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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The Power of Knowledge–Our Gift to You!

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

http://www.dreamdestinations.com

Knowledge is critical for successful travel.  A great trip requires knowledge of the destinations, great places to stay, awesome food and drink and cultural experiences.

We must always keep learning more about travel opportunities to help you get the best available trip, so we don’t miss anything that could make your trip the best possible.  I usually begin each day by reading an hour or so about travel.  The travel scene is constantly changing and requires us to work hard to stay at the forefront of our industry.

So, let’s talk about how our knowledge of where you want to go can enhance your travels.

What is Knowledge?

Knowledge is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as follows:  Facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

While I’m no expert in the study of knowledge, I do think there are 3 types of knowledge that are important to successful trips.  They are objective knowledge, subjective knowledge and experience knowledge.

An explanation of the 3 types of Travel Knowledge

Objective knowledge is the facts that we can observe and document.  A great example of this is there are iconic sights in Paris such as the Louvre—you can see the building and its contents. 

Louve 2010 1403 (74)
Courtyard of the Louvre

Subjective knowledge is the feelings and experiences that come from visiting a place or event.  Using the Louvre example, it is the emotion of how you feel when you visit this art museum—are you thrilled with the art, or are not interest or is it somewhere in between? 

Winged Victory
Winged Victory–how does it make you feel?

Experience knowledge is the result of how prior knowledge effects your perception of a place.  Using the Louvre example, if it was overly crowded or almost deserted, effects your perception of the experience. 

Entrance to the Lourve
Entrance to the Lourve–the crowds certainly change the experience!

How the 3 Types of Knowledge Can Change Your Trip

On almost every trip we plan, we have to balance all three types of knowledge to get the best type of trip for you.  Most folks, even if they have studied a destination, will not make a travel decision based only on objective data.  While this is generally a good thing, sometimes the subjective or emotional part of travel causes folks to miss great trip opportunities due to not being able to stretch their personal boundaries.  Let me explain—fear of a bad experience or untrue facts often scare folks away from an event, place or country.  Now there are some real threats out there that should be avoided, but most fears are concerns are overblown. 

I think that is where we come in.  I like to say that one of our jobs is to “save you from yourselves.”  That means we try and find the right balance—eliminate or reduce fears, keep you from trying to do too much or too little.  And, perhaps most important, make sure you don’t miss a chance to see something you didn’t even know existed or was possible.  Sure is a bummer to miss the sold out event or cabin or cruise by not acting fast enough!

Some Examples of How our Experience Knowledge Enhances Your Trip

Just this week, two phone calls with clients made me realize how important our knowledge about destinations and ports are.  First, I listened on speaker phone as Anne told a client about the ins and outs of London.  Without any notes or references, she explained transportation operations, and provided theater hints.  I guess when you study this information all the time and have experienced first-hand London as many times as we have, it wasn’t such a big deal—except it was!  She articulate, funny and precise—as I listened, I realized she was just the right person to help our client.  Quite impressive, my dear!

London Black Cab and Bellman
London Black Cab and Bellman–one of the options Anne explained

The other experience was helping a client on a 12 night Mediterranean cruise.  I spoke for about 40 minutes to the client, explaining the ports of call, evaluating the various cruise line tours and offering advice.  Again, no notes, just an in-depth understanding of the sights.  This was no novice client—she had been to some of these sights and had done her homework.  The point is, we just know our facts and destinations.  As I told her, I believe she had selected the best possible tours based on her family’s desires and the offerings of the cruise line.  Affirmation is important—a great guide book or website may have the facts but they can never explain in-depth or answer questions (not even chat rooms).  But it takes folks like us to deep dive into the trip to make it more successful.

The Walled City of Kotor
The Walled City of Kotor–we talked about what to see here!

Our Knowledge Base

There is a lot to learn about travel.  Not only destinations, but also the vendors.  Again, it comes down to who has the most knowledge—does your travel advisor know enough from experience, training and personal study?  The industry is changing so rapidly—new ships, new itineraries, and new vendors are constantly changing the travel scene.

We have made some great industry contacts and use these strategic partnerships benefit you. We have written 50 guides to the major cities of Europe.  We have planned dozens of trips.  Precise, accurate advice about how to improve your trip is priceless and always results in better trips—more value for your money!

I also think it is so important to have first-hand experience.  14 river cruise and over 21 ocean cruises on various lines helps us explain what you will experience on your cruise.  Personally traveling to around 81 countries or so makes the world just a tad smaller and we often can relate from personal experience what a place is really like.  Since I have been traveling to Europe since 1971 and we try to go to Europe at least twice a year for the last 20 years, it would be hard to find a travel advisor with as much first-hand experience as we have.

Yes, knowledge is power and we use ours to benefit you!

My Final Thoughts

I think we have unique qualifications as travel advisors and these qualifications truly make us experts.  Our knowledge base is excellent and we constantly are learning and experiencing more.  Time during travel is precious.  Trip planning is not easy.  Time and money issues are complex—we all want the best at the least possible price.  We help you solve those complex issues, saving you hassles, time and worry.  We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.

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

My Take on the Most Interesting Man in the World for River Cruising

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

“I don’t always river cruise when on vacation, but when I do, I prefer to travel with Dream Destinations!  Stay adventurous, my Friend!”

Since I have a salt and pepper beard, my family sometimes says I look a little like the older actor who used to portray the Most Interesting Man in the World.  So, I decided to take it one step further, and write my own ad as the Most Interesting Man in the World for River Cruising for Dream Destinations.

So, tongue in cheek, here are eight good reasons you should travel with Dream Destinations on a river cruise, as seen by the most interesting man in the world!

Less Stress

Although the most interesting man in the world knows all the differences between river cruise companies, do you really think you do?  My guess is that like most US travelers, you have heard a little about Viking due to the ads on PBS, but would be surprised to learn there are eight or more options of vendors offering river cruise vacations.  Feeling your blood pressure rise?  Relax, we got this!  Not only do we know the difference, we have earned their certifications, if they have one.  Need more proof?—just visit our website page to read our 73 PowerPoint slide presentation River Cruise Comparisons.  See the Presentation

We increase Convenience

The most interesting man in the world loves convenience. Want a vacation that is easy?—river cruising is the answer.  When you river cruise, you unpack and pack once, you see unique scenery, the small size of the ship allows chances to make new friends, you port in or close to the city centers so there is more time on shore to really experience the culture of the sights and it is almost totally inclusive—the accommodations, meals and tours are all included.  It is so easy!

 

This room and the staff would please the most interesting man in the world!

We validate your prior travel experiences

Although the most interesting man in the world has been everywhere, he also realizes that you have traveled a lot also.  You are a savvy traveler.  You often have done your homework.  Your travels have taught you a lot and you know what you like and don’t like.  We help use your prior knowledge to make sure the trip is just right for you.  We also make sure all your facts and perceptions are correct and you can trust us to tell it like it is.

 

The most interesting man in the world has been on the entire Danube, including the Iron Gates between Serbia and Romania.

We add value

The most interesting man in the world always brings value to all he does.  So do we—we help you get the most for your vacation dollars.  Value is added when we design a trip that matches your particular desires and needs.  It takes a lot of experience in the travel business to get this right, but we have the skills and knowledge to make it happen.

our-tour-guide
Our Tour Guide in Kitzingen on an AmaWaterways Late Risers Tour–she was a great guide!

The most interesting man in the world would like the value of included late risers tours!

We increase trip satisfaction

When you are the most interesting man in the world, happiness is a way of life and he often helps others find happiness.  So do we–happiness is our business.  The goal of every trip we plan is to exceed your expectations.  We really care about your experience.  If you use us, you will likely experience a vacation you will talk about for the rest of your life.

71 River Cruise
A great group cruise that exceeded expectations

We often offer you travel ideas you never knew existed

Although the most interesting man in the world has complete knowledge of almost every travel experiences and travel opportunities, you may not be so informed.  That where we come in–taking a trip from good to great is our special area of expertise.  Knowing what is possible to enhance the trip always results in better travel.

We remind about items you might have forgotten for your trip

With his fabulous memory, the most interesting man in the world seldom forgets anything.  Since we plan a lot of great trips, we help you make sure you will not forget anything.  It is the little details that make the difference.  Why hassle with all those annoying details?  Just take a deep breath, and let us do it for you!

Every year we have a couple of outstanding group trips

While the most interesting man in the world could organize travel groups, he would rather have Dream Destinations do it for him.  What a smart guy!  For a small, two person agency, we have an out-sized ability to produce unique group travel experience.  We have escorted folks on river cruises, D Day anniversary celebrations, and other Europe ocean cruises.  Have a group that wants to travel together?—we are you folks to get the job done right!

 

The most interesting man in the world would have enjoyed this group!

My Final Thoughts

I don’t always river cruise when on vacation, but when I do, I prefer to travel with Dream Destinations!  Stay adventurous, my Friend!”

We are travel experts, ocean and river cruise experts, and Europe destination experts.  We have first-hand knowledge of almost anywhere you want to visit in Europe.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending your hard-earned money for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  You want someone who will understand your expectations and fuel your anticipation (or excitement) to get you the best possible trip experience.

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

Our 2018 AmaWaterways Christmas Markets Cruise

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

We are proud to announce we will be leading a Christmas Market on the Rhine cruise on the new AmaKristina from December 17 thru December 24, 2018. 

Please come join us on the AmaKristina for the most festive time in Europe—the Christmas Markets.  To learn about this wonderful opportunity, let’s explore what Christmas Markets are, find out about the AmaKristina, and see more about the exciting ports we will visit if you come and join us.

What are Christmas Markets?

In Europe, many squares are used for various street markets.  At Christmas time, these squares are transformed into one unique blaze of color, goods and foods from small vendors.  It is a social gathering where hot mulled wine, beer and street food are served and all seem to get along as they browse the various vendors.

Christmas markets date back to 1300 or so and started in Germany, Austria and the eastern portion of France.  The season usually starts about 25 November and lasts until 23 or 24 December, roughly following the Advent 4 week season.  Even for a person like me who does not really like shopping, this is so much fun that everyone should try this at least once.  Unlike American malls, this is not combat shopping and crowds of hassled folks; this is a gathering of folks socializing with food and drink, music, and buying gifts at a much gentler pace. 

Basel 1
A unique Christmas Market booth in Basel, Switzerland. Weihnachtstube translates to Christmas Room. It was a great place to get a hot drink.

Seeing the decorations alone is worth the trip but an added value is the fact that many booths have handmade items that are unique and priceless.  Most sell only on cash, so make sure you have enough local currency to get your purchases.  And, as we have learned though our own mistakes, if you see something you like, buy it or you will often miss out.  Most markets open around 10:00 AM and close around 9:00 PM, but it varies a lot and it is not uncommon for booths to close down for short periods to take a break or get something to eat or an owner to take a day off and not open their booth.

As long as you dress warmly, these markets offer a cultural experience second to none—it is an experience not to be missed!

Overview of our Cruise

You will get to sail with us to 4 countries (Switzerland, France, Germany and the Netherlands) and experience the magic of Christmas in Europe.  As described above, the markets on this cruise are usually in the historic medieval squares of the towns and village we will stop to visit.  It is the best way to see six different, unique, and interesting squares and experience the thrill of a great Europe tradition—the Christmas Markets of Europe. 

The hustle and bustle of the season, the stunning decorations and street food, and the glühwein (hot spiced wine), will be an adventure you will never forget!  Along with these sights and wonderful smells and sounds, you will sail in luxury, eat awesome food and drink superb wine, and have fun on the beautiful AmaKristina, with a great crew, for an experience unmatched in Europe river cruising.  We have done several Christmas market cruises and can’t wait to go again–we hope you will join us.  The following PDF PowerPoint details the cruise ship, a day-by-day summary of the ports and explains why you should chose us as your cruise leaders:

Learn More

The AmaKristina

AmaKristina
AmaKristina Photo AmaWaterways

The AmaKristina was put into service in 2017.  It is a 135 meter longship and carries 156 passengers.  AmaWaterways does European river cruising expertly and we have no doubt they will deliver again on our 15th Europe river cruise.  Her Godmother, Kristin Karst, is a co-owner of AmaWaterways, so you can be assured this vessel is their top of the line rivership in the 135 meter class.  There are staterooms on 3 decks of the ship and they range from fixed windows on the first deck near the river line, to French balconies, twin balconies (a French balcony and an outside balcony) and staterooms with 350 square foot suites (it has two rooms and a bath tub).  All staterooms are well designed, with comfortable beds, a small seating area (the suites have a much larger seating area), and good bathroom facilities. 

Twin Balcony
Twin Balcony Stateroom. Photo AmaWaterways

These compact ships have well designed facilities that will enhance your 7 day journey.  Once you experience an AmaWaterways cruise, you will agree with us that you will be on a luxury trip where almost all is included in the price of the fare.  You will get to go on a floating luxury hotel, with great food, free-flowing wine and beer at meals , and the newly added Sip and Sail cocktail hour before dinner with complimentary wine, beer and spirits and see sights that will dazzle you.  It is a great value!

Our Voyage

We will begin in Basel, Switzerland.  We will visit Christmas markets at every one of the 6 ports on this trip.  First, we will port in Breisach to visit the Christmas Markets of either Freiburg or Riquewihr.  Here is a photo of the Freiburg Christmas Markets:

Freiberg
Freiberg Christmas Market in 2012

Next, we will visit Strasbourg and its’ famous Christmas markets—the oldest in France.  Here is a photo:

Strasbourg
Strasbourg Christmas Market 2016

When we port in Mannheim, you will have a choice of visiting the college town of Heidelberg or the medieval town of Speyer.  Here is a photo of Heidelberg:

Heidelberg 1
Heidelberg Christmas Market

In Rüdesheim, more markets, a wine tasting and a chance to sample the famous Rüdesheim coffee (it’s like Irish coffee but better).  Here is a photo:

Rudesheimer coffee
Rudesheimer Coffee

After Rüdesheim, we sail the Rhine River Gorge.  This is the most scenic section of the Rhine, as you are transformed into a fairy tale land of great castles—there are more than 30 to see.

marksburg_z_550[1]
Marksburg Castle on the Rhine River Gorge
We next arrive in Cologne, and visit its famous cathedral and the 3 Christmas Markets centered on the old town area.  Here is a great photo of these markets:

Cologne
Cologne Christmas Markets 2016

We finish our cruise in Amsterdam and get to experience the canal-ringed city with a canal boat cruise and a city tour.

Amsterdam
Amsterdam roof lines seen from a canal cruise

Wow—what a trip!

Our Special Price for this Sailing

On this 7 day cruise, there is a special price—hurry to get $500 off per person if you book with us before March 31, 2018.  Please contact us to find out the cost of the stateroom you desire for this trip—we can discuss in detail which will fit your needs best.

Our Last Thoughts

Europe river cruising is constantly changing and in most cases, the winners are the cruisers.  This cruise allows you to experience a specialized tour of the Christmas Markets which blends the wonderful tradition of this festive time in Europe with a cruise of a lifetime.  The usual benefits of unpack once, seeing multiple sights, all meals provided and interesting things to do and see, combined with the Christmas markets, and have taken Europe river cruising to a new level.

As always we want to help you with your travel dreams, whatever they may be, and hope some of you will want to take part of this unique experience on our Europe river cruise.  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

 

 

Why Read Our Blog–What Is In It For Me?

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

After writing our blog for over 2 and a half years, I started to reflect on why we write about travel.  I think it is a fair question to ask—why should you read our blog?  Most of you are very busy and often are overwhelmed by emails and online information about travel.

So, why should you take the time to read our blog?  Let’s explore this thought together and decide if you should or should not read our blog!

The Starting Point—What is the Purpose of Our Blog?

For me this is a simple answer—our purpose is to make you a better informed traveler who may need our services.  Sounds fairly simple but it really is much more complex in my mind.

I think there are 4 parts of making you a better informed traveler.  First, we want to teach about what good value travel is.  Second, we want to inspire you and help you visualize your next trip.  Third, we want to provide objective advice, so you can make wise travel choices.  Forth, we want to help you decide if you should trust Visit Dream Destinations, LLC to plan your trip.

So, let’s evaluate our blog and see if it is worthwhile for you to read our blog and if we deliver on the 4 parts of making you a better informed traveler.

Our Role as Teachers About Good Value Travel

Good value travel is making the most of your travel dollars.  It is about memorable experiences.  It is about reduced hassles on the trip.  We write often about these topics.  The blog has really 4 sub topics.  We write about ocean cruising, Europe river cruising, Europe Destinations and Our Travel Philosophy (best value travel and smart travel planning).  On our website we have all our blogs under these categories, so you can find travel or destination advice easily.  Here is the link if you would like to Learn More.  We try and write about the advantages and disadvantages of travel to help understand about the suppliers and their benefits to help you achieve your travel goals and how we can guide you to make wise choices.

Marksburg Castle
Marksburg Castle on the Rhine River Gorge–just one sight you might see on a Europe River Cruise

There is one common theme in each topic –We try to write with the viewpoint of:  Do they care about me and what I need as a traveler?  In our blogs, we try and establish what we consider as a good relationship with our readers.  We want our readers to think of us as friends who may become clients, if they need our services.  If we take the next step in our relationship to client and travel consultant, we still maintain the friend’s mantra.  We treat each of our clients as friends, because we don’t sell travel to clients—we sell travel to friends.  There is a big difference—how your trip goes makes a world of difference to us.  We like to say we are small enough to deliver personalize service but big and experience enough to get you just the right trip.  We try to match you to just the right experience and make it logical, realistic and affordable in your price range.  Don’t get us wrong—we do not sell on price—we sell on value.  We try to demonstrate how valuable you are to us in many ways (many love our handwritten thank you and welcome back notes) but how many other travel professional have a Traveler Hall of Fame?  We are proud we could help you travel and we want to share with others your joy and satisfaction.  Learn More About our Hall of Fame.

Regan Gauthier28
Regan proposes to Megan on an ocean cruise at Tulum, Mexico–they are members of the Traveler’s Hall of Fame

Inspiration

Anne and Hank St. Patrick's Parade
We have had some great experiences traveling–like marching in a St. Patrick’s Parade in Sligo, Ireland dressed as Buzz Light Year and Jesse

We try in our blogs to help you visualize your next trip.  We often talk about our experiences during our travels so you can see if that trip would fit into a trip you might like to take.  There are many pictures in our blogs, most taken by us, to help you visualize the trip in your mind.  If you want to see more of our travel pictures, please visit our Pinterest page—it has over 4,500 pictures (www.pinterest.com/visitdd).  Our emphasis is always the best possible experience within your price range and we hope these pictures help inspire you to visit a new place or experience a new culture or just have a bucket list trip.

Objective Advice

I recently read that 62% of business bloggers outsource their blog!  I was stunned—their blog may have good content but what that tells me they are too busy to provide first-hand information.  How reliable and objective is that?  With over 21 years of experience selling travel to many satisfied clients, we know both what you need to make your travel experience better and the knowledge of what is available to match you with just the right vacation.  We have extensive first-hand knowledge and do comprehensive research on trips.  We really strive to make your travel experience more enjoyable.  We have planned hundreds of successful trips to delighted clients and we are eager to plan yours.  Like a little proof?  Ask for one of our 50 Europe City travel guides—we wrote them, not some other person or company—just go to our website, click on the region of Europe you want to visit and then click on the city, provide us your email contact info, and we will send you the guide.  Or click on one of our many PowerPoint presentations on our web site or visit our Resource Section of our website to get travel tips (www.dreamdestinations.com).  There is one common thread here—almost 98% is our own pictures or written by us—in truth, it would be hard to find many travel professionals who have been to so many of the places we sell.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know we know our stuff.  As I used to say as a coach, when evaluating good football players, “he is the real deal!”  Well folks, we are the real deal!

Should I trust Dream Destinations LLC to Plan My trip?

Trust and integrity are valuable traits and, in my judgement, in short supply in our country.  Too many make promises they can’t or won’t keep.  My whole life has been devoted to service after graduating from West Point—20 years as a US Army Officer, 20 years as a coach and teacher and 21 years helping others travel to the right location.  Anne is equally dedicated to trust and integrity—she always thinks about what is best for our clients, every single time.  We think trust is the cornerstone of our relationship with you.  We try to under promise and over deliver a great travel experience for you.  We strive to make your travel experience better by helping you make wise choices, eliminate hassles, and help you get the best value for your money.  In short, while working with us, we want to provide a trip that will exceed your expectations.  I guess the best thing we can provide you is some comments by some of our clientsPlease click here to read A Few Words From Our Clients.

We would like to hear from you–do you like the blog and does it help you become a more informed traveler?

Our Final Thoughts

We hope our blog is worth your time to read.  As you can see, there is much more than these brief thoughts to describe the value of our blogs.  I think we help you become a more informed traveler by being good teachers, providing inspiration, providing objective information and developing trust.  If our blog has helped get more knowledge about travel, then we have done our job and the blog is worth your time to read.  We hope this ultimately leads us into you deciding to use us as your travel agents—we are here to help you get the best possible trips based on what is important to you!  Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at hschrader@dreamdestinations.com.  We want to help you:  Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!

Hank Schrader
Hank 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

 

 

Your Opportunity–2018 Trends in European River Cruising

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

2018 is the year of the Dog in the Chinese Astrological Calendar.  The cycle is every 12 years.  According to the legend, 12 animals raced to cross a swift river.  The dog, although a strong swimmer, came in 11th out of 12.  When ask why, he replied, he need a bath and took advantage of the opportunity to take one.

The dog chose to take advantage of a great opportunity and that’s what this blog is all about—your chance to take advantage of a great opportunity to take a European River Cruise.

So, let’s learn about the opportunities in 2018 and trends in Europe river cruising.

Trend # 1—Book Soon or Lose Out

There are over 300 river cruise vessels sailing on the river waterways of Europe.  Even with the increased capacity, we have noticed less availability on almost all rivers.  Why?—river cruising has exploded in popularity.  Already this year, I couldn’t find a cruise for a client whose schedule precluded him from making plans early and then we couldn’t get his travel dates matched with availability.  Many cruise lines are already accepting bookings into 2019.  If you want to cruise in Europe, especially in the peak summer months, you should book now—waiting will result in a less than ideal outcome (no availability and higher prices).

Trend # 2–New Ships will sail but Viking will not add new river ship this year

By my count, there will be 7 new riverships sailing in 2018.  3 will be completely new ships and 4 will be refurbished.  Here are the new ships:

In 2018, AmaWaterways will christen their 20th vessel in Europe.  It will start on the Tulip Time (Netherlands) in the spring and then move to the Danube, sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest or the reverse.  It is a 135 meter ship (443 ft) with 78 staterooms and has a capacity of 156 passengers with a crew of 51.  In my opinion, AmaWaterways has expanded in a smart fashion—they bring on one or two new ships in Europe each year, make sure they are properly staffed and maintain their exacting standards.  Having sailed on 14 AmaWaterways cruises, the standards never change—it is a consistent brand. 

Crystal will expand their fleet to 5 with the addition of the Crystal Ravel and the Crystal Debussy.  Each ship will carry 106 passengers in 53 suites, with all staterooms above the river line.  Among the features are a glass-domed Palm Court atrium, a fitness area, a spa and open-seating eateries such as the Waterside Restaurant, Bistro cafe, the Vintage Room and the Palm Court.  Crystal has tried to copy the features of their ocean going vessels, as much as possible, in their river cruise ships so many venues carry the same names and features.

Their rooms range from the Petite Suite at 188 square feet and the River Suite at 253 square feet to the two-bedroom Crystal Suites at 759 square feet. Several suites are connected.  Accommodations have king-size beds with walk-in closets (a first among river cruise lines) and large bathrooms with double sinks.  The rooms also have with wall-mounted flat-screen HD televisions and Nespresso machines.

Tauck is refurbishing 2 of its ships.  Both the 98 passenger riverboats, the MS Treasure and the MS Espirit have been updated.

Uniworld is refurbishing the S.S Beatrice.  She will carry 156 passengers.  The biggest news for Uniworld is the launch of the A and B—cruising designed for the 21-45 year old crowd.  I wrote more about U by Uniworld as trend # 6 later in this blog.

Not to worry Viking fans—my sources tell me that Viking will add 7 new riverships in 2019, so this may just be a small pause on their part, especially since they are expanding their Ocean cruise fleet.  With 59 riverboats in Europe by my count, there may not be any reason to build a new ship this year.

Trend #3–More Active and Wellness Activities will be offered

We have already noticed this trend on recent sailings.  As we reported earlier, here is one of our client’s thoughts about what is happening on AmaWaterways ships:

“They had a pilot program with a fitness instructor (Selina).  She provided stretching, core workout, exercise band, hiking, etc. classed and events.  It was great.  She will implement this on another six boats for next year, hiring and training the new personnel.  It is a great addition to the AMA activities.”  AmaWaterways was the first to add bikes to their riverboats in 2006 and they continue to expand bike tours and active walking tours.  They have even partnered with Backroads to offer high end bike tours on special cruises. 

Crystal will also follow this trend.  Each of their ships have a pool and carry an array of complimentary equipment for active travelers, from electric bicycles to Jet skis and kayaks.

Scenic and Emerald also follow this trend.  Scenic has electric bikes and Emerald also carries bikes.  Emerald has expanded their offerings for active guests—it is called Emerald ACTIVE and features bike tours.  The heated, pool, with a retractable roof, on Emerald is special—they actually convert it into a movie theater at night, complete with popcorn!

 

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

Avalon has added their new program called Active Discovery.  This program is on the Rhine and Danube Rivers and offers hiking and biking activities.

The only line not following this trend is Viking—they believe the walking done on tours is enough and they do not offer any extra exercise or wellness activities.

Trend # 4—More Tour Options will be offered

Of all the trends I am writing about, this is the one trend that every river cruise line seems to have adopted.  As you already know, one of the greatest advantages of a Europe river cruise is the included tours.  There is no doubt there will be more offerings.  Some will come with an extra fee.  Only 2 cruise lines offer all tours without a fee—they are Scenic and Tauck.

I really think this is a logical progression of the industry.  Most river cruisers want more authentic experiences and it also appeals to repeat cruisers who want to do something different on the same stretch of river.

Trend # 4–More Themed Cruises will continue to be offered.

Already the list of themed cruises is growing. On AmaWaterways, the wine themed cruises just improves the vacation experience for many guests.  They are up to 50 a year now—a lot of good choices all throughout Europe.  The wine cruises include a wine host.  These folks are wine industry experts who want to share their knowledge and passion for wine both onboard the vessel and at the local wineries during the cruise.  The best part—there is no additional charge for their services—another free enhancement for you to enjoy.  AmaWaterways also has a great partnership with Disney called Adventures by Disney and will offer 8 cruises for families this year.  A word to the wise, it is almost completely sold out for 2018, so if this peaks your interest, start planning for 2019.

Uniworld is solidly behind this trend to offer more specialty cruises.  It has added several Jewish themed cruises.  It is part of their “Bespoke Themed Voyages.”

Crystal’s website states they offer over 225 different tours and 80% are included in the fare.  That’s a lot of tours for only 5 riverships.

Scenic is also solidly behind the expanded tours offerings.  We have first-hand experience with Scenic tours—all are included and they are excellent.  I got to experience Cesky Krumlov on a sailing in 2015.  It was awesome! 

Picture36
Cesky Krumlov

Scenic even calls their staff who create the tours Journey Designers and their brochure defines their mission as “curating the best of what Europe has to offer.”

Many industry writers single out Tauck for their tours.  Each ship has 3 dedicated tour specialists who accompany the voyages.  The also emphasize privileged access to sights after hours or by exclusive arrangements.

Viking is also expanding tours.  Their new program, called The Viking Way, offers three new options—Local Life, Working World and Privileged Access.

Trend #5—Better Cuisine

I think it is safe to say there is an increased emphasis on food and wine in the competitive river cruise industry in Europe.  Not only does this include enhanced food offerings but it has also expanded into cooking classes.

AmaWaterways is, in my opinion, the leader of this trend.  I have written extensively about the quality of the food and the Chef’s table, so I won’t belabor the point.  The best news is that there are no extra charges for the meals on AmaWaterways and all guests can enjoy the Chef’s Table at least once during the voyage.  They have also always done cooking demonstrations during some cruises. I already wrote about many of these, including the “sip and sail” free cocktail hour in this blog:  AmaWaterways in 2018

Chef's Table
The Chef’s Table on AmaWaterways

Scenic is offering on board cooking lessons in their new Scenic Culinaire program.  However, it is limited to only 8 guests.

Crystal and Scenic offer exclusive dining options but both have limitations.  Crystal’s includes a hefty fee and Scenic’s require you to purchase a diamond level (most expensive cabin).

Avalon has become the leader in vegetarian cuisine.  Their Avalon Fresh program consist of locally sourced food prepared in innovative manners.  I wrote about this earlier in my River Cruise Vibes blog.  Here is the link River Cruise Vibes

Uniworld’s ship, the Joie de Vivre, offers a 7 course meal that is paired with wines at their La Cave du Vin that includes a cooking demonstration and then you get to enjoy the meal.

Trend # 6–Will a Younger Crowd Embrace the New U by Uniworld?

The travel agent community is split on this—some think it is a great idea, others think it won’t work as well as traditional river cruising.  The 2018 addition of U by Uniworld–they are converting 2 riverships to their newest brand.  They are called A and B.  Uniworld is using words like “social, relaxed, fun, connected, scenic, and enriching” to describe the new brand.  Gone will be the opulent interiors on some of their redesigned riverships, there will be DJ’s, more emphasis on night life—even bean bag chairs and hammocks on the top deck.  To keep a lower price point, the ship will offer only 2 meals each day. The idea is to appeal to the younger generation (21-45).

My Final Thoughts

Do not lose the opportunity to go on a great European River Cruise this year by procrastination.  Think ahead—call us soon.  We are travel and river cruise experts.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip. 

Don’t miss an opportunity to take a Europe river cruise.  Think like the dog—act now and don’t miss your opportunity! 

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

Alexa—Call Dream Destinations—I need a Great Vacation!

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

Technology is good and bad, in my opinion.  It is good because it allows us to do more with less resources.  It is bad when folks hide behind a computer or phone to disrespect– you don’t have to look someone in the eye and criticize or bully them when you are online.  But this blog is not about the relative merits of technology—it is about how technology can have the human touch and how we use technology to enhance your trip experiences.

So, let’s learn about technology and how we make you feel special in an impersonal world.

A look at 50 Years of Changes

50 years ago, I was a cadet at West Point. 

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader in his first year at West Point

While I was there, a man walked on the moon!  Unbelievable!  Living in the Houston area, I actually have met a couple of astronauts later in life—they are unique folks to say the least—off the charts smart but humble, down to earth folks—I am a better person for meeting them.  At West Point, I used a slide rule, very poorly, to solve math problems—most of the time I got it wrong (it didn’t help that my slide stick was often in backwards—play sword fighting at night in your room can lead to bad academic performance according to one of my math professors!).  Now I never miss the right answer with a calculator assuming I put the correct numbers in and use the right functions.  We played albums on record players—now it is streamed or played on satellite radio—I’m listening to a Sirius Radio as I write this.  I write this blog on a computer, and I actually wrote 3 football books on a computer—as a poor speller all my life, word processing and spell check has made me a reasonable author.  The list just goes on and on—I don’t know if it is true, but I read that since 1900 man’s total knowledge has doubled by 1960 and now they say it doubles every 25 years and is getting shorter.  Regardless, there is no doubt we are accelerating our knowledge at a breath taking rate and technology is helping accelerate our abilities.

Oh, by the way, we just got an Alexa Dot—the small Amazon AI (artificial intelligent assistant)—Anne won it in a contest about explaining why one of our vendor representatives was good at his job.  It was the inspiration of this blog.  I’ll explain in the next section.

Amazon Echo
Our Amazon Echo–Hi Alexa!

The Blending of Tech and Humans

For Anne’s to take time and recognize a vendor for their outstanding service and help to our business is really the central idea of this blog—she made this guy and his bosses feel special in an impersonal world of tech emails and social media.  It is the rally cry of why we are in business—as I wrote in my first blog of 2017—How can we make your day better?—the blog was one of our most read blogs last year.  Back in the day 50 years ago, we used a huge computer and had card decks with punched holes to solve mathematical problems—frustrating, time consuming and often inaccurate.  I was often told, the output is only as good as the input.  Now in my pocket, with an IPhone 6, I am told I have more computing power than the computers that sent a man to the moon.  Again, not sure if it is totally true, but I know I can actually run most of our travel business on such a small device—amazing to say the least!

Tech is Great to get you Started on your Vacation but it is not enough to get the Best Trip

A bold statement to say the least.  A lot of folks think they can book a trip online and save money.  Almost everyone we work with, before they reach out to us for help, has researched their trip online—some research says they visit 20 sites or more.  I recall a client who once had examined every aspect of her trip to such a fine detail that she was convinced it was the lowest possible price.  As we were reviewing the trip, we realized she was taking 3 different flights to her destination, spending about 24 hours getting there with layovers to save $25.00.  Yes, 25 bucks!  When, I told her husband this, he said he wanted the shorter 6 hours in the air and he just wanted this to end so they could enjoy their vacation.  That is value—saving time, spend more to get more, but do so prudently. 

We encourage you to research but if you want a great trip, we need to know why you are going and what you hope to experience.  How many online agencies will ask you why you are going?—they just blindly book your trip based on your input. 

Remember, we will make you feel special in an impersonal world and the result will be a better trip.

Some Great Tech We use in our Travels

We are big fans of mobile phones.  It allows us to communicate and book trips anywhere in the world.  We once booked a Regent cruise with a critical deadline in Romania—amazing!  When I first went to Europe, about 46 1/2 years ago, I sent a post card home to my parents early in the trip and I beat the card home—it took 6 weeks to arrive!  Here is a scanned copy of the card from July 24, 1971 (as you can see I went to the top of the Eiffel Tower that day):Picture16Picture17We also carry a SkyRoam—our own secure Wi-Fi network. 

skyroam
Our Skyroam–we bought this and pay a small fee to use–our own secure network

Anne carries her I pad—sometimes we take one of our laptop computers.  Here is what I wrote about electronics in travel our tips to European travels (directly from our website in the resources section):

  1. Electronics.

Traveling with electronics in Europe is a given in today’s world.  Europe uses 240 volts instead of the 110 volts in the US.  Bring only electronic devices that are 100-240 volts complaint.  You will also need adapter plugs to fit into the outlets. England & Ireland use a different plug than is used on the continent of Europe.  Also expect few places in your room to plug in your appliance to recharge you devices during your trip. My experience with converter devices is poor—they often just do not work or destroy your costly electronic device.  We usually travel with IPads, 2 IPhones & our IPods.  We use a Halo pocket power system to charge up these items—plug one into the wall and it can charge all our things.  It also is a reserve battery system when our device batteries run down. We also carry in Europe 2 adapter plugs or more for the outlets to charge up our stuff. We have taken a Garmin but find this GPS system very unreliable—we wandered around Paris a few years ago with luggage following the Garmin instructions to find our hotel and it just did not work properly.  Some of the newer phone systems seem to work much better on your personal phones. 

My Final Thoughts

You may not know you need a vacation, but you do.  You need to refresh, relax, and expand your experiences.  Most of you use professionals for plumbing, electrical work, taxes and estate planning—why do you think you can plan travel better alone?  To chase the best price but lose some quality—in my world, poor travel is a waste of time—I can’t tell how many horror stories I have heard about how trips were ruined to save a couple of bucks.  We will save you from yourself with quality advice and improve your trip—no poor travel allowed!

We are travel and river cruise experts.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.

When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip. 

Alexa—Call Dream DestinationsI need a Great VacationI want to feel special in an impersonal world!

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

AmaWaterways in 2018

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

Good things keep happening at AmaWaterways, our favorite Europe River Cruise Line.  We have been sailing on this family owned and operated line since 2009—this November we made our 14th voyage with AmaWaterways.  For 15 years (they started their business in 2002), this company has provided what we think is the best value in Europe river cruises. 

In 2018, AmaWaterways will add 6 new itineraries in Europe, a new rivership and enhance its emphasis on wellness during their cruises.  Before we explore these new features, a quick reminder of what you can expect on a 7 day river cruise from AmaWaterways will help us better understand how these new enhancements will improve your vacation experience.  I will also tell you about some of my favorite features of an AmaWaterways river cruise.  So, let’s explore these topics together.

What to Expect on an AmaWaterways Cruise—3 Thoughts from our Clients

We just had a new client sail for the first time on AmaWaterways.  Completely new to river cruising in Europe, he just couldn’t stop talking about how good the experience was.  The meals, the accommodations (staterooms), the service, and the included tours exceeded all of his expectations.  But, he was most impressed with the tours and the guides.  He was especially impressed with the Cruise Manager, Camille.  As an Air Force Academy graduate, who is a military history buff, he was astounded at the level of knowledge of the guides.  Since this cruise was on the Seine and covered the D Day sights, I think it is high praise indeed.  So one really positive feature of AmaWaterways (as seen through the eyes of one clients)–the tours.

One of our other clients is the former general manager of a California winery. He also is a foodie.  He is the most knowledgeable guy I personally know about wines.  He can go toe to toe with any wine host on AmaWaterways or a vineyard owner, either as a technical expert or just a down to earth guy who describes the characteristics of a wine to help you discover what wines you might like best.  His winery actually hosted an AmaWaterways wine cruise in 2014–this guy is the real deal!  His thoughts are—the included regional wines are of very high quality.  They change each day, but if you really liked the previous days offering, they are glad to serve it, if you ask and any still remains on the ship.  He just sailed on his 6th AmaWaterways cruise this month—when clients do repeated voyages on the same line, you know it has good products, especially a guy with his knowledge of food and wine. His lovely wife also agrees with their choice of river cruise lines.  They are great traveling companions, and a lot of fun.  So, another positive feature—complimentary high quality regional wines.

Mark and glasses.JPG
Mark (in the red shirt) and crew prepare for a wine tasting in 2014

Another long term client couple, love food and wine.  They really like the variety and quality of meals served on the AmaWaterways ships.  The emphasis on fresh, regional cuisine paired with the two quality wines of the day, is one reason they love to river cruise on AmaWaterways.  However, their favorite dining experience is the Chef’s Table in the stern of the vessel.  This specialty restaurant features a tasting menu that is perfectly paired with some high quality wines.  The 32 seat venue, included in your cruise fare, is a memorable experience and just one other reason why AmaWaterways is different.  So a third reason, the included Chef’s Table.

Chef's Table 2016
John & Linda (middle seats) loved the Chef’s Table on our 2016 cruise

Instead of listening to my thoughts, their impressions of their vacation experience, says volumes—it is an exceptional vacation that is safe, fun, luxurious, and life changing.

A New Ship—the AmaLea

In 2018, AmaWaterways will christen their 20th vessel in Europe.  It will start on the Tulip Time (Netherlands) in the spring and then move to the Danube, sailing from Vilshofen to Budapest or the reverse.  It is a 135 meter ship (443 ft) with 78 staterooms and has a capacity of 156 passengers with a crew of 51.  In my opinion, AmaWaterways has expanded in a smart fashion—they bring on one or two new ships in Europe each year, make sure they are properly staffed and maintain their exacting standards.  Having sailed on 14 different AmaWaterways cruises, the standards never change—it is a consistent brand. 

6 New Itineraries in Europe

4 of the new itineraries will be on the Rhine. 3 are on the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.  One is on the Rhine and one of its tributaries the Main.  Here are the new sailings:

Rhine & Mosel Splendors is sailed by the AmaDante from Luxembourg to Basel.

Rhine & Mosel Delights Basel to Amsterdam is sailed by the AmaPrima.

Rhine & Mosel Fairytales, is sailed on the AmaPrima from Amsterdam to Basel.

Medieval Treasures is sailed by the AmaDante from to Basel to Nuremburg or reverse.

There are 2 new itineraries on the Danube.  They are:

Danube Serenade, is sailed by 3 Ama ships—the AmaCerto, the AmaSerena and the AmaSonata on the Danube River from Nuremburg to Vienna or reverse.

Magical Christmas Markets is sailed by the AmaCerto, the AmaSerena and the AmaSonata from Nuremberg to Vienna or reverse.

An Enhanced Emphasis on Health and Wellness

In keeping with the theme of this blog, I thought I’d like to share some comments from another client about the enhanced wellness offering onboard the AmaLyra.  He is on his 5th river cruise with AmaWaterways.  His wife and he are very active and like the bike offerings and exercise opportunities on AmaWaterways.  Here are his thoughts:

“They had a pilot program with a fitness instructor (Selina).  She provided stretching, core workout, exercise band, hiking, etc. classed and events.  It was great.  She will implement this on another six boats for next year, hiring and training the new personnel.  It is a great addition to the AMA activities.”

AmaWaterways Bike Ride
Our Clients Jane & Len Ready for a bike ride near Cochem, Germany

My Favorite Changes

Although AmaWaterways does not include unlimited alcohol beverages in the fare, they are starting a new program called Sip & Sail Daily.  It is a cocktail hour just before dinner with complimentary wine, beer and spirits.  This is a great addition and will reduce clients’ onboard bills, as most folks really enjoy a cocktail prior to dinner and used to pay for it—now it is free!

Another feature I like is the continued emphasis on Exclusive Special Interest Tours.  Usually free, they may be capacity controlled to 20 guests, as most places they tour or eat at often just can’t handle more folks.  For cruisers who have previously visited some of the ports on the cruise, this adds options to enhance your cruise experience.

Finally, the continued emphasis on wine themed cruises just improves the vacation experience for many guests.  They are up to 50 now a year—a lot of good choices all throughout Europe.  The wine cruises include a wine host.  These folks are wine industry experts who want to share their knowledge and passion for wine both onboard the vessel and at the local wineries during the cruise.  The best part—there is no additional charge for their services—another free enhancement for you to enjoy.

My Final Thoughts

We are river cruise experts.  We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you.  We can tell you the advantage and disadvantages of each of the 8 cruise lines that market to the US consumers.  For most individuals, AmaWaterways is usually the best choice and value for their vacation dollars.  This doesn’t mean the others are not good—on the contrary, they all provide good vacations.  But there are subtle differences and after all our experience and personal study, AmaWaterways is often the best choice.  From this blog, you can see that 4 different clients found 4 different aspects of the AmaWaterways experience that was their favorite. 

When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip.  It is especially true for a Europe river cruise vacation. 

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

Go Ahead—Indulge Yourself in Luxury Travel!

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

Luxury travel means different things to different people.  I think most folks would opt for more luxury in their vacations but worry about the costs.  According to the L.E.K. 2017 Luxury Travel Study, only 10% of the respondents considered themselves luxury travelers, but 85% reported they indulge in travel luxuries sometimes in their travels.  We think the key is value, not an abstract term like luxury.  To me, this raises a couple of questions.  How do you know what luxury features you would like to add to your trip to enhance your experience?  How can you enhance your travels without blowing your budget? 

So, let’s explore these topics together.

Life Enhancing Experiences

We are in the life enhancing business.  To help you get your life enhancing trip experience, there are 4 items necessary for us to help you plan your travel.  There are 1) Some idea of a trip you would like to take, 2) a realistic budget, 3) dates when you want to go, and 4) your trip is a good fit to the services we offer.

To get started on your trip, we make it easy for you to communicate your desire to start thinking about a trip.  Please visit www.dreamdestinations.com, select Send Us Your Travel Request and contact us.  This short form will start you on the road to a great travel location.

How Do You Know What Luxury Features You Would Like to Add to Your Trip to Enhance Your Experience?

Chances are you really do not know all the options available for your trip.  Everyone wants to get the most for their money but if you are fixated on price alone, chances are you will get a sub par experience.  How do I know this?  In my 45+ years of traveling to Europe, every time I cut a corner to save a buck or two, the results was usually wasted time and a poor experience.  Would you like an example—I once refused to pay 5 Marks to go see a fabulous wood carved church altar in Rothenburg, Germany—something I really wanted to see.  I had spent well over $6000 for this trip and balked at 5 Marks—it just doesn’t make sense!  Someday I will get to visit the church again—it was a really poor decision.  What is the reason for this story?—we are here to save you from yourself.  It is very hard for us to keep up with all that is happening in Europe, or on river cruises or on ocean cruises, so how can you be expected to know what features you need to add to get that special feature or luxury experience?  Let us help guide you through the process and the outcome will be a better trip.

They key to adding luxury features is to know what your desired outcome of the trip is.  The most important thing for us to understand is why you are going on the trip.  What do you want to experience and what type of treatment do you expect?  Do you want down time in a luxurious spa?  How about a skip the line entrance to the Vatican Museum?  What is the right mix of seeing the sights at the right pace?  What level of comfort are do you expect on your trip?  What type of hotel do you want to stay in?  Those are just a few of the questions we will ask to get you the trip you desire.

How Can You Enhance Your Trip without Blowing Your Budget?

There are many ways that expensive trips can become a better value and may cost less but still deliver the experience you desire.  For example, traveling when fewer people travel is a good way to get a luxury trip at a better price.  For example, spring, fall and Christmas Market trips are excellent values on Europe River Cruises.  Most of the group river cruises we plan are during these non-peak times.  Not only is the price better, there are less crowds.  Sometimes the weather is not the best, but overall it is our favorite time to travel to Europe—a great trip at a better price.  You really can enhance your traveling experience many times by just letting us search your desired time period for travel to let us seek the best travel value for you.

Christmas Market Schonbrunn Palace 2012 467
Christmas Market Stall on a river cruise–great value for a luxury experience!

 

Another way to enhance your trip, is to pick the right vendor who offers the services and level of care you want.  We carefully vet our preferred suppliers—we know who will deliver the experience you expect and will exceed your expectations—our ultimate goal.

Budapest at Night with Dream Destinations Slogan
Budapest at Night–on the right river cruise line, this is included in the fare!

We also look for upgrades.  We always try to make personal connections with hotels, for example, letting them know our valued clients are coming and asking for the best treatment they can offer.

We Can Inspire You to add some luxury features to your next trip!

With our extensive experience and knowledge about travel, we will match you to the right trip and help get exactly what you expect from your trip.   We will get you the best value for your money on a trip, if you will spend some time us.  The more we can learn about you, the better we can serve you.  We also help you decide if a slight increase in your budget might result in an enhanced experience.

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!  It is especially true for a Europe river cruise vacation. 

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

Hank Schrader
Hank Schrader

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

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

 

High Performing Organizations—AmaWaterways River Cruise Company

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

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

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

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

Characteristics of a High Performing Unit or Organization

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

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

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

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

The 2001 Bellevue Wolverine High School Football Team from Bellevue WA

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

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

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

AmaWaterways

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

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

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

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

 

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

My Final Thoughts

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

Hank Schrader

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

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