Norwegian Updates Smoking Policy

Hot off the presses…

Norwegian Cruise Line has just released the following update to their shipboard smoking policy:

As the health and well–being of our guests and crew is of the utmost importance, Norwegian Cruise Line will institute changes to its smoking policy for all sailings on or after November 1, 2014. The specific changes prohibit smoking on stateroom balconies and limit smoking in the casino to players. On Norwegian Getaway and Norwegian Breakaway, smoking on The Waterfront will be permitted on the starboard side, except by the outdoor dining areas. 

They are following in the footsteps of other cruiselines, such as Carnival, who have a very similar smoking policy aboard its fleet of ships.

Does this policy change have an impact on your choice of cruise line?

BVB Does Europe Pt. 4: A Turkish Experience

Hello everyone and Happy Belated New Year! As you can see, I took an extended hiatus from my reviewing my vacation, but I’m back to complete this journey. I will likely have one or two additional posts after this one to complete the comprehensive review. It’s very hard to believe that almost three months have passed since this incredible trip, and we are already looking forward to our next adventure!

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BVB Does Europe Part 2: Rome Day 2 and NCL Jade

Rome: Day 2 and Cruise Embarkation Day

We woke up early on Day 2, as we had 9:30 tickets to tour the Vatican Museum. Although November is the low season in Rome, we wanted to ensure that we wouldn’t need to wait in line once we got to Vatican City. (BVB Tip: I HIGHLY recommended pre-purchasing Vatican Tickets here, especially if you plan to visit during the high season – June to August. From what I’ve been told, the line can wrap around the block if you don’t have tickets in hand). Our hotel offered a free breakfast, which was prerequisite when I was looking for a place to stay.

After downing our pastries and coffee, we checked out of the hotel and walked the 10 short minutes to Termini Train Station. Instead of lugging our bags to the Vatican, which would’ve been a BAD BAD BAD idea, or leaving them at the hotel (which was FREE, but we were concerned about time), we took them down to “Deposito de Bagagli” at Termini…a/k/a Bag Hold. For 5 Euros per bag, you can “check” your baggage in for up to 5 hours in a semi-secured area. This is a great option if you have a few free hours in Rome or whatnot. We checked three of our bags and made our way to the Metro Station to catch the Red Line to Vatican City.

Once arriving to the Metro, we used the row of automated machines to purchase a 1 day Metro Card for 6 Euros each. Although we didn’t have time to ride trains all day, this saved the hassle of buying another Metro token for our return trip, and pretty much cost the same. These machines take either cash (in Euros) or a credit card. We took the Metro to the Ottaviano stop (you can also use the following stop, Cipro,  for Vatican Musuem, which is a shorter walk but will involve some stair-climbing).

Up, up, up to the Vatican

Up, up, up to the Vatican

There wasn’t much of a line at the Vatican, so we really would’ve been okay purchasing tickets on-site (better safe than sorry, though). We located the line for individual ticket holders, as we weren’t part of a guided tour, had our online voucher scanned, and made our way upstairs to the main museum. (BVB Tip: if you like the idea of a tour but not a tour GUIDE, there are audio guide kits you can rent for 7 Euros each. We didn’t do this, as I had a guidebook. Keep in mind, if you rent the audio guide, you won’t be able to sneak out of the Sistine Chapel’s shortcut to St. Peter’s like we did. More on this later).

The Vatican. What can you say? There is SO much to see, SO much history…but everyone is there for the Sistine Chapel. And for this reason, you have to navigate the entire labyrinth of museum to get TO the Sistine Chapel. (I told Mr. B that it reminded me of an IKEA, then shamed myself for comparing the Vatican to IKEA). About midway through the museum, you’ll see an option to take a shortcut to the Sistine Chapel. If you do this, you’ll miss the frescos of Raphael which are VERY impressive. I only recommend taking THIS shortcut if you’re pressed for time.

Official Photo from the Vatican Museum..I followed the rules!

Official Photo from the Vatican Museum..I followed the rules!

Once you get to the Sistine Chapel, there are no photos or video allowed. I had a moment of rebellion and decided that I was going to take pictures anyway, but the reason for the rule was respectable; it’s considered a holy site. Okay then. No pictures. Some people in there did not get the memo and took photos anyway, and were immediately chastised by one of the many guards stationed inside the chapel. There are benches lined along the walls of the chapel, where you can sit and gaze at the various frescos that Michelangelo spent four years creating. Standing in there is one of the most surreal moments of my life.

After awhile, our necks began to hurt from the craning and we decided to leave. In my research, I had learned about the secret side door marked “Groups Only” that will allow you to skip the remainder of the Vatican tour (you’ll mainly miss the Pinacoteca). As I said before, this option is not available to you if you have rented an audio guide, as you need to turn in the headset at the official museum exit. Anyway. Mr. B and I sat on a bench next to the secret side door for about 10 minutes, waiting for a group to exit so we could blend in. There were no groups leaving; everyone was still staring at the ceiling! I got tired of waiting, so I stood up and walked through the door like a BOSS. And no one said a WORD. Maybe it was just a good day; maybe the guards were more concerned about the people taking photos – I don’t know. But we did it!

This exit was ideal, honestly. As soon as we got outside, we saw the short line for the cupola climb at St. Peter’s Basilica. This was not on my agenda, as it was Wednesday and I was under the belief that St. Peter’s would be closed for a papal mass. Sometimes it’s great to be wrong! Anyway, we decided to go for the climb. They charge 5 Euros to do the climb by foot (551 stairs) and 7 Euros to take the elevator up and then climb 320 stairs. Either way it goes, you’ll be climbing. And it’s not easy. I was completely dead by the time we reached the top, and that was after taking multiple breaks for oxygen. In spite of this, however, I feel that the climb was 100% worth it. The views of Rome are breathtaking from the cupola, and that’s after walking through the interior of the dome, where you can take photos of the church below. I have no idea how high up we were…we were just high.  The climb down is nowhere near as bad. 🙂

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We finished up in Vatican City around 1200 and, after stopping for gelato, headed back to the Metro station. We didn’t feel that we had time for lunch and decided to eat once we arrived to the ship. Upon our arrival back to Termini, we collected our bags and purchased tickets for the 1:20 Civitivecchia train. There are automated machines that Trenitalia uses to sell tickets, but they do not accept cash. And if you use a CC, you have to know the card’s pin number. Good thing we had our ATM cards as well; those worked just fine. There are also ticket booths where you can purchase tickets in person, but we honestly couldn’t find them. The train ticket to Civitivecchia was 5 Euros per person. You need to validate the ticket in the yellow machines before you board….which we didn’t do. I’m very glad they weren’t checking tickets that day, or we would’ve been a lot poorer. The train left from platform 25, which was WAY in the back of Termini. Prepare to walk a bit.

Heading to the Ship…

The train ride took about 1 hr and 30 minutes. We were antsy about arriving to the train THIS late (ship left at 5, we arrived to Civitivecchia around 3), so instead of walking to port as we previously planned, we hopped in a cab with another couple. The cab ride was 5 Euros per person…the port is literally 1 mile from the train station.

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Cabin 9659

The good thing about arriving to the ship so late was that there was NO line. After handing our bag to the porter, going through the metal detectors, and filling out the mandatory health survey, we walked directly to the counter and checked in. Within 10 minutes of arriving to the port, we were on the ship and headed to our inside aft cabin: 9659. We put out things down, surveyed the cabin, collected our invite to the Latitudes Cocktail Party (we are both past guests) and headed off to eat. I was a little taken aback that our cabin steward didn’t leave a Freestyle Daily in our cabin — we had no idea what was going on aboard the ship, which restaurants were open, etc. (BVB Info: If you’ve never cruised before, you’ll need to understand that the daily itinerary – called Freestyle Daily on NCL – will become your lifeline. It gives you a list of all of the daily activities, dining hours, sales, etc).

After finding a snack, we returned to our cabin to find our luggage waiting for us outside of the room. We unpacked and called to change our dinner reservation at Cagney’s Steakhouse from 7:30 to 5:30 – we were hungry!!! Our dinner included a free bottle of wine, which was awful generous of Norwegian. 🙂

A quick note about NCL: they are different from other cruise lines in that they abide by a “freestyle” philosophy. You see this primarily in their dining options. Instead of being assigned a dinner time and table as most other cruise lines, you have the option of eating wherever you want, whenever you want. Free dining options include 2 main dining rooms, the buffet and Blue Lagoon (24 hour snack bar). For a cover charge, you also have the option of having steak, French, Italian, sushi, hibachi, or Brazilian. Reservations are recommended and can be made onboard, but you can also show up to the restaurant and request to be seated. There are helpful screens throughout the ship that list all of the restaurants and their respective wait times.

After dinner (I had filet mignon and lobster tail, which was decent), we officially crashed. Slept through all of the evening activities, awaking at 11:3o to pop our head into the disco and finally tour the ship. All in all, an exhausting day but once of my favorite of the vacation!

BVB Tip: If I had to do it all over again, we would’ve arrived to the Vatican earlier (8:30) to avoid the anxiety we experienced aboard the train to Civitivecchia. Norwegian gave us no grief about arrived at 3 pm, but had our train been delayed or if the transit workers had been on strike, we would’ve been in trouble. Otherwise, everything went perfectly! Definitely consider purchasing Vatican tickets in advance and give yourself enough time to enjoy Vatican City!

Next up: Thanksgiving at sea and Greece!

BVB Does Europe!!

Hello Everyone!! It’s been a few weeks since you’ve seen a post from me, and for good reason: we were traveling! I don’t feel that I can be a very effective travel agent if I don’t travel myself, so I spent two weeks getting acquainted with Europe (and a bit of Asia).  This post will be the first of several, providing a comprehensive review of our trip, along with photos and some tips. So I hope you like to read. Here we go!

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Trip Details:

10 Day Eastern Mediterranean Cruise

Ship:

Norwegian Jade

Ports of Call:

Rome/Civitavecchia (port of origin/return); Katakolon/Olympia, Greece; Piraeus/Athens, Greece; Izmir/Ephesus, Turkey; Istanbul, Turkey; Naples, Italy

Additional Days:

1 Night Pre-Cruise in Rome, Italy

1 night Post-Cruise in London, England (flight stopover)

Day 1: Flight and Pre-Cruise

Mr. B and I had a 7:45pm British Airways flight from Tampa International to London Gatwick Airport, and after a two hour morning layover, connected to our flight to Rome.  This nearly 8 hour flight was the longest ever for both of us, so were concerned about staying entertained in the air. Fortunately, British Airways had their Highlife Entertainment On-Demand Screens installed on the 777, so we were both able to watch 2 movies before falling into the always uncomfortable airplane sleep. (I still regret not watching Magic Mike…). BA provided two meals on our flight – dinner and breakfast – and have a completely open bar on their international flights. So if your desire is to drink the flight away, you can do just that!

We had a layover at Gatwick and quickly learned that your gate isn’t announced until 30 minutes before boarding begins. Which led to us sitting, bleary-eyed, in the main terminal trying not to purchase every snack available. They’re very strategic with this, I think.

Finally, our flight boarded and we were off to Rome!!

Note: you do not need to complete a U.K. Landing Card if you’re merely connecting through the airport. If you leave the airport, you’ll need to supply one to Passport Control.  Seems common sense, but trust me… there was some confusion about this.

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Upon landing at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, we went through Passport Control and collected our bag from baggage claim. (Once we found the right baggage claim….we were SO sleepy). Our plan was to hop on the Leonardo Express train straight to Termini, however we passed about 1,000 advertisements for the Terravision Bus that was only 4 Euros..so guess what we did instead? Right.

The bus ride took about 40 minutes and dropped us off right outside of Termini Train Station. From there, we walked about 10 minutes to Aberdeen Hotel, located on Via Firenze. Even with our baggage, the walk was not bad at all. We made sure to keep our important belongings close to us and walked like we knew where we were going, and no one bothered us.

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Aberdeen Hotel

After checking into the hotel, we freshened up and prepared for our evening in Rome. Although we were dog-tired, we knew that a “nap” would turn into “sleep” and we’d have a more difficult time with the jet lag. And how right we were; we had absolutely NO issues adjusting to the new time zone, which was 6 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

We obtained a dinner recommendation from the front desk clerk (who spoke perfect English), and headed out on foot to explore Rome. In the 6 hours we spent walking, we managed to see the Piazza della Repubblica, Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, Palentine Hill (in passing), the Arch of Constatine and the Colosseum. We were completely lost trying to find our way from the Pantheon to the Colosseum, but thanks to our handy map, we managed to get there. The streets of Rome can get very confusing. Not to mention, motor vehicles have no regard for pedestrians and..well..vice versa. It was a free-for-all. Definitely keep an eye out for the mopeds. They’re everywhere and have no regard for human life.

Because we walked for SO long, we never made it to the restaurant. We picked up some gelato (which I fell in love with. Stracciatella? Marry Me) and sat down for a quickie spaghetti dinner. (When in Rome…)

GELATO!!!!
GELATO!!!!

BVB Travel Tip: Rome is very easy to do on your own, IF you have a good sense of direction, a good map and/or a great data plan on your phone (for the GPS services). If that’s not your style, there are Hop-On, Hop-Off buses you can utilize instead. They pick up and drop off at specific locations, which will save you the time of walking between sites. However, you will pay a price (approximately 25 Euros per person for 48 hour pass) and..well..have you SEEN the traffic in Rome? No? You’ll spend a lot of time sitting in it on these buses. If all else fails, there are a plethora of guided tours available, which can be booked online. Check TripAdvisor to see what’s available, or talk with your super nice, gelato-loving travel agent!

Coming Soon: Rome Day 2 and Cruise Embarkation!!!

Travel Tuesday: When Your Cruise Itinerary Changes!

For the past 10.5 months, Mr. B and I have been extremely excited about our 10 Day Mediterranean Cruise booked on the Norwegian Jade. We chose this vacation based on the price and itinerary; it embarks from Rome – which is one of my top 5 places I want to visit – and had an overnight port-of-call scheduled in Alexandria, Egypt. Mr. B has been fascinated by Egyptian culture as long as I’ve known him, and seeing the Pyramids is a dream of his. I wasn’t arguing with the idea either. We had a great overnight tour planned with Ramses Tours that would take us to the Giza Plateau to see the Sphinx and Pyramids, along with a dinner cruise down the Nile River. I was also determined to get a pic on top of a camel in front of a Pyramid, no matter how much they may stink or spit.

Well, if you’ve watched the news in the past few months, you’ll recall that there was a lot of unrest in Egypt, Libya and other predominately Muslim countries in September, all of which stemmed from a viral video that made a mockery of the Prophet Muhammad. (this is a no no). The video led to an outbreak of violence in the region and, unfortunately, the loss of several American lives due to misguided Anti-American rage.
We kept a close eye on the situation, as our cruise was rapidly approaching. Royal Caribbean ended up cancelling their scheduled stop in Alexandia for Mariner of the Seas as a direct result of the protests and violence. That was probably a good call, as it was in the heat of the protests. In the meantime, my fellow cruisers and I remained in communication. Once it appeared the worst had passed, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief and continued our Cairo planning.

But not so fast. In early October, one of my fellow cruisers received an email from Norwegian that included the following statement:

We believe the ports in Egypt remain viable ports of call at the present time. However, because of the situation in the region and the feedback from guests, the company is cancelling Norwegian Jade’s scheduled stops in Egypt from November 21, 2012 to April 17, 2013 and will call in Istanbul, Turkey and Naples, Italy instead.

Upon reading this, I may or may not have collapsed onto the floor via a well-executed “wall slide”…

This is a Wall Slide

We understood that Norwegian did what they felt was in the best interest of its passengers. We understand that Egypt is unstable. We also understand that we are getting two new ports instead of the one we are missing. But we didn’t LIKE it. Especially since three earlier sailings are still docking in Alexandria.

While chatting with Mr. B and my fellow cruisers, I realized that we were all coping with this sudden change very similarly; we were all experiencing the Five Stages of Grief, as identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. (and yes, I used Wikipedia as a resource. Please don’t judge)

1. Denial

When I first saw that email, I refused to believe its authenticity. In spite of how detailed the information was – complete with a new itinerary – and the option to switch to one of those earlier sailings, I couldn’t accept that it was real. I checked NCL.com the next morning and our online itinerary still showed us going to Egypt. It wasn’t until I actually called and spoke with a human that I understood that we were no longer going to Alexandria.

It took Mr. B about two more days to realize that we were no longer going to Egypt.

2. Anger

Oh we were MAD. Some of my fellow cruisers cancelled their trip, either having been to or having no interest in our new ports of call. Others wrote strongly-worded letters to Norwegian or posted on their Facebook page. Others promised to never cruise NCL again. We just skulked about, really. I couldn’t see anything shaped like a pyramid without getting mad. When our Welcome Aboard kit arrived in the mail, Mr. B. smacked it to the floor. Just angry.

3. Bargaining

At this point, I attempted to change our sailing. Once Norwegian ensured that we could swap to one of the earlier dates, we spent the next several hours emailing our supervisors to confirm that we could get the earlier dates off instead. However, once we checked the cost of changing our flights, we realized that we couldn’t handle the $1300 increase in our fare (which didn’t include change fees). So much for that plan. (I’m a travel agent not a miracle worker!)

4. Depression

This stage didn’t last long. We were bummed for a minute, before realizing that we still had an AMAZING opportunity to cruise the Mediterranean, which is not an experience afforded to many. What was there to be sad about?

5. Acceptance

I’m here…I don’t know if Mr. B is just yet. I finally began researching our new ports of call, and you know what? We may not be going to Egypt, but we ARE going to some pretty interesting places! I’m looking forward to exploring Sultanahmet in Istanbul and taking pictures of the Amalfi Coast. Cairo isn’t going anywhere (God Willing), and hopefully we will have a chance to get there some day. We WILL enjoy our vacation, no matter what!