Recently we sailed aboard the Royal Caribbean Symphony of the Seas on it’s inaugural voyage from Miami, Florida. She is the reigning queen of large ships with so much to see and do on-board that it would take several vacations just to experience it all.
Here’s a sample of what we experienced: water slides, robot bartenders, world class fine dining, high energy Vegas show, Broadway show – Hairspray, Water show with high diving into an ever changing pool , fireworks, balloon drop, wine tasting, fresh seafood lunch, organic italian pasta, laser tag, a real boardwalk carousel ride, a musical staircase, a bar that’s also an elevator, mini-golf, the international space station, and the Wright brothers flying a plane above the theater audiences heads. I’m sure i’m forgetting something – and we were only there for 4 nights!
As there is so much, we’ve created a photo & video gallery if you wish to see more
By the numbers she is 1188 feet long and 215.5 feet wide. She occupies 228,081 Gross Tons. 18 Decks with 24 guest elevators. 4 Bow thrusters with 7500 horse power each. There are 7 neighborhoods (really our favorite feature of this class of ship) Central Park, Boardwalk, Royal Promenade, Pool & Sports Zone, Spa & Fitness Center, Entertainment Place and Youth Zone. There are 2759 Staterooms which accommodate 5518 guests with double occupancy. 2200 crew members.
There are 9 complimentary dining venues and 11 specialty ones.
And this is all just the beginning – there is so much to see and do including Rock Climbing Wall, Water slides, Escape Room, Surfing, Zip line, laser tag and not to be missed the Ultimate Abyss. Will we head down the tallest slide at sea? Only one way to find out!
Cruising on the Danube river in Budapest past the stunning parliament building is a special treat both day and night. Did you know that the Danube flows over 1700 miles passing through 10 countries on its way to the Black Sea? You can travel almost all of it on an amazing river cruise. How much time do you have? 1 week? 2 weeks? More? Let us know and we can design the perfect trip for you.
Certainly one of the great things about cruising is you are always close to destinations with amazing seafood. Last month in Halifax, Nova Scotia we had lunch at McKelvie’s Restaurant – a short walk from the cruise pier and not very far from another favorite spot – Halifax Distilling Co. You can tell from the photos below that we had a great lunch and would definitely go back on our next trip.
If you have never seen the Aura music and light show inside this cathedral it is definitely a must see. However, Even during a normal daytime visit the lighting provides an amazing scene. Just check our photos from our visit last month. Montreal was the final stop on our Canada New England fall color cruise. We had great time and highly recommend this itinerary. More photos coming soon!
I’ll admit it. I’ve been lots of places all around the world, but have never been to Boston. Two things I know about Boston: First is Sam Adams. Jim Koch believed that beer drinkers deserved a better American beer than what was available in the 1980’s. And was he right! Look at the proliferation of craft beers and breweries all across the US. Samuel Adams Boston Lager had a huge impact on the future US landslide of flavor packed beers. Second thing I know about Boston is Boston Rob from the CBS show survivor. Rob and his wife Amber both individually won different seasons – her in 2004 and him in 2011 after his fourth appearance! As a couple they both appeared on Season 7 of the Amazing Race – they were masters of the game, and finished in 2nd place, just short of the big prize.
For this trip, we’ll be in Boston a couple days early and will visit Freedom Trail sites in the downtown area. The city was founded in 1630 and got its name from an English village. Many of the events that led to the American revolution including the infamous Boston Tea Party in 1773, started here In 1775, Paul Revere helped spread the word that the British were coming (no tweeting in those days). The next day “the shot heard round the world” was fired, signaling the start of the American Revolution. And the rest as they say is history.
It’s up and at ’em today with a goal of seeing as much as possible. First stop St. Stephen’s Basilica. Located in a very nice area, the church is surrounded by many shops and cafés so after the visit you might want to grab a bite to eat or a glass of wine and enjoy the square.
St. Stephen’s is dedicated to the Hungary’s king who was the founder of the Hungarian State. Construction started in 1851 but the church was not dedicated until 1905. During WWII, the church roof, towers and external walls were badly damaged however visitors today will find that even the beautiful mosaics have been successfully restored. Like many churches & Basilica’s in Europe, St. Stephan’s has it’s precious relic. Here (in the chapel) you will find the mummified hand of the church’s patron saint, the first king of Hungary. I’ve seen quite a few mummified parts in my travels but no matter how many, I can’t quite get over the concept – and yes, in every church I do seek them out….go figure!
If you are ambitious (we were not) you can walk up the 364 steps to the cupula for a panoramic view of the city, or do it the easy way and take one of the 2 elevators – either way, its worth the effort on a clear day.
St Matthias church on Buda Castle hill
Next stop on our whirlwind tour is Buda Castle. We took public transportation for an easy jog over to that part of town. Located on what is referred to as Castle Hill, the 18th century Buda castle is a 200 room palace built to protect from Mongol and Tartar attacks. The castle was quite damaged in World War II however today many parts of it have been restored and now house the Hungarian National Gallery and the Budapest History Museum. The entire complex is designated a Unesco World Heritage Site and it is worth taking the time to explore.
An amazing view from Castle hill of the Parliament building on the Danube
View of Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion on Castle Hill
Funicular Ride up to the Castle
Take the historic funicular up to the top and be sure to marvel at the views from the top. Stay for a changing of the guards ceremony and be sure to throw a penny in the fountain. While we were exploring a festival was being set up in the castle square and we are glad we hung around until the stalls began to open. This was by far the best Hungarian food ever! The cabbage roll was to die for, the grilled chicken was moist and tasty and sausage….well with a cold Hungarian brew, what could have been better??
Sue & Ellen enjoy lunch at the Buda Castle
Onward we went – in search of one of the “most scenic tram rides in Europe”. AKA Tram #2, on the Pest side of the river is according to National Geographic, one of the most scenic trams in the world but I think we missed its beauty. Don’t get me wrong, out the river side of the tram there were some very pretty sights – when you could see them. However, the tram is crowded and used for local transportation so if you can get a seat on the scenic side you are lucky…heck that is if you can get a seat at all!
Tram running in front of Gellert Baths in Budapest
Now a word about this and other trams/public transportation options in Budapest. You must buy a ticket and you MUST validate it upon entering the tram. We bought a 10 pack and got on. One of us validated and the other 2 did not, as our main goal was seeking out a seat. Well it seems that the one who validated did not actually validate the ticket itself but rather the ticket cover….and folks that doesn’t count when the tram police step on board and check your tickets. Let’s just say that the 1 Euro tram ride ticket became about a $35 per person fine – yep, even though we had attempted to validate according to the nice lady checking tickets, we had done so incorrectly and it simply didn’t count! You see, she doesn’t “make the rules, she just follows them” thank you very much and pay on the spot! It did not matter that we had some 8 unused tickets that she could have easily stamped …nope….tourist hand over the money! And so we did….but here is the good news (according to her), we could now ride the tram the rest of the day for free! Well we rode it all right, to where we found a wonderful little wine bar to toast our contribution to Budapest tourism!
A Souvenir that won’t be soon forgotten!
All in a days fun…and something to talk about for a long time to come!
Starting in Budapest, Hungary, we made our way down the Danube River on the Uniworld SS Maria Theresa and oh what a time we had.
We arrived in Budapest a few days earlier and checked into the Boscolo Budapest Autograph Collection Hotel aka the New York Palace Hotel. This city center hotel is truly an extraordinary experience where historic combines with contemporary comfort. Marble bathrooms, plush bedding, silk wallpaper and Murano chandeliers make you feel as though you are royalty.
The service is fantastic and a visit to the world-famous New York Café located within the hotel is a must do.
Although tired, we grabbed a bite to eat while we waited for rooms to be ready and then our first stop of the trip was the famous natural hot spring baths. It was a short stroll from the hotel to the underground that took us right to the baths.
There are many hot mineral bath options in Budapest but we chose to visit Szechenyi Baths. Szechenyi is the largest in Budapest with 15 indoor baths and 3 grand outdoor options. Each pool has a different temperature, our favorite was outdoors pool because of the size and temperature. It was the warmest and together with the sunshine it revitalized our bodies, minds and spirits after that long overseas flight. Onsite, one can also take advantage of steam and sauna cabins, massage therapies and even a beer spa! We rented a cabin which afforded us a private change area and a place to store our things. This experience is highly recommended on your next trip to Budapest, there is just something about floating around in deliciously warm water while surrounded by a Neo-baroque palace!
Feeling refreshed we headed back to the hotel knowing dinner and bedtime were just a few hours away. Tomorrow was to be a full day of sightseeing….stay tuned!
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.
Tom Thumb, Green Thumb all I know is I’m all thumbs when it comes to gardening. In my house I have exactly 2 plants…that are still alive. I’ve been told it is impossible to kill a Christmas cactus…well I’ve just completed losing #4. Out back I have a “garden” and I use that term very loosely since we refer to it as the weed bed. So, I’d be the last person in the world you’d expect to want to visit the famous Keukenhof gardens in Holland. Yet somehow it was on my bucket list – go figure!
So, this spring we set off with a few great friends to visit the Netherlands (okay so we got the men to go because we included Belgium and you all know how good their beer is) and on the itinerary was a visit to the famous Keukenhof gardens. Keukenhof gardens is open only mid-March to Mid-May and our trip was timed right for the tulips to be in bloom. We had to decide, full day or half day visit….OMG, we did the full day and still did not see everything so if you are even in that quandary….go full day for sure.
Miles and miles of tulips (well 32 hectares to be exact), every shape and color you can imagine. Throw in some daffodils and hyacinth and you have a color mania of flowers. But it’s not all just flowers, there are activities in the park like boat rides, cycle paths, fun signs and wooden shoes to put your face and feet into for that ultimate photo op. Definitely climb the windmill to get a bird’s eye view of the vast tulip gardens. If you are taking the kids, then be sure to download the treasure hunt before you go.
Ah yes, a full day at Keukenhof gardens will inspire you…I promise. How do I know this you ask….well I left the gardens that day 300 or so tulip bulbs heavier (or shall I say $300 or so lighter since the tulips were to be shipped to the US in the fall). Yes, me the ultimate weed bed owner left the proud owner of lots of tulip bulbs without one single plan for what I’d do with them.
They arrived this fall and I am happy to say they are all planted into a brand new flower garden…now we just wait till spring. I’ll keep you posted but in the meantime, put Keukenhof gardens on your bucket list, you won’t be sorry. It was beautiful!