Westin Resort and Spa Whistler – Hotel Review

The Westin Resort and Spa Whistler is a beautiful, family friendly hotel in Whistler, Canada. It was even named one of the Best Resorts in Canada by Conde Nast Traveler in 2019. It’s located slope side on Whistler Mountain (Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort) which is so convenient for both Summer and Winter activities.

I personally have been staying at this hotel for quite a few years now and the two features that this hotel has that I absolutely love is a full kitchenette and fireplace in every room. So if you’re a family looking for a great hotel for your next Whistler vacation, I highly suggest looking into the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler.

Hotel Rooms:

The hotel rooms at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler are really well furnished and rooms were fully renovated within the last year to two years. Every room features a full kitchenette with stainless steel Whirlpool appliances. Yes, a fridge with a freezer, oven, microwave, stovetop and dishwasher in every hotel room. Some rooms even have in-suite laundry (or laundry facilities can be found on every floor).

Rooms have very comfortable Westin branded “Heavenly Beds”, either a queen or king size bed or two queens (depending on room booked), fireplace, Westin bath amenities, coffee and tea making in the kitchenette (coffee machine (with Starbucks coffee) and hot water kettle with Tazo teas), robes and slippers and an in room safe. This hotel also has a smoke-free policy.

2 Queen Room at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler
2 Queen Room Bathroom at the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler
Kitchenettes in every hotel room at the Westin Whistler
1 Bedroom Suite at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler
1 Bedroom Suite – Sitting Room and Dining Area at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler

I love sitting in front of the fireplace with a cup of coffee or a glass or wine after a long hike or a day skiing on Whistler Blackcomb.

Some of the hotel rooms also feature a small balcony, which is perfect for morning coffee and enjoying the fresh mountain air.

Dining:

The Westin Resort and Spa Whistler has some great dining choices on-property and especially near by, as it’s located in the heart of Whistler Village.

Grill & Vine:

A great option for breakfast in the morning. Typically they offer a buffet style breakfast, however due to Covid-19 they are currently only offering an a la carte menu at the time of this travel guide being released. Dinner here is casual and very focused on west coast cuisine. Some of my personal favourites are the Beef Tenderloin and the Wild Mushroom Ravioli, highly recommend. Unfortunately due to Covid-19, Grill & Vine at this time is temporarily closed for dinner service.

FireRock Lounge:

FireRock typically has awesome daily drink specials. One of my favs here are the Avocado Fries served with a sriracha mayo, so delicious. In the summer they have a huge patio which gets the late afternoon/evening sun and in the winter the inside fireplace is a cozy place to enjoy apres ski.

The Grill & Vine Grab and Go:

It’s as it’s named, a grab & go with yogurts, cookies, muffins, sandwiches and other snacks. They also serve Starbucks Coffee (though not an official Starbucks). It’s great to grab something early in the morning or a few items for a packed lunch for your hike or bike ride. With Covid-19, they are offering a more limited menu here than normal as well.

Main Lobby of the Westin Resort and Spa

Amenities at The Westin Resort & Spa Whistler:

The amenities at this hotel are great and family friendly. Please note, amenities can change without notice, so it’s always good to check the Westin Whistler’s website for the most up to date information (however I do try to keep this as up to date as possible).

Pool Area at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler

Westin Workout (Gym) and Pools:

It offers a large indoor/outdoor heated pool and two hot tub/whirlpools (one is inside). Inside in the wellness centre, you’ll find a sauna and both change rooms (men and women) features its own eucalyptus steam room. The gym is also located in this area with really good quality cardio equipment, weights and also offers an area for stretching. Usually you will also find a water station inside the wellness centre as well, however due to Covid-19, I noticed this was removed for the time being. You can ask for a bottle of water and they will provide one to you at no charge. They also limited the amount of time and number of people using the wellness centre and pool areas, I go into a deeper explanation later in this guide.

Outdoor Pool Area of the Westin Whistler
Outdoor Pool and Hot Tub at the Westin Resort and Spa Whistler

Winter:

Located within walking distance of the Whistler Gondola on Whistler Mountain (Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort) and easy access to Excalibur Gondola (to Blackcomb Mountain), the Westin Resort & Spa Whistler offers an included Ski Valet service with your stay. If you are a family coming to Whistler to ski, the Westin Whistler is very convenient as Whistler Kids (Whistler Blackcomb’s Kids Club) runs some of the kids programs from one of the rooms in the Westin Whistler’s Convention Centre.

Summer:

Again, being so close to the Whistler Gondola and Fitzsimmons Express Chairlift, Westin Whistler’s accessibility to Whistler Blackcomb for downhill mountain biking, sightseeing and hiking is perfect.

Current Covid-19 Protocols:

There are a few new protocols in place due to Covid-19. This information is correct at time of posting this guide, however please be sure to adhere to the information on their website as this information can change. Also, please only travel if it’s still advised/safe to do so.

I did also stay after the Covid-19 protocols were in place, the following is based on my most recent experience. Once you arrive at the hotel, you are strongly encouraged to wear a mask upon entry to the hotel, if you don’t have one, the Valet at the door will provide you with one (masks are required in public places at time of posting of this guide) and you check in at the reception desks with full plexiglass barriers installed in the lobby.

Reception desks have full plexiglass barriers installed
Masks are required to be worn inside the Westin Whistler

Due to social distancing, they do have a restriction on the number of guests in the pool area, so there is a current allowance of one hour for the pool and a maximum of 25 guests. I did visit the hotel mid-week, so I was able to stay longer than the hour as they didn’t reach the 25 person limit. I was also able to use the wellness centre multiple time in the day without any issues (again, this might differ if you were to visit on a weekend, this was just my experience).

Elevators at the Whistler Westin have social distancing stickers on the floor and a very convenient hand sanitizing on the wall inside

Check in is at 4:00pm right now due to extra deep cleaning protocols between guests (they don’t have a resting time between guest stays as they use an electrostatic spray during cleaning), I was still able to check in at 11:00am and my room was ready (again, my stay was mid-week), which I was able to drop my luggage and get settled into my room. Also, even if you can’t check into your room, or if you need to check out (check out time currently is at 10:00am), you can still access the wellness centre and pool. They have great change rooms with lockers, so it makes it easy to relax and not need to rush.

In Conclusion:

I just wanted to end this hotel review by saying that this guide is just my honest review and opinion of a hotel that I frequently visit personally in Whistler, British Columbia and I always enjoy my stay. I’m a member of Marriott’s Bonvoy rewards program, so I do stay here a couple times per year to help with retaining my status. It’s definitely one of my top three favourite hotels in Whistler to stay at.

I hope you enjoyed this review, if you have any questions at all about the Whistler Westin please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Safe Travels!

Ariane

Train Wreck Trail – Whistler, Canada

One of my favourite walks in the Whistler area and free activities to do is the Train Wreck Trail. Many people call this the “Train Wreck Hike” but it’s really just an easy walk in. It’s also easy enough to push a stroller in if needed. It is a packed trail with a few mild inclines. The walk should take you between 10-20 minutes each way depending how fast you walk (with small children it takes about 20 minutes, we walked it with my 85 year old Grandmother in about that time frame). This takes you to the wreckage of a train crash which took place in 1956.

It’s a pretty cool place to visit as it’s a “authorized graffiti zone” by the Municipality of Whistler, you can check out and climb the abandoned train cars, make your own art if you so choose and enjoy the new suspension bridge over the Cheakamus River (which is beautiful and free!).

It is getting a lot busier, many people are now hearing about it, especially with more people this year sticking close to home. I remember visiting here a couple years ago for the first time and having it to myself for a good hour. If you are going in the summer, I would suggest going before 10:00am to avoid the crowds, however if you don’t mind a few people around you (especially if you’re checking it out by yourself), early afternoon is a good time too and you can still get a photo by yourself on the suspension bridge with a bit more patience than early morning.

How to Get There

From Vancouver, once you start to approach Whistler you’ll come to an area called Function Junction (the very first traffic light as you approach Whistler), you’ll turn off the Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99) to the right onto Cheakamus Lake Road. Follow the road across the river and it will be the first road on the right after the bridge (you’ll actually see a sign for Train Wreck Trail and the BMX Park). Keep following this road under the power lines and you’ll see the parking lot for the Train Wreck Trail along the left side of the road.

If you’re coming from Whistler, you’ll be turning left onto Cheakamus Lake Road and following the same steps.

Here is a google map for reference:

The Train Wreck Trail

As I mentioned before, it’s an easy trail and a great walk for the whole family. Once you’ve parked your car in the Train Wreck Parking Lot, head across the road where you’ll find the trailhead just past a logging/dirt road to the right.

Train Wreck Suspension Bridge

One of my favourite highlights of this walk it the beautiful suspension bridge right before the train wreck. There is a lovely bench to sit and relax and take in the views of the rushing Cheakamus River below.

Train Wreck

I love to visit train wreck in Whistler, British Columbia because it’s a unique art installation that changes pretty well each time I’ve visited. It’s a beautiful walk and I personally enjoy visiting quite early in the morning as I have the entire wreck to myself for a bit of time. It is walkable at anytime of the year, however in the winter snowshoes are recommended if there is a lot of snow (again, a fun activity with no cost!).

Remember to pack out whatever you brought in with you! There are no garbage cans available, so please be responsible when using any of our beautiful trails in British Columbia. Also, be bear aware, Whistler is obviously a community surrounded by beautiful mountains and lush forests and we do share these forests with other animals. I personally have not seen a bear on the trail to train wreck, however it is bear country.

Happy travels and enjoy exploring Train Wreck! xoxo

Ariane

How Covid-19 Has Changed Travel Forever

So many of us who work in the travel industry could have never predicted what was going to happen this year. The Covid-19 pandemic really turned 2020 into a nightmare for anyone with travel plans, let alone anyone who runs, manages or works for a company in the travel industry.

Personally, I had four large trips in 2020 cancelled and a couple even in 2021 that I’ve had to postpone, along with numerous trips that my clients obviously have had to postpone/cancel as well.

That being said, having some extra time off of my day job has given me time to re-evaluate my short term and long term goals, focus on the other part of my business that I love, being creative and creating new content. I’ve taken some “continuing education” courses, attended some great “virtual conferences” for content creators and started working on launching a travel YouTube channel (more on this coming very soon!). So for me this pandemic was a blessing in disguise so I could focus on really launching this content creation side of my Wanderlust Journey business and still have a steady income. But back to the topic at hand…

In my opinion as a travel professional, Covid-19 has changed the travel industry forever, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I released a two-part podcast episode on this topic, but figured I’d also write this blog post as things have progressed even since those episodes were released.

The Travel Industry Will Bounce Back

The travel industry overall is resilient. We’ve seen the downturn from September 11th (which saw many airlines go bankrupt shortly afterwards), the recession of 2008 and other global events which have impacted travel. That being said, the travel industry was definitely hit the hardest it’s ever been by the Covid-19 pandemic. This is the first time we’ve seen any company related to travel (airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tours, etc) have to shut down temporarily for such an extended period of time.

Yes, there are always ebbs and flows when it comes to the travel industry. Travel is a luxury item for many households, so in an economic downturn it’s not surprising that the travel industry takes a tumble. Many people are still either off work, unemployed or have just recently returned to work, and are now trying to get caught up financially.

However, with Covid-19, people and families were stuck inside and in many countries were forced to quarantine themselves to help “flatten the curve”. Because of this, people are looking forward to getting out and exploring once again. People also value their vacation time, whether that’s reconnecting with family members or recharging after a stressful year. With my own clients, in the past couple years I’ve been seeing the trend of clients wanting a more “experiential” vacation over just going to a location for a mindless holiday. People are more interested in making memories over collecting things. Most people only have two weeks vacation per year, so they want to make the most of it. These trends alone really led to the travel industry making a comeback in the upcoming months.

Domestic travel (either within your own country or in a cluster, if say you live in Europe), has re-opened again in recent weeks. The numbers are positive so far with people booking local trips and looking to re-book vacations that were cancelled this year and move them to 2021 and/or 2022. If everything stays on the upward market trend and there is no resurgence of Covid-19, International travel in my opinion will “cautiously” start up again this Fall. That being said, most travel related businesses have obviously suffered severely this year. In the Northern Hemisphere (North America, Europe, etc), our “Summer season” from May to September has been a write off essentially to any hope of re-opening to International travellers. So I do encourage you to “be a tourist in your own town/region”. Support businesses locally to you who normally rely on tourism. This how we can all support our local tourism businesses so they can bounce back to welcome the world next year and for years to come.

Cruise Lines Have to Make Conscious Changes

The cruising industry (other than airlines) was the hardest hit. Thousands of sailings cancelled, not to mention the bad press that came from a couple sailings when Covid-19 emerged on the global scene. It’s shaken the confidence of even the most avid cruiser. That being said, the cruise industry as a whole has taken steps to win back the trust of the consumer, but it needs to stay that way long after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Personally, I think cruising now is probably the safest it ever has been in cruising’s history. Cleaning will be more frequent in public spaces, more a deep clean during cabin turnarounds between guests, forced hand washing/sanitising when entering dining rooms (some cruise lines already were doing a great job at this), newer and updated air filtration systems, enhanced screenings at check in and reducing guest capacity on ships are just some of the ways cruise lines are making changes for the good.

Most cruise lines have introduced “Peace of Mind” policies , which allow people to cancel 48 hours prior to sailing, if for some reason you don’t feel comfortable sailing or if you’re ill (each cruise line is different, check each cruise lines terms and conditions carefully). This actually brings me to my next point:

You Won’t Be Allowed to Travel Going Forward If You’re Sick

For the foreseeable future anyways. Again, personally, I’m all for this. With most airlines also promising “safe flying protocols”, which include upgraded air filtration systems and more disinfection between flights in airplane cabins, planes should be less “germy” than they’ve been in the past.

If you show up for your flight and you’re sick, you can pretty well guarantee that you will be denied boarding. That goes beyond boarding a flight though. You can be denied boarding your cruise ship, joining your group tour and even checking into a hotel. The travel industry is not taking anymore chances right now when it comes to further losses, especially bad press. This is also where you need to make sure that you have sufficient travel insurance going forward, if you can’t board a plane or your cruise ship, you need to make sure you’re covered to get all your money back for your vacation.

Flight and Vacation Prices: Going Up or Down After Covid-19?

To begin with, there will be some very attractive offers to get consumers travelling again. I’ve seen crazy deals already on flights and cruises. I’ve booked hotels in Whistler for unheard of rates in past years. That won’t last for long unfortunately.

There are also travel sectors that will be in higher demand than before. This means you won’t be able to score a business class ticket for a fraction of what they once were. Yes, it is true that businesses have proven more meetings can now be held online and over video conferences, plus not to mention that larger corporations have suffered financially during this time and have cut travel budgets. But the fact remains that having your own “pod” in the business class cabin gives you more space for “social distancing”, which will be in high demand now, post-pandemic more than ever.

Costs of extra staff, time of turnover to clean and cleaning materials will eventually be “included” into the base fares you pay. This will mean that costs of flights, hotel rooms, cruises will go up, especially if they are not allowed to run at full capacity.

We are also going to see consumers make more of a conscious buying decision when it comes to flexibility. I think now gone are the days where most people will buy a 100% non refundable fare, hotel or package without thinking twice. People will pay more to have something refundable as a built in insurance so to speak. For example, hotels and airlines offer the best deals and rates as non refundable fares, but now I think we will see people opt for the refundable, more expensive priced options.

Consumers will also think twice about declining travel insurance. As a travel agent, I will say that travel insurance has been a huge help for my clients who have had trips cancel on them or they’ve had to cancel their trips due to Covid-19. Some suppliers were able to help limit losses by allowing my clients to re-book trips or offer attractive “future travel credits”.

Future Travel Credits Over Refunds

Okay, I’m going to say it. I’m all for travel companies issuing future travel credits over refunds.

Yes, it might be annoying to not have your “cash back”. But think of it this way. Most cruise lines were offering 110% to 140% future cruise credits (in addition to other perks) to clients who’s sailings were cancelled. Ummm, you can’t get that return at any bank for that investment.

83% of people who were asked in a recent poll actually said they would be re-booking the exact same trip they were forced to cancel in the next year, so why not take advantage of the perks that come along with the future travel credits being offered?

If you really didn’t want a future travel credit and want a refund, I hope you purchased travel insurance. Travel agents have always touted the benefits of travel insurance, this is one of the reasons why. Most travel insurers (this does depend on the insurer and policy purchased) are paying out claims where clients where just offered a future travel credit. Yes, there are some instances where you don’t know if you can travel again, or if the trip will even happen in the near future so a refund is preferred (believe me I get it, my trip to the British F1 Grand Prix was cancelled this year and not sure if that trip will be in my books again for a few years to come). Life happens, but that’s why you need insurance. You probably have car insurance, house insurance, etc so you should have travel insurance to protect the investment of your vacation costs.

That being said, I think consumers are actually now going to be making different buying decisions when it comes to all aspects of travel, especially with group travel.

Small Group Travel vs Larger Tours

I believe companies who offer small group tours and adventures are going to be in higher demand going forward. With most tour passenger counts with small group tour companies at a maximum capacity of between 12 and 18 people (again depending on the company and tour offered), this is going to give travellers the confidence they can socially distance themselves and still see a destination more intimately.

Small groups also lend better to those who want to make sure they can socially distance and have their own room option. If you think about it logistically, it makes more sense for a smaller group to take over local accommodations socially distanced than a larger group.

I’m a huge advocate of small group tours and have done a few myself, the lure of being in a group where you can truly see and experience a culture, place, etc without sometimes seeing other tourists is amazing! Smaller groups can really help you experience the true soul of a place, without being herded around like cattle and following a flag in a crowd. As I mentioned earlier, I think people are craving more experiential travel nowadays, where food and culture collide.

If the Second Wave Hits, Will Everything Just Shut Down Again?

The honest answer is that we don’t know and that it depends. If the travel industry has taken anything to heart (and the world in general), it’s that we can’t afford a total shut down again.

We need businesses to start opening again and stay open. This helps all of our economies and will make sure that we can start to get back to a new normal. Hopefully, with all the safety measures in place, we’ll be able to continue on with life, and if you are sick, please take heeded advice to stay at home.

Why Using a Travel Agent or Advisor Is Smart

Especially after the pandemic, travel agents are in the know of each travel provider’s policies and can help our clients navigate which vacation option is best for them. When you book your trips and vacations online yourself, your computer isn’t going to give you first hand knowledge of the area that hotel is located in that you just booked, local restaurant recommendations or even which sights are a must do. Your computer also doesn’t care if you need to cancel a couple days prior to departure because you’re sick or double check to make sure you have the correct (and sufficient) travel insurance to cover you. Booking with a human normally doesn’t cost more than booking with your computer, you’re just going to get better service and a customized experience. Plus, you’re helping support financially an actual person, not necessarily a massive corporation.

I am a travel agent and advisor who specializes in luxury travel and cruises and I love to help people plan and book amazing vacations. If you would like to work with me as your travel agent in the near future, please contact me and I can put you on my “client waitlist”.

Covid-19 Has Changed Travel Forever and That’s Okay

Being in the travel industry for over 8 years has taught me one thing (okay and life in general), change is good. It’s painful in the beginning, but it can be for the good. With all these new cleaning and social distancing procedures in place for airlines, airports, cruise ships, tour groups and hotels, we will see a healthier travelling environment overall. We need to make sure though that companies stay on top of these procedures and keep them going forward, not just until we think Covid-19 is over.

Looking forward to travelling again soon,

Ariane

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My Travel Guide to the Amalfi Coast, Italy

It’s no secret that Italy is one of my favourite destinations as I’ve got family connections to this country as well. I’ve been to the Amalfi Coast a couple times, and it’s a place I can see myself coming back to again and again, year after year. The Amalfi Coast is a place that I would love to eventually buy a property. The lemon groves amongst the terraced, villa lined mountainsides, to the bright and vibrant ceramics, to shimmering blues and aquas of the Mediterranean (actually the Tyrrhenian) Sea along the shorelines, it’s no wonder people flock here in droves. It’s honestly one of the most stunning coastlines in the world. 

The Amalfi Coast is made up of thirteen different towns, along 40 kilometres of coast and is located in the Campania region of Italy. The drive is both terrifying and unbelievably scenic, however I would recommend if you’ve never visited the Amalfi Coast before, I would either hire a driver or take the ferry system (ferries from Salerno, Naples and the Island of Capri make trips several times per day). The Amalfi Coast can be visited for the day from Naples quite easily, making it a popular cruise ship shore excursion paired with Pompeii and Sorrento (whilst Sorrento is not technically part of the Amalfi Coast, I did include it in this guide). Be prepared to hike, yes, hike. Some hotels and villas are reachable by car or golf cart, however some places are only reachable by staircases or narrow, steep walkways, so make sure you are choosing a location that suits your lifestyle.

For my next trip that I plan to the Amalfi Coast, I would hop around to a few different hotels personally, stay at a couple different properties to really take in the more quieter evenings out. Staying in one spot and exploring from there makes things easier for sure, but there are some stunning properties on the Amalfi Coast, so why not experience a few of them whilst you’re here. Some hotels offer amazing beach clubs and have stunning restaurants.

From Positano, Amalfi and Ravello, there are also some lesser known gems along this route that provide amazing dining experiences and more reasonable hotel options, whilst still enjoying the captivating beauty of this stunning place such as Praiano, Scala, Atrani, Minori, Maiori, Cetara and Vietri sul Mare. Whilst I’m not going to go in depth to each of these villages, I will add some personal recommendations on some of them.

Positano

Positano is the quintessential postcard village for the Amalfi Coast, everyone wants to come here and the prices reflect that. Known for it’s stunning and romantic views, lemons, great food, buildings clinging precariously to the cliffs and beautiful ceramics, Positano is always a highlight to visit on the Amalfi Coast. The narrow walkways through the center of town to the beach is lined with local shops (some with imported goods, others with local designers and crafts). Positano is easy to get to by car, public bus system or by ferry. The pebble beaches in the summer can be extremely busy with beach clubs taking up most of the open beach space (beach clubs are setups that you would rent specific beach chairs and umbrellas, by the hour, half day or full day, prices can range between €10 to €30. They also sometimes have drink/food service).

Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Where to Stay in Positano

Le Sirenuse (luxury accommodations) – Part of the Leading Hotels of the World, Le Sirenuse opened in 1951 and has been a much loved boutique hotel by many celebrities and anyone who has the opportunity to experience a stay here.

Hotel Palazzo Murat (luxury accommodations) – Whilst there are no quintessential “Positano views” from this hotel, the location within the heart of the village is amazing. It’s garden oasis-like setting is by far a true gem and a relaxing environment. This hotel was a historic summer residence of a king and the architecture is stunning.

Hotel Palazzo Murat, Positano, Italy

Eden Roc Hotel (mid range/luxury accommodations) – This family run boutique hotel has gorgeous views and is a perfect size (25 rooms) for a romantic getaway.

Hotel Poseidon (mid range accommodations) – Another beautiful family run hotel with gorgeous views overlooking towards East. Rooms are simple, yet comfortable with warm and friendly service.

Villa Rosa (mid range accommodations) – A great budget friendly boutique hotel with stunning sea views. While this property doesn’t feature a pool, the rooms are clean and have a traditional Italian feel. Book a room with a terrace here for a fraction of the price then some of the other properties in Positano.

Overlooking Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Where to Eat in Positano

Food along the Amalfi Coast is some of the best you will have. Being so close to some of the freshest ingredients such as real buffalo mozzarella (made locally, fresh daily within fifty kilometres), lemons, seafood and of course pasta. You can also pickup a lemon gelato (served in a frozen lemon) and just enjoy wandering the town. I’ve tried a few restaurants here in the short time I visited, here are some of my favourites:

Ristorante Le Tre Sorelle – Right on the beach, you can’t beat the views or the menu. Giada De Laurentiis has said this is the best spot for seafood in Positano. I sat here with a glass of local pinot grigio, enjoyed the bistro like atmosphere and had an amazing pizza capricciosa and “rigatoni al ragu napoletano” (rigatoni with pork rib sausage and meatballs in tomato sauce).

Ristorante Le Tre Sorelle, Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Da Bruno – Try the eggplant parmesan (an Amalfi Coast locals favourite) here. Also has some amazing seafood dishes from what I’ve been told by others.

Buca di Bacco – Again, located right on the beach, you can beat the location. The arancini was amazing!

La Cambusa – Another restaurant that comes highly recommended by locals and has a great beach location. Had a caprese salad here with a glass of wine and it was refreshing and delicious.

Il Tridente – Part of the Hotel Poseidon, this terraced garden restaurant has amazing views. Menu looked incredible with many seafood dishes and also offers vegan and vegetarian options.

Casa e Bottega – This is a true hidden gem. Such a cute, trendy restaurant in a beautiful setting. The smoothies here are refreshing, along with the lighter fare menu.

Casa e Bottega, Positano, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Da Vincenzo – Had the most stunning dessert here! Family run, this place is known for it’s seafood, but I stopped in for dessert (if you know me, I don’t eat seafood really). The panzerotti starter was also amazing. It’s no wonder this place is listed in the Michelin restaurant guide. They also have a really cute housewares store on location, pick up some beautiful tableware here.

Next2 – This is located about a 10 minute drive outside of Positano, however it’s such a romantic spot to have dinner and again comes highly recommended by locals.

C’era Una Volta – A great secret in what can be an overpriced village, this restaurant serves up amazing pizzas, pastas (you need to try the gnocchi here) and salads with the freshest ingredients.

Gelato served in a lemon with Positano in the background.

Other Positano Tips and Tricks

Near Positano, you can visit the Grotta dello Smeraldo. This is similar to the “Blue Grotto” on Capri, but the secret is that there are WAY less tourists. The water here is also a lot more calmer, you your chances of entering the grotto is a lot higher.

Want a gorgeous view of Positano? The best views of this stunning village are from the water. There are plenty of companies that rent boats with a driver either hourly, half day or full day. There are many companies down by the beach that offer this service. What better way to spend sunset than with a bottle of Prosecco and Positano views.

Views of Positano, Italy from a boat

You can also book yourself at the Ristorante Da Adolfo. This restaurant and beach club near Positano offers a more secluded atmosphere away from the busy beach of Positano. The “Da Adolfo” boat, with the can’t miss red fish on a mast, shuttles you to their private beach for the day. Food is really good, try the grilled mozzarella on lemon leaves.

Amalfi

The town that this stunning coastline was named after. Amalfi was also the birthplace of one of my favourite comfort-food pasta dishes, cannelloni. Amalfi is definitely one of the more busier towns, with many tour buses lining the parking lots by the harbour by noon, so the best time to visit Amalfi in my opinion is first thing in the morning or later in the evening.

Amalfi, Italy

Where to Stay in Amalfi

Hotel Santa Caterina (luxury accommodations) – Located just outside of Amalfi, this hotel is one of the most luxurious you’ll find along the Amalfi Coast. The rooms are stunning, featuring beautiful hand painted tiles and amazing balconies and terraces with unobstructed views to the sea. This hotel also features a private beach club and the dining options are also stunning with a Michelin-starred restaurant “Glicine”, which translates to “Wisteria” has an amazing menu. Another hotel I will gladly book a couple nights to enjoy the amenities and the views from the room.

NH Collection Convento Amalfi (luxury accommodation) – This transformed 13th century monastery is located perched above Amalfi, with specatular views. The next time I come to the Amalfi Coast, this is another strong contender for me to stay here for a couple nights. The infinity pool and beautiful gardens overlook the sea and the stunning bay.

Amalfi, Italy

Where to Eat in Amalfi

La Caravella – The first Michelin Star restaurant in the South of Italy and today one of the first restaurants in all of Italy to receive three. The atmosphere and cuisine here is outstanding. You need to try one of their tasting menus, this is non-negotiable. I was lucky enough to have tried their lunch, four course tasting menu and will treasure that meal for years to come. One of the best meals I’ve ever had hands down. I can’t wait to come back to Amalfi to eat here again.

La Caravella, Amalfi, Italy

Restaurant Al Mare – This restaurant on a perched terrace near the sea is a gem. The comfortable vibe and stunning views of this restaurant at the Hotel Santa Caterina are a must visit. The food is really good as well.

Dei Cappuccini – Part of the NH Collection Convento Amalfi, this restaurant has stunning views and delicious food with some of the ingredients in the meals sourced directly from Amalfi’s markets and from the hotel’s private garden.

Pasticceria Savoia – Amazing gelato and other bakery items such as cakes and pastries. Try the Campania delight Sfogliatella, or one of the ricotta cheese and pear pastries, or a “lemon delight” which is a soft sponge cake soaked with limoncello.

Shopping in Amalfi

Amalfi is where I typically buy my Limoncello and where I’ve purchased a few ceramics in the past. There is a family run Limoncello maker in the main square of Amalfi, near the base of the church’s steps. It’s called Antichi Sapori d’Amalfi, they offer samples of their Limoncello and other liquors including Limoncello Creme (La Creme Di Limone), Melon and Pistachio. I’ve also purchased a couple ceramics from here, including an olive oil pourer which I’ve used in my kitchen for the past 3 years (since my first visit to Amalfi).

Antichi Sapori d’Amalfi, cute store in Amalfi to buy Limoncello and gifts

Ravello

Ravello is one of those places that if you don’t visit the right spots, you’ll miss the charm of this stunning village perched high on the mountain overlooking the Amalfi Coast. Again, Ravello is a great place to find deals on ceramics, and the town is so quaint and much less busier than Amalfi or Positano.

Ravello, Italy

Where to Stay in Ravello

Belmond Hotel Caruso (luxury accommodations) – Belmond Hotels are probably one of my favourite hotel brands. The locations of most of their properties are intimate and bespoke. The location of this property is no different. It has stunning sweeping views of the Amalfi Coast. The infinity pool and gardens make this setting feel like an oasis from the hustle and bustle in Amalfi down the mountain below.

Belmond Villa Margherita (luxury accommodations) – For those who want an upgraded experience, this is a private villa which has access to all the amenities of the Belmond Hotel Caruso, a few blocks away.

What to See in Ravello

Something that is a bit of a secret is the Campania Artecard. This amazing pass gives you access to 80 cultural sights across Naples and the Campania Region (including the Amalfi Coast). You can use the Campania Artecard to get admission into Villa Rufolo and Villa Cimbrone in Ravello. It’s well worth the investment.

Colourful ceramics in Ravello, Italy

Villa Rufolo – Built in the 13th century, Villa Rufolo is easy to get to from the main centre square of Ravello. It was extensively restored in the 19th century and the gardens were being restored last year (2019). Stunning to walk around and take in the amazing views from the terraces here.

Villa Cimbrone – Worth the walk, believe me. The gardens and views from this Villa are breathtaking. The “Terrazzo dell’infinito” or Terrace of Infinity, has the most stunning views you’ll find of the Amalfi Coast.

Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, Italy
“Terrazzo dell’infinito” or Terrace of Infinity, Villa Cimbrone, Ravello, Italy

Minori

I stayed in Minori for five nights the last time I was here on the Amalfi Coast. It was a great quiet village to explore the coast and neighbouring villages. Up above Minori is Ravello, and can be reached by about a 45 minute walk up the mountain through the terraced lemon groves. If you’re a Jamie Oliver fan, one of his good friends, who Jamie learned everything Italian from, chef Gennaro Contaldo is from Minori. I found Minori to be a perfect place to relax, enjoy the much quieter beach and have some amazing food. Prices are much more “local” and you won’t find too many tourists here, which is a welcomed change.

Using the ferry systems from here is a bit less hectic and you’ll be able to find a good seat on the ferries as it’s before the ferries get too crowded with passengers from Amalfi and Positano, onwards to Capri or Sorrento.

Minori, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Where to Stay in Minori

Minori Palace Hotel (mid range accommodations) – This is where I stayed for five nights during my “Enchanting Southern Italy” tour with Blue Roads this past September 2019. It was a comfortable hotel within a 5 minute walk from the beach and across the street from one of the most delicious pastry shops. Breakfast included every morning was adequate and great selection.

Hotel Santa Lucia (mid range accommodations) – Traditional hotel rooms very close to the beach, about a four minute walk. Clean and comfortable.

Where to Eat in Minori

Giardiniello – Had the most stunning meal here. If you’re in Minori (or visiting the Amalfi Coast), this restaurant is a must visit. We sat out on the terrace and had a wonderful group dinner here. I had the stuffed zucchini flowers to start, followed by homemade N’dunderi alla minorese, a large pillowy soft gnocchi they make here in Minori with tomato sauce and smoked mozzarella. Mama mia!

Giardiniello Restaurant, Minori, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Pasticceria Gambardella – The place to buy €1 calzones (fried, fresh made pizza pockets) to take to the beach or for a snack on the ferry and the most amazing desserts and pastries including rum babas and sfogliatellas.

Pasticceria Sal De Riso – Higher end desserts, really nice area to sit outside, have a coffee and watch local life in Minori.

What to Do in Minori

One of my favourite things to do in Minori (other than relax on the beach) was to take advantage of the “walk of the lemons” on Sentiero dei Limoni. It’s a beautiful hike through the alleyways, staircases then through the terraced lemon groves for some amazing sunrise views over Minori with Ravello perched high above.

“Walk of the Lemons” during sunrise over Minori, Amalfi Coast, Italy

Sorrento

As I mentioned earlier, Sorrento is not part of the Amalfi Coast, however many people visit Sorrento on their way to the Amalfi Coast or on their way to Naples from the Amalfi Coast, so that’s why I’m including it into this guide.

Sorrento to me is similar to the Amalfi Coast, lemons, cliffs and the sea. Known for seafood and more amazing pasta, Sorrento is a beautiful place to visit and spend a night or two.

Sorrento, Italy

Where to Stay in Sorrento

Hotel Bellevue Syrene (luxury accommodations) – Part of the Relais & Chateaux brand, this hotel offers stunning accommodation overlooking the Bay of Naples. They have some fantastic stay packages, some which include meals at their amazing restaurant.

Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria (luxury accommodations) – Part of the Leading Hotels of the World, this landmark hotel is one you can’t miss, if you’ve arrived to Sorrento by boat. Perched precariously on the clifftop, with views of Mount Vesuvius, this luxury property pays homage to it’s traditional roots, which rooms are elegantly traditional.

Where to Eat in Sorrento

O’Parrucchiano – Whilst Cannelloni was invented in Amalfi, this is who perfected it and serves it in their Sorrento restaurant to this day. This very elegant setting of a restaurant also features a beautiful garden conservatory to also dine in and also in a stunning lemon garden. I came here for an amazing “early dinner”, of course had the cannelloni and enjoyed eating out in the lemon garden.

L’Antica Trattoria – I had an amazing set menu lunch here. I was greeted on this hot, September afternoon with a welcome glass of prosecco. Followed by an amazing four course meal, which I struggled to finish. The atmosphere is beautiful, service was attentive and had a great experience here overall. I’d come back here in a heartbeat.

L’Antica Trattoria, Sorrento, Italy

I hope you found this travel guide to the Amalfi Coast helpful. As I visit the Amalfi Coast again and again over the years, I’ll keep this up to date with my favourite recommendations.

If you have any questions about the Amalfi Coast, or if you’re looking for help planning your next trip to Positano, Amalfi or Sorrento, I’d love to help. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a travel agent who specializes in luxury travel and I’m a proud travel agent member of Virtuoso. Click here to contact me on how we can work together.

Ciao and Safe Travels! xoxo

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel guide? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

Cruising 101: Getting the Most Out of Your Cruise Vacation

If you haven’t read my last blog post (or listened to my podcast episode) on planning your perfect cruise, I give some tips and insights on booking and selecting which cruise is best for you. In today’s blog, now that you’re all booked, I’m going to go through getting ready for your upcoming cruise, travelling on your cruise and some of my personal tips and tricks for getting the most out of your cruise vacation.

Checking in for your cruise

Usually once final payment is made you can do your cruise check in approximately 60-90 days prior to departure depending on the cruise line. If you work with a travel agent, this is a service that we can help our clients with, and what I typically do for my clients on their behalf. Check in is completed through the cruise line’s website. The information that needs to be provided to the cruise line is; your emergency contact details of someone not travelling with you or your party, credit card details to setup your onboard account (however you can sometimes setup a cash account when arriving to the port or on-board the ship), and full passport details of each traveller (you’ll also sometimes need visa information for countries you will be visiting depending on the cruise and cruise line).

If you have a cabin assignment, you’ll be able to print all your boarding passes and luggage tags right away, if you booked a guarantee cabin, usually you will have to log onto your account about a week prior to departure and check to see if they’ve given you your cabin assignment at that time.

**Pro Tip: Don’t attach your cruise luggage tag until you leave for the port. I attach my luggage tags to my luggage at the hotel right before I leave for the port, the front desk at your hotel can normally let you borrow a stapler or tape as you check out. I also print an extra tag for my carry on. This way I can see my cabin number easily on my handle of my carry on instead of fishing through papers.

Packing for your cruise

When packing for your cruise there are always a few things to keep in mind. Does your ship have a dress code for the dining rooms at night? Are there “gala nights” onboard, if so, how many? Do you know what your “wine allowance” is per guest or stateroom? What type of electrical outlets are in the staterooms? These are questions that a travel agent who is a cruise specialist can help answer for you. Most ships have somewhat of a dress code at night for the dining rooms or the specialty dining restaurants. This can range from “country club casual” to shirt and blazer for men, to no jeans or shorts. For women, again no jeans or shorts, however pants or skirts with a top and cocktail attire is acceptable on most. For shoes, on most cruise lines, flip flops are a no-no at night, some cruise lines even frown upon runners and require proper dress shoes, etc. This also comes to making sure you are booking the right cruise line for you. If you want something more casual, there are options out there for you. I regards to “gala nights” most cruise ships have two formal nights on a seven day cruise. Whilst it is becoming less popular, it’s not a requirement to wear formal wear on most ships on these nights. It is a time where most people get photos done, especially with the Captain. If you have status with a cruise line, normally if they throw a cocktail party with the Captain and Senior Officers, it’s usually on a “gala night”.

Wine allowances, so most cruise ships do allow you to bring wine onboard, however some do charge a “corkage fee” to bring your own bottles onboard. You can then consume your own wine either in your stateroom or in any of the restaurants. Some cruise lines allow you to bring one or two bottles or more per stateroom or per guest at no charge to enjoy in your stateroom, but they will charge a corkage fee if you bring your own bottle to the restaurants. If this is something that is important to you, your travel agent will be able to advise what your wine allowances are for the cruise you booked.

Electrical outlets, so most ocean cruise ships have a mix of North American and European style outlets in each stateroom. Some cabins now also have USB plugs near the beds to charge phones or I use those to plug in my Saje Aroma Roam travel diffuser.

There are some things that are a no-no to pack, if they scan your luggage and find these items in your bags, you will most likely have to go down to the “naughty room” and collect your bags without the confiscated items. Some of the most popular items that are not allowed onboard are irons (for clothes, hair straightens are okay), alcohol (wine or champagne needs to be in your carry on when you board the ship), weapons of any kind, drones (some cruise lines are okay with them or if you have special permission, again double check this as it depending on the cruise line), food products (no meats, fruits or vegetables; if you need a certain milk for your coffee, etc, it’s always better if we put in a special services request to have this available onboard or carry this on in your carry on it a sealed unopened original container), bottles of water or pop (yes some cruise lines do not allow this), candles/incense (or anything else that creates an open flame), baby monitors, radios, extension cords (those can cause fires onboard ships, also don’t leave anything plugged in when you leave your stateroom, if anything is left plugged in, expect that your room steward will unplug items if they see it), illegal drugs and CBD oils (yes I got asked this question once by a client, the answer is no) and scissors (travel size or a small pair are ok, just not a full size pair of scissors). Your travel specialist will be able to provide you with this list based on the cruise line you’ve booked with if you need this information.

Cruise Apps

Most cruise lines have their own apps nowadays. I am personally starting to really like the apps that they have. You can usually open them on the ship, connect to the ship’s wifi, it’s free to use (only using the app will work, if you want to use social media or internet you do still have to buy an internet package onboard). I like the apps because I can keep on top of my onboard account, manage my specialty dining reservations, see all the daily activities and even manage spa or entertainment reservations, again all depending on the cruise line. By managing your onboard account this way you’re not going to experience and “sticker shock” at the end of your cruise when you receive you bill, this will also give you time to dispute any charges as there is limited amount open on the day of disembarkation.

Arriving to your cruise

I’m going to be honest, I’ve been in this industry long enough to see a fair share of people not take my advice and fly in the day of their cruise just to be delayed and miss their ship. I always recommend to my clients to fly in the day before. Was even flying in the day before my Pacific Coastal cruise, even through it was a short flight from Vancouver to San Diego. I don’t trust that if the plane goes mechanical or any other delays including weather, I want to feel safe knowing that I will get there in time. Just another reason why it’s also a very good idea to have travel insurance.

One of the most asked questions I get is “what time should I arrive to the port to board my ship?”. That’s really down to personal choice. I like to arrive to the port as early as I can, usually by 10:00am. Most ships open check in counters by 10:30am and you can normally start boarding the ship by 11:00am to 11:30am. If you have status with the cruise line you sail with, there are sometimes “lounges” you can take advantage of and enjoy your wait. When you arrive at the port, there will be a place to drop your larger luggage, then walk inside to wait for the check in counters. Have your boarding pass and ID (passport, etc) ready as sometimes there will be a security check before you get to the check in counters. At the check in desks (this does depend on the cruise line, this is more for larger cruise lines, some of the smaller ships and on some river cruise ships you actually will check in onboard) you’ll be asked for your boarding pass, ID (passport, etc) and your credit card that you registered for your onboard account. They will either take a photo of you, or scan your passport and use that photo. You will be given your cruise card at this time.

Your cruise card is everything. This is your credit card, ID and cabin door key all in one. Be sure to keep your card safe, if you do lose it, go to guest services immediately and report it missing. Also get guest services to print your onboard account to make sure no one used your key card to make unauthorized purchases. Some people do use lanyards to wear their cruise card around their neck, make sure guest services punches the card for you, or buy a lanyard that you can insert the card into so it doesn’t become damaged.

Once onboard

I usually head to the guest services desk first and pick up a “daily”. What is a “daily” you ask? This is the daily schedule of all the activities onboard. Once I’ve grabbed on of those I head to the dining room that is open for lunch.

**Pro Tip: Most cruises will have a sit down dining option open for lunch. It’s usually much quieter than trying to fight for space up in the buffet.

Once I’ve ordered lunch, I then plan my “strategy” for the rest of the day using the “daily” I picked up.

**Pro Tip: You might have your carry on for a couple hours before you have access to your room, also, you might not get your checked luggage until after sail away. I usually keep a swim suit and a few other items in my carry on just in case it’s a beautiful day and I want to go for a swim. After lunch, I normally drop my carry on and bag into my cabin. They will make an announcement once rooms are ready, this can be right when you board or usually sometime by 2:00pm.

Once I’ve checked into my cabin and sanitized it, I put my passport into the safe along with any of my valuables that can fit in it (MacBook, jewelry, wallet (again your cruise card is your currency onboard, so you don’t need to walk around with it), etc). Then it’s off to explore.

I normally explore a ship from the bottom decks to the top. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, it’s amazing how many steps you’ll walk exploring a ship. When exploring, this is when I’m going to refer back to my personal strategy I’ve highlighted in my “daily”, there are usually some great “taster” events happening onboard during the time of boarding to Muster Drill and into the early evening. Again this is going to depend on what is important to you and what types of activities you might be interested in. If you’re a family cruising together, this is a great time to check out the kid’s clubs onboard, fill out any necessary forms and sign them up for activities. I myself check out the spa and thermal suites onboard if I haven’t purchased a spa pass ahead of time and attend the “spa raffle”. I’ve won gift certificates for free treatments and products before, like the saying goes, you have to be in it, to win it, so I usually attend that event onboard.

Since I’ve been cruising solo a bit recently, I also make note of any Solo Travellers Meetups onboard as well, usually the first meetup is before dinner hour on the day of embarkation. Sometimes it’s nice to meet other solo travellers for a dinner or a drink, or just to recognize people in the hallways for a quick chat how each other’s vacation has been going.

**Pro Tip: Make sure to look carefully at a map of the ship or check out cruisecritic.com and search the ship you are sailing on for “lesser known” areas of the ship. You would be surprised that there can be out of the way places to relax that most people don’t find because they stick to the main decks. 

Muster Drill

I actually get slightly entertained when it’s someone’s first muster drill, to see the reactions on people’s faces (or the multitude of quick hands over the ears) to experience the emergency alarm is interesting and amusing. I want to reiterate, do not miss the emergency safety drill. It’s mandatory and please pay attention. This is not the time to chat with your group or play on your phone. In the “daily” you will see where to find your muster station. Your muster station is printed on your cruise card. It is also found located on the back door of your stateroom. Some cruise lines require that you bring your lifejackets from your cabin to the drill, others do not require this. Please read the daily for instructions on what you need to bring to your drill.

Once you arrive at your muster station, you need to check in with your cruise card or with your cabin number to the crew member in charge of your station. Make sure to arrive on time to your muster station (5-10 minutes before the drill is set to begin is good). You will hear the emergency alarms of the ship go off. They will then go through the safety requirements and information over the ship’s speaker systems. If you are late or do not check in, you will be required to make up the muster drill at another time. Again, this is a very important emergency drill, please pay attention to the instructions and even if you’ve done numerous drills in the past, please respect that others around you might not have. 

Sail Away

One of my favourite parts of starting my cruise vacation. There are so many options for sail away and depending on which port you are leaving from there might be different advantages. For instance, if you’re sailing out of Vancouver, head to the top deck of the cruise ship on a sunny day for beautiful views of Vancouver, the North Shore mountains and of course sailing under the Lions Gate Bridge. Are you sailing out of Venice? If you have a balcony on the port side (the left side of the ship), you’ll have amazing views of Piazza San Marco whilst cruising out of Venice. There is usually a sail away party somewhere on deck, with live music to get the cruise started right. I make sure I pop a bottle of Champagne or Prosecco and toast to a wonderful and safe adventure ahead! Be sure to check the cruise “daily” for all the sail away events and locations.

Cabins/Staterooms Onboard

Whilst cabins and staterooms onboard are a bit more “compact” than a standard hotel room, the storage nooks and crannies are plentiful. One of the most asked questions I get from clients is “where can I store my luggage?”. There is usually always room to store suitcases under the bed, you can typically store at least two to three medium sized ones here. What is included in your cabin/stateroom also varies depending on cruise ship line, stateroom category and ship. If not having a coffee maker in your room is a deal breaker for you, make sure that you book the correct category or cruise line (some cruise lines only balconies and higher categories have coffee makers in the staterooms, some don’t offer coffee makers in the room but do offer room service included, other cruise lines don’t have coffee makers in any of the rooms).

Most cruise ships also have a small refrigerator in the room. I usually ask my room steward to clear out the mini bar (if it’s not included of course haha) so I have room to refrigerate my own wines, etc. For some people a refrigerator is necessary to keep medications cold, so I do make sure if this is a requirement that there is a fridge in the room, or we can request this through the cruise line’s special services department.

As I mentioned already previously, there are quite a few electrical outlets available typically in your stateroom. I bring a European adapter so I can utilize all the plugs in my cabin, especially if I’m travelling with a friend, that way no one is fighting over an outlet. I do also bring my hair tools, as they have North American style plugs onboard I can make sure my hair is styled without worrying I’m going to blow up my device.

There are tons of other tips and tricks you can find online, some cabin walls are metal, so if you want more storage I know a few avid cruisers who travel with magnetic hooks to have extra hooks in the room, however I’ve never had a problem with storage, even if I end up sharing a stateroom with someone.

You can expect your room to be tidied a couple times per day, once usually mid-morning, the last time for turn down service during dinner hours (delivery of your daily and any important notes for the next day will normally be placed on your bed or on the desk during turn down), it’s a rule of thumb to not have your do not disturb light/sign on unless you are in the room. If they see that you constantly have your do not disturb sign up they will leave a note for you to contact guest services. 

Dining

Once onboard you can head to the dining reservations desk and make any dining reservations you might want to make or need to change. Most cruise lines now do dining reservations ahead of time online, however there are some that you need to make them once onboard or if you need to amend any within seven days prior to your cruise departure. Most cruise lines will not accept dining reservations for the main dining rooms, it is either set time (chosen or assigned when you book certain cruise lines) or “freestyle” (open seating), where you will be seated as you show up for dinner.

Some cruise lines are now using a system similar to restaurants where you check in and are given a buzzer for when your table is ready if there is a wait (doesn’t mean you can walk to the other side of the ship haha).

When it comes to room service, this also depends on the cruise line. Some do not charge and will even serve you your meal course-by-course, some have a set service fee and finally some have a la carte pricing. Your cruise professional can advise you ahead of time what room service fees your cruise has if any. 

Shore Excursions and Leaving the Ship

The reason I wanted to cover this is the expectations of getting on and off the ship for shore excursions depending on the cruise line you’re sailing on. No matter what size of ship you’re sailing on, this time of embarkation and disembarkation I’ve learned to pack my patience. If you’re tendering, which means taking a boat from the ship to the shore, be sure to grab your tender tickets the moment they are available for distribution (some people on larger cruise ships have learned this the hard way). Then be prepared to wait until your number/colour is called (not near the exits either).

That being said, really make sure you have a buffer time for shore excursions you’ve booked on your own or through a third party. Shore excursions booked through the ship will have priority, so make sure you have a good buffer time and be sure to leave the ship with enough time to meet up with your excursions.

Also, when you depart the ship you need to bring your cruise card with you. You will be scanned as you leave and when you return so they know who is missing if you miss the “all aboard” call. “All aboard” is typically 30 minutes before sail away, so make sure you plan accordingly. You don’t want to be one of those people running after the ship at the port (yes, I have seen this) or taking that selfie with the ship sailing away without you in the background.

Most ports will also not allowed any food or beverages off the ship (so don’t try to take that Starbucks latte to go off the ship or you’ll be forced to knock it back or leave it behind). Water is allowed, however please be mindful when refilling your water bottle in the buffet area, use a glass to fill then pour the water into your bottle, don’t refill your bottle directly under the spout.

Also, you don’t need to take your passport off the ship in every country (double check this before you depart the ship for the day), I have my Canadian driver’s license and a photocopy of my passport photo page. If for some reason you miss the ship and do not board on time, a senior officer will check your safe in your stateroom and leave your passport behind with port officials so you can make your own way to catch up to the ship. Some cruises they will actually hold your passport anyways during check in, this is so that if the officials need to see your passport you aren’t called down to the Purser’s Office at 5:30am to present your passport to immigration.

When you return from your day exploring the port, have your cruise card ready. When you arrive back at the cruise terminal you will sometime have to go through a security check point before getting to the ship. Once scanned and onboard, typically there is another security scan done (again, make sure you didn’t buy any prohibited items, or if you purchased alcohol you’ll have to declare it for them to store it for you or pay the corkage fee (if them impose one) to enjoy it onboard). 

Medical Services Onboard

Yes cruise ships do have medical centres onboard. The cost to use these services however are very steep, make sure to use them only in emergency and make sure to give them your travel insurance information. Usually this is added to your onboard account as they rarely direct bill to insurance.

**Pro Tip: If you do find yourself sea sick, guest services do have a supply of sea sickness tablets that they usually provide at no charge.

You can also find some over the counter pharmacy products in the gift shop (ibuprofen, cough medicine, allergy tablets, etc) however the gift shops are set to specific hours and are not open while in port due to laws and restrictions.

Just a bit further on health, especially with Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Norwalk Virus, be sure to wash your hands frequently. There are so many antibacterial hand gel dispensers throughout ships, we wouldn’t have problems is everyone was diligent enough to use them. I also bring hand sanitizer into the dining room and use it after touching menus. In my stateroom, I also wipe down surfaces, door handles, remote controls, telephones, etc with Lysol antibacterial wipes.

In conclusion these are just a few tips and tricks of how to get the most of your cruise and scenarios you might encounter. When you book a cruise through myself, I do offer a service to go over any questions my clients have one on one and give tips based on the ship/cruise line they are sailing on, especially if it’s a ship I’ve sailed on myself. I also do have reviews of my cruises on my blog and will continue to write these ship reviews going forward. 

As I am a travel agent who specializes in cruising, I’d love to help you plan your next cruise vacation. Please contact me for a free cruise vacation consultation via my website or by sending me a direct message on Instagram.

Until next time, safe travels and happy cruising!

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this blog post? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

My Travel Guide to Budapest, Hungary

Visiting Hungary for the first time was another dream fulfilled for me. I’ve been wanting to visit Hungary since I was quite young as that where my grandparents on my Mother’s side are originally from. They fled the country in 1956 to Switzerland where my Aunt and Mother were born before coming to Canada in 1960. I really had no expectations, other than to wander the sights of Budapest, see and experience the city where my Grandmother (Nagymama) once lived, eat some amazing cakes, enjoy some much needed Hungarian comfort food and visit a few quaint wineries. 

Budapest stole my heart. It’s actually now one of my top favourite places I’ve visited. It’s no wonder that this city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I honestly believe that Budapest is the most beautiful city I’ve seen at night. Definitely make sure that you wander the Danube River’s edge from the “Pest” side looking over to the “Buda” side of the river, also don’t miss taking a cruise along the Danube River at night, it’s a magical experience.

Arriving into Budapest

When I arrived into Budapest at Ferenc Liszt Airport, there were a couple planes that had arrived at the same time, so getting through customs took a little longer than expected as they didn’t have many passport control officers working. Once through EU customs, I picked up my bags and headed out and looked for my name on a sign for my private transfer. I chose to book a private transfer instead of dealing with a taxi this trip for ease, and it was much appreciated after the very long travel day I had (never take the cheapest option with three layovers, it’s not worth losing your sanity haha). The driver I had was very nice and before you knew it I was at my hotel for this visit, The Continental Hotel Budapest. 

Where to Stay

The Continental Hotel Budapest (mid range/luxury accommodations) – I chose The Continental Hotel Budapest for my trip due to it’s location within the Jewish Quarter and a rooftop pool with a stunning view over the city. The top floor also has an amazing wellness area which includes an indoor pool, hot tub, saunas and steam rooms. The building that the hotel is located in was originally a bath (Hungaria Furdo), which the moment you step into the lobby, the architecture shows a glimpse into the hotel’s past as a bathhouse. It’s a medium size hotel with 272 rooms. When I arrived, my room wasn’t quite ready, so I left my luggage with the concierge, went out and walked a couple blocks to the New York Cafe and caught the hop on hop off from there. Some room rates do include breakfast, which is a great buffet spread with multiple hot and cold options.

Hilton Budapest (luxury accommodations) – The next time I visit Budapest, this is a strong contender for the next hotel I stay at. It’s perched on the Buda Hill, located beside the Matthias Church, near the stunning Fisherman’s Bastion. The views from some of these hotel rooms overlooks the beautiful Danube River with the Parliament across the river, a stunning view at night. This hotel is also built into the remnants of an 13th century monastery (very neat views from a courtyard from inside the hotel) and boasts Faust Wine Cellar located in the ruins of the monastery, truly a hidden gem!

Corinthia Hotel Budapest (luxury accommodations) – Formerly known as the “Grand Royal Hotel”, the five star rated Corinthia Hotel Budapest is one of the landmark historical hotels, with a gorgeous spa area (Royal Spa) and indoor pool. The lobby is stunning and opulent.

Boat Hotel Fortuna (basic/mid range accommodations) – For something a little different, you can book a stay on a former river boat. Accommodations are quite basic, however you can’t beat the location, floating on the Danube River. It’s located very near to Margitszigeti (Margaret Island), past the Parliament Building on the Pest side.

Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel (luxury accommodations) – Another strong contender for the next time I visit Budapest. This hotel was once a palace and had amazing views of the “Chain Bridge”, Buda Castle and the Danube River. Hotel rooms are impeccably designed and of course with the advantage of the amazing service that the Four Seasons brand brings. This was one of the most stunning lobbies I’ve seen, the chandelier is incredible. One of my favourite restaurants is also located at this hotel, Kollazs (see my review in “where to eat” below). Other amenities at this hotel include an indoor infinity edge pool on the top floor, state of the art gym, sauna and relaxation area. It’s located at the start of the pedestrian area in front of the St. Stephen’s Basilica, which is lined with great shops and restaurants, perfect for an evening stroll and take in the romantic beauty that this city offers.

Sofitel Budapest Chain Bridge (mid range/luxury accommodations) – I sell this hotel quite a bit to clients looking for a great middle ground hotel between ultra luxury and mid range. With unobstructed views of Buda Castle, the Danube River and Chain Bridge, splurge for a “room with a view” here and you won’t be disappointed.

The Ritz Carleton Budapest (luxury accommodations) – Located in the historical centre on the Pest side, The Ritz Carleton Budapest is another amazing ultra luxurious option in Budapest. Rooms are traditional with a modern, contemporary flair, along with the impeccable service that Ritz Carleton in known for. A few blocks away from the Danube River, Gerbeaud Cuzraszda (Cafe) and the St. Stephen’s Basilica. 

Aria Hotel Budapest by Library Hotel Collection (luxury accommodations) – Gorgeous rooftop patio area, the High Note Roof Bar is something to check out even if you don’t stay here, I had a wonderful cocktail up here at sunset with a stunning view. Located right near the St. Stephen’s Basilica and the pedestrianized area. Great amenities when staying at this property which include a complementary breakfast, afternoon wine and cheese, pool, fitness centre, steam bath, sauna and whirlpool.

Getting Around Budapest

Getting around Budapest is so easy. It’s such a walkable city and the transit systems here are great and efficient. If you’re here for multiple days like I was you’ve got a few options. You can buy a transit pass, which is great value, just be sure to validate your ticket (stamp your tickets in one of the machines when you start using it or you can be subjected to some pretty hefty fines, the transit police do watch tourists carefully here, so please be aware of this, I came across so many complaints online). Click here to visit a blog I used when planning my trip, it explains the transit system in Budapest so well.

I used the metro (the underground subway system) a few times myself, so easy to get to places like the Szechenyi Baths, Szell Kalman (station on the Buda side, transfer here to a “Castle Bus” which will take you up the hill into the Buda Castle area). An interesting fact about the iconic “Line 1”, it was completed in 1896, which makes it the oldest electrified underground railway system in continental Europe.

Another favourite way to see Budapest is also a hop on hop off bus. I did a 48 hour hop on hop off with two river cruises included (a day cruise and a night cruise). Honestly, you need to cruise the Danube River at night, so whether you do it by a river cruise ship that you are taking from Budapest or by a tour boat, it’s a must see. As I mentioned before, Budapest is probably the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen at night.

Taxis aren’t highly recommended, I’ve heard plenty of scams and tourists being ripped off, so I just avoided them. I arranged a private transfer from the airport to my hotel, which I love doing after a long flight.

Where to Eat in Budapest

Hungarian food is the ultimate comfort food. From Langos (a fried dough served with sour cream and cheese), Chicken Paprikash, Goulash to some of the most amazing cakes and pastries you’ve ever had. Here are some of the restaurants I’ve personally tried. These places to eat are in no particular order, I’ve linked the websites if they have one.

Vintage Garden – One of the most prettiest cafes I’ve seen in a long time. I found this cafe on Instagram (no surprise here), and fell in love. In person, it didn’t disappoint. This place will get busy, especially for brunch. Make a reservation or go right when it opens to make sure you get a table. The menu is very reasonable for the setting, I had the french toast, a coffee melange and a glass of sparkling Hungaria Rose. 

Nagycsarnok (Great Market Hall) – The Great Market Hall is one of the historical markets in central Budapest. Located on the Pest side of the Danube River, it was first built in 1897. It’s honestly a great place to grab some lunch (grab a Langos from upstairs at the last food stall on the west side) and buy some souvenirs, locally made goods and wines. I did a bit of shopping here on the first day I arrived, it’s a great place to explore.

Ruszwurm Cukraszda – Located in the historic Buda Castle area and near the Matthias Church, I highly recommend this historic Cukraszda (Bakery/Cafe), especially on a beautiful day in the summer. It’s a very popular spot with limited seating, but it’s well worth the wait for some of the best cakes and baked treats you will ever have. Ruszwurm Cukraszda was founded in 1827 and a favourite of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria (known to the locals as Sissi). She actually took baked goods from this bakery to her home in Vienna when she was leaving Budapest and would even have items shipped to her, this is actually the rumoured start of the traditional Dobos Torta, a cake with a caramel “crust” on top to preserve the freshness of the cake. I tried and loved the Dobos Torta, the Ruzswurm Kremes (Cream Cake) and a Rose froccs (rose wine with sparking water). I came here a couple times during my stay as the prices were so reasonable and the cakes were so delicious.

Terv Presszo – Located about a block from the main pedestrianized streets near St. Stephen’s Basilica, Terv Presszo is a great mid range option for a home cooked Hungarian meal. I had the Chicken Paprikas here with Nokedli (a Hungarian Dumpling) and it was really good, paired with a glass of local Rose wine. The atmosphere is quite funky but speaks to the experience. All the dishes are quite generous in regards to portion size, the desserts are massive! Highly recommend this place as I visited here with a friend from Budapest.

Gelarto Rosa – Again, found this gem on Instagram and so glad I did. They do many different flavours of gelato and even have some pretty interesting flavours including vegan ones. The best part, they form your ice cream cone into a rose by forming petals. You can build in a few different flavours and it’s amazing gelato! Located right near the St. Stephen’s Basilica, it’s a must try. Be prepared that in the summer the lines can get long and make sure you have cash (Hungarian Forint). 

Kek Rozsa Etterem (Blue Rose Restaurant) – A very “local” and simple restaurant located in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest. I had the Beef Goulash with herb potatoes with a local red wine from Villanyi. Good meal for the price, portions again are quite substantial.

Cat Cafe – Pay a set fee, enjoy cake, a drink and socialize with some cute cats.

DiVino Borbar – Wine bar near St. Stephen’s Basilica with a great location with seating in the square. More than 140 wines served with a great selection of wines from local wineries, including a selection of wines from local vintners who are under the age of 35.

Gerbeaud Cuzraszda (Cafe) – Founded in 1858, this is a must. I have a personal connection to this cafe as I have family members who have served at this Budapest staple. Try the Gerbeaud Cake (Zserbo Szelet) a layered cake with apricot jam, walnuts and chocolate. Also try the Gerbeaud Coffee (black coffee with apricot sauce, apricot liqueur, hot chocolate, vanilla foam and walnut linzer sprinkles) or the Sissi Coffee (black coffee, Grand Marnier liqueur, cinnamon, clove, cardamon, honey and whipped cream).

Kollazs – Located in the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel, this stunning restaurant and bar is a must visit when you’re visiting Budapest. Atmosphere is a nod to the traditional but the comfort, coziness and glamour of an upscale brasserie. Menu here is Hungarian and French, with food looking like art (and tastes amazing) but affordable. Bar favourites was the “Hendrick’s and Me” cocktail, with notes of rose, aloe vera, bergamot and elderflower. For lunch they do have a 3 course meal for 3800 HUF (about $16 CAD per person) or a 4 course option for 4300 HUF (about $19 CAD per person). I highly recommend the Chicken Paprikash! Dinner menu is just as decadent (came here twice in my 5 days in Budapest), I had the Foie Gras Terrine to start and the Beef Bourguignon. All the desserts are amazing, so be sure to save room for dessert here, you won’t regret it!

Tigris – Located a block from the Four Seasons Gresham Palace Hotel, this restaurant is listed in the prestigious Michelin Guide and it didn’t disappoint. By far the best meal I had in Budapest, I went here for my “birthday dinner”. The Foie Gras Specialities menu was both delightful and exciting to the palate, along with my main course of Duck Breast with Sweet Potato, Mangalica Bacon and Brussels Sprouts with Paprika. The Dobos Torta was also lovely and the local wines the sommelier recommended were on point. They offer a 5+1 course meal as well, which looked amazing, something I’ll try next time!

Faust Wine Cellar – Located within the cave ruins of the monastery beneath the Hilton Budapest, this is a stunning and intimate restaurant. Try local wines from Hungary along with Palinka tastings (a traditional fruit brandy) paired with an incredible meal.

Barack & Szilva – A very cute bistro owned by a husband and wife, serving traditional Hungarian food. This was located about a block from the Continental Hotel Budapest, and came highly recommended by a foodie friend. The “Chef’s Offer” is an amazing dinner options for the price which includes local wine pairings from 14,600 HUF (about $64 CAD per person). A great restaurant, I’ll definitely be back to this one, it’s a favourite for sure! They even have a patio which is great for the summer evenings.

Szimpla Kert – Even if you don’t drink, Szimpla Kert is an experience. I went on my own to check it out during an afternoon and it’s very different. This is one of the first “ruin bars” to pop up in Budapest. It’s definitely an experience, very eclectic and funky vibes are felt throughout the old warehouse-turned-bar/club. 

Karavan – A few doors down from Szimpla Kert, located inside the remnants of a bombed out warehouse sits a collection of food trucks serving up all types of cuisine. Open from 11:30am onwards (feeding those on a hunt for late night munchies after a visit to Szimpla, etc). It’s a cute concept and did grab a Langos from one of the trucks here.

Things to Do and See in Budapest

There are honestly so many things to do and see in Budapest (and surrounding areas), I was here for five full days/six nights and was unable to do everything I wanted. I’ve highlighted some of the most popular things to do and see and linked some of my favourite tours.

Hungarian Baths in Budapest

Budapest is fairly unique in regards to being one of the very few cities in the world that is rich with thermal waters. It’s obviously known as the “city of spas” and the level of baths are both beautiful and impressive. Here is my guide to the five most popular baths in Budapest:

Szechenyi Thermal Baths – Located in the City Park in Budapest (on the Pest side, at the end of Andrassy Avenue), this bath was opened in 1913 and is a stunning complex. They’ve kept it up in pretty good condition considering the age and the usage levels. Most people think the baths open at 9am, however they do actually open at 6am. I was there at opening (6am) and pretty well had all the pools to myself. Once 9:30am/10am hit, it definitely got more busy with all the tourists pouring in. I paid for a ticket that included a locker, you can also pay an upgrade and use a “cabin” (a lockable, private change room). Make sure you bring sandals/flip flops (these are mandatory in most baths you’ll visit in Hungary) and a towel (you can rent towels, I just brought my travel towel, some hotels will actually provide you with “bath” towels to take as well). This place can be like a maze, so take a map when buying your ticket (tip: take a photo of it on your phone, so you don’t have to walk around with a soggy map). Szechenyi Baths is the largest thermal bath complex in Budapest, it has 3 outdoor pools (the lap pool you do need to wear a bathing/swim cap, again something that is a necessity when visiting the baths, the hot pools didn’t require them) and 15 indoor pools with various saunas and steam rooms, some with aromatherapy. They also have a cafe onsite which also serves alcohol. You can also upgrade your visit and include a massage treatment as well. A fun, unique experience which they also offer here is the Beer Spa, yes, a Beer Spa. I spent the morning here until around 11:00am, trying all the different pools (there is a sulphur element in some of them) but I can honestly say I slept so well the night after visiting and my skin was so soft. This is a strong favourite and can’t wait until I return!

Kiraly Thermal Baths – Besides the fact that my family shares this as their last name, Kiraly (meaning “King”), this Thermal Bath is a small Turkish bath that were built in 1565. Whilst being one of the smaller Thermal Baths in Budapest, this place is a gem. It has a total of 4 pools ranging in temperatures from 26C to 40C. The lighting in the main bath is almost cathedral like with the coloured block glass in the dome letting light filter through. Definitely a Thermal Bath to check out. 

Rudas Thermal Baths – The Rudas Thermal Baths are located on the Buda side under the Citadel, along the banks of the Danube River. Also built in the 16th century during the Turkish occupation, the traditional pool is still operational but it does operate as a gender specific bath on certain days (The vapor bath section is open each day from 6am until 8pm, on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday gentlemen are welcome, and on Tuesdays ladies can enjoy the vapor bath; on Saturday and Sunday groups are welcome, during which time bathing suits are compulsory). Double check these days and times by calling the Bath directly. A very unique aspect to this bath is the rooftop bath with unobstructed views of the Danube River.

Gellert Thermal Baths – Part of the Gellert Hotel on the Buda side, Gellert Thermal Baths opened in 1918 and has 5 indoor thermal baths, 1 indoor pool with an Art Nouveau Hall, a few outdoor pools including a wave pool in the summer months and a few more thermal baths. Again, make sure you bring your towel, sandals and swimming cap, these are definitely essentials when visiting the Thermal Baths in Budapest.

Palatinus Thermal Baths – Located on Margit-sziget (Margaret Island), within the park, it’s a beautiful setting. These were actually the first Thermal Baths in Budapest where you could bathe outdoors. These baths have 10 different pools including  giant slides and a wave pool in the summer. Great place for families visiting Budapest as Margit-sziget (Margaret Island) is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Take a bike ride around the island from one of the bike rental stands and enjoy the beautiful gardens as you enjoy this oasis in the center of Budapest.

Castle District (Buda)

A beautiful district on the Buda side (West side) of the Danube River which includes Buda Hill and where the Buda Castle is located. There are a few ways to get to the top. If you start at the Chain Bridge, you will see a funicular that can take you to the top, the lines during the summer can be quite long and the ride up isn’t cheap. If you walk along the road (Lanchid Road) to the Castle Gardens, you’ll find a free escalator that will take you up to a quieter area of Buda Castle. The other option is to take a left at the funicular and walk up Hunyadi Janos Avenue up to Fisherman’s Bastion then walk over to the Castle from there. You can also take the metro to Szell Kalman, station on the Buda side, transfer here to a “Castle Bus” which will take you up the hill into the Buda Castle area.

The Buda Castle District is so beautiful and really a great place to wander. I actually did an Urban Adventures tour called the “Total Budapest Discovery Tour” which is a blend of their “Buda Castle Explorer” and a local tour on the Pest side in the afternoon ending at a Cuzraszda for coffee and cake.

The Royal Palace (Buda Castle) is now the Hungarian National Gallery, I was able to explore the outside of Buda Castle, however did not have time this last trip to explore the inside of the now gallery.

Exploring Pest

Head over to Pest from Buda using the popular Szechenyi “Chain” Bridge, then take a stroll up the Danube River bank to the Parliament building. Along the way, pay your respects at the memorial called “Shoes on the Danube Bank”. In World War II, 3,500 people, including 800 Jewish people were lined up along the banks of the Danube River at this spot, ordered to take off their shoes, then were unfortunately shot into the river. It’s a very powerful, sculptural memorial. 

Once at the Parliament if you do decide to go in Hungary’s largest building built in 1902, don’t miss taking a peek at the Crown of St. Stephen. Once you’ve had a history lesson there, go back to the center of Pest and explore the St. Stephen’s Basilica. The Basilica was completed in 1905, the views from the top of the dome are stunning and can be reached there by a lift and stairs, which offers an amazing view of the city.

There are other points of interest such as the Great Synagogue (which is the largest Synagogue outside of New York City), House of Terror (my Grandfather was unfortunately interrogated in this building), the Budapest Opera House, Heroes Square and City Park.

What ever you choose to do in Budapest, there are so many interesting things to do and see, even if it’s just to sit outside, order a coffee or a glass of wine with a cake at a Cukraszda and watch the world go by.

Wine Regions Near Budapest

Budapest has some amazing wine regions located very close by which can make great half day or full day trips outside the city. I did an afternoon tour to Etyek, about a 45 minute drive outside the city and visited three unique wineries. Etyek is a climate where white and rose wines thrive. The vineyards in the Etyek-Buda region are graced with rolling hills layered with natural limestone and rich soils. Long ago, a family from the Champagne region of France settled here because the Etyek-Buda area closely resembled “home”. After the Turks were expelled in the 18th century, German wine growers were also invited to settle in this area which makes for a vibrant and eclectic history of the wineries. There were at one point over 1000 wineries in the Etkey-Buda region alone, now there are approximately 125 wineries operating, some of which are run by vintners under the age of 35.

I honestly LOVED visiting Budapest. I hope you found this guide to be helpful with some useful recommendations. If you’re looking for help planning your next vacation to Budapest, I’d love to help you out and be your personal travel advisor. Please click here to connect with me.

If you have any other questions about Budapest, please don’t hesitate to contact me or connect with me on Instagram.

Until next time! Safe travels friends xoxo

Ariane

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Cruising 101: Planning the Perfect Cruise

As a travel advisor who specializes in cruises I get asked so many questions in regards to planning for and booking the perfect cruise for my clients. So I thought I would chat about some of what I go through with my clients to help best pick a cruise that fits them and what preparing for a cruise looks like. Whether you are looking at an ocean or river cruise, to planning which destination and cruise line is best for you and your budget, I’m going to cover it all, including some of my tips and tricks when it comes to planning your cruise.

Why I love to cruise

Cruising is honestly one of my personal favourite ways to travel. It makes travel so stress free and relaxing. I get to arrive onto a ship (or floating hotel), unpack once and wake up in a new destination pretty well everyday. Cruising also offers a great way to “test” out destinations, to see where you would love to travel back to and spend more time. It can also give you the opportunity to visit places that you might not have thought to otherwise (example: St. Petersburg, Russia can be harder to visit due to visas to Russia, etc, cruising can make visiting places like Russia easier). Sea days are a nice relaxing break, sometimes the ships can be destinations on their own with plenty to do and see onboard.

Planning your cruise

First step is to contact someone who is a specialist when it comes to cruises. Certain travel advisors have access to offers or onboard extras that you might not as a consumer. Myself, I hold specialist certifications with all the major cruise lines, I’m a travel advisor member of Virtuoso, an exclusive membership for travel advisors and have personal relationships with many within the cruise industry. I offer my clients exclusive benefits when they book their cruise with me, so if you’d like to have a chat about your own cruise, please contact me. I’d love to personally have a chat about cruising and help you find the perfect cruise for you.

Picking a cruise

There are many factors to think of when it comes to picking which cruise would be best for you. Here are some of the topics I bring up with my clients when helping them select a cruise:

Destination/Itinerary – This is actually one of the main things I personally consider when planning a cruise. Cruises are now available to all seven continents, so there is an itinerary for everyone. Things to consider with destinations are what time of year is best to visit, if there is a shoulder season, and the length of time you’re in each port (some cruise lines offer overnights in certain ports, or even longer days to spend time to visit nearby cities). What is the weather like? For instance, cruising the Mediterranean in the Winter months, if that’s when you have vacation time is not really an option, however cruises to South America, Tahiti, Australia, Caribbean, etc are in season during that time. Other things I look for is unique destinations when cruising. We are seeing the return of Turkey to cruise itineraries and new and unique cruises such as the Black Sea, cruises from Africa to Australia and more options to Antartica. 

Choosing which cruise line is best for you – There is definitely a cruise line for everyone. I have my personal favourites based on my personal experiences with certain companies in the past. It really depends on what you are looking for and what your budget is. There are also other factors to select a cruise line such as if an “adults only” cruise is important to you, if so you might want to look at Viking Cruises or Virgin Voyages. Is food your thing? You might want to try Oceania, Crystal, Windstar or Seabourn. Are you looking for something family friendly? Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean might be good options for you. Are you looking for a cruise line that has a solid reputation for certain itineraries? Holland America is amazing for Alaska, Azamara has unique AzAmazing events, Paul Gauguin does amazing itineraries of Tahiti and the South Pacific and Silversea offers weekends with special access to the Monaco Grand Prix. Are you wanting a small ship experience? Windstar, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania, Seabourn, Paul Gauguin and Ponant might be great options. Many of these brands have great onboard amenities, but it truly is based on what is important to you and what you’re looking to get out of your cruise. 

Here is my breakdown of cruise lines with my own star rating. These ratings are my own opinion and is based on my own personal experiences in regards to food, customer service, inclusions, value for money, etc:

Three Stars and Under:

  • Carnival (Ocean)
  • Costa (Ocean)
  • P & O Cruises (Ocean)
  • Royal Caribbean (Ocean)
  • Princess Cruises (Ocean)
  • Celestyal Cruises (Ocean)
  • MSC Cruises (Ocean)
  • Viking (River)

Four Stars:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line (Ocean)
  • Holland America (Ocean)
  • Celebrity (Ocean)
  • Disney Cruise Line (Ocean)
  • Cunard (Ocean)
  • Virgin Voyages (Ocean)
  • Emerald Waterways (River)
  • Avalon Waterways (River)
  • AMAWaterways (River)

Five Stars:

  • Azamara (Ocean)
  • Viking (Ocean)
  • Oceania Cruises (Ocean)
  • Windstar Cruises (Ocean)
  • Paul Gauguin (Ocean)
  • Silversea (Ocean)
  • Crystal Cruises (Ocean, Yacht and River)
  • Seabourn (Ocean)
  • Ponant (Ocean)
  • Regent Seven Seas (Ocean)
  • Scenic (River and Yacht)
  • UniWorld (River)

Expedition:

  • Hurtigruten
  • Quark Expeditions
  • G Adventures
  • Intrepid Travel

Selecting the right cabin type – Yes, interior cabins are the cheapest, but there are some things to consider when looking at selecting the right cabin type for you. I personally love cruising in a Balcony. I can open the window and enjoy fresh air, while interior and ocean view cabins rely on circulated air. Yes, if you’re hardly in the room an interior room can be a good economical option if you’re looking to just use your room to sleep, change and shower. I have cruised in an inside cabin before, and relied on my “Aroma Roam” from Saje (a travel diffuser), to make sure that I had fresh air with the Immune oil. If you’re looking for more room a suite can offer extra perks and more space. I would suggest picking your cabin based on your itinerary. For example, a balcony whilst cruising the Mediterranean, Tahiti or Alaska is amazing to have as you do get quite a bit of use out of it, it’s nice to have that private viewing space. When working with your travel agent, make sure any of your needs are covered such as if you’re a family getting a proper family room, if you have accessibility needs, making sure you’re in a correct accessible cabin, etc. Is your cabin below the gym or a kitchen? Are you aware of what a “guarantee” is? These are some of the things I go through with my clients to make sure we are selecting the best cabin for them and that there are no surprises. On river cruise ships, are you okay with “Swan View”, or the lower level on the ship. Some people don’t like the idea of sleeping below the waterline. Using a travel professional to help you select the best cabin style for you is key to your enjoyment of your cruise.

Loyalty to a cruise line – If you are loyal to a brand, you are typically rewarded with offers and gifts as you increase in loyalty levels. Things to keep in mind is that sometimes it is worth moving up and graduating to a new cruise line as “free laundry” and “bottled water” can already be an inclusion on another cruise line and not just a loyalty perk. If you’re a cruise away from your free one, then by all means, but really look at what your cruise loyalty gets you.

Shore Excursions – When it comes to shore excursions, really do your research on the ports you are visiting before selecting which tours you are going to do, if any. Depending on the cruise line you booked with, ocean cruise shore excursions might already be included (another reason that sometimes booking a more all inclusive style cruise can be a better option). Typically with river cruises most of you basic excursions are already included, you just have to pay for additional or upgraded experiences. Keep in mind, for most main line ocean cruise lines shore excursions are not included. So back to selecting shore excursions, going through the ship can be easy options for many people, they offer a guarantee that the ship will wait for you or the cruise line is responsible for you. They usually offer a money back guarantee as well to make sure you do enjoy yourself. However the downside is that most of the time you will be on a tour with 40-60 people. In all my cruises, I’ve done a grand total of one tour through any of the main stream cruise lines. I typically explore some ports I visit on my own, again this is where a bit of research comes in, or help and recommendations from your travel agent. For example, for my upcoming Baltic Cruise in July, I’m planning to visit Berlin, St.Petersburg, and Helsinki and Porvoo with tours, and see Tallin, Stockholm and Copenhagen on my own. I usually personally use a third party company that specializes in shore excursions worldwide and has the same guarantees that a cruise line has, money back guarantee and will get you back to the ship on time or they pay to catch you up. I love the tours I’ve done through them and have had many happy clients with these excursions as well. Usually the groups are a lot smaller, about 8-30 people per tour, depending on the tour and the cost is quite a bit less than the cruise lines. Chat with a travel agent who specializes in cruises for extra tips and tricks depending on your itinerary and cruise company. I typically give my clients tips for shopping, sights and restaurants for ports I’ve personally visited in the past. We also know the ins and outs of visa requirements in regards to the countries you will be visiting on your cruise, which can impact you boarding the ship or being able to get off the ship. An example is Russia, for a Canadian, getting a Russian visa can be expensive, however if you book your excursions through the ship or the third party company I use for myself and my clients, they take care of your Russian visa for you. It’s certain things like these that a travel professional can help you get the most out of your cruise. 

Dining onboard – There are usually many dining choices onboard a cruise ship. Most cruise ships have main dining rooms, a buffet style restaurant, fast snack/pool side options, a cafe and specialty restaurants. If food is important to you, speak with your travel agent to make sure that the cruise you’re looking at is the best option for your needs. Cruises can accommodate most dietary needs and requirements, but again this should be chatted about when you are booking the cruise so your travel agent can notate your file and make sure the cruise line is aware of your requests. Some cruise lines do have an additional charge for specialty restaurants onboard. Wether the cruise line you are sailing with charges or not, you can make some reservations for specialty restaurants usually now online before your cruise to make sure you get to dine where you like. I remember once being on a cruise and meeting a couple who finally showed up for their last meal in the dining room on the last night of the cruise. The wife was so excited that they were finally splurging on a meal and asked where the prices were on the menu of what the charge was, well it was the main dining room we were in which meant there was none, they had apparently been eating at the buffet the entire cruise! She was not impressed at all and had no idea they could have been having sit down service meals the whole week. 

Gratuities – Gratuities can sometimes be included depending on the promotion you book, or it is an additional charge that you can add on before you sail (depending on the cruise line) or it’s paid onboard at the end of your sailing. Gratuities depend on cruise line and stateroom category, suites pay more than an inside, etc. The reason I’m a fan of gratuities is that everyone benefits, yes you can tip you room steward and server, but they aren’t the dishwashers, people doing laundry or the entertainment onboard. It makes it fair so you don’t have to worry about tipping. If you are using a butler or concierge, please do consider tipping them extra for good service as they do typically go above and beyond in my experience. 

Drink Packages – Most cruise lines offer drink packages for purchase or part of a perk when booking. Some cruise lines (especially river cruises) offer wine and beer with lunch and dinner. Speak to your travel agent to find out what type of a drink package is best for you. I typically don’t buy a drink package, sometimes I buy a non-alcohol drink package, so I can have specialty coffees etc. Depending on the cruise line you cruise with you can bring a certain amount of wine onboard per cabin without a corkage fee. What is a corkage fee? So some cruise lines charge this to bring wine onboard, wether you drink it in your stateroom or in any of the dining rooms. I typically go for this option (I prefer to bring my own wine onboard to enjoy in my stateroom). 

Internet on cruise ships – Cruise ships do have wi-fi onboard. Keep in mind that it is satellite internet, so it is much slower and less reliable than what you are probably used to at home. Some cruise lines include internet, some you can choose it as a perk or you can purchase it onboard. 

How do you find the best deal? Use a travel agent who specializes in cruises. Again, I’m a cruise expert myself and a Virtuoso Travel Agent so I do have extra perks I can offer my clients depending on the cruise booked. This could be extra onboard credits or special onboard surprises from me. I also now offer a service that I can track your sailing to make sure you booked at the best price or best promotion. If there is a better deal that comes along, I can work with the cruise line to make sure you get an upgrade, onboard credits or extra perks to get the most of what you paid. I also get notifications on all the latest sales and promotions from each cruise line every week. As I’ve been in the industry for a little while now, I have experience when it comes to knowing the best times of year to book a cruise (best cruise offers are normally in January and February) and the best cruise line for your budget, itinerary, etc.

Deposits and Final Payments – Again the depends on the cruise line and the promotion booked as to what the deposit will be. Sometimes the deposits are refundable, sometimes they aren’t. Again one of the benefits of booking with a travel agent, I’ll make sure that everything is extremely clear so you know what to expect and send you reminders before your final payment is due. Typically final payments are due 90 to 120 days prior to departure date of your cruise.

Cruising Solo – Cruising solo is becoming so popular. Recent statistics from Stats Canada are that 52% of Canadians are Single, Widowed or Divorced. Lonely Planet did a poll in which 67% of respondents in a 2019 survey said their next trip would be solo. 48% of Baby Boomers say they took a solo trip in 2018. It’s so nice to see that many cruise lines have realized the market needs and have started adding solo cabins onboard, some cruise lines even waive the single supplement. Some cruise lines have even implemented Solo Traveller meetups onboard, usually on the first day when you board the ship which can be very well attended. The solo groups onboard usually meet everyday and arrange group dinners and events. My aunt just got back from a 17 day cruise from Dubai to Singapore back in December and had a great time with her solo traveller group on her cruise, there was a pretty large group and she made some great friendships which they keep in contact and have been chatting amongst themselves about other cruises they are booking in the future. You can also join one of my favourite resources, Cruise Critic for free. They have a message board that normally has “Roll Calls” for each cruise departure. It’s a great place to make connections before your cruise and see who else is sailing on your sailing. You can also see if there is a local Solo Travellers Group near you. I actually run two in the Vancouver/Lower Mainland area, you can always send me a message for information if your in the area and want to attend. Solo Travellers Groups are great to meet other solo travellers and see what group opportunities there are. I know in the groups I run some of the ladies have become great friends and travel together, or we have put a cruise group together and travel as a group. Cruising alone shouldn’t put you off of cruising, it can be such a great way to explore this world and because of the ease of travel, much less daunting than a group tour or doing it on your own hopping from city to city.

Groups – Do you have a potential group of 10 passengers or more? Wether you have a corporate group, a retreat group, a family reunion, a group of friends travelling, a special interest group (such as photography, artists, wine, book clubs, etc), retirement party, anniversary celebration or a wedding, groups onboard a cruise can be rewarding for everyone. Again, speak with a travel agent who has experience in booking a cruise group, as they can help you get the best rates and extra perks for your group. 

Sustainability and the Environment – Cruising is quite controversial when it comes to being environmentally friendly or sustainable. There are some cruise lines out there that are doing their best to try to help the environment. Some of the ultra luxury companies have launched clean energy ships, some of the bigger lines are starting to follow suit. Some cruise lines have eliminated single use plastics onboard, others are committing to do so bit by bit (such as eliminating straws onboard, getting rid of towel animals (yes they were cute, but it does add quite a bit of extra laundry) and using boxed water). However, it comes down to you being a sustainable traveller. I bring a reusable water bottle (fill that up with a lemon and water before leaving the ship and even when waling around the ship on a sea day) and travel cup with a straw. I also travel with reusable straws, so if I do order a pina colada I can enjoy it without the paper straw disintegrating. Try to reuse your towels a couple times before requesting new ones and hold on to your beach/pool towel for a few uses as well. I also order “small portions” in the dining rooms so as to not waste any food. I mean come on, I want to try a couple of those amazing appetizers anyways right? *wink wink*

Wheelchairs and Accessibility – Again this is where a cruise specialist comes in. We can suggest itineraries that would better suit someone that has a wheelchair or accessibility needs. For instance, if you are someone with a wheelchair, I would suggest avoiding an itinerary that requires a lot of tenders. Tendering off the ship can be pretty well impossible in some ports and off some ships, so there are very strict guidelines that need to be met. In regards to cabins, there are many different types of accessible cabins and there are forms that need to be filled out to make sure you are allocated a specific cabin type depending on your needs. This can be a cabin for someone who might be deaf, in a wheelchair or blind. There was an instance I saw in a travel forum recently that someone had booked a family getaway on their own and the grandparents unfortunately could not access the balcony or the washroom facilities in the cabin as the wheelchair could not fit through the bathroom door! Once onboard, of course the cruise was sold out and they could not be moved. If they had a travel agent to help them out, this would have never happened and a correct cabin would have been assigned to them. Travel agents can also arrange scooter and wheelchair rentals onboard as well, again this is something that I chat about with my clients in regards to their needs.

Travel Insurance – Things happen. Get insurance. I’ve honestly seen it all. I’ve had a client slip and break her jaw three days before departing for her 14 day river cruise and couldn’t travel. Insurance made sure she got 100% back. I’ve had clients miss flights due to an accident in the tunnel on the way to the airport. I’ve had clients miss the first day of their cruise due to a delay in a flight which caused them to land too late (in this situation, always arrive the day before, I’m even doing this in April for my own cruise out of San Diego). Travel insurance can also help if your baggage gets delayed and you need to go shopping for items at the ship’s shops (this unfortunately happens more than you think). I’ve also had clients needing to seek medical attention onboard a ship before, if you don’t have insurance it’s not cheap. I’ve heard of people needing to be medically evacuated off ships, it’s happened on my ship a couple times over the years. A cruise (or any trip) is an investment. Make sure that if 24 hours prior to departure you need to cancel, you’re protected to get 100% back. Cruise lines do offer their own insurance, however sometimes it’s only just a cruise credit for a future cruise not actually cash back, so make sure you read the fine print. Bottom line, make sure you get insurance.

Next week I’m going to be chatting about preparing and getting the most out of your cruise whilst onboard.

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Thanks again for listening and reading, as always if you’d like to get in touch to work with me as a client, be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

PS – Did you enjoy reading this blog post? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

Ep. 5 Surviving the Holiday Travel Season

Aloha from The Big Island of Hawai’i! Today on the podcast I’m chatting about Holiday Season travel tips.

I’m diving into my own recent flight woes and how to prepare yourself and your family for a busy travel season. Stresses are high and tempers are short, but there are ways you can alleviate some anxieties while travelling during the Christmas Holidays.

Here is the link to find out your rights when it comes to compensation from the airlines due to delays, cancellations, etc with flights departing to, from and within Canada: https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-passenger-protection-regulations-highlights

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

PS – Did you enjoy reading this blog post? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

Ep. 4 Travel Safety Tips and Tricks with David

I chat again with a really good friend David about travel safety tips and tricks. We chat about muggings, natural disasters and travel scams we’ve seen on our travels and how to do your best to prepare yourself. Knowledge and preparation empowers you to be a more confident traveller.

The Government of Canada has a great travel information website: https://www.travel.gc.ca On this website you can find travel warnings, safety information, visa entry requirements and health information.

Follow David on Instagram at @attraversiamoinsieme

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

Ep. 3 Solo Travel Questions Answered

In this episode I’m solo answering some solo travel questions that I received through Instagram and Facebook.

I answer questions such as “Isn’t is weird to eat alone?” to “Do you find it lonely travelling by yourself?”. I discuss why I personally love to travel solo to some of the challenges faced when travelling alone. The biggest takeaway is that solo travel should not hold you back! It’s so rewarding if you’re prepared.

A great resource for cruising (especially if your travelling alone) is Cruise Critic, you can join roll calls for cruises you are travelling on, etc – https://boards.cruisecritic.com

The Government of Canada has a great travel information website: https://www.travel.gc.ca On this website you can find travel warnings, safety information, visa entry requirements and health information.

Some of the apps that I use when I travel are: Google Translate (make sure to download the languages so you can use while off data, etc), Google Maps/Streetview, WhatsApp/Facebook Messenger (to stay connected to home), Airline apps (Air Canada, WestJet, etc, whomever I am flying as some planes don’t have in seat entertainment, they require that you have the app to watch movies, etc), Various Hotel apps (Marriott Bonvoy, etc), the Weather Network (to get up to date weather information to plan your days) and of course Uber/Lyft.

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Let me know what you thought of the episode on Instagram! Find me @WanderlustJourney.ca Share a screenshot of you enjoying the episode to your Instagram and Facebook with your instant thoughts! Also be sure to subscribe which ever platform you use listen to your podcasts (Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Anchor, etc), leave a five star rating and review.

Thanks again for listening, as always if you’d like to get in touch to be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.