How to Navigate the Ryanair Website and Avoid Hidden Fees

Flying on Ryanair is often one of the cheapest ways to fly point-to-point in Europe.  However, the major complain people always have regarding Ryanair is their never-ending pursuit of ancillary revenue — they nickel and dime the passenger for seemingly everything.  After all, Ryanair is the airline that infamously once tried to charge for use of the toilet, and has floated the idea of standing room only seats on its aircraft, just to fit more passengers onboard.  Another major complaint about Ryanair is the rather predatory booking process on their website.    Though the website has a much friendlier user interface than it used to, the booking process is downright cumbersome!IMG_7570

This post is meant to walk you through the booking procedure with Ryanair, so you can avoid accidentally paying for extra things that you don’t want!  Once you successfully do this, Ryanair can fly you for really, really cheap within Europe.  I had a decent flight with them last month.

1.  To book travel, visit Ryanair’s website at www.ryanair.com  For simplicity’s sake, I will search for a flight that I just took with Ryanair — a one-way flight from Venice-Treviso to Dublin.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.31.46 PM

2.  Pick the date that works for you.  For purposes of this exercise, I will select Wednesday, September 17.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.32.48 PM

3.  Notice on the right that it will cost you a 2% fee to book by credit card.  Select whichever method you’re comfortable with and click “continue”Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.32.58 PM

4.  Enter your name

5.  Select your Travel Insurance.  I never select this option.  However, Ryanair hides the “Don’t Insure Me” option in the middle of the drop-down list.  It’s really petty, but that’s what they do!Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.36.43 PM

6.  If you’re checking bags, you’re going to want to pay for it earlier rather than later.  Select “Add” and then choose your baggage selection.  Please note that it is NOT possible to pay for a bag that weighs more than 20kg.  You MUST pay for two bags if your bag weight more than 20kg.  I experienced this frustration on my recent flight with Ryanair, and boy was it an obnoxious experience!

Though their policy states that you can buy up to two bags for a maximum combined weight of 35kg, no single bag can be in excess of 20kg — at least that’s the way the policy was enforced at Treviso Airport.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.38.00 PM

Cabin bags are permitted to be up to 10kg, and if they’re deemed over-sized by the gate agent, they will not just gate-check them for free like US airlines.  They will gate-check your bag after charging you €50! Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.40.01 PM

7.  Choose assigned seats if you choose.  It costs €5 for an assigned seat, and €10 for a “Premium” Seat.  Priority boarding is included with the “Premium” seat, and with the long queues that often build up with Ryanair flights, it’s not a bad idea.  Interestingly enough, extra leg-room seats cost the same as “premium” seats, so I would recommend on selecting one of those if you choose to pay for a seat assignment.  I sat in seat 1C on my flight, and had plenty of room.  If you choose not to pick an assigned seat, you will be automatically assigned one by the airline.  If you’re traveling with someone, or with children, it maybe best to pick seats to ensure that you’re seated together.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.42.26 PM

Plenty of leg room in row 1

Plenty of leg room in row 1

8.  Ryanair charges €2.49 for a SMS text for flight details… really?   No, thanks.  This is a service that US airlines provide for free.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.46.49 PM

9.  Navigate through the barrage of parking, transfers, and sport/musical/baby equipment.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.47.01 PM

10.  Say “no” to rental car sponsored by Hertz (unless you want it)Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.48.21 PM

11.  Same goes with hotels, powered by Booking.com — I can usually find a better rate on my own.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.49.43 PM

12.  It’s not over yet — you could PLAY to WIN!   Or not… it sneakily adds a €2 charge to your account if you choose to PLAY to WIN.  In perusing the Terms & Conditions, it’s interesting to note that the user may be charged anywhere between 1 and 10 euros to PLAY to WIN… wow!  And they only pick one winner per week — this is the largest airline in Europe, people — those odds just ain’t that great.

Play to Win?  Sounds like a great idea!

Play to Win? Sounds like a great idea!

There's a fee to play?  Sneaky!

There’s a fee to play? Sneaky!

PLAY to WIN's T&C's -- they can charge you anywhere between 1-10 euros!

PLAY to WIN’s T&C’s — they can charge you anywhere between 1-10 euros!

13.  Once you put in your contact and payment info, check out the text that says, “Your debit/credit card will now be charged 157.17 USD (108.11 EUR more information), you will be redirected to the next page for confirmation of this transaction.”  Call me crazy, but the foreign exchange rate sounds a bit off.  I’ll click for more info, thank you!

Click on the "more information" link

Click on the “more information” link

 

14.  Click “more information” and you will see that Ryanair is doing you the favor of royally screwing you in your foreign exchange rate.  They are charging a rate of $1.45USD: €1  when the going rate is $1.36USD:  €1.  On a purchase as large as this one, that would cost you about $10!

15.  To ensure you don’t get screwed by this ridiculous exchange rate, uncheck the box in the disclaimer.  You usually get the best rate if you just let your credit card / bank do the conversion for you since it will be billing in euros.  If you have a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, you’re good to go.  If your card or bank DOES charge foreign transaction fees, it’ll likely cost you around 3% — still less than this bad exchange rate that’s proposed by Ryanair.

Uncheck the box

Uncheck the box

16.  Review your charges.  I decided on checking a 20kg bag and getting an assigned seat in row 1.  I also opted to use a credit card.  Those things upped my ticket price significantly, so you can see how Ryanair thrives on ancillary revenue like this.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 4.03.16 PM

17.  Finally — Book the darned thing!

18.  Important reminder:  you MUST check-in online AND print out your boarding pass PRIOR to arriving at the airport.  You are able to do this up to 30 days prior to your flight.  Failure to do so results in either a €70 check-in fee at the airport or at €15 “boarding card re-issue fee” at the airport.  Seriously.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 4.10.07 PM

As long as you are aware of these extra potential fees on Ryanair’s website, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem booking your ticket.  After all, their tickets are many times exponentially less expensive than the next cheapest option.  If you master the caveats of their booking process, you can really travel cheaply within Europe on Ryanair!

 

Cruise Review: Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


I previously blogged about each port we encountered on the Nieuw Amsterdam, so this post is meant to be about the cruise itself.  Previous posts on the itinerary, ports, and the Pinnacle Suite can be found in the menu links above.  This is a full-fledged cruise review of the various aspects of shipboard life.  As such, it is much longer than my typical blog post.  Enjoy…

Holland America Line
ms Nieuw Amsterdam
12-night Mediterranean Empires cruise
May 2, 2014 – May 14, 2014
Depart:  Venice, Italy (round-trip)
Cabin / Suite:  7031 (category PS)
Itinerary:  Venice, Italy; at sea; Katakolon (Olympia), Greece; Piraeus (Athens), Greece; Istanbul, Turkey (overnight); Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece; Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey; Santorini, Greece; Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece; at sea; Venice, Italy (overnight)

Nieuw Amsterdam in Katakolon, Greece

Nieuw Amsterdam in Katakolon, Greece

Introduction

This 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam was my 34th cruise, but my first to Europe.  I have previously sailed Carnival 23 times, Holland America and Royal Caribbean three times each, and once each on Celebrity, Princess, Majesty, and Premier.  I consider myself pretty well-versed and experienced in cruises, but I hadn’t taken a cruise in over two years before my trip on the Nieuw Amsterdam, and I hadn’t taken a cruise as long as this one.  My last cruise was a New Years’ trip to the Western Caribbean aboard the Carnival Legend, and my last cruise with Holland America was in July, 2008 to Alaska on the Oosterdam.   I had never cruised in a suite on a cruise except for one trip on Carnival’s Imagination back in 2005, so I especially looked forward to this cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam.

This review will cover the various aspects of life onboard the ship since I’ve already provided a port-by-port account of this cruise in previous posts.  We traveled in the Pinnacle Suite (PS) #7031 on Rotterdam Deck, and I also posted on that earlier.

In Summary…

This was easily my most memorable cruise for many reasons.  First of all, we were traveling in the largest suite on the ship — the Pinnacle Suite thanks to the generous invitation from my Aunt and Uncle.  Since I’m accustomed to standard staterooms, this was a real treat and a definite outlier from my “typical” cruise experience. Secondly, the fact that this cruise allowed us to visit so many destinations to which I had not previously traveled made it an especially memorable experience.  Finally, the company with whom I traveled — my Aunt, Uncle, and girlfriend all added to this cruise.

I’m not sure if it was because we were suite guests, but the service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was exceptional in all aspects.  Pretty much everyone we came in contact with went above and beyond throughout the cruise.  Just as exceptional was the food.  I found the cuisine all over this ship to be some of the best I’ve had on any cruise.  The ship itself was beautiful and filled with art, and it had more than adequate facilities for the guests.  Entertainment was for the most part pretty good, but considering the port intensive itinerary, it was not a priority for our party during this trip.  As mentioned before, the itinerary was sensational, as we visited eight ports during the twelve nights.  All in all, this cruise was fantastic and probably my best cruise to date.

Food

Since this was, after all a cruise, there was naturally food available whenever you wanted.  On the Nieuw Amsterdam, there were two primary food venues — The Manhattan Dining Room and the Lido Restaurant.  In addition to these two venues were four specialty restaurants — The Pinnacle Grill, Tamarind, Canaletto, and the Dive-In Burger Shack.  An extensive room service menu was also available, and for suite guests – snacks, hors d’oeuvres, and canapés were available daily in the Neptune Lounge (concierge lounge).

Manhattan Dining Room

We enjoyed dinner most of the nights in the Manhattan Dining Room.  As the main dining room on the ship, the Manhattan offered open seating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as two assigned seatings on the upper level for dinner.  We chose the late seating dinner and enjoyed a table for six by a window in the aft section of the upper level of the dining room at table #57.  Our waiter team led by Slamet and Ming provided impeccable service throughout the week.  By the second night, they knew our preferences, and accommodated special requests without hesitation.  The Assistant Dining Room Manager, Megan paid us special attention and ensured that our every wish was granted.  Starting the second night, we enjoyed most of our dinners with the ship’s doctor Richard and his wife Michelle — they were such nice people, and we enjoyed spending the evening with them on a regular basis.  The food served in the Manhattan Dining Room was fantastic.  It was a definite notch above the dinners I typically receive in the main dining room on cruise ships.  The steaks were cooked properly, the fish and pork dishes were fantastic, and the appetizers and soups were plentiful and tasty.  We found the menus each night to be varied and relevant, as fresh, local ingredients were used on regional specialties throughout the cruise.  All in all, dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room was a really special experience, and we looked forward to dining there throughout the cruise.  As I previously stated, the food was a cut above normal “cruise food” and seemed to be prepared for a much smaller group rather than a ship full of 1,800 guests.

Pinnacle Grill and Tamarind

On the formal nights, we dined in two of the three specialty restaurants.  The first formal night, we chose to eat in the Pinnacle Grill.  The Pinnacle Grill is the upscale steakhouse aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.  Though it carries a $29 cover fee, it is well worth it.  The menu features an impressive selection of steaks and seafood.  I ordered the rib eye, which was excellent, and my girlfriend had the filet mignon.  The filet literally melted in your mouth, and was one of the better tasting filets I’ve enjoyed anywhere.  We also had the opportunity to have lunch in the Pinnacle Grill on the last day of the cruise ($10) where I had a fantastic shrimp cocktail and a delicious Wagyu beef burger.  The last two formal nights, we dined in the ship’s Asian-Fusion restaurant, Tamarind ($20).  The food here was simply exquisite.  The appetizers and soups were extremely good.  On various occasions, we enjoyed the mixed satays, potstickers, pho, tempura fried shrimp, and spring rolls for appetizers.  The first trip there, I ordered the excellent Penang Red Currty Coconut Chicken, and the second time I had the Wasabi and Soy Crusted Beef Tenderloin.  For desert, the tempura fried ice cream is not to be missed!  The tenderloin, along with the appetizers and aforementioned fried ice cream was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life — anywhere, and certainly the best I’ve had on a ship.  The day we arrived in Argostoli, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a dim sum lunch in Tamarind, and it was also exceptional.

The Lido Restaurant

The other main food venue on the Nieuw Amsterdam was the Lido Restaurant.  This was the ship’s buffet area, and it was split into several distinct food serving sections.  For breakfast, the had a fantastic eggs benedict bar, where one could choose from eight types of eggs benedict; a fresh eggs / omelet bar; several traditional breakfast buffet lines; a fresh Belgian waffle line, and a continental breakfast area complete with every bread, pastry, and fruit one could imagine.  I especially enjoyed the eggs benedict bar along with the waffles.  For lunch, the area changed with choices for a varying “Taste of Nations” line, two traditional lunch lines, two salad bars lines, an Italian / Mexican line, and of course pizza.  Though we only had lunch in Lido a few times (we were in port during lunch on most days), I really enjoyed the Taste of Nations — particularly their Asian specialties.  Overall, the food in the Lido was varied, fresh, and delicious.  The presentation in the buffet lines was clean and appetizing — it was an extremely good option for a meal onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

Canaletto and Dive In

We did not try the ship’s specialty Italian restaurant, Canaletto simply because we found it pointless to eat Italian food on a ship full of so many different options, on a cruise that started and ended… in Italy.  On the other hand, we did eat at the “Dive-In” Burger Bar on a few occasions and found them to prepare a very tasty burger.  They utilize a pager operation at “Dive-In” which allows one to go relax at their table until the food is ready.

Room Service

We utilized room service for the majority of our breakfasts, as we enjoyed having coffee and a light breakfast in our suite or on the balcony.  Breakfast always arrived on time, though they did have problems grasping the concept of leaving the food in the butler’s pantry instead of coming through the main door, waking everyone up.  We also arranged for room service to provide appetizers on several occasions prior to dinner.  One one evening, we even ordered some appetizers from Tamarind and Pinnacle, and they were delicious (there was obviously a cost for this).  They really did their best to satisfy our requests throughout the week, as we had some pretty abnormal requests, such as a plate of nachos!

As previously mentioned, the food on this ship was probably the best I’ve had on any cruise.  It certainly was better than the food we had on my last Holland America cruise, and blows away the notion that cruise food is relatively bland since it’s mass-produced.  We found the cuisine onboard to be consistently excellent.

Service

Service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam truly was top-notch.  From our room stewards, to the concierge team, to the dining room waiters, to the dining room managers, to the bartenders and cocktail waiters — the service was simply spectacular.  Our two room stewards, Mugi and Daniel kept our large suite spotless.  They were friendly and accommodated all of our special requests.  The concierge team of Chris and Nickolai were fantastic.  Again, they went out of their way to ensure that all of our needs were met.  One of them was always available in the Neptune Lounge, and they arranged for everything from dinner reservations to spa treatments to in-room dining.  As previously mentioned, the dining room service was impeccable.  The Assistant Dining Room Manager, Megan literally couldn’t do enough for us.  He personally delivered a plate of fresh asparagus and spinach to the table nightly with a smile, since we’d asked for it on one occasion.  He also arranged for a private tour of the kitchen, led by Petr, the Executive Chef.  I know this was likely because we were guests in the Pinnacle Suite, but it was really appreciated and special, nonetheless.

The same sort of friendly service was found from all the bartenders and cocktail waiters.  They went out of their way to get to know us during the cruise.  Our favorite cocktail waiters, Roland and Fritz greeted us with smiles and conversation on a daily basis.  Again, the service aboard the Nieuw Amsterdam was consistently excellent for the entire cruise.

Entertainment

We really didn’t partake in too much of the entertainment on board, simply because we enjoyed very long dinners and we were dead tired and ready to go to bed on almost a nightly basis.  However, one of the highlights onboard was the Piano Bar, where we enjoyed a drink on several different occasions.  We did see one of the production shows, and it was pretty good — my girlfriend especially enjoyed it.  One evening, we stopped in to see the comedian, but he wasn’t all that great.  On most evenings, we’d have a post-dinner drink in one of the many bars onboard, but usually we ended up in the Piano Bar as previously mentioned.  I did enjoy the casino on a couple of the nights — it wasn’t that large, but plenty big for the ship.  We did partake in one of the “pub crawls” and had a great time despite the paltry attendance of only six guests!

All in all, I’d rate the entertainment on the Nieuw Amsterdam as adequate.  While the entertainment is nowhere near the elaborate shows and non-stop energy found on Royal Caribbean and Carnival, it was certainly plenty for this itinerary and clientele.

Gym / Spa

The Greenhouse Spa and fitness center is located on Lido deck forward, with large windows and a wrap-around view off the front of the ship. I used the fitness center three times on the trip and found it adequate.  I primarily use dumbbells, and they had weights up to 75 pounds, though the lifting area was very small.  This wasn’t too much of a problem since I seemed to be the only person in the area.  Treadmills were plentiful, though they seemed to be almost always occupied by people walking slowly — isn’t that what the wrap around promenade deck is for?

My girlfriend had two treatments at the Greenhouse spa, and seemed to enjoy both of them.  On the first day at sea, she enjoyed a massage, which was preceded by an hour or so in the impressive Thelassotherapy pool and steam room.  On the day we arrived in Istanbul, she got a manicure, and seemed to like that too.  The only negative she mentioned was the price of the manicure seemed to be a bit exorbitant, which can be expected on a cruise ship.

Ship

The four-year old Nieuw Amsterdam is a beautiful ship.  At 935 feet long and 86,700 gross registered tons, she is by no means a small cruise ship, but at the same time, she’s nowhere near being as large as most of the ships our there these days.  This mid-sized ship and relatively low passenger count (1,800 on this cruise) made for a ship that really never felt crowded.  Not once did I wait in line onboard, nor did I have to wait for an elevator.  The Lido Restaurant never had lines except for the first day after embarkation when everyone seems to head straight to the Lido for lunch.  The size of this ship is really just perfect.

The Nieuw Amsterdam is filled with an impressive art collection.  Rich with art at seemingly every turn, one could really pass time checking out the various paintings and pictures that adorned the walls of hallways and public spaces.  Since it is, after all, the namesake of the Nieuw Amsterdam, New York City is the over-arching theme of the ship.  The atrium is adorned with a crystal, icicle-like sculpture of the Manhattan skyline, and the Explorers Lounge is adorned with a huge mural of the New York skyline in the 1930s. The colors on the ship are very nautical and earthy — certainly the antithesis to the Joe Farcus-designed interiors of Carnival.  The interior of the Nieuw Amsterdam had a very classic and elegant feel — I really enjoyed my time onboard this beautiful vessel.

Of its twelve bars onboard, my favorite was the Silk Den.  Located on deck 11, it features panoramic, 180-degree views of the ocean on either side of the ship, and the pool deck.  It is decorated in an Asian theme, and we found it to be relatively empty all week with fantastic waiters.  This was our go-to spot for pre-dinner drinks.  I do love the Crow’s Nest Lounge as well, but it seemed to be the most crowded lounge on the entire ship.  We also really enjoyed the enclosed Lido Pool area.  Since the weather was somewhat chilly (60-degrees) for a large part of the cruise, the retractable roof was closed atop the mid-ship pool.  This created a nice, relaxing, and open space where we enjoyed a few lunches and beers.  One of the great features aboard Holland America ships is the wrap around promenade deck that fully encircles the ship.  It’s a great deck on which to take an evening stroll as the world goes by.

Since this was, of course, Holland America, the average age of fellow guests onboard was rather… seasoned.  My girlfriend and I were pretty clearly the youngest couple onboard.  Though there were a few families with children, probably 90% of the passengers onboard were over the age of 60.

In its entirety, the Nieuw Amsterdam is a very manageable ship — it’s not too big, and not too small.  It’s an extremely pretty ship inside and out.  I wouldn’t hesitate to cruise her again in the future!

Overall

The whole experience was fantastic.  The Nieuw Amsterdam is a really special ship with a very warm, attentive, and amazing crew.  The service and cuisine were equality excellent, as was the incredible 12-night itinerary.  Holland America excels at providing a traditional cruise experience with superior service, food, and onboard experience, and the Nieuw Amsterdam certainly lived up to — and exceeded that standard of excellence.  I cannot recommend this ship and cruise enough!

Review: Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


We awoke to a beautiful, Venetian morning where we disembarked the ship early and had our driver waiting to take my Aunt and Uncle to Venice-Marco Polo airport for their Lufthansa flights to Frankfurt and London before a United flight back to Washington-Dulles.  The driver of the private mini-bus then took my girlfriend and I out to Treviso airport for our Ryanair flight to Dublin!

First, a little background for those not familiar with Ryanair.  Based out of Dublin, with hubs at Dublin and London-Stansted, Ryanair is Europe’s largest discount carrier, and Europe’s largest airline in general based on passengers carried.  Ryanair is a no-frills carrier that operates extremely cheap flights throughout Europe, and really makes its profit with ancillary revenue, such as bag fees, seat assignments, and an aggressive buy-on-board campaign featuring food, beverages, gift items, and lottery / raffle tickets.  Many are critical of its charges, but if you successfully navigate their website, you can really get an awesome deal on airfare within Europe.IMG_7570

Ryanair (FR) 9451
Venice-Treviso (TSF) – Dublin (Dub)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800
Seat:  1C
Wednesday, May 14
10:10AM – 12:25PM
Duration:  2:15

As this was my first flight on Ryanair, I was expecting the worst.  Check-in certainly did not disappoint.

Since I consider myself a somewhat savvy traveler, I thought I understood Ryanair’s checked bag policy.  After the following experience, it became clear to me that I did not.

I’d previously purchased each of us 20kg worth of luggage, and the night before the flight, I bought and additional 15kg for myself since I anticipated my checked bag to be more than 20kg.  Check-in and bag drop at Treviso is contracted out, and the experience was abysmal.

Ryanair utilizes an extremely glitchy automated bag-drop machine at Treviso.  After finally getting my girlfriend’s bag checked, the machine could not process my bag, so I was directed to wait in a massive queue to work with a human being.  At this time, there was only ONE desk being worked by a real human, despite three Ryanair flights departing during this timeframe.  So, as you can imagine, it was pure chaos.  After about a thirty minute wait in line, I was advised by the contract check-in agent that though I had gladly paid the €20 fee for the extra 15kg of luggage, it could only be accepted AS A SEPARATE BAG – a separate bag that I did NOT have.    My bag ultimately weighted 23kg, and I’d intended on the extra weight I’d purchased to pay for the overage.  Alas, this was not how the agent saw it.  She said that I must split the contents of my 23kg bag into two bags – one weighing 20kg or less, and the other 15kg or less.

Um… really?

Since we did not have another bag in which to put the extra 3kg of luggage, I tried taking my suits our of my checked bag and putting them in a hang-up garment bag.  This decreased the weight of my big bag to 19.8kg.  I then asked if I could hand carry the suits in the garment bag onboard, and I was denied that privilege as it was deemed “oversized.”   A hangup / garment bag – deemed over-sized.

Seriously?  I take this as a “personal item” on domestic US carriers, and they even offer to hang it in the closet 90% of the time.

The agent then asked while rolling her eyes, “Is this seriously the best thing you can come up with?”  I replied in the affirmative, to which she responded that they would be happy to check the hang-up / garment bag, but would have to label it as over-sized and as such, I’d have to pay an additional €50 fee.  I was not having this, since I’d paid €20 + €20 for my bags already, so I naturally argued this.  Eventually, the agent succumbed to reason and agreed that I had a valid point.  She allowed me to check this “oversized” hangup bag without an extra fee.

This ordeal finally was resolved after about an hour and 15 minutes.  Thankfully, the rest of the boarding process was uneventful.

Going to Dublin!

Going to Dublin!

Since I’d purchased seats with additional leg room, they included priority boarding, which was nice since the queue was pretty long.  The flight itself was fine.  Plenty of leg room in row 1, so I can’t comment on what others claim is terrible seat pitch throughout the rest of the cabin — it was worth the €10, for sure.  The crew was friendly, attentive, and very pleasant.  The flight was on time, too despite a delayed departure.  The constant sales pitches for scratch off lotto tickets, bus transfers, and everything else were indeed cheesy, but expected.  I did not purchase any food, but did partake in a drink after my luggage ordeal.  In other words, if ancillary revenue is the goal, Ryanair certainly made some money off me.

Overall,  the price and timing were both right for this flight.  At only €49 a piece, and a wonderfully timed schedule, we were really left with no other option.  Even after the extra €40 in bag fees and €10 for additional leg room, this option was still less than half the price of the next cheapest alternative, so it was clearly the best option for us.  The abysmal ground services along with the deceptive and terrible booking process would make me think twice before flying Ryanair again, but if the price differential is anywhere near as vast as it was for this trip, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them — the price is just too cheap to totally avoid them.

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Sailing into Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


Join me as I chronicle my journey through the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Aegean Seas on our 12-night “Mediterranean Empires” cruise aboard Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam. The next few blog entries will detail the various ports of call we visited during the cruise…

May 12 – At Sea

After seven ports in eight days, we were pretty exhausted and ready for a day off at sea.  We spent most of the morning hours before meeting the Dining Room Manager for a private tour of the kitchen.  It was a pretty impressive operation.  After that, we dined in The Pinnacle Grill for lunch before heading back to the balcony for a relaxing afternoon of the coast of Croatia.  Dinner that evening was had again at Tamarind, where I had one of the best meals I’ve experienced — anywhere.  More on that later.

May 13 – Venice, Italy

Another unique feature of this cruise was the overnight in Venice before we disembarked the cruise.  Since the ship was set to arrive around noon, this allowed for the better part of a day and an entire evening in Venice where we could use the ship as our hotel room before disembarking.

The arrival into Venice was simply stunning.  We had perfect weather as we sailed past St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal to the cruise port on the northwest tip of Venice.

The view from our suite’s balcony was just amazing.

Upon arrival in Venice, we had a quick lunch on the ship before exploring Venice for the afternoon.  We planned to meet my Aunt and Uncle at San Marco around 5:30pm where we took the Vaporatto to the Lido.  Before that, the two of use decided to cheese it up by taking a gondola ride.  Though very expensive, we felt it was worth it for the experience – even if it was the ultimate tourist trap.  After meeting the Aunt and Uncle and motoring our to the Lido, we explored the town for about an hour, which was highlighted by a trip to the beach club and Adriatic Sea, where my girlfriend was able to dip her toes into the water.  We then shared a great meal of bruschetta, mozzarella, pasta, and pizza at a nice local restaurant named Pizzeria Ai Do Mati in Lido.

We decided to take the Vaporetto back to Pi’azzle Roma through the Grand Canal.  This was a beautiful hour and five-minute run through the Grand Canal at night.  It was well worth the extra time to get to experience motoring through the canal.  We took the short, people mover back to the cruise terminal, where we boarded the ship to pack our bags and take in a final night’s sleep onboard the Nieuw Amsterdam.

 May 14 – Venice, Italy

We awoke to a beautiful, Venetian morning where we disembarked the ship around 7am, and had our driver waiting to take my Aunt and Uncle to Venice-Marco Polo airport for their flights back to Washington-Dulles via Frankfurt and London.  The driver of the private mini-bus then took my girlfriend and I out to Treviso airport for our Ryanair flight to Dublin!  We booked this transfer through Airports Shuttle Express, and the experience was first-class, all the way.  The customer service was fantastic, punctual and friendly, and the mini-bus was exactly what we wanted.  It really made for an easy transfer from the ship to the airport.

We were incredibly sad that our amazing cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam had come to an end, but eagerly awaited the adventure that awaited us in Ireland.

Next Stop:  Dublin, Ireland

Coming later:  A full review of the cruise on the Nieuw Amsterdam

Review: Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


IMG_7541

Boscolo Venezia Lobby

I normally don’t make it a habit to devote an entire post to a stay at one hotel unless it is truly an exceptional property and/or stay.  Our recent stay for two nights at the Boscolo Venezia fits both criteria.

Situated in the quiet Carranegio neighborhood of Venice, about a 15 minute walk from the hustle and bustle of the Rialto area, the Boscolo Venezia is a wonderful escape from the crowds of tourists.  The Boscolo is an Autograph Collection Hotel, and is part of the Marriott family of brands.

The front of this property is on one of the outermost canals, and the rear is located on the Laguna.  Though it was a bit of a walk to all the major tourist spots, I feel this neighborhood is a better representation of the “real” Venice. A number of restaurants and small grocery spots dot exist every block or so instead of the wall-to-wall boutiques and restaurants that one may find in other parts of Venice.

The property itself was formally the French consulate, and it is simply a stunningly beautiful building.  The lobby features a couple huge Murano glass chandeliers, which is fitting since one can see Murano from the pier in the rear of the property.  Connected to the lobby is the restaurant, bar, and patio where breakfast is served daily — more on that later.

The highlight of the property is a massive garden that stretches a good 100 yards from the rear of the lobby to a smaller wing of the hotel overlooking the Laguna.  Off to the side of the garden are a pair of garden rooms that each feature their own private patios in the middle of a separated rose garden.  We were fortunate enough to be assigned both of these rooms when we checked in to the Boscolo after our flights from the States.  Though the rooms were not available until about 3pm, they were well worth the wait.

Garden rooms with patios

Garden rooms with patios

The rooms themselves weren’t overly huge, but they were very nice inside with marble flooring, wood ceilings, and a marble bath with double sinks.  Without question, the highlight of these two rooms were the massive patios.  Each patio is roughly the same size as the interior space of the room.  It is a stone tiled space with a table and four chairs.  Directly adjacent to the patios is a grassy area featuring plush lounge chairs that can be used during the day for relaxation and sunning.  About twenty yards away is the pier overlooking the Laguna where there was another table and set of chairs for a wonderful little happy hour spot.  These rooms simply made our stay, as they provided a wonderful little semi-private oasis where we could relax and adjust ourselves to European time.

Service all around the hotel was prompt and friendly. Ice was brought to the room upon request in a silver champagne bucket without a problem. As Marriott Gold and Platinum guests, we received complimentary breakfast every morning. Breakfast consisted of quite an elaborate spread filled with breads, meats, cheeses, jams, fruits, yogurt, and an incredible selection of pastries. There were at least five different types of fruit juices available along with champagne for those mandatory vacation mimosas. A full menu with eight or so made-to-order warm dishes was also available. I enjoyed the poached eggs one morning, and another egg dish the second morning. My only complaint would be that this restaurant seemed to get quite busy and crowded on the second morning, and the staff seemed to be a bit overwhelmed. It wasn’t really a problem, as we were not in a rush, but some of the service did fall between the cracks that morning.

Water Taxi

Water Taxi

A great service offered by the Boscolo is a water taxi to St. Mark’s Square. Running four times daily in each direction, you can take a scenic, fifteen minute boat ride directly to St. Mark’s Square in a wooden Venetian water taxi. Space is limited, so you must sign up with the concierge, but we didn’t have a problem getting the boat we wanted. The hotel also offers a free daily shuttle over to Murano, but we did not partake.

All in all, I really enjoyed staying at the Boscolo Venezia. The massive garden provides a wonderful space in Venice to relax away from the crowds. I really enjoyed the quiet Carranegio neighborhood in which it was located.   Though a bit on the pricey side, it is readily available with Marriott points, and because of that, I would certainly consider staying here again on a future visit to Venice.

How we booked it…

We originally planned on staying at the Boscolo for only one night, but about a week prior, we changed out flights necessitating an extra night. My uncle used Marriott Points to pay for our second night. The Boscolo is a category 8 hotel, and can be reserved for 40,000 Marriott points.   Since this is the only Marriott family hotel in Venice proper (on the actual island), I consider this a very good use of Marriott points if the price is as high as normal (> €300). It would be quite the hassle to stay in the Mestre area on the mainland and have to train or bus to Venice every day, in my opinion.

We booked the first night with cash, as there was a last-minute special available for the property at about 180 per night. This is a pretty good price for a property of that caliber in the very expensive hotel city of Venice.

 

Two Magical Days in Venice

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


IMG_6726We met my Aunt and Uncle just past customs at Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport about twenty minutes after we arrived.   Due to the location of our hotel in the Cannaregio neighborhood, the Orto Stop on the Alilaguna was by far the easiest location to access.  This happens to be the first stop on the Venice’s Alilaguna Orange Line, and cost €15 per person for the 30 minute boat ride.

From the Orto stop, it was a short, three-minute walk to the Boscolo Venezia Hotel.  Upon check-in, we were informed that our rooms would not be ready untl 2pm, so we stored our bags at the front desk and headed out to explore Venice.

The Boscolo Venezia is located in the quiet Cannaregio neighborhood – about a 20 minute walk from the crowds of the Realto and San Marco Square areas.  We walked around the streets and canals of Venice before stopping for lunch near San Marco Square.  We settled on a restaurant with a nice courtyard where we enjoyed pizza and beer – both of which were excellent.

After lunch, the rain started to come down, so we walked back to our hotel.  Upon returning to the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we were upgraded to a set of two garden villa rooms.  The rooms were standard sized, but they each featured massive courtyards situated in a secluded rose garden away from the main building of the hotel.  Jet-lagged from the night before, we took a three hour nap before having a nice happy hour out on our patio of the Boscolo Venezia.  We had a tasty dinner of pasta and seafood at a local place in Cannaregio– Ristorante Diana and then retired for the evening for some much needed sleep.

IMG_6703After a good ten hours of sleep, we woke up to a fantastic breakfast spread at the Boscolo, which was free due to my Marriott Gold status.   The Boscolo runs water taxis four times per day to and from San Marco Square, so we took the 10am taxi through the canals of Venice right to the front steps of St Marks.  After taking in the sights and sounds of the San Marco, we proceeded to one of Venice’s most exclusive hotels, The Gritti Palace for a drink on its back patio overlooking the Grand Canal.  What a spectacular way to spend the afternoon!

We followed this up with another (expensive / overpriced) drink at a Bar Gelateria Al Todoro, which was on the water near St. Marco Square.  At that point, we were ready for a late lunch, so we lost ourselves in the winding alleyways of Venice and found ourselves at Ristorante Alla Conchiglia, a cute little restaurant overlooking a canal for a quintessential Venetian lunch of calamari, pizza, wine and beer.  Later in the day, I stopped for about 45 minutes to watch the world go by in a nice plaza near the Rialto Bridge while my girlfriend shopped in some of the great boutiques.  We took a nice, afternoon stroll back to the hotel to have a continued happy hour on our wonderful patio at the Boscolo.  Later on that evening, we took a short walk to a local seafood restaurant for an excellent dinner at Ostaria da Rioba.

After another glorious night of sleep, we awoke to a rainy Venice morning – and it was cruise day!  We packed all our things after a short breakfast and met a water taxi at the Boscolo pier on the Lagoa just a few feet away from our room.  In less than twenty minutes, we were at the Cruise Ship Terminal ready to board our cruise on Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam.

Thoughts on Venice…

I absolutely loved Venice.  It’s such a magical city.  It’s the only city that I can think that is purely a pedestrian city (with the exception of the boats and gondolas in the canals).  We thoroughly enjoyed just losing ourselves in the winding streets and alley-ways of the city, sampling the incredible Italian cuisine, and taking in some of the sights in one of the most picturesque cities you’ll find anywhere.