Bargain Shoppers.

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For those who are keeping up, our original plan had been to be in Europe from March 2017 until Fall 2018 exploring potential locations for our next place to live, come back to the US late in the fall and spend the holiday with family, visit Cuenca Ecuador and San Miquel de Allende Mexico and then figure out where we are going to plant ourselves for the next piece of our (non-working) life. However, the vagaries of the Schengen Zone meant we couldn’t stay as long as we hoped in the EU.  So, we figured we would go to the United Kingdom since Mike has never been and I have only visited London (and Leicester to meet my Dad’s WWII sweetheart and almost fiancée) but given the high summer season prices, we were worried about the impact to our budget.

As we were trying to figure out the UK possibilities, I happened to see a great business class fare sale from TAP, the Portuguese airline from Europe to the US and after some consideration, we booked it. Some of you may recall that after enduring 14 hours in economy on an overnight flight from Valparaiso Chile to Toronto after our “round the horn” cruise, that I swore (in my best Scarlett, “as God as my witness” voice) I would never do long haul in economy again and I have said for a while that after we stop work I hope never to have to fly long haul again…why not cruise in comfort instead?  Well, there weren’t any affordable summertime transatlantics (trust me, even looked at going to South America) so when we saw we could fly roundtrip on lie flat seats for $1,300 roundtrip (and it is refundable) why not???

TAP

The downside is that to get this great deal we have to fly from Portugal to Copenhagen to catch a flight back to Portugal to change to a plane winging its way to Miami. So, we are planning a cheap Ryan Air flight from Porto to Copenhagen late in the day on June 27, 2018, hanging out in the airport before boarding our flight back to Lisbon early on the morning of June 28th arriving in Miami later that day.  We are booked to return to Copenhagen on September 9th (maybe a Baltic cruise in our future???) so we have two full months to satisfy all our family members who keep saying, “we will never see you again”  and  work in the trips to Ecuador and Mexico so that by the time we finally come back in November we will have visited all the places we think we might want to retir…ahem, live after we cease work!

Speaking of returning in November, we are booked on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Star departing Rome on November 5th.  This was one of the cruises I had been watching as our potential ride home but as Star is one of Norwegian’s few ships that doesn’t have a good outdoor non-pool area (where Mike and I tend to hang out when we don’t have our own balcony) it wasn’t my first choice BUT I was lurking on the rollcalls on Cruise Critic (the internet forum where I am very active) and discovered that two couples we met on our Panama Canal cruise were already booked on this cruise so decided to push the button on that too! So we booked an inside cabin, used points from our Norwegian credit card and upgraded ourselves to a balcony!

Norwegian Star

With most of the major travel planning done, we now can’t postpone figuring out any longer the two big issues of retir…ahem, ceasing work – what to do with all our crap and how we gonna get healthcare insurance.  Please try to maintain your composure while waiting for that exciting upcoming blog post!

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Transatlantic.

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When we decided that we were going to spend a year or so figuring out where we to live after we retir…ahem, stop working ….and since healthcare costs here in the good old USA are such a drain on our budget, we knew that Europe was one of the places we wanted to consider- at least until we are old enough for Medicare. Ecuador and Mexico are also on the list and will be visited in 2018 but since we had to be in Santorini in May for my big birthday, it makes sense to head to Europe first.

I have wanted to take a transatlantic voyage on a ship for as long as I can remember…even before we started cruising. I remember Elise (my Dad’s cousin but she lived with his family after her father died when she was 14 or 15 so she was more like Dad’s older sister) and her husband Jim talking about sailing the Queen Elizabeth to and from New York and when QE was going to be retired and replaced they took one last trip on her and then on the “new” QE2 also I think. The idea of endless (almost) days at sea with time to read and chat with new friends is very appealing to me. And of course the generally cheap price compared to flying from the US to Europe is very appealing also as is the significantly increased comfort.

I have watched prices on inside cabins over the years go as low as $399 per person for a 12 or 13 day crossing….which when compared to even Norwegian or WOW airlines is a good price and you get three meals a day…not the ability to buy a cold sandwich in a box for eight or ten dollars. Plus, ever since our return flight from Chile after the ‘round the horn cruise in Air Canada Economy (when I wasn’t able to find award seats in biz) I swore if I had to ride long haul n the back of the bus, then I just wouldn’t be going. At my height and overall size, it is just too miserable for more than an hour or two.

So we initially budgeted $500 a piece for the cruise to Europe and I started looking. Well, it turns out you can’t get prices that cheap until after final payment when the cruise lines start lowering prices to fill up the ship. Since we didn’t think we wanted to wait until January 2018 to know how and when we were going to be getting to Europe I had to revise our budget and set aside $1000 per person instead. I started researching possible ships and looking at the cabin options.

At about this time our good friends, Robert and Scott from Durham, NC surprised everyone and got married (after being together for 25 or more years) and headed to the Baltics for a honeymoon cruise. We got a text from the Air France lounge and presumed they were flying business class…..but no, they had splurged on La Premiere, Air France’s really fabulous first class. Screen Shot 2017-10-22 at 6.01.24 PM

We were very envious…I mean look at how much room they each had! Mike started doing some research and discovered that the price difference on a few flights between business and La Premiere was only an additional $500…on others it can be many, many thousands more. This got us talking about the difference in our attitude about plane and cruise costs. I don’t even pay attention to economy fares on most mainstream airlines (Jetblue and Southwest are the exceptions since they still have reasonable legroom). For United, Delta, AA, etc, I compare prices using their comfort+, or whatever they call their rows of seats that offer additional legroom and that is what we end up buying…. and eight times out of ten, the cost to go from that to First is only $50 or so and therefore we end up in first. Using the same logic, we both agreed that if we were already paying $2,000 or $2,500 for biz class, we would certainly pay another $500 to be in La Premiere for 8-10 hours….so we wondered, why were we so opposed to paying similar prices on a ship for 12-14 days? We realized that it was all about the misery index and we weren’t miserable in an inside cabin….but boy were we in an economy seat!

Anyway, that conversation made me look at suites on the Norwegian Cruise Line ships we were considering. Generally speaking it was going to cost at least $3900 per person. We were hemming and hawing about going over budget that much, when Mike said, wonder how much Viking Ocean’s transatlantics are?

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Viking Oceans is a relatively new venture by the Viking River Cruises of Downton Abbey advertising fame. We sailed on their line for our river cruise on the Danube and were impressed with many things about them. Viking Oceans ships are small, very cleanly designed and all about luxurious service….and no kids! Turns out their least expensive cabin was bigger than the “suite” we were considering on Norwegian and while way more than our initial budget, it cost much less than what we were considering paying for the suite.

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After much conversation, we booked Viking Sky sailing from San Juan on March 4th arriving in Barcelona on March 17th. (Yes I know, between Maria and a declaration of independence are the gods trying to tell us something??) We ended up with a guarantee fare which means we don’t yet know what cabin we have but given all of them are pretty great it shouldn’t make any difference (the picture above is of the smallest and what we are “guaranteed” to have at a minimum…and who knows, maybe whoever has the Owner’s Suite booked will cancel and we will just HAVE to make do with it! Our cost ended up being $4999 for both of us. The only real difference there than the cost between our fare on Viking and on Norwegian was that we got a free drink package on Norwegian and on Viking we only got free sodas, beer and wine at meals…but we decided that we could swing whatever a pre dinner cocktail cost and get to try seeing how the other half lives.

But wait, there’s more! Shortly after we booked, a fellow poster on CruiseCritic mentioned that her travel agent offered great on board credits when booking on Viking. After a couple of emails, we moved our booking to Pavlus Travel and we got a $600 on-board credit. This is enough money to buy tViking’s drink package! (since then it looks like we might end up with even more money to spend through their referral program. For details, drop me an email or leave a comment and I will fill you in.)

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The spa which is included in our fare…unlike on Norwegian where it is extra

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We are both excited and looking forward to trying out a new cruiseline as well as a small ship (900 passengers) and a more upscale one than we have sailed previously. Here’s to hoping we don’t like it so much we can’t go back since at this point the budget for our return trip is set up for one of those inside cabins I mentioned at the beginning of this post!

ps.  ….and there is even an infinity pool!

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No Time for a Nap

This cruise only has one sea day which is not nearly enough! It felt more like a day of meetings albeit more fun than work ones.

It started at 10:15 with a talk by Carlos, the Concierge which as quasi VIPs, we got invited to. I went because I hoped to get a definitive answer as to whether Norwegian allowed express walk off (carry your own bags off) in Venice or not. There have been at least two threads on Cruise Critic on this subject with many opinions and experiences …some have been able to, some say Norwegian says the Port OV Venice won’t let you,others say Norwegian won’t allow it. It’s important to us because we have a 12:15 flight to Paris on Saturday, so we will need to get off the ship quickly. According to the concierge, it isn’t exactly forbidden to expressly walk off, BUT, once ashore, the elevators in the cruise terminal are sometimes not available which makes going down two floors difficult, so Norwegian strongly advises against it. Presuming our quasi VIPness lasts til Saturday, we should get luggage tags that allow us to leave anytime and Carlos should be avaiable to walk us off when we want so, fingers crosses we won’t need to do express, but if the priority luggage tags don’t show up then we are going to plan on doing express.

After the concierge talk, our Cruise Critic meet and greet was held. 71 had signed up and while I didn’t count, it appeared that most were there…especially surprising given the beautiful pool weather outside. We had the usual ships officers there…no Captain’s staff 😦

Most everyone went directly from the M&G to the Latitudes party. Mike and I had our fill of apricot swizzles and rum punches…didn’t win any of the door prizes though. We then grabbed a salad and enjoyed the Great Outdoors. After lunch, we hit the gym for a bit. After showering and dressing for dinner, we went to the Captains party for suite guests and VIPs. More of the same though we did spend a good deal of time talking to Silvio from Ecuador, who is the cruise consultant (salesman) aboard. After several glasses of wine and a few shrimps, we headed to Moderno (Churriscarra) for Mike’s and Yost’s official birthday dinner. The food was fine to good but the service was very slow…seemed like forever between the meat servers. They did bring two cakes to the table and sang Happy Birthday to them.

It was a fun day, but I never made it to the balcony for a nap. 😦