Ready for a Room With a View?
We’ve always loved E.M. Forster’s great “travel romance” A Room With a View (not to mention the beautiful film adaptation), in which a young Englishwoman’s life is forever changed when she agrees to swap hotel rooms with a fascinating young Englishman in Florence in order to have, yes, a room with a view. We love the way that expression can mean, quite literally, a window that affords gorgeous scenery, but also the way those words can sum up a transformative travel experience.
Speaking of transformative travel: River cruises have been very much on our radar lately because of the way they can broaden your cruise experience, taking you down iconic rivers such as the Rhine, the Danube, and the Mekong, and getting you up close and personal with the cultures and cuisines of the historic, beautiful cruise ports along the way.
We’ve also noticed that Avalon Waterways’s unique staterooms offer, you guessed it, “a room with a view” like no other: Avalon’s Panorama Suites are 200 square feet, with 11-foot-wide and 7-foot-tall wall-to-wall windows and a bed angled so that you can get a perfect view out the window. (You can also open up your window to create an Open-Air Bbalcony, but they’re designed to work all year long, regardless of the weather outside.)
Some of the Avalon river cruises we’re yearning to see from a Panorama Suite include: Essential Holland & Belgium, an unforgettable eight-day odyssey from Brussels to Amsterdam, with guided sightseeing in Antwerp, Ghent, the Keukenhof Gardens, and other must-sees; The Legendary Danube, from Prague to Budapest, with guided sightseeing in Prague, Vienna, Budapest, and other cities; and Fascinating Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Mekong River, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, gateway to the stunning temple complex at Angkor Wat.
TALK TO US! We’d love to hear about your river cruise experiences, especially those that have included “a room with a view”!
A reader proposes smart new routes for river cruises
Loyal reader Clarence Moore wrote in to us in response to our recent blog posts on Viking and Uniworld introducing new river cruise ships and Avalon christening a new river cruise ship: There are a couple of rivers in the east of Spain and the Po River in Italy that NEED river cruise ships. Additionally, the river north of Prague to Berlin is well covered, but on north to Hamburg and to the sea is hardly covered at all. There are canals and river systems right through from Amsterdam to Berlin, but this route is NOT covered except by one European company with ONE trip annually, if even that now. Yet, they have Hansel and Gretel houses and entire villages through that area that are VERY attractive. The Oder River and other Polish rivers are inadequately or not covered at all. One river goes north and one south not too far after you leave Vienna or Budapest on the Danube—both navigable, but NO cruises! Any way you could help increase interest in these potential river cruises? We need American companies, like Uniworld or Viking to cover them all! Thanks!
Cruise news: Bookings on the humongous Oasis of the Seas
This December, Royal Caribbean debuts the largest cruise ship in the world, the Oasis of the Seas. We reported on the "gi-normous" (and very cool) ship last summer. At 220,000-tons, with 18 decks and seven distinct neighborhoods (including one with a zip line!), it'll be quite a sight. If you'd like to be part of cruising history, bookings are still available on the ship's earliest trips departing from Fort Lauderdale. The inaugural voyage for the Oasis was originally set for December 12, but Royal Caribbean recently elected to move it up a week, to December 5, 2009. Additionally, there will be a quickie four-night cruise on December 1, to mark the opening of Labadee, the cruise line's private island in Haiti. On its website, Royal Caribbean is offering interior cabins starting at $699 for the four-night cruise, $1,299 for the December 5 inaugural seven-night cruise, and $1,089 for other dates in December. Stops on the seven-night cruises include St. Thomas, St. Maarten, and Nassau in the Bahamas. I did a Kayak cruise search today to see if other booking sites could beat those prices. I didn't have any luck. But, booking agencies such as cruises.com, cruisesonly.com, and cruise411.com are offering bonuses like 10 percent off shore excursions for all bookings and a free spa treatment if you book a balcony cabin or above on the Oasis. And Travel Themes and Dreams, one of Budget Travel's favorite booking agencies, is offering balcony cabins for the December 12 cruise for $1,369 (the regular rate) but also throwing in a $100 shipboard credit. There's a chance prices could come down as the dates get closer—after all, the ship can handle nearly 6,300 passengers. Keep watching Kayak, and be prepared to book at the last minute for great rates. Want more? See the Washington Post's recent sneak peak of the Oasis of the Seas. Or you could visit the official site. Port Report: Cruise Terminals Across the U.S.
Cruises: Tech tips from a pro
Paul Motter is editor of Cruisemates, which has been publishing impartial cruise reviews and news stories for a decade. We checked in with Motter for some tips on how to stay "wired" while at sea. What's the best way to keep up on your e-mail while on a cruise ship? Bring your own laptop. Skip the cruise ship Internet cafés, which generally cost 30¢ to 75¢ per minute—not cheap. Most cruise ships now have wireless access (WiFi) enabled. The newer the ship, the more likely that it will offer wireless, and if it is even newer they will have it in your stateroom. Whether or not wireless is available ship-wide can be found out by calling your cruise line or by going to cruise user websites like (ahem) CruiseMates and asking in the message boards. Use your laptop to log on and off frequently. For example, download all of your email and read it offline. If you are on your own laptop you can even reply to all of your email in messages that you save, and then send those messages after you re-connect to the Internet. Cruise often? You may be able to get around these Internet usage fees by joining frequent cruiser clubs on certain lines. They may include free or reduced Internet time as a perk for frequent cruisers. Another alternative is to look for Internet cafés in port. They are very common, just ask the crew. In the Caribbean you will pay about $5/hour, whereas onboard it will cost you up to 10 times as much. Always highlight and copy anything you write before you try to send it from a ship. You can type for an hour and lose everything if the connection fails. Best practice is to always compose offline, save a copy, and then copy and paste it when you are ready to send it over the Internet. Cruise ship web access is comparatively slow compared to most land-based broadband connections because ships must use satellite communication. I suggest you buy the most minutes possible—say, 100 minutes for $35. The minutes are cheaper when purchased in larger packages. That way you will be able to use the Internet when you want without fretting that you are using it too much. Most ships allow you full access from your laptop, meaning they allow you to blog, upload pictures, and update your blog. But some ships limit what kind of traffic will go through the network. Some ships will block the email protocol forcing you to use web-based email, for example. Or they may block secure FTP so you cannot update your web site. If your business requires you to stay connected to the Web, call your cruise line in advance to make sure you have the info you need. If you want to send pictures home, set your camera to a smaller resolution (800x600). Or even better leave your camera at a high resolution but have a program on your computer where you can make copies at smaller resolutions. A typical 5 megapixel picture might take 5 minutes to upload. But a smaller 800x600 will only take a few seconds. Not a "power" user of the Internet while on vacation? Understood. For you, a few minutes of use of on-board Internet cafés, will generally do the trick. Remember, you will be on a strange computer with nothing stored for you. If you have a cable-modem or DSL account at home (Comcast, Verizon, etc.), you may need to go to your Internet provider and discover the web site for web-based email. If you have an AOL address, for example, you must open a browser and go to aol.com and log in to your webmail account. Some ships may run AOL on their computers but most do not. Write down the exact URL for your webmail account. Also: Before you sail, write down key usernames and passwords to bring on-board. EARLIER Solo travel: Avoid getting "singled out" for fees on cruise ships (14 comments) MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL How to Pick the Right Cruise Cabin
Why You Should Take A Windjammer Cruise
To really savor the rugged beauty of Maine's coastal scenery, consider a Windjammer Cruise, a seafaring adventure that lasts between three and six nights, departs May thru October, and is a total escape from modern life. Leave your cell phone and laptop behind because mother nature is the star of this show. You’ll be privy to dramatic seascapes as you beachcomb along Maine’s sparsely populated islands and get up-close to whales, porpoises, eagles, and other coastal wildlife. Plus, there’s no better way to partake in a genuine slice of New England’s maritime history. The Windjammer cruise experience For starters, Windjammers are eco-friendly vessels that don’t rely on fossil fuels. Treasured by environmentalists, these traditional tall ships are powered by harnessing the force of the wind. If you crave harmony with nature, few experiences are as soul satisfying. The captain and crew take their roles as stewards of the sea seriously and are passionate about preserving the pristine waterways. They strictly adhere to the “leave no trace” code of conduct, leaving each harbor or village cleaner than it was found. Life on board Passengers may help the competent crew as much or as little as they please. If there’s a sailor lurking in your soul, let the genie out of the bottle and hoist a sail, take a turn at the wheel, or help navigate. If laying low is more your style, read, sketch, or mingle with friendly fellow passengers as the salty seabreeze carries you away. When darkness falls, the glorious night sky means stargazing is the activity of choice. The rhythms of shipboard life are punctuated by three Downeast-style meals daily, ever-changing scenery, and stops to go ashore and explore the small fishing villages and eye-candy lighthouses that dot the coastline. There’s no set itinerary as the next destination is determined the old-fashioned way, by winds and tide. Meet The Fleet Each of the nine windjammers has a distinct personality, while beauty, grace, and speed unify them. They carry between 16-40 guests and 4-10 crew members, and depart from either Rockland or Camden in Maine. Some cater to families while others are better suited to adults only. There are a variety of themed specialty trips that appeal to everyone from birders to beer lovers to yogis. Life on board is about simple pleasures, so leave your designer threads at home. Snug accommodations are rustic yet comfortable. Basic resources such as food and water are precious, so wasting is a big no-no. Sailing aboard the Stephen Taber First launched in 1871, the Stephen Taber is the oldest documented sailing vessel in continuous service in the United States and a tribute to 19th century craftsmanship. I chose it for its historic attributes as well as for the sterling reputation of its fun-loving Captain Noah Barnes, his wife and partner Jane Barrett Barnes’ oenophile expertise, and for its widespread culinary notoriety. Maine’s chilly waters are overflowing with mollusks and crustaceans of every shape and size, making it a paradise for seafood lovers, plus the state’s hyper-local agricultural heritage assures the freshest seasonal produce from sustainable farms and purveyors. The food is prepared on the Stephen Taber’s back-to-basics vintage woodstove, though flavors rival those of the finest restaurant kitchens. The crew is committed to showcasing farm-to-table and boat-to-table products that are sustainable as well as delicious. A hearty breakfast includes an abundance of homespun hot dishes and freshly baked goods, while lunch leans towards full-bodied soups and fresh salads served with hot-from-the-oven bread. Wines are accompanied by a selection of farmhouse cheeses before the mouth-watering evening meal. The culinary climax of each trip is an all-you-can-eat lobster bake on a secluded beach. A splurge, but worth every penny Windjammer cruises are an excellent value. The all-inclusive price really does include everything, so except for your crew’s deserving tip at the end of the journey, you may leave your wallet at home. On the Stephen Taber, home-cooked meals, evening wine, a cozy cabin, and the priceless nautical experience can be had for $200 per person, per night. Early birds who book the Stephen Taber by March 1, 2016 will receive a 5 percent discount off the regular rate. Other schooners offer similar prices and discounts. Cabins are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis, so there’s an added incentive to book early and score a primo berth.