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12 Things to Consider When Choosing A Cruise

Dawn Princess Bora Bora

Cruising is a growth industry within the travel sector, and hundreds of thousands of people spend their holidays in this manner. When I was younger, I dreamed of cruising to warm climes and interesting destinations. I collected brochures, but this type of holiday seemed like a dream to me. Too expensive for a Kiwi girl for a start, and there was the annoying fact I wasn’t old enough to get a job!

These days, cruising is more affordable than ever. Pick a destination anywhere in the world, and the chances are a cruise company sails there.

So, how do you choose a cruise? What factors should you consider?

These are the things you should consider before forking out your money.

1. What do you want from your cruise? Are you looking for relaxation or a party? Some lines cater for the younger crowd while others attract more retirees. Some of the shorter cruises are party cruises. Check it out first!

2. Are you traveling with children? Most cruise lines have a kids’ club and also one for teenagers. Some provide babysitters (for a fee)

3. What time of the year are you traveling? If you want relaxation don’t travel during Christmas/New Year or school holidays because most ships will be teaming with children. Children = noise.

4. Do you want sunshine and beaches? Stick to a cruise around the Med, the Carribean or perhaps the Pacific.

5. Do you like to dress up for dinner? Some lines expect a higher standard of dress, so if you like to wear shorts and a T-shirt all day go for one of the lines that are more casual. No Queen Mary for you.

6. Does the ship have a launderette available to the public? If you have a longer cruise this is important. Laundry and dry cleaning can be very expensive if you pay the ship staff to do it.

7. Do you want/enjoy sea days? Some cruises have several sea days, sometimes in a row, so if you loathe sea days check the itinerary carefully.

8. Hidden costs. The price of the cruise includes travel, onboard entertainment and meals. Be aware that travel to the port, alcohol, special coffees, signature restaurants, internet, ship excursions, and some hobbies will attract extra charges.

9. Room service – some cruise lines charge extra while others provide this service for free.

10. Incentive program – most cruise lines run an incentive program for frequent travelers. Instead of chopping and changing cruise lines, sometimes it is better to stick with the same one and reap benefits like free laundry and internet.

11. Are tender boats used at the ports? Some ports are not equipped for large ships to berth at the wharf, and passengers must be ferried ashore on smaller boats (tenders). This can take some time if the ship is a large one with several thousand passengers.

12. Don’t like a crowd? The ships vary from a few hundred passengers to several thousand. If this is important to you, choose your cruise accordingly.

Want to learn more? Check out Cruise Critics http://www.cruisecritic.com/ and their forum http://boards.cruisecritic.com/ for advice and tips.

Shelley Munro is a romance writer who lives in New Zealand and loves to travel. You can learn more about Shelley and her books at www.shelleymunro.com

Inspirational Holidays

Filling the creative well…

Malta

The run-up to our recent holiday was wrought with tension and stress, and there was a moment there when I thought we’d never get on the plane. We had a death in the family plus my father had an unexpected op and a month-long hospital stay. He has subsequently been diagnosed with dementia, so we have a new set of problems, which are ongoing.

However, despite the setbacks, we did get on the plane and flew off to Barcelona and the start of our Med cruise.

I have to say that this is one of our favorite parts of the world. We love the food, the spring temperatures and the wealth of old buildings and history. Centuries of history, which I’m envious of. New Zealand is a young country and while we have gorgeous scenery the breadth of our history isn’t quite as impressive as the European one.

For once, I didn’t pay much attention to the online world. I scanned my emails since I had a few business coals in the fire, but mostly, I ignored the internet and what was happening in the rest of the world.

We embraced the local food and culture and had a blast.

Here are some of the highlights, which I’ll blog about in greater detail in the weeks to come.

1. Visiting the Palau de la Música Catalana in Barcelona, which was full of gorgeous art deco features.

2. Tapas in Barcelona

3. Sicily and Mt. Etna

4. Herculaneum and Mt Vesuvius

5. Santorini, the donkeys, the scenery and the food

6. Kotor, Montenegro – a welcome surprise

7. Food tour in Istanbul, Turkey. Awesome!!!

8. Italian food – pasta and pizza. Wow!

9. Rhodes, Greece. History, castles and gorgeous food.

10. Mdina, Malta. More history and good food.

We soaked up the culture, and I took notes and many, many photos as ideas for future romance novels exploded in my mind like popcorn. Watch this space.

I’m slowly getting back into writing and have several projects underway. The writing is going fine, although I’m still on a bit of a go slow when it comes to the internet. I’m sure I’ll get with the program soon, although it has been good to switch off from online drama.

When you go on holiday, are you able to switch off from the internet and social media?

13 Eerie American Destinations

Thursday Thirteen

I picked up a copy of Eerie America: Travel Guide of the Macabre by ER Vernor & Kevin Eads at my local library. An interesting guide. I’ve picked out thirteen spots that appealed to me for my TT this week.

Thirteen Macabre American Destinations

1. The Body Farm, Tennessee – a place used to study changes that occur in bodies after death. There are usually around fifty bodies in various states of decay. Some are submerged in water while others are exposed to the elements. A very important place that helps forensic scientists to learn.

2. The Bullock Hotel, Deadwood, South Dakota – Seth Bullock and Sol Star opened a hardware store on this site and later added a hotel over the store. It’s said that Seth Bullock haunts this hotel. He’s often seen while staff are standing idle, and it’s said he expects his staff to work hard!

3. Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada – popular with UFO enthusiasts who drive along this highway hoping to see evidence of UFOs.

4. Bannock Ghost Town, Montana – A gold town established in 1862. Visitors to the Hotel Meade and the hospital have encountered strange apparitions.

5. Ball Cemetery, Springfield, Nebraska – One of the residents, Rattlesnake Pete, is said to wander the cemetery and torment visitors.

6. Moore House, Villisca, Iowa – The residents of the house were discovered dead, murdered by an axe to the head. Visitors have heard children playing and laughing and whispering.

7. Idaho State Penitentiary, Idaho – this is a popular place with ghost hunters. Visitors say they can feel the presence of the inmates and the guards, and some visitors have aborted their tours because they can’t stand the creepy atmosphere.

8. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California – a well-known prisoner that is said to be full of restless spirits. I didn’t see any when hubby and I visited many years ago, but it certainly had an atmosphere!

9. The Bird Cage Theatre, Tombstone, Arizona – this was considered one of the wildest places in the wild west. It was the scene of over twenty-five murders. Visitors and employees have seen ghosts of cowboys and prostitutes. Hearing music and yelling coming from different parts of the building isn’t unusual.

10. Sing Sing Prison Museum, New York – this museum houses genuine weapons taken from inmates. Visitors can have their photos taken in cells.

11. Ford Theater, Washington, DC – Some people say the assassination of Lincoln replays here. Other people have heard gunshots or running footsteps.

12. Lake Champlain, Vermont – it’s said a beast inhabits the waters here much like the Loch Ness Monster. Locals have nicknamed the beast Champ.

13. Nemacolin Castle, Pennsylvania – Visitors have captured strange images on film, and it’s said that up to ten different ghosts inhabit the castle. Some believe the castle is a portal to the spiritual world.

Have you visited any of these places? Do you have any favorite creepy places to recommend?

Dreams of Africa…

Kenya is a country of color. There’s the red of Masai warriors, the purple of the Jacaranda trees, which were in flower when we were there, the pink of flamingos en masse, the green of the mountains, the mishmash of brightness at the markets and the dry expanse of the National Parks.

Some of my favorite all-time memories occurred in Kenya.

Black Cab, Nairobi, Kenya

We hired a black taxi cab to visit the giraffe reserve and Karen Blixen’s house.

Hubby Feeding Giraffes

Browns and ginger are prevalent here! Hubby feeding the giraffes.

Shelley Feeding a Giraffe

More browns with a touch of red. Me feeding a giraffe. Check out that tongue!

Karen Blixen House

The greens of the gardens and trees and the sienna of the brick. Karen Blixen’s house!

Handsome Masaii Men

The red of the apparel. Handsome Masai men!

Pink flamingos

Pink flamingos!

Lion Snooze

Brown and green. A pride of lions having a midday snooze.

As I said, Kenya holds lots of great memories for me. I can still feel the rasp of that giraffe’s tongue. They were amazing and it was the coolest thing seeing different types of giraffes. I’ve had a thing for giraffes ever since.

What is one fun memory from your past that has really stuck with you?

Egypt: Worthy of a Painting!

We visited Egypt quite a few years ago now and had a brilliant time. Egypt is a country full of fascinating history. Mummies. I gravitate to them in museums! But I was also taken by the scenery. The Nile, which is like a backbone, provides a lifeline for the people living along its banks. They rely on the water in the river to irrigate their crops and to feed their animals.

There is a distinct band of green on both sides of the river. Farther away, the dryness of the desert takes over. It makes for an interesting photo—one of big contrasts.

Cruising the Nile, Egypt 

This is the view we saw from our boat as we sailed down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan. Isn’t it amazing? Almost like a painting, but I can assure you this is real.

I have a new release – a boxed set of my contemporary romances called Ain’t Misbehaving.

ShelleyMunro_Ain'tMisbehaving3D_200px

The boxed set contains:

Lovers at Last

One Night of Misbehavior

Blindside

Fringe Benefits

Wild Child

So far this set is available at All Romance ebooks. It should be available at other online retailers very soon.

Have you been to Egypt? Do mummies fascinate you? And a question about boxed sets – do you read all the books contained in a boxed set or do you just read the ones that interest you?

The Otago Peninsula – World Famous!

On Christmas day we spent time in Port Chalmers. The sail away was beautiful with fine weather – very different from the last time we were there when the peninsula was covered with fog and visibility was nil!

The scenery was gorgeous – blue skies and this group of people cheering and waving as the cruise ship sailed past.

Farewell_PortChalmers

This is me seeing the sights and waving back…

Shelley_PortChalmers

You get an idea of the scenery. New Zealand really is pretty. I hope you all get an opportunity to visit one day.

The Otago peninsula is special because it’s the only mainland colony of the Royal Albatross. Hubby took some awesome long range photos of the albatross on their nesting sites.

Albatros Colony

An albatross flies for long distances across the seas and oceans, but they always return to the same place and the same partner. Isn’t that romantic?

Albatros Love

A matched pair…yes, I think that’s romantic. Smile

At the farthest point of the peninsula there is a lighthouse, shown below.

Lighthouse

The endangered yellow-eyed penguin also makes its home on the Otago peninsula, although we didn’t see any of those.

Is New Zealand on your bucket list? As me some questions or tell me where you’d like to visit first when you come.

The Lindow Man: Found in a Bog

The British Museum is a must-see stop during a visit to London. It’s full of fascinating exhibits, and I could spend hours there. Unfortunately, I had Mr Munro in tow, and he has a much shorter attention span!

British Museum

I love the imposing facade of the museum, and even better, entrance is free. No matter what your interest, there will be something to excite you. The mummy section is amazing.

Every time I visit the museum, I like to see the Lindow Man. He’s a blog man, his body found in a peat bog at Lindow, north England in 1984.

Bog Man

This poor man died a particularly gruesome death. He was struck on the head several times and strangled. His throat was also cut, and he was left in the bog. It’s thought he was around 25 years of age and was in good health prior to his death. The bog preserved his hair, skin and many of his internal organs.

You can see and read more about Lindow Man at the museum website.

Do you have a favorite museum? A favorite exhibition?

Thirteen Holiday Highlights

Thursday Thirteen

Hubby and I had an awesome holiday in September and visited the Baltic area along with parts of the Mediterranean.

Thirteen Holiday Highlights

1. Visiting St Petersburg, Russia and gawking at some of the many treasures displayed in the palaces and mansions. So many valuables everywhere!

Peterhof Palace

Peterhof Palace and the gravity fed fountains in front of the palace. They’re switched on a 11.00am each day.

2. Eating fresh wild blueberries purchased from a Helsinki market. Hubby ate the reindeer meatballs and some tiny fish.

3. Seeing the Viking Museum and the incredible boats, which are still mainly intact in Oslo, Norway.

Viking Ship

4. Visiting the Folk Museum with the range of old buildings that have been relocated to make a village. Loved the Stave Church and the buildings with grass growing on the roofs. Saw a man up on a roof, mowing the grass.

Stave Church

5. The Vasa Museum in Stockholm. The Vasa is an old ship that sank in the harbor on its maiden voyage. The king had ordered more cannons, which wasn’t a good idea! Who was going to argue?

Vasa, Stockholm

6. Dubrovnik  – a place I’ve wanted to visit for ages. We spent far too long in the heat, wandering around the walls of the old city and exploring the buildings inside.

7. Corfu – exploring the old fort and finding a taverna for lunch. Delicious!

8. Venice. I love Venice, and it’s never a hardship to get lost in the back streets. It was the Regatta on the day we were there, and we saw the parade of old gondolas down the Grand Canal. Discovered a fun place to have a drink (The Corner Pub), tried a peach bellini and had a hazelnut gelato. Yum, yum, yum!

Me in a Traghetto on the Grand Canal

9. Visited Gibraltar and caught the cable car up to the top of the Rock. Got up close to the Barbary apes that make the Rock their home.

10. Visited London where we lived for six years and hadn’t realized how much I missed this city. It was the same but different too, with lots of rebuilding going on.

11. Made quick visits to the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museums. So much history and lots of fascinating things to gawk at.

12 Walking around many of the London sights. Walking in Hyde Park and visiting the pubs where we worked in London. Walking, walking, walking until our feet ached.

13. Afternoon tea at the Ritz. Expensive but such a lot of fun and so memorable. Scones with jam and clotted cream, tiny sandwiches and lots of delicious cakes plus lots of tea. Oh, and a glass of champagne to start.

Southampton, Winchester and Jane Austen

During our recent visit to Great Britain, we stayed in Southampton and did a day trip to Winchester. These are both places with Jane Austen connections, and as a writer I was intrigued.

After Jane’s father died, the family had to move to Southampton for financial reasons. Jane, her sister and mother moved in with a married son. We stayed at the Dolphin hotel in Southampton, which is where Jane reportedly went dancing. Jane Austen’s 21st birthday party was held in the ballroom at this hotel. We also wandered along the city wall promenade where Jane Austen walked with her family.

Dolphin Hotel, Southampton

Jane lived in Chawton, Alton from 1809 to 1817 with her mother, her sister Cassandra and a friend Martha Lloyd. Jane became ill with a mystery disease (some sources say it was her kidneys) and Cassandra and Jane traveled to Winchester in order to receive better medical treatment. They stayed in a Castle Street house (currently a private residence) and Jane died at age 41 on 18 July 1817.

JaneAusten_CastleStreet

Jane was laid to rest at the Winchester cathedral. Her memorial stone doesn’t mention her writing and a brass plaque was added in 1872 to rectify this shortcoming.

Memorial Stone, Winchester Cathedral

Double click for larger version

JaneAusten_BrassPlaque

Brass Plaque commemorating Jane Austen’s writing.

There are lots of Jane Austen landmarks in Winchester and the surrounding Hampshire countryside. I visited only a few, given my limited time, but it was a pleasure and a privilege walking in Jane’s footsteps.

Are you a Jane Austen fan?

13 Destinations in My Future

tt_minimal3

Hubby and I are counting the days until our holiday, which starts in about seven weeks. Here are some of the places we intend to visit.

Thirteen Places We Will Visit

1. Southampton, England

2. London

3. St. Petersburg, Russia

4. Copenhagen, Denmark

5. Oslo, Norway

6. Helsinki, Finland

7. Stockholm, Sweden

8. Tallinn, Estonia

9. Venice, Italy

10. Valetta, Malta

11. Cadiz, Spain

12. Gibraltar

13. Dubrovnik, Croatia

We’ve visited London (lived there for six years), Gibraltar and Venice before and the rest will be an adventure. I’ve wanted to visit Dubrovnik for years, so I’m happy we’re finally getting there.

Have you visited any of these places before? Any tips?