April 29, 2017

Cruising-Part Two

Cruising-Part Two

There is so much to write about from our cruise experience, that I broke it into a few sections. 
Here is part one...

Arrival:  I broke down arriving in details HERE.  What I didn't mention is that we arrived at 1000 and the ship wasn't quite ready for us (we arrived via an MSC shuttle bus (more to come on that).  Our room wasn't ready for us yet since we were so early. The rooms were available after 1400.  But, they still let us on the ship and we got to explore it practically empty. For early passengers, you could check in your backpacks and carry ons at a temporary luggage station.
The center of the ship
Balcony/top decks

Rooms:  There are a variety of rooms to choose from and they all come at different prices.  We got a room on the top floor with a balcony. 
Our friends, that previously went on a cruise, recommended we get a room with a balcony for 2 reasons:
1)  it makes the room feel larger than it is
2)  the rooms get stuffy.  It's nice to air out the room by opening the balcony doors. 
We really enjoyed our balcony because it offered amazing views!!!!
The balcony rails were high enough that I didn't have to worry about my 7 and 9 year old going over the edge and the bottom of the railings were so close to the floor that I didn't have to worry about one of them falling between the bottom of the railing and the balcony floor. (hope that all makes sense).
We were a family of 4 and I thought the kids were going to have to share the pull out couch in the room.  We were pleasantly surprised by having a wall bed.  My son loved it!
Turn down service in the evening
The room servicing was amazing!  We were shocked daily at how clean everything was.  The room got cleaned twice a day.  Once in the morning and then there was a turn down service in the evening that involved room cleaning as well.  We were not expecting this at all!  With both daily cleanings our trash was taken out and we got fresh towels.

Daily Newsletter:  Every night a cruise employee brings you a newsletter for the next day.
It includes a TON of info:  Excursion meeting times and locations, night show info, spa specials on the cruise, disembarkment times and the time you need to be back on the cruise for it to depart in the afternoon. 
You can see in the top right hand corner ours stated "Eng" for English version. 
I would carry this on me at all times on and off the ship.



Language: Even though the MSC cruise line is a German cruise line, everyone spoke English.  The majority of the people on the ship were either English, French, Italian, or Deutch.  The ship would make announcements in EVERY language (I counted 6 different languages every time), even the emergency procedure that they make you go through before you even leave the initial port.


Cruise Card:
You use your cruise card for everything.  I describe in detail the cruise card HERE.
What you also use it for is when you order any drinks, ice cream, dinner, book any excursions-really anything on the cruise!  It's also the card to get into your room.

Payments: You don't use money for anything on this cruise.  Don't get me wrong-you pay for everything you eat, or do.  But, there is no money exchange. 
Here is how it works:  When you get your cruise card, there are all these little payment machines on the cruise ship (mostly by the customer service desk).  You pop your cruise card into the machine slot and it reads your info.  Then it will ask for a form of card payment (credit card).  Then you swipe the credit card you want to use when paying for anything on the cruise ship. 
That's it!  super easy!  However, if you don't like that, then you can register a credit card, debit card, or euro at the customer service desk.  They make you put as low as 230 euro on your cruise card, like a down payment or security deposit.  If you use all that money, plus more by buying cruise excursions or using the spa on the ship, etc. then you will end up getting a bill at the end of the cruise on your last day.  But, if you don't use all the 230 euro deposit, you'll get the remaining balance refunded to your credit card that you registered. 

Excursions:  The cruise website lists the excursions that the cruise company offers and you can prebook them online before the cruise.  But, if you wait-it's not a problem.  On the first day of the boat, as soon as you arrive, go to the excursion desk (for our cruise it was beside the customer service desk).  The excursions fill up fast, so do not wait too long.   Book them as soon as you get on board the first day.  The excursion office provides early sign up sheets and break downs of all the tours offered through the cruise line for each port destination listing:  ease, price, length, descriptions of tour, etc. 
We only booked one excursion through the cruise line.  The other days, I had done tons of research on our locations and we were able to choose from prints outs I had brought from Rick Steve's and cruise critic.com and some other blogs I researched.  Our last day, we were in Spit in Croatia and did a 'Game of Thrones' Tour-IT WAS AMAZING.  I'll write more on that later;)
This is just one page of the excursion brochure
We registered for an excursion before there was anyone manning the desk with the below form and by that night I confirmed we were booked and good to go.  The excursion got booked on our cruise card and the charge was deducted from our 230 euro we had on security deposit (explained earlier in this post).
When no one is at the excursion desk, just fill out one of these booking forms
and place it in the box on the counter labeled for the forms. 
I recommend returning to the counter to confirm
everything was booked accordingly.
Daily Disembarkment:  Almost every day of the cruise you have the option to leave the boat. some people stay on the boat and enjoy having it almost completely empty since most people get off the ship.  We docked every day, except for one, due to being at sea for one entire day.  This was when I enjoyed a spa treatment and my kids enjoyed the kids club on the cruise. 
When you leave the ship-you must present your cruise card to security on your way out.  They scan it to get a head count, to identify people on the ship, and those that are off the ship exploring.  When security scans it, your photo comes up on their computer, and they verify that it's actually you that is associated with your cruise card (hope that makes sense).
Each time you get on the boat, after exploring the country you are docked in,
you will get in line to go through security to get back on the ship. 
There are open area tents to protect you from the harsh sun or sprinkles. 
Coming back on: After exploring off the ship and returning, you'll have to go through security again.  Any alcohol or knives (anything they consider a weapon) will be confiscated.  But, you'll receive a receipt and when you disembark on the final day,  you can get your items back.  Super efficient-just don't lose the receipt they give you when they confiscate your item.  When getting back onto the ship, you will go through metal detectors.  Security will also scan any bags and check your purchases. 
This is what you encounter when coming back on the ship: 
security on the left scans your cruise card,
you go through the line and through the scanners.
Travel sickness:  You can definitely tell you are on the boat!  My daughter and I get severe motion sickness-severe!  I had packed Dramamine for kids and myself, acupuncture pressure bracelets and even had a prescription patch for behind my ear.  My daughter and I didn't need any of it!  It was great! 







April 22, 2017

Cruising Part One: Cruise Ship Embarkment

Cruising Part One:  Cruise Ship Embarkment
We recently took a cruise for the first time and loved it! 
Cross Mediterranean cruise OFF the bucket list!

We didn't find a lot of information on cruising that was useful-at least for families, so I thought I'd share with you a few things we learned.
I'll try to break it into sections for easier reading.  I'll be covering Cruise Embarkement, Cruising-Part One, Cruising-Part Two, and Disembarkment.

First off-Cruise Embarkement

The cruise company that we went on is MSC cruisesHere is their website.

The cruise we went on was one of the first of it's kind, meaning that even our travel agent hadn't seen a cruise that went to the locations we did.
If you wanted to find it again, you cannot get to it from the English MSC website.  You'd have to go to the German MSC website, located here.

Our cruise went to: 
Genoa, Italy
Civitavecchia, Italy
Corfu, Greece
Kotor, Montenegro
Split, Croatia
Venice, Italy


Here is the easy breakdown of our initial cruise embarkment, but continue reading for more details:
-Cut and place luggage tags from boarding passes onto your luggage
-Arrive at port
-Cruise employees will take your luggage and place it on the ship for you
-Walk down the port to the boarding station/building
-Enter boarding station:
  -welcome line
  -boarding line, where you wait to get your passport and boarding pass verified
  -waiting area/boarding group
  -security check point
  -loading bridge
  -cruise ship security check point
  -finding your room/getting your luggage/obtaining your cruise card
  -registering cruise card-Once you get your cruise card, you have to register a form of payment with  it.  I'll describe more about this on the next segment of my cruise blog posts.  Stay tuned.

When you embark to get to the cruise ship, it's similar to getting onto an airplane.

We arrived with all of our luggage (each family member was allotted one large suitcase-visit the MSC website for luggage guidance) at the end of the docking port.  MSC cruise employees collected our suitcases and placed our luggage tags on them for us.  The luggage tags came with our boarding passes and we noticed other people had laminated their luggage tags and already placed them onto their luggage.  We had never gone on a cruise before, so we had not had that ingenious idea.
Here is one of our four luggage tags
that was printed on the bottom of each persons boarding pass.
We walked towards the cruise ship, where we encountered a large building.  In the building was where you'll find lots of roped lines and sections:  welcoming section=cruise ship employees greeted us with water and orange juice and took professional photos of our family in front of a make shift ship wheel and backdrop (we never purchased these, but they were available at customer service if we wanted them).  Then we were ushered to roped off waiting areas to begin the boarding process.  Instead of waiting in line with everyone, we had purchased a special package when we bought our cruise ship tickets which included priority everything.  Honestly, we booked our cruse 6 months in advance and it was almost sold out.  I only had 2 packages to choose from to get our cruise tickets and drink package.  The cheaper of the 2 packages left to purchase still included 'priority' status.  In the end, it was great and well worth it!  Basically, we were waiting in line with everyone else and I took our cruise invoice to one of the employees ushering everyone in the lines.  EVERYONE employed with the cruise ship spoke English and was able to understand that I was wondering if we needed to wait in line with everyone or go ahead due to the priority status on our tickets.  The employee gave us a special priority card and ushered us to a separate area where no one was and we got expedited service.  We went to another desk where they verified our tickets, our passports, and gave us a boarding group number.  We were group 4, but when I showed the desk clerk our priority card, she told us we could go straight to the front of the line-which was a security area (similar to when you are trying to get on to a plane).  From here, we had to get our carry ons (backpacks and purse) scanned and walk through metal detectors.  It's just like an airport, where they will confiscate any weapons, liquids over a certain amount, food, etc.
Once through security, you'll walk outside of the doors to the embarkment bridge and onto the cruise ship.
After security, on our way to the embarkment bridge
This is where you will go through ANOTHER security check point where the cruise ship employees take your photo as you get onto the cruise ship. 
Security taking passenger's photos as you arrive to the ship.
This photo gets associated with a card that you get for the duration of the cruise.  This cruise ship card has your identity on it, your meal plan on it, cabin number, etc.  It's basically your exit and entrance pass to the cruise ship and you also register a form of payment to the card so it's used for EVERYTHING!  (I'll explain more of the card as you read on and I provided some more info in THIS-link to come late- post).  The card is also your key to get into your room.  After you finally get to step foot onto the cruise ship and have gone through the security check points you may go to your room.  Your luggage will be lined up outside of your room, or at least up and down the same hallway as your room-so you may have to go on a little bit of a search for it.  Don't fear though, it'll all be there for you.  We were amazed out the efficiency of this process.
In your room, you'll find a daily newsletter and your cruise cards.  Each member of your party gets their own card.

This cruise card will tell you everything you need to know.  Ours says 'Aurea' which meant that we had priority everything and that our drink package was included.  When you purchase your tickets, you have drink package options to chose from as well.  We are not big drinkers, but wanted to have bottled water and soda available-it was a great choice for us, because their cappuccinos were great and I fully indulged in those.  The 'Assembly Station' is where you go if there is an emergency and you need to evacuate the ship.  12065 was our room number and it was located on Deck 12.  We did not pay for the 'internet package', but our card came with an Internet ID in case we decided to purchase the Internet during the cruise.  The cruise ship was called MSC POESIA and the cruise lasted from April 2-8.  Dining times are assigned and the first seating is at 1830 and the second seating is at 1930.  Due to our 'aurea' status, we could eat at either dining times='My Choice Dining'.  The card comes with a barcode on it.  Remember when I mentioned that when you arrive on the ship, initially, that your picture gets taken?  Well, whenever you get on or off the boat you have to provide this card to security, who then scans the barcode.  When security scans your card, your picture pops up on a screen so they can verify that you are actually you.  It was also their way of getting a head count and knowing who is on or off the boat.  Pretty amazingly efficient, right?

To read more on Cruising-Part One, click Here.
To read more on Cruising-Part Two, click Here.
To read about Disembarkment, click Here.
***these posts are coming available over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned...***


April 14, 2017

Duck Pond (Near Herforst)

If you are looking for something to do on a gorgeous day near Spangdahlem, then I have the place for you!

It's a beautiful area with a duck pond.

This is a great place to go, with or without kids.


The last time we went, there were a few small groups of people enjoying drinks and board games.

My kids love it and I do too-it's a great place to go and run around and feed the ducks.


It's not the easiest place to find, so here is some detail to get there:

Coordinates of the park entrance

Entrance to the road you go down to get to the park.

Entrance to the park.  Park your car along the road outside this entrance.

Inside the park entrance.

You can walk around the entire pond.  There are picnic benches surrounding the pond.

Across the street from the park is a private ostrich farm.  The owner will allow you to take at look, but do NOT feed or try to touch the ostrich.  But, it's something to see in addition to the ducks.

The entrance to the park is on the left.  The ostrich farm is on the right.


Things to know: 

Take your own bread for the ducks

So far, I have found no bathrooms there

You can bring your own food and games

There is no playground equipment, but many paths to run on


February 11, 2017

Yummiest Chocolate Cookies Ever

If you are looking for a quick and easy recipe-look no further.
If you are looking for quick, easy, AND THE BEST CHOCOLATE cookie recipe EVER-here ya go!

My friend always treated us with these fantastic chocolate cookies when she would come over.  They were literally the best cookies I've ever tasted! 
I finally decided to try my hand at making them and now we are addicted. lol
It only takes 3 ingredients!  THREE!!!!!

1 box chocolate cake mix
2 eggs
1/2 Cup vegetable oil
Bake 325 for 8-10 minutes

That's it!

Mix the three ingredients to get sort of like a thick brownie consistency.
Put small spoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Because of the vegetable oil, the cookies sort of form perfectly into these little dollops.
Bake for about 8 minutes to ensure they are super soft all over...10 minutes for them to still be soft in the middle, but have a little harder perimeter.
I like them all being chocolate, but my kids and hubby love adding peanut butter.  So, I make half the batch with peanut butter chips.
Bake them the exact same way...325 for 8-10 minutes...8 minutes for more of an overall soft cookie.


Told ya it would be the easiest recipe ever!
ENJOY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!




February 04, 2017

Trier Roman Amphitheater

Trier is known as the oldest city in German and dates back to the Roman Empire.
What I didn't find out, until my 3rd year living here, is that there is actually an amphitheater and underground Roman baths that you can tour.  After I found these 2 places, I asked around and a lot of people didn't even know that they were here. 
So, the following is a must see when you visit this city!
I'll be writing about the amphitheater in this post.  But, stay tuned for my post on the Roman baths.
Here is the amphitheater's official website (there is an English option).
There is so much space for kids to run around and explore. 
You can see to the right of the picture, there are small doorways. 
Inside are rooms set up with displays, such as gladiator armor.





There are multiple levels to run around and explore different views of the amphitheater. 
(note:  the upper and lower levels are not stroller friendly.)
 Underneath the amphitheater you can explore and see where the gladiators waited to battle.


On a beautiful day, you can spend a couple of hours enjoying walking around the grounds.

Things to know:
Address:
Amphitheater
Bergstra├če 45
54295 Trier
There are free bathrooms at the entrance of the amphitheater
Parking:  FREE parking directly in front of the amphitheater
Opening hours:
April - September: daily 9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
October and March: daily 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
November - February: daily 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Admission:
Single admission to Amphitheater (price per person):
Adults: € 4.00    
Adults in groups (10 or more persons): € 3.50    
Children and adolescents through age 17: € 2.50    
Children and adolescents through age 17 in groups: € 2.00

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