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About kochleffel

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  1. If this was for me: 7 days, Royal Caribbean, Serenade of the Seas.
  2. NCL provides the most services for solo travelers and offers them even on ships that don't have any single cabins, although there will be more solos on the ships that do. In particular, a designated solo host will bring solo passengers (only those who want to) together for dinner each night after the first. This is nice if you would like company for dinner, because NCL is all "freestyle" dining with no assigned seating. Why they don't do it on the first night is a question that I can't answer. I recently returned from a cruise on RCI, on a ship that has only three single cabins (and I didn't have one of them). There was a singles party late at night that I didn't attend, and there were singles trivia games with themes that I wasn't interested in. Nevertheless, I felt well taken care of and wouldn't hesitate to cruise on RCI again - which is a good thing because I have a booking on RCI for next year. I would avoid MSC, which won't even accept solo bookings on some itineraries.
  3. I'm just back from a cruise on the Baltic Sea from Stockholm. I agree completely that the number of days in St. Petersburg and where the ship docks in Stockholm should be given the most weight. There is an inherent trade-off in avoiding ships that dock at Nynashamn in Sweden. If you prefer the activities and amenities of a very large ship, you may want to choose one that can't dock at Frihamnen or Stadsgärden. I don't care much about those things, and a Baltic cruise has so many port days that you don't really get a lot of time aboard the ship anyway. I chose an itinerary from Stockholm rather than Copenhagen partly because of availability on the dates that worked best for me, but also because it happened not to include a call at what the cruise lines misleadingly call "Berlin." Berlin is inland and is a long trip from Warnemünde or Rostock where the ship can dock. I speak German and would want more time in Berlin than a cruise call allows, so I was willing to leave it for a future visit, but it meant missing Copenhagen this time since I didn't have enough vacations days for a stop there before or after the cruise. The Baltic ports were still cool at the beginning of July. I appreciated that, because on the day I arrived in Stockholm, where it was 75° F. (the warmest temperature I experienced during this trip), it was 113° in Paris.
  4. Day 6 - St. Petersburg. The only excursion I had booked for our second day at St. Petersburg wasn't until the afternoon. This worked out well, because I was tired -- not so much from the long day just before, but because of the many hours of walking in Tallinn the day before that. As it was a port day, there was no MDR lunch and I lunched a little early in the Windjammer. The tour I chose, booked through RCI, was one that combined a visit to the Yusupov palace with a canal cruise. I had read Prince Yusupov's account of the assassination of Rasputin when I was about ten years old and had wanted to see the place ever since, even after learning that there is doubt about his version of the story.* The group from our ship was enough for two buses, and at the palace the guides divided us further into four groups, two from each bus, because although the palace is very large (the Yusupovs were probably wealthier than the Romanovs!), the rooms having to do with the assassination are small. Each group visited those rooms at a different point in the tour, with the large public rooms before, after, or both. The rooms that are the alleged site of the assassination have wax figures depicting the conspirators and Rasputin himself. Here is a photo of Rasputin after his body was pulled out of the canal. There was water in his lungs, and it's possible that, even though he was first poisoned and then shot, he died of drowning. The canal cruise was less of a success, because it had started to rain hard. St. Petersburg may be the "Venice of Russia" but it has only about 55 sunny days a year. The rain eventually stopped and many people went up on deck for a better view and better ventilation, but if you do that, you have to stay seated because of the many bridges. In that connection, people staying in St. Petersburg late the evening before had been warned that almost all the bridges are raised overnight to allow access farther into the city for cargo ships. We were slightly late getting back to the ship, and our guide said that her headquarters had been in touch with the ship about our arrival time. We were by no means the only tour group returning at the last minute. * So this was a bucket-list item for me. I achieved another such item in a cruise last year, seeing the Chapelle du Rosaire (Matisse Chapel) at Vence in France, during a port call at Cannes.
  5. I am starting to think that I should take my funeral suit on every cruise. And, to fit in with other passengers, look censoriously at everyone else. After all, this is The Holland America Line and there are standards to maintain.
  6. Holland America hedges: On gala nights women usually wear a suit, cocktail dress or gown and men wear a jacket and tie, dark suit, or tuxedo. And on another page: Jacket and tie are appropriate for gentlemen, while ladies wear a cocktail dress or gown. The latter of these two statements is on a page about packing for Alaska, BTW. So, if I don't take a jacket and tie to the Caribbean, it will be unusual and inappropriate, I guess.
  7. I have taken trips longer than 7 days with only carry-on luggage - not to Alaska, but sometimes to places where I needed clothing for cold conditions, such as the Alps. Unlike most who have posted, I sometimes do hand laundry during a trip. I also have some Ex Officio underwear. My experience is that T-shirts dry quickly but boxers and briefs dry no faster than some ordinary brands. If I didn't have any I probably wouldn't buy it. It is easier to do hand laundry during a cruise than during a land stay, just because you occupy the same room for the duration of the cruise. But it's also less necessary, because you don't have to move luggage from city to city every couple of days and can thus pack heavier if carry-on isn't essential. One good argument against hand laundry even if you don't mind the time it takes is that, if two or more people are sharing a cabin (or hotel room), there may not be enough drying space. One item of clothing that I do recommend for mixed-climate travel (and for me this includes winter travel to a warmer destination) is a packable down-alternative vest, if you can find one. This takes less space in luggage than a fleece and, worn under a rain jacket or windbreaker, is quite warm. Mine came from that place in Maine but I don't think they offer it any longer.
  8. That's interesting. I have a first edition of Emily Post's Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home (1922) in which Mrs. Post carefully explained that "formal" meant white tie and tails, while black tie (tuxedo) was "informal." Successive editions of her book were the standard guide to etiquette in the U.S. for decades. Cocktail attire seems right to me.
  9. According to HAL's web site and recent posts in this forum, Holland America has replaced "formal nights" with "gala nights" and doesn't enforce a strict dress code at them. However, a new post in another forum states, "On cruises elsewhere Holland America is very fussy about MDR attire. They make men borrow ties and suit jackets if they don't have them on but that didn't happen once on the Alaska cruise." My upcoming cruise on HAL is to the Caribbean, not Alaska. On a recent cruise on another line, I did wear a blazer, but not a necktie, for the formal nights, but it was on the Baltic Sea and rather chilly most of the time, not hot like the eastern Caribbean. That other cruise line still has "formal nights" but a very vague dress code and very little enforcement. I would prefer to pack a little lighter for the Caribbean, if possible. Dare I believe the recent posts in this forum? Is the person who went to Alaska misinformed, perhaps not having cruised on HAL for quite a while?
  10. The "Bottomless Galley Brunch" (that seems to be the correct name) was $35 and I signed up for it on April 2, three months before embarkation. I don't remember when it was first available in the Cruise Planner.
  11. Day 5 - St. Petersburg. For the first of two days in St. Petersburg, I was signed up for a Jewish Heritage tour that others in the roll call had set up with Best Guides. There is really not a lot of Jewish heritage in St. Petersburg, first because the city was founded only in 1703, and second because for a long time after that Jews weren't allowed to live there. Our first stop was the Hermitage, not specifically for Jewish interest, but because the tour agency could get us in early, with no waiting. We saw a selection of the well-known works -- our guide said that to see everything in the Hermitage briefly would take about eleven years. She also pointed out the few works that might be relevant to a Jewish tour, starting with this painting by Giorgone of Judith after beheading Holofernes. We spent some time in the Rembrandt gallery. It is fair to say that Rembrandt was the most Jewish painter who wasn't Jewish: as a starving artist he lived in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam, the cheapest area, and painted his neighbors. From there, we went to Yesod, basically the JCC, with offices of Jewish social-service and other organizations, preschool, and programs for children and the elderly, most of which were on summer hiatus. "Hesed Avraham" is an organization that helps the Jewish elderly, iirc. We then visited the Jewish section of the Museum of Ethnography (interesting but unremarkable). And the Choral Synagogue: Kosher market, Jewish bookstore, and souvenir shop outside the synagogue, with sign mixing Cyrillic and Hebrew letters: We stopped for lunch at a branch of Teremok (Теремок in Russian), a Russian fast-food chain where the specialty is blinis with almost any filling imaginable. They make them like French crêpes bretonne : large and folded square, not rolled. Our guide obtained a printed English menu and ordered at the counter for us. Although everything we saw was interesting, what made the day was talking with our guide, a young Jewish woman with a daughter in a Jewish preschool (not the one at Yesod). We learned a lot about life in St. Petersburg from a resident's point of view, as well as about Jewish history there, and some things you wouldn't expect in a tour. For example, she showed us her "internal passport" - a multi-page booklet required to go anywhere in Russia, and noted that it no longer contained the notorious Page 5, which identified the holder's "nation," different from nationality in that her nationality is Russian but her "nation" would have been listed as Jewish, in former times often a barrier to employment and higher education. I had a little more time to talk with her because the others in the tour were also visiting the Faberge Museum and it worked best for us to wait for them in a café. I did not book an excursion for the evening. The most popular was probably to the Faberge Museum. There were also options for a ballet performance and for a Russian folk show. Also a "white night" boat cruise on the canals, too late at night for someone of my age. I would have gone to a classical concert, but ballet leaves me cold, and I predicted that the ship would have a Russian folk troupe come aboard and perform in the theater, which was correct.
  12. Day 4 - Tallinn. Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is another medieval city. Historically, the lower town was also a German trading port, while the upper town was where Estonians lived. That distinction somewhat persists, with the national government being in the upper town but the city government in the lower town. I didn't book an excursion for Tallinn. It's possible to walk from the cruise pier into the heart of the lower town and, if don't mind a climb, continue to the upper town. I set my camera incorrectly and so have only a few photos. I was surprised to see this memorial to Boris Yeltsin. Tallinn was the first place I did any souvenir shopping, and my main purchase was Vana Tallinn.
  13. Day 3 - Visby. Visby is a medieval town on the island province of Gotland, part of Sweden but originally a German Hanseatic trading city. Gotland is popular with Stockholm residents as a vacation spot, and houses inside the town walls are almost fantastically expensive. To my eye, the old parts look very German. This was probably the poorest street in the medieval town but now a tiny cottage there would probably cost a million Euros: We were there during Almedalen Week, named for a park in the town where it became Olof Palme's custom, when he was the prime minister of Sweden, to give a speech each summer. This started when news reporters besieged his family's summer home on the neighboring island of Fora; he refused to allow the intrusion on his family and refused to talk with them there, but promised to talk with them the next day in Visby. It has become a week-long (or longer) political festival in which each party then represented in the Swedish parliament has one day for its own seminars and speeches. This meant that the town was full of political operatives, easily recognized by their expensive clothes and hair styles, and news reporters, equally easily recognized by their scruffiness: We had set up a walking tour with Aiden MacFarlane, an eccentric Scot who supports himself by giving English-language tours on Visby. Usually he gives a walk-up tour each morning at 11:00, nominally free, meaning that at the end you pay what you choose. During Almedalen Week, when there are very few ordinary tourists, he gives tours only by arrangement. Ours was scheduled at 9:00 a.m. and when we got there he seemed to have pickup up a few other people. He was flustered by the number - I think he is phobic about crowds - and by the general conditions in town, with some areas cordoned off for security and others just unusually crowded. He told us that on Gotland there were more than 80 13th-century churches, many still in use, and that only one church has been built at any time since the 13th century. Because of all the politicians, Visby also fills up with companies and organizations that want to influence politicians, both large Scandinavian businesses and a few demonstrations: Our tour ended at 11:00 a.m. I wanted to go back to several places to try for better photos, but it soon started to rain hard. (Visby is the sunniest place in Sweden and the weather forecast was only a 10% chance of rain.) Everyone got drenched walking back to the ship. I had a rain jacket but my cotton trousers took two days to dry and my sneakers three days. The camera equipment in my gear bag wasn't harmed, but a Kindle Fire worked only intermittently for the rest of the cruise and for a week afterward.
  14. Day 2 - Sea Day. Our CC Meet & Mingle was on day 2, the only sea day. It was held in the Vortex lounge, forward on deck 13, a much larger venue than needed. I was a little surprised that RCI was represented only by an assistant cruise director; when I've attended one on NCL, there were always eight or ten officers including the captain. This seemed odd because RCI organizes the M&M itself, while on NCL it's up to the passengers to compile a list and then approach NCL to schedule it. I had to leave the M&M before it ended because I had a reservation for the Endless Galley Brunch. The "endless" part refers only to sparkling wine or mimosas, and while I am not sure that they were really endless, I was offered somewhat more than I wanted. The main part of the event is a galley tour, which I liked. At the end I asked one of the chefs how the ship was provisioned, because I had already noticed that fruit and vegetables were of higher quality than is typical in the U.S. He told me that meat and most staple ingredients are sourced from the U.S. but all fresh fruits and vegetables were obtained in Europe. I didn't ask specifically about fish, but from the menus I can say that, wherever the fish came from, not all of it came from the Baltic Sea, if any. Galley tour pictures: I work in a building with a commercial kitchen where everyone is required to wear gloves at all times. During our tour I noticed that everyone handling food after it is cooked, such as making salads and appetizers or portioning desserts, wore gloves, but those working food still to be cooked did not. We learned that the kitchens function essentially 24 hours a day. This doesn't mean that chefs are working everywhere all the time; since all areas were spotlessly cleaned, I concluded that cleaning was done throughout the day, whenever an area was clear. For example, some meat is put on to roast overnight at a very low temperature, but after dinner service is completed and the overnight dishes are set to cook, there would be no more work in that area until morning. Baking appeared to go on at almost all hours, and we were told that there were only five bakers for the entire ship. The brunch part of the Endless Galley event was served to all of us, about 15 people, at one large table in Reflections. Some of the choices are the kinds of items found on RCI dinner menus, a substantial meal for 11:30 a.m., while others, such as waffles, might be found on a breakfast menu.
  15. Dining - I had been signed up for fixed seating, early, but at some point it changed to My Time. I think this was because there was a large group requiring kosher food, for which they cordoned off part of the dining room on deck 5. Except for one night, I was always seated alone at a two-top, and almost always with the same waiters. My conclusion was that the food was, indeed, better on RCI, although not by enough to be decisive in choosing a cruise. There were fewer main-course selections than on NCL, and in particular only two - strip loin and roast chicken - that appeared every night. The dinner service, on the other hand, was significantly better and also much more consistent. I didn't venture into specialty dining. On the night we were staying over at St. Petersburg, only the deck 4 dining room was open, and was all My Time, because some passengers would be coming back late from excursions and others would need to eat early before evening excursions. Deck 4 is ordinarily used for the fixed seating, with large, shared tables. This was my only experience in this cruise with sharing a table at dinner and it didn't go entirely well, because others at the table couldn't resist introducing politics. As far as I could tell, it came entirely out of the blue, although I am slightly hard of hearing and could have missed something that led to it. I was just finishing the main course - we did not all order at the same time and some of the others had already finished - and I left at that point. Breakfast was also in deck 4 of the Reflections dining room, with large, shared tables. At breakfast, most mornings, there was no common language at the table, so there was little general conversation. I'd guess that 30% of the passengers were from Europe, especially Spain, and almost 10% from South America. All ship-wide announcements were given in both English and Spanish; the captain was a native speaker of Spanish and did the Spanish versions of his announcements himself. I had only one or two breakfasts and only two lunches in the Windjammer. I was generally pleased with the food, and even more pleased that I was always able to find a seat. My strategy for eating alone in a buffet is to bring a jacket and a book or a gear bag and set them down before going to the serving area, so that I have a seat to come back to.
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