Sunday, July 31, 2016

My Best Passenger - Aidan

This isn't about cruising, but it is about someone very special to me.  I first met Aidan about a month ago when he rode my bus.  He then got on again a few weeks later and after discussing things with him and his nurse we arranged to have Aidan tour the Poco Transit Depot.

Today was hands down the best day of my career. Aidan who is 10 - will be 11 on Oct 8, he made sure to advise me of this, rode my bus. He met me for my 159 at Braid then rode all the way to the bus depot. 

Once there the staff in the front office welcomed him. He was given all kinds of fun stuff. 

Then the maintenance supervisor Chuck showed him the maintenance yard where the buses get fixed. We then walked thru the depot and introduced him to quite a few drivers, some who knew him. He was sure in his element.

He talked about wanting to work here someday. Said he could empty the fair boxes as a job, or work with computers. I told him he definately could do anything.

I then had to get to Coquitlam for my second piece of work and Aidan was not tired and asked her could join me for my second piece of work.

When we went out to Poco Stn, Supervisor Bob got him a private ride in a shuttle that just happened to be deadheading there. Aidan loved the ride in the Community Shuttle bus.

Then Aidan boarded my 152 and rode that route and stayed on for my 151 back to Coquitlam where he insisted he wanted to ride the bendy 701 bus home. We made sure that happened.

Thank you to all the drivers who introduced yourself to him. He was talking about many of you later on in the day.

Oh and I am happy to say that according to Aidan, I am the best bus driver! Yup, and then his next comment "I am your best passenger right" you sure are Aidan. Also I am suppose to print out a picture of him and I together, and put it on my desk. Too cute.

What a gift to the world he is. I am blessed to call him friend.

Cruising Princess Cruiseline with Vickie Turns 5

August 1st marks 5 years for my facebook fan page: Cruising Princess Cruiseline with Vickie. 

With just over 3,200 followers, 67% are women 33% men, and from 44 different countries. 

When I started this page five years ago I knew I loved talking cruises, and couldn't find anything dedicated to just Princess. I was tired of the sites that made people feel victimized or attacked for asking a simple question. I wanted to create a respectful place where people from all over the world could share their experiences and ask questions. 

I wanted to share my experiences with others to help them with their cruise related travels. I thought maybe 100 people would follow, and those would be mainly friends/family. I had no idea where this page would go, what it could turn into, and who would follow. 

But I have enjoyed doing it and am pleased so many others have helped contribute. It is always fun to check in each day and hear from many of you. I am touched by the lovely comments and they truly keep me going. 

If you would like to follow my page click here.

Thanks for following, and to the future and to however this page manifests. Thank you.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Planning Our Stay In Florence

After spending a few days in Genoa with our friends we will take the bus to Florence.  Federico highly recommended Flixbus.  For a very minimal cost we can travel from Genoa to Florence for 10 E total for the two of us and in three hours.

We have booked an Air BnB.for Florence - here is a link to the residence we have booked for only $83 Canadian a night.  If you haven't tried an Air BnB I highly recommend it. It is so easy and much cheaper than most hotels.  Plus you can get the entire place and really mix with the locals.  We like to also buy a few breakfast items and save money by eating breakfast at home. If you are interested in trying it out click this link and you will get $30 off your first booking.

So back to the apartment.  We are there for three nights.  It is centrally located and we can easily walk there from the train/bus station and to most sites.  In fact it is only one block from the great restaurant we went to last year, so you can be sure we will be back.  

Our plans in Florence are rather loose.  We will pre book our Uffizi tickets for probably the Friday.  

We have also talked about visiting a few other museums and Bernie is really wanting to go to the Galileo Museum.

Last year we did a great walking tour but this year we are considering an organized walking tour.  

We have reserved our train tickets for the embarkation day and we will travel from Florence to Rome then Rome to Civitavecchia rather easily and very cost effective.  But I don't recommend this unless you can manage your luggage.

To book your own rail tickets click here

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Peter Rayner's 7 Day Scandinavian Cruise

Peter once again wrote a great review of his 7 day Scandinavian Cruise from Southampton on Emerald Princess in July 2016


Although the drive to the port is only 2 hours away, we have been caught out before by problems with traffic so we always stay at a budget hotel the night before. Travelodge is our preferred choice because they offer a decent bed with no frills at a very low price.

We chose to park away from the port and take a shuttle bus in. It is about a 20 minute journey and is less convenient than port parking, but much cheaper. We prefer to spend the money we save on the ship and so do not mind the slight inconvenience.

The baggage handlers are right there at the kerbside when we get off, placing luggage on the conveyor belt. Unlike in the US, nobody seems to be tipping them. I, however, decide to give the handler a tip because it is what I would have done automatically in Fort Lauderdale. Good job too, because the handler spots that I have dropped my luggage at the wrong conveyor belt. I offer to take my luggage back and move it, but the handler says no problem and takes it to another conveyor himself.

We are early but are welcomed by the Princess staff. There is no queue for preferred boarding and we are seen straight away. We are given a numbered boarding card and asked to take a seat as they will be starting embarkation is a short while. After about 20 minutes they start calling the numbered cards in order and we are on the ship about 15 minutes later.

Ship in General:

We were on the Ruby Princess a few months ago and so we feel instantly at home, as the Emerald is almost exactly the same. The ship looks good and we will be sad to see her leave Europe when she heads down to be based in Australia at the end of this year.

Our favourite relaxation area has had a makeover. Just above the Terrace Pool at the aft of the ship is a section of artificial grass and a couple of water features. It is outside the Share restaurant (which was Sabatini’s). The chairs here were a sort of wrought iron with padded cushions. The cushions used to get wet when it rained and then had to be dried off before you could use them again. They have replaced these with a range of new tables and chairs with no cushions. They are still comfortable, but can be dried off with a quick wipe. They have also introduced more tables and chairs and have removed the smoking section that was here last time we were on this ship. This is now a no smoking area, which is great for us, but squeezes the smokers into fewer areas on the ship.


Our cabin was an inside in the aft of the ship (Baha 717). For the most part it was a good cabin. We moved the table into the wardrobe area to give us more room, but we had no lack of space. The down side was noise and vibration whenever the ship used its manoeuvring thrusters. I do not know whether this was a problem with the ship or just the location of the cabin, but we have never felt this level of vibration and noise in any other cabin on any other ship. It only lasted for short periods throughout the cruise, so did not bother us too much.

Our Steward was Kim. We met him almost straight away as he was still vacuuming his allocation of cabins as we arrived. He was up to the high standard we have become used to, but we did not see very much of him at all. Everything was done as we would have expected, so I think it was just that he was in different places every time we came in and out of our cabin.

As we had found on the Ruby Princess earlier in the year, the new Princess bed was wonderfully comfortable. We have sailed on Emerald Princess a few times in the past and have always found the beds a bit too hard. Not this time.

Added by Vickie - to see pictures of cabins on the Emerald click here.


We opted for Anytime dining and usually turned up to the Michelangelo dining room around 6.30pm. We were asked if we wanted to share a table and said yes most nights, provided the table was no larger than 6 (due to hearing issues we both have). They were happy to organise this for us and we were always seated straight away. Others who wanted a table for 2 were almost always given a pager. 

Mario Propato was the Maitre D’ and he was always there helping to organise and direct. We found by chance that we were sat with a nice couple from the US on 3 or 4 occasions during the cruise and joked that we seemed to be stalking each other.

The food was wonderful as always in the MDR, although one dish that we always order was a disappointment on this trip and that was Pad Thai Noodles. It just did not taste the same as we had experienced before.

On sea days we ate lunch in the MDR and found that nice and relaxing. On port days we either ate ashore or in Horizon Court. This was the first cruise we have taken on Princess where I did not have a pizza at any point. I will have to make up for that next time.

Our Travel Agent gave us a surprise by leaving a voucher in our cabin for a bottle of Champagne to be redeemed at any of the dining venues on board. To celebrate, we booked the Crown Grill on the second formal night. They allowed diners to dress smart casual on formal nights which suited us, as we only really want to dress up in formal wear once on a 7 day cruise. Our meal was fantastic and the service excellent. I opted for New York Strip Steak and my wife had the Veal Chop. Both were cooked to perfection and we finished the whole thing off with the Chocolate Fudge Obsession. The relaxed pace in Crown Grill allowed us to polish off the champagne between us.

Something we have not done for a while was Afternoon Tea. However, we skipped lunch one day and gave it a go. It was well worth it with nice sandwiches, cakes and biscuits all topped off with warm scones. We were not rushed and were offered more tea, coffee and food if we wanted. Very civilised.


We did not see any of the production shows on this trip, as we had seen them all before and preferred to do other things. We saw 2 tribute acts, which were both very good. One was Robbie Williams and the other was Elton John. Our favourite act in the bars was a singer/guitarist, but he was on at the wrong times for us. Only once did he appear between 8pm and 10pm, when we are looking to sit down and listen to some music. Other times he was on too early or too late.

Vickie here, if you want to see pictures of the Emerald Princess you can check out my album here.


Southampton – We were the first of 3 cruise ships to leave port and it was a good job we left when we did. Our ship was bathed in sunshine and if you looked forward you might have been sailing in the Caribbean with blue skies and sparkling seas. Behind us was a big black storm cloud and you could see the ships following us out being rained on by that big black cloud. We kept ahead of that rain all the way out.

passing Cowes on the Isle of Wight

It was quite windy and we had to make a sharp turn just off Cowes on the Isle of Wight, where we were surrounded by small sailing boats all out for a Saturday afternoon sail. We looked across the deck and the turn had made the ship list to one side quite heavily and it looked like the deck was going downhill. Henry the Eighth’s flag ship the Mary Rose sank on its maiden voyage in these waters while performing a similar manoeuvre, so we were quite relieved as the ship straightened up.

Zeebrugge for Bruges – This was our second cruise of the year and we had been to all the ports before, so we had decided to cut costs as much as possible. We had not purchased any local currency and had decided to put anything we wanted on a credit card. Last time we were here, there was a free shuttle to Blankenberge where you can get a train into Bruges. Princess Patter arrived to say that the shuttle was 10 Euros per person and that this could be paid in cash only. Because of that we decided to stay on the ship and have a relaxing day reading. 

The little spa pool area only had a couple of people on the loungers, where it is normally full, so we laid there and soaked up the sun.

Copenhagen – After a relaxing day at sea we arrived in Copenhagen and were awoken by the thrusters. Having been here before, we knew that you can walk to most places if you are reasonably fit. We set off in a mixture of sunshine and cloud along the seafront and past the Little Mermaid. We did not stop as there are always crowds around this statue and we have seen it before. We instead headed for Kastellet, an old castle which is still an operational army base. There were some nice buildings to wander around before we headed back along the waterfront to Nyhavn with its nice cafes and colourful buildings. We stopped for a coffee and a snack while we watched the world go by.

We then headed for Rosenborg Castle, where they keep the Danish Crown Jewels. We used a credit card to pay for a ticket and to get a 25 Krona coin for a locker (bags are not allowed in the castle). The rooms are all fantastically ornate and packed with antiques. On the top floor is a huge throne room where the Kings and Queens of Denmark would have held court. Back down in the basement are the crown jewels, which are displayed so that you can get very close.

Once we came out of the castle it had started to rain, so we took the shortest route back to the ship. The rain came on very heavily in the afternoon and would have soaked anyone still out in it. We decided we did not want to dress for dinner and so went to the Platinum/Elite Lounge in Skywalkers for a cocktail and a snack, before grabbing a burger and a hotdog up on deck later.

Helsingborg – We left Copenhagen in the early hours of the morning and awoke to be advised that Helsingborg had been cancelled due to high winds. It is a tender port and they thought it was too dangerous to operate tenders in that wind, so we were going to sail slowly to Oslo (our next port) instead. Another day at sea was fine by us, particularly as when the early poor weather had cleared, it became a lovely sunny day. More reading and sitting in the sun for us was no hardship.

Oslo – The weather was fantastic in Oslo, sunny and warm. When we were here previously, we were docked beside Akershus Castle just 5 minutes from the central quay. This time Regal Princess was in that spot, so we docked on the other side of the fjord at Filipstad. This is more of a container berth, but still has nice views of the city and fjord. It is a little further away from the central quay, but is only a 10 to 15 minute walk. We had a walk around and sat down at a quayside bar for a coffee and a croissant. The service was friendly and the view was nice.

One thing we did not do on our last trip here was visit Vigeland Sculpture Park. We looked on the map and decided to walk rather than take a taxi or bus. From the central quay to the park took us 30 minutes at a reasonable pace. 

The walk was through some delightful residential areas and showed us how pretty Oslo is. The Sculpture Park was impressive and free to enter. On the way out we wanted to use the toilet, but found that there was a fee. We did not have any local cash, but luckily the toilet attendant took credit cards. It is the first time I have paid by credit card to use a toilet! Our walk back took about 25 minutes, as our cruise berth was nearer to the Sculpture Park than the central quay. We then sat on the rear terrace and watched the first part of the sail away out of the fjord and back towards home.

the Regal Princess still at her Berth
Disembarkation – We were allocated a 10.20am departure slot and so had enough time for a relaxed breakfast in the MDR. We then sat in the Platinum/Elite Lounge in Club Fusion until we were called. They were running about 20 minutes early so we were off around 10am to meet up with our shuttle bus to take us to our car.


We had another wonderfully relaxing time on board. This trip was not about the destinations, it was more about just being on the ship and having a restful time. Princess was top for service yet again and we have already booked a back to back in the Caribbean for next March. This will be another first for us. First time back to back and first time opting for traditional dining. We can’t wait.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Upgraded to Balcony for the Same Price

We are staying on the Royal and doing a cruise in the Caribbean.  When we booked it was $499 for an inside. Then it dropped to $399.  

Our friends who live in Florida were looking at booking too. When they did book they got a residency rate of $399 but for a BY Balcony.  

After discussing with our travel agent, she informed us if our friends shared the deal with us - through the Princess site - Called Share the Savings - we could also get this deal.

Larry quickly filled out the info and sent it off and Connie at Best Price Cruises took care of the rest.  

We are now in a Obstructed Balcony from an inside for the exact same price.

So I learned something new - sharing a great deal is possible under the right circumstances.  Also staying on top of price changes and what your friends have booked is key. Talk to them, get information and then find out if it can be applied to your booking.  It never hurts to ask.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Insides Come Available At Great Price

Remember when I wrote about wanting to book an inside for our Trans Atlantic on the Royal but it looked like Princess had locked them out.  Here is a link to that blog.

Well yesterday they opened up those insides.  

You see when a ship has a lot of cabins left relatively close to sailing. Princess is going to try and sell the balconies first. They will offer upsells to those in insides to balconies for a nominal fee, then once they have sold some balconies they will open up the available insides.

Because of the Ship Mate App I have that notifies me (for free) when there is a price drop. I got an email saying insides were lower. That meant insides were once again available.

The price just couldn't be beat either.  An IE sideways inside for $850. This means a $500 per person savings from our balcony to this inside.  

Although I would love the balcony I don't really need it and right  now I need the savings more.  That $1,000 will go far towards other things.  Plus on a Trans Altantic and so many sea days I don't think I will miss the balcony too much.  Also we find we tend to venture out to the public areas more when we are in an inside. Another big perk is that insides are so much quieter than balconies, and way darker. 

I got in touch with my agent and we are now in A217 for the Trans Atlantic and in A216 for the five day Caribbean. Which dropped by a $100 last week - thanks again Ship Mate App.

Friday, July 8, 2016

How To Pre Order All Your Italy Tickets To Major Sites

One tip I learned from Rick Steves that has been priceless is:  

Pre reserve your all your tickets to the major sites in Florence, Rome, Venice and others large cities.  This allows you to skip the line (which can be quite long during prime season).  

There are many booking sites out there that will reserve tickets for you (I call them brokers) and add an additional fee to secure these tickets. But by going directly with the establishment you cut out the middle man and save money.  

Here is an example for exactly the same ticket for Florence's Uffizi Gallery Tickets with skip the line:

Viator - 28 Euros
Musement - 20 Euros
Florence Museum - 24.50 Euros
Italy Tickets - 26.50 Euros

But directly with the Museums Site - 16.50 Euros 

What I really dislike is it is hard to determine what is the official site and what isn't.  Those brokers make their sites look VERY official.  

Last year we pre reserved for the Colosseum/Forum in Rome, Vatican Museum, Doge's Palace in Venice.  

Here are the Official sites that we used, click the links below.  

Most of the above sites do offer tours that include entry.  Or you can reserve audio guides.  Or better yet download Rick Steves free audio guides and tour independently.

Hope this helps.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Flights Booked Part Deux

Option three won out.  So many of you were right.  The 20 hours is long but it will give us time to rest up and try to adjust to the time change.

So we are booked on the Westjet flight leaving Vancouver at 1830 arriving in London at 1147 the next day.  For a $20 added fee we were able to reserve our seats too. The one pain was they had a cheap price for one $390, but when you search for two the price jumped up.  We therefore booked one of us on the cheaper fare. Then booked the other at the higher price $487. And because we reserved seats we are sitting together.

We then booked the British Airways flight for 15 £ each plus taxes and fees which ended up making it a total cost of 42 £ each.  Wow what a steal!

So cost breakdown is as follows:

  • Westjet flight: $487 for one, $390 for the other total:  $877 Canadian
  • British Airways flight:  42 £ each or $141 Canadian total  
Old flights were $1420 new flights are $1018 (but we do need to pay for a hotel/food).  That is $781 US for both of us to fly one way.  Now that is a deal.

We still have to book a hotel near Gatwick.  If any of you have a recommendation let me know.

I also like the idea of taking the train to London once we get in. 

We now get into Genoa at 1100 am on Sunday.  Hopefully more refreshed. 

What Flight Would You Pick

As per my previous blog I have to rebook flights to Genoa.

I have two options - help me pick - all prices in Canadian also we have a 9 hour time change:

option 1: $731 a 1321 flight (Air Transat) Vancouver to London then 2.5 hours layover then flight to Genoa arriving at 1225 pm. But to do this flight I will have to take some time off work Fri (lose pay) to catch flight and VERY long routing. 

option 2: $524 a 1830 flight (Westjet) Vancouver to London then 2.38 hours then flight to Paris, 4 hour layover, arriving in Genoa at 22:20  - no loss of pay but long day.

option 3: $466 a 1830 flight (Westjet) Vancouver to London then 20 hour layover (but for around $100 we can get hotel at airport and rest up) next day catch 8 am flight to Genoa 

What would you pick?

Monday, July 4, 2016

Darn Flight Changes Throw a Monkey Wrench Into Everything

Well, like I always say I hate air travel and airlines.  And yesterday only reinforced my theory.

After work I went in looking at the option for reserving our seats on our Air Transat Flight to Rome.

As I scanned the seat map, comparing seats with flight guru seat recommendations I noticed something was off.  

At the bottom of the page it showed the flight with one stop in London.  Hmmm our flight is suppose to be direct to Rome from Vancouver.  After further investigation and checking travel search sites I see our flight to Rome has changed.  It now leaves earlier from Vancouver and arrives in Rome an hour later.  This makes our 2.5 hour layover in Rome with enough time to get to our 1420 flight just enough, but now it is down to a 1 and a half hour layover and that is NOT enough time to clear customs, get bags and get to new flight.

So I get on the phone with the agency we booked our flights with - Kiwi - and they are not aware of the change and will look into it.

After hanging up with them I see the next flight to Genoa means an added 6 hour layover in Rome - 8 hours in total. That will not work.  We would never have booked that flight if it was like that originally.  

Oddly Air Transat's site shows direct flight to Rome every Friday - but not that day!  It flies to London then Rome. Just our luck.

This morning we get an email from Kiwi (our agency) with the offer to change to the late flight to Genoa (8 hour layover) at no cost.  

I call them up and say that we can't do that option and they say they can cancel the entire thing at no cost due to the drastic change.  I know it is not their fault and accept that offer.  

One thing I highly recommend to everyone - and it has saved our butts.  Is check your flights regularly for changes because often your travel agent doesn't even know about it until you alert them.

Now I have to start again looking at options for flights to Genoa.  So stay tune.