Wednesday, August 30, 2017

My Christmas Wish Book Has Arrived



Do you remember the Sears Christmas Wish Book?

I sure do.  In fact I loved catalogues.  All types of catalogues. I have pictures of myself as a little girl around the age of three sitting on my little chair flipping through catalogues.  My Mom loved that I would be occupied for hours with just a catalogue. 


Then as I got a little older I would sit with the catalogue and flip thru pretending I was a Mommy married with two, maybe three kids and I had to furnish my entire home by circling items.  

Today I no longer sit with catalogues dreaming of what I am going to buy.  Heck it is hard to even find a catalogue!  But!!!


When the Princess Cruise Atlas arrives each year I feel like a kid again.



I sit and flip through the entire thing, cover to cover highlighting itineraries with post it notes (so Bernie can see what I want to do).

For those who don't know about the Cruise Atlas, it is a perk for Platinum members and higher that is mailed out annually. 

It offers itineraries for the entire fleet with maps and dates.  The best feature I find is the Sailing Schedules at a Glance in the back cover.  This allows us to see exactly which ships/itineraries are offered for specific months.



Sure you can get this information all online but it is much easier to have in your hand to review and mark.

Okay enough writing.  I need to go and check out my new Cruise Atlas

Monday, August 28, 2017

Venice Tours Booked with Viator


Have to say that one thing I really enjoy now is Viator.  

As someone who prefers doing independent tours the service of Viator who acts as a tour consolidator is priceless.  

Prior to Viator I would search dozens of websites trying to find the right tour and dealing with each provider.  

It is easy you just go to their website and punch in where you are going and what you want to do.  Trust me you will be surprised at all the options that come up.

When ready to book you add it to your shopping cart and pay all at once and print out the voucher.  So easy.

We recently booked some tours in Barcelona but today we focussed on Venice.

A Venice Street Food Tour with Local Guide at a Local Food Market for $44 Cdn each, and a Morning Walking Tour Plus Gondola Ride for $80 Cdn each.  

This is our second trip to Venice and we saw many of the sites last time so this trip is about digging deeper and seeing more.

If you are interested in booking a trip with Viator, sign up and you get a $10 discount on your first tour just by clicking here.  

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Barcelona and Visiting Sagrada Familia


If you are wanting to visit the Sagrada Familia and want to do it independently (not in a tour) it is very easy. 

There are some great tour companies that will include a guided tour and entrance to the church and if that is right for you then I encourage you to do it that way.  

For us we are going directly to the site for Sagrada Familia and we pre purchased our entrance ticket and guided tour for the day and time we want.

The Sagrada Familia's website can be accessed here.  

Once at the site make sure it is in English (if not -- at the top right is options for English). 

Ticket options are many.  An individual entry ticket is 15E or you can purchase a ticket that includes the entrance, the towers and the audio guide for 29E.  Remember once you have a ticket for a set time you get to bypass the line once at the site.

For us we went with the entrance and guided tour for 24E. Note all these prices are as of today's date.

There are other options for tickets, so find what is right for you.

Once we selected the tickets we wanted, we were directed to choose the date of the tour and what language we wanted the tour in.  The times showed up next and showed how many tickets were left for that time.  

We entered in our payment details (note the language had to be changed again to English here) and an email was sent with our tickets.

I did check on Viator for a tour that was just the Church and guide and the price is 33E each. So save the money and do it yourself.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Train Travel Booked - Finally



You may remember me writing about my frustrations with booking train travel in Italy - read about it here.

Over the weekend I finally got around to booking the train trips but again it was a little bit of game playing on both parts.

I always recommend searching booking sites but also to go to the source and check there too and for us it was better to book directly with Trenitalia.

First was the trip from the port to Lucca.  That was easy and we got tickets on the 10:45 train.

Next was the trip from Lucca to Venice.  The two for one was still offered.  However the first class train was just a little bit more so went with that.  But when I searched for one person the price was lower per person than when I searched for two people, per person.

So I then had to book it as two separate tickets to get the lower price.

So make sure when you are searching take note of the price for one person and then what the price is for two.  Is it more to book per person when you book two tickets?  Or is it better to book two separate tickets?



Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Vegan on a Cruise - Is It Possible?


Recently both Bernie and I have transitioned to a more plant based diet. We call ourselves Vegan but we still have a few holdouts (butter and ice cream) but we are working on it.

Of course we love cruising too.  

Can this work? On our last trip we were probably following a plant based diet about 65% of the time. We could of done better.  

One thing is we did not let Princess know about our dietary requirements (just not enough time as booked last minute).  
So for our upcoming cruise in September we went to our cruise personalizer and went in and went to dietary requirements and selected vegetarian -- there was no vegan option.

Right away I received an email from Princess with the following information:

Thank you for contacting us with notification of Bernard Bowne's request for vegetarian meals. Please take a moment to review the following information. 

Vegetarian items are designated on our dining room menus with a 'V' and vegetarian selections are featured in all dining locations, including the buffet. Tofu, egg-free pasta and vegetarian burgers are available onboard and can be prepared in a variety of styles. Please liaise with your Head Waiter or the Maitre d' Hotel upon boarding to confirm suitable selections. 

Please be aware that the staff who provide room service or bar service cannot identify the food contents.  This is especially true of sauces, seasonings and spices that may be used.  Although we strive to source the freshest ingredients available, note that some of the meals prepared onboard may use prepackaged goods, which could contain some of the elements you may not wish to consume.  Should you have any questions regarding the preparation or ingredients, your Head Waiter or Maitre d’ Hotel will be able to assist you with this information. 

For your safety, any food/drink items you wish to bring onboard must be non-perishable, must not have reached the expiration date before the cruise ends, store bought and sealed in their original containers and packaging upon boarding. Any items brought onboard must be stored in the stateroom and we cannot assign crew members to assist with the preparation. No fruits, vegetables, homemade food or restaurant food will be allowed. Although we may allow certain items onboard, local port authorities may override any approvals we give. Once onboard, due to local agricultural regulations, food items may not be taken ashore.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. In the meantime, we look forward to welcoming you onboard.

Kind regards,
Dietary coordinator




This is good but I knew it would not meet our needs so I responded with the fact that we are Vegan but there was no option for this.


Today I received this response: 


Thank you for contacting us with notification of your request for vegan meals. Please take a moment to review the following information.

Please advise if you are in need of a milk substitute. I can arrange either plain soy milk or plain rice milk. We do not carry almond milk, coconut milk or goat milk.

Once onboard, it is very important that you contact the Maitre d’ Hotel to discuss your special dietary needs and any special preparation of your meals. It will be at your discretion to order meals in accordance with your dietary needs. The Maitre d’ Hotel will be happy to assist with making selections from our standard menu that would be suitable.

We do not have a specific vegan menu available. We do offer some vegetarian dishes, which may be suitable for your diet. We can also modify certain menu items to accommodate your diet. We do carry tofu, egg-free pasta and can prepare veggie burgers, as well. The chefs have been able to come up with good meal ideas.

To best accommodate your needs, we recommend you take your meals in the main dining rooms and alternative restaurants. On selected port days when the main dining rooms are closed for lunch, every effort will be made to accommodate your needs in the buffet restaurant. We ask that you speak with the Maitre d’ Hotel the evening prior to discuss your meal requirements and any special preparation for the following day. When arriving at the buffet, please request to speak to a Supervisor, who will coordinate any special preparations directly with the chef.

Please be aware that the staff who serve stateroom snacks, meals, drinks, hors d’oeuvres, 24 hour dining (International CafĂ© and room service) or work in the self-service buffets cannot identify the food contents. This is especially true of sauces, seasonings and spices that may be used.  Additionally, some of the meals prepared onboard may use frozen, canned or prepackaged goods, which could contain some of the elements you may not wish to consume.

The buffet does offer a self-service dining option. Should you choose to dine in that venue we cannot guarantee that cross contamination among the various food selections will not occur.

I have received favorable feedback from vegans who have sailed with us. They are surprised at how the dining staff caters to their needs. Again, please contact the Maitre d’ Hotel and discuss your needs with him, this will result in receiving the proper assistance with your diet. The ship staff will do everything they can to accommodate your diet.

For your safety, any food/drink items you wish to bring onboard must be non-perishable, must not have reached the expiration date before the cruise ends, store bought and sealed in their original containers and packaging upon boarding. Any items brought onboard must be stored in the stateroom and we cannot assign crew members to assist with the preparation. No fruits, vegetables, homemade food or restaurant food will be allowed. Although we may allow certain items onboard, local port authorities may override any approvals we give. Once onboard, due to local agricultural regulations, food items may not be taken ashore.

Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. In the meantime, we look forward to welcoming you onboard.


Kind regards,

Dietary Coordinator

So we informed them that we will require soy milk in the International Cafe and we will contact the Maitre d'Hotel once on board. 


I will be blogging the entire voyage and will share how things work out and how we do.



Even I Have Booking Frustrations


Yes I know!  You all think everything is smooth sailing for me when it comes to booking and planning my trips.  But really I only share with you the good, exciting, and fun things.  

Today while driving my bus I thought -- I need to share this with my readers too. 

Last night after work I sat down and proceeded to book our train travel for Italy.

We need two trips.  One from Civitavecchia to Lucca. Then another from Lucca to Venice a few days later. But that was not the issue.  

I quickly found the routing I wanted by checking out Rome2Rio then clicked to book. Hmmm that site doesn't want to give me the same routing. First issue!

Okay second option -- go right to Italy's Trenitalia homepage. Punch in my routing. Results are great. Discuss with Bernie on our best option. And even better they are offering a two for one!

Go to pay. Punch in my credit card details and realize my travel credit card has expired. Oh yeah I got new cards in the mail - need to activate them first. Second issue!

Try to get them activated but having issues doing that as website doesn't like what I am putting in and am told to call Mastercard to activate. Third issue!

After a few minutes on the phone the new cards are activated. Time to book the train tickets.

But the original booking has expired and I have to redo the search and choose the trip again. Fourth issue!

Try to pay and my Mastercard Secure Pay is not letting me pay with my new card. It is blocked! Fifth issue!

Call Mastercard again and they correct the issue and all is cleared and I am told to go ahead and book.

Back to the booking, but again the trip has expired and I have to do the search again. But this time it is not showing the two for one! It is about 20 Euros more each. Sixth issue!

Remember when I wrote a while back about always do searches and booking incognito (read blog about booking flights) well I was not using my own advice and of course Trenitalia recognized this and the repeated searches for the particular itinerary on that day and dropped the 2 for 1 option. Seventh issue!

So now I will wait a few days and redo the search (incognito this time) and book and pay for it.

See you are not the only one pulling your hair out at times when you take on the travel coordinating.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Visit to Victoria B.C. and Butchart Gardens


We recently had the opportunity to visit Victoria.  

I know, I know, we live in Vancouver British Columbia so why visit Victoria.  Well a few reasons, but the main reason is we rarely explore our home Province.  Sure we will get on a plane and travel to the other side of the world but travelling in B.C. just is never at the forefront of that list.

Many cruise ships dock in Victoria when visiting Alaska. Mainly because of the Passenger Vessels Services Act and if they were not required to dock at a distant foreign port they would probably skip Victoria completely and that would be a loss.  If you don't know about the PVSA click here for more details.  

Princess ships dock early evening - usually around 7 pm and leave at midnight. This is not a lot of time but I encourage you to get off and explore.  

I have written numerous times about Victoria in my blogs - click here for more information.  

Ships dock at Ogden Point as the harbour in downtown is not deep enough.  Ogden Point is a short distance away but is easily accessible on foot (about 30 min walk) or by shuttle service or taxi.

We were honoured to be invited to partake in the Butterfly and Butchart Gardens tour thru Experience Victoria -- the tour company Princess uses.  

We were greeted by A.J. Singh, Director of Operations, right at the pier and led to the coach and introduced to Joe our driver.  

As we left the pier and travelled through the streets of Victoria, Joe gave a very easy to follow and understand commentary of the sites, the history and beauty of Victoria. We really enjoyed his funny bits about Canada and his story of watering the hanging baskets as a young man.


 


Our first stop was Butterfly Gardens after about a 40 minute drive. At first I was not sure how I would like this but I was pleasantly surprised at how beautiful it was and especially enjoyed the flowers, plants and even the parrots.




We only had a half hour stop here (which was extended because one person was late getting back) as we needed to get to Butchart Gardens as night time was setting in.

Joe provided in depth information about the history of the Butchart family and the gardens and even recommended where we should head to when arriving.

We arrived at Butchart Gardens at 8:30 pm and were given two hours to explore.  We hit the ground running as dusk was just arriving.


Now I had been to Butchart Gardens a very very long time ago - like when I was 5 - needless to say I don't remember it and I was very interested to see the site again.


The gardens are huge - 55 acres! The maps provided were easy to read and the park had numerous easy to follow signs.  Take note that you will be walking a lot, so wear comfortable shoes.  

The gardens do not allow selfie sticks, or smoking. However we encountered both in the gardens.


We proceeded to the Sunken Garden (at Joe's recommendation). It was stunning and the smells from the flowers perfumed our path.  




The paths lead you to hidden gems for the senses. And of course my favorite flower (phlox) was lining many of the paths in the area.


We quickly moved to the Concert Lawn and Stage as the live entertainment happens every day.

In fact it was lovely to listen to the music throughout the gardens as we walked around.  I would of really enjoyed to sit and enjoy the band Grove Kitchen, but we had no time to waste.

Every Saturday there is a fireworks display, but to the sadness of one little boy today was Friday.  


As we made our way to the rose garden and then the Japanese Garden the darkness had settled in and even though we could still enjoy the gardens it was more difficult to really enjoy the full effect.  

Butchart Gardens does have beautiful path lighting, and lights are strategically placed in the flower beds that cast a beautiful glow. 

But by 9:30 it was really hard to see much and we still had an hour until we had to be back on the bus. So we ended up in the coffee shop enjoying ice cream and then the gift store - which is huge - for a souvenir item.

Back at the bus by 10 and everyone was back by 10:10 (scheduled time back was 10:30) so we made our journey back to Ogden Point.  

Joe was great at providing commentary as we drove through Chinatown, the harbour, past the Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings.  But because of the darkness all were hard to see and enjoy.

Overall I have to say that a visit to Butchart Gardens is a must if you are heading to Victoria.  However if you are visiting from a cruise ship that docks later, book the tour that only visits the gardens so you can get there right away and therefore have a bit more daylight.

As much as I appreciated seeing the Butterfly Gardens it took away 40 minutes that would of been better spent at the gardens.

If you are visiting Victoria earlier in the day or for a full day definately visit the Gardens and plan for a few hours.