Killed My Smartphone…

Attempted to clear my cache, but in doing so the system crashed and now I have the dreaded yellow triangle with the red exclamation point. Not able to troubleshoot a fix so this will be my last post for a while since my app was on this now bricked phone.  For what it is worth, we are in Valletta, Malta and will soon be on our way to Sicily, Italy.
Not all is lost however, Lisa still has her phone and can take pictures on it.

Italy by Rail and Ship: Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor is the second walled city we’ve visited in the last two days. The main attraction here for me, however, is above the city.  Hiking up over 1300 steps from the town’s North gate, those brave and fit enough to ascend will be about 900 feet above the town at the Fortress of St. John.  

Actually, the climb up was not that difficult. Most people can get to the top in about an hour, but those that are super fit and can power hike it can probably do it in about 20 minutes. It took me a little over half an hour with stops along the way for pictures.  It is basically just walking upstairs on wide steps. The hard part for me was actually coming back down, especially since my shoes have little traction and are quite slippery on some of the stones. This is definitely a hike that I would not want to do in the rain or with wet rocks — I would have definitely slipped! 

The trail costs three euros to hike it, payable to the attendant at either entrance at the base of the mountain. Along the way there were three vendors selling bottled water, and an artist at the top selling some of his paintings.  There were no bathroom facilities.

This was a fabulous hike and I was lucky to do it in the morning before the sun fully came out to heat things up. I met up with Lisa back down in the town and we just strolled around for the rest of the morning admiring the alleyways, the old buildings, churches and the 14th century walls that contain the city.


Anatomy of Vacation Costs: Weekend Cruise from Los Angeles

Here are the exact costs from last month’s three-day cruise out of Los Angeles…

$718.16 Carnival Cruise fare $906.86 TOTAL
$77.70 cruise tips 3 days
$158.00 Airfare SW
$10.00 MAX tickets $302.29 Daily average per person
$5.50 LAX to pier transport $151.14 Daily average per peson, per day
-$130.00 Onboard cruise credit
$27.50 Lyft fare from pier to LAX $796.00 Cruise only portion with tips
$5.00 Elephant’s Deli dinner PDX $265.00 Daily average per person for cruise
$15.00 Souvenirs $133.00 Daily average per person, per day for cruise
$20.00 Extra drinks on board


Our cruise fare came plus tips came to almost $800, which breaks down to around $265 per day and $133 per person, per day.  This is not the sweet spot of cruise deals and one that we would probably pass on.  However, the dates were just right and we were just looking for an excuse to use an unused Southwest Airlines credit, so that is why we picked the cruise we did.  It also helped that we were able to get $130 in shipboard spending money, so when we factor that bonus in the cost of the cruise ends up being $800 – $130 = $670, bringing down the per day cost to $223 and then only $112 per person, per day.

Our airfare on Southwest was only $158 round trip and the reason why that fare is so low is because we have the Companion Pass, which allows Lisa to travel for free as my companion.  Without that pass, the cost would have been $316 round trip.  Our only other expenses were transportation related on public transit and one Lyft ride.  Food was covered by our Priority Pass lounge pass for Friday breakfast and Sunday lunch, and we bought dinner at the Portland Airport Sunday night at Elephant’s Deli (using their 50% off evening discount).

In total, we spent just a shade over $900 for our three-day weekend and that covered everything from food, airfare and cruise fare.  While our aim is to be under $200 total per day, given the circumstances that we just needed a short weekend getaway, $300 per day was doable and necessary.  Despite the short duration, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and if the timing, cruise fare and the airfare were right, we would definitely do it again!

Anatomy of a Vacation Deal: Analyzing a 9-Day Uniworld River Cruise

Lisa has always wanted to do a European river cruise, but they are pretty expensive compared to the cost for a sea cruise vacation.  Our sweet spot is any cruise that works out to be under $100 per person, per day — including all port fees, taxes and tips.  Usually we can find cruises under this threshold if we just go on the cruise price, but the best deals really are when every expense is factored in.  The cheapest European river cruise I have found is around $200 per person, per day — but only during the off season or in May and September, months when Lisa and I are  still in school.  So imagine my surprise when I checked the Travelzoo Weekly Top 20 specials today — a nine-night river cruise on Uniworld, which is recognized as one of top top luxury river cruise companies in the world, for just $1974 per person.   Looking strictly at that price, $1974 divided by 9 days = $220 per person, per day.  On a luxury ship!  What makes this deal simply amazing is the fact that it is all-inclusive — we get alcohol, free shore excursions and gratuities paid for.  Regular pricing is $3949, so this is basically half off.  Since the link will probably go dead sooner than later, here is the special as advertised on the Travelzoo web site:


$1974 – Cruise Europe’s Rivers in Summer: Luxe 9-Night Trip

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection

These elegant voyages include excursions, like a tour of a fairy-tale-like Bavarian castle.

The Deal

If an all-inclusive cruise on Travel + Leisure’s No. 1 river cruise line wasn’t in your plans this summer, it should be now with this deal. For 50% off current prices, Uniworld offers one of the most luxurious ways to sail through the heart of Europe.

Just about everything is covered for one price: all meals on board, unlimited beverages, free shore excursions, gratuities, port charges and Wi-Fi. Spring and fall dates are also on sale.

For $1974 per person, sail in a riverview cabin over nine nights on the following cruise tour:

  • Munich to Cologne (or reverse); ports include Nuremberg, Rothenburg and Frankfurt, Germany
    Sail May 19; July 23; Aug. 20; $1899 on Oct. 15 and Nov. 3; additional spring and summer dates available

About the cruise line: Uniworld has a fleet of 19 intimate ships that take guests to destinations throughout Asia, Africa, China and Europe. The line is known for its cuisine, which is both sourced from and inspired by the region of the day. Lavish cabins feature handcrafted beds with Egyptian cotton sheets and marble bathrooms. Each ship houses a fitness center, spa and library.

Note: All taxes are included in the fare.


The Travelzoo link brings me to this page:


European River Cruise Packages All Amenities Included
Jul 23, 2017 –
River Ambassador
9 Night Rhine-Main Discovery and Munich Cruise
Sailing from Cologne
Every Sailing Includes ALL of These Amenities:
1. Travelzoo Exclusive Pricing (Save up to 50%)
2. All Gratuities ($150 per person savings)
3. Unlimited Beverages (Beer, Wine, Spirits $700 Savings)
4. Gourmet Meals Onboard (Zagat-Rated)
5. Shore Excursions (Up to $700 Savings)
6. Airport Transfers ($100 Savings)
7. Internet & WiFi ($125 Savings)
8. Touring Bicycles
Don’t Let This Deal Sail Away, Hurry and Book by 5/07/2017
Call a River Cruise Specialist Today 1-800-758-5693


Okay, I had to find out more about this offer, so I called Prestige Cruises and spoke to a representative.  Here is what I found out from talking to her and doing a little more research:

  1.  Yes, the deal is $1974 per person, for a total of $3,948
  2. Yes, it includes all those perks above — gratuities, alcoholic beverages and shore excursions being the big sellers.
  3. The ship is old — 1993 — and it is small, carrying just 120 passengers.  But the room does have an outdoor window and ship was last refurbished ten years ago.
  4. Reviews for the cruise company and overall positive; the ship has mostly good reviews as well.
  5. The cruise only lasts for 7 nights — on day 8, they will bus you to Munich, where you will stay overnight at the Le Méridien Munich for two nights.

Wait a second!!  I was under the impression that it was nine nights on the cruise ship, not seven nights and then the last two in a hotel!  The hotel itself runs about $200 per night, but that does not include any food or drinks or shore excursions like the previous seven days.  So now when I look at the deal, the $3948 price is actually $3948 – 2 nights hotel ($400) = $3548.  Divide this number with seven days and I come up with $507 per day, and if I divide that by two people then the true per person, per day cost stands at $253, NOT $220.  Is $33 per person, per day that big of a deal?  Well, I suppose it is not that big of a difference, but when you are traveling on a budget, that $66 per day x 7 days = almost $500 more for the week.

So looking at all the fine print, I am disappointed that the cruise is actually only for seven days instead of nine.  On the plus side, it is still a great deal on a great river cruise company, and it comes with so many perks.  But on the down side, it is on their oldest ship and it is “only” seven days instead of what I thought was nine days.  The other huge factor is that the departure date is July 23rd — our Celebrity cruise arrives into Rome on July 22nd, so we would have to fly to Hamburg on the 22nd in order to make our sailing date the next day.  Not only does that mean no time to tour Rome, but it also means that we’ll have to spend another $100 per person to fly to Hamburg in order to make the river cruise.  Ultimately, after looking at all the factors, this is one pretty good deal that we will have to pass up.  Had the cruise actually been NINE full days of cruising instead of just seven, then we probably would have booked it.  But as it stands, we’ll just wait for the another opportunity of a river cruise deal for next time — or perhaps years and years into the future when we are retired and when we can jump on the last-minute deals.

Bottom Line:  Pass on this deal


Post Cruise Tips: Carnival Inspiration Three-Day Weekend Cruise

Now that it has been ten days since we returned from our cruise, I have come up with a few tips and suggestions that would be helpful to remember if we ever took this cruise again…

  • On some previous cruises we have been able to board as early as 11:00am.  Not so with this ship.  Even though our boarding ticket said between 12:00pm – 12:30pm, the actual boarding time was after 1:00pm.  So had we arrived there early in the morning, we would have just been sitting around outside the check-in area.  Tip:  don’t bother arriving super early, hoping to board the ship because it won’t happen.
  • The Queen Mary hotel is adjacent to the pier and with your cruise ticket you can visit this tourist attraction for only $10, which might be a good way to kill your morning while you wait to board the ship.
  • Lifeboat drill:  eh, this was a waste of our time.  We got there early to get seats, but then waited over an hour for them to get their act together before they officially sounded the muster call.  In the future, we’ll just enjoy the ship and go to the life boat drill at the very last minute.
  • Adult hot tubs in ship’s aft was a winner, and there is a towel station there so you don’t need to bring your beach towels from the room.
  • Skip the opening night ‘Welcome Aboard’ show unless you want to see pre-recorded skits on the big screen and the cruise director talk talk talk
  • Sea Day Brunch:  do it.  It is only offered once and the food selections were outstanding.
  • Guy’s Burger Joint:  do it.  The toppings bar is a winner.
  • Blue Iguana Cantina:  do it.  It is next to the burger joint, and you can have them build you burritos, tacos and taco salads.  Bonus:  in the morning, they make great breakfast burritos.
  • Breakfast:  the buffet area can get pretty busy, especially the omelette station.  Fortunately there is another omelette station located in between the Blue Iguana and Guy’s Burger Joint, and not too many people know about this.
  • The men’s and women’s locker rooms have their own sauna and steam rooms which are free to use.
  • The chilled soups were amazing, and the fruit-based ones were almost dessert-like.  I even ordered the Strawberry Bisque as an after-dinner drink dessert and took it to-go.
  • At dinner you get a bread basket.  The bread isn’t that great, so only eat one if you just have to try it, otherwise just skip them altogether.
  • The water slides are not just for kids — go up and slide down for the thrilling decent!  But watch out, because the water will splash COLD on you at the bottom.
  • The live music was enjoyable and pretty good, from the solo guitar players to the piano man to the band.
  • Get your exercise by using the stairs!  Otherwise the elevators were actually all pretty quick and plentiful.
  • Don’t bother with an internet plan because the cruise is so short and your data plan should work in Ensenada.
  • Punchliner’s Comedy shows were plentiful and rated depending on the content.  Some comedians will be gold, others will suck and it all depends on the audience, so you might as well go and see if you like it.
  • Use the daily on board cruise schedule to plan out the activities that you want to try out.  We missed some activities because we were too lazy or just forgot about them, but no big deal.
  • Last tip:  no matter what happens, just be glad that you have the chance to cruise and have fun.  You have a room, all the food you can eat, new friends you haven’t met yet, naps that call and time to just enjoy your vacation!