Pragueby esrussell79Prague....what can I say about Prague. It is magical. It is liking stepping into a fairy tale. It is a city I would visit over, and over, and over if given the opportunity. I want to see it in every season. It has taken the top spot as my favorite city.
It was surprisingly emotional for me to visit there. I kept thinking of my ancestors that left the region then called Bohemia a few short generations ago. They left, from what I understand, because of political instability for a better life in America. I kept wondering what they would think of The Czech Republic now, and all the changes it has under gone. I wondered if I was passing by relatives that I would never know of personally. Prague is one of the only old European cities that didn't get bombed in WWII so everything is intact the way it has always been. I wondered about my ancestors that walked these same streets, seeing the same buildings that have been there for centuries. I would have to imagine they missed it once they got to that flat prairie of Oklahoma before it was even a state. Coming from this old world to a brand new one all those years ago, to literally start from scratch. Prague was a strange, surreal, beautiful, and sometimes poignant place for me to be.
Prague has always been at the top of my list of European cities to visit. When we decided to go spend Christmas in Zurich with my cousins, we also decided that we should spend New Years in Prague. I am so very glad we did. The Christmas Markets in Prague run into January. So when we arrived on the 27th of December everything was in full swing. We booked our hotel ridiculously early and were able to get a room right off the Old Town Square, where the main Christmas market was. Prague is a seriously compact walkable city. This was the perfect location for both the Markets and seeing the rest of the city.
If you are going to travel there, I highly recommend Hotel Rott. The rooms were small, but clean and comfortable. The service was good. It's an old historical hotel, at a reasonable price point, which is what I was looking for. We really enjoyed it. https://www.hotelrott.cz/
Hotel Rott - With Christmas Market right outside door
The main Christmas market is right in the middle of Old Town Square. This is where you will find the Astronomical Clock and the beautifully Gothic church, Our Lady of Tyn.
Astronomical Clock - Stick around for the top of the hour. It is a fun show!
Christmas Tree and Our Lady of Tyn
The Christmas Tree lights were synced to music. The lights would do the routine about once an hour. It was seriously fun. Here is a video of it, there is some cute B dancing about half way through.
Typical booth selling Christmas ornaments and such
Some of the food stalls
There are literally markets all over the city this time of year. We happened upon several on our exploration. The Old Town Market is the biggest and also right outside the door of our hotel. We ate dinner at the market almost every night we were there. Traveling with an almost 3 year old can be challenging at times, totally worth it but challenging nonetheless. Usually this can mean nice dinner in a restaurant's can be difficult. You are all tired and hungry from big days of sightseeing. That doesn't always mix well with nice restaurants. We did eat at a really good Italian restaurant one evening (Prague has really good italian food and pizza), but other than that we stuck to the markets for dinner. There is something for everyone. B loves the crepes, and potato chips. The sausages were so flipping good. There is also a great selection of mulled wine and hot ciders. I became incredibly fond of the Hot Amaretto Cider. Also there are the Trdelnik. OH. MY. YUM. One can eat and shop for Christmas ornaments and such at the same time.
Trdelnik - Amazing pastries usually served with Nutella smeared on the inside.
Fresh Potato Chips!
This lovely was a piece of cheese that was grilled then served on rye bread. So good.
The markets are open all day into the night. It was lovely to stroll through on our way back to the hotel after sightseeing.
Market in the day time
We really enjoyed ourselves exploring the city. Our first full day was kind of rainy so we checked out one of the local malls, then did a cruise down the Vltava River which runs right through the middle of the city. It was a really nice cozy way to check out the city.
The view from our river cruise
That was the only day we had bad weather. It was cold but we actually came prepared with layers and really enjoyed it. It was such nice change from the hot humid climate of Malaysia. B enjoyed it more than I thought he would. He really liked snuggling in his stroller for naps and snuggling back at the hotel.
We really enjoyed exploring the city on foot. We walked and saw a lot. We took so many pictures it is really hard to narrow it down to these few. As I look through them I know I can't even begin to include everything we saw and did.
Beautiful building in the Jewish Quarter
This was a butcher shop that also had a lunch counter. We ordered a couple of sandwiches, Pastrami on Rye to be exact. Hands down the best Pastrami Sandwich I have ever had. If you are Prage go here. They also have burgers that looked really good.
Prague Castle is definitely worth checking out. It is still the official Residence of the President of the Czech Republic, as well as the historic home of the Kings of Bohemia, most famously Charles IV. There is so much to explore there, it really does take the most of one day. Some of the buildings date back to the 9th century. It is a building complex that has seen a lot of history. If you get across the bridge, to the bottom of the castle there are trams and buses that will take you up the hill.
Prague Castle from the bottom of the hill
B with St. Vitus Cathedral behind him before we entered the castle complex
Fountain in the courtyard
One of the most impressive buildings at the castle complex is St. Vitus Cathedral. The church here was founded in 903 with construction on it's current building beginning in 1344. It has the tombs of several Bohemian Kings and several Holy Roman Emperors. Mass is still held here every day.
Front of St. Vitus
Looking toward the alter
Back side of the church with its flying buttresses
You can tour the 14th century, Medieval Castle residence of King Charles IV.
Better view of the flying buttresses
There are several more buildings to tour in the complex, including an area called Golden Lane which is where many of the laborers lived when the castle was being built. When you are done wandering around, you are filtered out to an over look which is amazing. It is a view of the whole city.
View of Prague form the Castle
We rang in the New Year in Prague, well sort of. Sharing a hotel room with a 2 year old, means that you are asleep by 10 on New Year's Eve. The hotel left us a bottle of champagne in our room, which was awesome! We flew out on New Year's Day. This was the last picture I took the afternoon before we left. Pretty appropriate. I did not want to leave.
Six years ago, we left Atlanta for a cruise on Crystal Cruises that started in Athens, Greece. We stayed in the Athens Gate Hotel which had a rooftop bar and restaurant. The Acropolis was about 1/4 mile away and was a beautiful sight, both during the day and at night. Athens is a great place and easy to get around to all the historic places. After we left Athens, we made a number of stops, but our favorites were Israel, Egypt and Malta.
In Israel, we went to Jerusalem for a day and had a fantastic tour guide for two days with a group of eight people. We to the walled city and all the sights around there. We went to Bethlehem and toured the Church of the Nativity. It was awesome to be there on the site that Jesus was born! The next day, we went to see Masada, the hill were the Jews tried to hide from the Romans and were eventually killed. After that, we swam in the Dead Sea. Try keeping your feet on the sand! It is hard to do. We floated a lot. After other sights, Our Crystal Cruise ship headed for Egypt.
We landed in Alexandria and went by bus to Cairo in a caravan of buses, with police escort. The country is very protective of tourists and we felt very safe. After lunch, we had a short drive to the Pyramids. Sandy and I rode camels named Mickey Mouse and Michael Jackson. Afterwards, we found out that those seemed to be the names of all the camels! Then we walked around the Pyramids and the Sphinx before going to the Egyptian Museum. It is at the square where the revolution started two months later. We went back to the ship and the next day, we toured Alexandria and saw the reincarnated library, the Bibliotheca Alexandria. This is a phenomenal building. After riding and walking around the city, we sailed to Malta.
We were told to rise early for the sail in to Malta. It is home to the Maltese Cross, the Knights of St. John and has been held by the French, British, the Moors, the Romans and others. The old walls still stand. We enjoyed the steep climb into the city (right!). We went in St. John's Co-Cathedral and saw where all the knights were buried under the church. In fact, we walked on the plaques that covered their graves inside the church. To think of all the history about this church and the things that happened here!
Our cruise ended in my favorite city in the world, Rome! We have been there many times and have shared experiences with many of our clients. For more information, please contact us!
The Acropolis from the top of the Athens Gate Hotel
The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem
The Western Wall in Jerusalem
The Mount of Olives in Jerusalem
Masada in Israel
Sandy and John riding Mickey Mouse and Michael Jackson!
Part of the Library in Alexandria
Sailing in to Malta at sunrise
What I Learned About Viking River Cruises While Cruising The RhinePosted on May 19th, 2017 by Ralph Grizzle in Deck Plans
Koblenz, Germany — It had been awhile since I was on a Viking Longship, and although I had attended christening events and even did a couple of weeklong cruises on Viking a few years ago, too much time had passed since I’d stepped on a Longship. Last Sunday that changed when I boarded Viking Hlin in Basel for a seven-night “Rhine Getaway” voyage to Amsterdam.
After a quick transfer from Basel’s airport to the St. Johann docks, I felt good stepping into the familiar light-filled reception area of Viking Hlin (named for the goddess of protection in Norse mythology).
Close to the edge on Viking Hlin’s Aquavit Terrace while docked in Koblenz. No other river cruisers boast such large front-of-ship open areas on the lounge level. © 2017 Ralph Grizzle
All 46 of the Longships showcase virtually the same features, so I was immediately familiar with my surroundings. I checked in, which took all of two minutes, and was escorted to my category A Veranda Stateroom, number 333, situated on the starboard side.
After a near-sleepless night across the Atlantic, I was glad to be settled into the cozy confines of my 205-square-foot stateroom (the measurement includes the balcony). Tired but excited about the days ahead on the Rhine, I showered and afterward fell into bed for a quick sleep to refresh myself before awakening for the evening activities.
At 9 p.m. we sailed from Basel for the weeklong voyage that would visit Breisach (Germany), Strasbourg (France), Rudesheim, Koblenz and Cologne (all in Germany), and Kinderdijk (a village in the Netherlands known for its iconic windmills). Our trip will conclude Sunday morning in Amsterdam.
Along the way, there would be many side trips, to the Black Forest and Colmar on one day, a trip to Heidelberg on another, visits to castles and dinners ashore. Complimentary excursions were offered at each stop along the way and about a dozen optional tours were offered, ranging in price from €49 per person to €189, the latter being a full-day excursion called Taste the Best of Alsace (Viking Hiln’s program director, Candi Finkelstein, told me that this was the number one rated tour on the Rhine Getaway itinerary).
Fast forward: Midway through the voyage, as I sat in the Aquavit Lounge on a gorgeous day while Viking Hlin was docked alongside the Deutsches Eck in Koblenz, I realized something I had nearly forgotten – and that was just how good Viking is. I, and others on this voyage, have found much to appreciate about Viking Hlin, the attractive decor of the ship, its comfortable environs and an eager-to-please-and-seemingly happy-to-be-there staff.
I could give many shout outs, but here are a few: to our ever-smiling bartenders, Ivan from Macedonia and Krista, whose heritage is a mix of Spanish and Asian; to Armin, our enthusiastic Austrian hotel manager; and to Annie, who kept my stateroom clean and crisp and who always garnished my fruit tray with my favorite berries each day. It’s a nice touch that Viking offers a small plate of fruit in each stateroom, replenished daily.
Before heaping more praise on the Longships, though, I have a few quibbles that I’ll get out of the way. Here they are: Viking would do well to bring bicycles on board and to offer those for complimentary use. Why are there no bikes on Viking’s Longships? There’s no room to store bicycles. Viking optimized space on the Longships to focus on public spaces and to add more staterooms and suites than you’ll find on other river cruisers.
I missed having an on-board gym too. True, the gyms are tiny on river cruisers that have them, but still, I appreciate the option to get the blood pumping for a few minutes by exercising while cruising.
The Aquavit Terrace, made possible by squaring off the bow of the Longships. © 2017 Ralph Grizzle
Those are my only quibbles, and with some creativity (such as walking the sundeck track to get your exercise or using the onboard concierge to book bikes ashore for you), active travelers can get past those grumbles to experience what are arguably the most gorgeous ships on the rivers. Because Viking’s focus was on public spaces and accommodations, the Longships boast features that few, if any, other river cruisers can claim, notably, two-room suites and my favorite front-of-ship-space, the Aquavit Terrace.
Aquavit Terrace, Al Fresco, Viking StyleCharacterized by classic, minimalistic Nordic decor, the Longships were originally designed by the Norwegian-born chairman of Viking River Cruises, Torstein Hagen, and Olso-based naval architects Yran and Storbraaten. Imagine the interior of a Volvo S90, all done up with leather seats and birch wood inlays, and you’ll have a sense of the interiors of the Longships.
Viking’s vessels feature light palettes throughout complemented by a plethora of panes of illuminating glass, lots of wood, herb gardens, marble slabs and mossy stones flanking the attractive wooden staircases, along with leather furniture and beautiful fabrics, including wall linens that appear to be hand-stitched.
Look closely, in fact, and you’ll see that Viking paid a lot of attention to detail. Few people who I spoke with noticed until I had mentioned the leather hand-railing along the staircase. The feel of the leather adds to the sense of a stylish, yet simple, elegance, and at a hefty cost to Viking. The leather has to be replaced every two years.
Viking Hlin’s beautiful staircase with leather hand-railing. © 2017 Ralph Grizzle
Not one feature on the Longships could be described as over-the-top. Nothing jolts the senses or the eyes. To the contrary, the setting is pleasing, aesthetically and otherwise. The overall sensation that I feel on the Longships is a soothing one. I get something akin to a sense of serenity, particularly during moments when the play of light conspires to create works of art, such as in the reception area, where glass doors and the glass ceiling bathes the interior with sunlight.
Will the pleasing palette make a difference in your river cruise? Hard to say. What may, however, is the Aquavit Terrace. No front-of-ship public space on a European river cruiser comes close to matching the Aquavit Terrace. While on most river cruise vessels, the outdoor space at the front of the lounge is tight and obstructed by anchors and other marine equipment, Viking’s Longships are free of such distractions.
The Aquavit Terrace features an enlarged area of indoor/outdoor space that is as gorgeous as it is unobstructed. The bow is nearly squared off with the anchor spindles and other equipment hidden beneath the decking. The result is something like a platform that extends within about two feet of the front edge of the ship. Teak rocking chairs, with cushions, are placed behind a plexiglass barrier that breaks the wind while providing views of the river and the landscape of Europe along the river. It is a seemingly small feature but one that looms large on sunny days on the river. Pull up a chair. The Aquavit Terrace is the perfect place to pitch camp for a morning, afternoon or evening of scenic sailing.
The Aquavit Terrace is also used as an optional dining venue to the main restaurant one deck below. Today in Koblenz, for example, continental breakfast is offered from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m., a light, a buffet-style lunch is offered at noon, and a light dinner, featuring Norwegian salmon, along with salads and other items, is offered at 7 p.m. As in the restaurant, wine and beer are served at no charge during lunch and dinner.
Affordable Luxury, Quality Through And ThroughViking River Cruises (and Viking Oceans) boast a Norwegian heritage. That, and Viking mythology, play a strong role in the fleet’s makeup and decor. The Longships emphasize what Viking execs refer to as “affordable luxury.” Many of the luxury components are in the details.
Viking uses quality touches throughout, such as Fever Tree tonic in bottles. I saw no plastic on board Viking Hlin. © 2017 Ralph Grizzle
On most river cruisers, for example, you’ll see soft drinks, sodas and tonics served from fountain dispensers or from plastic bottles. Not so on Viking’s Longships. You’ll find glass bottles of Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, sodas and tonics. In fact, when it comes to tonic, Viking serves a gourmet brand known as Fever Tree. Torstein Hagen is a fan of gin and Fever Tree tonic, and I get the feeling that he would not have anything on his beloved Longships that we would not himself appreciate, which brings me to the Silver Spirit Beverage Package.
At €300 per cabin, double occupancy, the cost of Viking’s all-inclusive beverage package seem steep at first glance, but it can be quite a value when you consider the quality of the beverages offered. Are you a Scotch drinker? Then you may know of Highland Park Ragnvald, which goes for more than $500 a bottle on the internet sites I looked at. Yet on Viking, you can enjoy as many glasses as you like of the single malt Scotch whiskey as part of your Silver Spirit Beverage Package. Without the package, a 4 cl shot of Ragnvald goes for €22.
Krista, one our wonderful bartenders on Viking Hlin, poured us a glass of single malt Scotch whiskey – on more than one night. © 2017 Ralph Grizzle
Let’s do the math. My cruise spans eight days. For the purposes of imbibing, let’s knock it back to seven days. That is to say that yes, I might belly up to the bar on embarkation day for a premium drink but it’s not likely that I will parch my thirst with alcohol on the morning of disembarkation. €150 divided by seven days comes to about €21.50 per day. That’s one heck of a bargain when you consider the costs and quality of the beverages on the menu.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be talking more about Viking’s affordable luxury. My experience so far this week on Viking Hlin, however, has reassured me that those cruising with Viking should come away with the feeling of having received a good value vacation on what may just be the most stylish ships on the rivers.
The best bartender on the rivers? Ivan, from Macedonia, made our trip special, using fresh mint from Viking Hlin’s top deck herb garden to make this mojito. © 2017 Ralph Grizzle
Add to that Hagen’s penchant for quality, which manifests itself throughout the Longships, and Viking’s focus to deliver “affordable luxury,” apparent in such surprising small touches as heated bathroom floors in the staterooms, and what you have is a match made, well, in Valhalla. And that, as any good Viking would know, is the Norse version of heaven. It couldn’t get any better than that.
Want to go? Viking’s 8-day Rhine Getaway cruise begins at $1,699 per person, with air incentives priced from $295 per person. But that lead-in price is for a December 29 sailing from Basel to Amsterdam in the lowest category stateroom, measuring 150 square feet. Category A staterooms like the one I had price out on the same sailing at $2,199 per person with air from $295 per person. Rates during the peak month of September for a Category A are $4,049 per person, based on double occupancy.
For the purposes of this review, I was a guest of Viking River Cruises. My cruise and onboard expenses were covered by Viking, as was a portion of my airfare. Viking River Cruises is also one of River Cruise Advisor’s sponsors.
An avid traveler and an award-winning journalist, Ralph Grizzle produces articles, video and photos that are inspiring and informative, personal and passionate. A journalism graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ralph has specialized in travel writing for more than two decades. To read more cruise and port reviews by Ralph Grizzle, visit his website at www.avidcruiser.com.
Viking Aquavit Terrace
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Disney Cruise Line will make its maiden trip to Bermuda in October 2018, the Bermuda Tourism Authority announced yesterday.
The Disney Magic is to sail to Bermuda five times next year on October 6, 15, 21, 28 and 31, from New York City.
The BTA was “thrilled” to partner with an iconic brand and bring a new segment of cruise travellers to Bermuda, chief product and experiences officer Pat Phillip-Fairn said.
“It’s the first time Disney Cruise Line has come to Bermuda, so naturally we’re excited about these inaugural calls.
“Disney cruise vacationers and the new experiential travellers now discovering Bermuda are very similar, in that they want to see, taste and experience everything Bermuda has to offer.
“Our team will now drill down on the kinds of desirable Bermuda experiences the island can offer to inspire Disney passengers with the company’s Port Adventures team and our local stakeholders.”
Each of the Disney Magic sailings will include two full days in Bermuda, while the October 15 sailing will include three days.
Ms Phillip-Fairn said Disney had been “intrigued by Bermuda” during talks — and that up to 20 per cent of passengers would be travelling without children.
Diversifying the island’s cruise offerings is another key objective of the BTA, and Disney is “very keen on creating great experiences for guests, and encouraging guests to get off the ship and explore”.
Senator Michael Fahy, the Minister for Tourism and Transport, said the calls were significant because they helped lengthen the visitor season.
“When we successfully attract visitors in the fall and winter, we keep Bermudians in hospitality working year-round and that’s critically important to the growth of our tourism industry.”
The Disney Magic cruise liner carries up to 2,713 passengers and 950 crew, and will berth in Dockyard.
The island offers “a wonderful setting for memory making”, according to Tom Wolber, senior vice-president of Disney Cruise Line operations.
AmaWaterways has revealed it will launch a new river vessel in 2019 that is set to be the largest on the Danube.
To be named AmaMagna, the behemoth will have the same length, height and draft as the line's other vessels, but at 22 meters it will be twice as wide, allowing for larger cabins -- most about 300 square feet -- with a capacity for 194 passengers (40 more than Crystal Mozart).
Its width also means it will be the only ship docked in ports that allow two-deep berthing.
Rudi Schreiner, AmaWaterways' co-owner and president, said the new ship will feature ocean-style cabins, multiple dining venues (including outdoor dining), an elevator that goes all the way to the top of the ship, a heated top-deck pool and hot tub with bar, expanded entertainment and spa offerings and a water sports platform with zodiacs, canoes and other recreational equipment.
The ship will also boast a fitness center large enough for small group classes, hosted as part of the line's new wellness program, which will roll out next year to one ship per river.
AmaMagna shipbuilder Koert Kamphuisen of Vahali Shipyard said the vessel will be green, using propulsion that's a hybrid of diesel and electric engines. In total, there will be 10 small engines, with just four used for propulsion. If more power is needed, electric ones will be used.
"In the end, we expect to save 20 to 25 percent more fuel," Kamphuisen said, noting that smaller engines also mean less noise.
Construction began on March 6 at Vahali's headquarters in Belgrade, Serbia. When the hull is completed, the vessel will be finished at the company's facility in Holland. Because its size will prohibit it from being towed directly to Holland by tugboat, it will instead be taken by freighter via the Black Sea.
Consider a trip to Cuba on March 28, 2018. Start your cruise with a day in Key West, Florida. Visit Havana for three nights, one night in Cienfuegos, one night in Santiago. This is a 10 night trip on a fantastic ship, the Quest that has a capacity of 694 guests! This cruise is roundtrip Miami and cabins are filling up fast! Contact us soon if you are ready for this great adventure and a step back in time to go to Cuba!