“If I Were Not Upon The Sea”

There are many traditions that have evolved over the years on board cruise ships, some good, some bad, some indifferent.  “If I Were Not Upon The Sea” is a spoofy skit [or read goofy if you prefer], drug out over the years by cruise directors and their staff and involves a lot of pawing, double entendre and generally burlesque humor.  And, maybe unfortunately, it still makes occasional appearances on board.  One night you may be entertained by a show that cost $1.6 million to produce (that is the figure given by the cruise director for Princess’ “British Invasion” which to date has only been used on one ship with a mostly British audience).  The next night, in these days of cutting budgets wherever possible, the evening show might be a crew variety show with a highlight being the cruise staff’s production of “If I Were Not Upon The Sea.”  Knock offs of old TV game shows featuring passenger participation are also a low-cost favorite.  Ironic: one night a $1.6 million show and the next night a knock-off of “To Tell The Truth.”

When I started on cruise ships, in the late 60’s, it was a different world.  Holland America had a Dutch crew.  My table for two (the Roman Catholic priest and I) had a waiter and bus boy who ONLY served our table, plus a wine steward and bar steward standing by. Entertainment, such as it was, usually included an aging dance duo, a dance band, and a soloist.  A few spotlights, no stage, no production crew, simple, and frankly rather boring.  There were movies in a genuine theater, all of which was followed by a sumptuous and lavishly presented midnight buffet.  There was no casino.  The purser organized bingo games and tracked the money to insure that all the money paid in was returned to the winning passengers.   The cruise director would tell you what to do in the ports and where to shop, and when in port you’d see the cruise director visiting all the stores and attractions to collect his money.  Cruise directors in those days lived large and they all had nice villas somewhere.  Cruising was expensive but it WAS an all-inclusive vacation.

Volendam Mar 08 004Well life has changed!  I was on Holland America when they announced they were scuttling the Dutch crew.  My wife was on Cunard when they announced they were terminating the British crew.  Today’s crews, although wonderful and without attitude, are mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe.  On most ships today a waiter and assistant waiter take care of three  to five tables, including getting bar drinks and being the expert on wine.  There may be one sommelier on the entire ship!    And all he revenue from the ports and the shops and the Bingo goes to the cruise line.  I remember when Carnival started up and all the other cruise lines looked down their noses at Carnival.  Royal Caribbean introduced 6 slot machines, tucked away in the dark corner of an upper deck, for gamblers (presumably and other degenerates) who simply had to gamble no matter what.  Now the casino is the most prominent location on most ships.

“All-inclusive”: you’ve GOT to be kidding!  Expect to pay extra for everything.  You want the “good” food: pay for it.  Forget about the Midnight Buffet [which was an extravagant waste anyway].  Food is all portion controlled which not only cuts cost but is better for the environment as well as the health of passengers.  Entertainment has changed as well.  Cruise lines will do almost anything to be “different”, so much so that “different” on cruise ships now consists of being the same as everyone else.  Cruise lines are like lemmings.  One line introduces something, then everyone follows suit.

One of the early concerns about cruise marketing was something called “commoditization.”  [Defined by Wikipedia as: "the process by which goods that have economic value and are distinguishable in terms of attributes (uniqueness or brand) end up becoming simple commodities in the eyes of the market or consumers."]  The fear was that eventually cruise lines would compete solely on price and cruising would become a commodity .  There would be nothing unique about the experience or about a particular cruise line.  So everyone has big-screen, outdoor movies, circus acts, and $1.6 Million shows.  Cruising has become Vegas at sea and people love it!  Cruising is big business and is making big bucks.  Don’t let the price competition fool you: that’s commoditalization.  Royal, regal, majestic, princely . . . think of any of the royal terms you can imagine.  Let the marketing departments go wild with promises, but the bottom line . . . What determines what you get – as usual – is the price.

When I started cruise ships had a Catholic priest, a Rabbi, and a Protestant Chaplain who was sometimes me.  Eventually they dropped the Rabbi, except on High Holy Days, and now most cruises don’t even have a Rabbi then.  The Protestant Chaplain was the next to go, except on Easter and Christmas, and now many cruises just have the cruise staff fill in and read some kind of generic service designed to create warm feelings.  Last to go, the Catholic priest.  Every accommodation that can be sold is sold.  And most people don’t care since they are on vacation and if you’re getting away you might as well get away from church as well.

The other thing we used to worry about when I had cruise only travel agencies was something I called “peeling the onion.”   Twenty years ago we’d watch as cruise lines eliminated one thing, then another, all to cut costs.  My concern was that if you remove enough layers from the onion, pretty soon there is nothing left!  But the cruise industry has, successfully I might add, been peeling the onion for twenty years and continues to do so cutting back here, there and everywhere, hoping that customers either don’t notice or don’t care.  And since the customers keep coming back . . .  Anything that does not create onboard revenue is, or will soon be, history.   Theaters don’t create revenue, so you either watch a movie while swimming or on your stateroom TV, but don’t worry about missing anything because these are the same movies you’ve been seeing for  years.  The shows are there to entertain you, but also to give you the opportunity to buy drinks.  But that too may be changing.  Norwegian Cruise Line has introduced a “Dinner & Show” extra where, by combining two previously free items, they can charge $25-35!

Set in the 217-seat, two-floor Spiegel Tent, Cirque Dreams is a theater-in-the-round show with a surreal mix of motor-mouth monologues, singing, acrobatics, audience participation and food. Reviews have been mixed; those who like it really like it, and those who don’t have a viscerally negative reaction.

Everything is for sale!  On board shopping malls with the same “special discount” sales every cruise.  Teeth whitening, acupuncture, Botox, dozens of spa “treatments” making promises that would never pass FDA muster.  Cruise lines used to pride themselves in their onboard collection of art: now it’s all art for sale.  Pictures, videos, coffee cards, soda cards, good brewed coffee, ice cream, quality food, tours of the ship, special luggage  handling, Internet, special suck up treatment from the staff . . . you name it and it’s for sale. And it’s probably only a matter of time before plastic surgery is offered as well! “Oh, after your world cruise Janet you look so much younger!”

Cruise Critic, an online forum popular with frequent cruisers and where I occasionally contribute on the “Panama Canal” board, has a fascinating article Nickel and Dimed? 22 Cruise Ship ‘Added Fees’ Compared  that’s well-worth reading.  It’s not just one cruise line, but across the board everyone is scheming and dreaming up ways to make more on board revenue.  Cruise Critic readers were allowed to vote and hands down the most obnoxious extra was . . . drum roll! . . . Royal Caribbean for charging an extra $15 – $37.50 + 15% gratuity for the items they know guests love to eat and have always been staple menu items in the main dining room.   Nothing special here . . .  other than the added charge.

On several of its ships, Royal Caribbean’s main dining room menus encourage passengers to celebrate their cravings with a $15 filet or $37.50 surf ‘n’ turf. Since cruise-time immemorial, these options were fee-free on at least one night in the MDR. The freebies are still there in some capacity, but they’re shrinking in size and, many say, quality. But what might be more frightening than the food is the confusing 15 percent gratuity Royal levies. The food is certainly unique; the service and venue are not. There is no special presentation of the lobster, no dancing crustacean or opera-singing claw.

You gotta admit, these guys have balls!

Now I have a vested interest in this.  Years ago, when it was relatively cheap, I bought Carnival stock, Princess stock [now UK Carnival stock], and Royal Caribbean.  The stocks have done well and I’ve made money.  I know people like to grouse, complain and winge about all the extra charges on board, but the fact is that it is the onboard revenue that makes the difference between profit and loss.  And the cruise line makes a whole lot less than you might expect.

Consider this breakdown from WORLD CRUISE INDUSTRY REVIEW:

Cruise Passenger Spending

I’m sure most cruise passengers assume that the cruise line is making a whole lot more than 10.7% before taxes [and taxes are another whole issue]!

The mantra for working on board a ship as well as in the cruise industry is “Things Change”!  And they do.  Face it: most people could NOT afford to have taken those cruises back in the late 60’s.  Today most people can afford to cruise and cruising is one of the most cost-effective ways to vacation and see the world.

News & Mail

Election Retrospect

My cousin, Jeff Jones, send me this . . .

A union shop foreman walks into a bar next door to the factory and is about to order a drink to celebrate Obama’s victory when he sees a guy close by wearing a Romney for President button and two beers in front of him. He doesn’t have to be an Einstein to know that this guy is a Republican. So, he shouts over to the bartender so loudly that everyone can hear, “Drinks for everyone in here, bartender, but not for the Republican.”
Soon after the drinks have been handed out, the Republican gives him a big smile, waves at him, then says, “Thank you!” in an equally loud voice. This infuriates the union official.
The union captain once again loudly orders drinks for everyone except the Republican. As before, this does not seem to bother the Republican. He continues to smile, and again yells, “Thank you!”
The union thug once again loudly orders drinks for everyone except the Republican. As before, this does not seem to bother the Republican. He continues to smile, and again yells, “Thank you!”
The union guy asks the bartender, “What the hell is the matter with that Republican? I’ve ordered three rounds of drinks for everyone in the bar but him, and all the silly idiot does is smile and thanks me. Is he nuts?”
“Nope,” replies the bartender. “He owns the place.”

So, Obama won, has the world ended? I think not. My friend Renato Dean in Ventura was commenting to me the other night that real estate is starting to climb again in Ventura/Santa Barbara and noted that while a few years ago you saw mothers and children out begging for food at the stop lights, now there are fewer people out of work and the economy seems to be building steam.  And although we have a long way to go, it is encouraging to see that the unemployment rate has reached a four-year low.

I know there is a fiscal cliff.  And I know Republicans and Democrats don’t like to work together and just like to sit around having a big circle jerk or closing up shop and running back home to collect more contributions and suck up to the voters.  But someone one Facebook posted this picture, and I think it’s a great place to stick our elected “representatives” so they can focus on getting the job done!

Let’s get EVERYBODY on board!  “Obama Care For All!”

I don’t get it and I never have understood all the ins and outs and double-talk of medical insurance plans and I know lots of folks think Obamacare is the kiss of death.  But it’s the law.  And since it’s t he law I think EVERYONE should have Obamacare.  Definitely the Obamas!  Certainly the US Congress!!  And of course the military and everyone else.  If it’s good for the country then it’s good for EVERYONE and especially the folks in and connected to government.

Meanwhile in Italy, Lover Boy may be back!

I’d be SO happy to see Silvio Berlusconi back in power in Italy! Talking about Berlusconi in my Italy port talks always guarantees a laugh. I guess for Berlusconi it was a choice between going to jail or running the country. Italy being Italy . . . sounds almost as good as Panama!

One Other Observation . . . HSBC and the $1.92 BILLION fine paid by HSBC in response to charges it was laundering money for drug lords and terrorists.

According to QUARTZ . . .

It is 11% of HSBC’s $16.8 billion in global profit last year. At that rate, it will take a bit more than a month—41 days—for the bank to earn back its fine payouts.

It is a mere .07% of the bank’s $2.6 trillion total assets around the world. The bank doesn’t actually make money in the United States, but its subsidiary there helps it attract customers eager to move money in the United States or garner investment there.

It is more than a quarter of the $7 billion in bulk cash deposits the banks transferred from Mexico to the US in 2007 and 2008, which authorities in both countries fear was laundered from drug cartels; however, it is just 13% of the $15 billion in total bulk cash deposits the bank accepted from high-risk affiliates without monitoring.

It is 9.6% of the $19.7 billion in undisclosed HSBC transactions with Burma, Cuba, North Korea, Sudan and Iran between 2001 and 2007. These transactions should have met standards established by the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Assets Control. In the wake of investigations into its practices, HSBC hired Stuart Levey, the lawyer behind US economic sanctions on Iran, to run its legal department.

It is .003% of the $60 trillion in wire transfers that HSBC didn’t monitor for money laundering red flags. Investigators found 17,000 alerts identifying potentially suspicious activity that went unreviewed.

It is 73% of the $2.6 billion in “bearer share accounts” hosted at HSBC. These corporate accounts are frequently used for financial wrong-doing because ownership of the company is assigned to whoever has physical possession of the shares. One HSBC client using one of these accounts was convicted of criminal tax fraud after hiding $150 million in assets and $49 million in income.

It’s about 2% of the company’s total income last year. For a New Yorker making the median income, that’s about $1,105.

Does this sound like a 5-year-old giving a quick, meaningless “I’m sorry” and then getting on with the play?

And now the mail . . .

Regarding “Thank You Washington” and the failed, so-called “War on Drugs” Jim in Calgary writes,

The benefits of “The War on Drugs” are to the Government and the Prison Industrial Complex…alone. This campaign has allowed to Government to expand its powers of arrest, search and seizure on the mere “suspicion” of drug possession. (So much for the Constitution) And the privately owned Prison system benefits tremendously from this revolving door system of laws that has little, if anything, to do with justice, and at a tremendous cost to the taxpayer.
There is no benefit in a “War on Drugs” to anybody else. In fact if we are to have a War on Drugs…let’s include the stuff pushed through by Big Pharma and the FDA. Much of which is so untested it must me advertised with disclaimers that include the term, “may cause death”…well so might Cocaine, but the Government hasn’t found a way to benefit from its distribution yet, so it remains illegal.
I’m not in any way advocating drug use and given the chance will counsel against it.
But if somebody wants to sit in their house and smoke crack until they are hiding in a closet shaking and paranoid…so be it. (One of the rights we have, is the right to be stupid.) But God help them if they break into my home in an effort to support their habit…
Ending the so-called war on drugs will reduce, not increase crime.   Be Well, Jim

Cruising The Panama Canal . . .

Hello Richard, Like Pamela above we are going on a Princess tour that will take us via dugout canoe to an Embera village and I, too, am concerned about the safety of any food that might be served there – also, do you recommend any special precautions against malaria or any other mosquito-born disease for those traveling there? Might it be wise to consult a travel med specialist before leaving home on the east coast? Thank you in advance for taking time to reply. Tina Masington

Tina, you will love visiting the Embera Village, particularly if you do the all-day tour which goes to one of the remote, and more authentic of the villages.  You probably won’t even need bug repellant, but I’d take some along just in case.  Please don’t bathe  yourself, fellow guests, or the environment with DEET unless it proves necessary, which it probably won’t.  Visit a “travel med specialist” and you’ll come away with a much lighter wallet and a lot of expensive meds you don’t need.  Save your money and spend it on Embera baskets!  The food served is really a snack, not a meal, and usually includes some delicious, fried, freshly caught (speared  underwater in the river) tilapia, and some fresh fruit, like Panama’s famous sweet yellow pineapple and water melon.  Just enjoy!  It will be the shore excursion of your life.

Hi Richard! Just found your blog… I am really enjoying your articles. Our family will be arriving in Panama on Sunday, December 23rd on a Princess Cruise. Just wondering if a lot of businesses will be closed because it is Sunday? Thank you for your time! ~Manships

New Picture (6)I’ve been in the Canal, in Gatun Lake and on tour on Christmas Day.  Two days before Christmas: guess what Panamanians will be doing?  Same thing everyone else will be doing . . . last-minute shopping!  I’d count on EVERYTHING being open for business!

And for all of you planning a Panama Canal cruise, don’t leave home without my book CRUISING THE PANAMA CANAL!  It will give you all the information you need to know: the history, what to expect and what to look for, all about the tours in Panama.  The quality of the Bridge commentary going through the Canal varies greatly from cruise line to cruise line and from ship to ship.  Regardless, the book will give you everything you need to know.  Also available from Amazon and on Kindle.

Panama is NOT for everyone!

One of the things I strongly recommend in my book ESCAPE TO PARADISE: LIVING & RETIRING IN PANAMA, is to come down and spend 3 to 6 months actually living here before you sell your house and furniture and make the move permanently.  Rent a place, like the little Casita we have for rent on our farm, and see if it is a good fit for you.    And by all means, read my book!  $25 can save you an ENORMOUS amount of money and grief!

Dr. Henry R. Smith shared his experience . . .

My wife and I lived in Panama for six months, in Boquete, in Coronado, and finally in Panama City, seeking to experience the variety that Panama had to offer, the entire time hunting for a home. Sadly we never had the opportunity to meet you. I wish we had.

Boquete is beautiful, but too cold and damp for us. We felt the beach area at Coronado to be lacking in development and convenience; the beach was OK, much like CA beaches, i.e., not stellar. I am disabled, and as such Panama City proved a bit too difficult for me to get around, and my dedicated service animal upon whom I rely greatly was almost always treated with great disdain. While Panama City offers quite a bit, we missed many of the conveniences readily available in the USA. Plus we never got used to the Panamanian Banks being so difficult, and most workers being so uncaring and ineffective. I should note that we both speak Spanish, so it was not a language issue.

My wife, also a doctor, loved the shopping! I don’t think there is an area anywhere in the USA that offers the extent of shopping, from the exquisite (expensive) level of Rodeo Drive to the bargain end of that continuum. She will never forget the day she purchased 20 items of clothing one day for $94, at the huge shopping center out near the bus terminal (sorry I’ve forgotten the name). That center is so huge one almost needs a taxi from one end to the other! Wonderful ‘mall,’ with theaters, restaurants, and all sorts of shops.

I understand why so many expats love it in Panama, but we also learned that “bargains” still exist in the US as well. We bought a beautiful custom home only 4 years old, 3600 s.f., all floors are marble or hardwood, a true gourmet kitchen, with an enclosed swimming pool, 3 car garage, built upon a .7 acre lot that creates a peninsula within a private lake, all in a gated community with 24 hr security, situated near Tampa, FL, for LESS than the cost of the many condos and homes we looked at in Panama. Our price range in Panama was $600K to $700K. We could not find anything 3500 s.f. or more for less, and homes had very small lots (3000 to 5000 s.f.).

We found a very nice home in Valle Escondido @ $650K that we liked quite a bit, as well as a lovely condo in Punta Paitilla @ $625K, but neither were new and both needed quite a bit of deferred maintenance to be taken care of; we obtained estimates from engineers between $50K & $100K respectively, to do the work necessary, but they would not guarantee the cost would be limited to their estimates. One engineer confessed that the Seller’s family and his family had been friends for multiple generations and that the cost would be much higher but that his friend would never forgive him if he gave us a realistic figure. I appreciated his candor, but the result was that I paid $650 for a report that was not of much value since he admitted that actual repair costs would be ‘something much higher.’

BTW your home was priced much less, we thought a great bargain. I think it was getting a new roof at the time we were there, and we liked it; but it was too small for us. Our new home in FL was priced at $625 and we bought it for $572K… and a five-hour inspection revealed it to be in perfect condition. A bargain compared to what we found within a six month search in Panama.

Summers in FL are hot & humid, but seemed like what we had experienced in Panama City; annual rainfall here is much, much less, and 9 months of the year the climate is perfect.

Isn’t it great that there are so many choices in the world… each to his own. God Bless.

And this from Jerry who is coming down to check out Panama . . .  maybe an initial trip . . . and if he like it, then my advice would be to come back and spend several months here before actually taking the plunge.

Hey Richard, saw the dates of the retirement tour, My wife and I will be down in Panama during that time, but we already booked the local hotels, flights etc., maybe next time. We are coming down with my wife’s friend who is checking the status of her house, in the community that had a portion of a house fall into the river, she is hoping that she can get some good news from her local legal reps.. We will be down there to check out the country as our first part of seeing where we can retire with a good community, health care and weather. Reading your blogs shows the flaws that a country can, giving it a real information, vs. one sided Mary Poppins views that populate magazines covering expats life’s. Again have a happy life. Jerry

Montanas de Caldera – I think this is Lee Zelter’s photo – at any rate you can check out his piece on this tragedy

There’s a really sad note here . . . “We are coming down with my wife’s friend who is checking the status of her house, in the community that had a portion of a house fall into the river.”  Unfortunately this kind of thing happens.  There are two or three developments, what were to be huge developments, where presumably the developers had “deep pockets” . . . where the developers simply took off, when back to their home countries, and left everyone hanging.  So this is why I try to tell it like it is and not deliver “one-sided Mary Poppins views”.  Panama is wonderful!  It’s been great for us, with a few glitches thrown in to keep life interesting, but it is not for everyone.

And of course there are lawyers.  In Panama you can’t live without lawyers.  Some are fantastic, are very ethical, and have lots of experience.  But since there is no bar exam you can just go to lawyer school and hang out a shingle and pick up experience along the way.  I’d do a lot of talking with other expats before choosing a lawyer, and find one who has been around for a while and knows what they are doing.

Christine wrote in response to “The Devil You Know vs. The Devil You Don’t Know“, which was about the legal system in Panama . . .

excellent topic Richard. The title should be Enter at Your Own Risk! I have had a bad experience with 2 attorneys so far. The one i am currently using seems good, honest and with came with a recommendation from a friend – of course that is no guarantee. One of the two ‘bad’ I will even all CRIMINAL attorneys – i have filed paper work with the DIJ. There’s another topic for you to cover, the DIJ. Thanks for all the information you provide us! Christine

Casablanca, Morocco – Richard’s Quick Guide

Casablanca, Morocco – Richard’s Quick Guide

Choices

  • Ship Tour – Cruise line does all the research and planning and you sit back and enjoy. The best way to see the most in a limited time and can be the most cost-effective. Ship does not leave until all ship tours are back.
  • You Do It All – “Independent.” – For people who like to do their own research & planning using travel guidebooks, Internet, etc. You do the work and you are independent. It is your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. [Independent group tours generally are best booked online in advance based on recommendations you trust.]

Information

  • Richard’s Port Talks – Live and on cabin TV
  • Tourist Information Web site: http://www.moroccotouristguide.org/marrakech.htm
  • Cruise line provided port map & guide delivered to your stateroom – depending on port of call may be more of a shopping information sheet on some cruise lines giving you step-by-step directions to “preferred” shops with whom the cruise line has a marketing agreement
  • There are many detained and interactive maps available online
  • 1 km = .6 mile

Money

  • Morocco uses the Dirham. The ship does not carry and generally US $ are acceptable.
  • Check Internet for current rates – of course anyone who changes money for you makes money by giving you slightly less than the going rate, but you knew that
  • Tipping: If “service included” locals leave additional small coins, if not included 10% would be considered generous – Tour Guides: around $4-10 per person, depending on the length of tour, bus driver $1-4 per person, depending on length of tour. [Tour guides receive most of their income from tips and generally bus drivers and guides do not share tips.]
  • Shops are closed on Sundays

In General

  • Morocco and Casablanca in particular have nothing to do with the movie which was filmed in Hollywood with “B roll” shot in Tangier. Sorry, but the current “Rick’s Café” is just a tourist joint.
  • Aside from the Hassan II Mosque which is in Casablanca, the city is pretty much just a big African city. I find Rabat and Marrakech to be far more intriguing. Just getting to either city gives you a chance to see some of Morocco other than just a big, somewhat grimy, city.

Getting Around

  • Docked in an industrial pier often 1 to 2 miles from port gate, and then almost a mile to center of town. It is hot and we do not recommend walking to town.
  • Taxis are available and you need to negotiate – about $15 US per hour, to town about $10US. Be very specific as to what you want to do and pay only when you get to your destination or to the pier. They will want to take you to the carpet stores or their brother’s shop. Although driver’s may speak some English, it is advisable to take along a postcard of the ship or a Princess Patter. The silver or white taxis may be more expensive but chances are that the English is better.
  • There is usually a ship shuttle every 30 minutes to the United Nations Square and drops in front of the Hyatt Hotel. There are stores in the Hyatt, across the street and a small medina just a couple of blocks away.

Helpful Information

  • Morocco is a fascinating mix of Arab, African, Islamic, Berber and even European cultures. You will see people dressed in traditional robes and Western wear.
  • Morocco is an Islamic country and therefore we recommend conservative dress, Women should have their knees and shoulders covered. Covering is probably more important in Rabat & Marrakech in the souks.
  • Be prepared to remove your shoes when entering mosques. If you are on tour they will give you a plastic bag in which to carry your shoes.
  • If you are independent dress down and do not attract attention to yourself.
  • As everywhere take only what you absolutely need and leave everything else on the ship. Be “street smart” and aware of your surroundings. All over the world you find pick pockets.
  • Avoid public restrooms: if you need a restroom look in the hotels and large tourist stores for Western-style toilets.
  • Drink only bottled water. It will be hot so take enough water and stay hydrated.
  • Eat only on tours and in established restaurants.
  • Although Morocco has some beautiful beaches they are about 6 miles away. It is not considered proper for women to wear bathing suits. No, it’s not that kind of beach! You’ll see women in their robes, completely covered, with their only their feet in the water.
  • This is a country where you should ask permission before photographing people, particularly women. Some “performers” with camels, or water vendors, etc., will demand payment. Have some bills handy. US change means nothing outside the US.
  • Smoking KIF: this is consuming hashish. The plant is the African Hemp plant. It has become problematic. Foreigners are always advised to give anything of questionable legality wide berth in any country. No exceptions.

Shopping

  • Even for folks like me who hate shopping it is an experience that’s part of being in Morocco. Experiencing the souk or medina is part of experiencing Morocco.
  • You will find sales people who are often uncomfortably aggressive in seeking your business. My advice: wear dark glasses, avoid eye contact, and don’t get into discussion. Even, “No thank you” or “No” can become a challenge to close the sale.
  • Probably the only place you will find a fixed price is in the larger tourist shops. Everyplace else, you need to be prepared to bargain. Offer 1/3 of the price and work up to the price you willing to pay. Once you reach a common price you are expected to buy having in essence made a verbal agreement to purchase. For serious purchases, good jewelry, carpets, etc., know something about what you are buying and what the value should be.
  • Some larger stores take credit cards but they may charge additional for using the card. The receipt will be in local currency, not US $, so do the math and be sure it is correct.
  • Look for Leather, carpets, brassware, potter, wooden tables with Moorish design, silver, Berber necklaces and bracelets, Moroccan clothes
  • Stores are usually closed between 1pm and 4pm
  • Beware of “guides” who volunteer their services in the medinas or souks. Beware of pickpockets and leave valuables on the ship.

Not To Be Missed

  • Morocco is one of the few countries where non-Muslims are denied entrance to most mosques One notable exception is the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca which has tours on the hour in the morning usually starting at 9:00am. Admission is about $10 US. This is a stunning building, the third largest Mosque in the world. It holds 25,000 to 80,000 people, the larger number if courtyards are used, and is large enough to hold St. Peter’s in Rome.
  • Rabat is about 1.5 hours from Casablanca but in my opinion it is worth the drive and even the drive is interesting. It is the seat of government and a university town. The souk here is much more authentic and not as touristy as in Casablanca. This is something best done on a tour.
  • Marrakech has the largest traditional souk in Morocco which is in many ways more authentic and less touristy than the one in Casablanca

Copyright RLD 2012 May not be reprinted without permission.
Information provided by local agents and believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.
RichardDetrich.com

Buying Carpets & Bargaining

In many parts of the world I visit on cruise ships bargaining is an expected way of life.  Sometimes you will find a store with “fixed” prices, but generally there as well there is some negotiating room.  When you go to a market or souk or even store in Oman, Dubai, Turkey, Morocco and most African countries you are expected to bargain.  The original asking price is intended to be a starting point from which you negotiate to a price you are willing to pay and the seller is willing to accept.

Since this is a different way of shopping for many cruise passengers, when we are visiting an area where bargaining is expected I try to give them some hints as to how to bargain.

1. Know the Market – Know something about the product you are buying, particularly high-end products like gold, carpets, jewelry, ceramics and quality pottery.  Everywhere in the world there are genuine, locally produced, high-quality products and there are cheap imported copies and knock-offs.  You need to know enough about the product you are buying that you can tell the difference.  Even if you are buying a “Genuine Fake Watch” in Turkey, there are well-done fakes and cheap fakes.

2. Don’t show enthusiasm.  Of course if you rave over an item the seller knows he “has” you.  I suggest buyers wear dark glasses to avoid being hounded by sellers in areas where that’s just the way business works.  The dark glasses prevent the shop owner from making eye contact or seeing what you are interested in possibly buying.  I would suggest picking up and looking at various items, maybe asking prices, including what you are ultimately interested in.  There are generally lots of shops, so don’t jump too fast.

3. What’s it worth . . . to you.  Ultimately it is what the item is worth to you, regardless of the asking price and regardless of what other people on your ship or sitting at your table paid for the same item.  Determine early on what you are willing to pay.

4. Let the shopkeeper go first.  He gives you a starting price and you negotiate from there.

5. Counter offer.  You make a counter offer which can be anywhere from a third to  half of the asking price depending on how inflated you know the asking price to be, which is why you have to know something about the market. If you offer way too low, the shopkeeper will know he’s dealing with someone who does not know the market.

6. If you buy several get a discount.

7. Don’t haggle over pennies.

8. Don’t be afraid to walk away… and perhaps come back  Often the price will drop as you walk away, but you still can walk away and look elsewhere and maybe buy elsewhere or come back with your tail between your legs to take his now lowest offer.

9. Don’t feel obligated to buy until you’ve agreed on a price at which point you have entered into a verbal contract and you are expected to buy.   This isn’t just a game and it is disrespectful to make it into a game, to beat the seller down and then not to buy.  It is, after all, the seller’s livelihood.

10. Presumed price is local currency cash unless you’ve made clear otherwise.  Credit cards, traveler’s checks, other currencies may occur additional fees

11. Take the purchase with you if possible.  Yes, I know “free shipping” may be included, but as you should know by now nothing is free.  “What can you do if I take it along with me?”  You will be amazed at how tightly a beautiful Turkish rug can be packed.

12. Understand how the tourist game is played.  Everyone along the way gets a cut.  In Turkey it’s the government, the cruise line, the marketing company working the cruise line, the tour operator and the guide, all of whom get a cut of your purchase.  The cruise line has “Preferred Shops”.  Usually those “Preferred” signs are genuine, but there are copies and fakes out there, shops that put up a “Preferred” sign but have no “marketing agreement” with the cruise line.  So yes, the cruise line is getting a cut, but it is providing in most cases a kind of insurance as well that if something is being shipped and doesn’t arrive, or is damaged, or is not what you ordered, the cruise line and the tour operator will represent you locally and make it right.  So rather than thinking of it as a “kick back” or “referral fee” you can think of it as insurance.  Whether or not  you need the insurance is up to you.

I have bought carpets in Turkey both ways.  Last year I went into town in Kusadasi just to have a pair of pants hemmed.  It was the last ship to call of the season.  Almost all the passengers were watching the carpet shows at the preferred shops.  I wandered up a side street in an area where there were lots of free Internet cafes that crew members regularly use.  A very, and I do mean VERY, clever shop owner engaged me in conversation.  I told him upfront I wasn’t looking for rugs or interested, but was just waiting for the tailor to finish my pants.  He started asking about the ship and crew stuff.  Turned out the shop has been his family’s for years.  Off season his brother scours Turkey looking for interesting and valuable carpets.  He does “road shows” of carpets in the US, and here’s the interesting part, works as an engineer for Royal Caribbean.  So now we are talking cruise ships.   It’s the end of the season and nobody is around.  “Come on in and have some coffee and let me show you some of our more interesting carpets.”  Like a fisherman he reeled me in!  Again I told him I wasn’t buying, but we got talking about carpets, good ones and ones dumped on tourists.  And how the business works and who gets what and what percentages and how the who “preferred” thing works.  And he did have some beautiful carpets.

A couple I really liked.  Particularly one which was a 75-year-old family heirloom carpet which had been a girl’s dowry carpet made of Alpaca wool, since I had already told him I had three dogs but Alpaca is a tight, flat weave that the dogs couldn’t hurt.  Great salesman this guy!  $9,000.  Obviously I’m not buying!   He explained how things worked.  I’m walking into his store, not with any tour guide, no marketing agreement, OK credit card, but if I carried it away so no shipping.  $4,000.  Wow!  I don’t have $4,000 for a carpet!  He does some figuring, talks to his father.  Besides I’ve been on the ship 3 months, I already have too much luggage to take home.

OK, see how tightly we can wrap it.  His brother runs out and buys a cheap pink rollerboard, and they stuff the carpet in.  Carry on size luggage.  My pants are ready and I’ve got to be back on the ship!  Final offer $3,500.

Problem is by now I LOVE the carpet.  In my head I’m thinking no way is he going to drop the price further.  But I would pay $2,400 for this beautiful carpet.  I’m walking out the door . . . “Look you’re the last ship.  Next week we close the shop and everything sits here until next season.  $2,500 and you take it with you.”

“Look I didn’t come in here to buy anything!  I told you!  But if you are as good of an engineer as you are a salesman, Royal Caribbean is very lucky!  If  you can take a credit card . . . and if we can do it for $2,400 . . . I’ll take it.”

And as I write this it graces the floor in my library and is worth every penny I paid, and probably a lot more.

In Turkey almost every tour includes a carpet demonstration.  There really is no pressure to buy and it is very informative.  I’ve been to dozens of these demonstrations and I’ve learned a lot.  Turkish carpets are fascinating works of art and there is an amazing variety.  Go to the demonstration and you will see lots and lots of carpets literally “flying” through the room.  You will learn a lot and may see the very carpet you wish to buy.  They will ship them to your home and the cruise lines through their marketing agreements will generally guarantee safe delivery.  Or you can go off and shop around, buy on your own and accept whatever risk is involved.  But even with the “preferred” stores, the starting price is the starting price and you should not be afraid to aggressively bargain.  If you don’t see what you want or can’t get the deal you want you can always look elsewhere.

If you do buy a carpet and have it shipped I would suggest taking a picture of the carpet as well as signing it in magic marker on the back side.  That way you know the carpet your bought is the one delivered.

Pireas & Athens, Greece – Richard’s Quick Guide

Pireas & Athens, Greece – Richard’s Quick Guide

Choices

  • Ship Tour – Cruise line does all the research and planning and you sit back and enjoy. The best way to see the most in a limited time and can be the most cost-effective. Ship does not leave until all ship tours are back.
  • You Do It All – “Independent.”-  For people who like to do their own research & planning using travel guidebooks, Internet, etc. You do the work and you are independent. It is your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. [Independent group tours generally are best booked online in advance based on recommendations you trust.]

Information

  • Richard’s Port Talks – Live and on cabin TV
  • Cruise line-provided port map & guide delivered to your stateroom – depending on port of call may be more of a shopping information sheet on some cruise lines giving you step-by-step directions to “preferred” shops with whom the cruise line has marketing agreement.
  • There are many detained and interactive maps available online
  • 1 km = .6 mile

Money

  • Greece is part of the Euro-zone and uses the Euro
  • Check Internet for current rates – of course anyone who changes money for you makes money by giving you slightly less than the going rate, but you knew that
  • Tipping: If “service included” locals leave additional small coins up to 1 Euro, if not included 10-15% – Tour Guides: around $4-10 per person, depending on the length of tour, bus driver $1-4 per person, depending on length of tour. [Tour guides receive most of their income from tips and generally bus drivers and guides do not share tips.]

Getting Around

  • We dock in Pireaus – The town is just outside of the cruise terminal. Athens is 6 miles away with lots of traffic en route. Pireaus is a busy port town and the center for ferry traffic as well as cruise ships.
  • Pireaus is busy maritime town and seaside suburb of Athens. There is not a lot to see and do in Pireaus itself.
  • Best bet to get to Athens is a ship tour and if you don’t wish a group tour to take the “Athens On Your Own” tour which is basically a ship-sponsored bus transfer to and from the center of Athens. Traffic can be horrendous in Athens and it is easy to get stuck in traffic coming back to the ship by bus or taxi. Ship will not leave until all ship tour buses have returned.
  • “On your own” allow plenty of extra time to get back to the ship.
  • There are taxis outside pier. Drivers speak limited English and can be somewhat aggressive seeking fares. Easier to get a cab to Athens then back to Pireaus during rush hour. Agree on meter or flat fare and amount of fare before getting into cab. About 22 Euro to Acropolis, 28 Euro to National Archeological museum. Some drivers MAY take US $.
  • Bus stop across from pier with several lines to Athens for under 1 Euro. You must buy ticket before getting on bus from kiosk and then validate in machine on bus. Bus drivers do not sell tickets. Of course Euros.
  • Train station is about 1.5 miles from ship, about a 25 minute walk from cruise terminal. You can walk or take local Piraeus #843 or #859 buses, which you can find across the street from the Cruise Terminal. Walking turn left outside terminal area and walk along waterfront, but a bit tricky near the station. http://isap.gr/eng/index.aspBuy an all day ticket good on all public transport for 4 Euro.
    • You can take the L-1 train from Piraeus to Monastriaki to visit the Acropolis but it is a steep uphill walk thru the Ancient Forum to the ruins of the Acropolis.
    • You can take the Green L-1 train from Pireus to the Omonia Station and transfer to the Red L2 train three stations to the Acropolis Station. From there it is a slight uphill walk to the entrance to the Acropolis Museum and the Acropolis.
  • Several Hop On Hop Off bus operations leave from outside the terminal – turn left and walk along fence to corner where you’ll generally find operators.

Helpful Hints

  • Take plenty of bottled water (there are water vending machines but they never seem to work or are empty and there are long lines), hat, sunscreen, and even an umbrella as sun shade. In the peak season it is hot and there are long lines.
  • “Acropolis” means “high place” so no matter how you cut it you are going to have to climb at least 80 steps to get up to the Parthenon.
  • Stores generally open 9am – 9pm
  • Plaka area is great for little cafes, boutiques, shops, etc.
  • Genuine antiques and icons may not be removed from Greece.
  • When entering churches or monasteries men must have knees covered, women must have shoulders covered and wear skirts.
  • To really appreciate Athens, particularly if this is your first visit, you need a good guide to make the entire experience make sense and to be able to focus on the important sites.
  • Expect crowds and therefore pick pockets. If you don’t absolutely need it, leave it on the ship. Be aware of your surroundings and “street smart.” You are on vacation but others (i.e. pickpockets) are hard at work.

Highlights

  • Acropolis of Athens and Parthenon If you a physically able the one “must see” in Athens. 8am-6pm except holidays. 12 Euro. By taxi 6 miles, 20 Euro. It is a “high place” so requires steps – not by any means “accessible”. The marble and giant very uneven walkway stones have become polished from the centuries of traffic and can be quite slippery especially if they are wet or dusty. Wear sturdy walking shoes.
  • Acropolis Archeological Museum– 8:30am-6:45pm, closed Mondays. Now repository for items that used to be a little museum at the top by the Parthenon and various Parthenon material from the National Museum. Near Acropolis subway station. Has an unprecedented collection of Gold, sculptures, bronze statues, pottery and sculptures from the Acropolis. Most of the Acropolis treasures except those looted by the British and at the British Museum which Greece has been trying to get returned for years. 5 Euro. Gets 10,000 visitors per day.
  • Ancient Agora– ancient marketplace at base of Acropolis. 8am-6pm except holidays. 6 Euro. Fascinating to wander around particularly if you have been to Athens before.
  • Roman Agora & Tower of the Winds– Roman era Galleria Mall – near edge of Plaka – Tower of the Winds was the “mall” attraction to the new shopping center.
  • Areopagus (Greek) or Mars Hill (Roman) – giant rock at the base of the Acropolis from which St. Paul gave his famous “Ye men of Athens” Unknown God sermon. Don’t try and climb up the front: there are steps in the back.
  • Plaka – is the wonderful older section of town built right on top of the ruins of Ancient Athens with boutiques, shops (nice stuff and tourist junk), tavernas, restaurants – very popular and pleasant area of Athens.
  • National Archaeological Museum– 8:30am-6pm daily, Sundays 1:30pm-7pm, closed holidays. 7 Euro. 8 miles from ship, approx taxi 30 Euro. This is THE museum for Greek antiquities and you could spend weeks here. The tour guides help you experience the highlights in a limited time.
  • Syntagma Square – In front of the Greek Parliament building is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where the guards change on the hour. The guards wear their traditional white kilts, red and black caps and red clogs with pompoms only on Sunday’s at 11:00am or on special occasions. This is an area where there are frequent demonstrations, particularly now. If you see a demonstration or sense one is forming always get out of the area.
  • Ancient Corinth – about 60 miles from Pireaus, around 160 Euro taxi. 8am – 5pm, except holidays. About 6 Euros. Nearby is the Corinth Canal If you are interested in Corinth and the Canal a ship excursion is best bet.
  • Beaches -The best beaches are located approx. 12 miles to 15 miles from Piraeus.
  • In Pireaus: Archeological Museum – Does not compare with National Archeological Museum in Athens but does have some stunning bronze statues dating back to 520 BC. .75 miles from ship, open 9am – 5pm except Mondays. Near the museum are the remains of the 2nd-century BC Theater of Zea, its highlight is the well-preserved orchestra pit.
  • In Pireaus: Municipal Theater – Built in 1895 and based on Paris Opera House – inside is the Municipal Art Gallery and the Museum of Stage Décor.
  • Olympic Connections:
    • Olympia – where the Olympic games began ever four years. About 3-4 hour drive from Athens with really not much to see except some ruins. The modern Olympic flame is lit here by reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror in front of the Temple of Hera and then taken by torch to the place where the games are held. [Hera is an interesting choice: She was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus and was the goddess of women and marriage known for her jealous and vengeful nature, most notably against Zeus's lovers and offspring, but also against mortals who crossed her.]
    • Panathenaic Stadium in Athens is where the modern Olympics began in 1896. Reconstructed from remains of an ancient Greek stadium, is the only major stadium in the world built entirely of white marble and is one of the oldest in the world. Seats 50,000. Not much to see except to say you’ve been there and get a Facebook picture.
    • Olympic Stadium Spyros Louisis in the Athens suburb of Marousi, NE of Athens, opened in 1982 and renovated for the 2004 Summer Olympics, seats 75,000.

Copyright 2012 RLD – May not be reprinted without permission.
Information provided by local agents and believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.
RichardDetrich.com

Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal – Richard’s Quick Guide

I am busy preparing for my contract on RUBY PRINCESS and thought you might appreciate the following information if, and when, you visit the Azores

Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal –Richard’s Quick Guide

Choices

  • Ship Tour – Cruise line does all the research and planning and you sit back and enjoy. The best way to see the most in a limited time and can be the most cost-effective. Ship does not leave until all ship tours are back.
  • You Do It All – “Independent.”-  For people who like to do their own research & planning using travel guidebooks, Internet, etc. You do the work and you are independent. It is your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. [Independent group tours generally are best booked online in advance based on recommendations you trust.]

Information

  • Richard’s Port Talks – Live and on cabin TV
  • Tourist Board Web site: www.visitazores.com/en
  • Cruise line-provided port map & guide delivered to your stateroom – depending on port of call may be more of a shopping information sheet on some cruise lines giving you step-by-step directions to “preferred” shops with whom the cruise line has a marketing agreement
  • There are many detained and interactive maps available online
  • 1 km = .6 mile

Money

  • Portugal is part of the Euro-zone and uses the Euro
  • Check Internet for current rates – of course anyone who changes money for you makes money by giving you slightly less than the going rate, but you knew that
  • Tipping: If “service included” locals leave additional small coins up to 1 Euro, if not included 10-15% – Tour Guides: around $4-10 per person, depending on the length of tour, bus driver $1-4 per person, depending on length of tour. [Tour guides receive most of their income from tips and generally bus drivers and guides do not share tips.]

Getting Around

  • Ship docks right in town, only 5 minutes to Praca Square and City Gates
  • Taxis are available, metered and are expensive because everything, including fuel, must be imported – about 6 Euros to town
  • Lagarita Trolley, city tours, 9am – 7pm, 5 Euro, depart from Avenida

Sightseeing

  • Sao Bras Fort – construction started in 1552
  • Church of Martiz Sao Sebastiano founded in 1533 – no shorts or bare shoulders
  • Carlos Machado Museum – 10am-12:30pm, Sat & Sun 2pm-5:30pm
  • Furnas & Caldeira Velha – volcanic area of hot springs – about 50 miles [80 km] round trip approximately 5-6 hours, about 125 Euro round trip
  • Fire Lake – 37 miles [60 km] round trip, approximately 2.5 hours, about 55 Euro round trip
  • Site Cidadas & Crater Lakes -34 miles [54 km] round trip, approximately 2 hours, about 50 Euro round trip

Copyright 2012 RLD – May not be reprinted without permission. Information provided by local agents and believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.
RichardDetrich.com

Venice, Italy – Richard’s Quick Guide

I am busy preparing for my contract on RUBY PRINCESS and thought you might appreciate the following information if, and when, you visit Venice

Venice, Italy – Richard’s Quick Guide

Choices

  • Ship Tour – Cruise line does all the research and planning and you sit back and enjoy. The best way to see the most in a limited time and can be the most cost-effective. Ship does not leave until all ship tours are back.
  • You Do It All – “Independent.” – For people who like to do their own research & planning using travel guidebooks, Internet, etc. You do the work and you are independent. It is your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. [Independent group tours generally are best booked online in advance based on recommendations you trust.]

Information

  • Richard’s Port Talks – Live and on cabin TV
  • Tourist Information Web site: http://en.turismovenezia.it/
  • Cruise line-provided port map & guide delivered to your stateroom – depending on port of call may be more of a shopping information sheet on some cruise lines giving you step-by-step directions to “preferred” shops with whom the cruise line has a marketing agreement
  • There are many detained and interactive maps available online
  • 1 km = .6 mile

Money

  • Italy is part of the Euro-zone and uses the Euro
  • Check Internet for current rates – of course anyone who changes money for you makes money by giving you slightly less than the going rate, but you knew that.
  • Tipping: If “service included” locals leave additional small coins up to 1 Euro, if not included 10-15% – Tour Guides: around $4-10 per person, depending on the length of tour, bus driver $1-4 per person, depending on length of tour. [Tour guides receive most of their income from tips and generally bus drivers and guides do not share tips.]

Getting Around

  • Vaporetto is Venice “city bus” – About 6.50 Euro for 60 minutes going in one direction – 12 “iMob” or tourist pass costs around 16 Euro – Buy tickets at ticket counter or pay conductor – You must validate tickets in yellow machine to avoid fines.
  • Gondolas haggle somewhere between $125 – 150 US for hour ride.
  • Water Taxis are very expensive – Within the old city can easily cost 30-50 EU or more.
  • 7 Traghetto [“ferry"] points on Grand Canal where old gondolas will take you across the canal for around a Euro.
  • “People Mover” that will take you from the port to the Piazza Roma where you can connect with the train, buses to other parts of Venice and the Vaporetto that will take you to St Mark’s. “People Mover” 1 Euro coin.
  • There is a yellow Water Shuttle that takes you right to St Mark’s Square.
  • Usually there will be a cruise line Shuttle boat that will take you to St Mark’s Square.
  • It is possible to walk from St. Mark’s Square to Piazza Roma using the People Mover to get between Piazza Roma and the ship. The route isn’t well marked but since the train station is by Piazza Roma, just follow the procession of people with roller board suitcases.

Helpful Hints

  • Venice can be mobbed at the height the season – Locals feel as if they are being crowded out by “Veniceland”.
  • If you are able, Venice is best explored on foot – you WILL get lost, but just ask directions.
  • Expect long lines if you are on your own at St Mark’s, Bell Tower, and Doges Palace, all at St Mark’s Square – Best way to avoid the lines, somewhat, is to take a tour. If you are the independent sort, pick the one you really want to see and be there first thing in the morning. If the ship isn’t arriving until afternoon either take the tour, or try to get in just before closing, and make a fast tour.
  • Dress respectfully for churches.
  • Watch out for pickpockets – crowds of tourists equal pickpockets at work – so be “street smart” and aware of your surroundings.
  • Watch where you walk!
  • Because of all the Canals bridges are often steep and few are “accessible” and those that are require a wheelchair occupant to also be an Olympic power lifter!
  • Gelato is less expensive away from St. Mark’s Square on the back streets.
  • Most Venice restaurants add in an extra fee just because you are sitting in their restaurant.
  • It isn’t so much about what you “see” as what you “experience”.
  • Shops open 9am-1pm, 3pm-7:30pm – “tourist shops” with “Chinese goods” more often open all day.

Highlights

  • St Mark’s Square – the heart of Venice, shuttle boats and Vaporetto will let you off within what is for most people a short walking distance to the Square.
  • St Mark’s Cathedral – the center of the Square. Long lines anytime of year, but particularly in the summer. Best bet is to take the ships’s tour or arrive early in the morning.  The remains of St. Mark and the lions above the door were both stolen from Alexandria, Egypt.
  • St Mark’s Bell Tower – “One of the greatest erections of all time.” There will be a long, long line, particularly in summer to climb to the top. The view from the deck of the ship, if the ship sails in through St. Mark’s Canal and the Canal de Giudeca is just as good if not better.
  • Doge’s Palace – Residence of the Doge who was elected for life and the seat of government 1309-1424. Not to be missed. Long, long lines particularly in summer. If you are not on a tour the key is to be first in line in the morning. Open from 9am-6pm. approximately 15 Euro.
  • Grand Canal – Vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal is a great, and relatively inexpensive, way to view many of the Venetian Palaces on the Grand Canal. You can get the Vaporetto at Piazza Roma (where the People Mover takes you) or at the Vaporetto stop near St. Mark’s Square.
  • Rialto Bridge – Can be seen from the Vaporetto if you are taking the Vaporetto down the Grand Canal. There is a Vaporetto stop at the Rialto Bridge. You can walk to the Rialto Bridge from St. Mark’s Square or vice versa. There are some signs, or you can just ask or follow the crowd. There is a market on the opposite side of the Bridge from the Vaporetto stop and St. Mark’s. In the morning there is a vegetable and fish market there as well.
  • Rialto Market – On the opposite side of the Bridge from the Rialto Vaporetto stop and St. Mark’s. In the morning there is a vegetable and fish market there as well. Lots of Made in China souvenirs.
  • Guggenheim Museum – If you’ve been to Venice before the Guggenheim is in the former home of Peggy Guggenheim houses her collection of modern art, reputed to be one of the finest in any small museum. Vaporetto stop on the Grand Canal. 10am-6pm, closed Tuesday. 12 Euro.
  • Gallerie del Accademia – Venetian paintings from the 14th to 19th century. Open 8:30am-6:30pm, Tuesdays until 1pm. 8 Euro.
  • Murano is the island home of Venice’ famous glass. The real thing is expensive. The Made in China knock offs are inexpensive. Much of the glass currently being sold in souvenir shops is Made in China. Know what you are looking for, do some research, and buy the real thing if that’s what you want. If you just want something that looks something like Venetian glass go for the Chinese stuff. You can get there by Vaporetto or tour.
  • Burano is a small island which I think is more interesting than Murano. Brightly colored houses, canals, and lace making. You can get there by Vaporetto or tour.


Copyright 2012 RLD – May not be reprinted without permission. Information provided by local agents and believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.

RichardDetrich.com

Mykonos, Greece –Richard’s Quick Guide

I am busy preparing for my contract on RUBY PRINCESS and thought you might appreciate the following information if, and when, you visit Mykonos.

Mykonos, Greece –Richard’s Quick Guide

Choices

  • Ship Tour – Cruise line does all the research and planning and you sit back and enjoy. The best way to see the most in a limited time and can be the most cost-effective. Ship does not leave until all ship tours are back.
  • You Do It All – “Independent.”- For people who like to do their own research & planning using travel guidebooks, Internet, etc. You do the work and you are independent. It is your responsibility to get back to the ship on time. [Independent group tours generally are best booked online in advance based on recommendations you trust.]

Information

  • Richard’s Port Talks – Live and on cabin TV
  • Tourist Information Web site: http://www.greeka.com/cyclades/mykonos/index.htm
  • Cruise line-provided port map & guide delivered to your stateroom – depending on port of call may be more of a shopping information sheet on some cruise lines giving you step-by-step directions to “preferred” shops with which the cruise line has a marketing agreement.
  • There are many detained and interactive maps available online
  • 1 km = .6 mile

Money

  • Greece is part of the Euro-zone and uses the Euro
  • Check online for current exchange rate. Obviously rates change daily. People who exchange money make their money by giving you a less favorable rate that the official rate, but of course you knew that.
  • Tipping: If “service included” locals leave coins up to nearest Euro, if not included 15% – Tour Guides: around $4-10 per person, depending on the length of tour, bus driver $1-4 per person, depending on length of tour. [Tour guides receive most of their income from tips and generally bus drivers and guides do not share tips.]
  • Shops frequently are closed between1pm & 3pm

Getting Around

  • Ship docks alongside at Tourlos – town is about 1.2 miles away, 20-30 minute walk
  • The Mykonos Port Authorities normally provide a shuttle service to town for a nominal fee.
  • Taxi vans at the port – about 12 Euros to town – agree on fare before getting into cab
  • Cab drivers do generally not speak English and by law are not allowed to guide
  • There is a public bus with irregular schedule to town for about 1.50 Euro.

Helpful Hints

  • During summer at the height of the season can become quite crowded.
  • Shops are generally open 9am-10pm. Some smaller shops close 2pm-5pm.
  • Should you find a genuine icon or antique know that by law these cannot be removed from Greece.
  • Men must not wear shorts and women must wear skirts and have their shoulders covered when entering churches and monasteries.
  • Mykonos celebrity “citizen” is Petros. The original pelican (Petros I) was rescued by seamen in the 1950s and given full reign of the waterfront. His grandson now rules, normally joined by several consorts (somewhat like European royalty) who live off the largess of island businesses and tourists.

Highlights:

  • Beaches: The best beaches are located on the Southern Coast of Mykonos. Platys Gialos is approx. 2 miles from the port and is a family beach with chairs, umbrellas and water-sports. There are local buses running to/from Chora. Taxi is about 12 Euro. You can take a water taxi to some of the other beaches from Platys Gialos. Paragka is a quiet clothing optional beach, Paradise is a clothing optional beach with water sports and Super Paradise is a gay clothing optional beach.
  • Delos – One of the most important religious centers in the ancient world, the birthplace of Apollo. In the ancient world it was the equivalent of St Thomas and St Martin wrapped up into one duty-free port with over 30,000 shops! 40 minutes by boat. About 12.50 Euro to get there and 5 Euro admission. Open 8am-3pm. You need a guide to appreciate.
  • Little Venice and the Venetian Windmills – 1.2 miles or 10 minutes by taxi from the pier. The iconic image of Mykonos. Taxi about 10 Euro. Next to the windmills is Paraportiani Church, the most photographed of the 400 churches on the island.
  • Mykonos Archeological Museum – 8am-3pm, closed Monday. 1 mile or 5 minutes by taxi from the pier. Taxi about 10 Euro. Admission 2 Euro.
  • Aegean Maritime Museum – 10am-1pm, 5pm-8pm, closed Monday. 1.5 miles or 15 minutes by taxi from pier. Taxi about 10 Euro. Admission 3 Euro.

Copyright 2012 RLD – May not be reprinted without permission.
Information provided by local agents and believed to be accurate but not guaranteed.
RichardDetrich.com