Being offered a “free” dining or beverage package seems to the be sign of the times today in ocean cruising bookings. Every cruise line has its own twist on the perks offered but these two are always in the mix of offerings.
So, which do you choose? You love to eat and…. okay you like to consume adult beverages too, thus the dilemma exists.
Now, my first recommendation is talk to your travel professional because all “free” perks are not created equally. For example, some lines charge service fees associated with their “free” while others do not. Most lines have a dollar limit to drinks available using the perk and the big difference is how they handle those drinks that hop over that limit. For example, let’s assume your drink limit is $13 but you really want to try that $16 martini. On some lines, you would pay only the $3 extra, on other lines you would not be able to use the beverage package and be charged the full $16. Note from one wine snob to another: Serious wine drinkers (those who won’t drink the house wine at a bar and who don’t drink much in the way of other alcohol) should think twice about the “free” beverage package because it isn’t likely to have wines that will make you happy. You, may want to consider choosing the free dining perk and then buying your own wine package.
Dining packages are no different, you really have to do the math regarding which perk will be best. Example: you are on a 7-day cruise, your perk is 3 nights in a specialty restaurant, on board credit, free wifi or the beverage package. What is the value of those 3 nights dining? Let’s say the price is $35 per visit to the specialty restaurant x 3 = $105 but the onboard credit is $150 per person…..which is better?
Remember a particular cruise line can only speak to and only wants to sell you their product, they cannot offer you a side by side comparison like a travel professional. We can help sort all that out and can search across all cruise lines for the best perk offering out there.
The Oregon trail is an historic wagon wheel route, originally laid by fur trappers and traders that connect Missouri to Oregon. Settlers used it to come west and stake out claims for land. While the land journey is certainly a great trip, we took an air journey and flew into Portland. Portland is an interesting and somewhat quirky town with many unique and interesting neighborhoods to enjoy as well as a highly accessible and enjoyable downtown area. The Columbia and Willamette rivers run right through the heart of Portland, but they are not the only liquid assets here, which seems to have a micro brewery on every block. For this trip, we were not there for the beer (sigh), but simply using it as our jumping off point to get to the Willamette Valley in search of grapes.
The Willamette Valley has emerged in recent years as one of the premier wine producing regions in the country, even garnering international notoriety. The valley is home to over 300 individual wineries The climate, latitude, and geology is particularly suited to the production of top-quality Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris. The Willamette Valley is a huge appellation that includes six sub-appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton.
As we are still travelling, here is just a quick photo overview as it is almost time to get out and explore some more.
Stoller Family Estate in Dundee Hills. Beautiful tasting room and great 100% Estate grown wines.
Sokol Blosser Winery – the Evolution blend is easily found in the midwest.
Durant Vineyards – one of our favorite stops!
Archery Summit – Great wines and a unique (to this area) wine cellar tasting room
Trip planning can be every bit as enjoyable as the trip. Our theory is some of the happiest people in the world are those who either are planning a vacation or those that are on vacation. If you are not doing one, well you should be doing the other.
Here are the 3 most critical tools we used for planning a trip to Belgium.
A guidebook from Brugge tourism,
Great Beers of Belgium book
Trappistes Rochefort 8.
We had such a good time planning that we decided to go there ourselves.
One unique way for you to add Brugge to your vacation is to take a Rhine Getaway river cruise with Viking River Cruises and add in a 3 night pre-stay in Brugge. Begin your trip on an amazing note by staying in the heart of the old town at this UNESCO World Heritage Site. See one of the few Michelangelo sculptures outside of Italy, walk along the canals, explore the cobbled streets and many sidewalk cafes. But what ever you do, don’t forget to spend some quality time at the Half Moon Brewery! After visiting Brugge, you will be transferred to Amsterdam to start your cruise on the Rhine river heading towards Basel, Switzerland.
DAY 1 AMSTERDAM – Arrive in Amsterdam, then transfer to your ship. After boarding, the afternoon is yours to explore the city on your own. If your arrival schedule permits and you are interested, you may wish to visit the Anne Frank House.
DAY 2 KINDERDIJK – UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sail to Kinderdijk, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a tour of this ingenious network of windmills and other flood management devices. You learn why the windmills were built and see how they work, plus you enter an actual working windmill for a tour of its mechanisms and living quarters. Return aboard for lunch and an enjoyable afternoon of Dutch diversions: sample handcrafted Dutch cheeses and jenever, a distilled juniper liquor, and try your hand at sjoelen (Dutch table shuffleboard). Cruise through the night.
DAY 3 COLOGNE – UNESCO World Heritage Site. Continue along the Rhine this morning; arrive in Cologne and disembark for a walking tour. Stroll through Old Town past St. Martin’s Church, and spend some time inside Cologne’s Dom, a remarkable Gothic cathedral whose construction was begun in 1248 and which was only completed in 1880. Explore the dockside taverns, cafés and shops on your own—as always, your Program Director can help you plan your free time. Dinner is served aboard and we remain docked until late evening.
DAY 4 KOBLENZ & RÜDESHEIM – UNESCO World Heritage Site. Proceed along the Rhine, disembarking to tour 700-year-old Marksburg Castle and its museum. Lunch aboard as you enjoy this scenic passage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where castles overlook the river from their hilltop locations. Arrive in Rüdesheim in the late afternoon. Spend free time in the pedestrian-only Drosselgasse and sample a glass of locally produced wine at one of the restaurants or wine bars—dine aboard or in town if you prefer. Ship departs after midnight.
DAY 5 HEIDELBERG & SPEYER – UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cruise through the morning enjoying brunch and the passing scenery. Arrive in Mannheim and disembark for a journey to Heidelberg to see Germany’s oldest university, founded in 1386. Then visit the beautiful sandstone ruins of imposing Heidelberg Castle, and take in the scenery of the Neckar River Valley and the city’s many red rooftops from its hilltop location. Continue with a walking tour through the Old Town to Heidelberg’s renowned gates.
Rejoin your ship in Speyer this afternoon and take some time to look around. You dock in full view of the imposing Romanesque cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the 11th century on the site of a former basilica, the building’s design was highly influential upon Romanesque architecture for centuries to come, and is the final resting place of eight German monarchs. Its soaring interior features graceful rows of sandstone columns and a large stained-glass window installed in the western façade during a later Gothic period.
DAY 6 STRASBOURG – UNESCO World Heritage Site. Dock this morning in Kehl and disembark for a guided tour of Strasbourg. See the European Parliament and tour the interior of the city’s famed cathedral. The afternoon is free to further explore this Alsatian city’s blend of French and German cultures—fabulous churches, medieval covered bridges, beautiful parks and some lovely Art Nouveau and modernist architecture. Dine aboard and enjoy free time this evening in the quaint little city of Kehl.
DAY 7 BREISACH – After cruising through the night you arrive during breakfast in Breisach, gateway to the Black Forest. Take a scenic excursion through the area’s renowned mountain landscape, rolling meadows and dense forests. Once there, visit a local workshop and see a cuckoo clock-making demonstration. Return to Breisach for some free time before an early evening departure. Or, choose an optional excursion to the quaint Alsatian town of Colmar. Dine aboard while you cruise on to Basel, arriving around midnight.
DAY 8 BASEL – After breakfast, disembark and proceed to the airport for your return flight. Or, extend your time in Switzerland’s Alpine region with 2 nights in lovely Lucerne or a 3-night stay at Lake Geneva.
GetAway Travel is your best resource for river cruises. We have the necessary expertise and are completely focused on meeting your needs. Call now for a free consultation 262-538-2140
One of our premier suppliers is hosting a 10 day Bavarian Brewery and Oktoberfest Tour, September 17-27, 2014. We think it is an amazing and unique opportunity to see some of the best that Germany has to offer along with a group of fellow beer enthusiasts. For this post, we will just cover the very beginning of the tour in Bamberg.
Historic brewpub in Bamberg, Germany
The first night of the tour is in the town of Bamberg, one of the best preserved medieval cities in Bavaria. There are 9 breweries in Bamberg, with the specialty brew of the area being Rauchbier, a very distinctive brew with a smoke flavor imparted by drying the malted barley over an open flame. Before modern kilns became common, most malt was dried over an open flame and most beers features some smokiness. Today, Bamberg is one of very few locations where the old-school smoking takes place. Most rauchbiers are medium-to-full-bodied lagers with pronounced smoke & malt character, light bitterness, and minimal hop flavor. The best known Rauchbier is brewed by Schlenkerla, which operates in a historic brewpub in town. The building itself dates back to 1405. After a walking tour of the old town, Schlenkerla is where our tours welcome dinner is held.
The following day, we stay in Bamberg and have tours and tastings at 2 more breweries. The rest of this day is at leisure, where you may choose to visit the Franconian Brewery-Museum, with its Benedictine brewhouse dating from 1122. One especially noteworthy place in Bamberg is the Altes Rathaus (old townhall), which is perched in the middle of a bridge above the Regnitz River and is a must-see.
You can find all the details of the full tour along with a registration from at our web page here. Ein Prosit!
Villers Abbey (Abbaye de Villers) was founded in 1158 in what is now the province of Wallonia in Belgium. It was a Cistercian abbey which emphasized a life of manual labor and self-sufficiency. Many of these abbeys would have traditionally supported themselves with activities such as agriculture and brewing beer.
Although founded in the twelfth century, most construction did not start until the early thirteenth century. The church took 70 years to build and was completed by the end of the 13th century. At the height of its importance, the abbey had about 100 monks and 300 lay brothers living inside its walls.
Decline set in during the 16th century, due to political instability in the low countries of north-western Europe. In the 17th and 18th century , the abbey’s fortunes continued to diminish and it was finally abandoned in 1796 in the wake of the French Revolution.
Now after considerable restoration it is an amazing tourist stop. The church, although in ruins, is an outstanding example of Cistercian architecture with imposing vaulting, arches and rose windows.
Many thanks to our friend Greg for his vivid portrayal of a monk seeking out the brew house!
Depending on your preferences, one of the greatest gifts that Belgium has given to the world is beer. Some would say waffles, but they probably just need to try more beer to get their priorities right. Here’s what English writer Michael Jackson had to say in his book Great Beers of Belgium – “Civilization may have begun with beer. On the basis of that theory, it might be argued that Belgians have their priorities right. In pursuing their enthusiasm for beer, they are simply seeking to be civilized people. The suggestion is that, when humans stopped being hunters and gatherers, and settled into organized societies in order to grow grain, their purpose was not to bake bread, but to brew beer.”
Belgian beer is unlike no other in the world. Michael also writes – “No other European country has beers that are quite so complex in character as the finest in Belgium. No other country has native beers as diverse, individualistic, even idiosyncratic. Some are so unlike conventional beers as to shock the unwary consumer.”
So where do we start our Belgian beer journey? Do we head to an Abbey or Trappist monestary? Do we go in search of wild yeast Lambics? Where can we find red beer, fruit beer, spiced beer, farmhouse ale, dubbels, tripels, quadrupels? Well, you can’t really make a bad decision in this country, but as for us, we started in the northwest area of the country in the province of West Flanders.
There are so many fantastic places to visit in Belgium, but certainly on the top of any list of where to go should be the city of Bruges. How special is it? Well, the entire city center of Bruges is designated as a UNESCO world heritage site. It is one of Belgium’s and Europe’s best preserved medieval cities. There is so much to see, do, eat (9 Michelin Star restaurants!) and drink that you should spend a couple days here at least as part of your Belgian beercation.
During the “Golden Age” in the 12th through 15th century Bruges was a European economic powerhouse. Foreign merchants from Portugal, Gaul, England, Scotland, Venice and the middle east all set up trading in Bruges. It was the home to what is widely believed to be the worlds first stock exchange opened in 1309. Now Bruges is a picture postcard perfect tourist destination, with wonderful canals and within the historic city center, street after street of charming historic buildings.
There is so much to see and do in Bruges. You may want to start by climbing the belfry to see the carillon in action. You definitely should take a boat ride on the canals. You may even want to go to the lace museum. Eventually though, you really should make your way to De Halve Maan, the only family brewery in the historical center of Bruges that is still active.
Historical records mention existence of a brewery called Die Maene (The Moon) in 1564. However it wasn’t until 1856 that Leon Maes (also known as Henri I) founded a “modern” brewery. In 1867 his sons took over the brewery and started applying new technology imported from England to produce stouts and pale ales. The sons died young, but their widows helped manage the brewery through the difficult years of the first world war. In 1919, Leon’s grandson (Henri III) took over and picked up the latest brewing technology from Germany. They began to brew lagers and rounded out production with soft drinks as well. Henri III specialized in a home delivery service system with horse and hamper, making a point to visit every customer at least once per year. In the 1950’s Henri IV took over and helped expand the breweries home delivery service with trucks. However, in the 1970’s this was the downfall of the home delivery system as people had their own cars and started buying beer in supermarkets. In the 1980’s, interest in traditional regional Belgian beers was increasing and Veronique, the daughter of Henri IV launched a new special beer, brewed to honor the inauguration of the Saint Arnold (patron saint of brewers) statue in Bruges. It was a blond beer of high fermentation and was given an appropriate name of Straffe Hendrik (strong Henri). However, In 1998 Straffe Hendrik brewing was taken over by a different brewery, Riva NV. In 2005 Veroniques son Xavier Vanneste revived activities a the brewery through extensive rennovation and modernization. He launched a new beer “Brugse Zot”, which has been brewed with great success, garnishing many awards. In 2008 Straffe Hendrik brewing returned once again to De Halve Maan.
De Halve Maan is a rather vertically oriented brewery, so during the tour you move from the brewing room up, up and up until you are on the roof of the brewery and have a great view of city of Bruges. The old malting room and fermentation tanks are still in place (although no longer used) and make for a great combination of the modern and historical during the tour. Tours are extremely popular and a completely international affair, provided in Dutch, French, German and English!
Start in the gift shop? or finish in the gift shop?
How about some Belgian fries (world’s greatest) while waiting for your tour
We just returned from an amazing trip to Belgium and France. We have all sorts of new stories to tell along with some great photos and videos. Our first stop in Belgium was the picture postcard perfect city of Bruges (or Brugge in Flemish). Bruges certainly has a lot to offer and we could have easily spent several days there to take it all in. But before we start posting about the town and our new favorite Belgian brewery De Halve Maan, we want to put up a quick post on lace making.
Lace making? Paul did mention to Sue something about that he’d rather have a sharp stick in the eye instead of going to the lace museum — but, it is certainly fascinating to see how lace is made by hand. We hope you enjoy.
In our yard, the only greenery that ever seems to grow very well are weeds. If we want a fountain, we need to turn on the hose. For us to appreciate a garden it’s best to go visit one. The Gardens of Annevoie Castle, have been around for 250 years and they are spectacular. First opened to the public in the 1930s, the water feeding the fountains only flows with the help of gravity – no mechanical pumps. It’s a great stop if you’re touring southern Belgium where you can briefly leave the rest of the world behind before you head off in a search for that next amazing tripel.
When we were last in Tasmania we had the wonderful opportunity to take a Wineglass to Wine glass trek.
From the Freycinet Lodge we walk up the Hazard Mountains to the Wineglass bay lookout. Here we took in spectacular views of the Freycinet Peninsula and the Tasman Sea. Then we descended down into the bay, tracked across the isthmus to Hazards Beach and then partook in a rather sumptuous meal of local cheeses, fresh seafood , Tasmanian beef and quail, and just a few glasses of Tasmanian wine and beer.
Our trek begins
The trekkers are ready! Including our “celebrity” pal (no longer) bachelor Jason Mesnick
Here is a view of Wineglass bay from the lookout
Beautiful view from the beach at Wineglass bay
Artistic sand shot!
After we leave the bay to cross the isthmus, we meet a Jill Wallaby with a Joey in the pouch – awesome!
We’ve been spotted!
Hazard beach now in sight on the other side of the isthmus.
Now leaving Hazards Beach and heading towards our feast.
Our personal chef hard at work, also a nice selection of local beer to help us recover from the walk.
Our dining room!
What more appropriate start than a bottle of Hazards Ale from Wineglass Bay Brewing!
Canterbury, England has it all: a great destination combining the excellent Canterbury Cathedral, the ruins of St Augustine’s Abbey, a very well-preserved medieval town center AND a fantastic brew pub.