About Me

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I'm a 30 something who loves to travel.  I have a full time job and enjoy writing (or blogging) about my travels.  I've traveled through several countries in Europe as well as Russia and Egypt.  I also enjoy domestic travel in the United States, including Disney.  My long term travel goal is to do a round the world trip.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Palma

My last stop on the cruise on the Norwegian Epic was in Palma Mallorca in Spain.  I didn't know much about this stop before I went.  I had considered doing an excursion, but none of the options jumped out at me.  The most I had heard was from a woman I met at my hotel before the cruise, she said it was pretty there.

I was pleasantly surprised by Palma.  Although the weather wasn't great the day we were there (I did manage to miss the rain), the island was lovely, turns out there are some rich and famous there.  It was a fabulous marina there was lots of beautiful boats.

The cruise ships dock here near the town, and a shuttle bus is offered for just a few dollars round trip.  But it is walkable too.

The town is one of those places where a map is handy for when you finish, otherwise it's just lovely to walk around and pop into shops along the way.  It's a higher end shopping area, and not a great location for cheesy souvenirs.  I had been looking to get some souvenirs from my family that were different then the typical "Rome" T-shirt.  While they did have some stuff like that here, this was a better place to buy my mom a pearl necklace.  They are known for Mallorcan Pearls.

I didn't spend a lot of time off the ship here, as this was meant to be a more relaxing day in port.  But walking around the town it had a similar style and feel to Barcelona, only wealthier, cleaner and brighter.

In town there was a beautiful large Cathedral, my friend and I opted not to take a tour, it was in such an odd spot though, across a small road/alley from another building, it was tough to get a picture of the front.
Overall, this was not an "exciting" stop on my cruise, but a completely wonderful surprise anyway.  The island is beautiful and on a return trip I would either just sleep late and walk around or take a short tour on the island so I could see more of it's beauty.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Luggage Scale

Several years ago I bought a suitcase scale, after having to move a couple pounds of stuff from my suitcase to my carry on in Hawaii it seemed like a wise investment.  It has come in handy on several occasions.  You know, when you buy way too much stuff at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, true story. 

Mine is one of the larger ones, while it takes up more room, it's easier to pick up luggage with.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Norwegian Epic Debarkation

In one of my last posts about last years cruise on the Norwegian Epic in the Mediterranean I wanted to touch on debarkation.  I have one more post on Palma, but I thought this was a more timely topic since the ship is not stopping at Palma this year.

For those who have never cruise before, this is how a typical debarkation goes.  The night before your last morning you need to pack your bags up and leave them outside your cabin door, typically by midnight.  Then the staff comes around and picks them up, takes them to the cargo areas until the ship is in port.  When you leave the ship in the morning you will find your bag in the terminal waiting for you.

You do have the option of walking off with all your luggage the last morning too, but if you pack like me, that's not much of an option.  For the rest of us, you'll need to have a second, smaller bag for your last minute stuff - PJ's, toiletries and anything you wouldn't want in your main luggage (valuables, glass, etc).

On the 5th day of the cruise Norwegian made luggage tags available for debarkation, this was announced with an information packet on debarkation that is left in your room.  The tags are color coded depending on when you anticipate leaving the ship.  By the time I actually went to get my tags all the late times were gone.  Since I was staying in Barcelona 2 more nights I didn't need to be off the ship at 7am, I believe we were allowed to stay until 9am.

I tagged my bags with the 7am tags, but decided to sleep in and leave the ship around 8:30.  Having cruised before I know the chaos on the ship on debarkation morning.  Everyone trying to get breakfast and say goodbye to new friends, with their small luggage.  Forget the buffet unless you enjoy crowds!

Not interested in the chaos I opted to get up, dress, and finish my packing.  I then went to the studio lounge and had a continental breakfast.  I would have preferred a full breakfast, but this was much more civilized.  I met a few cruisers and chatted about the cruise, I made arrangements to meet a girl who was staying at the same hotel as me so we could share a taxi.  The only issue I ran into with this was that I had no idea it was cold and rainy that morning until I was outside the ship freezing my arms off.

After breakfast I grabbed my small suitcase and got off the ship.  Although it was well after the time my luggage expected me, it was there waiting for me under a sign that said 7am.  I had not been the only person to leave their luggage waiting.

My new friend and I met in the luggage area and then waited on a long, but quick moving taxi line.

Overall the debarkation seemed very civilized for a ship of this size.  I didn't have to deal with the crowds in the buffet, but did see that the elevators were crowded and you would have to wait a bit for one.  This is one time when being on a lower deck can be a pain, by the time the elevator gets back down to you, it's usually full.  But the luggage area was big and roomy so you could navigate with your luggage.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

World Trade Center Memorial

In March I finally had the chance to go to the September 11th Memorial.  Fortunately it was a nice day, but pretty windy, which can be a problem.

I arrived about 45 minutes before my ticketed time, even though they say not to arrive more then 30 minutes early and was let in.  The line moved pretty quickly and security was efficient, a marked difference from when I went to the Statue of Liberty last year.


You enter the memorial from the Southwest corner, straight ahead is the South Pool representing the South Tower or Tower 2.  This pool holds the names of the first responders as well as some of the flights, South Tower, and Pentagon losses.  Check out the 911Memorial website for more on how the names are arranged.
A Police Officer I had the pleasure of meeting about a month before the attack
When you enter, to your left is an open area with trees, beyond the trees is the North Pool.  On windy days it seems the North end of the North Pool has a water issue, the falling water being blown.  I was the only person I saw who walked along the North edge of the pool.  Actually, I went at more of a run and still got quite wet.  I did it to honor those who had died and whose names were on that wall.  But on a cold day, I wouldn't suggest it.


I love the memorial, and I have seen some great memorials around the world.  There is a serenity here with the pools, waterfalls, trees.  The only problem is the tourists.  With so many people there it breaks the serenity of the environment.  No matter how hard people try to be courteous, a large number of people always seem to fail.  For that reason I think going early in the morning would be best.


The saddest names

 

The wind blowing the water
After you leave the memorial you are directed to walk in a path that takes you to the shop associated with the memorial.  They have a few items on display, they play some documentaries on TV's and they sell a wide variety of books, videos, clothing and other touristy types of items.  It's worth a stop in the shop even if you're not looking to purchase anything.  The museum is scheduled to open later this year.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Tingo!

This weeks recommendation is for Tingo.com, a hotel booking website.  Tingo comes to us from Expedia and what makes it different is that you book your hotel and if the price drop Tingo will rebook at the lower rate. 

I haven't had a chance to use this, but I think this is a great tool for consumers.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Bus Tour Vs Cruise Ship (Europe)

When I took my Mediteranean cruise on the Norwegian Epic last year some friends mentioned that it sounded like a great way to see Europe.  Having done Europe by bus tour, cruise and a bit of independent travel I thought I would write about the pros and cons of a bus tour verses a cruise ship.

Disclaimer: the experience you have on any cruise or bus tour will vary greatly based on the company you use, countries you visit and the experience you book.  You can't compare a Disney Adventure tour for thousands of dollars a person with an inside cabin on a budget cruise ship.  I will attempt to go with the middle of the line for both catagories for fairness sake. Think outside or balcony cabin on a mainstream cruise line like Carnival, Royal Caribbean or NCL and of a tour company along the lines of Trafalgar or Cosmos.

Accomodations:  If you're looking for space this category is going to a bus tour, if you're looking for a nice new room, then I would give this to the cruise ship.  Cruise ships have notoriously small rooms, with even smaller bathrooms.  However, they tend to make good use of space and tend to get refirbished every few years.  You'll also have twice daily service to your room on a cruise ship.  Hotels in europe tend to be very mixed.  I've stayed in some really nice Holiday Inn's in Germany and England.  But I've stayed in some old crappy hotels with weird layouts in Italy.  Hotel standards in Europe are very different then in the US, cruise cabins, although small, tend to be more in line with US standards.

Food:  I'll give this one to Cruise Ships, as far as included meals go.  First, you get a much wider variety of food (and a menu), often on a tour you get what they make and put in front of you, or maybe a choice of 2 different meals.  On a cruise for every meal you can have as much food as you want, and often 5-10 choices of food.  And if one of those choices isn't appealing to you the kitchen can usually come up with something for you.  You have choices of buffet, sit down dining, room service.  Tour food is usually made by a local restaurant or the hotel and can vary greatly.  One place will make a bland chicken with some veggies.  The next place may make a homemade local specialty, this may be better then cruise ship food, but it's not guaranteed every night either.

Both cruise lines and tour companies will cater to those with special diets, results may vary.

Traveling Experience:  I'll give this one to the cruise ship.  Sitting on a cramped bus isn't fun, though it's not bad either.  On the cruise ship, any cruise ship, you'll be more comfortable and there will be activities, shows, swimming, or taking a nap in a bed.  But, you do miss out on the cultural experience of traveling by land, but I'll talk about that later. Even worse, you miss seeing the countryside.  Of course the traffic in the ocean is typically better then on highways at rush hour.

Cultural Experience:  While this will depend on a lot of factors I'm giving this one to bus tours. I think that cruise ships tend to put people in more of a bubble then a bus tour (which does creates its own bubble), when you're living in the country, you can't avoid the culture. I'll talk about this later, but on a tour you'll typically spend more time in cities or towns.

When driving from destination to destination you'll stop at rest stops or shopping centers for your breaks.  Anyone who has tried to navigate an Autogrill in Italy knows the food is good, but the process is confusing.  And you don't mind paying for the toilet in Germany when it's self cleaning. 

At hotels you often have to deal with the hotel staff, who are locals.  On a cruise you're dealing wtih cruise ship staff who are generally trained to be as helpful as possible and they're from all over the world - but rarely from the destination you're visiting.  When you're staying in a hotel, the staff typically lives locally, and although they are usually helpful, they'll also know the local area and customs.  It can be subtle, but staying in a hotel gives a greater opportunity to interact with a local person instead of a cruise line employee. I will admit though that the hotels you stay at are used to and geared for tourists so they're not necessarily authentic experiences, they just give a better opportunity, even if it's just a simple conversation with a hotel desk clerk about local cuisine.  You'll also have the opportunity to walk around the area of the hotel.

The biggest variation with this category will be what you do when you're in port.  If you're going to take an excursion (from the cruise line or independently) you're often ushered from site to site to site.  The best chance you'll have for a cultural experience will be from your tour guide, you don't typically have much other opportunity to interact with people outside your tour.  On a bus tour you'll usually get a city tour and then be on your own to explore, taking local transport or your feet from point to point.  However, if you're doing a port on your own you'll have a more similar experience to someone on a bus tour.

Finally, on a bus tour you'll be in the city overnight, this allows for a late night out, seeing a show, visiting bars and clubs - basically a chance to experience the nightlife of a city, you'll rarely get that opportunity on a cruise ship.

Time in your Destination: You're also typically in cities or towns longer on a bus tour.  Even on a fast paced tour you'll have a day and a half in a major city, sometimes more time.  On a cruise, you'll only typically be there for about 12 hours, which ends up being a lot less time when you need to factor in an hour or two of commute time from the port in cities like Rome and Florence. You have enough time to rush around and see the major sites and take nothing else in. 

Comfort and Ease:  I'll give this to a cruise.  You get on the ship, a few hours later your suitcase shows up, you unpack and are ready for your trip.  On a bus tour you're switching hotels every 1-3 nights.  Packing and unpacking - depending on the comforts of the tour you may have to drag your suitcase to and from your hotel room.  Instead of sitting in a bus for hours the cruise ship sails while you eat, sleep, drink and lay out at the pool sipping an umbrella drink. 

The choice of taking a bus tour or a cruise in Europe is a personal choice.  I have done both and they both have their advantages and disadvantages.  For anyone who wants to expereince the countries I think a bus tour is a better option (though independent travel would be best).  If you dream of seeing the major sites like The Colosseum, and The David then a cruise may be the better choice.  But no matter which you choose, expect to be tired at the end!

Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter: Travelingiraffe

Friday, May 4, 2012

Travel Tip - Post It's

Here's a tip for this week - bring Post It's.

They're small and have multiple uses.  You can write yourself notes, use them as book marks.  But, the reason I'm recommending them for travel is because it's a way to write notes to friends you meet.  Whether on a cruise, land tour or just in a hostel traveling on your own.  Post It's are a great way to leave a quick note for someone about where your when to meet for an activity. 

Yes, there are phones, but I find Post It's are quicker and simpler (lets face it, not everyone is good with technology and many phones today are mini computers).  And, they're self sticking!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Saratoga Springs Spa

Back in December my friend "dragged" me to the Saratoga Springs Spa at Walt Disney World, I really enjoyed the experience.

The spa was a little hidden, located near the pool/dining area of the resort.  The entrance of the spa was a little odd, it was really big, it made the check in counter seem really small and like an after thought.  But once checked in the spa was quite nice.  There is a locker room downstairs, as well as an indoor pool.  I kinda wish I had a little more free time so I could have taken a quick dip in the pool.  It was December and although it was warm, it wasn't swimming warm so an indoor pool was appealing.

After changing into robes we went to the waiting room.  The room was nice, though there weren't many seats.  It felt like it should have been a quiet/relaxation room, but also felt a lot like a waiting room.  This is one area that separated it from some other spa's I have been to.  Even if I don't have much time between treatments, it's nice to know there is a room I could sit and just relax before or after my visit. This waiting room didn't feel like that and I was having 3 treatments, it was a spa day for me.

Minni's Locker
But, the staff were friendly and professional.  They seemed to really pick up on if people were interested in chatting, or if they wanted to just have quiet relaxing time (I compared notes with my friend).  My 3 treatments were a massage, facial and Mystical Forest Body Masque and Wrap. The treatments themselves were up to the standards of the treatments I have gotten at other spas.  The treatment rooms were also at the same standard.

My favorite thing was that in the treatment rooms they left you a bell.  So you could undress, lay yourself down and then ring the bell letting them know you are ready.  You just have to be careful not to knock it down before you're ready.  

I would definitely recommend the spa to anyone staying at Walt Disney World, they offer a great experience, and good treatments.  Plus, when at Disney, it's nice to get a break and relax a bit.