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Bruin Steve

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  1. My most recent visit, we did a tour with Spain Day Tours...it really wasn't that hard to organize...I put a group of eight together on my Roll Call, contacted the provider and they did the rest....met us at the ship, got us back in plenty of time. If outside providers are allowed, this is one of the largest local companies and will most likely be on any "approved" list There is a plaque on one of the buildings of the Alhambra that sums it up. It is a quote from Mexican poet Francisco de Icaza (1863-1925). It was his comment to a woman coming across a blind beggar in the streets near the Alhambra: “Give him alms, woman, because there is nothing sadder in life than being blind in Granada”
  2. I personally MUCH prefer taking private port tours...BUT NOT just signing on to mass marketed shore excursion replacements. The way to do this is to arrange your OWN private tour...putting together a group on your roll call and arranging your own tour with a well-recommended local guide or tour company. That way, YOU are in control of the itinerary AND the timing. You can direct your tour provider as to a scheduled (or at least, target) return time. If you know the ship sets sail at, say, 7:00 om, you can direct them to get you back to the ship no later than, say, 6:00 pm...AND every local tour company I've ever dealt with has had no problem complying with that. They know the local traffic patterns and timing, they know what they can fit into your window. Nowadays, with all of the GPS/traffic apps, they can monitor the current traffic conditions. They also know how to arrange the sights on your itinerary to start distantly and end the tour with the closest attractions to the port in order to minimize the drive back. AND, most importantly, if it's YOUR private tour, they can adjust at YOUR request. They are VERY good at it. If you are just signing up for someone else's bus tour...even if they CLAIM the size is limited...remember, there's no real way to hold them to that...and YOU don't control anything about the tour. You might as well just take the cruise line's shorex (AND for the Alhambra from Malaga, they WILL have one available at some point). To go on your own, contact a provider like Spain Day Tours (or others) and put together your own group on the Roll Call...
  3. Let's not get too bent out of shape over kwokpot's "tone"...I don't think he was calling anyone in particular "stupid", maybe just trying to emphasize a point. I, for one, had to "lift-and-shift" from two July 2020 cruises...and, since I had lots of stuff booked well in advance, I found myself having to cancel a lot of things--some of which were paid in advance. I got lucky and was able to get everything cancelled and refunded quickly...but, reading these boards, know that a lot of people were not that lucky. So, for my 2021 cruises (and I have four of them), I have been very careful NOT to commit to anything that was not 1) Fully cancellable and 2) required ZERO pre-payment. I would go ahead and "reserve" tours, hotel reservations, etc. that meet those criteria. I have yet to book a single tour or shore excursion for 2021...but have actually prepaid one car rental and one hotel--but both with companies that had refunded me quickly for those same 2020 bookings...and made sure both clearly stated they were refundable. I did those only for a fear that the rates on those WILL increase significantly over time...but also know I can cancel and re-book at lower rates if they go down. Other than that, I think it is fine to wait. I doubt most tours will fill up between now and, say, three months from now. So, if a provider will sign you up without pre-payment and with a fully cancelable booking, then go ahead. Otherwise, maybe smart to wait it out a little more.
  4. Closing in on 60 cruises and counting, I've been on MANY private tours...I have never had a single one even come close to not getting us back to the ship on time... The private tour companies are VERY good at knowing how and when to get you back. I remember once on a private tour, a woman in our group was getting overly concerned due to traffic. Our guide told her that they were monitoring the ship's radio communications with its shore excursions...then told her to look behind our van..."See those three big buses behind us?...those are the ship's excursions...the ship isn't leaving without them!" OTOH, also look carefully at what the big box store is selling. Is it ALSO a big bus tour with 40+ people? It may not be worth taking. Better to put together or join a small group private tour with others on your Roll Call. I usually try to keep my groups to about eight people, give or take...You'll move quicker, see more, have more control over your itinerary...and you'll actually be able to hear your guide. As to upcoming cruises, truth is NOBODY really knows right now what the rules will be. A lot depends on WHY we're cruising...Is it because cases are down and risks are less? Is it because a vaccine has been distributed and the risk is negligible? We could be still NOT cruising...we could be cruising with restrictions...We could be completely back to normal--a whole lot of variables... For me, I have cruises booked, back-to-back in April on Millennium in Japan and two in Europe in July on Apex and Infinity. RIGHT NOW, I am waiting...I will book when I know more. We have time... Just one more note: When the ship gives a sailing time, the "all aboard" time is always prior to that--usually 30 minutes to an hour prior...So, i would imagine that if that non-ship provider is catering to cruise passengers, they know that...So, "15 minutes before" PROBABLY really means 45-75 minutes before. The tour companies depend on word of mouth references and reviews on Cruise Critic and Trip Advisor...They are not going to ruin their reputation by stranding a lot of people in port...
  5. Transfers are purchased separately. Baggage fees depend on the airline, route and type of class/fare. For example, on our air to and from Europe, one checked bag each is included--but that is what is typical on international coach fares.
  6. I guess I should also say that I have been very careful to make all of my hotel reservations with cancellable rates...and, for the most part, where we don't have to pay anything up front. And those air reservations are on cancellable rates through Celebrity Air. With our 2020 cancelled cruises, we had prepaid for our hotel in Portovenere and we prepaid our rental car charges with Kemwel...But, we were able to get those both quickly refunded. Also, our private tours and ground transportation in Italy were reserved but cancellable with no money paid up front. When the cruises were cancelled, we were able to cancel everything with zero penalty...and got those two prepaid charges refunded quickly. Celebrity Air was cancelled and the money refunded quickly...and money we advanced for shore excursions and specialty restaurants above and beyond our OBC was quickly refunded by Celebrity...Everything we paid for the two cruises themselves were converted as payment in full toward our 2021 cruises. Generally, I shy away from non-cancellable hotel bookings after a strange episode a few years back. we had booked a back-to-back cruise in and out of Rome...and booked extra time in Orvieto and Civitavecchia pre-cruise and in Tivoli post-cruise...but, since we had an early morning flight home from FCO, we decided to book our final night at the Hilton Garden Inn at FCO. Since Hilton had a nonrefundable rate at the hotel much lower than the cancellable rate, we decided to go with that. After all, what could possibly go wrong? Well...Air Berlin (I'll never use them again) changed our flights (and never even sent us a notice--I only found out because I check y flights from time to time)...and they messed it up so badly that our FCO-Frankfurt leg now got into Frankfurt and hour AFTER our Frankfurt-LAX flight was scheduled to leave...and, the ONLY way they had available to get us home was to move the flight to the following early morning! I called Hilton to ask if we could just change the reservation to the next day. The answer: NO! Still needing to have a hotel for the next early morning, I ended up making an extra day's reservation at the HGI. So, now we were spending TWO nights at the desolate, inconvenient airport location. Later, of course, Air Berlin again changed our flight time...and now we weren't leaving until around noon. Had we had that flight schedule originally or if we had cancellable rates, we would have spent two nights in Central Rome and grabbed a cab or shuttle to FCO the morning of the flight home. Instead, we spent TWO nights at FCO! So, now, for me, I need to be able to cancel my reservation at any time right up to the end... BTW, I've had to fall back on trip insurance before...We had to fly home only 5 nights into a 14 night Baltic cruise when my father-in-law passed away. The insurance paid for a lot--a prorated portion of our cruise fare, for example. But they did not pay for everything--The small print had some limitations on the airfare replacement...and our last minute Helsinki to LAX flight was VERY pricey (Bereavement fares are a thing of the past)--so, the insurance hit its limit there. And we ended up eating our cost for two orchestra seats for a play in the West End in London...and a few other small expenses. As to the present Covid thing, I've read that most of the trip insurance policies have small print that excepts a lot of Covid--or pandemic--related issues...so, beware...
  7. In normal times… There is a process I go through when planning a major cruise vacation. First, I book my major cruises well over a year ahead. For most of my cruising life, my wife has worked for the school district, so we’ve always known our major vacation windows. We’ve usually gotten great deals by booking early...then I keep monitoring for price drops. The next major step is airfare. About 11 months prior is when most airlines start posting flights and airfares...and I usually look to cement these in place early. Say we’re going to Europe, I want both a choice of flights and a decent price. And, I want to head over there a few days early...and maybe fly home a few days after disembarking the cruise. Soon after solidifying my flight schedule, I’ll start booking pre- and post-cruise hotels and other arrangements (ie. rental car, transfers, etc.). If I’m flying in or out multiple days ahead or later, often it’s a multiple-destination pre- or post-cruise. Then, the next major step in the planning process is planning the visit to each port. Typically, I will research each port--if I don’t already know it well--and decide what it is we want to do and see there. I will then start researching local private tour companies and guides--checking on the port boards here on Cruise Critic and the relevant sections on Trip Advisor and other internet sources as well. Then, I will email various tour providers, usually one port at a time, asking for availability, pricing, proposals or suggestions, etc. Once I have narrowed down a tour and provider, I will post on the Cruise Critic Roll Call for the cruise, looking for others who might want to join us in putting together a group of, say, 8 persons, more or less (usually about the optimal size for a tour--fitting into the typical tour van and making the resulting per person price reasonable and competitive). If I cannot find a good private tour scenario, I will consider the cruise line’s shore excursion offerings as well. But, at some point, several months prior to the cruise, I will have it all put together--cruise, flights, hotels, ground transportation, tours in each port. Then, of course, I can deal with all of the minor pieces--specialty restaurants and select dining reservations, mail and newspaper holds, etc. In a way, I really love the whole process...It helps me to really look forward to the trip itself...and allows me to daydream along the way. So, this year is VERY strange indeed. I have four cruises in the hopper: Back-to-back 14 and 15 night cruises on Millennium, Japan and TransPacific in April...and near-back-to-back 7-night Mediterranean cruises on Apex and Infinity in July. For both, I made the bookings some time ago. The two July cruises are “Lifted-and-shifted” from July 2020 cruises--for which I planned all the way through--including port tours and pre- and post-cruise extended trips (9 nights in Switzerland and the Cinque Terre and 2 nights post-cruise in Rome). Obviously, all that planning went out the window when Covid hit. The Japan cruises were just booked a LONG time ago now. I have made airline reservations for both trips, smartly using the refundable rates option on Celebrity Choice Air. I have the flight in to Tokyo booked for four nights prior...and the return home from Vancouver is planned via Portland (the cruise ends in Vancouver) to visit our daughters. For the July Europe cruises, we have four nights prior in Barcelona, then two nights between the cruises in Rome...and a 10 night post cruise (after disembarking in Venice) in various cities in Austria...with all hotels now booked... as well as a rental car. SO...I’d be ready now for the next step--the port tours. This is where it gets strange. It is really hard to get into that next planning step. I actually have a couple of tour providers I was going to use in 2020 in European ports...but, with everything up in the air, it’s hard to talk to them about booking again...AND, even with tours in place, it’s virtually impossible to start lining up tour mates on the roll call. The Roll Calls are REALLY quiet. Unlike the activity in an ordinary year, the Roll Call activity this year is VERY quiet...and NOBODY is talking about ports and tours. ALL of the discussion, the little of it that there is, is about the pandemic...and whether or not the cruises will actually take place...and what we will know and when will we know it. It’s sort of hard to put together a tour group with a bunch of people who don’t even think there will be a cruise. Or committing to tour providers when you can’t even assure them you’ll be there (or will have enough of a group to make it a reasonable value to book a private tour). Now, I really hope that we get an approved and distributed vaccine...and that we can return to cruising as normal...and that all of that happens EARLY enough to allow us to really follow through on our planning...HOWEVER, I am guessing that, though that still has a good chance at happening, we may not near any stage of certainty until we get very close to those cruises...which means we will not have nearly enough time to do any reasonable planning and connection with others. So, when we finally do cruise in 2021, we may be taking a whole lot of Celebrity Shore Excursions...or making last minute arrangements with certain local providers to join whatever packaged private tours they may offer--where we have no control over the group size or the itinerary. AND, for the bulk of the normal FUN planning period, I will have NO FUN planning...just a continuation of the current anxiety and frustration and insecurity. Of course, if we DO get to take these cruises, yes, we will REALLY enjoy it. I have now not been on a cruise since January, so, if we do get to cruise in April, that will mean I will have gone 15 months without cruising. If we can’t go until July, it will have been a year and a half. It has been DECADES since I’ve gone that long without a cruise!!!
  8. With all due respect to cruisemom, I guess reasonable minds can differ as to what one should look for in a hotel or in a location. I am NOT "settling" for Piazzale Roma. I have stayed in several different locations in both Rome and Venice...and, perhaps, cruisemom and I just have different criteria. I strongly prefer being near Piazzale Roma--for the convenience, mostly, but also for the economy. In the end, for me, VALUE is extremely important. For example, for my July/August 2021 trip, I am taking not one, but two cruises--on the Apex and on the Infinity...and in Concierge class cabins. I am also spending 16 additional nights in hotels...before, in between and after the cruises...in Barcelona, Rome, Vienna and elsewhere...plus air from LAX and tours and port tours all over...So, if I can save a little money here or there, it is a worthy consideration for me. OTOH, I will not compromise certain standards. I look for VALUE--highly rated and well reviewed hotels in good locations--but for reasonable prices. I will also factor in assorted ancillary costs--like ground transportation. So, with my choice of hotels in Venice, I am not only getting a very nice and very well reviewed hotel at about two-thirds the nightly rates of the one cruisemom recommends (comparing apples to apples--free cancelation, breakfast included), I also save the cost of the Aligunia or a water taxi...and, having stayed near San Marco before and having had to take a combination of transportation options to get to the port from there, I can affirm that I save a lot in time and hassle as well. And, the Olimpia, where I choose to stay is not exactly right on the P. Roma physically, it's actually a few steps away on a small canal. And, once settled into a hotel, getting anywhere in Venice is actually quite easy. As to Rome, BTW, I also checked out the del Senato that was recommended here. The nightly rates were TWICE what I am paying for the Navona Theater...and, frankly, I prefer to be near Piazza Navona over the Pantheon. Piazza Navona is just so much more fun...and, for restaurants, I prefer to head over to the Campo di Fiore--where there are lots of great places with outdoor tables on the Campo with no added cover charge... Again, what I look for are the best locations AND best value...in highly rated and well reviewed hotels... BUT, everyone looks for different things. For many, price is a consideration...for others, it is not...Some people like a great view from their hotel room, others rarely look out the window...Some want ultimate convenience, others don't mind a little extra time or expense to get there... In Venice, one my prime concerns is schlepping my luggage to and from the hotel. I've had a water taxi drop me off at a dock only to find I had to drag my luggage across three bridges and up and down several stairs each time. I'd rather avoid that. There ARE lot of nice little hotels in Venice...all over town and at all prices. Everyone will have his or her favorites depending, mostly, on where they've actually stayed...Find one that meets YOUR criteria: Your price range, your style, what you want to be near and what will work best with where you need to be...Check out reviews on tripadvisor.com and other sites that have hotel reviews (of course, be wary...again, all of these reviews are by people who have different standards, criteria and expectations). Just as a quick check, BOTH the Sina Palazzo Sant'Angelo and the Hotel Olimpia score well on tripadvisor.com...of 405 hotels in Venice, the Sina Palazzo Sant'Angelo ranks #45 and the Olimpia ranks #14. Good luck...
  9. I can think of two ways to avoid the bridge...1) The single stop on a Vaporetto I mentioned earlier...or 2) A "Traghetto". Traghetti are small boats that look like gondolas...but, rather than long romantic (and expensive) rides like the gondolas offer, they merely ferry you across the Grand Canal for a small price. I believe they are available at San Simeon Piccolo--going across the canal to the train station....of course, loading your luggage into a gondola might be an adventure. OTOH, think of it as a cheap quick gondola ride... But, you can't get a boat to the door--as the door is on Lista d'Spagna, not on a canal...
  10. It may be a very nice little hotel...and, perhaps for the right price it's worth the logistics...It IS, as they stated, very convenient to the train station--without crossing bridges. But, getting to Venice from the airport or from the cruise port, P. Roma is the simplest location. To get to the train station from P. Roma, you need to cross the Grand Canal...here's the bridge you'd need to cross, dragging your luggage: It may be a little hard to tell from the photo, but it's a lot of steps up and a lot of steps down...It had to be high enough for boats to clear under it...Of course, depending on your deal, it MAY be worth it to you... I guess you could also get on Vaporetto #1 for one stop...which would take you to the other side of the canal and closer to the hotels as well... Right AT the Piazzale Roma, there are only a few hotels. Ca Doge is right next door to the peoplemover...so VERY convenient...the AC Marriott is right next to that. Hotel Olimpia (where I'm staying) and Hotel Arlecchino are steps away--across one very small bridge. The Hotel Papadopoli--used to be the Sofitel--is a very nice little hotel in a park setting just one small bridge away. The Carlton and the Capri are two small bridges away...
  11. I don't specifically know the hotel (There are lots of little hotels all over Venice), but I know the location well... It's not really "on the Grand Canal"...It's on Lista d'Spagna...the street that leads from the train station toward the Ghetto...It's a busy shopping street (my wife bought a pair of shoes in a shop on that street one visit)...We also often walk up Lista d'Spagna looking for restaurants...lots of reasonably priced but generally not charming restaurants. To get there from the port or from P. Roma (and airport transportation), you'd need to take the peoplemover, then walk a little including over one major bridge to get over the Grand Canal. It is convenient if you were arriving and departing by train, though...but it's a location i likely wouldn't consider...For a cruise and for airport arrival or departure, 'd rather be on the same side of the Grand Canal as P. Roma...
  12. Though you apparently didn't like my choices in Rome, I'll go ahead and pipe in on Venice as well...for what it's worth... Venice presents some different considerations. For me, it is never just "charm"...Location and convenience are important as well...and no place is it more of an issue than in Venice. Venice is a little different type of city. There is only one part of Venice that can be reached by ground transportation: Piazzale Roma. And Piazzale Roma is also the most convenient place to be when it comes to getting to or from the port. You can get a taxi or a public bus only to Piazzale Roma...You can even return a rental car to Piazzale Roma (We have arrived by rental car here twice). And, from Piazzale Roma to the port, there is a cheap, easy "Peoplemover" tram. Anywhere else in Venice requires either taking a Vaporetto (large public bus-boat) or a water taxi (somewhat expensive) and may require some walking from a canal-side pier to the hotel with luggage--though some hotels right on a canal will have their own docks--allowing for water taxis to pull right up to the hotel. We have always stayed either near Piazzale Roma or near Piazza San Marco. Many people prefer San Marco for the location near the more famous tourist sites--the Doges' Palace, the Cathedral San Marco, etc. Others prefer P. Roma for the convenience. We've stayed at San Marco and needed a bit of extra time to get from the hotel to the airport...and our hotel required dragging luggage across a few small bridges-up and down stairs to get there from the pier. P. Roma is a bit less charming--being the transportation hub...but it is very convenient, even to the tourist sites because 1) All of Venice is very walkable and 2) the Vaporetti System makes anything convenient and fun to get to...and you can catch the Vaporetti down the Grand Canal from P. Roma... AND, I find some of the hotels themselves quite charming. For our upcoming post-cruise, we will be staying at the Hotel Olimpia: https://www.hotel-olimpia.com/ ...which I find to be charming enough in and of itself... and VERY convenient...I would also look at the AC Marriott (a bit modern) and the Ca Doge (location right next to the people mover, a little less charm) in the same area...I think the Olimpia has the most "charm" in this area... Additionally, we've stayed at the Carlton...which is a little bit away from P. Roma but right on the Grand Canal...and at the Capri (owned by the Carlton, but off on a side alley and requires a little walking--but we found charming and have fond memories of breakfast on the rooftop)...and we've stayed at the small boutique Anastasia--near San Marco--but required some walking over bridges from the dock... But, lots of hotels in Venice have lots of charm...hard not to...
  13. I also would CALL them and ask if you could convert that FCC to an L&S to 2021...then hope we're cruising again...if not, then L&S will likely be available to 2022--hopefully they'll have the itinerary available. As to whether we'll be cruising? I think it all depends on the availability of a vaccine by then. We are hopeful...We have back-to-back cruises scheduled for April 2021--a 14 night Japan followed by a 15 night Transpacific--for which we got INCREDIBLE deals (pre-covid--and we got incredible airfare as well). We already know that the 2022 dates are not quite the same--the Transpacific is two nights shorter and has fewer ports...and it conflicts with a family commitment. Still, our deal is so good that we'd likely lift-and-shift. BUT, we are really hoping this pandemic will be over by then...it would have been going on for well over a year by then. Unfortunately, due to all of the jurisdictions continually "opening up" for alleged economic or political reasons, I don't see us ending it that way. A vaccine in widespread distribution seems to be our only hope. Thankfully, several are in Phase Three testing. We just need them to start popping through to the general use stage...we still have about six months for that to happen. Fingers crossed.
  14. I'm trying to figure out how you still have a booking for a March 2020 cruise??? We had two July 2020 bookings which were cancelled...and, IIRC, I had a limited time in which to opt for the Lift-and-Shift...which we did...though ours got a little more complicated and had to be worked out... We did switch one of our back-to-backs for the same cruise in July 2021...and they assigned us the EXACT cabin we had for 2020 (The other one, we changed ships--and they gave us a cabin in the same category in about as close a location to the one we had as possible--even though it was a different class of ships)... But, my understanding is that it has to be within a 30 day time frame exactly one year forward...OTOH, I also know that things CAN be worked out--though it may take some negotiation... But...I can't believe your booking wasn't either cancelled/refunded or converted to FCC...
  15. I liked the Gran Havana--rooms were nice, hotel nice...but I thought the location a little out of the way...a several block walk to go anywhere. I found I prefer to be a little closer to the heart of the action in Barcelona...
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