How Our Website Can Help You Have Better Trips

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

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

We are constantly trying to improve our website to help you have better trips.  With so much information about travel available online, it is no wonder that it is easy to get overwhelmed or confused.  I think our website will help cut through the clutter and provide with useful information about our areas of expertise. 

We have two goals for our website.  We want to: 1) Educate our visitors about travel opportunities and 2) Quickly allow visitors to understand our abilities to assist them in their travel. 

So, does our website deliver?

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 your arrival.  It educates and inspires and you’ll find it is easy to use.  We have 9 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, Our Services, Specials, Blog, Resources, River Cruises, Cruises, Europe and About.  By my count, there are 115 PowerPoints on our website, hundreds of pictures, almost all taken by us, and 100 blogs. 

We believe our website has high quality content that is accurate, objective and extensive.

Quality of Information

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 Services Page

We provide you expertly planned vacations.  To help you quickly determine if we can help you, we list our 4 primary services.  They are: Europe River Cruises, Europe Land Tours, Ocean Cruises, and Full Service Agency.  Under each section, there are bullet points which quickly tell why you should consider using us as your travel agents.

Our Specials Page

This is where we have good travel values.  It may tell you about a good value river cruise (our 2018 & 2019 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 100 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

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.  We also have a special video section—we post our pictures in short videos.  When completed, you will be able to see over 900 pictures grouped by themes.

Cruises Section

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

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.

Quality of the Website

This the technology area of our website.  Using Hubspot’s Website Grader, we received a 91 out of 100 grade.  They evaluated the performance of our site (our grade 21 of 30), if it was mobile friendly (30 of 30), our Search Engine Optimization (30 of 30) and the site security (10 of 10).  We were cited for two errors in performance.  They were page size—ours is 3.2 MB, the goal is 3 MB and page requests—ours is 54, the goal is under 30.  In both cases, the reason we have larger values—our pages have a lot of information and none is fluff—you need the excess info to help you adequately learn about your trip.

Here is their overall evaluation “This site is great!

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! 

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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2018 Trends on 4 Great Luxury Ocean Lines

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Accredited Cruise Counselor

The best of the best—we would all like to be pampered on a vacation and these 4 cruise lines will provide an unmatched travel experience.  Anne is a Luxury Cruise Line Specialist, so, I thought I’d write a little about the luxury cruising experience and help you understand more about these cruise offerings and tell you what is new for 2018.

Overview

Generally speaking, there are 4 types of ocean cruise lines.  They are mass market or mainstream, premium, luxury and ultra-luxury.  I will be the first to explain that all ocean cruise ships do not fall into a neat category—for example portions of MSC (Yacht Club) and NCL (Haven) certainly are at least in the luxury market.  A penthouse suite on any cruise line is ultra-luxury, so again it is difficult to put all into distinct categories but if you look at the overall ambience of the ship, the quality of staterooms, the number of passengers and what is included in the price, clear distinctions are possible.

So, what makes a cruise line ultra-luxury?  Key characteristics are smaller ships, fabulous staterooms, more destination oriented cruises, more all-inclusive pricing, fine cuisine, included high end beverages, and low guest to service ratios (more ship personnel taking care of you).  It is truly an elite experience.  Those who like things first class will be thrilled with any of these four cruise lines.

Maybe just looking at two differences in the ultra-luxury from luxury cruising will help you understand the reason why these cruise lines are so special.  You can certainly buy a drink package on many cruise lines, but you still have limits including having to sign each time with your key card for your drink.  On ultra-cruise lines, you never sign for a drink unless it is a rare, premium beverage.  There are no limits.  Service is another factor.  Anne pointed out to me the difference is that these lines make every effort to impart a feeling to each guest that they are the only person on the line they are serving—no request is too much, you will be pampered and you can get quite spoiled.

Wine Service
Daniel, Our Wine Steward on our 2015 Silver Spirit Cruise–service on ultra-luxury lines cruise lines is special

One last point—these exclusive cruises are in very high demand—some world cruises sell out very fast (in days)—so waiting to book is often a big mistake.  Many guests are repeat sailors, love the ambience and amenities of these cruise line and are very loyal.  They also make reservations for limited dining and tours as soon as bookings are possible.  Our advice is book 12 months out or more to get exactly what you want and use experienced, certified travel agents like us to not miss out on that dream, luxury cruise vacation.

Crystal

Crystal. WatermarkedJPG
The Crystal Serenity

Crystal at present operates two cruise ships, the Crystal Symphony (848 guests; 566 crew) and the Crystal Serenity (1,070 guests; 655 crew).  Of all the ultra-luxury cruise lines, the Crystal ships are the largest, but one reason guests accept the larger number of passengers is the larger array of onboard facilities and almost all reviewers agree, Crystal has been able to maintain an exceptional high level of service despite the increased number of guests.  On each cruise ship there is a casino, a spa, a salon and a fitness center.  Crystal features enrichment programs like wine tastings, art classes and musical performances and these are often the best rated programs at sea.  Crystal’s innovative Creative Learning Institute offers complimentary enrichment classes with well-known associations such as Magic Castle, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Berlitz and Yamaha.

New in 2018

Crystal will continue its Crystal Getaways program.  The program is a segmented version of their world cruise itineraries.  The Crystal Getaways program allows their guests to book a shortened cruise segment of the longer world tour.  The new cruises range from 17 to 6 days and will be offered on the Crystal Serenity and the Crystal Symphony.  There are eight different options available in 2018.  Also in 2018, Crystal ships will port in 31 new port destinations, adding new exploration opportunities for their guests.  The Crystal Symphony emerged from a month long dry dock in November 2017 that upgraded the ship with enhanced penthouses (the guest space is reduced from 922 to 848 to accommodate the larger staterooms), new dining facilities and high-tech enhancements.  The Crystal Serenity will undergo a similar dry dock upgrade in 2018.

More on Crystal

Crystal has an all-inclusive price structure, and is well known for its fine wines and premium spirits throughout the ship, plus pre-paid gratuities for housekeeping, bar, and dining staff.  Crystal ships have consistently earned top awards.  Crystal Cruises’ affluent, multi-generational guests appreciate the renowned Crystal Experience distinguished by classic service, abundant space, fine quality, and extensive choices.  The cuisine on board is globally inspired fare, considered excellent and served in outstanding venues.  There are specialty restaurants with dishes crafted by celebrated chefs such as Nobu Matsuhisa.  A word of warning here—the specialty dining rooms are in big demand, so an early sign up is a great idea.

Crystal Adventures Shore Excursions and cruise port, security and handling fees are not included in fare.  Crystal has expanded into the river cruise market, are adding a jet and have plans for a new ocean cruise liner, but these plans have changed several times, with launch dates altered, cancelled or delayed, so at this time I cannot provide accurate news about their new ocean cruise liner.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Formerly known as Radisson Seven Seas, this cruise line is known for its small ships, great staterooms and fine cuisine.  All staterooms are suites on each of this four ship line.  It is the most all-inclusive ocean cruise line, including everything from drinks to shore excursions in every port for all passengers and round trip air (often can upgraded to business class for a reasonable fee) and transfers in the fare.  Sometimes it even includes a free pre-cruise hotel stay.  Regent features an onboard lecture program from the Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys, good production shows, musical performances, culinary demonstrations and wine tastings.  The vibe on the ship could be described as a sophisticated ambiance and an elegant casual dress code.

New for 2018

There is going to be an increased emphasis on wellness on this line.  On the Seven Seas Voyager, they have added a new program that combines low impact activities and revitalizing spa treatments.  The new program will be added to the Seven Seas Explorer in 2019.  Regent is also adding more culinary themed cruises to its offerings in 2018. 

More information on Regent

Regent currently has 4 ships in its fleet.  They are Seven Seas Voyager, the Seven Seas Mariner, the Seven Seas Navigator and the Seven Seas Explorer (750 guests).  In 2017, Regent spent $125 million upgrading and refurbishing the Seven Seas Navigator, the Seven Seas Voyager and the Seven Seas Mariner.  You can cruise on Regent for 7 days or up to 128 days world cruises—these world cruises often sell out in 2-3 days!  As we found out from bookings with past guests we made, although excursions are included, sometimes there is a limit on the number who can be included on a select tour, and we would advise anyone sailing on Regent, book their tours immediately (the tours can be booked 180 days out)—trust us, the limited tours go fast once the booking window opens up.

There is excellent dining on Regent.  The main dining room is the Compass Rose, a European-influenced venue that serves three meals a day.  The specialty dining includes Signatures, a French restaurant, and Prime 7, an American steakhouse.  Other options include the Pool Grill or La Veranda for breakfast and lunch buffets.  At dinnertime, La Veranda becomes Sette Mari at La Veranda, a casual option for an Italian-inspired meal.  To let you know about the quality of the food, I have read that Regent serves champagne and caviar on Sunday brunch.  They also have a unique block party on some cruises–where passengers come out into the hallways with an empty wine glass and servers fill them with champagne as the ship’s captain, general manager, and cruise director walk down the halls for a meet and greet.  Great way to meet your fellow guests!

Our previous guests really liked Regent.

Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Watermarked
One of the Seabourn Fleet

Seabourn now operates five passenger all-suite ships (three are 450 passenger; two are 600 passenger).  These ships have a yacht feel, and offers an excellent luxury experience.  It launched its newest larger class of ships on January 9, 2017.  The first, christened the Encore, is a 600 passenger vessel that added one more deck and 150 passengers, along with several new facilities onboard.  They are known for gourmet cuisine, white glove service and great staterooms—each stateroom features a tub and a shower.  On board, guests are served by an award-wining crew, hand-picked and extensively trained to deliver Seabourn’s signature style of thoughtful, personalized, and heartfelt hospitality. 

New for 2018

New for 2018 is the addition of the Ovation in May.  Like her sister ship, the Seabourn Encore, the Ovation is a beautiful all-verandah ship.  It also is a 600 passenger vessel.  It will sail itineraries in the Baltic, and Scandinavia (including the Norwegian fjords) and the British Isles.  This wonderful ship will feature a new show, “An Evening with Tim Rice”, which I am told, is excellent!  It also features The Grill by Thomas Keller (see below for more detail about this excellent restaurant)—the waitlist for his onshore restaurants can take several months.  Another feature will be an increased emphasis on wellness.  Among the additions will be certified yoga and meditation practitioners who will offer complimentary sessions to guests.

More about Seabourn

Seabourn is a member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, which means they offer exceptional cuisine.  They serve complimentary fine wines and have open bars throughout the voyage, offer complimentary champagne and the in-suite bar are stocked to the guest’s request.  Seabourn is a more formal cruise line and most wear tuxedos and evening gowns on formal nights. 

According to Seabourn, the reason for the larger size of the Encore and now the Ovation, is to offer more features on the cruise ship—especially dining venues.  The big news is the addition of The Grill is an evening-only restaurant created by US Chef Thomas Keller (the Napa based French Laundry owner and chef), which serves hearty steaks and seafood.  Chef Keller’s The Grill will be added to all other ships in the fleet.  Also added on the Encore, is Sushi, a Japanese restaurant, where diners can watch specialist chefs prepare sashimi, nigari and sushi.  All the 300 cabins on the Encore are suites with balconies, walk-in wardrobes, and bathrooms with marble sinks and separate baths and showers.

Seabourn is famous for its caviar and champagne served in the surf in the Caribbean.  Fully decked out waiters (yes gloves, tails) stand in waist deep water holding caviar on a surf board and providing all the champagne and caviar one could desire.  Anne told me she could not imagine a more perfect pairing or serving idea—decadence beyond belief!

SilverSea Cruises

SilverSea Watermarked
SilverSea’s Silver Spirit

We sailed on SilverSea in Europe in 2015.  The company is family owned, based in Monaco and was started in 1994.  The line has nine ships.  They range from an expedition ship, smaller 296 to 383 passenger ships, the 540 passenger Silver Spirit, the ship we sailed on in 2015 in the Mediterranean, and its’ newest ship, the Silver Muse.  Our voyage in 2015 was an awesome luxury cruise where we got to experience great wines and food, stay in an elegant balcony cabin with a bath tub and a walk-in closet, and have a butler to attend to all our needs.  There is an in suite bar and we could request our preferred beverages.  A true high light was a hot bubble bath that our butler had prepared and waiting for Anne after a long day of touring—true luxury!

New in 2018

In 2017, SilverSea added the Silver Muse.  She is a 596 passenger vessel that the company cites as being evolutionary not revolutionary.  Perhaps the biggest change on the Silver Muse is doing away with the traditional large dining room and adding 8 smaller venues.  The influence of the Silver Muse is spreading to the line’s other ships, as SilverSea considers the Sliver Muse their flagship and have a similar designed ship under construction that should debut in 2020.  The Silver Muse has been well received by the travel agent community, with most citing it as a very good upgrade of an already great cruise line.

More about SilverSea

SilverSea is an all-suite cruise line and each suite has a butler.  The cruise line is all inclusive.  At least one shore excursion (usually more), gratuities, room service, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, are all included.  I was told there were at least 50 wines and champagnes that are included in your fare—amazing!  The complimentary 24-hour room service includes dinner served course-by-course.  They also have Culinary Arts theme cruises, which feature acclaimed chefs of Relais & Châteaux.  It is an elegant cruise line but not snobby—the staff was pleasant but not overly formal, our fellow passengers were social, and the service was superb! 

Shipboard dining include the main restaurant, La Terrazza, an indoor/outdoor for buffet style breakfast and lunch, the Stars Supper Club, an art deco inspired dining venue that served small courses.  The pool side grill serves usual burgers and pizza.  At night, this area is transformed into The Grill—an al fresco eatery which featured a Hot Rock Dining Experience—a preheated volcanic rock allows you to cook your meal tableside.  It was cool! 

The Grill
The Grill–we cooked our own food on Hot Rocks during our 2015 cruise on SilverSea–it was awesome!

All food was excellent and we enjoyed each venue.  For an extra fee, there was Seishin that featured fusion cuisine, Kobe beef and spider lobster.  This Asian restaurant has a 4 course menu (at our sailing $20 fee per person) or an 8 course menu ($40 fee per person).  Our biggest disappointment was not being able to dine at Le Champagne by Relais & Chateaux—again the limited seating was all booked up and if you want to eat at these exclusive venues, you must book as early as possible.

Onboard SilverSea, they had a specialty shoe kiosk by the pool, where you could have sandals hand made to your specifications and personally fitted to your exact foot.  Custom shoes—this is the lifestyle—hard to imagine you could get this level of pampering!  Anne said they are a wonderful reminder of the cruise and she is ready to go to Capri for any future adjustments!  That’s my girl—back to Europe—I’m in 100%.

Anne Sandals 2
Anne’s handmade custom sandals made during our 2015 SilverSea cruise

The focus of this cruise line is getting to great destinations in style and they delivered.  The included tours were very good or you could just wander off on your own (our usual touring method) and meet up with the group to return to the ship if transportation to return was required.  While we almost always picked the included tour, we selected an optional tour in Portofino that required a fee.  Portofino is a tender port (small boat to get you ashore from the ship) and we went to a wine tasting led by Guido Porrati.  It was outstanding, memorable culinary and wine-tasting event, well worth the price! 

Castillo Brown Wine and Food Tour
Wine and Food Tour on our SilverSea Ocean Cruise 2015

SilverSea was a really good experience and we would encourage all to try this line.

Final Thoughts

Once you have tried traveling in style, you will want to go again and again.  The experience is so good and memorable that once is not enough.  We would love to help experience this level of excellence.  Please call Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can 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

 

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

 

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. 

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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

 

How to Get the Best Shore Excursions on Ocean Cruise

 

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

Shore trips can be frustrating for ocean cruisers.  It is often hard to evaluate if the cost will provide the value you are seeking and if the tour is what you desire to see and experience.  After taking some 25 ocean cruises and experiencing the various offerings of shore excursions, we have developed a good method to determine if we should use the cruise lines shore excursions or try a different method.  So let’s examine shore excursions further.

Advantages of a Cruise Line Shore Excursion

Probably the best advantage is the convenience—it is easy—just select the tour and show up at the right time and enjoy.  The second key advantage is taking a cruise line tour insures you will not be left in port if the tour is delayed.  Cruise ships have schedules and may have to leave errant passengers if they are late back to the ship if the reason is not due to a ship’s excursion.  The third advantage is that sometimes the only way to visit a desired place in port is to take the cruise line offered tour.  A forth advantage happens in tendered ports, as cruise lines usually allow their tour groups to leave the ship first (see the discussion on tendered ports below).  Shore excursions also add a layer of safety in a strange country.

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Great Shore Excursion at an Ice Bar in Stockholm

Disadvantages of a Cruise Line Shore Excursion

Many times the tours offered are expensive.  Tours may be capacity controlled—only a limited number can participate.  Sometimes the groups can be so large, it becomes difficult to have a good experience.  Long bus rides also can be a problem, especially if the tour spends most of its time getting to the destination and not much time seeing and experiencing the tour sight.  Tours are controlled experiences—you may have to visit a souvenir shop for example that has zero appeal to you.

Cruise Tour Briefings

Every cruise we have been on offers some type of briefing about the upcoming port, talks about the shore excursions available, and provides shopping tips.  While most of the information is objective, realize that shops often pay commission to become a preferred vendor.  Before you think this is a rip–off, realize that the cruise lines reputation is on the line and they often guarantee your purchases are quality items.  Our best advice is to read the fine print and know what a good price or deal really is.  We also recommend that you check the price or desired purchase before leaving home.

Port Access–Docked or Tendered

There are two ways you have access to a port—tied up at dock or by tender (a smaller boat that takes you to the port).  Docked means you can walk off the ship after clearing customs and basically leave when you want to leave the ship if the port has something of interest.  It also often makes it convenient to return to the ship for a meal, which saves money.  Tendered is whole different issue. Depending on the number of smaller boats being used, this can really restrict the time you have to visit a certain area.  It also means some waiting.  Most tenders we have been on are very efficient, but on one ship the tender service was so bad we never were able to get off the ship at one port (needless to say we do recommend this cruise line for our clients).

An Example Great Cruise Ship Tour

Our wine tasting event in Portofino was one of the best cruise ship tours we have ever taken.  We got to visit this great little town while on a SiverSeas luxury cruise in the Western Mediterranean cruise in 2015.   I can’t tell how much we enjoyed this quaint little city.  After a short tender ride (a small boat to get from our larger ship to the port), we got to this interesting town.  First we went on a special wine tasting, held at a cliff top castle, then wandered the town and ended our visit eating some awesome prawns.  We still rave about this visit and will return.  Here are a few photos of this adventure:

portofino
Portofino
Wine Tasting in Portofino
Guido Porrati provided us with an awesome culinary and wine tasting on our shore tour,with SilverSea

Good Tour Behavior

We have seen a lot of interesting folks on cruise tours.  Most are good but some can be quite irritating.  First, common courtesy of respecting others makes the whole experience better for all.  Second, recognize there is a time schedule.  Don’t be the person the whole group has to wait on.  Be courteous; be on time for events and departures.  It’s a good idea to get the cell phone number of the tour guide in case you get lost or some other emergency arises and especially a location to meet up, should you get separated from the tour or your group.

How we determine to do a trip on our own or to Use the Cruise Line Excursion

Before we think about doing an excursion on our own, safety is our number one concern.  Often, we will use the cruise tour first, especially if we are in an unfamiliar place and there could be a significant language barrier and unsafe areas.  We don’t recommend doing it on your own for novice travelers.

If we decide to do it on our own, here is how we proceed.  The first item to properly decide on what to do at a specific port is what we want to see and experience.  Then we try to figure out if we can get to the spot on our own with less cost and still enjoy the sight.  This sometimes becomes quite complicated.  The exact docking location and ease to public transportation are factors we consider.  Access to the sight is another key factor—can we get in at a reasonable cost and not have to waste time standing in line?  The final key is can we do it on our own with a reasonable chance to see the sight and get back on time.

Getting to the desired site

There are many ways to use public transportation to get where you want to go.  You can use a taxi, a bus, a subway or even the shore excursion when the option is just a transfer to the desired spot and then free time (this often is our favorite shore excursion).  Our preferred method is to walk, then subway, maybe bus, finally cab or private limo.  We also use trains—sometimes a great option.

Tallinn
It is an easy 1/2 mile walk to the Old City of Tallinn, Estonia from the port area

Bus is an inexpensive way to get around.  Prior to using this option, you need some basic bus skills.  First, payment will be in local currency and require small bills or coins.  Second, you must know where to get off.  One tip—write down the desired stop or sight on a piece of paper and ask for help to the driver or others—you do not need much in the way of language skills using this tip (also great for taxi drivers).

Taxis sometimes can be a great deal—saves time and gets you there in the most efficient manner.  The problem with taxis can be overcharging.  We always look for a licensed cab; try to get a cost estimate before the trip, look for a taxi meter and we use small local currency bills to pay if we cannot use a credit card.  Taxis at an official taxi stand are generally better and safer than other cabs. 

A train can also be a really good option.  For example, we have visited Berlin on our own with a two hour train ride.  It does take some skills and a little courage, but the cost saving were significant compared to the same trip provided by the cruise lines.

Berlin Main Train Station
Berlin Main Train Station (Hauptbahnhof)
Brandenbrug Gate
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin Germany

Private Guides

We have used private guides in several ports.  In Istanbul, we hired a private guide and saw everything we wanted to see. It was a good value for the money. In two days, we visited almost every key sight in the city and got priority access in many places. 

Spice Markets of Istanbul
Spice Markets of Istanbul

In Rome, we visited a food market and special restaurants that locals use.  Great experience—well worth the money!

Food Tour
Our guide in Rome on the food tour

Other Companies Shore Excursion Offerings

We have several other companies that offer shore excursions.  Depending on the desired outcome, they can be a great value and more importantly, a far better experience.  This is especially true for small groups traveling together.  For instance, we planned a great excursion in southern France by private driver that our clients still rave about—they got to see and experience more than possible with the cruise line or if they tried to do it on their own.  We even arrange a secret proposal on a special cruise tour—she said yes!

Regan Gauthier28
A proposal in Tulum, Mexico

Our Final thoughts

We hope these tips have helped you rethink your shore excursion options.  While it may seem daunting at first, we can help solve these questions and help provide a better experience.  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

 

Baltic Ocean Cruises

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

The northern part of Europe is a fascinating region of the European continent.  Anne & I have sailed this region twice.  The Baltic Sea borders Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Germany.   Because of the distances between countries, high cost of some of the countries in this region, and visa requirements of Russia, a cruise often is the best way to get to visit the region at a reasonable price.  Believe me, you can visit this area by land or flying but at a much higher cost and a lot of wasted time traveling from one country to another, so especially in this region, an ocean cruise really is the best way to visit multiple countries of Northern Europe.  Another really good reason to cruise the Baltic, is the vast choice of cruise lines.  There is a choice for all–from ultra luxury to premium to mainstream. 

We have been on two Baltic Sea cruises and had a great chance to visit ports in 6 of the 9 countries that border the Baltic Sea.  We also have city guides for each of these cities–if you want one email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.

When to Go
Baltic cruises operate between May and September.  Most cruises last 10 to 14 days.   One of the best features of these summer sailings is the temperature–mostly 60s to 70s–sure is a lot better than the hot Mediterranean during the summer.  Due to the harsh winters and limited day light hours of the winters, summer in this region brings folks to the streets, making it vibrant and fun.  An added plus to visiting during the summer months is the festivals often available at the various ports.  For example, in Russia, June is known for its festival of the “White Nights”–a celebration of the extended daylight hours.

Some of the Ports

St. Petersburg in Russia is the big attraction for Baltic cruises, with so much to see that most cruise ships stay at least two days. This city is the land of the tsars and tsarinas.  In St. Petersburg, visiting the magnificent Peterhof Palace and its fountains and the Hermitage rate as some of our best experiences in Europe.  By far, this intriguing city may be the most difficult to visit on your own–the visa requirements, language and Cyrillic alphabet often make it  a unique challenge, so a cruise is a great option.  The good news, however, is that St. Petersburg is the most western of all Russia cities.

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Samson fountain, Peterhof, Russia

Our favorite port in the Baltic is Tallinn, Estonia—the old town is one of the best preserved walled cities in all of Europe.  Visiting Tallinn is like going back to the middle ages, because some of the buildings date back to the 1500s.  There are 26 watch towers on the almost intact city walls.  It was an old trading partner of the Hanseatic League and the old town is really two towns separated by a wall.  The upper town (called Toompea) was the governmental center of Estonia.  The lower town was for the merchants, usually German, Danish and Swedish.  We just love roaming the old town—there are great sites,  reasonably priced food and drinks and good shops, often with wrought iron signs. 

Tallinn, Estonia

Riga, the capital of Latvia, is a lesser known port.  It has a good old town area.  The dock area is an easy 10 minute walk to the old town.  The buildings are not as old as other Baltic old towns–most date from the 18th century.  The town hall square and cathedral square , Riga castle and the Swedish Gate  are all  interesting places to visit.

Docking in the northern German port of Warnemunde, allowed us to visit Berlin.  Warnemunde does not have many unique sights, although it is a nice German town, but the 3 hour train ride to Berlin is well worth the effort.  Many choose to take a cruise tour, but if you are familiar with riding trains, it is easy to do on your own and Anne and I did just that on our last Baltic cruise.  Berlin is a must see place in Europe, in my opinion.  Berlin is Germany’s capital and cultural center. The city was founded in the 13th century.  Berlin was divided after WW II and during the Cold War became a symbol of the conflict between East and West.  Today it’s known for its art scene, nightlife and modern architecture.  Reminders of the city’s turbulent 20th century history include its Holocaust Memorial and the Berlin Wall’s graffiti on the old concrete barrier. Its 18th-century Brandenburg Gate has become an iconic symbol of German reunification.

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Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

Copenhagen, Denmark’s capital, is often a starting point for Baltic cruises.  If you do not port near the city center (cruise ships port in 3 possible locations), take a taxi to get to its core if you plan to visit without a tour–we walked once on our first cruise and it was just too long–maybe 2-3 miles.  Key sites are Tivoli Gardens, City Hall Square and the colorful old harbor area,  The Stroget, a pedestrian only street, is one of Europe’s best walking streets.

Copenhaven Demark 242 (21)
Tivoli Gardens, Copehagen, Demark

Helsinki, Finland’s capital, grew up around its harbor.  Helsinki and Finland have one of the world’s highest standards of living.  Key sites are the market square harbor, the Esplanade (a great pedestrian walkway and boulevard), and the Senate Square.  We have visited twice and really like Helsinki—our favorites are the market square area and the Esplanade. 

Helsinki, Finland

Stockholm is built on a series of 14 islands connected by bridges.  This is a town of great old sites and really new modern places.  The old town is excellent and one of my favorite sites.  The Gamla Stan (old city) was a part of the Hanseatic League and the resulting trade helped the city grow and prosper.  You will enjoy wandering in the old town.  The Gamla Stan, the historic old town, is full of color, has great little shops and the royal palace and parliament buildings are all concentrated in an easily walkable area.  In the more modern part of town, we even went to an ice bar for a drink—pretty cool to say the least!

old-town-stockholm
Old Town, Stockholm

Oslo, capital city of Norway, has a great port.  It is located on the country’s southern coast at the head of the Oslo fjord.  The city of Oslo is known for its citywide green spaces and museums.  The harbor area is a great place to walk around.  The Akershus fortress, the town hall and Nobel Peace museum are key sites in the harbor area.

Street Performer and harbor area, Oslo, Norway

Our Final Thoughts

Go on a Baltic cruise!  It is awesome and will make memories of a lifetime.  We want to help you achieve your travel dreams—remember if you want to Visit Dream Destinationsplease contact Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com to get started or just tell us about your travel dreams.  We are here to help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

4 Great Ultra Luxury Ocean Cruise Lines

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Accredited Cruise Counselor

The best of the best—we would all like to be pampered on a vacation and these 4 cruise lines will provide an unmatched travel experience.  Anne is a Luxury Cruise Line Specialist, so, I thought I’d write a little about the luxury cruising experience and help you understand more about these cruise offerings.

Overview

Generally speaking, there are 4 types of ocean cruise lines.  They are mass market or mainstream, premium, luxury and ultra-luxury.  I will be the first to explain that all ocean cruise ships do not fall into a neat category—for example portions of MSC (Yacht Club) and NCL (Haven) certainly are at least in the luxury market.  A penthouse suite on any cruise line is ultra-luxury, so again it is difficult to put all into distinct categories but if you look at the overall ambience of the ship, the quality of staterooms, the number of passengers and what is included in the price, clear distinctions are possible.

So, what makes a cruise line ultra-luxury?  Key characteristics are smaller ships, fabulous staterooms, more destination oriented cruises, more all-inclusive pricing, fine cuisine, included high end beverages, and low guest to service ratios (more ship personnel taking care of you).  It is truly an elite experience.  Those who like things first class will be thrilled with any of these four cruise lines.

Maybe just looking at two differences in the ultra-luxury from luxury cruising will help you understand the reason why these cruise lines are so special.  You can certainly buy a drink package on many cruise lines, but you still have limits including having to sign each time with your key card for your drink.  On ultra-cruise lines, you never sign for a drink unless it is a rare, premium beverage.  There are no limits.  Service is another factor.  Anne pointed out to me the difference is that these lines make every effort to impart a feeling to each guest that they are the only person on the line they are serving—no request is too much, you will be pampered and you can get quite spoiled.

One last point—these exclusive cruises are in very high demand—some world cruises sell out very fast (in days)—so waiting to book is often a big mistake.  Many guests are repeat sailors, love the ambience and amenities of these cruise line and are very loyal.  They also make reservations for limited dining and tours as soon as bookings are possible.  Our advice is book 12 months out or more to get exactly what you want and use experienced, certified travel agents like us to not miss out on that dream, luxury cruise vacation.

Crystal

Crystal. WatermarkedJPG

Crystal at present operates two cruise ships, the Crystal Symphony (922 guests; 566 crew) and the Crystal Serenity (1,070 guests; 655 crew).  Of all the ultra-luxury cruise lines, the Crystal ships are the largest, but one reason guests accept the larger number of passengers is the larger array of onboard facilities and almost all reviewers agree, Crystal has been able to maintain an exceptional high level of service despite the increased number of guests.  On each cruise ship there is a casino, a spa, a salon and a fitness center.  Crystal features enrichment programs like wine tastings, art classes and musical performances and these are often the best rated programs at sea.  Crystal’s innovative Creative Learning Institute offers complimentary enrichment classes with well-known associations such as Magic Castle, USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, Berlitz and Yamaha.

Crystal has an all-inclusive price structure, and is well known for its fine wines and premium spirits throughout the ship, plus pre-paid gratuities for housekeeping, bar, and dining staff. – Crystal ships have consistently earned top awards.  Crystal Cruises’ affluent, multi-generational guests appreciate the renowned Crystal Experience distinguished by classic service, abundant space, fine quality, and extensive choices.  The cuisine on board is globally inspired fare, considered excellent and served in outstanding venues.  There are specialty restaurants with dishes crafted by celebrated chefs such as Nobu Matsuhisa.  A word of warning here—the specialty dining rooms are in big demand, so an early sign up is a great idea.

Crystal Adventures Shore Excursions and cruise port, security and handling fees are not included in fare.  Crystal has expanded into the river cruise market, are adding a jet and have plans for a new ocean cruise liner, but these plans have changed several times, with launch dates altered, cancelled or delayed, so at this time I cannot provide accurate news about their new ocean cruise liner.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises

Formerly known as Radisson Seven Seas, this cruise line is known for its small ships, great staterooms and fine cuisine.  All staterooms are suites on each of this four ship line.  It is the most all-inclusive ocean cruise line, including everything from drinks to shore excursions in every port for all passengers and round trip air (often can upgraded to business class for a reasonable fee) and transfers in the fare.  Sometimes it even includes a free pre-cruise hotel stay.  Regent features an onboard lecture program from the Smithsonian Collection by Smithsonian Journeys, good production shows, musical performances, culinary demonstrations and wine tastings.  The vibe on the ship could be described as a sophisticated ambiance and an elegant casual dress code.

Regent currently has 4 ships in its fleet.  They are Seven Seas Voyager, the Seven Seas Mariner, the Seven Seas Navigator and the Seven Seas Explorer (750 guests).  In 2017, Regent will spend $125 million upgrading and refurbishing the Seven Seas Navigator, the Seven Seas Voyager and the Seven Seas Mariner.  You can cruise on Regent for 7 days or up to 128 days world cruises—these world cruises often sell out in 2-3 days!  As we found out from bookings with past guests we made, although excursions are included, sometimes there is a limit on the number who can be included on a select tour, and we would advise anyone sailing on Regent, book their tours immediately (the tours can be booked 180 days out)—trust us, the limited tours go fast once the booking window opens up.

There is excellent dining on Regent.  The main dining room is the Compass Rose, a European-influenced venue that serves three meals a day.  The specialty dining includes Signatures, a French restaurant, and Prime 7, an American steakhouse.  Other options include the Pool Grill or La Veranda for breakfast and lunch buffets.  At dinnertime, La Veranda becomes Sette Mari at La Veranda, a casual option for an Italian-inspired meal.  To let you know about the quality of the food, I have read that Regent serves champagne and caviar on Sunday brunch.  They also have a unique block party on some cruises–where passengers come out into the hallways with an empty wine glass and servers fill them with champagne as the ship’s captain, general manager, and cruise director walk down the halls for a meet and greet.  Great way to meet your fellow guests!

Our previous guests really liked Regent.

Seabourn Cruise Line

Seabourn Watermarked

Seabourn operates three 450-passenger all-suite ships, which have a yacht feel, and just launched its newest ship on January 9, 2017, the Encore, a 600 passenger vessel.  They are known for gourmet cuisine, white glove service and great staterooms—each stateroom features a tub and a shower.  On board, guests are served by an award-wining crew, hand-picked and extensively trained to deliver Seabourn’s signature style of thoughtful, personalized, and heartfelt hospitality. 

Seabourn is a member of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, which means they offer exceptional cuisine.  They serve complimentary fine wines and open bars throughout the voyage and complimentary champagne and in-suite bar stocked to the guest’s request.  Seabourn is a more formal cruise line and most wear tuxedos and evening gowns on formal nights. 

According to Seabourn, the reason for the larger size of the Encore is to offer more features on the cruise ship—especially dining venues.  The big news is the addition of The Grill is an evening-only restaurant created by US Chef Thomas Keller (the Napa based French Laundry owner and chef), which serves hearty steaks and seafood.  Chef Keller’s The Grill will be added to all other ships in the fleet.  Also added on the Encore, is Sushi, a Japanese restaurant, where diners can watch specialist chefs prepare sashimi, nigari and sushi.  All the 300 cabins on the Encore are suites with balconies, walk-in wardrobes, and bathrooms with marble sinks and separate baths and showers.

Seabourn is famous for its caviar and champagne served in the surf in the Caribbean.  Fully decked out waiters (yes gloves, tails) stand in waist deep water holding caviar on a surf board and providing all the champagne and caviar one could desire.  Anne told me she could not imagine a more perfect pairing or serving idea—decadence beyond belief!

In 2018, Seabourn will introduce Seabourn Ovation.  Like her sister ship, the Seabourn Encore, the Ovation will be a beautiful all-verandah ship.

SilverSea Cruises

SilverSea Watermarked
SilverSea Silver Spirit

Stairway ArtArt Work

We sailed on SilverSea in Europe in 2015.  The company is family owned, based in Monaco and was started in 1994.  The line has eight ships.  They range from an expedition ship, smaller 296 to 383 passenger ships and the 540 passenger Silver Spirit, the ship we sailed on in 2015 in the Mediterranean.  This was an awesome luxury cruise where we got to experience great wines and food, stay in an elegant balcony cabin with a bath tub and a walk-in closet, and have a butler to attend to all our needs.  There is an in suite bar and we could request our preferred beverages.  A true high light was a hot bubble bath that our butler had prepared and waiting for Anne after a long day of touring—true luxury!

Cabin 809
Suite 809–our luxury room

Walk in closet & bathtub in our luxury suite

SilverSea is an all-suite cruise line and each suite has a butler.  The cruise line is all inclusive.  At least one shore excursion (usually more), gratuities, room service, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, are all included.  I was told there were at least 50 wines and champagnes that are included in your fare—amazing! 

Wine Service in the main dining room

The complimentary 24-hour room service includes dinner served course-by-course. 

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Room Service Breakfast

They also have Culinary Arts theme cruises, which feature acclaimed chefs of Relais & Châteaux.  It is an elegant cruise line but not snobby—the staff was pleasant but not overly formal, our fellow passengers were social, and the service was superb! 

Shipboard dining include the main restaurant, La Terrazza, an indoor/outdoor for buffet style breakfast and lunch, the Stars Supper Club, an art deco inspired dining venue that served small courses. 

The Stars Supper Club

The pool side grill serves usual burgers and pizza.  At night, this area is transformed into The Grill—an al fresco eatery which featured a Hot Rock Dining Experience—a preheated volcanic rock allows you to cook your meal tableside.  It was cool!  All food was excellent and we enjoyed each venue. 

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Hot Lava Rocks–grilling prawns!
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The Grill at Night

For an extra fee, there was Seishin that featured fusion cuisine, Kobe beef and spider lobster.  This Asian restaurant has a 4 course menu (at our sailing $20 fee per person) or an 8 course menu ($40 fee per person).  Our biggest disappointment was not being able to dine at Le Champagne by Relais & Chateaux—again the limited seating was all booked up and if you want to eat at these exclusive venues, you must book as early as possible.

Onboard SilverSea, they had a specialty shoe kiosk by the pool, where you could have sandals hand made to your specifications and personally fitted to your exact foot.  Custom shoes—this is the lifestyle—hard to imagine you could get this level of pampering!  Anne said they are a wonderful reminder of the cruise and she is ready to go to Capri for any future adjustments!  That’s my girl—back to Europe—I’m in 100%.

Anne’s Custom Made Sandals

The focus of this cruise line is getting to great destinations in style and they delivered.  The included tours were very good or you could just wander off on your own (our usual touring method) and meet up with the group to return to the ship if transportation to return was required.  While we almost always picked the included tour, we selected an optional tour in Portofino that required a fee.  Portofino is a tender port (small boat to get you ashore from the ship) and we went to a wine tasting led by Guido Porrati.  It was outstanding, memorable culinary and wine-tasting event, well worth the price! 

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Guido Porrati was our wine & food host

SilverSea was a really good experience and we would encourage all to try this line.

Final Thoughts

Once you have tried traveling in style, you will want to go again.  The experience is so good and memorable that once is not enough.  We would love to help experience this level of excellence.  Please call Hank (713-397-0188) or email him at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Ocean Cruise Private Islands and Areas in the Caribbean

 

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

There are at least 7 Private Islands or areas that the ocean cruise companies use in the Caribbean.  These islands provide a unique place to enjoy sundrenched beaches.  The idea of these private island is to give guests a perfect day at the beach without any hassles.  To best decide if visiting one of these islands would be a good fit for your cruise vacation, let’s explore this topic by a general overview, a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of visiting these islands and finally a brief description of each island and which cruise lines use them.  So, here goes!

Overview

Each ocean cruise line has its distinct advantages and disadvantages, and it is no different in their private islands—it all comes down to the perception of value by each client.  We do not classify private islands and ocean cruise lines—we talk about their advantages and disadvantages, but most of all, what will be the experience for our clients.

Advantages of a Private Island

By having exclusive rights to a beach area, cruise guests can be assured they will not have to compete for beach space with other island guests who are not on the cruise.  Cruise guests often do not have to have money, as the can use their ship charge card to buy any optional items.  Most of the lines include lunch, typically a BBQ, at no extra charge.  Water sport activities and equipment are often available, but there may be an extra charge to use equipment or boats or jet skis.  Many also have shore excursion packages ranging from parasailing, deep sea fishing, swimming with sting rays or other activities.

Disadvantages of a Private Island

 Probably the biggest disadvantage is that the private islands just do not let you participate in the true culture of the Caribbean.  Another disadvantage is that it may be just too much of a cookie cutter experience—created, not real.  Sometimes there may be more than one ship docked at the private island and it can get a little crowded.  Snorkel gear and other water sports equipment may require a fee, which is another disadvantage.

Castaway Cay—Disney’s private island

We just returned from a Disney cruise that visited this private island in the Bahamas.  We had been here in 1999 on my first ocean cruise.  Disney has really found a special way extend its brand by creating a Disney island.   It was created to look like a ship wreck area built from whatever is left over from the wreckage.  To be honest, I really liked the place, especially since you are docked and can walk on & off the ship.  The island has three beach areas—adults only zone, teens area and the large family area beaches.

Mount Rustmore Castaway Cay–2016 (right) & 1999 (left)

What we really liked on the second visit to this 1000 acre island was the convenience, the great (really tasty) free BBQ and being able to use our key cards to purchase drinks.  It was really good for our family and granddaughter who love being at the beach, but the single biggest factor making this a great choice was the convenience of being able to walk off instead of waiting for a small boat to transfer you to the beach area like other private islands.

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Some Water sports Equipment for Rent

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The Disney Wonder Docked at Castaway Cay

Coco Cay—Royal Caribbean International’s private island

Coco Cay is also in the Bahamas and is a very small island of about 140 acres.  It requires a tender (small boat) to take you to the island—it does not have a pier that can accommodate large cruise ships.  According Royal Caribbean’s website, here are some of the activities available on this private island:  snorkeling, kayaking, boating, jet-ski rentals, and an aqua park. 

Great Stirrup Cay—Norwegian Cruise Line

Great Stirrup Cay is also in the Bahamas, is about 250 acres, and requires a tender to get on the island.  It currently has a 1000 foot zip line course and has a snorkeling underwater sculpture garden.  It is undergoing some upgrades for upper level guests.  According to NCL’s website, new in 2017, Great Stirrup Cay will offer the ultimate island luxury experience with a brand new exclusive lagoon retreat featuring a secluded, pristine beach; exclusive dining options; and luxury beach villas.  These include: a secluded beach, modern reception area overlooking the beach for reserving activities or relaxing in the outdoor terrace, Tranquil lagoon with a convenient swim-up bar, Beachfront luxury villas for rent ranging from studios, 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom villas, Family beach area for all ages to enjoy, The Silver Palm Restaurant with a two-story deck, offering scenic view, Private party room available for reservation, Complimentary access for guests of The Haven and Suites and guests who book a Mandara Spa massage on the island.  There is limited capacity for purchase by other guests. 

Princess Cay—Princess Cruise Line

Located on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas, the section used as a private beach has to be reached by tender.  This island is different in size and population as about 11,000 live on the island, while most other private islands have around 100 or so who live on the islands.  The private portion is only about 40 acres and the water is relatively shallow for about 100 feet from shore, which allows easy viewing of sea life.  There are typical beach activities available here and lots of water sport equipment for rent.  There also some limited shore excursions to visit the rest of the island area.

Half Moon Cay—Holland America

Originally owned by Norwegian Cruise Line, this small private island area of 2,450 acres is now used by Holland America.  To reach the island, passengers must use tenders.  The beach area is shaped like a crescent, it is about 2 miles long, and the rest of the island is an international bird sanctuary.  If a hike to an area away from a beach is an option you desire, this is the best fit of all the private beach areas.  Among activities on this island are sailing, swimming or snorkeling, riding horseback along the sea’s edge, a stingray’s encounter experience, and a pirate ship at the water park.

Labadee—Royal Caribbean International

Located on the north shore of Haiti, Labadee is used by Royal Caribbean International.  This is part of the huge island of Haiti, is actually an isolated peninsula, and contained in about 260 acres.  There is a fence that separates the area from the rest of Haiti and access is strictly controlled.  It is probably best known for its 2,600-foot-long Dragon’s Breath Flight Zip Line.  It is the only private area that attempts to provide some local culture—the “Folkloric Show,” a large, colorfully costumed troupe performs Haiti’s distinctly African brand of dancing, drumming, and song and there is other live music that has its roots in old African music with the Caribbean twist.  There are plenty of water sport activities and water sports equipment for rent.  Some local artists also sell their works here.  We would be less than candid by not letting you know that in early 2016, protesters blocked access to Labadee and three visits to this private area by RCL ships were cancelled, but there have not been any reported incidents since late January 2016.

Harvest Caye– Norwegian Cruise Line

This is the newest private island, opened just a few weeks ago, and is located in Belize.  Among the facilities are a 15,000 square foot pool featuring a swim-up bar and 15 plush pool cabanas, a 130 foot tall Flight house complex featuring a 3,000 foot zip line, suspension bridges, free fall jumps and a ropes course, a 7 acre beach with 11 private villas that accommodate up to 6 guests each and are equipped with air conditioning, dedicated lounge and dining areas, private restroom, indoor/outdoor showers, and hammocks  and 5 à la carte dining bar venues featuring a variety of cuisines including the LandShark Bar & Grill by Margaretville.  One big drawback to this island, is that guests should realize that “is not a private island but a destination excursion, at which guests should be forewarned to expect to pay for drinks and food”, according to Senior Vice President Camille Olivere as reported in the December 6, 2016 Travel Market Report.

The Bottom Line

There is a lot to do on all these private Caribbean areas.  Since a visit to a private area is only one aspect of a cruise vacation, we do not think it is a make or break aspect of the overall cruise, but only one factor to consider when deciding what to do during your precious vacation time.  Again, this is where we excel—the ability to match you with the right cruise vacation. 

We hope this will inspire you to give us a call (Hank 713-397-0188) or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so we can help you cruise the oceans or visit Europe on a river cruise and help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

 

Old San Juan Puerto Rico—a Europe City in the Caribbean

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

We just return from our third trip to Puerto Rico and this island has a great area to visit—Old San Juan (Viejo San Juan)—a true European gem in the Caribbean!  On this visit to Puerto Rico—the first two were by cruise ship and this visit was a four night hotel stay– we visited Old San Juan twice during this trip and it was a wonderful experience.  Our first visit was a guided food tour that included seeing and learning about some of the sights of Old San Juan.  The tour group was conducted by Spoon Food Tours and it was excellent.  Our tour guide, Caroline, did a fantastic job.  The tour was called “Old San Juan Walk & Taste Tour” and focused on locally produced foods along with a good tour of Old San Juan.  Our second visit was wondering with a couple of new friends we met at the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) training meeting we attended.  Both were awesome!

Our first tour started near San Juan’s most famous site—El Morro (actually Castillo de San Felipe del Morro but better known as “El Morro”) at the Plaza del Quinto Centenario square.  El Morro is a huge, six-level fortress built to protect the city from sea invaders and one of three forts protecting the walled city of Old San Juan.  This tour did not included El Morro but fortunately we had visited this massive, interesting fort on a previous visit.  Here is a couple of photos of El Morro:

The Plaza del Quinto Centenario square was designed to celebrate 500 years of the discovery of Puerto Rico and the Americas by Spain and Puerto Rico’s history.  There are 2 levels of the square.  The bottom fountain represents the first 100 years of Puerto Rico’s history.  Two needle-like structures stand on this end, pointing towards the North Star.  Explorers used the North Star to determine their latitude.  Two sculpted staircases, representing another centennial, lead up to the plaza’s upper level. The staircases have two wonderful Lamb of God sculptures.  The upper level is the highest point in the city, and features the Totem Telúrico.  The Totem Telúrico stands 40 feet tall, is decorated with historic pottery chards and is a tribute to the discovery of the New World.  A beautiful square—here are some pictures:

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We continued on to the San Jose Church (it is the oldest church in San Juan), which is undergoing restoration and not open.  Here our guide Caroline explained about the famous blue cobblestones—they were used as ballast for the ships crossing from Spain and made in the exact size of gold bricks—pretty interesting.  We also saw a statue of Ponce De Leon in a small park—he never found his fountain of youth in Florida where he was killed by a poisoned arrow, but he lives on here in San Juan.  Here are some photos:

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We continued along colorful streets to our next stop—a small café, La Tortuga (a pizza & baked pastry shop) were we ate some quesitos, a deep fried sweet pastry filled with cream cheese.  They were very good. 

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We continued on to the San Juan Cathedral is a 450 year old church. Ponce De Leon is buried here.  The Cathedral was the first stop most made upon entering the city wall through the San Juan Gate—to praise God for their safe passage to the New World.  Very close to the Cathedral, is a former convent that has been converted into a hotel.  Caroline pointed out the construction of this old structure that used techniques learned from the Moors by the Spanish that produced a natural air conditioning by increasing air flow.  Here are some pictures:

 

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The small park in this area is interesting.  It has two unusual cat sculptures.  Cats seem to be everywhere in Old San Juan, and we learned that they are protected by an organization called Save a Gato (Spanish for cat).  They care for the animals, neuter them and let them roam.  Some photos:

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As we wandered the colorful old streets, our guide Caroline, pointed out the two different styles of balconies.  They are wrought iron and wooden.  There are also vibrant buildings.  Here are some photos:

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Old San Juan is a preservation area–any renovations of buildings must maintain the historical characteristics.  Here is an old building waiting to be fixed:

Our next stop was the shopping area on Cristo Street.  They have brand name outlet stores (Anne bought a pretty purse in the Coach Factory Outlet), and other great shops featuring quality jewelry, handmade items and souvenirs.  We continued on to Fortaleza Street, where we got a glimpse of the Governor’s Residence.  The next stop was at Melt, owned by a local woman dedicated to using local foods.  Located in the lobby of Plaza de Armas Hotel, Melt Local Artisan Diner is a cozy restaurant specializing in comfort food that will take you back in time to a 1950s diner with its décor.  We had had a breakfast snack of locally sourced scrambled eggs with homemade sausage and hash browns made from yucca.  It was really good and served with a killer homemade hot sauce—we brought a bottle home.  They also have very good alcoholic drinks with homemade mixers—we returned a couple of days later to sample their great drinks and, as expected, they were great!  What an awesome find—we will visit again on our next trip.

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Our guide, Caroline, talking about the snack we are going to sample

To help you get around Old San Juan, there is a good trolley system of 30 stops.  Here is what the stops and trolley look like:

We continued on to an ice cream store.  It was called Senor Paleta and offers many tropical flavors of ice cream bars.  Great break—refreshing in the heat and humidity of Puerto Rico.    We enjoy our treat while looking out on the wonderful views from the Bastion de Las Palmas.  On our return visit on Saturday there was a line of over 20 waiting to get into this hole in the wall shop.

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We continued on to an organic fruit store to sample some locally grown products—very flavorful and great tasting.  Cosecha Mía (my harvest) has fresh eggs, Puerto Rico coffee (we bought some) and wonderful vegetables and fruits.

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Our exotic fruit sampler in front of some of their eggs for sale

We ended our tour at Plaza de Colon.  There is a statute of Christopher Columbus (“Cristobal Colon” in Spanish) in this square.  From the square we could see the huge fort Castillo de San Cristobal (San Cristobal Fort) that was started in 1634, and completed in 1771.  The fort is 150 feet high, and is actually a number of different units connected by tunnels.  Each unit was self-sufficient, so if another part was invaded and captured, the defenders could still fight on.  It was a really good 3 hour tour—we would highly recommend Spoon Food Tours.

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We returned to San Juan a couple of days later.  Our first stop was La Forteleza.  La Fortaleza was built in the early 1500′s as the first fort to protect the city from sea invaders but proved inadequate to guard the entrance to the harbor.  So, in 1846, the building was remodeled from a fort to the mansion and now it is the official Governor’s Residence, and a World Heritage Site.  Although we have some good pictures of this awesome blue mansion, it really can only be appreciated from the sea, to see how grand a place it really is.

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Next we followed the walls on our way to Paseo de la Princesa.  We viewed a small Cathedral, a pigeon park and a bastion.  This beautiful old chapel is Capilla del Cristo (Cristo Chapel).  It was built in 1753 and has a stunning silver altar but sadly was not open for us to view. 

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We then went into Parque de las Palomas (Pigeon Park).  There were many children feeding the pigeons and we learned it was created by a former female Governor of Puerto Rico to help the children enjoy this wonderful city.

 

We wandered down to the Paseo de la Princesa, outside the walls of Old San Juan. This tree lined street has lovely gardens, benches, statutes and during our visit, a lot of street vendors.   We bought an orange variety—called China in Spanish—good, not too sweet.  They have a cool peeling machine. 

 

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Our walk took us past the old city jail which is now the Puerto Rico Tourist Company and ended at a beautiful fountain with a bronze sculpture by Luis Sanguino called “Raices“, which symbolizes the island’s cultural roots.  Here is a picture of this fountain:

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We then continued on to the red-painted San Juan Gate, the only remaining gate from the old city.  It was one of six original massive wooden gate doors that were closed at sundown to protect the residents.  Above the gate is inscribed “Benedictus qui venit in nomine domini.” It is in Latin and in English means “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.  Here is a photo of the gate:

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The city wall or La Muralla was built around the city. Started in the early 1500′s, it is almost 20 feet thick in places, up to 60 feet tall in places, and was finally completed in 1782.  This protective wall is one of the best preserved walls in the world.  More photos:

We ended our night eating at the Princesa Gastrobar.  Wow, was this place great—it is an outdoor café shaded by over 20 trees and earned the first Rum Bar by Rums of Puerto Rico certificate.  The menu is tradition Puerto Rican food, based on recipes from an 1850 cookbook.  Anne had a wonderful shrimp meal and I went for the lobster au gratin.  Great choices!

As you can see, this is an exciting, vibrant place to visit.  We hope this will inspire you to give me a call at 713-397-0188 or send me an email (hschrader@dreamdestinations.com) so I can help you visit this Europe city in the Caribbean or any other destination on a cruise, tour or on a river cruise and help you:  Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

 

 

Towel Animals—Critters who have Shared Our Cruise Cabins!

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

Anyone who has been on a cruise knows what this blog is about!  There is no better surprise than to find a new towel critter in your room after the cabin stewards’ visit.  These creative towel folds delight and add whimsy to your cruise trip.  Anne likes most of them so much, she wants them left in our cabin until the end of our cruise.

Some cruise lines emphasize towel animals more than others—we have actually been on a cruise where they proudly display animals on the deck chairs, our Carnival Breeze sailing in 2014.  The designs are creative and fun.  There is no doubt they add true enjoyment to your cruise.  Towel animals are found on almost every ocean cruise line and often on river cruise lines.  We like them so much we even inducted one towel animal into our Traveler Hall of Fame—Eddie Elephant represents all towel animals who have traveled with us.  To see more of the wonderful folks who have traveled with us and are members of the Dream Destinations Traveler Hall of Fame, PLEASE CLICK HERE (we would love to add you!)

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Eddie Elephant, Inducted to the Dream Destination Traveler Hall of Fame

There are even classes on some lines and books that will teach you how to make these when you return home.  It is a great way to add to the memories of a good vacation.  What an awesome  idea—a new traveling companion who adds joy, costs nothing, and reminds us all not to take life so seriously!

Here are some of our favorites from River Cruises:

Here are some critters who have shared our Ocean going cruises:

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Here is the outside display on the Carnival Breeze in 2014

We hope this has helped understand how even small touches make a vacation great on ocean and river cruise lines.  With these great friends to come along with you, it is easy to see why cruising is a great way to explore the wonderful ports of the world or to take river cruise to explore Europe!  We also hope this will inspire you to try cruising–we will be glad to help.  Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com so we can help you Savor life . . .make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!