New Year’s Day on AmaMagna

Everything had a bit of a delayed start on New Year’s Day, but I was up, as usual. I had my early breakfast, did a bit at the gym, walked around the ship, watched us go through a few locks, and had lunch. We arrived in Melk at around 2:00, where the big tour of the day was Melk Abbey. That involved a short bus ride up the hill to the Abbey, a tour of the Abbey, and a walk back down the hill and through the town, on our own. Here are some highlights of the day:

As a friendly reminder, I am a travel advisor/agent and can organize these same experiences for you!

Entering a lock on the Danube
Approaching the bridge. Will we make it??
Just made it under the bridge!
Panoramic view from Melk Abbey
Photos are not allowed in the Abbey 🤫
😍

Linz, Salzburg, & NYE on AmaMagna

This marks the time in a trip when I don’t really have time to write, but I will share more pictures and give a few highlights. On Dec 31, we arrived in Linz, Austria early in the morning. We could either go to Salzburg, Cesky Krumlov, or stay in Linz. I opted for the full-day Salzburg tour because I made plans to meet with John Thomasson, my college voice teacher, who is now teaching at the Mozarteum!

The tour left at 9am and made a stop in Mondsee a town in the Lake District where the church is from the Sound of Music wedding scene. It was a beautiful town with an equally beautiful church. That stop was about an hour into the bus ride and about 30 min from Salzburg.

Once we reached Salzburg, we had an 1 hour walking tour of the highlights. At the end of the tour, I met Dr Thomasson, and we saw some other sights, had some lunch, and caught up. It was a great visit!

I met the group again, and we boarded the bus to go back to the ship for the New Year’s Eve celebration. This was a great opportunity for a nap. We got back in time to get refreshed for dinner, which was a special menu for the occasion. Fireworks had been going on all evening, by the way. After dinner, the party started in the lounge. Then, at about 11:45, many of us went outside to see the fireworks. They were the coming from every direction, on both sides of the Danube, and we were told that they were just people in town shooting off their own fireworks. The city didn’t actually have fireworks! It was the most amazing show I’ve ever seen, and it seemed to never stop!

After midnight, there was a beautiful spread of party food in Al Fresco!

HAPPY NEW YEAR from AmaMagna!

AmaMagna Day 2: Vilshofen-Passau

As much as I hate to admit it, I left home feeling slightly under the weather. I was dealing with lots of congestion and a slight fever, so I decided I should go straight into town to the Apotheke and ask for something to help my symptoms. They were very helpful and gave me some medicine, along with some tea. I took three doses of the medicine, and although I think it made me drowsy, it really dried up the congestion!

We were to be back on board at 11:00 to leave for Passau, so after one last look at Vilshofen, I made my way back to the ship. I walked around the top deck a bit and watched the people untethering us from the dock. What was AMAzing is that this ship turned around right in the middle of the river.We just spun around and headed in the other direction!

Before lunch, there was a talk from Christian, the cruise manager, who told us about upcoming excursions. That went on until 12:30, when lunch was served. Lunch in the main dining room was a Bavarian lunch, and it really was a feast. There were many types of sausages, pork, salads, potato salad, cheese, desserts, etc! Everything really was excellent. After that feast, I had a bit of a nap to prepare for the Castle Hill Hike that I had signed up for.

The hike began at 3:00 and was a 3 mile walk all together. It was a pretty slow moving hike, which was fine except that I was freezing!! The hike was to a cathedral at the top of the mountain. It is a place that draws pilgrims who walk up a specific staircase (on their knees, I think??) to receive some sort of blessing. I need to check my facts! Here are some beautiful photos from the hike:

After the hike, I took some time to thaw, and then it was time fo “sip & sail” before dinner. I was signed up for dinner at The Chef’s Table, which I was excited about. I was seated at a big table full of fun people, who all work in travel. That worked out really well for a long dinner.

AmaMagna Day 1

As one would expect from a German train, it arrived right on time in Vilshoven—11:24 am. I walked through the lovely town down to the river and walked right on the ship after telling my name to the man at the door.

My first view of the ship!

I was escorted to the reception desk, which was friendly & efficient. They told me that my cabin was not ready, but if I went to the Lounge or Al Fresco Restaurant, they would find me when it was ready. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical that they would come find me any time soon.

I went up to Al Fresco and the lounge, and I had a bit light lunch. It was basically a vegetarian experience because the only meat available was on sandwiches. (With cucumbers). As soon as I was standing up from my table, s very kind gentleman approached me and told me that my room was ready. He took me there and showed me around to be sure I understood everything. He was there to answer any questions, and he gave me some advice about when and where to make dinner reservations.

My light lunch in Al Fresco

I enjoyed the room for a bit, then went to make my dinner reservations for The Chef’s Table, Al Fresco, and Jimmy’s Wine Bar. I explored the ship, which is absolutely beautiful, and I eventually went back out into town since I didn’t have any commitments until the welcome cocktail and safety briefing at 5:30.

Being Sunday, nearly everything was closed, except for a few restaurants. Vilshofen is a completely charming town, and it is fun to see the Christmas decorations still up since they will stay until Epiphany.

At some point, I took a much needed nap and attended the welcome and safety thing at 5:30. Everyone was greeted with a glass of sparkling wine and a toast with the captain and the hotel manager. then, there was a gathering in the lounge. While it was nice to be sailing with only 150 or so people, the major introvert in me mostly sat and observed the others, trying to figure out what my fellow passengers are like.

We had a bit of a chat from several important people, including the captain, cruise manager, and the hotel director. It was good and informative, but I felt that it went on a bit long! However, when it was over, it was time to go to the tent for the Vilshofen Oktoberfest, where they had local beer, pretzels, and music. I found a table with a couple who looked nice, and they were lovely, along with their other friends who joined a bit later. It was a really nice time with Bavarian music and dancing, and it seemed to loosen up the crowd a bit.

Hotel Manager speaking in the lounge

Dinner was to be served at 7:45, and I was going to the main restaurant. I sat at a large table with a couple who were just sitting down. It turns out they are also from the Atlanta area! Soon after, a couple from London joined us. It was a somewhat interesting dinner, but I’ll focus on the food and service. We had a very good server who seemed to be handling three tables. He told us that things might be a bit slow since it’s the first night. I didn’t quite understand that since it wasn’t the first night of sailing ever. It was fine, though. After we placed our orders, the courses flowed well, and the entree was the only thing that seemed delayed. This was a multi-course meal with soup, salad, sorbet, entree, and dessert. It was an excellent meal!

Sea Bass
Beautiful dessert (forgot what it was!)

After dinner, which means around 10pm, I went to the lounge to see what was happening. I had a cup of peppermint tea and relaxed there a bit. Then I went downstairs to see what was happening in Jimmy’s since there’s supposed to be something at 10pm. I saw one table of people but nothing really happening. It was time for bed anyway, so that is what I did!

AmaMagna Journey Days 1/2

After sleeping for almost 11 hours (unheard of), I woke up at almost 8am took a quick shower, quickly threw my things in my suitcase, and enjoyed the most beautiful breakfast in the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost. Now I am on the train and have time to write a bit about my journey here and my day in Munich!

Sunrise from Sofitel Munich Bayerpost

My direct flight from Atlanta to Munich was at around 6pm on December 27. For some reason, I got to the airport around 2:30. I usually enjoy hanging out in the airport lounge, but this was excessive. Oh well, I was through security in about 30 seconds and in the lounge a minute later! It was packed! I found the quietest spot I could find and just relaxed until about 5:00. I walked to my gate, and the flight boarded on time and left basically on time.

The flight was so pleasant that there’s not really much to talk about it, except for Delta’s new “elevated” main cabin service on international flights. Things were a bit delayed because the air was a bit bumpy as we started, but once they started serving us, it was lovely. It began with a hot towel and a menu. The menu had choices for appetizer and entree. The appetizers were caprese salad or a salad with shrimp, and entrees were chicken Marsala, grilled chicken salad, or ravioli. Before they came through with food, they gave everyone a bellini (peach purée with champagne)! It wasn’t the most amazing drink, but it makes you feel a bit like they care, rather than treating you like cattle (although cattle should be treated well too)!

Dinner was pretty tasty! Dessert was Ben & Jerry’s cookie dough ice cream, and you can’t go wrong there! I watched a bit of the movie “Coco” before going to sleep, and after sleeping pretty well, thanks to my new “turtl,” I finished the move just in time to land. Once we landed, we were taken by bus to the terminal and immigration. That was all very easy, and I got on the Lufthansa Express Bus, which was a 45 min ride directly from the airport to the Munich Hauptbanhof for 11 Euros. The best deal!

The Sofitel Munich Bayerpost is right next to the train station, so although it was 10am, I went to see if I could check in. I couldn’t, but I was allowed to check my bags and use the spa for the sauna, steam room, pool, and showers. This was the best thing possible! I stayed there until almost noon, and then I walked to a classic Bavarian beer hall that I had heard Rick Steve’s mention. As I approached, there was a group of men outside smoking and wearing Lederhosen. I was afraid they might be a group of silly Americans, but since I sat near them, I saw that they were just a bunch of German guys hanging out. I should have taken a picture of the menu, but I had some sort of boiled beef with mixed vegetables. I thought the menu said sauerkraut, but it turned out to be freshly grated horseradish! It was all just what I wanted, except that I actually wanted sauerkraut.

I walked back to the hotel and found that my room was still not ready, so I decided to keep walking (to stay awake) and went to Old Town. Ah, this was what I wanted to see, because the hotel & train station area was more grungy & modern. I would compare this to the area around Penn Station vs Greenwich Village. There was a small Christmas market still going. I tried getting a Glühwein, but they only took cash. (Side note: I couldn’t find my debit card, and I still don’t know where it is. Therefore, I don’t have access to an ATM!)

I continued walking, just seeing what I could see, and I ended up at the Viktualenmarkt, which was wonderful. While it’s always there, I felt like I was getting some of the feel of a big Christmas Market. I wanted to get back to the hotel to check in at 3, so I figured out the public transportation and took the subway to the Hauptbanhof. My room was ready!

I got to the room, which was great. It was on the 7th floor (out of 8), which meant it was above part of the building and allowed for a great view. I was waiting for my bags since they insisted on delivering them to my room. After a while, there was a knock on the door, and it was not my bags, Instead, it was 2 people delivering champagne, a fruit bowl, and a bar of chocolate. How nice!

Finally, my bags came, so I was able to charge my phone and put on clean clothes before going out to find dinner. I walked back to the OLD TOWN to see what I had missed, such as the opera house, Hofbrauhaus, and to experience the Viktualenmarkt with some money. I saw a soup place there, and that was exactly what I wanted for dinner—Goulasch! It was delicious and really helped to warm me. I walked around a bit more and finally. Had my gluhwein, which was delicious. It’s basically just mulled wine.

Glühwein
Munich Opera House

I went inside one big hotel because I saw a rooftop bar from outside. Once I got in, I decided I didn’t want to go, although I’m sure the view would have been great. As I left, though, I noticed a shrine to Michael Jackson. WHY?? I started walking in the direction of my hotel and took the train back to the station since it was cold, and I was tired!

MJ Shrine

I went to bed just before 10pm, and just as I had turned off the light, there was a knock on the door that said it was housekeeping. They must offer a turndown service? 10pm seemed late for that, though! I “yelled” at them from bed and told them that I was in bed. I slept well until about midnight, and after reading for a bit, I slept until 8am! I suppose I needed it!

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.