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About Hlitner

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    New Cumberland,PA, USA
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    International travel (77 countries at last count(
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  1. I have an observation which I will admit cannot be proven. But prior to the drink packages, Celebrity had an excellent variety of Scotch (I am also a Cognac lover). But things started to change after Celebrity implemented and promoted their drink packages. DW and I tend to hang out at the quiet Ensemble bar (on the Solstice Class ships) and used to discover some interesting Scotches. But on our last few cruises the selection has been sadly diminished although getting friendly with a bar tender might get you something that is still hidden under the counter. On our last S class cruise (Reflection) we befriended 2 of the Ensemble Lounge bar tenders and they admitted that the Scotch (and other whisky) selections seems to have diminished. We do not think this is limited to Celebrity as we have noticed some similar patterns on other lines that promote drink packages. Celebrity tells us that if we have the Premium Package we can get booze up to such and such cost...and simply pay any overage (it is now the same for Classic Packages). But if there are few high end items (at any price) then cruisers must settle for what is stocked (which is not a great selection). My own position is that cruise lines should carry the variety of booze brands that one would expect to find in any decent bar. Why not? The booze has a very long shelf life and will eventually sell and cruise lines move a lot of booze. Do you think there is some profit motive involved? Nah....it would never happen on a cruise ship. A land based bar must carry a wide inventory of products to compete but at sea there is no competition. It is not just Celebrity but there are similar issues on other mass market lines. Consider that on Princess it has been darn near impossible to find a decent (or any) IPA beer/ale despite IPA's being very popular on land. Princess has said they are in the process of expanding their beer list but that it takes time (apparently at least a year) to simply add a product! And I have a 3000 foot long cruise ship to sell you! When I ask a bar tender what they have from Islay and they shake their head...it is sad. Hank
  2. We have docked at Getxo 3 times, once with Princess and twice with HAL. On each of the ships they tried to sell bus transfers as excursions. On all three cruises the port (in conjunction with a business organization in Bilbao) provided free shuttle buses. Of course those who had purchased ship transfer excursions did not get refunds and took the ship excursion buses (no nicer then the free buses). Whether this is still the situation we do not know, but you might want to ask this question when you are on the ship. It is also possible to get from Getxo to Bilbao via inexpensive public transit, but this does involve some walking to get to the transportation. Once in Bilbao there is an excellent electric tram/train system for longer distances such as for going out to the museum from downtown (although this is walkable for those of us who love to walk). Bilbao gets my vote as one of the more improved cities in Europe. There is a lot to like about this city including their old town (and its lively market), the Museum (better outside then in), the main shopping area, promenade along the river, etc. Hank
  3. Hlitner

    Flight Times

    I am a little confused by the thread. The last time we were in Spain the VAT tax was 21%! But keep in mind that your refund (assuming that you do meet the requirements) will actually be something less because of how it is calculated. For example assume you buy something for 100€ that qualifies. Your actual refund (if you go through the hassles) will be about 17€ because the actual base price of your 100€ is about 83€ (to which the 21% VAT tax had been applied. Personally we have not often bothered to go through the scheme on relatively small amounts (the minimum is actually close to 100€. We have known folks to stand in line at BCN (and other airports) for over an hour to save about $20. Some would put a higher value on their time :). If the line is short then go for it...otherwise you might want to eat the cost. Hank
  4. Agree with the prior post. 9 is not a good number when it comes to transportation....with or without luggage! You would actually need a mini-bus which are not always easy to book..and can be quite pricey. The suggestion for two vehicles is a good idea and any of the reputable companies (we recommend RomeCabs.com or Romeinlimo.com). You can contact either of those companies, tell them of your situation, and let them decide the number of vehicles. I do think that RomeCabs would do it for less money then Romeinlimo, but you can check with both companies. Hank
  5. Hlitner

    prebook train?

    The last time a "hustler" tried to help us buy a ticket I told her that I would accept her help if she paid me 10 Euros! She got the message, did smile, and we both laughed. Hank
  6. If docking in La Spezia we would not be dragging ourselves 50+ miles (each way) to Pisa. Personally we would drag ourselves 2 miles to Pisa :). From La Spezia, if you want a fairly light day, go to nearby Riomaggiore and perhaps to one or two of the other Cinque Terre Villages (all connected by a local train line or small ferry boats). Getting back to Pisa, the only place commonly visited by tourists is the so-called Field or Miracles where you can see the Tower. So, you see the Tower....and then what? Other then that one congested tourist area we have never found any charm in Pisa (and we have looked). My only caution about Riomaggiore and the other Cinque Terre villages are that they are all being overrun with tourists (no thanks to opening up La Spezia as a cruise port). But when you are a tourist and want to do tourist things you are going to usually have to put up with lots of similarly minded tourists. Hank
  7. Strongly agree with the post that suggested just walking and getting delightfully lost is a lot of fun in Venice. And with a vaporetto pass (you can buy a timed pass at vending machines or at ticket offices) you also have access to boats (Lines #1 and #2) that are constantly going around the island of Venice (in either direction). If you get a little ambitious you can use those same passes to go anywhere in the Lagoon such as to Murano, Burano, Lido, etc. Its all fun and since it seems like everyone in Venice is a tourist you will fit right in :). Hank
  8. We are also in the camp of skipping Sorrento. When we have vacationed on the Amalfi Coast the only reason to go to Sorrento was if one needed to do some shopping. Sorrento does have one small area that has some views and cafes but its hardly worth the effort. Pompeii is a place of very historical significance and might make a lot of sense for the teens and near teen. They would especially get a kick out of the what some call the "porn house" :). We 2nd Euro-Cruiser's suggestion to then return to Naples where you can explore (on foot) and treat the family to some decent pizza (some argue that pizza was invented in Naples). Hank
  9. I would also recommend the #100 bus because it is less costly then the train, runs more often, and has a more convenient stop in Monte Carlo. We also prefer the bus because it gets you a more scenic ride then the train which spends an awful lot of time in tunnels. When you get ashore in Villefranche you can ask any local to point you in the direction of the nearest bus stop which, like the train, involves a short hike including going uphill. Hank
  10. It is not that we "won't" share but it is simply the rules of Cruise Critic. It is not too difficult to conduct your own due diligence for many of the online cruise agencies by simply doing a couple of searches to find out if anyone has posted info (pro or con). You can also check out most agencies on the national Better Business Bureau web site, although some would argue that the BBB system leaves much to be desired. Once I find an agency of interest I will go to that agencies web site and read about them, read through their FAQs, and also read their online policies. If I have further questions I will telephone the agency. At some point you do have to go with your instincts. The new agency (for me) I used this week was a simple online booking because they had the best deal and I knew of their reputation. Since it was a Princess booking and we had an existing Future Cruise Credit I needed to get this applied to my reservation (this is best done quickly) so I called and left a message with the agency. Within an hour I received a call from my assigned agent who quickly impressed me with her knowledge and said she would immediately get our future cruise credit applied (it was done within minutes). She also answered a few questions I had about her agency and her own background. We also avoid booking direct with cruise lines for some other reasons. A high volume cruise agency has more clout with the cruise line then a single cruiser and this can come in handy if there are any issues. And since DW and I cruise many different lines (15 to date) we prefer to deal with folks that represent all the cruise lines as opposed to a single company. We often pick-up new ideas and hints about other cruise lines from the agents which helps us make future booking decisions. And here is a very important tip for folks in the USA (we cannot comment on the laws of other countries). We have a lot of protection here when we use major credit cards (this does not apply to Debit Cards) per Federal Law and the policies of the major credit card companies (i.e. Visa, MC., AMEX). Also, only deal with agencies that have your cards processed by the cruise lines....not the agency! If an agency tells you that will process your charge card and later submit payment to the cruise line, run away FAST! Your credit card should show the charge from the cruise line...not the agency. Most high volume agencies are now directly connected to the cruise line reservation systems so when you do an online transaction it immediately flows to the cruise line. So, for example, when we booked that Princess cruise the other day we immediately got a cruise line Booking Number and could log on to our Princess Cruises account and see the reservation. Hank
  11. Let me tell you why it pays to shop around. We recently (this week) did a last minute booking on a 16 day Princess cruise (mini suite). If we booked the cruise on the Princess web site (after signing in) we would have paid $5693.70. That same exact cruise and cabin category with the cruise agency who we used was $5035.50 with Princess kicking in an additional $250 OBC. This means we saved $908 or 14% by simply shopping around. Does this work all the time? Absolutely although the savings do vary. But as our own general rule we expect to save 7-10% from the cruise line's own web site (this works for nearly all mass market lines) by shopping around among reputable high volume cruise agencies and then comparing the best offer (adjusted for OBCs) to the cruise line's own web site.. In this case the 14% savings exceeded expectations and this does happen quite often. We are not "loyal" to any one cruise agency although over the years there have been 3 agencies where we booked most of our cruises because they had the best deals. But our latest booking was via a new agency (for us) and we were impressed with the price and service. We are not permitted to mention specific agencies here on CC and respect that policy. So how do we know where to shop? Many ideas come from other cruisers we meet on our trips. Since we enjoy sharing large tables in open (Select) dining we meet lots of new folks and get new recommendations. We also watch on the Internet, lurk in some social media groups, etc. If one is determined to learn about good agencies there are always ways. Hank
  12. Agree. While our last Canaletto experience soured us on that particular Canaletto operation it did not turn us off to HAL. And although the experience was annoying we did not miss a meal :). Hank
  13. When it comes to the airlines we dislike them all :). Dealing with any airline is akin to going to the dentist in that it is a necessary evil. Hank
  14. Wpgcycler, There is absolutely nothing wrong with your point of view since it works for you :). And you are not alone. A few years ago, a couple knocked on our cabin door while we were on a long Med cruise. They knew of me because of many DIY posts for Europe here on Cruise Critic and told us they were desperate for some shore planning help. A few days prior to their trip it occurred to them that they were actually spending more money on their cruise line excursions (booked in every port) then the cost of the actual cruise :). DW and I want to a lounge, we all had some drinks, and we eventually spent hours helping this nice couple plan alternative shore days (that pretty much duplicated their tours) that would have saved them several thousand dollars. But alas, they still ended up taking all those cruise line excursions because they did not have the necessary level of comfort to venture off on their own. That couple later told us they enjoyed most of their excursions (they had major issues with 2) . We assured them that even those of us who routinely do things on our own have bad days when everything goes wrong. Bottom line is when it comes to DIY versus cruise line excursions versus private tours...there is no right or wrong. Whatever works for you is right :). Hank
  15. Iancal and I both have posted, many times, about "loyalty" being the enemy of many last minute deals (or even other longer term great deals). The cruise industry is large (several hundred ships) and every brand does their best to "encourage" loyalty through their various loyalty programs, marketing, etc. It is amazing how simply inviting a cruiser to a party for 1000 and giving them a lousy free drink can inspire "loyalty." We have met many cruisers who have only ever cruised on 1 or 2 lines and cite their loyalty. But the big secret is that many lines (within a similar class) are more alike than not and there is more variance between the ships within a line then similar ships of different lines. So folks, if you are truly in the market for a last minute deal...expand your horizons to many cruise lines. The more lines, ships and itineraries you consider the better the chance of snagging an amazing deal. And yes, the deals are still out there for those willing to jump at a good thing when they see it! Folks that like a line such as Carnival should also consider RCI, NCL, and MSC. Those into the slightly classier lines such as Celebrity should also be looking at Princess, HAL, Cunard and MSC's Yacht Club. Oceania and Azamara seem to be in an almost unique class which we cannot define :). And then there are what I call the ultra luxury lines such as Seabourn, Silverseas, Sea Dream, Regent, Crystal, and some would say Windstar (I might put this into that unnamed class with Oceania and Azamara). Viking is a very interesting newcomer that might be in a class of its own. This line has quickly built lots of loyalty among our friends who have cruised this line (we have yet to take the plunge). Disney is another line that also has its own unique niche. It is also a lot of fun (at least for us) to step out of your normal class of cruise lines and try something different. So, although the bulk of our cruises are with the mass market lines such as Celebrity, Princess, and HAL...we have recently cruised in MSC's Yacht Club (loved it and booked two more similar cruises) and have an upcoming Seabourn cruise. All this variety makes every cruise exciting...even after more then 40 years of extensive cruising. Hank
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