Posts

Featured

Cruise Ports of Call

Often novice cruisers never give much thought to the details of ports they will be visiting. Even experienced cruisers are often so involved with the overall planning of a trip they overlook those important port details.

On our next cruise are there any tender ports? Are there ports that don’t allow walking out? Are there facilities on the pier? Is a port wheelchair accessible? Often cruise ships are not that free with information on upcoming ports of call and it would be helpful if you knew ahead of time if there are going to be challenges.

We’ve begun going thru our trip notes to build a section devoted just to port information and highlights. We hope you find it useful.

Also, If you would like to contribute please email us at TheIntentionalTraveler@gmx.com

North America
Caribbean
Latin America

Guatamala

Europe
The Pacific & Down Under

 

Asia

Advertisements
Featured

Index to Europe Articles

Featured

Index to Restaurants & Articles

Featured

Index to Pacific & Down Under

Featured

Index to Cruising Articles

Featured

Index to Caribbean Articles

Featured

Our Caribbean

Discover the Caribbean

For over twenty-five years the heart of our business was servicing customers in the Caribbean. It would be easier to list the places we haven’t been than were we have. As a result we like to think we know the neighborhood pretty well.

Back in the beginning, Eastern Airlines was the primary carrier from the U.S. to most islands and they sold an island hopper ticket that allowed us to travel around the islands for a discount price. We would usually go out for a couple of weeks at a time spending a day at each island and staying at local or discount accommodations. Fast forward a decade or more and Eastern is gone (mostly replaced by American) and, because we now have to book each flight in and out with between islands mostly being LIAT and seaplanes, the trips take in fewer stops at much higher prices. Fortunately our business is more successful but travel has gotten more complicated because we are hauling children with us.

The restaurants, hotels and resorts are more upscale and we tended to spend more time in each location, partly because of the airfare, but also because we are spending time with more customers. We also took a number of busman’s holidays because we liked skin diving and beach combing but also because we could include business and offset some of the costs.

There are some places that we haven’t been back to in a while but we can still talk about the character of the islands. There is one place we can’t go back to because a volcano buried it (Montserrat). There are a number of places we return to often and can offer current tips and suggestions. Keep an eye out as we add articles about our little corner of the world including:

Barbados      St. Croix      Antigua      Curacao      Sint Maarten

St. Kitts       St. Lucia       Caymans      Jamaica       St. Thomas

Dominica      Grenada      St. Barts     Bahamas      and more

We have also taken more than a dozen Caribbean cruises and we will offer some comments on these as well. Cruising the Caribbean I offers an overview of cruising the Caribbean.  Cruising the Caribbean II talks about the short 3 and 4 day cruises out of South Florida and their destinations. Cruising the Caribbean III looks at the seven day and longer cruises.

SEARCH

Featured

Cruising the South China Sea

cropped-southeast_asia_map.jpg

A First Visit to Southeast Asia

We spent all of February cruising with Celebrity’s Constellation in the South China Sea on back-to-back itineraries. We visited twelve ports with only one repeat (Ho Chi Min City). If you are going to fly twelve thousand miles you probably should make the most of the trip. We flew into Singapore and with the return for the second cruise and the extra day in port at the end we had five days to explore the city and all we could say was wow! The ship also spent two days in the port for Bangkok and we spent that night in a Bangkok hotel and booked a private tour (more about that at another time ;-).

Beyond the usual reasons for cruising there was an additional advantage on this trip. If you are not into a diet of noodles with dried fish flakes or hot curries, the ship gives you the opportunity to return to a Western style menu. The ship also takes care of visas and immigration ahead of each port.

Besides our time in Singapore our trip included four stops in Vietnam, Hong Kong, two stops in the Philippines which included Manila, two stops in Borneo, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Brunei and two stops in Thailand. We had an opportunity to see a lot as well as try a number of cuisines. Many of the destinations were studies in extreme contrasts but it was also obvious that things are greatly improving economically. It is also interesting to switch from Muslim to Buddhist to Western cultures as we went from one port to the next. On board there were a number of excellent in-depth lectures on the history and culture of the various countries which provided a good perspective on the ways the region developed.

Over the last number of years we have found cruising gives us an opportunity to sample a number of places and than we decide where we want to come back to for extended stays. Southeast Asia is no exception to this and we certainly have a few we will add to our return list.


Phone Service: We were traveling on this trip with an iPhone 5 on Verizon service ($80 for 250 international minutes)and with a Blu 5.5 phone with a prepaid international plan from One Sim Card service. Vietnam and Brunei were not part of the Verizon international service so we switched use to OneSimCard. Phone calls with Verizon worked well everywhere else but there were problems getting text messages out on a few days. The only reliable data that we found on the Verizon service was in Singapore (didn’t attempt in Hong Kong) most other places indicated “Data Service Failed”. The One Sim Card service worked as expected except in Vietnam. There we connected with the recommended service provider (Viettel) but instead of text messages costing the expected 25¢ they were charged at a couple of dollars. One Sim Card did send a text message warning of high costs on this service recommending we switch networks, even though Viettel was their recommended provider.


In the near future look for posts covering each of these countries with pointers on must do things, food, transportation and hotels.

Short Stories

Table of Content to Short Stories

Port of Call Victoria Canada

Port of Victoria and Vancouver Island Canada

Located on Vancouver Island in southwest Canada, Victoria is another popular cruise ship port of call on many Alaska itineraries. It is a beautiful town with a number of things to see and do and is only a short ferry ride or plane trip away from the city of Vancouver.

Where You Dock

Most cruise ships now dock at the cities port facilities within walking distance of downtown. The ferry terminals serving Vancouver and other areas are located almost an hour out of town.

 

Transportation

Taxis are readily available and local bus service is provided by the Victoria Regional Transit System. A fleet of modern single and double-decker buses that offer frequent service to Victoria BC’s attractions. . Typical fares for the buses include:

  • Cash Fare            C$2.50            Single boarding only – No Transfers. Drivers do not carry change.
  • 10 Tickets            C$22.50
  • DayPass            C$5.00 and are only available on bus. Drivers do not carry change.

There are also water taxis and float planes available on the cities waterfront.

Money

The local currency is the Canadian Dollar and unlike the cities in the east of Canada US Dollars are not generally accepted. If they do take the US Dollar expect them to charge an additional amount.

Attractions

The Butchart Gardens – Located in Brentwood Bay, near Victoria. The gardens receive over a million visitors each year. The gardens have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada.

Chinatown – It is the oldest Chinatown in Canada and the second oldest in North America after San Francisco’s. Victoria’s Chinatown had its beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century in the mass influx of miners from California to what is now British Columbia in 1858. It remains an active place and continues to be popular with residents and visitors.

BC Museum – Founded in 1886, the Royal British Columbia Museum consists of The Province of British Columbia’s natural and human history museum as well as the British Columbia Provincial Archives.

The Victoria Bug Zoo – This unique facility is a two-room minizoo that is located in downtown Victoria, just one block north of the Fairmont Empress Hotel.

Victoria is also home to several architectural landmarks and parks of note and offers a number of great pubs and cafes.

Vancouver Island is now home to a very good and growing number of vineyards with one day wine country tours available.

Learn how we disembarked in Victoria and took the ferry over to Vancouver to beat the Jones Act HERE.

 

Port of Auckland New Zealand

Auckland New Zealand and The Bay of Islands

Approaching Auckland
Approaching Auckland

Auckland is a popular port for cruises around Australia and New Zealand as well as southbound Pacific repositioning cruises. Most itineraries also include a stop at The Bay of Islands due north from Auckland.

 

Where You Dock
Princess Wharf
Princess Wharf

The Port of Auckland has a number of piers east from the ferry terminal at Princess Wharf. All of the docking spaces are right in downtown Auckland so it is only a short walk from the dock into the CBD. There are also a number of public facilities not far from the port.

Transportation

With only a few hours on average for exploring while in this port there are a number of places within walking distance and the downtown area is very pedestrian friendly with lots to see. Taxis are readily available but Auckland is the center of a large metropolitan area so it is best to have a destination in mind and agree on a fare before heading out. There is also an extensive bus and ferry system around the area with a good web site that shows your options HERE . The city also has a visitors one and two day pass that includes admission to a number of attractions HERE.

CBD Auckland
CBD Auckland
Money

The New Zealand currency is the NZ$ currently worth about 65¢ US. Foreign currency is not readily accepted but credit cards usually work fine.

Attractions

Within walking distance are a number of good sights including:

  • Albert Park – Historical, park with trees andflowerbeds, a Victorian fountain & statues.
  • Auckland Art Gallery – A collection of national & international art, with Maori works, in a château-style historic building.
  • New Zealand Maritime Museum – exploring the country’s seafaring history through exhibits & sailing trips on replica ships.
  • The Skywalk Visitors Center
  • Auckland Bridge Climb (Bungee jumping available)
Downtown Auckland

Also about twenty miles west of Auckland is a very nice wilderness area called Waitākere Ranges Regional Park that if you have a few days this area should be considered.

The Port of Bay of Islands

Anchored Bay of Islands
Anchored Bay of Islands

Located about 175 miles north of Auckland is the Bay of Islands. The area is somewhat rural and one of the big attractions is the various vineyards nearby. While the production is on a much smaller scale than the southern island the quality is very good. A local industry has developed offering tours to the cruise passengers and probably the best way to see some of the region is booking one of these tours. Many of these excursions are focused on the waters around this port.

The Wine Trail
The Wine Trail

 

 

 

International Cell Phone Service

Current cell phones are one of modern life’s miracles, but they also present multiple issues in international travel especially for Americans. U.S. based cell service is usually a costly option when traveling outside of America and, from experience, we’ve found it is often not the most reliable option. Before you leave on a trip, contact your carrier to find out what your options are and the potential costs and apply a bit of skepticism.

CDMA vs. GSM, Prepaid vs. Contract Service.

There are three U.S. based CDMA providers: Verizon, Sprint and U.S. Cellular. While these companies offer international roaming, there may be countries where the service doesn’t work or is unreliable, primarily because most countries are based on GSM service. It is also dependent on your specific phone (i.e. These companies international service do not work with iPhone 4 and older iPhones). These CDMI providers offer special international plans but they are limited to specific countries and vary by cost. Again, we recommend that you find out your specific options before traveling.

All the rest of the U.S. service providers use GSM. Because of this, phones from these providers are more likely to work reliably while traveling internationally. Their service costs can still be high so, again, we recommend that you find out your specific options and costs before traveling.

Buying Sim Cards While Traveling

We would also strongly suggest that you find out if your GSM phone is unlocked or if it can be so you can buy a sim chip from a local provider in a country you are visiting. Often this can provide really inexpensive service for using data, calling locally as well as home. (See information on our Australia trips for an example of this).

A word of caution when buying a sim card while traveling outside your home country; make sure that the provider shows you how to call back home because many countries and providers have different ways of accessing international service and entering country codes. On one long trip we wasted much of our loaded credits not making calls properly and even when going back to the outlet where we purchased the sim they had difficulty placing an international call using the procedure they recommended. The only thing we recommend is to make sure they and you know what to do and a demonstration is highly recommended.

If you currently use one of America’s GSM companies our recommendation is to buy an inexpensive dual-sim GSM phone so you can subscribe to one of the international service companies or buy sim cards while traveling. There are dozens of options in phones for less than $100 and this would allow you to use your U.S. GSM service along with a foreign sim card in the same phone. We purchased a Blu 5.5” phone for about $80 several years ago and it still provides good service while overseas. We use a OneSimCard chip in the phone and can leave it for months without using it at no additional cost. We do have to use the phone once every six months to prevent losing loaded credits.

If you use one of the popular discount service providers (i.e. Citizen, Straight Talk, Metro PCS) or use a prepaid phone plan, you really need to look into you options for using these services for international roaming. With a majority of these, international service is just not available. Often when they advertise international calling it is only referring to calling from inside the United States.

International Cell Service Providers

International cut rate cell service providers are also an option. They all work on GSM phones and most provide plans that don’t expire and only charge for actual usage*. Some of the providers are World Travel Sim Card, Mobal, OneSimCard, National Geographic Travel Cellular and Cellular Abroad. While all advertise free incoming calls in a large number of countries, they all require the person calling you to call you on a foreign registered phone number. This shifts the cost to the person calling you. We have used One Sim Card service for a number of years and they offer the option of opting for a U.S. based second phone number ($10 year) and than your account is charged, usually about 20¢ a minute for incoming calls. (See our article on our Asia trip for a review on this service as well as using Verizon.)

Most of these services use VOIP (Voice Over Internet) to place calls. Often this process requires a two step method of placing a call. You call and it hangs up and reconnects when it has connected to the called number. Apps for smart phones often simplify these steps.

World Travel Sim Card. They supply a sim card for $10 that allows Voice, Text and Data service with airtime credit that never expire. Includes a U.K. number and extra U.S. number and works in the USA and in over 200 countries. Voice rates start at $0.25 per min and Text rates start at $0.19 each with data rates that start at 10c per MB

One Sim Card Service. Service similar to World Travel Sim Card. It offers a sim card package for $40 that includes $10 worth of service. You can travel internationally on their pre-paid service with charges as little as 20¢ a minute outbound calling.

National Geographic Travel Cellular. This is also a similar service but the provider is actually Cellular Abroad Service which offers their own plans as well.

All of these services offer toll free support along with packages of additional services.

T-Mobile service may be the one U.S. provider with the best international roaming service. This is probably because of T-Mobile’s international roots and the structure of their network. If you are a T-Mobile customer (check your plan) you can use your phone in a large number of countries at no additional cost for text and data. Phone calls average about 24¢ a minute and they have an additional voice discount option.

U.S. Provider International Cellular Rates

As of Early 2018

AT&T and Verizon offer a service where each day of international travel costs $10 (24 hours) from first use. Data, text and calls are used against your monthly service plan. The down side of this service is a two-week trip would cost an $140 for full usage.

Verizon has a 30 day plan that works in 140 countries for $40 for 100 minutes talk and 100 outbound text messages. Incoming text is free.

T-Mobile has some of the best international roaming services. One plan allows you to use text and data internationally at no extra cost with most calls billed at 25¢ max per minute.

Sprint also has a plan that allows you to use text and data internationally at no extra cost with most calls billed at 20¢ per minute. They also offer new discounted international roaming with Canada & Mexico at $2/day or $10/week and most other countries at $5/day or $25/week.

Coming Soon – Updated and New articles on:

Port of Call Skagway Alaska

Spending a Day in a Gold Rush Town

Skagway is a very popular port of call for Alaska cruises. With a population that fluctuates between 700 and 2,000 from winter to summer it is easy to see what the economy is based on. While Skagway is small and isolated that doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to do. Historically Skagway has its beginnings in the Yukon gold rush established as the port of entry for the Chilkoot trail leading up to the gold fields. Today it is a tourist destination with a lot of options for just spending a day off a cruise ship to even longer wilderness adventures.

Where You Dock
Cruise pier Skagway
Cruise pier Skagway
Ships tag the rocks above the pier
Ships tag the rocks above the pier

There are a set of modern docks right near town with specific docks designated for different cruise lines. While there are no facilities right on the docks it is a short walk right to the foot of State Street that runs up thru town.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Transportation

Taxis are available but the town itself can be walked in a short period. There are locations to visit on the outskirts of town like the gold mine where a taxi would be your best option. There are also Pedi cabs and a number of tour operators that offer short ecursions.

Currency

Alaska is a U.S. state and the U.S. Dollar is the preferred currency with most major credit cards accepted.

Riding The White Pass & Yukon RR
Riding The White Pass & Yukon RR
Attractions

If you are looking for a scenic ride The White Pass and Yukon Railroad offers excursion trains up thru the mountains and back. The station is right in town. There is also a gold mining attraction near town and whale watching tours normally available. One of our favorites was the helicopter tour up to a glacier.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

State Street also has the usual lineup of tourist retail stores with an emphasis on jewelry. Look for local crafters and gift items.

Helicopters heading for a glacier
Helicopters heading for a glacier

If you are looking to book a tour our suggestion is to book on your own instead of thru the ship. You will have a whole day in Skagway with plenty of time to set something up. We called the helicopter tour service the day before we docked in Skagway and save almost fifty percent on the booking.

The National Park Service also has a Skagway facility with good information and exhibits about the Yukon gold rush.

Tip: Most U.S. and Canadian cell services do not have any surcharge for using you phones in Alaska. Just make sure you have a land based signal and are not on Cellular At Sea.

 

 

 

 

The Windward Passage Hotel, St. Thomas

Blackbeards Castle Resort
Blackbeards Castle Resort

 

Looking for a modest priced hotel in St. Thomas right in the center of the action in Charlotte Amalie?

The Windward Passage is not a fancy beachfront resort but it is a moderately priced accommodation for the budget minded in an excellent location in Charlotte Amalie.

We’ve been kicking around the Caribbean for over forty years. Our business has taken us to well near three quarters of the Caribbean’s islands, several more times than we can count. At one point we were making plans to move to St. Croix but a storm named Hugo changed our minds. We have also operated a couple of offices in the islands and our children refer to a number of islanders as their aunts and uncles.

The Mamas & Papas 1965
The Mamas & Papas 1965

My first visit to the Caribbean was in 1965 when my Navy ship stopped in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas for three days. There was a popular club called Lion in the Sun where a band called the Mamas and the Papas were playing at night, usually after working restaurants and bars in the Creeque Alley area during the day (thus their song Creeque Alley). I was a diver and St. Thomas was my first visit to a coral reef and from that day on I was hooked on the Caribbean.

During our business travel days we rarely stayed at beach resorts but used hotels that catered to business travelers. We had a number of accounts in St. Thomas that required frequent attention so we were there often. Our favorite hotel in Charlotte Amalie was the Windward Passage.

The Windward Passage, is a large waterfront hotel in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. Overlooking the picturesque Charlotte Amalie Harbor, it is a business-class hotel centrally located just steps away from duty free shops, good restaurants and nightlife. The hotel is a large building with clean, nice-sized rooms. It also offers complimentary van service to the airport, the beautiful white sands of Magen’s Bay Beach, Coral World, an underwater marine park and observatory, “The Sky Ride” cable car that takes you 700 feet above sea level, and the “99 Steps of Charlotte Amalie”* for the most amazing views of the Caribbean. With a good location on the Harbor in Charlotte Amalie it makes for convenient day trips to neighboring St. John. There is a ferry to St. John that leaves the waterfront in Charlotte Amalie several times a day for a $20 round trip (there is more frequent service from Red Hook).

We have some fond memories of this place as our oldest son, who is now in his thirties took his first steps at this hotel.

*Step streets in Charlotte Amalie are historical walkways called 99 steps (actually more than 99) and were built in the seventeen hundreds from the ballast bricks of the ships coming from the old world.

Table of Contents

North America

Europe

The Pacific & Down Under

The Caribbean

ASIA

CRUISE PORTS OF CALL   PORTS

TIPS & TECH

Reviews…