A Travellerspoint blog

Cruising On

By land, air or sea, the personality matters. What to look for on each line and choosing the right one.

When an opportunity to travel arises, there is no good reason not to. That is the motto we have adopted and based on that statement, when asked if we wanted to go on a Baltic cruise, it did not take long to make the decision, let's hold off on the trip to Thailand and Vietnam and visit the land of the midnight sun.

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Although we are not really cruisers, the planning for the journey has been enlightening and we have discovered a number of things about cruising that differ from a normal travel plan. During the next couple of posts we'll introduce you to the itenerary, talk about some of the tips and tricks we have learned from our research and finally include some highlights from the trip while we are travelling.

First off we had to decid on the boat. While many companies offer Baltic cruises, each cruise line has its own personality. Unlike a regular trip, where you are going to be staying at Hotels, AirBnB's or a variety of accomodations, on a cruise, the dhip is your base for quarters, food, and some entertainment. Based on this, it's important to decide what typ of trip you want. Typically the ships are as follows:

Upmarket
Celebrity Cruises - Sails the world - Asia, Europe, the Americas, and beyond. Attracts couples, with and without their children. Ships carry on average about 2,000 passengers, though its Xpedition ship in the Galapagos Islands accommodates only 92.

Hapag-Lloyd Cruise Line - This high-quality, century-old line has four small-to-medium-sized traditional style cruise ships offering refined service and style. (Hapag-Lloyd also operates an airline and an extensive fleet of container ships). Cruise destinations include the Mediterranean, Baltic, Arctic, Antarctica, Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific. Most passengers are German-speaking.

Holland America Line - The onboard atmosphere is more traditional, less contemporary than most other cruise lines. Cultured clientele. Food and service are refined and exemplary. Worldwide destinations. One trip circumnavigates the planet, visiting 38 ports in 26 countries (prices start in the neighborhood of $20,000 per person).

Mid-Priced
Carnival Cruise Line - Ships are large (up to several thousand passengers). They sail to North American and Mediterranean ports. Carnival Cruise Lines is widely popular and has a party-boat reputation. It's the most glitzy Vegas-like cruise line afloat and is fun for the right audience. Appeals mostly to mid-income couples, singles and families.

Costa Cruise Line - This Italian line sails the world with a strong Mediterranean-itinerary presence. Costa operates over a dozen big ships. Most passengers are European. The line appeals to mid-income families and young adults. It is part of the Carnival family of cruise lines.

Disney Cruise Line - Pleasing kids is the obvious priority, but there are onboard facilities and activities designed for the parents. You can book a seven-day land-and-sea vacation package. Your family spends half the time enjoying Walt Disney World in Orlando, the other half on the Disney Magic or Disney Wonder ship cruising to the Bahamas.

MSC Cruise Line - It's an Italian line with over 10 big ships. It focuses on European (especially Mediterranean) destinations, but also sails to ports in the Americas. Passengers are mainly middle income European families and young adults.

Norwegian Cruise Line - This large cruise line sails worldwide. One ship, the Pride of America, has a Hawaiian themed cruise with shore excursions to various Hawaiian Islands. Norwegian Cruise Line innovated the "freestyle dining" concept (you have the option of dining in different onboard restaurants).

Princess Cruises - Global itineraries. Caribbean and Mexican west coast cruises are popular. Princess Cruises has a dozen cruise ships (mostly quite large) and an imaginary one (the "Love Boat" of TV fame). Its overall quality level is the highest in the "$$ Mid-market" category.

Royal Caribbean International - Its large cruise fleet sails worldwide, with a Caribbean emphasis. Some ships carry 3,000 passengers. Royal Caribbean appeals to middle income families (with children and teens) and young couples. Organized activities are many and varied.

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As you can see, each cruiseline has a distinct personality that will certainly the makeup of the passengers onboard. Ifyou are looking for a party on the seas, you go with Carnival, if you are looking for a kids focused cruise, go with Disney. Wit the type of travelers we are, we were looking for a port intensive cruise that would allow for plenty of time to get in the the locals and not be shipbound or herded around with large groups of other tourists.

Based on the personality of the various line, we chose to cruise with Celebrity on their Baltic Capital Cruise. In the next few blogs will continue with more on Celebrity and their itenerary.

Posted by darrenesl 13:28 Tagged stockholm helsinki st. travel germany cruise berlin sweden petersburg netherlands silhouette baltic travels estonia capitals tallin denmark copenhagen cruising celebrity darrenesl tlwforgiven darren_johnson terri_johnson warnemunde amsterdam. Comments (0)

The most beautiful city in the United States

Many cities will claim the title, but only one can be truly named the most beautiful city in the U.S.

What is the most beautiful city in the United States? Some would argue New York City, while others would choose Miami, and some perhaps will argue that Denver, Colorado takes the prize. However in all my travels throughout the 50 states, one city certainly claims the title for me. San Francisco, the “City by the bay,” has it all. Stunning water views, iconic towering landmarks, hills, a great Warf, and the list can go on and on.

Coming across the Oakland Bay Bridge at night is enough to excite even a librarian. The lights may be bright on Broadway; however San Francisco has its own Broadway. Murals adorning the buildings of the Height Ashbury district tell the stories of those looking for free love and an escape form the issues facing modern America in the 1960’s. A prison on a rock is filled with history and legend. The painted ladies that overlook a park with children playing are the houses that American film and television have made famous worldwide. And who can ignore the curves of Lombard Street, where flowers adorn the median and tourists flock to capture the curviest street in the United States.

All of these and more led us to choose this location to visit on our next edition of wanderlust. We’ve decided to road trip it from San Diego on up the coast and enjoy some of the great items our home state has to offer.

Starting in San Diego we will head up to Camarillo, spending the night there to get the journey going. From there, we can choose to head up to the hills of Ojai, or to the beaches of Ventura and Santa Barbara. Having lived in Oxnard, the area does have some hidden gems including the Channel Islands and fresh farm stands that provide fresh goods along Pleasant Valley Road.

After a day there, we will end up in Solvang. Spending a whole day and two nights there should provide enough time to fill up on food and Danish fun. A trip to Hearst Castle San Simeon is a must on the itinerary and has been included. Designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who died in 1951, the castle is now maintained by the California State Parks commission and provides insight into the man and his life.

Leaving San Simeon, we will be traveling up CA-1 along the coast and ending the day in Santa Cruz. Staying on the boardwalk that inspired scenes from the movie, “The Lost Boys,” this stop provides a good break before heading into the bustling city of San Francisco.

After that we will have 5 days in San Francisco, with one day in the Napa Valley where I spent my college years. Based out of the Union Square district of San Francisco, we will be walking and taking public transportation to get the most out of this unique city.

We’ll be sharing photos and the story of our trip here. Several great restaurants and activities have been lined-up, but we also have plenty of time to just get lost in the City. If you have any special spots that you think we should include on the itinerary, let us know in the comments. Share your experiences from the City or any of the places listed on the itinerary with us in the comments below as well.

Posted by darrenesl 15:36 Archived in USA Tagged bridges buildings cities coast shopping city san francisco fun santa castle cruz central solvang hearst darrenesl tljohnson tlwforgiven darren_johnson terri_johnson 2015 ca-1 Comments (0)

Vienna, Gateway to Eastern Europe

Arrival leaves us full of expectations.


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Vienna, the city that for years has been known as the gateway to Eastern Europe, has also been a tourist destination for those travelling the Bavaria route through Europe and also as the Western most stop for those travelling through the East. It was on the itenerary as part of our journey, as a place I had been before, and also a place that many people had shared with Terri, and she wanted to see.
 
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Our trip from Zagreb to Vienna provided us with beautiful scenery through Slovenia and over the mountains before entering the flatlands of Wein. It was the 4th of July when we arrived and there were no fireworks, no bar-b-ques but plenty of hot dogs were available, or perhaps we should say wursts were available.

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After a quick check-in at our hotel, we were off to take a tour to get our bearings. We chose the Red City Bus based on our guidebook by Rick Steves. It is no wonder he can travel as much as he does seeing all the people with his book, app, etc. In their hands while we were in Vienna. The tour took us around the Ringstrasse showing us all the major sights that we would want to visit later, while also taking us outside of the center to show us the large park, the Danube, and international center.

After the tour we walked more of the city center and proceeded to look for a traditional Viennese dinner. We found a place off the beaten path that provided us with that. After starting with appetizers, Terri had the traditional Weiner Schnitzel of Veal while I chose the Ox Cheek dish. Both of us were filled beyond belief.

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Deciding we needed to walk off some calories, we decided to walk the Ringstrasse at night in order to see the buildings all lit up in their glory. With cameras at the ready we began our walk. We passed the University, Parliment, the Hofburg Palace, and several other gorgeous sights. We stumbled upon an outdoor film festival and several World Cup parties. The streets were filled with cafes and bars where fans were cheering on their favorite country.

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As midnight approached, we came upon a fountain that provided our 4th of July fireworks. The colors turned all the shades of a rainbow. We couldn't help but making our way to the fountain and enjoying the mist while taking in the vibrance of the scene.

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As we finished our night walk of the Ringstrasse, we eagerly awaited what Vienna would have to offer next.

Posted by darrenesl 10:36 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna austria wein darrenesl tlwforgiven Comments (0)

Hustle and Bustle of the City

Pace of life in Zagreb, places you in the urban lifestyle quickly,


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Our time back in Zagreb was going to be short, but when travelling choices have to be made and we were happy to have chosen Plitvice Lakes as a stop. Zagreb proved to be a needed laundry stop and upon arrival we inquired as to where we could find a coin-op. After being mistakenly directed to three different dry cleaners we asked at Art Hostel were one was and discovered they were almost non-exisistent in the city.

Success was achieved and while we were there, we met the owner of the only coin-op laundry business in the capital city of Zagreb. The place had only been open 8 months and he was proud to show me his American-made "Speed Queen" washers and dryers.

After cleaning up the laundry, we were off to old town, where we saw several sights including "Burgalar's Wall." It was here we climbed to the top of the city watch tower and were treated with great city views. After seeing many sights, we went down to the main square "Jelacic Square." Hailed as the "Times Square" of Zagreb, the people watching opportunities here provide you with a sense of vibrance and buzz.

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Just off the square is one of Zagreb's secrets. Vinodol, a restaruant that is off the main square, but provides great Croatian dishes including "Peka-style" in a pot covered with hot coals. Here we indulged in local meats, Terri having a Beef Filet with a wonderful gorgonzola sauce, and myself loving the veal stuffed with mushrooms and gorgonzola, and topped with gorgonola. Yes, I'll need a cholesterol check when I get home.

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To finish the night off we had a Crem Pita at the suggestion of a friend, thus ending our short day in Zagreb

Posted by darrenesl 10:15 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

A Little Piece of Heaven on Earth

Plitvice Lakes provides peace and rest in an amazingly beautiful setting.

A night train from Split to Zagreb provided much needed rest and sleep at this point of the journey. Arriving in Zagreb at 6:30 a.m., we made our way via the tram to the bustling Zagreb bus station. The station has everything you need, a grocery store, chapel, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and an adult bookstore.

Upon arrival at the station we discovered that a 7:30 bus was available to Plitvice Lakes, instead of the later 8:45 bus we had expected to have to take. Having eaten our usual breakfast of fruit and a pastry on the train, we got a quick coffee from the smokey coffee shop and eventually proceeded to our platform.

The bus route takes you through the capital city of Croatia and on out to the countryside. As you travel through some of the small towns, the bullet holes remain in the concrete buildings from the war a decade or two ago. Several of the houses still remain abandoned, signs of the Serbs that had been forced to depart in haste, and still have not returned.

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As you begin to climb in elevation the flat lands and fields are replaced by rolling hills and eventually mountainous terrain. Plitvice Lakes, with two entrances, is a national park and a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. It is also the spot of the first shots fired during the war. We decided to stay at one of the hotels in the park as the closest other guesthouses are 17km from the park, and busses are few and far between.

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As we arrived at 10 a.m, we quickly dropped our backpacks in our room, grabbed some food, and got ready to see this incredible park. As we stepped out, we were greeted with a sight best described as Yosemite and Yellowstone on crack. The view was breathtaking and we both just exclaimed, "Wow!" Plitvice (pronounced (PLEET-veet-seh) is one of Europe's most spectacular wonders. Imagine Niagra Falls diced and sprinkled over a heavily forested Grand Canyon. There is nothing like this lush valley of 16 terraced lakes, laced together by waterfallls and miles of pleasant plank walks. Countless cascades and water that's both strangely clear and full of vibrant collors make Plitvice a misty natural wonderland.

There are signs with several different treks or you can create one of your own. The most popular trek starts from the middle of the two largest lakes and includes a tram, boat ride, and some hiking. The treks they suggest are 2, 3 or a 6 hour trek. The six hour hike appealed to us, however, it skipped the boat ride and not wanting to miss an opportunity to float accross these beautiful lakes, we decided to create a route of our own.

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Starting at the Lower Lake, winding our way down a narrow stair set (some of the steps tiny, with others stuttered like climbing a ladder) and through a cave we found ourselves surrounded by the turquoise water that made up this beautiful area. As we procedded around the Lower Lake counter-clockwise, we encountered waterfall after waterfall, after reaching 100 we lost count, but the number is actually in the 1000's. We hiked up and down special scenic viewpoints placing us at the top of falls, overlooking the tourists down below at the base of these massive echoing giants. As we continued the trek, we walked along the small wooden paths leading you directly over the lakes in some areas, on the dirt paths beside the waters in others, and at times under a refreshing canopy of lush green trees with all varieties of plant and animal life around. The most common land animal seen was the field mouse who was even seen swimming on top of the water at times. In the lakes there were trout beyond numbers, although fishing is strictly prohibited. We continued to traverse the lower area, exausting as many sights as possible until we decided to backtrack to the boat crossing to the Upper Lakes

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Once across we stepped off into a new wonderland of water and mist. As the afternoon trugged on, the sunlight mixed with mist provided a glorious backdrop for photos. Perhaps even more scenic than the Lower Lakes, although the lower has the largest single waterfall, the upper areas provide a quieter more tranquil atmosphere for reflection on the beauty of the surroundings. We continued exploring these lakes and finished with a trek just over 6 miles, but it was nearing 6 p.m., and we were running out of drinking water.

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As we exited the floor of the canyon containing the lakes, we ascended over 583 meters to the top and took a shuttle back to our hotel. That night, I dined on fresh local trout, while Terri sampled the turkey that is served in the Plitvice region.

The next morning we awoke, fueled up with the free breakfast at the hotel, and went to catch a bus back to Zagreb. Luckily we were 40 minutes early to the bus stop as the bus arrived 35 minutes early, scheduled at 10:45, it picked us up at 10:10 and off we went. Leaving all others who were wanting that bus to be stuck waiting until 12:45 for the next bus.

Plitvice was a stop we knew we had to include on our trip, when we left the area, we were glad that we had made time for this gem, hidden in the mountains of Croatia, this is a little piece of heaven right here on earth.

Posted by darrenesl 01:44 Archived in Croatia Tagged lakes croatia plivice Comments (0)

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