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Everything posted by DougK

  1. With all due respect, you should get a new travel agent. There was significant disruption on the Danube last fall, starting towards the end of July and through most of the rest of the season. You should take a look at this very long thread from last year discussing water levels: Posts from the beginning of August start around page 4.
  2. I don't believe that's correct, depending of course on the time of year. First off, the Inside Passage trips from Vancouver don't go by Victoria, at least under normal circumstances. They head northwest out of Vancouver in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the mainland, i.e., part of the Inside Passage. In June and July, there's at least 5 hours of daylight after sailaway. Yes, that's not long enough to get to Seymour Narrows, and it's a pretty wide part of the Inside Passage, but it still beats open ocean.
  3. As a general matter, no. That's the whole point of auto gratuities. Actually, I prefer to cruise on lines where the gratuities are included, but I consider the auto gratuity to be much the same, except it lets the cruise line advertise a deceptively lower price. There are, of course, exceptions when a staff person has gone well beyond the ordinary, and we've done an extra gratuity then. But when they're just doing their normal job, and that includes normal concierge tasks like booking specialty restaurant reservations, I consider the normal auto gratuity to be sufficient.
  4. For kicks, I just looked at the printed 2019 Alaska brochure, and it shows only one route map for the Inside Passage itinerary, regardless of ship, and it goes through Chatham Strait. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the current map on the web site doesn't necessarily show where the NA will actually go. I need to remember to check a cruise tracker on Wednesday evenings to see where the NA is...
  5. So would you tip front desk personnel as well?
  6. I'm confused. I would think gratuities for the concierge would be handled by the fact that auto gratuities are higher for suites than non-suites. Unless you're asking for something out of the ordinary, why isn't the concierge covered by the auto gratuity?
  7. I haven't seen anybody trying to restrict your freedom here. If you or anybody else puts a group together for whatever reason, whether it's worship, knitting, card playing, etc., I would hope that HAL would make accommodation and provide an appropriate space if one is available. But my understanding is that you're asking for more than space; you're also asking for HAL to provide a minister to lead services. That's a big difference, with a significant expense to HAL, whether by paying the minister, or by comp'ing the cruise. It seems like HAL has chosen to do so for Catholic priests, but I don't think they're required to do so; nor do I think they're required to provide spiritual leaders for other faiths, any more than they're required to provide knitting instructors for a group interested in knitting. My guess is that they're trying to balance the demand against the cost. Perhaps they see more demand for Catholic priests than they do for other ministers; although there are more Protestants than Catholics in the US, they're also divided among many different branches, and it may not be clear (at least to HAL) how well a minister of one Protestant branch would do at serving passengers of other branches. Or perhaps the cost is lower because of support provided by AOS, with there being no comparable organization for other faiths. Or perhaps it's something entirely different; I have no clue. The bottom line is that if you want ministerial services, you'll have to show HAL that there is sufficient demand to warrant the costs. But unless HAL sees such demand, I wouldn't just expect them to provide ministerial services. In the meantime, it seems like your choices are either to survive without organized services while cruising, find another line that provides the clergy you want, or give up cruising. Those are the same choices that we all have to make with regard to a variety of aspects of cruising, whether it be entertainment, dancing, dining/liquor, itinerary, dress code, or something else. Either convince HAL that item has high demand, find another line that provides what we want, or give up cruising. I don't see why religious services would be treated any differently. Obviously, the depth of commitment to religion may be different than other things, but the concept remains the same--HAL is figuring out what combination of services to provide is most cost-effective/profitable to them, based on their perceived demand.
  8. Your balcony is on the port side and is unobstructed. You also have a window that looks out the front, but angled to the port side. It looks out partly over the deck in front of your suite, and partly off to the port side. If you search online, you can find pictures that show this; I'd give you a link, but I don't think we're allowed to.
  9. I'm not sure there are any hard and fast rules about timing, but I think you're risking it with an 11:30 arrival. We were on a Princess cruise in May, arrived somewhere around 11:45, and it took us about two hours to embark. The problem wasn't with the check-in, it was with security and customs, where there were huge backups. Maybe it was an unusual day, but I wouldn't count on it. My guess is that customs lines don't evaporate until very late in the process, at least on busy days. I was there on a day with 3 ships in port, with a total of about 5500 passengers. You only have two ships, but still about 4800 passengers, so I'm not sure how much less congestion there will be. FWIW, I'm going again in July, also on a two-ship day--but one of those is a mega ship, so there will be somewhere around 5800 passengers. I'm planning on arriving early this time...
  10. I was also booked with Captain Jack for a trip back in May. When he suddenly died, we got only a few day's notice before the trip. We got our refund in just a couple of days. My understanding at that time was that Captain Alan was scrambling and trying to figure out whether he could keep the company going without Captain Jack. My guess is that he's now figured out it's not viable, and is winding it down and cancelling all trips--but that's pure speculation on my part. FWIW, we were able to rebook with Jayleen on almost no notice--but then our ship was seriously delayed getting to Juneau, so that trip didn't happen either. Jayleen graciously refunded payment since it was out of our control, even though she wasn't in any way responsible. We're fortunate enough to be taking another Alaska cruise in July, and we're again booked with Jayleen, and crossing our fingers that it will actually all go without a hitch this time.
  11. One perk that hasn't been mentioned in this thread, but I found in another thread, is free bottled water and soft drinks in the refrigerator. Does anybody know whether that perk still exists?
  12. I think we all agree that it would be good if Emerald gave more explanation in advance that the sundeck would be closed. We just differ in how important it is. First off, there's no reason to believe that Emerald is any different from any other river cruise company. As has been discussed, the vast majority of companies that sail the Main close the sundeck on that river, and I don't think any of them do a better job of disclosure than Emerald. But more importantly, to me, is that this is just one of many things that river cruise companies don't disclose, and to me, many of the others are far more important than the closure of the sundeck for a few days. Some examples: 1) Rafting. This is barely noted by cruise companies, but may have a significant effect on enjoyment, especially enjoyment of balcony cabins. 2) Frequency of itinerary changes, whether due to river conditions (high/low water), accidents, or infrastructure (e.g., lock damage). Other than anecdotally, I have yet to see any publication of statistics on the percentage of cruises affected, and how it differs by season, route, and cruise company. 3) How itinerary changes are handled. As we saw last summer/fall, virtually all cruise companies are extremely tight lipped about this, barely notifying existing passengers, and saying almost nothing to the public. 4) Expected port times. While this does change due to river conditions, cruise companies do have some idea of how long they expect to be in each port (e.g., for a full day, or just long enough for tours), but they generally don't communicate this to passengers until the night before the stop. This makes it very difficult to make independent plans, rather than using the company's tours (which may be included in the fare, but may not match what a particular passenger wants to see in that location). 5) Length of bus rides to destinations. This is somewhat related to the previous one, as there's little information about which ports are docked at vs. being a "drive-by" (where the ship drops off passengers at one location, they're bused to the destination for tours, and then bused back to the ship at yet a third location). Most river cruises involve a fair amount of time spent on buses, but you'd be hard pressed to learn that from looking at marketing materials. 6) How much sailing occur during daylight hours. This is also somewhat related to the two previous ones, as there's an obvious correlation between port time and river time. 7) Dining arrangements. Most companies claim "open seating," but the definition of that varies greatly from company to company (e.g., pick your own table at a defined time vs. pick your own time within a window). Similarly, some companies have almost all large-ish tables, so most people end up sharing tables with strangers, but that may not be mentioned in marketing. 8) Crew smoking policies. While companies may mention passenger smoking areas, they're silent on crew smoking areas, which might be right next to passenger areas and have significant smoke drift. I'm sure there are many other things that aren't disclosed; those just sprang to the top of my head. What's important is that we all attach our own importance to each of these. From reading this board, it seems like many passengers are primarily interested in the ports and everything else is secondary. For others, the onboard experience is most important, but still varies. For me, for example, I couldn't care less about the sundeck, but use of my balcony matters a lot. The bottom line, however, is that river cruise companies are far less transparent than ocean cruise companies, and passengers need to do a lot more research themselves into the things that are important to them. This board is a great place, and maybe a good travel agent can help as well. And, most importantly, I've learned that if one wants to enjoy a river cruise, one needs to learn to roll with the punches--there are going to be unexpected issues no matter how much research is done in advance.
  13. Does anybody know what's going on with the Scenic Opal? It was supposed to end one cruise and start another in Basel today, but it looks like it stayed in Strasbourg last night instead. I don't think high water in Basel should have been an issue, since it looks like other ships have been coming and going to Basel. It doesn't personally affect me, but I'm just curious...
  14. I'm a little confused. How much time during those days were you actually sailing? Weren't you spending time in ports, and wasn't much of the sailing at night, or during meals? Which part of your holiday was more important to you--sitting on the ship, or touring a port? Although I understand you were greatly disappointed by closure of the sundeck, did it really ruin your whole holiday? Would you have considered the holiday to be ruined if it rained? I just don't agree that Emerald wouldn't have sold their cabins if people knew the sundeck would be closed; I think most passengers are more interested in the ports and general ambience of river cruising, rather than pinning their expectations on the sundeck.
  15. I've purchased the Distinctive Dining package for my upcoming Alaska cruise. As I understand it, with the package I can't get actual reservations at the restaurants until I'm onboard. But I'm a little hazy on what the process onboard is. Is there one centralized specialty restaurant desk that can handle reservations for all three restaurants? Or do I need to go to each one individually? Is there going to be a voucher or something in my cabin that I need to present, or is that information all in a database that they access? Since I'm in a Neptune Suite, is this something the Neptune concierge can handle for me, or should I do it myself? Thanks for any info!
  16. On Scenic's Jewels of Europe last fall, most stops were close enough to walk, depending on how far you're willing to walk. For some stops we were docked right in town, but others required a further walk. In Bamberg, I think we docked about a mile and a half away from the old town. As others have mentioned, Vienna docks are not by the city center; for us, we were about two miles away from the city center, so shuttle buses were most commonly used (though I walked it a couple of times). Nuremberg was the most difficult; as notamermaid says, the dock is on the canal, but the canal itself is nowhere close to tourist sites. Our dock was 3-4 miles from both the old town and the Nazi Documentation Center, which most people wouldn't want to walk. I think Scenic normally docks in the city center for Cologne, but due to low water, we were instead bused from a ways away as the ship continued to sail. Amsterdam, Rudesheim, Wurzburg, Regensburg, Melk, and Budapest were all docked in the city center. (I don't know about Passau and Durnstein, since water conditions caused us to miss those stops.)
  17. I understand that you're upset by the sundeck closure, but I'm surprised that you weren't aware of the route. I just took a look at the 2019 Emerald Waterways brochure, and it titles the cruise "Legends of the Moselle, Rhine & Main" and shows exactly the route taken. Surely you knew you were disembarking at Nuremberg--how exactly did you think you were going to get there without going on the Main? It is unfortunate that the Main effectively requires closure of the sundeck on most ships, and I do think that cruise companies could do a better job of making passengers aware of that prior to the cruise. But there are enough fabulous cities along the way that I highly doubt cruise lines are going to decide to stop using the route. FWIW, Emerald has the exact same itinerary scheduled for next year as well.
  18. While taking a look at a ship tracking site today, it occurred to me that river cruises, unlike ocean cruises, may have *optional* "sea days." In some cases, on some itineraries, even though a day is labelled as a port day, the ship doesn't stay docked in the port. Instead, it pulls over at some point to unload passengers to tour buses, then resumes cruising. The buses go to the "port," passengers do various tours, and then the buses meet up with the ship further along the river. In these cases, if passengers are willing to forgo the port, they can instead enjoy a day of cruising. As best I know, that's not an option on ocean cruises; if passengers opt out of a port, they just sit on a stationary (docked or anchored) boat. I've only taken one river cruise thus far, and I don't think this was an option on that itinerary (or maybe I just overlooked it). But I think it might be an option on the next cruise I've booked for next year, and I can see the appeal; although sightseeing in ports is nice, I also greatly enjoy just sitting on the ship and watching passing scenery. Has anybody chosen to do this? Did you know in advance which "ports" were going to be accessed only by bus while the ship went on cruising, or did you just find out that day (or the night before)?
  19. Thanks, Daisi, I had totally missed that. I was looking at the physical brochure, which only discusses the itinerary in reverse order (Basel->Amsterdam). I should have thought to look online.
  20. I'm on the West Coast, flying to Vancouver, BC. There is only one nonstop from Zurich (an Air Canada flight), and it leaves around 10A. There are multiple opportunities for one-transfer flights from both Basel and Zurich, most leaving between 10A-noon. For obvious reasons, I'd prefer the nonstop, but I don't know whether that's possible. And for this trip, we'd really prefer not to add a day or two at the end, though Switzerland is enticing.
  21. I'm starting to think about flights for our river cruise next year, and am wondering what limits I should put on my searching. Unlike ocean cruises, there's no set time when we're supposed to arrive at our final destination. I assume it's going to be morning, since they want to get one set of passengers off and the next set on, but I don't know whether that means 4AM or 10AM, or somewhere in between. How early of a flight can I look at? FWIW, I'm going to be on Scenic's Romantic Rhine & Moselle, ending in Basel. I didn't have to worry about this on our cruise last fall, because the final night was an overnight in Budapest, so the only limit was how early I wanted to get up. But here, it depends on lot when the ship will arrive and we can disembark. As best I can tell, my only nonstop opportunity is leaving Zurich around 10A, and I'm betting that's too early--it would mean I'd have to count on disembarking by 7A, accounting for travel to the airport and international checkin requirements. On the other hand, flying out of Basel at 11A sounds safe to me, with much shorter time to get to the airport, and a shorter checkin requirement at Basel. Does this sound right? What about Zurich at 11A, or Basel at 10A? And is there any chance of doing Zurich at 10A? A nonstop would be nice...
  22. I totally understand where you're coming from. My wife has similar issues, and we were quite concerned about having a multi-hour bus trip when we were forced to do a ship swap last year (between Regensburg and Melk). The ship plan was for everybody to get on the bus, drive for several hours, then do a tour, and finally end up at the new ship. We decided to instead go on our own (after talking to the cruise director, of course). We got train tickets from Regensburg to Melk, which was much more comfortable, and allowed walking and stretching, and then we did our own little walk around Melk and stopped at a cafe, before proceeding on to meet the ship. It cost us a little more money (about $125 for the two of us), but ended up being a rather pleasant day. With luck, you won't run into any problems, but if you do, just remember that you aren't necessarily limited to what the ship company is providing.
  23. I can see both advantages and disadvantages to the e-bikes. One of the issues is that it makes the bike itself far heavier than a normal bike--so it takes more work to ride it without the motor running, especially on uphill stretches. So the motor certainly can help going uphill, but it also makes it far more necessary to use the motor. Overall, on our Scenic cruise, I would personally have preferred that they just had normal bikes, but I also wasn't doing a ton of uphill. And I'm guessing most guests who aren't normally bike riders are more inclined to try out an e-bike, knowing the motor will help them--I don't know how many would be willing to go off on their own on a normal bike. Does Crystal allow passengers to use the bikes freely to explore on their own? The article sounded kinda like the bikes were limited to a few specific group excursions. Personally, I find it hard to get too concerned about the injury potential for e-bikes, compared to normal bikes. I wonder if Crystal's real concern is that *any* bike will cause injury to passengers who aren't used to riding--and getting rid of e-bikes will discourage those non-riders from trying out a bike at all.
  24. The vast majority of the time you can just walk, depending on how much walking you want to do. The only time that really wasn't possible at all was for Cologne, and that was due to river traffic problems due to low water, so the ship didn't even really dock (just stopped to load/unload buses). For some stops we were docked right in town. For others, it was further away, but I have a pretty high tolerance for walking. In Bamberg, I think we docked about a mile and a half away from the old town; I joined a tour bus to go to town, but walked back. In Vienna, we were about two miles away from the city center; I both walked that and took shuttle buses on a couple of trips into the town. Nuremberg was the most difficult; we were docked 3-4 miles from both the old town, and the Nazi Documentation Center (which I really wanted to see). It was a nice day, and I was willing to walk those distances, but this is one place where calling a taxi would probably have made more sense; I don't think any tour bus was going where I wanted.
  25. As it turns out, we went on almost no Scenic excursions. A couple of times we used an excursion bus to take us to a destination, but then walked around on our own (after notifying the tour director, of course). I think the only one we fully went on was the excursion to the castle, which included both a tour and dinner. That was enjoyable, but we really prefer just to walk around by ourselves. The TailorMade devices are actually quite handy to point out places of interest (both walking around and, especially, cruising the Rhine), as well as providing navigation. One day I used one of the e-bikes to go on a ride by myself to a tourist attraction that's a little off the beaten path, and that was quite enjoyable. Overall, this ended up just not being anything to stress over, as long as you're OK wandering without much of a plan. I talked about it with our fabulous cruise director, Beate, the first day. She said to go ahead and sign up for excursions, but there was never any obligation to actually go on them. I think her words were something like "It's your vacation; do what you want and enjoy it." The upshot was that we did a lot of just wandering around with little planned other than seeing a few main sites, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. We're booked again for next year. Oh, and I definitely wouldn't try booking specific times in advance for anything; we really didn't get info about when we'd be in any port more than the day before, and even that wasn't definite. Admittedly, we went during a time of low water, and that made the logistics more complicated than normal (including a ship swap), but I think there ends up being a fair amount of variability anyway. So just go, partake of what you want, skip the rest, and have fun!
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