Top Ten Travel Tips

1) As you begin your travel plans, check your passport expiry date. I’ve had many clients who didn’t check until right before they left and had to pay huge rush fees to get a new one.

Passport Picture

Passport Picture

2) Buy travel insurance (both cancellation and out of country medical) It may seem like an extra cost that you don’t need but it sure pays for itself tenfold if you have to make a claim. You never think you’ll have a house fire or a break-in but most people buy home insurance every year.

3) Call your credit card company to advise them you will be travelling out of the country so they won’t be suspicious of any charges and possibly freeze your card.

4) Check the voltage and plug types for the country you’ll be visiting and make sure you have the appropriate adapter. (When my husband & I travel together, I even take a small surge protector power bar since we have so many devices between the two of us!) Plus don’t forget to pack your power cords in your carry-on bag as you never know if you’ll be delayed and need them.

5) If travelling somewhere that immunizations or preventative medication is recommended, make sure you start taking well enough in advance (For instance, the Twinrix Hepatitis A&B combo shot is 3 doses that takes six months to complete)

6) Tie a ribbon, bandana or something unique to your bags so they stand out at the luggage carousel and make it less likely that someone will take yours by accident. Also, make sure your bags are tagged with identification (and not just on the outside as those tags can get torn off, you should also put your contact information inside your suitcase as may help if it gets lost.)

7) Speaking of lost luggage, if you’ve ever been waiting and waiting for your bag only to realize that everyone else has left, then that sickening feeling hits you as you finally come to terms that your bag did not arrive, you’ll love this tip – before you leave home, take a picture of your bag with your camera or smartphone so when the agent asks you to fill out all the paperwork with the color, type etc, you have the info at your fingertips. I also take a picture of what I’ve packed inside because if the bag never shows up, it helps jog your memory on what to claim. (I could probably do an entire list just on luggage tips as I’ve lost many bags!)

8) Before leaving on your trip, find out what the luggage allowance is for ALL your flights – if you are changing to a smaller aircraft from an overseas flight, they can be vastly different. You don’t want to get caught with overweight luggage and huge excess charges at check in. In your documentation, make sure you have your booking reference numbers for each airline as they too can be different.

9) If making a few airplane changes which means going through many airport security check points, keep your outfit simple – wear shoes that are easy to take on and off, don’t wear bangles or other jewelry (or coins in your pocket) that might set off the machines. Have your laptop and see through bag of liquids (under 100ml or 3 oz) handy at the top of your carry-on bag.

10) The most important tip of all is to pack your patience!
Your flight might get delayed, your hotel room may not be ready when you arrive, your transfer might not show up, you may get lost, your cruise cabin might be under the gym (this one happened to me once and the cabin shook when one particular guy ran on the treadmill at top speed) and many other mishaps but travel is all about the journey, the destination and the troubles that turn into stories once you get home. Embrace them and be thankful that you’re able to be out experiencing the wonder of our world.

Jazz it up to Graceland on a Mississippi River Cruise!

The brand new American Eagle paddlewheeler will be raising the standard for river cruising when American Cruise Lines launches this beauty in April of 2015.

A great time will be had cruising the Lower Mississippi River from New Orleans to Memphis. Starting out in a place where centuries old architecture is the backdrop for a culture steeped in a history of influences from Europe, the Caribbean, Africa and beyond. New Orleans is home to a truly unique melting pot of culture, food and music where you’ll find bowls filled to the rim with gumbo and wonderful sounds coming from the jazz clubs.
Board your brand new ship and head north, stopping in Oak Alley, Baton Rouge and St. Francisville in Louisiana along the way. Sailing into Mississippi, you’ll visit Vicksburg to find perfectly blended Southern culture and heritage along with hallowed stories of Civil War battles.
Reaching Tennessee doesn’t have to end your journey, why not stay a few extra days in the legendary Peabody Memphis and visit the iconic Graceland or the Memphis Zoo.

Then when you’ve done this unforgettable journey, you’ll be ready to sign up for their Upper Mississippi river cruise itinerary !

Or if you’ve got plenty of time (and money!) on your hands, they have one epic journey in August that travels the entire length of the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Paul, MN in 22 days. Visit 10 states, even more than Huck Finn’s famous trip down the Mississippi River, to experience a complete history of the western frontier.

American Eagle Paddlewheeler

American Eagle Paddlewheeler

Combine your river cruise with a BMW or Audi factory tour

Exclusive to The River Cruise Lady !

Trying to convince your significant other to take a river cruise with you ? Then they will love this Danube itinerary which sails from the beautiful city of Budapest and ending in Munich where we add on a BMW or Audi factory tour (or both if you prefer !)

Dates and availability are limited so email your preferred departure to linda@therivercruiselady.com and everything can be arranged for you from your airfare, transfers, extra hotel nights so no stress for you.

Would you buy a river cruise without heated seats ?

Since my husband has been in the process of buying a newer car lately, it got me thinking about the similarities between purchasing a car and purchasing a river cruise.

It really depends on where you are in your life cycle that steers you towards a certain type of car or cruise. For instance, most cars do exactly the same things, they go forward, reverse, have windshield wipers, headlights and it will get to and from your destination. Same with a river cruise, most of the companies do the same routes on the rivers, stop at the same towns, offer meals, drinks and entertainment onboard and get you to and from your destination.

Now the “extras” are what sets them both apart.

For the cars, you can buy a basic one like a Ford Fusion for just over $20,000 that has power windows, locks, keyless entry and air conditioning. More upgrades would include a sunroof, navigation system, and that wonderful in winter feature – heated seats.

It’s a great car but you find many choosing the popular Audi A5 which cost wise with the prestige trim, will put you over the $50,000 range but comes complete with auto-dimming exterior mirrors, adaptive Xenon Plus headlights, a Parking System Plus with a reversing camera, and side assist blind-spot warning system, a 14-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system with Bluetooth capability plus more. (whew)

Well the same goes for river cruises, it is not as though one company is better than the other, some just offer more “extras” where everything is included.

For example, you could take a 7 night river cruise on the Seine with Avalon Waterways and it would be wonderful – they include wine/beer with dinner and include most excursions. Their ship holds 140 passengers and for some, they will purchase the optional excurions, everyone pays gratuities at the end and depending on how many drinks you’ve enjoyed throughout the week, will have a bit of a bar bill to settle.

Take that same cruise with Tauck and everything is included from the drinks, excursions, transfers to and from the airport or train station plus all gratuities onboard and on the tours. (they also include fancy extras like a private dinner at a chateau in Normandy) Their ship only holds 118 passengers for the same size of vessel so you’ve got more space. Plus they have 14 suites at 300 sq feet each compared to only 2 on Avalon’s (which are 258 sq feet) Tauck also has bicycles onboard that you can sign out on your own or on a bike excursion.

The price difference?

For a mid summer departure in 2015, the Avalon river cruise will start at approx. $3150usd, the Tauck one will start at $5990usd per person based on double. If you want an even longer experience where your ship is docked right at Honfleur (which is only a stones throw from the D-Day landing beaches) then a 10 night all inclusive cruise with Scenic cruises would be your choice and their starting price for this itinerary is $6330usd and up.

So it really does depend on where you are in life as to how much you want to spend on your river cruise. I find the older we get, the more we are willing to spend because frankly, we’ve earned it. We have worked hard all our lives starting out with the basics and now we are in a position where we can enjoy all the bells and whistles. (and heated seats !)

We were all taught the phrase ‘you get what you pay for’ and it is so true when it comes to river cruising, you can sail with many of the companies and it will be wonderful or you can sail with a few of the all-inclusive lines & the trip will be amazing.

Whichever one you choose, you will love the experience of getting into the heart of your destination.

What cabin should I book for a river cruise ?

I decided to write about what cabin you should book from having a conversation with my parents.  They received a brochure in the mail about a European river cruise and when I was visiting, they pointed out that the company was offering FREE AIRFARE for a few of their departures.  They exclaimed enthusiastically to get them booked right away to take advantage of the deal !

I then showed them the fine print which was that it was only applicable on their “window” category cabins.  To which they replied – “how bad could that be ?”

So I dug out my close up picture that I took of the outside of one of the ships when I was on the Danube  (plus also showed them on the front of the brochure they received)

Outside view of a river cruise ship

Outside view of a river cruise ship

When I showed them the very small window cabin located on the bottom deck of the ship, they understood.  I explained that these cabins are the hardest to sell because most people want either the French balcony or full balcony cabin to take full advantage of being able to open up the doors and experience the river going by.  Whenever you see a river cruise company advertising sale pricing, it is usually on these type of cabins because they are the only ones available.

The other point that they were shocked to learn was that the suite cabins are actually the FIRST to sell out.  This is because most ships may only have 2 suites and if anyone is crossing over from ocean cruising and used to a large suite, they also want one of those on the river.  Due to this fact, many of the companies are changing the way they build their ships.  Take a look at the new SS Antoinette that Uniworld built – they now have one huge Royal Suite at 391 sq feet, then 8 suites at 294 sq feet to tap into that market that is willing to pay for a larger cabin.  For comparison, their cabin sizes in category 1 through 3 are 196 sq feet and 4/5 are 163 sq feet.

SSAntoinette Uniworld

SSAntoinette

So to answer what cabin should you book for a river cruise ?     Well, that all depends on you – get the suite if you have the funds and book far enough in advance, get the French balcony for wonderful river views and get the window category if you want a bargain!    Whichever one you choose, you will love the experience of getting into the heart of your destination.

 

Which is the best River Cruise Company for Europe ?

This is a question I get from my clients all the time and to answer it would be like choosing which child was the best of your children!

They all have their redeeming qualities and differences and it could really depend on ones own preferences as to the outcome. Let me give you an example – Uniworld River Cruises  www.uniworld.com has announced that they are going totally all inclusive for their 2014 European River Cruises (which means they will include unlimited beverages onboard including wine, beer, spirits, cocktails, soft drinks, juices, plus all shore excursions) which sounds the best except for the non-drinker who ends up paying more for their river cruise for those beverages they won’t consume. These people might think its best to choose Avalon Waterways www.avalonwaterways.com who only provide wine, beer and soft drinks at dinner which is reflected in the price.

Another example is with Viking River Cruises  www.vikingrivercruises.com and all their brand new “longships” that they have recently christened.  While it is so nice to be able to travel in the comfort of a new ship, in order to keep their pricing competitive, they made the decision to put in more staterooms which in turn hold more people.  All river cruise ships that travel on the Danube are regulated and cannot be longer than 443 feet.  The new Viking ships have 95 staterooms or 190 passengers where if you compare that to AMA Waterways www.amawaterways.com whose new ships are the same size, they only have 82 staterooms holding 164 passengers.  So Viking River might have the best pricing, but AMA Waterways have more public space onboard.

Talking about having more space onboard brings me to Tauck River Cruising  www.tauck.com/river-cruises  as they step it up a notch with their new ships having larger rooms, more dining options and capping the passengers at 130 in 67 cabins to get the best space ratio category. They include all beverages, the gratuties, a signature special experience and all shore excursions.

Unique for 2014 is Scenic River Cruise www.us.scenictours.com introduction of their new lower priced line Emerald Waterways www.emeraldwaterways.com which will be a first in the industry where one company has two distinct types of river cruises to choose from.  Scenic Tours originated in Australia selling package tours and is still privately owned there. Scenic also  offers the all inclusive concept but Emerald will only have wine and beer with lunch and dinner. Their aim with the new Emerald line is to target a younger demographic with their two ships having swimming pools that inventively convert into a cinema and their open-air balcon system that allows you to enjoy it no matter what the weather.

A new player in the North American market is A-Rosa Cruises www.arosacruises.com which has been operating in Europe for years but has now picked a few of their departures to cater exclusively to English speaking passengers. It will be interesting to see if they are able to keep up with the other big operators.

So you can see that its tough to pick the “best” one as each has their own unique benefits.  Viking River claims to have the “greenest” ships featuring diesel-electric hybrid engines specially designed for low vibration and minimal environmental impact. AMA Waterways is famous for their fresh food brought on from local ports. Avalon Waterways have the most innovative design in their cabins where they’ve turned the bed to face the french balcony sliding glass doors. Uniworld offers an interesting mix of programs for their shore excursions including Go Active, Gentle Walking, Do as the Locals Do and Village Day.

If you would like some additional information on any of these companies, ships or their itineraries, please feel free to drop me an email.  If you’ve already sailed on any of them – which one was your favourite and why ?

RiverCruiseLadyLinda

linda@therivercruiselady.com

 

River views right from your bed

It’s amazing to see how the river cruise companies come up with such innovative ways to design their staterooms. You’ll see in the video below how Avalon Waterways changed the configuration of the cabin and now have the bed facing the window – genius idea !

(I joked that maybe it was designed by a woman because the old way used to face the TV and now it faces the spectacular scenery going by)

Dreamin on the Amazon River

If a trip to the Amazon is on your bucket list, then a great way to experience the jungle atmosphere is to pair it with a voyage on the spectacular Sea Dream II. The company classifies the Sea Dream as “yachting, not cruising” and I was convinced after only a few days. Many of the cruise lines claim to do Amazon cruises but they only sail in as far as Manaus, Brazil but this was where the journey actually started heading towards Peru. There were just under 90 passengers onboard with 93 crew members so you can imagine how well we were taken care of.

The service level was the best I’ve ever experienced on a ship and the display of food would rival any five star restaurant. Chef Tomaz was very helpful in providing alternate dining options for my non-dairy diet and went above and beyond, creating a special soup for me everyday (they also offered many gluten free options too) He could be seen in the morning overseeing breakfast orders and was always very approachable. There was a small buffet area with fruits/cheese/desserts that we were welcomed to, but a staff member was always waiting nearby to carry your plate back to your table.

One of the great features of this ship (and the identical Sea Dream I) is their marina which is accessible from the stern. They would deploy the zodiacs which were stored at the bow and load us in for our daily adventures. Swimming in the Amazon – why yes you can! Not in the muddy waters but in the black water tributaries that were found everywhere as we motored along. One day we were able to get into the water with the pink dolphins (who are grey when they are born but turn pink as they age) and they were just as curious about us as we were thrilled to see them.

We visited a few villages along the way and met the locals who looked happy and healthy even though they were living in such remote places only accessible by boats. Their whole lives are based around the river and it was fascinating to see how they lived. They have to build their homes on stilts due to the rising water levels. We were invited into the home of an elderly midwife who gave us an acai berry drink, lovingly mixed with sugar (and ants!), which we drank to show our gratitude.

A trip to Monkey Island had us all laughing like little children when the squirrel monkeys would dive from the trees onto us, landing on our heads or shoulders and jumping from one person to the other.

The zodiacs were also used to take us out on expeditions in the jungle and the four guides that we had along with us were so informative and passionate about the Amazonian area, made us appreciate all the different species we were able to see.

During the day, the guides were able to spot birds, reptiles and animals embedded in the foliage that had us straining our eyes to focus on. I was thankful for a new camera purchase that had a great zoom lens to capture many pictures including the one of a sloth hanging out in the trees. One day we paddled through the reeds to completely immerse ourselves with surrounding vines and were treated to sounds like being at a symphony with the instruments consisting of birds chirping, monkeys squealing and frogs croaking – it was breathtaking.

We were lucky on the night expeditions as the full moon illuminated the zodiacs through the darkness where flashlights would light up the eerie eyeballs of the caimans in the water. The guides were fearless of the river and many times would thrust their hand into it and pull up a snake, frog and even a small caiman for us to photograph.

As we neared the end of our voyage, an unforgettable day was celebrated as we had breakfast in Brazil, lunch in Columbia and dinner in Peru. Disembarking in Inquitos, we were very sad to say goodbye to the hardworking staff on the Sea Dream II plus the new friends that we shared many amazing adventures with.

Seine River Cruise-Paris to Normandy

Picture this – your voyage begins from the romantic city of Paris and your ship is docked a half hour walk from the base of the Eiffel Tower !

From the top deck, we could see the tower and the fun glitter show that occurs every night at 9pm for 5 minutes.  This wonderful journey down the Seine River in France was rich with art, gardens and history.
Everyone should visit Normandy once in their life to appreciate those who sacrificed so much for our future.