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Everything posted by Hlitner

  1. Where I disagree with AKJonsey, is that we much prefer to stay in Yokohama (if embarking from one of their three cruise ports) rather than staying near Haneda. Why? Yokohama is actually a nice city, in its own right, with an excellent Chinatown, promanade, plenty of restaurants, and excellent public transit (including good metro service to Tokyo). Even if we were to check-in at 11 pm, that taxi ride from Haneda to a Yokohama hotel should not take more than a half hour. We would much prefer to wake-up in Yokohama than the Haneda area. There are less expensive ways to get to Yokohama from Haneda (i.e. bus, train, etc) but we never regret the convenience and ease of grabbing a taxi. Another option, is one wants to use the train, is to ship your luggage from the airport to your hotel (they can send your luggage to nearly any place in the country) so that you do not need to deal with luggage on a train. My issue with this is that once you pay for the luggage shipping service (and it takes a few minutes to make the arrangements) it may well be that a taxi would not have cost much more money. To us, the bigger issue is whether to stay near the port (i.e. Yokohama) or in Tokyo. We enjoy both cities and basing one's self in Tokyo (we like the Shinjuku area) is very convenient for seeing all that Tokyo has to offer. Last year we spent a few days in Tokyo, before taking the train to Kyoto where we spent 6 nights. For that trip, we did have our hotel ship our luggage ahead to our Kyoto hotel. We had it at the desk the morning of the day before we checked-out of our Tokyo hotel, and our luggage was waiting for us when we checked-in at Kyoto. The cost of shipping two large pieces was about $50 and well worth it. The practice of shipping luggage (to hotels) is very common in Japan. Hank
  2. No need to be sorry, it is good info to post as a reminder (to me) and a heads-up to others looking for upcoming options. I will also mention how Turkish Air, once "blew my mind" with service. We had flown in from IAD (Dulles) to IST and had a couple of hours before our connecting flight to ATH (this is when we checked-out the lounges). The flight to Athens was quite short (a little over an hour) but, for whatever reason, Turkish Air had a huge B777 flying the route. We were the only passengers in Biz Class and we expected an up/down flight with no service. Nope! As soon as we were airborn the flight attendants were at our seats with fresh fruit juices and Champagne (it was breakfast time). They followed-up with a multi-course hot breakfast (we were not hungry having eaten in the lounge...but ate anyway). Hard to imagine that kind of thing happening on any US airline. Hank
  3. We have been in the new lounges (both of them) on a previous trip (layover on our way to ATH) and found the lounges truly expansive and terrific. They also have a pretty nice (but often overcrowded) lounge at IAD (our departure airport). We think that Turkish Air does a good job, onboard, with their business class and they provide better cuisine (and service) then we have found on AA and United (we will again be in on a Polaris Class flight in a few months). Turkish Air actually creates some fun in Business Class with their "Chef" (essentially a flight attendant dressed in chefs outfit) and cart service (no trays....just plates placed on a table cloth. Hank
  4. The irony is that although we have been to Istanbul, for a few cruises, this time it will just be a few days land (stopover) on the long way round to Tokyo. We will not even see the new port. Over the years we have posted that when folks embark/disembark at a very distant port, there are sometimes decent stopover options (often for no additional airfare) that can get folks to terrific places for very little money. Ireland. Reykjavik , and various European cities are often good options. With airfares continuing to climb, taking advantage of stopovers is a great way to maximize the value of air. Hank
  5. Some will get off at the station (it is not a big station) and some will not. If you pull up a Google Maps screen of the area, the station is on the opposite side of the harbor, from the cruise areas. You simply take the bus in the direction that goes around the harbor (that would be across the street from either of the cruise port areas) and get off in front of the small station. DW and prefer to walk (rather than take the bus) but it takes a good walker about 25 - 30 minutes from Terminal A (where two ships can dock). However, if you are docked in the other location (Terminal B area) it is another 15 minutes distant from the station. Hard to be sure (in advance) where each ship will dock, but I do know that Celebrity usually docks their ships at the more distant port. Last month when we docked on the Oceania Vista, we lucked out and had the closer Terminal A location. I should mention that there is supposed to be a free internal port shuttle bus that runs from the Terminal B area (where there is room for several ships) over to the closer (to the station) Terminal A. We have never seen this bus, but it does exist. The problem, we surmise, is that if you are at the Terminal B and decide to wait for the shuttle bus. you might be wasting valuable time. And even getting over to Terminal A still leaves you with an approximate 30 min walk to the station. And finally I should mention that the walk from the Terminals to the station is safe (there is a walkway) and there are some benches along the route. I always suggest that folks have a working smart phone, and bring up a decent map program (such as Google Maps or Apple Maps) to guide you to the station. If you are not familiar with this small station (it only has two tracks) you could possibly walk past the building and not have a clue. A basic train ticket (I believe it is valid for 90 minutes) works for both the bus and metro (you can use a single ticket for unlimited trips within that time frame). A basic 90 minute ticket costs about 1.20 Euros and is all you need to get to Athens. There is no additional charge to transfer (bus to train to train etc) as long as you are within the 90 minute validity. We are talking about approximately $2.50 round trip from Pireaus to Athens. Hank Hank
  6. Interesting experience, just yesterday, with the ITA Matrix. Those of us who do a lot of independent travel consider the ITA Matrix, one of the best (if not the best) ways to look at all the various airline options. Yesterday we decided to look into booking a one-way fare to Tokyo (for a cruise). When using the ITA Matrix we quickly realized that Turkish Air had an amazing Business Class deal. We than thought, a few day stopover in Istanbul, might be fun so put in that option. Turkish Air again came up with a terrific Business Class price of about $3400. After deciding that we wanted to do this, I went to the Turkish Air site (it is often wise to book on an airline's own web site) only to discover that the same flights we had found on the ITA Matrix were over $500 cheaper on the Turkish Air site. We quickly booked, but this was the first time we have ever seen an airline have a lower cost fare then what shows on the ITA Matrix. By the way, for those who may not be aware, Turkish Air has some of the best Business Class in the world. This brings us to the ongoing debate of booking air through a cruise line vs DIY. Until COVID, we would often find amazing international air deals (especially for Business and First Class) through several cruise lines (CCL and RCI companies). Post Covid, many of the offerings (on the cruise line sites) are either about the same or more costly than one can get by booking direct with various airlines. We continue to suggest that when folks are looking at air for their cruise, they should spend some time looking at many options (through both the cruise line and on your own) and also check-out pricing on various airports. Sometimes, just driving an extra an extra few hours to another airport can yield huge savings. We also think that its worth a longer drive (to airports) if that can get you a non-stop flight! Many of the worst airline problems (missed connections, lost luggage, etc) increase as the number of connections increases. Hank
  7. We would recommend spending a day on Capri (not a boat tour) as we enjoy the island. Just exploring Capri Town, and heading up to Anacapri (via bus or taxi) to spend some time in the quiet village and also take the chair lift up to the top of Mt Solaro, is a day we have enjoyed. The Blue Grotto is a tourist trap that should be seen, once, if time and crowds permit. One can get a boat tour, from along the same pier where you arrive on Capri, assuming that the boats are running and the queues are not overly long. The usual problem, with any port day, is making choices based on the time that is involved. We honestly enjoy this part of Italy when we spend a few days, rather than trying to squeeze a few things into port days. There is a reality to folks who completely rely on cruises. Time is always a big factor, and with all the overtourism/crowds it has become an even bigger problem. Cruisers need to make choices, in most places, since they cannot do it all on port days. Hank
  8. You have done a good job framing the issue. Keep in mind that getting to Manarola or Monterosso means you first need to get to the La Spezia train station. You cannot walk out of the port, so will have to wait for the internal port shuttle bus which gets you to the port terminal (just outside the port). From there, it is a long walk (just over a mile) to the train station and getting a taxi is not always possible. Once at the La Spezia train station, the queue to buy a train ticket, can be long. In fact, we were there a few weeks ago (before the busy season) and it was about a 30 minute wait to get into the ticket office. Once you have a ticket you might wait 20 minutes for the next train. I believe it is possible to get a train ticket, online, but we never explored that option since we were not sure what we were going to do until after we left the ship (what can I say except we are independent travelers who often do things on the spur of the moment). I mention all this because starting the boat tour in La Spezia might not take longer...depending on the tour boat schedule. As to sea conditions, that is always a crap shoot, but the Med weather is usually pretty good (and sometimes hot) during the summer months. Hank
  9. Booking a 4000 passenger ship is certainly not a good way to avoid crowds :). Overtourism is a problem, and when you take a cruise to popular tourist destinations there is no avoiding the hoards. We just returned (Sunday) from Europe, and after our cruise, rented a car to drive through Slovenia and Austria (far from cruise ships). There were plenty of folks everywhere, tourism is doing well, and that is simply the way it is! While you can try to minimize the crowd issue by going to less popular places, the reality is that most travelers (especially those who do not spend a lot of time in Europe) want to see the popular spots. So go with a positive attitude, accept that many places will be crowded, and just make the best of the situation. As to Capri and Ischia (we have been to both places, DIY, several times) I would suggest going to Capri (even with crowds) for those who have never been to this island. Yes, it will be crowded, but it is crowded because it is a decent tourist destination. One can get away from some of the crowds by taking the bus (or a taxi) up to the more residential Anacapri (where you can get the single chair lift to the top of the mountain). But even when its crowded, we enjoy walking the streets of Capri Town, browsing the shops, and enjoying the food/drink. Hank
  10. Dining in Italy (or many places in Europe) can take somewhat longer than you would expect, since just getting a check (and paying) can be a slow process. If on an organized tour, your guide will generally steer you to a place that is more "fast food" oriented. If you do go to a sit down cafe, it can be helpful to have your guide nearby to help move things along. Since the OP mentions lunch in Taormina, I should mention that this tourist-oriented town is well-known as having some of the best cannoli's on earth. Even if you skip lunch, think about getting a cannoli :). Hank
  11. If you plan on taking the Metro (Green Line) from the Pireaus station to Athens, you can use the local buses (#843 or #859) to get from the port area (you need to walk out to the main street in front of either port area) to the station. The problem for a first-timer is knowing when to get off the bus (i.e, in front of the station). The Green Line (the only metro line running from Pireaus) leaves every few minutes and is a fast way into Pireaus. You can look at metro maps, online, to research the various stops. We were in Pireaus a few weeks ago, and the X80 bus was not yet running (we heard it would start in May...but who knows?). Hank
  12. We think the OP's post is brilliant and touches on a subject we have not seen here on CC. I started my world travel life back in 1967 (thanks to the USAF) and my first cruise was in the early 70s. In those days, once you decided (with the help of a travel agent) which cruise, you just went along with program with few decisions (i.e. early or late seating). Now, after more than 50 years of extensive cruising and DIY world travel, most travel-related issues are pretty easy....for me! But when we chat with other cruises (many of whom also have decades of travel under their belt) I realize that we are not the norm for most Americans. For us, renting a car in Europe and just driving (we recently drove through Slovenia, Austria, and Italy...after a cruise) is not any more difficult than renting a car near home. But others tell me they are reluctant to do anything on their own, worry about language barriers, have no clue about driving rules in other countries, etc. On cruises there are now many dining options (some ships have more than a dozen restaurants), multiple entertainment venues, etc. As a long time CC contributor (from the first days of CC) I am biased and think this site is one of the best places to get the info necessary to deal with cruise lines and even some DIY travel. I do think younger folks are truly blessed to have so many options, but also realize (partially because of the OP's post) that the travel/cruise world can be intimidating to many folks. I also think that the mass market cruise lines have made a science out of using these self-doubts as a lever to get folks to spend money where there is little/no need. Such is life in the 21st century. Hank
  13. Oceania does not even hold a candle to the mail we get from Viking :). In fact, we get three sets of every mailing from Viking (my name, my name with only a first initial, and DW's name). I once called Viking and suggested they were wasting a lot of money (just for mailing) with all this duplication. I got transferred to a supervisor who could have cared less! To this day, despite not having cruised on Viking River or Ocean for more than a decade, we still get lots of mailings. We have given up on the mail issue, and it all helps to pad the landfills (not sure paper truly gets recyled). When we have been away for a few weeks/months, our junk mill truly fills bins...most of which is cruise related junk mail (having cruised on 18 lines does get us a lot of cruise mail). I might shock the cruise marketing executives if I told them we seldom to never look at any of the brochures (even from our favorite lines). Nearly all of our research is done online where we can use data bases to search criteria (i.e dates, places, etc). Using the printed brochures means I would need to spend hours looking through stuff from at least a dozen cruise lines. Instead, I can input criteria into online data bases and pull up relevant info in seconds. Hank P.S. I will thank a few anonymous (CC rules prohibit me from mentioning names) cruise agencies that have excellent cruise data bases (that have info on nearly every cruise line and ship).
  14. I want to note that I never mentioned compensation as a remedy (although there are times when that might be appropriate). A good start is to ask for a higher degree of transparency. I also think there are times when the cruise line's should waive their cancellation penalties, when they make significant last minute changes of itinerary. Once upon a time we had booked an Oceania Marina 18 day voyaged that was to end in Lima, Peru. Less than 3 weeks prior to the cruise, the line changed part of their itinerary and moved the final port (disembarkation) about 1500 miles to Santiago, Chile! This put many cruisers (including me) who had booked their own air in a bad place. Since it was also near the Christmas holiday, there were additional issues related in air travel at a very busy time of the year. The cruise line did their best to resist refunds, although they were open to the idea of a cancellation along with a future cruise credit. We ultimately were able to get a 100% refund, but this took a personal message to the CEO by both ourself and our influential high volume cruise agency (who was part of one of the largest travel consortiums). Over our 50+ years of extensive cruising, we have had very few major glitches, but it has happened. Because we book through reputable high volume cruise agencies, we have been able to leverage their influence and our own persistence to get favorable outcomes. In fact, we have often suggested, here on CC, that one reason to use a decent high volume cruise agency is that they have more leverage, when dealing with problems, than a lone cruiser. We do think that most cruise lines generally "do the right thing" when pushed by knowledgeable cruisers/cruise agents. But in chats with other cruisers, some of whom lacked a lot of cruise/travel experience, it has occurred to me that those who are somewhat naive/innocent do sometimes get the shaft (I cannot think of a better term). Part of the problem is that the cruise contracts and/or "terms and conditions" are very one-sided. The cruise lines can quickly fall back on their legal language (which they have authored) and the consumer capitulates or quickly finds themselves in a tough situation. We have all met cruisers who "demand compensation" for everything from a lousy excursion to rough seas (I kid you not). In more than 50 years of extensive cruising (worldwide) we have never asked for any compensation. At times we have asked for an accommodation (such as a cabin change when our cabin was flooded). On one cruise, where our cabin (and some others) was filled with paint fumes (they were painting near an outside air intake) we "demanded" they either stop, or pay for us to fly home from the next port (they did stop and apologize). In that case, multiple complaints (by an entire group of cruisers and even some crew) went unanswered until we finally made a demand (fix the issue or we leave). That particular issue turned out to create an internal disagreement between the Hotel Manager and Chief Engineer (I kid you not). Many years ago we were on a cruise (large mass market ship) where nearly half the ship was taken over by one large group. That group took over multiple public venues (for many evenings) thus depriving the other passengers of several venues that should have been part of the voyage. The cruise line knew, far in advance, they had booked space for a large group that would disadvantage other cruisers. But not only did they not disclose this info, but they went to some length to keep the info from cruisers until after embarkation. This is the kind of thing that can (and should be) covered by a bill of rights. Hank
  15. Some ask about Simply More and excursions and we will repeat what we learned on our recent 35 day Vista Cruise. We had SM, and since we have a strong dislike of cruise line excursions, we booked (prior to the cruise) just enough excursions to utilize all of our excursions credit (over $1000 per person). During the cruise, one port where we had an excursion, was cancelled. One of our other confirmed excursions was also cancelled (the explanation was that the shore-based provider cancelled the excursion). Accordingly, we had nearly $400 per person unused credits. At that point, many of the best excursions were fully booked and many others were of no interest to us. Since O would simply keep our unused credit (there are no refunds...even though O cancelled the excursions) we booked a couple of available excursions (one turned out to be awful and the other was OK). When O cancelled our excursions, the money was quickly credited back to our account (but could only be used for other excursions). I will add that the excursion we had on Santorini (which included a winery visit and tasting) was really bad. We know that quite a few on our tour went to the Destination Office to complain (not sure how that worked out). We did not complain, because even if they had given us some kind of refund (which would have likely been put back into our excursion credits) there was no way we would have booked any other excursions. We are DIY travelers and being stuck on a bus with 40+ of our "friends" is not our idea of fun. As to the awful tour on Santorini, the problem was a very bad and disorganized guide who did a good job at wasting an awful lot of time. This left little time for some of the promised (and better) parts of our itinerary. During numerous discussions (mostly at Martinis) with other cruisers, the quality of the excursions on our cruise seemed to be hit/miss. This is what we typically hear on other cruise lines. Whether you get a good excursion or something quite bad, does seem to be a matter of luck. A good guide does make a difference, and when you book cruise line excursions you have no control over guides. While we generally prefer to simply do our own thing, there is much to say about the benefits of booking small group tours where you have some control over choosing a guide and planning an itinerary. Hank
  16. Many years ago (when O always packaged air with their cruises) we took a good look at booking an O cruise. At the time, everything was priced with Economy Air, and O only had their smaller R ships. After looking at the pricing, we asked about doing our own air, and the air credit offered by O was ridiculously low...making the cruise pricing a bad value (in our opinion). Given the pricing, value, and our dislike of the cabin bathrooms on the R ships, we did not book the cruise. A few days later we received an unsolicited call from an O rep who tried to talk us into booking that cruise. When he asked why we did not book, I simply told him that O was not a good value when compared to several other cruise lines (we have cruised on 18 cruise lines). The O rep become somewhat argumentative and tried to pressure me into booking. I finally pointed out to him that even if we were to book with O, it would be through one of our favored cruise agencies that enhanced bookings with a generous OBC (not available by booking direct with O). This rep was not happy (he made that clear) and I finally thanked him and hung up. It was more than 15 years later until we finally booked our first O cruise. I will add that we have never been pressured by any other cruise line and never received an unsolicited marketing telephone call. Hank
  17. For those who have not recently used Global Entry, the CBP folks have changed the entry procedures to make it nearly "painless." They have now implemented facial ID (in many places) which get folks thought the entry process in less than a minute. Just this week, we flew into JFK, stopped at the Global Entry kiosk, and within 15 seconds (after posing for a photo scan) were on our way through the CBP booth. The CBP officer greeted us by name and simply waved us through without even a glance at our Passport. This creates a somewhat humorous situation where those of us with Global Entry are at the baggage carousel long before the luggage. One could make the case, that for those who have check luggage, Global Entry does not save any overall time. What happens is rather then waiting in a queue to go through CBP procedures, one cools their heels at the luggage carousel. By the time the luggage comes up, just about everyone on the flight has cleared their various CBP checks. This week a gentleman (next to me waiting for luggage) laughed and said we had been "conned" to have paid for trading one queue (CBP) for another queue (luggage carrousel). Hank
  18. We have noticed a disturbing trend, with multiple cruise lines, to announce cruise itineraries, accept bookings, and later make major modifications to the itinerary with no explanation to those already booked. In some cases, the changes might even happen after final payment, and inside penalty periods. The cruise lines can fallback to their "Terms and Conditions" which give the lines the right to change itineraries at their whim, with little or no opportunity for booked cruisers to cancel. Just this past year, on our own bookings, we have run into major changes on Seabourn and Oceania. Others have recently posted about changes (the last-minute elimination of the Alaskan Inside Passage route) in a HAL cruise. Sometimes the cruise lines will offer compensation (because of changes) and other times cruisers get nothing but a sour taste in their mouths. For many years, I have talked about some kind of "Passenger Bill of Rights" that would shift some rights from the cruise lines to the customers/passengers. While itinerary changes will often happen for very good reasons (bad weather, wars, etc) there now seems to be many times that it seems like the cruise lines must be aware of changes long before they are announced to cruisers. Some recent examples involve ports such as Key West and Bora Bora, which have adopted cruise ship restrictions. Certain cruise line's will keep these ports (and others) on their itinerary until late in the booking process, or even after embarkation, and then make a change/cancellation like this is unavoidable! As a frequent cruiser who has run into this problem on an increasingly common basis, I think it is a topic worthy of constructive discussion (and perhaps some investigation by the CC editors with the goal of posting an article about the subject). Let us all try to keep this topic. civil, and not turn it into a rant about this subject. What do you think? Hank
  19. You also raise a great issue which is it would be very nice to have a decent port facility in every embarkation port. Some ports (Port Everglades and Port of Miami come to mind) have been working to improve their terminals and often partner with major cruise lines to pay the cost of new facilities. But, with the potential of hundreds of embarkation ports, around the world, this is not going to be the norm. My only suggestion, to fellow cruisers, is to be aware that the port facilities might suck (for lack of a better term) and do not arrive (at the port) earlier than a reasonable embarkation time. We know folks who will go to the port as early as 9am, when embarkation does not normally begin until at least 11:30. Some of our friends like to go to the ports somewhat late (such as 2:30pm) which usually ensures they are quickly processed and allowed to board, without needing to spend waiting time in an ugly terminal. We also know of one cruise line, which has tried a special VIP process at Port Everglades, where they have some cruisers (this is a limited group with status) to report to an off-site facility (i.e. nicer lounge) where they wait until it is time to be transferred to the port/ship. I do not see much future for this system, since it can only accommodate a small number of passengers (such as those in the most expensive suites) but it does acknowledge that the cruise lines are aware that the process at the port facilities does leave a lot to be desired. Hank Hank
  20. On my last Pacific crossing, my birthday was celebrated twice (since we crossed the IDL on my birthday). That spurred the question (over a few drinks) whether I aged two years :). Hank
  21. ,I will not do the OP's homework, but they might want to look at Cunard, Princess, NCL, and RCI, all of whom have cruises that begin in Europe and allow disembarkation in NYC (for this coming fall). Hank
  22. I guess, as long time independent travelers, we generally have little problem finding our own solutions to issues like luggage storage. There are numerous places in Lisbon, where one can safely store luggage, while they spend the day in town. Going all the way out to the airport, to just dump luggage, and returning to the city, really makes little sense. Here is just one site that lists luggage storage options: Luggage Storage & Lockers in Lisbon Guide - 2024 (luggagehero.com) In the OP's situation we would simply take a post cruise taxi to one of the luggage storage places (after doing some homework on which place to use) and drop the luggage. The OP is than free to spend their day doing as they please. When it gets near the time to head out to the airport, just retrieve the luggage and grab a taxi to the airport. Easy peasy. Hank
  23. Hmm, With that logic why not only have cleaning 3 days a week. serve 2 meals day, etc. Cut-backs are simply that....CUTBACKS. As some cruise lines continue to cutback (and this includes HAL) they are not passing along the savings to passengers. Hank
  24. The Cable Car (at Fira) is not so much about the heights, but more about the reality of the primary means to get to the main city on Santorini. For folks that cannot, or will not, take the cable car at Fira (one or both ways) and are not able, or willing, to deal with the path/steps (be it on foot or a donkey), I would suggest avoiding the port. That being said, on some cruises, there are a few excursions that include round trip tendering from the ferry port of Athinios! If you have the ability to book an excursion that both begins and ends with tendering to/from Athinios, then you have found the exception to the rule and can go ashore without having to deal with the cable car or steps. On our most recent visit (we have been to Santorini more then 2 dozen times), last month on the Oceania Vista, there were NO excursions that involved round trip tendering to/from Athinios. We have no way to know what is available on other cruises. Hank
  25. We are no longer fans of HAL, but have always found their laundry service (and quality) to be quite good. The "by the bag" deals will generally make the service affordable and a better option then spending part of a vacation day sitting at a laundromat. Hank
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