How to Book a Flight on Ryanair and Avoid Hidden Fees

Flying on Ryanair is often one of the cheapest ways to fly point-to-point in Europe.  However, the major complaint 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 somewhat predatory booking process on their website.    Though the website has a much friendlier user interface than it used to, the booking process can be downright cumbersome!

Ryanair B737-800 at Kerry, Ireland (KIR)

Ryanair B737-800 at Kerry, Ireland (KIR)

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 May from Venice-Treviso to Dublin, and again a few weeks ago from County Kerry, Ireland to London-Stansted.    Continue Reading →

Revisited: Booking a Transatlantic Flight on Aer Lingus with British Airways Avios

Updated January 29, 2015:  This particular award will no longer be available once the new British Airways award chart goes into effect for bookings made after April 28, 2015.  This award in business class will increase to 37,500 Avios, each way.


Last summer, I wrote a very popular post on how to book a Transatlantic flight on Aer Lingus with British Airways Avios.  I’m re-visiting that today since I have a bigger audience, and since it’s still relevant.  

Additionally, Aer Linugs recently announced an all-new business class product that it will be installing on its A330 fleet.  This new product will be very competitive in the Transatlantic market, and would make the below type of redemption even more valuable…

I recently reported on my experience flying Aer Lingus business class from Shannon to Boston last month to conclude my European vacation.  I did so with the use of one of the best valued awards that currently exist to get across the Atlantic — British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus.  In the rest of this post, I will detail how one can easily fly from Boston to Ireland in business class for fewer miles than most airlines charge for a one-way in economy.  I’ll hit the following points in this post:

  • The Sweet Spot on British Airways’ Award Chart
  • Checking Award Availability
  • Calling British Airways to Book
  • Fly in Style for Cheap
  • How to get British Airways Avios…. if you don’t fly British Airways

Continue Reading →

Booking a Transatlantic Flight on Aer Lingus with British Airways Avios

Updated January 29, 2015:  This particular award will no longer be available once the new British Airways award chart goes into effect for bookings made after April 28, 2015.  This award in business class will increase to 37,500 Avios, each way.


 

I recently reported on my experience flying Aer Lingus business class from Shannon to Boston last month to conclude my European vacation.  I did so with the use of one of the best valued awards that currently exist to get across the Atlantic — British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus.  In the rest of this post, I will detail how one can easily fly from Boston to Ireland in business class for fewer miles than most airlines charge for a one-way in economy.  I’ll hit the following points in this post:

  • The Sweet Spot on British Airways’ Award Chart
  • Checking Award Availability
  • Calling British Airways to Book
  • Fly in Style for Cheap
  • How to get British Airways Avios…. if you don’t fly British Airways

Continue Reading →

Review: Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston

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


After a wonderful breakfast at the Bunratty Meadows Bed & Breakfast, we dropped our car off at the Budget Rental Car center at the Shannon Airport after topping off the tank at a nearby gas station.  An Avis and Budget shuttle took us to the terminal, where we proceeded to Aer Lingus Business Class check-in.  At this point, I revealed to my girlfriend that we were actually flying business class home.  The entire trip, she was under the impression that we were flying economy back across the pond, since I kept that little detail to myself.

Check-in for business class actually seemed like it took a little longer than regular economy check-in, but we were in no hurry.  After check-in, we proceeded through security and on to the pre-clearance inspection station for the United States Customs and Border Control.  Shannon is one of the only airports in Europe (other than Dublin) to offer pre-clearance into the United States.  Since one goes through US immigration and customs in Shannon, you don’t have to go through the long immigration queues upon arrival back in the States.  Pre-clearance required us to undergo an additional security screening before getting in line for immigration and customs.  After immigration, there were two Global Entry kiosks where my girlfriend and I went ahead and put in our details to avoid the lines.  The only difference between Global Entry in Shannon and in the US is that in Shannon the customs agent asked me for my checked bag bar code, he scanned it, and then had me verify the picture of my bag on the computer.  I knew that this type of security was used, but this was the first time I actually saw it in action.

After zipping through Global Entry, we made our way to the Rineanna Suite — the business class lounge for Aer Lingus passengers at Shannon.  The lounge was nothing special, and actually quite barren with no exterior views.  It did; however, have canned Guinness — one of which I drank as a farewell to Ireland.  After fifteen minutes in the lounge, our flight to Boston was called for boarding.

Aer Lingus (EI) 135
Shannon (SNN) – Boston (BOS)
Aircraft:  Boeing 757-200
Seat:  2C
Sunday, May 18
11:40AM – 1:25PM
Duration:  6:45

We boarded our Aer Lingus B757-200 and turned left to take our seats in row 2, seats A and C.  The 757 is a newly acquired aircraft for Aer Lingus, as three of these airplanes were acquired from Air Contractors to facilitate year round service from Shannon to Boston and New York, as well as adding year round service between Dublin and Toronto.  The flight is actually operated by Air Contractors, but everything was branded as Aer Lingus.  I’m not really sure who the crew actually belonged to!  Since the 757 features a newly installed interior, the business cabin does not feature the same seats that are on Aer Lingus’s A330 fleet.

The business cabin on the Aer Lingus 757 consists of 12 seats — three rows of four seats in a 2X2 configuration.  The seat itself is pretty basic.  There is one basic control to control the recline (up or down), as it reclines into an angled lie-flat seat.  It does NOT lie completely 180-degrees flat.  The leg rest needs to be extended manually in order to get the seat into a bed-like state, which I found odd.  Another oddity is the location of the TV — it seems much lower than on other aircraft, but I suppose it worked fine.  Overall, the seat was perfectly fine for lounging for 5-6 hours, but I don’t think I would have had the most comfortable sleep in it — it was simply not wide enough for me, and the angle was pretty severe when in “lie-flat” mode.

One we settled into our seats, the flight attendant offered us a pre-departure glass of champagne, which we gladly accepted.  She then distributed basic amenity kits and menus.  We pushed back on-time and took off from a rainy Shannon Airport, and ascended to the West over the green fields of Ireland.  Once we hit 10,000 feet, the in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems were booted up, and I browsed the movie selections.  The selections were pretty decent with a good range of recent movies to classics.   I put on the movie Troy just prior to the start of lunch service.

To commence lunch service, I was brought a mediocre blended Scotch (Teachers) along with a selection of canapés from a cart.  None was particularly memorable, but they included goat cheese on toast, a mushroom pate, and antipasti.  The canapés were followed by the appetizer and salad.  I chose the smoked chicken appetizer instead of the seafood plate, and it was basically sliced deli chicken, which paired reasonably well with the accompanying plum chutney.  The salad was fresh enough, but didn’t really feature much lettuce.  For the entrée, we had a choice of a fillet steak, chicken stuffed with blue cheese, sea bass, or penne with tomato and basil sauce.   I ordered the fillet, and my girlfriend ordered the pasta, but we switched since the pasta appeared to be more pesto-based instead of basil.  The pasta was pretty tasty, though I forgot to take a picture of it.  I felt bad for my girlfriend because the steak was pretty awful — it was very dry and chewy.  However, the au gratin potatoes were fantastic.  I enjoyed a chocolate marble cake for dessert while my girlfriend enjoyed a cheese plate.  Overall, the catering for lunch was mediocre at best.  I’d heard some really good things about Aer Lingus catering, but this particular offering wasn’t all that impressive at all.

After lunch, I finished up my movie and pulled out the laptop to load up some pictures from the trip.  That took longer than I expected, because when I finished with that, the flight attendant was coming around again for afternoon tea service.  She brought out a cart filled with various open-faced sandwiches and some scones.  I wasn’t too hungry, so I opted for a scone and some tea.  Afternoon tea was a nice touch — I did enjoy it even though our flight was so short it seemed like lunch service had just ended.

Indeed, we were running ahead of schedule.  As afternoon tea was wrapping up, we had already started our descent into Boston.  Annoyingly, the IFE was shut off about thirty minutes before landing, so we just sat and commiserated how our vacation was coming to an end.  We arrived into Boston over an hour ahead of time, at 12:15 after what was only a five-hour and 35 minute transatlantic flight.  I’ve seriously had longer flights to California from the East Coast.

We pulled into our gate in Terminal A at Boston’s Logan International Airport and were at baggage claim in no time since we’d already pre-cleared immigration and customs.  Our bags were the first ones off the conveyor, so we were able to quickly make our way to Terminal C for our short US Airways flight back home to Washington-National Airport later that afternoon.  And just like that, our trip was over.

Overall, Aer Lingus was decent enough.  I was somewhat disappointed in the seat on the 757, as well as the catering.  The seat simply doesn’t compete with other business Transatlantic products out there, but it’s certainly much better than a domestic first class seat.  The flight attendant in the business cabin was not the warmest character, but she provided adequate service.  Whatever the case, it was perfectly comfortable for a daytime flight across the Atlantic, and it beats economy ANY day of the week!  I consider Aer Lingus business class to be an incredible value if obtained with British Airways Avios (which I did) — so the price was right!

How I booked it…

As I just mentioned, I booked this flight using British Airways Avios.  Since Shannon AND Dublin to Boston is less than 3,000 miles, it falls into an advantageous category on British Airways’ award chart where it only costs 25,000 Avios for a one-way business class ticket (or only 12,500 Avios for economy!)   To put that in perspective, 25,000 miles for business class is LESS than most airlines charge for a one-way economy class ticket to Europe.  It really is the best value for miles across the Atlantic out there — but more on that in a future post!

Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B

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


May 17

We awoke after a great night sleep at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Spa in Galway, and headed down to breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Breakfast was included in the room rate, and the spread was downright impressive.  They really had a little of anything you could think of, and it proved to be a wonderful start to the day.  After we checked out, the only plan for the day was to make it down to see the Cliffs of Moher — about a 90 minute drive from Galway.  The drive followed along a scenic, windy road as we followed the west coast of Country Clare throughout he Burren National Park.  When we hit the fork in the road in the town of Ballyvaughan, we decided to take the scenic route to the Cliffs of Moher — via the Ocean Road.  This proved to be a wonderful idea, as the scenery was simply stunning on this wonderfully clear day.   We thoroughly enjoyed driving and then just pulling over to take in the sights of a scenic coastline vista and the occasional castle.

After a couple of hours, we found ourselves in the small, port town of Doolin around noon.  Located about 6km from the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin is host to a ferry fleet where one can take a ferry for a scenic cruise of the Cliffs, or to one of the Aran Islands.  We went down to the pier to inquire with the O’Brien Line about their ferry tour to the Cliffs of Moher, and we were met by a friendly, older Irish man named Bill O’Brien, who happened to be the owner of the tour company.  He informed us that the next ferry was to leave at 3:15pm, and then gave us the “lay of the land” and ensured us that we’d have time to visit the Cliffs of Moher from above before coming back to Doolin for our ferry ride.  The ferry cost €25 for the estimated hour-long trip to the Cliffs and back – a fee that we gladly paid.

We heeded Bill’s advice and made the short, 15-minute drive from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher.  There is a €6 entrance fee per car at the Cliffs, and it is well worth the price of admission.  The Cliffs of Moher are one of the most famous geographical features of Ireland, as they feature a set of jagged cliffs that drop straight off, about 1,000 feet to the Atlantic Ocean below.   The views are simply stunning.  We were lucky to have perfect weather that day, so we were not impeded by fog, rain, or mist!

After about an hour of taking in the vistas and snapping dozens of pictures, we headed back to our ridiculous mini car and drove back to Doolin for lunch.  We settled on lunch at Gus O’Connors Pub.  Gus O’Connors was quite crowded, as a tour bus group had just been dropped off, but even still, we were able to receive our food and pints pretty quickly.  I enjoyed a beef and Guinness Stew, which was great.  However, my girlfriend struck out with her chicken and cheese sandwich order, as it wasn’t the most appetizing thing she’d ever seen… or tasted.  After lunch, we returned to the pier for our ferry ride.  As we were waiting for our ferry to return, the weather started to turn as a storm started to pick up.  As the wind increased and the sea appeared to get a little more rough, we decided to go ahead and take our last two Dramamine tablets, just in case.

Good decision.

By the time we got on-board the vessel, the supposed ten minute ride took closer to 30 minutes, as we took ten foot seas over the bow on our short trek to the base of the Cliffs of Moher.  The Cliffs themselves were overwhelming from the bottom.  We looked up to where we stood a few hours before, and the sheer height of the Cliffs sank in as we could barely see the outline of people looking over the towering cliffs, 1,000 feet above.  The ride back to the dock was equally as choppy, and we were two of the only non-seasick passengers on the ferry.  Folks were getting sick left and right, but we had a blast!

By the time we got back to the dock, we were running about an hour behind schedule, so we hit the road en route for Bunratty.  Bunratty is a small village about five kilometers from the Shannon Airport.  We had reservations at the Bunratty Meadows Bed and Breakfast, where we planned to stay the night before our flight home to the States.  We arrived at Bunratty Meadows at around 6:30pm, and were greeted by the hostess, Dariena.  We were shown our room in her beautiful house located on a large meadow overlooking the River Shannon.  The room was extremely comfortable, and had all the creature comforts that we could want. Dariena recommended that we go into Bunratty to check out the famous Bunratty Castle, and then eat at a nearby restaurant for dinner.  The Castle is one of the larger ones you’ll find in Ireland, and it is open to the public along with a folk park that showcases Medieval Irish life.  We got to the castle too late to take a tour, so we just zapped some pictures, took a stroll throughout the famous Durty Nelly’s Pub, and walked across the street to the Creamery Bar for dinner.

I had a delicious dinner of fish and chips with a couple pints of Guinness — a perfect last supper for a wonderful four days in Ireland.  By the end of dinner, we were pretty exhausted from the long day of touring, so we made our way back to the Bed and Breakfast for our last night’s sleep on the trip.

May 18

We’d arranged for breakfast to be had at 8:30am, which would leave us plenty of time to get to the Shannon Airport for our 11:40am flight back across the pond.  We woke up, cleaned up, packed, and headed downstairs to the cute breakfast room where Dariena had four tables set for the four sets of guests that she was hosting the previous night.  There was a selection of cereals and coffee to choose from as Dariena brought out freshly baked scones with an assortment of jams.  I ordered the pancakes, and my girlfriend had the traditional Irish Breakfast.  Both were absolutely delicious, and we completely loved everything about the breakfast that was prepared for us.  Sadly, we had to say our goodbyes and head to the airport.

We really, really enjoyed Bunratty Meadows.  Though it was the only bed and breakfast on our trip, it was one of my favorite accommodations.  Based off this experience, I’d certainly be open to staying at bed and breakfasts more often since they really provide a fantastic value and have much more personality than do most hotels.  I also highly recommend Bunratty Meadows to anyone in the area — it’s especially great if you need to fly out to Shannon the next morning, as it’s only about five kilometers away from the airport.

 

 

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!

 

Two Days in 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


May 14

We arrived into Terminal 1 at Dublin International Airport’s and proceeded through immigration easily in about five minutes. While my girlfriend sipped on a coffee, I purchased a €25 SIM card for my phone since we would be in Ireland for four days. For €25, I received unlimited data, and  €50 worth of international calls and txts. For the data alone, I feel this is a steal.  Since we would be renting a car, I really wanted unlimited data since I’d be living in Google Maps to direct me as to where to go. If I were to have purchased the International Plan through Verizon, it would have cost me $29 for only 100MB of data. Given my normal consumption, Id be through that after a day or two. We then took a cab into Central Dublin where our hotel awaited.

We stayed at The Morrison Hotel. A newly refurbished Double-tree Property, The Morrison is decorated with a rather modern look, and it’s certainly a very sharp property. My favorite thing about the property is it’s fantastic location on the River Liffey across the pedestrian bridge from the heart of Temple Bar.   Upon check-in, I was granted an upgrade to a Junior Suite that I requested several weeks before for €25. The upgrade to the Junior Suite gave us a ton of extra room. The bed was super comfortable, and the whole room was decorated in a contemporary look with clean edges and pink neon back-lighting.

After settling in and getting refreshed, we headed to check out the The Guinness Storehouse at St. James’ Gate Brewery. I visited the Guinness Storehouse two years ago, but we really sped through the tour since we were extra thirsty that day. This time, the two of us really took our time to enjoy the entire self-guided tour through the Guinness Storehouse, and we really enjoyed ourselves. Highlights of the tour included taste testing and the Guinness Academy, where we learned how to properly pour a pint of Guinness. We were also impressed by the rich history and the pride that the Irish people have in the beer. At the end of the tour, we brought the pint we poured at the academy up to the panoramic “GRAVITY Bar” atop the storehouse and enjoyed it with a panoramic view of Dublin.  This is one of the better brewery tours out there – certainly in line with the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam – and we felt it was well worth the €16 entrance fee.

After a pint at the Guinness Storehouse, we wanted to make our way back to the Temple Bar area for dinner, but on the way we stopped into the The Brazen Head, Ireland’s oldest pub. Dating back to 1198, the The Brazen Head is a must see when you’re in Dublin, and I enjoyed another delicious pint of Guinness there.

By this point, we were famished, so we proceeded to Temple Bar where we had a wonderful dinner at Gallagher’s Boxty House in the heart of Temple Bar. We each ordered the boxty specialties for our entrees along with the bacon ribs as the appetizer, and it was all wonderful. I dined here two years ago and loved it, and it surely didn’t disappoint the second time around.

After dinner, we decided to take a little self-guided pub crawl. We started across the street from the Boxty House at the famous Temple Bar. As usual, the Temple Bar was pretty packed and jamming with live Irish music that we enjoyed for a bit. We then headed a bit away from the Temple Bar area and took a stroll up Grafton Street and stopped in a pub called The Hairy Lemon. We really enjoyed this place, and a friend of mine even recommended the Irish specialties here, but we were stuffed from dinner. After a few drinks at The Hairy Lemon, we wandered around taking in the night scene in Dublin before stopping at The Long Hall for one last drink before heading back to The Morrisson for bed.  All in all, we enjoyed the pubs much more that were several blocks south of Temple Bar, near Grafton Street.  We found them to be less touristy and filled more with locals.

May 15

We slept in the following morning a little more than expected and just did get to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, which was included in the room rate. The Morrison featured a great buffet spread that was heavy on pastries and hot dishes consistent with the traditional Irish breakfast.   One can also order from the menu in addition to the buffet, and we each did that. I had the eggs benedict, and my girlfriend ordered the French toast – each of which were cooked perfectly and deliciously. All in all, it was a very solid breakfast offering.

We walked into town a bit to visit the Post Office and the Dublin Spire.  At that point, it was well past noon, and I needed to pick up the rental car for our drive the following day, so we took a cab to the “City Centre” location of Budget Rental Car.  Sadly, this location is not exactly located in the city center, and instead is in Drumcondra, but I guess it was close enough. Picking up the rental car was painless. Once I started driving back to the hotel, driving on the left side (“wrong side”) of the rode definitely took some getting used to, but I managed just fine. After parking the car back in the garage, we set out for some more sight seeing in Dublin.

We headed directly for St. Patrick’s Cathedral where we enjoyed the park, and took some pictures, but opted not to go inside because we were ready for lunch. We were craving fish and chips. We went by Leo Burdock (probably the best fish and chips in Dublin), but felt more like a sit-down style place, so we went to a place where I’ve enjoyed before called O’Neil’s Bar and Restaurant, right near Trinity College. We both enjoyed some delicious fish and chips along with a pint. After lunch, we walked through Trinity College and then took a stroll through St. Stephen’s Green, the city center park in Dublin. We then hit up Grafton Street (Dublin’s main shopping district) for some shopping with a stops at Harry’s on the Green along the way.

At that point, the only type of touring we really felt like doing was pub touring, so that’s exactly what we did! We had a drink or two at several places in the Temple Bar district, including Oliver St. John Gogarty’s, The Auld Dubliner, The Ha’Penny Bridge Pub, and The Palace Bar.  All of a sudden, it was past 9pm (and still very bright out), so we headed back to the hotel for a dinner snack of sliders and fries at the hotel bar, which was delicious. We then retired for the evening, as we had an early wakeup the next morning for our drive clear across Ireland to Galway and Connemara, where we were to catch a plane for the Aran Islands!

Next stop:  The Aran Islands… 

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

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Santorini and Argostoli

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 10 – Santorini, Greece

We awoke early in the morning to witness the scenic entrance into the harbor near Fira, Santorini.  It was beautiful, as we passed the gorgeous town of Oia before stopping in the caldera and natural harbor below the town of Fira.  Since there is no pier, this is also a tender port, but we utilized the local Santorini tenders to take us to the base of the mountain.  Here, one can either walk the over 900 steep steps up to the town of Fira, or they can spend €5 each way for a donkey ride up the steps or a tram up to the top.  We opted for the tram to the top of Fira, where views were spectacular.

We then hired a cab to drive us to Oia.  The drive to Oia was very scenic, but that was just warming us up for the town itself.  I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to many, many places.  However, the town of Oia, and the views from the white buildings with blue roofs was probably the most beautiful, picturesque place to which I have ever been.

Ever.

There is one main market street in Oia with dozens of cafes and lodges that overlook the caldera and Aegean Sea.  The views are simply spectacular.

After a brief, 45-minute visit to Oia, our cab driver took us clear to the other side of the island to one of the black beaches, in Kamari.  What we found here was a cute little beach town full of bars, restaurants, beach shops, and boutiques.  The beaches themselves are black beaches – make up of volcanic rock.  We ventured down to the water to dip our feet in the Aegean for the first time.  Since the water was too cold to swim, we settled down at a café overlooking the beach for a beer before cabbing back to the town of Fira.

By the time we returned to Fira, the shops were setup in full swing, and my girlfriend enjoyed popping into the various boutiques.  We met my Aunt and Uncle at a beautiful café that was perched on the cliff overlooking the caldera and our ship.  After a couple of beers, we decided on a cheap, delicious gyro lunch from one of the many street food vendors in Fira.    Sadly, we departed Santorini at 3:30, so we had to get back to the ship and didn’t get to witness a sunset from the famous setting of Oia.  On the return, we decided to take the stairs.  It as a relatively easy, twenty-minute descent, but you did need to move a lot to avoid the donkeys…. and donkey poop.  At the bottom of the hill, we were walking past a herd of donkeys, when one decided to buck, and kicked me right in the shin.  Luckily, it didn’t kick much higher, but nonetheless, I was the recipient of a nice bruise on my shin.  It could have been much worse, I suppose.

Overall, Santorini was by far our favorite port of the cruise.  I certainly plan to return to Santorini to spend several days in the future.

May 11 – Argostoli, Cephalonia, Greece

We had a late arrival in Argostoli – the largest city on the Ionian island of Cephalonia.  Unfortunately, our short time in port of only 4.5 hours did not leave us enough time to explore one of the famous beaches or caverns of Cephalonia.   Luckily, the town was pleasant enough.  We didn’t do much at all in Argostoli, other than exploring the town, shopping, and having a few beers.  We did stop for a snack of fried feta and tzatziki at a restaurant about two blocks to the west of the pier before we went back onboard.

I’d love to visit Cephalonia in the future, and I’d certainly suggest for the cruise lines to spend considerably more time on the island, as the island itself has the potential to be an absolute highlight of the itinerary.

Next stop:  Venice (again)…

 

 

Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam: Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi

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 6 – Istanbul, Turkey

After spending the majority of the day at sea cruising through the Dardanelles, we approached Istanbul from the west at about 3pm.  The approach into Istanbul was beautiful, and I enjoyed pointing our parts of Istanbul to my girlfriend, Aunt, and Uncle.  I previously spent time in Istanbul about a year ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Because of this, I really looked forward to returning on this trip.

We ultimately didn’t dock until around 5pm due to high winds, but when we did my girlfriend and I disembarked and walked into town directly to the Galata Bridge.  We had the fortune at docking at the cruise ship birth closest to the Galata Tower and Bridge, so the location was extremely convenient.  After viewing the fishermen from the Galata Bridge, we proceeded to the Egyptian Bizzare – or Spice Bizzare to see the sights, sounds, and smells of the place.  Overrun with spice merchants, vibrant colors and smells filled the air making for a pretty intense setting.  Ater this, we walked back across the bridge, and up the hill to Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul.  As the timing worked out, we were up on Galata Tower right around sunset, which made for some amazing pictures.

We then continued up the hill to the Galata area.  We explored the side streets full of bars and cafes, and came upon a few of the bars that I’d been to last year on my trip to Istanbul with friends.  We started back towards the ship before stopping for a Turkish dinner of kebab and Turkish pizza.  It was tasty as always.  We returned to the ship around 9:30pm where the ship was putting on a Turkish Bazaar dinner up on board – they really did a nice job with it though we did not partake.

May 7 – Istanbul, Turkey

This was a unique port of call for a cruise since we were docked in Istanbul overnight.  The overnight call aspect of the cruise was one of the most attractive features of the trip for us.   Having been to Istanbul before, I had a pretty good idea of a proper tour itinerary for my girlfriend, aunt, and uncle that next morning.  We decided to take the tram to the Sultanahmet stop – a short, ten minute trip (for €3 per person, each way).  Here, we toured the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but we did have to wait in line for about a half an hour before being allowed to enter and take pictures.  The view inside was amazing as usual, and  reminds me of the cover of my high school World History textbook.  Next, we walked over to the Hagia Sofia, but decided not to enter due to the massive line to get in.  Entrance would have been €10 per person had we decided to brave the line.  I did go inside the Hagia Sofia on my last trip to Istanbul, and in my opinion, it would have been worth the wait.

Alas, the rest of the group didn’t want to wait, so we headed across the street to the Sistern Basilica.  Entrance to the Sistern was also ten euros per person.  I quite enjoyed this last time, and I did on this trip as well.  It’s a dimly lit cavern full of water and yellow and red lighting.  We then proceeded to the Grand Bazaar, which was only about a ten minute walk from the Sultanahmet area.  As usual, the Grand Bazaar was utter chaos – not quite my cup of tea, but the ladies wanted to get some shopping in.  We took a quick break for a lunch of doner kebap before taking the tram back to the ship in time for our scheduled 5pm departure.  The sail away from Istanbul was simply beautiful as we passed Istanbul landmarks like the Galata Bridge, Topapki Palace, Hagia Sofia, and Blue Mosque.  That evening, we enjoyed appetizers in the room before our dinner at Tamarind — the specialty Asian Fusion restaurant onboard.

May 8 – Mitilini, Lesbos, Greece

We awoke the following morning off the shore of Lesbos – a Greek Island just off the west coast of Turkey.  The ship was anchored about a mile off shore, so we utilized the ship’s tenders to transport passengers into town.  Mitilini is a picturesque, Greek fishing village centered around a harbor.  It really reminded me of the harbor in Georgetown, Grand Cayman about twenty years ago before the high rise buildings.  The harbor is lined with cafes that turn into nightclubs at night.  Since Mitilini is apparently a college town, these seemingly sleepy cafes convert into a raging nightclub scene after dark (or so we were told).  We enjoyed several beers and shots of ouzo at a couple different cafes in Mitiline before and after a stroll down the main shopping / market area of the town.  The ouzo was a must since Lesbos is where the Greek drink originated!  We decided against an organized tour to another location or beach on the rather large island, and this port served as a leisurely break in between the two, tour-intensive Turkish ports of call.

May 9 – Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey

Kusadasi is one of two port cities used by cruise lines to access the ancient city of Ephesus.  It is the much closer of the two ports (Ismir), and it is only about a twenty minute cab ride from the pier in Kusadasi to Ephesus.  We arranged a cab at the pier as transportation to Ephesus for a total of €60, round-trip.  The drive from Kusadasi to Ephesus is very scenic, as you hug the rugged coastline for most of the 15km trip.  Upon arriving in Ephesus, we paid an entrance fee to the ruins.  The ruins themselves were spectacular.  The pictures below speak for themselves.  Highlights of the ruins included the Terrace Houses (extra entrance fee), and the Great Arena, which held up to 25,000 spectators.

After spending about an hour and a half at the ruins, our cab driver drove us back to Kusadasi, where we briefly walked through the town bizarre before having a Turkish lunch at Toros, right on the harbor.  The kebab lunch was fresh and delicious.

Kusadasi itself functions as a major beach resort town on the Turkish coast.  The coastline, the beaches, and water are beautiful in Kusadasi.  The Turkish coast as a whole is renowned for some of the finest beachest anywhere on the Mediterranean, and this is certainly a region to which I’d love to return.

Next stop:  Santorini, Greece…