Travel Savings Alerts Newsletter, May 2017 Issue
Travel Savings Alerts
P.O. Box 877
Logan OH 43138
ISSN: 1542-801X, Copyright 2017
All Rights Reserved.
Editor: Nicki Chodnoff
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Holland America's Volendam
3rd Night Free at Naples Beach Hotel
|The Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club, in Naples, FL, has on-site recreational options and is Southwest Florida’s only beachfront resort with a golf course, spa, and tennis center.
For a reason to visit, the resort offers the third night free for stays June 1 to Sep. 30, 2017 with its Summer in Paradise Promotion. The resort charges no resort fees, offers free valet parking and self-parking, and free access to the fitness center.
The third night free offer is based on availability, with holiday weekends excluded, and blackout dates. The promotion may not be combined with any other offer, and is not applicable to groups.
On 125 acres with seven miles of beach, the resort features a beachfront pool complex with two pools, whirlpools and locker facilities; tennis center with six Har-Tru courts; free daily recreational program for children ages five to 12; beach rentals; and retail shops.
The 319 guest rooms and suites include flat-panel televisions; patio or balcony (view of the Gulf, golf course or the resort interior); coffee maker; and refrigerator.
Summer in Paradise Promotion or 800/237-7600.
Bubbly & Bungalow Package at the Confidante
|The Confidante Miami Beach, a beach house-inspired resort on Miami Beach, FL offers a Beach, Bubbly and Bungalow package, with savings of up to 40 percent. From $249 per night, the package includes a $100 food and beverage credit per stay, chilled bottle of Champagne upon arrival and a private poolside cabana. The offer is valid through the end of 2017 and requires a minimum two night stay.
Offering rest and relaxation, The Confidante’s Beach, Bubbly and Bungalow package includes a private poolside cabana with chaises and umbrellas included for one day per stay.
The $100 food & beverage credit can be used at any of the Confidante’s four culinary and cocktail experiences or toward food or beverage poolside or beachside, throughout your stay.
Debuted in April 2016, the Confidante is in Miami Beach’s mid-beach neighborhood. The mid-century modern resort features 363 guestrooms and 16 suites with a 1950s-inspired design.
Amenities include two heated swimming pools (one for adults only), private poolside cabanas and bungalows, a full-service beach area, and tropical gardens. The rooftop Spa at The Confidante has six air-conditioned cabanas, a full-service salon, and an indoor/outdoor fitness center.
Beach, Bubbly and Bungalow package or 305/424-1234.
Liberty Travel Puerto Rico Getaway
|Liberty Travel brings you the El Conquistador Resort, in Fajardo, Puerto Rico vacation package.
The four night vacation starts from $815 per person, based on double occupancy from New York, $875 from Miami, $1015 from Chicago, $959 from Philadelphia, $1215 from Los Angeles, and $1059 from Dallas.
That’s a savings of 40 percent and includes roundtrip airfare, four nights’ accommodations and hotel transfers.
The offer ID No. 1058, must be booked by May 31, 2017, for travel June 25 to 29, 2017.
The renovated El Conquistador sits on a 300-foot cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. The resort has five villages of accommodations with ocean, marina or resort views. Amenities include an 18 hole golf course, the Waldorf Astoria Spa, fitness center, pools, water sports at Palomino Island and Coqui Water Park.
Liberty Travel or or 877/824-5555.
Princess Cruises Come Back New Sale
|BOOK BY MAY 2 - - Princess Cruises’ has a Come Back New Sale, offering free gratuities. In addition to free gratuities, book a suite during the Come Back New sale and receive a free Lotus Spa treatment with facial or 50-minute Swedish massage.
Cruise prices are per guest, based on double occupancy. The Come Back New Sale runs through 11:59 p.m. PDT on May 2, 2017 and is available to residents of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico.
The sale offers deals on cruises to the Caribbean, Mexico, Hawaii, Panama Canal, California coast, Canada and New England, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, South Pacific, Japan, Southeast Asia, South America, and world cruise voyages.
When you book during Princess Cruise's Come Back New Sale you also receive up to $300 per person savings on Princess EZair to select destinations. Princess EZair provides low fares, late arrival protection, 24/7 support, and no customization fee when booking flights for a cruise vacation.
- Examples of the Come Back New cruise deals include:
- Caribbean cruise — seven days: $799 interior; $1,099 balcony
- Mexico cruise — seven days: $649 interior; $949 balcony
- California Coast cruise – seven days: $749 interior; $1,199 balcony
- Panama Canal cruise — 15 days: $1,599 interior; $2,199 balcony
- Southeast Asia — 10 days: $1,319 interior; $1,919 balcony
- Hawaii cruise —15 days: $1,699 interior; $2,899 balcony
- Australia & New Zealand cruise — 12 days: $1,659 interior; $2,659 balcony.
Princess Cruise's Come Back New Sale or 800/774-6237.
Free Night in Hawaii
|Let your Luau last a little longer with Hilton’s free night in Hawaii program. Stay five nights or more and get a night free in Hawaii when you book the “Another Day in Paradise” package at participating Hawaii Hilton hotels and resorts.
Prices start at $209 per night and participating hotels are located in Oahu, Maui, The Big Island and Kauai. When booking “Another Day in Paradise” use package plan code “PBADP4” or “DY4” (or “P7” for Hilton Waikiki Beach) to receive all package benefits.
The offer is subject to availability, and requires three-day advance reservations. You must stay a minimum stay of seven consecutive nights and a maximum stay of 10 consecutive nights at Hilton Waikiki Beach, a minimum stay of six consecutive nights and a maximum stay of 10 consecutive nights at Hilton Waikoloa Village, a minimum stay of five consecutive nights and a maximum stay of eight consecutive nights at hotels and resorts in Hawaii.
Non-refundable prepayment is required when booking. Bookings cannot be changed and each hotel has its own cancellations policies and/or blackout dates that may apply. Rates vary based on hotels and specific travel dates selected. Unless otherwise stated, rates are per room, per night, and do not include taxes, gratuities, incidental charges and resort fees.
Hawaii Hiltons Free Night Offer or 800-HILTONS.
Girlfriends & Glamour Getaway Package
|Fort Lauderdale’s Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District has a "Girlfriends & Glamour Getaway" package, available through Oct. 1, 2017.
Offered Thursday, Friday, Saturday and/or Sunday, the package starts at $179 per room, per night and includes:
- Accommodations, based on double occupancy, in the Riverside Hotel's Executive Tower
- Tickets to NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale
- $30 food and beverage credit per room, per stay
- One-day Water Taxi pass to hop on and off to take in shopping, attractions and restaurants
- A welcome gift bag with savings book from The Galleria at Fort Lauderdale mall
- Free valet parking for up to two vehicles per room.
Package prices start at $179 per room, per night, based on double occupancy. Up to four people may stay in one room, the third and fourth guests in the room pay $28 per person. Prices are exclusive of taxes, gratuities, fees and other charges.
The package cannot be combined with any other offer and there is no refund or credit for any unused portion. Advance reservations are required
Girlfriends & Glamour Getaway package.
Epic SchoolKids Returns for Winter Season
|Park City Mountain offers more reasons to ski or snowboard as a family. Through the Epic SchoolKids program, all Utah elementary school students – kindergarten through fifth grade – can receive five free days of skiing or snowboarding at Park City Mountain and a free first-time ski or snowboard lesson with free rental equipment.
Regardless of their skiing ability, parents are invited to enroll their children in the Epic SchoolKids program at Park City Mountain and register for a free first-time lesson during December or January. Online registration for Epic SchoolKids is now underway.
All 2017-2018 Epic Local pass holders receive access to Park City Mountain summer benefits, such as scenic lift rides and additional discounts for on-mountain activities.
Park City Mountain 2017-2018 Season Pass options:
• Epic SchoolKids Utah Pack: This free program provides all Utah elementary school children (kindergarten through fifth grade) five free days of skiing and riding at Park City, plus a free, first-time lesson with equipment rental in December or January. Registration will be open for a limited time at www.epicschoolkids.com/Utah.
•Epic Local Pass: For $639, get unlimited, unrestricted skiing or riding at Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin with limited restrictions at Park City Mountain, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood. The Epic Local Pass also includes a total of 10 days at Whistler Blackcomb, Vail and Beaver Creek with holiday restrictions. Vail Resorts will integrate Stowe Mountain Resort into its season pass products for the 2017-2018 winter season, subject to the acquisition closing. A child pass (ages five to 12) is $339.
•The Epic Pass: Ski unlimited and unrestricted from opening day to closing day for $859. Get full access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado; Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Stowe Mountain in Vermont (pending acquisition closing); Whistler Blackcomb in Canada; and Perisher in Australia for the 2017-2018 season. The Epic Pass grants limited access to Arlberg in Austria; Les 3 Vallées, Paradiski and Tignes-Val D’Isere in France; Skirama Dolomiti in Italy and 4 Vallées in Switzerland. A child pass (ages five to 12) is $449.
•Park City Youth Pass: Only for Utah resident college students, teens and children, the Park City Youth Pass features unlimited, unrestricted access to Park City at $339 for children (ages five to 12), $369 for teens (ages 13 to 18) and $419 for college students.
American Free Main Cabin Meals
|To keep pace with Delta Airlines, American Airlines adds free meals in the main cabin for select coast-to-coast flights.
The Main Cabin meals will be available on flights in both directions between Los Angeles and New York, and between San Francisco and New York. Depending on the time of day, you will be offered a continental breakfast or a boxed meal with a sandwich wrap, kettle chips and dessert. The menu also includes a vegetarian option and a fruit and cheese plate. The new meal service begins May 1.
American Airlines or 800/433-7300.
Americans Feel Unsafe with Self-Driving Cars
|Every year, 35,000 drivers die on America’s roadways, mostly due to human error. Government and safety experts estimate connected and automated vehicles have the potential to prevent up to 80 percent of today’s crashes, but AAA research finds drivers continue to fear fully self-driving cars.
“A great race toward autonomy is underway and companies are vying to introduce the first driverless cars to our roadways,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “However, while U.S. drivers are eager to buy vehicles equipped with autonomous technology, they continue to fear a fully self-driving vehicle.”
A 2016 AAA survey found that three-quarters of Americans feel afraid to ride in a self-driving car. One year later, that fear is unchanged. Still, six out of 10 (59 percent) of Americans say they want autonomous features on their next car. This contrast suggests that American drivers are ready to embrace autonomous technology, but are not ready to give up full control.
Survey findings reveal gender and generational differences in how drivers feel about self-driving vehicles:
Half (54 percent) of U.S. drivers feel less safe at the prospect of sharing the road with a self-driving vehicle, while one-third (34 percent) feel it wouldn’t make a difference and only 10 percent say they would feel safer
Women (58 percent) are more likely to feel less safe than men (49 percent)
Baby Boomers (60 percent) are more likely to feel less safe than Gen X (56 percent) or Millennials (41 percent)
Six out of 10 (59 percent) of U.S. drivers want autonomous vehicle technology in their next vehicle, while the remainder do not (25 percent) or are unsure (16 percent)
Millennials (70 percent) are more likely to want the technologies than Generation X (54 percent) or Baby Boomers (51 percent)
Three-quarters (78 percent) of Americans are afraid to ride in self-driving vehicles
Baby Boomers (85 percent) are more likely to be afraid than Generation X (75 percent) or Millennials (73 percent).
AAA urges the gradual, safe introduction of these technologies to ensure American drivers are informed, prepared and comfortable with this shift in mobility.
L.E. Hotels Packages and Promotions
|From the island of Ibiza to the banks of the Seine, L.E. Hotels offers an authentic European experience with packages and promotions to top destinations around Europe.
For travelers interested in exploring beyond Europe, L.E. Hotels offers packages and promotions at properties worldwide in 18 countries. Offers will vary amongst L.E. Hotels’ member properties.
Here are some of the offers:
- 15 percent off when you book three nights or more at the Hotel Plaza Tour Eiffel Paris, or a fourth night free at Hotel Lumen Paris Louvre in Paris
- 25 percent off rooms and a bottle of bubbly at Creekside Inn in Palo Alto, CA
- 28 percent off four to seven night stays at Tcherassi Hotel & Spa in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia
- Up to 18 percent off at Hotel Manos Premier, Brussels, Belgium
- 15 percent off when you book three nights or more and 10 percent off when you book two nights at Hotel Opera, Madrid. Plus, receive free gym and Wi-Fi access.
- 15 percent off when you book three nights or more at BCN Urban Gran Rosellon, Barcelona
- Stay four nights (Monday through Saturday) and receive the fifth Friday or Saturday night free at the Hotel Rosales Plaza in Bogota, Colombia.
L.E. Hotels or 866/589-3411.
Wyndham Extra Holidays Travel Deals
|Wyndham Extra Holidays offers spring and early summer travel deals to 30 destinations during the Wyndham Extra Holidays "Spring Forward Into Fun!" travel sale.
Book by May 31, 2017 and travel by June 30, 2017. A two-night minimum stay is required and mention code SPG17 when booking. Subject to availability, the offer is for new reservations and not valid over holidays and special events. Cannot be combined with any other offer.
Spring or early summer escapes can take place by the water, playing golf or taking in picnic-perfect scenic views. You can stay at one of the resorts offered by Wyndham Extra Holidays with family suites equipped with kitchens, bedrooms, and separate dining and living areas. Special deals of up to 35 percent off are at destinations across the U.S., including the resorts below.
Wyndham Clearwater Beach Resort, Clearwater Beach, FL – Oceanfront property with pool and private beach cabana. Amenities include private bedrooms, separate living/dining area, kitchen and washer/dryer. The new resort offers a spa, restaurant, fitness center, pool and resort activities.
WorldMark Bend, Seventh Mountain Resort, Bend, Oregon - Closest resort to Mt. Bachelor. Unwind in the rustic lodge or one- or two-bedroom suites with kitchens and balconies.
Wyndham Bonnet Creek Resort, Orlando - One- and two-bedroom suites adjacent to Walt Disney World Resort. The European-inspired retreat features two lazy rivers, five pools, miniature golf, nearby outlet shopping centers and close to Orlando theme parks and attractions.
Desert Rose Resort, Las Vegas - Two blocks off the Las Vegas Strip and a short walk to the monorail station, the one- and two-bedroom suites have bedrooms, living/dining areas and kitchens.
Wyndham Extra Holidays or 800/670-3620.
Linblad Expeditions All-Inclusive Pricing
|Your bar tab and crew gratuities will be free on all departures of National Geographic Explorer and National Geographic Orion, creating inclusive pricing on the two Lindblad Expedition vessels.
The new policy started in April 2017, and the cruise line does not charge for activities and excursions, including pre- and post-cruise city explorations, or Zodiac, kayaking, paddle boarding, snorkeling, and hiking explorations. Rates also include onboard lectures, all meals, equipment, photo instruction, wellness classes and group flight transfers.
The new policy does not include the line’s upcoming cruise ships, the National Geographic Quest and National Geographic Venture.
The National Geographic Quest will launch June 26, 2017 with 50 cabins, 22 with balconies and eight that can be configured into four adjoining cabins for families. The Quest will have 24 sea kayaks, paddle boards, snorkeling equipment, and Zodiacs, plus a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), video microscope, hydrophone and bow-cam designed for immediate bow deployment. The National Geographic Venture will sail in June 2018. Both ships are the first new builds in Lindblad’s history and built from scratch in the United States.
Inclusive pricing is available on two of Lindblad’s seasonal charters: the Sea Cloud, which sails in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, and Lord of the Glens, which sails in Scotland.
For complete rules,Linblad Expeditions or 800/397-3348.
Boyne Great Escape Golf Vacation
|Boyne Resorts in Michigan, one of the largest golf and resort attractions in North America, feature three resort destinations with 10 golf courses, all within a 45-minute drive of one another.
The all-inclusive “Great Escape Golf Vacation” package started 30-plus years ago as a way to entice golfers to visit northern Michigan on extended-stay golf trips.
The Great Escape includes five-nights lodging at Boyne Highlands Resort or Boyne Mountain Resort (Sunday check-in/Friday check-out), welcome reception, gift package, breakfasts and dinners daily, unlimited golf on seven of Boyne’s golf courses and preferred pricing at Boyne’s flagship property, Bay Harbor Golf Club.
Golfers can custom-build a package selecting which golf courses to play, where to dine (including Boyne Country Club, Bay Harbor Golf Club or Young American’s Dinner Theatre). You can also build in to a one week Great Escape Odawa Casino gaming vouchers, merchandise packages, spa treatments, custom club fitting, and instruction.
The package price starts at $895 per person, and runs for 19 weeks during the golf season from May 7 through Sep. 15, 2017.
Boyne’s Great Escape or 844/634-5315.
Ocean Terrace Inn All-Inclusive Package
|The Ocean Terrace Inn in St. Kitts offers an all-inclusive package. For a limited time, you can also claim a $300 air credit on United Airlines.
The all-inclusive package makes it easy to include everything in your vacation. You make one payment for the trip and put your wallet away.
The all-inclusive package includes accommodations; roundtrip airport transfers; welcome drinks; cold towel; free Wi-Fi on property; breakfast, lunch and dinner including non-alcoholic drinks by the glass; unlimited house wine; sparkling wine and house brand liquors at all restaurants and bars (top brands additional charge); use of the gym and pool and free beach shuttle.
Double your savings by booking your getaway during the booking window for the air credit on United Airlines. To claim the $300 per person air credit you must fly on United Airlines' Saturday nonstop service to St. Kitts from New York/Newark or a city connecting through Newark on the nonstop flight. Book by May 27, 2017 for travel through July 8, 2017. Blackout dates do not apply. This offer is valid on new reservations only made by May 27, 2017.
The air credit will be applied immediately upon booking. Limited quantities are available. Additional terms and conditions may apply.
Ocean Terrace Inn offers has 34 air conditioned guestrooms and suites with free Wi-Fi, cuisine by international chefs and personalized service.
Ocean Terrace Inn or 800/524-0512.
Discover Nevis Special Summer Packages
|Discovering Nevis this spring and summer is sweeter, as United Airlines offers an automatic $300 discount on all of their non-stop New York/Newark flights to St. Kitts Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport. With this automatic $300 discount on every ticket, flights start from $736 roundtrip. Use promo code SKB300 to receive the automatic discount when purchasing tickets on united.com. Book travel by May 27, 2017 for travel by July 8, 2017.
United offers weekly flights from New York/Newark to St. Kitts/Nevis on Saturdays, with flights just over four hours. Those outside of the New York tristate area can connect on United's network. Fly to St. Kitts and enjoy a seven-minute ferry to Nevis.
Nevis hotels offer summer packages to sweeten the deal. Check the websites for package details, taxes and restrictions:
Four Seasons Nevis - Advance Purchase 30 Percent Off package. Book at least 60 days in advance to receive 30 percent off the original room rate. Live Large and Prosper luxury villa package offers 40 percent off the villa rate with a three-month booking window for stays of three nights or longer and booked seven days prior to arrival.
Montpelier Plantation & Beach - Live Like a Local package includes premier room stays for $150 per night, with breakfast included.
Golden Rock Inn - Stay Four Pay Three package gives a free night for a four-night stay and family summertime package.
Nisbet Plantation Beach Club - offers a 30 percent discount on all rooms and suites year round, from $273 a night.
United flights to St. Kitts/Nevis.
Holland America's Ready Set Sail Promotion
|Holland America Line launches its Ready Set Sail promotion featuring pre-paid gratuities and up to $500 onboard spending money per stateroom. Book a Holland America Line cruise by June 1, 2017, and be eligible to receive the offer. Book a suite and receive an additional $100 internet credit.
All cruises between June 1, 2017 and Mar. 30, 2018, excluding Grand Voyages and Grand Voyage segments, are eligible for the Ready Set Sail promotion. Depending on stateroom category, onboard spending money will range from $100 to $500 per stateroom.
In addition to pre-paid gratuities valued up to $27 per stateroom, per day, you receive onboard spending money for shipboard experiences and amenities. The credit can be applied to spa and salon treatments, gift shop purchases, tours, beverages or dinner at one of the specialty restaurants.
Eligible Holland America Line destinations for the Ready Set Sail promotion include Alaska cruises and Land+Sea Journeys, the Caribbean, Canada/New England, Bermuda, Mexico, South America, the Panama Canal, the Far East, the South Pacific, Europe and Australia/New Zealand.
Holland America Line or 877/724-5425.
Poseidon Expeditions Early Bird Discounts
|Poseidon Expeditions offers early booking savings of $1,435 to $2,255 per person on three 13-day voyages departing July 8 to 20, July 19 to 31 and July 30 to Aug. 11, 2018.
With rates from $27,260 per person (double occupancy), this adventure starts in Murmansk, Russia where you board the nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Years of Victory for a roundtrip voyage to the geographic North Pole. This icebreaker was built to smash through Arctic Ocean ice up to 12 feet thick.
You can explore the rarely visited Russian Arctic Archipelago of Franz Josef Land home to High Arctic wildlife including polar bears. In the surrounding waters, you may spot seals, walrus and the bowhead whale. The archipelago hosts nesting Arctic seabirds such as the rare ivory gull.
Activities are centered on discovery, history and wildlife. Guides help you spot puffins, gannets, guillemots and other bird life on excursions ashore. On deck, everyone looks for humpback, fin and minke whales. Walruses and seals -- harp, bearded and other species – are often seen on ice floes. Spotting a polar bear is a highlight in a land of glaciers, fjords and waterfalls.
Included on all Poseidon Expeditions North Pole cruises is flightseeing aboard the icebreaker’s onboard helicopter. From above you have the perspective to witness the ship plowing through the ice of the frozen ocean.
The helicopter is used to land in Franz Josef Land when conditions prevent landings by Zodiac, giving access to this remote and hard-to-reach Arctic wilderness.
A free photography program allows you to learn and practice photography skills alongside an expert photographer.
Per person, double occupancy rates with discounts are $27,260 to $42,840. To qualify, reservations must be made by July 31, 2017.
Rates include one pre-voyage hotel night; group transfers from airport to hotel and to the ship on day of embarkation plus a trip to the airport or central location upon disembarkation; shipboard accommodation and all meals while at sea; tea and coffee station 24 hours daily; all scheduled landings/excursions; expert interpretation throughout the voyage; branded Poseidon Expeditions parka; use of rubber boots for shore landings; welcome and farewell beverages; all port fees; pre-departure materials; digital voyage log; medical insurance covering the risks of evacuation and repatriation.
Poseidon Expeditions or 347/801-2610.
Winterthur After Hours
|Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library, in Winterthur, DE, plans Friday evenings of live music, guided garden walks, refreshments and other attractions in Winterthur After Hours.
The casual series runs through November 2017 and begins in the Galleries Reception Area and on the East Gallery Patio, 5:30 to 8:00 pm. Tickets are "pay what you wish" and can be reserved online. Beer, wine, and food can be purchased in the beer garden each evening.
In addition to guided garden walks, the series will feature conversations with Winterthur’s Estate Historian about entertaining at Winterthur, a photography workshop, a study of garden objects loved by the du Ponts, and a look at cars driven on the property in the early- to mid-20th century.
The 175-room estate called Winterthur is known for its collection of American decorative arts, naturalistic gardens, and research library for the study of American art and material culture.
Winterthur After Hours or 302/888-4600.
Sailing on the Volendam by Nicki and Harold Chodnoff
|Usually, when we get off a cruise, we wonder how we will endure everyday life without a room steward or all those wonderful meals that magically appear. After this cruise, 14 days on Holland America’s Volendam from Hong Kong to Singapore, we didn’t find the transition back to day-to-day life difficult. For the most part, we found nearly everything okay on the cruise along with a few glitches. Today okay isn’t enough for us and especially for the experienced cruisers we met on the Volendam. The whole time we were onboard, we couldn’t help but remember Holland America’s history and the high standards set in years gone by. Those glory days are gone and Holland America’s standards are different now, perhaps because the cruise line is now part of Carnival Corporation.
We boarded the ship in Hong Kong after a seemingly never ending 17 hour flight from Los Angeles. Exhausted, once we boarded the ship we stumbled through the day and the mandatory safety drill. We quietly sailed out of Hong Kong harbor during dinner heading for ports in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It was a comforting feeling to know that tomorrow we had a leisurely day at sea and wouldn't set foot on land until our first port of call in two days.
The ship, despite its size, runs surprisingly quiet. Walking out on deck you hear the whoosh of the wind and the smack of the waves against the hull. After a while the sounds become a soothing white noise. Weather did not cooperate during the transit to our first port of call, Halong Bay, Vietnam. Through the cooler than normal temperatures, fog, rain and gale force winds, there weren’t the usual passengers on deck marveling at the area's dramatic beauty. Some hardier passengers wrapped themselves in blankets and relaxed on the deck chairs under cover on Lower Promenade deck.
On the five days at sea, passengers relaxed and enjoyed the comforts of our floating hotel. Our itinerary for most of the cruise was a day in port and then a day at sea. On the at-sea days, on-board activities ranged from tai chi, to trivia and karaoke challenges, to meetings of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Some of the activities that in days gone by were free now have a fee.
You could indulge at the Greenhouse Spa and Salon, a fully equipped gym, (covered) tennis and basketball courts, two pools (one with a retractable roof) and hot tubs, performances by a comedian, and range of singers and dancers, several bars, a nightclub, movie theatre, library, an internet cafe, casino and duty free shops.
Digital workshops on board help you learn about your computer and digital camera and software that would help you with both, while the Culinary Arts Centre featured cooking demonstrations which focused on the cuisines of our ports of call.
Children between the ages of 3 and 17 are cared for in Club HAL, which has three age-specific areas stocked with games, toys, movies and activities to amuse younger travelers for hours.
We tried to experience as much as we could - the seminar on folding towels into animals which the stateroom stewards do every night as part of the turn-down service was a highlight. Days at sea seem to revolve around the serious business of eating.
To get the full cruise ship experience, it was our mission to attend at least one tea time held in the afternoon at the Explorer’s Lounge. The day we attended, there was a boisterous drink tasting held next to the tea time location. The antics of the drink tasting infringed on what should have been a relaxing atmosphere. Some people left disappointed. Not only was there noise, there were not enough seats for all who wanted to attend. And since the turnout was larger than expected, getting tea or pastries took much longer than it should.
That experience isn’t the end of the world. But it shows the difference between Holland America in years gone by and today. Maybe that is why passenger loyalty isn’t what it used to be. Speaking with passengers, many who sailed on Holland America frequently, the reason they chose this cruise was the itinerary and price. For many cruisers, there no longer seems to be a loyalty to brand. To us it seemed that Holland America doesn’t give past passengers much incentive to sail on the cruise line again.
On port days, there’s a range of excursions at a variety of costs or you can venture out on your own.
Due to our size, we could only sail in the South China Sea. The ship was too large to dock in the heart of the cities of Da Nang, Nha Trang, Phu My, Sihanoukville and Bangkok. Instead we docked at commercial ports among cranes unloading cargo ships and trucks picking up containers. Not seeing lovely towns or the scenic countryside while in port was disappointing but not a deal-breaker. One down side was that in most of the ports you had to pay for a shuttle or bus fare into town which for the longer trips was pricey. The bus trip could take two hours or more one-way to get to Bangkok or Hanoi, which used up a big chunk of port time.
The cost of shore excursions was one of the biggest complaints we heard from fellow passengers. Since many were seasoned cruisers, here are a few of their ideas and strategies.
- 1. Avoid shore excursions that include a meal as there is usually a big price premium for the meal and the meal is mediocre at best. For instance, the Halong Bay cruise tour with lunch was $99.95 per person. Without lunch, the tour was $64.95 per person.
- 2. Check the cruise boards, such as Cruise Critic, and ask past passengers for independent tour recommendations. This needs to be done as early as possible. Our passenger informer booked all her tours online a month or two before the cruise and had several great tour experiences for half the price.
- 3. The three-day Angkor Watt and Saigon excursion was a whopping $2,899 per person (you can buy an eight-day land tour with airfare for half that cost). A savvy cruiser made his own arrangements for his group of fellow travelers. His travel agent arranged the same tour at the end of the cruise. In Singapore, the group flew into Siem Rep and stayed at a local hotel. Their Angkor Watt excursion cost them one-third of what Holland America charged for the excursion.
- 4. Wing it on your own. At many ports there are tour representatives roaming the docks. Just make sure you have plenty of time to get back onto the ship in case a bus or car breaks down or encounters traffic snarls.
Little things seem to irritate long time cruisers. A number of passengers commented that Holland America now charges for things that were previously included. For instances, some classes in the fitness center now have a charge as do specialty coffees such as lattes and cappuccinos. In fact the Explorations Cafe by the computer center offers pastries and coffees, all at an extra charge. Not to mention the upcharge premium restaurants, the Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto Restaurant.
Another irritant for long time cruisers is comparing what your cruise line offers compared to another cruise. At Koh Samui, Thailand, the Volendam and a Princess Cruises ship both were in port the same day. Both ships had a covered waiting area at the pier so passengers can wait for the next tender. Holland America passengers noticed and commented that at the pier waiting area they were offered water and lemonade. Princess Cruises offered their passengers water, ice tea, lemonade and snacks such as cupcakes, fresh pineapple and coconut water.
Dinner time was always a chance to try new foods or relish tried-and-true favorites. On the Voldendam, the two level Rotterdam Dining Room offers two dining options: dine “As you Wish” on the lower level any time from 5:15 to 9:00 p.m. Here you can choose to dine alone or with other passengers – your choice. The upper level offers the two traditional sittings at 5:45 or 8 p.m. at assigned tables. We selected a table for eight on the upper level and were lucky to be seated with six delightful table mates. We still keep in contact long after the cruise.
Evening shows in the Frans Hals showroom are timed to the two sittings in the main dining room. Other dining options include the Lido Deck restaurant, which also serves breakfast and lunch and for-a-fee alternative restaurants such as the Pinnacle Grill and Canaletto.
For the most part, we found the 600-plus staff, largely made up of Filipinos and Indonesians, patient and friendly. Our dining room service for dinner was on the mark and consistently good. But breakfast and lunch service in the main dining room was inconsistent and disappointing.
The staff in the main dining area ran around distracted as if they were unsure what to do. At times they simply disappeared. Servers came to our table and refilled the men’s coffee cups but completely ignored the women. This happened on several occasions. We were told many new servers came onboard when we did in Hong Kong. Maybe they had communication problems, or they didn’t know their duties or were tired from the long hours. Whatever the reason, we spoke with many people who left the main dining room after breakfast or lunch complaining and rethinking sailing on Holland America again.
Breakfast in the Lido Restaurant wasn’t much better. It wasn’t the food, it was the staff and set-up. During breakfast, staff served and/or prepared the hot food for the Lido buffet. It was typical for long lines to form waiting for food and waiting for a table to open up. Waits of 10 to 15 minutes for food were common. Plus, there was no designation of where the line started. On several occasions, rude people cut in at the front of the line and arguments ensued. If you forgot something or wanted seconds, you had to face standing in line again. Things were particularly bad when the ship was in port and many people wanted to eat breakfast at the same time because they were heading out on excursions. The best solution was to order room service the night before.
In tribute to the Southeast Asia itinerary by the covered pool on Lido deck, the area was transformed into an Asian food stall market for lunch and dinner one day. Even though we were at sea, it felt as if we were eating street food in Bangkok or Saigon sampling pha, exotic fruits, noodles, and Pad Thai. If you aren’t into Asian food, the Dive-In Restaurant still served burgers during lunch and the Rotterdam dining room offered a regular menu with a couple Asian specialties.
Most of the people onboard won’t be youthful. These mature people were well- traveled and had lots of interesting travel insights to share. Everyone wasn’t a senior citizen. There were younger couples, singles and families on board: several couples with a toddler kids, a families with elementary school age kids and a number of families with teen age kids.
Our room steward was attentive but the cabin had some short falls. We were assigned a handicapped accessible cabin on the lowest deck, Dolphin Deck – not our choice or request. The difference is that a wheelchair can wheel into the bathroom and shower. The cabin had two twin beds. If you wanted the beds placed together to form a queen bed, a wheel chair had trouble getting by the dresser and getting to one of the wardrobes. It wasn’t the best thought out design for a handicapped accessible cabin.
Although the bathroom had a good amount of space because a wheel chair had to roll into it, there was little space on the bathroom vanity for toiletries. The medicine cabinet by the vanity offered little storage (poor design).
The two wardrobes in the cabin had doors, rather than open space. One of the wardrobes was in the same space as access the bathroom. That meant if you had the wardrobe door open you couldn’t get into the bathroom. And if you opened the wardrobe door when someone was in the bathroom, they were trapped.
A fridge was not available in the room, although an ice bucket was provided.
There wasn’t a light stand on the bedside cabinets but a light was positioned above the bed. The design of the light switches over the bed made the controls difficult to find at night. And we accidently pushed the button for the front desk more than once.
Since the Volendam is an older ship, launched in 1999 and most recently refurbished in 2014, in the next refurbishing go-round, it would be beneficial if more outlets are added in public rooms and cabins. We are in an electronic age where people travel with laptops, tablets, smart phones and cameras – all devices that must be recharged. Our cabin had one receptacle located near the dresser. There was a receptacle built into a non-functioning wall mounted hair dryer, but neither the receptacle or hair dryer worked. The dresser location was convenient to recharge electronics but an awkward place to plug in a hairdryer. Every day, we did the co-ordination dance, timing when our laptops, smart phones and cameras had to be charged.
Lower Promenade deck cabins with large windows or sliding glass doors onto the deck are some of the more expensive cabins. We found that people who paid the premium price for those cabins did not get the full benefit due to their location. The Lower Promenade deck is the only deck that lets you walk completely around the ship on the outside. That means people are continuously walking around the deck as 3 ½ laps equaled a mile. Many passengers got their exercise by walking. The passengers who paid a premium for promenade deck cabins kept their curtains down and drawn shut as privacy and noise was an ongoing issue.
A number of passengers seemed frustrated with the self-service laundry and commented that it was purposely ill-conceived so you use the expensive on-board laundry service. The main complaint was there was no change machine. Instead you must go to the Purser’s desk for change where there was usually a wait. Additionally, the washers and dryers were small and would only fit several pieces of clothes. What you thought would be one load turned out to be two loads. The laundry was also a source for conflict as some passengers put their clothes in the washers and/or dryers and left. On their return, they discovered waiting passengers took their completed loads of clothes out and placed them in laundry baskets because the owners were not around. This led to heated discussions on several occasions.
The Voldendam can use some refreshing. A few areas on the ship are looking old and worn. Hallways walls in some places were scraped and gouged. Carpets were worn in several areas. During our cruise, the carpets were being replaced on some of the stair wells. Regardless the public rooms throughout the ship were still comfortable, with hidden nooks ideal for quiet reading time or intimate conversation.
Holland America today can’t compare with Holland America of yesteryear. Even with the cons we experienced sailing on the Volendam, the cruise was pleasant and the routine was low-key and casual. All in all okay. But not the luxurious, pampering experience of years gone by. Your best strategy may be what many of the passengers did - wait until Holland America runs one of their deal promotions.
Holland America or 877/932-4259.
Caesars Experience The Empire Sweepstakes
|Caesars Entertainment launches its “Experience the Empire” sweepstakes that offers Total Rewards members a chance to win experiences reserved for the highest level VIPs. The “Experience the Empire” sweepstakes runs through June 25, 2017 and provides access to exclusive events and venues. These include tickets to U.S. horse racing events, a stock car race, a ride in the Orpheus Parade, or meet top performers such as Jennifer Lopez while staying at a Caesars Entertainment property and dining at some of the best restaurants in the world. No purchase is necessary and you must be 21 years or older to enter and win.
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Experience The Empire” Sweepstakes.
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