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About lilybob

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    Cool Cruiser

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    Arlington VA/London
  1. Agree with others that it is too long a drive to the caves. The Aukland Museum is great with a lot of things to keep all ages entertained if you are looking for an alternative.....
  2. We did a small group tour with Castle Cruisers and enjoyed it very much. Pick-up was at the Port Chalmers cruise port terminal. It included a stop at the train station and other local sites but the highlight was Larnach Castle. A guided tour is included and then time to explore on your own. A very scenic location with a beautiful garden. Entry to Larnach Castle is included in the price as is drop-off back at the port. Be prepared for a lot of jokes if Mark is your guide:p. https://www.castlecruiser.co.nz/cruise-ships
  3. We were in London so flew Etihad through Abu Dhabi to Perth. Slept on the overnight flight and arrived early afternoon. Then drove to Margaret River which was about 3 hours away. Early dinner and called it a night but felt good in the morning. On the return, flew Sydney through Abu Dhabi back to London. We had a 3 hr. layover but were able to use the lounge to shower and then breakfast. Having the longer leg behind us, the 2nd leg was not as bad as the drive from Heathrow into the city:o On the sea days, which were more between the Australian ports, they would bring on different entertainers for a couple of days (music, stand-up comedians, Cirque style shows) and had shows both in the afternoon and at night. More port intensive in NZ.
  4. After being on our wishlist for awhile, we were able to do a part cruise/part land vacation to Australia and NZ from the last week in February to beginning of April this year. Our focus was visiting historical and cultural places as well as some of the vineyards. Contrary to many itineraries, we flew into Perth and rented a car to visit the Margaret River area before our Celebrity cruise which departed from Fremantle. We sailed to Adelaide and Melbourne before heading to the south island of NZ for the Sounds, Dunedin, Akaroa, Wellington, Picton, ending in Sydney. We then flew back to NZ to visit Aukland, Bay of Islands, and Rotorua where we rented a car to explore. We returned to Sydney for five days before flying home. We loved all of it! We were fortunate to have warm sunny weather in Australia and even in NZ the weather was nice overall. A lot of delicious food, great wine, interesting sights, and friendly people. My biggest tip for the diy part would be to spend at least a few stops staying in an apartment/hotel room to do your laundry:p There were 8 sea days spread throughout the 16 day cruise but they went by fast. We did a lot of planning in a short amount of time so happy to answer questions to help you plan leisurely:D:cool:
  5. We recently did a combination of a cruise on Solstice and a road trip. I can recommend Kawiti Caves. They were a smaller family run operation and our guide was informative and enthusiastic. It was quite dark inside the caves but you had a lantern to use when walking within the cave and could turn it on and off as necessary. Also in the Bay of Islands there is the Treaty House not far from Paihia. History told on the beautiful grounds. There is a very good cultural show if you are staying overnight and can return the next day to see the museum and Treaty House as well as a visit to the gift shop and cafe. We enjoyed the Te Papa Museum in Wellington but we're really wowed with the War Memorial Museum in Aukland. Also from Aukland you can take the ferry across to Waiheke Island. Beautiful scenery and great wineries like Cable Vineyards, Mudbrick, and Casito Miro. While in the Port of Tauranga, if you decide to go to Rotorua, which is about 75 miles away, visit the Buried Village. A truly interesting though tragic story. Don't miss walking along the waterfall if you are up for it. Dunedin-we booked an independent tour with Castle Cruises. An enjoyable visit to Larnach Castle with an hour guided tour and an hour on your own to explore and take pictures or a break in the cafe. A full day option also includes local stops like the beautiful RR Station. Akaroa-If you stay in port, be sure to visit the Giant's House and definitely bring your camera. Modern glass mosaics in life-size figures. Admission fee ($20) but unique place and beautiful gardens. Pop inside and watch the video so understand how it came to be. It is a short walk off the main street up an inclined street. Picton-Take advantage of this premier wine tasting spot in the Marlborough region with "Your Local Chauffer" visiting wineries like Alan Scott and St. Clair with scenery not to be missed. Enjoy!;)
  6. I would consider how often and how much you would spend on drinks, specialty coffee, bottled water, specialty restaurant dining. Add this amount to your balcony fare and then compare it to one of the suite cabins where you get the Intenditore package and have a smaller dedicated restaurant for dinner. You may find the price difference is worth it for better service and food. And, you won't have to worry about paying for bottled water or that coffee or cocktail when you choose. Twenty-three days is a long time so having extra room in your cabin and the suite perks you will feel pampered. If you sail in the Costa balcony cabin you will naturally compare it to Celebrity or HAL balcony and may be disappointed....especially in the MDR. We found the staff to be warm and friendly and the ship lively.
  7. Hey tenpin, thanks for reading my review and for the tips....especially Diadema. I have experienced that scenario on other lines:( I remember reading about the token but not sure if we actually got the code. Can you get it "after the fact" if you registered for a club #?
  8. Yes, It Can be Sweet in a Costa Suite We are recently back from a nine day Costa Mediterranea cruise to the Norwegian fjords. We typically sail HAL, Celebrity, or RCI and usually in a balcony cabin. To be honest, the reviews have kept me away from considering Costa. This time we were traveling with another couple and were looking for an itinerary that departed from and returned to Amsterdam. Costa fit the bill. We booked this cruise less than two months out due to a last minute change in plans. As this cruise was a few days shorter we were able to book a suite for about the same price as our balcony cabin on the other line. If you enjoy traveling to Europe and the pricing is within your budget, sailing in a Costa suite will be a very similar experience to the other lines I have mentioned. It could even be better if you don’t usually book a suite. Embarkation in Amsterdam We arrived around 12:30 and check-in took about 20 minutes. We had one family member with mobility issues so the combination of this along with priority boarding sped things along. We then took the lift up to Deck 9 for lunch in the buffet. When we arrived in our cabin an hour later our luggage had been delivered and the security video was playing on the TV in anticipation of the muster drill, which would be held before our late afternoon sail away. Cabin Our cabin was a corner aft on deck four. The layout consisted of a sofa and desk area, a dressing area with walk-in closet, the attractively tiled bathroom had dual sinks and combo tub/shower with sliding door, and the bedroom was adjacent to that with its own TV and drawer space. We found the bed comfortable. The huge balcony had two chairs with footstools as well as two loungers and small table to hold your drinks, snacks, phone etc. Décor colors in the room were a bit retro but I loved the small Murano lamps. Plenty of storage space, a safe, and frig also. The non-alcohol mini bar and bottled water are one of your amenities. Demographics No worries if you only speak English as the hard working staff were multi-lingual. Italian was the primary language followed by English, French, and German. We didn’t feel it was that tedious for announcements but you can appreciate the effort made for entertaining everyone! On this sailing there were mostly Europeans, and though many also spoke English, aside from the staff you didn’t hear a lot of English spoken among the guests. Don’t let that deter you as the daily “Diario di Bordo,” menu, and signage are also offered in multiple languages. Food & Drink I attribute our positive cruise experience to two perks included in our Costa suite amenities, the Intenditore drink package and the Medusa (suite) restaurant where suite guests can eat B-L-D. This doesn’t mean you can’t grab a burger in the buffet at lunchtime or order room service. We were able to get coffee, water, a cocktail, or glass of wine /beer anytime we wanted from the bars or at meal time in the rstaurants. We found the food in the suite restaurant to be quite good and except for a few sugary cocktails were never disappointed in our drinks. The Medusa Restaurant was for suite guests but could also be purchased as a dinner package for other guests, though suite guests would get priority seating. We usually arrived for dinner around seven and never had to wait or make a reservation. There are no other specialty restaurants on this ship. The space held about 100 people and had a variety of table configurations. Each night featured choices from a particular region of Italy. A copy of the Medusa menu was delivered ahead of time to your room. It was a four course meal but that can be filling so we started to order two of the “primi” courses for the table to share among the four of us and that worked well. Food is always subjective but the consensus among us was that the seafood, pork, or lamb were always very good. The steak, which was an option every night, was not so tender. There was also a “Chef’s Choice” menu option that you could order or swap around for some of the a la carte choices. Wine by the glass was part of our drink package and there were a few that we particularly liked. We often would pair a different wine with a different course so a benefit of “by the glass.” There were also vegetarian food options offered each night. Sufficient staff made it a pleasure to have a relaxing dinner. We usually chose the Medusa restaurant for breakfast and one day for lunch. There is a cold buffet station as well as a pastry table in addition to ordering hot choices off the menu. The food is quite good but hope you aren’t in a hurry! The hold up appeared to be on the kitchen end not in the dining room. We did have lunch in the Perla del Lago buffet restaurant a few times. My favorite was to select ham, cheese, and choice of bread and build your own sandwich. There were also a variety of salads, pizza, and burgers. Lunch is served noon-2:30 pm. Between 4-5 pm the Perla del Lago opens for “La Merenda” or afternoon snack. You will find people cueing up for little sandwiches and pastries. If you aren’t eating in the Medusa restaurant for dinner, the Main Dining Room seating is either 6:15 pm or 9pm. Between 7pm-1am you can purchase a higher quality burger or pizza in the designated section of the La Perla buffet restaurant. The informal dinner option is in the buffet restaurant on deck 9 between 7-8:30pm. Crepes are also available for purchase between 10pm-midnight. The bars are open late, midnight and some beyond. A lot of the reviews I’ve read are filled with complaints about the food, paying for water, not having coffee available etc. I think a “must do” item is to clip the sunshine yellow “Buon Appetito” guide in the daily “Diario” and keep it handy until you sort where and when the meals are available. There are many options but limited timing so you don’t want to be disappointed. Having the premium drink package included really simplified things. Life on Board If you have cruised before you know what your expectations are. I will just mention a few things that stood out for me. We were cruising at the end of summer so you knew children would be onboard. There is the Squok Club to keep them entertained. This was also a colder climate so not everyone was in the pool and there were no chair hogs. The ship is lively. At night there were multiple venues with live music. The dance floor was actually a good size for a ship. In fact, as we were getting off a dance workshop group was getting ready to board. Drink service was adequate but they weren’t pestering you if you just wanted to sit and listen for a bit. Photographers were around taking pictures but they were less intrusive and didn’t pester you to buy. A few of ours actually came out nice and we did buy them with a package that also included the digital version. We had a minor issue with our club number and they fixed it on the spot! Room service was on time and nothing missing. Tender tickets were given out the day before saving time the day of. This is an older ship so didn’t have the specialty restaurants that are popular on newer chips. The spa had treatment rooms but not much space for relaxing around the whirlpool. The gym had a variety of equipment. The theater was nice and we went to a couple of shows which were good. We were invited to a wine tasting which was fun to do on a sea day and they even served grapes and cheese to go along. Accessibility As I mentioned earlier, a family member had mobility problems. We booked too late to get an accessible room. We booked a Panoramic Suite and were able to accommodate both a mobility scooter from Special Needs at Sea, wheelchair, and walker in the cabin. As the tub was fairly deep, we inquired with our attendant if they had a step to assist getting in the tub. The next day we were given a two foot long step that served the purpose. Getting ashore on the two tender stops was also possible with the help of the crew lifting the wheelchair onto the tender and our fortune of having calm seas. Ports-our intent was for relaxing port visits rather than action packed Bergen-able to get ashore with a mobility scooter; docked in Jekteviken close enough to town to walk to cable car which also has a lift and allows for access to the top where there are shops and a café. Olden-Tender, very scenic; spent time taking photos Andalsnes-able togo onshore with mobility scooter. This was also scenic but not a lot to do unless you plan an excursion. We walked along the lake; The train station is very near where the ship docked and is accessible for wheelchairs and smaller mobility scooters. Check the timetable for return. Geiranger-This was our second visit here. Able to get around with mobility scooter. Very scenic and great ice cream! Two of us walked up along the waterfall trail near where the ship is docked. Great photo ops. Look for the goats nearby! There is also a very nice artist’s studio, Geiranger Gallery, between the waterfall and the mainstreet . It is not clustered with the other tourist shops and cafes but set back a little on the left as you walk towards the fall. A nice choice of quality gifts, pottery, and glass objects. Stavanger-One of my favorite port stops; Visit the old section of town where the white houses are. We were docked nearby. The streets are quite steep so not accessible with a mobility scooter and would be difficult with a wheelchair. If you can walk up, after you visit the white houses continue to walk to Breidablikk Mansion on Eiganesveien, 40A. It is about a 25 minute walk through a beautiful neighborhood to see this well preserved home with most of the original furnishings. Your ticket will than allow you to enter many of the other small museums in town for either half price or less. Back in the town center the walkways are flat. You will find the Stavanger Cathedral here and a large shopping area. Bremerhaven-a brief stop to disembark and embark some passengers. It was a Sunday morning and rainy so stayed onboard. There was a shuttle available for €12 r/t to the center of town about 4.5 km away. Tickets must be purchased on the ship at the kiosks or Hospitality Desk. Maximum waiting time was 40 minutes. Disembarkation- Your cabin must be vacated by 8am but you could still enjoy breakfast at the appropriate restaurant, in our case the Medusa Restaurant. There was also a hand luggage deposit for you to use so you didn’t have to bring everything with you to breakfast. After breakfast we left the ship and retrieved our luggage in the Customs Hall in Amsterdam. In summary, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with my Costa Cruise experience. It definitely was value for money in this category. Their shorter itineraries to different ports could work for us and I am interested to try some of their newer, larger ships. But, I would probably only do so with the Intenditore Drink Package, access to a smaller restaurant venue and not the MDR……fingers crossed for a sweet, suite deal! Happy to answer questions
  9. Hi tenpin We really enjoyed our cruise and were pleasantly surprised, especially after reading some of the reviews. Definitely would consider another Costa sailing....especially if it could be in a suite:p! I don't recall the name of the Maitre'd though he was attentive to all guests. Thought staffing levels were good too. The steak and shrimp were still offered but enjoyed the pork and lamb dishes even more. Now I just have to sort out how the points are awarded to your club membership and start planning for the next trip!
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