Category Archives: Mediterranean & Europe Cruises

Something Different

by Bill Edwards

So it’s not unusual to have our clients ask if we know of or have done anything different lately. ….Well, I can say YES! Having just returned in August from a Croatia-intensive cruise on CroisiEurope.  Chances are you’ve not heard of CroisiEurope.  It is a France-based company which is actually Europe’s largest river cruise operator.  (Yes, Viking is larger but we consider them US-based).

La Belle de l’Adriatique in Split

La Belle de l’Adriatique in Split (see more photos below)

If you’re familiar with river-cruising then take that concept, put it on a slightly larger version of a river cruise ship, and cruise along the beautiful ports and islands of the Dalmatian coast.  The ship “La Belle de l’Adriatique” sails a regular series of 7-night roundtrip cruises from Dubrovnik going to Mljet, Korcula, Sibenik, Trogir, Split, Hvar and Vis (all in Croatia) and ending with one last stop in Kotor, Montenegro before returning to Dubrovnik.  I’m sure we have quite a few clients that have taken a Mediterranean cruise that might have included a stop in either Dubrovnik or Split, but this was Dalmatian coast immersion….and I LOVED it.  Croatia is a cross between Italy and Greece…. Beautiful water and beaches (though largely pebble beaches; not sand beaches)…medieval history…friendly English-speaking locals….good food and local Croatian wines.  Getting to Dubrovnik is really quite easy.  There are schedules with one change of planes via Philadelphia (on AA) or via London or Madrid by flying American and British Airways.  We added extra time in Dubrovnik and rather than staying right in town, we stayed in a quieter area about 5 miles outside of town at a lovely Sheraton resort on the coast.  From the Sheraton there is a local ferry that takes you right back into Old Town Dubrovnik so it was the best of both worlds.  I would highly recommend staying at the Sheraton!

So back to CroisiEurope.  Is it for everyone?  Perhaps not…but it’s probably for a lot more people than it isn’t.  The ship, built in 2007 carries a little less than 200 guests, has the feel and design of a river cruise ship (4 decks rather than the usual 3 found on river cruises)  with similar attributes to river-cruising:

  • Single seating dining
  • An included excursion at each port
  • Soft drinks, beer, wine AND standard spirits INCLUDED throughout the cruise, not just at mealtime, (the only extra expense would really be gratuities).

There were some differences, though:

The ship has a definite, pervasive French flair.  I was told the cruise my wife and I were on was typical of what one could expect on any of these Dalmatian coast cruises….meaning a little more than half the ship was French and the remainder being mostly from other European countries.   There was a group of about 35 Norwegians and a smaller group from Spain.  We were seated with the other US guests onboard at a table of 6.    Yes, a total of 6 Americans.  Did we feel out of place? Absolutely not!  ….everyone was friendly (staff AND guests alike).  Announcements were made in French and English and we were on English-speaking tours (which meant small groups as the Norwegians joined in with some of us other English-speakers on tours).

The other big difference, which I grew to like, was with regards to lunch and dinner.  At both of these meals there is a pre-set menu served to everyone….meaning everyone is served the same starter, entrée and dessert.  I think not having choices on the menu actually resulted in the galley being able to put their best efforts into quality and presentation…and resulted in streamlined service.  Dietary needs are certainly accommodated as well as any particular dislikes.  In our cabin by noon each day we had the FOLLOWING day’s lunch and dinner menus so that it was possible to addresses those concerns with the dining room manager in advance for accommodation.  We did have lunch buffet twice during the cruise along with an elaborate buffet dinner on deck one evening while in Split.  There was a selection of 4 red wines; 4 white wines and 2 rose wines each day…mostly Croatian wines, with some from France, of course.  Wines were poured and then bottles were left at the table for self-pouring….so there was no excuse for an empty wine glass!  Breakfast was always buffet with eggs/pancakes cooked to order.  Some of you have sailed into Kotor and would appreciate this, but the morning we sailed into the bay of Kotor our breakfast was served on the top deck…so we had the opportunity to enjoy the spectacular approach to Kotor while enjoying breakfast.  This was one of the highlights of the trip.

Entertainment felt similar to what you would find on river cruises.  One night some local entertainment was brought onboard.  On another night, the Filipino crew put on a show of native dances and song.  The cruise director and a trio of Filipinos put on a wonderful concert one night.  But, like river cruising it’s an early to rise and early to bed routine for the most part.

These cruises, just like river cruises in general, tend to fill early so if you’re interested in 2020 don’t delay in making plans.  Europeans book most of their vacations earlier than Americans, too.  Prices for this 7-night cruise start at about $3000 per person for a cabin with portholes (which I had).  Cabins with 2 big windows start at about $3400 per person….but again that’s EVERYTHING included except gratuities (and airfare).

Please contact me for more information about cruising the Dalmatian coast on CroisiEurope

Pork filet with olives and sweet & sour sauce

Pork filet with olives and sweet & sour sauce

Delicious pasta dish

Delicious pasta dish

Creative, wonderful dessert

Creative, wonderful dessert

One of many featured Croatian white wines

One of many featured Croatian white wines

La Belle de l’Adriatique docked in Trogir

La Belle de l’Adriatique docked in Trogir

La Belle de l’Adriatique standard cabin

La Belle de l’Adriatique standard cabin

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

 The island of Mljet

The island of Mljet

Different & Fun Shore Excursion

The island of Korcula

The island of Korcula

The island of Sibenik with an excursion to Krka Falls

The island of Sibenik with an excursion to Krka Falls

Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor, Montenegro

Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel

Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel

Bill at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel

Bill at the Sheraton Dubrovnik Riviera Hotel

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Filed under adventure cruising, Croatia Cruise, CroisiEurope, Cruise Escapes, Cruise News, Dubrovnik, European Cruises, European River Cruises, Kotor, Montenegro, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises

WindSurf: photo follow-up

by Don McCann

In our last post, I promised to post photos of the WindSurf from our recent cruise in Italy & Croatia.  The photo link is below, but I also want to add a few comments…

Although WindSurf looks unlike a traditional cruise ship from the outside, the interior is very much like many ships.  It is very comfortable for someone looking for the Lounge, the Dining Room, or a Specialty Dining alternative.  It’s very stable; we had only one night of ‘some’ motion and the winds were such that I’m sure ANY cruise ship in the area had motion, as well.  The cabin is designed to look like more of a yacht-type accommodation, than a cruise ship, but you’ll find all of the same amenities, but with maybe more storage (the storage was really great).  What you don’t find is a crowd.  With only 310 guests, it’s very relaxed, with no lines, no competition for best seats in the lounge, etc.  If you’ve only cruised on large ships, it’s difficult to imagine how much better the experience can be on a smaller vessel (maybe ask someone who’s taken a river cruise).

Regardless of which of the Windstar Cruises’ yacht ships you might select, you’ll have an upscale experience – trust me!

Now for those photos……

Camera icon click here mod

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Filed under Croatia Cruise, Cruise Ship Dining, European Cruises, Italy Cruise, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, River Cruises, Uncategorized, Windstar Cruises, Windsurf

Cruise Report: Windstar Cruises

 

 

by Don McCann

I recently returned from Windstar Cruises’ Windsurf on an 8-Night itinerary from Venice to Rome.  I’d sailed with Windstar several years ago, but that was on one of their smaller ships (Windsurf is their largest sailing yacht).  For those not familiar with the line, Windstar has three “sailing yachts” and three “motor yachts”.  They use the term “yacht” because of the small number of guests onboard and the overall experience related to the smaller size.

Windstar’s two smaller sailing yachts each carry 148 guests and the larger Windsurf carries 310 guests.  The three motor yachts, recently acquired from the deluxe line Seabourn, each accommodate 212 guests.  While each ship offers enough space and amenities to be comparable to a traditional, large cruise ship, the ambiance is definitely more intimate and yacht-like.

Unlike the more expensive ultra-deluxe cruise lines which carry smaller numbers of passengers, Windstar provides a very upscale experience at a much lower rate.  They don’t claim to be like Crystal, or Regent, but they deliver a premium level cruise experience which some would put more in league with say Azamara, or perhaps Oceania.

Aside from the advantage of the relaxed and spacious onboard experience, the smaller size of the ship allows Windstar to physically dock, while larger ships have to tender (anchor out and shuttle boat back & fourth) in certain ports.  On our cruise this was the case in Kotor, Montenegro and while we had to tender in Dubrovnik, we did so from very close in, while the larger ships were WAY far away from town and not visible from the port.

I’ll post a future blog with photos from the ship itself, but for now, I’d like to share just a few photos of the fantastic ports on this itinerary.  We had a port every day (only one day at sea) and we truly loved them all.  Take a look and see why…..

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Our water taxi enroute to our pre-cruise hotel in Venice

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Classic view of Venice!

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Windsurf in Venice, ready for embarkation

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From the port of Rovinj, our excursion was to Motovun

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The Croatian countryside, out from Rovinj

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Split, Croatia, as seen from our ship

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recently restored Cathedral of St. Duje in Trogir, an excursion from Split

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Fortress of Kamerlengo, Trogir, Croatia

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“Walking the wall” in Dubrovnik

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Dubrovnik as seen from the cable car station atop the hill

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The stunning ‘fjord-like’ access into Kotor, Montenegro

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climbing the 1,350 steps to the top for great views of Kotor!

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“Our Lady of Health” church, overlooking Kotor below

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We made it!  All 1,350 steps to the top at Kotor’s Castle of San Giovanni

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Windsurf in the distance, as we drive up to Taormina, Sicily

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the square at the entrance to Taormina

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colorful, picturesque Taormina

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The Gambino Vineyards on Sicily (no, not THAT Gambino!)

 

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The famed Blue Grotto on the isle of Capri

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overlooking Capri from atop Anacapri

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The Colosseum, of course

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Arch of Constantine, Rome

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Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, Rome

For more information on Windstar Cruises, call us, or click here

 

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Filed under Capri, Italy, Croatia Cruise, Dubrovnik, European Cruises, Italy Cruise, Kotor, Montenegro, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories, Our Cruises, Rome, Rovinj, Croatia, Taormina, Uncategorized, Venice, Windstar Cruises, Windsurf

Technology – It’s a Thing!

by Don McCann

Last week we received a preview video of Holland America Line’s new Koningsdam, which will be introduced next Spring. The ship is, as you might expect, quite impressive and I’m sure it will be a wonderful addition to the Holland America fleet. However, equally as impressive to me is the technology of the video itself! We see many of this type of ‘preview’ videos these days, but I continue to be amazed at the ability of the digital ‘renderings’ to come to life in such a way that it’s difficult to remember that this is not ‘real’ just yet!

Take a look at this short 3minute video and see if you agree that this visual technology is quite a ‘thing’! ……

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Filed under Caribbean Cruises, Cruise News, Cruise Ship Dining, Holland America Line, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, New Ship

Potholes in the Road

by Bill Edwards

As some of you know, last fall I spent 2 weeks in Europe — a 7 night cruise on the Azamara Journey between Monte Carlo and Rome with additional time at both ends in Nice and Rome.  In a nutshell it was an absolutely wonderful trip – the ship AND the itinerary.  But since returning I’ve been thinking about what were my favorite things about the trip and my favorite stops.

Being a cruise agent since 1985 I’ve noticed a few changes in my thinking over these past almost 30 years – call it the aging process if you want—I won’t be offended!  But where I used to be focused on details of a trip,  I now seem to look more at the “big” picture and how the things that we DO and DO NOT have control over affect our perception of a vacation.  Let me cite a couple of examples:

Cinque Terre

Lovely Cinque Terre

The weather – which we never have control over – affects your experiences and how you remember a port of call.  I’d so looked forward to Cinque Terre – the pastel painted villages that literally hang on the cliffs overlooking the azure seas of the Mediterranean.   Well – our day there was overcast and a little bit drizzly at times.  It didn’t ruin things for us by any means but in contrast to our stop later in the cruise at Ravello on the Amalfi coast – what a difference.  The weather was perfect and thus, in my mind, I would rank Ravello as one of my favorite stops on the entire trip.

Location – Location – Location.  How many times have you heard that word used in relation to buying real estate?  Well it applies just as importantly

Colosseum in Rome

The Always Impressive Colosseum in Rome

to the location of your hotel on a trip—which is something one DOES have control over.  I have to be honest and say that while I was looking forward to visiting Rome for the first time I did NOT think I was going to like it.  I had visions in my mind of a dirty, bustling city with somewhat rude people.  Was I ever surprised in so many ways!  Not only was it much cleaner than I expected – the locals were nice — and again it didn’t hurt that the weather was near perfect.  But I think what really helped was the location of where we stayed.  We were just steps down a side street from the Pantheon.  We walked EVERYWHERE – the Colosseum and Forum, Piazza Navona, and the Vatican.  How many times do we “scrimp” on hotel costs rather than pay for location and thereby enjoy more of what a city has to offer?

So in the end – yes we can control some things; others we can’t.  Keep your travel eye on the big picture and…

“Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey” – Fitzhugh Mullan

Pantheon in Rome

The Pantheon in Rome

Tuscany

Scenic Tuscany

Pompei

Ruins of Pompei

Florence

Overlooking Florence

Ravello

With my wife, Lisa, in Ravello

Amalfi Coast

Dramatic Amalfi Coast

Ravello

Ravello

Interested in more info on this itinerary, or details on Azamara, email: Bill@CruiseEscapes.com

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Filed under Azamara Club Cruises, European Cruises, Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises, Our Cruise Stories

When in Rome: Hotel Napoleon!

Our own John Lane recently returned from a Mediterranean cruise onboard Oceania Marina; his impressions and experiences continue……

In the center of Rome, there is a hidden gem of a hotel called Hotel Napoleon.  The Cioce family runs this 75 room hotel within walking distance to the Coluseum. 

Hotel Napoleon

Apon arrival you are graciously greeted by Roberto, the Conceirge and he welcomes you and takes care of your needs while your room is being prepared for your stay.  I was immediately taken to the breakfast room to enjoy the morning buffet of fresh rolls, pastries, breads, cheeses, meats, eggs, bacon, cereal and of course hot coffee.  It is a small room seating about 40 to 50 and it was a popular spot.  The breakfast is included in your price. 

The rooms are tastefully done in light shades of blue, yellows and greens.  Mine was quite spacious with a sitting area, flat screen TV, safe,

Tasteful, European decor

mini refrigerator, walk in closet and two sets of balcony doors that opened to a courtyard.  The bathrooms were brand new with marble floors and counter tops, towel warmers, a large shower with rain head shower and very nice toiletries. 

On the second floor of the hotel a large spacious sitting room offers a large flat screen TV, a computer with free internet service a lounge offering drinks and restaurant that is open for dinner nightly offering Italian cuisine. 

Hotel Napoleon lobby area

The Napoleon is a great hotel in a city where pricing for hotels is outrageous.  The rates are much lower and the personalized service (you are always addressed by your name) makes your stay even much nicer and you feel like you are at home.  

John Lane, MCC
Personal Cruise Planner
Cruise Escapes
972-404-0505
800-288-1190
John@CruiseEscapes.com

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Filed under Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, New Ship, Our Cruise Stories

Specialty Dining 101 on the Oceania Marina

Our own John Lane recently returned from a Mediterranean cruise onboard Oceania Marina; his impressions and experiences continue……
Prior to sailing on the Oceania Marina, I pre-reserved my specialty dining times for my cruise.  The four dining options are Jacques, Polo Grill, Toscana, and Red Ginger.  All of these are complimentary to guests onboard Marina. 
When I made my reservations,  my group would dine in Jacques first, Toscana second, Polo Grill third, and last, but not least, Red Ginger.  Of the four, I was least excited about dining in Red Ginger.  Boy, was I wrong!  It was our last stop on the specialty dining evenings, but it was by far the best dining experience of the cruise.   
The total dining experience at Red Ginger made this my top dining experience onboard the Marina.  From being greeted at the door by the female maitre d’, to the personal attention by our table waiters.  Myself and table mates were always addressed by our name with each course. They made each one of us feel very special that evening.
Starting out with a choice of several chop sticks, I was the only one brave enough to try chop sticks.  We were given choice of teas and then our hot water came in our glass tea pot…I could see this was not going to be your typical meal in a chinese restauant.  We started with edamame, then a hot towel to clean our hands from the sea salt.  Next was my beef tenderloin salad with ginger, lime and spring vegetables…it could of been a meal in itself.  That was followed by coconut and chicken soup which was excellent, too.  But the crowning dish of this meal was the entree:  Sea Bass.  It was by far the best piece of fish I have ever had.  It had been marinated for eight hours in ginger, then seared and grilled to perfection just before serving. 
To end the meal I tried the exotic sherbet trio.  Mango, pineapple and coconut sherbet were served in bamboo cones stuffed with leaves…what a presentation and way to end this meal.  So

sherbet trio

Red Ginger's Sherbet Trio dessert

remember, if you think something is going to just be average and get excellent in return you will be one happy person!

John Lane, MCC
Personal Cruise Planner
Cruise Escapes
972-404-0505
800-288-1190
John@CruiseEscapes.com

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Filed under Mediterranean & Europe Cruises, New Ship, Our Cruise Stories