New Year’s Danube River Cruise!

New Year’s River Cruise with Pilkington Travels, LLC

ROMANTIC DANUBE

7-NIGHTS VILSHOFEN TO BUDAPEST

AmaWaterways fabulous new AmaMagna

 December 29, 2019-January 5, 2020

Link to Facebook Event HERE

Itinerary: Vilshofen, Passau, Linz, Weissenkirchen, Vienna, Budapest 

Spend New Year’s in Linz, Austria!

Enjoy the mesmerizing nightly light display on the façade of the Ars Electronica Center as well as colorful New Year’s fireworks in the sky above. Or head into the main square to join in the local revelry.

Starting at $2299 per person

Holiday Promotion:

  • $1,000 savings per person
  • $50 per person onboard credit
  • Complimentary category upgrade

What is included?

  • 7 nights luxury accommodation in an outside stateroom (most with twin balconies)
  • Computer for internet access
  • Entertainment-On-Demand in all staterooms featuring free high-speed internet access, movies, a music library and English language TV stations
  • Mini-fridge, desk and sitting area
  • Bottled water replenished daily
  • Wellness Program with a dedicated Wellness Host leading various exercise classes as well as discussions on healthy eating and relaxation techniques, both on board and on shore.
  • Internet and Wi-Fi access
  • The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant
  • Welcome Cocktail, Welcome Dinner, La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner, Captain’s Cocktail and Gala Dinner
  • La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs exclusive dining experience
  • Unlimited fine wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner
  • Unlimited sparkling wine and fresh juice with breakfast
  • Sip & Sail Daily Cocktail Hour with complimentary wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks
  • Immersive tours in every destination
  • Bike tours and hikes
  • Knowledgeable guides
  • Personal headset for easy exploration

DETAILS FOR EACH PORT

PRE-CRUISE

Options to add 2 nights pre-cruise in Munich or 3 night pre-cruise in Prague!

DAY 1

VILSHOFEN – EMBARKATION

Embark your cruise in Vilshofen and attend an exclusive Oktoberfest celebration with traditional beer and Bavarian folk music and dancing. Afterwards enjoy a welcome aboard wine toast with  your fellow passengers. (D)

DAY 2

VILSHOFEN – PASSAU

Explore Vilshofen’s beautiful old town before cruising to Passau, known as the “City of Three Rivers.” Join a walking tour or if you prefer to be more active, hike high into the hills for a visit to the “Veste Oberhaus,” Passau’s Castle Hill. (B,L,D)

DAY 3

LINZ, AUSTRIA

The ship arrives in Linz where you’ll have several choices of excursions. Opt for a full-day excursion to Salzburg where you’ll tour the historic center, Mirabell Gardens, Residenz Square  and the Old Market. En route to Salzburg, stop at Mondsee, home of the famed Basilica St. Michael and site of the wedding scene in “The Sound of Music.” Alternatively, you can join a morning walking tour through Linz’s old city center and by the Mozart House; or go on a guided bike tour along the city’s famed “Culture Mile” and the Danube. During the afternoon, you have three more options of excursions. Choose a half-day in Salzburg or take a scenic drive through the beautiful Austrian Lake District with a stop in St. Wolfgang. You can also choose to visit the charming mountain town, Český Krumlov, located just over the Czech-Austrian border. (B,L,D)

DAY 4 

WEISSENKIRCHEN

Cruise to Weissenkirchen, gateway to Dürnstein located in the heart of the Wachau Valley. Once here, you can choose to join a walking tour in Dürnstein along its cobblestone streets to the Baroque Stiftskirche, Dürnstein’s famed church tower, and savor a tasting of the region’s renowned wines. Or for the more active adventurer, hike up to the fortress where Richard the Lionheart was once held. (B,L,D)

DAY 5

WEISSENKIRCHEN

Journey to Melk to tour its magnificent Benedictine Abbey, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Overlooking the Danube River, Melk Abbey is one of Europe’s largest and most revered monasteries with stunning Baroque architectural details and numerous frescoes and religious artifacts. Alternatively, take a bike tour along the Danube River, soaking in views of the serene Wachau Valley. Later in the evening, be treated to a special cellar tour and wine tasting of locally grown, world-renowned Riesling and Grüner Veltliner at the acclaimed Schloss Gobelsburg, which has a documented viticulture history dating back to the 12th century. (B,L,D)

DAY 6

VIENNA

Experience the regal elegance of Vienna with one of three different excursions. Join a city tour that takes you by the majestic Opera House and the former Imperial Palace of the Habsburg Emperors. Afterwards, visit Vienna’s historic city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and see St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the world famous Spanish Riding School. Alternatively, join an exclusive tour to a famous Viennese café for a taste of sachetorte, a sinfully rich chocolate cake, and sekt, an Austrian sparkling wine. For those who prefer to get more active, you can cycle along the Danube and through the Donaupark. During the afternoon, enjoy free time or bike to the majestic twelfth-century Klosterneuburg Monastery. (B,L,D)

DAY 7

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Experience Budapest in one of two ways: on a city tour or a hike. Your city tour begins with a visit to the vibrant Great Market Hall brimming with vendors selling everything from food to souvenirs. The remainder of this tour takes you to both the Buda (hilly) and Pest (flat) sides of the river. As an alternative choice, hike up to Castle Hill for breathtaking views of the city below. Spend your last evening on board cruising around the famed Parliament Building as the city turns on all her dazzling lights. (B,L,D)

DAY 8

BUDAPEST – DISEMBARKATION

Disembark the ship as you prepare for your flight home. (B)

CONACT ME FOR MORE INFO!

Travel: How to get the best VALUE

My company is Pilkington Travels, LLC, and I would be honored to help you plan any trip, large or small, so that you get the best value and have the best experience. Feel free to contact me using form below, visit my website, find me on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram.

We all want a great deal, and I understand that! I am very thrifty in many aspects of my life so that I can afford to travel. I don’t really like the expression, “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes you pay for a little and get a lot, or sometimes you pay for a lot and get little. It isn’t necessarily black & white, especially with travel.

Here are a few ways I think you can guarantee the best value for your time and budget!

  1. Use a travel advisor! Travel is PERSONAL, and our job is to help you get the best value and be sure you have an itinerary that is customized just for you. A good travel advisor has partnerships around the world to ensure that you are getting what you want. We also have access to special pricing and special amenities that add extra value to your vacation. As a Virtuoso advisor, I have access to highly vetted partners to ensure that you get exactly what you pay for. You also have an advocate from start to finish to help things go smoothly, make wise choices, and help if anything doesn’t go smoothly. If you haven’t used a travel advisor, or if you are afraid of paying more for your travels, I really suggest you give it a try!
  2. Try an ocean cruise! Before I went on my first cruise, I was very skeptical and had no idea whether I would love or hate the 7 days on board. By day 7, I wanted to LIVE on a ship. It was the most carefree, fun vacation I had ever had. Since meals, accommodations, and transportation are part of the trip, there are no worries. You wake up when you like, eat when you like, etc, and you get to explore several interesting, new ports. Cruises have a bit of a reputation for nickel & diming you, but with the assistance of a travel advisor who knows how that works, you will be sure to enjoy the value of a cruise! By the way, most of my experience is with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and I love them. I can help you find the best fit for you!
  3. Try a river cruise! Enough with the cruise talk! No, never! I have to separate the ocean cruising from river cruising because they are a totally different ballgame. River cruises are a bit more expensive, but probably not as much as you might think. Of course, you still have the meals, accommodations, and transportation that are part of the cruise, but other things are included as well. River cruises usually include 1 free shore excursion per port, and they include wine & beer at meals. Although you have to fly to Europe, they also often offer free or discounted flights. They are also a smaller and more intimate experience. I am particularly a fan of AmaWaterways, but Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon Waterways, among others, are wonderful. Booking through a Virtuoso agent gets you even greater value!
  4. Try a tour. I’m sure this makes some people cringe and gives you visions of being on a charter bus with 60 people. Ick! This isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of providers that offer small group tours and groups various sizes, even private tours. Your travel advisor knows the reputable companies! If you are traveling solo (solo but not alone), or if you like to meet people when you travel, this can be a great way to go. Also, the added value of a tour is that you probably have a guide, all of the planning is built in, and the cost is probably reasonable since it has been negotiated by the tour operator.
  5. Choose your destination wisely. This may seem obvious, but some places are more expensive than others. Norway is amazingly beautiful, but it is quite expensive. Locations even vary in price. For example, the Dominican Republic is a great value right now because of the bad press. If you’re afraid of dying, you really should fearing that. This article, along with others, discusses how the deaths were unrelated, as well as how the media created too much hype about them. Also, Mexico is a relatively inexpensive place to visit, but it’s no less wonderful! Again, your travel advisor can help you find the location that gives you the best value!

P.S. I forgot to mention all-inclusive resorts, but they can also be a great value. In this post, I compare all-inclusive with cruises.

I would love to hear from you!

UPDATE Sing at Sea 2020: Singing & Wellness Cruise

I am a travel advisor and voice teacher with almost 20 years of teaching experience (bio at the end of this post), so I am combining my passions into one fun and exciting opportunity!

SING AT SEA!

Come and commune, relax and revive, on land and at sea where your wellness will thrive!

If you enjoy singing, want to be a better singer, or think you can’t sing and want to try it out in a safe environment, then this cruise is for you! If you enjoy travel, then this cruise is for you! If you love food, fun, and community, then this cruise is for you! Contact me below.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady, June 7-12, 2020

  • Fly to MIA (on your own, or I can arrange)
  • Cruise leaves from Miami
  • Pre-cruise hotel optional (and highly recommended). If you do this, we will have a pre-cruise dinner to get acquainted and get the party started! (I can bundle flight & hotel)
  • Embark on a 5-day cruise to Costa Maya, Mexico and Virgin’s FABULOUS “Ibiza Inspired” exclusive beach club in Bimini, The Bahamas
  • Enjoy all of the amenities of a brand new cruise ship, including meals, entertainment, and accommodations.
  • Participate in daily singing and wellness activities, including private lessons
  • Fly home a happier, healthier person because of the experience of singing, travel, wellness, and community.

The Itinerary:

  • Day 1 Miami – Departs at 07:00 PM, Depart 2 hrs before
  • Day 2 Sailing
  • Day 3 Costa Maya – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 4 Sailing
  • Day 5 The Beach Club At Bimini – 09:00 AM, local time
  • Day 6 Miami – Arrives at 06:30 AM
Scarlet Lady!

Since I am starting this small, anywhere from 3-10 participants will be ideal. Each participant will have private voice lessons, group classes, and discussions over dinner. No matter what, I will ensure that there is plenty of time for FUN!

The estimated cost for participants should be $2000 or less (plus flight), depending on the cabin chosen. Non-participants may join you in your cabin for a reduced rate. Also, Scarlet Lady has solo cabins, which means that solo travelers don’t have to pay double!

Please contact me with your interest and availability, and I will answer any questions you might have.

Virgin Voyages Scarlet Lady Beach Club at Bimini
Jonathan Pilkington’s recent solo engagements include Verdi’s Requiem, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Israel in Egypt, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and Orff’s Carmina Burana. He sang the tenor solo in New York premiere of Mendelson’s Humboldt Cantata and was the tenor soloist for Elliott Carter’s The Defense of Corinth with the National Chorale at Avery Fisher Hall. He was a guest soloist at the 2014 Bassi Brugnatelli International Conducting and Singing Symposium in Robbiate, Italy. Additional performances include concerts with Lyric Intermezzo in Augusta, GA, a recital appearance at Reinhardt University, and solo recitals at Piedmont College and Winthrop University. In early 2017, he completed a tour of concerts with Karen Sigers, piano, featuring the songs of Samuel Barber, including a performance at Spivey Hall in Atlanta. In October 2018, he toured California to promote an album of songs with classical guitar, including transcriptions of Schubert’s Winterreise. Pilkington has performed many major choral works with the New York Philharmonic, American Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and others, and has been guest lecturer in vocal pedagogy for University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point, the Sautee Chorale, and St. Bartholomew’s Church in Atlanta. With degrees from Shorter College (B.M.), Westminster Choir College (M.M.), and the University of Georgia (D.MA.), Pilkington, formerly Assistant Professor of Music at Piedmont College, now teaches at The Lovett School, United Music Studios, Perimeter College-Georgia State University, and The Galloway School, in addition to his own private voice studio. As a dedicated voice teacher, he has participated in the highly selective NATS Intern Program and competed further training at the LoVetri Institute for Somatic Voicework™ at Baldwin Wallace University, and he serves as the NATS District Governor for Georgia. He also serves as a staff singer at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.

Magical New Year’s Eve Danube River Cruise?

AmaWaterways Ship New Year's Eve Fireworks

Ama means love, and who wouldn’t love to be on a river cruise? Truly, I can not think of a way I would rather ring in the New Year than on a river cruise on the Danube. The thought of experiencing Christmas markets in European cities after Christmas, then enjoying a gourmet dinner onboard, followed by viewing fireworks from the ship at midnight, sounds like a dream come true to me! Read (or skip) to the end to see details on the AmaMagna New Year’s Eve Cruise, and contact me for more information!

Budapest, Hungary

A river cruise is such a great value! Also, on AmaWaterways, the single supplement is less than 150%! Here I highlight some things that are above & beyond what is typically included on an ocean cruise:

  • 7 nights luxury accommodation in an outside stateroom (most with twin balconies)
  • Computer for internet access
  • Entertainment-On-Demand in all staterooms featuring free high-speed internet access, movies, a music library and English language TV stations
  • Mini-fridge, desk and sitting area
  • Bottled water replenished daily
  • Wellness Program with a dedicated Wellness Host leading various exercise classes as well as discussions on healthy eating and relaxation techniques, both on board and on shore.
  • Internet and Wi-Fi access
  • The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant
  • Welcome Cocktail, Welcome Dinner, La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs Dinner, Captain’s Cocktail and Gala Dinner
  • La Chaîne des Rôtisseurs exclusive dining experience
  • Unlimited fine wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner
  • Unlimited sparkling wine and fresh juice with breakfast
  • Sip & Sail Daily Cocktail Hour with complimentary wine, beer, spirits and soft drinks
  • Immersive tours in every destination
  • Bike tours and hikes
  • Knowledgeable guides
  • Personal headset for easy exploration

ROMANTIC DANUBE
7-NIGHT VILSHOFEN TO BUDAPEST CRUISE

December 29-January 5 on the AmaMagna
» Countdown to midnight amid the mesmerizing display on the
Ars Electronic Center in Linz
» Enjoy colorful New Year’s fireworks in the sky above at midnight
» Visit charming villages like Passau, Germany and Dürnstein, Austria,
still dressed in their holiday finery
» Explore Vienna, the “City of Waltzes”, from the Imperial Palace to
magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral
» Attend the exclusive New Year’s Eve celebration on board

AmaMagna Ship Tour

5 MORE Facts About Using a Travel Advisor

Pilkington Travels, LLC is my company name, and I am an independent affiliate of Travelex International. That is a mouthful, but it is all important! Travelex International, established in 1992, is a Virtuoso® member travel agency that advises travelers in personalized leisure travel, custom group travel & corporate travel. As a Virtuoso® member, one of the top 1% of travel agencies worldwide, we provide custom itineraries for our distinctive clientele to the seven continents of the world and throughout the United States.

In my previous post, I provided 5 facts about using a travel advisor, and now I have thought of 5 more!

  1. Bulk Air–If you Google “airfare discounts” or “cheap air,” you will come up with some results, like Airfare Watchdog or Scott’s Cheap Flights. They are both sites that advertise drops in airfare rates. They are very useful in helping you to be aware of sales (or mistake fares) by the airlines. However, they don’t actually sell airfare at reduced rates. A travel advisor has access to bulk air. This is usually available when you book air and accommodations together, but it is also possible to use an airline consolidator, which sometimes possible to find cheaper flights without booking a hotel. I once saved someone $1000 on a multi-city flight to Europe!
  2. Rapport–A relationship between a client and a travel advisor can be a wonderful thing. Our entire job is to help you use your money wisely and have an amazing vacation. We work to find things that will ensure that you have amazing experiences, and we’re there for you if anything goes wrong. Who else in your life does that? Over time the relationship grows, and you can always be dreaming about your next trip!
  3. New Ideas–One of the most exciting things for me as a travel advisor is when I present someone with an itinerary, and they say, “I never would have thought of that!” I do a happy dance inside when that happens, and it happens frequently! A travel advisor is there to advise you, based on their resources and expertise, as well as what they know about you. Be open about your wants & needs when talking with a travel advisor. For example, someone recently told me that one resort appealed to her more because it had an espresso machine in the room, instead of a drip coffee maker. I love details like that, and it helps me to create the perfect plan!
  4. Things you can’t Google–Travel advisors have access to sites you have never heard of and can’t access. We also have global networks of people we can contact with questions about anything. As a Virtuoso advisor, I have access to “on-sites” around the world, which are people around the world who can help me to make specialized arrangements in their country.
  5. Small Business–Doesn’t it always feel good to support a small business? There’s even “Small Business Saturday” the day after Black Friday. When you go to Expedia or Priceline, you are supporting a large corporation and probably aren’t really saving much money, if any, over using an advisor. You also don’t have the personal touch and expertise of your travel advisor, who can help you find the best hotel, flight, etc for you. I can’t speak for other travel advisors, but nothing is too small for me. Even if you just need a hotel room for one night, I would be happy to help!

Please use the form below to contact me!

Check out some of my latest posts below, especially “Sing at Sea 2020”!

Don’t like tours or cruises? Maybe you’re a FIT. What’s that?!?

When traveling, some people like to go to a companies that offer tours, whether they are small groups or large groups. These tours often have a specific purpose or theme, such as “Spanish Wine Tour” or “Classical Music in Vienna,” and the group will have a set itinerary, which probably also allows for a certain amount of free time. These can be great, and I encourage you to check out my host agency, Travelex International, which offers several wonderful music, food, and wine themed tours each year. Tell them I sent you, so that I get credit for it! 🙂


Jonathan Pilkington, of Pilkington Travels, LLC, is an independent affiliate of
Travelex International, a Virtuoso Member Agency.

Of course, another “easy” way to travel is going on a cruise. The convenience of a cruise is that you unpack once, and your accommodations, food, and transportation are taken care of for the entire week. Over the course of a 7-day cruise, you’ll visit anywhere from 3-5 different ports. The ports may be different cities within the same country, different islands in the Caribbean (or Greece, or Hawaii), or each day might take you to a different country. This can be very fun and exciting. You leave the ship in the morning, explore the port town, maybe take an excursion, and you return back to the ship in the evening for dinner, entertainment, dancing, etc.FIT Travel Cruise Tour Dancing Party

However, this isn’t for everyone. Many people would prefer to fly to one location, stay there for a week, be immersed in the culture, get to know people around town, and live like a local. In the travel industry, this person is known is a FIT. So what is that? A FIT is a Fully Independent Traveler. While a FIT may travel solo, that isn’t necessarily what it means. A FIT can be a solo traveler, a couple, a family, or a group. A FIT doesn’t like to be tied down to a set itinerary each day. A FIT may take part in tours as part of their trip, but they will select tours that specifically interest them and provide a better experience than they would have on their own.

Train Tour Alaska Skagway White Pass

In my opinion, a FIT trip can range from a quick, weekend getaway to an extended European tour. It may seem that a FIT can make all of the arrangements themselves, and they can. However, since everyone is busy these days, and there is so much information available on the internet, it is a great idea to use a travel advisor. The travel advisor’s business is to know the best places to go for information, to have a network of contacts who can help when they don’t know all of the answers, and to help the traveler get the biggest “bang for their buck.” Travel advisors have access to resources that other people do not have, and through consortiums and other resources, they can often provide special perks and incentives. There is great VALUE in using a travel advisor!

The FIT need not worry that they will lose control of their plans. A great travel advisor will be there throughout the entire process to get to know the client, provide options, and adjust hotels, flights, etc. to fit the client’s needs. For some people, though, the convenience might be the most valuable thing.

I feel that part of my job is to educate people about the benefits of using a travel advisor, because we can really be a valuable resource. I absolutely love this work and am excited every time I get to plan any amount of travel for someone. They say that the anticipation of travel is almost as beneficial to our well-being as the travel itself, and I am grateful to experience this over and over again with my clients. If you have not considered using a travel advisor in the past, I would encourage you to try it. Maybe start small, the next time you need a hotel reservation, or start big, with the trip of your lifetime!

Please visit my website, www.pilkingtontravels.com or contact me below!

5 Helpful Travel Products

This is a brief one! I am highlighting 5 products that have been useful in my recent travels. Feel free to contact me below or visit my website!

When the handle broke on my old carryon, I did an Amazon search and found that they are now selling their own line of luggage. I love the way this suitcase looks and the way it rolls. The orange also stands out if you have to check it. I hope you’ll choose a different color, though, so our bags don’t get confused! 🙂

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 8.51.03 AM

These Keens are SO comfortable for walking! I bought them for those occasions when you need to wear closed toed shoes but don’t want to wear shoes or socks.

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 8.49.47 AM

I wanted a functional, inexpensive backpack, and this one is working out very well for me. It’s not too large and bulky, but it holds what I need it to hold!

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 8.52.12 AM

 

A Kindle is probably an obvious travel accessory, but I haven’t always had one. I love this one because it can either be lit or not. If you’re reading in a well lit place, you can turn off the light, or you can turn it on as dim or as bright as you want it!

These luggage tags are great! When you go on a cruise, you can always print out your luggage tags before the cruise, so you print them, cut them out, fold them, and stuff them in these tags. They have a very tough zip-lock seal at the top, so your tag is safe from any water or rough treatment.

Highwind Cruise Luggage Tags 8 Pack

Cruise vs All-Inclusive: The Pilkington Perspective

 

This post is inspired by my recent visit to El Dorado Royale in Cancun, Mexico. It was my first visit to an all-inclusive resort. I discuss check-in, the property, entertainment, meal times and food, as well as entertainment and activities. Hopefully this helps, and feel free to reach out if I can help you decide what is best for you!

It is no secret, I love going on cruises, whether is a 3-day cruise or a 15-day cruise. I first started going on cruises when, as a single college professor, I was looking for somewhere to travel solo during spring break. I was able to afford a decent trip, but all of the “deals” I found required a single supplement (the fine print would say something like “$250 supplement for solo travelers”), or I would have to pay double. With a lot of internet research, I found out about Norwegian Cruise Line’s studio cabins, which are specifically for the solo cabins. I decided on the NCL Epic, which was one of the first ships to offer the studios. They also have the “Studio Lounge,” which hosts a daily solo meet-up. This is not a match making thing. It is simply to encourage people to mingle, make friends, and go to dinner and events together.

I had no idea whether or not I would love or hate the cruise, whether I would be bored, whether I would make friends, or what would happen. On the first night, I went to the solo gathering and ended up having dinner with three people who became my friends for the rest of the cruise. We had a fantastic time. There is a general understanding among solo travelers that there is no pressure to hang out. Solo time is respected, but if you want to interact, there is a place for you. At the end of the 7-day cruise, I didn’t want to leave. It was the most fun, relaxing vacation I had ever had. That was in 2015, and I have been on eight other NCL cruises since then, as well as one on Holland America and another with Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line. Even my worst cruise wasn’t bad, and I’ve always enjoyed it.

Now that I am a travel advisor, I feel a bit of a need to experience different locations and ways of traveling. As I travel, I try to see the big picture, but I also see myself as an advocate for the solo traveler. In the past year, I was unusually aware of several friends going on vacation in Cancun, so when I found myself with a few free days at the end of the summer, I decided on a quick visit to El Dorado Royale. Since they offered a rate for one person, that seemed like a good sign.

I flew direct from Atlanta to Cancun and then took the shuttle (paid for with my reservation) from Cancun airport to the resort. From the start, everyone was very friendly. However, check-in was annoying and lengthy. All I cared about was lunch since it was 2:00 EST and I hadn’t eaten. I was told that my room was not ready, but I was able to enjoy the property, eat lunch, etc, and return at 3:00 CST for my room. I had learned from cruises to pack my swimsuit in my backpack so that when my suitcase is taken, I can change. I did not realize that the same would apply here, so I was stuck in the clothes that I had flown in.

I was directed to a restaurant overlooking the ocean and had a nice, light lunch. I then checked out some of the property before going back to the lobby to see if my room was ready. It wasn’t, so I walked around some more and returned at 3:00. It still wan’t ready, and I showed obvious disappointment. About 30 seconds later, a bellman came and told me that we were going to go to my room, and hopefully it would be ready when we arrived. As we arrived, they were putting the finishing touches on the room, so that was fine! For comparison, a cruise is similar in this way. An announcement is made giving an estimate of when cabins will be ready, and then a final announcement is made when they are ready.  I appreciate that on a cruise, there is no need to keep checking, unless you choose to do that. Next time at a resort, I will be prepared with a change of clothes!

IMG_1911

The property was beautiful and well maintained. The pools were plentiful, with bars and restaurants scattered about conveniently. Of course, this was a beachfront property, but I didn’t see a lot of people in the ocean or on the beach. Also, my room, which was described as a “beachfront suite,” was not really beachfront. I had a view of palm trees and had to duck and squint through the branches to see the beach or the ocean. That was a bit of a disappointment.

Resort Beachfront palm trees
View from my room

At mealtimes on an NCL cruise, you arrive at the restaurant and are asked for your keycard, and they will ask how many. If you are dining alone, there is no issue made of it. I should mention that sometimes you will be asked if you would like to be seated with other people, and on certain days, that could be nice. At El Dorado Royale, when I showed up at a restaurant alone, I was usually asked if I would like a table for two. I would look around awkwardly at the otherwise empty lobby and say, “No. I am only one person.” This was so annoying to me, and when I provided feedback about it, their response was that since it is adults only, they are trained to assume that people are in couples. Ugh, that is an old-fashioned, unhelpful response! While I don’t mind dining alone anywhere, it is best if dining alone is treated as a non-issue, as it is on cruises.

Speaking of mealtime, I should discuss food. I chose El Dorado Royale because they advertise their “Gourmet Inclusive Experience.” Based on reviews I read, my expectations were cautiously optimistic, and I was pleasantly surprised. On my first night, I went to the Fuentes Culinary Theatre, which is basically a cooking show. It was fun, and the food was interesting and delicious. Also, after googling the wines offered in the wine pairings, I decided to pay for the pairings. While I didn’t necessarily feel that the wines were perfect pairings for the courses, I enjoyed all of the wines offered. Another outstanding meal was a lunch at the Asian restaurant, Kampai. The Korean beef was delicious. Also, the steak dinner I had at Santa Fe was delicious! Although it can vary in quality, I always enjoy most of my cruise food as well, so in the food category, cruise vs resort are quite even.

 

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At the resort, there would be a few entertainment options each evening. There was a guitarist who sang some songs by one of the bars/restaurants, and there were different shows each night. I would say that the entertainment was good enough. On a cruise, the same is true. The shows are on a grander scale, though. On a cruise, though, you will find musical acts throughout the ship at any time during the day. At the pool, music will vary throughout the day from a DJ to different live bands, and inside the ship, there will be different small acts scattered about at different times. At the resort, you would only find recorded music at the pools during the day. I found that different pools had different music, though, and I liked the chill “house” music that was played at the pool by the Health Bar that served smoothies, salads, etc.

Mexican Fiesta show at El Dorado
Mexican Fiesta show at El Dorado

On a cruise, you can walk for miles going from one thing to another. If you have trouble walking, you either walk less, or you take a motorized scooter with you. You also have the option of stairs or elevator to go up or down. At a resort, the property is very spread out, and you can also do a ton of walking. However, at this resort, there were golf carts everywhere ready to shuttle people about. It is just like taking a taxi, and you tell them where you want to go. To get to some restaurants would be a 20 minute walk, or a quick ride on a golf cart. I generally prefer walking, but at the same time, when you choose to walk at the resort, you arrive sweaty. There is no escaping the heat! On a cruise, when you walk, you can escape the heat by going inside.

Golf Cart ride at all inclusive resort
Golf Cart Ride

I suppose some people like a change of scenery, and some people like to be at the same place for a while. If you are at a resort, you are just at the resort, unless you pay a lot of money to leave the resort. You have to arrange for a taxi and go through security as you come and go, and the taxis are not cheap. I visited a different resort that I chose because it was nearby, and the taxi was $20 each way! There were a lot of British people at this resort, and some told me that they were there for two weeks. If that’s what they like, that’s fine, but I was ready for something different after 3 days. Of course, on a cruise, you either have a sea day or a port day. Sea days are fun for enjoying the ship, but after one or two, you are ready for a port day, and then you end up on a different island, usually in a different country. That is fun and fascinating to me! I have heard of people who fear feeling stir-crazy or claustrophobic on a ship, but I actually felt more that way at a resort.

Finally, as far as activities, there were some good ones offered at the resort throughout the day. I did the 8am yoga class each day, and they were fantastic. Other things, such as cooking classes, water polo, bike ride, and rifle shooting were all available and free of charge. There was a weekly schedule posted, and it appeared that the schedule would remain the same for the season. On a cruise, there are also many different activities on board, such as language classes, fitness classes, dancing classes, and game shows. Most are free, but some have an extra charge. I feel like there is typically a greater variety of activities on a cruise, but I was pleasantly surprised by the variety offered at the resort.

Yoga class at El Dorado Royale
Yoga class at El Dorado Royale

To sum it all up, each type of vacation has its own set of pros and cons. For me the cruise wins, especially Norwegian Cruise Line, because of how solo travelers are treated. Maybe other resorts are geared toward the solo traveler (I need to find them), but it seems that couples are generally happier at a resort. I enjoy seeing a new place each day but having the comfort of my cruise cabin; however, I understand that some people like to stay put and do nothing but drink cocktails by the pool all day. Another important thing is that I love on a cruise is getting up to see the sunrise and then seeing it set in the evening. At this particular resort, I found that near impossible. Maybe I could have seen the sunrise on the beach, but the sunset was behind the trees. I will try other resorts in the future, but the cruise has my heart for the overall experience!

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5 Facts About Using a Travel Advisor

Travel Advisor Pilkington Blue Hill Stone Barns

Pilkington Travels, LLC is my company name, and I am an independent affiliate of Travelex International. That is a mouthful, but it is all important! Travelex International, established in 1992, is a Virtuoso® member travel agency that advises travelers in personalized leisure travel, custom group travel & corporate travel. As a Virtuoso® member, one of the top 1% of travel agencies worldwide, we provide custom itineraries for our distinctive clientele to the seven continents of the world and throughout the United States.

As a travel advisor, I now know that my first job is to educate people about what a travel advisor does and the value of using one. Here are five things that stand out to me!

  1. Travel Advisor” is now the correct term. A great travel advisor, along with their own expertise, has an extensive, international network and support system to guide their clients through the process of planning travel. This includes selecting the best flights, hotels, experiences, and even restaurant recommendations, as well as support along the way. The old travel agent might have been a person to book airfare & hotels, but our industry has evolved to meet (and exceed) the needs of 21st Century clients!
  2. Travel Advisors should be paid for their time and expertise. If you want the best accountant, you pay them for their services, even if you are getting a tax return. While a travel advisor may charge a fee, the overall trip cost will be very similar, if not lower, than booking independently, but the VALUE of having the support of an advisor is priceless. A travel advisor will be there for you if anything goes wrong. For example, if I book air through my agency, Travelex International, and your flight is canceled, we can deal with the airline for you, often before the general public knows about it!
  3. A Virtuoso travel advisor, which I am, elevates every trip. We know how to get the best value for your time and money, and, thanks to our global connections, we can VIP you at hotels, on cruise lines, on tours, and more. All of our suppliers are vetted to ensure that they offer a high level of quality and service.
  4. As a travel advisor, it is an honor to help clients wisely use their hard-earned money and leisure time. Americans, in particular, are often criticized for not traveling internationally. However, when someone has only two weeks out of the year to vacation, they stay close to home. That is fine! However, I hope to educate clients that it might be possible, and more gratifying, to do more with your time, while staying in your budget. If you choose to go to the same resort you’ve always enjoyed, maybe there are extra perks available through an advisor!
  5. You might find an excellent deal from one of the popular travel sites, and those actually can be fine. However, you don’t have the one-on-one support of a travel advisor who can make sure you have a good flight (minimal connections, good seat, etc), choose a hotel that meets your desires, and support you from beginning to end with personalized trip specifically for you! We can also get you perks that you can’t get on your own or on the internet.

Please contact me to explore your travel options!

 

My Solo 7-Day Alaska Cruise: How and Why

IMG_0075Over the past year, I have transitioned from being a full time college professor to being a freelance voice teacher, singer, and travel advisor with Travelex International. Summer is a scary time for an educator since income is reduced, but I’ve become pretty good at saving thanks to my budgeting app that I mention later. While I might be a bit crazy to book an Alaska cruise with a somewhat uncertain future, I knew that everything would work out (without going into debt)!

I usually cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line because they have studio cabins, which are intended for solo travelers. In case you didn’t know, solo travelers usually have to pay for 2 people, and that’s really annoying! NCL’s studio cabins are great. They are 100 square feet, but they’re so well designed that it’s comfortable enough. Even if they were not so well designed, I have no interest in spending time in my cabin, except to sleep and shower!

ncl_Bliss_Studio.jpeg
NCL Bliss Studio

One of my favorite features about the studio cabins on NCL Bliss is the “virtual balcony”. It might sound cheesy, but it is a the screen to the right of the bed, and it shows you what is happening on the outside of the ship. The regular interior cabins don’t have that, so this is a nice little perk. You can also always turn the television (to the left of the bed) to “a view from the bridge” which shows what the captain sees in front of the ship. Another fun feature of staying in a studio is the Studio Lounge, which is sort of a living room and gathering place for solo travelers.

The Studio Lounge on Norwegian Bliss
NCL Bliss Studio Lounge

The “studio host” will have daily meeting at around 5:00 to organize activities, dinners, etc for those who want do things with other people. I have made some really fun friends this way, and I am still in touch with them. My FAVORITE thing in the Studio Lounge is the coffee machine. It is an automatic espresso machine that grinds fresh beans and brews espressos, lattes, and cappuccinos for free. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you want espresso elsewhere on the ship, you have to pay for it. This machine made my mornings so much better!

In searching for an Alaska cruise, I considered NCL Joy, Bliss, and Jewel. Jewel was actually the least expensive cruise, but it was a one-way cruise. While that is actually appealing, it complicates getting flights. If the cruise leaves from Seward, AK, you fly to Anchorage and make your way to Seward, which is over 2 hours away. That is fine, but it would be best to have one or two days to enjoy the area before the cruise. I didn’t have that option on this trip. Then you disembark in Victoria, B.C. and have to fly home from there. I decided that round trip from Seattle was a better option for me.google map anchorage seward

That left me to choose between Bliss & Joy. I sailed on Bliss in May of 2018 and had an amazing experience. I also got to know a lot of the staff and wanted to see some familiar faces. Joy was originally designed for the Asian market but was reworked for US sailings. While it would have been fun to sail on a different ship, I chose Bliss.

I use YNAB (You Need A Budget), which really has changed my financial life. It is a budgeting app that works a bit differently. You place money into categories as you make it, so every dollar has a job. Travel is a priority, so this has allowed me to make it a priority while paying my other bills!

That is the How & Why of my Alaska cruise. I will soon publish a post about the actual cruise, which was wonderful!