Royal Caribbean’s New Terminal in Galveston

I just returned from the inaugural sailing of Allure of the Seas departing from Royal Caribbean’s new terminal in Galveston . Texas is so excited to get a ship of this size sailing for 7 nights!

Allure of the Seas will be joined by four other Royal Caribbean ships sailing from Galveston in 2023:


Royal Caribbean’s new terminal in Galveston was christened and officially opened on November 9th to accommodate all of these new departures. The new terminal, built by Royal Caribbean for their exclusive use, is state of the art and beautiful. One of the most impressive features is that the terminal is 100% solar powered.



We completed all the steps of the online check in through the app. It was literally 10 minutes from drop off to when we boarded the ship during our designated check in window of 11:00 – 11:30 am. They scanned our set sail pass in the app, checked our passports, we walked through the security screening and then scanned our set sail pass to board. Our room keys were waiting on our cabin door.

Allure is the only ship in the Oasis class that has not been refurbed and amplified. She is showing some minor signs of wear and tear. But you know what? So am I. LOL! Allure of the Seas was built in 2012, so it is time for her to get a little love. She is still an excellent option for anyone looking to sail from Texas.


Getting There

One of the big benefits to sailing from Galveston is that airfare into Houston International (AKA: IAH or George Bush) tends to be more affordable than flights to Ft Lauderdale or Miami, especially around holiday sailings. Houston Hobby is a little bit closer to the pier, but flights tend to be more expensive than into IAH.

The transfer time from the IAH airport to the port is an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on traffic. Royal Caribbean charges $70 round trip per person for transfers. If you are flying in the day before the cruise (which you should), Galveston Express offers transfers for $35 per person each way. You can overnight at an airport hotel or head down to the town of Galveston and enjoy some beach time before your cruise. A quick Uber is the easiest way to get from a Galveston hotel to the terminal for embarkation.

Bon Voyage from Royal Caribbean’s New Terminal in Galveston!

It is awesome to have another port option that can handle the big ships. Make sure to check out Royal Caribbean’s New Terminal in Galveston as an option for your next cruise!

Avalon Waterways River Cruise on the Danube

The Avalon View, Avalon Waterways newest ship

Our Ship: The Avalon View

We planned our Avalon Waterways River Cruise on the Danube for the first week in October to celebrate our 33rd wedding anniversary. We picked this particular ship because it is the newest in Avalon’s fleet and this itinerary was promoted as being an “Active and Discovery” sailing. This meant that they offered multiple touring options in each port to appeal to different interests. In addition to the traditionally included basic city overview tour, they added things like canoeing, biking and hiking for active adventures and discovery options like cooking classes, wine tastings and visiting a Trappist Abbey to sample beers brewed by the monks. We added a few of our own adventures along the way.

PRO TIP: You don’t have to take any of the tours offered by the cruise line. You are free to go off and adventure on your own or even hire a “Tours by Locals” private guide for the day. We saw lots of people on private tours in Budapest.

Daily Newsletters

Here are the daily newsletters from our sailing to give you a good idea of the tour options that were offered on our “Active and Discovery” Avalon Waterways River Cruise on the Danube.

Accommodations


Our cabin was 330, considered a Panorama Suite in Avalon speak. The cabins on deck 2 and 3 are identical, so I am not sure why there is an upcharge for this category to be one deck higher. I would save the money and stay on deck 2. There is some vibration in the rear of the ship when sailing, so mid to forward would be desirable.

Our cabin featured a full sliding door wall that opened to let the outdoors in. It was like a French balcony offered on other river cruise lines but spanned the width of the room. The bed faced the windows which made it the perfect place to relax and enjoy the view. There was also a loveseat and chair with a table, a desk area, plenty of storage space and a wonderful bathroom. We had absolutely no complaints about our accommodations. Here’s a quick tour:

Avalon View Cabin Tour

Food and service

The food was excellent onboard. Avalon Waterways featured local specialties along with traditional options and healthier choices at every meal. Breakfast and Lunch were buffet style but included cooked to order options and stations. Dinner was ala carte. The presentation of all of their dishes was excellent. Beer wine and soft drinks are included with lunch and dinner. They also offered a buffet option for lunch and dinner in the lounge. We enjoyed a grilled lunch up on deck one afternoon while docked in Vienna. Afternoon tea was served daily at 4 pm. The lounge in the rear of the ship always had coffee, tea, juice, and water available, along with a selection of cookies and baked goods. It was very close to our cabin so we took full advantage of the treats. The homemade sugar donuts were amazing. My husband ate 5 one day!


The service of the waiters, bar staff, crew and cruise manager was impeccable. We prepaid our gratuities but did not hesitate to tip additional amounts because the service was that good.

Budapest


We flew from Amsterdam to Budapest in the morning and were transferred to the ship by Avalon. After dropping our luggage off and grabbing a quick bite to eat, we wandered off on our own to explore the city. Budapest is clean, safe and easily walkable. We had done a bit of research ahead of time and knew what we wanted to see during our short time there. Our docking position allowed us to walk along the river to the Buda-Castle Funicular, which we rode up the hillside to visit the palace.

We also toured the church and Tom climbed to the top of the tower. The views from the castle were breathtaking.

We did a little shopping (paprika is a popular souvenir from Budapest and we try to get a Christmas ornament from each place that we visit) and then stopped in the town square to take advantage of the opportunity to increase our luck. After kissing the Blarney Stone on our last trip and then rubbing the horse’s privates in Budapest I may just wind up being the luckiest girl around! These are the stupid things to do that we love to seek out on our adventures.


We returned to the ship in time to set sail around the famous Danube bend. As we were enjoying the scenery, the cruise manager gave a running commentary and shared information about Budapest. When we sailed under one of the bridges, he pointed out that hundreds of students were blocking the traffic in protest of how their teachers at the university were being treated. The captain sounded the horn in support and all the protesters cheered. It was an amazing moment that we will never forget. What we were able to see of Budapest during our short visit was beautiful.

Visegrad

The first stop on our Avalon Waterways River Cruise on the Danube was in the little town of Visegrad. We opted to take the tour hiking up the mountain in Ipoly National Park to visit an ancient castle. The hike was listed as strenuous, and they weren’t kidding. Quite a few people in the group gave up and turned around about halfway up. In the first picture you can see the castle at the top of the hill. You really needed to be in shape and have proper footwear to make it up and back down again. There was a couple in flipflops, and I don’t know how they did it.


Once we got to the top, we decided to break away from the group and have a little adventure of our own. Just 1 kilometer further up the mountain past the castle there is a bobsled park that was a ton of fun. We originally learned about it after researching “things to do in Visegrad” and we found this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjPU6mV7KkU


On the hike down we passed by the tower where Count Dracula was supposedly imprisoned. The weather was a perfect 65 degrees and sunny and it was a wonderful day.

Vienna

Our Avalon Waterways River Cruise on the Danube itinerary featured 2 full days in Vienna, which was perfect. The first day we enjoyed a 3-hour bike tour around the city. Vienna is a busy city and it was a little nerve wracking trying to navigate the traffic with a group of 20 bikers and a guide. There were several times when some of our group got caught by a red light and the guide just kept on going. We saw a lot of the ABC’s…”Another Beautiful Church.” We made a brief stop at a café to enjoy a coffee, water or beer and somehow 2 ladies were left behind, so the guide had to return to find them. It was a great way to see a lot of the city in a short period of time, but was pretty stressful, too.


After returning to the ship for a bite of lunch, we headed off on our own to explore Vienna. Just 4 subway stops from where our ship was docked was Café Central, a don’t miss delight. Originally opened in 1876, they offer an amazing array of Viennese pastries with coffee all set in a breathtakingly elegant surrounding. It was all very Vienna-ish. Don’t let the line outside scare you away. It moves quickly and was definitely worth the wait.


We opted out of the classical music concert tour offered by Avalon Waterways this evening and decided to explore more of Vienna on our own instead. When we took the bike tour earlier in the day, we rode past an Oktoberfest Beer festival that was taking place just outside of the Prater Amusement Park. Both the festival and the amusement park offer free admission. The festival had a huge variety of beers and wines, traditional Austrian food (we had some sort of amazing sausage stuffed with cheese) and several beer halls with live music and dancing. It was great fun.

Vienna at Night

So much fun in Vienna!
Tom and Tom sampling the beer options

Afterward, we boarded the giant Ferris wheel which was erected in 1897 to watch the sunset over Vienna. After purchasing a hand painted Christmas ornament, we walked back to the ship and it was the perfect end to a magical day. You can find out more about the amusement park at praterwein.com


On our second day in Vienna, we started the morning with a 2 ½ mile walk from the ship to Vienna Island and across the bridges. After lunch, I needed to get some work done so my husband ventured out on another crazy adventure. We booked it last minute through the website for Wein Hotrod Tour here: https://www.hotrod-tour-wien.com/homewien/seite124/.

Tom tooling around Vienna


We both loved Vienna.

From this point on, our Avalon Waterways River Cruise on the Danube itinerary made several stops a day for the rest of the cruise. I’ll be honest, some of the small towns and villages are blending together in my memory, but I will do my best to share the highlights.

Krems

Our next stop on our Avalon Waterways river cruise on the Danube was at the pretty little town of Krems, where we enjoyed the “Austrian Wine World Experience” tour. This was actually one of the highlights of the trip for me. We took a short motorcoach ride (maybe 10 minutes away) to the Winzer Krems winery. It was a beautiful place and our Austrian tour guide, Fred was a delight.

He took us into the vineyard and explained the different types of grapes and how the soil, elevation and sunshine determine the sweetness. The winery started as a cooperative between 8 local farmers who joined together to share harvesting and winemaking equipment, but now includes over 250 farmers. We enjoyed tasting 3 different wines and viewed a 4D film about the winemaking process.


I was happy to hear that their most popular varieties (including Riesling, my favorite) are sold at Total Wine in the US, so we can pick up a bottle to enjoy at home anytime.

Grein

We arrived in the evening and went for an after dinner walk into town. Everyplace in town was closed, but we did find a little restaurant open where we met up with another couple from our cruise for a drink.

Avalon offered an early morning walking tour the next morning before we set sail at 9:45am, but I didn’t make it up for that. My husband explored a bit on his own.

Mauthausen

We enjoyed a 3 hour biking excursion that covered over 13 miles of trails along the Danube. The weather was 65 and sunny and the trees were just starting to show their fall colors. We stopped halfway through our ride to visit an organic farm and learn about the Austrian organic farming process. He shared some of his crop with us including organic beet and carrot juice, which was delicious. It was a beautiful ride through the Austrian countryside.

Linz


I am honestly not sure why we stopped in Linz, because everything was closed when we arrived in the evening. It looked like a fun city, but we just went for a walk after dinner and that was all that we saw. We sailed during the night to our next port.

Engelhartszell


This morning we visited the Engelszell Abbey, which was ABC within walking distance of where our ship was docked. This was the only day that we had rain and it was just a slight drizzle. Afterward, we enjoyed a Trappist beer and cheese tasting at the only restaurant in Engelhartszell. There are only 13 Trappist breweries in the world, so it was a real treat to try 3 of the beers created by the monks to sell to the public in order to provide for all of their expenses.



After all of that beer sipping I was sleepy, so I took the afternoon off to relax and get some work done. My husband and some of our new cruise friends hiked up the Daubes Schlogen Oxbow to enjoy some beautiful views of the rivers’ bend. Our adventure guide said it was another difficult hike, so I am glad I opted out this time.

Before dinner we set sail past Passau and enjoyed more commentary from the cruise manager on deck and in the lounges.

Deggendorf


The next morning, we disembarked at 6am in Deggendorf for a private one hour transfer to Munich arranged by Avalon Waterways for our return flight home.


I don’t have a single complaint about our Avalon Waterways Cruise on the Danube onboard the Avalon View. Because it was an “Active and Discovery” itinerary, I think the passengers trended younger (or at least younger at heart) than a normal river cruise. There were no passengers onboard with mobility issues. We really enjoyed the extra tour options that were available as part of the “Active and Discovery” experience. The food was wonderful, the service was excellent, and the ship was spotlessly clean, contemporary and elegant. It was a solid 5 out of 5 star experience.

The beauty of sailing with Avalon Waterways on the Danube


We are already talking about where we would like to go on our next Avalon Waterways River Cruise. After all, I think river cruising is more fun with friends, so I will be putting out some feelers to see if there is any interest in traveling as part of a customized group that includes many of these “Active and Discovery” type of experiences.

Happy to answer any questions you might have!

Sir Adam Hotel in Amsterdam

Have a layover in Amsterdam and wondering where is the coolest trendiest place to stay?  Looking for an amazing pre or post cruise hotel option in Amsterdam?  Well, here it is, the Sir Adam Hotel in Amsterdam.

Not hip or cool 🙂

We visited Amsterdam last year when Covid restrictions were still in place, which included a 5 pm curfew for the entire city.  While we did enjoy a canal cruise that gave us a great overview of the city, we missed out on the nightlife that Amsterdam is famous for.  

We also wanted to visit the Anne Frank House, which we were unable to tour on our last trip.  The Sir Adam Hotel is an easy 20 minute walk from the Anne Frank House and Museum. Pro Tip:  You do need to purchase tickets in advance online.  They go on sale on the first Tuesday of the month prior to your visit and always sell out. You can check availability and purchase tickets here.

We promised ourselves that we would be back to further explore more of what this beautiful city has to offer, so we snuck in an overnight stay on our way to Budapest.

Beautiful Amsterdam

The Sir Adam Hotel in Amsterdam is a quirky little-known property that offers tons of personality and the opportunity to pretend that you are truly hip and cool for the night.  Except I doubt that hip and cool people actually use terms like hip and cool.

It is located just across the river from the Central Train Station and the free ferry docks just outside of the hotel. The Sir Adam is fully themed for the Rockstar lifestyle.  The lobby features a fabulous bar area overlooking the canal.  Each of the 4 elevators are themed, including a disco ball and a karaoke lift.  Here’s more proof of how truly not hip and cool I am…

Sir Adam Hotel in Amsterdam Disco Elevator

The rooms are fantastic and fun. They have a fully stocked mini bar, turntable with a record library and music paraphernalia décor throughout.  The toilet and shower were in separate rooms with the sink in the main room.  We had an amazing view of Amsterdam from the 6th floor.

PRO TIP:  If you are traveling light, you can take the train from the airport to the Central Station (it’s about a 25-minute ride) for approximately 5 Euro.  From there, walk out the back of the train station and board the free 5 minute ferry to the hotel.  We were not traveling light because we sailed on an Avalon Danube River Cruise after our stay. We opted for the ease of a taxi which set us back 90 Euro each way, but did get to ride in a Tesla there and a spotless Mercedes SUV on the way back, so we’ll just chalk that expense up to “pampering ourselves”.

The rooftop of The Sir Adam Hotel features “The Lookout”. It provides amazing views of the city, cocktails, and a crazy swing experience.  I thought it would be a great idea to try the swing.  I’ll let the video show how well that worked out for me:

The Lookout swing at The Sir Adam Hotel in Amsterdam

I am normally not afraid of heights.  I have gone skydiving and bungie jumping before without issue.  But something about the swinging motion really did me in.  It was like we were repeatedly being thrown over the edge of the building.  I needed to regroup with a cold cocktail after that adventure!

We actually called it a night early because the time change was kicking in and we had a morning flight to Budapest. My next post will share the details about our “Active and Discovery Cruise on the Danube with Avalon Waterways”!

LAST PRO TIP:  If you are American and need to connect in Europe, consider Amsterdam over Charles De Galle in Paris.  In Amsterdam, the signage is in English, the people are friendly and speak English and you don’t have to go through security and customs when changing planes.  Even with the increase in travel and crowds, it was still an organized and civilized experience. 

Disclaimer:  We are in our 50’s and totally not hip and cool enough to stay at The Sir Adam Hotel in Amsterdam.  We didn’t let that stop us and neither should you. 

Cork, Ireland in a Day

Norwegian Prima’s next stop after crossing the Atlantic was Cobh (Cork) Ireland.  Since we had to get back to the states for a destination wedding, we cut our cruise short and disembarked in Cobh.  We had a full day to explore the area, because our flight back to Detroit didn’t depart Cork, Ireland until 6 am the next day.  So, we decided to cram as much “luck of the Irish” as we could into a few hours.  I have been to Ireland before, but it was my husbands first visit. 

We hired a private car and driver to pick us up at the ship and take us sightseeing for the day.  We booked our tour with “Tours by Locals” and our driver, Paul, was a real character.  He was an aggressive driver with a passion for the sport of hurling (which is kind of like lacrosse, but full contact).  Because of Paul’s heavy accent I could only understand about half of what he was saying, but the half I understood was laced with F bombs and “friendly banter”.   Paul decided that our day in Ireland should start with Whiskey tasting at Jameson’s for breakfast.  Frankly, I was a little scared of Paul so I wasn’t going to put up much of a fight.  “When in Ireland…”

Jameson Distillery Tour

We left the quant little seaside town of Cobh (where the Titanic sailed it’s first and last voyage from) and drove for 20 minutes to the original Jameson Distillery in Midleton, Ireland.  We paid for a tour of the facility followed by a whiskey tasting.  It was a very interesting and informative tour. For the tasting we did a blind taste test of Jack Daniels, Johnny Walker Red and the Jameson Irish Whiskey, which is triple distilled.  There was no comparison…The Jameson was much smoother. 

My husband Tommy added a deluxe tasting, so he was able to try 4 different premium Jameson pours.  His favorite was the Black Barrel, which had a smoky flavor. It is only available to purchase there at the original distillery. 

Premium Jameson Tasting

There is another Jameson location in Dublin available for tourists to visit, but the Midleton location is the original distillery.  Our tour lasted approximately 1 hour and cost around 20 Euro per person.  It included the tasting at the end plus a Jameson beverage of your choice from the bar.  I opted for Jameson and Ginger Ale.  They also have a nice gift shop and a food truck available for snacks.  It was an interesting and very Irish way to start the day for sure!

Blarney Castle

From there, we headed West to visit Blarney Castle.  Most of the cruise ship tours start the day at Blarney Castle, so we lucked out with our timing and the crowds were manageable.  Paul dropped us at the front gates and showed us where to meet when we were done.  We walked around the grounds a bit and then headed to the castle.  Paul had warned us to expect at least an hour wait, but we were done within a half hour.  Pro Tip: You must be able to walk up and down a steep, uneven stone spiral staircase to get to the roof of the castle where the Blarney Stone is. 

Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give you the gift of gab, so if this blog post is a little long and rambley you will know why!  Lol!  They do clean the stone with disinfectant in between kisses.  They also take a photo that you can purchase but allow you to take your own pictures as well. 

When we came down from the castle there was a bag piper playing which just completed the whole experience perfectly.

From Blarney Castle we headed into downtown Cork to see the sights. We visited an old fort with an amazing rooftop view of the city. We strolled around the English Market which was filled with traditional Irish food stalls, so we sampled some local delicacies for lunch. Paul’s friend owns a handmade confectionary shop where we picked up some candy treats. Paul suggest a quick drink at the Mutton Lane Inn, the oldest pub in Cork, but I was still burping Jameson from breakfast.

Cork International Hotel in Cork, Ireland

At that point I was wiped out (which is what happens when you start your day with Irish Whiskey for breakfast). I was ready for a nap, so Paul dropped us (and our luggage) off at the Cork International Hotel.  It was within walking distance of the airport, but they do offer a complimentary shuttle service as well.  They had a restaurant on site for dinner called The New Yorker Bar, which was just ok.  It was an early bedtime since we had to get up at 3 am to catch our 6 am flight to Amsterdam. We connected from there to Detroit.  We arrived home on time and exhausted from all our adventures.  😊

Norwegian Prima

The Norwegian Prima is the first ship in it’s class and is taking Norwegian Cruise Line to a whole new level of cruising.  I recently set sail on a pre-inaugural adventure from Iceland to Ireland and was able to enjoy many of the exciting new enhancements offered by NCL.  There is tons of information out about the Prima, so I will just focus on sharing my own thoughts and opinions based on 35 years of cruising experience.

First, the facts.  Norwegian Prima is enjoying a few introductory sailings around Europe before crossing over to the states to explore the Caribbean this winter.  She is 142,500 tons and holds 3099 guests based on double occupancy plus 1506 crew.  She is similar in size to the Breakaway class of ships, which are 145,655 gross tons. As a comparison, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships are 226,963 gross tons and carry 5479 passengers. Norwegian Prima’s sister ship, Norwegian Viva, will begin sailing next spring.    

Who should sail Norwegian Prima?

Prima is taking NCL into the premium cruise market.  From the moment we walked onboard, she felt beautiful, contemporary, and elegant…with a whole lot of fun on top.  She is an excellent choice for multigenerational families, offering elegant dining and Broadway shows for the grandparents, Instagramable small plate options with classic rock bars and comedy clubs for the parents and fun fast food with go karts, wet or dry slides and virtual reality for the kids.  This would also be a great option for higher end spring break groups looking for an alternative to all inclusive resorts.  She is truly trying to be all things to all people and offer something for everyone.  

Norwegian Prima Cabins

Our cabin was a standard balcony and it seemed much more spacious than other lines.  For example, the standard balcony cabin on Norwegian Prima is 231 square feet, on Celebrity Apex it is 202 square feet and on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas it is 182 square feet.  You can really feel that extra space, especially in the bathroom.  We were not able to tour the other cabin types onboard.  They do offer the Haven for a luxurious ship within a ship option similar to Celebrities Retreat. We were not able to tour the Haven because it was full of NCL Executives, Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom (and their entourage).

Norwegian Prima Onboard Fun

There are so many activities onboard you may never want to get off in port.  This is one of the areas that really sets Prima apart from their competition. 

First, Prima offers many sun and hot tub areas around the ship, not just one main pool area.  This should help spread the crowd out and hopefully eliminate the chair hogs fighting to find space on sea days.  There are multiple dry and wet slides to enjoy. 

They have a super cool interactive putt putt course called Tee Time.  An entire area, called the Galaxy Pavilion, is filled with virtual reality rides and games.  The Bull’s Eye is pub style electronic darts with cozy little sitting areas.  The Stadium houses a variety of activities to try, including ping pong on round tables, pickle ball, foosball, under table soccer courts and more.  The kids have their own aqua waterpark.  There will be charges onboard to participate in many of the activities.  When I asked the crew members what the fees would be, they simply answered “free for now”.  They also have a casino, of course.

Viva Speedway

The Viva Speedway go kart track is the icing on the cake, offering three levels of racing fun.  The executive panel explained that when designing the go kart area, they did it with the whole family in mind. 

There is a viewing area for non racers to watch all the action. They have a laser gun area where kids can shoot at the karts as they go by to give them a power boost.  Both single and double karts are available to race during different times so that everyone can participate.  When you leave the track, there is a photo spot with 1st, 2nd and 3rd place podiums where you can commemorate your victory.  Lap times are displayed on monitors throughout the area. 

And finally, you can meet up at the Viva Speedway Bar to celebrate the thrill of victory or drown your sorrows after the agony of defeat. 

The fee for go karts is rumored to be around $20 per ride. 

Shows

The main showroom is a state-of-the-art theater that features tiered seating that can retract (like bleachers) to transform the space into a Vegas style nightclub for dancing the night away.  While we were onboard, one of the evenings they hosted “The Price is Right” gameshow which was a ton of fun.  They also had a full Broadway production of Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.  We saw a comedian in the comedy club and enjoyed an awesome classic rock cover band in “Syd Norman’s Pour House”.

Dining

There are so many dining options, I am sure I will forget to mention a few!

The main dining rooms are located aft and named Hudson’s and The Commodore. Both will offer a fixed menu at a set dining time.

The casual buffet is called the Surfside Cafe and Grill and is located on deck 17.

Alternate dining options available for an additional fee include several of their signature eateries, like Cagney’s Steakhouse, Le Bistro French and Food Republic Asian-fusion. New choices are the Mediterranean seafood restaurant Palomar, Hibachi- style at Hasuki, and Nama sushi. The Local Bar and Grill serves classic bar food. The Indulge Food Hall features 11 different eatery options. Orders can be placed from tabletop tablets and delivered to you within minutes.

You will not go hungry on the Norwegian Prima!

Norwegian Prima Pros/Cons

Norwegian Prima is an amazing option in the premium cruise market, particularly for families.  There are lots of positives about the ship. Having said that, there are a few kinks they need to work out.  The main buffet, Surfside Café, is much too small for this size of ship.  We were sailing at about half capacity and there was no place to sit.  They had to open the alternate restaurant next door, Food Republic, for additional seating at both breakfast and lunch. 

There also did not seem to be a good traffic flow throughout the ship.  The layout was confusing, with dead ends and narrow walkways, that caused some areas to become congested with people.  Many of the alternate restaurants appeared to be too small to handle the number of passengers the ship was built to accommodate.  The Improv Comedy Club and Syd Normans were way too small.  Syd Normans was packed skin to skin when we were there, with people lined up in the hallway trying to get in. 

Since this was a cold weather sailing, I hope that the crowds will be better dispersed when they can be outside and on deck. 

Norwegian Prima Pricing

I just did a quick pricing comparison.  I picked each lines newest ship, double occupancy in a balcony cabin sailing for 7 nights to the Caribbean departing January 14 or 15 of 2023 including port charges and taxes.  Here’s how they compared:

Norwegian Prima  $2647.90 per cabin including Free at Sea (open bar, specialty dining credit, wifi and $50 excursion credit)

Celebrity Beyond  $3708.40 per cabin including Always Included (wifi, drinks and tips)

Royal Caribbean Wonder of the Seas  $3886.78 per cabin Cruise only

That’s a lot of fun for a pretty bargain price.  Norwegian Prima is a great option for families looking to have a great cruise experience together on the high seas. Contact our NCL cruise specialists at 248-203-0022 to book your Norwegian Prima cruise today!

Iceland in a Day

We just returned for an amazing adventure sailing from Iceland to Ireland on NCL’s newest ship, the Norwegian Prima!  Our itinerary gave us an overnight in Reykjavik for the first night of the cruise and we were determined to see as much of the Icelandic scenery as we could.

We landed at Iceland’s Keflavik airport in the morning after a red eye flight and enjoyed a mini tour while enroute to the ship, which was docked in the heart of Reykjavik, approximately 45 minutes away.  We passed the Fagradalsfjall volcano on Reykjanes peninsula, which had recently erupted followed by several minor earthquakes in the region.  It was dormant while we were there.

Fagradalsfjall volcano

Sky Lagoon

After getting checked in at our ship, we grabbed our swimsuits and headed over to Sky Lagoon to experience the healing warm waters of their geothermal lagoon.  There were taxis waiting right outside our ship, but taxi’s in general are very difficult to use in Iceland  and normally must be ordered by phone in advance.  You can’t flag them down on the street.  We were lucky on the way back from Sky Lagoon because two other people waiting in front of us were returning to the ship, so we shared a taxi.  It had been almost half an hour since the staff at Sky Lagoon said they had called for their taxi, so plan your time accordingly. 

Sky Lagoon is much closer to where our ship docked than the famous Blue Lagoon. We were also told it is newer and less crowded.  We had a limited amount of time, so we just purchased the Pure Lite Pass upon arrival which allowed access to the public changing rooms and lagoon.  They also offer a Pure Pass which includes the 7 step ritual. It features the lagoon, cold plunge, sauna, cold mist, salt scrub, steam room and then finishes in the lagoon.  You do not need to make reservations in advance, but can do so via their website.

Once we paid for our package, we received rubber bracelets that could be used for charging drinks to our credit card and for locking the lockers.  We used the public men’s and women’s changing rooms and you are required to shower before entering the lagoon.  They had a variety of Icelandic beers and wines (including champagne) available for purchase at the lagoon bar.  They advised us that there was a maximum limit of 3 drinks per person.  Towels to use were also included in all of the packages. They provide plastic bags to put your bathing suit in after your experience.  They also rent bathing suits if you did not bring yours along.  There is a gift shop and café in the main building that you can enjoy before or after your lagoon experience. 

The water temps were around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and air temps were in the upper 50’s, but with a biting wind. 

It was a wonderful relaxing introduction to this Icelandic ritual that we thoroughly enjoyed.  For more information, visit their website at https://www.skylagoon.com/

Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik, Iceland

We took off early the next morning on a 6 ½ hour tour called The Golden Circle. It featured some of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland. 

Thingvellir National Park

Our first stop was at Thingvellir National Park, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is the only place in the world where you can actually stand in between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates.  The ground is full of cracks from the surrounding volcanic activity.  It is what I would imagine walking on the moon would look like. 

Thingvellir National Park in Iceland
American and Eurasian tectonic plates

Geysir

The next stop was Geysir, where we were able to view the steaming explosions every 4-5 minutes.

Iceland Golden Circle Tour Geysir

Gullfoss

Our last stop was at Gullfoss, which is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  Our guide told us the story about the family that owned the land.  They were a farming family that were approached about harnessing the power of the falls to generate electricity.  The farmer refused, saying “I will not sell my friend!” . They continued to pressure the family to allow the river to be dammed, but the farmer’s daughter fought relentlessly to keep the falls intact.  In 1975, the government of Iceland bought the land and made the falls a national monument.  There is a plaque honoring the farmer’s daughter as the first “environmentalist” in Iceland at the base of the falls. 

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

There is a lovely restaurant at Gullfoss with Icelandic beer and wine for purchase along with a very nice gift shop.  One of the don’t miss purchases in Iceland is the flavored salts and this is an excellent place to pick up a variety pack. Note that cash is rarely used in Iceland.

We covered a lot of terrain during our 6 ½ hour sightseeing excursion. We felt like the Golden Circle Tour gave us an excellent overview of the diversity and beauty of Iceland. 

Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas Alaska Cruise

Alaska or Bust…Third Time’s a Charm!

We just returned from an amazing adventure onboard Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas Alaska cruise sailing northbound from Vancouver to Seward.  This trip was almost 4 years in the making, having been cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid.  We sailed with a group of 70 friends, including some first-time cruisers.  For many in the group, this chance to explore Alaska was the trip of a lifetime.

Here’s an overview of our itinerary and suggestions for things to see and do at each port of call.  For the most part, I will let the pictures tell the story of our Alaskan Adventure better than I ever could with words:

Vancouver

The Vancouver Tour Group

We arrived late in the evening the night before our cruise set sail. We overnighted at the Vancouver Airport Marriott.  Hotels in Vancouver are outrageously expensive.  If money is no object, I recommend the Pan Pacific which is located right at the pier in downtown Vancouver.  You can take the elevator to the bottom floor and walk right onto your ship!

Most of our group did a private morning bus tour of Vancouver that we booked with Maple Fun Tours Ltd. It included stops at Stanley Park to learn about the totem poles, QE Park and at the steam clock.  We had some free time to enjoy an adult beverage at the Steamworks Brew Pub (where I had the best coconut mojito EVER). We also purchased wine at BC Liquor Harbour Center, which was right across the street from the pub.  Pro tip: Royal Caribbean allows you to bring 2 bottles of wine per cabin onboard, so we took full advantage of that option.  At the end of the 3 hour tour, they dropped us and our luggage off at the pier to check in for our cruise.  It was a great way to get a taste of all that Vancouver has to offer. 

Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas

We originally planned this Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas Alaska Cruise in 2019 for 2020 and included 2 extra days in Anchorage to visit Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park and view the salmon spawning and the bears feeding.  If you don’t know what I am talking about, check out the live camera here. By the time we finally got around to taking this cruise in 2022, we couldn’t book that part of the trip as a group.  If you aren’t planning to extend your cruise with a land package in Northern Alaska to visit Denali or Talkeetna, I would recommend sailing round trip from Seattle.  Your airfare will be a fraction of the cost and your flights will be much more convenient. Royal also offers much newer ships featuring more onboard amenities (like the Quantum or Ovation of the Seas) out of Seattle.

Having said that, Radiance of the Seas is still a beautiful ship.  She is older and smaller than many ships sailing in Alaska, but features lots of glass for viewing. We enjoyed many of the traditional Royal touches, like the Champagne bar, Schooner lounge, Viking Crown Lounge, formal dining room and covered solarium pool.  It was a nice size for this type of cruise and easy to get around.  We sailed from Rome to Greece on her sister ship, the Jewel of the Seas, so we were very familiar with the layout. 

The food was good and we ate all of our dinners as a group in the main dining room.  Pro tip: Order a couple of the featured pasta dish for the table to try each evening in addition to your entrees. The Windjammer served a decent variety of options for breakfast and lunch.  Note that in the Windjammer the crew no longer serves you (as they did during the pandemic).  It has returned to a self-serve buffet, so “Wash your hands, it’s the right thing to do. It’s easy ’cause you only have two”.

Juneau

After a day at sea, we arrived in Juneau at 1 pm.  Our group enjoyed a private whale watching excursion followed by a brief visit to Mendenhall glacier booked with Juneau Tours and Whale Watch.  After the tour, our bus dropped us off at the Red Dog Saloon for a round of “Duck Fart Shots” and shopping.  We walked back to the ship which was docked at the AJ Pier, which was a very long walk.  Royal Caribbean said it was a 10 minute walk.  Royal Caribbean lied.  Lol!  We all loved Juneau, but the short time in port and inconvenient docking location limited our touring options.  When booking an Alaskan cruise, look for an itinerary that gives you a full day (8 am – 8 pm) in Juneau so that you have time to really see more of what this area has to offer. 

Icy Strait Point

Fishing with Hooked Adventures in Icy Strait Point
View from the tram in Icy Strait Point

The husbands chartered several fishing boats (through Hooked Adventures) and set out in search of some Halibut.  They did catch quite a few and had them processed, frozen and shipped back home.  The wives did not have a tour planned, so we wandered around Icy Straight Point and did some shopping.  We took the $5 shuttle over to Hoonah, but it was a tiny little town with really nothing to see or do.  We walked back (about a mile and a half) because it was a beautiful day and we needed to close our Apple watch exercise circles anyway.  Lol!  We really lucked out with our weather and enjoyed sunshine and record temps in the 80’s several days of our cruise. 

By the time we got back to Icy Strait Point, the boys had returned from their fishing trip, so we all enjoyed some Alaskan king and snow crab legs with cocktails at the Crab House for lunch.  After lunch, we snacked on mini donuts from a stand near the pier and then rode the tram to the top of the mountain to check out the views ($50 per person).  Several people in our group did the zipline from the top earlier in the day and really enjoyed it.  Others in the group booked a bear watching trip and didn’t actually see any bear. There is not much to see and do in Icy Strait Point if you don’t book a shore excursion, so consider booking a tour in advance or just plan on it being a quiet relaxing day.  Find out more about Icy Strait Point here

Sitka

Remember the movie the Proposal with Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds?  That takes place in Sitka. 

We were feeling adventurous and booked a morning kayaking tour through the cruise line.  All the kayaks were doubles.  I have been kayaking a few times here in Michigan, but this was a very different experience.  First, the water was COLD!  Second, I am used to kayaking in a river where the current pushes you along.  This was in an open bay, so we were paddling against the wind half the time and not making much progress.  Third, I thought we would see wildlife, like sea otters and seals and whales and bears and eagles.  We saw none.  Then it started to rain.  So, my fun day of kayaking wasn’t quite as fun as I imagined it would be. Am I glad we did it?  Sure.  Would I do it again?  Nope.

We came back to the ship wet and cold and hungry.  Our original plan was to change, eat and head back out exploring, but since it was still raining we napped instead.  😊

Skagway

Skagway is a fun old gold mining town and the don’t miss thing to do here is to ride the historic Whitepass Railroad, which takes you up into the mountains and away from the touristy part of town. 

During non-covid times, you can take the train one way up into the Yukon, cross over to Canada, and explore even further.  On our last visit to Skagway we rented a car for the day and followed the same Klondike Highway route as the railway, but did it at our own pace.  We visited a wonderful place in the Yukon called “Caribou Crossing” that has a museum, barbecue lunch, panning for gold and dog cart rides with a husky puppy petting area.  We also visited Emerald Lake which was beautiful. 

If you are reading this after Covid restrictions have been lifted, consider doing the train one way and exploring the Yukon with a van ride back.  It will be a day you won’t forget.  Just google Skagway Yukon Tours for a listing of companies that offer something similar.  The only option now is the round trip train because Canada is not allowing Yukon border crossings yet. 

Pictures don’t do the scenery justice.  After the train ride, we explored around town and did a little shopping.  Don’t miss indulging in a “Klondike Doughboy”, which is like an elephant ear (fried dough with cinnamon sugar).  The line was out the door for the Red Onion Saloon, so we missed visiting there, but “the ladies” offer tours of the brothel for $10 and they serve food and drinks in the dining area.    

Hubbard Glacier

My maiden name is Hubbard, so I was excited to finally visit “my glacier”!  The weather was wonderful, but I was surprised and disappointed that the captain stayed so far back from the glacier. 

When we visited Glacier Bay on another cruise line, we sailed slowly right through the blocks of ice floating in the bay. The captain did a 360 degree turn so close to the glacier that we could see and hear it calving.  They had a naturalist onboard pointing out all of the wildlife and explaining global warmings impact on the glaciers.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.

This experience was nothing like that.  If you didn’t know we were sailing by Hubbard glacier you could have missed it completely.  We floated around for about 2 hours and the rest of the day was just a sea day.  I think the captain was nervous because NCL recently hit an iceberg and damaged their ship. For planning purposes, I would book an Alaskan itinerary that offers Glacier Bay over Hubbard Glacier.

Seward to Anchorage

At the end of our Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas Alaska cruise, we planned an all day private sightseeing tour and transfer for our group with a company called Alaska Cruise Transportation.  It was a wonderful way to spend the day before our red eye flights home.  We stopped at Exit glacier, the Wildlife Conservation Center, the Alyeska Tram and Earthquake Park and ended with a private group dinner in Anchorage.  They offer a similar itinerary on an individual basis. 

It really was an amazing Alaskan adventure years in the making, but the memories were worth the wait! I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have or connect you with one of our cruise specialists for assistance in planning your own Alaskan adventure. It should be on everyone’s bucket list!

Like a Virgin (Voyage, that is)

AHOY!  I kicked off 2022 with a 5 night sailing on Virgin Voyages beautiful Scarlet Lady.  This brand-new cruise line is unlike anything else currently sailing the high seas. That could be a good or a bad thing depending on what your expectations are.  Virgin Voyages is not for everyone, and I don’t think they are trying to be.  My husband would have enjoyed the food, but not the overall experience, which was why I was smart and brought my 22-year-old daughter instead.    

Who is the perfect Virgin Voyages sailor?  They are tired of or not interested in the traditional cruise experience and are looking for something funky and different.  They don’t need a cruise director or list of scheduled activities to find their fun.  They are a foody and not afraid to try new things.  They are tech savvy. They are looking for an “adults only spring break” type of vibe.  They are open minded, non-judgmental and just want to have a crazy good time.

Honestly, Virgin Voyages is brand new to the cruise market, so if you want to find things to complain about onboard you absolutely can.  A perfect example would be the lady we overheard at Sailor Services who was going off about how her suite was completely unacceptable, the service was terrible and none of the crew could answer even the most basic of her questions.  She had come to these conclusions less than 2 hours after boarding, so she was really committed to having a horrible cruise experience.  I hope they encouraged her to quickly disembark before we set sail so we could leave all of her negativity at the port and get the party started. 

Let me break down the good, the bad and the fun of our Virgin Voyage cruise experience:

Embarkation/Debarkation

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…Virgin Voyages calls their passengers sailors, so I will too.  We departed from the port of Miami. Virgin Voyages does their pre cruise Covid testing right at the pier, which was free, easy and super convenient.  If you are concerned about testing positive and being denied boarding, you can always pretest at home prior to your cruise. Virgin Voyages doesn’t allow sailors onboard until 2 pm, so there is no need to get to the pier early, even if you are in a suite. 

While you are waiting for your test results, you can log onto the ships WIFI and book your dining, exercise classes, and show reservations through the app.  Pro Tip:  The app is a little finicky.  To get the best results, make sure that all other apps are closed, and your phone is on the ships WIFI in airplane mode.  If you still get the white loading screen, you may have to delete the app and reinstall it.  We arrived at 2 pm and were checked in, tested, ressies booked and onboard within 30 minutes.

They mailed our bracelets/bands and bag tags to us in advance, but many people just picked them up at the pier.  The bands are activated at check in, and all purchases onboard are made with a tap of the band.  You also use it to tap and unlock your cabin.  So super convenient and worked flawlessly. 

Sailor Bracelet

On the other end, disembarkation was also so super easy and convenient.  Virgin Voyages allows their sailors to have a relaxing morning on-board and leave the ship at their leisure any time before 10:30 am.  You can put your bags out the night