Distinctive Voyages — From Schilling Travel

Schilling Travel has been delivering unique experiences to our leisure clients for more than 90 years. We try to list some of the standard ones here, however we can put together any independent travel that you might want to do. All of the trips we have preplanned can be modified to meet your needs, or you can use these trips as a starting point for planning your own trip. If you do not have the time to plan, these preplanned trips might be just the ticket you need to get out of town and experience a wonderful vacation.

One of the programs we offer is called “Distinctive Voyages.” These preplanned trips offer added value you will not find from the online travel vendors.  We have listed some of them in the standard section of our leisure travel web site. In this blog article, we are offering a bit more information and more destinations. *See below for additonal information. These trips offer a knowledgeable expert as a cruise guide, a private cocktail reception, and an exclusive land event, not offered to other travelers.

Regent Seven Seas

Regent is a cruise line with mid size ships and top level service. Unlike many cruise lines, you will find that almost everything is included in the price you pay, leaving sticker shock on departure day behind. Regent offers dozens of 7-46 night trips with a host, cocktail party, and shore event in all areas of the world.

Cunard

Cunard has been offering exceptional service for 175 years. Cunard offers  ten 13-14 night sailings with a host, party, and land event, or car and private driver.

Holland America

Holland America asks you to Savor the Journey with exceptional service, food and wine.Holland America  offers  a dozen 7 to 113 nights with a host, party, and land event, or car and private driver. The longer cruises are world cruises.

Crystal

Crystal has two of the highest rated individual ships in the world. Crystal has many 7-24 night sailings with a host, party, and land event in the Caribbean, Alaska, Asia, South America and Europe.

Azamara

Azamara combines warmth and sophistication with authentic experiences of local life on shore. Azamara has cruises from 7-14 days in Europe, Caribbean and Central America.

Ask us to send you our current brochure with all of these offers. Call us at 612-332-1100 or email us at info@schillingtravel.com .

Celebrity

My wife and I have hosted 3 cruises on Celebrity. Celebrity has impeccable service, wonderful shows and great food. Coming in 2019 is the Celebrity Edge which has a moving “Magic Carpet” lounge that can serve as the tender dock in the morning, mid ship restaurant at noon, and a topside lounge and restaurant at night.

Check out our website for some of the upcoming distinctive voyages. We only publish a few of them and there are hundreds of them each year.

Hurricane damaged Caribbean Update – Spring 2018

Sailing out of Phillipsburg, St. Maarten March 2018

My wife and I led a group of 150 travelers to the Caribbean in March on the Celebrity Reflection. We stopped in Barbados, Antigua, St. Lucia and St. Maarten. We wanted to give you a short update on what we found. There is always confusion about the Caribbean and hurricanes. The media will tell you when they hit and will show the damage, but sometimes the viewer is left with the impression that everything is destroyed. This is never the case with the Caribbean. First of all the region is very large and while hurricanes are large as well, they never cover the whole Caribbean. Secondly, the damage inflicted varies by the strength of the storm  and the water damage. So for our 4 ports, the islands of Barbados and St. Lucia were spared the severe wrath of both hurricane Irma and Maria. Even though Barbados has not had a hurricane since 1955, the tourism fell off for this season because people thought there was damage here. I can personally report that all of the tours, restaurants and shops on both St. Lucia and Barbados are running normally as they would during the tourist season.

Antigua was hit with fairly high winds from Irma but the resilient people were able to put their island back in shape in a very short time. Their sister island Barbuda was not so lucky. The full brunt of Irma hit Barbuda, and it devastated that island. The people have been temporarily relocated to Antigua until Barbuda is habitable again. For the cruise tourists, the activities on Antigua as well as the shops and restaurants for the most part are completely open.

Of the four ports, the island of St. Maarten/Ste. Martin is the one that sustained the most damage and is still working on recovery of the island’s infrastructure, buildings and tourist offerings. One of my favorite tours, the America’s Cup sailing race has had to be relocated to Cozumel for the season. Other tours were working. We took a wonderful tour of the western side of the island on a catamaran. It was missing its mast, but the boat could still navigate under engine power and we were able to visit Maho Beach and view the planes coming in for a landing. And we motored past Maho village and beach to the French side.

In Phillipsburg, we were able to find many restaurants and shops that were open. Based on our estimate, about 50% of the buildings were occupied and running. Some of those had damaged roofs but were still able to run as businesses. We had a wonderful lunch at the Holland House Hotel, right on the beach. We could see that many rooms were still under renovation, but both the Horizon and Holland House were accepting reservations. Most of the larger resorts were closed still and undergoing major renovations.

The people of the Caribbean are resilient. This is not their first hurricane season!. It will not be their last. But they have a strong spirit and will rebuild when needed so that they can continue to operate in their island paradise. We were thanked time and time again for coming back so soon after the hurricanes. They desperately need the money as tourism is the number one source of foreign funds for these countries. So, as cruisers, do come back, and spend some money! For the landlubbers who wish to stay at resorts, check with your travel agent for the condition of your hotel you wish to stay at.

Yes You Can Sail the Greek Isles

 My wife loves to water ski. I love to sail. We always joked that we would buy a boat when I found a sailboat she could water ski behind. Of course, its not that likely to ever happen. So instead we settled on a cruise to the Greek Islands. We selected STAR CLIPPERS for our travel partner and its namesake, The Star Clipper as our ship. We sailed from Athens to the islands of Amorgos, Patmos, Mykonos and we also visited Kusadasi/Ephesus Turkey, and Monemvasia on the mainland. This was our first trip to Greece. We have since made our second trip to Greece.

We are ocean cruisers for decades. On these smaller ships, there are some differences that we were initially concerned about. We had to give up a balcony. And we had limited places on the ship for restaurants, bars, and public spaces. Large ocean going ships are a destination within themselves. The smaller ships, the ports are the true destination. On the larger ships, the amount of time in port is limited and the smaller ships expand the hours in port, often staying overnight.

The cruise we took was called the Northern Cyclades tour. We started and returned to Athens (Piraeus). We visited Patmos, Amorgos, Monemvasia, and Mykonos in Greece. We also visited Kusadasi (Ephesus) in Turkey. The destinations were awe inspiring. At Ephesus, you visit an unearthed town of about 250,000 inhabitants. It was built in about 1000 BC and taken over by the Romans in 129BC. Walking through miles of ruins, you get a real sense of what it might have been like to live, work and play in a town of this size. This is where Paul, John and Mary lived after the death of Jesus. Nearby, you can visit the last home of Mary, where the Pope visited in 2006.

On this trip, we visited the island of Patmos. This is where John wrote the book of Revelation in the cave of the Apocalypse. Guides show you the stone desk where exiled John wrote the book, and the area in the cave where he slept.There is also a triple fissure in the ceiling of the cave where it is said that John heard the voice of God.  On to Amorgos. Here we visited the Hozoviotissa Monestary. Its built on the wall of a sheer cliff to keep it safe from invaders. To visit, you will need to climb 335 steps. Once there, the view is breathtaking.

Another port of call for us was Mykonos. This is the second most visited tourist Island of Greece. Santorini is first. This is a land of beautiful beaches, wonderful Greek architechture and fantastic shopping and restaurants. We spent a wonderful day there. Upon getting back to the Star Clipper, I had the opportunity to helm the ship as we sailed to our next port. You can’t get near the bridge of most modern cruise ships, but on the Star Clipper, you can do as little or as much of the sailing as you want. Of course, to be safe, there is always crew around to make sure that you do not make any mistakes. Climb the rigging? Yes, you can do that. Talk to the Captain for hours? Yes you bet!

Our last stop was the mainland port of Monemvasia. This is one of the most romantic ports in all of Greece. You will find a medieval castle here and a village that dates from that era with very little change. It is a wonderful stop on the cruise. After that, it was back to Athens for our flight back to the US. We stayed in Athens a day before the cruise. I recommend this to help with jet lag and in case your plane flight is delayed. Athens is a very busy city with the Acropolis and a very modern museum dedicated to that monument and the history of the Greeks, who founded democracy.

There are many ways to see the Greek islands. You can fly or take ferries to most of them, though they may not run every day depending upon the connection. So traveling by ship is a great way to see a lot of Greece without packing and unpacking. There are lectures daily on the region and the history. Its great for the first timer who wants to find out where they would stay for days on their next trip. And you will not find a more authentic sail cruise than the Star Clippers. Once you go with them, you will fall in love with their style of cruising. We usually have special pricing for trips on the Star Clippers and often there cruises where solo travelers pay no single supplement. Call us for more information.

River Crusing on the Danube with AMA Part One

I admit it. My wife and I were were stuck in a travel rut for decades. First when I was a small child, all our summer vacations were up at the cabin on Gull Lake in Northern MN. Then post college, the family vacations were in the villa my parents built in Runaway Bay, Jamaica. After that, they were increasingly larger cruise ship vacations to the Caribbean. Then in 2012, I bought Schilling Travel Agency.

For our clients and this blog, I had to break out of the “same old – same old” situation of taking the same vacation every year. A lot of us do it. We see it in our clients. And it is easy to just say — “I’ll have another X vacation.” What my wife Karen and I have found is that we ended up having much better vacations than staying in the same place. Oh, we will go back to some of the favorites, but we knocked off a few false assumptions about some vacations we had never taken.

A collection of different vacations that we have taken is found in the blog articles on our website. And this one today, is just another. A European River Cruise. For this, we took the Black Sea Discovery tour on the Danube with AMA Waterways. The decision to do this was really a no brainer. River cruises are our fastest growing segment of travel right now. We had to see what the fuss was all about. People coming back were positively glowing about their vacation. Our travels begin with 3 full days in Istanbul, Turkey. This is on land before you ever get to the ship. The cruise manager, Sebastian, met us when we arrived at the Intercontinental Hotel. We learned he will be the cruise manager during the whole tour, not just Istanbul. Nice touch.

If you have never been to Istanbul, please put this on your bucket list. There are so many places to visit. The Blue Mosque, the Bosphorus (a body of water that separates Europe from Asia), the Topkapi Palace, the Golden Horn. We visited rug merchants, a tile factory, and even a tanning factory. We spent 3 days but I think we could have stayed another day or two to catch more of the sights.

After Istanbul, AMA bussed us to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, the second largest city after Sofia. It is the oldest continously occupied city in Europe, with the beginnings 8000 years ago. Plovdiv was the site of a World Exposition a few years back, but the accommodations here at the Ramada were the most spartan of our trip. We took a walking tour of the center of the city, past parks, the Roman Ampitheatre, and St. Marina’s church. Compared to Istanbul, there was not a lot to see, frankly, but it was a good place to stop for the night on the way to the ship.

The next morning we depart by bus and planned to visit a small Bulgarian village and have lunch and arrive early afternoon in Ruse (Rousse) Bulgaria, where our ship, the AMA Certo, was waiting for us on the Danube. We were on a very nice 56 passenger bus with airconditioning, and television sets, somewhat of a contrast to the Bulgarian country which is still digging out of its Communist past. About halfway from Plovdiv to Ruse, there is a loud bang. Our front left tire has gone flat. Attempting to drive a bit further to pull over from the highway, the driver turns the wheel and cracks the rim and front brake of the bus. We were stranded. The bus escort from AMA calls the company right away for a new bus while the driver looks at the possibility of fixing the wheel.  We are a block away from a gas station, so the host gathers us up and we go to the gas station. She purchases snacks for us. Amazingly, a replacement bus shows up in 3 hours. I write amazingly, because we were in the middle of rural Bulgaria and 90 minutes from Sophia. AMA found a replacement (good) bus, and a driver in 90 minutes in Sofia and got on the road to us. Can you imagine getting a bus in rural Minnesota any faster? We got on the new bus, they held a late lunch for us at the planned restaurant, and made it to the cruise ship only about two hours later than planned. This unplanned event showed us how well AMA is prepared for problems.

The AMA Certo holds 150 passengers. It has two restaurants, two bars (one swim up in the small pool), a fitness center, a lounge, and a massage/hairdresser. The majority of the cabins on this newer AMA ship have either a French balcony or a split French/standard balcony. French balcony is just a large sliding glass door that does not have an outside deck. The standard balcony has the sliding door, but also additional deck space outside the room, taken from the interior space. The end result is an outside wall with floor to ceiling glass, where half of it opens to an outside deck. The cabins with the French balcony only still had the full wall of glass, but once opening the balcony door, your whole room is exposed to the outside.

When you take a river cruise, you are subject to the changes that might occur due to the river depth. If too high, the ships cannot get under the older bridges. If too low, they might run aground. The newer ships like the AMACerto have the ability to lower their top deck and have a shallower draft, so they can continue when other ships might have to resort to busses for a portion of the trip.

We found the food to be excellent, and they added local dishes from the ports we visited. They can accommodate dietary restrictions.

The appeal of this trip is for those who would like to visit the great river cities, and therefore this trip has a large proportion of retirees. At least one tour per day is included in the fare and optional cost extra tours are available. AMA has tour groups for the active walkers, slow walkers and late risers. The slow walkers group can accommodate persons in wheelchairs or walkers.

Our cruise took us to Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia on the Danube river. In part two of this blog, I will report on the interesting cities we visited along the Danube.

Note: You can see all of the wonderful AMA trips right here on our website. Just click on this link.

Cruising Vacations — A Great Bucket List Item

River Cruise Ship
Ama Waterways River Cruise Ship


Norwegian Breakaway Mega ship

For many of you out there, the 72 percent of you who have never taken a cruise according to the Cruise Line Industry Association, the idea of getting on a ship for vacation might seem awful to you. I admit that I would likely not  found out how much I would like cruising unless my parents had taken my sister and me on a cruise while we were in High School. My father was a WWII Navy officer, who loved ships. My mother was probably a bit scared about going on a ship. We kids just wanted to get away and have fun. Our ship was the Federico C, a 600 foot, 22,000 ton ship from the line that became Costa Cruises. The ship was the old style with three classes of tourists who had access to three different dining rooms. The ship was 10 years old when we made it our vacation destination. There were a couple of bars, and three pools, each the size of a large hot tub. Three dining rooms served the three classes of tourists.

I found people my age on the trip, and we had a blast together. We also visited 14 ports in the Caribbean and South America, and it was only my second visit to the Caribbean at that time. There were no kids activities like today, and the crew spoke mostly Italian, which made it difficult to communicate. My sister and I shared an inside cabin that was so tiny you had to go outside to change your mind. But it was the best vacation I had taken so far, and for the next 20 years, I took many other vacations and kept thinking about how great this trip was. I did not take my second cruise until more than 20 years later, in 1994.

My second cruise was on the NCL Windward before it was stretched into the NCL Wind. This was a medium size ship which our family took to the Caribbean. I was hooked on cruising after spending time on this ship. The food was great, the service even better and we visited 5 of the Caribbean islands during our 7 day trip. The Caribbean and similar locations are perfect for cruise ships since many islands are so small you can see them in less than a day. And so if you are interested in sightseeing islands without having to pack and unpack, this might be the right vacation for you.

As I travel and meet people on vacation, I often meet people who love all inclusive resorts but will never set foot on a cruise ship. Too confining, they say. Too rigid. Like being on a tour bus. Well, having been on 25 cruises on 9 different cruise lines, I can tell you that they are a great experience under the right circumstances. The cruise industry delivers vacations for millions each year, and satisfaction levels and repeat client percentages are very high. Still, according to the Cruise Line Industry, only 28 percent of US citizens have taken a cruise. So what is keeping the other 72 percent of you from cruising?
The key is matching the right cruise that matches your needs. Worried about seasickness? Try a river cruise. Hate crowds? Love going to out of the way places? Then small ship cruising is for you. Have a group from kids to grandparents? Then a larger ship with multigenerational accommodations is for your family. Love Jazz/Rock/Country Music? Then try one of the jazz/rock/country themed cruises. Love to dress up? Pick a ship with formal nights. Hate to dress up? Pick a ship with a relaxed dress code. Care more about the destinations than the ship? There are cruises where the activities on board are minimal, and the destinations are the real stars. There are ships and itineraries that cater to seniors, families, LGBT, scuba divers, country music fans, ecologists, economists, horticulturalists, physically challenged, and many other groups.  There probably is a ship that would fit you, the trick is finding the right fit. For that, you need a travel agent to assist.
The biggest advantage of cruising is the ability to see many different destinations without changing hotel rooms. The Caribbean is a good fit with cruising. Many of the islands are so small that you can visit all of the interesting places ashore in a day or less. Caribbean cruising is great because you can see almost a different country each day. This is true of the river cruises, which stop at a different city every day.

A common objection is,” I (or another family member) get seasick. I will never take a cruise.” For those people, if they like to visit smaller cities and get wrapped up in the culture, I would recommend a river cruise. These ships experience so little movement, that you are likely to miss that the ship has left port unless you look out the window. Another objection is “We would get bored on a ship.” For that couple, I would recommend one of the larger cruise ships with more activities than you will be able to pack in to your day or night. Another might be “We hate crowds and we don’t want to go to a place where a large cruise ship has docked.” For that couple, I would recommend one of the smaller yacht or sailing ship cruises. These are some of the ways a travel agent can help you find just the right cruise for you.

Our family has cruised on large ships, small ships, sailing ships, and river ships.  I loved all of them, but for different reasons. In other blogs, I will provide some insight into each of these cruises here.

Trust the travel consultants at Schilling Travel to help you get on the right ship at the right time. Call us 612-332-1100.

Norwegian Breakaway Review

Norwegian Breakaway is the line’s homage to New York, its year-round home port, and was launched in 2013. So what does the cruise version of the city feel like? In addition to the seafood restaurants by Zakarian (of Manhattan’s Lambs Club and Palm Court) and the Carlos bakeshop by Buddy Valastro ,whose original is in Hoboken, and is shown on the TLC channel show called “Bake Shop.”, there’s a Fire Island area with a Sabrett’s hot dog cart. There’s also The Waterfront, an outdoor space that runs along Deck 8.  Does it feel like Coney Island? Not really, but it’s a great invitation to spend time outside. When I first visited the waterfront, my initial thought was, why hadn’t this been done before now? Such an incredibly simple solution. Here, you will find many different bars and restaurants. All have their seating both inside (in case of bad weather) and outside. This gives the visitor an ocean side table for eating and drinking. The promenade is still there, so that people can stroll by the various restaurants and bars while deciding which one they want to visit.

In addition to the now standard waterpark and slides found on today’s mega ship’s, there are many other activities for the young and young at heart. They include the ropes course, complete with a walk the plank feature, a rock climbing wall, a miniature golf area, and a sport court. One of the five waterslides is claimed to be the fastest at sea.

A mega ship has mega entertainment and this ship did not disappoint in this area. Norwegian partners with land based entertainment companies and the results are awesome. Besides the usual singers, dancers, and other entertainers, there were shows that were spectacular. They partnered with Second City, and the shows are typical of what you would see at a Second City show on land. “Rock of Ages”, was as good a performance as you will find on a cruise ship anywhere. In fact, I would put this show equal to any performance of this show on land. The 80’s hard rock singing and staging blew me away. A warning, though. This adult show is not suitable for children, and the music is LOUD. “Burn the Floor,” is a virtual feast for the eyes with dancing from waltz to modern. They even had a Cirque du Soliel performance, although this dinner show was extra cost.

If you are not all that keen on cruising with almost 4,000 people, there are a few areas on the ship reserved for specific groups. The first is the singles section. This is an area with inside cabins built for the single traveler in mind. Here, there is no 175-200 percent increase in the cost of a cabin if occupied by one. These cabins are surrounded by a lounge just for the singles. Here you can meet your fellow singles and leave messages about trips to the lounges, dinner, or even port sightseeing. Norwegian also dedicates one staff member to help bring the people together. This area is accessable only by the singles whose cabins are located here.

The “ship within a ship” concept, for a stepped up level of luxury, is executed well on the Breakaway. Housed in a secluded area aft on the top of the ship, this secluded area gives a smaller luxury ship feel. This area houses the largest suites on the Breakaway, as well as smaller rooms to accommodate multigenerational families. Here, you will find your own private sun deck, pool, hot tub, fitness area, dining room, and bar. The level of service is very high. You have a 24 hour “Certified” butler, poolside valet, priority check in, restaurant reservations, and special events. Only the Haven class cabins are eligible to use the Haven facilities.

The Breakaway will sail for 7 days to Bermuda and the Caribbean year around from Manhattan. The cruise passengers come from mostly NY/NJ and the Northeastern US states. For those traveling from Minnesota, we do not recommend that you sail on the ship from November to March. This is because two of your 7 days on the cruise will be in colder weather, and in the deep winter, perhaps more. If you want to escape the cold for the full week, then select a southern port for your cruise (see below). Of course, if you don’t mind the cold, and want to combine with a visit to NYC, then go for it. Even if you take the cruise in the warmer seasons, you might still get cold. That’s because they have a Vodka ice bar on the ship. Imagine sitting on a stool made of ice as you sip your Grey Goose or other fav vodka. Don’t pack a parka, they have one they will loan you.

My recommendation is to come into Manhattan a few days ahead of time and enjoy this wonderful port city. Come at least a day ahead to prevent missing the ship departure in case of air traffic delays. Besides Broadway Theatre, Central Park, the 9/11 Memorial and Times Square, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this city. All of the major hotel chains have properties here, but I recommend that you stay at the Blakely Hotel. It’s in midtown. Times Square, Central Park, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Plaza, Radio City Music Hall, and the Broadway Theaters are all within walking distance. This boutique hotel is a small family owned property with a decided European feel to it. Each room has a microwave and refrigerator and offers robes in all rooms. The Abboccato Italian Kitchen serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is a fitness room and conference room. You will feel like a member of the family at this wonderful hotel on 55th Street West.

If you like this ship, but would prefer a different destination, try the sister ship Norwegian Getaway, launched in 2014. This ship sails to the Caribbean from its home port in Miami. This is an excellent choice for the Minnesotan’s during the winter months when sailing on the Breakaway might be a bit cold out of NY.

Getting there: From MSP, you can take non stops to LaGuardia, Kennedy and Newark on Delta, American, Sun Country, and United. Once you are there, if you have not taken transportation arranged by Norwegian, a short taxi ride will take you to the Manhattan cruise terminal. LaGuardia is the closest, followed by Newark and then JFK, but all are a reasonably close taxi ride to the terminal. If you stay at the Blakely or other midtown hotel, the ride to the Manhattan Cruise terminal will take 20-40 minutes depending upon traffic.