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SimplyMarvie

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Everything posted by SimplyMarvie

  1. Caesarea is such a special place -- we were lucky enough to do a lantern-light tour with an archeologist when we were there (it'd be a tough one to do on a cruise ship, but maybe if you're overnighting in Haifa and have already done Jerusalem...?) that was definitely a highlight of my traveling life.
  2. Would their phones even work in Alaska? I guess we're spoiled since we're coming from overseas, but I just don't get my son a SIM card when we're traveling and don't get a wifi package. He can use his phone when there's free wifi, but apart from that he has to talk to humans.
  3. My "better way" has been to hire a travel agent. Not sure that's the solution you're looking for... but it's been really nice to farm watching for price drops, etc. off to someone else and she can usually give us a good sense of the total all-in price. As far as choosing a cruise, while we're price-conscious we're ultimately in it for the port stops over all so I'm mostly focusing on the best value rather than cheapest bottom line. (We don't live anywhere close to a cruise port, and don't have flexible schedules, so the whole "Hey, this is $XXX and we've got some time, let's jump on!" thing isn't for us, at least at this point in our lives...)
  4. We're just back from the Serenade of the Seas, and knowing that there had been some questions/comments about snorkeling in Aruba, wanted to share out experience. To put the bottom line upfront: If you're not a very strong and experienced swimmer in open water, I would not do a snorkeling excursion in Aruba. We did a cruise-ship excursion to Boca Catalina and to the Wreck of the Antilla. Everything was really well organized, and the crew who ran the excursion clearly knew what they were doing and took safety into account when making plans. Everyone wore a snorkeling vest, they offered special sizes for kids (we brought lifejackets for our kids and they were happy for them to use those as well), their equipment was in good shape and they clearly knew what they were doing. I can't fault them at all for their actions. But the bottom line is that these sites both have a strong current that isn't well set up for, for example, a drift snorkel (where the boat drops you at point A, you drift along looking at fish going with the current, and are plucked out of the water further on at point B) because the current is fast and unpredictable and heads straight out to sea. While I know that our particular experience was complicated by wind and weather, the current and choppiness of the sea seems to be a common situation, rather than just weather dependent. I knew that when I booked, but I didn't have a good sense of how it would actually effect us. What this meant for us was that we were fighting the current 100% of the time we were in the water, in dangerous ways. At Boca Catalina, we needed to swim against the current around the boat in order to get to where the fish and coral were. This was exhausting, even for people who are strong swimmers. I was buddied up with my younger son, and without an adult there to provide additional propulsion, he wouldn't have made it around the boat. Even with the two of us -- and as a very strong swimmer! -- it was really hard to get us around the boat against the current. Once we were there, we were constantly fighting against being pulled back against our boat, the other 5-6 catamarans in the area, anchoring ropes, or the coral it's self, making it a fairly dangerous snorkel -- given the waves and movement of the water, it would have been really easy to get hurt by having a boat come down on you or getting pushed into coral and scraped up. My husband was buddied up with our other son, and didn't even make it around the boat -- he had to stop and adjust a mask, and in the few seconds that took was already swept 50 feet out away from the ocean and had to fight the current back to the boat and were too exhausted for a second try. The current around the Antilla was even stronger and less predictable, and the water was very, very cold -- cold enough that I wanted a wetsuit. We made one try to get into the water and were able to peek down and see some divers and a brief glimpse of the wreck before we decided that due to the movement of the ship and the heavy pull of the water that it wasn't safe for us or the kids. Most of the people on the excursion did get in, but there were several people who needed assistance -- sometimes significant assistance, including the crew members going in with life preservers and towing them back to the boat, or pulling them back on the boat due to the movement of the ladder and one person who needed to be checked over and given first aid back on the boat. I've been snorkeling and diving for about 30 years, all around the world, and have never before in my life seen anyone need to use a life-preserver to get back to the boat, so that made an impression on me. Again, the team running the excursion were clearly safety conscious and did not lose a moment jumping in to rescue people. I definitely felt that they were on top of the safety concerns. I do question RCCI's shore excursion team's judgement in not making it more plain that this was not an excursion that was appropriate for kids or people who weren't strong and experienced swimmers. But I can see their side of the story as well -- this is the most common snorkeling excursion available on Aruba, across cruise lines, booked independently or not. This is where people go, and no one else seems to be flagging it as an excursion that you need to be fit and experienced for so it would be odd if they did -- which is why I thought it would be smart to say something on Cruise Critic so everyone can make their own best decision. If we had it to do over again, we'd probably have chosen to either do a land excursion (tour, ATV, maybe some caves...?) or the Atlantis Submarine tour instead. We also really liked the history museum in Oranjestad, which covers what is known about the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the ABC islands, and there are plenty of beach day options. Or, you could always get your C card and dive -- the people I talked to who dove the Antilla Wreck had great things to say about it, and seemed to have a great time. Hope this helps someone!
  5. We got barbecue and went to the movies, which wasn't exactly exotic, but was definitely what locals were doing. (We also live overseas and so the ability to see a kids movie not dubbed into Hebrew was exciting to us. As was eating pulled pork... 🙂 )
  6. Just FYI -- there is NO ATM in the port area, despite there being a whole mess of shopping there. No idea why this is, but make sure you have cash (USD is fine) before you get off your ship, because trying to convince your taxi driver to take you to an ATM and then to the old city is difficult and raises the price significantly. (We ended up walking back to the ship and getting cash, because that was easier overall)
  7. We're back from our cruise and did the San Lorenzo excursion with the locks. San Lorenzo was lovely, and the locks were cool but I kind of wish that we'd taken the ride to the locks on the other side at Miraflores locks, which have a lot more interactive stuff for kids. Not a hundred percent sure that it would have been worth missing the pirate fort which was pretty cool. 🙂
  8. We're just off the Serenade, where several of their head chefs are from India and the Indian food was definitely one of the best parts of the buffet. It was all very standard North Indian Punjabi restaurant-style food, but it was at least as good as you'd get in a well-reviewed Indian restaurant in the US or the UK. We had Muttar Paneer, Aloo Gobi, Katchadi for breakfast a couple of times, Chana Masala, butter chicken, Rogan Josh, and a few other things I'm sure I don't remember. They had a couple of pickle options and riata available as well. Coming from Israel, where it's almost impossible to get Indian food, it was one of our favorite parts of the cruise. 🙂
  9. Thanks, everyone! Reporting back post-cruise, I would have been totally comfortable in the long dress but was also totally comfortable in a nice pair of trousers and a sparkly sweater. It's definitely a "you do you" kind of atmosphere... 🙂
  10. As folks have said, Yellow Fever is only required if you're coming from a country with endemic yellow fever. It is, in my humble opinion, the absolute worst vaccine to get -- especially since it's needed every ten years. I need to re-up mine for work and I'm waiting for a weekend where we've got nothing planned and I can lay about and hallucinate mildly while feeling like I've got a nasty case of the flu for 36 hours afterward. So not one to get if it's not necessary, and probably not one to get on your way out the door, although your mileage with it may vary.
  11. We do lanyards. Partially because our kids are too little for wallets and pants pockets and all that, partially because it's an easy way to fly our geek flags and give people a new way to meet us and strike up conversation with anyone who is our "tribe". We've got Stark Industries, Darkhorse Comics, various Harry Potter houses, and a a couple Star Wars ones hanging around the house, so we're well supplied already -- I keep the boring metal/black fabric ones for my work badge. 🙂
  12. We don't sail until the week after next (!!) but we ended up booking an independent excursion through Viator rather than this cruise ship excursion. I read some more reviews, and they weren't reassuring -- apparently the Portabello site is very muddy and far out and there isn't much to see there. We chose a smaller excursion that does the locks, a short rainforest tour and then the San Lorenzo fort, which is closer in and less likely to be a fetid swamp of muck and mosquitos. I'll report back and let you know how it goes! 🙂
  13. I have a buckwheat husk neck pillow that has changed my life. It seems really decadent with my usual militant packing light self, but between holiday gifts and snorkel gear we're pretty far from that anyway...
  14. We've done one that we loved -- a small-group snorkeling trip in Cozumel. But we only did that one because it was comparable in price to a private operator and our desires were pretty moderate; we wanted to see fish and drink tequila sunrises. And lo and behold, we did! Generally, private tours are cheaper and easier than cruise line tours, and much more enjoyable. But by far our best days cruising have been when we got out completely on our own -- either with a rental car, or public transportation -- and explored.
  15. I really admire your DH's commitment to skincare -- men who take good care of their skin are so awesome. 🙂
  16. We bought internet... but only for one device at a time. I'm hoping that will meet basic needs for connectivity (and downloading new trashy ebooks onto my Kindle) without meaning that my kids spend all their time in their phones. The fact that I means that I won't miss the new season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon? Just a minor, minor perk. 😉
  17. Your fitbit syncs with the app in your phone, so it shouldn't use the internet at all or incur roaming charges... but sometimes turning bluetooth on also turns the phone off airplane mode, so be careful.
  18. I wonder if they'd notice if I slipped a jar of homemade pickle into my carry-on? They'd probably stick me in CBP jail, alas. (We had a lemon tree at our last house and before we moved I made literal gallons of south Indian style lemon pickle, since I'll eat it on just about anything -- including toast in the morning. It's a nice, spicy way to wake up! 🙂 )
  19. As long as you're not planning on swimming, watersports or sun-tanning, you'll be fine. Honestly, late fall and winter are my favorite times to be in Europe -- bring a packable rain jacket and some water-resistant shoes just in case, and go for it! I don't think you'll find things closed in major cruise ports unless you're getting into smaller islands or you're talking about things involving the sea -- when we went to Cyprus in late October last year, we hit literally the last turtle-watching cruise of the year because those sorts of things closed down, but the archeological sites, restaurants, etc. stayed open... so really, it depends on what you want to do.
  20. Curly hair, so I don't worry about the hair cut (it doesn't really ever get longer, just more or less curly...) but definitely make sure that I've done a protein treatment and deep conditioning before I go, and the color is looking good. Get the eyebrows colored and threaded, and a nice bright, fun pedicure that will look awesome in all those "feet up on the balcony/in the hammock/in the ocean" pictures. Also (tmi?) any trimming of the bikini line that needs to happen has to be done at least 3-4 days ahead so that the redness and irritation can pass before anyone might see. The curse of being a pale, sensitive-skinned redhead.
  21. For people with recent/upcoming cruises, what do you pack for formal evenings? Long gowns, or just a dressier-than-usual dress? Mr. Marvie and I attend a lot of on-land formal events, and so we've already got the gear to do full formal dress, if we wanted to. We missed the formal ball that we usually attend every year this year, and I've got a killer long, slinky, satin fish-tail gown that I didn't get to wear that's kind of burning a hole in my wardrobe. I'm trying to decide if I want to pack it, so I get a chance to wear it at least once this year, or chose something less formal. If I pick something less formal, are we thinking cocktail dress, or what? I'd love to see pictures of what other people do?
  22. I suspect you're right and that this is a case of getting answers from a half-trained teenager in a cubicle. Having worked in health insurance it sounds like she's assuming that you're getting care through an in-network provider who has an agreement with the insurance company to bill them directly. For all other care, both overseas and not, you'd be at an out of network provider and have to pay upfront and then claim reimbursement from your health insurance after the fact (which, alas, can take months or years...) While for certain very high end policies that cover a lot of people overseas (I'm thinking CIGNA's expat plan, and the Federal Plan that's designed for members of the Foreign Service) they will have some contracted providers overseas, those are going to be very limited and generally in major markets to which people would be medically evacuated (Tel Aviv, J'berg, Singapore, Frankfurt, London). It's possible that the person you spoke with assumed that you'd be somewhere that you'd have access to one of those facilities, or that they have a network in Mexico. I'd look specifically for in-network providers outside of the US before you get too excited about those benefits. Also, it's really hard to find travel insurance that covers only interruption and medical evacuation without adding medical treatment -- MedJetassit is pretty much the only option, and it's more expensive than comprehensive travel policies.
  23. I want to do a big world cruise after we retire (13-ish years and counting...) before we have to figure out what we're gonna do next. I really want to cruise the Pacific Islands and really, really, really want to cruise to Pitcairn Island -- which realistically probably means multiple attempts since it's cancelled so often as a landing. I'd really love to do an antarctic cruise.
  24. We rarely cruise -- most of our vacations are regional, trying to take advantage of living overseas for work to see as much of the surrounding area as possible. We do a lot of discount airline trips, road trips, ferry trips, etc. and mostly it's been easier and more cost-effective to do places that way, even if cruises are an option (ie. the Med, etc.) Cruises for us are actually kind of a treat because there is so much less logistics to manage as far as hotels, rental cars, visas, where to eat, what to do, etc. so we usually plan them when Mr. Marvie and I are really tired and need something regenerative.
  25. I would say you should always book with a third party... you have more choices of coverage to fit your needs that way. We booked a cruise with a refundable deposit and bought travel insurance after the final payment deadline, and everything worked out well. I wasn't too worried about the pre-existing conditions issue because we're young and in good health, and if we did need treatment overseas or a medical evacuation our travel insurance would be secondary to our private medical (which covers us everywhere but North Korea and Iran). The coverage we got wasn't "cancel for any reason", but the cancellation coverages were reasonable for what we were worried about -- Congress failing to pass another CR and either me or my spouse being declared essential -- and covered us even though the trip was already paid for. I suppose the moral of this very long story is "shop around!" 🙂
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