quickly with such an ever-changing and stunning landscape. We congratulated ourselves on changing directions - and not being tied to an itinerary. After a summer of being bombarded with presidential politics on television, it has been good to be reminded of America's beauty, small towns and friendly people. While western Utah reminds us of Arizona’s vast flat lands, the monuments and mountains that make up eastern Utah are simply spectacular. We’ll take you on a pictorial tour of them next week.

Again, thanks for the time you’ve spent with us today. Wishes for healthy and safe travels to you and yours.  We hope to see you back here next week - please bring a friend!  Have you taken a road trip lately? Are you the type to change plans in the middle of a trip or must you follow a set itinerary? Tell us about it in the comments below or shoot us an email.

Linking up with:

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Greece ~ Cats, Culture and Conflict

Those cats of Greece. Gatas, (yatas) they are called here. Every visitor here has a cat tale to tell.

It might be how you avoided them or how they captured your heart. Maybe it is how cute their photos on souvenir calendars and postcards or maybe you encountered some so desperately hungry they were foraging in garbage bins or begging tableside at a restaurant.

20160331_081316 [1378312]
"Mom" Cat just days before giving birth to kittens - Spring 2016
“You can’t have a cat,” The Scout admonished me (I am one of the world’s greatest cat lovers) way back while contemplating a Greek house purchase. We’d be part-time residents – not conducive to having pets. But during our short time as part-time ex pats we’ve learned cats really aren’t ‘pets’ by that cushy definition and lifestyle they lead in the United States.

And it wasn’t a case of me having ‘a’ cat.  It has become a matter of how ‘many’ cats have us. That’s where culture and conflict come into play.

"Muffin" short for Ragamuffin - new arrival Spring 2016
While I’ve written of the challenges and rewards of absorbing a new culture, the one topic I’ve skirted is that of those determined felines who’ve recognized ‘those Americans’ as easy marks and are causing severe conflicts between our heads and our hearts. Even The Scout, (also an animal-lover), has forgotten his earlier admonishment and has been taken in by them as well.

Today, 36.1 million U.S. households own one or more cats,
for a total of more than 74 million pet cats.
--American Veterinary Medical Association.

Stray - but well fed cats - in Monemvasia, Greece
Our first cultural difference and conflict: Cats are not considered pets, they are animals with a job to do. But there are simply too many of them. In Greece spaying and neutering – is expensive – and not the rule. They multiply rapidly. Their job is to keep down the vermin – that would be rats, mice and snakes who make their homes in the olive and citrus groves that carpet the land. Some are 'lucky' and live in villages; kept alive by local restaurants and well-meaning tourists who sneak food to those brave enough to sit near the tables. It is those gatas in the rural areas who tug at the heart strings as they struggle to survive while keeping down the pest population.

Sign in a restaurant in Trahilio - The Mani
“Unlike dogs, cats have become purely domestic pets only very recently, within the last 50 years. For most of their history, cats weren’t pets. Cats lived in and around human villages for millennia, but there is no evidence they lived in our homes.”
-- from “The Trainable Cat” a book by Dr. John Bradshaw

"Bob" for his bobcat ears - another new - desperately hungry - arrival at our house
In Greece abandonment is widespread and our picturesque area is not immune.

“Six puppies abandoned in Ag. Nikolaos Monday, Aug. 10.
Six kittens about two weeks old dumped at Pantazi Beach the same day.”
-- from MIAO, Mani International Animal Organization

Pantazi Beach below our home is a popular spot to 'dump' unwanted cats
Sometimes, even well-meaning tourists contribute to the abandonment. They arrive and spend a season, love them (feed them) and leave them at the end of their visit. We were guilty of abandonment at the end of our first stay at The Stone House on the Hill and I fretted so much about ‘my cats’ after that stay, that we’ve since hired our gardener to come and feed and put water out for the cats (‘ours’, ‘others’) when we aren’t in residence - whether the garden needs attention or not. Our neighbors – two sets of full-timers – also feed them. 

"Mom" with her grown kittens last fall 2015 use my 'shelter'
While my head told me that they got along fine before we arrived on the scene, my heart had fallen head-over-heals for each flea-bitten, tick-laden hungry one that has shown up at our house. Our behaviors as well as theirs have become quite predictable:  we refuse to feed the new arrivals for at least a few days, we shoo them away from those we are feeding.  But then they are so desperate that we give in . . .as with Bob, pictured above.  He was so frightened of us and the other cats he’d wait until the bowl was empty before venturing over to lick its surface. The heart won out. . .Bob was invited to eat and drink.

"Tom" on the table, "Princess" in the chair
Longtime readers will recall my cat tales of "Princess" (The Cat who came for Christmas) and her brother, "Tom" who arrived at The Stone House on the Hill shortly after we took ownership.  Both appeared to be homeless but somewhat taken care of and well-versed in how-to-win-the-hearts-of-the-new-owners. (As I've noted, we were easy marks.)  We eventually began feeding them.

Tom and Princess sleeping on our couch
When we returned to the house several months later, both showed up at our door within hours of our arrival. Tom, had a reputation in the neighborhood as being a bully and a Romeo, so we took him to the vet and a few snips and hours later, he was a new man, in a manner of speaking. Then we came back but Princess didn't; instead "Mom" cat arrived and has been a regular since.

Then Princess and Tom and Mom returned – looking healthy and not hungry when we came back in the fall.  By then they’d put a strangle hold on our hearts. Mom had kittens to attend to, but we let Tom and Princess inside for a cat-nap or two.

"Princess" napped while I worked in the garden
A very pregnant Mom Cat greeted us immediately but Princess was slow in arriving last spring – we’d been there several weeks before she came to the door. (We’ve learned her real name is ‘Sula’ and she belongs to someone else up the road but apparently likes to holiday at our place when we are there). Tom never returned. I fretted. . .hoping we'd see him this fall.

It turns out Tom is my first Greek heartbreak, (sadly, I am certain he won’t be the last).  Our neighbors learned that Tom had been hit by a car on the road not far from our house, was found by a Greek lady and was in such bad shape that the animal protection group was called and Tom was put down. That tug between head and heart continues . . .

PicMonkey Collage
My tribute to "Tom"
The good news about Greek cats (and dogs) is that there is a group of residents – ex pats and Greeks – in our area who do care about the stray animals.  They’ve established feeding stations (like at Pantazi Beach, and volunteers make regular runs both to feed the animals and help those which are distressed, as they did for 'our' Tom.

Called, MIAO, the Mani International Animal Organization, the group even helps relocate unloved and unwanted dogs to foreign countries. They’ve offered rewards to help find individuals guilty of poisoning animals (yes, poisonings do occur). 

A little stray watched us eat from this window sill in Monemvasia
A Google search for ‘Greek cats’ returns 11 million results. Among them are sites that offer suggestions for ‘Greek cat names’ (which range from Adonis and Antigone to Zephyr and Zeus) and other links that link to animal organizations like the Greek Cat Rescue and Greek Cat Welfare Society

Should you find yourself in Greece, I’d suggest attending one of the animal group's fund-raisers as it is a great way to meet locals and it helps them help the animals. Or donate that small change you don’t want to carry home to them - many have collection jars at local businesses.

That’s it for this week. Hope you are enjoying the last of the season and looking forward to the next.  As always, we appreciate the time you spend with us and thank you for sharing our posts with friends and family. Our travel season has begun, we are on the road hope . . .hope you'll join us next week!

Linking up with these amazing groups this week:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Reverse Thrusters! Middle East to the Mediterranean

Carpe Diem,seize the day!  Carpe Deal,seize the deal! 

Those are the philosophies guiding our travels these days. Which means sometimes we just never know where we might end up. Only two weeks ago, I  was telling you about that cruise we’d booked, the round-trip Abu Dhabi, Arabian Sea adventure. And that's where we were headed, until a week ago when . . .

The Scout and I were on our back deck enjoying our Friday afternoon ‘coffee break’ (a carry over from our 8–to–5 work-world; now just a relaxed time of sipping Starbucks and a bit of conversation) he off-handedly mentioned,

“I found a cruise you should take a look at.” (You know how The Scout is always scouting for deals and destinations).

Celebrity Constellation
He proceeded to show me a Celebrity cruise that departs Rome, Italy on November 2nd and ends up in Athens, Greece 12 nights later.  It is the Constellation; the same ship sailing to and from Abu Dhabi and the one on which we crossed the Atlantic a few years ago. She’s affectionately called, “Connie” by repeat guests.

The routing
The routing (shown above) appealed because it  included stops in some of our favorite Mediterranean places, but it was the price that jolted me far more than the java I was sipping: only $849 per person for a balcony room.  Ocean view, $723, and inside cabins only $653.  Were they kidding? Or was it a series of typos? Those were incredibly good prices!

Athen's Acropolis from the Electra Palace Hotel
Hmmmm. . .it ends in Athens. “That would be convenient,” I said. We could get a rental car at the port and drive home. (Short flights and easier travel in Europe was one of the factors we considered before buying our Stone House on the Hill in Greece.)

Now admittedly it ends in Athens because Celebrity has pulled out of Istanbul as result of recent unrest there and it does have three days and nights in Israel and one in Turkey (Kusadasi). Each of those stops could still be could be changed on a moment’s notice as result of safety concerns, but then any port can be pulled for a variety of reasons on cruise itineraries, even weather. If so, some other interesting port would be substituted or we’d spend another day at sea.  Not tough duty anyway you look at it.

A balcony room on the Constellation
The Scout pointed out this cruise is three nights longer and cheaper than the one we had just booked in the Middle East.  Airfare to Rome from Athens (with the checked bag fee included) is $154 for the two of us. . .another cost savings over the flights to and from Abu Dhabi.

Sunsets at Sea can't be beat
We refilled the coffee cups and grabbed the calendar. We were still well outside the final payment (90 days in advance in this case) of that Arabian Sea cruise we’d just booked.  We’d get our entire down-payment back; in fact we’d just transfer it to this cruise.  Downside of this cruise: we are within the 90 days so full payment was required at time of booking. And no changing our minds once that happens. . .

Hora Sfakia, southern coast of Crete
We discussed the pluses and minuses of the two cruises. One would sail us into whole new worlds and the other would take us back to old favorite places.

Then we talked about that pizza we’d eaten in Naples on our last cruise visit there several years ago. “Oh, there’s that wine bar near the Spanish Steps in Rome. We could go back there,” I suggested.  The Scout noted that we’d have time in Crete to rent a car and drive down to the village of Hora Sfakia on the island’s southern coast and visit Greek friends there.  Israel, with an overnight stay in the port of Ashdod puts us near Tel Aviv and all the attractions it offers visitors. Kusadasi is the gateway to Ephesus. . .

Sea Days are among my favorites
Two hours later we’d 'reversed thrusters', and with the final payment made on Saturday morning, we are set to sail the Mediterranean ~ we’ll get back to the Middle East one of these days!

Before You ‘Carpe Cruise Deals’

There are deals to be had in Europe (land and sea) now. I checked and the deals are still available for this cruise if anyone is interested.  We use a few filters before jumping on a deal - just to make sure we aren't blind-sided later. Here are some of our considerations:

Basking in the Mediterranean Sun - Celebrity Constellation
-- Cost of the airfare? Consider how much your airfare will add to the cost of the trip before signing up for a cruise deal. If you find a fly/cruise package check to see if booking your air travel separately might save you money.

-- Cost of hotels? It is best to schedule your arrival for a cruise one day early as it gives you time to get over jet lag if coming a long distance, retrieve luggage that might have been delayed and simply  enjoy the port city and not view it from the back of a cab racing to the ship.  It does mean you’ll need to add the cost of a hotel stay to your projections. We've decided to stay two nights in Rome because of low hotel rates.

-- What is the real cruise cost? Does the price quoted include port charges and taxes?  These can be significant additional costs. What are the terms of cancellation? (That's important if you change your mind as frequently as we do.)

-- What are the onboard benefits?  We are receiving a $450 on-board ship credit (which can be used to purchase excursions, beverages, internet, for example), and had our choice of a beverage package for two, prepaid gratuities, or free internet.  The on-board benefits represent significant cost savings.

-- Is a better deal available through a different agency?  Now some of you are loyal to ‘your’ travel agent and would never change and we understand that.  However we have found deals vary between on line agencies that specialize in cruises.  We have used Cruise Compete to compare prices (as everyone can do) and we’ve seen differences of several hundred dollars in costs or on-board benefit packages. We routinely use Vacations To Go and Cru Con on-line agencies.

Cabin location on a ship can afford interesting views - here we watched the refueling operation

-- What is the category of the cabin and where is that group located on the ship?  An ocean view room that is at the waterline won’t provide much view nor is a ‘view obstructed balcony/veranda’ going to be much fun either.  Find out the category of the room, then go to a layout of the ship (found on the cruise line’s web site) and check for that category’s location and deck. Often times the agency has particular rooms on hold, so get the numbers, look up the location and then request a specific room.

-- Will you feel safe in the ports of call?  A number of you’ve responded to recent posts, saying you aren’t comfortable with travel to certain destinations right now.  So before booking a ‘deal’ make sure you really want to visit the places on the itinerary. If you aren’t going to get off the cruise ship, do you really want to take the cruise?

-- On your own or cruise ship excursions?  Check the price of the excursions offered by the cruise ship – they are generally expensive and can add significantly to the total trip cost.  You don’t need to participate in those groups, you can tour independently or find smaller groups being organized by fellow cruisers who participate in the on-line, Cruise Critic, a cruiser user-group.

Lazy days at Sea
That’s it for this week – hope you’ll be back soon and bring a friend or two with you.  Thanks for the time you’ve spent with us ~ as always we appreciate it!

Couple of housekeeping notes:  I've noticed a number of you have signed up to receive our blog posts as weekly emails but you haven’t taken the second step to make that happen: 

After you've entered your email address in the box on the blog's home page, you’ll receive an email (in your regular or junk mail) from “Feedburner” asking you to verify that you did sign up, you must respond to that email to actually sign up.

And a disclaimer about the sites listed above:  We are recommending them because we use them - we don't get any payment or benefits from recommending them to you.

This week we are linking up with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Photo Friday
Weekend Travel Inspiration


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