You know what I mean about being on hold. Anyone who has tried to redeem aeroplan points will know that you can pretty much put your phone on speaker and clean every cupboard in your kitchen while you wait. Sometimes I think the on hold music – or lack of it – shows what the company actually thinks of the person on hold.
Westjet for example will have music playing and then jokes. It’s amusing and very human and can be entertaining. Except if you are a travel agent and have to phone quite often then the jokes can get old.
Some airlines I have phoned don’t even have on hold music – just a strange crackling silence interrupted every so often by an announcement that “an agent will be with you shortly”. And then there is the biggest on hold lie OF ALL TIME…..
“Your call is important to us”
…. so therefore we will keep you on hold for 2 hours. NOT.
So imagine my surprise the other day when I phoned Regent Seven Seas Cruises Air Deviation department. Let me first explain. Regent Seven Seas Cruises is a small luxury cruise line which is totally all inclusive and that means the airfare too. The flight itinerary is assigned by the cruise line based on their contracts and usually is advised between 90 – 120 days prior to departure. However if you have a specific airline you like you can do an air deviation for a fee ($175 pp) and for this you phone through to that specific department. Which I did….
First of all although I did have a bit of a hold I got a living, breathing travel agent who understood about code shared airlines and all that other secret industry stuff.
Secondly when I gave her my request she started working on it right away. WOW. How did I know? I heard her keyboard clacking away while she looked up the flights. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to hear that sound…. and I was on hold for a long time while she clattered away at her keyboard – occasionally punctuated by mutterings signalling frustration and success while she worked her way through the various airlines’ archaic booking systems.
I thought about it for a while after I put down the phone. What was the difference between being on hold and listening to breezy bright music and being on hold listening to breathing and keyboard clacking. The difference was that I knew something was being done – someone was working on my request. That gave me more comfort that anything else.
Food glorious food! That’s what I think of when I think of Athens.
Just another cute Plaka restaurant
We had calamari to die for, Greek salad naturally, the best coffee, lovely Ouzo and sin of all sins – a big slice of Baklava. Well my rationale was that there could be no better place in the world to eat Baklava than in the Plaka in Athens. It was worth it – so there Jenny Craig!
Don’t be put off by reports that the Plaka is too noisy, too dirty or too crowded. Many of the streets have been turned into pedestrian walkways and great little restaurants abound. Eating out is reasonably priced. If you want to splash out go to one of the rooftop restaurants with great views of the Acropolis which is lit up at night.
A lovely way to spend an afternoon in Athens ... at the pool
Talking about the Acropolis – now there is a place that is always crowded – no matter what month you visit. Get a good guide – a private one is very worthwhile – and get out there early in the morning while it is at least a bit cooler.
Athens has tons of hotels – big and small. We stayed at the Herodion, a small family run hotel which had a cute little roof garden with lovely views of the Acropolis. Location is important in Athens because outside of the pedestrian streets of the Plaka the traffic is pretty heavy so you really don’t want to be on one of the main streets. If you are visiting Athens at the end of your cruise be sure to arrange private transfers from the pier to your hotel. The pier was a crush of shouting taxi drivers, piles of luggage and bewildered cruise passengers. We were consequently very pleased to see my local rep there to meet us. With no trouble at all we were ushered into our waiting air conditioned Mercedes Benz complete with bottles of iced-water. Nice touch! Pity the trunk was a bit small for our luggage but that didn’t worry the driver who piled it in nonetheless and lo and behold – when we got to the other end we hadn’t lost one piece.
Hey - hang on to my bag!
Athens has been in the news a lot these days. The demonstrations were in full swing while we were there so we had to take a walk down to Constitution Square to see what it was all about. It was actually fairly peaceful and a bit Woodstock in feel. Lots of tents, hammocks and guitar strumming protesters just “hanging out”. Things did turn a bit ugly for a while and I did notice quite a bit of graffiti but I truly hope that they are able to resolve matters there. I would definitely love to return and try just one more slice of that gorgeous baklava.
Beautiful Athens.... I shall come back.
Now back off Mr Donkey
Now I feel sorry for the donkeys, don’t get me wrong. But I know where the mule part comes from and when you are negotiating a steep rocky path from the top of Santorini down to the ferry station everyone is fighting for territory. Maybe we should have taken the gondola – we did have the tickets after all – but the line-up was horrendous so we thought we would be clever and walk down. What we didn’t realise before we started was that the rocks on the path were polished smooth by the thousands of people (and donkeys) who have gone up and down this path. In addition to this they were well oiled by liberal doses of donkey poo. I was halfway down the path ahead of my sister when I realised that she was in a confrontation with a donkey. Unable to move and squashed up against the side of the wall by the donkey she burst into tears so her husband had no option but to punch the donkey in the neck.
Now before you go all PETA on me it hurt him a lot more than it hurt the donkey. Trust me – his hand was red for days.
Any idea when these cruise ships go away?
The problem was of course that there were no less than 7 cruise ships in the harbour. Imagine pouring out all those passengers into the tiny streets of Santorini. The people pressure was unbelievable and I was told that 11 ships were expected the next day. What a shame. It is indeed a beautiful island with stunning little hotels literally hanging onto the side of the cliffs. My best bet – if you really want to see Santorini go in October, sleep late, eat lunch at the pool of your hotel and then by 4 pm you should be safe to venture out and enjoy the island as it was meant to be enjoyed.
She's shopping - he's sleeping
After seeing Monemvasia I am sure there are many such undiscovered and beautiful places to visit in Greece and I plan to find them. Stay tuned! Preferably somewhere without a donkey ride involved!
Norwegian Cruise Lines Epic
I must – I really must. Even though I just returned from Fort Lauderdale I hardly saw the salty stuff. I spent most of my time inside unbearably cold air conditioned ballrooms and it was all in a good cause. Learning more about cruising today – new staterooms, new cruise ships, the entertainment on board and quick-as-a-flash tours of a few of the ships in port.
So in this five day whirlwind what was memorable? The sheer size of the new Norweigian Cruise Lines Epic. Wow that is one big sucker. My personal preference is for smaller ships but if I were travelling with my family then I can see the advantages of being on a larger cruise ship with all the fun new features.
NCL has adopted some creative designs to maximise space such as curved furniture in the cabins. It makes sense although I do think some of the taller guests might be a bit challenged by the curved bed. They have also introduced single cabins in a special solo part of the ship so now singles don’t have to pay the supplement and also have a singles only place to hang out and meet other singles. It’s all good in theory and actually the cabins are quite nice so it will be interesting to hear how those will sell. Unfortunately these single cabins are only available on the inside and are rather snug. I overheard a report that one of the larger guests on board said he felt like a Chilean miner in the shower.
We also toured the Navigator of the Seas – Royal Caribbean’s 3000 passenger ship. Bit smaller than the Epic of the Seas – but still with all the “attractions” like the ice skating rink. The shows there are very popular but I have to ask …. Why? Maybe it’s because I’m from Canada that this doesn’t get me excited so don’t let my opinion sway you. But hey I did like the real grass lawns on the deck of the Celebrity Solstice. Celebrity always manages to create great ambience on their cruise ships and the food at lunch was excellent. Out of all the big ships Celebrity (in my mind) comes out tops – although I would love to do a family cruise on one of the Royal Caribbean Freedom class ships. I love the promenade and the flo rider provides hours of fun – just watching everyone fall on their butts is entertainment enough.
I was fortunate to be invited on board the Regent Seven Seas Navigator – lovely little ship. This line definitely caters to my age group (baby boomer) and what I particularly like is that everything is included in one up front price. No need to be constantly reminded how much your vacation is costing you every time you order a speciality coffee or a martini – or even go on a shore excursion as it’s included. The smaller size of the ship creates a very intimate feel and the ability to get into smaller ports of call makes its itineraries unique.
But whatever the size of the ship I do love to cruise and have enjoyed every cruise I have ever been on. And I am not alone there – 95% of cruisers rate their experience as having met or exceeded their expectations.