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Uniworld versus Viking - a subjective comparison

Posted by HughesTravel on July 6, 2015 at 8:35 PM Comments comments (3)

Uniworld versus Viking River Cruise

In short, we liked Uniworld much better. Admittedly, we have only been on two river cruises – Grand European Tour (Amsterdam to Budapest) on the LIF with Viking in 2014 and Venice and the Gems of Northern Italy on the River Countess with Uniworld in 2015. This is a somewhat subjective comparison based on two quite different cruises. However, I believe that it still has validity.

On Uniworld, the staff and crew were a very happy bunch, which was different than the crew on the Viking as they were not very happy and it showed. Several Uniworld staff told us they loved the company. The chef on Viking told us that kitchen employees often stayed only 2-4 weeks.

On the River Countess, the Captain and his staff were visible often and very friendly. They ate in the dining room with the rest of us. Our ship would hold 136 but only 58 people were on board so they did not bring on their full staff. The chef, Daniel, won best chef in the company for two years in a row. The food was all absolutely fresh and delicious all of the time and there were tons of local dishes. The LIF held 190 people and was almost full. The food was sometimes good, and sometimes quite bad. There was almost no local food. When we asked about that, we were told that the company had a policy of using the same menu choices on all ships worldwide.

On Uniworld, beverages in the bar, or dining room were all you could drink any time of day free of charge, with a large selection of different cocktails. On Viking that was extra as only wine or beer with lunch and dinner were included.

On the River Countess, there were two different evenings where we had really great local entertainment that came on board. We had an onboard slide show showing Venice underwater - which happens with the full moon and the tides at certain times of the year. There was also a private tour of St. Mark’s Basilica just for us. We had no such perks on the Viking LIF.

The River Countess had a washer, dryer, iron and ironing board free to use for all passengers or if you wanted, they would do your laundry for a fee. The LIF only had the fee option. Also, there was no tipping with Uniworld.  While Viking requests substantial tips for staff and crew at the end of the voyage, all gratuities were included with Uniworld.  One could give a particular person extra cash if you chose to do so.  However, it was not requested, not required and there was not even a general mechanism to do so.

We really liked Uniworld so much better than Viking. It could have been the location or the lower age of the people on board. Viking LIF ages were mostly 75 to 95, while on the Uniworld River Countess ages ranged from one newlywed couple to many between 50 and 75. There was one man aged 91 but you would never know it as he looked 70. I know this is entirely subjective but on the River Countess, everyone seemed friendlier. There was lots of laughter at meals and on the sundeck and on the bus tours. Almost every day we went off on a bus tour or a walking tour. We had onboard commentary when sailing. We had an onboard wine tasting with appetizers. We had a welcome dinner and a gala farewell.

Both ships were clean, comfortable and beautifully decorated. The rooms were lovely. The staff on both treated us well and both cruises were good. Both had good to great tours and we saw lots of interesting things. Both are good companies.   However, there was a subtle difference. On the LIF, as good as the trip was, we were just a bit bored. On the River Countess, we were always engaged. I will travel with Uniworld in the future.

One further thing:  Viking prefers to sell direct, although they do work with travel agents.  Uniworld sells almost exclusively through travel agents.  As a travel agent, I appreciate that. And that is another reason that we will use Uniworld.

 

Punta Cana

Posted by HughesTravel on April 3, 2015 at 4:15 PM Comments comments (0)

We went to the Bahai Principe all-inclusive resort in March of 2015 for my niece's wedding.  We had a good time laying in the sun, both at the beach and around the pool.  However, I must admit that all-inclusives are not really "our thing".  When one stays at an all-inclusive, it is like bringing a piece of Canada (or the USA) with you.  We prefer experiencing the culture, the food and the sights.

Hawaii

Posted by HughesTravel on April 3, 2015 at 1:35 PM Comments comments (0)

We have been to Hawaii three times and plan to return.  It is one of our favourite places for a personal holiday.  Our first trip was with a group.  We stayed at a hotel on Maui for three days (on our own) and then took a 7-day 4-island cruise with Norwegian Cruise lines (with our group).  On our second visit we stayed in a condo on Maui for 15 days.  On our third visit, we stayed in the Maui condo for 5 days and then in a condo on Kawai for 10 days. 


Laws Travelers Should Know About

Posted by HughesTravel on July 2, 2014 at 1:45 PM Comments comments (0)

 

Don't stop for pedestrians in Beijing: It's illegal for cars to stop for pedestrians in Beijing, China. If you do, you'll risk a fine. This law is something pedestrians should be aware of as well, especially if they're thinking about jaywalking.


Feeding the pigeons in Venice: No feeding the birds! It's illegal to feed pigeons in St. Mark's Square in Venice. Tourists will be fined if caught.


No spitting in Vancouver: It's illegal to spit on the streets in Vancouver. Persons caught doing so will be fined between $100 and $2,000.


Chewing gum in Singapore: Chewing gum has long been banned in Singapore, as the country fights to keep its streets clean. The penalty for being caught chewing gum is a fine.


No kissing in Dubai: It's illegal to kiss, hold hands or hug in public in Dubai. Guests caught canoodling will be arrested and can be sentenced to jail time. In Dubai, it is also illegal to drink outside your hotel, to take photographs of the locals without asking permission and to share a hotel room with someone of the opposite sex to whom you're not married.


Eating on the steps of an Italian church: The steps of a church in Florence may not be the best place to enjoy lunch. It's illegal to sit on church steps in Florence and is also illegal to eat in the vicinity of a church or government building.


No sinus inhalers in Japan: Sinus and allergy inhalers containing pseudoephedrine are illegal in Japan, which has strict anti-drug laws. Travellers risk being detained at the airport and being fined.


No female drivers in Saudi Arabia: In Saudi Arabia, it's illegal for women to get behind the wheel and drive. Women who do risk being arrested.


No swearing in Australia: In 2011, the Australian states of Victoria and Queensland outlawed swearing in public. If you're caught using profanities, you risk a fine of several hundred dollars.


No heels allowed at Grecian monuments: To protect their ancient monuments from damage, officials in Greece have declared high heels illegal to wear during tours.

 

Wieliczka Salt Mine - Amazing, Historic and Artistic

Posted by HughesTravel on June 24, 2014 at 7:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Who knew that a salt mine built in the 13th century could still be in operation (albeit limited) today? And who knew that a salt mine could be so beautiful and so historic? Wow!

To access the mine, you must begin by descending 378 steps. We knew that. You get to go back to the top by elevator. We knew that too, What we did not know is how many steps one had to descend to get to the bottom of the public part of the mine (about 135 meters or about 440 feet). The answer, according to our guide, is 815 and the tour runs about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles). That said, it is not a difficult walk. However, you do have to have a certain level of ability to walk. The mine is not handicapped accessible.

There are amazing works of art throughout the mine but especially in the Chapel of St. Kinga, near the end of the tour. Be aware that while you may take as many photos as you wish, free of charge, on most of the tour, there is a charge of 10 PLN to take photos in the chapel (worth the cost, though). There are gnomes and elves, popes and kings, copies of great works of art and even chandeliers - all made of salt.

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Posted by HughesTravel on June 24, 2014 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

The Victoria Falls National Park is all about the Falls and they are truly magnificent. I have wanted to visit Victoria Falls for a long time and I expected it to be wonderful. While these two things are often a sure setup for disappointment, this was not the case. The Falls still exceeded my expectations. We visited on a beautiful, sunny day in mid-February. The Falls were still close to peak flow, so the sound, the view and the mist were all magnificent. Our guide, who had visited many times, of course, said that the rainbows were the nicest she had ever seen. Wow!

Do wear a poncho or expect to get wet. Personally, I opted for wet, just making sure that my camera was well-protected. It was part of the experience. I live about 3 hours from Niagara Falls on the Canadian side (& used to live closer) and have been there many times. Victoria Falls simply blew Niagara away. It wasn't even close. Sorry Niagara. The other nice thing about Victoria Falls is that it is all natural - no touristy things and no hydro-electric plant to drain water flow.

We did have some concerns about visiting Zimbabwe but we found that the Victoria Falls area, at least, was very safe and inviting to tourists.

Auschwitz and Birkenau

Posted by HughesTravel on June 24, 2014 at 7:20 PM Comments comments (0)

When we knew we were visiting Krakow, we also knew that we had to visit Auschwitz and Birkenau, not that we really wanted to, of course. We re-watched Schindler's List and googled the camps. We read the guide-books and even read Michener's "Poland". We thought that we were ready; we weren't! It's the sheer scale that gets to you. The camps are so big.

We were on a tour with Krakow Tours, not that this makes a whole lot of difference. They take you to the camps and turn you over to a very knowledgeable local guide. The full horror is there to see, from bins of suitcases, to eyeglasses to human hair. It is not difficult to imagine the horrors and if you do have any difficulties with that the guide fills you in. Minimal food; no heat; crowding; disease; rats; insects; mud; vicious guards; hard work under terrible conditions; whatever.

Visiting these camps is a truly moving experience. We knew that 1,100,000 people were killed here and that 9,000 people at a time could be killed in the 3 gas chambers but somehow it is different to see it - different to be there.

This is definitely a must-see for anyone visiting Krakow. In fact, I'd say it is a must-see for anyone visiting Poland. It will help you understand Poland and it will change you forever - for the good, I believe.

It is big and there are lots of stairs. Bring comfortable walking shoes, water and sunscreen and/or a hat (if conditions warrant). Expect to walk several miles/kilometers.

What's Next?

Posted by HughesTravel on June 21, 2014 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Our next trip is to Brazil, Argentina and Chile in May

Then to Venice, Italy in June

And our July 9 trip to China (see  more under trip information).  This is the first trip that is MAY still be OPEN for BOOKINGS.

We are off to Calgary on a personal trip for our son's wedding in August

Another personal trip in November - to Las Vegas and the Mexican Riviera

FINALLY, there is our wonderful trip to Indochina (Vietnam and Cambodia with options to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore) in February in 2016

Lithuania and Poland

Posted by HughesTravel on June 21, 2014 at 11:00 PM Comments comments (0)

We visited Lithuania and Poland in May of this year and had many wonderful experiences.

A very good friend offered to show us around Lithuania as he was finishing his 57th trip there.  Who could say no to that?  We toured Lithuania for 10 days, met many wonderful people and thoroughly enjoyed a very personal visit to that great nation.

Since we had to stop in Poland anyway (to change planes), we decided to stay for a week and see a bit of the country.  This was deninitely not long enough.  With the help of Grzegorz Bartecki of excitingpoland.com, we planned a very nice visit to Warsaw, Krakow and Zakopane. Breautiful and historic!

Look for photos from both countries and more comments at this location.

New Postings

Posted by HughesTravel on May 2, 2014 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (0)

New postings to this blog will happen occasionally, typically once or twice per month.


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