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Cruising: The good, bad, and why were we not warned

 

A good part of our cruise was our upgrading our dining experience to club status.( JJacobs photos)

A good part of our cruise was our upgrading our dining experience to club status.( JJacobs photos)

Sometimes a travel article has to be about a trip where everything wasn’t perfect so that people planning similar vacations know what to ask and what not to do.

We have always had good experiences on the Princess Cruises Line so we expected to have a great cruise down the west coast of South America last December.

First, the good part of the cruise was that we signed up for a package that included good mattresses and extra treats like chocolate covered strawberries and wine.

We also opted for a dining experience that put us on one side of a dining room where we were away from crowds, had a couple of extra food choices and got to know our server.

Also good was that we arranged for a couple of days in Santiago, Chili where we disembarked. We stayed at the Ritz which is a Marriott property with a great pool and concierge room. There we made our personal city tour arrangements.

Now, the bad. What we didn’t expect on the cruise was that the ship would continually have maintenance issues.

Throughout the whole trip, elevators were alternately closed for maintenance, the pools were often closed for maintenance when they really would have been good for swimming laps (the rest of the time they were so wavy and sloshy it felt like swimming against a tide), and no matter where we tried to sit there was painting and other coatings going on so there were fumes.

In addition, some of the public washrooms needed work and about half the washing machines  were not working.

As to our land excursions, we should have made our own arrangements because except for Lima where we had an excellent tour, and the rocky Ballestas Islands near Paracas where we saw blue-footed boobies and red legged cormorants, seals and penguins,  our excursions taken through Princess promised much more than they delivered.

So, here are a few cruise vacation suggestions:

  1. If booking a cruise, ask how old the ship is and what maintenance was done beforehand and what will be in process during the cruise.
  2. Check with your favorite travel agent about hooking up with a reliable shore tour – either a group excursion or a personal one.
  3. If there are packages available that will up the vacation level from a C to at least a B +, seriously consider the option.
  4. Check what other cruise lines offer for similar destinations before reserving your cabin.

 

Prague: A true Bohemian city

Prague. Think music because no matter where you walk around the capital of the Czech Republic, you will see a concert notice or hear classical chamber or orchestral music.

The astronomical clock in Prague. (Jacobs photos)

The astronomical clock in Prague. (Jacobs photos)

Or think Central European history because it was the capital of Bohemia and home to Charles IV.

Whatever your interest, however, you won’t have enough time to see and do everything. So, first, sign up for a tour of the city and secondly, plan to come back.

Here are just a few places to put on the itinerary. BTW, the city has an excellent public transportation system of subways and buses. Cabs can be expensive so if taking one ask how much before you get in.

Your best place to stay is in the historic area because it’s colorful, fun to stroll and easy to find an outdoor café for a needed break. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This is where you’ll see a crowd gather in the Old Town Square (Stare Mesto) by the Prague Orloj, an astronomical clock on the Old Town Hall’s south wall.

If there near the hour, pull out the camera because the 12 apostles can be seen strolling past the clock’s windows.  Alert: the clock is undergoing repair so is not expected to be back in place until sometime August, 2018.

The cave in the White Horse Restaurant

The cave in the White Horse Restaurant

A great place to do dinner in the Square is at the White Horse, a protected UNESCO structure with a 12th century cave.

Although located near the astronomical clock, it is not a well-known touristy restaurant.

The dishes lean toward traditional local cuisine but also include an excellent salmon.  Yes, you eat in the cave if not outside on the Square.

Before dinner get your exercise walking the Charles Bridge which is near the Square.

Spanning the Vltava River, it is a way to go from Old Town to Prague Castle. Charles IV started construction on the bridge (replaced an earlier one) in the mid 14th century but it wasn’t completed until early 15th century.

See its Gothic Old Town Bridge Tower  and photograph the statues even though they are replicas of the original ones from about 1700.

Definitely visit the castle during your stay. It really is a huge complex of nearly 750,000 square feet that includes palaces, garden a cathedral, basilica, monastery, museums and the President of the Czech Republic’s official office.

While in the castle district area visit the Strahov Monastery with its gorgeous ceilings. The monastery has a noted brewery.

If looking for a restaurant that is noted for its beer and its local cuisine, check out Budvarka where Budweiser is rumored to have started. Its in the Devjice area and has a great duck confit and is a place where locals go.

Strahov Monastery Library

Strahov Monastery Library

Before leaving Prague, go see the Jewish synagogues. They are spectacular.

Surrounded by Old Town, the Jewish Quarter known as Josefov, contains a famous cemetery, the Jewish Museum, a Franz Kafka monument and five synagogues worth visiting.

They are the Old-New Synagogue considered Europe’s oldest active one (1270), the Spanish Synagogue (1868), the Pinkas Synagogue (1535, the Klausen Synagogue (largest one, 1694) and the Maise Synagogue (1592).

Oops, we haven’t even talked about the other museums, the city’s many galleries or its festivals.

Looking forward to next visit.

Jodie Jacobs

The Door: A heavenly vacation spot belies its death passage name

Hike, bike or take the Door County Trolley through Peninsula State Park for great views of Green Bay. Jodie Jacobs photos

Hike, bike or take the Door County Trolley through Peninsula State Park for great views of Green Bay. Jodie Jacobs photos

The best part of vacationing in Door County, WI is the way its delightful harbors make you feel you left work and daily stress miles back at the last stoplight.

The county actually begins back a ways on a thumb shaped peninsula that separates Lake Michigan from Green Bay (the body of water, not the city). There are a smattering of stoplights at its southern end.

But once you cross a drawbridge over Sturgeon Bay, a shipping waterway cut across the peninsula to  connect Lake Michigan to Green Bay, you enter a world where a curve in the road reveals yet another scenic view and where villages have a few scattered stop signs, not stop lights.

However, to experience the dangerous waters where Lake Michigan waves bump against those from Green Bay that give the peninsula its name, you should drive north about 40 miles from Sturgeon Bay to Gills Rock and then a short distance to Northport. There you would take a ferry across to Washington Island.

Among the stories floating between the peninsula and the island is a tale of how when one native tribe lured another tribe to cross from Washington Island to the peninsula, those who attempted the crossing died in the stormy waters, thus giving the crossing the name Death’s Door.

Safe? Yes, though sometimes the trip can be rocky. But the Washington Island Ferry is so popular the best plan is to check the season’s schedule and get to its departure ramp at Northport ahead of time so there is room for your car.

While exploring look for Island Stavkirke, a recreated 12th century Norwegian church and the Jacobsen Museum of island artifacts.

OK, you’re here, meaning at the Door County room, condo, guest house or cottage or other lodging you booked ahead of time, and you are already gazing out at the quiet blue expanse of Green Bay or the ever changing colors of Lake Michigan.

Ah, but an hour later comes the stomach rumble, so next is investigate food options. Do ask your accommodation manager because Door County is loaded with good restaurants and diners so choosing one is a matter of what kind of food you’re in the mood for and how far you want to go. Read the rest of this entry »

A Grand girls getaway in Lake Geneva

View from balcony at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, WI. (Jodie Jacobs photos)

View from balcony at Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, WI. (Jodie Jacobs photos)

When “The world is too much with us… late and soon, as English poet William Wordsworth said with a poem that continues with “we are out of tune” you know it is time to take a break.

A good place to get back in tune is to plan a girls’ getaway where the view out the balcony door stretches across water and hills, where stress is forgotten over cocktails and delicious food and tension is massaged away by experienced hands.

My sister and I found such a place when we chose Grand Geneva Resort and Spa in Lake Geneva, WI for our annual spa getaway.

This year, my sister flew into O’Hare from Dallas so we could drive from my home in a northern suburb of Chicago. It took about an hour which is the same amount of time for someone flying into Milwaukee’s airport.

The resort is just on the eastern outskirts of Lake Geneva so we first parked downtown for a bit of boutique shopping then headed to the Grand Geneva to unpack and unwind. FYI, the lake is called Geneva Lake and the town is Lake Geneva.

Geneva Lake in Lake Geneva, WI

Geneva Lake in Lake Geneva, WI

The resort has lots of accommodation options ranging from deluxe rooms and suites to condos. We loved our deluxe double on the third floor of Building 3 with a view of a lake on the property.

BTW Grand Geneva has 1,300 acres that include ski hills in winter turned into an adventure spot in summer, golf, horseback riding and plenty of paths to hike and bike.

I liked the lap pool in the spa and fitness facility across the lane from our building. My sister liked the fitness center where she could work out with the type of equipment she used back home.

While waiting for our spa services in the women’s locker room, we heard happy chatter from girlfriends enjoying the spa’s whirlpool. Another waiting area open to males and females, was a quiet relaxation space with good fruit juice, crackers and cheeses.

We booked massages for one day and mani-pedi services, the next. Definitely recommend both.

The resort had two top notch dinner restaurants, the Geneva Chop House and Ristorante Brissago. Both have good food and good service. The night we ate at the resort we were in the mood for Italian flavors and loved our choices of a pumpkin bisque, Osso Bucco  and eggplant parmigiano.

Pumpkin bisque that is sweet and savory with the added balsamic.

Pumpkin bisque that is sweet and savory with the added balsamic.

The resort’s Sunday morning brunch in its Grand Café was tempting but after a weekend of eating we ordered light breakfasts from the menu.

We left on Sunday but heard there was a shuttle that went into Lake Geneva on Monday for a tour of the town that included lunch. Maybe will do it next time.

I’m thinking the resort would be a good place to visit next Valentine’s Day or birthday or anniversary or Mother’s Day.

But regarding our experience, best of all was that everyone at Grand Geneva seemed to really care about the guests.

For reservations and more information visit Grand Geneva.

 

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