Archive for the ‘Cruising’ Category

Tucker Travels

My name is Tucker T. Bear and I belong to Rosemary Hodges. She is my mom and a travel consultant.

Rosemary’s husband Ed gave me to her as a gift 30 years ago on their first trans-Atlantic crossing of the Queen Elizabeth 2 . 

I was so glad to be rescued from that gift shop! 

On April 26, 2011 I am going on a cruise adventure with Rosemary and Ed. We are taking Oceania Cruises ship The Regatta from Miami to San Francisco for a 16 night sail. I am so excited because we get to go through the Panama Canal and I have never been there.

Be sure to follow my adventure on the Crossroads Travel bog….you never know what I will get up to during my travels. I am also on Facebook, look for Tucker T Bear.

I have traveled with my mom to more than 50 countries but this will be my longest cruise.  I can’t wait. Hopefully Rosemary will get all our bags packed in time!  Bye for now TTB

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Our voyage began with an extended stay in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Amsterdam is a beautiful, bustling city which offers a variety of walking tours that I highly recommend.  I chose to be adventurous and stroll through the old city on my own following a printed walking tour from Frommer’s which took about 3 hours.  This tour highlighted all of the “must see’s” of Amsterdam:  the Royal Palace, New Church, the National Monument, the flower markets, Zeedijk and the Red Light District, and other sites.  If you have time, I recommend ordering tickets for Anne Frank’s house online before you get to Amsterdam (the lines are quite long, but can be avoided if you purchase tickets early).   Canal cruises are available on most streets, but note, if you venture a bit into town you will find some better deals.     

Leaving Amsterdam, we set sail for Cologne, Germany aboard our river barge, the River Ambassador.  Cologne is a wonderful German town.  Our guide took us through the Dom (Cathedral), where you can see the Shrine to the Three Magi, and to many historic points of Cologne.   A great stop is to go to Früh, the largest brew house in Germany (it is actually larger than Munich’s).   The local beer is known as Kolsh.  Make sure to put a coaster on top of your beer when you are finished though, or they will keep bringing them to you! 

The next stop was Koblenz, Germany where the Moselle and Rhine rivers meet.   The narrow streets of Koblenz are quaint and picturesque.  A morning tour takes you to the historic churches and through the Old town.  The cruise line offers an extended afternoon tour to Marksburg Castle for a fee.  We chose to walk around town and to climb the William I monument for a beautiful view of where the two rivers join.  There is also a cable car that takes you to the Electoral Palace and over the rivers for 8 euros. We were docked there late into the evening, so we ventured back into town to try the local wines at a typical Weinstube (wine tavern).    

The next morning we were up early to sail the romantic Rhine Valley.  More than 40 castles are located along this stretch of the river.  Our cruise director narrated the history of the area and stories of the castles as we enjoyed the view from the deck.  Local beer, sausage, and pretzels were served. 

That afternoon we sailed into Rüdesheim.  Our cruise director took those interested in a quick tour of the small village.  Time on your own could be spent exploring the self-playing music instrument museum, shopping, taking the tram up to the Neiderwald monument, or enjoying local wines at a winestube.  A local favorite is Rüdesheim coffee:  a coffee made with brandy and set on fire.  An afternoon wine tasting tour to Schloss Vollrads vineyard was wonderful.  Even if you do not drink wine, I recommend taking this tour to see the beautiful Riesling wine roads.  A paid excursion into town for a typical German dinner with entertainment was offered.   (As a note, there are many biergartens with entertainment, so you could choose to do this on your own without paying for an excursion.) Having experienced something similar before, we chose to have a German meal on deck and watch the sunset on the Rhine.  This had to be one of the highlights of the trip.  I certainly recommend taking advantage and signing up for this whatever night it might be offered (they can only do it on a night when you are not sailing). 

The next morning we docked in Speyer, Germany.  A tour was offered of the town in the morning, but you could certainly walk this on your own.  Speyer is small, but quaint.  The largest Romanesque cathedral in Europe is situated in the center of town and is a “must see.”  An extended tour to Heidelberg is planned for this day.  I recommend taking the tour to see this very large, beautiful castle and to have some time on your own in town for shopping and sightseeing in Heidelberg. 

 Leaving Germany we set sail for Strasbourg, France.  A beautiful city situated in the Alsace region of France.  A morning canal tour of the city and the L’Ill River was wonderful!  The rest of your day was spent sightseeing on your own.  We chose to stroll through the cathedral and then have lunch in the area known as Petit France. 

 Our last day was a full-day tour along the Alsatian Wine Roads.  We started in the small French village of Keysersberg.  Here we saw the famous storks which migrate from South Africa to this region.  Our next stop was in Riquewihr, another picturesque French wine village.  You must try the local tarte flambee!  C’est fantastique!  There are many wine tasting rooms from the local vineyards located here, but you must have a planned tasting time if you want to enjoy these.  Your local guide can schedule one if asked.

 Our last stop of the day was in Colmar.  We chose to walk to the area known as Little Venice and sightsee there.  Located in Colmar is the home of Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty.  We were here on a Saturday and also enjoyed a beautiful orchestra concert in the park!

Many locks are located along the Rhine.  You will certainly want to be on deck to watch sailing through one.  As we sailed from the Alsace region, we entered several.  The oldest lock is located just before Basel and was built in 1932. 

Our cruise ended in Basel, Switzerland.  Here we disembarked and added on a few more days to see Switzerland.  Walking tours of Basel are quite easy.  You can see the Münster Cathedral and the Marketplatz Square all located in the Old Town.  On Sundays most shops are closed in Switzerland, so keep this in mind. 

We took a tour to Lucerne, Switzerland.  This has to be one of the most beautiful cities, perfectly located along the Alps.  A crystal clear lake runs through the city.  The old bridges where history unfolds in pictures as you walk through are amazing.  Small restaurants and historic churches align the waterfront.  It is no wonder this town is such a tourist attraction.   

Our last day, we took the train to Zürich.  There are trains that run every half hour from Basel directly to Zürich.  The train station in Zürich is located in the heart of the Old town.  A walking tour here is quite easy as well.  Make sure to visit St. Peter’s (the largest clock face in the world), Grossmünster, and Fraümunster.   Also Bahnhofstrasse is a famous street for very expensive shopping (similar to Rodeo Drive).  I recommend taking time for lunch somewhere along the lake; we chose to have Swiss fondue.  The portions are large so make sure to share!

The entire trip was wonderful!  Traveling in late August- early September the weather overall was very pleasant.  Temperatures varied from mid 50’s to low 70’s.  Make sure to plan to dress in layers (cooler mornings and evenings, but warmer afternoons).  Although we had some rain showers, this really did not interfere with our tours or sightseeing.  The food on the ship was good. They incorporated many local cuisine dishes which were enjoyable; having local wines and beers included with dinner was also nice.  The ship had been recently renovated and all accommodations were comfortable and clean.  The staff on board was extremely friendly and accommodating.  I would definitely recommend taking this cruise to see a beautiful part of the world! By H. McKenzie.

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Here’s what clients who recently returned from an anniversary Mediterrenean cruise aboard the Crown Princess with an extended stay in Rome & Vencie had to say about their trip.


Where do I start…..our trip was AMAZING!!!!  All went well with our flight to Rome and our transfer to our hotel. The driving in Rome was a little scary, but we made it to our hotel just fine! Our hotel was teeny tiny but nice…I would dare to say that our room was smaller than our room on the ship, but we didn’t mind since we didn’t spend much time there!!! Upon arrival we dropped our bags, took a quick nap and then headed to the Colosseum. Before we left we downloaded a bunch of Rick Steve’s podcasts which ended up being great! We just walked in to the Colosseum, put on our headphones, hit play & got a step by step tour guide from Rick Steves….we would highly recommend this for future travelers!! After the Colosseum we headed over to Vatican City, as you recommended it was best to go there late in the day..that was great advice, we were able to walk right in, put on our headphones & do our own tour. We heard from a lot of our friends on the ship that they waited in lines that wrapped around the square!!! That evening we enjoyed a great meal and then walked in the rain around Rome, had gelato and saw the Pantheon & Trevi Fountain. The next morning we got up early to go to the Roman Forum where we once again did the Rick Steve’s tour & then grabbed our bags and headed to the train station. The train to Civitavecchia was confusing but we managed to make it to the port eventually. The walk to the port was also confusing, but we followed the crowds…the craziest part was the steep staircases we had to lug our luggage up & down!!  (Note from agent: we strongly recommend all our travelers pre-book car or shuttle transportation to and from the port to avoid such hassles).
Princess Cruises was all that I hoped for and more. H. and I were both curious about what we would think about cruising & both of us ended up absolutely loving it! The service, atmosphere, prices, entertainment & food were all excellent!! We ended up becoming friends with a few other couples and really enjoyed sitting on their balcony each evening before dinner while drinking wines that we had bought at port!  The first three days of the cruise were exciting as well as exhausting since we signed up for full day excursions in Cannes, Florence & Naples. After the back to back excursions we made some changes to our plans so we had more free time on our own for the future ports…we were glad we did this, but wish we had downloaded Rick Steve’s podcasts for those locations.
I would have to say that we loved the island of Santorini the most. Corfu, Capri & Sorrento were all close to the top as well, but riding a donkey up the cliff in Santorini, eating delicious Greek food & riding four-wheelers all over the island led to Santorini winning out!  We were fortunate to not see any strife in or around Greece considering we were there right around the time of the riots.  Athens was quiet since we were there on a Sunday!  
Ending the trip in Venice was wonderful….what a beautiful, unique city!! We had a very smooth transfer to our hotel by utilizing the vaporettas. Our hotel (the Casa Verardo) was nice & the location was ideal. We spent the day & night getting lost as well as hanging around St. Mark’s Square…seeing it flood at night was wild!
The next morning we had breakfast & headed out to the airport. The flight back was great & as much as we loved our vacation, it was nice to finally be home!
Thank you for all of the time that you spent helping us plan this once in a lifetime vacation. Your planning and advice fit just right with what we were looking for in a 2-week European getaway! Thank you for helping to make our dreams become reality! By K.C.L.

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Azamara Club Cruise from Athens (Piraeus), Greece to Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy aboard the Azamara Journey:    A fantastic cruise filled with seeing wonders of the ancient world. 

A wonderful cruise in the Mediterranean aboard the Azamara Journey began in Athens (Piraeus), Greece.   Arriving a day early to Athens gave us time to relax and enjoy the sites of this large, historical city before boarding the ship for our seven-day cruise.  There are many places to enjoy in Athens from the Plaka area to the Parthenon (all are accessible without a guide; just make sure to have a map and information on the sites).  Getting around by foot or the metro are both quite easy.  A highlight is watching the illumination of the Parthenon at dusk.

Leaving Piraeus, we set sail aboard for Kusadasi, Turkey.  I chose to take one of the shore excursions offered by the ship, which included the House of the Virgin Mary and Ephesus.  Both of these sites are quite crowded tourist attractions so I definitely recommend going with a guide.  If you have never been to the area before, these are definitely worth visiting (Note:  remember to bring water and wear sunscreen and bug spray).  The ruins at Ephesus are in amazing condition.   There are many different tours offered by the ship.  I chose a half-day excursion so that we could have a leisurely afternoon on our own in Kusadasi.  There are many shops; Turkish rugs and lamps, silver, and leather seemed to be the most common purchases (Note:  U.S dollars were accepted in most shops).  The shop owners will try to entice you into their shops by offering apple tea or Turkish wine.  I recommend trying both while in Turkey, but make sure you are ready to negotiate (shop owners will try to get you to purchase something). 

Our next port of call was Bodrum, Turkey.  A relaxing change from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Kusadasi!  This seaside port was just what we needed after a previously busy day.  The sailboats and the clear waters of the Mediterranean are absolutely beautiful here.   We chose to take the shore excursion offered by the ship to St. Peter’s castle; however, you certainly could do this on your own (pay in Turkish currency only, no Euros or U.S. dollars accepted).  The castle is worth touring to see remnants of the medieval crusade period and the influence it had on this city.  The afternoon in Bodrum was quite relaxing.  We enjoyed walking the small streets, stopping at tavernas (cafes) along the beach for drinks and lunch, and shopping (no pressure from shop owners here).   A beautiful, friendly city that I will definitely visit again!

Docking the next day in the town of Rhodes, Greece, we chose to walk and see the medieval castle and town on our own.  Meandering through the castle and down the streets within the walls was wonderful.  Shops were scattered throughout and everyone was very pleasant.  After shopping and sightseeing all morning, we walked to the beach in town to enjoy lunch on the water.  An appetizer of tzatziki and a Greek salad was just perfect! 

Along the harbor are the deer that guard the city where it is thought that the Colossus of Rhodes (one of the ancient wonders of the world) may have once stood.  There is much to see on the island of Rhodes, so pick and choose a sampling of sights to see and know that you will want to come back to Rhodes again. 

Cruising the Greek isles is something that should not be missed.  The clear, smooth waters are beautiful.  Make sure to be on deck each evening for sail away and sunset if possible.  Both are amazing!

Our next port of call was the small island of Mykonos.  Arranging a taxi on your own to take you to any of the many beautiful beaches is quite easy (the taxi stand is in the center of the harbor).  Another option is to spend the day strolling through town.  Mykonos has over 400 small churches, each unique.  The small streets can be a bit confusing; however, if you always keep the sea in sight or navigate back to it, you really will not get lost.  Early mornings are very quiet as you walk the town and see the shop owners washing the streets in front of their shops.  Of course, a walk to the windmills is a must.  I suggest heading there first and then wandering your way back through town towards the ship.  You will find so many wonderful restaurants and clubs with great food and drinks.  A great appetizer to try is saganaki.  If you are lucky, you will see the Mykonos mascot, an albino pelican; he is known for “hanging out” near restaurants for fishy treats.  This port of call is such a relaxing day that you will understand why it is often a destination for three to four-day vacations. 

Our last port in Greece was the town of Katakaloon where I chose a shore excursion to Olympia.  The ruins for the ancient Olympics are so vast and impressive!  It is a must see!  The amount that has been excavated and the condition of the pieces inside the museum are quite amazing.  Sprinting from the starting blocks at the Olympic stadium is a photo moment!  The town of Katakaloon is quite small, so do not worry about most of your day being spent in Olympia. 

Sailing from Katakaloon you leave the last of the Greek isles to head towards Rome.   The last day is a relaxing day at sea.  You will definitely want to get up to see the sailing around the boot of Italy, a beautiful view of the coast of Italy and Sicily.   There are many things to do on the ship on the last day:  relaxing at the pool or spa, playing in the casino, enjoying a wine tasting or onboard entertainment to name just a few.  I recommend the wonderful therapeutic spa; it is a great for the muscles and tired legs. 

We disembarked in Civitavecchia.  We decided to extend our trip and stay an extra night in Rome.  It was wonderful to sightsee in this Italian city.  A bit more of history brought to life from the Colosseum to the Roman Forum or the Spanish steps.  More than a day’s worth to see, after all Rome was not built (or toured) in a day!

The entire trip upon the Azamara Journey was wonderful.  The size of the ship was quite nice, as you were able to easily get around on board and able to get into smaller ports of call.  The crew was extremely friendly and willing to assist in any way possible to make your cruise more enjoyable.  On board entertainment was mediocre; however, the days in port were quite extensive and we did not need nightly entertainment.  Instead we chose to enjoy a longer, relaxed dinner with other passengers we had met, followed by music and dancing in the Looking Glass Lounge.  The food was quite good in the dining rooms; we also enjoyed dining in both of the specialty restaurants on board. 

If you are interested in a relaxing way to see many of the sights of ancient history, I would certainly recommend this cruise!  By H. McKenzie.

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What a winter adventure!  Our trip was during the beginning of the Christmas markets (Note: due to the dates of our trip, they were setting up the markets in the Czech Republic and Germany; we did not visit any markets until we reached Austria and Hungary).  Prague, Nuremberg, Regensburg, Vienna, Salzburg, Budapest and the amazing Danube River!  A trip I would definitely recommend! 

We began by adding a two-day excursion to Prague, Czech Republic to our trip.  We were a bit more adventurous and chose to do this on our own instead of the package offered by the cruise line.  Prague is an amazing city.  The people are very friendly and many speak English.  I would recommend staying near the Old Town Square.  By doing this you are in walking distance to almost everything.  The public transportation is also easy to use to get across the Vltava River to Prague Castle, a must see!  I recommend riding to the top and then walking down through the castle and back into town.  Another “must-do” is to take the funicular up to the top of Petrin Hill near sunset and stay to watch the city light up for a breathtaking view. 

The bus ride from Prague to Nuremberg takes about half a day, where you will travel through some beautiful countryside.   When you arrive in Nuremberg, the ship docks on the Main Danube Canal, as a note this is a bit far from town.  We chose to wait to go into Nuremberg the next day.

The cruise line does a wonderful job of including tours each day that you may choose to take if you are so inclined.  For Nuremberg, our tour took us around the city seeing everything from the Nazi rally grounds to Nuremberg castle.  If you can plan it, it is worth being in the city square at noon to see the performance of Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).  Another “must-do” is to eat some of their world-famous gingerbread (Lebkuchen)!

Leaving Nuremberg, we sailed down the Main Danube Canal towards Regensburg.   Going through the locks and under the VERY low bridges was really interesting.  You will definitely want to go up on deck at least once to watch the Captain’s bridge “shrink” and the Captain tell you to sit down.  You can reach up and touch the bridge! 

Regensburg is a wonderful German town.  A place I am already planning to go back to some day!  We chose not to take the tour offered this day since you are docked in town and can walk everywhere.  The town is so quaint.  Although everyone will tell you, you must visit the Dom Cathedral (and I agree), a unique spot that I found to visit was St. Emmermam’s Abbey (part of Thurn and Taxis).  The painted wooden ceilings are amazing!   There are many cafes and biergartens to visit throughout the town.  You’ll definitely want to eat a sausage from “Two Sisters” which can be found along the river. 

The next stop was Passau, Germany.  Here you can choose to tour Passau and then cruise down the Danube to Linz, Austria or you can choose an excursion to Salzburg, Austria.  Based on conversations by other passengers, the little town of Passau and the afternoon cruise was beautiful (if you had already been to Salzburg). 

I chose to take the bus ride to Salzburg.  What a great city!  “The hills are alive with the sound of music”!   Once in the city you will take a walking tour that really includes everything!  I chose to go up to one of the overlooks of the city during my free time (a must do if you have a clear day…looking back towards the Alps!)  The Christmas markets were open in Salzburg.  What hustle and bustle!  Everything Christmas you can imagine.  Food, ornaments, and crafts galore!

We returned that afternoon to Linz to meet up with the ship.  We were there in time to experience their Christmas market.  The locals all gather at the markets in the evening.  It is quite the “place to be”.  A tradition is to drink some local gluvine, a warm mulberry wine, while walking around the markets. 

The next day included a stop in Melk for a tour of Melk Abbey and then an afternoon of sailing the Wachau Valley.  What an amazing afternoon!  The sun was shining and the countryside was beautiful.  We were able to enjoy a glass of wine, from one of the local vineyards, as we set on the deck.  The castles, vineyards, mountains, and river were so beautiful.   This is not the day to take an afternoon nap!  This was the most beautiful scenery of the river journey!

Vienna is another wonderful city! There is so much to do in Vienna that you will have to make some choices about what you want to see and do (there is more than one day’s worth of things to see).  We arrived late afternoon on the day before, and we chose to go into the city that night to the Christmas markets.  There are many Christmas markets in Vienna so this worked well for us, so that we could spend a bit more time the next day sightseeing.  The next day we took the tour in the morning which gives you an overview of the city.  That afternoon we did not do the excursion to Schönbrun, instead we enjoyed lunch at Mozart’s café and took a local tour of the Opera house.  What a unique experience where they take you back stage!

Sailing into Budapest is worth waking up early!  It is reminiscent of sailing in Venice.  The bridges, the House of Parliament, Buda Castle and so much more!  I would recommend adding an extra day on to your trip.  We were rushed trying to see the city in just one day.  I fell in love with this Hungarian city.  The Christmas markets were a bit different than the ones in Austria; these included more local crafts (jewelry, ornaments, laces & fabrics).  The city at night is absolutely beautiful! 

The trip was a wonderful experience!  I would definitely recommend sailing the Danube River.  The crew aboard the MS Amalyra was wonderful and very helpful.  The ship was very nice!  The local entertainment brought on board each night was very good.  The cruise director really made the trip successful.   The Christmas markets were enjoyable as well, but they do take up quite a bit of your sightseeing time, so this should be taken into account when planning your trip.  If you would like to see the Christmas Markets, then plan to go starting in December so that all of the markets are open.  If you are not interested in Christmas markets, then I would recommend choosing a different time of year, but DO NOT miss out on cruising the Danube!  By H. McKenzie.

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My husband and I recently returned from a ten day land and cruise tour of our beautiful state of Alaska.  With so much to see in Alaska, we had the opportunity to experience the best sites by ship, rail, and motorcoach, staying at pristine lodges and cruising on the beautiful Diamond Princess.

Princess Mt. McKinley Lodge - fireweed

Our land tour included a stay in Anchorage, one night each at Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge in Denali State Park and Princess Wilderness Lodge located just outside Denali National Park.  Each location offered something unique.

What a thrill to spot moose grazing outside the city limits of Anchorage and to hope for a  look at the majestic beauty of dazzling Mt. McKinley.  Having binoculars close by (more…)

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A traveler talks about her transatlantic sailing aboard the Queen Mary 2.
QM2 in HamburgYou know, for us the idea taking the Queen Mary 2 to Europe was in the beginning a means for transportation, an alternative to a flight.  However, it was a lot more and we enjoyed every moment of it.  The boarding and disembarkation was fast and well organized.  We loved our stateroom 12057.  Life on board was very comfortable, eventful and interesting.  The service and food were fabulous, we chose to have only breakfast and dinner and therefore did not gain any weight! Furthermore, I took daily fitness classes ($ 50 for all of them), K. liked the computer classes.  The weather was very nice and the sea was calm.  (more…)

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