Showing posts with label Mediterranean cruises. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mediterranean cruises. Show all posts

Friday, May 10, 2024

Both The Journey and the Destination

When it comes to cruising, it is as much about the journey as it is about the destinations. 

Approaching Ibiza

I was reminded of that on our recent western Mediterranean cruise as we sipped room-service-delivered, piping hot coffee each morning on the balcony of our cabin watching some new port of call come into view. 


Morning coffee brought to our room at no extra charge 

Those coffee deliveries rank high on my 'feeling pampered' list and are among the reasons I so like cruising. But I am usually so focused on the vastly differing destinations that we are heading to -- both new and old favorites -- that my tales focus on them and not the ship that gets us to them. Yet, with cruising, the ship and its amenities are as important as those ports of call. 

Onboard the Oceania Vista

Our Mediterranean cruise was a rather last-minute travel idea for us. We decided to take it only three weeks before the sailing. We can do that because among the pluses of expat life is the ease of getting to other European countries.  Getting from Athens to Civitavecchia, Italy from where the ship departed was a three-hour journey; two for the flight and an hour for the shuttle from the Rome airport.


We chose this cruise because it would take us to four countries in 10 days, giving us an introduction to some new places and a refresher course of others. We'd not have more than a day in any one place, but long enough to get a feel for it and decide if we would one day return for a longer stay. 

Oceania's Vista, our ship, barely a year old

Oceania's Vista ship, barely a year old, was repositioning back to the Mediterranean for its summer season from the Caribbean where it had sailed last winter. It is one of the larger ships in Oceania's fleet, accommodating1,200 passengers and a staff of 800 who hailed from 51 countries.


We selected the 10-day segment based on the ports of call, price and our previous experiences with the cruise line. Oceania and its new ship didn't disappoint. Our standard class stateroom was simply spacious. Suitcases were stored under the bed after clothes were put in the large closet and the room's many drawers. Another plus for cruising is that we unpack once. No hauling suitcases from city to city, through airports and train stations.  

Our floating home for 10 days

Its bathroom was as large as that of a luxury hotel and the shower was so large that it could have accommodated several people.

Our cruise was a segment of the longer repositioning cruise that had started in Miami, Florida. It ultimately ended in Trieste, Italy, several days after we departed the ship in Malta.  Many of our fellow cruisers had been on the ship since it left the United States and stayed on until Italy.

With nearly a week of sea days spent crossing the Atlantic, those cruisers had time to take advantage of the educational and enrichment activities on board: among them, brushing up on computer skills or creating art in a dedicated studio staffed by two Artists in Residence. Several took advantage of the large culinary arts center where one could sharpen culinary skills under the guidance of the chef. 

With a port of call each day we had no time to indulge in any enrichment pursuits on board. We had plenty of culture and history indoctrination with our explorations.


Entertainment options included performances by a string quartets, singers and pianists. Shows took place each night in the ship's theatre, lectures on ports of call were held, and late-night dancing and music was regularly offered. A casino opened for gaming as soon as the ship entered international waters. 

Sun seekers at pool side

For the sun seekers there was a pool, and hot tubs, running track, a putting green, and a popular bocce ball court.  

One of three rooms that make up the ship's library

One of the most impressive amenities (especially for us, who live in an area without English language bookstores or libraries) was the ship's expansive, three-room library located next to Barista's specialty coffee shop. It was one of the most beautiful -- and well stocked -- libraries that we've ever seen on a cruise ship.

Medical center on board - well equipped and staffed

Of course, since it played prominently in our cruise experience (see my last post), I must note, the ship also has a well-equipped and staffed medical center. While one never expects to need it, it was great having it there when we did. (Medical care is not provided without cost. A visit to the doctor was $150US, medicine an additional $30US.)

Formal dining room is but one of many dining options

'Wining and Dining' is always a highpoint of cruising for us, and we had more options than we knew what to do with on this ship.  

Sail away happy hour Livorno Italy

Specialty restaurants including a steakhouse, Asian and Italian, were available at no extra charge (other cruise lines do charge for the specialty offerings). The days of dressing up and heading to a big stuffy cavernous dining room are over on this cruise line.  We could choose when and where we ate, whether to join others or to eat by ourselves. Casual dining or formal dress was up to us.

The ship offered a 2-for-1 Happy Hour each evening in several of its lounges and bars that brought the per glass price of drinks down to a reasonable rate ($14 to $15 was the average per glass rate for wine on board). 

Morning in Malta

Cruising isn't for everyone. And it is good we don't all like the same modes of travel. But for us, it is an easy and cost-effective means of having an introduction to places that would require a lot of time, effort and planning to get to otherwise.  Sometimes, as in this case, it was a quick but comprehensive get-away.

Thanks for being with us again.  We hope wherever and however you are traveling this spring and summer that you will have smooth sailing ~ and that you'll be back with us again when I write about the need for the tastes of travel~

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Barcelona ~ The Tripping Point

One minute he was walking next to me. Then he wasn't. 

He was laying on the sidewalk. 

Las Ramblas - Barcelona

And not just any sidewalk, but one found in one of Barcelona's more famous areas, the tree-lined Las Ramblas. 

Elegant buildings line Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas, was laid out ages ago along the city's medieval wall. It is lined with stately buildings completed in the 18th century and is one of the more popular tourist destinations in this Spanish city; although its popularity is a bit diminished these days by the warnings issued to visitors about pickpockets and touts who roam the area.

Oceania Vista

Our stop in Barcelona was mid-point in the 10-day Oceania cruise we had begun in Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy.  We'd made two stops in Italy and two France on our way to Spain.  Those ports of call had been a delightful mix of ship-sponsored tours (two outings came as part of our cruise benefits) and taking off on our own, which is our favorite way to explore when cruising.

Approaching Cinque Terra

One of our ship's tours was a small boat trip from La Spezia to the Cinque Terra in Italy. . .

Garden at Van Gogh's asylum - a trip highlight

. . . another was a motorcoach tour from Marseille, France into Provence with a stop at Van Gogh's asylum just outside St. Remy.

A visit with friends and tour of Lucca, their expat home

In Italy's Livorno, we headed off on our own, catching a train to Lucca, where we had a delightful visit with American expat friends of ours who graciously spent the better part of a day showing us around their adopted city. 

Entrance to Nice's train station

We'd also hopped a train in France, again on our own, and traveled a short distance from Villefranche where we were docked to spend a delightful Sunday roaming the streets of Nice before catching the train back.

We'd opted to 'do' Barcelona on our own as well. We strolled the length of Las Ramblas in the morning, we spent time exploring neighborhoods and the Gothic Quarter and were making our way back to the ship's shuttle bus in the early afternoon via Las Ramblas when we hit. . .

The Tripping Point

The culprit was a curb. Plain and simple. 

An old curb that had been rounded and worn smooth by time and footsteps; the kind that has a surface as slick as ice.  And we watch for those things. Living in Greece we've been trained to recognize streets and sidewalk hazards. We know that centuries-old European cities have walking surfaces worn smooth over the ages. But The Scout was also keeping an eye on approaching cars as he stepped off the curb. . .and it took him but a moment to go from upright to lying flat on the sidewalk.

In retrospect, there are two good things about his fall. First, was the immediacy with which people came running to help. Could they help him up, could they summon an ambulance, could they stay with us? We were surrounded by willing helpers. Not like the US big cities where passersby often ignore pleas for help. We've seen time and again people offering help in European cities but this time we were on the receiving end of the kindness. 

Several men -- from nearby businesses and a couple of taxi drivers - helped him get to his feet.  Three young women in their late teens wanted to call an ambulance and wouldn't leave us until he demonstrated he was able to walk, if slowly, to the shuttle bus. One of the taxi drivers offered to drive us to a hospital.

The other good news was that he didn't break a hip, leg, arm or head.  

However, the bad news was that he cracked or broke a few ribs and bruised his sternum.  

Visiting The Ship's Medical Center

A cruise 'first' - the Medical Center

Over the last couple of decades we've taken many cruises, and we've been fortunate in never having seen the inside of any of the ships' medical centers. This was our introduction to that cruise ship amenity, and I am happy to say, this one was nothing short of amazing!

There were three patient rooms, one intensive care unit, two medical assistants and a doctor.  The medical center is equipped with defibrillators, external pacemakers, pulse oximeters, an ECG, thrombolytics and lab equipment.  

"We even have a morgue," noted the doctor as he pointed to a door off to the side of the reception area. 

Modern well-equipped medical center on Oceania's Vista

The Scout was examined and prescribed some heavy-duty pain pills.  The doctor offered to make on shore hospital referral that day or subsequent day if symptoms worsened. (They didn't).

Smooth Sailing

Climb every fortress - Ibiza our last stop

The Scout
wasn't about to miss out on the remaining ports of call, and we logged almost as many steps with each stop after his tumble as we had before - and that equates to several miles of walking each day.  

This promenade was flat in Alicante, Spain 

The cruise segment ended in Valletta, Malta. We'd sailed some 1,837 nautical miles around the Mediterranean. We spent a day and night in Valletta. The shortest distance we traveled was 85 nautical miles between Livorno and La Spezia, Italy and the longest was 665 n.m. between Ibiza, Spain and Malta. The cruise segment we had booked was part of a cruise that had started in Miami, Florida and would end after another 10-day segment in Trieste, Italy. Several hundred passengers were doing the full 35-day trip.

Setting sail from Ibiza, Spain 

We've been back in Greece for a week now. And Greek Orthodox Easter Week is upon us. The Scout is still moving gingerly.  We've reapplied for our residency permits so no more travel or cruises outside of Greece for a while.  But we've got some great memories and other stories from the cruise that I will be telling you about in the next post.  

Until then safe travels to you and yours, watch those 'tripping points'!









Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Then Comes a Time to Travel

We've become complacent in this Greek expat life of ours.  It is easy to do when the sea is a stone's throw to our left and mountain peaks are to our right. 

It is easy to become content until one day, you aren't, and you know it is time to travel.  

The sea is a stone's throw away.. .

In the Peloponnese, where winters are mild and storms mighty, but few, there is no burning desire to escape inclement weather as we did in our Pacific Northwest life. A good book and fire in the fireplace on the bad days and a coffee at the beach bar on the good days. . .who needs travel, we've asked ourselves in deepest winter here.

Beaches are empty in the winter here

As I wrote last week, in addition to complacency, we had one of our 'fur kid' family members traveling toward the Rainbow Bridge in recent months and that meant we weren't traveling anywhere until her journey was completed with us at her side.  

Maggie's journey is completed.

The last time I packed a suitcase, and we boarded a plane was last September for our return to Greece from the States. Now that is quite a stretch for these two vagabonds who once spent as much of the year living out of a suitcase, as we did at home. And we also recognize that we are aging vagabonds, so we have far fewer travel days ahead than there once were, so . . .

Then Comes a Time to Travel

File photo: way too long since I've packed a bag


The Scout had his work cut out for him: something that would allow us to see as many places as possible, with as little effort as possible, and in a window of time no longer than 10 days. 

(Regular readers recall our residence permits expire in late April and our travels in Europe will be forbidden until a new permit is issued, likely some 10 months from now. We will be able to travel in Greece and to our home country.)

Our route to adventures


He met the challenge and soon we will be headed to Rome from Athens. And there, we will board a cruise ship and set sail for ports of call in Italy, France, Spain, and Menorca (not Mallorca as shown on the map) before ending in Malta from where we will return to Athens. 

The sea from the ship is mesmerizing.


It will be our third cruise on an Oceania ship; this one the line's newest, the Vista.  The routing takes us to a few places we've been to and introduces us to three new cities along the way. From Marseille we will head to Arles on a bus, from Livorno we will hop a train to Lucca to visit friends there. Valencia is home to the largest municipal market in Europe, we will spend a good deal of time in it. We will spend a night in Valletta where the cruise ends, staying in its old town in an ancient building turned modern hotel. Its address is Old Bakery Street, can it be any better?

Sea daze


And we plan to spend a good deal of time simply gazing at the sea.   It is one of our favorite things to do on a cruise.  

We know many of you have traveled to the destinations we are soon to be visiting and welcome any recommendations you might have for us.  Shoot us an email or leave a comment.

The olive grove shorn for summer.


And as I close, I want to say thank you for the many comments we received after my last post about Princess and Maggie and lessons they've taught in the olive grove. Maggie's departure has left a significant gap in our world.  Your kindness was most appreciated!

Until next time, safe travels to you and yours~ and thanks for being with us today!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Greek Ferry Tales ~ Not Always a Greek Tragedy

There is nothing like the romance of boarding a Greek ferry and setting off for a new destination. The excitement of the trip becomes as much about ‘the journey’ as ‘the destination’. We think Greek ferry travel has got to rank in the top 10 of life’s best travel experiences.

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Ready to set sail - Piraeus, Greece
So, I was stunned at the reaction of a friend in America's Pacific Northwest when I suggested that she consider taking a ferry between Athens and Crete on an upcoming trip. She visibly recoiled, and exclaimed,  “But, they are unsafe. . .they are always sinking!!” 

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Our ferry between Piraeus and the island of Poros Greece arrives
While I will admit I obsess about plane crashes (as The Scout will attest), I’ve never fretted about ferries sinking and we’ve been on quite a few in recent years. In fairness to my friend’s response though, I thought maybe I’d missed something so I set out to do a bit of research about Greek ferries.

Ferry disasters, like plane crashes, make headlines for the obvious reasons.  Loss of life, the human error or malfunctioning equipment grab the readers’ attention.  And those disasters – thanks to the internet – can live on for decades with the flick of the wrist and a Google search.

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Car/passenger ferry links Poros island with mainland Peloponnese
I had to go back a bit but found two mid-century Greek ferry tragedies. Both took place in 1966; a half century ago (that time span since 1966, in itself, is a startling fact to those of us who are a ‘certain age’).

* The Express Samina, one of the oldest ferries sailing at the time, went down killing 82 of 550 passengers, just two kilometers off the coast of the island of Paros. Reportedly the crew had left the bridge to watch a replay of a goal in an important soccer match on television and the ship hit some rocks.

* The other disaster that year took place near Falkonera island, when the Heraklion sailing between Chania (Crete) to Pireaus (Athen’s port city) capsized in a storm.  Only 46 survived out of 73 crewmembers and 191 passengers.

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Minoan and Anek Lines ferries in Chania, Crete
* In 2014 the Norman Atlantic, a ship owned by an Italian ferry company and flagged in that country, sank as it was sailing from Patras, a port town in the northern Peloponnese en route to Ancona, Italy. The ship had been leased by the Greek line, Anek. It was carrying 422 passengers and 56 crew.  Nine died and 19 went missing.

* In 2016 the ferry Pangia Tinou sank while in port in Pireaus.  It wasn’t in service and no one was on board at the time.

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Heading to Loutro village (white spot on the coastline) from Hora Sfakia
In addition to reports on those incidents, I also came across some interesting statistics:

* There are 164 passenger ferry sailings daily from Piraeus.  That means more than 50,000 sailings a year from that port alone.  If you go back to 1966, the year of the double disasters, and do the math, you find that there have been more than 250,000 sailings from Piraeus alone in the last five decades. 

* In 2000, the UK’s Guardian reported, “According to the Annual Ferry Review produced by research company IRN Services, 50 million passenger trips are made on Greek ferries each year, and between 1994 and 1999 there were no fatalities - an impressive track record for a country which has the biggest ferry fleet in Europe.”

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One of our favorite Greek ferries, Samaria I, southern Crete
We’ve had the opportunity to sail on small ferries like the Samaria I above, which links the communities that dot the southwestern coastline of Crete.  Several times it has transported us between Hora Sfakia and Loutro. Unless you come by private boat this is the only way to reach Loutro – it is not accessible by road.

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The size of cruise ships and nicely appointed - we took the Blue Star above to Piraeus from Crete
We’ve also traveled between Crete and Piraeus as well as Crete and Rhodes on the large cruise-ship sized ferries.  Because the trip to Pireaus, is an overnight sailing we’ve booked cabins and slept comfortably in twin beds, awaking at 6 a.m. in Piraeus.  I wrote comparing the ferry’s interior to that of a cruise ship in this post. Check it for interior photos.

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Arriving Mykonos about the high speed ferry (Cosmote is a telephone company ad) not the ferry name
We’ve also traveled on various types of high speed catamaran-style ferries with interiors that look much like that of an airplane and which significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to go from place to place.
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Car/passenger ferry for short haul runs to the Peloponnese
Any ferry. Any size. Any Greek destination. We wouldn’t hesitate to travel on a Greek ferry.

However, there are three things we’d advise you to keep in mind when planning a ferry trip in Greece:  1) Ferry travel – even for walk on passengers – is not inexpensive. Airline tickets might be cheaper than the ferry tickets. 2) a storm at sea can cause major delays or cancellations of ferries so if you are heading to Athens to catch a flight give yourself some wiggle room when planning your ferry trip because if the weather doesn’t impact it, 3) there just might be a strike by ferry or dock workers.

One of the best sites we’ve found for researching Greek ferry travel is http://www.directferries.co.uk

That’s it from us this week.  We wish you happy travels and smooth sailing ~ And as always a big thanks for stopping by TravelnWrite
 
Linking this week with:
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).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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. . .

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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. . .

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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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