Our New Website—www.dreamdestinations.com

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

October is my favorite month of the year.  I was born during this month, I got married to Anne during October and there are good football games being played, so it is only fitting, in my eyes, that we would upgrade our website and get it online in October.  We are very proud of the new site and best of all, it will serve you as a great resource place to help you get inspired for your next vacation.  So, let’s take a closer look at www.dreamdestinations.com.  Our challenge to you is to decide if this is a good, useful website that can benefit you.  We think it is, but you decide.  Please send us your feedback—we would love to hear from you!

How to Evaluate our Website

Since we have challenged you to evaluate our website, it is only right that we provide some criteria to make your assessment.  There are 2 areas that I believe one should use when evaluating a web site.  They are: 1) the Quality of the Information and 2) the Quality of the Website.

Quality of Information can be assessed by answering 5 questions.  They are:

  • Is the information accurate?
  • Who are the authors and what are their credentials?
  • How objective is the source?
  • How current is the information?
  • How extensive is the coverage of information?

Quality of a Website can be evaluated by answering these 5 questions.  They are:

  • How universally accessible is the site?
  • Is the site well designed?
  • Does the site contain high quality content?
  • Are Internet technologies fully utilized?
  • How original/creative is the site?

So based on these criteria, let’s examine our website together.

Overview

Our website is designed to help you have a better trip by providing great information (content) about cruises, European river cruises and European vacations and adventures.  It answers your questions about what travel opportunities exist, the best way to get there and what to see after you arrive.  It educates and inspires and you’ll find it is easy to use.  We have 8 topic headings that make the site easy to navigate and find what you are looking for on our website.  The topic headings are our Homepage, Specials, Blog, Resources, River Cruises, Cruises, Europe and About.  By my count, there are 113 PowerPoints on our website, hundreds of pictures, almost all taken by us, and 82 blogs.  We believe our website has high quality content that is accurate, objective and extensive.

Our Homepage

AmaWaterways Wine Cruise
A picture of Anne & Hank on our Homepage

Our homepage tells you that we specialize in ocean cruises, Europe River cruises and European adventures.  It also informs you that we can help you have a better trip by providing trips that 1) will exceed your expectations, 2) help you make wise choices, 3) eliminate hassles and 4) help you get the best value for your money.  Lofty words, but how do we provide customers with the highest quality, expertly planned leisure travel trips?

How Are We Different than Our Competition?

We provide you 6 reasons to use us.  They are:  Experience, Certification, Knowledge of the Industry, First Hand Knowledge, Membership in Professional Organizations and Ability to Earn Your Trust.  In each of these 6 areas, we spell out what sets apart from other travel consultants.  After reading these 6 reasons, it clearly establishes us as travel experts who apply our knowledge and industry resources to help you get a better trip. 

One thing you will never see on our website—a booking engine.  The reason is simple to us—we need to match you to the right trip and we cannot do that without talking to you and learning exactly what you expect from your trip.  We are not selling travel, we are helping you make memories.  We will get you the best value for your money if you will spend some time us.  The more we can learn about you, the better we can serve you.

How about this for original content—we create our own videos.  This is a unique feature our website—our videos come from PowerPoint presentations that only use our pictures.  There is a new show posted to our site every 2 weeks.

We are also members of the Better Business Bureau, with an A+ rating.

Our Specials Page

35702_Take_5_Email_02
Flash Sale on Norwegian Cruise Lines

This is where we have good travel values.  It may have a flash sale (like today’s (19 October 2017) one day only) or tell you about a good value river cruise (our 2018 Rhine Cruise) or inform you about our upcoming 2019 D Day trip we will escort.  When we find a good value, we add it here.

Our Blog Pages

We try to write a blog every week or so.  The most current posts are in the blog section.  We have written 82 blogs and we have most blogs posted by subject in the blog/archives section so you can quickly find the information you need.  Our blogs are well respected—some of our vendors regularly read them and pass them on to others in the travel industry.

The Resources Pages

IMG_0323
A River Cruise Safety Briefing on AmaWaterways

Every traveler needs tips and information to make their trip easier and safer.  In this section you can get travel tips, river cruise FAQs, learn about safety, learn how to use the trains in Europe learn ways to protect your money and about travel regulations.

Cruises Section

The Disney Wonder
The Disney Wonder ported at Castaway Cay

We cover ocean cruising in the Caribbean, Europe and North America.  The Cruises section covers it all—port destinations, and cruises we have taken in the Caribbean, North America and Europe.  It focuses on ocean cruises only.

River Cruises Section

The AmaPrima
The AmaPrima

Perhaps the highest quality information on this website, is the 2 pages on river cruising.  In my opinion, this section is exceptional—you will not find anywhere on line as in-depth a description of Europe River Cruises.  The Europe River Cruise Comparisons is even better—73 slides about the 8 major lines.  We cite facts but when it is our opinion, we clearly state it is our opinion.

Europe Section

We cover 44 Europe Countries of the European ContinentIt is divided into the 4 regions of Europe and also includes a Little Treasures of Europe section that is not commonly found on websites.  Each of these 5 website pages list our 50 Europe City Destination Guides by region.  These guides are designed to help enjoy your stay and get the most out of your visit.  We will gladly send you any or all of these free guides after you contact us about a future tripThe drop down menu makes it a convenient, easy way to get these pocket-sized city highlight guide.  There are hundreds of photos in these 5 sections, most taken by us during our travels.

About

There are 2 areas here.  First is a list of our certifications and some more detail about us.  The second area is pictures some of the great folks who travel with us—we call it the Dream Destination’ Traveler Hall of Fame.

My Final Thoughts

We have tried to convey information about our specialties and how they can benefit you.  We have also tried to get you to consider, when deciding whether to use us or not, why you should use us.  We feel that you will get the highest quality, expertly planned trip because of our excellent credentials combined with our passion to help you and our attention to detail—it is a true winning formula! 

Did our new website convey this to you?—we certainly hope so! 

Last, but not least, on our new website (www.dreamdestinations.com ), there is an easy way to let us know where you want to travel.  It is called Send Us Your Travel Request.  This short form will start you on the road to a great travel location.  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

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The Benefits of Travel

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

Travel is good.  Not only is it good, there are many studies that prove it has significant health benefits.  For me, however, the biggest benefit is personal growth and learning.  After reading this blog, if it stirs your passion for travel, please go to www.dreamdestinations.com (our new, updated website) and select the Send Us Your Travel Request button—as we say Your Journey Begins Here!  So, let’s examine the benefits of travel together.

Some Facts about Americans and Travel Overseas

According to a study conducted by Hostelworld Global Traveler Report, Americans are about 50% less likely to travel abroad than Europeans.  The report states that 29% of Americans have never left America.  The average American has visited 3 countries; UK residents average 10 countries; Germans 8 countries; and Frenchmen 5 countries.  While it is true it is easy and cheaper to travel if you live in Europe to other countries, it saddens me to know so many Americans are missing learning and experiencing most of our wonderful world.  Far too often, Americans chose Canada, Mexico and somewhere in the Caribbean for their only international visits.  We would hope they would expand to other worldwide locations.  We are here to help you if you are ready to explore to other areas of the world, especially Europe.

I Learned at a Young Age the Benefits of Travel

Landing on Okinawa
Landing on Okinawa 1962

My parents started my lifelong love of travel at an early age.  My Dad loved the outdoors, and we often went camping as a family.  As most of you know, my Dad was a career Army officer. When he was reassigned to Okinawa (I was 12 years old), we visited most of our nation’s national parks on the way to the West Coast of America.  We drove across America to get to a ship that took us to our new home—it sure was a great learning experience to see a lot of America.  But the real lesson was living and traveling in the Far East.  You can read about a rice paddy, but until you see a small plot of land worked by hand by folks living so differently than you do, that you began to understand how complex our world really is.  Yet, you also quickly learn people all over the world are basically the same.  They may look different in their outward appearances, but they have the same wants and needs as you and I do.  Experiencing different ways of life, and connecting with locals, is a far better way to learn about the world than reading about different cultures in a text book.  I was lucky, I was exposed to our unique world at an early age and it quickly changed my life for the better.  To this day, my wanderlust is still strong—thanks Mom & Dad for exposing me to the benefits of travel at an early age!

School Days 1962 1963
School Days 1962 1963–my school photo from Okinawa

The Health Benefits of Traveling

There are several health benefits of traveling.  Here are 4:

It is good for your heart health.  A study of overseas travelers reported that there was a reduced risk of heart attacks in men and women.

Travel enhances your cognitive abilities—it sharpens your mind.  New challenges in a different environment will stimulate your brain.  It is especially true of folks who engage with the local people and their culture.  Just experiencing different languages will improve your communication skills.  Most travelers at least learn a few new words or phrases in a different language and are exposed to new foods, so it is easy to see how travel can sharpen your mind.

You get to relax and disconnect.  Wandering old medieval towns of Europe, sharing an al fresco meal in Rome or Paris—that is my idea of relaxing—a good glass of wine and locally grown, seasonal food!  Most of all, I want to slow down a little and savor life and my surroundings.  I always seem renewed after travel and there is evidence that many folks upon returning from a vacation are in a better mood and more creative.  I know I am.

Your Travel Experiences will Make You a Better Person

You will become more confident.  Change is difficult sometimes but it will help you grow.  When you travel, you become different.  You leave your comfortable, known world and venture into the unknown.  The best part is that the unknown soon becomes familiar and usually awesome.  Good or bad experiences still leave you changed, but I will tell you, most travel is great.  The best part of venturing out is that you gain confidence in yourself.  It is very empowering to know you can handle new experiences. 

You can read about place but until you experience it, you do not really understand it.  Battlefields, Biblical sites, ancient towns, stunning structures, different food markets, and jaw dropping scenery are all different when you visit in person.  Pictures and words are never the same as being there.  It is amazing how many times I have visited a new place and the visit completely changed what I thought the place was like. 

Travel will also quickly teach you how little you know about the world.  Even as a former teacher of World Geography, who thinks he knows a lot about the world, I still have a lot to learn.  Always after every trip I take, it just reinforces that there is so much more to learn and experience.  It always makes me eager for the next adventure!

Travel will make you appreciate your life and the world we live in.  You see some of the wonderful things humans have created.  They have created amazing buildings and structures.  They have found many ways to create good, tasty meals and great beverages and when you try some of them, you will wonder why you hadn’t tried them sooner.  You will be amazed at how they have adapted their lives to their surroundings and environment.  You will see beauty.  These experiences are life changing and you will have been given a true gift—a better understanding of our world and the people who live on our planet.  Travel broadens your horizons.

Travel will provide you experiences that you will never forget.  We have been lucky to have experienced so many, it is hard to select just a few, but I will try. 

  • Imagine the joy of seeing our Granddaughter’s eyes light up on a Disney cruise, dressed up as Elsa—she really was a princess. 
  • Wish you could have joined us savoring excellent wine and food floating on the rivers of Europe in a river cruise boat as castles peer down on us from the cliffs. 

    Marksburg Castle
    Marksburg Castle on the Rhine River Gorge
  • Celebrating the holiday seasons in the many Christmas markets of Europe is always a highlight. 

    Christmas Market
    A typical Christmas Market Stall in Europe
  • Watching a play in London is fun and was made even better riding the Tube (subway) with many folks dressed up as characters from The Rocky Mountain Horror Show. 
  • Drinking beer at a pub in Dublin, Ireland with rugby fans from Ireland and Scotland just prior to their international test match later that day, is really getting down with the locals. 

    Kehoe's Pub
    Kehoe’s Pub, Dublin Ireland
  • Gazing on some of the world’s great art in Paris, London and St. Petersburg helps you understand how creative humans can be. 

    Winged Victory
    Winged Victory
  • Learning to cook a great meal from a celebrity chef in Wales was a bucket list for Anne on her 60th birthday. 

    Anne & Hank
    Anne & Hank at Cooking School in Wales, UK
  • People watching in the many outdoor cafes of Europe can be so entertaining you will sit for hours enjoying the street life of Europe. 
  • Walking in ancient ruins, imaging that we were famous ancients of an era long past, allowed us to bring history to life. 

    Harbor Street Ephesus
    Walking the ancient streets of Ephesus–Anthony & Cleopatra once walked here!
  • Doesn’t this make you want to go—just writing my blog has stirred my desire to get back to Europe soon!

My Final Thoughts

Travel is good!  There are so many benefits of travel that outweigh the minor disadvantages of making travel arrangements (most of which we can easily solve for you), so now is the time to take action!  Please, reach out to us with your travel ideas!  On our new website (www.dreamdestinations.com ), there is an easy way to let us know where you want to travel.  It is called Send Us Your Travel Request.  This short form will start you on the road to a great travel location.  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

High Performing Organizations—AmaWaterways River Cruise Company

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

2 weeks ago I attended a lunch sponsor by the West Point Society of Greater Houston.  The speaker, Col (ret) Tim Kopra, a NASA Space Station Commander, talked about NASA and how so many different people and agencies performed at a high level and how as a group they became better.  It was a great talk and he made very salient points about teams working and training together. 

His talk inspired this blog—my association with high performing units.

I have been directly associated with what I consider high performing organizations at least 3 times in my work life.  So, I’d like to tell about these three organizations and why they were so high performing.  The three organizations are the 2/23 Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord CA; the 2001 Bellevue Wolverine High School Football Team from Bellevue WA; and AmaWaterways River Cruise Company.

Characteristics of a High Performing Unit or Organization

While some may differ on what makes a great organization, I believe there are 6 or 7 characteristics that allow an organization to be a high performing unit.  They are 1) a proper organizational design, 2) sufficient structure to allow all to contribute to the mission, 3) processes in place to maximize the talents of all members of the organization, 4) appropriate use of technology, 5) good leadership, 6) skilled and willing people who want to do their best, and 7) a culture that promotes the organizations values.  In the right environment, an organization who excels in these tasks will outperform other similar organizations.  So, using these factors, let’s learn why these organizations were so high performing.

The 2/23 Infantry Battalion of the 7th Infantry Division (Light) at Fort Ord CA

Anne & Hank at Fort Ord
Anne and Hank at Fort Ord in 1986

Being an ex-military guy, the best infantry unit I was ever assigned to in my 20 year military career was 2/23 Infantry.  I guess it goes without saying there was a strong structure and a well-designed organization of this 560 man unit.  The training was tough, realistic and we quickly became a well-honed unit.  We were experts at using our equipment and weapons.  Over 10 % were Ranger Qualified—this is the most grueling training in the US Army.  The officers (leaders) were demanding yet really cared about the men and their welfare.  The Battalion Commander was a great soldier—he had a vision and could clearly express his vision of what he expected—we call it in military jargon, the Commander’s Intent.  We always understood the Commander’s Intent—there were clear, concise orders that allow us to know what to do in the absence of orders.  But the fundamental difference was how all executed the Commander’s Intent—everyone seem to understand the mission and get the job done right, often with little or no supervision.  It was amazing, from the highest ranking officer to the newest private, all worked at top efficiency, often in worst weather conditions, tough terrain and with little sleep.  We were the Army’s first Light Infantry Battalion in the Light Divisions concept and, for my money, the best.  Seems to me, 2/23 Infantry was the definition of a high performing organization.

The 2001 Bellevue Wolverine High School Football Team from Bellevue WA

bellevue-football-team-2001
Bellevue WA 2001 State Champs Football Team

The 2001 Bellevue Wolverines were the best high school team in the state of Washington in 2001—they won the state championship, were 13-0 and 55 guys who had one mission—win a state championship.  Not only were they undefeated, they beat the defending state championship team twice on the way to winning it all.  The culture of the team was right—there were high expectations, and all wanted to improve, both players and coaches.  But maybe the single biggest factor was how the coaches managed to get the best out of each player—all contributed to our success.  The players had sufficient athletic talent but it was their willingness to do their best and push their limits that really set them apart.  They were no excuses, no finger pointing when things went wrong, they just rose to the new challenge.  These were high character kids—10 years after the won it all, all 55 had graduated from college.  Can you see the 7 characteristics of a high performing organization in this team?—I clearly can!

Coach Schrader
Coach Schrader teaches his defensive players in preparation for the 3A Championship Game in 2001

AmaWaterways

Chef's Table Staff 2016
Chef’s Table Staff 2016 on the AmaDagio
Crew Caroling 2015
Crew Caroling 2015

So now to my favorite river cruise company, AmaWaterways.  This is what river cruising should be–It is just the right blend of great tour options, wonderful food and wine, comfortable staterooms and a staff only too willing to please.  Their ships are rated as the best of all river cruise ships by Berlitz.  It is a company that uses great technology but it never detracts from the vacation.  Almost every serious travel industry writer about river cruising, rates Ama very high—they often agree with our assessment that it is the best value for the price.  This is a family owned company and they strive to treat their guests as valued family.  Since 2009, after our first river cruise with Ama (we have been on 13 and are taking # 14 later this year), we have watched them grow better each year—there is a constant effort to enhance the guest experience. 

The Ama Ice Cream Lady
Homemade Ice Cream is served at Lunch–what a treat!

Clearly, the three owners of the company are hands on, innovative and inspire all of the company members to perform at max levels.  The quality of the vacations they offer, coupled with superb food and wine, served by waiters who become your friends, sets them apart in my opinion.  All the pictures are of the staff–the stars of the cruise who make your vacation special.  Look at the 7 characteristics list again—do you think they meet the mark of a high performing organization?  I wholeheartedly do!

 

2014 Reception
Key Crew of the AmaDagio 2014. In front from left to right Cruise Director Kris, Hotel Manager Andras, and Captain Danny. In the background, bartenders Tomas and Peter.

My Final Thoughts

I think most folks want to be part of a high performing organization.  You can be part of one, if you select AmaWaterways as the company to provide you your river cruise vacation.  Please, reach out to us with your river cruise ideas!  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

What Are Your Dream Destinations?

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We are in the business of turning travel dreams into reality.  It sure is fun dreaming about great vacations but, to be honest, challenging to make reservations for trips.  The challenge is making the right decisions to get you the best value.  Every time we make a reservation for one of the great folks who travel with us, I just wonder why anyone would do it themselves.  So, let’s see how we can help you find your Dream Destinations.

The Dream

Our name says it all—Dream Destinations.  Close your eyes—where do you want to go, what is your must see place or experience—we can get you there.  Every time you see a cool cruise ship or an ad for a river cruise or the iconic sights in a Europe picture, you can’t help but dream a little. 

Eiffel Tower
Paris at Night is one Dream Destination

Our thoughts are very powerful—we all have amazing minds that are in constant motion.  In fact one survey says that 49% of all leisure travelers reported they started researching online after an ad or picture.  (If you are looking for a little inspiration, why not visit our Pinterest page with over 4.500 photos of Dream Destinations—98% taken by us.  Here is the link:  https://www.pinterest.com/visitdd/ ).

While it may be a good idea to do it on your own, we have a better idea—contact us on our web site at www.dreamdestinations.com or by phone 713-397-0188 (Hank) to ask for help.  There are 2 ways we can help you get through the clutter.  First, on our website we have a great tool banner called Send Us Your Travel Request (located towards the bottom left of our home page) and just answer a few questions about what you want to do for your upcoming vacation.  The best part of this is, you do not have to be traveling in the next month or 2 months or maybe you only have ideas now.  We will put your ideas in a Future Travel Plans Data Base and when good opportunities that match your dream trip come from travel vendors, we will let you know.  It saves you a lot of time and hassle. 

The second way we can help you–use our web site to research your travel.  There are 37 PDF PowerPoints about ocean cruises, 8 PDF PowerPoints about river cruises and 51 PDF PowerPoints about traveling to Europe.  That’s right—96 in-depth slideshows to help you learn about great travel.

Our Mission

Being an ex-military guy, the mission has always been of paramount importance to me.  It is what you are going to achieve.  Here is our mission:

Visit Dream Destination’s LLC mission is to provide customers with the highest quality, expertly planned domestic and foreign leisure travel with a focus on cruises, European river Cruises and European vacations for groups and individuals.

So, let’s focus on what this statement means to us.

High Quality Travel

My idea of high quality travel is to allow our clients the opportunity to turn their travel dreams into reality.  There is no real definition of high quality travel that is right for all folks.  It really is a right fit for your trip.  It is our job to discover what great is to you, and advise you, our client, how to get it.  It is a constant process of getting to know you, building trust, adjusting to lifestyle changes—a dynamic process that requires us to contact you often.  The more we know about you, the better job we will do.  Travel dreams can become reality if we get it right. 

Expertly Planned Travel

Expertly planned travel is knowing the destination and the vendors that service that destination.  We need to know the vendor’s advantages and disadvantages.  In short, we must know if they have a good product.  Second, we must be able to clearly communicate these facts to you, our clients. 

On our AmaWaterways Tulip Time Cruise
Anne & Hank with Kristin Karst, Executive Vice President of AmaWaterways–we know our vendors!

Most of you, have a dream trip in mind before you approach us.  Maybe you have read a lot of information on the web or seen an ad or received something in the mail.  The ideas begin—I think this might be a good trip for me—maybe a dream trip to a Dream Destination.  Now, Anne and I have to take those ideas and make it reality.  One way we do this, is to constantly learn and update our knowledge about what products are right for your trips.  We have to know our products better than you do, if we want to provide accurate assessments.  I believe that accurate assessments of vendors or a trip idea, results in expertly planned travel.  The correct match is our goal—we always strive to get you the best experiences and value for your travel.  You can trust us to tell you the truth.

The Power of Experience

We have helped many folks realize their travel dreams in the 21 years we have been in business.  In our mission statement, we focus on cruises, European river Cruises and European vacations for groups and individuals.  We good at it—I believe we are one of the best in the travel industry in our focus areas of travel.

As many of you know, I have been traveling to Europe since 1971.  Anne and I have been going there together since 1989—usually 2-4 times a year.  We have written 50 Europe City Guides.  We have taken 13 Europe River Cruises, led groups on tour in Europe and on river cruises.  We have a great comparison guide about the 8 major river cruise companies that market to the US travelers.  We have taken 25 ocean cruises. 

Picture27
Anne & Hank at the Tuscan Grill on one of our Ocean Cruises

We use our experience to get you the right trip to your Dream Destinations.

My Final Thoughts

What are your Dream Destinations?

Please, reach out to us with your ideas!  Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you!  We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel.  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

Please Donate to the Houston Area American Red Cross

By Hank Schrader

Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey has flooded many parts of Houston.  Many have lost everything they own.  They need our help.  Please text a $10 donation to the Red Cross at HARVEY 90999.  We are going to contribute $500.00.  It would be nice if the blog could raise another $500 or more.  If you have been damaged by the storm, please remember to take care of yourselves.  We are in the process of checking on all our friends and Dream Destinations clients to see if they are OK and if we can help in any way.  Please reach out to us —hschrader@dreamdestinations.com or call 713-397-0188 (Hank).

For those of you in other parts of the country, unless you have personally experienced devastation of this magnitude, I just do not think you can understand the stress this event has had on our whole community.  Like many who did not suffer anything other than the threat of flooding, most of us piled all our belongings up 12 inches or more off the floor and waited 3 days while it rained constantly.  We have been through 3 hurricanes now—Ike, Rita and now Harvey.  The difference this time was in the Houston area the high winds of the first two hit us with huge rains for about 7 or 8 hours and then it was over except the clean-up process.  This time the heavy rains came for 3 days and it is still not over.  We are safe and dry but many thousands are in shelters.  Their lives are shattered.  Right now the immediate need is to help the Red Cross and this is the first step.

The first responders and many volunteers, local and outside the immediate area and other states, have done an amazing job.  Houston roads are generally unpassable.  From hurricane Rita, we learned we could not safely evacuate 2.5 million people.  Most were caught in their cars during the fury of the storm and over 100 died.  In my opinion, an evacuation would have resulted in many more deaths had they tried it this time.  Many volunteers and the local and state and federal agencies have made countless rescues of stranded folks.  It is an effort of resilience—we will slowly recover.  During tragedy, tough choices have to be made.  I think we did the best we could, given the circumstances. 

To help make this blog even more meaningful, I have experienced what it is like to be wet and miserable for about 7 days on end in the military.  In Ranger School, in the swamp phase, we were sometimes in chest deep water, moving with all our gears for hours on end.  Even when the water was only mid-calf height, you were constantly cold, could not really sleep even the couple of hours we might stopped in a patrol base.  I was in Florida in January and it was about 40 -45 degrees at night.  One night, we crossed the Yellow River with a single rope bridge.  Since I was the best swimmer in the patrol, I swam the rope across in my underwear with my rucksack and rifle.  It was so cold.  I properly tied off the rope at my end but when the others at the start of the crossing site did not tighten the rope sufficiently.  As other members started crossing, the rope became too slack and several members need help.  I had to go in and help them to safely get across.  We all were really cold and exhausted and some, including me, were in the early stages of hypothermia.  The situation became so dangerous we had to build fires just to warm us all up.  For the first time in my life, I thought I might die that night. 

So, what is the point of this story?  Just as I faced a dire, possible life threating situation that night, many in Houston have faced this while being evacuated from this horrific flood.  They are scared, cold and totally miserable.  The big difference is, they have probably lost all they own.  Everyone is thankful they have survived but the reality is all they have worked their lives for is suddenly gone.  It will take a long time for them to restore their lives.

Folks, have some empathy for the Houston area.  Please donate the $10—you can afford it.

Thanks—we know the Houston area will recover.  Please help us!

Hank Schrader

How Europe Handles Some of Its Bad History

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

The news today is full of conflicts about some of the more difficult aspects of a country’s bad history.  I thought you might be interested how some European countries handle the history of wars, the inhumane treatments of others and liberation of occupied territory.  This is not designed to be a social commentary but some of the sensible solutions Europeans have found might be ideas that could apply to the United States today.

Berlin– Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews
Memorial to the Murdered Jews

This memorial is close to the Brandenburg gate.  It is also known as the Holocaust Memorial—and it is dedicated to the 6 million Jewish persons who were killed in the Holocaust.  It is big—the site is 4.7 acres of land.  There are 2,711 rectangular slabs.  It is a labyrinth, and when I first went in I didn’t think much of it, but as I got deeper and deeper inside the concrete blocks, it became confusing.  Then there were glimpses of others, and it really gives you a sense of little escape—the only hope is up to the sky. 

Momument to the Murderd Jews
Hank walking in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews–it was confusing & made me uneasy

The design of the memorial may have had just the effect on me as the architect, Peter Eiseman desired.  He stated in the project text, that the blocks were designed to “produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason”.  Others point out that the blocks evoke a feeling of unmarked graves. 

There is plenty of controversy about this monument.  Critics decry the kids disrespectfully playing on blocks, feel it is too abstract, it is only for Jews (other memorials have now been created), criticize the visitor center, and some do not like the ant-graffiti covering on the blocks.  It is notable that some Nazi bunkers uncovered during construction were reburied—the ugly past that could rally hate groups are removed.  Yet, though all this, it is moving and made me feel very uneasy.  Please consider visiting it yourself and let the abstract nature of the memorial allow you to make your own judgement on this site.

 

Cemeteries

American Cemetery Luxembourg
American Cemetery Luxembourg Photo Anne Schrader

In 1898, while still in the Army, I visited the American Cemetery near Luxembourg.  It is the final resting place where 5,076 service members lie, many of whom lost their lives in the Battle of the Bulge and in the advance to the Rhine River.  The cemetery was established on December 29, 1944 by the 609th Quartermaster Company of the U.S. Third Army.  The cemetery was needed to bury the dead during the Ardennes Offensive (better known as the Battle of the Bulge), one of the critical battles of World War II.  The city of Luxembourg served as headquarters for Lt. General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army.  General Patton is buried here, although he died later during the occupation of Germany in a car accident.  My dad was part of the 3rd Army, the Battalion Executive Officer of an Engineer Battalion, and survived the conflict.  I’m sure this made this even more special a place to visit for me—it well could have been my dad buried here.  What struck me while visiting this site was the dignity of the exact rows and crosses, and how many died at such a young age.  I must admit, there were tears streaming down my face—the sacrifice of these men gave me the freedom to choose to follow my father’s footsteps.  To say the least, it is a moving place.

American Cemetery 2
American Cemetery in Normandy with French and American flags

The D Day beaches area are the best World War II  sites in Europe and a great tribute to the soldiers who fought for freedom, but the American Cemetery here makes you realize how many had to die to achieve victory.  9.387 are buried here.  It is right above Omaha Beach—over 3,000 Americans killed right in front of the cemetery.  For the 70th anniversary of D Day, we led a group that attended a special memorial service in the cemetery.  It was quite well done.  Again, dignified—the French and American flags precisely placed at each gravesite showed me the French will never forget these men and their courage.  On one memorial wall, there was a quote from Sgt. John B. Elierly, which really resonated with me.  He said “You can manufacture weapons and purchase ammunition, but you can’t buy valor and you can’t pull heroes off an assembly line.”  So true—the valor and heroes here, I hope, will be remembered for all time.

Valor Quote
D Day Valor Quote at the American Cemetery Normandy France

Reminders of the Balkans in 1995

Vukovar Memorial
Vukovar Memorial

In Vukovar, Croatia, there is a memorial in a cemetery that speaks to some of the atrocities of that war.  In 1991, during the Croatian War of Independence, several hundred prisoners were massacred and buried in mass graves.  It was the worst mass killing since World War II.  After the war was over in 1995, 938 were exhumed and reburied in the Vukovar Memorial Cemetery.  The memorial, with its eternal flame commemorates the victims of the Battle of Vukovar.

Communists

Painting in Tito's Villa
Painting in Tito’s Villa Photo Anne Schrader

With all the statues and paintings left over from communist rule of Eastern Europe, many European countries have developed sensible ways to recognize the past but not glorify it.  In Slovenia, in Tito’s private Villa in Lake Bled, the huge paintings of the masses so common to communist rule still are displayed in the concert hall—it gives one a sense of the message of the goals of the communist regime in the former Yugoslavia.   These murals depict the the Yugoslav struggle during World War II.  It now is a hotel.

1938
Another Painting in Tito’s Villa Photo Anne Schrader
Palace of the Parliment
Palace of the Parliament, Bucharest, Romania

In Bucharest, Romania, you can tour the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (the US Pentagon is the largest).  It is 12 stories high (actually there are 20 stories but 8 are underground) and has 3, 100 rooms.  Built on the orders of Romanian dictator Nicolai Ceausescu, it was supposed to show the wealth and power of Romania.  This despised leader ran the country for his benefit and many in Romania wanted the huge building torn down after he was overthrown and executed in 1989.  It has survived, now houses the legislative branch of the Romania government and can be toured.  It is 70% empty today and is a legacy of excess and greed of the communist era in Romania.

Many countries, such as Hungry, have moved all the statues of the communist era into parks.  This seems a good solution—it still recognizes the past but it is at a more appropriate location.  There are also a museum of terror, in Budapest, to remind folks of the ways communists tried to control the masses.

 My Final Thoughts

As you can see, there is much more than these brief thoughts to figure out how to deal with the past history that oppressed the populace through war or took freedoms or the lives of dissidents.  Also, there must be a way to recognize those who died in the effort to oppress evil men or political systems.  For me, the most important part is that Europeans have made the best of bad situations and respectfully deal with their history.  These sights are not for all.  Yet, for me, it is a reminder that we must learn from the past and try to replicate the good and never let the bad happen again.  Whatever you interest in Europe is, we are here to help you get the best possible Europe trip based on what is important to you!  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

River Cruise Vibes

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

I have wanted to write this blog for a long time. Since 2009, I have studied Europe River cruising to try and learn all I could about the river cruise industry. A few industry experts have tried to make comprehensive comparisons of the different lines. Each has a slightly different approach. We have taken a unique approach by creating a PowerPoint presentation. Our 73 slide 2016 Comparison Guide is very good but even that lacks one factor—the vibe of the line and its ships. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines vibe as “the feeling that someone or something gives you.” So, here goes—my evaluation of the vibe or feeling you will get on 8 river cruise lines.
The Starting Point–Our 2016 River Cruise Company Comparisons
This is so complex a subject that only a complete comparisons like our 73 slide 2016 River Cruise Company Comparison Guide adequately address the many questions travelers often have about the differences between river cruise lines (there are 17 comparisons charts in the presentation). HERE IS THE LINK TO OUR GUIDE. Once you know about the offerings of each line, now it is time to learn about their vibe.
Disclaimer
We have sailed on 14 Europe River cruises. We have been on 3 different lines—AmaWaterways, Scenic and Emerald. We have sent guests on AmaWaterways (lots), Scenic, Uniworld and Viking. I hold specialty certifications from 5 river cruise lines, have attended over 30 in person seminars or webinars and read everything I could on Europe River cruising. There are a lot of facts behind these opinions, but some is just personal opinion. I challenge you to be the critical thinker and judge my opinions based on what is important to you for your vacations. As always, let us know what you think—we love to hear from you!
River Cruise Overview
Usually the first question we are asked about river cruises is “What line is best?” Our answer: They all are good, but there are some big differences between companies. Most folks have heard of Viking, since they advertise heavily and have 50% of all the river cruise vessels on Europe’s rivers. The other lines may not be as well-known, but offer great vacations.
What are the 8 companies we are going to examine? They are (in alphabetical order): AmaWaterways, Avalon Waterways, Crystal, Emerald, Scenic, Tauck River Cruises, Uniworld and Viking. There are no industry standards to rate the river cruise lines and it is important to understand that some ratings are only personal opinion. Every major river cruise line has won some sort of award from a travel industry group, or by reader poll, so that is not the best criteria to use to judge a river cruise line. In all my research and experiences, I have never read a comparison on the vibe of each line.
My Personal Best Line List by Category
Here is a brief summary of my thoughts about matching your personal priorities to a specific river cruise line:
Best Overall—AmaWaterways, Scenic
Best Food & Wine—AmaWaterways, Scenic
Best Shore Excursions—Tauck, AmaWaterways
Best Resolution of Problems—Tauck, AmaWaterways
Best Minimalist Cruise—Avalon, Viking
Best Cabins Views—Avalon, AmaWaterways (dual balconies)
Best Unique Cabins—Uniworld
Best Low Cost Cruise—Emerald, Viking (although you may have to pay full fare earlier than others)
Best All Inclusive— Scenic, Tauck, Uniworld, Crystal
Best Ship Design—AmaWaterways, Viking
The Vibes of 8 River Cruise Lines
AmaWaterways

AmaWaterways Crew
AmaWaterways Crew singing Christmas Carols on one of our cruises

AmaWaterways is by far our favorite river cruise line of these eight lines. To us, we feel like we belong—the vibe is you are part of the family and they want you back. For us, AmaWaterways is the Goldilocks of Europe River Cruising. It is just the right blend of great tour options, wonderful food and wine, comfortable staterooms and a staff only too willing to please. Almost every serious travel industry writer about river cruising rates Ama very high—they often agree with our assessment that it is the best value for the price. While not all inclusive, it is almost so—in 2018 you can get a free happy hour drink before diner—a nice plus. They have awesome cuisine–for a foodie or wine lover, this is a great choice, especially the wine cruises. While others tout their included gratuities, we think it makes the staff just a little bit more attentive. The other thing is that all are equal on AmaWaterways, regardless of what you pay for the cruise—that is not true on several other all-inclusive river cruise lines. A couple of great examples of this is the Chef’s Table Specialty Restaurant—it’s included, as are the Limited Addition Tours. We just can’t say enough about the staff—on our last two trips, we have bought pizza for the crew in appreciation of how hard they work and how well they take care of us (the second time, our traveling companions, the Thomas, split the pizza party cost—we are not the only ones who appreciate the care we received!). The other factor is the consistency—it will be great vacation or they will fix it—we have seen a unbelievable response to a high water situation on the Rhone that doubled the trip, changed all tours and they pulled it off like it was no big deal. Their partnership with Adventures with Disney and Backroads bicycles is another plus. And, last but not least, they are willing to go head to head with Crystal with a new wide ship in 2019. The AmaMagna, will be the widest ship on the Danube, but offer similar space and facilities as the Crystal Mozart. The best thing about Ama just may be they are constantly improving but have not lost any of the features that make them best in our opinion.

AmaCerto Stateroom
Our Stateroom on the AmaCerto

Avalon
Avalon’s vibe, to me, is summed up in its slogan—“a different point of view.” First, Avalon tries to define itself by the staterooms. They emphasize the bed placement facing towards the balcony on the top two floors of their “Space Ships.” The floor to ceiling window of the stateroom is known as an “open air balcony.” Second, Avalon also emphasizes what they call the “luxury of choice.” This means many extras cost more but it allows the traveler to select what is important to them. Avalon was the last cruise line of these 8 to add free beer and wine at lunch and dinner—they seem slower to adapt to the changing river cruise world to me. But, at least they are making some changes. A new feature is “Avalon Fresh.” Avalon Fresh is locally sourced vegetarian cuisine. The additional dishes are the creation of Austrian chefs and brothers Karl and Leo Wrenkh. These chefs are emphasizing fun and tasty food that is both fresh and healthy. These new dishes will be added to the regular entrees for the evening meal and will be featured on the menu with a special Avalon Fresh logo.
Crystal
Crystal’s vibe, to me, is that they are trying to bring their famous luxury ocean cruise brand to river cruising. Crystal Cruises’ affluent, multi-generational guests appreciate the renowned Crystal Experience distinguished by classic service, abundant space, fine quality, and extensive choices. Crystal is the only ultra-luxury ocean cruise line that has entered the river cruise market. They started with one big ship, redesigned the entire ship, so that the guests could experience the Crystal lifestyle. Every stateroom has a butler. On each sailing, every guest will get to go to a Michelin Stared restaurant on land. It should be noted, however, guests do not have a choice of the several restaurants used during the cruise (it is limited to a small number of guests to make the experience more intimate but there is a fixed menu—if you don’t like pigeon, for instance, as one reviewer wrote, not such a great meal). They are slowly adding 4 more ships, smaller in size but all balcony cabins, which can go through the locks and canals of Europe. For a luxury line, there are a lot of extras on Crystal to spend your money on, such as helicopter rides, speed launches, private tours, and even an extra charge for exclusive dining. My take on the vibe of Crystal is that the ship and Crystal experience are more important than the sights, but many influential industry writers have selected Crystal as the best Europe river cruise line. With only one ship in service all of 2017 and a new one just christened this week, I just think it is too soon to declare it best, but if Crystal Ocean cruises are your favorite, Crystal seems to been able to replicate most of their luxury features on Europe’s Rivers.
Emerald

Pool Watermarked
Emerald Sun Pool with retractable roof that converts into an evening cinema

We liked Emerald a lot—they compete very favorably with Viking. The vibe was contemporary but a solid value—the owner likes to call it a four star experience on a five star ship. It does have that vibe, not first class, but fun, well thought out, and a solid value—who could not like a glass enclosed swimming pool for daytime use that converts to a movie theater at night (it even has the popcorn!)? The Emerald Waterways line includes complimentary beverages at lunch and dinner; all on board meals; balcony cabins on the upper 2 decks; bikes (without electronic assisted feature); and complimentary Wi-Fi. As with most river cruise lines, there are included tours in every sailing. They also have an EmeraldPLUS no addition cost tours to enhance the standard offerings. There are also Discover More tour options that cost extra and require a minimum number of passengers. Gratuities are included in the basic cruise fare. Their long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 182 passengers.

Lounge Watermarked
Lounge on the Emerald Sun

Scenic

Scenic Opal Buffet
Sea Food Buffet on the Scenic Opal Lobster Therimdor Station

The vibe at Scenic is an emphasis on all-inclusive, no extra costs, in a first class, modern rivership with an Aussie flair. Scenic is an Australian tour company (founded in 1986 by Glen Moroney) that started Europe River cruising in 2008. They have 2 brands—Scenic (an all-inclusive luxury line) and Emerald Waterways (their deluxe river cruise line). The Scenic line features your own butler (services vary by stateroom category); complimentary beverages all day, every day; six dining options; the Tailormade GPS device for individual exploration; balcony suites on the 2 upper decks; electronically assisted bikes; complimentary Wi-Fi; laundry and airport transfers. There are no extra charges for tours or gratuities but massages and the hairdresser are extra charges. Their long ships (135 meters or 443 feet) carry 167 passengers.
Scenic has a lot to offer—it is all-inclusive—and really delivers. On Scenic, the butler service increases in relation with cabin category selected. For example, the Diamond category guests on Deck 3 have better butler services, and a unique dining experience (unfortunately in the same main dining room as the other guests). During our cruise, sometimes the offerings were just exceptional—the seafood buffet for lunch one day, the Portobellos restaurant experience, the sundowner party (an off ship party) and the concert at a palace were outstanding. Yet on other days, it was just so-so. I have also read that there have been some other problems on a cruise during a high water situation. I think they achieve their vibe–it is exclusive, and contemporary with an Aussie flair, but some people are more exclusive than others. It still is our number 2 best line, and our favorite in the all-inclusive category.

IMG_9620
Our Stateroom Bed

Tauck
This all-inclusive line strives for a relaxed elegance vibe. Many praise the Tauck tours—there are 3 US full time guides on board—and they offer many exclusive tour experiences. They use older, leased riverships, some of which are being upgraded to larger cabins. Tauck generally carries few passengers, has a great reputation among all exclusive lines, but others have been disappointed in this line. Some rate it as the second best river cruise line, tout their conflict resolution and tours but it only gets average ratings on food and wine by others. Tauck has an interesting arrangement for their riverships—they handle all the tours and another company, handles all on board operations, such as food and beverage, hotel and operating the rivership.
Uniworld
The vibe of Uniworld, for me, is change. The opulent, individual staterooms of Uniworld, along with unique ship décor, have long been their defining feature. The all-inclusive nature of Uniworld has also been a good draw in the US market. There does seem to be a movement away from the more structured aspects of river cruising for the company. For example, on their newest ship, the S.S. Joie de Vivre (it sails the Seine River in France), there is a more relaxed evening dining schedule and more flexibility on start times in tours. But, the biggest change to Uniworld, will be the 2018 addition of U by Uniworld–they are converting 2 riverships to their newest brand. Uniworld is using words like “social, relaxed, fun, connected, scenic, and enriching” to describe the new brand. Gone will be the opulent interiors on some of their redesigned riverships, there will be DJ’s, more emphasis on night life—even bean bag chairs and hammocks on the top deck. To keep a lower price point, the ship will offer only 2 meals each day. The idea is to appeal to the younger generation (21-40). The travel community is split on this concept—some praise it, others predict it will be a bust. For me, the vibe is change—is the more structured, refined cruise line of the past morphing into a more upbeat and contemporary line, or is it a dual line with two distinct products? I’m not sure, but one thing is certain—change is in the wind for Uniworld.
Viking
The vibe of Viking is a solid value but no frills—the destination is the important thing and they will offer you a comfortable way to see Europe and upgrades will cost you extra. It is another line with a change in emphasis. At one time a few years ago, they were placing as many as 12 new long ships on Europe’s Rivers a year. The pace has slowed to just 2 this year. But, maybe the biggest change, is the wildly successful ocean cruise launch—it really is just all the wonderful features and inclusions of river cruising on their 3 ocean going ships. Viking Ocean Cruises has a real winner in that market. By far, they are the most prolific Europe River Cruise line– Viking, has about 50% of all the riverships on Europe’s Rivers. It is a Nordic brand—Scandinavian design features on their signature long ships that hold 190 passengers—the most of any river cruise line in Europe. No frills here—no bikes, no hot tubs, no pools, same two wines all week on the cruise and only one tour per day included. Still, they offer a good product at a reasonable price, but sometimes it requires complete payment for the cruise as much as one year in advance to get the best deals. Some writers have stated perhaps Viking River Cruises has grown too fast, and perhaps, the emphasis on ocean cruising has taken some of the luster off their river cruise operations. I’m not sure if it has grown too fast, or now it is emphasizing their ocean division, but Viking will keep operating the most riverships in Europe for quite some time in the future and many will sail with them.
Our Final Thoughts
As you can see, there is much more than these brief thoughts to select the right cruise line for your vacation. For me, the most important criteria to determine which cruise line to use is that the river route and what you want to see is available on the cruises lines you are considering. Once the right route is selected, then it is time to choose which cruise lines matches your priorities. But never worry—we are here to help you get the best possible river cruises based on what is important to you! Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
• AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
• Viking River Cruise Specialist
• Scenic River Cruise Specialist
• Emerald Waterways Specialist
• Avalon Waterways Specialist
• Brit Agent

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Belfast, Northern Ireland

 

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We just returned from a visit to Ireland on the Azamara Journey.  This 13 day British Isle cruise was a wonderful trip. We had never visited Belfast, Northern Ireland.    So, I thought you might like to see our photos from this recent trip to Northern Ireland.

Ireland Facts

Ireland is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth.  To its east is the island of Great Britain, from which it is separated by the Irish Sea.  In 1921 Ireland gained partial independence.  It was ruled by the English until 1949 when 26 counties formed the Republic of Ireland and 6 Northern counties became Northern Ireland.  It became a member of the EU in 1973.

Northern Ireland

The history of Northern Ireland is influenced by Protestant settlers from Scotland and England and the rest of the Irish island of Catholic Ireland.  The Protestant majority in Northern Ireland decided to remain aligned with Great Britain in 1921 when the 26 counties in the south became the Irish Free State.  It is often referred to as Ulster, the name it was called prior to separating from the rest of Ireland.  The country is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

Belfast

Belfast is the capital city of Northern Ireland and about 1/3 of the population of Northern Ireland lives in the city.  The main river of this city is the Lagan River and provides good access to the sea.  The close access to the sea has resulted in Belfast developing a robust shipbuilding industry.  The Industrial Revolution brought rapid growth to Belfast and the city has some fine buildings influenced by the architecture of the Victorian age.  The city center is an easy area to explore on foot.  Here are the main sights of Belfast from our guide (we have developed 50 city guides of Europe and are happy to send you any for free).

Belfast Highlights

In the City Center Area, here are some great sights

Albert Clock Tower

Located in Queen’s Square, this 113 foot tower is a memorial to Queen Victoria’s late Prince Consort, Prince Albert.  The tower leans 4 feet from perpendicular, and as a result is known locally as “the leaning tower of Belfast.” Another local description is “wee Ben”, as it looks similar to the Big Ben bell tower in London.  A spectacular view of Belfast’s shipyards awaits visitors who climb the tower at the end of High Street, where the tower is located. 

Albert Tower
Albert Tower, Belfast Ireland
Big Ben
Big Ben, London–it sure looks similar to the Albert Clock Tower

The Big Fish

This 32 foot salmon was created by John Kindress in 1999.  Its purpose was to celebrate the regeneration of the River Lagan.  The scales of the fish are ceramic tiles.  These tiles tell the history of Belfast.

Picture10
The Big Fish

Belfast City Hall

The interior of this classical Renaissance-style building, built of Italian marble in 1906, can be toured on certain days.  On the grounds are monuments to the Titanic and its passengers and to the first US military forces to land in Europe in 1942.

Picture9
City Hall, Belfast
Titanic Memorial
Titanic Memorial Belfast, Northern Ireland

Victoria Square

Victoria Square is Belfast’s number one shopping destination.  It is topped with a glass dome and has an excellent observation area to get views of Belfast.  Outside one of the entrances is the splendid Jaffe Fountain.  Here are some photos:

Victoria Square, Belfast
Glass Dome of Victoria Square, Belfast Ireland
Jafee Fountain
Jaffe Fountain

Crown Liquor Saloon

One of the most beautiful and famous bars in the world, the Crown was constructed in the 19th century by Italian artisans.  The result is a rich Baroque interior of stained glass windows, ornamental woodwork, colored tiles, private dining areas, Corinthian columns and an altar-like bar with heated footrests.

 

Crown Saloon
Crown Saloon
Crown Saloon
Interior Crown Saloon

Here are a few more photos of Belfast:Picture3:

Picture2

Picture1

In the Queen’s Quarter, here are some highlights:

Botanical Gardens

There are lovely areas of flowers and greenery surround the magnificent Palm House, a 150 year old iron and glass structure that is the oldest greenhouse in the world.

Queen’s University

Constructed in the 1840s, the handsome university buildings were inspired by the architecture the Oxford and features fine stonework.

Ulster Museum

The city’s major museum has excellent collections of prehistoric and Gaelic artifacts, 19th and 20th century art, and treasures from a Spanish ship that sank off the Antrim coast in 1588.

Outside the city, here are some interesting sights:

Belfast Castle

Interior tours of this 19th century castle are by reservation only, the gardens are open daily.  Here is a long distance photo:

Picture4

Carrickferges Castle

Located 12 miles north of Belfast, this is the country’s largest and best preserved Norman castle.  With its 13th century gatehouse, massive keep with wall 8 ft. thick and vaulted Great Hall, the castle makes an great setting for medieval banquets for visitors.

Ulster Folk and Transport Museum

Located 7 miles east of Belfast, the museum’s highlight is its renowned collection of Titanic memorabilia, including photographs and accounts of survivors.  Other exhibits include a re-created Ulster town from the early 1900s.

Our Final Thoughts

Hope you liked the pictures!  For us, learning about Europe and its culture and history makes us want to go back again and again.  You might be inspired to see sights you never knew existed.  Why not let us plan a trip to Ireland, to include a visit to Northern Ireland or some other great Europe country for you?  Please reach out to us by sending me an email at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com or better yet, call me at 713-397-0188.  We want to be your trusted travel advisors.  We want to help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

 

Ireland

 

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

We visited Ireland in 2010 for the first time and as you read this, we will have completed our second visit.  We will see Dublin, Cork and Belfast, Northern Ireland.  We loved it the first time and I’m sure we will be very glad to return—it’s been too long!  So, I thought you might like to see our photos from the Pinterest page about out last week long trip to Ireland.

 

Ireland Facts

Ireland is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth.  To its east is the island of Great Britain, from which it is separated by the Irish Sea.  It was ruled by the English until 1949 when 26 counties formed the Republic of Ireland and 6 Northern counties became Northern Ireland.  It became a member of the EU in 1973.

Dublin

Dublin is the capital city of the Republic of Ireland.  Here are our photos of Dublin:

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Ireland.  The legend is that the cathedral is near where St. Patrick baptized pagans into Christians.  It is the largest church in Ireland.

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Detail on St. Patrick’s Cathedral Dublin Ireland

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The Guinness statue grave site on the grounds of St. Patrick’s Church, Dublin Ireland.  Sir Guinness founded the Guinness brewery in 1759.  He became the wealthiest man in Ireland.  A lot of Irish folks think that Guinness is the best thing every created in Ireland.

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The Guinness Brewery

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Kohoe’s Pub, Dublin, Ireland

 

What a surprise—Anne and Hank found a great pub.  It was even better—Ireland was playing Scotland in the 6 Nations Rugby Test Matches and most fans were getting ready for the game with a couple of Pints.  Before the match, it was shoulder to shoulder, with all decked out in Scottish kilts, or rugby jerseys —what a blast!  By the way, Ireland won decisively!  So the above picture is Kehoe’s Pub in the temple bar area Dublin, Ireland.

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Beautiful Door Dublin Ireland. This door is in Merton Square.

Sligo

One of the great festivals of all time is to get to see, or better yet, march in a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland.  We got the chance in Silgo.  Here are the photos:

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Anne (dressed as Jessie—she made her costume) & Hank (dressed as Buz Lightyear) just prior to marching in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Sligo Ireland 2010.

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What smart Irish parade marchers do right after the finish of the St Patrick Day’s Parade–they have a pint or two! Sligo Ireland

Mount Falcon

Almost anyone would like to visit and stay in a true country manor.  We got the chance at Mount Falcon. 

Here is a good photo:

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Mount Falcon County Mayo Ireland.  The castle was commissioned by Ultred Knox who decided his new bride was so special she deserved to live in a “castle” so he built her one!  The result is Mount Falcon.

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Mount Falcon County Mayo Ireland. This former country estate of the Knox family is now a luxury 4 star resort.

Céide Fields

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Céide Fields Ireland.  It is an archaeological site on the north County Mayo coast in the west of the Republic of Ireland, about 8 kilometers northwest of Ballycastle.  The site is said to be the most extensive Neolithic site in the world.  It contains the oldest known farming field systems in the world.  Using various dating methods, it was discovered that the creation and development of the Céide Fields goes back some five and a half thousand years.

The Cliffs of Mayo

Some of the most dramatic cliffs in the world are in County Mayo.  Here are our photos:

 

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The cliffs of County Mayo Ireland.

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Picture of County Mayo cliffs in Céide Fields display Ireland

Our Final Thoughts

Hope you liked the pictures!  For us, learning about Europe and its culture and history makes us want to go back again and again.  You might be inspired to see sights you never knew existed.  Why not let us plan a trip to Ireland or some other great Europe country for you?  Please reach out to us by sending me an email at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com or better yet, call me at 713-397-0188.  We want to be your trusted travel advisors.  We want to help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent

 

 

Hank’s Geography Quiz # 2

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert

I am a former high school world geography and AP human geography teacher. Ok, class is in session–Good Luck!

1)      One famous square in London commemorates a famous naval battle in which the English defeated the combined French & Spanish Fleets in 1805. The hero of that battle was an admiral named Lord Nelson and he stands tall above the square on a column. What is the name of the square (it is also the name of the cape in southwest Spain where the naval battle took place)?  Maybe this picture will help.

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This is Nelson’s Warship HMS Victory from the famous battle.  Anne took this picture

2)      What two European Countries claim to be the originator of French Fries?  Perhaps this photo will help you identify one of these countries.  What are French Fries known as in the United Kingdom and Ireland?

Another great Anne photo!

3)      Europe is a continent of peninsulas (a peninsula has water on 3 sides)–it has 5 major peninsulas. Only one of these 5 is occupied by one country. Can you name the country that occupies this peninsula? (Hint-the name of the country is also the name of the peninsula)  Sadly, no photo here—it would give it away.

4)      One of the really scenic places of Europe is Lake Bled in Slovenia. Part of this beauty is the rugged mountain range near the lake. What is the name of this mountain range (hint-the answer is two words).  Here is your photo to help:

5)      One of the most renowned train rides of the world starts in Paris and ends in Istanbul. What is this train ride most commonly known as? (Hint-Agatha Christie wrote a famous story about this train ride for her Belgium detective, Hercule Poirot and it has been made into several movies.)

Each question is worth 20 points.  For Question 2, each correct country is worth 10 points. 

Scoring

90-100                 You are a smart Europe Geo genius!

70-85                    You know a lot!

60 or less             You spent too much time in the Pub with Hank, but this quiz will boost your Geo IQ!

Answers

  1. Trafalgar Square. Here is what I wrote about Trafalgar Square in our London Guide:  This is London’s central square, which commemorates Lord Nelson’s victory of the combined fleets of France & Spain in the Napoleonic Wars.  The National Art Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are nearby   The Tube stop is Charing Cross.
  2. Belgium and France. French fries are called chips in the British Isles.  I have provided some information about Belgium fries from the tourist official website: Belgians “would cut the potatoes in the shape of fish and fry them.  And that is why we say Belgian fries.  Belgian national dish “les frites’ was wrongly given the name ‘French Fries’ by American servicemen when they arrived in Belgium at the end of the First World War. They named the fries after the French language spoken in Wallonia creating confusion with the invention’s nationality.
  3. Italy occupies all the land mass of the Italian Peninsula. Here are some Italy facts from our Pinterest page:  This unique country with so many famous sites has 20 regions that have their own distinct character. This peninsula country is about 850 miles long & 150 miles wide & it has over 5,000 miles of coastline. It is a land of food & wine and the “sweet life” but it is still the world’s 7th largest industrial power.
    Amalfi Coast 2
    Amalfi Coast

    Amalfi coast
    Amalfi Coast cliff side Villa
  4. The Julian Alps. These Alps were named after Julius Caesar.  In the center of these mountains are Mt Triglav (3 heads).  Slovenes say the 3 peaks are the guardians of water, air & earth.  This 9,396 ft. peak is on the national flag.  Here is a good photo  of Mt. Triglav.  

    Mt. Triglav
    Mt. Triglav, Solvenia
  5. The Orient Express. The official name of this luxury train ride is the Venice-Simplon-Orient Express. If you want to go bring your tux and formal wear and a lot of cash-it costs $19,900 for a suite cabin shared by two!

 

Our Final Thoughts

For us, learning about Europe and its culture and history makes us want to go back again and again.  You might be inspired to see sights you never knew existed.  Why not let us plan a trip to Europe for you?  Please reach out to us by sending me an email at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com or better yet, call me at 713-397-0188.  We want to be your trusted travel advisors.  We want to help you: Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader

HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years.  He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA).  This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years.  He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees.   His other Certifications:

  • AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
  • Viking River Cruise Specialist
  • Scenic River Cruise Specialist
  • Emerald Waterways  Specialist
  • Avalon Waterways Specialist
  • Brit Agent