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Caribbean Group Cruise 2019 a Success!

Thanks to all those that went on our fabulous group cruise this winter. It was great to have so many new cruises along! You can now see why we all get addicted to traveling and having others along makes for even more fun.

We started out in Galveston, Texas. Most of the group shared a rented beach house for two nights prior to the cruise.

We boarded Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas and cruised for 7 nights with port stops at Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Jamaica. The ship was enormous, the staff was stellar and the food was great. We had two large tables in the dining room for our group and had an outstanding waitstaff to take care of us.

Liberty of the Seas in port next to Brilliance of the Seas

The beaches of Cozumel, Mexico

I’m in the beginning stages of putting together a group cruise for winter 2020 right now. Please contact me if you are interested in joining us next year. Stay tuned for the announcement!

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Sandals LaSource Grenada Resort Review

I’ve just returned from a week-long vacation in Grenada, “The Spice Island.” What a beautiful country full of warm and caring people! They are so welcoming to Americans. They love Ronald Reagan! They say, ‘he gave them back their freedom.’ (remember the invasion back in 1983?) They love us for it.

This new Sandals LaSource Resort sits right next to the Maurice Bishop International Airport and is a very short shuttle ride. The steep entrance drive is quite a fun ride during arrival. Upon arrival, you are let off at an open-air (tiny and unimpressive) lobby for check-in. If you have booked a CLUB LEVEL or BUTLER category room, you are escorted into the nearby, air-conditioned Club Sandals area for a private, more comfortable check-in process. Butler guests will be taken to their rooms for check-in. (how ‘suite’ is that!)

We had a Club Level Room in the Pink Gin Village. It’s a beautiful, beachfront building nearest the ocean. From our room we had beautiful, sweeping views of the ocean, pool area and beach. We were in the Penthouse, which is fancy for….third floor. With a vaulted ceiling and the best oceanfront view…it was worth the walk up the stairs.

Sandals LaSource Grenada
Sandals LaSource Grenada, Our view from the room.

The food and restaurants are great. We loved the French restaurant, Le Jardinier, the best. The service was stellar and the food delicious. No reservations were needed at this resort with the exception of Butch’s Chophouse and the Japanese Teppanyaki restaurant. Both of those were very good as well. Lobster was out of season, so shrimp was served in it’s place, at Butch’s, for the ‘Surf & Turf’ that’s very popular. “Doggies” is a new addition, it’s a hot dog cart with all the trimmings. Open for about 3 hours per day around lunch time and parked outside The Living Room. Delicious and a great addition. The buffet and Mediterranean restaurants were good as well. I don’t care for buffets and this one doesn’t have any seating that’s air conditioned. Indoor seating is quite warm and so is the outdoor seating. I preferred eating elsewhere because of it. Don’t forget the great ice cream in the Cafe! (try the Nutmeg ice cream!)

Swim-up Bar, night time
Swim-up Bar, night time

Drinks abound at this high-end all-inclusive resort. The Living Room was a popular evening hangout with nightly entertainment and fun. It’s a covered, yet open-sided area with a bar and fun ‘living room’ style furnishings. We could hear the nightly music right from our room nearby. The main pool has a swim-up bar that was popular day and night. The main beer served was Caribe, which is very good. The Tipsy Turtle Pub had many other selections as well.

Sky Pool Butler Suite
Sky Pool Butler Suite

Service was great for the most part…expected at Sandals. Love that no-tipping policy, which takes a lot of stress away. The only problem we had was with the room stewards. A few nights, they didn’t get to our rooms for service…either day or night-time turn-down. On the flip side…the concierge at Club Sandals were AWESOME! They will bend over backwards to make your stay perfect. Well done! I can’t say enough times how getting at a minumum….a CLUB SANDALS LEVEL ROOM! (entry level rooms don’t have concierge and a whole lot more!) If you take nothing else away from this blog today….take that tip! CLUB LEVEL or BUTLER ONLY! So worth it.

The beach is very nice. Not an overly long stretch, but more cove-like. White & black sand with clear water. Not overly wavy either. Nice trampolines anchored in the bay to relax on. If you walk down past the Watersports area…you can walk off-property down the beach for quite a ways. Some very cool rock formations down there…very photo-worthy! You can also see the capital city of St. George’s down the coast. (lit up nicely at night) Lots of lounge chairs and even with those ‘chair hogs that tend to get up early and throw their stuff on chairs to never return’…won’t spoil it. Lots to choose from. Lots of hammocks as well. Drink service is also available…although spotty sometimes.

Off-property beach
Off-property beach

Entertainment was good. Loved the crew’s talent performances and beach party. White Night was fun as well. I don’t go to these resorts for entertainment…so many nights we skipped it. My favorite night-time activity is to find a nice, dark beach lounger near the ocean and listen to the waves lapping the shore while watching the stars and lights of the city. Nothing more relaxing than that. Make sure you protect yourself, as sand fleas can be pesky and they bite leaving some marks! (bug repellent)

We did one excursion (Island Routes) tour. It was the half day city tour. Very informative and fun. When we got to the marketplace, some guides kind of force themselves upon you. The driver said to ignore them, but after awhile…let him guide us around. He taught us many things about his people and country. He also expedited us to the stores with items we were searching for. Of course, he wanted a bunch of money at the end of the tour…but we tipped him $40 and felt it was worth it. (although, I didn’t like his ‘non-consent’ way of getting us to follow him) Lots of fresh spices and local items in the city markets. Bargaining is the way here, but I often times gave them what they asked…and they were genuinely grateful. The view from Fort Frederick is amazing!

Grenada from Ft. Frederick
Grenada from Ft. Frederick

All in all…it was an another AWESOME SANDALS VACATION. Most flights arrive quite late into Grenada. We arrived at 8:30 PM and were at the resort eating dinner by 10:00 PM. Some opt to stay in a local hotel the first night since they arrive so late, as it’s more cost effective than wasting most of your first day while traveling.

We are certified SANDALS SPECIALISTS! We know these properties very well, and have been to most of them. Sandals prices are the same, no matter where you purchase them from…SO WHY NOT LET US BOOK YOU? YOU’LL GAIN OUR FREE HELP AND EXPERIENCE at no extra cost! We know the best resorts for you, the best room levels, best views, best beaches, best pools, best excursions.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT SANDALS RESORTS HERE:  Sandals Resorts

Pete Larson, CTC, DS, LS

Certified Travel Counselor and Sandals Specialist

www.JollyMonVacations.com

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Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov
Český Krumlov

Český Krumlov is located in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. It’s a small, well-preserved medieval city about 175 km south of Prague and Old Český Krumlov is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 13th century Český Krumlov Castle rises high above a town that is filled with Renaissance-era buildings.

The central part of the town is built around the base of the castle on the horseshoe bend of the Vltava River. The historical town center, with its small narrow lanes, is a car-free zone. While there are still a few delivery vehicles driving through, you can walk through the city center and explore streets filled with traditional shops, galleries, restaurants and pubs.

There are outdoor cafes, museums and nice hotels surrounding the large town square. It’s a beautiful place to spend a few days exploring but it can also be reached by river cruisers on excursions from the Danube River itineraries.

Contact Pete for more details:

Pete Larson, CTA, DS, LS

Certified Travel Associate

www.JollyMonVacations.com

www.RiverCruiseGuru.com

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Scenic Cruises Launches True All-Inclusive River Cruises

Pete Larson, River Cruise Guru

Owner and Travel Consultant for River Cruise Guru & Jolly Mon Vacations

Scenic Cruises has announced what it calls the “first truly all-inclusive luxury river cruising experience.” New on 2013 cruises will be unlimited complimentary beverages (top-shelf brands are additional), private butler service for every guest, themed dinners with entertainment (including Hungarian and Bavarian itineraries), a personal GPS onboard guided tour system devices providing commentary, and complimentary Wi-Fi.

Also new are three dining venues — River Café with all-day offerings; Table La Rive, for degustation menus; and High Tea on the Terrace. (River Café, Table La Rive and the GPS tour are not available on Scenic Emerald which will be relocated to the south of France)

New shore experiences include Scenic Enrich, exclusive experiences such as a private dinner and concert at Rastatt Palace; Scenic FreeChoice, 18 tours including the Hockenheim Formula 1 Track in Heidelberg; and Scenic Tailor-made, a bespoke GPS-guided tour system with full commentary, allowing guests to choose from independent walks or cycling tours exploring areas like food and wine or history.

“We are redefining the term ‘all-inclusive luxury’ with the addition of unlimited complimentary beverages available at any time throughout the ship, free Wi-Fi, and butler service for all,” said Managing Director Glen Moroney. “Our relaxing new River Café offers food items all day, including cakes and espresso coffee. And most important — there is basically nothing more to pay except for personal expenses.”

River Cruise Guru can attest to this, as we were invited to sail onboard the maiden voyage of Scenic Crystal and have personally experienced the 2013 changes ourselves on a special voyage. It was nothing short of incredible.

Also in 2013, Scenic “Space-Ships” will get “Sun-Lounges,” which allow guests to convert their private balconies into an indoor lounge. This is basically a step-out balcony that can be totally enclosed in glass for bad weather or wind. Unlike most river cruise ships with balconies, Scenic does not take away ANY space from the stateroom when adding balconies. Sun lounges will be retro-fitted to the entire fleet (except Scenic Emerald). Moroney also announced a number of technical ship upgrades including a “silent drive” system that significantly reduces noise and vibration, and a sophisticated and powerful air-conditioning system.

When it comes to river cruising, Scenic has really stepped up the game. A luxury product that no other line matches in terms of all-inclusive amenities.

To begin your river cruise planning, call us today! Expert river cruise knowledge and assistance at no extra cost to you!

River Cruise Guru is a branch of Jolly Mon Vacations located in Grand Forks, ND serving clients around the globe. We are RIVER CRUISE SPECIALISTS and we DO NOT CHARGE ANY FEES. You get expert advice, planning assistance and booking for the same or less than you would do things yourself. WE KNOW RIVER CRUISES!

Find out more at:  www.JollyMonVacations.com and www.RiverCruiseGuru.com

For questions and assistance contact Pete:

pete@rivercruiseguru.com

Phone or text:  218-779-3050

LIKE us on facebook:  www.facebook.com/rivercruiseguru

 

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Scenic Crystal River Cruise Review: Part 5; The Tours

By Pete Larson, Owner of River Cruise Guru and Jolly Mon Vacations

We are River Cruise Specialists! Your free vacation planning source!

One of the best things about river cruising, is that many things are included in your overall price. Different cruise lines offer different amenities and inclusions so when you compare them…look into it closely. Something as simple as GRATUITIES or TRANSFERS not included can end up costing hundreds of dollars more in your final price. All companies are NOT the same which makes it difficult to know where to turn. My advice is to look for a RIVER CRUISE SPECIALIST because they know the cruise lines and what they each provide. Why reinvent the wheel when you can get FREE PROFESSIONAL HELP from a proven TRUSTED source?

Shore tours or excursions are included on almost all mainstream river cruise lines. AMA Waterways, Uniworld, Avalon, Viking, Scenic and many more include tours. Some of these lines offer your CHOICE of tours in some locations. This means you get to select from some different offerings that interest you most. Scenic Tours has offered this for years but now Avalon has a choice as well. Many of these cruise lines also offer OPTIONAL tours which you will have to pay EXTRA for but Scenic Cruises does not. In my opinion, they have one of the most all-inclusive river cruises out there. Next year, they WILL have the most all-inclusive product as they introduce many more inclusions such as butler service on all decks, private airport transfers and open bar to name a few.

On this Rhine River trip, we took advantage of each tour offered. Our first tour was a walking tour in the city of Cologne, Germany. When you leave the ship for a tour you are free to pick a group number. This way, you can be sure to be with your friends or family. Tour guides meet you at the gangway and then you go from there for walking tours. You will bring your QuietVox headset so you can hear the guide no matter where you are. This is nice if you are distracted by something or linger to take photos because you won’t miss anything.

The walking tours move around at a slow pace and on this one it was pouring rain so we made frequent stops under shelter. It’s a good idea to bring an umbrella so you don’t get your camera wet when you want a picture. Scenic Tours provides a large umbrella in your room for your use which is very handy. Most of our city tours lasted around an hour and took us to the main attractions. In Cologne, the main site is the famous Cathedral. This gothic cathedral is a masterpiece! The detail when you get up close is incredible. Inside, the acoustics and stained glass windows are amazing. There is no charge to go inside and it’s well worth a visit. After our walking tour we had a little free time to shop or do whatever you like.

Cologne Cathedral – Copyright River Cruise Guru

Scenic Tours is one of the few companies that own their own coaches to move guests around in. This is really nice because the coaches are always on time, in great condition and they will do everything the company needs them to do.

We went up the Moselle River to Cochem for our next stop. We took a walking tour of the town and then took coaches up the mountain to Reichsburg Castle. What a beautiful vista from the top of this mountain! On this day, the castle’s interior was closed to visitors. No

Cochem, Germany – Copyright River Cruise Guru

problem for us, because the guides still have access to the castle and they took us inside. (leaving the sad non-cruisers outside) The castle is amazing and filled with beautiful treasures of the past.

Next stop was Bernkastel, where the mere mention of the name makes wine connoisseur’s hearts beat faster! This town is the center of the vineyards of the Moselle Valley and they line the slate river banks for many miles. In Bernkastel, you could choose either a tour of the quaint city, a trip to Trier (the oldest city in Germany) or ride an hour and a half to Luxembourg. This is called a SCENIC FREE CHOICE and you must make your choice the day before so they can organize transportation. We chose Trier because the robe that Jesus is said to have worn during crucifixion was on display and we wanted to see it. This robe has only been displayed 17 times in over

Trier Cathedral – Copyright River Cruise Guru

2,000 years so this was an event NOT to be missed. Once we arrived in Trier for our walking tour, we cut away from the group and ventured out on our own. When we arrived at the cathedral to see the display there was a German mass going on. We watched the end of the mass and then proceeded through the sea of people to see the robe. I think everyone in that room was in total awe at what we were seeing and I can’t really explain how I felt standing there looking at it. It was one of those ‘awe’ moments you will never forget though.

Afterward, we walked around The Market Place, tried some apple strudel and visited the Porta Nigra which is a fortified gateway built by the Romans in the second century AD. It was a great visit to Trier despite the onslaught of rain.

Rüdesheimer Schloss Hotel – Copyright River Cruise Guru

Rüdesheim was the last stop for us and where this new beautiful ship would be christened in a grand ceremony later in the day. We disembarked the ship and checked into the Rüdesheimer Schloss Hotel right off the world-famous Drosselgasse. This is a lively area where you can shop, eat or hit the wine bars. We had a great German dinner at the Hotel Lindenwirt’s restaurant and wine bar that was delicious. Scenic Tours also provided transportation via train to the Siegfried’s Musikkabinett (Museum of mechanical music instruments) with admission as well as tickets to the cable car although we opted to tour on our own.

We headed to the cable car and rode to the Niederwalddenkmal at the top of the mountain. The view of the Rhine, the vineyards and the city below was nothing short of incredible. The Niederwalddenkmal is a statue commemorating the foundation of the German Empire. The statue was under construction during our visit and was very hard to see. The highlight was surely the view and the deer we saw run up the staircase to the statue!

Overall, the included tours on this Scenic Cruise were excellent. Guides and drivers did a great job and the attractions were top-notch. Free time was included at each stop and sometimes the stops seem a little short. Our cruise was on an accelerated pace because this itinerary was for travel agents, Scenic staff and press however.

Part 6 will follow this soon.

 

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Scenic Crystal River Cruise Review: Part 4; The Ship

Scenic Crystal River Cruise Review:

Part 4:  The ship

By Pete Larson, Owner of River Cruise Guru and Jolly Mon Vacations

We are River Cruise Specialists! Your free vacation planning source!

Scenic Crystal 2012. Photo © Jolly Mon Vacations

Scenic Cruises launched its sixth river cruise ship, the 169-passenger Scenic Crystal in April and we were on this maiden voyage. Scenic Crystal is 443 feet long and has cabins and suites ranging from 164 to 315 square feet, most of which have real outdoor balconies that you can enclose at the touch of a button.

We boarded this ship in Amsterdam for a trip down the Rhine to Rüdesheim where the ship would be christened before continuing down to Basel, Switzerland.

The Airport Transfers:

Scenic Cruises will pick you up at the airport when you arrive on departure day whether or not you purchase flights from Scenic. Scenic staff will be waiting  near the baggage carousel holding a sign. You may have to go to a bus or holding area for a little bit while others are arriving. In 2013, the included transfers will become PRIVATE transfers, so once you arrive at the airport, you will be whisked directly to the ship without delay! Show me another cruise line that offers that included in the price! Since we arrived two nights early, we simply took a taxi to the port.

Boarding Ship:

Upon arrival at the Scenic Crystal, staff came off the ship and grabbed our suitcases for us and took them onboard the ship. We climbed the gangway and entered the lobby of this amazing new river ship and met with the staff. They quickly introduced us to Igor, the Hotel Manager and he offered my wife a single rose. We were given our room keys and they ushered us to our stateroom. This was the quickest and hassle-free boarding experience I’ve ever encountered in all our travels!

The Butler:

Once in our stateroom, we were met by our butler who explained the room and services. In 2013, all three passenger decks will receive butler services included in the price! She made sure our devices were hooked to the internet and made us reservations for Portobello’s Restaurant at my request.

The Stateroom:

Deluxe Balcony of Scenic Crystal. Photo © River Cruise Guru

We had stateroom B205, which is a Deluxe Balcony, mid-ship on the middle (Rhine) deck. This is a nice sized room with closets, safe, Apple TV, mini bar, hair dryer, bottled water, two-twin beds configured into a queen sized bed with suitcase storage beneath. A sliding glass door opened onto a full outdoor balcony with glass/wood rail. There were two chairs and a small table. Scenic calls this area, the “Scenic Sun Lounge” because at the push of a button, a window slides up (just like a car window) and encloses the deck from noise, wind, rain and cold. You can enjoy your balcony at anytime! This is a great new feature and we used it a lot. You will need an electrical adapter/converter to power your electronics as they use European electrical plugs.

The bathroom. Photo © River Cruise Guru

The bathroom was the best I’ve had on any ship. It was larger than most ocean-going ships and it featured modern sink with LED down-lighting and a glass-walled shower that had three heads and an LED colored lighting display in the upper showerhead! It gave you a SPA-like experience right in your own stateroom. Unbelievable.

Noise and vibration:

Now you sometimes read reviews about ship vibration on certain cruises. On river cruises, the ships are smaller and follow a very winding river. These ships will sometimes make more noise during turns as they use side thrusters. The engine noise will be heard no matter where your cabin is located but it never seems to bother me. I know I’m on a moving vehicle  and when going in and out of locks there will be some bumping and engine noise. Is this something that ever kept me awake? No. I rather enjoyed the hum of the engines.

Daily Program:

The Daily Programme. Photo © River Cruise Guru

Scenic Tours leaves a DAILY PROGRAMME on your bed each day so you will know the schedule. The ship was to depart Amsterdam at 17:00 hours. (yes, they use the 24 hour/military time) Shortly before sailing, they gathered us for a Welcome Reception and safety briefing. Scenic Tours CEO/Managing Director came onboard and gave us a nice welcome speech and the ships Captain then took over the safety briefing. An actual ‘safety drill’ was held the second day and we all put on life-vests on the Sun Deck. There are no lifeboats on a river ship so you simply go to the upper deck when the alarm is sounded and they hand you a life-vest.

First Thoughts:

My first thoughts were WOW! The ship is brand new and pristine. I’ve been on a lot of ships before, but none that smelled of new paint and carpet. I expected the crew to be a bunch of inexperienced employees thrown together at the last minute not knowing how to do things. Boy, was I wrong! They were all spectacular! Like a well-oiled machine. Polite, knowledgeable and accommodating.

Crystal Lounge:

The Crystal Lounge. Photo © River Cruise Guru

This is a great space and well used. From reading a book, having coffee or a cocktail to having some lunch or dancing the night away this room delivers. Beautiful furnishings that are comfortable to eat lunch in or just sit and watch the scenery go by through the large windows.  There are coffee and tea stations here, available around the clock and the new lunch venue, The River Café. A light lunch fare is served there and it also houses appetizers and desserts as well. Forward of this area is the Portobello’s Restaurant (only set up in the evening, otherwise its an extension of the lounge) which is a special place to have a 7 course dinner. The dinner is special and the service is incredible. There is no extra fee for any of these dining venues. In 2013, drinks will be included as part of the cruise fare. That’s right, all-inclusive!

Portobello’s Restaurant:

This is considered to be a ‘special’ dining experience and will require a reservation due to limited seating area. There is no extra charge to dine here which is incredible. The staff is ‘extra-attentive’ and greets you with a flute of champagne upon arrival. There are many sized tables and we were seated at a table for six. We shared dinner with four other passengers and found them to be very fun and interesting. Dinner served was seven courses of delight. Several choices of regional wines were offered and each course was presented by the chef with a story. The meal was great, the service spectacular and the experience  was memorable.

Observation Deck:

Forward Observation Deck. Photo © River Cruise Guru

Forward of Portobello’s is a small but covered seating area right near the bow. It offers a fantastic forward view of the area you are traveling. It offers some sun or rain protection and even has some radiant heaters overhead which helped on a blustery day. A great spot to view the transit through one of the many river locks.

The Sundeck:

The Sundeck of Scenic Crystal. Photo © River Cruise Guru

A great big area to socialize, watch scenery and catch some rays. On our cruise, it didn’t see the use it would during the summer months but we still found it a great place to take photos and watch as we passed under low bridges. During nice weather it also serves as another alternate dining venue. The wheelhouse and the upper railings on the very top deck are sometimes put down. The wheelhouse is able to be lowered and the deck rails and canopies fold down. This makes it possible to fit under lower bridges on the river. We were allowed to sit forward of the wheelhouse during the passing of low bridges, but were ordered to stay seated. It is quite amazing how they scoot right under these bridges with very little clearance. There were only two areas to smoke onboard; one was the furthest point aft on the Sundeck, the other was right near the middle stairs/wheelhouse on the Sun Deck. The Captain said, “if you don’t see an ashtray, you cannot smoke there.” No smoking was allowed on the balconies either.

The Crystal Dining Room:

The Crystal Dining Room. Photo © River Cruise Guru

A very nice restaurant for all three daily meals right at water level. Many different sized tables to choose from and It operates with an open-seating policy. A great place to meet old friends or to discover new ones. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style. Mornings saw an omelet station and afternoons usually had some sort of carved meats available. Regional wines, beer and soft drinks are complimentary at lunch and dinner. In 2013, these beverages will be complimentary around the clock! We enjoyed the local Riesling wines very much. There was usually a choice between a couple of different wines with each meal. The food was served up in courses; appetizer, soup/salad, main entrée and dessert. I found each dish I had ordered to be very good. Sometimes they had a theme, like on German day the staff was dressed in lederhosen, German music was played, they served authentic German dishes and trays of bier!

The Staff/Service:

I found the staff to be very accommodating at all times. Whenever I had a question, they were there with an answer. The Cruise Director, Sylvie, was very good as running things. She gave the port talks each day in the Lounge and also took care of us when it came to tours and on debarkation day. Service staff were excellent both in the lounge and dining rooms. Stateroom staff were also very good. All gratuities are included with Scenic Tours/Cruises which is very nice and convenient.

Entertainment:

If you are the type that needs constant entertainment, you may be a bit bored on a river cruise. Entertainment usually consists of a piano player/singer/entertainer, dancing , local musicians brought onboard, lectures or a glass blowing demonstration. I found it to be a nice distraction in the evening when you could not see the scenery.

Internet:

The internet is a fee for service program now, (about $30 Euros/week) but in 2013 it will also be complimentary…and it should be. I found the internet to be very frustrating. It’s satellite -based so connections are horrible through the river valleys and locks. It seemed you could never get connected and once you did it didn’t last. I told the ship staff that if I had to pay for internet…I wouldn’t have. It just wasn’t worth the aggravation in my opinion.

Onboard Dress:

Casual elegance for the most part. Several of us men wore sport jackets during the more dressy nights, like the GALA dinner and in Portobello’s Restaurant. Most men wore collared shirts or polo’s and women wore dresses or pant suits.

Overall the dress code was not something to worry much about. As long as you look presentable, everything is fine. Yes, people were wearing jeans in the dining room. Women may need a shawl or sweater for the dining rooms or lounge as the air conditioning can be quite chilly inside.

Weather:

We had cold, rainy weather. Dressing in layers works very well on a river cruise. As the day heats up you can strip layers or the opposite if the temperatures drop. Rain was a big factor, so a raincoat was perfect as it also offered protection from water and wind. Scenic provides each stateroom with a large umbrella to use on excursions as well. These are great  for taking pictures when its raining so your camera doesn’t get wet.

Next Up:

The next sections (part 5) of this review will cover our Shore Excursions and tours followed by the naming ceremony and some other thoughts and tips. Stay tuned!

www.RiverCruiseGuru.com

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Amsterdam: The Netherlands

Amsterdam, April 2012

Part Two of our Scenic Crystal River Cruise Review.

By Pete Larson, owner of Jolly Mon Vacations and River Cruise Guru

____________________________________________

Today we are in the city center Amsterdam. We took an overnight flight into Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport last night. our flight took us directly over Ireland and England into The Netherlands. Although this area isn’t really known for beaches, they looked pretty nice and people were enjoying them.

When we arrived at the airport, we proceeded through Passport Control and picked up our luggage. We bought train tickets from a kiosk and proceeded down to the platform. The train is only about 4 Euros each from airport to Amsterdam Centraal Station. It can be a little confusing, but it’s the cheapest and fastest route into Amsterdam. No worries, there is plenty of room on the train to bring your suitcases. You will have to be able to lift them up and down some stairs, however.

Train Ticket Kiosk Screen: 

Amsterdam Centraal Station:

This is located right near the cruise ship piers. Depending on where your ship is docked, it can be a short or long walk. Port of Amsterdam is located nearby and would be off to the right of the picture below.

Upon arrival at Centraal, we headed towards The Damrak on foot. With suitcases in tow, we walked to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza City Centre which was about two blocks away. A word of advice:  in Amsterdam, pedestrians can be easily run down by bicycles, cars, buses, trams and trains. Look both ways before you step into any roadway to include the bike lanes.

File:Дамрак.JPG

     The Damrak:  Street where you enter Amsterdam from Centraal Station

The Diary of Anne Frank is an incredible story of human sacrifice and suffering in the hands of the Nazi’s. Today, we paid our respects and visited the Anne Frank Huis and Museum. This is a very moving experience. You get to see all the rooms of the home where they hid in the secret annex to prevent being sent to the death camps. Long lines stretched around the block and my best tip would be to buy tickets ONLINE before you go. You will be assigned a certain date and time to be there and you can walk right in past the lines! This is a DON’T MISS attraction in Amsterdam.

                                    The Secret Annex:  Anne Frank Huis

Amsterdam is a really fun and exciting city. You can walk pretty much anywhere and take in the scenery and city life. Canals abound and the architecture is beautiful. Communication is really not a problem as most everyone speaks English as well. Great restaurants and bars dot the downtown area as do the famous ‘coffee shops.’

Tip:  If you want a cup of coffee (Koffee), DO NOT look for it at a coffee shop. These are places where they sell and smoke marijuana. If you want coffee, head to a cafe. The regular coffee is quite strong and has a foamy layer on top.

Tip:  The clocks in Europe are based on the 24 hour clock. (aka: military time)

Tip:  Check out the canal areas at night. The lights give off an incredible night-time ambiance.

The famous Red Light District is a favorite for many tourists. It is quite different to experience other cultures like this. Scantily clad prostitutes are sitting in the windows luring in men. This is legal and regulated by the government. You will also find ‘live sex shows’ and sex toy shops in this area.

The Red Light District of Amsterdam

Stay tuned for the next part of this River Cruise Review!

Scenic Crystal 2012.

For more information or to get free assistance with your river cruise contact Pete below:

Pete Larson

www.JollyMonVacations.com

www.RiverCruiseGuru.com

218-779-3050

pete@jollymonvacations.com

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River Cruising: After booking comes the docs

Once your River Cruise Specialist has helped you choose your itinerary, finds a cruise line and ship that fits your style, books your hotels, transfers, air, insurance and everything is paid and in order…the waiting game begins. Watching that clock tick until that sail date FINALLY comes.

About two to three weeks prior to your cruise, most river cruise lines will send out your documents. In the cruising world, you’ll hear them simply referred to as….DOCS. What they are is mostly boarding documentation, ship information, itinerary, medical forms and other general information about where to go once you arrive in the port city. Depending on the cruise line, your document package could contain many different things.

Our documents have arrived from Scenic Cruises, a branch of Scenic Tours, which bills itself as a 5-Star Luxury All-inclusive river cruise line. Here is a picture of what Scenic Cruises delivered to us with our documents:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Two Scenic Tours backpacks with multiple compartments which will be great for excursions and tours.

-Two drawstring laundry bags for keeping the dirty clothes separtated.

-Zippered portfolio containing the docs, luggage tags, itinerary and medical forms.

-A handy full-colored guide book containing information on all the river areas our cruise will cover.

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are the docs you can expect for any basic river cruise. Read over them very carefully and follow the instructions contained in them.

Next up….

Packing:  If you’ve never packed for a cruise before, your travel agent can be your best friend. They know what you will need, what is not allowed, how to pack everything and what type of luggage restrictions you may face with air and cruise lines.

When traveling to foreign countries, there are things to think about like:

-What type of documentation, visas or passports will be required.

-Electrical differences: ensuring you have the right adapters and converters to power up and charge your devices.

-Currency differences: ensuring you know where to get local currency, how to get it and what to tell your bank before you leave.

-Where can I purchase additional tours or hotels for pre-cruise stays so you can explore.

-How to get the best airfare and insurance to cover all our expenses and medical.

-Are you traveling to a safe area and what you should do if trouble arises.

All this and much more can be found out from your travel agent and river cruise specialist! River Cruise Guru is a certified River Cruise Specialist. Our job is to assist you from start to finish, get you the best price and value possible and ensure your trip is a flawless as it can be…all for NO EXTRA FEES! That’s right…you won’t pay a dime extra for our expert services. Expert service for free…you can’t beat that deal!

Call or click today:

pete@rivercruiseguru.com

Call or text:  218-779-3050

www.RiverCruiseGuru.com

www.facebook.com/rivercruiseguru

Jolly Mon Vacations and River Cruise Guru

Pete Larson, President

www.RiverCruiseGuru.com

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60 Second Geography: Cancun and the Riviera Maya

60-Second Geography

Cancun and the  Riviera Maya

Cancun and the Riviera Maya have become a second home for North American travelers looking for great beaches, lots of sun and exciting nightlife. Mayan ruins sit next door to world-class accommodations and tourism facilities, with water sports and natural attractions close at hand. Only a couple of hours from   many United States cities, Cancun is one of the most accessible international   destinations available.
  • The Yucatán coast has been a staple of travelers from the United States for forty years or more. The rapid development in and around Cancun became a model for the best and the worst in the ways in which tourism could enrich a population. This area was largely isolated from the rest of Mexico until the Mexican government selected the region for development.
  • The Yucatán’s Caribbean coast is more than 236 miles and stretches from Cancún in the north all the way to Chetumal, on the border with the nation of Belize.
  • The northern half of the Yucatán’s coast is known as the “Maya Riviera “; to the south, the “Costa Maya.” Between the two is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
  • South of Cancun development along the Riviera Maya is on a smaller scale, with a greater understanding for the principles of sustainable tourism and a respect for native cultures.
  • The second longest reef system in the world runs much of the length of the coast. Playa del Carmen, Xpu-Ha, Tulum and the other magnificent beaches occur where there are gaps in the reef and the tidal action of the ocean’s waves pounds the reef into fine sand.
  • The reef provides great snorkeling and diving and the beaches are some of the world’s finest.
  • Ancient Mayan ruins dot the coast and are easily accessible from the resort communities along the coast.
  • Inland, vast caves are present and under ground rivers run where travelers can explore with experienced guides.
  • The choice of accommodations is large and varied from cabins to all inclusive resorts or boutique hotels.
  • The ancient Mayan cities of Uxmal and Chichen Itza remain some of the best examples of the mysterious cultures, the vestages of which exist to this day in the native populations.
Contact:  Jolly Mon Vacations to assist with booking your Mexico vacation!Your NO FEE source of expert advice and

great prices!

www.JollyMonVacations.com

www.facebook.com/jollymonvacations

Email:  pete@jollymonvacations.com

www.RiverCruiseGuru.com

© Copyright 2011 Travmarket. LLC.

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Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours Wins Six Star Diamond Award

Island Routes is a major supplier of shore excursions in the islands. They can be pre-booked prior to your vacation to simplify the process, and give you more time to have fun!

Island Routes Caribbean Adventure Tours received its second straight International Six Star Diamond Award from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences (AAHS), which rewards excellence in the global travel and luxury services industries.

“We are the first and only adventure tour company to ever be honored with this prestigious award, and it is a tribute to our Island Routes team to continue to garner recognition from our distinguished industry colleagues,” said David L. Shields, general manager. “We are dedicated to delivering exceptional customer service standards and guarantees, and we strive to showcase each of our destinations with diverse tours that have high appeal for the experiential traveler. It is gratifying to know that these efforts resonate with our travel partners.”

Island Routes offers more than 200 tours in Jamaica, St. Lucia, Antigua, Great Exuma, the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos. Tours include kayaking expeditions and river explorations, catamaran rides, swimming with sharks, zip-line tours, and ATV, Segway, horse and camel excursions. Island Routes tours are fully commissionable. For more information contact pete@jollymonvacations.com or 218-779-3050.

Jolly Mon Vacations is a full-service travel agency and travel adviser specializing in river cruising and the Caribbean.

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Christmas Market Cruise: A Holiday Celebration

If you love the Christmas holidays, then get in the spirit with a Christmas Market river cruise!

Many old European towns – such as Salzburg, Strasbourg, Vienna and Nuremberg – host old-fashioned Christmas markets to celebrate the season.

 The European Christmas markets are a great way to get into the holiday spirit! The hand-made crafts, the food, the delicious smells, the lights – not even Ebeneezer Scrooge could deny the spirit of Christmas!

There are land tours that travel from one town to the next, visiting Christmas markets in each village or large city. Most will require travel by bus (comfortable, but sometimes cramped), and packing and unpacking your bag at another hotel almost every day. Forget it!

One of the best ways to enjoy the markets is on a Christmas Market river cruise. Virtually all river cruise lines offer Holiday Market cruises and each cruise visits at least 4 or 5 towns (if not more!).

And when you’re not shopping the markets or exploring the town, you’ll be relaxing on a comfortable river cruise ship, watching the world go by as you sip hot chocolate in the lounge or your cabin – much better than the seat of a bus!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB5lzvW1yGQ]

Since towns and villages have always been located on a river or other waterway, the river cruise ships can take you right to the heart of town. You get off the ship, and start exploring! No need to travel from a hotel on the outskirts to the heart of the city; no need to pack and unpack every day, either – your “hotel” travels with you, so there’s more time for enjoying the sights.

And there are many rivers in Europe, and many areas to explore.

A Danube River Cruise will take you to Nuremberg, Germany and Vienna, Austria and possibly Prague or Budapest. This is the most common route, and is offered by Viking, Uniworld, Avalon , and AMA Waterways.

A Rhine River Cruise takes you to Cologne and Heidelberg, Germany or even  Strasbourg, France and is available from most cruise lines. Enjoy Christmas in Germany with gingerbread and hot, spiced wine (glühwein).

The sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the spirit of Christmas. This is the land where Christmas celebrations began. Contact your River Cruise Specialist today! pete@rivercruiseguru.com

Jolly Mon Vacations

Pete is a certified ‘River Cruise Specialist’ with River Cruise Guru and Owner/operator of Jolly Mon Vacations. He will ensure your planning goes smoothly, your booking is perfect, your price is the best value, and you have the vacation of your dreams!

Your Christmas experience awaits! Call today! Pete:  218-779-3050

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Jamaica Resort Review: Part II

Hello from beautiful Montego Bay,  Jamaica!

It is early in the morning here, and the sunrise was absolutely breathtaking.  It is another picture perfect day here in paradise.  The air is filled with the smell of flowers and that crisp fresh ocean air.  It is just beautiful here!  Sail boats, sun, surf, fantastic food, fresh fruit…. what’s not to like! 

Montego Bay has it all. Beautifully warm weather, turquoise Caribbean waters, white sand beaches, swaying palm trees, and a culture of its own.

We were toured resorts such as Legends, Half Moon Resort in Rose Hall, Sandals Montego Bay, RIU, Holiday Inn Sunspree, Sandals Royal Caribbean, Couples Swept Away, Charela Inn, Secrets Wild Orchid & Secrets St. James, Grand Paladium Lady Hamilton, Grand Paladium Jamaica, & Rockhouse Negril.

All the resorts had their own character, charm, and unique facilities. From romantic hideaways to expansive sandy beaches…these resorts had it all. In time I will post some reviews and pictures for you to see.

We stayed at Half Moon Resort in Rose Hall, Jamaica where we roomed in on of the exclusive Villas. The Villas are gated off from the rest of the property for seclusion. Each Villa had 7 bedrooms with common areas to dine, sit, and even had its own swimming pool. These Villas rent starting at $1,700 per night and are perfect for families and groups that want to share the experience together. There are plenty of other room options at Half Moon as well.

The Villa at Half Moon Resort

We had our own housekeeper, personal chef, and a butler.

 The staff was great. The butler would do whatever we asked him to. They even did our laundry so we could depart with clean clothes!

We also had our own golf cart and free wireless internet. This property is HUGE, and has several beaches, room types, a dolphin cove, an equestrian center, SPA, shopping center, golf  course and everything in between.

While the property is not all-inclusive…we were provided with daily breakfast in our Villa, and we dined in the resort and area restaurants which were very good.  We dined at Pier One in Montego Bay, which is a great setting for dinner at the end of a pier in the bay. The best sunset over Montego Bay!

Inside our Villa at Half Moon

The common areas of the Villa are not air-conditioned, but they are very open and large. There are balconies on each side of the upper floor.

At least one staff member  is on-site around the clock.

We awoke each morning to the smell of fresh muffins baking in the kitchen. Breakfast was served in the dining room and by the pool. Fresh juices, native fruits such as sun-ripened bananas, mangos, papayas, watermelon and pineapple were a staple. Eggs, pancakes, French toast, sausage, bacon, toast, yogurt, muffins and a host of other things to choose from. Fresh Jamaican high mountain coffee was also served. More to come!

For more information on Jamaica, or Half Moon Resort contact:  pete@jollymonvacations.com

Call or Text:  218-779-3050

Half Moon Views

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Jamaica Resort Review

Jolly is in Jamaica Mon!

I was invited by The Jamaica Tourist Board to come down to Jamaica and see the country and it’s resorts and beaches for myself. This way I can better place clients at the right resort. You’ve got to get to know the product, and this is a great way…to see and experience it for myself.

I flew into Sangster Airport in Montego Bay this afternoon. Landing here was incredible. The plane flies in low over the ocean, and just when it looks as if you are going to touch down in the ocean…there’s the runway. WOW! That view of the turquoise colored Caribbean waters! We even spotted a giant sea turtle from the plane as we descended.

After processing through Customs and Immigration, we met up with resort reps. I am staying at the beautiful Half Moon Resort, Rose Hall, Jamaica. We were taken by bus right to the property. The resort is HUGE! Over 400 acres in all. http://www.halfmoon.com/

About 38 other travel agents are staying here, and we are in The Villas. They are multiple bedroom villas that share a common area. It comes complete with it’s own pool, golf cart, butler, chef, and maid. They cook your meals right in your villa. It’s very open and airy. The bedrooms are air conditioned but the common areas are not…making it quite sticky this time of year.

We had a late lunch at The Pub, which consisted of Smoked Marlin Salad, Jerk BBQ Breast of Chicken served with a garlic and scallion mash and fresh vegys. It was topped off with their award winning Pina Colada Cake and homemade ice cream. (and Jamaica has some great ice cream!) Needless to say, I washed it all back with a Red Stripe Beer on draught. Delicious.

We unpacked, and headed to a Cocktail party for the agents. Free cocktails, canapes, and live music sponsored by the JTB. After this, we went to the Beach BBQ Party. A festive line up of Jamaica specialties like Curried Goat, Suckling roasted pig, garlic steamed crab legs, mahi mahi, jerk chicken, bbq ribs, mussels, and a whole lot of other stuff. An awesome display of tasty food to enjoy on the beach. We ate on linen lined picnic tables by candlelight with the stars shining over our heads. The steel drum band was knocking out some Jimmy Buffett tunes, and the waves were lapping the shore behind us. The perfect setting.

There were also quite a few stage shows to watch there, everything from reggae music, limbo dancers, and fire dancers. It was a great time.

I’m back in our Villa, ready for a new day tomorrow. Frogs are croaking, the pool is lit up, and I’m ready for bed. I’ve been awake for 20 hours and I need some shut eye! Stay tuned for part II.

www.jollymonvacations.com

Find out more about Jamaica or Half Moon Resort from:  pete@jollymonvacations.com

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Top 10 Family Vacation Destinations

Looking for a great place to take the family?

Here are some suggestions from AAA on the Top 10 USA family-friendly hotspots:

Crowne Plaza at Historic Union Station, Indianapolis

A former railroad, the Crowne Plaza at Historic Union Station is located in downtown Indianapolis. Stay in one of the 26 rooms converted from a Pullman Train car. In town, take your kids to White River State Park, the Indianapolis Zoo and the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.

Visit www.indianapolis.com/crowne-plaza.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, Lake Buena Vista, Florida

From the balcony rooms, get an around-the-clock view of animals in the savannahs in the 43-acre wildlife preserve. African architecture decorates the lodge, and interactive exhibits and kids’ programs are catered to younger guests.

 

 

Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center on Lake Grapevine, Grapevine, Texas

Through Labor Day, you can attend the sixth annual SummerFest featuring four and a half acres of indoor gardens transformed into Alice’s Wonderland Adventure. Wander through Wonderland through the giant art, and meet Alice, The Queen of Hearts and The Hatter. Extras include pool parties, family dine-in movies, dessert dine-arounds, fireworks and Sunday tea.

www.gaylordhotels.com/gaylord-texan.

Great Wolf Lodge, Sandusky, Ohio

Dive into the water at Fort Mackenzie, a four-story, interactive water fort at the indoor water park. Every evening at 8:15, kids can go to the lobby Clock Tower in pajamas and slippers for story time, while older kids can visit the Northern Lights Arcade.

Visit www.greatwolf.com/sandusky/waterpark.

Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina, Cambridge, Maryland

On the Eastern Shore, the resort includes its 18-hole championship golf course and a spa where you can get a massage. Kids can visit Camp Hyatt and watch poolside movies, and the whole family can play miniature golf and beach volleyball and meander through the hotel’s 18-acre Blue Heron Rookery nature preserve.

Visit http://chesapeakebay.hyatt.com.

Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa, Bernalillo, New Mexico

Adorned in Southwestern decor, featuring Native American artwork, the resort has multiple swimming pools for children, as well as walking trails, horseback riding and a camp program. Take the Rail Runner train in nearby Bernalillo, and check out the New Mexico History Museum  in Santa Fe and the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.

Visit www.tamaya.hyatt.com.

Lost Valley Ranch, Deckers, Colorado

Families are welcomed with Western-themed cabin in Deckers, Colorado. Ranch counselors host programs and activities for kids from infants to teens and adults, including horseback riding, hiking, swimming, tubing, fishing and rafting.

Visit www.lostvalleyranch.com.

Moody Garden Hotel, Spa and Convention Center, Galveston, Texas

The resort in Galveston, Texas, offers a variety of activities, including an aquarium, rainforest, golf course, swimming pool, beach, an IMAX theater and 4-D theater. During the summer weekends, kids can try their hands at arts and crafts and go on scavenger hunts and pool coin dives. Then, they can visit the bounce house, go kite flying and karaoking, and participate in clown face painting and Wii competitions.

Visit www.moodygardenshotel.com.

Nickelodeon Suites Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Florida

At Nickelodeon Suites Resorts in Florida, kids activities include water parks, interactive pools, poolside shows, a kid’s spa and slime. Also, kids can take advantage of the resort’s games, character breakfast and nightly Nickelodeon shows.

Visit www.nickhotel.com.

Wequassett Resort and Golf Club, East Harwich, Massachusetts

Kids can an outdoors experience at this resort’s  pirate-themed interactive water playground with treasure chests, fountains and a pirate ship with slides and swimming ropes. Afterwards, they can go to the outdoor amphitheater, visit the high-tech children’s center that has a 135-inch HD screen for Wii, PlayStation and Xbox 360 gaming. Resort activities include dive-in-movies, teen gaming nights and lessons in swimming, sailing and tennis.

Visit www.wequassett.com.

Contact:  pete@jollymonvacations.com for more information or booking these great destinations!

Pete Larson:  218-779-3050

www.jollymonvacations.com

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Living Like Jimmy Buffett

Summer is here, so Jolly Mon Vacations and friends headed down to Alpine Valley, WI for his outdoor show. Alpine Valley is known by Jimmy’s fans or “Parrotheads” as one of the best tailgating venues on the circuit. This year, we brought a giant mobile Tiki Bar along with us! We set up the Tiki Bar in the parking lot, and people stopped in for free drinks, jello shots, beads, and t-shirts. We had fun meeting people from all over. Bikini tops and grass skirts were the order of the day, and “Parrothead Madness” ensued the entire area.

From giant shark fins atop trucks, to full blown Tiki Bars with sand and palm trees. Everyone dresses the part, or dresses the entire area where they perch. Wild and crazy games, dancing and music at every turn. NOTHING compares in comaraderie, friendliness, or wacky behavior when it comes to Buffett tailgating!

Jimmy’s band, The Coral Reefer Band was even in the parking lot signing autographs in the hot Wisconsin sun. It was a great day to celebrate Summer, hear some great music and have fun together.

As Jimmy would say, “The Tiki Bar is open!”

Tiki 2010